2018-11-30: Impenetrable

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====================<* Photosphere - External Defenses *>=====================

The Photosphere is not of this world. From a distance, it looks like a massive orb -- the size of a large city -- smashed down against a local mountain, and cracked open. The orb is made of interlocked hexagons of some translucent golden substance, and within, powerful technology can be seen.

This place is not safe to approach. First, one without the proper mechanisms will encounter a shimmering barrier of light that repulses all but the strongest ARMs. Second, there are patrols of Metal Demons and their beasts, all keeping a close eye on the Photosphere.

DC: Ida Everstead-Rey switches forms to Martial Artist Ida!
DC: Alhazred switches forms to Quarter Knight Alhazred!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

War has come to the Photosphere.

        Yggdrasill -- Bridge

"All right, all right!" Bartholomew Fatima says. He grins, standing on the landship's bridge -- and looks proud of himself. Getting the sand-submarine across the Narrow Sea was no easy feat. It involved some mechanical nightmares; it also involved some smuggling. He looks sideways, then he nods. "Siggy. Are we locked on?"

"We are," the other one-eyed pirate says. "Missiles locked..." Then, the white-haired man throws his hand out. Sigurd Harcourt cries out: "Fire everything!"

        Outside the Photosphere

Despite jokes and claims, the Drifters on Elru are not an army. All told, they number perhaps less than fifty. They have no command structure; they have no formal alliance; their logistics, their support structures, and their artillery are all for loan. The plan to storm the Photosphere is one communicated solely through Memory Cube. Their 'army', as it is, happens to be only a few mercenaries, the remains of the New Arctican guard, and a couple of companies of soldiers in Kislevi and Lacour uniforms with the arm patches torn off.

Some alliances, it seems, were remembered.

Ethius Hesiod found the way here. Lily Keil, Layna Manydays, and Ida Everstead-Rey prepared New Arctica to make it possible to com here. Bart Fatima offered the best way through the front door: fire every single one of the Yggdrasill's missiles, and try to destroy the Photosphere's barrier in one strike. As the Drifters are crouched over behind hill crests, hedges, and more, they can see the Photosphere for the first time: an ugly black and grey orb, with spots that have tarnished a deep red. It rests against a mountain. However, glowing around it is a light green shield of light.

The sky fills with vapor trails, cutting and criss-crossing through the air. Then, missiles come raining down. The barrier, the Photosphere, and the rest ignites in a brilliant flash of light as a thousand explosions ripple across it.

        Yggdrasill -- Bridge

"...that's..." Sigurd stammers.

"Oh. Oh, shit," Bart gasps.

        Outside the Photosphere

The explosions waft away. Smoke and flame roll backward, to show the shimmering barrier of green light... which remains intact, and the Photosphere unharmed.

This is when, in the midst of the Drifters, the flashes of light begin to appear. A woman in Lacour's uniform screams -- as a Metal Beast rushes for her, jaws opened wide. A man in a ten-gallon hat shouts -- and fires an ARM. The bullet bounces off the blue armor of Siegfried, as the Quarter Knight appears, surrounded by a host of Metal Demons, Veruni, and other allies.

His eyes narrow, slowly.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied is, of course... once more present amongst the assembled forces of the Photosphere.

        Once more, she comes dressed in black, a warped and twisted colouring of the clothing that she once wore proudly in service of the Fereshte. Her eyes are once more masked with a small crown in that self-same style that bears a strong semblance to Alhazred's.

        The Original Artificial Medium of Life is present as well -- rather horribly fused upon her neck.

        Riesenlied appears to be doing visibly worse since her last appearance in New Arctica. Sickly black circles surround her eyes, visible in the gap where the crown ends; an ill pallor has clad itself over her already visibly unhale flesh, the rather evident effects of overmedication in such a short amount of time.

        Were there more time, there would perhaps be other options. But not right now, not with the Drifters at the Photosphere's doorstep...

        "Lord... Siegfried... I will..."

        Her speech slurs in the way of someone struggling to maintain coherency. Even in the midst of peril, with so many Metal Beasts and soldiers in the formation she's been assigned to, she still gazes towards the Quarter Knight in this moment of do-or-die. When the Bart Missiles rain down, illuminating the barrier with a ripple of light, she lowers herself down as some minder helps protect her from the smoke and flame.

        There's a faint cough from the Hyadean. But... she doesn't look capable of fighting. Hardly so.

        Something pulsates within her. The Medium is reacting.

        "...who..."

        The Dragon's Tear is nearby... is that... that important person... nearby?

<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 So the humans had come at last.
 
 "The hypocrisy of the Guardians never fails to astound me. They torture Metal Demons who try and gain their favor with the power, and bestow their blessings on the rabble who seek no other path that to tear us apart. And here we stand - with them coming to our very gates, intent on destroying all who stand in their way." Alhazred narrows his eyes under the vast white cloak which covers his (most likely horrifying) body. "I am glad to see that the universe is nothing but consistent in its desire to demonstrate why non-Hiadean life has no value other than to provide test subjects."
 
 The most scientifically minded of the Quarter Knights had decided that ultimately the humans would be coming here. The threat that Mother presented to the Guardians was too great, and now that they had put the new plan to eliminate the accused spirits that infested Filgaia... well, they would desperately throw everything that they had at the Photosphere in an attempt to 'protect' the docile animals whom they had chosen as the species they would champion.
 
 Disgust and hatred were unscientific, perhaps even a bit illogical - but Alhazred could allow himself to indulge from time to time.
 
 Still, the failure of the humans to penetrate the Photosphere's barrier was enough to make Alhazred hum with a certain amount of pleasure - the primary over Hiadean technology over Filgaian brutality was always a pleasing sight. But he materializes with the rest of the Metal Demons, looking around for a moment before he hovers forward just behind Siegfried.
 
 "I am glad to see that they have cared enough to send their best. Where else would I be able to find such prime specimens?" he muses, and if he had regular hands he'd probably be rubbing them together. He looks over at his latest... ugh he cant even call it a masterpiece. It's a hack job - a work of haste and necessity lacking none of the grace he would wish to see in his true works of art. But he looks at Riesenlied and the Quarter Knight's red eyes narrow. "Come Riesenlied - let us see if those fools will deliver themselves into my clutches for your sake."

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        The Photosphere's fortifications are formidable; Noeline knows that first hand, better than any of the Drifters in Elru right now. The barrier that surrounds the Photosphere is immense, and even coordinated attacks from the Veruni over so many years so long ago couldn't bring it down. The impact of the Yggdrasil's missiles are On top of that, if there's one thing the demons do know, it's how to wage war. Forewarned, it would be unthinkable if they hadn't set up fortifications and an absolute wall of soldiers to block the path.

        But she's here in the midst of it anyway, having slipped ahead of the rest of the Arctican defenders. It isn't recklessness that has brought her so far forward of the rest of the pack, but instead a soft, persistent pulse from the Dragon's Tear - the last remnants of her link to Riesenlied, and the only hope she's got to pull her beloved back to her side. Every instinct in her is screaming danger, but not heeding the Tear's call is simply not an option.

        Somehow, the path it leads her on manages to wind a twisting route safely through the packs of Metal Beasts; she gives herself up to it, choosing even now to place her trust in Riesenlied's empathic powers and the tiny moment of recognition she spurred in the other Hyadean's mind during their retreat at New Arctica. She's halfway through the first line of hastily constructed barricades and guard towers when she realizes the Tear is pulling her towards an open clearing - and stood in the middle of it, a terribly familiar figure.

        "Riese," she mutters as she straightens up from the slinking run she's taken thus far. Her eyes don't take long to pick out her worsening condition, surely a hallmark of Alhazred's treatment of her; her eyes sting for a moment as that angry, terrified stab of feeling spikes back into her chest like little slivers of ice - but it's not the time to hesitate, not with her stood right in front of Noeline.

        "--Riese!" she calls out this time over the sudden roar of missiles above her, sharpening her voice to catch the other woman's attention; no weapon in her hand, she holds it out towards her. "... it's me. It's Noeline! Part of you in there remembers me - remembers Janey, and Mikaia, and everyone else. I know you do!" she adds as she holds up the hand upon which a ring glints. "You have one too, don't you? The two are a pair - just as we are!"

        Keeping her voice steady is difficult, especially when her laser-narrow focus and the trance of the Tear leave her to suddenly reveal that the Quarter Knight responsible for this is right there with them; she barely manages to hold her ground past the spike of sudden fear, though her shoulders almost hunch over and she chokes softly once before she can manage to continue. This is the one chance - she has to take it. "Take my hand... and I promise, I won't let Alhazred do anything more to you. I won't let him hurt you any more. We'll keep you safe; you don't have to wither away for his sake. I promise you!" she whispers fiercely.

<Pose Tracker> Persephone has posed.

A bright pink and purple woman strides free among the others as the swarm of metal fiends begins to assault the offensive force that the Drifters have put forwards. Every action before from Persephone has been out of an interest for the humans own paths. Yet none of her missions has born fruit. Even if she did not have orders previously to engage, 'only as necessary', she took them to stay out of direct conflict while able.

They are not the orders she has now.

'You are to eliminate any of the humans that move to breach the Photosphere'. A simple explanation. A simple declaration that she would deny, if she would be able to. Yet she would not speak up against that Veruni, not the one that leads them. For to speak up against him... It was not as if she did not want a reason, directly.

Unlike the threatening Metal beasts, of sharp claws and metallic skin, Persephone lacks the outwards appearance, beyond the resting bitch face and sharp heels beneath her. The snake like helmet above her head stares out as she moves from the Photosphere, golden Veruni pistol at her side as she strode free and out towards the oncoming force. "What really drives them to shorten their already pointless lives?" She asks out loud, to no one in particular, a hand resting on her hip as she looked on to the swarm that began to break down upon the rag tag 'group' - though they were still somewhat sizable in number.

The Veruni Sentinel still does not immediately go after any particular human - watching. "Well, today it seems as if we have the same goal in mind."

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

They took Riesenlied. It's been hard on everyone. Fei tried not to dwell on it, but that fact pounds in his head with every step Weltall takes towards the Photosphere.

The Gear is in prime condition. Hammer did his best work. But Fei doesn't stay in the gear for long. If it goes out of control here it could be a problem and Fei just KNOWS that he's going to be helluva triggered today. Best to practice self care in advance.

Luckily, as Weltall marches forward, it dips forward every so slightly when a Bart Missile nearly takes its head off on its way to explode against the Photosphere.

"Cecilia..." He murmurs. "I hope Asgard can move on the ground faster than it can move through the sea..."

Fei doesn't attack with Weltall nor does he seem surprised when all that firepower isn't enough to damage that barrier. They didn't go after Asgard for kicks. But when Siegfried and his followers appear, Weltall still does not strike. It kneels and then the cockpit bay opens up.

Fei hops out. The question may appear on one's mind--what kind of idiot brings a Gear to a fight and then jumps right on out of it instead of using it.

He looks up towards Siegfried. Much like Riesenlied, he has dark circles around his eyes. Is this some kind of sympathetic empathy? Or something else?

He looks towards Riesenlied. He closes his eyes.

Nasrin.

Don't let them control you.

Don't let them torture you.

You are more Riesenlied than she is. Take control or they'll kill you along with her.



He opens his eyes. He says, "Siegfried. You were wrong about Luisa. She lived."

He approaches.

"Her spirit remained. She told me about RUST. About Lee Seeyoung. And I know what he did."

He offers his hand. "Siegfried...I am not your enemy. Your enemies lurk in the shadows under your feet. Mother seeks nothing but destruction. It's not too late to stop her. If we must fight, I beg you..."

He bows his head deeply.

"...At least let Riesenlied choose her own path. What is being done to her is the worst torture you can do to a person, let alone your family. Please, while she can still forgive you."

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        SPEAKING OF

        The Yggdrasil has an excellent relic Gear in the form of the Rephaim that should really be contributing to this scene, with Lunata onboard, but where is it? Somewhere up in the skies--

        From https://dreamchasers.space/Gears:
         Flight is also an excellent way to draw an undue amount of attention from Solarian Gear squadrons, Metal Dragons, and other dangerous entities.

        "I DIDN'T THINK IT'D BE SO LITERAL" screams Lunata as the Rephaim tangles with a couple of offscreen Dragons.

<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

Flashes of light fill the dawning battlefield. The skeleton crew army of Drifters find themselves sprung upon by Metal Beasts, their masters, and their master's allies alike. Within the ever-maddening flurry, one invader lifts their ARM, pointed in the direction of one of those encroaching Demons. His hand trembles at the barrel. His finger compresses at the trigger.

And within the span of a blinding swell of radiant white light, the man falls, his rifle cut cleaning in twain and blood spraying from an opened wound cut clean from hip to opposing shoulder.

Above, blood drips off the white blade of a short-sword as the faceless visage of an armored knight gazes down upon the fallen man, the tinny warp of their voice resolute and commanding.

"Those who hesitate have no place on the battlefield."

And so the Trial Knight marches amongst the ranks of Metal Demons and their Veruni, a strange outlier in an alliance of Filgaia's forsaken. They do not advance any further than their point near the frontlines, like a line drawn across the sand, twin short swords held pointed outward at their sides. An open warning that any who attempt to advance further will face their blades.

Horned helm tilts, for a moment, Riesenlied's way. Clawed fingers clench with a subtle increase of tension around their weapons.

"Very well," intones K.K., voice cold as steel.

"Let us begin in earnest."

<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

AN HOUR AGO
 
Ashton Anchors runs a whetstone along the edge of his sword.
 
This is too big.
 
It's just too huge. Once, Ashton would have jumped at a fight like this - but he was younger then. Less dragon-y. Too cocky for his own good, and he'd paid for it. Not as badly as he could have - as Fei had pointed out - but it was still a price. Since then, Ashton had focused on the small things. Save a life here, help a town there. But this was... too big.
 
For a moment, he considered what Fei had said. He could back down - step away. But Fei was also right about another thing. Ashton couldn't abandon people in need. Promises were made: Riesenlied will be returned to her loved ones. And.. well, Ashton promised Fei, too, even if he thinks it's madness.
 
So - another stroke of the stone along the blade. Even the tinest edge is going to be needed.
 
NOW
 
The Metal Demons are among them before anybody even realizes it. The shock and fury of the missile barrage was amazing enough... and then the shock and fear of the Photosphere's shield holding overwhelmed that. There's barely time to switch from one reaction to the next, and then almost instantly into battle.
 
It's actually Weepy that saves Ashton's neck in those opening moments. He's a hair too slow to turn - but the blue dragon is nimble enough to unleash a blast of frost and fend off the Metal Beast that was leaping for the swordsman. A metal-shod claw is deflected by a blade.. then a quick slash to knock the monstrosity back. Spin - slash - backstep - evade - slash - kick. The battle is already mad chaos, and Ashton's in the center of it all.
 
Wheeling and dancing, the Double Dragon Swordsman plants a foot and leans into his right shoulder. Creepy responds immediately, opening his mouth and unleashing a gout of flame into the melee. The Metal Beast he was aiming for dodges aside - and as Ashton's luck would have it? Siegfried is right in the path behind the now errant shot. So much for trying not to engage him for Fei's sake!

GS: Ashton Anchors has attacked Siegfried with Gyoro's Flame!
GS: Ashton Anchors has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ashton Anchors has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle only returned from wherever she'd gotten to in the mountains late last night, and spent the night (catching a ride on the Yggdrasil; she'd been on it before) sound asleep for the first time in a while.

But she didn't remain on the Yggdrasil. She had places to be. 'Places to be', in this case, means at the front of the Drifter army.

It isn't really an army. Which is fine; Tethelle has never been part of an army and wouldn't know what to do with herself. She knows how to fight, though, and this is what she was sent for by the Guardians. She can feel it in her bones. She is here to fight and to protect the people who can't.

Tethelle is near the head of the collection of Drifters. She is carrying a long, slightly cruciform object that is almost certainly a large sword, wrapped in cloth; she hasn't let anybody else see inside the wrapping but it isn't as if she's really hiding what it is. She is thus in a good position to see the missiles hit, shading her eyes with one hand...

...as they impact on the barrier and fail to do much at all.

Tethelle swears under her breath. She knew the Photosphere was protected - she learned that from the Guardians a year and more ago - but protected like *that*? They'll need to find another way in. Asgard, perhaps, or sneaking through - can you sneak through a barrier like that? Maybe she can cut a gap...

Metal Demons and Veruni - including Siegfried - appear, a Metal Beast attacking a Drifter near her. Tethelle moves without thinking, slamming the man away from the Beast and driving her still-wrapped sword at it to force it back, then sweeping it in an arc. Even with the wrapping on, trailing cloth on its leading edge, chi builds up around the weapon and lashes out at Siegfried, a paler, faster-moving wave compared to her usual bright shining cutter.

"Siegfried!" Tethelle would tell him to stand down, but she knows he won't, and it's almost insulting to ask. So she doesn't. Fei seems to be handling that anyhow, and she always expected this day to come - sooner, rather than later.

<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 To say that this day was a long time coming for Rudy would be an understatement. When Adelhyde was attacked, defeating the Metal Demons was the first thing in Rudy's mind. When they mentioned the need of Guardians, defeating the Metal Demons was the first thing in Rudy's mind. When they transported to another planet, defeating the Metal Demons was the first thing in Rudy's mind. When they returned, defeating the Metal Demons was the first thing in Rudy's mind.
 
 Now, Rudy is finally here.
 
 They have been found. They can be killed. That's all Rudy has asked for now. And now, the opportunity has been given.
 
 In a truly odd juxtaposition as Bart's big beast lashes out with missiles, overshadowing the smaller Rudy Roughnight as he makes his advance. Mounted on a breed of steed made for colder climates, the blue haired boy rides with brown eyes narrowed toward his goal.
 
 Giving a loud cry of "Hiyyaaaa" the boy spurs the black beast clad with furs onward, clouds of small mist bellowing out with each breath from the cold. With a steady arm, Rudy's Hand Cannon is raised for Siegfried, Rudy clearly intending to cut the head from the snake. However, fate (or Fate?) might have other plans for the young Drifter.

GS: Tethelle Cirdian has attacked Siegfried with Sonic Slash!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has completed her action.
GS: Siegfried critically Guards a hit from Ashton Anchors's Gyoro's Flame for 13 hit points!
GS: Siegfried has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ashton Anchors has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Tethelle Cirdian's Sonic Slash for 52 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius showed the Drifters the way - the geographic location in which Mother could be found. For reasons that continue to remain obscure, he made little demand about how or when they go there. The enigmatic Symbologist seems content to mostly wait and observe everyone's movements as he went about whatever bizarre business came to his attention.
        Weapons roar to life all around him. Ethius could pick out what was being brought to bear, when, and from what direction even if he were not present for any of the briefings. Idle mental inventorying of everyone's capabilities is, oddly enough, relaxing. Everything is within known parameters, thus far.
        The barrier comes to light. A complication. The green light shimmers mockingly, reminding them that the Photosphere was no sitting duck - but others soon show. The Quarter Knights... a handful of human-like individuals in advanced armaments that he cannot take his eyes off of without the rest of his senses trying to grab back onto the sight... another individual clad in white armor he recalls distinctly... and yet another.
        Riesenlied.
        That he can pick any of them out from the horde of oncoming Metal Beasts that flank them is a testament to his skills of observation and calm for the growing fog of war. The Symbologist emerges from his waiting spot - behind one of the unnamed rocky outcroppings - with a great flash of sorcerous heat in which to dislodge said rocky outcropping to roll half-molten boulders down upon one such passing pack of Metal Beasts.
        Up ahead, he observes Noeline's desperate pleas to her beloved. She has run far ahead of the rest. There is one pragmatic truth that he can hold onto - even if he is to lose sight of Riesenlied as more Metal Beasts pour forth to replace the gap in their ranks, all he needs to do to find Riesenlied is to follow Noeline - and follow, he will.
        He will not hesitate.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        This is not an army. Even with the Yggdrasill at their back, there is no way this collection of ragtag Drifters can match the Hyadeans in a stand-up, symmetrical fight. They can't afford to let it become one. This needs to be as quick and clean as possible--infiltrate the Photosphere, deal with Mother, get out without taking too many casualties.

        Ida stands towards the rear of the Drifter 'formation', Devil's Due in her left hand. Chi flows and pulses through the weapon like the extension of her body it is. Her hair is tied back in a tight, well-wrapped bun. A long, dark wool cloak hangs around her body; beneath is the long armored duster Kalve tailored for her out of Hyadean ironcloth. Beneath that is a tightly-wrapped bundle that might be her right arm, bound up against her body. Is it broken?

        Missiles slam harmlessly into the Photosphere's barrier. Even as Bart and Sigurd curse, Ida takes her lip between her teeth, slides neatly into a sideways shooting stance. Plan B, she thinks. As the first of the horde--and she will not believe there is anything less than a horde--appears, she takes aim. Ida snaps off six rounds, one after another, each a perfect shot at center-mass of a Metal Beast. She doesn't see Kalve in the horde. Instead, she sees, at its head--

        sieg?

        Fei lands. Ida, just barely visible to him as the Drifter 'formation' scatters, is frozen in place. She sees Siegfried. She remembers the emptiness in his voice the last time she saw him, and it tears at her and she doesn't know why.

        A tinny voice. Ida glances to the side to see the Trial Knight, covered in a stranger's blood. She fires, one last time, at a Metal Beast threatening to tear out someone's throat. A sharp bang carries above the din, and the creature lurches and falls to the ground, bleeding quicksilver.

        "Siegfried," Ida says. Her voice cracks halfway through the name. "I know you won't listen to me. But for the love of all that is righteous, listen to Fei. Listen to the man who cares about you, despite everything you've done." Who cares about her, despite everything she's done. Beneath her cloak, a hand curls into a tight little fist.

        She hasn't grown oblivious to thedanger?. But she'll be damned if she doesn't at least let Fei try.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Phantoms...?!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Phantoms...? for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

Noeline does not make the journey alone.

Of course she doesn't, there are hundreds of Drifters and associates and paramilitary types and fortune-seekers and priests and madmen who have heeded the Guardians' call all here today. The mighty Yggdrasil joins the battle with a salvo of missile-fire whose glare darkens the sky by comparison. The Outreach is with her every step of the way, rather than waiting to be led in Riesenlied's absence.

But that's also not what I meant, and you know it.

A human-shaped blur skips across the rocky outcroppings of the mountains sheltering the Photosphere, leaping from perch to perch. "Now just hold on a moment there," crackles the voice of Enigmatic Outreach Weirdo Maya Schrodinger in Noeline's ear, before the distraught Hyadean has caught up to Riesenlied. "I'm up here--to your left, yep, that's me--and I'll keep you clear while you get the Riesenlady back. This one's all you!"

Further to the point, the brighty-dressed Drifter stands victoriously at the top of the canyon above Noeline with a six-barrel rotary machine cannon in her arms. She also hoses down a column of lupine metal beasts in a withering fusiliade of spiritually-charged ammunition with a noise that sounds like something between a buzzsaw and a long, drawn-out explosion, before leaping away again to the next outcropping to keep Noeline covered.

The wind is taken from her sails a little upon finally spotting the pallid, shackled, robed form of the kind-hearted Hyadean and the fearsome mask that hides her normally gentle countenance.

                         But it does not stop her.

A moment's hesitation vanishes with a stern spark in the blonde's eyes. "We're taking you home, boss-lady." she calls out to Riesenlied as Noeline reaches out to offer her hand. "Everyone's waiting, you know?"

<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

It has begun.

The siege of the Photosphere.

This is the battlefield where the fate of Filgaia will once again be determined. It seemed like just yesterday when there was a battle of similar circumstance. Lives lost, kingdoms ruined. For the sake of survival.

...DId it matter this day? THeir number are far fewer. Did they find themselves lucky? Did they have an ace up their sleeve? Hopefully it wasn't that missile salvo.

Among the dins of light that appear, was Elvis, arms crossed, surveying the assembled forces. "If you intend to crush the opposing force completely, this would be the time to do it," comments the Sentinel. His hands are already wrapped and ready for battle. "Just remember what I said at New Arctica." A look to Siegfried. A small glance to K.K.

"Soldiers are little with nothing to marshal against."

A mighty jump lands Elvis on the grounds around the Photosphere. Once again he shall not bloody his hands against Humans, but still help the Metal Demons. Channeling powerful earth and water magic, his hands touch the ground, and much like the docks of betore, begins to alter the terrain around to his desires. Jutting spires begin to erupt out of the ground in waves, fanning out toward the assembling forces.

He is making the terrain quite hazardous. And each moment done is more are that has to be crossed that is highly unfavorable to the opposing group.

A look up to the aerial additions to the fight. Not much he can do about those unfortunately. He is more apt o nthe ground. "I can shit the ground for any of our forces that need it," calls Elvis, a stern if not unhappy tone to his voice.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

It's been too long since he's been home.

Though to call this place 'home' any more is... Misleading. It hasn't been home for a long time, has it? Still, it's a place that WAS home once. A place that might become home again, if they can pull all this off right. But there's something about it that's been bothering him. A nagging feeling at the very back of his mind, one he just can't extinguish.

One way or another, he'll need to get inside to address it. But first...

But first they need to bring down the Photosphere's mighty walls.

Honestly, he's not entirely sure how a bunch of Drifters and a sand-ship is going to penetrate the main barrier, but there's a plan there somewhere-- so all he'll have to do is put his faith in them.

After all, all of Filgaia is at stake here tonight...!

And so...!

"WITCH-KNIIIIIIIGHT!" Zed yells as he inexplicably drops OUT OF THE SKY with a mighty FLYING KICK aimed right for K.K.'s Kranium. "Hey! You know about weird Lunar things, right!? I've got QUESTIONS I need to ask you!" Zed... backflips away! He skids to a halt between the Trial Knight and a bunch of unfortunate drifters who aren't entirely sure who to shoot just now. "But first... You have a sword, I have a sword, and that means we need to fight. We can talk while we're at it. So let's go!"

GS: Zed has attacked K.K. with Inazedma Kick!!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: K.K. takes a glancing hit from Zed's Inazedma Kick! for 49 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

        The moments following the missile barrage are pure chaos. What was supposed to be a dedicated charge into the Photosphere has once again become a desperate fight to survive. Again. As the metal beasts descend upon the drifters, Ines finds herself under attack by one of the creatures. The giant beastwoman is sent sliding through the snow, even as she guards the attack. She's all set to square off against the monster before a stray ARM shot gets it's attention. At the same time, Ines sees where she's landed: dead in range of one of the Quarter Knights.

        "Something tells me dealing with you is gonna be more important than any of the small fry." Ines mutters, pulling herself to her feet. Sure, this is also the much more dangerous enemy to face, but Alhazred is right there. Ines quickly casts a spell, and her right hand hardens to metal. And then she charges. Her attack is simple and straight forward, and kind of made to draw undue attention. But sometimes you have to punch a horrific Metal Demon monstrosity right in his big golden face.

GS: Ines Colina has attacked Alhazred with Iron Haymaker!
GS: Ines Colina has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi is present, right behind Siegfried, milling with the rest of the defenders of the Photosphere -- Metal Beasts, Metal Demons, Veruni, and other allies. She watches the humans and THEIR allies advance, only to be stymied by the Photosphere's advanced shields. One in particular catches her attention, a human youth with blue hair and brown eyes, mounted on a garron, charging and preparing to fire what looked like an antiquated ARM with a courageous "Hiyyaaaa!". But the most unusual thing about him was that he was pinging Malfi's kinsight.

                That shouldn't be happening.

                Humans couldn't do that.

Malfi curses and shakes her head, resolving to have her kinsight module replaced as soon as this skirmish is over.

In the meantime, she wasn't going to let him injure Siegfried if she could help it. They'd need their leader. She steps forward and issues forth her only distance attack, an electrical charge drawn from her internal batteries.

GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Assault with Batteries!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Speaking of idiots who brought a Gear to a fight and then just leave it behind... Xantia did much the same as Fei, though it's probably more expected of her. Arriving in Silvestris, the Metal Demon Wars-era machine rebuilt using Solarian tech, did allow her to easily close the distance to the Photosphere, using the superior speed the giant quadruped offers. But when Fei disembarks Weltall, Xantia follows suit, leaving hers parked next to his. Once her feet touch the ground, she gives a nod to Fei, then immediately rushes off. They've already hashed out beforehand that Fei's handling Siegfried, and she's to handle Alhazred.

This arrangement suits Xantia just fine. While she wants to help Riesenlied, she simply has no idea what to do. As she's often said, fighting is all she's good at. So the next best thing would be... fight the one responsible for this. Perhaps that'll help Riesenlied indirectly, making sure the Quarter Knight can't interfere while others do their best to reach Riese. At the very least, it'll be satisfying to make somebody pay for this.

It may be folly to expect to just 'handle' a Quarter Knight by herself, but Xantia was honestly prepared to do just that if it came down to it. Plenty of confidence and recklessness to rush into any kind of battle without sweating the details. Perfectly in line with her normal behavior, she announces herself through means of violence, launching a punch forward while still a significant distance away from Alhazred. It may nonetheless find purchase in some form, as the air ripples in its wake, a significant amount of force in the form of a shockwave.

Only then does she skid to a halt, to address the... whatever it actually is verbally. "You! Alhazred! I'm not letting you take anyone's free will away ever again!"

GS: Xantia has attacked Alhazred with Massive Shockwave!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        Dean had promised he'd do his best to help save the world, and his friend Riesenlied is in trouble after having been kidnapped by Alhazred, so of course he's here. You keep your promises, and you help people in need, especially your friends.
        
        Well, in Riesenlied's case, he'll be leaving her to Noeline--but he'll still be keeping other Metal Demons and their allies off of her so that she can get through to Riesenlied, so it still counts. "Yeah, we've got your back, Noeline," he chimes in after Maya speaks. "We'll keep these other guys busy while you go to her!"
        
        He looks over at his assembled friends, and over at the Photosphere as the rocket bombardment does absolutely nothing, and over at Siegfried as he leads the charge outward. Twin Fenrir flash into his hands, and his blue eyes narrow in determination. To one side of the battle, he spots Elvis and the Trial Knight. He can't even be surprised to see them here, even though Elvis can't seem to make up whose side he's on and the Trial Knight seems to do whatever they want. 'Even though'? Maybe that ought to be 'because.' He spies Persephone too--but not recognizing her on account of not having met her yet, he doesn't have a reason to go after her, not today. Another time, another battle.
        
        "Avril, I'm gonna knock that dumb knight off their high horse," he tells his best friend. "You go knock some sense into Elvis, and together, we'll push a line past them, or at least keep them busy. Sound good?"
        
        Then Zed happens, and honestly, that's as good a distraction as anyone can hope for, even if Dean wasn't actually hoping for it. Dean lingers only long enough to hear Avril's response, then charges at K.K. with a battle cry, charging at them with their ARM combat rods heating up to dangerously hot levels, enough to potentially heat that shining armor where it hits to scorching levels. "I don't know about any Lunar stuff!" he shouts, following up with Zed. "But I *do* know you've been hurting my friends, and I'm not gonna let you keep doing that, Trial Knight!!"

GS: Dean Stark has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked K.K. with Burning Booster!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Rudy Roughnight critically Guards a hit from Malfi's Assault with Batteries for 20 hit points!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Malfi has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Ines Colina's Iron Haymaker for 51 hit points!
GS: Alhazred critically Guards a hit from Xantia's Massive Shockwave for 17 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Xantia has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

It's finally come to this, then -- direct assault on the Photosphere. Matilda has been, if not necessarily an advocate for this plan, certainly at peace -- even... actively so -- with the idea of doing so. What's happened to Riesenlied has only steeled her resolve. She has *not* committed the Honeybee to the operation just yet; no, she's here on foot.

Matilda is a fair ways behind Noeline; her initial plan had been to provide fire support. The plan, however, shifts under her feet when she sees Alhazred practically twirling his nonexistent moustache. Irrespective of anything else... Matilda is Riesenlied's ally, and has been such for a long, long time now. Despite the rocky start to their relationship... there are some things that just can't be allowed.
Matilda doesn't charge in shouting -- doesn't have some grand words for Alhazred. She knows him by his works -- she's discussed that much with Lily already. She has decided that the only reasonable solution is to make sure he knows her by *her* works.

Shouldering Freischütz in hopes of improving her aim, Matilda fires a quick blast of gravel in his direction before continuing forward. There's a grim look on her face -- but still, she says nothing.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Alhazred with Gravel Bullet!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

- Layna -

Layna Manydays was here. Why wouldn't she be? This was a moment of great importance - the time when the Drifters would show a rare degree of unity and charge the Photosphere as one.

She and a select portion of crew are arrayed across the battle lines, Victoria and Dahlia at her flank as always.

"There it is. To think, all that trouble comes outta somethin' as ugly-lookin' as that." Layna mutters, shielding her eyes as she looks over the horizon at the Photosphere beyond. The crewmembers with her are uncharacteristically quiet.

That's to be expected. This wasn't just a fight against the enemy - this was a fight for survival. If no one were to challenge the Metal Demons, in all likelihood they would continue to sweep across Filgaia, exterminating all non-Hyadean life. This wasn't their planet, but they were here. They had to fight. This was...

- Jacqueline -

...This was war. A part of Jacqueline knew that, but she didn't want to admit it to herself. But now was the time for her to face it. It was what the other Jacqueline had tried to tell her, when she found herself standing in front of that mirror - there were times when she would have to fight. That didn't necessarily mean she had to kill, but whatever choice she made she would have to act decisively.

Now was the time to put that lesson to the test. Even so, Jacqueline can't help but find herself shaking all over. She inhales nervously and looks up, as...

- Layna -

...a flurry of missiles fly through the sky from the large vessel at the edge of the battlefield.

"Heh. I like their style." Layna comments with a grin. The missiles fly...and then impact the barrier in a thousand explosions. The result is obscured by a cloud of smoke, but when it clears...the barrier is intact, and the Photosphere is unharmed.

Layna frowns, and then sighs, just as flashes of light appear behind them and Metal Demons pour forth. A malicious grin crosses her face and she rolls her neck.

"Hey there. Ready to see hell?" She warns, and then charges forward...

- Jacqueline -

...as the army of Metal Demons closes in on the Drifters from all sides, murder in their eyes.

"Be careful, everyone!" Jacqueline shouts, gesturing with her left hand. Tendrils of earth shoot up all around her, lashing out at Metal Demons, wrapping around them, and rendering them immobile - taking them out of the fight. She moves quickly through the battlefield, and as she does so she spots Noeline...with Ethius tailing her.

"I'm here to help!" Jacqueline calls out, increasing her pace. But as she does so, it gives her a clear view of a certain someone.

Riesenlied.

So it was true, then. Jacqueline finds the breath taken straight out of her lungs. Breathing is difficult for a moment. She didn't want to believe it, but...what was she supposed to do...?

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

'Those who hesitate have no place on the battlefield.'

Static crackles out; sound echoes over a common frequency though perhaps not to the one addressed, "That's true, Trial Knight. And that's why I won't hesitate. Wolf Two, re-entering the field of battle."

A terrible creak echoes out as from cover around the mountain, a Gear steps forward, its slender face a monstrous mask, its attire that of a spearwoman readied for battle. A sharp feeling of magic in the air rises as, step by step, Hellerune, the Witchlight Gear, approches. A Metal Beast is crushed as the Gear stops behind the battle lines of those assembled to fight.

"Unlocking safety registers," Lily's voice moves over the radio, less widely this time, just to the Yggdrasil and others affiliated. "Preparing for full bombardment." Before the radio cuts off, a dizzyingly sharp hum builds, and builds. The sense of Ether jumps abrubtly, as a distortion field begins to fill the air before Hellerune; the air itself seems to shift and melt, its form blurring. ...Ice and snow immediately close by begin to melt, and Hellerune jabs its spear into the ground, its metallic hand rising towards the barrier.

Heat collects, as if drawn to the Gear's palm; it becomes visible, faintly orange-red first, then the particles gold, a circular curve builds, funnelling towards it. With the smoke of the Yggdrasil's fire still built--

Hellerune falls silent, still for one long moment. ...And then a beam of golden power erupts with sufficient force to knock the Gear backward with a deafening creak, gigantic, unwholesome. There is a sickly sheen to the blast as it rockets towards the Photosphere's barrier, impacts--

A tremendous explosion results, and Hellerune's shoulders slump. A heartbeat passes--

...Once again, the barrier stands. Smoke rises from Lily's Gear as its distortion field sputters and fades completely, and it goes still.

"...Tch," Lily says from inside the cockpit, staring at displays as containment alarms blare in her ears. "...Is there no other way?" she murmurs, but stops. One of the screens before her--

The cockpit opens, and the alarms keep blaring before they abrubtly cut out. A woman in red steps out of them, her black hair blowing in the cold air. She leaps, the Gear closing up behind her, but as she enters freefall, a hand behind her erupts into a gout of flame that propels her forward through the air--

And Lily Keil, gone from New Arctica with barely any warning for nearly a week, hits the snowy ground rolling, a rifle in her hands as her golden eyes lift towards the woman with the Medium of Life.

"...Plan A failed," Lily says, and her words a too breathy, from the exertion of using her Gear, from the exertion of getting here... from the impact with the ground. But she brings herself up to her feet. "Time for Plan B." She glances to the side once, sidelong. "Jay..."

"...It's good to have you here. Let's all be ready. We can't save her by taking half-measures."

<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Siegfried does not have the malaise he had a week ago. He has something else instead: a grim acceptance, fueled by the very real anger that war has come to the Photosphere. Riddled as he may be by doubt, the master and commander of the Metal Demons finds an inherent rage in the danger posed to his home.

Despite everything, the Photosphere is home.

He looks to K.K. first. He nods his head once to them; to the Trial Knight, who swore their blade to him. "Hold the line," he commands. "Above all else."

Doubts assail him. Riesenlied's voice. Rage assails him. Alhazred's breaths, each of them. He stalks forward, before he lowers his head. He looks at Fei, and he reaches his conclusion: the one that claws and tears his heart away. But, it must be. His eyes lock with Fei's.

"...I have come to a realization, Fei Fong Wong. I am not a powerful man. I do not have strength," he says. "All I am... all I can be... is Mother's blade. The only thing that will preserve the Hyadean race."

He slings the sword off his shoulder. He frowns for a moment, at the mention of Luisa. But, he didn't learn humans' names back then -- not until those events had come and gone, and left him a changed Demon. He wonders if he ever should have. Glumzambor's eye twitches, then turns. "...All else I have, all else I was, I cast aside."

It may be appropriate that flame washes over him, courtesy of Creepy, in thay moment. The fire slams into his armor, and then roils away from it. Siegfried turns his head, to glance at Ashton. "Not enough, boy."

He swings Glumzambor, then. The blade lashes out twice -- and chi gathers and releases, tinged a dark blue, in a Hyadean imitation of a Demon Fang. The compressed air slashes for Ashton, and then rushes at Tethelle.

She closes a moment later, crying his name out. His sword sweeps up, blade catching hers. Fast-moving blade strikes the slab of Hyadean steel, and sparks fly, as he holds her blade at bay. "I end you, today. I see what I am consigned to do... and that neither pity, nor ambition, nor hope may sway me from that task!"

He speaks to Tethelle, but then his words expand to both Ida and Fei alike, and he fixes both with looks. "I accept what I must become!"

Light rushes up around him. It gathers; it expands out, over his armored hide, and takes the shape of interlocking hexagons.

        -=-=-

On one side of the battlefield, where the Lacour volunteer brigade is in a pitched battle with the summoned Metal Beasts... a shadow looms. It towers over them, and several soldiers stop and look up; their long rifles lower, as they gape. On the corner of the battlefield, an immense Metal Abomination is summoned: a rotund thing, with huge fat legs and arms, and a mouth that looks halfway between a gorilla's and a scream. A beam of fire erupts from that mouth.

Soldiers scream and burn, as the fire washes over them.

Mother's Titan has come. And with her children on the field -- on her field -- it is not long before her presence is felt. Blue cubes of digital data swirl, each of them swinging up over the battlefield. They lock together, like so many puzzle pieces snapping into place. Then, a translucent mask of a woman appears. Her face is serene; her expression is unmoving, and has the glint of steel.

"The pests have fallen into my trap. Delightful."

Mother has come.

GS: Siegfried has attacked Ashton Anchors with Dark Fang!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Tethelle Cirdian with Dark Fang!
GS: Siegfried has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Curse the New World!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Curse the New World!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Siegfried with Hi-Shield!
GS: Siegfried has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Siegfried has completed his action.
GS: Siegfried takes a solid hit from Siegfried's Hi-Shield for 0 hit points!
GS: Cover! Statuses applied to Siegfried!
GS: Fei Fong Wong guards a hit from Siegfried's Curse the New World for 0 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has been afflicted by a Curse!
GS: Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken! Statuses applied to Fei Fong Wong!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian guards a hit from Siegfried's Dark Fang for 98 hit points!
GS: K.K. critically Guards a hit from Dean Stark's Burning Booster for 22 hit points!
GS: K.K. has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Without warning, something else becomes apparent through the fighting.

             The earth begins to tremble, as though in revulsion.

A stomach-churning feeling grows in the air. Something incredibly WRONG is about to occur. It's a horrible, primordial feeling, like some prey urge being triggered by the presence of immense, horrific danger. The feeling grows and grows -

Until two seams in the air appear - and immense lashes lift as a pair of massive orchid eyes open in midair. Beneath them, a pair of lips manifest, dark and red and beginning to part.

"The truth is that I was always destined to be an enemy to the Metal Demon race, Siegfried," the apparition of Neriah says, her voice rolling like endless thunder despite her cool, even tone - she's simply that massive, her voice simply that amplified. As she speaks, a small, red-clad figure begins to fade into view in front of the apparition of her eyes and mouth, an arm raised above her head. "When I've restored Valmar to glory, He won't share the world with Mother. But I was willing to play along with your Statue plans for a little while. Until you and your friends did something that I simply will not accept. That I could never tolerate."

The hovering red figure - Neriah herself, floating in midair - begins to shimmer with a growing, awful power. Cold light grows at Neriah's fingertip, swelling into a shimmering white spark. The energy being drawn upon is immense - enough that Filgaia itself seems to recoil. Chunks of debris float up from the shuddering ground, as if fleeing the taint that threatens to seep into the earth.

The Neriah apparition's eyes narrow dangerously. A shadow of a huge hand points towards Riesenlied.

                 "You carved one of my precious pumpkins."

The massive face closes its eyes and fades, but Neriah herself doesn't. The debris cloud has pulled into an orbit around her. That cold white light peaks and peaks before she levels her hand.

And with a piercing screech of energy that rings off of mountains for miles around, Neriah unleashes upon the massive abomination with a single, devastating RAY.

Neriah on her own can handle armies, but an abomination of this size and nature is a challenge even for her. The power she's pouring into the RAY is beyond even that she tried on Ge Ramtos's statue. Clenching her teeth, she pours the beam on with an insane force that rocks the earth and blows immense waves of pressure out from the point of impact. Violent winds tear at hair and clothing, snow pushing outwards and taking rock with it as she begins to crater the earth itself.

<Pose Tracker> Jack van Burace has posed.


It is strange that is all comes to this.

Garett Stampede had his life end when the Metal Demons laid siege to his home. Now here he is, years later, returning the favor under a different name. With different company. However the more things change the more things stay the same...

...he's still standing under a familiar flag.

The survivors of the fall of his homeland are a stalwart sort. Bart's volley of firepower into the shields of the Photosphere drew only a few mildly impressed nods. No one there thought it would work, but it looked pretty at the very least...and it served a purpose. To draw them out.

As Metal Demons erupt from that pillar of light the former Knight of Fenris steps from the lines with a slight smile. He doesn't wear his armor anymore, it doesn't seem right. A vembrace of blue-tinted metal over one arm, that seems to be enough. One marked with the sigil of the knights. Something old and something new.

He doesn't draw his sword. He doesn't shout out his hate to the world, he just watches for a moment as the chaos begins to ripple out from that pillar, watches as the Quarter Knights gather.

No flash of red gathers his eye...but that familiar cloak. That familiar voice. Eyes narrow as he fixes on the Mad Scientist of the Quarter Knights.

"Hold the line," He murmurs towards the soldiers of New Arctica...and then he starts to run. To charge. One hand falling to the hilt of his curved sword.

The cloth is gone, revealing the stamp of his Knightly Order in the frosty light of the Photosphere.

He plants one foot, adjusts his grip and with the vicious twist draws.

And the air before him shreads itself, the pressure way slamming though the lesser Metal Demons as he aims to let his sword convey just how EFFIN PISSED OFF Jack is with the thing known as Alhazred.

GS: Ashton Anchors guards a hit from Siegfried's Dark Fang for 88 hit points!
GS: Jack van Burace has attacked Alhazred with Blind Draw!
GS: Jack van Burace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jack van Burace has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        At a moment like this, there should be fear.

        It would be a natural feeling to experience, standing in the glow of the Photosphere. Understanding the breadth of forces arrayed before you. Knowing how few in number you stand, no matter individual skill and strength.
        Or realizing, as misslefire cracks against the barrier, that even the full brunt of power available to you just isn't enough.

        And yet, Avril is not afraid. Absolute Zero in hand as her gaze -- calculating, pensive -- skims those who stand as defenders, she has found she has no fear in her heart.
        Is it because she is not afraid... or because the time for fear and trepidation are long past?

        Siegfriend, the leader of the Metal Demons.
        Alhazred, the one who stole Riesenlied away.
        ...Riesenlied... and the feeling of something ancient, familiar...
        K.K., who had been present at the tragedy at Wehaca -- who Dean nots to her. Glancing at him sidelong, she nods firmly, and starts to say, "Then I shall--"

        The earth buckles close by, a small hint of what is about to come hither to this edge of the unfolding battlefield.

        Ice wicks its way up out of the rock, joins with the snow. Links hand in hand. The shielding wall of frost begins to rise.

        The source is not hard to find. She, parting with Dean as he moves to seek his own fight in this, leaps over her wall of ice and, as she had on Lunar, draws upon a further small part of her magic to propel herself along the ice as if it were a part of her. "Elvis--"

        Once, she had spoken to him as one person to another, two people mutually concerned with the worsening condition of a compatriot -- no matter what had gone between then already twice before.

        Now she is upon him, blade drawn and driving forward.

        "You had said you would seek a way to assist Riesenlied, did you not?"

        She -- yet -- bears him no animus, but neither does the strange young woman precisely intend mercy to an opponent upon a field of war.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Elvis with Innocent Saber!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
GS: Alhazred critically Guards a hit from Matilda Whitehead's Gravel Bullet for 19 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has lost 1 Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Alhazred guards a hit from Jack van Burace's Blind Draw for 83 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied first hears Alhazred's words as he beckons her to come with him. She mutely nods... though she pauses for a moment as she dithers deeper as she feels that pulsing sensation echo deeper within her.

        Riese, comes the voice.

        Her head whips woards the source of that who calls out to her. Over the roar of the missiles, cresting over that hill...

        "Janey... Mikaia..."

        A Lightning Seraph's harsh words freshly bristle over her.

        "Happy, huh? Then why make orphans, right, K'? That jus' implies survivors. Let's throw the children into the pyre after their parents. I know--" She spreads her arms as she faces Riese, tongue as sharp as an obsidian knife set to flense flesh from bone. "How 'bout we start with Janey an' Mikaia? Their 'mama' is good an' dead, looks like to me. Wouldn't it be a mercy to let Mother crunch on their bones first, get it over quick so the li'l tykes don't have t' cry?"

        A voice within Fei Fong Wong reaches out to Riesenlied through some link she scarcely understands is there.

        Something stirs. Something so deeply veiled within a cloud of conditioning, some black and nebulous programming whose toxic nature, Id can sense, defies everything that is life itself.

        ...don't want...

        That's all he can get. Someone is fighting a battle inside. The greatest battle for their mind. They are losing, but they aren't beaten... yet. But as that voice listens in to those around... as it hears Xantia declare she won't let anyone take their free will away again...

        That someone continues to fight.

        Those who hesitate have no place upon the battlefield.

        A quietude and pause sends her glancing towards K.K., even as they march towards battle. Hesitation... what is it that she hesitates for? If she does not hesitate, then...

        Then all may truly be lost.

        Hesitation is not something that is known to Ethius, as he tails in the distance. He does not count himself amongst the Drifters that consider what has happened as substance for his decision. From all that she can see from her perspective, it seems so very simple--

        She's in the way.

        There is a quiet pause from Riesenlied, as she turns towards Noeline again. As she urges her to remember her ring -- the ring that so forms a bond between them, empathically, no matter how far they go, no matter how far they are separated.

        Noeline is not alone, however. Dean and Maya are both there, as the daring boy assists in the assault by keeping that white-clad figure busy... why does her heart hesitate so in seeing them fight? She also sees -- no, senses Matilda there, also at a distance, attacking Alhazred. Hesitation starts to mire her further...

        She peers to Maya as she comes by beside Noeline's side, calling out to her, as she hoses down Metal Beasts screeching in their direction with her six-barreled machine cannon. Maya...

        They're taking her home.

        She swallows quietly towards Jacqueline as she announces her presence and assistance. Immediately, she blurts out a question which seems more instinctual than anything.

        "Was I... a burden...?"

        It doesn't sound like the words of someone coherent, but rather, the words of someone so damaged and yet still so festered upon that feeling that it has clung through the cloud of conditioning.

        And the words of that black mirror of hers, Lily, also comes to her. As she descends from that large Gear of hers. She is small, and cannot stop Hellerune... yet Mother...

        Take my hand...

        She hesitates. She reaches her hand out... for a moment, it seems as if she is listening. She won't be hurt anymore. She'll be safe. She doesn't have to wither away for his sake... or anyone's...

        But then...

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Mother's Titan emerges. A horrible creation continues to tear away at the volunteer brigade in the distance. And Mother herself emerges out of cubes of data as she finally descends upon the field... as Neriah emerges and brings about that sensation of wrongness and declares herself toward sher.

        Mother's voice and presence triggers something within her--

        Something that propels her to speak a word.

        " "

        Mind unravelled by that command-word, Riesenlied's spine snaps her backwards. Her pupils dilate to mortified black dots, her throat dry and burning as a frightened shriek exhorts itself out from within her lungs.

        "h-hya...aa...aaaAAAA--"

        A black bolt of lightning strikes Riesenlied out of the blue--

        "--AAAAAAA--"

        --triggering a violent convulsion within the Medium, driving it beyond limit--

        "--AAAAAAAH!"

        --an enormous dome of jet-black energy erupts, blotting all light from within. Massive upheavals of snow and dirt burst from where the two Hyadeans have disappeared.

        A primal, Draconic shriek ruptures the field.

        The dome begins to fade to translucent quality; a massive black talon descends onto the snow, then another. The beat of enormous, metallic wings strikes an unmistakable silhouette.

        It is a white and blue Metal Dragon, overflowing with the power of the Ley. The Mediums within the area tremble softly... the power that sustains the world feels softly-- pitying?

        She stands on two legs, sheathed in fresh and untempered metallic scales layered in patterns with glowing Ley gaps underneath. Her white wings spread out to either side, finishing in a gossamer weave of Ley energies, with clawed black talons where the white armour ends.

        To Siegfried, it may well strike him of Lombardia's newborn days. To the other Drifters, this Dragon appears much more tender and fragile than those that roam the skies even now, in the Photosphere. This untested, new birth of a Dragon...

        Triggered to life through the utterance of a single word of command...

                                  -Accession-

DC: Riesenlied switches forms to -Accession- Ley Dragon Riesenlied!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Siegfried's Curse the New World for 0 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has been afflicted by a Curse!
GS: Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 The bolt of lightning issues out from Malfi and Rudy brings up his guard. While it is enough to throw him off the horse, who wisely decides to get the hell out of dodge, Rudy himself doesn't seem that phased by the attack, getting up from the snow swiftly after landing on his back. Only the smell of ozone and the occasional scorch marks to show his brief suffering, Rudy's gaze briefly checks out the battlefield before his eyes settle back toward the seemingly normal before him.
 
 "I don't know who you are, but I need to get through. And if you get in my way-" Rudy takes aim with a simple shot, his face surprisingly calm in war, despite his apparent youth. The round isn't fancy or high tech, just powerful enough to let her know he means business. "I don't like killing, but I will."
 
 In the wake of the attack, there is a long pause as Rudy takes in the appearance of the Metal Demon's massive monster. And the mysterious woman behind the mask. And then some other woman talk about pumpkins and shooting out death rays. And Riesenlied turns into a dragon and is seemingly getting ready to kill people.
 
 Rudy senses he missed some important exposition at some point.
 
 Soon, the Drifter turns back toward the battle at hand, though the distraction caused by... well, everything could result in a critical opening that could cost him dearly.

GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Swift Shot!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
GS: Malfi has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Malfi completely evades Swift Shot from Rudy Roughnight!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Maya's voice cutting through her awareness makes Noeline jolt, her nerves too strung out as she desperately tries to keep both Riesenlied and Alhazred in her vision and simultaneously reach for the former while remaining quietly but utterly terrified of the latter. With all of that, having another pair of eyes right now - another voice - is a deeply welcome thing. "You weren't. You absolutely were not. You--"

        But it isn't enough. Noeline rears back in surprise at the sudden twisting of Riesenlied's form - and then her teeth grit together so hard it sends a lance of pain through her head, and she forces both feet to drive into the ground beneath her and push her off towards the other Hyadean. "--no! Riese! Riese!!" she calls out of sheer and utter panic - not caring about what might happen to her, so long as she might reach Riesenlied for just another instant.

        ... and then she's gone as more of the dragon's form cracks and twists, lost amidst the shifting and growing shape of what the Tainted leader has become.

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi dodges and weaves, avoiding the young Drifter's shot completely. "Nice try," she sneers, though part of her irritability is due to that annoying pinging. It's in her head, resounding, insisting that the youth before her is a fellow Hyadean. He's definitely using an ARM.

Well, perhaps she could exploit that. Malfi reaches out mentally, seeking to make a connection with his ARM and force it to malfunction...

GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Dead Reckoning!
GS: Malfi has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

There's a glint in the sky.

'WITCH-KNIIIIIIIGHT!'

A glint that rapidly grows into a presented bootheel eager to make introductions with the skull of the Trial Knight -- or whatever it might be that lies under that helm. Flying swift, like a meteor, like a runaway train, like an angry Gunbuster --

CRACK

And as fast as Zed moves, it is almost patently bizarre how quickly K.K. reacts. Within the sliver of a moment, Zed's foot makes impact -- not with a skull, but with gauntleted palms now empty of their swords, motes of white flowing upward around them both like fireflies as the knight fluidly redirects the momentum of the former Demon's blow with some strange, archaic form. The boot screeches across the side of the knight's helm, just beneath its left horn, sparks screaming out but leaving them otherwise unharmed as Zed pushes off and away -- creating a barrier between the knight and those Drifters who would try to push into their enemy's territory.

That said barrier was technically once their enemy, too, no doubt makes things very confusing for them.

K.K., however, is nothing if not at least a bastion of clarity and purpose as they straighten, hands falling at their sides. No excessive movement. Nothing extraneous. Just the tilt of that faceless helm as fingers twitch, considering Zed just beyond.

"Zed. I wonder -- know you what is coming?"

It is a question that seems almost appropos of nothing beyond the immediately obvious. And yet, the Trial Knight does not seem to feel fit to expand upon it, instead opting to focus on the green-haired adventurer's own words as they lift a hand upward towards their helmed face. "Questions? ... Hm. Very well. Then ask. And if your mettle proves true, perchance you will have the answers you seek."

Light forms in motes above their head, congregating, shaping.

"And should it be a sword you seek..."

... into the shape of a tome, white and blue and gold with a strange sigil upon its cover, flipping open above the knight as magic swirls about them.

"'Tis a sword you shall have."

It would, in fact, seem like the knight is just toying with Zed. Except... shadowy magic forms into a sigil on the ground between themself and the Hyadean. Except...

                  "Trembling cage that bends empty space,
                      drive the wedge of freedom into
                      those who would be captured..."

... except a tremendous sword of black and violets forges from the might of Althena's Blessing, the liquid shadow blade sharpening into a deadly point as it swings itself violently forward -- straight for Zed.

                             "Negative Blade!"

It is a good distraction. It should -be- a good distraction. This should be the ideal window in which for Dean Stark to charge, especially as the apparition that is Neriah makes her entrance, and the unseen gaze of K.K. tilts upwards towards that monumental appearance with a gesture almost akin to curiosity. It should be. Those heating rods should find their mark.

CLANG

... and yet instead...

"I remember you, boy."

Gauntleted palm grips twin combat rods within a cold, iron grasp. White metal begins to heat towards a brighter orange hue as the charging ARMs grind harshly against that metal surface as the Knight's faceless stare turns upon Dean. But the Trial Knight holds onto them like the grip of death, never once letting that grip slack. Even as they bear down. Even as that heat reaches points that it would assuredly scald any normal flesh beneath that armor. They grip.

Tight.

"And you will need much more than this if you wish to act on such claims."

And, still holding strong, Dean will have all of a second to react as a massive warhammer forges into the knight's free hand --

--and is summarily SWUNG upwards, to drive into his chin with massive concussive force supplemented by the immense -explosion- of a great golden dragon's maw from the ground beneath the Drifter.

GS: K.K. has attacked Zed with Negative Blade!
GS: K.K. has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: K.K. has attacked Dean Stark with Dragon Ascendant!
GS: K.K. has gained 1 Combo!
GS: K.K. has completed their action.
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.
<SoundTracker> Battle at Journey's End - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJrlveSBhsc

        Noeline swiftly descends towards an extremely dark place, so oppressed with the sensation of despair and an unrelenting twistedness that seems to echo from within the walls. A kind of programming that picks away at her... but the Medium appears to be keeping her safe.

        Riesenlied is near, but unknown to her. She will have to navigate the darkness... as...

        A metallic flash glints in the darkness. An armour form that shouldn't be possible, but is very much familiar to her.

        It is... the form of Ebon Zero.

        It's her mask.

        ~*~

        Outside, the Ley Dragon visibly shrieks as several spheres of pure Ley energy start to manifest around its wings; they crackle and whisper to reality, and more out of instinct than anything--

        They launch to the Drifters nearest to her. Maya, Lily, Jacqueline, Ethius and...

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Maya Schrodinger with Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Lily Keil with Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Shalune Amira with Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Riesenlied's Impulse for 61 hit points!
GS: Rudy Roughnight guards a hit from Malfi's Dead Reckoning for 65 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Rudy Roughnight!
GS: Shalune Amira takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Impulse for 106 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei says, "Siegfried...You don't have to carry the weight of the world alone. We can find a solution. Mother won't preserve your people..."

He steps backwards when Siegfried draws his blade. He looks to the side, distress plainly on his face. "I know what it's like. I feel I do, I--"

It's too late. Valmar's daughter arrives at the battlefield and at this rate, hesitation is no longer hesitation, it's just suicide. Light pushes against him. He feels weak, tired though his heart is pounding. He doesn't sink to his knees or anything like that, but as he hears Riesenlied's tortured screams, sees her transform into a new form, the form of a Metal Dragon...Fei can only think about how shy she was about her feet. One more thing has been taken from Riesenlied today.

"You're just like her..." He says. "Always making yourself the martyr!"

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ady--PNMsfI

"If this is fate...then I'll fight you. But I won't EVER stop reaching out my hand!"

And with that he charges for Siegfried, throwing several quick strikes for his body in a series of palm strikes. It's nothing too fancy from Fei just yet.

That voice within him goes silent, the voice he can't hear but something else within Riesenlied can. What can be said? It is not a battlefield that even the demon can enter. They'll have to trust the others to handle it. Not when they are only this awake.

Fei suddenly jumps back from Siegfried, hearing Mother across the battlefield, seeing the results of her efforts.

"Mother..?"

He grimaces suddenly, grabbing at his head with one hand. "Dnghh...not now..."

GS: Zed takes a glancing hit from K.K.'s Negative Blade for 69 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Maya Schrodinger with Impulse!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        The assault on the Photosphere has started with a bang, so to speak. Gwen whistles as she looks through her binoculars. "That Bart guy knows how to put on a light show."

        It couldn't be that easy, however.

        The tides of battle quickly switch to the Drifters and similar allies being on the defensive. Riesenlied enters the field, drawing the breath from Gwen's throat. "This is... too much." ... The Trial Knight has joined their forces as well? Didn't he have a friendly connection to Riesenlied? And there is... Rudy, charging on his small steed, straight for Siegfried. "Damn it...!" A flash of bandanna, and then, he's gone.

        Then, the events happen far too quickly for Gwen to assess. Pulling down her binoculars, Gwen dismounts her stand-in faithful horse Gullvieg, whispering to the large, silver beast before dismissing her to the safety of the fields beyond.

        Time to jump in.

        ----

        Gwen can't confront Riesenlied at this level of power but she can certainly confront Alhazred. Bounding in, she lets the likes of Xantia and Ines speak for her as they close in with their attacks, prefering Matilda and Jack's method of silence to better center her concentration. A shot is fired as she circles the area, the courier attempting to sync her attacks to better compliment her companions' attacks. "..."

        She's not sure what else she could possibly say at this point that hasn't already been said.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Alhazred with Crackshot!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Siegfried with Hagan!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
GS: Maya Schrodinger takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Impulse for 115 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Alhazred guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Crackshot for 42 hit points!
GS: Cripple and Jam! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: CRITICAL! Dean Stark guards a hit from K.K.'s Dragon Ascendant for 125 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Impulse for 104 hit points!
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Fei Fong Wong's Hagan for 74 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil critically Guards a hit from Riesenlied's Impulse for 22 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 "Your belief that mere words can make a difference is optimistic at best, Noeline," Alhazred states to her, somewhat dismissively if the truth must be told. "Certainly I have done some work upon her, but she has also been chosen by Mother to be an important factor of our ultimate conquest of this world. If you wish to have her back in one piece..." It's hard to say how something that looks like Alhazred actually shrugs, but he seems to manage it. "Your best bet is to help kill these Drifters, and hope we can push Mother's plans to completion in short order. I will do what I can for her then."
 
 The Quarter Knight clearly believes that there is not much to be done. But he does turn and look at Siegfried for a moment, adding: "You know what Mother wishes. And she is relentless in her desire for it. Bending an ear to these humans will only prolong this war, and create more suffering. Putting an end to them is our best option for moving forward."
 
 Its at that point that the Drifters begin to throw themselves at the Metal Demons, and Alhazred turns as Ines declares that she is going to try to take him down. One eye narrows slightly as she prepares her fist, transforming it to metal, and the Quarter Knight muses quietly in response. "An interesting self-modification in order to raise offensive power. But let us see..." One claw comes up, blocking the blow with a loud *clang* as the two fists clash together. "An acceptable increase in offensive force, but I do not think that you will find such measures to be effective against me."
 
 A moment later a shockwave roars through the air towards him as Xantia unleashes a long distance martial art strike - but Alhazred simply raises a tentacle, a hexagonal beehive barrier appearing between his body and the incoming attack. The energy is quickly dispersed, and he turns to look at the Drifter with an unreadable expression. "Ah, is this the beginning of the 'how dare you' portion of this battle, where you humanfully declare that you shall stop my evil plans and prevent me from experimenting on others in the future?" A metallic cackle issues forth from Alhazred's throat at that statement. "Well, you are welcome to try - but I've heard the same thing several times before. Do you think that there were no humans with such grit and determination in our previous conflicts? Yet I am still here... and they are dust."
 
 Another shot comes from behind him as Matilda opens up, and it's probably a better idea to try and take him by surprise and from behind. Unfortunately, its debatable if Alhazred even HAS a behind, because the barrier appears behind him, deflecting the bullet to one side just before it hits. But more interesting is the sudden attack from a Fast Draw user - and Jack's blade snaps out, even as Alhazred brings one claw around to guard it. The force of the impact sinks in several inches into the Metal Demon's hand, and Alhazred looks at Jack for a moment... and when he speaks, he sounds amused. "Well, I did not expect that many of you had survived. Did you scurry under a rock somewhere here in Elru, or did you merely run off to Ignas with your tail between your legs? Regardless, welcome - I do try and be a hospitable host for your order."
 
 However, the addition of more attacks helps to distract Alhazred, and Gwen manages to put a shot into his side as the other distract the Quarter Knight. He grimaces for a moment, turning to look at her, to say something... when Alhazred is distracted.
 
 
 Of course, it takes something rather drastic to steal his attention - Alhazred turns, and takes note of the dramatic transformation that Riesenlied has undergone. And he throws his head back... and laughs uproariously. " WHO WOULD HAVE EXPECTED!?!" he booms in amusement. " THAT THE EVOLUTIONARY FACTOR WOULD HAVE THIS MUCH OF AN EFFECT!?! This is not mere evolution - this is ascension to a more powerful form! Yes! Riesenlied - you are worthy of being one of my creations! To attain such an advancement when you were mere trash before!!" Not even turning to look at his opponents in his moment of gloating, Alhazred leaves the attacking to his remote units. From under his cloak, several large, metallic dragonfly like drones emerge - his self named Esperanza - each of them darting around for a moment before diving towards his foes. Slashing claw, razor sharp wings, and needle sharp probes make up their armament - and they dash about, hungry for blood.

GS: Alhazred has attacked Jack van Burace with Esperanza!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Esperanza!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Xantia with Esperanza!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Esperanza!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Ines Colina with Esperanza!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

Ashton accidentally shoots fire at Siegfried. Somewhere, a healer screams incoherently about the stupid DPS keeping it in their pants oh my GOD I said stop dots THAT IS A DKP MINUS
 
Fortunately, he has finely honed reactions for accidentally engaging a target - this isn't Ashton's first time getting into a fight he didn't intend to. So he's able to brace himself against the cutting airblade. It's not perfect - instincts tell Ashton to parry it, and that doesn't work - but it's enough to keep his feet and his wits.
 
This isn't the fight that the duelist wanted - but it's the one he's got. Siegfried gives his own speech, confirming just what Ashton had suspected. Fei might want to save him, but there's little there to be grasped at. So - that leaves putting down the monster, and perhaps helping the soul behind it.
 
"Not enough from YOU, either!" One of the short swords points towards Siegfried, even as the battle rages. "If you so easily surrender to the temptation of your demons, throwing away all else? Then you are truly weak!" The Bunny Shoes kick in, giving Ashton a burst of speed as he chases Siegfried to where Tethelle is. "If I can overcome the will of a dragon to retain who I am and you fall prey without a fight - then I AM STRONGER THAN YOU."
 
Blades whirl as Ashton leaps in - and the whirl becomes wind. Green tattoos up and down his arms glow under the robe, unleashing a tornado. "HURRICANE SLASH!"

GS: Ashton Anchors has attacked Siegfried with Hurricane Slash!
GS: Ashton Anchors has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ashton Anchors has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle did not wait around for Siegfried to return her attack; she started moving, pushing past the Drifter she'd saved and toward the Metal Demon commander. The only thing that slowed her down was a double-take at Ashton.

"If you are making yourself Mother's blade, then you are my opposite. I am a blade of the Guardians, and I preserve Filgaia as it should be, not what you would make it!" Tethelle's voice raises as she barrels toward Siegfried. She barely slows for the incoming Demon Fang, sweeping her faintly shimmering wrapped blade through it to partially disperse the buildup of chi. She can't shatter it, but she can weaken it.

"Do you remember what you said to me, once?" Tethelle raises the sword and, with a snap of her wrist, causes the wrappings to fall away from it. They drift toward the snowy ground, revealing a large two-handed sword - but not just any. It's the weapon Tethelle bore when she first came to Ignas, with Baskar runes around the pommel; heavy and weighted just so, it sits easily in her hand.

"You told me I was weak, and so were the Guardians. I'm here to prove you wrong."

Mother forms. Tethelle feels it before she sees it; she's got her head down to run, but there's a sense of pressure that nearly forces her down. Tethelle raises her eyes and looks directly into the face of Mother. "And I defy you, too," she growls, the tension in her voice rising. Part of her is afraid - how could she not be! But she knows that she has to act now. There is no later. She has to get past Siegfried *now*.

Tethelle adopts a stance Siegfried may be familiar with - it's one she's used against him before, the low stance her school calls Grudiev's. But almost as soon as she's in it, she shifts to another one, a cutting arc before she pauses, momentarily, in the high-stepping Fengalon position, sweeping into the mobile stance associated with Noua Shax with its traditional downward strikes.

She never quite stops, weaving a combination of strikes that is alternately baffling and direct, smoothly shifting through very different positions without pause - those three, the solid and steady positions for Schturdark, the gliding, sliding movements of Aru Solatu, the offensive positioning of Moor Galt. Even as the wrongness of Valmar forms, Tethelle keeps her demonstration of pure martial skill going - no magic is involved; she may name her maneuvers after the Guardians, but this is all technique. She feels it build and build, and withdraws into her purity of mental focus to avoid being overwhelmed, concentrating only on the battle and feeling the flow of combat around her. Strike again. And again -

GS: Tethelle Cirdian has attacked Siegfried with Path of the Six Elements!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has completed her action.
GS: Elvis guards a hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Innocent Saber for 72 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle did not wait around for Siegfried to return her attack; she started moving, pushing past the Drifter she'd saved and toward the Metal Demon commander. The only thing that slowed her down was a double-take at Ashton.

"If you are making yourself Mother's blade, then you are my opposite. I am a blade of the Guardians, and I preserve Filgaia as it should be, not what you would make it!" Tethelle's voice raises as she barrels toward Siegfried. She barely slows for the incoming Demon Fang, sweeping her faintly shimmering wrapped blade through it to partially disperse the buildup of chi. She can't shatter it, but she can weaken it.

"Do you remember what you said to me, once?" Tethelle raises the sword and, with a snap of her wrist, causes the wrappings to fall away from it. They drift toward the snowy ground, revealing a large two-handed sword - but not just any. It's the weapon Tethelle bore when she first came to Ignas, with Baskar runes around the pommel; heavy and weighted just so, it sits easily in her hand.

"You told me I was weak, and so were the Guardians. I'm here to prove you wrong."

Mother forms. Tethelle feels it before she sees it; she's got her head down to run, but there's a sense of pressure that nearly forces her down. Tethelle raises her eyes and looks directly into the face of Mother. "And I defy you, too," she growls, the tension in her voice rising. Part of her is afraid - how could she not be! But she knows that she has to act now. There is no later. She has to get past Siegfried *now*.

Tethelle adopts a stance Siegfried may be familiar with - it's one she's used against him before, the low stance her school calls Grudiev's. But almost as soon as she's in it, she shifts to another one, a cutting arc before she pauses, momentarily, in the high-stepping Fengalon position, sweeping into the mobile stance associated with Noua Shax with its traditional downward strikes.

She never quite stops, weaving a combination of strikes that is alternately baffling and direct, smoothly shifting through very different positions without pause - those three, the solid and steady positions for Schturdark, the gliding, sliding movements of Aru Solatu, the offensive positioning of Moor Galt.

Even as the wrongness of Valmar forms, Tethelle keeps her demonstration of pure martial skill going - no magic is involved; she may name her maneuvers after the Guardians, but this is all technique. She feels it build and build, and withdraws into her purity of mental focus to avoid being overwhelmed, concentrating only on the battle and feeling the flow of combat around her. Strike again. And again -

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Elvis with Innocent Saber!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Ines Colina guards a hit from Alhazred's Esperanza for 127 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Ines Colina!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Elvis takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Innocent Saber for 112 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Alhazred's Esperanza for 159 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Siegfried takes a solid hit from Ashton Anchors's Hurricane Slash for 136 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Siegfried!
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Tethelle Cirdian's Path of the Six Elements for 72 hit points!
GS: Cover, Mighty, and Riposte! Statuses applied to Tethelle Cirdian!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Matilda Whitehead completely evades Esperanza from Alhazred!
GS: Jack van Burace takes a glancing hit from Alhazred's Esperanza for 76 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 As Malfi weaves out of the way of the attack, Rudy doesn't notice, only turning back in time to see something is happening to his ARM. Something is attempting to make it desync and feed back with him. As electricity arcs from the weapon as some alien force attempts to meddle with it, Rudy placing his second hand over it. He is able to resync without issue, but the beads of sweat roll down his face as he appears taxed by the effort. There are no words from Rudy in response, but for the young man, that's nothing uncommon.
 
 Rather than trying to figure out what to do about the ARM, he decides to focus on other ways of taking out the person in front of him. A long blade is withdrawn from his side, longer than knife, but not quite a sword. While he lacks the power or grace of Tethelle or Jack, Rudy seems to have raw power behind each of his frenzied blows, showing that he's much stronger than his scrawny frame would suggest.

GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Bowie Knife!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
GS: Malfi takes a solid hit from Rudy Roughnight's Bowie Knife for 100 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        Those should be proud declarations. They aren't. sieg!fried looks and sounds, to Ida's ears, like someone who has seen what will happen if he tries to go against the path the world has laid out for him. It's like looking down into the pit that claimed her, for a while, and seeing other people trapped there, too. Try as she might, she can't lift them out.

        Her stomach churns. She hears screams, sees the thing as it lays into the Lacour flank--

        And then, an all-too-familiar sensation creeps down Ida's spine. She hears a familiar voice as it speaks angry, contemptuous words at allies of convenience that are allies no longer. So that's your breaking point? Ida thinks, as she glances at the hovering Neriah, a vision of terror. She would be incredulous if everything weren't falling apart around her.

        'The pests have fallen into my trap. Delightful.'

        "Mother!" Ida cries. Is she trying to get her attention, or is she just alerting everyone around her? She doesn't get anything else out. Riesenlied's transformation ignites the battlefield in a wash of color and negative light. For a few, crucial seconds, Ida takes her eyes off Siegfried. She watches as the failed, tainted Dragon achieves what had been deemed impossible--no. Has it forced upon her.

        Ida still hasn't come to terms with her feelings about Riesenlied. She wants to apologize. She doesn't know if she can, and not have it feel hollow and pathetic. But seeing this change ignites a rage in her, bright and pure.

        "I have your back, Fei!" Ida whips Devil's Due back into its holster at the small of her back, above her cape. The one-armed(?) woman charges Siegfried, coming in low, thrusting a chi-engulfed palm at his side. The strike only looks gentle. There's enough force behind it to dent metal.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Siegfried with Open Palm!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Open Palm for 61 hit points!
GS: Xantia critically Guards a hit from Alhazred's Esperanza for 31 hit points!
GS: Xantia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi is surprised that the young Drifter in front of her can throw off her ARM interference, even with effort, but even MORE surprised when he draws a large knife -- a sword, almost -- and attacks! She is, in fact, so surprised that he catches her off guard and rakes a long, deep cut along her ribs on the right side. The gash starts to knit immediately as her regeneration kicks in, but they'll take awhile to heal. Good thing her liver flinches out of the way in time! Of course, drawing so close to her ALSO means he's in range of her lance now -- an opportunity she isn't going to waste! Malfi stabs at Rudy with her weapon, attempting to drive him out of knifing range at the very least, kill him at best. There's no guarantee her attack will strike home, however...

GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Rakurai!
GS: Malfi has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        Whatever Noeline had expected when she made her wild maneuver - it wasn't this. She's not even sure she's in a physical space or a mental one - her mind almost recoils and twists at that thought before she's able to concentrate on the dull presence of the Medium within her, focusing in on it as she slows her breathing. There is nothing but darkness around her - but she knows how to move through darkness, especially when the tiny, gentle light of the Dragon's Tear is still at her neck to lead the way.

        She is stopped when a figure coalesces out of the void around her; Ebon Zero. Her mask. Her-- cowardly way to avoid responsibility, she thinks bitterly as her face twists for an instant.

        "... I'm sorry," she whispers to the void around her. If the feelings will be transmitted, she doesn't know - but she has to try. "... I must have hurt you terribly. Forced all of that onto you... even if you said you were alright, I know you better than that."

        "... but I don't need that mask anymore," she claims softly, her sword winking into her hands. "And I'll show you that you don't need that mask you're wearing now, either. That you're not a burden. That whoever you want to be, that's alright."

        * * *

        Big Shal tackles the snowhills with ease, making the climb look easy as it moves far more nimbly than the golem ever has before. Part of it might be attributed to the large blades attached to each leg, shaped to push the snow aside. Part of it might be down to the way that much of the machine's outer surface has been reinforced, the old rusted metal panelled over with armored plates of something much more sleek and modern-looking - Veruni metals, and recently obtained.

        Or it might be that Shalune is just feeling that much more in the way of determination today. Strapped in to the harness she's connected to Big Shal's scaffolding, Shalune pours her concentration and her energy into her odd 'alchemy pot' - and with it nestled in a recess of the golem's body and hooked up into its systems, it seems to suffuse the golem with that much more in the way of strength, propelling the twelve-foot golem along with its larger brethren.

        The mechanic has her multi-coloured hat pulled down to keep it in place; she peeks past its hem and through her mess of pink hair, squinting against the wind as she fishes in the pocket of her coat for an energy bar to stuff into her mouth and runs through a brief mental checklist; keep Lunie and Jay alive. Help punch the barrier. Bop some sense into Miss Riese. "... oh, sure," she mutters to herself as she gnaws a corner off of the bar of pressed nuts and honey. "Easy's that, right?"

        She shakes her doubts away the next moment; there's no time to hesitate now, especially not if she wants to try to keep up with Lunata or Jay. Besides, there are more important things to worry about - not least because Big Shal has lifted an arm to indicate the awe-inspiring and terrifying sight of Riesenlied growing, and growing, and growing. "M-Miss Riese..." she breathes, and immediately has to clamp her lips together before she can finish with an instictive 'that's amazing--!" Instead, she finds herself terribly speechless, realizing with a dawning sort of horror that this isn't some triumphant flight, this isn't Riese come back to them in a blaze of glory - this is things gone terribly, terribly wrong.

        So she doesn't say anything, and instead hunkers down on the back of Big Shal to protect herself from the wind and begin setting up her shotstaff for fire support. Understanding without any need for words, the golem somehow manages to increase its pace further, aiming for the Photosphere at a sprint. Though makeshift walls block its way, the golem doesn't seem like it's going to be dissuaded - and with an almighty crash, Big Shal just powers straight through one of them fist first.

        Where bits of its bodywork break away from the impact, the whine of her 'pot' - aka a Veruni matter converter synced to both Shalune and Big Shal - rises to a momentary fever pitch, and as if magnetized the pieces of debris hang oddly in the air and then swirl back into place as if summoned back. Metal reknits around metal even as Riesenlied's scream sends waves of shattering, splintering energy across the golem's form. On its back, Shalune trembles at the noise, her hat pulled over her ears and eyes - but Big Shal remains undeterred, winding up for the next--

GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Riesenlied with Big Shal Punch!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Rudy Roughnight critically Guards a hit from Malfi's Rakurai for 20 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Rudy Roughnight!
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Malfi!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Malfi has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Shalune Amira's Big Shal Punch for 92 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

"I thought myself a king, Fei. I was wrong. I am a knight," Siegfried says, as Glumzambor briefly holds Tethelle's sword at bay. Blades meet, but Fei speaks -- and then the Dark Spear is slammed forward, to break the clash of blade. Fei charges aat him, and his eyes narrow, before he shouts at him.

"There is nothing to reach out towards!" Siegfried bellows. Thge palm strike slams into the forearm armored plate he raises, leaving a deep dent in the armor. Glumzambor is free, though, and the blade whirls and spins; it cleaves through the air, as Ashton rushes in to join Tethelle and Fei. "Stronger than me?"

He sees the tattoos light up, and then he slams Glumzambor upward. The Dark Spear meets the tornado, and the wind explodes around the blade, billowing out and throwing Siegfried back. He lands, kneeling; the Dark Spear carves a path in the taiga outside of the Photosphere. "Unlikely! You made a deal with dragons, whereas I--"

Alhazred screams out his triumph, as Riesenlied screams and is forced into that accursed form. The light of fury and pride leaves Siegfried's eyes, then. He stares, distantly, for a moment.

When he swings up his blade to meet Tethelle's sword, he only catches some strikes. He is sluggish, as he makes those blows. "Your Guardians... they are not enough to save you from her," Siegfried spits back. Ida rushes at her, her palm slamming into Siegfried's side. Chi blasts off, in a wave.

        -=-=-

A ray of light screams down from the heavens. It slams into the Titan from above. The Metal Abomination screams, as it burns through flesh. Metallic flesh distends and burns away; great rivulets of molten silver and steel drip down, boiling the ground where they strike. Finally, the corpse of it crashes unceremoniously, in a terrific heap on the ground.

Mother's expression flattens. "I see that you wish to interfere. So be it," Mother says. "I will kill all of your world's gods."

        -=-=-

Siegfried erupts into a blur of motion. His left arm swings up; the forearm plate snaps upward, and he fires a bolt of ion energy into Ida's face at point blank. Then, the Dark Spear sweeps outward, striking out in a brutal, long slash across Tethelle's midsection. He blitzes forward, then, and his blue cape flutters after him. Siegfried sweeps up Glumzambor, slashing at Fei.

He leaps, then, though. His body twists around.

Siegfried rises up high enough into the air to be a silhouette against the arctic sun.

Then, he crashes down. The Dark Spear slashes, hard, for Ashton's midsection just before the Quarter Knight's feet slam back down into the very earth.

"Witness the one god that is truly among us," he says. "Cling to your hope if you want! It was always a lie!"

GS: Siegfried has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Ion Pulse!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Glumzambor Nemesis!
GS: Siegfried has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried enters a Counter stance!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Ashton Anchors with Dark Spear!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Tethelle Cirdian with Nemesis Cleave!
GS: Siegfried has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried has completed his action.
GS: Tethelle Cirdian guards a hit from Siegfried's Nemesis Cleave for 103 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        'Was I... a burden...?'
        He can hear that question.
        There is something unnerving about the man - Ethius - who seems to hold such composure when surrounded by probable causes of death no more than half a second away at any given time. The same level of detachment from when he moved through the battlefields of Glenwood.
        To hear those words makes his eyes narrow. He doesn't get long to appreciate(?) the question. The chaos grows yet greater - the appearance of Mother's Titan, whose very presence makes Filgaia shake in fear, possessed of a character and make that he can't help but take notice of. Then another, the sense of growing unlight...
        Neriah. Her stake is... against the Demons, citing a pumpkin of some kind. Is that a metaph-- the energy that pulses through the battlefield by the presence of the shot RAY, even by proxy, begs one to forego considering such frivolous queries of 'is that a metaphor' and more 'IS YOUR POSITION SAFE.'
        The answer is no, it is not. The answer is once again no, it is not, as lightning strikes Riesenlied's form and presents a ghastly sight that instinctually invites fear. A great dragon's paw, massive metallic wings... Ethius has no choice but to crouch and brace himself from cover that is less than minimal (literally, just snow) from oncoming Ley energy. It's sheer grit and what is technically a near miss that stops him from being hurled bodily across a vast distance, and instead finds himself dragged across the snowy field for five yards before he thrusts his quarterstaff into the earth as a brake.
        Noeline is missing from sight. She might be presumed dead. Jacqueline and Lily - two people of very different origins, lifestyles, and views - may yet agree on one very important point. Others offer words of encouragement. A madman screams in gleeful triumph.
        A snow-covered Symbologist rises anew and strides forward once more towards the great Ley Dragon of white and blue.
        He does not scream her name.
        He does not offer an open hand.
        Ethius, damn fool that he sometimes is, dares to stand in clear view before the emergent beast that Riesenlied has transformed into. Calmly, surely, clinically, he waves one hand in arcane ways as he quietly chants the proper syllables under his breath.
        "Combustion." That word can just be made out - the name of a mid-yield heat spell whose rapid acceleration within a small point at around chest height sees explosive force threaten to strike her. No hestiation, no restraint - a brief taste of deadly force.
        "A burden," he speaks after the fact. He has no realistic expectations of being able to be heard among the raw emotion surrounding them all.
        "A threat." His gaze levels, a mere flesh-and-blood human daring to stand in combat against a Metal Dragon who now commands a power once unthinkable to the Metal Demons as a whole.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Riesenlied with Combustion!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: Ashton Anchors critically Guards a hit from Siegfried's Dark Spear for 31 hit points!
GS: Ashton Anchors has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        In the moment after Dean and Avril part to seek their individual battles, so much happens. The gorilla-like metal monstrosity. The mask of Mother. The ray of the chosen of Valmar. Fei taking on both his own fear and hesitation as he takes on Siegfried. The transformation of Riesenlied into a Metal Dragon. All of it and more, so much more, as the ragtag band of Drifters takes on the Metal Demon army. It's impossible to take it all in and process it, to give each thing the reaction it truly deserves--especially when K.K. *grabs* Dean's attack with no fear or hesitation of their own, after having called a blade of dark magic down on Zed.
        
        'I remember you, boy.'
        
        "Good! You'd better!" he retorts, despite the fact that his attack has already gone poorly. He strains against them, digging his boots into the ground, focusing all his effort in trying to push through--and so when they summon a hammer out of nowhere and hit him with a great burst of draconic force, he SAILS high into the air, half-spinning in the sky over the battlefield.
        
        The force of the strike can't be overstated. For a precious few seconds, Dean blacks out. Twin Fenrir vanish from his grasp. It's not unlike when Ida, back when she was a Hellion, hit him so hard When his mind snaps back into consciousness, he has to deal with the confusion of reaching the top of his arc and beginning to fall.
        
        But then the Trial Knight speaks, and those words find his ears, and a flash of light see him with his ARMs re-summoned, falling directly for K.K., this time with defiant intent. "Don't you worry! I'm just getting started!" he yells, before launching himself into a spin by shooting at the air, redirecting his momentum, and then CRASHING for the Trial Knight in a flurry of rods and bullets. "METEOR DRIIIIIIIVE!!"

GS: Dean Stark has attacked K.K. with Violence Vice!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Siegfried's Ion Pulse for 169 hit points!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Siegfried!
GS: CRITICAL! Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Combustion for 115 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline's gaze is drawn to the side as she sees Lily leaping straight from her Gear. Jacqueline moves toward her - she knows Lily can handle a fall like that, and it's better not to run through a battlefield on her own.

"Right. I'll-" Before Jacqueline can say exactly what it is she'll do, Riesenlied speaks.

"A-a burden...? No, never! Riesenlied, you were...!" Jacqueline starts. But then...there is a terrible rumbling. The harbinger of a horrible...Abomination, is the only word for it. It unleashes a beam of fire, extinguishing countless lives in an instant. Jacqueline pauses, staring in revulsion.

"What is..." The earth trembles. The air is filled with a terrible, familiar wrongness. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she feels a primal fear beginning to build. Something screams at her, telling her to RUN. But her legs refuse to move...in the air appear two seams, forming a pair of eyes that eventually takes on a familiar face, and speaks in a familiar voice, though amplified by the enormity of her visage.

"Neriah...?" Jacqueline murmurs, and the recoils as she emits a single, terrible ray of power that clashes with Mother's Abomination.

Jacqueline turns toward Riesenlied once more, listening as Riesenlied speaks an unhearable word and begins to scream.

"Riesenlied, what's-" A black bolt of lightning strikes her, and Jacqueline watches in terror as a black dome erupts around Riesenlied and Noeline...

And when the dome fades, where Riesenlied once stood is a Metal Dragon.

"Riesenlied! Riesenlied...? N-no, no, this..." Jacqueline starts, horrified. Tears appear at the edge of her eyes. She finds herself frozen in place, unable to move...and then the Dragon shrieks, spheres of Ley energy erupting into being and launching towards the Drifters nearby - towards her.

Frozen in place as she is, Jacqueline is struck directly by one of the spheres. A barrier of energy flickers to life around her. If it weren't for that, the effect would've been much more dire. But even so, the force of it knocks her back.

"Why...? Why does it have to be this way...?" Jacqueline whispers. She said she was ready. She could never have been ready for this. The breath is caught in her throat. "How could they...? How could they do this...!?"

She stumbles...but then, the sight of a certain Golem draws her attention.

"Big Shal? ...Shalune? You're here, too...?" Jacqueline murmurs to herself. If Shalune was here, then...she couldn't let herself falter. She had to stay strong. She takes a deep breath, then turns her attention back to the Ley Dragon.

"...RIESENLIED! Please, can you hear me...?" Jacqueline shouts, anguish in her voice. Could the Ley Dragon still hear them? Still understand them...? She approaches the Dragon directly, drawing something from her bags and hurling it straight at it.

But then...

Jacqueline's attention turns toward Ethius. She doesn't say anything just yet. But she is listening.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Riesenlied with Sapping Solution!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Sapping Solution for 16 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

Things go south very quickly.

There is a sundering crunch - the only word for it. A baritone rumble vibrating between the very layers of reality itself as Riesenlied vanishes in a dome of anti-light and life, disappearing. Gone. Of her and Noeline, there are no signs.

The vehicle-sized machinegun is thrown from Maya's arms. More to the point, it also dissolves into a billion little motes of sparkling dust as her grip on projecting the ARM is loosened, as the girl is hurled into a stone wall with the telltale shattering snap of bone-unfriendly impacts. Crackling, mystical arcs of Ley energy snap and roil off of Maya's body in the wake of the frenzied dragon's instinctive attack.

"Oh, I guess... it was never gonna be that easy, huh?" she muses in a concussed stupor, looking up slowly...

... to where a great and horrible shining mask and a nightmare of flesh loom, and the world snaps back into focus with a horrible lurch. So terrible is the sight that it hauls the girl back to her feet both figuratively and literally. She brushes a lock of stray gold from her face, feet square on the ground as she stares down the azure Metal Dragon. "Never ever. But hell, Riesenlady, you taught this girl a lesson about what's good 'n worth doing, and I don't forget too quickly..."

Maya wipes a hand over her face with a deep breath. As she does so, her entire form shimmers--like a mirage in the distance. Her body and clothes become a whorl of radiant gold, shifting, changing, rapidly settling into something else. The orange dress is gone, replaced with the black cloak of a symbologist and light armour to match. "So, I'm gonna keep you from flatterin' everyone until we take you home, boss-lady." the Drifter solmenly declares, gloved hands crackling with untamed magical power. Sparking, barely-contained arcs and wisps of wild pink ether.

"Lily!" roars Maya, never having missed the Black Wolf's entrance. "Flatten these assholes and let's take this good girl back to where she belongs!" both hands clench into fists, and a tether of magical fuel latches into Lily Keil, known Magical Human Weapon System.

This should end well.

<Pose Tracker> Jack van Burace has posed.


Jack is already leaping back even as he feels his blade stopped by that disgusting metalic hand. Draw cutting on the retreat, a retreat that turns into a parry as suddenly he is under attack by a strange metal insect. Sparks fly as Jack angles most of the power of the blow away from himself, though the cuts that land sting still.

There is a smirk from the swordsman as he glances up towards the gloating Quarter Knight. Hate burns in his eyes but he isn't quite to the point of recklessly throwing himself on whatever is concealed by that cloak.

"I've seen what kind of sick forms your hospitality takes, freak. I'll pass. But..." The blade is shifted again, this time facing backwards for a moment before he blurs forwards and past the Quarter Knight. The curved weapon slashing out at an angle as he attempts to use Alhazred's distraction to remove some of those disgusting limbs he happens to have.

"I'll gladly take someone elses stay out of your damnable hide!"

...ok so maybe he is a little angry.

DC: Maya Schrodinger switches forms to Shrewd Sorceress!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has attacked Lily Keil with Laphas Seed!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has completed her action.
GS: Jack van Burace has attacked Alhazred with Wolf's Bite!
GS: Jack van Burace has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Jack van Burace has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Jack van Burace's Wolf's Bite for 140 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Maya Schrodinger's Laphas Seed for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Lily Keil gains 15 extra FP from Maya Schrodinger!
GS: CRITICAL! K.K. takes a glancing hit from Dean Stark's Violence Vice for 107 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Dean Stark!
GS: Fei Fong Wong critically Guards a hit from Siegfried's Glumzambor Nemesis for 42 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

The ground would become their enemy as well, if Elvis had his way. There is many a way to cause an opposing force to disperse. Hazardous terrain can cause moments lost to redirecting effort. And in so doing, precious time shifts in favor of others.

AFamiliar voices call to each other nearby as magic and ARMs clash all around. That boy... and a white-haired young lady. He slowly stands and turns to her. "You... What are you doing here? You and that boy should leave, now! This will not end how you think it will!"

She answers back with speed and a flourish. A cash runs up a forearm as it is used to deflect the majority of the blade away from his core. "I did! But she has changed sides, it seems." How much he knows why is not shown. Though in truth he knows exactly why. ALhzareds brute sciences are transparent to a man of TRUE SCIENCE.

A stomp of the floor, and a perfect hexagonal pillar erupts from under them both, though only one knew it was coming. An impact from that would surely bludgeon someone thoroughly! "I do not wish you attack you. Espectially you!"

There are things he is uncertain of in his life. But Elvis knows there is something about this young lady, one that tugs at ancient memories, and long-lost tomes once peered into.

A crash and a scream across the battlefield gets his attention. "What?!" he utters, looking upon the new form of Riesenlied. "That is impossible! Who would do something so heinous?! MY RESEARCH IS RUINED!" he cries out. "The hours I poured into a cure for that Tainted..."

And then yet another unexpected change happens. THe emergence of a Metal Titan appears. He has heard of appearances of the mbefore, but so rarely in recordings. And if that wasn't a shocker--

Neriah of all people--

Turns to destroy it. "...Well I'll be. She just can't make up her mind."

Hey, at least it isn't the Veruni, though her mention of turning on others gets him thinking.

It also leaves him open.

GS: Elvis has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with Hi-Crush!
GS: Elvis has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda scowls at Alhazred as he starts to release his drones; she pulls a shield from within her heavy coat, though, and uses it to shoulder into the blow rather than shrink away. She manages to take the initiative in the exchange, batting the drone away -- but this *also* means advancing that much closer in.

"I have the feeling," Matilda reflects aloud, just loud enough for Alhazred to hear, "that centuries of success have made you complacent. Arrogant, even." She doesn't think she can handle Alhazred in the way she usually would -- too large, too... confusingly laid-out, to put it delicately. She'll have to try something else.

For now, she starts with a quick shield bash. She's already got it up, after all. It's not a dreadfully complex attack -- but it brings with it the promise of something else, perhaps, judging from the position of her feet.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Alhazred with Tilling!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

        Ines grimaces as Alhazred almost effortlessly blocks her attack. The difference in skill and power is obvious even from that brief exchange. The battle at New Arctica was against a strong enemy, but Alhazred is something on a whole other level. She uses the distraction provided by Xantia's sudden shockwave to try and pull back before the Metal Demon's chief scientist can tear her apart. That should get her some breathing room, at least, as others begin their assault.

        But Alhazred's raw glee at Riesenlied's transformation is somehow... terrifying. "He doesn't even give a damn that we're fighting him!?" She growls, but that's all Ines can get out before the Esperanza drones descend upon her. Even getting her guard up, the beastwoman is shredded by the things. Blood spurts from her cuts on her arms, her legs, her face and her throat. She can't talk, Shge can't move. She can barely breathe.

        She falls to a knee, from even that minor, uncaring assault by the Quarter Knight. One of her webbed hands touches the ground. She won't be closing any time soon.

        Fortunately, she doesn't have to. Tattoos glow, and the earth under Alhazred cracks, before firing sharp stone shrapnel into the Quarter Knight from below. For the moment, Ines can leave the taunting to people who can actually talk.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a solid hit from Elvis's Hi-Crush for 123 hit points!
GS: Ines Colina has attacked Alhazred with Tectonic Breaker!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
GS: Alhazred critically Guards a hit from Matilda Whitehead's Tilling for 19 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Ines Colina's Tectonic Breaker for 77 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Persephone has posed.

The onslaught that begins amuses Persephone, especially as Elvis is assaultyed by - ... the Veruni woman stares for a moment at the woman that attacks him, that dares assault him. "My, look at that..." Persephone notes, staring over at the woman. There is recognition, though Elvis is perfectly able to take care of himself no matter what.

She doesn't disbelieve this at all.

Of course, as Elvis makes note as well, the woman smirks a bit. Elvis doesn't seem to realize. Yet the spymaster is more than aware.

She doesn't speak up at all, however.

As none seem to assault her, Persephone strides to watch the greater assaults that occur, peering at the assault on Siegfried, the monster that is the giant flesh creature of the elder gods rises, "My - you don't say that you'd be so straight forwards with this." To be an enemy of all?

Oddly, Persephone doesn't immediately react to this. She cares not at all, for it wasn't in the mission. Random soldiers, those unnamed, are set on by Persephone - the pistol providing covering fire as she plinks those that would be close in her vision. One may be unlucky and be struck directly.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Oh no, Ida. Neriah's breaking point happened months ago. The rest of this is pure, selfish Neriah-centred morality.

And fury. I was too late, Neriah screams inwardly as she watches Riesenlied change. I was too late and they transformed her like this. Damn it damn it damn it DAMN IT DAMN IT. She can't put that into words because her brain reaches for ones she feels are more appropriate. I should've turned on them sooner. I should've come here ahead of these Drifter fools and exterminated all the Hyadeans and taken her back myself!

But Neriah doesn't have time to rebuke herself. The Metal Demons' literal deity is present. Even as the Metal Abomination crumples upon itself, Neriah begins to descend, breathing heavily. Sweat beads down her face, and she fights to keep her arm up. The energy she poured into that RAY was immense - she couldn't do it twice.

She smiles thinly nevertheless, lifting her eyes towards the shape that is Mother.

"Want to place bets on whether or not you can do that before I exterminate your children?"

Sharp heels touch to the turf with a click. Tossing her head back, Neriah sweeps one hand out to her side.

And with a surge of hideous energy, the sky yawns open. Cold air gives way, parting like a yawning hellmouth. Streams of flame lick at the edges of the portal as bodies begin to emerge.

Most of them are Drifters; there are about fifteen of them, armed with ARMs and melee weapons, some with staves. A couple are distinctly not human, one resembling nothing so much as a lizardman with compound eyes, another with scaly skin and a proboscis. All of them - aside from a single, scruffy-looking crow that comes fluttering out with them - are clad in red robes and hoods etched in black with the delta-and-slash sigil of the Cult of Valmar.

"Go," Neriah orders with a crook of one finger. "Kill them all. Whoever brings me back the most dead Metal Demons will win my favour."

The cultists roar. Red robes billow as they surge into battle, swinging blades, firing ARMs, opening up with fire and lightning and shadow magic - magic Neriah begins to add to in her own right. No RAYs are in the offing, but she contributes waves of explosions as she and her cult begin to tend to the Metal Beast presence.

<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 The swift lance is enough that Rudy drops the knife, which likely seems like the perfect time to attack. The blow is aimed perfectly for Rudy's gut, a killing blow that skilled melee warriors would parry or block. Rudy is not trained enough to do either.
 
 Instead, Rudy catches the lance with his gloved hand.
 
 Wait, what?
 
 Drops of red blood fall from the glove, where the simple leather was not enough to protect from the deadly weapon. But Rudy stands strong, deep grooves in the snow that kick up earth and stone marking his refusal to yield. There are a couple of ragged breaths given in response from the bold and surprising move. Then Rudy lifts his head so his brown eyes can look straight into Malfi's, so he can level his Hand Cannon right for her, understanding that he has no choice but to fight with the (un)optimized weapon. He hasn't had the chance to switch out from his regular bullets, which means there is only one attack he unleash at this time. And considering the power that comes from the hail of bullets, there is only one thing he can say in response before he unloads with a powerful volley of lead that empties the gun's magazine.
 
 "I'm sorry."

GS: Rudy Roughnight has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Gatling Raid!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

The world is coming apart at the seems. All around, the myriad godheads of familiar and alien worlds have joined battle in this frozen megido. Dimly, Zed recognizes the deafening roar of Valmar's power unleashed upon the world. He feels in some primordial part of his brain Mother's attention fall across the battlefield, and that part urges him to lay down his arms and praise her name to the heavens.

But fear has no place in a swordfight.

The Trial Knight's dreadful blade arcs across the empty divide between mysterious swordsman and traitorous demon. Zed meets the strike head-on, driving his own, shining blade into the twisting darkness. Light and shadow meet, mingle, and finally explode. The blast sends Zed skidding back, singing his only freshly repaired battlesuit. "Hahahahaha. Do I know what's coming? It feels like the world's ending, doesn't it? I've tried to stop worrying about things that haven't happened yet."

Zed takes a step forward, the Doom Bringer still glowing like a torch with the light of his very soul. "Anyway... You've got answers for me, huh? First question, then! There's a dragon we sealed with the Photosphere's engines, not far from here. The last time we fought one, it kicked my ass! How do we deal with it before it craters most of Filgaia?"

As if to punctuate that point, Zed surges forward with his blade held high. He yells, driving the shining sword in a furious, but unusually focused flurry. There's a discipline to his blows that wasn't there before. His eyes never leave the Trial Knight's own...!

And...

He seems to be... Trying to impose himself between Dean and this guy, too!? Does he mean to... take up the role of 'tank' in this party!?

GS: Zed has attacked K.K. with RayBlade - Zed Saber!
GS: Zed has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Malfi takes a glancing hit from Rudy Roughnight's Gatling Raid for 92 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

It doesn't generally take Xantia very long to make up her mind about how she feels about people, but Alhazred in particular is making it very easy. Even leaving aside what he's done, the way he talks is already grating on her after a few short sentences. As if he's seen everything before, can predict everything that's going to happen. Her attack not having the intended effect could be used to support that claim, causing her to growl in frustration. "What if I'm not like everyone else? I'll give you an experiment--"

She's cut short when a voice sounds out nearby. A voice that she's never heard before, but she yet manages to quickly work out must belong to Mother. This is why they're here, after all. From what she's understood from the briefings, Mother can't actually move from here. Which is why she mumbles, "We'll see who's the trapped one." They didn't come this far just to lose here.

Knowing she's not alone in this fight emboldens her further. Even she can see this is not the time for a friendly chat, but she does have a smile ready for any of her allies looking in her direction. Wordlessly conveying her optimism - they can do this, together. Even the added annoyance of having to deal with drones instead of her opponent directly fighting himself can't drive away her positive attitude entirely. Xantia exploys her own piece of technology, the ARM on her wrist, to effectively keep them at bay, swatting at the Esperanza drones like the bugs they resemble, and using the bracer to defect the attacks coming her way.

However... she then takes notice of what's happening to Riesenlied. The transformation into... something else. Xantia has no idea what it means. Whether it's reversable, whether Riese is still there at all. And Alhazred laughing at it, saying terrible thing. Rather than focusing on her worries, her feelings about this quickly transform to anger, directed at this oh-so-convenient target.

"How dare you?!" she roars, not even realizing that she's using the exact words Alhazred just predicted would be coming. "What did you do to her?!" she follows up, lightning exploding from her body as the emphasized word is spoken. Pushing off from the ground, she evades the drones by leaping up high, then twists in the air, and drops down towards the Quarter Knight with arms raised, intent on slamming both electrified fists down upon the creature's masked visage.

GS: Xantia has attacked Alhazred with Elemental Fury!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! K.K. takes a glancing hit from Zed's RayBlade - Zed Saber for 105 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi twists away from some of Rudy's bullets, though the rest strike home, driving holes into her torso where, again, regeneration starts immediately. Surprisingly, she smiles. "Don't be sorry. You're defending your home, just as I am mine. We neither of us have much choice." Wincing, she counterattacks with a savage sweep of her lance, attempting to knock the young Drifter off his feet. Strength, even immense strength, was far less useful without leverage!

GS: Malfi has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Improv Tango!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Xantia's Elemental Fury for 114 hit points!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Xantia!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        Mother, the newborn being that iswascould be Riesenlied, Ida's entry into the field with seemingly just *one* arm, the fact that _Rudy is still missing_ (but she knows he's somewhere), and a host of so many things that could make even the well of Gwen's enthusiasm and tendency to deny everything extremely negative run dry.

        Instead, everything narrows down to what's in front of Gwen. Another sort of a denial, maybe, but one born of the battlefield.

        Gwen can't shoot or punch everyone, but she can certainly punch *one*.

        Jack darts forward, his movements a blur and his sword ready. Matilda attacks with her shield, and Ines draws strength from the earth itself. Xantia leaps into the air.

        Gwen moves. Blood, freshly drawn from one of the beautiful dragonfly drones, blooms from Gwen's back, staining the white parka red as she dashes forward, attempting to coordinate her move with Xantia's slam.

        Her right fist is drawn back and ready, and, as she emerges into ALhazred's field of view, she aims it, straight for the metal demon's face.
        
        "Try this ascension on fer size!" No, wait, that isn't how that word works

GS: Gwen Whitlock has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Alhazred with Special Delivery!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Rudy Roughnight critically Guards a hit from Malfi's Improv Tango for 13 hit points!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Malfi has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Special Delivery for 105 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

The sense of wrongness, between that of Mother and Valmar's chosen, is palpable. Tethelle can certainly feel it. She is choosing to deal with it by intense focus, almost entering some kind of battle-trance, except she's no berserker; she's not letting her emotions run away with her. Even though part of her really, really wants to.

"Even if there were no Guardians to speak, I would stand against you to my dying breath!" Tethelle attempts to deflect Glumzambor, dropping into the lower stance to do it, and partially succeeds; instead of a deep slash across her whole torso, she gets a smaller one across the side of her stomach. It hurts, but it's not enough to stop her. Not yet.

Across the field, Mother - or the titan she was puppeting, at least - explodes. Tethelle is so startled she actually drops entirely out of her stance for a moment, shifting to a more prosaic battle position as she dances around Siegfried to reposition herself, but she can *feel* the powers here and none of them are good. The only thing she can do is believe in herself, and the Guardians, and do what she can.

Which is get past Siegfried so she can deal with Mother at the source, right now. Cultists can be Problem #2.

Tethelle does not return to her previous formalized stances. She attacks Siegfried directly, a whirling assault that strikes from multiple sides - and given she's using a sword as big as she is, she's really muscling the old Baskar blade around as she keeps herself moving. She's impressed with Ashton's skill, and she knows Fei is up to the task, so there's only Ida she's not sure about.

Well, okay, no, there's a lot of Drifters she's worried about. And she can't defend them *all*, no matter how much she'd like to.

GS: Tethelle Cirdian has attacked Siegfried with Formless Blade!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has completed her action.
GS: Siegfried critically Guards a hit from Tethelle Cirdian's Formless Blade for 29 hit points!
GS: Siegfried has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        'I will kill all of your world's gods.'

        Any hope Ida had of talking to Mother--and there wasn't much left to begin with--dies at the sound of that voice. Her thoughts whirl back. Kalve.

        mother why are you so angry

        "You will do no such thing," Ida says. There is steel in her words, even as her heart jumps and wavers for reasons she can't quite identify. Siegfried's arm-cannon is suddenly right there, in her face, so close she can smell the ozone as the charge builds up inside. Ida shifts her weight back, braces, and leaps. She doesn't quite clear the blast in time. The ionic discharge slams into her right side, scorching through the wool cloak, and then the layer of fabric tying something in place across Ida's chest. The flesh beneath flows and spasms in a way that human flesh should not. The cloth comes apart. Ida feels a sudden, sickening lurch of exposure.

        The arm beneath is too long to fit comfortably on Ida's frame; its owner was bigger than her, well-built and long-limbed, at least seven feet tall. There's a burnished-bronze tint to the skin, and crimson lines trace out something like a tattoo from hand to shoulder. There's no scar there. It's bonded to Ida's body, seamlessly.

        If this is what it will take to get through to? him...

        Ida strikes high with Fafnir's hand, clenching his fingers together into a knife-shape--the sort of shape used for techniques that target pressure points. She aims for the joint of shoulder and arm without even realizing it, consciously.

        She quietly wonders what Siegfried will do when faced with the arm of a long-dead senior officer grafted on a human body. There's an odd sort of freedom in not knowing, as terrifying as it is.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Siegfried with The Hand Of Fafnir!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

He's ready this time. Coming into the battle, Ashton was hesitant. And in the past, he has not acquitted himself well - acceptably, but not significantly. Now? He is committed.
 
"I made no deal!" The words are almost carried away in the explosion of wind. "Unlike YOU, I suffered and overcame! I retained when you surrendered!"
 
He sees the Quarter Knight leap. A lensflare gleams off Glumzambor at the peak of the jump. And Siegfried descends.
 
Ashton is there to meet him. The Dark Spear scrapes along the Symbological Fencer's side, nicking the heavy plate armor he wears under the dark robe. The impact is still heavy - but not enough to make the blademaster falter. "The Guardians need not save us because we have the strength to save ourselves! And if your soul is too weak to do nothing but bow, then I suggest you take a Hyadean knee and let the rest of us succeed where you have failed!"
 
A small part of Ashton tells him to dial it back - Fei wanted to try and save Siegfried. But he also hasn't missed the... well, the giant and rising threat coming. They don't have time for tea and discussion.
 
Right up in Siegfried's face, Ashton surges to action. He isn't fast on his feet, but he IS fast with the blades. Both swords lash out, sweeping in every direction with a rapid barrage. The man himself spins and jukes, letting the momentum of each swing carry him through a complex assault that tries to reach every angle and flank he can reach. "I would rather cling to a lie of hope than cower behind a monster! Now fall, blade of a hollow god! SWORD DANCE!"

GS: Ashton Anchors has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

The sounds and sights of the battlefield would be overwhelming to nearly anyone; eruptions of power, monsters teleporting into place, the emergence of the creature that is the Titan. Lily is trained; she breaks it down, looks to each segment and focuses on her mission. ...But training isn't enough for some things. Some things...

The word spoken makes her fel her heart stops an instant--and then Riese shifts, in agony, bending backward, struck by lightning--

"NO!"

Lily starts forward immediately, the red of her armor and clothing obvious against the snow. ...But the sudden burst of energy stops her short; she is not close enough to reach Riesenlied in time, could not be yet with her attempted assault on the barrier. Nevertheless its shockwave reaches her, stops her short as she bends her arm and a barrier of golden flame erupts before her, destroying much of the power towards her.

Immediately she feels the difference. The shriek that makes her blood cold; the silhouette before her... the Ley power pulsing like blood in her ears.

Lily looks up, up to the white and blue dragon, standing in full red, her black hair loose as she looks up, up--

...Accession.

"Noeline--"

She's gone. Lily can't see her anywhere. But before she moves, she hears words over the battlefield. Alhazred says something about Riesenlied being chosen, something about Mother... Lily barely registers the rest of what he says over the red flash of anger that blots her senses, overwhelming the horror and pain of the instant for a moment, making her shift her stance to stay upright--And it's as that moment passes that she hears Maya's voice, snaps her eyes towards her for an instant and sees the change. Magical power of some kind floods towards her, and the witch nods, sharply. "...Yes," she answers, nods to Jay near her. "That's what I'll do."

Lily takes one hand off of the beautiful rifle in her arms, faces her palm towards herself as she closes it into a fist. "Riesenlied..."

Shalune is here. But this is so far beyond what Lily practiced for. Lily considers--but K.K. said it right. Those who hesitate...

"RIESENLIED!" Lily calls, raising her voice. "Come on and face me! Don't you owe me a wound?"

Lily uses the magic thrown towards her, and from her outstretched hand erupts a blazing line of fire, exploding just short of the Dragon's hide to draw attention, melting and cracking ice and snow in its wake. "Come on!"

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Riesenlied with Break Order!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 Oh right there were people he was fighting, weren't there?
 
 Alhazred turns just as Jack slams his blade into the Demon's back, a gout of silver blood erupting from under the cloth as he staggers backwards for a moment. But the Quarter Knight is still too amused by the sudden transformation of Riesenlied - really, when things exceed your expectations, what can you do but laugh in utter amusement. It is a laugh he does not even try to hide as he spars with Jack, a tentacle coming from under his cloth to slash at the Drifter. "Ah such fury - and the Guardians claim there is something superior about you wastrels! But you are consumed by hate and anger as much as any Metal Demon!" Suddenly the end of Alhazred's tentacle triples in size, transforming in a massive mace to smash down on Jack.
 
 Matilda leaps forward to bash at him with her shield, but Alhazred lashes out to grab the barrier with one claw, tossing her aside with a casual motion. "Nonsense - as a scientist, attention to detail is a key to any proper advancement. There is always something new and interesting to learn, and you Filgaians are best served as my test subjects!" Another tentacle comes up, holding some sort of strange device. A button push on top emits an unusual blue wave of energy that saps Matilda of momentum and speed if she can't avoid it, leaving her feeling like she is crawling through mud.
 
 Ines launches another barrage of rock towards him, and Alhazred staggers for a moment - he's managed to intercept some of the blow, but that doesn't keep it from hurting. "Tch - yes it is rude to ignore the lot of you. But a proper scientist must give CREDIT to his moment of triumph!" One arm comes up, the lens of some sort of emitter weapon glittering amidst the center of the claw. "It was a hack job, the sort of rush one should never condone - and it has exceeded my expectations by thousands of miles. I must get her back to the lab, figure out what has caused this transformation..." He actually looks distracted - at least from the offhanded way he fires a beam of energy at Ines without even looking at her.
 
 Xantia comes lunging in, smashing into Alhazred head on and knocking him reeling from the force of her impact. She's shouting at him, but to be fair almost everyone around here is shouting - how is he supposed to pay attention to it all? And a moment later Gwen slams into him, exascerbating the damage and sending the Quarter Knight skidding backwards along the ground. Grunting he snaps one claw up, another emitter unleashing a stream of energy directly towards the two women who had just lashed out at him. The blast strips away the top layer of the ground, and Alhazred works to recover himself for a moment. "Quite unexpected - one should not grow too careless," he growls. Pulling out a device - which looks like a very large syringe - he jabs it into his... well neck area, since its near his eyes, and depresses the plunger.
 
 The medical device goes to work, repairing some of the damage as he gazes out at the Drifters before him. "Well, it seems I will have to take this a bit more seriously if I wish to properly document Riesenlied's transformation." He raises one claw.
 
 "Very well. Let us fight."

GS: Alhazred has attacked Alhazred with Booster Type 217A!
GS: Hyper and Shield! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Alhazred heals Alhazred! He gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Jack van Burace with Kinetic Hammer!
GS: Alhazred has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Slow Down!
GS: Alhazred has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Ines Colina with Photon Blaster!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Particle Shower!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Xantia with Particle Shower!
GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied critically Guards a hit from Lily Keil's Break Order for 28 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lily Keil has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Jack van Burace takes a glancing hit from Alhazred's Kinetic Hammer for 60 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Ines Colina guards a hit from Alhazred's Photon Blaster for 132 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Ines Colina!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Xantia takes a solid hit from Alhazred's Particle Shower for 150 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Ida Everstead-Rey's attack becomes clear!
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Quicksilver Blade for 93 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Matilda Whitehead completely evades Slow Down from Alhazred!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        Inches from Siegfried's face, the arm changes. Fingers flow together, making the phrase 'knife-hand' a bit more literal--suddenly, he is presented not with a simple pressure-point strike, but a spear-like blade of Hyadean flesh, jammed into something very important.

GS: Rudy Roughnight has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ashton Anchors has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Ashton Anchors has attacked Siegfried with Sword Dance!
GS: Ashton Anchors has completed his action.
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Ashton Anchors's Sword Dance for 94 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 As the Metal Demon retreats and explains that she is doing what must be done, Rudy calmly changes his cartridge for his weapon. When the woman attacks, he barely moves, only bracing his leg for the strike, moving so it hits the side of his shin rather than the vulnerable ankle. More blood flows as the lance slams into his ankle, but he doesn't seem ready to throw in the towel. In fact, he seems like he's only getting started.
 
 "Choice? Metal Demons attacked a city with families, with children And you didn't have a choice?"
 
 The gentleness fades from the young Drifter, his voice becoming an out-of-place neutral. The endless nightmare of Adelhyde's night death and fire always seems ready to grant new inspiration to the lad; that is for certain.
 
 With previous pity replaced with cold detachment, Rudy aims his weapon with natural speed, seeking more than just the grazing shots he's been able to muster so far. In fact, the only sign that he feels at all comes in the form of the tears that fall from his face, soon freezing against his cheeks in the harsh wintery weather.

GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Boosted Shell!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
GS: Malfi takes a glancing hit from Rudy Roughnight's Boosted Shell for 80 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.
<SoundTracker> Motoi Sakuraba - Crossbreed Priscilla - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miK66DRTiJw

        She must be aware of the appearance of Mother -- if face alone -- if that shudder that crosses the young woman's face is any guide. Yet, for now, her attention is singular --

        And it is all for the Veruni scholar.

        Absolute Zero cuts; as if it were a dance upon the floor of a ballroom, Avril takes two steps back across the field of ice she's summoned, her footing as steady as any master skater. Her blade, marred only by his blood, holds in the air before her.
        Pointed at him.

        "She was spirited away by that one. Alhazred," she says, naming the cloaked Metal Demon. Her gaze narrows. "Or were you unaware?" She takes a breath. Then another. "What have the Metal Demons offered you, Elvis? Has Mother promised you much?"
        There are things which... she feels almost instinctively, she may not easily forgive.
        This scenario now treads ever closer.

        At his words, she can only shake her head. "It is too late for Dean or I to depart," she continues, sparing further violence at least for a few seconds more. "The fate of Filgaia hangs now in the balance. ...I am afraid that as long as you stand with them, then I must stand against you. Elvis, prepare--"

        It's the scream that rips her attention away.
        The scream, and the pulse of the Medium that she knows as well as a mother might know her own child.

        Her eyes widen as she sights it -- what Riesenlied has become. Something, it seems, lurches in her chest. Throttles off her own scream, though that expression she bears speaks volumes of its own.

        Before the ground erupts beneath her in a hard upward slam, enough to send the relatively much lighter woman sailing back into the ice and snow. With a solid thunk, Absolute Zero lands blade down alongside her.

        Avril does not at first so much as twitch. Is it possible that she has received an incapacitating blow?

        But the woman stirs in the snowdrift.

        Frost, at first imperceptable against the ice, begins to spread outwards from her in an ever-widening spider's web.
        She rises to her feet and it is less of a rise and more of an unfolding.
        One hand reaches for the hilt of that blade, sliding it free from the snow with barely a whisper.

        When the young woman turns her gaze upon Elvis again, there is nothing to be found there but winter's heart.

        "Your 'experiment'?" she wonders aloud, her face impassive.
        "So that is what she was to you."

        The blade glitters coldly in the light of the Photosphere.

        Now, here, once more--

        She darts forward with a dancer's grace--
        Or perhaps, more accurately, the presence and force of a chessboard's queen.

DC: Avril Vent Fleur switches forms to The Ice Queen!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Elvis with Holy Saber!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei looks towards Ida. For a moment he worries she's of two minds about this herself, but the steel in her words calms him down. He must be imagining it. She's already adapted so well. "Ida..." He says. "You bounce back quick huh?" He manages a smile. "I...I'm glad you're here. Thank you for letting me try." He won't forget that. He wishes he could put as much faith in Tethelle but she's a woman he barely knows and Ashton, well, he's a good man but Fei clearly underestimated his misfortune. It makes it seem like the misfortune Fei typically runs into seem not exactly quaint, but certainly less omnipresent.

Siegfried speaks to him.

"Wha...Knight or King? What does that matter?"

Fei catches the blade in the hand and it scrapes off a hefty chunk of flesh there, but it is pushed away from his delicious vitals at the very least. Fei sinks to one knee, placing a bloody hand on his knee.

"She's been defeated before. How can you have so much faith in her when she cares nothing for you?" Fei says, tears in his eyes. "How long until she tires of your people, Siegfried? How long until she decides to destroy you??"

He stands himself up, slowly, stumbling towards Siegfried.

"God?" He says. "There is no god on Filgaia. It's only if we lift each other up that we can ascend to the heavens! You aren't the only ones from another world here!"

Fei punches downward, unleashing a wave of ice that circles around Siegfried, trying to trap him in its chilling embrace!

"I think you know you made a mistake. I think you just can't accept it because you're afraid. Afraid of what it might mean. Afraid of the risks it means taking. Afraid of being hurt again."

Fei curls his hands into fists. "That's right....you're a coward, just like me."

That pain keeps punching through his head. Every time Mother speaks is like a sledgehammer against his skull.

Where is Xantia, he thinks distantly.

<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi writhes and might've managed to evade Rudy's special cartridge if it weren't explosive. It detonates, tearing her flesh and releasing a flow of silverblood, so much in contrast to Rudy's own. "No choice," she intones. "Claim a home here or die. There's no way we can return to space." Malfi doesn't feel like explaining that she, personally, didn't kill anyone at Adlehyde...she was too busy being a colossal failure. She curses in Hyadean and aims another attack at the young Drifter, a different one this time. She shapeshifts her left arm into tendrils covered in spines and snaps them at Rudy. If they hit, she'll be able to drain some of his lifeforce, maybe even enough to speed the healing of her injuries... That was the Hyadean way, use enemies' strength (or vitality) against them!

GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Siegfried with Suikei!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
GS: Malfi enters a Counter stance!
GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Transfuse!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Siegfried guards a hit from Fei Fong Wong's Suikei for 78 hit points!
GS: Siegfried enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Rudy Roughnight critically Guards a hit from Malfi's Transfuse for 25 hit points!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Malfi has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Malfi drains Rudy Roughnight! Malfi gains 12 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

In the aftermath of that hammerblow, K.K. yanks backwards; despite the violence of their motions, their position has not changed overmuch, holding down that point they stopped at as if they had become a firmly affixed, immovable object. This is the line. They will hold it. The message is clear.

No one unworthy will pass.

Immaculately wrought metal alloys chip away into little fragments of white, transient light as the Trial Knight's large, blunt instrument fades away as if it had never even existed. Their attentions shift in the direction of the Ley Dragon once more, fingers spasming in the briefest, mildest moment as they watch the unfolding conflict. The book above them once more starts to flip, unseen words scrawled into its countless pages shining with hues of twilight.

And it is like this that Dean once more leaps at the Trial Knight, filled with an unhindered drive he sees fit to brandish with a hail of bulletfire and heat rods. The enigmatic knight responds nigh-instantly, a giant lance nocked upon an even greater bow that ought be utterly impossible for anyone to wield brought to bear with apparent intent to smite Dean Stark out of the skies before he can even start to fire --

-- save for perfectly timed intervention on the part of one green-haired Hyadean. The knight notices him, out of the peripherals of their vision, perhaps a second too late; the bow swings like a bludgeon, lance cast aside and shattering apart in the winds as they knock aside the first of the scarf-toting hero's assaults. There is a control there, in Zed's blows. A drive. The first blow knocks the tremendous blow aside. The second screeches across armor. The third --

The third, along with the rain of bulletfire, peppers the Trial Knight with a riddling assault as they -flip- backwards with the momentum of the blow, landing nearly five feet out from where they were once positioned.

Budged from their line in the sand.

"..."

Smoke rises off from where bullets have dented the polished white armor of the Trial Knight as they rise from their crouch. Their right hand snaps outward toward their side.

"... You speak of the Dragon of Rayfalke," they intone, slowly. "He has been dragged here outside his will, else he would remain unperturbed within the perch of his domain. Know you how such a creature as he is formed?"

It might not be quite an answer yet. But the question is an essential one -- and one, it seems, punctuated by a renewed assault. The Trial Knight -surges- forward at speeds improbable as a spear forms within a hair's breadth in their grasp. They take hold of it with two hands within that blurring smudge of movement --

-- and drive it forward, with intent to run Zed straight through with one graceful, deadly thrust.

"You fight well," he speaks, to both. "With drive. With purpose." Light shines from the spear, flowing upward in rivulets of haunting blues and whites that gather into a sphere before the knight and Zed. Larger and larger and larger. The energy streams battering to try to lift Zed higher. Higher. Higher.

"Let us see how far it may take you."

Before EXPLODING, to launch him far and away within a haze of almost crystalline blues... as the Trial Knight's attentions shift towards Dean.

"I wonder," intones the knight, as shadowy magics gifted by the blessing of Althena swim in the skies around them. "What is it you intend to do here? For what do you fight? To save your world? To protect something important to you?"

A sigil grows, ever-intricate.

"Why are you here?"

The tome above begins to shine. The magical chant echoes outward.

                         "O' servant of darkness,
                            punish the wicked!"

And from that sigil comes a great, hooded reaper, its face obscured, its shadowy, skeletal fingers gripped tight to its harvest scythe.

                              "Dark Visitor!"

Swung to reap in a great circle that will sweep up Dean in its wrath, trailing shadowy magics as it goes.

"And what would you give to see those intentions realized?"

GS: K.K. has spent 5 Combo on Gatling, including 4 on Gatling!
GS: K.K. has attacked Zed with Ancient Requiem!
GS: K.K. has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: K.K. has attacked Dean Stark with Dark Visitor!
GS: K.K. has gained 2 Combo!
GS: K.K. has completed their action.
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        There is something, perhaps, of a comfort that Ebon Zero is here. No matter that it is there to bar her. Because no matter that it is a guardian of this space--

        It is evidence to Noeline that Riesenlied -- and the constituent parts that make her identity -- is fighting back. In the ways that she can, perhaps. In admiring Lord Siegfried and wishing for his safety, even in this direst of moments. And...

        In compromising for a form which is most Noeline within the bounds of the programming that she is allowed. Ebon Zero is a loyal knight of the Metal Demons' forces. There is no contradiction to be had there. She's allowed to have that thought.

        But now--

        Ebon Zero prepares a self-same sword, the same as the one Noeline prepares. A low, white flame erupts from its eyes; and then the armour charges!

        ~*~

        What comes as a finality, perhaps all that which the voice of Nasrin within can spare, is a quiet acknowledgement to the demon, Id. Something that does not need words. A look of certainty, if one can be shaped such across empathic space.

        There is something of a quietness as the Ley stills -- and bristles in the wake of Alhazred's outburst of glee. The Ley Dragon's jaw pops open as it lets out a pained screech, perhaps some measure of awareness of how low she was in stature to the Quarter Knight...

        But is this a kind of acceptance that she wants?

        The Ley Dragon turns towards the glimpse of metal upon the snowhill -- Big Shal. Some part of her hesitates for a moment, hurt at the sensation of her conditioning that forces her to battle her allies. There's a shriek as the Dragon, still freshly spawned for the very first time--

        --and raises her palm as she deigns to push the Big Shal Punch back, but finds the Veruni construction golem's fist to be more powerful than expected. The Dragon rears back, skidding several dozen feet back as she dishevels snow from a great distance with a pitiable roar towards Shalune in turn.

        Stay away... echoes... not the Dragon, but something within Shalune -- and Big Shal's mind. There is hesitation there. As K.K. had said before... perhaps what is within the Dragon is not one that bears the resplendence of one who wants to be in the battlefield.

        A burden, Ethius speaks in turn.

        A threat. A threat... what has it all come to? To have come so far, to have achieved so much... and yet to have it all just be done here and then--

        Such is the distraction the Ley Dragon bears, exuding rather plainly towards the Symbologist, as she struggles to come to grips with how inexorable he is that his spell washes over her chest.

        Molten flame explodes and singes off several of her Ley-plates; red Tainted still flow from within-- yet is immediately burnt into something akin to evaporating fumes with the presence of the Ley.

        A burden... a threat...

        Jacqueline can latch onto that sensation as the Dragon rails against Ethius; the feeling may be familiar, but this is a far cry from the weak Hyadean who can barely hold a candle against the wind. Where Ethius' spell has already washed hot against her flesh, Jacqueline's bottle finds purchase as a weakening fluid begins to corrupt into her still-Tainted systems.

        Maya is one of many tricks, and she does not particularly disappoint as she manifests away from the orange-dressed minigunner to that of a sorcerer in a black cloak of whose copyright origin is dubious. She powers Lily, perhaps as similar human(?) weapon systems...

        Your masks... your identity...

        Is she... reacting to the way Maya shifts herself and bears the title of so many heroines from that which she absorbs?

        She gazes at a distance towards Neriah as she senses that anger, that inwards scream, and there is a pause... something that is quickly overriden as the Dragon's senses glance towards the way her cultists pour in from the portal. Curiously, she doesn't move to intercept.

        Lily's magic is of undoubted and tested power -- and the Dragon is not of particular adroitness as the flame crashes against her, against the already-breached surface that Ethius and Jacqueline have already pushed through.

        But--

        This is a Dragon of Life, as is the Medium within, and terrifyingly, a regenerative effect continues to knit at skin and resurface metal whole, all with a pained scream from the Dragon.

        This is no kind healing.

        This is a forced regeneration, to force her to continue fighting.

        Lily continues to raise her voice, and goads her onward. Alhazred may have derided words as meaningless, but perhaps, like before, it is words that will ultimately sow the seed of doubt here.

        Wound... you...?

        The Dragon reacts within that-- and as its wings spread forth again, another gathering of the Ley manifests within the area. Like Riesenlied before, there's a shriek as fissures along the ground start to hiss and crack, gushing flows of the planet's very own Lifeblood threatening to pull up over the Dragon...

        And the sensation is familiar.

        Mate...rial...

        Something unusual forms. In many ways Hyadean in nature, it manifests from whispering cubes of blue data that erupt from partway through the muddied snowfield--

        And manifests into a hazy, digitised image of Odoryuk. There are imperfections. It is rather obviously data. It is not a true Material summons.

        But the sheer force of the Ley running through the Dragon suggests even tapped incorrigibly, through inadvertent means not dissimilar to that of the Original Artificial Mediums--

        The power behind the assault is still that like experiencing a snippet of the Guardians themselves.

        The Demi-Odoryuk charges, butterfly-winged legs warping into cubes of data as it rather flimsily rails first at Lily with a leg -- and then an almost electric-like blast of positive energy at Ethius.

        The effect is further adjoined as more of that positive energy flows over Demi-Odoryuk; splashes of it weave over Jacqueline and Big Shal, before crashing towards Maya as it explodes into harmless, errant bits of harmless data. The summon is over. But the effect... is clear, as the sensation of Life begins to warp-- something that which has been stolen...

GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Alhazred's Particle Shower for 113 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Shalune Amira with Stolen Ley - Fallen Life!
<Pose Tracker> Skylr Paer has posed.

         Do you know the best way to get out of dealing with something on accident? Skylr Paer does. Skylr Paer has a headache. Skylr Paer tripped over her own feet and knocked herself out some time ago, and has been lying there waiting for her own body to realize she's a idiot.
 
         Much like many people, Skylr Paer needs help.
 
         Also not to find out Zed is here.
 
         Finally making her way to her feet, Skylr almost immediately suddenly throws herself forward to the ground. "OI YOU!" Persephone is yelped at, the little shephardess pushing herself back to her feet. "You're going to kill someone with that thing!" No, Skylr has no idea who Persephone is. "W-what in the two worlds is going on... Who are you, where am I?" Skylr has also no idea what's going on.
 
         Clutching the symbol of the Guards on her chest, she carefully makes her way back to her feet.
 
         "... the hell...?" She whispers, very quietly, as she takes in everything going on.

GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Stolen Ley - Fallen Life!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Maya Schrodinger with Stolen Ley - Fallen Life!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Stolen Ley - Fallen Life!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Lily Keil with Stolen Ley - Fallen Life!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww32aooLICM - G's Roar (Rocking Hearts version)

The dust kicked up by the fallen Titan scatters about the field, obscuring the horizon. Amid all the mayhem and chaos, it can be all but impossible to tell what's going on beyond the edge of one's blade. Mother is here - the looming, dooming tyrant, the Metal Goddess - declaring this world's end. And yet...

        Something...

A footfall in the distance, a hammer of stone to stone.

Cecilia Adlehyde wasn't here when the battle started, leaving her comrades, her dear friends Jack and Rudy and Tethelle, her confidantes Lily and Fei, all the others she has trusted, to fend for themselves at the end of the world. Where has the Princess been? Where is the Shaman, the Innocent One?

The dust scatters away from an approaching figure. Tremendous he stands - four men tall and the same wide, his posture is straight and strong, wide shoulders leading down to fists surmounted by gauntlets nearly the width of his massive waist, each bearing a tremendous spheroid jewel that shines in the light.

        EARTH GOLEM ASGARD stands against the sky, with Cecilia Adlehyde, the small princess barely the size of his head, sitting nestled between his helmet and shoulder. "Mother," she whispers. "She's here...and the barrier's still holding." She shivers, but sucks in a long breath and wipes something from her eye briefly, before she sets her hand against the Earth Golem's cheek, and she says, "It's time. Are you ready?"

And then the light gathers up. The spheres on his hands and chest glimmer, sparkle, and IGNITE, a roaring inferno of power catching light within. He clenches like a man might, drawing his fists across his chest.

And then he ROARS.

A blast of light ripples out from the Earth Golem, a sea of suspended rainbow color that washes across the field. The dust scatters at its touch. The Demons feel only the faintest resistance. But those who fight to secure humanity's future find it wraps around them like mist, encasing them in a faint bubble of power.

A bubble that turns aside blades and bullets alike, a protective shield for all who fight.

Cecilia smiles faintly. "Alright, then. Shall we go?"

Asgard rumbles, and then he runs, his feet thundering with every step. He does not move like a Gear, with that mechanical, precise, yet limited field of movement. Nor does he move like a statue, struggling and lumbering with every step.

He runs like a man - like a soldier, like a warrior, a body honed and perfected long ago.

And he runs, arms pumping and eyes unmoving, directly toward the Photosphere.

DC: Cecilia Adlehyde switches forms to Earth Golem Asgard!
<Pose Tracker> Jack van Burace has posed.


 The mace comes down, the force enough to smash any mortal into nothing but pulp. If it hit Jack than that could be the end...

Stone and debris fly from the impact point as Jack skids out of the way a hairs breath ahead of the crushing face of the weapon. Rocks pepper his arm as he flings it up to protect himself but the man is far from out.

"Tell me then, who caused that hate and anger? What did the people of Arctica do to your kind to recieve the treatment they recieved? You think yourself superior..." The sword is shifted with a soft hum. "...you and those that follow you are nothing but puppets of a mad queen. Jealous of us so called lesser people."

With that he charges, one foot stepping on the mace itself to launch himself high in the air before arcing down towards Alhazred in a gravity assisted stab...

...that is. Of course. A feint.

A halfsecond before impact his form shimmers out of existence only to reappear behind the Quarter Knight, point of the word meant to slam into the back of his 'head' with a thrust powered by both anger, and a certain Wind Mouses magic.

Don't mess with Hanpan man.

Hopefully that'll be enough of a distraction for Gwen to shoot him really good.

GS: Jack van Burace has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Jack van Burace has attacked Alhazred with Guilty Blade!
GS: Jack van Burace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jack van Burace has completed his action.
GS: Maya Schrodinger guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Life for 77 hit points!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Maya Schrodinger!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Lily Keil with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Ashton Anchors with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Tethelle Cirdian with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Gwen Whitlock with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Xantia with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Rudy Roughnight with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Neriah Parringer with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Ines Colina with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Matilda Whitehead with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Jack van Burace with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Maya Schrodinger with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Jacqueline Barber with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Dean Stark with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Ethius Hesiod with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Shalune Amira with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Fei Fong Wong with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Maya Schrodinger takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Maya Schrodinger gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Maya Schrodinger!
GS: Jack van Burace takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Jack van Burace!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Tethelle Cirdian!
GS: Zed takes a glancing hit from K.K.'s Ancient Requiem for 83 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Fei Fong Wong takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Fei Fong Wong!
GS: Ashton Anchors guards a hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Ashton Anchors!
GS: Shalune Amira takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Life for 268 hit points!
GS: Shalune Amira has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Shalune Amira!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Life for 70 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Alhazred critically Guards a hit from Jack van Burace's Guilty Blade for 55 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jack van Burace has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Rudy Roughnight takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Rudy Roughnight gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Rudy Roughnight!
GS: Dean Stark critically Guards a hit from K.K.'s Dark Visitor for 32 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: K.K. has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has canceled their attack on Cecilia Adlehyde.
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Zed with The Fortress of the Gods!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Dean Stark takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Dean Stark!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Cecilia Adlehyde!
GS: Ines Colina takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Ines Colina gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Ines Colina!
GS: Elvis takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Holy Saber for 144 hit points!
GS: Zed takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Zed!
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Xantia takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Xantia gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Xantia!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Avril Vent Fleur!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: CRITICAL! Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Life for 78 hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Lily Keil guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Life for 74 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
GS: Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Matilda Whitehead!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Siegfried, conflicted as he may be, does not budge for Tethelle. When she rushes at him, whirling strikes flying, Glumzambor swings out. He is shockingly deft with that blade. He has to struggle, in ways he did not before, to meet each of Tethelle's strikes -- but he does, save for the last one. It glances off his cheek, and draws quicksilver blood when it does. His eyes narrow at her.

Ida shouts at Mother. Siegfried doesn't chastize her, as he once would have -- though anger floods him. "That arm... I know that arm!" he snarls, and he does. He swings Glumzambor up; the quicksilver blade slams and slashes across Glumzambor. Then he whirls, cape fluttering, and twists around to look at Ashton. His eyes widen, and anger is there; this stranger came close to the mark.

"I suggest you learn the value and wisdom of silence!" he shouts back at the swordsman. His blades swing in, and Siegfried's huge two-hander is a blur as it meets many. Sparks fly as swords dance, but another slash gets through -- this into his side -- and quicksilver blood runs down his side. He glances between the three opponents. Then, he turns his head, and he stares at Fei. His expression sinks, slowly.

Yes, he thinks.

But Siegfried doesn't say it. Ice explodes up around him -- and then Fei descends, punches slamming into his armor, repeatedly. It is dented and battered. He stumbles. "What--what does it matter!?" he shouts, eyes widening, as the rage overtakes him. "She lived! She lived until we found her and restored her, even while the world burned!"

Siegfried launches himself for Fei, first. He swings his blade back and tries to hack clean through Fei's side, before he breaks to the side. The Quarter Knight rotates hard, and then slams his blade into the ground. The same ground shakes with the first rumble of the Golem's foot smashing into it, and arcs of undulating black and white, green and yellow, cyan and blue light explode outwqard. They shoot off towards Tethelle and Ashton both, even as Siegfried turns.

He wobbles to one side, but his chest plates open.

There is a crackle of light, and then a cataclysmic column of white-hot hellfire that screams across the battlefield and directly for Ida Everstead-Rey.

Then, slowly, he glances up in time to see Asgard rushing forward. His jaw drops, slowly, at the Earth Golem. "But--how...!"

Siegfried is not the only one to stare. Mother's face turns down. As she does, stones that fly into the air with one of Asgard's mighty footsteps arc up -- and then fall down through the hologram that has appeared. She doesn't even blink. Of course, her face makes no expressions at all.

"No. The Elw helped to kill me once... and do not think I do not see you down there, little inchworm. You can't kill me again." Her voice shrieks with the last words, unstable. "Riesenlied! Shatter that monstrosity! I won't abide that construct before I consume this world!"

GS: Siegfried has activated a Force Action!
GS: Siegfried has activated a Force Action!
GS: Siegfried enters a Counter stance!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Blue Destiny!
GS: Siegfried has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Proton Beam!
GS: Siegfried has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Siegfried has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Persephone has posed.

The re-awakening of a woman, of a Veruni woman so long ago that existed, catches the Sentinel's attention. PErsephone's eyes widen for a brief moment, watching as Elvis forces the woman to awaken, to bring herself from the brink of non-existance to state that she remains, that she always is present. Persephone could have warned Elvis of this. Could have identified this threat.

She does not.

Elvis would find out directly. The Spymaster, familiar, turns her head away. She has not seen this woman. she will not notice this phenomena. This is all true, as long as she pretends. There are multitudes of reasonings that provide a solid, airtight defense. One of them is before her.

Skylr had been laying out. As she pushes herself to her feet, the Veruni looks on curiously. Especially as she yells at her. "That's the intent, but they aren't anyone in particular worth worrying about." The Veruni Sentinel notes, voice flat but haughty. "If they mattered... no, even then, they still aren't worth your concern." The woman proclaims so clearly. "And you're in a battlefield. You'd do well to leave before you become a nameless fatality." The Veruni notes as she clutches the symbol of the guard on her chest.

"You're not certain? Persephone, Sentinel of the Veruni. One of the four, specifically, that are notable." She adds at the end of it. There is a Valmar, there ar emonsters, and then there is...

No.

"Asgard?" Persephone asks, staring up as it strides forwards - and pulls the holster back, loading the Veruni pistol. However irrelevant it may seem - there may need to be action against it. "I would suggest not allying...against me, or us."

GS: Siegfried has spent 5 Combo on Gatling, including 4 on Gatling!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Tethelle Cirdian with Negative Rainbow!
GS: Siegfried has attacked Ashton Anchors with Negative Rainbow!
GS: Siegfried has completed his action.
GS: Tethelle Cirdian guards a hit from Siegfried's Negative Rainbow for 133 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong guards a hit from Siegfried's Blue Destiny for 120 hit points!
GS: Ashton Anchors critically Guards a hit from Siegfried's Negative Rainbow for 48 hit points!
GS: Ashton Anchors has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Even if Matilda doesn't respect Alhazred, she definitely respects his offense -- maybe a little too much, if anything. For the most part, she assumes that anything Alhazred do will reduce her to her component atoms in short order; as a result, when he pulls out a strange device with one of his tentacles, she just books it as far away from her present position as possible. It's the smart maneuver, really.

"... Forgive me some healthy skepticism," she offers, though she doesn't have time to even make her present snideness particularly quality. Not dying takes slightly higher precedence.

Matilda weighs her options for a few moments, trying to figure out how exactly to approach Alhazred. He's... difficult, to say the least -- Matilda's often relied on her knowledge of anatomy and how to effectively cause pain in the less savory elements of her work as a Drifter. She's uncertain any of that works on Alhazred.

... but, everything screams when you put the pointy end in enough.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Alhazred with Stab and Twist!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Matilda Whitehead's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Alhazred takes a solid hit from Matilda Whitehead's Iron in the Garden for 220 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Poison! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Hyper, Quick, and Shield! Statuses applied to Matilda Whitehead!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Ida Everstead-Rey takes a glancing hit from Siegfried's Proton Beam for 176 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

As the light flares from the Earth Golem, Matilda just keeps going for it.

There is no such thing as enough times to put the pointy end into Alhazred.

<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 "Then be a neighbor, not an enemy."
 
 It's clear Rudy doesn't understand but in the mind of the simple Drifter, anyone who attacks the innocent must be stopped. The tendrils snake out, lashing out for Rudy. While he's in the middle of changing cartridges again, they slam into his left arm when he brings it up to defend himself. Malfi might feel something a little odd when trying to drain his lifeforce. It doesn't seem to feel quite human. But as the left forearm glows with odd runes and Rudy leaps into the air, there isn't much time for study on what Rudy is.
 
 Instead, the airborne 'hero' offers a seemingly new attack, firing a round into the ground. Three bugles of earth and electricity begin to weave through the snow and dirt until it gets close to Malfi, seeking her out to surround and attack as one like a pack of land sharks.
 
 In the wake of the attack, the boy looks toward Cecilia as he feels the power of her aid upon him. He knows she'll likely be under attack soon, but before he can help protect her, he's got to get through Malfi. IF he can get through Malfi.

GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Gun Claymore!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
GS: Malfi has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Malfi completely evades Gun Claymore from Rudy Roughnight!
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        There is no answer to Noeline's whispered promise - not audibly, and not that she can sense with her mind. The only thing that answers her is the pulsing danger of the place that she's in, the claustrophobic pressure of orders and demands and coercion, staved off by a combination of her medium and her own sheer force of presence.

        As responses go, there is only the hanging form of Ebon Zero in front of her - but Noeline is not blind to the underlying meaning that it carries, nor the possibilities that might come of it. It is another in the small pile of shifting grains, little pieces tumbling together bit by bit by bit, each tiny victory and memory hopefully adding up to something more.

        She faces the armor down without fear; it's a minor blessing that this place is so empty, making it easier to focus on her opponent as the Ebon Zero form charges her down. "--I will not let you stay trapped by these memories! I won't let obligation or fear hold you back any more. I'll find you, and we will meet your new world together - your new world, not anyone else's!" she adds as her sword meets its twin.

        * * *

        Shalune yelps as Big Shal rocks in the aftermath of its punch; the impact of it very nearly shears the golem's entire arm away, and the only reason it doesn't is the thrum of the matter converter rebuilding the arm as quickly as it is damaged. The golem is surely just a speck to the newly forced dragon - but it holds its ground nonetheless, staring up at the face of the creature as if expecting that one punch to bring Riesenlied back to her senses.

        For a moment, Shalune's hands dig at her temples as she tries to make sense of everything going on around her. The battlefield is already, in record time, a cacophony of light and sound and chaos, and it's honestly difficult for her to process everything, especially past the confusion and uncertainty of wondering what exactly she's doing here, exactly how she's managed to come this far and what exactly she was expecting when she and Big Shal set out from Adlehyde to come to Elru shores for the second time. It's only when she hears it that her eyes jolt open:

        "A threat."

        More than anything, that's what gets her moving, feeling a sudden bile in her stomach - she rises from her hunkered position with an unfamiliar anger behind her eyes, her hand grasping for her shotstaff so hard her knuckles turn white. When she whirls, it's to set it into place against Big Shal's shoulder, her eyes forced forwards and up to take in the full enormity of Riesenlied's new form. She doesn't have to be an empath to realize that the Hyadean is hurting - and even if she has no idea how to fix this, she has no end of indignant hope to fall back on.

        "I'm not gonna stay away, Miss Riese! You're not gettin' rid of us so easily!" she yells, answering words she's not even sure were heard. "We're here to help you! We're not gonna leave you! --and as for Mister Hesiod," she growls under her breath; even if most of her politeness is shorn away right now, she can at least muster that much. "You really-- really-- really--"

        Each of the repeats is punctuated by a shot from her staff, sending a series of white lines bolting upwards to impact against the dragon's side. Shalune isn't honestly sure what she's doing - but she at least knows that of all of them here, the one in the twelve-foot regenerating golem is probably the one who is most safe from harm, and that makes her instinctively try to grasp Riesenlied's attention to fix it on herself.

        More than twelve feet, in fact. As the shots fly the Golem is itself growing, its power dragging in the remnants of fortifications and barricades, the metal barriers twisting and folding in on themselves as the golem builds itself up on the fly. It brings its hands up together - and the shapes of whirling metal suddenly impact into place with a series of metallic clangs, linking the golem's arms together with an improvized wrecking ball at the end.

        "--suck at this!" Shalune finishes in a sudden yell. "You think that'll help her?! You think that'll stop her attacking us, or turn her back to our side?!" Shalune whirls - and with her eyes still lit up in fury the last of her shots impacts near to Ethius' feet in warning. "You're making it worse! Not better!"

        Her defiant gaze at the man holds steady even as the golem begins to bring its fists down - it holds steady despite the sudden way in which Odoryuk-but-not-Odoryuk appears, dragged into existence by Riesenlied's power. The Guardian's presence shears more of the metal away and sweeps over Shalune - she'd be nearly plucked off her feet were it not for the way in which her grip on the golem's railing tightens, and even then she nearly buckles over with a rattling cough and has to gasp for sudden breath.

        But most of all it holds steady as Big Shal's resolution makes the golem bring its arms down in a hammering blow. Somehow, there is sorrow in that strike - and a silent plea for the dragon to stop moving.

GS: Shalune Amira takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's The Fortress of the Gods for 0 hit points!
GS: Shalune Amira gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Quick and Shield! Statuses applied to Shalune Amira!
GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Riesenlied with Big Shal Hammer!
GS: Shalune Amira has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Subtlety isn't something that Xantia does. When she attacks, she tends to do so full force, rarely taking into account where to go from there. Especially when she's as angry as she is right now. She's already bearing down for a follow-up strike when Alhazred is forced back - and is completely taken by surprise by a sudden energy blast launched from the Quarter Knight's claw. Perhaps she should have done some research of her own, on her opponent's capabilities, so she might have known that was a thing that could happen.

As it is, she is struck head-on, tumbling through the air and ending up flat on her face, landing with a resounding thud. That looked painful. One might think it not something that someone would get up from immediately.

Xantia gets up from that immediately, if not exactly with the kind of speed she's displayed thus far. She's a bit groggy, but apparently still very ready to continue this fight. At least Alhazred said one thing she's willing to agree with. One should not grow too careless. No more all-out assaults. She needs to be ready for whatever comes after next time. She may be able to take more punishment than most people, but she'd really rather not have anything like that happening again.

"S-so, finally ready to fight, huh?" Only her voice is shaky, her resolve is just fine. As if answering this, Asgard's barrier forms around her at this moment. Xantia's not about to turn away from her opponent to see where that came from, but she's not about to question it. Instead, she activates her ARM, a red energy blade bursting to life, shaping itself into a length suitable for a target the size of a Quarter Knight. She nods to Gwen, urging, "Let's do it!" And then she charges.

It's not a straightforward attack this time. Instead, she keeps her attention focused on Alhazred, trying to anticipate his actions while staying on the move, and waiting for an opening to present itself to drive the blade home. As hard as it is to judge where a weak spot would be on a body like this. Sometimes you just have to improvise.

GS: Xantia has attacked Alhazred with Crimson Flash!
GS: Xantia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah has a bubble; she's managed to get her eldritch sphere back up. Asgard, at least, helps by taking some of the heat off of her and shoring up her mana reserves.

More to the point, Asgard seems in a better position than Neriah herself to deal with the defenses of the Photosphere. The High Priestess of Valmar wets her lips and looks on, taking a brief respite from what has, so far, been a steady routine of casting spell after spell and reaving through Metal Beast after Metal Beast.

"Well, well," she says, holding a delicate hand out.

The huge crow that flew in with her group descends to perch on her fingers. "Yes, Dread One?" the bird croaks in a voice like an opening gallows.

"Make sure that our group is ready for whatever that Golem does," Neriah orders crisply. "If there's an opportunity to enter the Photosphere, I want to take it."

"Of course." With a flick of wings, the crow's off again, leaving Neriah to begin to gather up another spell - but something else becomes evident out of the corner of her eye.

Dropping back a ways, Neriah draws her ARM and pegs a smaller Metal Beast between the eyes to get it away from her, then swings her attention to one side, where she can just see Persephone talking with someone in the distance. Skylr, she realizes with a shock of cold horror.

Another Metal Beast rushes her, several more following. Neriah scowls distractedly and flicks a hand up to cast a spell.

        > [BA-BOOM!]

It's probably hard to tell that Neriah is even there if you weren't looking for her, since much of the area around her is currently exploding.

GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Xantia's Crimson Flash for 66 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Xantia!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi notices that Rudy's blood doesn't quite feel human but dismisses it. Maybe he's part elf, or part beastman... She wriggles deftly away from the earth-and-electrical landsharks...

but this also forces her to quickly withdraw her tendrils from Rudy, unable to drain more of his blood and lifeforce. "Neighbors," she mutters. "Too late for that. A pity." She strikes at the young Drifter with her strongest attack, the one named after her lance Rakurai. Lightning flares along the shaft as she takes aim.

GS: Malfi has activated a Force Action!
GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Rakurai!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

"Well, I guess the enemy of my enemy..." Elvis mutters aloud. Perhaps letting others go about their business to an extent seems to be her process. If they get too ahead, they get put back in place. Whatever her motives are, her power is frightening. What kind of peing would jsut let their pwoer flow like that?

Perhaps he should ask Neriah sometime. If they dont get into a fight over something silly anyway.

What happens to Riesenlied bothers him every moment his senses detect her in some way, by sound or sight. Alhazred has gone too far. "I am well aware what he did! He hides under pretenses of research but let's call it what it is-- its torture, refined."

He watches what becomes of Riesenlied as Avril recovers. A question comes as she gets up. Her tone has changed, but his eyes do not leave her. "Her illness is the experiment. She is a patient. I consider what I am planning closer to medical practice, though yes, it has roots is scientific research. And what makes you think I would just treat her that way! She is one of the first to declare support for ending the VR! How could I ever... treat... uh."

There is a presence. It rolls over the landscape, like a cold mist, seeking to rime all that it touches.

Elvis slowly turns to look at it's source. Avril. Or... was it...? Her expression, her aura, her countenance. "..." Elvis is stunned speechless for a good moment. Thoughts of old tomes, stories, lineages-- what once was clouded in the dusty corners of a pwoerful mind billow forth and present the Sentinel with a single proper thought.

Though he has no time to speak, as this woman closes the distance incredibly fast. Elvis moves to block the attack the same way, almost a mirror of what happened earlier.

The impact comes--

The forarm raised--

A moment later there is a spray of red from an arm, and Elvis flies back, boucnes once, and strikes one of his earthen pillars, which collapses down on him.

It takes a few seconds before Elvis explodes out of the earth and snow rubble. He has taken off one of his Power GLoves to wrap his forearm, which looks badly cut, much worse than the initial connect.

 "..."

There is a moment of silence, as Elvis studies Avril-- no, this figure.

"My suspicions of you... and why you attendance is wanted. I think I understand now."

"...I think I know you."

Elvis only stands there, wavering in his decision on what to do for once. If he is to repel these invaders, he will have to inflict harm upon them, but if his hunch is true, upon seeing Avril with this aura. How can he do that...

...To her?

GS: Elvis has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

        There's something utterly demoralising about not even rating as enough of a threat to even warrant your opponents attention, even if it is five against one. Once again, Ines tries to defend herself, and once again it is not enough to stop the attack. The beam of energy pierces through the geohound, and she lets out a wordless scream of pain. Is this all she has in her? Is she that useless against one of these Quarter Knights.

        And then the cavalry comes in in the form of a Big Damn Golem providing those fighting the Metal Demons a fighting chance. For the moment, Ines finds she can stand back up again. Finally. As she pulls herself up, she glares at the golden masked monstrosity. Her tattoos glow again, and wind starts to whip up around her. Shards of earth shoot up from under the snow and are caught in the localised cyclone formed around Ines. Metallic shrapnel soon joins it, generated by Ines' symbology.

        "We're not your damn experiments." Ines growls, starting to walk towards Alhazred, anger in her eyes. She doesn't particularly care right now that Alhazred hasn't been taking them seriously. She's more focused on taking an opportunity now it's been granted. "But hey, you're so big on science. Why don't we try an experiment to see how much it takes to tear you apart!?"

        The violent combination of wind, earth and metal suddenly surges from Ines and straight at Alhazred, throwing all the power she can muster at the most depraved of the Quarter Knights, with intent to pay him back for the shredding she took from Alhazred's drones.

GS: Ines Colina has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ines Colina has attacked Alhazred with Shrapnel Twister!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Shalune Amira's Big Shal Hammer for 123 hit points!
GS: Cover! Statuses applied to Shalune Amira!
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Ines Colina's Shrapnel Twister for 86 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

Rainbow sparkles hover around Ashton as he unleashes a furious string of blows at Siegfried. This is likely the most dangerous foe he's ever faced - and to that? He knows he can't let up.
 
That quicksilver blood is obvious to the eye - they have him on his back foot. If the pressure stays on, they might have a chance.
 
So Ashton presses forward. "Fei! Ida! ...Other person I don't know!" Sparks fly as blade meets blade. "Let's end this!"
 
But keeping the pressure is easier said than done. Particularly when facing someone as powerful as Siegfried. The power of the Negative Rainbow slams into him, forcing the swordsman back a few paces by sheer impact. At the last moment, he's able to hold up a defensive ward - the two blades trace a quick diamond in the air, forming a shield of ice that takes the worst of it.
 
"And you are a fool, Siegfried! I've no use for silence - not while I'm of three minds!" Behind the icy shield, Creepy and Weepy roar in defiance. "Perhaps you should learn your own lesson!" The shield bursts, turning to a barrage of thin frosty daggers that zip through the air at Siegfried. It's not the most artful attack - but it's what's available at the moment.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        "Yes." Ethius reiterates, hand still outstretched as he moves ever closer. All around, everything spirals out of control. He could reach out to his hand to any one or one hundred things that seem like they should warrant his attention, his scrutiny, his everything - and yet it is Riesenlied, the Ley Dragon, he settles upon as though she were the greatest threat. The greatest obstruction. The greatest piece of technology.
        While in the company of at least one fell Goddess, a devout servant of an equally fell God, two Quarter Knights, a handful of Veruni, and someone of an icy character whose magnitude of being has yet to register.
        Asgard - th eEarth Golem - blesses the defenders of Filgaia one and all with a protective shield. A shield that seems to singly determine the worthiness of those to be of Filgaia as its champions... to those who do not belong, that could be the implication.
        Even a man so cold, distant, and murderous as Ethius, over a kind, devoted, virtuous Riesenlied.
        Shalune takes immediate offense to his actions, firing near his feet. He is sprayed in snow and dirt, unflinchingly, as Shalune scolds him. He's making it worse. Not better.
        He hides the lower half of his face under that bandanna. He does not blink. What does he feel of Shalune's well-earned fury about his declarations and actions?
        "She need not return." He doesn't so much as face Shalune when he says that - but he enunciates that clearly.
        Even under the protection of Asgard, the digitized form of Odoryuk's command over the Ley is no trifle. Sickening electricity courses through the Symbologist as he finds himself unable to move further forward with a pained spasming that sees him come to a kneel. He is upright only through virtue of the quarterstaff he holds that works as an impromptu walking stick. Discomforting. Nauseous.
        He takes another step.
        "You will not have another chance to bring further harm." So declares Ethius, cruelly, like he were reading off a script - no passion in those words. Simply stating this, in the face of someone who is fighting for their very soul. He flutters his fingers in a way that is distressingly familiar, for the times the spell has happened. It's...
        "Grave Dust." He calls over the end of a trail of accompanying syllables as he finishes the incantaion. What comes next is plain as day - the particles of dust spontaneously generating in the space around the enormous Ley Dragon is visual proof of a man choosing something ghastly.
        The Ley Dragon holds great power over Life. This could not stop her. This could not kill her.
        It could only prolong her suffering, to fill the Ley Dragon with choking dust.

GS: Ashton Anchors enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ashton Anchors has attacked Siegfried with Northern Cross!
GS: Ashton Anchors has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Ashton Anchors has completed his action.
GS: Ethius Hesiod has spent 1 Combo on Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Riesenlied with Grave Dust!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: COUNTER! Siegfried strikes at Ashton Anchors with a counter attack!
GS: Siegfried takes a solid hit from Ashton Anchors's Northern Cross for 105 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Grave Dust for 75 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ashton Anchors guards a hit from Siegfried's Counter Attack for 135 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        White was an excellent choice for possible camouflage on the field. The color, while not a pristine, purely bleached tone, was the perfect way for Gwen to blend in with the tundra landscape, provided she was careful with how she moved. It's quickly becoming a liability here, showing the red from every wound she receives with each foolhardy decision. But none of this can't compare to the pain everyone else is feeling.

        What everyone went through, just to get here.

        Xantia gets up, and Gwen follows with a resolute nod. The power of the mighty golem Asgard beats through her and everyone, drawing them all together and towards one goal.

        "... Even if Riesenlied's here, under your control, her words and actions don't follow her," Gwen murmurs, her voice calm and even, carefully pronouncing her words, for once. "They stay with everyone she's motivated, one way or another. Y'can't control that no matter how hard you try..."

        Jack's actions are evident enough for Gwen to silently get the message. Sensing where Matilda and Ines stand in relation to her, Gwen drops back and falls to one knee, fully extending her ARM. Summoning what strength and energy she can in a short frame of time, Gwen's short hair begins to float from the static crackling through her right ARM, past the fabric it is woefully encased in.

        "... and _you never will_." A bright blast fires from her ARM, throwing Gwen back to the ground. It will likely not be enough, but thankfully, she isn't alone.

<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle's expression becomes more determined as she fights Siegfried - fights, and unlike the last time she wielded this blade against him, doesn't lose. She's not beating him, not alone - she knows this - but she can stand up to him, and she thinks that, collectively, they can do this.

It makes her feel better, at least a little.

Also good at raising her spirits: Cecilia on Asgard. About time, is what Tethelle thinks, but what she says is "Finally!" She batters at Glumzambor, steps back, and takes the deepest breath she can.

"CECI!" Tethelle roars as Asgard's power flows over her. "IMPACT DOESN'T WORK! DON'T JUST HIT - KEEP PRESSING!" Tethelle has been thinking about this as she fights; if the barrier can withstand the impact of missile after missile, even Asgard won't take it down in a single blow. But if he keeps forcing himself forward, then...

She has to hope Cecilia can hear her over the chaos of battle, but Tethelle is *loud*. She gives herself good odds, but it's not like she can just call her up on the Memory Cube right now. (And she will apologize for 'Ceci' later. It was shorter and she was limited on breath.)

Message delivered (hopefully) Tethelle puts it out of her mind, focusing on the battle-moment. Ida's arm is what does it, in fact; Tethelle's eyes widen, and she feels she wants to scream again, but she can't; the halo of light building up in Siegfried is something that she does know, and she gets out only one word - "Down!" - before it washes over her.

Tethelle vanishes into the light. For a moment it seems she might be dead, but once the dust cleared, it's revealed that she took advantage of the blinding radiance to get all the way up to Siegfried. She winds up, wielding her sword in a single colossal angled slash, directed to throw him upwards as much as slash into him.

Tethelle leaps up after him, following with a chaotic, whirling assault almost too fast to see, ending it with an even mightier blow, a downward vertical strike to smash him not just to the ground but into it hard enough to crater. "Siegfried! Today even Mother won't save you from our blades!! For Filgaia!"

GS: Tethelle Cirdian has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has attacked Siegfried with Heaven and Earth!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Tethelle Cirdian has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Alhazred with Corona Discharge!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Siegfried takes a solid hit from Tethelle Cirdian's Heaven and Earth for 206 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Alhazred critically Guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Corona Discharge for 29 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Rudy Roughnight critically Guards a hit from Malfi's Rakurai for 16 hit points!
GS: Rudy Roughnight enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Malfi has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        Though it hadn't been Dean's intent to work together with Zed, if only because he'd been unconscious for a second or two there, his intervention is greatly welcomed. When the two of them finish laying their blows on the Trial Knight, K.K. has been knocked back several feet, and Zed and Dean stand before them, in that order. Dean grins, never minding the blood trickling down the side of his head head now that he's once again beholden to gravity. "Yeah!! Keep it going, just like that!" he cheers to Zed. Who is that guy? Who cares! They're on the same side, ergo it's all good.
        
        In the instant that K.K. answers Zed, Dean sneaks a look over at the dome where Riesendragon does battle with those who love her, where Elvis strikes Avril and she returns the blows with all the force of deepest winter. He recognizes that look, and Avril's state in particular worries him... but he decides to trust in her, just as he trusts in Noeline and Lily and everyone else. They're all in this together, and they've all got their own part to play.
        
        His is to push and push and push against the Trial Knight, and keep pushing until that line in the sand is all the way back at the Photosphere. Speaking of which-- "All of the above!" Dean says firmly, without hesitation. K.K.'s blows against Zed have incredible speed, and he knows from that attack a moment ago that they also have overwhelming force. Honestly, this might not be an enemy he can beat, even with the two of them, but... "I promised the Guardians I'd help them protect the world. And Riese's my friend! I'm not gonna just sit back and do nothing while people like YOU hurt her!! And more importantly..." Dark magics coalesce around the white-and-gold Knight. Dean shows no fear, preparing to defend or attack. "It doesn't matter WHAT trials you throw at me or my friends! We'll NEVER give up! We'll keep moving forward and growing stronger until--"
        
        *ENTER ASGARD*
        
        "AAAAAAAAAHHH AAAAAAAAHHHH AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!" Dean squeals, attention *ripped* to one side by the sudden appearance of the Earth Golem Asgard. He barely recognizes Cecilia upon its shoulder, but even if he didn't, honestly, he wouldn't care. Meanwhile, magics form, and the Reaper raises its scythe on a completely distracted opponent, and *swings* d-- "OUT OF THE WAY, YOU'RE BLOCKING THE VIEW!!!"
        
        That would be Dean *wheeling* on the Dark Visitor arte and *smashing* the rods of his Twin Fenrir around to meet that magical scythe, shattering through it with sheer force of will. What remains slash at him, but they may as well be kitten scratches for all he cares, jumping up and down and whooping as Asgard ROARS, sending out a blast of light that washes over those who fight against the Metal Demons and their allies. That light washes over Dean, too, filling him with strength. In return, he waves his arms at the Golem like a fan trying to get the attention of a super-idol. "OH MY GOSH THEY'RE SO BIG! THEY'RE SO COOL! THEY'RE SO AMAAAAAZIIIIIIIING!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!" And then it turns and runs, charges, each mighty stride more human than human, headed directly for the Photosphere. "GO GET 'EM, BIG GUY! YEAAAAAAAHHH! YOU'RE SO COOOOOOOOL!!!"
        
        More arm-waving, a fist-pump, one last cheer for good measure, and Dean finally has it out of his system.
        
        Then he looks back at K.K.. "Wait, were you saying something?"
        
        A beat.
        
        "WAIT that's right we were fighting!!" he suddenly remembers, Twin Fenrir flashing back into his hands. He swings them up and around to point at K.K. and opens fire, almost purely out of reaction.
        
        It's a really good thing he can summon them at will because he would have lost them ages ago otherwise. Perhaps someone deliberately worked that into the design...?

GS: Dean Stark has attacked K.K. with Dual Shooter!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: K.K. has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! K.K. completely evades Dual Shooter from Dean Stark!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

The world is chaos. Jacqueline is fighting Riesenlied - this was not something she ever hoped to have happen again. But this was the reality she was in. Even her Medium trembles in pity - echoing a sensation she herself felt.

"...I won't. Riesenlied...I came here for you. I'm - we're not leaving until you're back with us, safe and sound!" Jacqueline shouts, entreating the Ley Dragon - no, entreating Riesenlied, the woman she counted among her greatest friends.

"You aren't a burden, nor a threat!" Jacqueline shouts, shooting Ethius a glare. Her potion finds purchase - Jacqueline can only hope it will quell Riesenlied's power before she does something she'll regret.

But, a word is said that Jacqueline did not expect-

'Material.'

Blue cubes materialize, manifesting into the image of...Odoryuk? No...it's more like an imperfect copy. But it's power is all too real, as Riesenlied unleashes it upon them. She feels a horrific sensation fall over her, weakening her knees. Her barrier protected her from the initial burst, but the aftereffects...they sink into her. She feels ill, like her life is draining from her...

But then, there is a ROAR. Jacqueline looks up, seeing the Earth Golem, Asgard. She feels light scattering over her, wrapping her up protectively. The ill feeling fades.

A shield that protects Filgaia's future.

Over the battlefield, Mother's voice can be heard, shouting at Riesenlied. But Jacqueline...

"Don't listen to her, Riesenlied! You're not her puppet! You're your own person - a beautiful, wonderful person, and I want you to come back to us!" Jacqueline shouts, gesturing with her left hand. Pillars of earth rise up, aiming for Riesenlied. It's an attack, but it's meant more as a reminder - a reminder of her. She tries to keep Riesenlied's attention on her. "Don't listen to her! Listen to me, to us - to your friends!"

Nearby, she hears Shalune shouting at Ethius. Jacqueline agrees wholeheartedly...and then he says horrible.

Jacqueline whirls on Ethius, right as he incants that certain, familiar spell.

"Ethius Hesiod, don't you dare! Don't you DARE!" Jacqueline shouts. There's legitimate anger in her voice - a rare thing for her. Her attention is off Riesenlied, for a moment.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Riesenlied with Pillar Crash!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Jacqueline Barber's Pillar Crash for 119 hit points!
GS: Cover! Statuses applied to Jacqueline Barber!
<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 As Alhazred settles in for the fight, he raises both of his claws, and a pair of tentacles with metal claws appear from under his drape. His stance is more serious now, and his eyes narrow as Jack goes on the offensive. And as Jack disappears, Alhazred just sighs. "Please..." he states.
 
 And immediately spins around, using one claw to block the blow that the man throws at him. Sparks fly as sword and claw grind against each other, until the Quarter Knight disengages. "I have made a significant study of the Arctican fighting style - indeed, such was required to help refine my other masterpiece! But you will need to improvise to a much higher degree if you want to get the drop on me."
 
 This becomes a somewhat ironic statement as Matilda smashes into him at full force a moment later. The blow is staggering, and silver blood erupts outwards as Matilda stabs him over and over again before he finally manages to slide away in a manner that just feels unnatural to Matilda as the Quarter Knight evades. It's creepy to say the least, and suggests unsettling things about what is under that cloak. It seems to give Xantia the opening that she needs, but the Metal Demon is fast, deflecting her blow right before it can manage to strike home. "Tch - of course, it should be expected that you worms would pull out all of the stops to attack us in our home."
 
 Another mage surge from Ines, and Alhazred raises a hand to deploy his barrier against the assault. But this time it cracks and fragments as the combination of three elements crash into it, before finally giving way to allow the attack to strike home. The power is reduced somewhat, but it still clearly hurts. "Tch!" he grunts, before looking at Ines in amusement. "But such is the nature of the world - as long as you stand before me, you are a part of my experiments. You have no other value in the world other than to further my knowledge and offer a test bed for my efforts to improve the Hiadean race."
 
 There are still events occurring elsewhere - Asgard uses his power to fortify the Drifters, and Mother appears to be suffering some... difficulty. Alhazred does not comment, or even really acknowledge either turn of events - out here, there is little he can do. His contribution to Mothers efforts has already been made. And while Gwen makes a good speech, unfortunately her punctuation is enough for Alhazred to refocus his barrier in the face of her attack. This time he uses two layers, and the bullet punches through one to be deflected by the other an instant later. Those red eyes narrow as he looks at Gwen, and the Quarter Knight scoffs. "Well, we shall see about that. An experiment to see if I can excise all record of Riesenlied from your brain would be something new and interesting. I have not tried to eliminate someone's memory with that much precision before." He hitches his shoulders, one tentacle retracting inside of his cloak for a moment as he speaks. "It could be interesting."
 
 It's time to test out the new and improved version of one of his inventions. Alhazred deploys the small controller box, fitted with a number of different switches, levers, and other indescribable whirly things and odd do-dads which allow it to do... things. Some people have seen this device in action before, and Alhazred takes it in hand triumphantly. "How shall we adjust the world this time? I was able to maintain operation for above five seconds last time. Let's try for ten..."
 
 And with that, Alhazred begins to change the very nature of the world. A large sphere appears, a crosshatch of lines of energy that define the outer effect of the controller's range. "First to accelerate my own personal time field, and restore some of this damage..."
 
 There is a swirl of light around Alhazred, and within moments some of the damage he has suffered just... closes itself complete, restored by some strange system.
 
 "And now... let us work with energy states." With a push of a button, Alhazred changes the ambient energy of all nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the area to a state that is about sixteen times more energetic than previously.
 
 The world inside the sphere becomes fire.
 
 He then reverses the effect, cutting their energetic property down to a thousandth of previously.
 
 Ice forms in the very air - chilling the flesh and bones of any exposed.
 
 He reaches for the switch that will just turn off the strong nuclear force, but once again the device sparks and ceases to function. "...must remember to try the FUN variations first..." he mutters.

GS: Alhazred has attacked Alhazred with Quantum Recognifier!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Alhazred's Quantum Recognifier for 0 hit points!
GS: Alhazred gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Alhazred enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Universe Manipulator!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Ines Colina with Universe Manipulator!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Universe Manipulator!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Jack van Burace with Universe Manipulator!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Xantia with Universe Manipulator!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Skylr Paer has posed.

         "Okay, that's like... not useful?" Skylr starts following Persephone. "What's a Veruni? Are you like a Metal Demon? You don't look like the Metal Demons I know."
 
         "I know I'm in a battlefield. I may be small and scared but I'm not an idiot." No, Neriah, she's not aware you're here yet. "Whoa." She stops to stare at Cecilia.
 
         Then, irritatedly, "But if you're with the Metal Demons I think I have to, um, arrest you...?"

GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
GS: Jack van Burace takes a solid hit from Alhazred's Universe Manipulator for 145 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Ines Colina guards a hit from Alhazred's Universe Manipulator for 72 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Ines Colina!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Xantia takes a glancing hit from Alhazred's Universe Manipulator for 111 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

                                 Strength.

A dozen lances of bitter, glowing frost swirl into form over Maya's head at her command, one hand outstretched. Pulsing with the light of distance stars, they discharge into the incoming Metal beasts. Each fragmenting explosion lops metal limbs from bodies, and spills quicksilver to the rocks.

                           I need more strength.

Knowledge flows from a satchel at Maya's side into her mind, her eyes aglow with borrowed power. Her lips form the words 'fireball', but the solar furnace that detonates in the mountain's side and cuts off the tide of reinforcements with a landslide isn't formed of any flame from Filgaia.

                         I need strength like hers.

The sorceress takes to the skies, tiny and insignificant against the lumbering forms of so many Godlike titans. How did her life end up here? So very out of place, where Filgaia's future is being decided? Maya cups a hand over her eyes, barely able to comprehend the scale and scope of the conflict. Another voice rings out in her mind, internal monologue joined by another's thoughts.

                           Riesenlied's thoughts. .

"Masks, that's a good word for it..." she muses back solemnly at the rampaging dragon, their thoughts shared for a time. "I'd use them to hide, make a name for myself, but it wasn't until you that I put 'em to use for a good cause... how many people do you think you've touched like that, Riesenlied? I know you're still in there somewhere!"

Her words fall on def ears, perhaps. The dragon's thrashings summon the twisted power of the Material for Odoryuk, and Maya is nearly swatted from the sky by a whipcrack lash of positive energies. Queer Data Sorcery and Queer Data Sorcery clash, a barrier of flickering light flaring to life around the girl for just long enough to redirect the energies into the environs, as the warm glow of the terrifying Earth Golem suffuses her very being with an ancient and protective power.

                 Strength enough to sunder even these Gods.

"Riese! You're not taking orders from this shrieking thing now, are you? Come on, wake up!" her words belie the fear that takes root. Yet, as the Heavens and Earth themselves threaten to split beneath the might of the forces gathered here today, what more can she do? After all, Mother is too far away to hit with the Dr**on Sl*ve (tm).

That's exactly why Maya lands on the back of Big Shal, what with her adroit and sorcerous flight, her expression set. "She's still in there, I -know- she can hear us! Hey, can this thing punch that dragon open and pull her out?"

                But until I have it, let me borrow yours...

The question is asked right at Shalune. The crazy sorcerer lady looks and sounds really serious, but she also plants both hands on Big Shal's big head and, with a searing crackle and a low electronic hum, a Big Shield of hexagonal plates of light starts to form around the smaller golem on the field.

GS: Maya Schrodinger has attacked Shalune Amira with Vas Gurudo!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has completed her action.
GS: Maya Schrodinger heals Shalune Amira! She gains 400 temporary hit points!
GS: Shalune Amira enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei is asked a similar question back. What does it matter? She lived. She lived and they restored her even as the world burned.

"Because she is NOT the hope of the Metal Demons, Siegfried!" Fei shouts. "She is their end!"

But in that moment he is distracted by Mother shouting again, as if the ancient creature is rebuking him directly into his mind. He grabs at his forehead again like he has Filgaia's worst migraine and Siegfried takes advantage of this moment to rip his demon spear through Fei's side. Siegfried could have killed him in this moment if he were not distracted by Asgard's timely arrival. Fei is in no condition to cheer on his giant golem friend. Luckily Dean is there to make up for that and more.

Fei sinks to his hands and knees, blood dripping rapidly from his wound, splotching against the ground so quickly even as he tries desperately to press an arm against it, as if that could keep it all in.

His vision goes hazy and suddenly...

Suddenly he isn't in the present moment anymore. He's in another time. Another place. A similar situation.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

ONE THOUSAND YEARS AGO

Deus Ex Machina smelled of blood. The scattered bodies of Metal Demons lay across the great aerial fortress of the Metal Demons, and they were joined by scores upon scores of human dead. Mixed in, here and there, were the broken bodies of the Elw -- singed and burnt. Even now, Berserk's furious cries echoed down the hallway. Siegfried lay in a heap, armor burnt and blackened.

And Harthcourt Valeria stared down at the woman who lay crumpled, hand outstretched. The meager healing his magic could offer was so little, though.

"Elly, please," he rasped. "Please, stay with us--we're almost through with this. We'll finish Mother yet. Guardians, just... just stay with us! You..."

But he didn't speak to Elly, then. He looked up, slate grey eyes lifting, to stare at the form of the black-haired man standing tall before him. So familiar -- and yet that gentle, friendly visage was gone in a wash of terrible, angry red.

Lee Byeong-Ho. That's his name. Fei remembers it now. He looks so similar to him...

"Lee...what is that power...?" Harthcourt asked.

But Lee didn't answer him. His thoughts were only on two things: The techniques Luisa drilled into him until they were encoded deep in his DNA and Revenge. "Iron Body Focus!" He shouted as he rushed Mother, pushing through the red cloaked figures barring their path by bowling them over. They fired green rays in his direction but he leapt into the air, crushing one under his foot with a, "Falling Guillotine!!"

He then pushed right into Mother, throwing several steel crushing strikes towards her chassis, "Steel Breaking Fist!!!"

How wonderful...you have the power of destruction within you...To think humanity hid a wonder such as you...

Lee could only glare impotently.

There's fire within you...It befits a knight like yourself....but I am a Goddess of Destruction. Let me show you what true fire is like.

Harthcourt cuts down the other Amadeus behind him, shouting out his name, "Lee!"

But it's too late. Fire surges around Lee with a show of terrifying power. It crackles through him and around him and Lee screams. Iron Body Focus. Iron Body Focus. It's all that keeps him from instantly expiring.

He drops to the ground, visibly charred, hair scorched from his body, burns covering him from head to toe. But he doesn't fall.

Human

Lee closes his eyes. Moor Gault.

You will die. My power can only sustain you for a little while longer. Use your power. Destroy her or Filgaia will fall to oblivion.

A power wells up within Lee. He lets out another scream as dark energy crackles alongside him. Streams of energy ripple around him, taking form--it was like the very Negative Rainbow that Siegfried used against RUST so many times.

The strands of energy twist around Mother, crawling around her form, tightening as it burns through her chassis.

Me? I'm the one to be destroyed? ...Ahahahaha....how wonderful, this feeling...

There is a flash of light.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei's eyes snap back open, his wound knitting itself closed as chakra infuses his body. Iron Body. Fei slowly starts to stand. He looks at his hands. He looks towards Mother's visage. "Mother...I...You killed each other. He...He...." He hisses.

Fire crackles around his body, his eyes orange from the light of the flame.

His eyes snap towards Siegfried. "You're the hope of the Metal Demons. You're the only one that can unite its disparate elements! We need each other, that's the only path of survival! Ghahhh..." Fei grabs at his head again, stumbling away from Siegfried. "Just...just LISTEN! The truth has been..."

He lets out a wordless scream. Then he lets out a worded scream. "MOTHER...!!!"

Asgard's power crackles into Fei. That helps him stand up more quickly. It seems Asgard is following his deal with Cecilia and is protecting Fei. Less a deal, really, more a request.

He isn't smiling at Asgard, which is already strange.

"MOTHER!!!!!" Fei screams one more time, tears falling from his eyes, snot dripping from his nose.

Tendrils of multicolored light start crackling away from his body. Nasrin can feel something deep within the demon that resides within him.

It's terror. It's not fear of Mother. It's not fear of Siegfried. It's fear of this. This thing happening right here. That's where that terror comes from. His own terror. Their own terror.

It's not unlike a negative rainbow, but the power behind comes from something beyond just Fei Fong Wong. It's infinite. It's neverending. It can kill and destroy so long as there is a will behind it to kill and destroy.

Sometimes even when there isn't.

The energy punches through Siegfried's armor like it is made out of butter, punching through his extremities. Siegfried will know it's being specifically aimed away anything vital, away from anything that can't be regenerated. Eventually. Tethelle and Ashton will not want to be near those things. Despite being nothing but energy, they seem... hungry.

The energy pushes out of Siegfried and then spins around Fei once more before it throws itself at Mother's visage.

"You will take nothing away from me ever again!!!" Fei screams once more. Rage, terror, panic, fear, sorrow, pain. It's all in there. Luckily for Mother, it does have some distance to travel.

But it's a power she'll remember.

GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Siegfried with Yamikei - A Perfect Technique For Killing Mothers!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Matilda Whitehead completely evades Universe Manipulator from Alhazred!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Alhazred's Universe Manipulator for 68 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

"Is that his name?" Zed asks, wheeling his great curved blade back into a ready, prepared stance. "The Dragon of Rayfalke, huh. No, I've got no idea how dragons are made. If it's anythin' like our dragons, they're people inside. Kind of. The strong ones are, I mean--" His eyes widen, then. You can practically see the lightbulb spark right over his head. "Wait... Is that what was happening to Ida? Is that why she got all those gains, and turned purple, and then just... lost it?!"

Clearly, none of Zed's weird Seraphic contacts ever really told him how Hellions work.

Honestly that shouldn't come as a surprise considering the list said contacts consists of 'that shepherd guy' and one 'raggedy nell.'

Yeah. Zed's not really had the best time finding people to tell him things without getting distracted by nearby shinies.

But...! He can worry about that later. Now he has his life to preserve. Zed's eyes harden as the knight shoots forward. His speed is... incredible. Maybe even as fast as Harken. Maybe faster? Zed reacts as fast as his body allows and brings his sword around--

Sparks fly. Metal shears against metal. Gritting his teeth, Zed braces the flat of his blade against the haft of KK's spear, one slides clear around the other, and then...

A bolt of light smashes into his midsection and hurls him higher, higher, higher, higher. Zed's limbs ragdoll limply as the blast of power carries him ever higher, into ever thinner atmosphere. But, moments before catastrophe, he hears...

The Mother.

What... What is wrong with her voice...!? "Consume... this world...?"

What happened to this being their holy land!?

At the last second, Zed's eyes flash. With a roar, the light of his blade seems to invert, revealing the other side of Zed's dual nature. He kicks upward just as the last of those energy streams connects. Twisting impossibly in mid-air, as if using the halo of power driving him upward as a platform, Zed pivots and drives his black blade downward.

It cleaves through the energy blast...

A crystalline, blue explosion blossoms in the sky...!

And Zed screams his way down to earth, Doom Bringer held mid-swing like an executioner's blade. He falls down, down, down...

And when he impacts the ground, a great shockwave of demonic energy erupts from the earth and goes to consume the Trial Knight. It seems the chew on fate and destiny itself, a living curse of absolute misfortune...!

But when it fades, Zed is... gone?

Nope.

Nope he's right there next to Dean, ogling over the GIANT ROBOT PAL charging over the horizon. "I know! I KNOW, RIGHT!" Zed beams, slapping his NEW SUPER ROBO FAN-PAL across the shoulders. "I got to hang out with him the other day! Asgard is TOTALLY AWESOME and a GREAT PAL! You should meet him! He's SUPER COOL! Hey, hey. Tell you what, when we break back in there, I'll show you my AWESOME ROBOT COLLECTION! Nyahahahahaha--huh?"

Beat.

Zed turns his head and stares at the Trial Knight, as if having... forgotten.

"Oh. Right! BACK TO THE FIGHT!"

ZED STANDS READY!

(Regardless of how serious Zed may become... he is still, ultimately, a Zed...!)

GS: Zed has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Zed has attacked K.K. with Sealed Blade - Demon Breaker!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 There is no response as Malfi's dismisses his talk of peace as 'too late'. Roughnight races for Malfi at first, picking up the bowie knife from the ground and attempting to cut her. While he fails in his attempt to strike first, he does manage to brutishly swipe away the lance, resulting in large gnash to his upper left arm, but nothing more. While Malfi is seemingly built for speed and melee, Rudy is clearly a young drifter that is more of a brick than boy with a powerful weapon. Truly each is fighting their opposite, it would seem.
 
 Having said his words, the Outcast slides back into his silent nature, only casting a glance back toward fight still raging on as he swiftly changes the cartridges again, trying desperately to find the 'magic' bullet to this powerful melee warrior. Jack, Gwen, and others are fighting Al. Mother is wrecking havoc. Fei and others fight Siegfried. They all need him. And he is letting them down. This woman is far too powerful. But he can't give up. Not now.
 
 Leaping back in a desperate attempt to gain distance from the woman, Rudy takes a deep breath as his left arm glows, twirling the gun in his right hand. It's soon leveled at the woman as he breaths out slowly, the air turning into mist as waves of hot air bellow off the ARM as he readies another powerful round. He remembers the words of Zepet.
 
 'Exhale and pull.'
 
 BAM

GS: K.K. guards a hit from Zed's Sealed Blade - Demon Breaker for 80 hit points!
GS: Toxin! Statuses applied to K.K.!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Persephone has posed.

Elvis seemingly begins to understand. Persephone doesn't add any words. She doesn't know, as far as Elvis knows, nor does Persephone seem to understnad.

She needs to be able to declare the opposite later, if need be.

Yet Skylr adds additional information. "I'm no Metal Demon, but the declaration from those above have made it clear they are allies, for now." She adds to Slylr. Of course, as Skylr adds that they are not an idiot, Persephone looks back to them particular. Of course you are not, my dear, she seems to state without words.

As Skylr adds such needs to be arrested, Persephone actually smirks, laughing somewhat. "So you say, but if you tried it, I think you would find that you ... would be very unlikely successful. Orders for me include to eliminate any opposition for the Metal Demons."

"So far... all of the others are already busy and too 'dangerous' to engage. I'm sure you must understand." She claims, smirking somewhat. "Wouldn't it be logical to avoid that declaration?"

GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Snipe Bullet!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
GS: Malfi takes a glancing hit from Rudy Roughnight's Snipe Bullet for 73 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Rudy's Snipe Bullet glances across Malfi's left leg, leaving a trail of quicksilver in its wake. It hurts, clearly, but won't be fatal. She notices that he's done talking and is content to let their weapons speak for themselves. He succeeds in knocking her lance aside, so she decides to (attempt to) zap him good. Malfi inhales slowly, concentrating, as she draws on her internal batteries, then lets the power loose in Rudy's direction. He might be able to dodge...but then again, he might not.

Mother must not fall again. That was all that mattered.

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

The voice--the presence. Lily thinks she can feel it within the Dragon, feel Riesenlied, but how can she be sure? This is not what she planned for, this is not what she hoped for. The other form--the form Riesenlied was forced into, but was more familiar--that there was something she could do about, something she worked towards. This...?

"Tch." Lily watches as the Dragon heals from any of her wounds. There is no way to know if her words can reach Riesenlied, but her magic surely can't yet; not when Riesenlied's form undoes it as soon as it happens. Not when--

"What--" The assault of the Guardian's shadow is a shock; Lily barely has time to even try to defend herself, as the stolen power and warping Life comes. She braces, and it floods past her, tearing away at her energies. For an instant, she can't see. And in that time... comes the roar.

Golem Asgard's appearance gets a look from Lily--but no shock. No surprise, as the Golem that she saw Cecilia awaken joins the battle, as the bubble of power suffuses her with further energy, with a shield. ...She will need that shield, she thinks, to face what Riesenlied has become. ...Even if she can reach her, will this always be her form? No--such questions don't matter now. To reach Riesenlied, nothing else can exist yet. So Lily puts it out of her mind, and turns back to her foe and friend. She will have to entrust the rest of the battle... to the others.

"Shalune," Lily calls. "You're right. None of this will stop us. But..." Lily, more than most, can instinctively understand the nature of Ethius's magic--has been on the other side of it before. As he answers Shalune, as he casts his spell, the soldier in red stops, jaw set, to turn her head towards him. "Hesiod!" Lily says. "...There's another data point you're not considering."

"If we don't get Riesenlied back, you'll need to consider what I do next." The threat is barely veiled, entirely obvious in the icy tones of her voice. She respects Ethius; likes him. Nevertheless... Two who are willing to accomplish their goals without pity may have opposing ideas of what needs to be done.

"But for now--"

The power of the Ley suffuses the battlefield now, radiates from Riesenlied's form. How easy it is just to... reach out, towards it. To touch the magic of this place. As Lily lets the shrieks of Mother wash over her, as she hears her intent to consume, she does just that; she reaches. There is a pulse around her, hard to detect in all the chaos but nevertheless present. Ether warps, space warps, as she draws in light, lines of power rushing towards her. "<It's time...>" Strange words in a dead language slip from Lily's mouth as the shadows begin to coneal her entire person.

Her eyes fill with black as her head snaps up to stare at the Dragon. In an instant where she was placed erupts in an explosion of dark power.

The wind howls; when the shockwave abates, the figure there is changed. Lily floats some feet above the ground, wings of hardened light in vibrant jeweled tones beat; the circuits that make up her irises and pupils gleam in time with the streak of color in her hair, with the circuit patterns down her face, glowing even through her armor for an instant.

"<Limiters disengaged. -->" The rush of battle overwhelms the sound of the rest of her words, if there was anything.

Tiny before the great form of the new Ley Dragon, Lily's inhuman alternate self nevertheless stares upward towards her.

...And that's when an ancient, terrifying power explodes from elsewhere on the battlefield. As Fei screams his rage and sorrow, another scream abrubtly breaks out over the battlefield--Lily's. In it is a rage expressed once, echoed, pushing onward, and only turns to words after something more primal.

"You WILL NOT HAVE HER!"

Lily is a blur; violet light bursts around her, and black lightning crackles from her hands as she extends both to either side and shadows abrubtly form into two great rents in the air, terrible axes of the void in each hand, both too large for a human to even hold, twice Lily's height--

She starts hacking against the dragon with both of them, trying to overwhelm the Ley-forced power of regeneration with the essence of destruction.

GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Assault with Batteries!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
DC: Lily Keil switches forms to Awakened - Omega Stage!
GS: Lily Keil has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Riesenlied with The Blood-Ember - Axe!
GS: Lily Keil has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
GS: Rudy Roughnight guards a hit from Malfi's Assault with Batteries for 57 hit points!
GS: Rudy Roughnight enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Lily Keil's The Blood-Ember - Axe for 161 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        The arm twists and reshapes itself as Ida pulls it back. She's not sure if it's Kalve's medicine, or her own grudging acceptance or both, but it's actually responding now. She raises it before her as she settles into a two-fisted fighting stance. "I think he respected you," Ida says, her voice calm and low and even in the face of Siegfried's rage. "Would he have wanted to see you here, like this? I don't know."

        Siegfried's chest cracks open. Ida twists on a heel, leaps to the side, and barely escapes being atomized. The beam of white-hot death clips her right shoulder, burning through the flesh. The fingers spasm wildly. Ida bites back a scream of agony, and glances down at the burns, at the orange-sized divot Siegfried just took out of

        his?

        my?

        arm. Protocellular Living Metal seeps in to fill the gap, to take over where cauterized muscle was scorched away. The pain begins to die down. Ida hears the footsteps of something colossal as it moves across the battlefield, feels the air around her grow warm and thick with power.

        "Asgard," Ida whispers. "Cecilia...?" Plan B. Keep Cecilia and Asgard safe until they can bring down that shield.

        'I won't abide that construct before I consume this world!'

        A chill races down Ida's spine. Shock. Horror. Disbelief that makes no sense. The right hand curls into a tight fist. "Fei?" Ida glances sidelong at him, and what she sees only underscores her fear. "Fei! Fei, eyes forward, focus!" Oh no. The memories. It has to be the memories. Horrible, destroying power flows from Fei's body, and Ida steps back, shielding her eyes a moment. As it flows up towards Mother's apparition, she uncovers them. Not knowing what else to do, she rushes forward alongside him, chi boiling up around the red-tattooed hand. It's strange--part of it is clearly Ida's, and part of it is hotter, red-tinted, flame-like

        "This is for the Siegfried he knew," Ida says. She draws back the hand and drives it forwards in a simple, purposeful motion. A mighty crack of displaced air heralds its approach, followed by an eruption of boiling chi, followed by the impact of Fafnir's hand against Siegfried's helmet, or possibly his chin.

        Ida steps out of the strike, and looks at Mother. Her expression is one of pure fury--hot and cold at once--as she looks up at the projection of the goddess she hoped would be everything Kalve claimed she was.

        "I am coming for you, creature," Ida says. Luisa Rey wasn't there, at the end, except in spirit. Perhaps Ida can make it up to her.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Siegfried with Unbroken Lotus Fist!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Fei Fong Wong's attack becomes clear!
GS: Siegfried critically Guards a hit from Fei Fong Wong's Ultra Idstinct for 37 hit points!
GS: Siegfried has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Siegfried takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Unbroken Lotus Fist for 232 hit points!
GS: Siegfried has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        There is at first no answer that comes from Avril as she collects herself.

        As power itself wicks from her form in the form of ice, frost, and the chill breathlike fog. If Elvis were to lay a hand on her now, he would find that a certain cold suffuses her body. There is no warmth to be found here.

        Old tomes.
        Recordings.
        Stories.
        A memory that doesn't die.

        'In our homeland there sleeps--

        The blade again cuts, merciless.

        'I think I know you.'

        Yes.
        Perhaps a few things are beginning to click into place.

        "And you did not seek to stop him," Avril states, still standing at that point where her blade had met his arm. She has not moved an inch, remaining there as still as a statue. The battle around them may rage, but she is -- an echo of before -- concerned with but one thing.
        "You did not seek to release her. For that, Elvis, I hold you to account."

        But if there is any one thing that is as clear as the proverbial day, it is this:
        In realizing that, he recognizes something she does not.

        Almost daintily she takes a step across the spreading ice. Then another.
        Even Asgard's arrival, the rippling wall of light that pulses forth like the beating of a heart of gold, earns but a glance from her.
        Even Mother's proclamation.
        Even the scream of defiance from Fei.
        The woman is implacable as she approaches Elvis now.

        "For that, I cannot forgive you."

        Avril had clearly been angry before, in a cold practical way.
        But isn't this, now, going too far?

        Particularly since when she closes on him, surges toward him, when her blade sings out again and again...
        It's becoming clear that her intent isn't as much to kill or even seriously wound as it is to punish.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Elvis with Queen Saber!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

"Gh...!"

Siegfried snarls when the ice explodes at Ashton's command, ice shards slamming and digging into his armor. He bellows and charges, blade whipping back -- and then cleaving for Ashton's side. Glumzambor slashes deep, blood spilling out; he grits his teeth, the Metal Demon snarling, before he turns his head. His eyes meet Tethelle's as she charges. He can do nothing about her advice to Cecilia.

Where, he thinks, did she find such a thing?

The whirling blade catches and cleaves into Siegfried. The sword slashes into his armor then rips through his inside. The Quarter Knight doubles forward, hacking up a mouthful of quicksilver blood, while a gout of it sprays onto the tundra. He stumbles, legs wobbling, and then gets smashed down to the ground. He rises, slowly, and looks up. However, Tethelle's strike was too strong.

Siegfried crumples back down to a knee, Glumzambor thrust into the earth. Ida slams her hand into his helmet; it blasts into him, leaving it burnt, but he slams a hand to her stomach -- forcing her back.

His eyes meet Fei's, as he speaks to him; as he lays it out, plainly.

Their hope.

Fei's energy blast slams into him -- and past him. The edges of his armor burn and sheer away; pieces of metal burn into ash. It throws him backward, finally -- and Glumzambor smashes into the ground next to him. The Quarter Knight lay there, as he did a thousand years ago: charred and battered, flat on his back.

But, unlike a thousand years ago, he looks broken today. His eyes stare up at the sky. "Hope," he says, quietly, to himself. It tastes like ashes in his mouth.

The same blast continues on, scorching across the battlefield. It slams into Mother's face -- and then straight through. The holographic presence only flickers about it. "Ahahaha... ...hahahaha... yes. I remember you. The sweet taste of destruction. A thousand years of waiting makes me savor it more."

There is darkness -- and wrongness -- emanating from her words. And yet, there is not the rage one might expect. There is an eagerness that borders on the profane.

"It makes it sweeter, knowing I will carve out your world's heart and consume it. It grows... tiring at times. So many worlds, to satiate my appetite..."

Mother's rumination trails off.

Then, there is a dry and slightly mechanical chuckle from behind that holographic mask. "But you will be wonderful children, my killer. Just as my Metal Demons were. As I killed Hyades, I will kill Filgaia, and claim you as mine own."

Siegfried's eyes snap open wide. There is a sharp intake of breath.

<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 This time, the electrical attack tears through Rudy, the blue haired warrior taking a step back with his left arm raised to weather the storm. It seems odd that he would that one arm take all the damage and pain, but the reason why is clear once he is changing the cartridges once more. He just needs that arm to shoot. As long as he can shoot, he can fight, he seems to theorize, even as his left arm seems mangled.
 
 A couple of ragged breaths are given as Rudy levels the weapon up to the sky, even his eyes seem trained on Malfi.
 
 TARGET ACQUIRED
 
 With his ARM fully in the fight once more, he fires into the sky, a simple canister lopped into the air. But then suddenly, it explodes into a flood of curving energy blasts that attempt to home in on the Metal Demon, this time the attack coming from the air instead of the ground. It's clear Rudy's starting to get frustrated, the woman's skill clearly causing him to use almost every trick in the book.
 
 Save That One Trick, but Jack assured him such things were not advised for use in battle with mixed company.

GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Mighty Avalanche!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
GS: Malfi takes a glancing hit from Rudy Roughnight's Mighty Avalanche for 66 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied has adjusted their boss level for 6 opponents!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Within the realm of the Dragon that Noeline has been drawn into, within this space in which there is only absolutes...

        Ebon Zero's blade clashes against Noeline. The two trade strikes for a moment -- its floating form means it can cheat momentum as it rattles and twists against Noeline's block and tries to go for a wrenching backswing, followed by another rap on the knuckle.

        ...noe...line...

        The verve of the battle happening so close to her is triggering something. So faint, in the dark... where is it?

        ~*~

        The Ley Dragon gazes towards the Earth Golem, eyes shimmering with the flow of the Ley as it senses something... that is akin within one of the Eight Golems. There is a pause, as it turns towards its battle -- no matter that it has been brought here, under the auspices of...

        That girl that she cannot reach...

        But as she hesitates--

        Riesenlied! Shatter that monstrosity!

        Cecilia can see the struggle within the Ley Dragon, no matter how twisted she has become. A sensation of hesitation, of guilt... she rears back with her claw for a moment as it struggles against the order. The Innocent One can hear Riesenlied's voice for a moment--

        I'm sorry...Cecilia...I failed you again...

        --but the imperative is too strong, and several spheres launch at the Earth Golem -- spheres of what Cecilia can definitely sense as raw, definitive Ley energy... the sort that can be felt in the most infantile stages of a Material summon, borne directly to life.

        It might be a mercy of a kind -- something aligned with Asgard that it might be able to counter easier.

        Shalune continues to empathically shout her support, even as Big Shal rappels back as she nearly breaks her arm yet knits it back in equally quick form. The Ley Dragon definitely has her attention drawn -- something about its horrible regeneration finds some worry in how Big Shal, too, does it.

        That distraction, as well as the cooldown as it winds down from its Material summon -- gives Shalune time to plug away at its newly refreshed armour; the blobbiest five-finger-discounter of ancient technology (that's a mouthful) finds purchase against the armour, perhaps used to regenerating beings as Big Shal's caretaker.

        ... and then, accentuated by that punch, Big Shal's arms come down to breach that armour once more as the Dragon is brought down to one knee, going quadruped for a moment.

        Lily pushes on head from the Material summon with the assistance of Asgard; her resolve is only redoubled, as she steels her resolve... and uses some of the very power to which she is hosting. She hears those words-- in a strange language whose words she can't intellectually understand...

        But... she can understand it.

        Lily floats above her, wings of hardened light in a beautiful hue as her circuits erupt once more. They have both... become so mechanical, have they not? Streaming a Guardian digitally, channeling magic through the Ley... they are both mirrors of each other, truly.

        You WILL NOT HAVE HER!

        The Dragon is hurled back from the terrible force of Lily's black lightning, pounding against her chest once more as that axe of the void manifests--

        And it reminds her of Adlehyde.

        The way that black greatsword once plunged through her chest. The way she had to burst into light to escape a certain death.

        Those memories... those very memories...

        Jacqueline offers her encouragement. She came here for her. Her verve, certainty and anger cause more of a pause from the Dragon -- the likes of which give her enough pause as those earth pillars strike and cause her to realise...

        Those earth pillars... that Crest Sorcery--

        Something she can sense directly within the Ley, the foundation of the magic Jacqueline uses. A glimmer of recognition shows for just a moment.

        Maya may often find herself fragile in the shadow of so many, but it is a thought that Riesenlied has often shared with her. Masks. She used them to hide... and how...

        You've... found yourself...?

        Much like Jacqueline, Maya taunts her that she's not taking orders from this shrieking... thing. She watches as the sorceress creates more of those hexagonal plates to defend Big Shal. She lets her. But Mother... but Mother's wont is--

        As I killed Hyades, I will kill Filgaia... and claim you as mine own.
        She need not return.

        Mother's and Ethius' voices seem to twist into one. If there can be something that can be spoken of as a knot in the Dragon's stomach--

        ~*~

        --as something within the domain Noeline is in begins to whimper and cry--

        ~*~

        --it is shown now, as it visibly lets out a pained howl of non-understanding. As that Grave Dust begins to wash over and clog... clog-- it isn't nostrils, it isn't the passageway to the lungs.

        But the Ley Dragon is still by conception a machine, and the choking dust does seize upon what passes for its systems. The Dragon straight up freezes for a couple of seconds, seconds which are precious and fleeting within a high-stakes battle such as this...

        ... yet for all the damage the dust has done, it is not the most devastating weapon Ethius has wielded. The words that have her whimpering and crying within, in the way words can cut her such, the way a lack of empathy and emotion brings the greatest weapon against her...

        ... and it prompts violence, as the toxic cloud of conditioning finds that weakness within her and takes over.

        No-- no-- please-- get out of the way--!!

        The warning comes extremely late as the Ley Dragon suddenly bullets into the air, cocooned tight upon its wings as it eclipses the sun over the grey Ellurian skies.

        In its wake, Jacqueline, Lily, Big Shal and Maya find themselves in the aftermath of the Ley-fissure it has exposed as the environment threatens to endanger them again. The very lifeblood of the planet threatening to wash over them painfully.

        The newborn Beast alights over all the Drifters, yet its shining eyes are fixated onto one. The one who espouses her removal.

        Stop--

        The Ley Dragon's jaw snaps wide open as she charges a sphere of energy within her throat. Her head convulses violently with the stream of the Leyline that has gathered within, barely able to contain even the welling of power that she has brought forth.

        STOP--

        The imperative is unheard, as her body continues to proceed on rails. Her head thrusts forward.

        A beam of pure Ley energy that could only be described as a flare of megalithic proportions erupts inaccurately. It lands a dozen feet away from Ethius, washing away a tree back towards Filgaia; it criss-crosses the ground, flattening the landscape and setting ablaze snow where it dares to crawl.

        It moves, closer, closer towards Ethius' position; even nearby, the intensity of which that has been brought can be felt--

        STOP!!

        --and she snaps her head back at the last moment, as she points it harmlessly towards the skies instead.

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Shalune Amira with Ley Outpouring!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Ley Outpouring!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Maya Schrodinger with Ley Outpouring!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Lily Keil with Ley Outpouring!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Cecilia Adlehyde with Arc Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Reginleif Recidive!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Maya Schrodinger guards a hit from Riesenlied's Ley Outpouring for 71 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Cecilia Adlehyde guards a hit from Riesenlied's Arc Impulse for 88 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Malfi groans as Rudy's energy blasts drop from the sky and attempt to consume her -- in the end, though, her metal flesh proves to be too alien, to difficult -- or perhaps too much akin to the ARMS themselves. They leave her bruised, battered, and panting. Malfi uses her tendril attack again, particularly aiming for Rudy's ARM-arm. If she can constrict that, he'll be less able to fight -- and perhaps even paralyzed entirely. If only she can entwine just right...

GS: Malfi enters a Counter stance!
GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Transfuse!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Ley Outpouring for 113 hit points!
GS: Rudy Roughnight guards a hit from Malfi's Transfuse for 71 hit points!
GS: Malfi drains Rudy Roughnight! Malfi gains 35 temporary hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber critically Guards a hit from Riesenlied's Ley Outpouring for 22 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a glancing hit from Riesenlied's Reginleif Recidive for 87 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Shalune Amira takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Ley Outpouring for 127 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Again, Matilda respects the possibility of offense from Alhazred -- and when she sees another device come out, decides the best plan is to book it out of there instead of continuing her ... aggressive, campaign, of stabbing. She's just *barely* out of the threat radius when it goes off -- enough so to feel both the chill and the heat it brings forth.

Being turned around as she is... she gets to instead face Mother, rather than Alhazred, as the great, dark creature speaks of carving out the heart of the world. Her grip on her weapons turns white-knuckled; her expression sets. She's not running -- there's nowhere to run. There's only one path forward, now, and Matilda intends to sprint straight down it.

Switching at last back to Freischütz, Matilda quickly dumps the reservoir; gravel isn't enough for an enemy of Alhazred's caliber. She's been working on putting her chemistry knowledge to work in a very different context than usual -- and now finds herself eager to see the results.

Matilda circles around, trying to keep both Alhazred and Mother in her field of vision. Her ARM comes up, and she fires shot after shot. To all appearances, they're traditional bullets... at least until the seventh, which leaks a fluid of an angry, vile red as it streaks through the air, threatening to eat through as much of Alhazred as it can.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has activated a Force Action!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Alhazred with Seven Bullets!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jack van Burace has posed.


Well this is getting violent.

There is a curse spat out as his blow is caught and the swordsman leaps back. Before he can recover though Jack sees the strange device, teh sphere that appears around the Metal Demon.

"Gwen! Look ou--"

And then all is fire.

And then ice.

And pain. Very much pain. Not even Cecilia's blessing can lesson all of it, though as it touches him he can feel strength flow back into his wounded form. There is a shout as he launches himself out of the terrible sphere of destruction, trailing smoke and steam in equal measure.

"...alright then. Fine." Now his teeth are grit and his eyes blaze. "Something new."

Which is when he just throws the sword at Alhazred's face.

Like a spear.

...screw ARMs he still use that sword at range.

He's running in its wake as he goes, Hanpan's magic and just a touch of something else propelling him forwards. It is hard to get enough power behind a thrown sword obviously.

Which it why again at the last second he blurs forwards and grabs the hilt, twisting in the air even as his fingers close around the hilt and swings the blade towards the midsection of the horrible Quarter Knight. Intending to bisect whatever is protected by that cloak...

...and seconds before it hits ice seems to sheathe the blade, the jagged edges of the now elemental weapon intending to add even worse wounds to the already dreadful impact.

GS: Jack van Burace has attacked Alhazred with True Draw!
GS: Jack van Burace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jack van Burace has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Matilda Whitehead's Seven Bullets for 161 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Jack van Burace's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Alhazred guards a hit from Jack van Burace's True Draw for 134 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Xantia told herself that she's done letting herself be provoked by Alhazred's words and the way he acts. It should have been simple enough. Just view him as another bad guy to defeat, and only focus on taking him down. That's all she has to do. She doesn't have to listen to a thing he says.

All of that goes straight out of the window when Alhazred speaks of eliminating her memory. At once, her weapon dissolves into motes of Ether, and she starts to back away, looking absolutely terrified. "No! You can't! Leave my memory alone!"

She has no idea how that sort of thing can be accomplished. For all she knows, what Alhazred is preparing this very second is the thing that will take her memories from her. Is all that effort to regain her lost memories going to go to waste? Are all her precious new memories of the past two years going to be taken for? After all this, will she be forced to start over from square one? Xantia can't even get herself to move, paralyzed by the absolute fear of her losing everything all over again.

But then the Quarter Knight's device is activated... and she's engulfed in flame. She can safely say that she's never felt so relieved to be set on fire. That it's only pain. Terrible, searing pain, but... only pain. She can deal with pain. It's only temporary. Whereas her memory... who knows if she'll ever manage to get back what she lost?

Ice, however, is where she draws the line. Abruptly, she's managed to find her speed again, moving with far greater speed than she has so far even, just to get away from the uncomfortably cold temperature. If her attire made it look like the cold doesn't bother her, this is clearly far from the truth.

Managing to flee the range of the cold effect before it ends, Xantia pants heavily - not even so much because of what she just went through, or that the effort to escape it tired her out, but the stress over what she believed was about to happen had a profound effect on her mental state. Then her head turns sharply back in Alhazred's direction, and something in her eyes has changed. This is nothing as complex as Fei's emotional state at the current time. It's a look Alhazred has probably seen many times before. The look that says 'I'm going to murder you'. Things were already pretty personal, but now, to Xantia, this is about self-preservation.

She straightens up, and once again, all subtlety is abandoned. In its place is an enormous amount of concentrated electricity, flowing out of her body towards her hands as she brings them together. The stream of lightning rapidly extends, flowing upwards... and Xantia charges once again. By the time she comes back in range of Alhazred, and she swings her arms forward, the energy has taken the shape of a truly colossal hammer, big enough to eclipse the entire form of the Quarter Knight, and heading straight down towards him.

Xantia may have never wanted someone gone more than she does in this moment.

GS: Xantia has activated a Force Action!
GS: Xantia has activated a Force Action!
GS: Xantia has spent 5 Combo on Gatling, including 4 on Gatling!
GS: Xantia has attacked Alhazred with Megavolt Hammer!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Xantia's Megavolt Hammer for 155 hit points!
GS: Elvis takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Queen Saber for 136 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei's shoulders slump. The energy passes through the hologram. In his pain, it seems he did not realize it wasn't really ever there.

He is exhausted. "What..? A thousand years...? For me? No, no, it was just--an ancestor or something. I...I...You can be killed again you can..."

His shoulders slouch further. "I... Who am I?" Fei says. This may be the first time he's actually genuinely wondered. "They're just dreams, Fei..." But the name seems strange to his ears, like it's not even really his own. He walks backwards, away from Mother in a strange kind of fear. It isn't fear for himself.

Maybe it's fear for Siegfried. For Elly. For his friends.

He stumbles. He stumbles away. Riesenlied is still hurting his friends. He doesn't want to hurt Riesenlied. He doesn't want her to be hurt. That terror isn't subsiding so much as the energy supplying it is running out.

"They're not memories. They're dreams." Fei says. "Not memories."

He trips over Siegfried and lands on his side. He looks towards his ... his ... his...!!

"I tried... I tried to tell you..." Fei sobs. "She only cares about destruction. Who am I? Who am I? What did I do?"

Fei curls up, shaking. "I'm a coward." He whispers. "That's right, I'm a coward. I'm just a coward. Coward, coward, coward...Just a dream. Not a memory. Just a dream. Dream. Dream. Dream...Nuhmemory, nuhmemory...My fault, my fault..."

MEANWHILE

Lydia looks over from across the battlefield where she's evacuating ruined soldiers.

"Wow," Lydia says. "And I thought my birth mom was bad. Mother is just the worst."

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        Far further afield, a certain archaelogist, cigarette hanging from her lips, wrestles and fusses with a an ancient piece of technology. Attempts to crack the Photosphere's shell had not gone as well as had been hoped.

        Some things, even an absolutely enormous gun cannot actually solve.

        With little else to hope for, Josie's focus has been directed utterly towards attempting to take out some of the massed hordes with the Nostos cannon.
        This has been a strain on the core she's been using.

        "Damn, damn... have to fall back at this rate--"

        At which point Mother, her delight palpable in the voice that rings across the field, speaks a certain set of words.

        The smoldering cigarette falls from her lips. "...God dammit," Josie utters, staring across the field.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

A heap of Metal Demons lies around Neriah at this point. A couple of members of her cult lie among the bodies. By now they've simply reaved through an inhuman amount of Hyadean lackeys.

Climbing up onto the pile of bodies, Neriah pushes her hood back and shakes her hair out, breathing heavily. Valmar's Child looks on with cold determination, watching Riesenlied a moment longer, then turning her eyes towards that hologram of Mother as Fei disposes of Siegfried.

The profane being reveals the truth in a holgraphic chuckle. Neriah's eyelids lower ever so slightly, and she clicks her teeth together.

"Sorry. I've got dibs on delivering Filgaia to my god, thank you," the exhausted High Priestess of Valmar answers flatly, sparks of red whirling behind her eyes like stirred-up embers.

        .~.

From somewhere across the battlefield, Catenna looks up to listen with her mouth open as the visage of Mother reveals the horrible truth. The fate of Hyades. A world killed by Mother herself.

A world whose fate Filgaia will follow.

Clutching her hand tightly around her Silver Medium, Catenna pulls it close to her heart and bows her head. "...The Hyadeans were her victims, no differently than Filgaians," she whispers, her voice pinched with a small, awakening horror that cuts through her even more profoundly than the sight of Riesenlied transformed as she is. It's like staring into an endless rift of blasphemy and nightmares as she conceives of the fate that's in store for them.

"...to make us her victims, just as the Hyadeans were made to suffer...."

From Catenna's shoulder, the tiny white Owlet - Saarda-Shanta by name - bows her head. <There is a different fate in store for us,> the Totem of Celesdue says in a grave voice more felt than heard.

Catenna looks up towards the shape of the Moon on the horizon, her eyes misting with the beginnings of tears. She wants to weep for Hyades - for the Hyadeans. For Riesenlied and Noeline and even Siegfried.

She can't. She dashes the tears away with the back of her hand and sets her jaw, resolute.

They couldn't fail before. Now, the stakes are infinitely higher.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        SOMEWHERE HIGH UP IN THE SKIES

        The Rephaim is in a pretzel with three other Metal Dragons as Mother makes her bold, bold proclamation. A twisted rictus of a face crosses Lunata's visage for a moment-- at least as much as she can manage between grappling for the controls.

        "I'm -definitely- going with the murder plan, Jay!"

<Pose Tracker> Skylr Paer has posed.

         "Okay, first, rude, but also not wrong, but still rude."
 
         "You know what, okay. So the Veruni and Metal Demons are working together and you're a Veruni and you Veruni are following some sort of orders to work with the Metal Demons - bad idea, for the record-" Skylr exhales, inhales - "And you're right it's absolutely a bad idea so I'm just gonna memorize your face for Leo, okay? Okay." She gives Persephone a firm nod, then turns to Cecilia.
 
         "Hi!" She ways. "You're awesome."
 
         Skylr's gaze then sweeps the field. Sweep... some people she vaguely recognizes... some she's never met. Oh, hey. "Neriah?"

<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

        Ines had really been hoping for a bit more from that. There is no time to dwell on that, however, as the laws of the universe are rewritten. The very air is replaced with flame. If there is enough oxygen left from the flames for sound to travel, Ines would scream. Her throat and gills burn. She is wreathed in flames, and then in a moment, everything changes to ice. Areas that had been burning were now frozen over, the sudden temperature change exacerbating the pain even more.

        The only mercy is that Alhazred's weaponry shorts out, and the attack does not continue. That's something at least. The pain, however, lasts. Maybe she didn't cop the worst of it, but the blows she's already taken this fight have left her wrecked. She simply doesn't have anything left in her.

        But Mother and Alhazred have made things clear what happens if they go unopposed. In the best case, they become experiments. In the worst, everything on the planet dies, then the planet itself dies. There's really no choice but to keep fighting. Which is why Ines pulls herself off the ground one more time. This isn't as personal for her as it might be for everyone else. At least, as far as she knows. But if she can still fight at all, she should.

        There's no more magic this time, instead relying on raw muscle and determination, as she silently charges Alhazred, a simple raw tackle with an outstreched arm to try and catch anything that might resemble a neck under that mask. It's not much, but it's better to keep fighting than just let them win.

GS: Ines Colina has attacked Alhazred with Hills Hoist!
GS: Ines Colina has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 As the attack fails to find true purchase upon the spear-wielding woman, the ARMslinger grits his teeth as he again switches out which sort of weapon he'll use with another cartridge change. He knows if she is able to keep this up, he'll run out of special rounds and if when that happens, he'll be much less able to keep this sort of firepower up.
 
 As soon as he changes to his preferred shot this time, however, Malfi's aim serves her true and he finds his right arm entangled by the powerful tendrils. It's enough to cause him to drop on one knee, the pain too much for the young man. Still, he finds some fighting spirit in him, seemingly able to ignore the pain for the time being... Or at least long enough to fire another round into the ground. As the trio of explosive burrowing rounds attempts to find Malfi, he attempts to grab onto the tendrils, hoping to use the restricting plan against her.
 As Mother unveils her previous plans, they are lost on Rudy during his duel. All he can focus on right now in this desperate moment is the foe in front of him. But that's not at all surprising for a 'simple' man like Rudy.

GS: Alhazred critically Guards a hit from Ines Colina's Hills Hoist for 20 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ines Colina has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has activated a Force Action!
GS: Rudy Roughnight enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Gun Claymore!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
GS: Malfi takes a glancing hit from Rudy Roughnight's Gun Claymore for 109 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

In the moment of icy calm, Elvis takes note of that gargantuan Golem. Has he seen something like that before? It seems familiar. A familiar model, perhaps? It escapes him in this moment. Right now his mind is fluttering with thought about the woman in front of him, and nothing can distract him--

Except a certain blue haired boy's voice kinda going nuts over the Golem as well. "SHUT UP!" he yells over the fighting.

That kid.

Anyway, back to Avril.

"..You know what? I will give you that." he responds to her. "I did not. Though I have had only interactions in large groups, I suppose you are right. I did not. Though you realize me attempting to do soe would be attempting to steal a kill's meat in a lion's den, yes?"

"It would have been theoretically impossible." A sigh. Elvis seems... unusually relenting in this moment. Where he would normally scream his intentions over people, the Sentinel seems...

Timid?

"I can accept that. It isn't like I want to be here, anyway. Doing this. I could be spending my time saving my people. Perhaps not just my people, anymore."

Part of him wanted to say 'your people'. Yet he is still wary to say such a thing. More data is needed to coem to a conclusion. Avril closes the distance again, and where The Professor would launch a counterattack, as he has al lthe openings he needs, he just raises his guard to take the hits.

When all is said and done, Elvis still stands, but is wounded. Lacerations split on his arms and torso. Some blood drops down to the slow below. When the last slash comes, THe man whips around to bring in a brutal haymaker at incredibly speed to connect with an opening he sees in Avrils defense!

It comes in... and abruptly stops a few inches from Avril. A small blast of air that ruffles her hair is all she receives. "I... can't." Elvis states openly. The infallible man, one of the FOur Sentinels, is practically disarmed at this flowing of revelation. And while it is still speculation and hypothesis, if there was ANY odds of it being true causes trepidation to form.

<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

ELSEWHERE

Mariel, who is currently some distance away in preparation to treat the wounded, drops a scalpel for the first time in about six hundred years. Her greatest fear is here, now. She can feel it - she can feel Mother's dark eagerness to tear out the heart of Filgaia, a painful rasp on senses already pained from Filgaia's degredation.

Ever conscientious, Mariel very carefully sets down the bandages she was preparing with an ointment before she panics. She can't do this. She can't.

But she has to.

HERE

Tethelle gets lucky; she doesn't have to dodge Fei's energy, because she is airborne and moving away from it. But she felt that raw emotion. She'd have to be dead not to. Maybe she should worry more about him.

Tethelle lands, a moment after Siegfried does. He's down. She could go after him.

She almost does. Tethelle keeps her sword pointed directly at Siegfried as if she expected him to try something, holding it in a low two-handed stance - the sword is too big to wield effectively one-handed, for all that it makes a more impressive-looking threat against someone on the ground if you do point it at them with one hand.

But she does not follow through. Maybe that's because she's watching Ida too, as if she expects her to be a threat just as much as Siegfried. It is not a pleasant look. It's Mother that breaks the silence first, the great voice speaking. Tethelle doesn't look up from Siegfried, but her entire posture changes, tensing as Mother speaks and claims, directly, her great desire.

"Never," Tethelle says, quietly enough Mother would not hear her if she was any further away than Siegfried was.

Then louder: "Never. Do you hear me? I will protect Filgaia to my dying breath, and I am not alone! You will never claim us." But this... if she claimed the Hyadeans... if she killed their home... Tethelle fights back a shiver. "Do you hear me? Never!" It's as much bravado as real courage, but it's what she can show, and she is as dedicated as ever. She won't give up. She can't.

Tethelle does sidestep around toward Fei, and - pulls him up, or tries to. One-handed. Hopefully he doesn't rip her arm off for it. "No person who has done what you have in defense of Filgaia and its people is a coward. I don't know what you're talking about!" Which, itself, says a lot.

GS: Elvis has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

                "'Just as my Metal Demons were.'"

Malfi reels in shock at these words.



 As they were.

                Her people were to be consumed, replaced in an endless cycle of cosmic gluttony. She pauses, distracted enough that Rudy's attack hits again, explosive rounds damaging her head and face this time. Blood flows and she blinks unsure of what to do, still focusing on Mother's words.

Then Rudy grabs the tendrils and she winces. That was the problem with facing intelligent foes: they figured out they were part of her body and could feel pain. Which they do. Malfi withdraws her tendrils and focuses on stabbing at Rudy, but her heart isn't really in it. She's been fighting for Mother all this time, and Mother's plans for her kin -- and Malfi herself -- were horrifying. Consume Filgaia, and even her own children? This wasn't the Mother in the legends Malfi had grown up hearing...!

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        As inspirational and exhilarating as that little speech was, it gave Alhazred the time he needed to put up his defenses. Rising from her position

        "Jack's got exactly what he needs here to beat you, Alhazred. He's got us. You can fight him, or you can fight any one of us, but y'can't do it at the same t-"

        Or maybe Alhazred can. Gwen barely hears Jack before the world seems to end in fire, and then ice. The first causes Gwen to flinch away with a quick scream, the other quells it with Gwen's own chattering teeth. When she pulls back the shielding ARM from in front of her, it becomes clear it has taken the brunt of the damage, the metallic surface and shimmering network of energy peeking from underneath charred cloth and clumps of insulating wool. It sparks and shakes, drawing shivers of pain from the barely standing courier.
        
        Fei is screaming, somewhere. How is Ida doing? There's Elvis, and Avril is... is that Avril? And is that Dean, fighting the Trial Knight? Did he see the golem- oh good, he did. And Rudy is-

        No, focus. _Focus_.

        "You think it'd take just that to snuff out her spirit?" She lets out a laugh, in spite of the fear growing in the pit of her stomach. "I'm just one person. You'd have t'purge an entire continent's worth of memories to get what you want. And you still wouldn't get it. Because...!"

        'But you will be wonderful children, my killer. Just as my Metal Demons were. As I killed Hyades, I will kill Filgaia....'

        ".... So that's why..." They're all connected, if not by blood, but by a possible fate. Gwen staggers back, a primal sort of fear and anger boiling in the bit of her stomach.

        '... and claim you as mine own."

        "This world is..."
        
        It's all they have. Them, humanity, Veruni...

        She remembers a small smile, comforting words said by a campfire, spoken from a man who has again and again saved her life. Her right hand tightens into a fist, and Gwen breathes, drawing energy down into her barely responding right ARM, once more.

         "This world, _and_ its future..." A second barrage blasts from Gwen's hand, directed back at Alhazred. "....is built... on love and peace!"

        The words felt so fake, every time she heard or said them, save for that night. But now...

        They felt like the only cry she could give in the face of so much terror.

GS: Malfi has attacked Rudy Roughnight with Beyond the Impale!
GS: Malfi has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Alhazred with Corona Discharge!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Corona Discharge for 138 hit points!
GS: Alhazred enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

                               [Harken Time]

A shadow skulks through the battlefield, stepping nimbly between gunshot and spellslinging behind a cloak of invisibility. Today, the dread scythe Azrael reaps nothing. Drifters, militiamen, and their ilk remain blessedly ignorant of the reaper who shirks her duties as she lopes past their front lines with lupine grace and speed.

The shadow of Lady Harken, first of the Quarter Knights to be stricken with this crisis of confidence, sits squat on a broken battlement as she watches the Earth Golem charge into the field of battle. Watches the Daughter of Valmar unleash powers unimaginable against the avatar of Mother. And watches...

The truth.

So simple, and so pure.

"So arrogant." muses the crestfallen Quarter Knight, drawing up to her full height. She turns a small metal dog-tag with a holographic print on it over between her fingers. Her eyes linger over the symbol of authority on the corner. Access. All areas. Irrevocable. Permanent. Immutable.

A foul smile reaches the scarlet-haired sword princess's eyes. "How unfortunate for you." she tuts softly, from a great and unheard distance.

GS: Rudy Roughnight guards a hit from Malfi's Beyond the Impale for 47 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

There is something to be said about the rallying power of the arrival of calvary, especially when it's so grandiose as to come in the form of an ancient, towering war machine.

There's also something to be said about it's power to distract when said ancient, towering war machine inspires within its allies the attention-gobbling power of the Nerd Force.

Such as it is.

Which one this turns out to be, well...

Maybe it's a bit of both.

"Ida Everstead-Rey," utters K.K. as their spear tip strikes ground, jutting from the earth like a lightning rod as if in preparation for something, "succumbed to the Malevolence within her. Hellionization is the fate of all of humanity's get who fall to their contradictions."

The Trial Knight takes a single step backwards, even as Zed soars. That they trust their words will carry even through the din of battle says volumes of their confidence.

"And when a Seraph becomes blighted with mankind's sin, the very nature of them twists towards an irreversible calamity."

Zed falls, screaming defiance. K.K. braces backwards against their left leg.

"That is what you faced. That is what you sealed, tired and confused but evermore wrathful, within Filgaia."

The shockwave RIPS forward.

"And 'tis but one possible way to end that wrath afore it consumes all."

And the Trial Knight -surges- forward, -grabs- their spear --

--and pole vaults over it, flipping through the air with a grace and fluidity that defies logic from one so armored as they RIP their weapon from the earth and CLEAVE straight into that shockwave of misfortune, face-first. White blade flashes against a dark halo of fury as those energies rip into the Trial Knight -- and the bulk disperses all around them, cleaved in twain even as they are buffeted by the storm of demonic wrath.

Armor cracked here and there, the knight stands amidst the chewed through scenery that surrounds them. They can hear all else that transpires, between the dragonforged Riesenlied and those who try to reach her, to Siegfried, grappling with his fate.

To the Metal Demons' Mother, ravenous and merciless.

If their explanation of a dragon's mindless consumption parallels her own rhetoric at all, it must simply be coincidence.

Mustn't it?

"..."

The Trial Knight turns. Their attention is once more upon Dean and Zed, ready to continue the battle being waged. And when the knight sees them there, gawking, the white-clad creature pauses. Their head cocks to the left.

"... hm. Awesome robot collection...?"

Silence reigns. And by the time Dean turns back to half-heartedly attack, by the time Zed spins about to re-ready the fight --

--there is nothing there to greet them but empty air, and a slight, bluish distortion that seems to twist space into little knots.

"'Twould behoove you well to reserve your doe-eyed wonder for a time more fitting."

The voice, however, comes clear as day.

"Lest you yearn to find yourself with no more of it left to you with which to gape."

Twin swords in hand glow with a cerulean hue that seems to churn at the space that surrounds them. And K.K. leaves off with those words of wisdom -- seconds before they fluidly SWEEP their blades upwards, generating a sweeping, half-circular shockwave of sapphire energy for Dean Stark that ripples the air around them. And in that very same moment, they pivot -around-, completing the act by -driving- those blades downward, trailing those same blue hues as they seek to -carve- diagonally into Zed --

--leaving K.K., poised in a guarded stance that seems to promise only imminent pain for whoever springs upon them next -- with only their words to cut through the tension they leave behind.

"'Tis a thing you have very little left of. For when your Mother drags your tainted sister deep into the gutters of the what was once your sanctuary, when she sups deeply of the veins of life that run through her child..."

Words that come off as a taunt. Words that seem engineered to insult, to undermine. And yet, if either of them pay attention to what the knight is saying, the words that actually compose it...

"... there will be naught more to any of you than ash."

... maybe there is something else there. Information.

The downfalls of villainous monologuing, perhaps.

GS: K.K. has attacked Dean Stark with Chaos Blade!
GS: K.K. enters a Counter stance!
GS: K.K. has attacked Zed with Calamity Stance!
GS: K.K. takes 10 damage from Toxin!
GS: K.K. has completed their action.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah opens her mouth a little as she looks down at Skylr from atop a pile of charred and mangled Metal Beasts she's been killing for the past while. Her body count has climbed substantially today.

"Skylr," she breathes, before jumping down the pile and moving towards the girl quickly. "Don't get yourself hurt out here. Mother's about to do something terrible. And even though I'm terrible too, I've got to help."

Neriah's eyes dart across the field, as if ready to blast anything that threatens Skylr. Sometimes you've just gotta look out for your precious pumpkins, right?

        .~.

Meanwhile, across the field, someone shouts just after Tethelle does, "What she said!"

It's Talise, who's been hacking at Metal Beasts for the past while in a vain attempt to fight her way towards Siegfried. She hasn't been able to get there.

"You heard her!" Talise shouts at Mother again before stabbing another Metal Beast. "And I won't just let you have your way with the Blue Star, either!"

<Pose Tracker> Persephone has posed.

Skylr talks to mention specifics from Persephone, to judge her.

Persephone shrugs, and then walks away from Skylr.

It doesn't seem like Elvis is making any moves, either.

<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        Blade meets blade; strike meets strike. Noeline parries the first of the swings with ease, but the speed with which the floating and formless armor can realign itself takes her by surprise, and she yelps as she's thrown aside. How far, she has no way of knowing - distance has no real meaning in this space, only direction--

        --but Noeline is a quick learner, and if momentum means nothing to her opponent then it can damn well mean nothing to her. She winks almost out of existence for a moment, her form abruptly falling away - but not gone, only shrouded by Duras Drum's sorcery as she suddenly reappears behind her opponent to send it billowing away with a pommel strike.

        It's clear that they're evenly matched - she is fighting herself, after all, or at least Riesenlied's impression of herself. But-- at least that means she can't lose.

        Mother's voice, Ethius' voice, both of them filter through the space she's in. She barely has time to register the words, only the tone. "--Riese! Don't listen to them! They do not define you! You are more than that!" she answers the tiny call, doing her best to search and focus on the tiny voice behind it all; she has little concentration to spare, but what she does have she pours into the Tear--

        --and then she realizes what was actually said, and the tiny voice becomes a sob that wrenches at her heart. Noeline's sword winks out - concern brimming inside of her, she simply accepts the incoming attack as both hands clutch at the Dragon's Tear. 'A little concentration' will not cut it - and so she gives herself over to its light with a wordless, heartfelt yell of emotion.

        * * *

        Of course, Shalune expected an answer like that. She didn't know that she expected it until all of a second ago - but the moment that Ethius' lightning-fast response cuts through the air towards her, the pink-haired mechanic realizes that there is absolutely no surprise in her mind whatsoever. A sinking feeling, certainly. A deep and rooted uncertainty over what to do next, definitely.

        She's placed a lot of faith over the last couple of years in the idea of the Carakin, and even if the Kinship has grown to an almost unrecognizably large collection of people, she's still put a lot of stock in its original members, and a lot of importance behind what it means to be part of it. The idea of threatening another member of the Kinship - the idea of firing at one's feet - brings a sick kind of fear to the back of her throat, almost as distinct as the one she gets when she looks up to see what's become of Riesenlied. And yet, somehow, her gaze holds steady just for a moment more.

        "... screw you, then," she mutters, turning on her heel.

        That's all there is to say, it seems. There's simply too much at stake right now, and even she knows when to cut her losses. Rather than try to convince the stubborn man or say anything more, she instead slaps down on Big Shal's shoulders with her hands, the motion apparently intended to encourage and spur the golem onwards. Barely, she registers Maya launching onto the back of the scaffolding with her, her mop of pink glancing to one side for just long enough to catch sight of the Outreach sorceror; it's not even clear whether she's really identified the voice in the midst of the din, but she seems to have much bigger things to worry about.

        "--is she really in there? Like-- in there in there?!" she yells over the battle. "I mean, I like it as a general plan, but if 'punchin' that dragon open' means punching Miss Riese open, I'm a lot less sure about it!" she calls, but there's already resolution written across her face, her mouth set in a thin line as she looks back towards the dragon's shrieking form. Around her, around Big Shal, the hexagonal sorcery shifts into position - and yet even this seems to twist and shape itself to the wishes of her odd bit of technological marvel, the whine of the device rising further as the magical shield seems to lock into the Golem's shape.

        Her vision swims briefly; she can feel the fatigue of powering the converter begin to kick in, and clutches tighter at the railing of Big Shal's scaffold as she fumbles at her jacket for another of the rations she keeps there for emergencies. Lily's approval is quiet but meaningful - she knows it isn't something the woman voices often, to make those times when she does more important. Behind her, she's dimly aware, is Asgard - and for a moment her fingers brush against a tiny, dangerous little remote switch she's carrying in the same pocket. If Asgard is here, shouldn't Diablo be? ... perhaps she's not cut out to be its owner, she wonders bitterly, but the thought of calling it on Riesenlied is the thing that most pulls her up short.

        Mother's voice rumbles across the battlefield; Shalune barely even registers the words at first, and it takes her several moments to lift her head in sheer astonishment. "--what--" she cannot quite fully understand, not yet - and besides, the floor beneath her is threatening to erupt in light and sound and fury, and she's forced to ground herself with a yelp as Big Shal's feet suddenly give way, their component pieces blown apart and scattered by the tearing ley energy as the golem is grounded. The mechanic grits her teeth; though Big Shal is obviously doing its best to rebuild as soon as it can, it's not fast enough, not with Shalune's own energy supplies ebbing.

        "She's still... trying!" she hisses through her teeth as the dragon diverts its attack, not caring who it's for. "She's still in there! Miss Riese, it'll be alright somehow! Just-- hold on!"

        ... not... the best of plans. But if Shalune is sure about something, it's that she's not going to move from this spot - and as the whine of the matter converter kicks back in, leeching from Maya's magic, it seems the golem agrees.

GS: Shalune Amira has attacked Shalune Amira with Quick-Fix -Plating-!
GS: Shalune Amira has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Shalune Amira has completed her action.
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Shalune Amira!
GS: Shalune Amira heals Shalune Amira! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

Deep breaths and focus are all that help steady Elvis' nerves att this time. He can't hit her! He can't do anything to her harmful. How can he repel her? How can he ignore her?

Mother speaks, and Elvis' mouth goes agape. "She's... insane... Does she plan to retreat into space? Or Lunar? Is she jsut going to leave everyone to die?"

So this is about the point Elvis remembers what VOlsung said in their meeting. Time to make a judgement call.

GS: Zed takes a solid hit from K.K.'s Calamity Stance for 90 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        ELSEWHERE NEARBY
 
        Seraph Lanval is trying to make good on his plan to try and get in deeper in the Photosphere - or really anywhere at all - while the vast majority of the Metal Demons cannot perceive him.
        It's not going so well.
        He's currently hitching a ride on the back of a thrashing Metal Beast that is unaware of why it is so damp on its back. He can't really get that deep into the enemy lines. Jostled by stampeding horrors, he is also in the wake of dueling Things That Shouldn't Be - Valmar's darkness, and this new, overbearing, powerful entry. Mother? That's the Mother. It's... it's all too much. Can he really...
        'As I killed Hyades, I will kill Filgaia, and claim you as mine own.'
        Lanval doesn't flop off the Metal Beast he's riding. He stays upright as his bare feet touch against the icy snow, looking up to the holographic mask as he takes a drink from his flask.
        "Sho hey... Guardiansh, ya know... how I've been tryin' ta shay I wanna do shomethin' fer Filgaia?"
        His eyes open up to a brilliant aquamarine from within, a sagely but still kind of dumb cat-like smile on his face as he throws his arm out to a tremendous wave of water that sends away Metal Beasts and other unwanted detritus.
        "I shalt start here, with thine blessings."
 
        NOT EVEN THERE AND STILL YET MUCH TOO CLOSE BY FOR ANYONE'S GOOD TASTES
 
        Something shuffles underneath the ^Water Dust^ that has since piled up.
        Her words.
        The ^Water Dust^ parts underneath the emerging sheet cocoon from the cold, as its occupant - the hapless advance scout Yarobeleedt peers towards the battle in the distance that he is not part of. The mask, her face...
        "...M-Mother..." He whimpers. "Mother... Mother..."
        He's in such grievous pain. He wasn't even allowed to eat before he was thrown back out into the wastes. (Because he has a thing for stealing the food they give to neonates, even at seventy, this is probably for the best.)
        He no longer seethes, as he slithers and undulates across the ^Water Dust.^
        "Mother..."
        It's so hard to shift through it. The rock in this part of the field is too hard to burrow through. He doesn't want to burrow. Then he can't see Mother. He has to keep struggling through the snow.
        'But you will be wonderful children, my killer.'
        "Killer? Kill her?!" Yarobeleedt panics. Is she in trouble? No no no. Her killer is her children? No! He is her children. "Mother pire. Mother always pire!" ...Whatever that means.
        'Just as my Metal Demons were. As I killed Hyades, I will kill Filgaia, and claim you as mine own.'
        Yarobeleedt's blood doesn't run any colder than it already does, as he stares into the skies ahead.
        "Mother... Mother... Mother..."
        He is crawling across the ^Water Dust^ now. He screeches. "Child is here! Child here. Is favorite chum of Mother....! Metal Darkman Yarobeleedt...!!"
        His whimpering grows more pathetic.
        More frantic.
        The cold has yet to fully claim his body, tough as it is to move as a coherent singular unit any more. He's not far off from becoming an inert puddle.
        He won't allow it.
        "Mother... Mother... Mother..."

<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 Hmmmm.
 
 There is something to be said for hearing the words of one who was considered a deity with one's own ears. And Alhazred listens carefull as Mother speaks, declaring that she was something other than what most Metal Demons believed her to be. For his part, Alhazred is not surprised. He did not know, of course - but the possibility was within the boundary of possibility. The other bounds, to be sure, but he had always wondered...
 
 "Hmph. New data is always something to be welcomed, even if it does not provide a desirable outcome. The duty of a scientist is to test, record, and test again to verify..." Alhazred mutters to himself quietly, even as the Drifters move in on the attack once more.
 
 It's clear that Mother's words have distracted Alhazred - his defense is nowhere near as strong as it had been previously. Matilda's barrage slams into him, the seventh bullet in particular causing him to roar in pain as it sears into his body, leaving a trickle of silver blood to drip to the ground in its wake. Only a quick turn allows Alhazred to barely deflect Jack from slamming his blade directly into his face, ice shattering in all directions as he smashes the blow aside with a claw. The sword still stabs into the mass of Alhazred's body, and he hisses in both pain and annoyance.
 
 It's already clear that he's not going to enjoy what come next - the amount of disruption among the Metal Demon ranks that Mother's proclamation is going to cause will be terrible for the defense of the Photosphere, and who knows how Siegfried is going to react to all of this. Given how soft hearted the man had become over Riesenleid, as well as the other revelations, he could only assume that-
 
 KRRAKBOOM!!
 
 A staggering blow as Xantia comes in, smashing a huge hammer straight down onto him without a trace of mercy. Alhazred barely manages to keep from being crushed, and he staggers away for a moment, digging around in his robe for... something. He actually seems rather desperate, given the fact that he's taking an absolute drubbing. Ines comes at him, trying to keep him from escaping - and to be honest, a good grapple at the moment might actually be one of the worst things that could happen. He needs to clear himself of obstructions, and he spins around to knock Ines away with a violent manever. "UNHAND ME, VERMIN!" he roars, and its more emotion than he seems to have put into the entire fight so far. "I will not accept death or defeat here. No, there are records I have to compare, surveillance data from the previous war - do you not understand the IMPLICATIONS of Mother's words? DO NOT THINK THAT I WILL ALLOW YOU TO STOP MY WORK!"
 
 Gwen is unimpressed, as she just blasts him over and over again with her ARM. The repeated blasts slam into the Quarter Knight, knocking him to the ground after a moment with a splatter of silver blood and bits of burning cloth drifting down around him.
 
 Those red eyes fix on Mother for a long moment, and then glance at the Drifters. "This is not over for you. Despite your confidence, I doubt you can overcome Her power. As for myself..."
 
 And Alhazred raises another device, and points it at himself. "...well fought. I look forward to our next battle."
 
 He pulls the trigger.
 
 And the Metal Demon vanishes in a flash of blue light.
 == Back in Alhazred's Lab ==
 
 The Quarter Knight appears amidst several large devices, falling down to the ground for a moment where he pants in pain. "...vermin. Fagh. Gods and leaders, all hypocrites and deceivers. There is only one truth to the world - one thing that cannot betray us..."
 
 He grabs a nearby medical device, slapping it onto one shoulder and allowing the liquid metal restorative to go to work. That done, the Quarter Knight drags himself over to a terminal and begins typing. "Begin remote backup of main server. Purge specimen cells one through twenty-seven - might as well let them run wild among the Drifters when they get inside. And set up secure communication line six."
 
 He sighs, leaning against the computer. "It seems I am going to have to take more... drastic measures."

GS: Dean Stark guards a hit from K.K.'s Chaos Blade for 107 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        Even badly wounded, Siegfried is terrifyingly strong. His fist slams into Ida's gut with a sharp clang, almost staving the armor plates inward. The breath rushes from Ida's lungs. She staggers back, gasping, recovering. "Rest," is the first word out of Ida's mouth, once she can breathe again. Quicksilver drips down her upper arm, mingling with crimson streaming from the same wound. "Siegfried..." Fei's panicking. "Fei. Fei, you're here." Her breath catches in her throat. "Fei, you're--you're here!" Ida's myriad wounds suddenly don't matter. She kneels next to the curled-up Fei and--if he doesn't shy away--places her left hand on his shoulder. "Fei, listen to me. Listen to my voice. Whatever--whatever happened, whatever she did in the past, you're here. You're Fei Fong Wong. You're my dear friend."

        Across the field, Riesenlied continues her attack, her body not her own. Ida keeps a weather eye on it--inasmuch as one can, when such titanic forces are being unleashed--but her focus is on Mother. On Mother's confession.

        'But you will be wonderful children, my killer.

        Kalve's voice comes back to her.

        We have been waiting for a chance to find and restore Mother for a thousand years. For a chance to have a home. We found her, and now we must do what we can to let her live again. This has all been a part of that.

        'Just as my Metal Demons were.'

        Ida's stomach twists. For a moment, she wonders if the Hyadean flesh within her is rebelling at what she's hearing--but no, it's just her own emotions. She wants to scream. She wants to curse. She wants to slam herself against the Photosphere barrier until she's broken and bloodied, or until she's inside, and her hands are around Mother's poor excuse for a throat. Kalve. Riesenlied. Zed. Noeline. Siegfried. Every last Hyadean.

        All pawns. All children graciously 'adopted' by the very being that orphaned them. All retooled into perfect little murderers, to be thrown away once no longer needed.

        Tethelle grabs Fei. A lock of hair falls free from Ida's bun, and drapes across her face. She looks back at the swordswoman. Firey chi boils up inside her.

        "Cecilia," Ida says. "Asgard. The barrier?"

        'As I killed Hyades, I will kill Filgaia, and claim you as my own.

        "No," Ida whispers. "Not if we kill you first."

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

"Tethelle!" Cecilia calls out, leaning out and waving. "Oh! Really? I think he has an idea, actually!"

That'll be all Cecilia gets out before Asgard's dead sprint carries her out of shouting range. She watches Dean and Zed and feels a bit more like she's riding a parade float than the last hope of the human race.

Cecilia stares up at the atrocity called Mother. Shatter that monstrosity, she screams. Cecilia hops upright, assuming a stronger stance. Her hand never leaves Asgard's side, and despite the giant's form-perfect run, she never looks like her footing even slips.

        'I'm sorry...Cecilia....I failed you again.....'

"I have a lot of things to be mad at you about," Cecilia mutters, to nothing. Asgard doesn't reply. "I'm sorry if I can't love you the way these people do. But this...!"

The spheres come crashing down and Asgard thrusts up his off hand. A BLAST of light erupts around the Golem, Riesenlied's balls colliding with it and dispersing like so much dust. One lucky one comes in late enough that the defensive wave has dispersed, skates deeper, curves sharply as if it can SENSE the Shaman. Cecilia's eyes widen and she disappears into a blast of light.

When it fades, Asgard's hand is interposed, smoke curling off the unmarked gauntlet of the Fortress of the Gods. It rumbles, eyes flashing up toward Riesenlied. His hand lowers.

Cecilia looks on, unthreatened.

"This is no failure of yours," Cecilia breathes, to the ghost of a woman she never quite understood. "Asgard. You understand, right?" she says, to her side. "This one..."

She looks up - to that awful, twisted form. Her stance squares. "This is another person we have to protect," she says, firmly, and the response from Asgard is a long, resonating OOOOONG of confirmation. Asgard clenches one fist tightly, twists his arm so the jewel on his gauntlet shines forward. The power that struck the barrier seems to calcify in the air and draw in toward Asgard, before Asgard ROARS again, whipping himself back into a pitcher's stance and then HURLS a glowing bolt of light, racing toward the Ley Dragon and expanding outward like a net catching a fish, encircling her, and then...

Exploding, moments later, a horrible BZZZNG sound sizzling the air afterward, tainting the Ley Dragon with air that refuses to quite work the way she wants.

And then he moves again, turning. His fist balls as he draws near to the Photosphere, dashing onward, a man with a mission.

Cecilia watches Riesenlied suffer and swirl. But also, she hears Mother's words. "No..." she whispers. "So that's what you are...you...you killed it!? You stole their star!?"

Asgard's eyes never move. But perhaps he moves with greater force for a time. His powers gather.

He does have a plan.

GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has activated a Force Action!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde enters a Counter stance!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has attacked Riesenlied with Barrier Burst!
GS: Cecilia Adlehyde has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Cecilia Adlehyde's Barrier Burst for 111 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        "Ida? What?" Dean says, turning to Zed at the dragons-Hellions-Ida portion of the battle conversation. "No, that was her turning into a Hellion! That doesn't have anything to do with dragons!" And so he reveals that he, too, has no idea how Fell Dragons are made. So when K.K. explains that part, about what becomes of Seraphim who become too steeped in Malevolence... he startles towards them. "Huh? Wait, what? What're you talking about?"
        
        And then, a moment of violence later, Dean and Zed are gushing and fanboying over the Earth Golem together. When Zed reveals he *knows* them, Dean GAAAASPS, eyes a sudden ocean of stars. "You DID?! Oh MANNNN!!! You're so lucky!! His name's Asgard?! Wow! I'd love to meet him! --Really?! That'd be AWESOME! Golems are the best of course, but other robots aren't bad, and if you're a friend of Asgard's, then you're a friend of mine! I'm Dean, by the way! Dean Stark! It's great meeting you!" he enthuses. (No, Elvis, he won't shut up. You're just going to have to deal.)
        
        And then he remembers that he is still in the middle of fighting the Trial Knight and shoots bullets at them uselessly. Whoops. Stay focused, Dean! Never say die, Dean! You can't fanboy over Asgard if you're dead, Dean!!
        
        Then Mother says some shit, and it is indeed shit. Dean's mental processes are on their own wavelength much of the time, but her meaning is clear to him: she destroyed the Hyadean homeworld. "Wha...?!" he utters, half-turning towards her, but only half because BOI she ain't no Golem. "You're their mother and you destroyed their world?! How could you do that to your own children?!"
        
        ...well, he sort of gets it.
        
        (Within the Photosphere, Ragnell, who has opted not to join the battle for reasons Siegfried already knows, watches over the field of destruction. Even from within, she can hear Mother's proclamation. Her folded arms tense, and her red eyes widen, then narrow.)
        
        The Ley Dragon soars up and unleashes a mighty ray breath weapon, searing across the battlefield--until her neck *jerks* up and the ray spends itself harmlessly in the sky. Dean, seeing it, lets out a breath of relief. "Riesenlied...! She's still in there, I knew it!" But he can't spare her any more attention then that when he remembers there is a fight going on, except K.K. is not where they're supposed to be. He whirls around, and *there* is K.K., preceded by their words of warning, sweeping their blades up in a shockwave of sapphire force. Dean crosses his ARM rods before him just in time to not get torn in half by the shockwave, but it shoves him backwards and leaves him on one knee, heaving for breath from the intense effort of defending against such a sublime offense.
        
        K.K. speaks of other things. If not for 'tainted,' Dean might not realize that they mean-- "Riesenlied? You mean Mother's going to eat Riesenlied, too?!" He heaves himself back up to his feet, the pain as nothing in the face of the enemy he must defeat for the sake of his friend. "We won't let that happen!!" He draws his copy Sword Medium here, holding it before him one-handed. Its magic converts into physical force, a concussive wave that SLAMS towards K.K. with the force of a sledgehammer. Or, if you prefer, that giant hammer they had previously. There's no element to it; it's simply a massive physical strike, without a physical weapon behind it. Such is the power of Equites.

GS: Dean Stark enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked K.K. with Elemental Crush!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: K.K. takes a glancing hit from Dean Stark's Elemental Crush for 71 hit points!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Dean Stark!
<Pose Tracker> Rudy Roughnight has posed.

 The pointy end of Malfi's death dealing ways coming for Rudy and in pure instinct he brings up his Hand Cannon to block. The ARM holds surprisingly, the force of the blow forcing Rudy back a few feet. But he stays in melee with the Malfi, the shock and horror of others causing Rudy to look toward the Metal Demon who likewise looks surprised. He doesn't know what exactly is going on, only that the foe he's fighting isn't happy. So the darkly stated advice is simple yet timely:
 
 "If you had just fought for the right thing at the start, it wouldn't have to be like this."
 
 While his words are etched with pain, he still wishes to finish his fight. His boiling blood, the hatred that threatens to consume him, his very nature seems to push him onward. Pushing the lance away with his gun, he tries to close the gap, not to stab with his Bowie, which is currently put away, or the gun that currently has no ammo. No, it's just one simple punch. Who knows, for Rudy that might be all he has left.

GS: Rudy Roughnight has attacked Malfi with Rudy is Cross!
GS: Rudy Roughnight has completed his action.
GS: Malfi guards a hit from Rudy Roughnight's Rudy is Cross for 58 hit points!
GS: Malfi has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Malfi has posed.

Rudy's punch lands squarely on Malfi's already-damaged jaw, and she collapses, knocked out. At least this way she's spared the growing panic among the Metal Demon troops and Metal Beasts as Mother's words sink in...

<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Xantia can't manage to follow up very quickly after such an expenditure of power. While she recovers, Alhazred makes good his escape. Xantia continues to stare in the direction the Quarter Knight used to be for a while.

Then she stands up straight, turning her head towards where the sound of Mother's voice had come from. She heard that proclamation. The look of murder in her eyes continues to burn a moment longer.

Slowly, that fire dies down, as she regains more of her self-awareness. Her eyes lower down to her clenched fists, experiencing a short moment of confusion as she's not sure when she started clenching them. That too quickly passes, as she raises her head again, looking around the battlefield at large in distress. Not because of anything Mother just said. None of that is going to matter once they put a stop to this, as they were planning to do anyway. Instead, a different worry has taken hold.

"...Fei? Fei, where are you?"

Somehow, during all that, it's dimly registered to her that something bad happened to Fei. And now that the threat to herself is gone, this has bubbled up to the surface of her mind. She immediately rushes off in search of him, though this could a while, given the current state of the battlefield...

<Pose Tracker> Skylr Paer has posed.

         "Uh..." Okay maybe lets not mention being unconcious like less than fifteen minutes ago to Neriah.
 
         Skylr looks at her, then looks around Neriah, next, in front, behind... she is well aware of what's kind of going on here. "I don't think I have much of a choice, but if you're really that terrible, then you're going to be okay too." Skylr says, which is the most backwards way she can think of telling the Ultimate Evil she's supposed to be arresting that she better stay safe.

<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

Glumzambor slams into Ashton's side - he's not fast enough this time to stop it. Metal armor squeals and the dark robe takes on a slight tinge of crimson. The swordsman staggers a little.
 
And not just because of Siegfried's blow. Fei's... whatever Fei is doing is shocking and more than a little frightening. That HUNGER will haunt for a while. But it's enough. The combined power topples Siegfried, holding him down for at least the moment. It was enough.
 
He slumps for a second, dropping to a pained knee. But Ashton.. gets back up. He has to, really.
 
Just as Ida and Tethelle move to Fei, so does the Double Dragon Duelist. "Fei." Ashton doesn't reach for the man - he's too busy trying to blot Siegfried's parting gift on his side. "A coward wouldn't have stood. Just yesterday, you said you were sorry for the curse we share. You would rather be hurt than see others hurt. That's not a coward, my friend." He cracks a little lopsided smile at that.
 
Then - Mother booms. The hand blotting the wound takes up the sword again. Ashton vainly points it towards her. "Come and meet us, monster.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Taking a step forward, Neriah brings a hand to rest on Skylr's shoulder, looking into the bespectacled Guardswoman's face seriously.

"Are you here with White Knight Leo?" she asks. Wait, that's a stupid question. Of course she is, she realizes. And if she's not--

If she's not I'll have to save her AND Riesenlied. Damn it all. Damn it damn it damn it. Why is it so hard to deliver the world unto darkness when there are all these muffins around?

"Just take care of yourself. And stick with people who can protect you, okay?"

<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Defiance is screamed towards Mother. And, still, she floats there. The armored mask over her face gives her a false, sculpted serenity. She looks down on them all, impassively, and watches.

"Your Guardians won't stop me. Not this time. I destroyed so many of their statues."

        ELSEHWERE ON THE BATTLEFIELD

Leon lets the cold feeling in his stomach spread through him. It is easier, Leon Albus finds, to let that cold feeling that came after Riesenlied was taken guide him. His silver eyes glance at Mother; at the same time, he wipes quicksilver off his lips. He has both his own blood and quicksilver blood on him. The Metal Demon that he was fighting is stumbling away.

The lithe thing, with segmented limbs like an insect's, looks up towards Mother. Leon looks, regarding the Demon thoughtfully. Something flickers in his expression.

He reaches to his side, fumbling for the Gunsmoke-era pistol ARM he keeps there. He pulls it out, and then shoots the Demon in the kneecap. It crumples over; the cold feeling in his stomach warms, slightly. Leon looks up at the Ley Dragon, then, and swallows. "Com on, Lily."

        ELSEWHERE ON THE BATTLEFIELD

Talia looks up, slashing Mirage to one side. Quicksilver flies off in a line, splashing onto the ground. Her breath is hard; one hand covers her side, and blood is welling between her fingers. She pays another, nervous glance at Asgard. Things the size of Gears unnerve her. She wets her lips, before she looks back up at Mother. Her eyes narrow, slightly.

"...It is always like that, no?" she asks, quietly. "Everyone keeps doing this. The crimson-eyed woman looks up at the barrier and frowns, before she turns -- and rams her blade through the head of another Metal Beast. Those creatures, it seems, are not deterred by Mother's words.

        WITHIN THE CRATER

Siegfried lays on his back, his eyes closed on the cold, grey skies of Arctica.

He closes his eyes on Fei, calling himself a coward. He closes his eyes on Ida's horror. On Tethelle, shouting back at the creature that he once thought was his goddess. He thinks of those he lost: of Enkidu, of Lacan, of Sophia. Of that scholar, Krelian, who seemed uncomfortable when he came with them. he thinks on all of the soldiers who followed him and died, all for a cause.

The temptation to lay there, until his life's blood drains away, is so strong. But, slowly, he remembers who he hasn't lost. His eyes blink open, fluttering. "Riesenlied," he says, softly.

Glumzambor is thrust into the ground, and he pushes himself to his feet. His battered limbs shake, when they do. His cape, half burnt away, waves out behind him. The blue-armored knight lifts his head, staring off towards the Photosphere. Then, he steps -- one foot, then another, and then another.

His voice is low. Quiet. "Metal Demons," he says. "With me."

He starts walking -- and feels a slight relief, as one battered Metal Demon falls in behind him, and then another, and yet another still.

Mother scarcely seems to notice. She shouts over the little, but growing, group of battered warriors trudging over blasted and frozen ground, to the one home they have ever known. "Struggle all you like! My Photosphere's perfected barrier will turn away every last one of your blows!"

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Somewhere in the distance, Jacqueline hears Fei screaming in rage, a scream that is echoed by Lily. Jacqueline's gauntlets spark, and she can feel the barrier intensify, as if attempting to protect her from the backwash of attacks not even intended for her - attacks not even anywhere near her.

The battle continues, as they fight against the one person many of them had hoped to never have to draw a blade against. But in the middle of it all, a declaration is made.

Mother will kill Filgaia, and claim them for herself.

Jacqueline stops, the next spell she was preparing dissipating back into the Ley out of pure shock. She stands there for a moment, in complete shock. And then she lowers her hand...which clenches into a fist.

"...No. I refuse. I'll never let you. You're no 'Mother' - you're...you're a monster. A monster that needs to be stopped." Jacqueline says. A part of her had hoped that, in some way, they might be able to convince Mother to cooperate.

...But that was before she realized the true depths of her madness.

Now? She wasn't certain what she would do...

- Layna -

Layna was entirely certain of what she would do. She looks up, her and her crew surrounded by a pile of bodies - and yet more enemies.

"...So that's how it is, aye...? That's your game." Layna says...then belts out an empty, wry laugh. "All o' that, just to feed yourself."

And then she laughs more raucously, gesturing out to all the Metal Demons surrounding her.

"You hear that, you louts!? Do you hear what you are to your Mother!? Fodder, to die and be replaced, aye!?" She then points. "I'm goin' in there. If you lot have any self-respect left for yourselves, you won't stop me. Anyone who does, well...I wouldn't blame you, aye?"

And then, she and crew march, wading through anyone who tries to stop them. Directly toward...

- Jacqueline -

...The Photosphere. Jacqueline's eyes find it for a moment, before she hears something from Riesenlied.

'Get out of the way'.

"R-Riesenlied, what's-" Jacqueline starts, then braces herself as the Ley Dragon rockets into the air with an explosion of Ley energy. Her gauntlets, already empowered, divert the flow of the planet's lifeblood around her. She can still feel it through the barrier, but she avoids its deleterious effects.

"Hold on, Riesenlied...! Hold on!" Jacqueline shouts, trying to entreat her...but Riesenlied no longer seems in control. She can hear her fighting desperately from within as the Ley Dragon channels a sphere, firing it off as a devastating beam.

Jacqueline can feel the shockwave even from where she is, and her gauntlets react accordingly, intensifying the barrier. but...

"Ethius...!" Jacqueline shouts, concern in her voice. She was angry with the man, but she didn't want him dead.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        There are harsh implications and protests being made against Ethius. They are warranted. They know what this man is capable of - their anger and fear are truly sincere to behold. He appears completely unmoved by them - the most that he seems to manage is a momentary blink as Lily engages her power as she speaks of eventualities. He is fully aware as to how a direct battle between the two may go if it were to break out now.
        Shalune's cutting 'screw you, then,' a mutter as it might have been, manages to travel the soundwaves above everything else.
        He could feel Jay's baleful stare. That might be the only stare that matches or surpasses his.
        The emotion rolls off of him. Is he even capable of that? Does he hold any value in friendship beyond a means in which to see his will through?
        Mother says her piece. Just saying 'her piece' sells it short, as the weight of her words reverberate through the stoic man. He exhales visibly - as though a sign that there is pressure that can reach him. It's a fearful thing.
        ...And he persists, with a slow start, towards the Ley Dragon as the 'words' show struggle and doubt. Distress.
        "You know what I am capable of." Ethius continues, stepping forward as Ley fissures erupt around him. He starts to hold a hand up into the air. Is he going to do the incantation for THAT one? "The exact temperature needed is within my reach." The distress that surrounds this man and his actions - the absolute bedlam of doing something like trying to destroy Diablo, one of their only chances against Mother--
        Hold that thought. The Ley Dragon's jaw snaps wide, the sphere of energy. Ethius has plenty of spaces to run away to cover, but he does not - he stays where he is, shifting slightly with the direction of the Ley Dragon's gaze... for... some reason?
        "You will know this." Ethius continues-- and stops as the head thrusts forward, at which point he dives back from the explosive flare. He doesn't clear it, immense life-heat washing across his form as she whirls the beam about everywhere. Everywhere, except him.
        ...His bandanna falls off the lower half of his face in the ruckus. He hardly notices because he has to keep moving as it swerves about, until such point it abruptly points up towards the skies. In that moment, anyone that looks down from that angle could see it, the way his lips press together in a tight horizontal line.
        He exhales loudly. His jaw is unshaven, with the beginnings of a shaggy white beard. With that opening as the beam goes towards the skies, Ethius notices something important.
        He notices Alhazred is gone.
        He dips his head slightly as he steps forward.
        "Riesenlied... I will ensure there is nothing left of you." He cruelly continues, his tone of voice even. There is a rocky outcropping that extends fairly high up. Not high up to be within arm's reach, but he scales it effortlessly. As he draws closer, laying the words bare, that unyielding gaze of his level...
 
        She will know the emotion he lets slip in a moment of... weakness? Carelessness?
 
        "Nothing left for anyone." The words are stated as a promise as he throws his hand up into the air.
        ...

<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

                  HARKEN TIME II - GET THE HARK OVER HERE

There is a gulf between Rudy and Malfi perhaps a world deep - understandable.

The fallen Hyadean doesn't collide with the ground, despite reeling backwards from Rudy's last blow. Very oddly, Malfi seems to collapse against thin air itself, her motion arresting there. There's a flickering of static in the vague shape of a person. A very tall person. The static becomes a fading-in image of--

Quarter Knight Lady Harken. Scythe-pole upon her back, and the fallen Malfi in her arms, princess-carry style.

"Nice haymaker." she comments on his last, desperate punch. She sounds remarkably pleasant, for someone renowned to be such a horrific murderer. "Try to understand where these people come from, though. A thousand years of lies..."

Harken's form flickers again, as invisibility claims her, and Malfi. Her voice echoes after Rudy one last time. "See you soon, Hero." and the teleportation circuits fire.

A blue sparking glow deposits the Quarter Knight alongside Siegfried. Two more figures joining the slow march back home. Not a word need be said.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Something else steals Zed's attention away, even before the Trial Knight levels his threat. The voice of the Mother, with all its... not rage. Its impatience. Its avarice. Zed's eyes are turned, wide and wild at the spectral image of his should-be goddess.

As she reveals... Everything.

Everything.

"She... She killed Hyades...?" Zed breathes, his words barely more than a whisper. "This whole thing-- this... this war. It's been nothing but a lie?"

He barely notices when the Trial Knight's blade carves into his chest. Quicksilver blood splatters across the ground and Zed makes no move to defend himself. His sword rattles in his trembling hand.

But it's not fear there.

It's not fear that makes him shake.

Rage. Fury. Grief.

"...Trial Knight. Sorry. I can't finish this duel here," Zed says at last, his tone... Impossible to gauge. There's too much emotion there. Too much tumult gripping his heart. But it's not enough--

It's not enough to not have heard the meaning behind K.K's words.

"We'll... continue this next time. I've got more questions. But I need to go." Zed looks to Dean and raises his sword in a salute. "Don't get yourself killed, guy. We've got things to talk about. And Trial Knight--"

K.K. gets a nod, too. "Thanks."

Zed...

Takes off.

                                -ELSEWHERE-

The Nahual of Fengalon feels his blood run cold. He looks to the twisted, mutliated facade of the Metal Beast clasped in his claws as a pang of pity, guilt and sudden desperation ignites in his heart. "They... They were just like us, once. They failed to protect their world, and became... nothing more than tools."

The Nahual clenches his fist.

A screaming hurricane is suddenly drawn into existence. The Air itself seems to Awaken. "We'll clear the skies," Cyre murmurs. They need to clear a path for whatever the Shaman is planning. "We need to get in there and take that monster down!" He roars, sweeping a claw in a vast swipe. The cyclone surges outward, tearing dozens of hostile Metal Beasts into so much scrap...!

                           RIGHT HERE - RIGHT NOW

"RIESENLIIIIIIEEEED!" Zed screams at the top of his lungs, shooting across the battlefield like a jagged, black bolt. He needs to go. Needs to go. Before the Mother can get to her. Before it's too late...! Zed surges, as fast as his legs can take him. He kicks off beast after beast, using each of their bodies as platforms to advance over the teeming battlefield. He has one objective. One goal...!

All he needs... Is to reach her...!

"RIESE," Zed throws his arms open. He lunges into the air! He...

Goes...

To lock arms around her neck, and dangle there like a fancy, metal demonny necklace. "Come on. We need you to wake up. We can't lose you here. If the Mother gets a hold of you... That's it! That's game over! Wake up! I don't want to have to--"

To do what Ethius is about to do, apparently.

Well.

One way or another... Zed is holding on... for dear Life...!

GS: Zed has attacked Riesenlied with A Brother's Bearhug!
GS: Zed has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        "You did not," she echoes, in the manner of a teacher, perhaps, speaking to a student about to receive their sentence. "Thus for that you must answer."

        She's cruel. Merciless. That's clear.
        There's no need for this.

        The blade glitters in the light of the Photosphere, dulled only by his blood.

        He's timid before her. Even in that state, the woman standing before him seems at least mildly bemused by this state of affairs, from a man she knows to hold great power.

        And yet she asks after it not, pursues it not. Merely proceeds as she must.

        What had it been that the stories had said?
        In their homeland.
        On the planet that once glittered like a blue star.
        In a cradle of frost.

        He moves at last to stand against her.

        A small puff of wind catches and sets the woman's silver hair aflutter.
        That's all that happens. He still can't.

        Her expression still set in that same grim mask as before, Avril reaches up, moving to grab a handful of Elvis' vest in her hand. Even if he should break free or evade her grasp entirely, the next action from the implacable young woman is the same: she releases, whether at close range or at a short distance, a pulse of life-thieving frost.
        To sink deep into the bone. To chill. To weaken.
        To serve again as punishment and reminder.

        One last cruel hope for a far-off future.

        "You cannot," she echoes, the question hanging there even if it never quite hits the proper register.

        She releases her grip.

        And Mother.
        Speaks.

        Avril turns her head, as if to take in what the Queen of the Metal Demons has to say. Her expression retains yet that icy glaze.
        Immovable.
        ...Isn't it?

        It's the look in her eyes first. That split-second of realization, realization that goes blown to horror outright.
        Like frost under the sun, her presence melts away. Her grip on her sword slackens and it dangles from her hand as she stares up, still, at the image of Mother's face.

        "How... cruel..." whispers Avril, this Avril, a far cry from the woman mere moments ago.

        But it's an echo -- if just an echo -- in the next heartbeat. Avril cries out to the Mother of Metal Demons: "How could you?! They thought of you as their mother!"

        Her back, now, is to Elvis.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has spent 1 Combo on Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Elvis with Jardin de Givre!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Skylr Paer has posed.

         "Um... like ... here with Leo... on - at- this place...?" Skylr asks for clarification. That probably tells Neriah everything she needs to know about the answer to that. Skylr is refreshingly bad at, you know, lying. That also probably tells her a lot of other things.
 
         "B-but don't worry about me! I can take care of myself!"

DC: Avril Vent Fleur switches forms to The Amnesiac Girl!
GS: Elvis critically Guards a hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Jardin de Givre for 0 hit points!
GS: Elvis enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Elvis has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

        Ines will have to be satisfied that she at least mildly inconvenienced Alhazred when he had decided that he'd had enough. She is still sent flying back, and she lands on her back in the snow. The battle seems to be ending, that's good. Especially since Ines can't stand at the moment. The battlefield is starting to ease.

        Unfortunately, they're still not done. Not even close. This was just the attempt to breach the entrance. It'd be bad form not to see things through, at least. It takes a while, but Ines finally pulls herself to her feet. She may not be able to fight at the moment, but she can at least see how all pans out.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei doesn't resist. Fei may have the power to kill a God, but he certainly doesn't have control. He looks towards Cecilia. He thinks again of how he let her father die. He could have saved him. He could have. He just needed to be there. He just needed to not be so weak of heart. Of soul. Of body. Of everything.

He doesn't look into Tethelle's eyes. In fact, he just keeps mumbling 'nuhmemory, dreams' and so forth to himself. He's not well. Frankly, even therapy doesn't seem like it'd be enough. Maybe he was shattered before he ever met Tethelle and now it is all he knows.

"A perverse atonement." Fei says. "For sins best left buried. The damage remains, even now." He lifts up his head and looks right at Tethelle. Tears still flow freely and the grief in his eyes is palpable. "I don't even know which are mine anymore, and which are theirs..."

Ashton tells him he's not a coward, because he stands. He fights! He would rather be hurt than see others hurt.

"There are many things to fear," Fei says. "That are worse than being wounded. There's so many pains out there. So many..."

Ida tells Fei that he's here. That he's Fei. That he's her friend. Whatever happened. Whatever happened in the past. He's the him of today, not the him of yesterday.

"Am I Fei Fong Wong?" Fei asks. But...dear friend.

That still matters, doesn't it Fei? Doesn't it? These are your friends. Even if you're somebody else or..or whatever.

Fei manages to keep balance on his feet. Tethelle can let go if she wants without dropping him on his ass now. Or not.

"But..." He begins. "I....I failed so many, I think I...I see so many awful things."

'Riesenlied'

It's not Riesenlied this comes from or even Fei. It's from Siegfried. Fei looks towards him as he stands up. He calls for the Metal Demons. He marches for their fortress. Is this hope? Perhaps for humankind, but for the Metal Demons? It may be too late.

"I won't abandon you." Fei whispers, before lowering his head.

He too has something he hasn't lost.

Elly.

Fei closes his eyes tightly then opens them again.

"Okay." He says. He looks towards the visage of Mother. "Okay."

He turns towards her. "After everything you've done to my brother, his daughter, and their people." Fei says. "I will punish you in the Guardians' place."

She might not even hear him, but then--she did recognize him didn't she?

He closes his eyes. Then he opens them again.

He looks towards Ida, then Ashton and Tethelle.

"I don't know who I am." He says. "Or even what I am. But I know you're my friends. I can know that much." His breathing stabilizes, though whether he's 'okay' may be a tough question to answer. "So thank you."

He looks over to Asgard and Cecilia, then towards Riesenlied. "Keep them safe, Asgard. Keep them all safe."

He is still radiating some energy and if it's Xantia's destiny, she can find him.

GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Zed's A Brother's Bearhug for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah is 100% unconvinced that Skylr, perhaps the fluffiest bunny she's ever met, can take care of herself.

Pressing her lips firmly together, Neriah looks off towards the distance. She can tell Ethius is up to something that she should probably rip his soul out for, but she can't quite hear it from this vantage point.

Instead she reaches out to adjust Skylr's glasses a bit. "Then I guess you should either get away from here and get somewhere safe, or stick with me and I'll try and keep Mother from grabbing you as best as I can. Though I might have to stop and kill Metal Demons sometimes. That's gonna be a thing."

There is a pile of smouldering metal bodies behind Neriah. It's quite high.

"Or Ethius," she admits. "But he deserves it."

<Pose Tracker> Jack van Burace has posed.


Jack finishes this swing, the backhand blow a wild follow through. However then the Quarter Knight flickers, the blue light comes once again and Jack's eyes widen.

"NO!" A snarl of denial from the knight as he throws himself towards Alhazred...

...only to have the Quarter Knight dissapear entirely. "Running away again! You won't hide for long you bastard! We are coming for you!"

Its only then though that he looks around the chaos of the battle and just how the tide is turning slowly against them.

Then a different flash of something catches his eyes on the battlefield. A flash of red and a bright sythe. "Harken!" A pause. "Sword!" But she is walking away along with the rest.

A look up at the gaint figure of Mother. The words she says and his eyes narrow slowly towards her.

So finally the truth comes out. The words are spoken, and they all know just what this is about.

At least Riese is getting a hug.

<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

Fei rises.
 
Ashton's little grin gets a bit wider.
 
He nods slightly to Ida and Tethelle in their little cluster amidst the chaos. "Fight's not over. If you've got a curative or two on you, this is the time for it." Ashton pops a blueberry into his mouth to do just that.
 
"What was it you said yesterday, Fei? Be brave but not too brave?" He looks up at MOTHER, her threat still looming large. "I think that might be out the window."

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

"What else is new?" Fei mutters.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        Ida reaches for Fei with the right hand, the one dripping quicksilver blood. If he'll allow it, she'll take his hand, give it a firm squeeze. That was Fafnir's hand, and then Luisa Rey's, and now it's Ida's. "I have an idea," she murmurs. She's still reeling. She's still wounded. But the anger inside her isn't blinding her, like it used to. "We can help them. She didn't give them a choice before--" There's an edge to Ida's voice, as if the sheer scale of the manipulation and deceit involved is viscerally disgusting. No parent should ever do that to a child. No deity should ever do that to a follower. "--But they have one now."

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Within the wake of that announcement, even within the halls of her own construction...

        Noeline parries the first of the strikes; she's thrown aside and strikes against Ebon Zero with the assistance of a quick teleportation trick courtesy of Duras Drum's sorcery with a pommel strike. The armour stops moving.

        There is a suddenness within that can be heard in reaction to Mother's voice. A reaction of a whimper and a cry-- as Noeline yells and clutches at the Tear as she continues to cry out in the dark.

        And Ebon Zero ... stops, as a figment of Noeline within Riesenlied's memory. For just a moment, that sobbing guides her past Ebon Zero, past the halls of this wretched machinery, guided by the light of the Ley...

        To where Noeline can see it.

        Entombed within the workings of the machine... Riesenlied, within the horrific mess of writhing cables and wiring. Her torso barely protrudes out from a gnarled growth of scales, still obscured with the mask of Alhazred's likeness covering her face.

        "... the tainted ..."

        She whispers to Noeline. "...the tainted... i have to... you have to... before mother..."

        ~*~

        The Dragon has collapsed to one knee following its massive burst -- winded, this newborn Dragon does not have much in the way of capability to continue her battle in the state that she's in. The Ley continues to flood from out of her gaps, howling softly with a pain as Shalune continues to insist in the wake of the diverted blast.

        Big Shal continues to assemble herself, and perhaps there is something of a kinship that the Dragon does not leap to interfere. Dean, too, exhults in the same way Shalune is. She struggles for a moment further.

        Jacqueline was not in the direct path of her blast. She was fortunate to only have disintegrated trees and other pieces of the Arctican landscape-- but the impact of order is still upon her. Jacqueline implores her to hold on-- to keep hanging in there...

        Riesenlied... I will ensure there is nothing left of you.

        It's the most harsh and critical of words that Ethius has ever had for her. To utterly demolish her and remove her from existence. He throws his hand up into the air...

        And she can sense something within him. An incongruent emotion, which leaks on through so timidly in a moment of... weakness? She doesn't understand. Much like Cecilia doesn't understand her, she often doesn't understand Ethius.

        But here at the very least, she can stop herself... from letting loose with another outburst of violence. Perhaps, it wasn't his words -- which so cut her -- but the emotion within that let her snap her head up before it was too late.

        All... is contained within the light of the Dragon's Tear.

        Riesenlied's energies against Asgard and Cecilia are diverted enough that nothing fatal or untoward has happened; in large part, it is the shield of the Fortress of the Gods to thank.

        This is no failure of yours...

        The Dragon grimaces for a moment, withering further as she's struck into that bolt of light that Asgard propels; she's caught, the 'BZZNG' sound grappling against her as she's held in place by what feels like a barrier that appears little more than a heat-haze. Asgard continues to sprint-- and she does not give chase.

        No...

        The Dragon stands there, thoroughly stunned-- even as Lily keeps assaulting with those void-axes that burn against her. But perhaps, moreso than ever, she can feel it. The pain of all her kin, as they all hear upon Mother's own words.

        The way Siegfried's eyes snap wide open, the way the breath fills his tired and burning lungs, battered as he is...

        The reaction Malfi had, moments before she was knocked back and unconscious by the blue-haired boy she was fighting...

        Harken, as she appears for a moment and impounds on Rudy to have some empathy. The way she's shown empathy to her in the year they've known each other...

        The way Zed yells at her in a way that's so familiar to her, with the energy that he so possesses infinitely. Moving from one goal to another... as he dangles onto her Draconic neck and begs at her. To wake up. Mother... has a hold on her...

        The way even Yarobeleedt undulates and slithers through towards her, in such reverence even after all the revelations inflicted upon him. 'Mother', he continues to espouse...

        Yarobeleedt, in particular, catches her gaze.

        But...

        Isn't that...

        Isn't that...

        Isn't that how... she was... meant... to... be...?

        ~*~

        For another moment further, it feels as if Noeline will finally reach her again. As she sobs and writhes within the machine, as she begs for her to rescue the Tainted still trapped within the Photosphere at this fragile time.

        But that black, indolent cloud of order seizes up around her--

        "no-- no! i don't want to fight anymore!
         i don't want to be..."

        The demon, Id can feel Nasrin's acknowledgement even as they wrestle for control over a body which has been so thoroughly robbed from them now. An acknowledgement... that she's going to continue to fight.

        Lily, too, can feel the scream of the little Hyadean Unit that's struggling in the battle of her lifetime. The Lily that little Unit saw within the dream, the red-draped Lily...

        "i don't want to be!
         why! why!
         why why why why why! i--"

        The cloud chokes staticly for a moment-- and Riesenlied ceases to struggle. The Dragon's Tear shimmers for a moment with a fearful light.

        "i... am...
         to... be..."

        And then a light billows around Noeline, as something approaching a gap to the outside, with all the breeze of the air of the cold Arctican weather...

        Ebon Zero places a hand on the Hyadean's shoulder, and spirits her out-- perhaps, just in time before that cloud of horrible programming can claim her too.

        And Noeline descends outside, right alongside the other Drifters -- Jacqueline, Shalune, Ethius, Leon and Lily as they proclaim plans.

        As Siegfried whispers her name and thrusts Glumzambor to the ground.

        The Ley Dragon lets out one final distressed shriek, casting a begging glance towards all those assembled. And then her wings spread as she turns and absconds at as high a speed as she can possibly manage.

        Descending, as K.K. spoke to Dean, Zed and the others-- to the Gutter, at the very bottom of the Photosphere.

                     ...To Be CONCLUDED on December 8th...

                   The stage is set... for one final battle.
              A battle to take back who has been taken from you.
                      A battle to not let hatred win out.
                           A battle to let love win.

<Pose Tracker> Rosaline Calice has posed.


CARINA

"LOCUUUUS, huuuuh... BEAST ATTACK!!"

Metal Digger Locus is riding a tusked Metal Beast the size of an elephant. It might be more accurate to say that she's holding on to it for dear life, though she's doing a good enough job disorienting it enough to plow into smaller Metal Beasts.

She hears Mother taunt them all about their Photosphere's impenetrable barrier. She knows what sort of cue this is. With a mighty grunt, she pulls herself up on top of her out-of-control mount, somehow managing to get herself standing atop it in the process. The Locusaber flashes into her hand, glowing and crackling with electricity. They're all going to do a big combination attack now, right? There might be a musical cue, though it's getting lost amidst the sound of all-out pandemonium.

Something also distracts her at that particular moment.

"......"

She turns her head.

"Ethius, you, you... total dumpus!!"


ROSALINE

Rosaline opens her eyes. Her head hurts. This is an understatement. It feels as if it could split open like a walnut. She's lying in snow. As her blurry vision resolves, she sees Kobayashi, her Katz companion. She feels as if she might throw up. She hears the sounds of battle, not even so far from here. She isn't even wounded.

"What happened?" she asks, her throat dry.

"You were complaining about your head and paw-ssed out. They asked me to leave you here and look after mew."

"I've got to get back to them," Rosaline says, urgently, moving to sit up. Her hand slips. She falls, kicking up snow.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Kobayashi protests, "These Metal Demeows aren't kitten around!!"

Mother's voice makes itself heard. Rosaline looks up, horror creeping across her expression. She stumbles, with some effort, back to her feet.

"My friends need my help. Filgaia needs my help. If we all die today, I don't want to tell His host that I didn't fight because of a little headache."

She draws her ARMs. Her face is pale.

"Come on. You wanted to see what Filgaia is all about. You're about to find out."

<Pose Tracker> Skylr Paer has posed.

         Skylr can take care of herself! Mostly. .... Mostly.
 
         "Neriah...?" She asks. "Don't kill anyone you don't need too, no matter how they deserve it. Unless it's more of that." She says, pointing at the Metal Beasts. She asks it so simply. So sweetly.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah opens her mouth. Then she closes it, reaches out, and hugs Skylr close for a moment.

"Please be safe. I like you too much to see you hurt."

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        And in a flash, Alhazred leaves. Gwen lets out a breath she wasn't aware she was holding in, and flat fights to keep from collapsing. Their section of the battlefield is one part of many, and there are numerous others. "... Damn... not really cut out for this stuff..." She lets out another laugh. "Man, Matilda, Xantia. You guys were amazin'! And Ines, your magic stuff was incredible, and Jack..."

        Of course. This was personal for him. It always was. Nodding to Xantia, Gwen says, "You're goin' to find Fei? If you got a chance, let me know how he's doin', could ya, Xantia? I'm gonna make sure Jack is okay."

        Sure, she's wounded, but what else is new? It can't compare to what others were feeling. Like Riesenlied, and Noeline. Fei, and Siegfried. Jack, and Harken...

        "Hey." Gwen walks over to Jack's side, making her presence clear as she approaches the sorrowful former knight. "We'll get her back, and we'll give Alhazred his due." After a moment's hesitation, she reaches over, and presses her left hand on Jack's shoulder. "I owe you and Hanpan a lot. If you need anything, even at this point... I'll do what I can. I promise."

        She breathes, her heart still racing after the battle, still feeling the weight of Mother's presence.

        "I think I saw Rudy on my binoculars when I came in," she finally says. "I need to find him and make sense he's okay. He gets... carried away in spots like this..."

<Pose Tracker> Elvis has posed.

Elvis still had a lot of fight left in him, These wounds were quite severe, but he has dealt with worse. Though that isn't the true danger. The real hazard is to be unable to defend yourself properly. "I am not sure what you wanted me to do!" he responds with, staring at the stern girl-- no, woman-- "Make an attempt and get killed?!"

She closes in, and seizes his vest. The man reflexively grabs her wrist, but quickly draws back from holding it. For one, he cannot lay a harmful hand on anyone like her, and two, holy hell it was cold.

Speaking of the latter, a great deal more of that grips Elvis. He suddenly feels his body temperature plummet, and this is the guy that was wearing a blouse and vest out in the temperatures around the Photosphere. Thankfully the elements do not seem to affect him nearly as much, perhaps due to being inured in the cold for so much lately. But the point is easily gotten across. "I will not..." he says quietly after being released.

And yet...

Her entire demeanor, her aura changes after Mother speaks. Something to draw her from her icy reverie. Elvis jsut stares at the woman. "We need to talk later." he says, still eyeing her, but watching the fight elsewhere unfold.

"Seems she has been changed," Elvis comments. "The question will be if she can be salvaged from it, or..."

"Would be interesting if we can find a way for her to wrest full control of thast form for herself! What a mighty ally you would have then! Hahah!" An arm is flexed, and the promptly released from such as a bit of blood comes out, which is quickly padded down after wincing.

"I... Don't know what to do now..." he says to himself in the moment.

<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

"There is naught to thank a thing such as me for."

The words come as the blades of the Trial Knight snap back from the blow they score upon the green-haired Hyadean. Their stance does not slack for an instant. They are dangerously, fatally ready for violence. Even when it seems like it might not come. Even when Zed's priorities shift.

"And little to be grateful for, have you not the strength to truly act."

The way a master of their art might carry themself.

Perhaps less noticeable in these frenetic moments is how the knight seems to address Zed and Zed alone in the space between their revelations and his departure; as if the fact that Dean also hears what they have to say, and also realizes what lies in the content of their words, is purely incidental at best and not an intended consequence of their actions. Like all things the knight does, that lack of direct address is methodical and deliberate.

What it means, however, is anyone's guess.

It makes the young aspiring Drifter no less a focus of their attentions, though, as Zed breaks off. If there is potential for the knight to follow after and halt the Hyadean hero from pursuing Riesenlied, it is stymied by Dean's intervention with that Medium. The draw of the Guardian's power, the pulse of the ley energies thrumming through it, seems to draw the Trial Knight's attention; K.K.'s faceless gaze turns towards Dean in an instant, reflecting the ripple of his concussive assault against its polished surface like mirrored violence. There is a splatter of living mercury as K.K. sweeps their arms to the sides, banishing their weapons. The crackle of light as they summon another into the grip of both hands.

And the earth-shattering BOOM of impact that ripples across the battlefield as force meets force in a collision of hammer and kinetic might.

The immensity of the impact sends ripples across its epicenter like a tiny earthquake. It craters the ground as concussive power disperses and pummels and -rends- white armor. It pulverizes rock into dust and fissures cold earth in ugly scars. And amidst the billowing snow and howling winds, as the Metal Demons are recalled back...

"... You live in a gilded world of dreams, boy."

... there the Trial Knight kneels, head bowed, weapon exchanging with the massive edge of a war scythe.

"Words are naught but air, lost as easily betwixt one's fingers as a passing breeze."

An edge that begins to crackle with a thrum of heat.

"You speak with passion and earnestness. And with a lack of understanding that shall cost you much."

Broil with the wild lick of flame.

"You cannot stop every tragedy. You cannot halt every pain. You cannot wind the clock back upon what has been done, nor can you stop all that is yet to be. Especially when you lack the sight to know what is coming. You wish to save her, boy?"

Heat that draws into an ever-brighter sphere at the tip of that scythe, like a tiny star being born.

"Then I would ask you but one question."

Limbs tense.

"Do you know the purpose of ugliness in this world?"

And they -spring-.

That bubbling orb of flame is -flung- forward, thrice as large as Dean now. To capture him, to encase him, to hold him aloft --

-- before K.K. -cleaves- through the burbling mass of heat with an impact that will spark a tremendous, blinding explosion. And in the aftermath...?

There is no Trial Knight left.

Just their question, lingering in the air, as easily lost as the breeze.

                                    ---

"..."

A ripple of light illuminates the darkness of the Photosphere's deep depths. Within its fading aftermath, K.K. stands, armor damaged and yet, somehow, slowly repairing itself with the almost ethereal shimmer of light that ensconces them. They look at their opened palm for a long, quiet moment, as if wrestling with something unspoken.

Looking at the Ark Scepter that resides in the clench of twitching fingers.

"... no," they finally decide, as the scepter is banished. As they wade deeper in.

"'Tis their struggle to overcome."

Towards the Gutter. After all...

There is work yet to be done.

GS: K.K. has activated a Force Action!
GS: K.K. has activated a Force Action!
GS: K.K. has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: K.K. has attacked Dean Stark with Absolute Domination!
<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        Physicality restores itself, to some degree. Exactly how much, Noeline is not certain - it isn't something she has time to truly think about, running on too much adrenaline and fear and panic and relief and a dozen other emotions she can't truly grasp right at this moment. But Riesenlied is in front of her, trapped and bound, and whether it is truly Riese or an emotional construct it doesn't matter right now.

        "--I'll save them. I swear," she promises roughly, knowing full well that Riesenlied would always put the lives of the Tainted in front of her own. It is what they've come here to do - it has been her driving force, all this time. The thing that she risked everything for, when she first turned against Mother - and now, with Mother's rebellion on full display, a very real and present threat.

        The black cloud suddenly billows - and for a frantic moment Noeline tries to continue her reckless pursuit of Riesenlied, reaching for her beloved through the smoke. She might be lost were it not for the construct that yanks her backwards, and it's only then that Noeline can dimly feel the space she's in shutter and quake, her hand clutching the Dragon's Tear hard enough to imprint on her hand. "But I will save you as well!" she promises with as much of her emotion as she can put into the words. "I love you! I'll be back for you! And--"

        The world lurches sideways - and the feeling of open air brings Noeline to a confused halt for a moment, as she realizes she's been pulled out from Riesenlied's draconic form; the last of Riesenlied's own power, not that of the Ley, drops her gently to the ground.

        For a long moment, she stares at the middle distance as her mind sorts out her jumbled, unclear memories of the last few minutes - and then she shivers with barely held anger, and looks towards the Photosphere. Riesenlied has slipped through her fingers again - or rather, she wonders if she even had a chance this time around, so panicked and wild was her plan. But beneath the anger and fear and worry is a steely certainty, and knowledge, and a plan that is rapidly crystallizing in her mind.

        "Outreach," she mutters into her communicator, her tongue feeling too thick and uncoordinated - but with every word, she pulls at her inner strength. "Pull the Fereshte in. We have our orders. We are going to save the Tainted," she intones, and her eyes flash as she pulls herself up to her full height. "Every. Last. One."

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia looks back. She watches as Asgard's assault on Riesenlied bear fruit, and others struggle desperately to save her. She closes her eyes.

Asgard rumbles, as though they weren't mid-sprint toward certain doom.

"Yeah," Cecilia murmurs, and turns her eyes toward the Photosphere's impenetrable barrier. "I know. We have to trust them."

Asgard charges onward, even as Mother challenges them.

        'Struggle all you like! My Photosphere's perfected barrier will turn away every last one of your blows!'

"It's not the Guardians you have to worry about, Demon!" Cecilia calls the thing from space - meaning the word more than ever, for all it now isn't quite right. "Asgard...Dr. Emma, and the other ARMS Meisters, they did their best to help him get what he needed!"

Asgard's chest hisses; lifts, just slightly, around the mounting of the blazing white-blue core in his chest. And above it, hooked in with snarls of wire and the size of a large dog, is a box with the logo of one Emma Hetfield. It starts to buzz alarmingly, and Asgard's chest and arm cores bleed with screaming light. And Asgard, as he reaches the Photosphere...

Stops.

Slows to a complete standstill. Gives up all that phenomenal momentum.

The buzzing increases in volume at the same time as the cores begin to flash and spark.

Cecila sucks in a breath. "Mother...Asgard knows more about barriers than anyone else!" she declares. "And he's been asleep for centuries. I wondered why the Elw kept him, of all the Golems, safe and secure...but I think I know now."

Asgard drives both his palms against the Photosphere's shields, as his shield cores blaze to a blinding radiance.

"It was so Asgard would have a thousand years to understand your shield!"

A field of light flashes out from Asgard's hands, blanketing the Photosphere's shield with its own. The two fields spark and crack against each other, dogs at war...but then Asgard pushes in, harder...

Until his fingers rip through, and he grips the inside of the Photosphere's perfect defense.

And with one herculean roar, he bends impossible muscle...

                And rips the Photosphere's barrier apart.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

        Ethius seems to wait for something. Anyone familiar enough with him might be waiting for something from him. (Other than an apology or an explanation, which are viable entries on a wish list.) Noeline leaves the innards of the Ley Dragon, but Ethius does not move to her side. To whose side could the man stand? He seems very adept at constantly pushing away those that would.
        The cold Arctican air whips about his bare face. He stands stoic against the Ley Dragon, gaze narrowing. What is he waiting for...?
        ...
        One final shriek precedes the Ley Dragon flees, and he lowers an arm. He stands further upright, letting the rare body language bleed through uncontrolled. One arm rising part of the way, followed by settling his left hand over the lower half of his face.
        He clutches it a bit tighter. He didn't have the chance to shave. He dislikes how he's allowed the white beard hairs to poke under his fingers as he looks back down the rocky outcropping he scaled.
        To waiting, frustrated, angry, tearful people who are in the presence of a world-ending event as one of the people who truly unified so many disparate, struggling lives into a family, a peace, a purpose.
        "I can not guarantee Riesenlied's well-being going forward." His words are the same detached, nearly monotone way of speaking he has.
        ...That seems to be all he has to say for himself, as his attention turns towards the great miracle of Asgard - something to answer that next pressing question, as the Earth Golem obliterates the Photosphere's barrier.
        He is watching history. The history of a world whose time he does not remember beyond the last two to three years. If that can be done, then... surely, Riesenlied can be saved? Is that a question he would be asking?
        Is that a question he is capable of asking?

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

The truth comes out. An entity that consumes worlds, that lied even to her 'children'... that would claim them, as well. Lily keeps swinging, keeps fighting, as she hears the psychic rumble of the voice within Riesenlied. She must be able to get through, must be able to stem the tide of that power--if she can't, then--

...She will have to learn, what she will do when she can't. The little Hyadean Unit's struggles fade; Noeline descends... But the Ley Dragon flies. Flies too fast even for Lily to reach her, and the witch hovers, close to the ground, catching her breath. "It wasn't..."

She glares into the dirt, looks up to the barrier. "...You. You're the reason for this."

As she stares her hate into the Photosphere, Asgard's purpose shows itself. She watches a feat one thousand years in the making, watches the barrier torn, destroyed.

Lily speaks then, "Black Wolves acknowledging, Outreach. We'll be providing cover for your operation."

Lily does not respond to Ethius's warning, does not give him further threads. Instead... Lily looks up to the sky. "Leon," she murmurs, and sighs, as she lets the magic of her transformation fade, all in an instant. Fei was talking, Fei, but...

In red, holding her rifle again, on one knee--She speaks to Leon wherever he has ended up in the battle, and murmurs, "...Leon, I hope you'll forgive me. But I have no other choice."

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

        A low, basso roar echoes across the Arctican tundra. A cloud of white appears on the horizon--snow, churned-up dirt, permafrost--and it's growing larger by the moment. Mother's revelations have divided her faithful, turned them against each other. But even then, even with its forces in conflict, its hull is fortress-like, and that shield appears ready to back up Mother's taunts.

        Asgard strides up to it, undeterred. Under his mighty hands, the barrier sparks, gives, and shreds apart like tissue paper.

        The thing in the cloud on the horizon becomes clear. It's a massive craft, propelled by countless paddle-like legs as it races across the battlefield at top speed.

        The Dragonship Destiny.

        White Knight Leo stands on its prow, his cape blowing in the wind. He holds his saber before him, his expression proud, but grim and resolute. "MAIN CANNON!" Leo bellows. "TAKE AIM!"

        Massive crystalline focusing arrays flicker to life as the Destiny's engineers channel power. Brilliant blue-white lightning crackles across the main lens.

        "FIRE!"

        And then, it's like looking at the sun. A beam of raw energy rips free from the Destiny, streaking across a good half-mile of empty ground. The snow evaporates beneath it; rock and permafrost fly outwards from the shockwave. It keeps right on going until it hits the battered hull of the Photosphere. Alien metal gives, turning cherry-red, then white-hot, before collapsing inwards with a thunderous groan. On the other side of the empty cargo hold, fresh Filgaian air streams into the alien base, unhindered.

        "Good shot," Leo says. "But merely the opening act! Now..."

        "Now to finish this."

<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

"No! NO!"

Mother screams as Asgard's hands, wreathed in such light, dig into a shield that has stood for a thousand years -- and withstood bombardment from Solarian fleets. The shield sparks, lightning erupting. At first, the green shield is pulled backward as Mother screams. After a moment, though, it crackles -- and collapses inward, fading into sheer nothingness.

The armored hull of the Photosphere remains, exposed to the elements and danger for the first time in a millennium. Danger is promptly there to greet it.

The Dragonship Destiny's cannon blasts a hole in the side. Chunks of armor, red hot, come raining down -- smashing into the taiga, and then begin to cool. The whole of the Photosphere shudders.

Then, Mother's hologram winks out.

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        Remember well where our star lies.

        "That," says this Avril, "is for you to determine."
        Cruel. And callous.

        Because someday
                                                                someday

        someday we're coming home.

        She might as well be carved from ice. Her body burns with the power she commands, in full terrible display as she faces down against him now.

        Until cruelty without -- and the heart within -- can bear such a display from her no longer. In a few blinks of an eye, she is as she was, as if such power never had been.

        Her gaze -- horrified now, one hand lifting to close in a loose fist up at throat height -- has settled on and does not leave what Riesenlied has become.

        Not, that is, until Elvis addresses her.

        'We need to talk later'.

        She glances back at him, and in that glance there lies multitudes. Dawning realization. Mute shock.
        Even regret.

        Her lips part as if she were about to say something to him, but instead, she nods.
        What is there to say about what had happened?
        She remembers every minute of what she has just done. And...

        The silence maintains. So, too, does the battle.
        "We... we need to find her." Thus does Avril speak at long last to him.
        Before she breaks off across the battlefield towards her friend.
        Still locked in combat.

 "Dean! Riesenlied's--"

        The Trial Knight tenders a parting shot.
        And the barrier, as she runs for him, is rent open.

GS: Dean Stark has activated a Force Action!
GS: Dean Stark critically Guards a hit from K.K.'s Absolute Domination for 43 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: K.K. has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Ethius is okay...but his words rekindle that anger.

"Ethius...!" Jacqueline strains. "Why...?"

What was driving him to do this? She couldn't understand it - couldn't understand him. She felt she was further away now from understanding what drove him than she thought she was...

She watches him closely. Ready to move - ready to act, if necessary. But...before any of them can do anything, Riesenlied departs, sending them a single glance. That look in her eye...it hurt her more than any attack she had suffered in the fight so far.

Jacqueline exhales, but does not relax. They weren't done yet - they were far from done. Noeline descends nearby and Jacqueline hurries over to her side.

"N-Noeline, are you alright!?" She asks, concerned. Noeline is quiet, understandably, but then she gives an order, which Lily echoes.

"...Take me with you. I might be able to be of some help." Jacqueline says...then shoots Ethius a glance back. It's hard to read her expression, but it doesn't linger long as Cecilia makes her declaration. Asgard grasps the barrier...and then rips it open...This, conveniently, leaves the Photosphere open for a direct hit from the Dragonship Destiny.

The Photosphere is broken up, and the hologram of Mother disappears.

- ??? -

Nearby, a man in a red poncho watches impassively. By all rights, he should have been participating in the fight. But he was...distracted by other thoughts. The revelations brought about by Mother certainly helped.

He knew now what he had to do. He would apologize to the necessary parties later. Ambrosius turns and walks away, returning to the Photosphere.

So, then.

It begins.

<Pose Tracker> Skylr Paer has posed.

         "I can't promise too much. Who knows how things are going." Skylr steps back from the hug as Cecilia goes full on friggin' ham. The low, basso roar that comes get her eyes to widen - a cloud, in the distance... paddle-like legs...
 
         Skylr's grin is *wicked*, and quite unbecoming of the Guardswoman.
 
         "It's the Destiny! Leo made it!" There is a happy dance going on in the middle of the Photosphere.

<Pose Tracker> Eryon Rast has posed.

If nothing else is heard above the terrible din, let this be the sound that signals salvation:

       "Fuahahahahahaha! Enemies of the Goddess, quake in fear! It is I!"


                      ,------
                      ERYON RAST
                     #1 TEMPORARY DARKEST HERO
                                                     ------'


Even the dire circumstances cannot dull Eryon's dramatic edge.

ERYON RAST stands atop the Dragonship Destiny a distance behind the White Knight, one hand clutching the rim of his enormous hat and the other brandishing a gnarled rod that resembles a shepherd's crook more than any true implement of magic. His signature shadow-patch doesn't chase him, but his cloak whips wildly in the wind. A haze of energy in a whirling cascade of earth tones ripples off his crook, trailing behind him like a sorcerous banner.

On the ground, on either side of the ship, the ground trembles. Enormous slabs of stone tear themselves free of the mountainside, looking like nothing less than the jaws of a tremendous beast chasing the advancing vessel and never quite managing to close. They grind upwards and stay there, a pathway clearly marked by way of what seems to be, at first glance, an attempt to stop it.

Except... the Destiny isn't what's being stopped.

The Metal Beasts that turn to intercept the vessel are abruptly halted by the rising stones. Large numbers of them reorient on the obvious target, and it seems that pieces of Filgaia itself are rising up to intercept them to ensure that the ship -- and the arrayed and determined forces on the ground -- reach the target. Walls form into passages that favor the heroes below, seperating them from the teeming hordes and all pointing inward towards the hole that just got made in the alien sphere.

From his perch, Eryon continues to cackle. He only stops long enough to eat handfuls of an increasingly healthy variety of fruits and vegetables, and to use the fuel to generate more and more barriers to keep the heroes from getting flanked and eaten.

In the absence of divine intervention, bring a good earth mage.

<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

The heavy rustle of equipment reaches Noeline's ears. The jangling of buckles, clasps, chains knocking against one another. It is because her blonde troublemaking companion has returned, as if her heart weren't broken by feeling even an inkling of the kind of pain Riesenlied feels. As if she weren't terrified of the alien God threatening to devour the world's core whole. As if she, a speck, mattered in the cosmic scheme of things.

Because a towering, ancient machine with a heart pulls open what was thought unbreakable. Because the Hyadean armies downed their weapons, turned, and left the battlefield. Because if there's one thing Maya has learned since she stopped fighting for diamonds and started fighting for feels, it's that it only takes one person.

One.

And that's reason enough.

"If you're going to try and tell me we weren't intending to save all your pals in the Gutter from the get-go, Noeline, then you're a darn liar." she chides the still-recovering Noeline gently, with a quad-barreled missile launcher slung over one arm.

A distant implosion heralds the falling of the Photosphere's defenses. The terrifying, beautiful hologram winks out. Hope surges.

"So just think about how good the look on her face is gonna be once we get her back and everyone--everyone is there."

Even a little hope, when you run on Queer Data Sorcery, is a powerful thing.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei sees Asgard shatter the unbreakable barrier. There's levels of irony here that Fei is ill equipped to appreciate.

But the barrier being shattered doesn't seem to surprise him in the slightest. Despite his pain, despite his need for his friends, despite everything...

...Fei's walk into the Photosphere is with little gravitas. New location, same walk as so many times before.

Maybe, he thinks, maybe this time will be different.

<Pose Tracker> Shalune Amira has posed.

        If Noeline has words to offer to Ethius, she doesn't voice them - but then she's a little busy, marking the moment that Asgard tears the barrier in two with a quiet and respectful silence, and a bittersweet look on her face. Should she be happy, that her every suspicion has been validated, and in front of the Drifters - that perhaps that will give them some understanding in the days ahead? Should she be remorseful, now that her turning on her home is complete? She can't say.

        What she can do, in the aftermath, is let out a ragged breath and glance aside at Lily. "... I am right here," she huffs. "You could just use my name. ... and of course, Miss Barber. I would tell you that it's going to be rather rough in there, but I suspect that wouldn't stop you. At the very least, do try to keep yourself - and your friends - safe." She glances up at the golem; there is a blob of pink atop it, who thankfully seems to have decided this is the best time for an involuntary power nap. Better that than dualposing.

        Slowly, carefully, she draws in a breath and lets it out. "... Princess!" she calls over in the direction of the golem. "I can pinpoint your best route to Mother, assuming she is still in the same place! As for myself, you'll excuse me if my team heads downwards, rather than up!"

        She turns on Maya - and lets out a faintly amused huff, raising her eyebrows at the ridiculous thing on her teammate's back. "I would settle for never seeing her face again, quite honestly," she responds calmly, despite the shiver that betrays her quiet anger. She is, after all, still a Metal Demon - and even if she had her suspicions, they have only just turned fact.

<Pose Tracker> Cecilia Adlehyde has posed.

Cecilia can't entirely suppress a smile as the barrier disintegrates under Asgard's hand - as Mother, the hated enemy whose face and voice(...s?) she finally knows cries in anger and fear. "Alright, then," she says, and pats Asgard's cheek. "I guess it's--"

The Earth Golem whips its arm up, another barrier forming like glass hardening from the air as the Dragonship Destiny's blast slams into the side of the Photosphere. The backblast and debris pang off Asgard's field harmlessly, and Cecilia watches with awe as the Fortress of the Gods proves once again his simple truth.

"Wow...everyone's bringing their strongest," she says.

SHe looks back out, to where Tethelle and Jack and Rudy are, and smiles to herself. "Alright. I guess it's my turn, then," she says. "The Teardrop....and Mother. No big deal, huh?"

Asgard rumbles a low 'ongggg...'

"You rest," she says, fondly, and then hops a few steps - the moves becoming familiar - down his arm.

"I can take it from here," she says, and raises her hand to Noeline as she starts to jog over.

                But Also...

His fingers snap the pocket watch shut as the Destiny's beam lances out of heaven to rip through the Photosphere's hull. "Hooowhee," he says, and chuckles, and tucks the watch away. "That's all real dramatic like, ain't it?" he says.

"...boss," Romero mutters, nearby, hands on his knees, far from the battle. "I know we ain't much, but...it's the end of the world, ain't it? Shouldn't we be out there? Ain't we worth that much?"

Janus chuckles, shaking his head. "Oh, this?" Janus Cascade laughs, and stands up from his perch.

"Well," he says, hands in his pockets. "It's certainly somethin'."

And he takes no steps toward the Photosphere at all.

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        Zed understands K.K.'s meaning even better than Dean does, which makes sense, considering he's also a Metal Demon and thus has a markedly better idea of what Mother is about, planet-devouring aside. And in better understanding her... he better understands how deeply, how fully, he's been betrayed. Not just him, but all of his kind, all of his world. And while Dean may not understand the full depth of all of that, he can hear some of that emotion in Zed's voice, in his words. He gives him a look of concern--but nods to him when he salutes, returning the gesture with one of his ARMs. "I won't. Don't you get killed, either."
        
        And then Zed thanks the Trial Knight, and it makes Dean remember something Ida had told him once. That she thought that the Trial Knight hadn't been acting out of cruelty or callousness, but a twisted sort of concern of their own. It gives him pause, and makes him watch them close, as if he might be able to decipher the truth of this if he just stares hard enough. And so the way K.K. responds to him, but not really to Dean, even if they don't make that clear... actually enters his mental radar.
        
        "....."
        
        He lowers the copy Sword Medium--but before he can say anything, ask anything, K.K. calls him a dreamer in no uncertainly negative terms. Dean frowns, eyebrows furrowing--but rather than popping off heatedly like a passionate but immature boy would, he pauses, listening to what they have to say. And in listening, he recalls how hard he'd tried to help Ida through her depression, through her Hellionization, and how he had been powerless to do anything--how his words had meant nothing--and so, in turn, he had learned how to listen instead of speak, to offer his there-ness even if he could offer nothing else, to accept that there were things he couldn't help, pains he couldn't salve, with just a cheerful smile and a can-do attitude. How he could only listen to Fei when Fei confessed what he'd done to his hometown--how part of him had *wanted* to do it, despite Dean's attempted reassurances that that couldn't possibly be it. How Avril and Rebecca both worry about him, how Fei had said how much it would hurt them all if Dean got himself killed. And Dean's nearly gotten killed a lot so far, hasn't he? But he made a promise.
        
        So when K.K. finishes assaulting him with the truth, even as they prepare to assault him with fire and blade, Dean only nods once with clear eyes. "You're right. I can't," he admits, without shame, without self-deprecation. "But I can try. And if I can try, I'm going to give it everything I've got to make 'try' into 'do.'"
        
        A naive response, perhaps. Certainly it's not enough to answer that question that the Trial Knight then asks, whose initial answer is a cloud of confusion shading Dean's face. Certainly it's no defense against that massive orb of flame they summon on the tip of their scythe. But that's another matter, as Dean swaps the Medium in his hand for another, one marked with the sigil for Moor Gault. The blessing of the Guardian of Flame will at least be sufficient to keep him from being burnt to a crisp in the initial wave of the Trial Knight's attack, and while perhaps running away would be the smart thing to do, on some level, Dean realizes that this isn't a foe one can run away from. He needs to face them head on. And so--
        
        "I don't know," he admits. It's as much 'I don't know the purpose of ugliness' as 'I don't know what you're talking about.' But-- "But it doesn't matter if I don't understand. I don't have to understand everything; not yet. I'm still growing! I'm still learning! And I have my friends to help me as I follow the path I believe in, just as they've got me to help them! I don't have to understand--TO CARE!"
        
        The flame-orb envelopes Dean. A scytheblade bisects the flame-orb. An explosion erupts, a blinding flash of light and sound and power that could easily kill a Drifter as inexperienced as Dean. But in the aftermath... there may be no Trial Knight left.
        
        But, scalded, bleeding, ARMs crossed defensively with exhausted arms, but very much alive, there *is* a Dean.
        
        After all, he promised.
        
        And so when Avril runs his way, he lights up to see his friend. "Heeey!" he calls, ARMs vanishing, to raise a hand to her to wave, then start to run towards her in turn. This turns into a jog quickly because haha wow that was the world spinning for a moment--but he made it through, didn't he? He's beat up, but he's still on his feet. He's still conscious. He's not half-dead. That's progress, right? And maybe that's the sort of trial that the Trial Knight is about.
        
        Or maybe not. But either way, even if he gave a sort of answer, that last question will linger. If he would save Riesenlied--if he would save anyone's torn and broken heart, perhaps--does he know the purpose of ugliness in this world?
        
        He doesn't. But he'll figure it out.
        
        After fanboying over Asgard some more. A lot more. A LOT more. Is that Asgard single-handedly ripping apart the Photosphere in one smooth strike?? Avril, prepare yourself for a lot of enthusiastic gushing.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Is it pointless? Maybe. Maybe it is. The gesture might have been one that did nothing more than soothe Zed's guilt for not realizing sooner. But...

Grabbing onto Riesenlied's neck like that had one major advantage. Two, in fact, if you count watching Mother get her precious barrier torn to shreds like so much wet tissue paper.

...He'll need to ask the Trial Knight again later about the dragon.

For now, as Zed tumbles from his place around the Ley Dragon's neck and into the snow, he looks to his former home and--

"HEY EVERYONE," Zed yells. "If you want a place to rest inside the Photosphere! FOLLOW ME!"

And with that, Zed... books it. He's got a hideout to secure...!

<Pose Tracker> Skylr Paer has posed.

Skylr Paer suddenly looks up. ".... no." She whispers. Then she whips around and bolts away from Zed and towards the Destiny.