2018-12-08: Pain of Loss - Daughter

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========================<* Photosphere - The Gutter *>========================

Where a society exists, there inevitably must exist a divide in it.

And those that are divided downwards, further and further, fall into the Gutter -- a colloquial term for the giant scrapheap ghetto that has gathered at the bottom of the Photosphere, along the ridge where the spherical spaceship rests against the canyon wall. The Gutter is largely composed of shanties lined up against each other, with haphazard streets largely carved out over the centuries from the various community efforts. The wall against the east serves as an exit to the Arctican wasteland, below the line of the Photosphere barrier, but it is largely a death sentence to go outside. The Gutter is a term that has many connotations, almost all of them negative; it is a term for where those that are unfit for purpose go, for those that refuse to obey orders, for those that simply can't lend their efforts to the ongoing conquest of Filgaia.

But hope does not die so easily.

Down here, over the many centuries, demons have come and gone -- demons that are called the Tainted. And though there are many who have been robbed of all sense of hope and life, there are still many who gather together to cobble a living out of meagre means. These demons are largely forgotten by their peers -- they do not receive support or aid, and they are left to fend for themselves against the breach of monsters, not to mention any Metal Beasts thrown down from the various experiments that happen upstairs.

Amidst the Tainted, their greatest success story lie in the Ebony Wings, a scouting group that rose out of nothing to end a resource crisis back in 79 PC. Their exploits are still seen today, in the form of the Ebon Roost, an overhanging perch where a large number of Metal Dragons are birthed, raised and trained. Other locales include VAL-HALLA, a small bar in a back alley that the group use as a makeshift base of operations outside of the Roost.

DC: Riesenlied switches forms to -Accession- Ley Dragon Riesenlied!
DC: Leon Albus switches forms to Commando Gear Weglaff!
DC: Neriah Parringer switches forms to Dark Manifestation!
DC: Neriah Parringer switches forms to Neriah Unbound!
DC: Noeline switches forms to Hyades Guardian!
DC: Noeline switches forms to The Fereshte Chevalier!
DC: Lily Keil switches forms to Awakened - Omega Stage!
DC: Neriah Parringer switches forms to Neriah Unbound!
DC: Zed switches forms to Monsterous Zedder R!
DC: Dean Stark switches forms to Stoneriven Gear Nimrod!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        In the climax of the battle for the Photosphere, the advanced scout Yarobeleedt had posed himself a potential disaster to the Drifters. Now, two greatly divergent but simultaneous paths have revealed themselves. The first, ascending, leads Drifters to the inner sanctum where Mother awaits. To destroy the world-leech and end her long history that has so smeared Filgaia since the days of the Metal Demon Wars.

        And the second, descending, leads you here: the Gutter, at the very base of the Photosphere. A ghetto of haphazard streets carved of scrapheap shacks and broken shanties, a makeshift community carved over the centuries by the Tainted. The disenfranchised, the disillusioned, and the disposed all once dwelt here...

        But no more. Your efforts have evacuated the majority of the Tainted, towards the Fereshte, the Yggdrasil and other rescue efforts that welcome them. And now, within this shell of a ghost town...

        A circular dais, raised from the flat ground at the very bottom of the Gutter. Here, a nakedly obvious gathering of the Leyline reaches a central source culminating in a large and bright Ley Point which thrums with the very lifeblood of the planet itself. The Ley continues to roil, a blazing conflagration of bright-blue flame that shimmers with an almost deceptively gentle warmth. It is the very light of life itself, the very substance that allows such powers that sustain the world to exist.

        Originally, the Ley was the Guardians' greatest weapon against Mother -- to continue to seal her power through the very vein of the planet itself, of whose anchors are the Statues so many Drifters have sacrificed time, effort, blood and grief to defend. A great number of Statues have been defended...

        But all that effort could be for naught, if the channeler of the Ley is not stopped.

        The channeler of the world's lifeblood... the Ley Dragon Riesenlied. She is here, under the dark auspices of the Quarter Knight Alhazred.

        The thirty-foot white and blue Ley Dragon still fresh bears the scars of the battles past - the breach on her chest still scars with the effects of Lily's dark magic, Ethius' conflagration and Jacqueline's weakening solution, alongside the many pockmarks, gashes and other assaults she's endured throughout the many individual skirmishes throughout the battle for the Photosphere.

        But she seems unimpeded. No, rather--

        She is not permitted to be unimpeded.

        She is to channel the Ley and offer it to Mother, as is her wont. Those with even an inkling of the awesome power of the Mediums know that this is a suicidal errand -- one that seems fitted, in Mother's twisted image, to deal with a traitor once and for all.

        She is to be a battery and a weapon, to be disposed of when convenient.

        If you fail here, your companions above may well also fail in their mission should Mother be fully awakened, permitted to devour the very vitality of Filgaia and accelerate beyond anyone's means.

        But you are here now. You have come this far. You have fine-tuned your ARMs and Gears. You have honed your chi and battle skills through training. You have the very power of sorcery at your fingertips. You have plans and confidence... and what's more... perhaps more than other battles...

        You have bonds. You have words. You have feelings--
           to reach a creature empathic in origin.

<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 To say that the last few days had been disappointing would have been an understatement.
 
 Alhazred had never been particularly enamored of the rest of the Metal Demons. While many of the other Metal Demons had been willing to embrace the idea of conquering the world, he had always felt that science was the superior way forward. The other Quarter Knights at their own ways of doing things, and he wasn't going to begrudge them that. But now...
 
 ...now everything had changed. The truth had been laid bare. But they had assumed had been their deity was instead a ravener. A plague that was willing to toss them aside in favor of the new instrument of destruction. And what was worse was that there was little they could do to stop her. Alhazred and come too Mother's undivided attention when she had learned of Riesenlied's connection to the Guardians... and one time was enough for him.
 
 Never again.
 
 And so Alhazred has come to this place, deep within the Gutter. Where the Ley Dragon Riesenlied was working to gather power for Mother's sake, to allow her to finally destroy the Guardians once and for all.
 
 The Quarter Knight really could not have much more ambivalence for this operation at this point if he wanted to. His goal had always been to unravel the mysteries of nature, to understand the universe through science... and the Guardians have always been an obstacle due to their intrinsic rejection of the Metal Demons. Their destruction was not something he would shed a tear over... if he were inclined to such a thing. But now, with Mother likely poised to simply ravage this world and leave them to die...
 
 He was here to oversee this operation, but to oversee its success or failure... that was still up in the air. And while the transformed Riesenlied, his latest masterpiece, was channeling her power, he was making preparations. Working at a large device set up a modest distance away, Alhazred pauses as the Drifters begin to make their approach.
 
 "I suppose it was inevitable that they would have come here. Still, I had been hoping that I had a bit more time," the Quarter Knight mutters. He turns back to the console he is typing on, activating its defensive shield and grabbing a set of high tech, smaller metal devices. "Not a lot of time to set this up - tch, working under pressure with vermin snapping at your heels is not the ideal set of circumstances..." A single command summons ten of his Esperanza, the large metallic bug-shaped drones he uses for his remote defense, and sends them to block the path between the Drifters and their allies and himself.
 
 For his part, Alhazred floats over and begins installing one of the smaller devices on the wall of the Gutter, working quickly to calibrate it. For those familiar with his technology, it appears to be some sort of long range, wide scale teleporter beacon. He has several more to install still, but his purpose is unclear...
 
 ...either way, whatever he is up to is not going to help Riesenlied, or make the Drifters' lives any easier! If allowed to complete his preparations, any amount of working reaching out to Riesenlied in her transformed state may be for naught!

DC: Zed switches forms to Manic Blade Master Zed!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Noeline has lost much, the last few weeks.

        She has lost her race, perhaps; in her acceptance of the Original Medium that is integrated into her living metal, she has gained something that very few Metal Demons can claim, a connection to Duras Drum that has seen her through thick and thin and through Malevolence and the Ley alike. She can't deny that for all her grousing, she's thankful for it - but it has marked her as an enemy of Mother and an enemy of the Metal Demons, and more than once it's left her wondering what exactly she counts as now.

        She has lost a home. She may insist that Arctica is the homeland of the 'Noeline' she is today, but she can't deny the pang of guilt that comes from seeing the Photosphere under attack, knowing that she helped humans gain access to it. Despite Mother's hubris, despite the treatment of the Tainted, despite the way the other neonates treated her - it is still where she was created, and it is still a very bittersweet feeling to know that she has had a hand in bringing it down.

        She has lost a Mother. She's okay with that.

        Most of all, she has lost Riesenlied. There is only the tiniest sliver of connection to her partner now, the last fleeting light of the Dragon's Tear as it hangs around her neck, the minute sparkle of the promise ring on her finger. The dragon had begged her to save the Tainted first and foremost - that has been their overriding goal all along, the one mission the Outreach had to ensure it completed here at the Photosphere. Noeline had followed Riesenlied's wishes...

        ... but she swore to save all of the Tainted. Every last one. And there's one still to go.

        She strides slowly forwards towards the dais, no weapon in her hands, a flare of colour amidst the gunmetal of the Photosphere's surroundings. Despite everything, her back is still straight - despite everything, the 'Crimson Noble' refuses to be bowed or give up. Her eyes fleck with fatigue - but also with a fierce and unwavering determination. Twice, she has come close enough to contact with her partner and then been torn away; this time, her expression makes it clear that whatever happens, this will be the end of it.

        She isn't just visible physically. The power of the Guardian of Hades rolls off her in waves, positively a beacon to those with the sight to see it; whatever sorcery she's building up inside of her she's been doing so for a long time, her hands occasionally twitching with the accumulation of power.

        She glances aside, spying Lydia and the rest of the Outreach's allies as they begin to accumulate; she sweeps her gaze across those that have come, then levels a low and furious glare up towards Alhazred. Slowly, as if barely trusting herself, she sucks in a long, slow breath, then hardens her gaze forwards towards the Dragon where it waits.

        "--DRIFTERS!" she calls at the top of her lungs, her voice quaking slightly from emotion and the tiredness that seeps through her bones. "Riesenlied is still in there! I know she is - I felt her, contacted her at the barrier! I need you all to keep her attention, and stop Alhazred! Outreach, with me - we have one last Tainted to save!"

        She keeps her gaze level as her hand strays to her neck, to touch the Dragon's Tear there - and whispers gently, under her breath. "... I'm coming. I promise. Hold on, just a little longer."

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

When the team arrives down, down to the bottom of the Gutter, in the room with the dais and the Ley Point gleaming--There is another who is there. As footsteps click out into the silence, a woman in red battle gear steps out of the shadows, her form concealed and then unveiled as she comes to a stop staring up at the Ley Dragon above. It's a quick but gradual thing, as if the shadows that were concealing her just decided to resume their ordinary places again. At her back is a rifle, its stock a beautiful red wood; in her hand is a great blade, a sword with extensions of metal pointing upward from its guard, with specks of orange light gleaming against the blue flames of the Ley. Her golden eyes face forward.

Lily Keil looks down to the convergence once, and then up, up towards the Ley Dragon's face, her own expression stone save for a brief, brief softness in her eyes. "...I guess it's time," Lily says to Riesenlied. "Don't worry. We'll bring you back... No matter what."

Lifting the radio in her left hand, Lily depresses the communication button, and murmurs, "-Final release is go. Deploy at my coordinates.-"

The radio is lowered, reattached at her hip to her belt, and the Lieutenant hefts the blade upward, adopting a ready combat stance--blade forward, feet apart, knees bent. It is one of the basic stances many would recognize as matching of Leon Albus's approach to the sword.

Her Gear, of course, is still outside, still planted where its power was expended in the battle to open the Photosphere in the first place. Thus, she cuts something of a small figure against the sheer size of a Dragon. Nevertheless, she stands ready, even if she doesn't begin an offensive... yet.

"Be careful," Lily calls to the others, her voice even, just a hint of strain at the edges. "Noeline..."

Lily twists the blade, completing her stance.

In that moment, the woman in red breathes in, and the sheer quantity of power in the air shimmers briefly. Ether swells towards her as if drawn from the air itself, violet light sparkling in glittering points along the way. Circuitry spreads on her skin from her collar, approaching in parallel lines, angling, moving upward again over one eye. It covers her irises, sclera, pupils, until hey are completely black, while the light shines a streak through her hair. Patterns beneath her armor briefly shine enough that light emits from her sleeves.

From her back spring wings of gleaming light, red and blue and orange and violet and gold, but the witch maintains her stance for now, does not rise from the ground. Her eyes close--and open again, pupils and irises formed of the same colors, a point and segmented circle in each providing her vision. She breathes out, and the dust along the ground rushes away from her as if by an aura.

Is what she said the truth? Is it a ruse, meant to preserve Riesenlied's life? There is no way to tell.

"<Limiters released. Initiating... Ether input rising.>"

Lily leaps upward, and hovers in the air before the Dragon, sword in hand.

"I promised you," Lily says, raising her voice. "And I promised her. Count on us, Noeline. We will succeed."

"...And I will let nothing stand in our way."

Her eyes flicker only briefly to Alhazred and his terrible creatures, before she looks to the Dragon again. "Hang on."

<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

        THEN AND THERE

After Lolithia, Leon Albus made a decision. It was born, in part, of seeing the Winged Gear Rephaim's brutal effectiveness. It was born, in part, of the dread experienced when he witnessed the Ley Dragon's power. It was born, though, of who he remains: a soldier, but one without a kingdom. When the war looked desperate, there was one ARM that could change things. One ARM that could make a person worth a hundred.

Standing over the blue, battered wreckage of Lolithia with so many other Drifters, the decision for Leon was simple. He wipes the blood from his split lip; he looks down at the way leading down. Then, he looks up, and says, plainly:

"Call Gear."

        NOW

Weglaff is a short, brutish machine. Dark blue armor, with a single camera-eye in a recessed head, and a bulbuous chest and legs give it a brutal sort of look. The Gear descends with the rest; it slams down onto the flattened ground at the middle of the Gutter, and a few warning screens pop up one after the other. Leon dismisses them with a press of a button, and his head lifts, as he looks through his screen at the enormous form of the Ley Dragon.

He swallows. He doesn't understand the Ley energy, really; sorcery is something he grasps in a tactical sense, but not a grand sense. He knows, however, why she is here. A battery and a source of power to Mother. A sacrifice. He remembers other Wolves who were sacrifices, and that makes this easy. The Captain lowers his head, stern determination writ all over his face, and there is an unearthly gleam in his silver eyes.

"I'll spare the lot of you a speech," he says. "We all know why we're here. For Riesenlied. And, if that isn't enough, for Filgaia."

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        The screens in the cockpit of the repaired and customized Aveh Gear Skadi cast a dull greenish-blue haze, the only light within. In the quiet of the 'before', a young woman sits curled in the seat. Her gaze hooded, she regards for the moment the form of the Dragon before her attention shifts to the object that rests in her lap.
        Skadi had come into her possession by apparent chance: an Aveh cruiser flung through the air their way by the Golem Sado amidst the chaos of the battle of the Guardian Temple. Getting it working again had taken some time, money and certainly no shortage of effort, all in the hopes that it would be of assistance with locating the statues.

        "..."

        The light from the screens had been the only light within. Flickering up off the disc in her lap, like the scent of the sea, comes the light of the Original Artificial Sea Medium.

        Riesenlied... if you can hear us now...

        It might be too much to hope. Between Mother's presence. Between what has become of Riesenlied. Between all the things that Avril just doesn't yet know, about herself, about the Mediums, and about the possibilities that may exist in this world.
        And yet, she had heard Riesenlied's voice in her heart. Riesenlied has not given up.

        Still, it is a cruel twist.

        Once, she had worried that it might be possible that she and Riesenlied might come to blows simply because a third option couldn't be found, because a conflict had trended on far too long, because no one dared back down. She, on the side of Filgaia. Riesenlied, for the sake of home for her people.

        Here she stands now, ready to do battle, for the sake of Filgaia. Against Riesenlied, who fights for the sake of...
        It really is cruel.

        She can only hope for a third way. And steel herself against the possibility that it does not exist.

        She is as a blade.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

One of Neriah's precious pumpkins has already died today. Now, Mother and Alhazred are conspiring to take another from her.

The slight smearing of Neriah's mascara, which she's tried to fix on the fly, tells the tale of the tears she shed over Yarobeleedt. Now, descending into the gutter and gazing upon the Ley Dragon, more tears threaten to spill from her. This is what the Hyadean scum have twisted Riesenlied into - a living dish of ley energy set to be feasted upon by Mother before her bones are simply discarded into the trash bin of history.

All this, for one of the few people in the world who showed Neriah genuine kindness. A rare ray of sunshine.

The thought of it fills Neriah with feelings she's used to, but not in such intensity. She wants to cry. To scream. She wants to muster every last drop of her energy, every last Valmar cultist under her command. She wants to exterminate the Metal Demons, kill their god and take Riesenlied home where she can keep her safe forever. Punish the Demons for their temerity and preserve the ideal Riese for eternity.

No, she decides as she descends in a slow hover. Most of them have their own problems. And I'm only here for one thing.

Neriah inhales and begins to draw power - what of it she can muster, anyway. Turns out that killing Mother's Titan took a lot of strength out of her.

But if all goes well, she won't need it.

"Riesenlied," she says, her voice level, but carrying. "I'm here for you."

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        Like Avril, Dean sits in the cockpit of his modified, customized Aveh Gear Nimrod. It too was found in the wreckage of a ship downed by the Golem Sado, whose appearance Dean had cheered and whose destructive power had left him stunned, and it too took time and money to repair and get working. He hasn't used the mech often, so he's still only somewhat used to the controls, but he has his heart, he has his friendship, and he has his determination.
        
        Riesenlied has those things, too. He knows this, after he heard her voice when he and Avril went down into the Gutter to help save the Tainted. She just needs some help to be able to express it freely. He hasn't worried overmuch about paths or fighting friends or anything like that; he's come to learn that these things may happen, but it doesn't change the fact that you're friends. So he's confident they'll get Riesenlied back. There's so many of them, and Riesenlied's fighting, too. He *knows* they can do it.
        
        If Avril is as a blade, then Dean continues to carry a gun in his heart.

<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        Above, the Dragonship Destiny aids in the final push. Its soldiers hold a hard line against the tiny handful of Hyadeans still loyal to their Mother, while its crew covers the Fereshte and assists in the evacuation of the wounded. White Knight Leo is not among them. He has a duty to fulfill.

        Leo runs. He picks his way through the Gutter on foot, his cape flowing out behind him, his boots churning up the snow and debris. Tumbledown shacks pass on either side of him--empty of living inhabitants, now, but his stomach twists regardless. These people have been living in absolute squalor for centuries, and this may be their first taste of true freedom. Leo keeps running. His sense for magic is poor, compared to some of his subordinates, but even he can feel the pulse of Filgaia's energy. It feels... wrong, now.

        At the very edge of this chunk of the Gutter, the earth heaves and buckles upwards, forming jagged, rocky cliffs just large enough to hold one person. Atop the highest peak is White Knight Leo, cape flapping in the breeze, sword in hand. He looks down at the tableau before him, and bares fangs in a snarl. He's heard... things about that cloaked monstrosity from the soldiers at Adlehyde, and Noeline's Memory Cube message left nothing more to the imagination. Alhazred is responsible for what happened here.

        "QUARTER KNIGHT ALHAZRED!" Leo's voice echoes off the Gutter walls as Noeline and Leon and Lily and countless others proclaim their defiance. Their determination. Their desire to save a dear, beloved friend from certain death. There is no doubt in his mind that they will save her, or die trying. "TODAY YOU FACE ALTHENA'S JUSTICE FOR YOUR CRIMES!"

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda has been doing her best to help evacuate the Tainted from the Gutter; she's been a little uneasy with actually doing it, though, in the moment. Were it any other disaster, she might be content -- but Mother... Mother is different. There's no point in evacuating if they fail. Really, there's no point in doing any of this if they fail.

What an exceptionally happy thought!

They have a small handful of do-or-die moments left... and this is the one Matilda's chosen to help with, descending into the Gutter alongside the rest of the Outreach. (The rest of the Outreach -- that's a funny thing for Matilda to think about in and of itself.) Noeline calls, and Matilda answers, springing from the shadows to Noeline's side at speed.

She looks exhausted. It's hard to miss it on almost every one of her features; the dark circles under her eyes, a lower-than-usual stance... She's been working herself hard since even before the barrier came down. It's just a little further, though, to rest -- one way or another.

She looks up to Riesenlied with a small wince -- then to Lily. "... I wish I shared in your certainty," she admits, voice soft, as she shifts position closer to Noeline. She offers the Hyadean a similarly-quiet, "... I'm with you."

<Pose Tracker> Prissa has posed.

 
PRISSA, sword-heroine of the age, is here. She is still wearing the black leather jerkin she had found somewhere, although she had to put newer, gauzier cloth wraps around the lower part of her mask. That mask is still round her neck as she comes nearer.

Her attention turns towards Alhazred.

"Shut up," she tells him. Then she says something in her heathen language: "Nyf sydaneymc tuh'd dymg."

After this Prissa spits on the floor and puts on her mask, strapping it firmly into place. Her eyes are faintly visible behind the smoked-glass lenses, the outlines of her mouth and chin through the gauze filter.

"This will be chaos but stick close to me, you'll be alright," Prissa says, looking towards her shorter roommate. "You want a sword? Obviously I have and to spare. Ah look, Lord Ronso is here, see, he's gonna wear his guts for garters. To Riesenlied we must reach."

"Noeline! Make the way! I have 'that' ready," Prissa calls towards Noeline. "How do we do this!"

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

        Lanval sure got caught up in a lot of the excitement. The Photosphere is truly alien beyond anything he ever knew - overwhelming, even. A foray into the Gutter in which to help save lives came with its own challenges (to be elaborated further upon at a later date), and then there was that scary moment with that huge bug. The resulting explosion did help reveal a route back down to the Ley Point that was otherwise rendered inaccessible by that bug's machinations. Once he helped put out the raging fires, he joined a number of people back down that way. After all, he could feel it - the growing intensity. That means something's happening, and it can't be anything good if it's Mother's gateway to destroying Filgaia.
        Filgaia's his home now, even if it is already rapidly approaching being a corpse of a world. He's not a part of its ecosystem. He's had problems reading the mood of its people, and still has yet to fully grasp the ins and outs of Filgaia's own unique dangers and challenges... but he can't back down from it. Even if the whole of the Photosphere is just so frightening. The shapes, the temperature, the overall atmosphere... choking. Like he were being strangled.
        He is the Mirthful Wellspring. It sort of falls upon him to bring at least some of that light-heartedness and cheer back just by his very /being/. There's still the lingering sense that he's trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, but he's doing the best he can. Attempts to be a more helpful/protective spirit of New Arctica hit some similar snags, but the will remains.
        He wants to help the Guardians with Filgaia, the only way he knows how. It starts with him rolling down the descent pratfall-style, like a very big raindrop navigating steep cliffs before finding the part of the ground it will come to rest before the altar. Before the great Ley Dragon above - he's heard bits and pieces about his journey through the Photosphere. That's Riese, she's now a-- well, no. That's not a Fell Dragon. Things would be very different if she was.
        "Heyyy." Lanval speaks at first, sitting up clumsily. He does not look the part of one of the last hopes of Filgaia, but rather some drunkard who fell in the middle of this. (This is technically true.) "Yer Rieshe..."
        He's in the company of many who know, care for, and love her. He finds a touch of restraint, but a sense of what life was like. He used to sit back and watch so many situations and stories come and go with mortals. They come here knowing what they must do, what they have to do - and in his wisdom, he nods slowly to himself as he has a calming drink. Right. Maybe there's something else he can do.
        That's when he remembers, in Noeline's great panic, the oft-distributed message: ALHAZRED HAS RIESENLIED. So this Alhazred person's bad news. Alhazred isn't a Hellion, but if he finds and deals with him - somehow - that might be one way.
        Lanval staggers along out an opening back into the Gutter only he can really fit through, finding himself in the company of the Esparanza flitting about. He's not sure they can see him. He's not sure why there's so many of those around now when he didn't see them in the Gutter sooner. It's a weird, curious thought. Nonetheless, he sees a someone - or a something? - going about the walls of the Gutter.
        "Heeeeeeeyyyyy." Lanval calls out to one wearing a white sheet. "Ain't shure if ya can hear me," he starts, "but I gotta find an Alhazred. They shay he'sh got Rieshe," he continues, hoping possibly in vain that they can hear him, "'n I undershtand he ain't anything good fer anyone. Sho if ya know where I can find 'em..."
        Then he hears Leo, and he turns his head. The White Knight Leo. He's... almost tempted to just hide in his vessel and hope he's not seen, but then--
        'QUARTER KNIGHT ALHAZRED!'
        "Huhhhh? That'sh an-- you're.... oooooooooohhhhh. Mmmph." Lanval straightens out a bit. "Ha ha! Well, guessh 'm gonna hafta be a li'l lessh cordial with ya, then." He laughs to himself for his folly, but none of this is funny business.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Fei Fong Wong wanted desperately to go help Riesenlied, but he knew where his calling was. He put his faith in Lily and Leon to settle the matter. Despite the nagging voice that kept telling him to go the other way, he was going the wrong way. But...

...he wouldn't be going the wrong way for long, he promised that voice.

<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel actually made it almost all of the way to Mother, fighting her way there - or, more accurately, supporting a group of Drifters who had come to fight Mother. She saw what the Metal Demons had done to the remnants of one of the greatest examples of Elw and human engineering.

And yet she hadn't been able to go in. A combination of fear of Mother and the feel of energy being used poorly, and elsewhere, had drawn her down.

Which is why she's in the pit of the Gutter.

Mariel looks a little frazzled. She's in her sturdier, hard-wearing traveller's outfit, carrying both her satchel of supplies and a bigger backpack 'just in case', and the frazzlement comes from running through combat zones; she's not badly hurt, but she looks a little worn down, and there's a streak of ashes on her cheek that she hasn't yet noticed and wiped away.

She has attached herself to a bigger, stronger Drifter - two actually, as she's been trailing Prissa and Lydia for a little while, occasionally running to keep up. If there is one thing she does not want, it is to be left alone here where the Metal Demons can get her; she knows what they'd do to someone like her if they actually managed it, and she doesn't want any part of that.

Even Mariel, though, cannot ignore the pain of the Tainted. She is bad at seeing suffering and doing nothing, even if it is the suffering of something - someone - that she was afraid of for a thousand years. Seeing the Gutter broke part of her fear and filled her with a desire to do something. Seeing Riese - and feeling the ley energy in the area that she was made to tap - did the rest.

"I, ah, I don't want a weapon," Mariel replies to Prissa, slightly awkwardly but with some distaste in her voice. What would she do with it? Mariel doesn't like hurting people, and has never learned how to wield anything more dangerous than a scalpel or a gardening tool (though to be fair, some of those gardening tools look terribly vicious if you don't know what they're *actually* for).

She is somewhat distracted with the person Prissa spoke to. She can feel the energy around Noeline. She didn't know she could do that. She didn't think she should be *able* to do that.

<Pose Tracker> Ambrosius has posed.

The battle with Yarobeleedt had left Ambrosius with unanswered questions. He did not expect complicated emotions to arise due to him, of all creatures...but even with the thoughts lingering in his mind, he had to move on.

To his ultimate destination within the Photosphere, and the person that awaited him there. Yet again, they had ended up on the opposite side of a conflict - but this time, he would see to it that she was returned safely to those who cared most for her.

He would not fail her this time.

Ambrosius descends to the Gutter once more, and to the altar he had observed before. This time, nothing would impede him.

And so, a man dressed in the armor of a Veruni soldier walks through the Gutter, a tattered red poncho wrapped around him. With the helmet blocking out any hint his face or emotion this was the only sign that the man is Ambrosius.

Soon enough, the altar becomes visible, the dais at which the Leyline gathers. And, expectedly, resting upon it is Riesenlied, in the form of the Ley Dragon. He can see others gathered around. Familiar faces, of her friends and loved ones.

"...Riesenlied." Ambrosius murmurs. "Return to us. I ask this of you."

He entreats this quietly...but as he speaks, White Knight Leo arrives with a shout, declaring that Alhazred will face justice.

...Alhazred. He was here too, then.

Ambrosius turns subtly. Very well. He had not relished the idea of having to fight Riesenlied herself once more. He would consider a different target, then - one he had no qualms about fighting. Besides, Sentinel Elvis himself had requested that he deliver his 'sentiments' to the Hyadean scientist. He would certainly not want to deny a request from a Sentinel.

And so, Ambrosius begins to walk in Alhazred's direction. Unlike Leo, or even Lanval, Ambrosius has no words for Alhazred.

He simply walks forward with a single-minded purpose.

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

It's all come down to this.

A familiar figure drops out from a crevasse, a crack in the outer shell of the Gutter that leaks hydraulic fluids, coolant and other, less easily identifiable sludge. His hair is a bright, mossy shade of green. An orange scarf billows from around his neck. He holds a great, curved blade in his main hand...

It's Zed.

Of course, it has to be Zed.

But there's something different here. A dark cloak is wrapped around his shoulders, and a second sword the color and texture of bone is mounted to his back and wrapped in a spare roll of orange cloth.

"Riese," Zed murmurs, turning his face up at the enormous dragon that was and still is his precious little sister. "One way or another, we're going to get you out of there. This... This has to end here."

But... How. How are they going to pull her out of that colossus?

No.

Every time they got close last time, she'd been pulled away, summoned back away from the front lines. But here, now, there's nowhere left to run.

Zed releases a breath slowly. They just need to try and break through to her again...! "I'm sorry. I'm a pretty crappy brother for letting you get turned inside out like this... But I'll make it right! We all will!"

"Riese," Zed yells, leaping-- surging-- forward across the ruined Gutter. He looks like an ant compared to the colossal dragon that Riesenlied had become-- but after everything that's happened today, risking his life just seems all too easy to do anymore. "Everyone's waiting for you! Hurry up and come home already!"

<Pose Tracker> Kahran Ramses has posed.

The chosen defenders, vagabond Drifters, and assorted wanderers of Filgaia have come to the Photosphere in the company of the chosen of a faraway goddess. And as the corrupted Golem falls, and a tainted dragon rises to herald the end of the world, another man steps forward from the amongst the ranks of the anonymous warriors. Dressed from head to toe in black tactical armour, he sheathes his long blade at his hip and lifts his hands to the straps of his helmet. The armour falls free to the floor of the Photosphere, revealing short, sweat-stained pale hair framing a face as hard as granite and cold as the north wind. He steps toward the edge of the Gutter, looking down over the lip, his expression hard.

Each of Filgaia's defenders has come for their own reasons, whether altruistic or selfish. Some have come to save the world. Others have come to save a friend. Many now dropping after Riesenlied hope to achieve the first, in order to accomplish the last. The pale-haired man has come for his own reasons as well - the first, because he gave his word that he would. And second... because this world does not belong to these Metal Demons. It belongs to the shepherds.

"Call Gear."

The Command Gear Wyvern tears in through one of the holes Lolithia burned through the shell of the Photosphere, chunks and shards of broken metal scattering before the Solaris machine. Ramses leaps up into the cockpit, a red LED blinking on his right wristband; Wyvern's onboard computer calculates position and momentum, then closes itself around the Gebler commander. Moments later, esconced in the pilot's chair, Kahran Ramses' face blinks into being along one of Weglaff's side monitors, the point-to-point transmission conveying every detail of his expression.

"Convenient and temporary, perhaps, Captain," Ramses says, staring into Leon's eyes through the screen. "But the offer remains. Spurn it again and, well..." Ramses' shoulders shrug a fraction of a millimetre as he watches, and waits for an answer.

DC: Kahran Ramses switches forms to Command Gear Wyvern!
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

        Even now, amidst the fear that creates walls amongst us...
   we have started to create something fragile, something small, but...
                         ... something wonderful.

In the deep dark of the Photosphere's depths, where only its unwanted were once cast off to, a beacon of hope is twisted to turn her gift to the cause of a parasite. There's a cruel irony to it, this would-be goddess' judgment.

But in the end, all they see in this tableau is the perverse greed of a tick sickening the purity of something greater.

"..."

They have come here, to the heart of what Riesenlied once called her home. They have followed their oath to Siegfried to its letter. They have exposed the truth of an opportunistic parasite masquerading as the divine. Now...

... now it is on to matters more personal.

One could call their reasons for being here a matter of duty. One could call it fulfilling a mission. One could even see ulterior motives within their presence. And perhaps all of that is true, in their own way. But there is something else there. Something deeper. Something...

Within the depths of the Gutter, overhead that dais, a figure in white armor has waited, hidden amongst the shadows. They have stared at that dragon, warped and wounded by dragged on by the puppet strings of another's will, for longer than they care to think. A spasm runs through their right hand down to the very tips of their fingers as they watch that draconic sight. A butchery of what once was.

That hand has clenched into the tight grip of a fist by the time the power of a Guardian -not- of Life flares into existence like a metaphysical lighthouse for all to see. Their horned helm tilts towards its direction. A light shines around them.

"Noeline."

When the tinny of the Trial Knight voice comes, it comes from behind the bearer of Hades' Medium and her assembled allies. K.K. strides forward fluidly, hardly sparing any time to dwell on the incongruity of their appearance here of all places.

"I would join you."

It's only a request in the barest sense of the word. They are here for a purpose, after all.

And if nothing else, K.K. is one wholly uncompromising when it comes to their purpose.

<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

The shrill roar of a gear's engine burns overhead, the rolling increase in the whine's volume lurching as it grows closer. Another joins in. Arcing pillars of blue flames herald the arrival of so many knights in their mechanical steeds, come to settle ancient grudges or make a desperate bid to save the world. Noble enough causes in any case.

Maya Schrodinger rides no such gear. Actually, she just shelters in a broken maintenance panel with her eye on a golden pocketwatch. Places to recuperate in any kind of relative safety are in short supply down here, in the bowels of an Alien city, and you take what you can get, no matter how dingy it is. Her gaze briefly soars skyward, as the telltale shaking and metallic whine of Gears reaches her senses.

Almost imperceptible; a click. The minute hand moves once, and Noeline's spirited shout reaches her ears. The blonde groans and wills her tired limbs to act, slipping from her perch and sidling towards the Outreach's right-hand gal.

Showtime.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Alhazred is here, and Riesenlied does not appear to mind his presence in the slightest.

        Perhaps it is a quirk of the cloud of programming within her. Perhaps she cannot detect him, on some whitelist as he's probably assigned to be. Whatever the reason may be -- it is rather clear that the Ley Dragon herself won't be able to stop what it is the Quarter Knight has in mind. A device upon the wall of the Gutter, a teleporter beacon... she does not understand.

        Her attention is more drawn on Noeline.

        The one who has made her way into her inner sanctum before, when she first unfurled the power of Accession. A most important person -- the most important person in her life. Even if she cannot completely remember or comprehend, her mere presence causes much to disrupt that cloud that weighs heavy over her head.

        There is a faint snarl from her... a begging one. Emotion tinges it, as she gazes to Lily-- her mirror. Lily had stayed by her side, even as she'd been pulled to different engagements. Now, she is here again, with rifle and sword... and more. Some part of her, perhaps the pragmatic part prescribed by her geas, fears her. She has a rent on her body to that effect already.

        She senses the ether in her circuits. Her limiters releasing, her iridescent wings unfurling in the way she has seen before.

        And where Lily goes -- Leon won't be far behind too, this time with the Commando Gear Wiglaff. A machine that Riesenlied has only seen a few times in action, in particular against the skirmish against Gebler in their maiden escape from Wayside.

        He states it simply, as the Black Wolves often do. For her... for Filgaia.

        Gears are filtering into the scene -- next from Wiglaff is Skadi, who much like Nimrod next to it Riesenlied only faintly remembers seeing in service, not in action. But more than the metal sheathed around her, she can sense Avril. In large part because of the Original Artificial Medium of the Sea... and in larger part still, because of their bond.

        But the oppressive cloud that weaves over them is thick. Avril can sense as much, how deeply buried the Life-Medium is underneath. But a wordless voice begs at her... still...

        She isn't giving up. And she knows Avril... and Dean won't either. Her blade will cut true to where they need to go... and the gun in Dean's heart... will be the bullet loaded in the chamber that will help ring true and help break that wall down.

        The child of Valmar has made her presence here now. She does not quite bear her usual demeanor, but perhaps one that Riesenlied is more familiar, deep down, with. From the days when she was Excavator, and when she welcomed her in Wayside village. The way she whispers it so quietly... that she's here for her. The Ley Dragon quietly snarls-- but not in an aggressive way. Perhaps she has taken notice. Perhaps she understands, even now, when she has been allotted to such a dire fate.

        She still trusts her, even now, wrapped by a black cloud that Neriah can plainly sense. It is not magic. It is a toxic weave of programming made manifest.

        Elseplace, the Dragonship Destiny has been assisting the Fereshte in their greatest and most important of rescue efforts ever. It is a testament to how far, in many ways, the Guards' relationship have come with the then-Ebony Wings, now the Outreach: true and pure in its purpose. And though not everything is smoothed yet, they can agree on certain principles. As can their leader, who announces dramatically his message to Alhazred.

        Bring forth Althena's justice.

        And Matilda, who has been there from a very early day for the Outreach, has been doing her best to plan the routes and rendezvous for the Tainted to escape. Now, the compounder is here, exhausted -- but unbattered, stepping by Lily and Noeline and espousing that she's with her.

        A reverberation chimes softly towards Matilda for a moment. A moment of regret, a moment of... relief. But nothing more than that. That toxic cloud prickles against her for a moment. They'll need to get closer. It will be risky... but she has calculated risks before.

        Prissa, too, barks at Noeline to make the way. She has 'that' ready. What is 'that'? The Ley Dragon does not visibly react, though Prissa's bold words of her tribe and her spirit from before have touched her. She speaks in a language Riesenlied does not understand to Alhazred, but she can understand the intent.

        She doesn't lift a finger to stop that.

        And the Mirthful Wellspring has also come. Though exiled, by cruel circumstances by the Dragonmaster himself, Lanval has continued to prove his dedication to the cause. Once, Janey requested of him for healing, at a time when Riesenlied had been rent low by the venom of Yarobeleedt... and he had come through, lucid and in spades. And now, he has his eyes set on a most dangerous person indeed...

        ... and he will have to work with one of the Four Heroes to do it, no matter how astray their relationship has gone.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Fei is not here, for he hears that calling. But somehow, somewhere, somewhen--

        Two voices in the red can still reach out to each other, no matter how far. For it is the link that has caused this destiny to shape in the first place... that desire to bear the weight of the world. That twisted promise, still left unfulfilled.

        But Lydia is here. She couldn't reach her, on that day in the snowfield some two weeks ago. But she made a promise, that she would save her. And like Matilda, like Maya, Noeline is surrounded by true and time-forged friends...

        ... as Lydia shows that spunk of hers and shouts. The mention of Janey and Mikaia cut through to her for a moment, prompting a soft pause as she gazes to Mariel. A great sense of sorrow and guilt emanates from the Dragon for a moment, wounded as she is...

        Fears. Fears that have affected them for so long now, that they've carried on their backs for centuries. But fears that they've been able to so slowly overcome, even knowing each step is thorn-filled... first with those precious saplings that the Outreach continue to grow... or with cough medicine...

        And now, here in the Gutter, to see her here... to see part of that fear break and fill her with a desire to do something. And do something she will, surrounded by others who need her assistance greatly.

        Riesenlied. Return to us. I ask this of you.

        Ambrosius' words ring through her, as the Drifters continue to speak. She more recently remembers him, when she visited him in the foyer of the Photosphere on one of his visits. She snarls just a few times as she looks towards him. The man who'd been a part of Wayside for so long, separated by circumstance...

        But they knew their bonds couldn't be broken so easily... no matter what orders went in the way.

        And Zed. Zed...

        Zed has been there since such an early day. They were all incredibly immature in their own ways, were they not? Whether through a comical, joking tone or through the way they interacted with the world. But one thing led to another... as Zed stood his ground against Berserk, as he saw what it was Alhazred was capable of.

        He apologises for being a crappy brother. But like Lydia, he promises-- that he'll be part of who'll make it all right.

        Kahr... is here. She does not distinctly remember him, distracted as she was on that day when he visited the caravan during Ialdabaoth's attack and Leon and Lily broke off to attack. But he summons his gear, a golden gear called the Wyvern and swoops next to Weglaff.

        She does not yet know how relevant their fates could be, from a single point of disaster in Garlyle, on the day the Demon of Elru descended. And little to speak of events to come yet... as well as what now lurks within her, due to the machinations of a certain scientist in the skies.

        She gazes, not with fear, but with curiosity... wondering, perhaps, what ties bond the Wolves to him.

        And the Trial Knight...

        Who has so promised to bring the thing for which she so soars. Does she soar now? She is grounded, so encompassed within the lifeblood of the planet which by all doctrines espoused in the Photosphere shun her. But--

        Amidst the fear that creates walls amongst them...
        Something fragile... something small...
        But something wonderful has happened.

        Are they here because of the geas Equites has imposed upon her, with K.K. as their judge? Is it a matter of duty, or perhaps something deeper still?

        None can say what lingers behind their mask. Not the Dragon, as they gaze towards those that prepare to stand...

        ... and with Maya also beside them, the party is complete. Maya, like Matilda and Lydia and the others who have been there since the very first days of the Outreach and before. A multifaceted gunslinger at times, a sorceress at others... but better yet, at all times-- a good heart. The Outreach, and the companions that have chosen to join them. To the journey within the Heart...

        And something deep, something twisted and black ORDERS her--

        The Ley Dragon shrieks.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        A sudden, further upswelling of the Ley causes the base of the Photosphere to uncontrollably quake. One by one, more bright-blue Ley fissures from underneath the dais crack and shimmer; rupturing translucent veils of the planet's lifeblood. A subtle, upwards force prompts smaller pieces of debris to raise. Something primal is being brought forth, something vital to the very thread of the world.

        Each Medium thrums uncomfortably in reaction, whether Silver, Stone or the Original Artificials in Noeline, Dean and Avril's cases. There is an ache and a scream, seeming to belong to each Guardian at once and also none of them, their voices were all scattered in the Ley.

        The four colours of Geo, Muse, Frey and Wing begin to seep from the rapidly shattering ends of the dais. They are intertwined with lesser colours, and fringed with the duality of black and white. The raw substance of the world is coming together. Already, you can see its debilitating effects on the Dragon itself. Riesenlied's low snarls are turning to one of evident pain. Portions of her armour rapidly freeze and melt; her talons are shorn away by elemental winds, her eyes rattled by primal rock.

        It is increasingly clear she will not survive this process.

        But you are not alone.

        The powers that sustain the world will not take this lying down.

        Through the Mediums, the Guardians briefly, tenuously reach you. They will lend their assistance in every way they can. Much like their words in the Guardian Temple where this fateful journey once began...

        Their hopes lie with you.

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Glancing behind her, the Crimson Noble takes a moment to gather herself; some of the faces she expected. Matilda and Prissa get a nod of respect - and Mariel a slightly longer one that is mixed with a bit of a chuckle, as Noeline grins from behind the flecks of power gathering around her. Lydia and Maya get a warmer reaction, a quiet and rueful smile - but her expression is still fiercely protective as she glances up back towards the dragon.

        --and then stops dead again, turning once more to stare at the impassive helmet of the Trial Knight as they step forward. Silent for a long moment, the Hyadean seems genuinely speechless; for an instant anger rises behind her eyes, and for a moment it seems like she's about to deny the offer. She does not agree - cannot agree - with some of K.K.'s actions... and yet, she cannot deny the hand the Trial Knight has had in shaping Riesenlied's identity. "... alright," she slowly nods.

        She cannot get further than that before her attention is ripped away. Noeline's head pulses as the Ley Dragon shrieks; she feels the Medium inside of her thrum in response, feeling as if it's railing and warring against the rest of her form in a way it hasn't in years. It draws a hiss of pain out of her, but an empathic one; caught by it, the only thing she can think of in the moment is the way it must be just as bad for Riesenlied, given the way her Medium was grafted to her in a much more artificial manner.

        But behind the adrenaline rush of pain is the wash of power that she can feel welling up, meeting the sorcerous reserves she's been building all this time - mingling with it - exceeding it. For a dizzying moment she feels as if she's lifted into the air, and clearer than ever she can discern the presence of Duras Drum at the back of her mind, egging her on with his low chuckle. No words are exchanged - but she can feel the expectation and the trust there, and it pulls her forwards like a physical force.

        "This might hurt, Riese," she whispers. "I'm sorry. Lily, Leon-- get ready! Outreach--"

        And
        then
        she
        PUSHES.

        It is not a Material summon, but it would be wrong to call it anything so structured as a spell. It is more Noeline simply giving her body up to the power of the Medium, channeling it through herself in as full and complete a way she can manage. A desperate gamble - and were it any other Metal Demon, surely a fatal one. But she has a century of experience in handling her Medium, and a connection to her Guardian closer than anyone might think. 'A wildcard', Duras Drum had once called her, offering his power freely - and she takes of it as much as she can, now.

        She's yelling at the top of her lungs, she realizes after a moment, her consciousness far away - and watches in a dream as sheer instinctive impulse makes her raise her hands, grasping at nothing in the air and yet pulling with all her might upon it. A heavy, metallic sound booms in response, and then a gigantic chain of black metal twists out of nowhere around one of the Ley Dragon's wings, the links of it binding the dragon's limb to its side and bearing Riesenlied down towards the ground of the chamber.

        Noeline's heels dig into the floor as she braces herself against absolutely nothing; another thrust of her hands and another wrenching yank causes the ground to erupt, a second and equally large chain joining the first as it slams over the torso of the dragon, seeking to pin the gigantic creature against the dias. A third erupts out of a nearby wall to sweep over the others, hanging unnaturally in place before it slams down upon them with a booming noise that echoes with finality.

        "I won't-- let you hurt them! I won't let Mother make you hurt them!" she growls as she abruptly pitches down to her knees, slamming both palms against the floor. In response, the spectral chains quiver and shift - their form might not be entirely physical given the way the air around them shimmers like a mirage and makes it difficult to focus on their shape, but there is no denying the physicality present in the way they suddenly tighten, binding the dragon in place as their ends crash into the ground in front of Noeline, rupturing the metal as they ground themselves.

DG: A party led by Noeline is now entering Photosphere - Dive to the Heart.
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
===================<* CHALLENGE - To Have and To Hold... *>===================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 1          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The illusory chains of Duras Drum bind.                                       
                                                                               
 Tautly, they ensnare around the Ley Dragon's form. She lets loose a           
 shattering howl echoing through the Gutter, claw and feet trashing against    
 her magical binds.                                                            
                                                                               
 The Guardian of Hades' power bristles in opposition to the Ley, bands of      
 spiritual energy reigning her within the field. A powerful struggle between   
 illusion and life clashing bitterly, sparks of power splashing dangerously    
 close to you.                                                                 
                                                                               
 Once. Twice--                                                                 
 The chains buckle. They rattle. They threaten to snap.                        
                                                                               
 Then nothing.                                                                 
                                                                               
 The chains serve as a haphazard staircase, allowing you passage up to the     
 top of the Ley Dragon. And as you ascend...                                   
                                                                               
                         I've a dream that I can't yield                       
                                                                               
                     With lights long held since our births                    
                                                                               
                        A land so torn we must protect...                      
                                                                               
                         Bright effulgent is its essence                       
                                                                               
                                                                               
 You can hear a familiar voice. A familiar song.                               
                                                                               
                        I softly murmur a heartfelt wish                       
                                                                               
                        To a future I'll never give away                       
                                                                               
                       My soul, won from the silvered void                     
                                                                               
                      Plucked from the Sea of Stars escaped                    
                                                                               
                                                                               
 The melody leads you to a passage under the Dragon's scales, breathing        
 bright with Leyline energy. It will be dangerous, but it will have to make    
 do for an entrance.                                                           
                                                                               
                   Journey now, to the depths of the heart...                  
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Digger Effect:                                                                
 GS: The Ley Dragon suffers from Entangle status!                              
=Dungeon Conditions: Vault====================================================
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.


        Noeline stands again, a little more present in the moment as her vision re-focuses. Ahead of them lies a ramp of chains with which to reach the bulk of the Ley Dragon. Her body vibrates with the after-effects of the power she's just channeled; she feels for a moment like her tongue is too thick to talk, like her body might tear itself apart as it tries to place itself somewhere in the middle between Hyadean and Guardian.

        A sensation in her right hand makes her blink down at it; the sorcery she's just fired off is still present there, a glowing light in her palm that surrounds and meshes with her ring. In her palm, three small chains that mirror the larger ones binding Riesenlied down; she hesitates for just a moment, then tightens her fist around them as she sucks in a terrified, wild breath at what she's just done.

        There's no time to be terrified, though, and so it's with a force of effort that she swallows it the next moment. "--Outreach!" she calls again, feeling her voice strengthen as she bolsters herself. "We're going!"

        --and she forces her feet forwards, step after step after step, picking up speed as she begins to race her way up the chains towards the gash in the creature's side. Somewhere in the midst of it there's a nudge at her back, as one of her pods suddenly bumps into her with a silent offer to support her - and for once she can only chuckle as she gratefully accepts the offer, taking the tiniest of moments to rest as she lets Strife buoy her upwards.

        Her voice is hoarse, rasping with every breath from the effort of the sorcery she's just expended - but there's a fire within her as she throws a hand forwards. "--go! Go!!"

<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 "Of course she is still in there!" Alhazred yells at Noeline, sounding quite annoyed. "This is one of my masterpieces! I do not create monsters or abominations! My work is for the betterment of all Hydians - and she is the next step in our evolution! Even those who are nothing more than trash like the Tainted can become something greater under my auspices!"
 
 Indeed, his first masterpiece had been designed to convert that which was worthless - Filgaian life - into something worthwhile. Like the alchemists of old, he had elevated dross from its worthless state into gold. And now he had taken a step further, manipulating the very stuff of life itself into a far greater form. "You speak of Riesenlied as if her value lay only in petty things like the emotional attachment she might have formed with others - but I will not allow such pathetic nonsense to hold me back!"
 
 There are plenty of Drifters who are after his head - but Alhazred has little concern for that. He locks in the coordinates for one of his devices, and tosses it up into the air where a Esperanza catches it and begins to fly around in random patterns to keep it from being shot down too easily. The Quarter Knight ignores most of the initial set of taunts, of people throwing threats and venom at him - he's heard much of it before. Instead he pulls out a second device and begins to work on it, adjusting various settings as he glances around the room, occasionally consulting a hand held device as he tries to ensure that everything is correct for this large scale teleportation.
 
 "...the question is, to wait until she is finished, and give Mother her victory, or to activate it early - to attain my success and let Mother deal with the Drifters and Guardians without the power she would gain here? Choices, choices..."
 
 He was still honestly torn as to which route he would like to pursue. A millennia of loyalty to the one they thought had saved them - or the bitter draught of betrayal still fresh on his mind. Alhazred preferred to act on facts, not mere emotions. But some emotions were impossible to ignore. And as a set of Drifters break off to confront him, the Quarter Knight turns and glowers at them. A spiritual anomaly, a beastman, and a human. Barely even worthy of his time.
 
 "Begone, vermin. I do not have time for you," Alhazred declares, his Esperanza moving around to obstruct their path forward. He makes another adjustment, the device in his claw beginning to ping rapidly as it syncs up with the main computer. Another coordinate for his teleportation almost calibrated. He pauses, almost as if he expected that threat to actually work, even as the Gutter begins to shake with Riesenlied's power as she draws upon the planet's life force. "Well? What are you waiting for - leave!"
 
 ==============================
 
 PREVENT ALHAZRED FROM ACTIVATING HIS DEVICE
 
 ==============================

GS: Alhazred has attacked Alhazred with I do not have time for this!!
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Alhazred's I do not have time for this! for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Digger Objective:

             Descend, and take back who has been stolen from you.

        Gunslinger Objective:

Disrupt the Ley Dragon Riesenlied's connection to the Ley Point within 5 Turns!
                                      AND
      Disrupt Quarter Knight Alhazred's teleporter beacon within 5 Turns  !

        INFO:
The Ley Dragon's HP represents both herself and the Ley Point that she's seated upon. You may feel free to pose attacking the Ley Dragon, or the altar upon which the Ley Point is seated on.

        Reducing the Ley Dragon's HP to 0 is not required, but may affect the outcome of the finale of this battle. Additionally, the Digger event has additional effects that will affect the flow of the Gunslinger battle!

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Riesenlied with - N - - - - - - - E!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Riesenlied's attack becomes clear!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Gathers... for 0 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
DG: Noeline has used her Tool Strife toward her party's challenge, To Have and To Hold....
GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

"We'll do all we can, Noeline," Leon says, back to the Hyadean. "Go!" He looks down at them, frowning for a moment. The frown softens, as he spots a figure he thought might be there -- but the confusion of battle left him unsure. Still, he keeps his voice level when he speaks. "Lily, I trust you're with me. I think we'll need your firepower, for something like this."

He notes the presence of Alhazred, but he says little else. The others seem to have that well in hand.

What he does not have well in hand, however, is the appearance of a Solarian force on the battlefield. Once before, Leon rebuked Kahran Ramses without so much as a second thought. In the end, it may have led to Riesenlied being taken; rather than a powerful, if temporary ally, Leon and Lily found themselves concerned with a powerful and permanent distraction. The Black Wolf's expression screws up.

But, finally, he nods his head once. "...So be it," he says. "I think it far from reasonable to deny your aid, in our present and unfortunate circumstances."

Weglaff snaps its arm to the side. Normally, the heat saber is folded up, along the length of the arm. Like a switchblade, it snaps out to point outward. The forearm blade glints in the light that pours into this place, as he looks across the battlefield, straight towards the Ley Dragon. His teeth grit together.

The energy swirls up around the Photosphere, and makes the floor rock underneath even the heavy feet of Gears. Weglaff stands its ground, though, and Leon feels the cockpit shake around him. Leon's eyes drift down, to the stone Medium at his side; he sees the Medium of Dinoginos glow, slightly. He looks back at the dais, even as it cracks.

He swallows. There aren't words.

Not yet.

Weglaff swings the arm blade up, directly in front of it. Leon shouts, over the din of ground cracking and breaking: "GO!"

Then, Weglaff rushes forward. Blue feet slam down into the ground, the plates underneath the Gear's feet denting in, as the machine rushes in straight towards the Ley Dragon. At the last moment, jets mounted in the back of the Gear send it skyrocketing upward. Like a knight rushing to a dragon, the blue Gear rises. Leon swings back his Gear's arm, and silver glints up the edge until it shines at the tip.

"RIESENLIED!" he calls out, before he strikes the blade down straight for the Ley Dragon's head.

GS: Leon Albus has attacked Riesenlied with Saber Rush!
GS: Leon Albus has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Leon Albus's Saber Rush for 46 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah's psychology is... an oddity. One part of her can slaughter hundreds, even thousands of helpless people - but another part of her runs to try and help Riesenlied.

As the Dragon shrieks and the Photosphere rumbles, Neriah draws a breath in, then lets it out through her teeth. She doesn't touch down, just remaining in midair, hovering there to await the Ley Dragon's reaction. Or perhaps the reaction of the Ley.

That which Riesenlied has become will clearly not survive. Neriah clenches her jaw and tightens her right hand, suppressing a surge of rage. By all rights she should go over there and rip Alhazred's spleen out through his eyes.

But no. Riesenlied is more important than fussing with the Quarter Knight. Ambrosius has that under control - a good man, she decides.

Lowering herself a little further, her open red robe rippling around her to reveal the splendid red and black underdress she's favoured in recent months, Neriah sinks to float in front of the suffering Dragon. "Riesenlied," she appeals in that quiet tone that nevertheless carries, holding an echo to it. "I can tell that you're in there. And so long as you're still in there, I'm not going to let you be used this way. You're too special.

"Too special to be used this way by a pineapple in a napkin." Neriah jerks her head towards Alhazred contemptuously.

Holding her hands out, Neriah begins to mass power. The unsettling feeling of Valmar's energy building is tangible even here among the pulse and flow of the Ley. But it doesn't manifest as darkness. The uneasy, scraping feeling levels out gradually into something uncanny, but softer. Shimmers of white light dance around Neriah's hands.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be the good person you saw in me," Neriah says, her voice echoing. "But I can at least do something for you." And she begins to let the spell go.

It is not a beam. It is not a blast. It is not even a conventional attack.

But butterflies begin to manifest around the Ley Dragon. The faint shapes of flowers begin to manifest - the boughs of grees, gently shifting in a wind. The soft giggle of children can be heard. Around the Riesedragon, there's the quiet cluck and wobble of sound, little flickers of soft white motion, as though a happy little clutch of cuccos were beginning to converge on the Ley Dragon. It's the spell she used on Mikaia and Janey months ago: She's attempting to enclose the Ley Dragon in a Bliss Bubble.

But it's more than just good feelings. The bubble itself begins to try and push aside the ley - to try and interfere with what's feeding the Dragon.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with In the Garden of Bliss!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

"...There's a reason I'm so certain, Matilda." Lily's voice echoes strangely, infused with magic as it is.

 Fear. ...Fear is sensible; it's sad, too, it wounds Lily in a way that she would obviously never show... But it is sensible. But the rest--Of course Lily remained. If the Ley Dragon can only feel it, there is sorrow in Lily, too--and something else, an iron certainty. There is something she must do.

But amidst the arrivals, Lily's attention snaps to the side--her strange black-and-prism eyes settle sidelong on Ramses and his Gear. She cannot help but feel the familiar anger welling up within, the need to act on her enemy. ...And yet...

She stays her hand, looks forward again, and pulls the radio at her side; the red armor she wears is dull when compared to the light that gleams menacingly around her. ...But she switches the frequency, moves to depress the talk button... and hesitates, until she hears Leon's voice. Then she nods, once, and answers, "I'm with you. I have the firepower we need. And..."

"I'm sorry."

The radio goes back to her belt, and Lily shakes her head.

"Leon," she murmurs, and lets herself remain silent for a long few moments after.

OUTSIDE:

See: Night Comes.

HERE, NOW

Stone and metal shriek, a terrible cacophony echoing from the tunnels behind and something terrible wends its way through. The ground, the dais, the walls themselves shake before, claws scraping against the wall, a great terror emerges. Its claws fall to the side, attached to six great limbs, and the nearly-humanoid torso of a titanic war machine slides in after a horrifically angry face. Two eyes, gleaming; a mouth, with red stretched gums, great teeth, something like ears stretching outward. Its flesh, such as it is, is deep purple, and seamlessly there are sprouted metal blades, each limb undulating seemingly independently. Its mere presence is darkness itself.

Golem Sado has entered the chamber, and it rises, stretching to its full height, resting on the base of a gigantic serpentine tail. Its aura spreads oppressively as it throws back its head and lets out a deafening roar, a battlecry centuries overdue.

"...Golem Sado," Lily says, rising through the air to sweep in front of it, hovering there with blade outstretched in defensive stance. She looks down, to where Noeline--Duras Drum's? Power has begun to seal the Dragon, and she judges it quickly. "Perfect. Move on my mark--"

Lily points down, and the Golem rears back. "...Initiating..."

Ether hums once again, painfully bright, becoming a violet-and-black aura about Lily that sucks all light from her immediate vicinity--and then bursts outward, crackling towards Golem Sado all at once.

The Golem roars with sudden power, and lunges. From its suddenly open mouth, too open for anything natural, there is at first nothing--and then a suddenly burst of dark power, a gigantic javelin of unworked shadow that crashes not for the Dragon, but for the dais itself.

The Golem fires on the Ley lines powering the Point with a first shot.

Lily says, "May the world forgive me. ...But I will stop at nothing to save you, Riesenlied, and to end this war."

Lily adopts a defensive position, breathing heavily, and prepares to channel once again.

DC: Lily Keil switches forms to Golem Sado!
GS: Lily Keil has attacked Riesenlied with Dark Javelin!
GS: Lily Keil has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        Leo is not the expert on ARMs among the Four Heroes--that honor goes to Black Wizard Borgan. Nevertheless, he knows a sinister device when he sees one, and even if he didn't, everything Alhazred says hints at a dire plan unfolding. His mission becomes clear: shatter the device, slay Alhazred, stop the plan. His allies are...

        For a single, uneasy moment, White Knight Leo's gaze falls on Lanval, apostate Seraph. Does he know? Even if he did, would it matter?

        "Seraph! Soldier!" Leo's voice rings out from atop the cliff once more. "To me!" He leaps from his makeshift perch, cape flapping and fluttering behind him as he makes his entrance. Energy boils out from Riesenlied, and howls of agony echo off the Gutter walls.

        

GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's In the Garden of Bliss for 129 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Golem Sado's Dark Javelin for 139 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Prissa has posed.

 
Prissa hears a voice address Noeline and turns her head.

Despite the masking she has put over herself, her eyes enlarge substantially and snap sideways as she realizes who it is exactly who spoke these words. Then they snap towards Noeline as if to say: you down?

Apparently so.

The situation is chaos and Prissa tries not to think about the massive machina on the march nearby. They are elegantly horrifying. It's a good thing they didn't have them, Prissa thinks sourly, if you were - but that's woll gathering and she has enough wool.

She draws out a javelin and hurls it upwards, the trailing cable coming behind it. The implement clatters harmlessly on top of Riesenlied's draconic back, but the chains... ah, the chains are her target. Pulling back, skittering like a trawling fish, Prissa gets one in a link, yanks for security, and tells Lydia, "Maybe you don't need with your skate but don't be afraid to grasp on!"

She goes up. She does not make haste, reaching out towards Mariel and also occasionally doing the c_c face towards K.K. in the process. Please choose another chain, Prissa thinks to herself.

DG: Prissa has used her Tool Zipline Javelin toward her party's challenge, To Have and To Hold....
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Noeline pushes. Metal screams through the air, as chains are created and then come crashing down towards the Ley Dragon -- trying to chain it up. Some debris rains down from above; one piece of it slams into the chains. Another bounces off. The Photosphere, in the process of all the fighting here, has seen some loss of structural integrity. That structural integrity was never all that high in the first place.

But one of the pieces of debris that falls down onto the chains has a cloak.

A white cloak.

It billows out behind Siegfried, as the Quarter Knight slams down into the chain. Fingers grip it, only enough to study himself -- and then with a silent shout, the middle-aged Quarter Knight goes skating down the chains. His feet send sparks flying along Duras Drum's chains, as he bounces off them, and then flies up into the air. He is a blur of white and blue, then -- he goes spinning, and he crashes down a little behind Noeline and the others. He looks up, towards the full form of Riesenlied.

He tugs the white hood of his cloak up. Then, he bolts after them as silent as can be.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"Oh hey it's K.K." Lydia says casually. "Man, I haven't seen you...."

There's a long pause.

"Ever. I have never seen you. I'm Lydia Seren, Ginny's former evil minion but we decided to just be friends and now she eats veggie pies. Or maybe she always ate veggie pies."

Lydia continues to babble.

"Thanks for making the Crucible it's a pretty great meet-up group. Like so many cool people. It was really great and I'm so much happier now. And a cool--okay, you probably don't know what it is, but it's called a 'Cy-Borg' and it's like being a normal person but you can do this." A pair of roller blades pop out from underneath Lydia's feet and she lifts up a leg so K.K can see it or at least that's the idea but this is K.K so they might not even be looking.

"Cool huh? If Riesenlied melts me you'll get to see other cool stuff but I guess it's time to reach out to the heart and such so good talk, we'll gab later!"

'Talk' may be a generous description considering Lydia seemed to be doing the most of it here.

Her Medium starts thrumming uncomfortably.

"Oh dangit." Lydia says. "Calm down there buddy. We'll save the world and shit. Or not, in which case we don't gotta worry ha ha..." PAuse. "Just kidding we gonna win."

Lydia starts skating around on those skates she summoned, swinging one leg up into the air, then the other, as if she were some kind of ice skate. She has to push harder once she reaches the chains, skating normally and hopping over steps that aren't gradual enough to just casually skate across.

"Thanks Prissa! And..." A bit less casually. "Thanks for coming. Mikaia and Janey's hopes are ridin' with me, so I gotta push push push as hard as I can!"

pause.

"Uh."

Pause.

"UHHH...."

She just saw Siegfried.

"H..heey! What are you doin' here old man?!"

DG: Lydia Seren has used her Tool Radical Skates toward her party's challenge, To Have and To Hold....
<Pose Tracker> Kahran Ramses has posed.

Kahran Ramses watches Leon Albus while the man works his way through the decision; finally, as the other man nods his head, the commander of Gebler returns the gesture firmly. "A sound decision, Captain," Ramses says, his deep baritone hardening as he turns his eyes forward. "To business, the---"

Ramses' words are cut off by a wailing alarm klaxon, presaging the arrival of the Golem Sado by a matter of seconds. Leon, if he can spare a moment to watch the point-to-point screen on his monitor, will see something few living men or women have ever witness - Kahran Ramses in a state of absolute stunned surprise, as he sees an ancient Elw Golem moving at the behest of a Drifter... a Drifter who is none other than a rogue Ether user, one with both reason and knowledge to turn that power against her former people.

For an instant, Kahran Ramses is afraid.

But then the expression vanishes behind the guillotine stroke that washes over his face, hardening into the expression of a soldier, on the battlefield. He does not follow Weglaff and Sado - he has no desire to be even within the Golem's vicinity should Keil's daughter choose to get a little loose with her interpretation of friendly fire - but instead moves to engage Alhazred. Etheric energy crackles along Wyvern's frame as the Command Gear lifts its left hand, firing a series of palm blasts in the Quarter Knight's direction. Ramses doesn't fire all of the power he's gathering, choosing to keep some of it in reserve, but enough to scorch steel and flesh alike.

"The only vermin I see is you, maggot," the Gebler commander says, his voice hard. He flickers a glance in Sado's direction, then locks it back onto his target. "And it is time to cleanse your filth from this world."

GS: Kahran Ramses has attacked Alhazred with Great Ether!
GS: Kahran Ramses has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Kahran Ramses has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Kahran Ramses's Great Ether for 68 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel feels Riese's regard, just for a moment, as the dragon looks at her. Her first instinct is to hide; she fights it down, letting herself be seen. She raises one hand, even, just for a moment - before she takes off after Prissa, not wanting to be left behind.

She is also doing everything she can to make sure she stays just out of Alhazred's sight.

The build-up of energy in here is dazzling to Mariel. To someone who is bonded to Filgaia itself, it's almost intolerable; not because it's a bad sensation (it isn't) but just because it's *too much*. She feels the Ley in her veins, in her bones, like a heartbeat that comes from outside of her. She doesn't have to be pushed to follow but she does lose track of some of the lighter, weaker energies.

Sado does not count as 'weaker'.

"Golem!" Mariel's voice is shocked - she shouldn't be. Asgard has already helped, Lolithia brought back to stop them, but to see Sado too - a Golem she didn't know was active - Mariel flinches at first, because she thought it might be the same thing as Lolithia, a Metal Demon trick.

It isn't. Thank goodness. Mariel lets out a breath she didn't even know she was holding and turns back to Riesenlied. She feels - something - masked behind the brightness and force of the Ley. But before she can tell any more, there's a surge from Noeline too, and she has to go up, up -

Mariel is actually an okay climber, gloves and all. She accepts help from Prissa but she doesn't need all of it; she's small and light and that's actually a benefit here, as she pulls herself up a chain. She does not look at KK, because Lunarian legends are legends that she does not know, and she's more involved in a) not being annihilated by a stray shot (from Sado, from a ley discharge, from Alhazred, from Riesenlied herself - there are many ways to get vaporized in here) and b) not falling off the chain.

Come on, she thinks. She doesn't have to get much higher, does she? She can talk from here, right? (No.)

DG: Mariel has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, To Have and To Hold....
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        Leo is not the expert on ARMs among the Four Heroes--that honor goes to Black Wizard Borgan. Nevertheless, he knows a sinister device when he sees one, and even if he didn't, everything Alhazred says hints at a dire plan unfolding. His mission becomes clear: shatter the device, slay Alhazred, stop the plan. His allies are...

        For a single, uneasy moment, White Knight Leo's gaze falls on Lanval, apostate Seraph. Does he know? Even if he did, would it matter?

        "Seraph! Soldier!" Leo's voice rings out from atop the cliff once more. "To me!" He leaps from his makeshift perch, cape flapping and fluttering behind him as he makes his entrance. Energy boils out from Riesenlied, and howls of agony echo off the Gutter walls.

        'Begone, vermin. I do not have time for you.'

        A roar of defiance tears from Leo's throat. An Esperanza flutters up towards him, baring a needle-sharp stinger; the Beastman's blade flashes, and there's a shriek of splitting, tearing metal. The Esperanza falls, cleaved neatly down the midline. "A pity the feeling's not mutual! DEMON FANG!" Leo falls, and swings his blade through another strike. Chi boils off his body, focusing on the edge of his weapon like light through a lens. A wave of energy erupts from the sword, flying towards Alhazred. Leo hits ground a moment later, and--

        And his heart very nearly falls into the pit of his stomach. Is that--is that the same thing he saw rampaging on the Kislevi border? And what is that Gebler doing?

        Irrelevant. His duty lies before him.

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        Once again, there's a lot to take in. Fortunately for Dean, he naturally focuses in on only a few of them, just enough to be able to see most of what's going on while still being able to concentrate. The Original Artificial Mountain Medium thrums in Dean's pocket as he and Nimrod and everyone draw closer to the Ley Dragon and the altar on which she rests. The bond between him and Riese may not be as strong as Riese's is with Avril, and Dean may have only just recently gotten the Medium, but he can still hear it--like a bell chiming far away, but not so far it's out of earshot. The sound of Riese's wordless begging. If he can follow that sound back to Riesenlied's heart, then... he's sure all of them can bring her back.
        
        K.K.'s appearance is a surprise--but if Noeline's willing to accept their help, Dean won't protest it. He gives them a thoughtful look through Nimrod's cameras, then looks back towards the Ley Dragon. "Ready to go, Noeline!" he calls--though perhaps she can sense his determination through her own Original Medium.
        
        But then the Ley pulses, and there is a scream, and Dean grits his teeth in pain as that suffering reverberates back through him via the Mountain Medium. It's not pain, exactly, but it's deeply uncomfortable, and even moreso when he sees the debilitating effects on Riesenlied. "No! We won't let that happen!" he shouts, as much to the general state of affairs as to Alhazred. "We won't let her destroy the world she wanted to protect!!"
        
        But there are others dealing with Alhazred directly. As a bearer of an Original Medium, it's best for Dean to use its power to fight to reach out to Riesenlied. And so he begins to move the Gear--until Golem Sado appears, cleaving and clawing through the walls, a great terror wreathed in darkness that unleashes a bolt of power onto the dais for the Ley Point. Then, instead, Dean shrieks:
        
        "OMIGOSH IT'S GOLEM SADO! SO COOOOOOL!!!!"
        
        Yes, those are stars in his eyes. Yes, Dean is fanboying over the terror machine. But in this case, that's a good thing, because now he grins, gripping the controls for Nimrod again. "Okay! Now that we've got a Golem on our side, there's no WAY we can lose!! Let's go, Avril, everybody! METEOOOOOOR... PUUUUUUUNCH!!"
        
        Thrusting the controls forward, Dean lets out that battle cry as his Gear charges towards that altar, giant metal fist raised for a massive punch to join in on Sado's assault. If that's what's needed for the Ley Dragon to do her thing, then all they've gotta do is smash it, right?! Right!!

GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Alhazred with Demon Fang!
GS: White Knight Leo has gained 1 Combo!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
GS: Dean Stark has attacked Riesenlied with Lapis Lapunchi!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from White Knight Leo's Demon Fang for 97 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ambrosius has posed.

Riesenlied snarls back at him, in perhaps the only form of audible communication she is capable of now in her current state.

"I should have acted sooner. Perhaps if I had...this situation would not have had to occur." Ambrosius murmurs in response. "I am sorry. But...with this ARM, I shall attempt to rectify my mistake."

From within the depths of his poncho comes not Veritas Varia, but Conversator, his trusted revolver. He continues to walk, until he is directly in front of Alhazred. The barrier complicates things somewhat.

"Quarter Knight Alhazred - you have attracted the ire of the Veruni. Cease and surrender, immediately." He says, leveling the revolver at the Quarter Knight. He is briefly distracted, however, by the arrival of something unexpected - the Golem, Sado. Ambrosius's eyes narrow frow within his helmet.

He remembered that Golem, from the battle at the Guardian Temple. For a brief moment, he wishes that Nimue were here(the Golem, not the Seraph). But for the time being, it seems to be on their side.

He cannot afford distractions. As such, he doesn't even give Leo's cool, dramatic entrance a glance.

"Understood." He replies. He would need all the assistance he could get - he was up against a Quarter Knight. He takes aim, and then fires...but not at Alhazred himself, but at the Esperanza carrying one of his deployed devices.

As he does so, however, a golden gear arrives. It's make...behind his helmet, Ambrosius's eyes narrow. This complicates things somewhat. Still, it was an ally, for now. If they intended to deal with Alhazred, he would not hinder them.

<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

The dragon's cry yanks the blonde enigma's attention momentarily from where it might otherwise remain: the even more enigmatic tower of armor referred to in the common parlance as the Trial Knight. Instead, self-preservation takes hold. "I know she's still in there," the weary gunslinger briefly touches a bent and ruined lightpost for assistance in remaining stable. "But I fear we've gotta get a move on before that changes, you know?"

Clearly, Noeline is in agreement. Maya pauses to shield her eyes and wince as the phantasmal chains of Duras Drum coil and writhe around the tremendous form of the Dragon, binding it. As ancient girders and support beams give way with the struggle, and as machines of war from ages long-lost stir and are summoned to battle. Nervous blue eyes flit this way and that, ensuring she isn't about to be stepped on.

Orders make things easier. Noeline shouts for them to go, and so they go. Maya reaches out to steady Lydia by the shoulder only to find that that she has sprouted skates and rocketed off after K.K. to catch up. There is a long an uneasy silence before she turns to leap for a chain, only to stumble backwards as a mysterious Metal Demon Oldie in a billowing white cloak rushes past, and a javelin sails over her head.

"Riesenlady, hold on just a lil' longer." mutters the beleaguered Human, picking up speed and taking off after the rest of the Outreach. Her eyes remain squarely on the prize: a chance to give back to the lady who gave everything, repeatedly.

But the occasional blinding flash of energies coming near enough to smell the burning ozone is making it really hard to keep her hands on the damn chain.

GS: Ambrosius has attacked Alhazred with Conversator!
GS: Ambrosius has completed his action.
DG: Maya Schrodinger has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, To Have and To Hold....
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Ambrosius's Conversator for 60 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

                Wayside is gone. But its spirit lives on --
              in its people, in the wings we've been granted.
   I will not rest until we have seen our people freed from oppression.

There is little but a single nod of acknowledgment on the part of the Trial Knight as Noeline acquiesces to their request. For all their gift for the loquacious, it would seem that right now, they are a knight of very few words, wrapped in that unreadable stoicism as they step towards the edge of that precipice.

"You have my gratitude."

Guardians war. Or, at the very least, their powers do, in a brief but profound struggle that ripples across senses both physical and spiritual. The knight watches unflinching as the chains wrap and bind the struggling Ley Dragon. Their hands open as motes of light begin to coalesce against their palms, nothing save the subtle tension in their stance lending any hint as to the what they may be feeling in this moment. It's debatable whether they are even listening to Lydia, considering they haven't interjected once during her entire rant, or even made any indication they notice her presence as the struggle rages on. They don't even look at her rollerblades (possibly, it's legitimately hard to say). Rude --

"I know you," they finally say, first and foremost, as the light in their palms grows thick, finds form. Their tone is utterly laced in stoic neutrality of one whose every word is steeped in gravitas.

"Intriguing. For what do you sigh, Borg?"

... which might just make the actual content all the stranger. Are they serious? They can't be serious.

But the truth may never be known. The chains weigh down. A way is opened.

Their fingers twitch around a pair of curved short swords.

And the first is thrown, far, far, until it lodges in one of the scales of the creature Riesenlied has become as red glowing rope threads out from its hilt, enough to gain a foothold, but not so much as to truly harm a beast of such magnitude and armor; they know their dragons.

And with a helpful warning of, "Do not touch this rope!" They -lunge-, the red line reeling them in rapidly towards their destination as they pass directly by Prissa in a gush of wind and momentum. See? Not using that chain. It's fine.

"... This is not for what you spread your wings."

DG: K.K. has used their Tool Highly Exclusive Lifeline toward their party's challenge, To Have and To Hold....
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

        The spiritual anomaly - the Seraph Lanval - starts to consider how maybe the fact he's closed in this much suggests maybe the one he's confronting can't perceive him. That might make things easier. Not easy, but easier. Even with the White Knight Leo here, maybe--
        The Esperanza flit right in front of him, none too coincidentally, their concentration especially blatant and notable. Lanval has problems holding his balance as the Gutter shakes. He is but water, and water is constrained by the shape of the earth surrounding it. It's not a great show of force to have him fall onto the manifestation of his seat as Alhazred barks back for him to leave. He jostles between some of the debris, including a flat piece of metal with the words 'BAD SINE' illegibly scrawled on it.
        "I can't leave." Lanval says. This seems true in the immediate sense, as he's presently being smothered by some of the trash of the scenery. Then, from above, he can feel Leo's glare upon him for a time. He remembers the chilling disdain from the Red Priestess, the reminder that he was acting against the Goddess' will. They really are siblings...
        'Seraph! Soldier!' Leo calls. Lanval looks up.
        'To me!'
        Lanval opens an eye part of the way. There's a dumb smile on his face. (It's always dumb.)
        "Mmmmph... ya got it." Leo has it? That's great, so how's Lanval going to get out from under the debris, then?
        One Seraphic Arte later, courtesy of his gourd, there is a great geyser-like burst of magical water drenching everything. Esperanza, garbage, possibly components of the great teleportation device, maybe Alhazred, but more importantly - a visual of Lanval erupting out from under it all and taking himself up into the air where he'll less-than-gracefully plop down on the cliff. The geyser-jetting gourd just somehow finds its way up there like it were a runaway jet.
        Water can overtake Earth if it's at a higher depth than it can contain, after all.
        ...Just in time to just pass Leo who is swinging down from the cliff.
        Misreading Leo's dramatic timing, he gets a glimpse of some of the chaos going on elsewhere. It's all so noisy, so much... but it's a part of the Blue Star's world. The people of the Blue Star's got it. He'll just have to do his part with Alhazred, as he flops back down the cliffside to rejoin Leo.
        Right behind Ambrosius himself. A momentary startle, maybe, but things will smooth out soon.

GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Alhazred with Unending Fountain!
GS: Seraph Lanval has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied has adjusted their boss level for 6 opponents!
Game> Mihaya just +fingered you!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Power swirls around the chamber, around Riesenlied, around Noeline. Matilda, for a moment, feels... it's not that she feels small, in herself. It's more that *everything* feels small amid this. She moves closer to Noeline as Noeline calls for the Outreach --

-- and Duras Drum ties the Ley Dragon's form to the ground. Matilda is no believer in miracles... and yet, she recognizes one as she sees it begin to pass. She knows better than to squander it, in this moment.

As Noeline starts to wobble, Matilda forms up with her in earnest. Noeline calls for them to go -- and she goes.

Her gaze turns to Mariel, briefly, as the compounder -- Mercenary -- human, starts to climb the chains. She breathes deeply, trying to put the questions she has out of her mind for now. Her first concern needs to be this moment.

She treats the chains no differently than she treated the old, half-bent trees on the farm when she was young; just an awkward set of footholds to run and climb along. Acting as if this moment is special before it's over... that'd just be inviting it to shatter in her hands, wouldn't it? The Golem, Alhazred -- those things need to wait, even if Matilda's first reflex is to obsess, to fuss, to think herself into a pit. She needs to help Riesenlied, first.

DG: Matilda Whitehead has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, To Have and To Hold....
GS: Alhazred has adjusted their boss level for 4 opponents!
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Seraph Lanval's Unending Fountain for 77 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        Beyond those thoughts, beyond that preparation of the self and soul there is no use meditating on what may be.

        It is enough to be here now. If nothing else, she and Dean have worked with the Outreach and others to save who they could find.
        If nothing else, they go into this knowing they tried.
        If nothing else, they're not giving up. However and whatever fate might deliver unto them.

        Within the cockpit, Avril raises herself up. Though the Medium rests still in her lap, her hands leave it to find the controls of the machine she pilots.

        Hands fly across the controls, opening communication channels. "Noeline. We will do what we can out here. Please, for her sake..." The pause is but momentary. Within the Gear, Avril's expression mirrors her inner resolution. "...I trust you. We shall do this, together."

        The Ley rumbles in the moment following, rattling even a Gear Skadi's size; it's clear that whatever is being now channeled may be terminal.
        To their future, to the Guardians. To Riesenlied.
        It throbs through the Medium, through her; gritting her teeth, Avril restrains the urge to touch the Medium -- as if she could thereby soothe the cause of the Guardian's unscream -- and instead hefts Skadi's massive blade.

        Duras Drum's power pushes. In resonance, its 'kin', the Sea Medium of Lucadia in her lap, sings out in an inaudible pulse that weaves under and through the powers that sustain the world.
        Mother reigns supreme. She silences the Guardians without question. And yet, perhaps -- here and now, in a place with so many of the Original Artificial Mediums present -- it might just help.

        She has but moments to regard the field, to regard who stands alongside them and who they fight against (willingly, unwillingly).
        Moments to lift her gaze and feel that surge of etheric power so closely kin to her own and realize that Sado, through Lily, has joined the fight.

        To smile in spite of it all when Dean bursts out in excitement at the sight of that ancient Golem.

        "I like the sound of that, Dean."

        And with that, with a sudden acceleration, Skadi bolts ahead towards dragon and altar.

        Dean strikes for the altar itself.
        Avril does not. Sweeping out the Gear blade in a short forward arc, she says to the dragon: "Forgive me."
        They must disrupt and stop what Riesenlied is doing... for the sake of saving Riesenlied.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Riesenlied with First Petal!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Odjn would be proud if she could be here, right now. For maybe just a second or two, that is. Then jealousy would set in, and then abstract horror. After all, Riesenlied has finally achieved the form of the dragon that she was born to be. Perhaps it was only because of Alhazred's foul machinations, or maybe it's the influence of the Mother on the child so key to the success of her plans.

But none of that matters now.

Inside the colossus, Riese is waiting.

But if they don't stop her, then even if they do bring her back from the abyss, there won't be a world for her to return to. The myriad lights of the ley shine up from the very lifestream of the planet itself. Zed feels the pained roar of the world reverberate through his bones, but he is not blessed by the might of the Guardians, nor is he favored by any power greater than the strength in his own limbs. Of all those fighting here, he seems to be the most alone.

But.

That's fine.

That's fine. It'll all work out.

It just means that his strength will need to be enough. That he'll need to find the one thing he needs to do to turn the tide.

This war has taught him so much. It's taken away so much. But not this, nothing more. Zed grits his teeth as he presses through the elemental calamity unfolding all around the Ley Dragon. His eyes are focused on one thing and one thing only.

And so Zed... Dives into the very song of the planet itself.

With a roar that morphs into a scream, he feels his body being torn apart, shredded by magic he couldn't even begin to understand. He won't survive like this. Riese won't survive like this. But.

"Uncle Al... No, Quarter Knight Alhazred!" Zed growls as he hurls his sword into the blinding, primordial light-- it, the calamity-blade, Doom Bringer-- buries itself into the distant altar's stone foundations. His free hands clench tight as pure power consumes his body in its entirety. "Thank you... For giving me this power. I'll use the strength you gave me to save her! One experiment, rescuing another! Ahahahaha! It's almost POETRY!"

The light pours outward, blasting through the elemental outpouring, and revealing...

Hair of green!

Body of black...!!

Antennae of gold...!!!

"HERE I GO! Zedder Robo roars, and snatches his sword out of the air. He plunges deeper, pushing with all his might toward where the leyline's root. The forces are great. Too great. He needs to make his own way...! Zedder Robo's eyes FLASH! "Tearing open a path to tomorrow--" He aims his arms at the central altar-- each begins revolving, spinning faster and faster and faster. His wrists turns one way. His fists turn the other. With a deafening BOOM, they both fire! One pulverizes stone! One cleaves through adversity! Both carve a new future! "--Fly! Fists of steel! ROCKET PUUUUUUUUUUNCH!

DC: Zed switches forms to Monsterous Zedder R!
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
===================<* CHALLENGE - To Have and To Hold... *>===================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 1          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The illusory chains of Duras Drum bind.                                       
                                                                               
 Tautly, they ensnare around the Ley Dragon's form. She lets loose a           
 shattering howl echoing through the Gutter, claw and feet trashing against    
 her magical binds.                                                            
                                                                               
 The Guardian of Hades' power bristles in opposition to the Ley, bands of      
 spiritual energy reigning her within the field. A powerful struggle between   
 illusion and life clashing bitterly, sparks of power splashing dangerously    
 close to you.                                                                 
                                                                               
 Once. Twice--                                                                 
 The chains buckle. They rattle. They threaten to snap.                        
                                                                               
 Then nothing.                                                                 
                                                                               
 The chains serve as a haphazard staircase, allowing you passage up to the     
 top of the Ley Dragon. And as you ascend...                                   
                                                                               
                         I've a dream that I can't yield                       
                                                                               
                     With lights long held since our births                    
                                                                               
                        A land so torn we must protect...                      
                                                                               
                         Bright effulgent is its essence                       
                                                                               
                                                                               
 You can hear a familiar voice. A familiar song.                               
                                                                               
                        I softly murmur a heartfelt wish                       
                                                                               
                        To a future I'll never give away                       
                                                                               
                       My soul, won from the silvered void                     
                                                                               
                      Plucked from the Sea of Stars escaped                    
                                                                               
                                                                               
 The melody leads you to a passage under the Dragon's scales, breathing        
 bright with Leyline energy. It will be dangerous, but it will have to make    
 do for an entrance.                                                           
                                                                               
                   Journey now, to the depths of the heart...                  
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Digger Effect:                                                                
 GS: The Ley Dragon suffers from Entangle status!                              
=Dungeon Conditions: Vault====================================================
===============<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart - Round 1 *>================
=====================< Results - To Have and To Hold... >=====================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mariel                              0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matilda Whitehead                   0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Strife                              1   Agility Effects: Cleanse              
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Prissa                              0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Zipline Javelin                     2   Agility Effects: Stalwart             
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Radical Skates                      3   Agility Effects: Fanfare              
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
K.K.                                0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Highly Exclusive Lifeline           2   Agility Effects: Quicken              
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Maya Schrodinger                    0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Noeline                     0 --(30)--> 30                 Pass
Conditions: Vault(1)
Effects: Cleanse|Quicken(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Noeline has passed this challenge! The party gained 30 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
GS: Zed has attacked Riesenlied with Open the Future - Rocket Punch!!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Zed has canceled their attack on Riesenlied.
GS: Zed has attacked Riesenlied with Open the Future - Rocket Punch!!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Dean Stark's Lapis Lapunchi for 99 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Avril Vent Fleur's First Petal for 52 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Zed's Open the Future - Rocket Punch! for 88 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        DIGGER TEAM:

        Noeline reacts visibly to her shrieking, and Riesenlied herself can feel the Medium inside of her beloved. Much like Avril, she is connected with Noeline on so many levels -- whether through her Medium, or their rings... or the simple point of their love. That rush of Duras Drum's energy, however, as the Guardian of Hades springs forth--

        She PUSHES.

        Not quite so formal as a Material summon, she yells and gives herself for a moment to her Medium as she seizes upon the Dragon. Gigantic chains of black metal twist out of nowhere and ensnare, around her wings, her limbs; the links of it bind her as Noeline leaps up to chase up her form.

        N...oeline...

        And she opens her mouth, somewhere unseen. She sings in that way, deeper from within the Dragon, perhaps the way only she can help at present. The songs of which some are familiar, others not...

        The Song of the Giants.

        And Noeline flits upwards with so much grace and effort, uninterrupted by the pull of her own chains as Strife chirps and brings her up.

        Speaking of javelins, unlike the Golem Sado's -- Prissa has thrown one of her javelins to clasp upon the Dragon's back, pulling back and skittering up like she were a graceful fish and draws up, urging Lydia to come along with her. She makes good time, pulled up with the assistance of the chains as footholds.

        Lydia, perhaps hearkening back to her time as Asteroid the Kid, speaks casually with K.K. She speaks of her fond times with Virginia, when she was still a Hellion... and shows just what she can do with those skates that, above all else, cyborg or not, everyone can agree is definitely--

        Radical.

        And when she gets nearer, up towards the top, she can hear her for a moment.

        ...dau...ghter...

        Mariel, as a member of a race thought vanished, perhaps eradicated so long ago, finds the utter substance of the Ley to be almost too much. And there is so much going on, so many things that rightfully bear fear -- such as Alhazred, such as the Dragon herself, and now... the Golem. But it's on their side, and it prompts her to be able to climb up, gloves and all; she's drawn up by Prissa as the two work up the javelins. She gets to the top just fine, though the Ley and the song will still carry themselves strong especially as she draws closer.

        ...those...plants...

        A seemingly random thought from the Ley Dragon, perhaps. But Mariel perhaps can feel it -- it's the best thing that Riesenlied, in her state right now, can throw out in the desperate gaps that she can. And she loved those saplings that they grew, together... it's a representation of the seedling of their hope.

        Maya is drawing up closer, shielding her eyes for a moment and hurries upwards, leaping to-and-fro as she jumps between the chains with an adroitness that seems all too natural and fitting for the gunslinger heroine whose identity she so manifests.

        Hold on just a lil' longer, speaks Maya, as the song continues to painfully continue. To give them something to follow, something to track...

        This is not for what you spread your wings.

        ...something that which K.K. so understands, perhaps, from the words they've shared in the past. The way past words of hers still linger, to two people who perhaps bear a lot of connection from the quiet passion of which their conversations go. This song... is a way in which she can fight back. Better than before, when she can only weasel her way through words in certain fashion.

        The fight continues, unabated.

        They scale, as they launch shortswords and plunge onto the side of Riesenlied -- prompting another howl from the Ley Dragon, withering and struggling as the Trial Knight lunges with a surprising agility unfettered by the weight with which their superheavy plate must possess.

        Matilda feels that everything feels small for a moment-- and perhaps, there is truth in that. In the great and unencompassable nature of their struggle. To say 'they are saving the world' is no exaggeration, after all. She recalls the days in which she would run along old, half-bent trees and limberly leaps and scurries across...

        There is a naturalness which she can equate this special moment to. And that will see her through.

        And when the seven come to the top of the dragon... they see him.

        The middle-aged Quarter Knight who now bears a white cloak. A white, familiar cloak... one given to Riesenlied in the past, of a time that perhaps both father and daughter can fondly remember. The Dragon lets out a sudden howl of realisation--

        ...lord...siegfried...

        He can feel it. A sputtering mixture of confusion and adoration, but afraid and not understanding why he is here. Her programming is not letting her be less confused. But... that is why he is here, is it not? To set forth a wrong...

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        GUNSLINGER TEAM:

        Leon urges for Noeline to go, as he turns towards the Dragon. He notices Alhazred, he notices Kahran... and realises for a moment perhaps the little butterfly-like effects that have led up to this point. He accepts, even just for this little moment.

        Weglaff charges forward, as the Medium of Dinoginos thrums as an indicator for himself. Blue feet slam to the ground, the plates denting as the Ley Dragon is met with resistance--

        RIESENLIED!!

        The Ley Dragon roars brightly in turn, as she buckles against her chains to very little avail. Weglaff's blade carves against her and rends through a plate -- and Leon himself can see it. Red blood. Red Tainted blood.

        Perhaps it is a relief, even in a twisted kind of way. That even in this form, her red blood is still hers.

        Neriah's little shard of-- can it be called a type of humanity? The part of her that prompts her to run here to help her. As she shrieks, and regulates herself from going over to battle Alhazred, she pulls open the robe and addresses her.

        She speaks that she is special. Too special to be used...

        ... and the butterflies begin to manifest, the faint shapes of flowers, and giggling children... it gives the Ley Dragon pause for a moment, as the cuccos start to gather around her. The bubble attempts to push aside the Ley, and several strands of the energy start to wither away under the power of Valmar so ensconced--

        cucco....?

        --and in another time, another set of circumstances, it could've been greatly more effective. But as Neriah herself has admitted, she spent a lot of energy on the Titan; Riesenlied is seated on what could very well be one of the greatest sources of energy to harm herself on. That tether is shredded-- but the bubble will require a lot of energy to uphold, Neriah knows instinctively.

        That, and other forces are well at play that make the construct more difficult as Riesenlied finds herself distracted by many other forces, namely: one of the Eight Ancient Golems, Sado.

        Sado, to whose name well casts terror -- for it is the Golem that so shredded several legions of battleships back during the battlefront that the Drifters here escaped from the Guardian Temple. To have it all be here...

        Why... why....?

        ...Initiating... intones Lily, and a painfully bright-- violet-and-black aura PUNCTURES through the space between the Ley Dragon. It pauses, perhaps confused that it was not struck by the unworked, raw shadow that so descends--

        --on the Ley Point, which begins to fulminate with too much negative energy compared to the positive. Riesenlied shrieks painfully, ardently for a moment; she grapples as Lily detects an upsurge of positive energy.

        Where Sado is darkness, the Ley Dragon is light. She'll have a battle in her hands to upset that balance with something Riesenlied is instructed to sustain... but the Golem is not just for show!

        Where is Odjn? Zed brings an interesting point for a moment. The Little Dragon has not been here for a while now, but she is certainly still amongst the Tainted and the Fereshte. But Zed would know too the way she'd balk and cry, the way... how one of them, both failure-dragons by any measure the cruel Photosphere would judge them, finally got here and it's something no one wanted.

        None of that matters now.

        For a moment, it seems like Zed is the most alone, unblessed by any guardian. But... in many ways, not on his own form as he roars and charges towards that Ley Point, towards the very song of the planet.

        Zedder Robo manifests, a creation of Alhazred's, perhaps much more of whimsy than his others -- and it flies! With a fist of steel, the Rocket Punch...! A deafening 'BOOM' echoes out from within that continues to fray what Neriah, Lily within Golem Sado and others have already been setting out to do.

        To divert the very lifestream of the planet...

        That is a great task, is it not?

        Dean shouts his assent as much to Noeline as the Nimrod comes to work. The Ley pulses further, but he declares his desire to also protect the world. The world that she wanted to protect. The world they all...

        That's a Meteor Punch! With a thrust of the controls and a brave battle cry, the Daring Boy charges with the Daring Gear with a fist that might just be made out of a precious stone. Let's hope that the fist isn't lazul sharp, Dean--

        ...to never...give up...

        Though it strikes with bludgeoning force near to where Weglaff has already shorn off a bit of her breached armour. There's a loud howl of pain. Pain enough to detect Ambrosius's words even from afar. That he should have acted sooner. That this situation... would not have to occur--

        ...its...alright...

        That is all she seems to be able to spare him, as Avril continues to press with Skadi's great blade. It is spoken with a word of repentance, though it is also spoken from someone who considers herself a blade.

        Forgive me.

        The soft emanation from the Dragon, perhaps, is all that Riesenlied can muster as an apology herself at present. That it has gone to this point. That she does understand what it is Avril has to do... and perhaps, by bringing so many of the Original Artificial Mediums, she has already unknowingly done her lot in bringing forth resistance.

        But the Sea Medium detects something untoward, then. It warns Avril of something coming...

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        The Ley Dragon sets forth to action. Though it cannot physically speak, so many here who are gathered with their Mediums instinctively know, based on what she was able to do before, and based on what happens now--

        ...MATERIAL...

        Two large silhouettes manifest, the first of which Avril and Lily know off the heart. It is Lucadia... albeit, a Lucadia that suffers from a terminal malfunction of form, with similar floating blue motes of data emanating from her cascading, mermaid-like form. A Demi-Lucadia that nonetheless--

        THRUSTS forward with her hand, blasting a number of the Gears with a torrent of what appears to be water at first. Gear sensors will detect a presence that is water, yet more fine-tuned senses will reveal it for the materialised and almost fake, artificial-like substance behind it... which could inform your defences.

        The other silhouette is visibly orange and bug-like, and perhaps a little less known to those other than those who've traversed the Stone Forest. It is Stare Roe, the Guardian of Light... and much like Lucadia, it suffers from leaking cubes of data that flow away from its form, so deeply temporary.

        But the rays of light which so seep away from its form, zig-zagging and criss-crossing the space even as they peter out as they fail to keep their shape and transform back to raw data... is going to be dangerous and difficult to dodge. Be sharp!

        Worse, while these Material summons are happening, something ominous is gathering at her mouth. Something several Drifters, including Lily, have seen before-- a breath-weapon that is gathering codependently to the Ley. Riesenlied was able to scarcely stop it from evaporating more than trees and snow last time, but here, within the very bottom of the Ley...

        The forboding letters continue to form, not physically but somehow recognisable...

GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with Stolen Ley - Fallen Sea!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Leon Albus with Stolen Ley - Fallen Sea!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Dean Stark with Stolen Ley - Fallen Sea!
GS: Riesenlied has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Neriah Parringer with Stolen Ley - Fallen Light!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Zed with Stolen Ley - Fallen Light!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Golem Sado with Stolen Ley - Fallen Light!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Riesenlied with - N - M - - L - - E!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's - N - M - - L - - E for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 Actual combat is not going to help Alhazred here, but he is not considered the genius among the Quarter Knights for nothing. He has been in combat a number of times up until now, and he has always been able to take pride in ensuring that he can perform his experiments impeccably during even the most trying of circumstances.
 
 Circumstances do not get much more trying than this, however.
 
 The first strike comes not from the Drifters confronting him, but a huge mass of ether that is hurled in his direction by one of the Gears in the area. The ball of energy roars at him, and Alhazred raises a claw to enact one of his numerous defensive barriers. A tremendous splash of light erupts out in all directions, the shield overloading and the residual making Alhazred stagger backwards from the impact. Checking to make sure his beacon is still in one piece, the Quarter Knight turns andscoffs in annoyance at the interruption. "Well, it seems that your kind has gotten involved as well. Very interesting! Very interesting indeed!" The words come out somewhere in between a chuckle and a roar - clearly he is not taking this well.
 
 An instant later, Leo roars and leaps at him, leading the way with a shockwave of personal energy. The blow from this range is too close for Alhazred to intercept it with his barrier, so he is reduced to using one claw instead. He grunts at the impact, the sword slamming into his huge appendance and the feedback from the strike reverberating up his arm.
 
 Ambrosius' shot meets the barrier, much as he expected - but the range is close, and the barrier itself overloads even as the bullet is deflected away. Sparks and an arc of electricity erupt from part of Alhazred's cloaked form, close to one of his arms and he curses for a moment. "I have attracted the IRE of the VERUNI?" he states, looking at Ambrosius. And then his eyes narrow... and the Quarter Knight starts to laugh. It is a maniacal, insane sort of laughter - and he finally stops a moment later, voice still bubbling with amusement. "Do not try and push your petty, personal squabbles as the agenda of your race, fool. A rational being does not attempt to disguise his intentions - and do not try and convince me that this is anything other than a personal vendetta!"
 
 Lanval's assault with a geyser of water is certainly enough to add some complications to the situation, although it does not cause the sort of abrupt cessation of his plans like Alhazred would have experienced if he did NOT weather proof his field equipment. Still, the barrage of water rocks Alhazred back, and he loses hold of the beacon, which goes rolling away across the ground, skittering towards the battle with the Ley Dragon. Alhazred curses, and then looks at his opponents.
 
 He is not amused, and this threat must be... addressed.
 
 The fact that another Golem has appeared is not as frightening given that the Drifters had already deployed one to shatter the barrier around the Photosphere - Alhazred was expecting the Guardians to deploy their trump cards in this battle. But it was quickly becoming clear that his ability to meet his own objectives while waiting for Mother to attain her victory was rapidly decreasing as well. A metallic tentacle slides out from under his cloak, groping for the device he had just dropped as he pulls out a pair of ARMs with his claws.
 
 His first attack is aimed at the anolmalous spiritual entity - he has no idea what Lanval's name is, nor does he care. Instead he raises a tesla coil looking ARM and discharges it - and the result is a bolt of lighting that connects from the sky to the ground directly through where Lanval is standing. The other device looks more like an emitter of some sort - and Alhazred fires it twice - first at Ambrosius, and then at the larger form of the Wyvern. Each shot is a coalesced beam of light, backed with a significant amount of energy from the battery. He couldn't keep this up for long, but he didn't need too much longer.
 
 However, that still leaves one last problem - and Alhazred opts for a much more personal method of dealing with Leo. That being his own claws, which he lashes out with to try and tear the White Knight asunder!

GS: Alhazred has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Kahran Ramses with Photon Blaster!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Ambrosius with Photon Blaster!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Seraph Lanval with Electrigger!
GS: Alhazred has attacked White Knight Leo with Metal Claw Smasher!
GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
GS: Dean Stark takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Sea for 292 hit points!
GS: Acid! Statuses applied to Dean Stark!
GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
DC: 1 turn has elapsed in the battle against Alhazred! 4 turns remain!
DG: Noeline has drawn a new Challenge.
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
==================<* CHALLENGE - ...Come Weal and Woe... *>===================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 1          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 An incessant, whirring noise erupts in the air as you continue deeper into    
 the Ley Dragon. The keening sounds evidently come from the attack drones of   
 the Quarter Knight Alhazred, known as Esperanza. There are dozens of them,    
 intent on barring your progress!                                              
                                                                               
                    For your longing gaze I search, but find                   
                                                                               
                     No dawn, so dark, a cloth upon my eyes                    
                                                                               
                                                                               
 The song trembles in fear as the Drones gather into attack formation.         
 Several cut in close to melee range, while others assist with electric        
 blasts.                                                                       
                                                                               
                   The vow we took, thrashed high on headwinds                 
                                                                               
                   Our promise, so threatened now to be buried                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
 In the midst of the battle, an errant blast causes a rupture against the      
 Dragon's sides. The Ley Dragon flinches as a spark of Ley energy bursts       
 loose from within!                                                            
                                                                               
                                   Now veiled,                                 
                                                                               
                               Bereft of heart...                              
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Digger Effect:                                                                
 GS: The Ley Dragon suffers from Weaken status!                                
 GS: The Ley Dragon can only +charge against ARM attacks this round!           
=Dungeon Conditions: Treasure, Hesitate=======================================
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Light for 72 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Neriah Parringer!
GS: Zed guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Light for 77 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Zed!
GS: Seraph Lanval takes a solid hit from Alhazred's Electrigger for 227 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Ambrosius critically Guards a hit from Alhazred's Photon Blaster for 36 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Ambrosius!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Ambrosius has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a glancing hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Sea for 131 hit points!
GS: Acid! Statuses applied to Avril Vent Fleur!
GS: White Knight Leo guards a hit from Alhazred's Metal Claw Smasher for 49 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Leon Albus guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Sea for 198 hit points!
GS: Acid! Statuses applied to Leon Albus!
GS: CRITICAL! Kahran Ramses takes a glancing hit from Alhazred's Photon Blaster for 91 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Kahran Ramses!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Golem Sado takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Light for 260 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Golem Sado!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Alhazred shrieks at Noeline - and she ignores him. The detached part of her mind almost chuckles at the thought - this is what she was so scared of? This is what the neonates whispered of in the halls of the Photosphere? Take him from his controlled environments, take him from his careful studies and his advantages and into the real chaos and confusion of combat, and he seems so much lesser. Or perhaps that's just part of the way her attention is focused forwards towards the gash that leads inside the Ley Dragon. If she can reach Riesenlied, nothing else of Alhazred's plans will matter.

        Behind her, she is suddenly aware that someone has brought a goddamn Golem into the Photosphere, and she affords herself the time to steal at least a mildly panicked look as she sweeps her gaze back over the battle; dimly she can identify Lily as the one giving it its orders, and that is at least a mild relief. Not a complete one - but a voice at the back of her mind recognizes the fact that Leon is with them, automatically limiting the amount of destruction she's likely to cause. Perhaps a bit more than mild relief, then.

        It also gives her a chance to check on the rest of her squad and their ascent, something she knows full well she may not have the chance to do later when they begin their dive in earnest. Prissa seems to be handling herself well enough, and though she certainly trusts that Lydia will be able to keep up one way or another, it's still a relief to see her in motion, the constant chatter helping her ground herself amidst the cacophony of noise around her. Mariel-- to be fair, Noeline isn't entirely sure what to expect from the Elw in a moment of duress like this one, but it's still a weight off her shoulders to see Prissa sweep her upwards, and she knows she can trust Matilda and Maya just behind them to take up the rear and help carry everyone further upwards. The Trial Knight, well, they have a knack for turning up wherever they like, and Noeline doubts very much she needs to worry about them all that much.

        ... it also lets her see the Mysterious Figure in a white cloak that descends from above, and for a moment her heart lurches and her mind reels as she tries to keep up with everything around her. She's not stupid - instinctively, she recognizes that figure and the wild way he begins to climb the chain. Is he attacking-- do they need to fend him off-- Instead, the mysterious man forms up with them, and for the second time in as many moments Noeline is thankful for Strife's support, because she's quite sure she would have stumbled and fallen out of sheer shock. For a moment, that open surprise is written across her face - and then she grits her teeth hard together in a wild grin, anger and relief and a gleeful amusement all mingling behind her eyes. "It's about damn time!"

        That's all she has time for, though, clutching the miniature chains tight in the palm of her hand as she continues to pour herself into maintaining them. She can feel them quake against the Dragon's struggling; how long they have, she doesn't truly begin to know. Above and ahead of them, the body of the Ley Dragon awaits - and despite the bizarreness of it all, despite any spatial or physical concerns, she dives for the rift with abandon, trusting in those with her to follow. "I hear you," she whispers fiercely to the Tear that weighs down her neck - the Tear she has promised she will give back once Riesenlied is safe. "I'll follow that song. Just keep singing, no matter what!"

        * * *

        Sure enough, space unfolds around the group in a way it absolutely shouldn't; there is a lurching, twisting motion, a sort of sideways pull, and whatever you might expect to be within the Ley Dragon - well, one of the Photosphere hallways probably wasn't it. It trails unnaturally off to the horizon, the far distance of it shimmering like a mirage far ahead of the group.

        Noeline has made this descent once before - and she does not let the shift in scenery stop her for an instant, slipping from Strife's back to begin racing through the halls at speed, letting the sheer force of her own certainty be the thing that buoys the rest of her team forwards. Onwards, onwards, onwards. That is the only choice. "--keep going! She's further in! From here, this is both her and Mother's domain!"

        And not just Mother's, it seems. Around them and down the corridor a series of shimmering lights form, the copied sensation of a Photosphere teleport sequence - and then an impossible number of Esperanza have appeared to try to impede their progress, dotting the length of the passage. The first of them sweeps forward towards Noeline, its claws outstretched to meet her--

        --and she simply sweeps her left hand in front of her. The shape of it shifts; twists for a moment into a complicated series of ribbons of living metal that tear and shear at the drone, as Noeline immediately summons her Errant Blade. The drone shatters apart - and then dissolves into so much mist and memory. "--don't give up! That's the only way we'll reach her!" she commands.

DG: Noeline has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...Come Weal and Woe....
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

Leon's brow furrows, slightly, when Lily says his name that way. In over a decade, he has learned to read her well; in over a decade, he has learned that tone can say a lot more than a few words from Lily Keil. Today, he hears something he did not entirely expect.

An apology.

"Lily...?"

His question stops, as he sees bright red blood; Tainted blood, which he knows from the times they fought. His breath catches; it is a relief, yes, and it is a fear. She is in there. There is no illusion that he fights her cage, but her. The comfort that he finds is cold.

He soon sees why he heard Lily's single word as an apology. The familiar, serpeentine form of Golem Sado slams down -- and Weglaff, as it lands, skids over the ground. The eye camera swivels; it flashes as it locks onto Sado, for a moment, and Lily floating resplendent in front of it. He sucks in a breath, sharply.

"But--how--" He sounds dumbfounded. He sounds shocked. He may spot that shock on Kahran's face, but it mirrors his own. Until Dean calls out; Leon's eyebrow twitches.

"May your youthful exuberance reach her!" Leon calls out to Dean. Then, he turns his head, back towards the Ley Dragon as the commando Gear skids away, sparks flying as the feet slide over the metal ground of the Gutter. The eye camera swivels back towards the Ley Dragon, and flashes brilliantly in the face of two silhouettes.

Guardians, he realizes -- no, ghosts of them.

Weglaff charges. It smashes into the water, which crashes over it and breaks around it. It blows backward, leaving water running down its now battered armor in rivulets. Weglaff keeps charging in, right back towards the Ley Dragon. The fierce glow, at its mouth, shines brightly and reflects off the blue armor. Leon leans forward, in the cockpit.

"I know you're in there," he says. "I can tell you I take no pleasure in this, but--I think you know that, Riese."

The blue Gear swings its fist back. The armored knuckles, ending in three small, square-shaped spikes, are slammed for the Ley Dragon's side.

GS: Leon Albus has attacked Riesenlied with Break Duster!
GS: Leon Albus takes 20 damage from Acid!
GS: Leon Albus has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Leon Albus's Break Duster for 65 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

"Focus on matters at hand!" Siegfried yells back to Lydia, as he sprints up the length of the chainr. It shakes, his chain rattling underneath armored footsteps. There is a sidelong glance, back towards where Alhazred is -- and a pleased flicker, even at a Gebler Gear firing upon his former ally.

His grin is wolfish. Delighted. Despite some of his recent revelations, he is the same Metal Demon that he once was.

Siegfried is new to empathy. Finding something new in a thousand years of life is no easy feat. Feeling that emotion, shared with him, makes him slow to a stop for a moment. Underneath the white cowl of his cloak, steel grey eyes narrow; they glint a metallic red, when the light from the battle waging around them reflects off them. He swallows, though, and his expression remains the usual stony countenance.

"It won't be long, now," he says, quietly; more to himself, though he suspects she can hear. "Just hold on a little longer."

He meets Noeline's eyes for a moment. Then, the cowl covers his entirely, and he is through the breach.

He scarcely stops as they enter the strange, fluctuating interior of the Ley Dragon. The way that the distance ends in a mirage; the way, he thinks, that this is far beyond anything he expected. Siegfried's feet skid over the ground, as he looks about, and he turns to look at the Esperanza. His teeth are bared, and he throws a hand out.

Light flashes and flares around him -- and then half a hundred bolts of white light explode from points all over his armor. They turn into arcs of light that shoot up, wide and long, and then criss-cross every which way.

They slash into drones, holing them through and slicing into their ranks.

He turns to look at the others -- his expression is, momentarily, bewildered to see Mariel -- and then shouts: "Do not linger! I can handle my erstwhile compatriot's toys!"

<Pose Tracker> Kahran Ramses has posed.

"My kind," Kahran Ramses says, his mouth twisting with a combination of distaste and irony as he pronounces the word. Oh, if this creature only knew...

The Gebler commander moves to close the distance with Alhazred, stalking his Gear forward, but his progress is slow as he tries to remain conscious of the wild melee swirling around his target. Ramses doesn't know what the Black Wolf's connection is to everyone here - perhaps he might not miss the Beastman leader of these forces from the moon, for example - but chooses not to chance it in any event. He spots the Quarter Knight leveling a weapon of some kind, and shunts more of that swirling Ether energy into a defensive screen, wrapping power around the Wyvern's core.

Alhazred's blast rip through it anyway.

The Wyvern staggers backward slightly, yellow and red damage indicators blinking to life in Ramses' heads-up display. "Tch," he spits dismissively, activating automated systems to shunt shorted circuits to redundant pathways... but the effort will take a while, and he has no time to dally. With the flick of a switch, Ramses activates the Gear's external speakers. "All of you fighting the Quarter Knight - move!" he orders as he grips the Gear's massive broadsword in both its hands. Ramses drives the tip of the sword into the floor of the Photosphere and then steps forward, muscling the blade up in a vertical slash, and spraying the area around Alhazred with jagged, broken chunks of metal.

All the while, energy continues to build around the Wyvern's wings, which crackle with stored power.

GS: Kahran Ramses enters a Counter stance!
GS: Kahran Ramses has attacked Alhazred with Wyvern's Sting!
GS: Kahran Ramses has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Kahran Ramses's Wyvern's Sting for 92 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Prissa has posed.

 
The others move forth, some in normal means and others by being cheating butts like K.K. It is fortunate for Prissa that K.K.'s words are meaningless wind to her, though she mutters to herself, "Borg?" Maybe that's a slang word, she decides.

"The Golems there, yah," Prissa tells Mariel: "they are rare, right?"

Did... Prissa get this explained to her? Her ignorance is probably working in her favor here. The Claude C. Kenny Effec(laude c. kenny)t. Especially when, with a twist of space, then end up somewhere where they ought not to be.

Noeline exhorts them to keep moving. Prissa has no objections. She leans forwards and reaches towards her waist, drawing out two handfuls of things out. One of them is pitched forwards and the weird abstract swizzle shapes suddenly make sense:

They're like throwing darts. They even spiral in midair, the scrapings of Prissa's heavy 'magic' metal adding to their impulse and their penetrator tips. You don't get that kind of twist by not caring. The colorful thread in their handles gleam, too, in this light.

"Are we inside of her memory for true?" Prissa murmurs, almost incredulous. She glances towards Matilda and the sigh'd Borg errr Lydia along the way.

DG: Prissa has used her Tool A Disturbingly Large Quantity of Knives toward her party's challenge, ...Come Weal and
Woe....
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

The arrival of the massive Golem Sado leaves Neriah raising her eyebrows shallowly. "I need to get one of those," she mutters to herself.

Holding the spell up is taking everything Neriah's got; the Ley Dragon is huge and sitting on an enormous font of power, and Neriah's running on fumes, though even on fumes she's pretty dangerous.

The real problem is that there are things like swords and lasers coming into the bubble. It is hard to maintain bliss when people are beating on the Riesendragon. Eventually she just lets her breath out and sags in the air a little, letting the spell taper off. "Damn it all," she growls, dropping a few more feet towards the ground even as the Ley Dragon calls forth those fragmenting Guardian shades.

Can Riese do that? Neriah wonders. Did the Guardians finally accept her? ...Funny how they'll accept a Hyadean, but rejected me....

        ----

Miles and miles away, on a continent long left behind, a Medium of Moor Gault sits on a table in the depths of the Guardian Temple of Ignas, forgotten and ignored by its would-be carrier.

        ----

Back in the depths of the Gutter, the rays of perverted Guardian light race forth. Neriah holds a hand out and calls up her eldritch shield with a sputter. Beams strafe across the shield, straining it, forcing the exhausted Priestess to expend energy to hold it up. Energetic bleed slips through the shield to sear across her shoulders and arms. Grimacing, the woman inhales, then lets it out.

The breath weapon is mounting; Neriah doesn't quite recognize what it is, but it's enough for her to know that it's probably not a good thing. "I know that you're in there. I can feel it," she says towards the Dragon in that soft voice that carries even when it should. "Right now, they're filling you up with nothing but the Ley. But they can't take your soul from you, Riesenlied. I don't think anyone can.

"Maybe my soul is beyond saving. But I won't let yours join mine in the dark."

From within her shield, Neriah musters her energy again, in forms she doesn't usually draw upon. The remnants of the Bliss Bubble contract and disperse into motes of light that shift into a soft pink colour. And those motes begins to expand into shapes.

Familiar shapes. Shadowy, rosy-pink outlines, like entities formed of haze and lines of light. A few soft, fluffy cuccos flutter around the Ley Dragon. Familiar Tainted from Wayside Village rise from the energy patterns. A few more are even clearer.

A shimmering semblance of Mikaia runs almost in slow motion around the talons of the Ley Dragon. Behind her, little patterns of energy shimmer in the air before dispersing into eddies. Similar eddies flicker out behind the giggle and dart of a little phantom Janey. A little Lydia Seren, still with an asteroid for a head. Even a Neriah, in better times, in hat and shovel, flits around the Ley Dragon. The calls and laughs and happy sounds emanating from them are indistinct, echoing. Like a haunting memory of better times.

Yet all of them disperse that energy about - spreading it like fish roaming through a river of ley, dispersing endless ripples.

The flood of the ley flowing into the Ley Dragon dilutes. Grows less steady. The interference cuts it off. Valmar energy can't simply overwhelm an entire leyline, but Neriah's attempting to dampen it by turning that darkness into manifestations of memory and love, even if the inherent darkness of her curse gives everything an overtone of sadness and a hint of an air of loss.

I don't want Riesenlied to lose all of these things. Not like I lost them. She of all people can't be consumed by something that robs her of this.

She's too good.

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with The Fluffiest Batch of Muffins!
GS: Neriah Parringer has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Not even looking at the rollerblades is pretty rude but it's okay because Lydia seems to have assumed K.K did look at them (or maybe she's just aware that they are kinda working on saving Riesenlied here). As K.K seems to be thinking she is saying sigh borg, Lydia takes him as saying cyborg, and to be honest it's not like she knows how it's spelled so maybe it is spelled sighborg or siborg--nah, it's probably sighborg. At first the phrasing is strange to her and she needs a moment to analyze it. Is K.K asking about the science of cyborging people? Well Lydia doesn't know that. Maybe K.K is asking why she elects to advertise it. "Well I guess I cyborg because even though sky people did this to me because..."

Her eyes widen. That's it! K.K has seen the connection between her and Riesenlied and analyzed it so quickly! No wonder they were so good at making friends with cool people.

"Well, I don't want that to rule my life or anything. I don't want to feel shame in it, either! So I'm proud of it and mom, she didn't ask for this either....it must be tough for her. She was struggling so much when she got dragon feet and now she's being used like this too..."

She brightens. "But that's okay! She can survive it and be proud of who she is because there's nothing wrong with her!"

She grins, showing off many sharp teteh. "Thanks K.K!"

...dau....ghter...

Lydia doesn't hesitate but there's drones now and Lydia while capable of great feats of destruction isn't so keen as to bombard Riesenlied with meteors or laser beams from the sky and tight aiming controls is not something Lydia is known for either.

Lydia draws out a metal baseball bat and starts swinging at the things, but she's largely just trying to help things from getting too overwhelming. She is GREAT at EXPLOSION, not so great at the technical side of battle.

She looks to Noeline. She studies the strange combination of emotions on her face and decides that means the old man is here to help. Lydia nods once to her before going back to swinging.

Siegfried shouts at her to focus on the matter at hand. "UH...YOU FOCUS ON THE MATTERS AT HAND!" Lydia shouts back, but kind of lamely as she, of course, focuses on the matter at hand.

Oh uh shit he's going to see Mariel.

Oh uh shit he's seen Mariel.

Luckily Siegfried's help means she doesn't have to linger. "You heard gramps!" She tells Mariel, shifting towards her so she can help her move along if she needs the assistance. "Lets let him do the violences as the resident violence expert!"

Prissa asks a question.

"Um." is Lydia's uncertain answer. "I think I'd need to ask a...leyologist."

Hold on just a bit longer, Lydia thinks.

DG: Lydia Seren has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...Come Weal and Woe....
<Pose Tracker> Ambrosius has posed.

Ambrosius hears something flopping down behind him, and he doesn't flinch. He turns back, giving Lanval a brief glance.

"...Seraph." Ambrosius greets, with a slight nod, before returning his attention to Alhazred. He recognized him, though he did not remember his name. Still, he was another welcome ally.

The loud howl of pain from afar reaches his ears and he shudders a bit...but even through her pain, she manages to get through to him.

It's alright.

Behind his helmet, he smiles wryly. Of course she would not blame him.

"It will be. I will ensure that it is." He replies, and turns his attention back to Alhazred.

"...Indeed, my feelings are personal. But you have made a critical miscalculation, Quarter Knight." Ambrosius replies. He does not elaborate on this, noting as a device is drawn out from under Alhazred's cloak and is fired at him. In response, Ambrosius makes a quick gesture. Water begins to swirl around him, rising up in the form of a protective barrier that aims to consume the beam. It is quickly and rapidly evaporated, but what energy does reach him is dulled in effect - still, even dulled its intensity is scorching. He would not have wanted to take its effects head-on.

And then, he reacts instinctively at a shout from the pilot of the golden gear. Ambrosius leaps back as a blade is thrust into the ground and driven toward Alhazred, heaving up chunks of ruined flooring.

GS: Ambrosius has attacked Ambrosius with Cleansing Waters!
GS: Ambrosius has completed his action.
GS: Ambrosius takes a solid hit from Ambrosius's Cleansing Waters for 0 hit points!
GS: Ambrosius gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Shield! Statuses applied to Ambrosius!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

It'd be hard not to be horrified. To see someone like Riesenlied, twisted by mad science, into something so tortured--

It's heartbreaking.

Rays of light twist and pound into the thing that used to be Zed. The bombardment only adds to the accumulated onslaught of elemental forces. They inch him back, flashes of concussive, searing, digitized light explode and pockmark his crossed arms. Dust and twisted metal accumulate around his feet as he slides back. But... But...!

Step...

        Step...!

                Step......!

Inch by inch, stride by stride, he pushes forward. Even amidst the maelstrom, even as his armor begins to smolder and melt, freeze and fracture, he pushes forward.

Why?

There are so many reasons, it's impossible to list them all.

Because Riesenlied is his precious sister.

Because Siegfried has finally found himself.

Because this world WILL be their home.

Figures of better times flicker and dance through the churning elemental tides. Zed feels them pulling him in, drawing him closer to his goal. "A little more... Just a little more--

A torrent of ley energies blasts up out of the ground, forming a curtain of planetary lifeblood that cuts off his advance. With a roar, Zed's fists slam into the veil. He pushes forward. Deeper. Deeper...!

"I know how much you love this world. Don't worry... There's no way--" Again, Zed punches in. His fingers dig into the veil and pry outwards, trying to drag it apart and open a path forward! "No way we'll let Mother use you to destroy it! Hang on a little bit more!"

<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel accepts the help up from Prissa. It... helps. Which is the point.

"The Golems - the original Golems - were created by the humans and Elw working together a thousand years ago, to fight the Metal Demons the first time they came," Mariel says to Prissa. "Nothing else could hold them off. Since then they were shut down and sealed away, so... it is a surprise to see them operating again, is all." That is an understatement.

Mariel pulls herself to the top with a surge of effort, only to see - Siegfried. If Mariel was afraid of a Metal Dragon or Alhazred, she is even less happy to see Siegfried, who is a *personal* fear of hers; she stares for about two seconds, shocked to see him, before she makes a startled squeaking sound and attempts to hide herself behind Prissa and Lydia. Which almost works, only because Mariel is short, but not before Siegfried gets a good look at her.

She remains hiding afterwards. She can feel Riese, feel that echo, and she reaches out in a way that she doesn't have any words for in any of the commonly-spoken languages of Filgaia; a gentle touch that Riesenlied may or may not be able to detect but doesn't linger. Mariel is not willing - or perhaps not able - to bond herself to a Metal Demon, even an empathetic one. But she felt a faint something from Riese. Plants... Mariel's hand touches the flower embroidered on her satchel as space warps around them.

And after that she runs. Runs after Noeline, after Prissa and Lydia and the rest of them. Mariel does not fight well and she doesn't pull out a weapon when the Esperanza show up either; she does reach into her bag, but what she comes out with is a stick of incense. Somehow, she gets it lit when in motion, and the fumes are revitalizing if not actually healing.

Also, the Esperanzas can't breathe them and benefit becasuse they're machines. Suffer, machines.

GS: Zed has attacked Riesenlied with Zed Super Upper!
GS: Zed has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
DG: Mariel has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...Come Weal and Woe....
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

        As Lanval comes down alongside Leo and Ambrosius alike, and finding himself in the company of another power he does not know or comprehend, he really is the anomaly among the motley crew assembled in which to stop one key part of the overall plan that'll deal the coup de grace to Filgaia. He's hardly standing up as the device pops out of Alhazred's claw and bounces just past him.
        "Hey, what'sh that," Lanval keeps that partially open eye following the thing as he scratches away at his chin. He turns his gaze away from the tablecloth-clad scientific mind as he finds his footing with all the rumbling environs. Maybe it's important someone pick it up, maybe it's important someone smash it, but it seems important that someone do something about it, as he takes surer steps.
        Electricity crackles from the produced tesla coil. Lanval feels a painful prickling moments before it happens. 'It' being electricity discharging down upon him.
        Electricity and water do not mix.
        A not small amount of smoke rises from the anomalous spiritual entity along with a pained yell that is completely unlike the character of the doddering wastrel. Lightning strikes in a flash, and the air just feels less mirthful as though someone didn't flip the switch on a light so much as smash the lightbulb.
        A lightbulb that's looking as smashed as a passed-out drunk on the ground, which is exactly what Lanval is. He lies there for a short while, passive, possibly inert to the eyes of the Esperanza. For humans, that's a sign of death. Humans tend to leave remains behind, but there Lanval's manifested form is, lingering...
        Because it hasn't dematerialized into light. He's still there, letting the world keep moving around him as it does. He's used to that, just letting the world go as it will as he quietly lays about and does his thing. Except... he's not a Lord of the Land any more.
        He waits for a key moment for the movements of the battle to flow so that he might end up underneath the floating scientist, at which point Lanval - with alarming alacrity, for all the lazing about he does - rolls right-side up in a motion that neatly disguises how he widely swings his gourd upwards to try and strike underneath the Quarter Knight. To the eye, it's a little hollow thing someone drinks from, attached to a ratty rope.
        To the impact, it feels heavier than it has any right to.
        "N-No really," Lanval repeats, "I can't leave." It's not apologetic.
        "'Caushe Filgaia'sh my home."

GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Neriah Parringer's The Fluffiest Batch of Muffins for 57 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Zed's Zed Super Upper for 97 hit points!
GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Alhazred with Layabout's Lariat!
GS: Seraph Lanval has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Lanval has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        Nimrod's fist crunches in, and Dean pulls it back, ready for another attack. However, before he can, he sees the ghostly forms of Lucadia and Stare Roe, glitching and squaring like a crashing computer program. He's not familiar with such things, but it's clear to him that something wrong with them. What's wrong with them? What're they doing here? Before he can try to ask, motes of them break off and lash out and around those around the Ley Dragon.
        
        Fortunately, Nimrod's built to take damage. Dean has it stand its ground, and though warnings flash in the cockpit, the damage he took from it isn't crippling. He can keep going. This time, he has Nimrod lift its other fist, readying for a two-fist, multi-punch combo. But before he does...
        
        "W-woah, is that Zed?!" he utters, thoroughly impressed and boggling as he sees the green-haired guy from before transform from small on-foot guy to GIANT ROBOT. "Wowww!! That's incredible! I didn't know Hyadeans could do that!"
        
        Lean encourages him to use his enthusiasm to reach Riese. It may be sarcasm. If it is, Dean doesn't notice. "I'll do my best!" he calls back to Leon--though honestly, that goes without saying. Dean's always doing his best. He smiles over at Avril when she acknowledges him, then nods firmly. "Riesenlied... we're gonna get you out of there, no matter what! Just keep fighting! I promise we'll reach you!"
        
        Leaving direct assaults on the Ley Dragon to his best friend, Dean leans Nimrod into attempting to smash that dais to bits with a rapid series of overwhelming punches, boosted by the Gear's weaponry system, allowing it to reinforce those metal fists and potentially give it more destructive power against the altar.

GS: Dean Stark has attacked Riesenlied with Tourmaline Torment!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark takes 20 damage from Acid!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred critically Guards a hit from Seraph Lanval's Layabout's Lariat for 23 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Lanval has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda has not, in fact, made this descent before -- and only having Noeline to tell them what it entails makes it manageable. It's not, Matilda begins to realize, as the bleach-blonde compounder keeps the rear safe for Noeline, that the world feels small --

-- it's that it feels *fragile*.

 That's something Matilda always knew, of course -- but it's one thing to know something, to look at it and assess the facts, and another thing to *feel* that same something, to feel as though one wrong step could break the world. It's an oppressive feeling -- and yet, it's one that pushes her forward, too.

As the drones arrive, Matilda draws the Freeshooter; she doesn't anticipate needing any special loads today -- just the standard round of bullets. She sticks particularly close to Mariel, who she gets the sense can't fight at *all*; she focuses on the drones that get closest to the two of them, gradually working 'outward.'

"... It's -- strange, to see so many pieces of the past at once," Matilda murmurs to Mariel, mid-shot.

DG: Matilda Whitehead has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...Come Weal and Woe....
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        "Silence, creature!" Leo barks. He raises his blade, gripping it tightly with both hands--keeping both eyes on Alhazred while watching the Gebler Gear with the corner of his eye. Georg Heldalf lectured him, repeatedly, about dividing his attention in combat, but here he doesn't have much of a choice. "Whatever scheme you're plotting--!"

        Part of Alhazred's machinery comes loose under the Seraph's artes. Leo spots it, and lunges, snatching the beacon up with one hand while the other sweeps his blade out to ward off the Quarter Knight. His preemptive defense pays off when Alhazred falls upon him, slashing at him with claws that could probably tear through Gear armor if their owner was determined enough. Leo's blade meets them in mid-flight with a tremendous clang and a spray of sparks. The impact travels up Leo's arm, wrenching the muscles and tendons in his shoulder, but all told, that could've been much worse. Like what happened to Lanval, there. "Holy Seraph!" Leo shouts. He rushes towards Lanval, turns on a heel, interposes himself between the Seraph and the Quarter Knight.

        Does he not know?

        And then Ramses bellows for them to move. Leo tucks the beacon under his arm like a football and rushes away from the Quarter Knight, sweeping his blade in something more gesture than strike. A wall of earth rises up at his heels, and promptly collapses under the impact of the debris thrown up by Wyvern. It keeps Leo safe, and probably Ambrosius and the others, too. "Need this, creature?!" Leo cries. Part of the ground near Alhazred shudders, and erupts into a wall of razor-sharp spikes. The Quarter Knight might well end up impaled if he doesn't get out of the way. "Come and take it!"

GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Alhazred with Rock Viper!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Golem Sado has posed.

The eyes on Sado are all the more reason for Lily Keil to keep up her defensive posture. She watches the ones moving to take advantage of the opening, to help Riesenlied in a different way, Mariel who calls out in shock, and Dean who at least shows that someone here can be happy...

"I'll explain later!" Lily calls to Leon, her voice crackling over his radio.

But she speaks to Riesenlied instead, as much through a silence projection as anything. "It's here because it has to be. Because this world... is where we all are."

It's painful; Lily can tell that it is painful. Nevertheless, Lily can feel the difference. Riesenlied has to work as hard as she can to maintain the light, but if they can disrupt it--if they can keep going enough...

...It will be a delicate balance, a needle to thread. But it's Lily's only hope.

...And it takes all of her focus; she can't help against the Quarter Knight, no matter what awful things he says. It's clear, as the Ley Dragon begins to manifest; Lily recognizes Lucadia, even in corrupted format, but the doppleganger of Stare Roe is more of a concern. Its light crashes towards them, zig-zagging brilliantly. Lily flies up before the Golem and puts out her free hand, erecting a shield of darkness large enough for a Gear with sudden force. The light that crashes into it, however, seems that it may as well have struck her directly, given the shake of her form in defending. "Gh--"

The Golem stares down at one who was an ancestral foe.

Lily breathes again, and as the barrier falls, her voice moves on a shared frequency instead. "Gebler Gear. Support acknowledged. I was there when your agent offered support. ...If you keep your word, then mine is that I won't turn this Golem on you today. We have bigger things before us."

Much as it galls her. But she raises her voice, "Leon! Providing fire support!"

Lily can sense the change in the Dragon's defenses, and she works accordingly; she crackles again with power, and it erupts from around her, once more supercharging the Golem's offensive, providing fuel for it as three of its arms slide forward, revealing ugly, organic guns inset with its claws. "Redouble the offensive," she murmurs, and the Golem unleashes a torrent of horrific beams of darkness even as Riesenlied charges some kind of weapon. Once more, it doesn't move for Riesenlied--it launches again, straight at the dais this time, right into the cluster of Ley Energy.

"Hang on, Riesenlied! You've come through before!"

GS: Golem Sado has attacked Riesenlied with Undulation - Triple Shot!
GS: Golem Sado has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Golem Sado has completed her action.
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from White Knight Leo's Rock Viper for 77 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

Prissa asks first a question about whether the gang is actually inside a memory, as such a thing should by all rights be physically impossible. It does not stop her from hurling knives, nor should it. Maya sees fit to answer, being familiar with the way Riesenlied does things: "Yes, and no." she says, unable to perceive how this might not help in the least. "I think it's an in-between thing. Thus," a pistol slides from its holster. "Don't break anything you don't have to!"

Lydia seems to be concerned about otherwise harming Riese by accident, in-between harrassing an innocent old man about his age and yelling at K.K.. Maya summons to her fingertips an ARM shell of spun golden light, loading it and closing the chamber of her weapon against with a wrist's flick. "Lydie, you know mom doesn't mind a couple of bruises if it means she gets to come back, right?" a pause. "And you know she'd tell you to wear a helmet when you're skating, right?"

Matilda speculates--quite rightly--that it feels weird to see so much of Filgaia's history surface at once. So quickly. Maya overhears this, as she is an interfering menace. "Isn't it? And no co-incidence, I'd wager. But still, I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be." is her return offering as she lines up a shot on an irritating, flitting drone. "We're either gonna save the world, or watch it end, you know? Beats sittin' on the sidelines."

The pistol's report is deafening, in such an enclosed space. Whether or not the noise and fury actually manages to smash an Esperanza is another story entirely, but it's okay if people like Mariel and Maya aren't very good at fighting flying robots, because the innocent old guy throws his cloak open and fires a volley of blinding, twisting beams of energy that claw and scrabble for the drones. The blonde gapes.

"Who the HELL is this guy!?" roars Maya at Noeline, pointing an accusing finger at the white cloak going all Tekkaman on Alhazred's machinery.

DG: Maya Schrodinger has used her Tool Tankbuster Cartridge toward her party's challenge, ...Come Weal and Woe....
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Dean Stark's Tourmaline Torment for 113 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Golem Sado's Undulation - Triple Shot for 151 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

They can hear it.

That song, that drifts through the ears as easily as it does the soul. Tremulous, tenuous, but there, carrying with it the faint signature of the beating heart behind the beast. Not one of a twisted puppeteer, not one of a lying leech... the true heart. The true sentiment.

The keen pulse of Life itself.

The Trial Knight is a smear of motion against the backdrop of the Gutter as they hit the scaled hide of the Ley Dragon. Into the scale they delve, feeling a pull and knot in space with which they are intimately familiar. They turn within the churning motion of the Ley, delving into it like a duck might take to water --

--and they arrive into the emptiness of a hallway in a crouch, the sound of their boots hitting metal reverberating throughout the strange room. Within the Photosphere? Were they ejected? ... No.

Their senses do not lie to them. They are within the dragon. And that means...

"'Tis spiritual space," murmurs K.K., the din of their voice almost curious as they rise. Their faceless helm tilts slightly in the direction of Lydia, as that truly lengthy explanation is given.

"... No," they say, after a moment, towards the end of Lydia's words. "There is not."

Anything wrong with her.

"No thing that she cannot overcome."

With that, they begin to walk again, pausing but briefly to add,

"'Tis an odd reason, but mayhap that is but the nature of your get. Odd, perchance.

"But noble."

Truly, the sighs of the Borgs are noble indeed.

For now, though, they listen to that song as they delve further. Their unseen gaze falls briefly on the cloaked Siegfried. They walk past, stopping at his side, offering a brief but intent, "Know you why you now fight?" before they continue on. Their right hand lifts, clawed fingers drifting across the wall in quiet contemplation.

                   It will be a path fraught with pain,
                   to try to reach towards that past...
                              ... but I must.

"... Riesenlied. You once told me a future grasped in ignorance is no future. That you would not permit it. I saw well the potential in you then. 'Tis potential I yet see now, despite how fervently the parasites of this world may yearn to snuff it out." They see the dawning of the Esperanza drones beyond. The appearance of Siegfried. They continue despite it.

"This Mother of yours is naught but ignorance given festering form. Do not succumb to such base ideals. Continue forward. Endlessly forward. With your eyes open."

Light shimmers above them, forming into a tome of blue, white and gold. It opens as a quill begins to scribble within.

"And we shall find you."

And only then does their attention turn towards the minions of Mother's last Quarter Knight. Their clawed hand extends.

"I have not time for the vermin of vermin."

A sigil erupts beneath the advancing drones. Electric blasts conduct across armor, but the knight holds fast.

"Away with you!"

And Althena's Blessing begins to surge with the chant of their next words, growing ever greater in pitch and intensity...

                  "Come forth, o' avaricious netherworld,
                     and crush the evil before me..."

... until a massive, dark portal splits open beneath the drones, spewing a wild mass of writhing tendrils, the dark violets and blacks of those shadowy limbs undulating uncontrollably as they seek to grasp and drag anything they can within the dark reaches of that umbral hole.

                               "Void Mire!"

DG: K.K. has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward their party's challenge, ...Come Weal and Woe....
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"Can it wait?" Neriah's voice murmurs in K.K.'s ear. "The avaricious netherworld is a bit busy out here."

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        Riesenlied, in her way, understands. If asked, Avril could never explain how she knows that, from a Metal Demon twisted into a draconic form, when no voice or psychic cry touches her mind.
        But yet, she knows, more truly than she has known many things in her life since awakening.

        Whatever happens is as it must be.

        The massive blade rends the air, and strikes.

        Avril holds steady, watches as the hit lands. To do otherwise and shy away from what she must now do would be unconscionable. Skadi drops back in the next step of the battle, the great blade's false edge held level in anticipation of whatever might next--

        The Medium in her lap reacts to something, a shift in the proverbial tides, and Avril's voice rings out as that warning is transmitted to her: "Be careful, something is coming--"

        Though she knows not what she reacts to until the moment it shows itself: an digitized distorted copy of Lucadia.

        The resonance of the Original Sea Medium in her lap suffers a paroxism.

        Systems inside the Gear tick-tack out a warning, an analysis of what these more-restricted systems can read. Water, and yet...
        This is no top-of-the-line Gear in the grand scope of the world. It's simply what the Aveh military uses, with a few useful tweaks added. And yet, Skadi still manages that close-call twist in the face of that outpouring of artificial water, raising its great blade in a sort of shield as the droplets fly. It's not enough to entirely spare the Gear or its blade -- see here where the false water etches pockmarks into the armor plating and material composing the great sword -- but it's enough, in this moment, to spare even some part.

        She cannot stop. Not now.

        Skadi steps back, to all appearances preparing some evasive maneuver in light of the beginnings of that breath that Riesenlied has begun to draw.
        Only to roar forward in the next instant, blade ripping up through the air and overhead in preparation for a powerful strike.

        "Riesenlied-- I promise you--"

        Whatever happens, I will not stop. We will reach you--

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Riesenlied with Floral Impact!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes 16 damage from Acid!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
==================<* CHALLENGE - ...Come Weal and Woe... *>===================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 1          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 An incessant, whirring noise erupts in the air as you continue deeper into    
 the Ley Dragon. The keening sounds evidently come from the attack drones of   
 the Quarter Knight Alhazred, known as Esperanza. There are dozens of them,    
 intent on barring your progress!                                              
                                                                               
                    For your longing gaze I search, but find                   
                                                                               
                     No dawn, so dark, a cloth upon my eyes                    
                                                                               
                                                                               
 The song trembles in fear as the Drones gather into attack formation.         
 Several cut in close to melee range, while others assist with electric        
 blasts.                                                                       
                                                                               
                   The vow we took, thrashed high on headwinds                 
                                                                               
                   Our promise, so threatened now to be buried                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
 In the midst of the battle, an errant blast causes a rupture against the      
 Dragon's sides. The Ley Dragon flinches as a spark of Ley energy bursts       
 loose from within!                                                            
                                                                               
                                   Now veiled,                                 
                                                                               
                               Bereft of heart...                              
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Digger Effect:                                                                
 GS: The Ley Dragon suffers from Weaken status!                                
 GS: The Ley Dragon can only +charge against ARM attacks this round!           
=Dungeon Conditions: Treasure, Hesitate=======================================
===============<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart - Round 2 *>================
====================< Results - ...Come Weal and Woe... >=====================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mariel                              0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matilda Whitehead                   0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Prissa                              0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
A Disturbingly Large Quantity of Kn 2   Combat  Effects: Embolden             
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
K.K.                                0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Maya Schrodinger                    0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Tankbuster Cartridge                1   Combat  Effects: Cleanse              
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Noeline                     30 --(25)--> 55                Pass
Conditions: Hesitate(2)|Treasure(1)
Effects: Cleanse|Embolden(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Noeline has passed this challenge! The party gained 25 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
GS: Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Floral Impact for 67 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        DIGGER TEAM:

        There's a wiredness in Noeline's open shock that crosses hard towards that grin, that anger, that relief... as she tells Siegfried it's about damn time.

        But before long, she speaks to her. She hears her.

        Keep singing... no matter what!

        A twist of emotion, a warping of memory, and those encouraging words breach forth something akin to a semblance. Something Noeline said to her...

        No matter what happens, I will be at your side, offering you my love and my strength.

        Those vows, on the day they exchanged rings... they are powerful words that cannot so easily be suppressed, not by the substance that Alhazred so imposed upon her, not by Mothers' wont... not even when she is so bereft of heart...

        She slashes on through, splitting an Esperanza in half. Several more whirr and zip by her just for a moment, but much like old days -- she is covered by a familiar ex-commander. There's a grin coming behind her as Siegfried relishes this moment, carving down with several dozen bolts of white light exploding from all points of his armour.

        He whispers that it won't be long now. Siegfried tells her to hold on just a little longer... and hold on she does--

        "Then... you received no name," he says. He looks down at the small, blonde-haired child in front of him. "Once, every Hyadean earned their name..."

--embracing those sweetest of memories, of their time of meeting. On that extremely cold day, when the Giants returned through Song...

        Prissa wonders if they are truly inside her memories. Perhaps it is a thing, or perhaps not, but it is unmistakably known that that which echoes as she swerves and carves several throwing dart-like objects that carve and rip through several more Esperanza that have managed to swerve past Siegfried's field of light.

        Then she, too, sees that there is a memory. A recent one, as of just a few hours ago, but it is nonetheless testament to how much Riesenlied is hanging onto each and every one of her words:

        ...but I can see you have standing here the strongest tribe in this planet! Do you understand me? I have seen your tribes on this planet, they are for CUCCO!

        ... okay, she may have edited the cussing out for a much more endearing word for herself, but the sentiment still stands.

        Riesenlied doesn't understand what a cyborg is, but she does know Lydia is her daughter. A fact that she's trying to hammer into herself, repeatedly, over and over--

        She was struggling so much when she got dragon feet...

        She hears her words of encouragement. But strangely, perhaps it's the seemingly unwittingly small moments that cause her to reflect. That's right, her feet... mutated so deep and twistingly, becoming reptilian and draconic that it caused her so much shame...

        But... mom, don't you see? You're our treasure.

        She criss-crosses still perhaps on skates, but wields that baseball bat of hers and delivers a smashing, ringing song upside one of the Esperanza and sends it careening and going 'boom'.

        Mariel drops an explanation of the Golems. Created a thousand years ago by the humans and Elw... to fight the Metal Demons. Within the moment in which she is hiding, she throws the satchel and brings forth a stick of incense to create revitalising, if not healing fumes. Fumes which the machines, the Esperanza, cannot benefit from.

        Riesenlied seems to be focusing on the image of the plant, too. On that day...

        Mariel is ... attentive, especially to the children, and the plants. She even has something for the children who seem interested; some small white flowers...

        Those white flowers. She loved them. Small and gentle, but with a wonderful resilience that has inspired her so...

        Maya genuinely has to wonder an extremely good question, as she follows and arms herself with an etherlight ARM that summons out of nowhere. Bap-bap-bap, the bullets come on through rather gingerly--

        And I told you I'd stick by your side, hell or high-water, Riesenlady.

        That fondness shines through once more; perhaps, in the way Maya emulated the Dragon's Tear to reach her before. And honestly, she asks a very good question. Who the heck is this guy?

        ...father...

        Riese is just straight up telling Maya what she thinks, as Matilda thinks of how fragile the world feels. It's something she knows, something she always knows. It's something they all know. A world that wasn't so fragile wouldn't need services such as the Outreach, is perhaps all the proof the compounder needs.

        And yet... even as it hangs in the balance -- there is a tenacity, perhaps, in how all the disparate little ones come all together. The way they're doing now...

        But will it be enough, in the end?

        K.K. ruminates that it is a spiritual space. Perhaps they are correct. The Dragon is large, but not large enough to accomodate so many hallways as if it were Starship Riesenlied herself. And she is no Borg, so she can't mutate herself like Lydia to accomodate.

        No thing that she cannot overcome...

        The words buoy her further, much like theirs to hers. They manifest their magic in the verve of a dark portal that throws and cleaves several further of the Esperanza apart.

        If there is but one thing I have learned in this life, 'tis that naught is impossible.

        Is it an odd stroke of luck? Fate, perhaps? They are words that are spoken in a different manner, but are unmistakably like that which Dean, Avril and Rebecca have oft buoyed her with. In that manner... if she does not give up...

        Then they can proceed. Past the husks of the Esperanza which do not stop them.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        GUNSLINGER TEAM:

        Leon hears an apology, as he calls Lily's name out. As she brings forth that Golem, perhaps without his knowledge. He's dumbfounded for a moment, but Dean brings him back to the foyer.

        Weglaff charges again, a melee machine standing out amongst other Gears. Not even the digitised water of Lucadia can stop it, as it batters off and shines and he calls out to her.

        I know you're in there.

        Those memory-emanations are echoing once more. Old words, brought back to the surface... perhaps a resistance Riesenlied is employing to continue to jog her memories, to bring back what they've shared in the past.

        ... we're fortunate to have you with us. If it weren't for you, it would be too easy to continue to be the person I am.

        People borne of blood that they've shed in their past... the last battle they've earnestly shared was, perhaps, the Adlehyde Fairgrounds. How long the journey they've had since that moment, more than a year ago, when it could be argued that neither of them knew their way...

        Ironic, perhaps, and yet endearing, that they were first brought together by Gryndille.

        The spell of wonderful butterflies, sweet scent of flowers, laughing children and cuccos (most importantly cuccos) starts to wean off as Neriah backs off given the constant interruptions from all the swords and spells going off. She wonders for a moment if the Guardians have accepted her, where they rejected her...

        Though... she can definitely tell -- from the way the streams of light, from the guardian-forms rapidly breaking apart, that this is perhaps not any kind of true acceptance. Not like this. Not in this form.

        Familiar shapes manifest from the remnants of Bliss; pink outlines, soft fluffy cuccos again (it's effective!) gather closer. A semblance of Mikaia runs across her, prompting a vigilant pause that rattles her. Janey... Lydia-- but... with an asteroid...

        ...daughter... daughter--

        Even when she gazes upon Neriah, endearing, something seems to give her pause. Neriah hears a memory from her in turn--

        You're the sweetest person I've ever met. Please stay safe.

        Perhaps, Neriah knows, it's some instinctual moment of Riesenlied's in knowing that her daughter Lydia has gone further than that. That she has moved on -- and she, too, has accepted her the way she is.

        And that moment's doubt dampens a little bit of the effects of the Ley's draining - though another strand shuts off in her dark stead. Perhaps more adjustments... she's getting closer to where she needs to go.

        Elseplace, that ardent battle with Alhazred is still going. Ambrosius hears an echoing memory for a moment.

        Regardless...there are those whose influence will remain with us, no matter how much time will pass.

        That is true for him... as it is for her, is it not? And that is not the only one that emanates, as the Dragon finds further inspiration in the resistance happening, even as Lanval is struck seemingly down by electricity--

        Ya shaid yer mom got poishoned, huh... that ain't a problem. I can take care o' that... jusht take me to 'er.

        Is... this her own way of trying to encourage him? To recall to him of his bravery and grace, in action of who truly in her mind behooves a Lord of the Land...

        Leo throws up a wall of earth, and at that moment, she is reminded too--

        Go, Leo growls to her. Get your wounded out of here.

        An act of mercy and honour, to not let a lynching mob beset the wounded of the Metal Demons attacking Adlehyde. He did not require it so, but it was an action... that touched her so. That helped form her path forward...

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Zed speaks earnestly, in his majestic Zedder Robo form. Even when a torrent of energies have shot up out of the ground, he continues to slam them into the veil. No matter how much it hurts. Because they've hurt together.

        Come on. We need you to wake up. We can't lose you here...!

        No matter how similar the words may be, she clings to them. At that moment when he was clinging onto her neck outside, even just moments before... she hears him. How much she loves the world... just hang on... a little more--

        And that Ley Point continues to splash all around him. He's getting closer. He's getting so close! He can find a larger root, a closer thread to slash and stymie...

        She believes in it too.

        Lily... is in front of her now, as she forms a rudimentary understanding between the Gebler Gear, and provides Leon with support. The crackle of power whelms through the air, and she channels herself through the Omega Protocol into the Golem itself.

        The Golem Sado's undulating power lets loose with horrific beams of darkness, as Riesenlied stres and it splashes STRAIGHT into the Ley Point and causes another equally horrific explosion--

        What use is power, if it can't save the ones you care for? What does it matter to be strong if there's nothing to be strong for?

        Riesenlied is flagging in the battle between light and darkness. She's not capable of focusing as much energy to keep the balance, and Lily's darkness is winning. Her attention is split several ways, and her energies have also been flayed by the efforts of Neriah and Zed, not to mention her stamina drained by Leon, Avril and Dean.

        And Skadi once more chases forward as Avril instinctively knows of the things Riesenlied herself understands. She holds steady, and endures well against the twist of outpouring, artificial water. It is different, but perhaps there is an underpinning behind how the technology... has been twisted to these ends.

        No more.

        Whatever happens, I will not stop...

        If we are to be rejected... let us be rejected together.

        That memory, with those words, echo in the interstice of Skadi's slashing strike. It rends true, carving closer towards what looks like scaled flesh underneath the armour plating. Like Leon before it, it oozes with red Tainted blood...

        ... followed up by Dean as he momentarily espouses awe at Zed's Robo form. The encouragement prompts him to charge forward once more, Nimrod a durable gear riven by stone; he reaches towards that dais and assists Zed as the metal fist shatters on through along with Zedder Robo's. The Ley Point is beginning to roil invariably.

        Together, perhaps...!

        But... the Ley Dragon is further compelled. Much like before--

        MATERIAL... ...

        A centaur manifests, this time. It is a familiar centaur -- the patron saint of the town whose residents have so vanished, Saint Centour. It marches on thick hooves, wielding a lance by which she charges at Neriah, at Avril and at Zed. It seems poised to fit both Gears and the dark child of Valmar all at once, with the variable saint-like weapons that it wields, even as they ooze away with each strike into data...

        And Dean, Lily and Leon would find themselves not at the end of a Guardian attack, but rather, a massive outcropping of Ley energy which seems to gather from within the fore of the Ley Dragon's talons. Several impulse blasts of energy that rocket at them, threatening to wash and shear away their Gears should they not be careful.

        And like before...

        The letters to continue to form, as the breath-weapon draws ever nearer...

GS: Riesenlied has attacked Neriah Parringer with Stolen Ley - Fallen Saint!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with Stolen Ley - Fallen Saint!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Zed with Stolen Ley - Fallen Saint!
GS: Riesenlied has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Dean Stark with Arc Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Golem Sado with Arc Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Leon Albus with Arc Impulse!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Riesenlied with - N - M A - L A - E!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's - N - M A - L A - E for 0 hit points!
GS: Leon Albus guards a hit from Riesenlied's Arc Impulse for 85 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 To tell the truth, Alhazred had forgotten that Zed was still alive. It had been unusually quiet in the Photosphere of late, and he had been enjoying the fact that he was able to get some work done in peace for once. So when Zed starts yelling at him about thanks and similar things, it makes the Quarter Knight pause for a moment and turns to look at him. "Hmph - pining to obtain from her what you could never on your own Zed? You won't measure up to her perfection, no matter how hard you try!" Really, Zed would probably consider turning into a dragon to be pretty awesome - which is one reason it should never be allowed.
 
 As for Ramses - Alhazred is willing to deal with this Gear as much as he is willing to fight the rest of these fools, but none of this is actually CONDUSIVE to actually accomplishing his goal. He doesnt want victory - he was to be able to escape with his prize. And fighting large robots DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE TO THIS. As the Wyvern brings its sword up, Alhazred starts to jump back - but its just too much, and the sword slams into the ground with a tremendous amount of force. With a strangled cry, the Quarter Knight does his best to keep from being showered with chunks of metal, but it's no good - they slam into him like a shotgun spray, punching holes in his cloak and causing a spatter of sliver blood to fall to the ground beneath him.
 
 It also keeps him from getting close to the already programmed beacon - and without that he needs to start again!
 
 "What do you think you hope to gain, pilot?" Alhazred asks with a snarl. "I have nothing against your kind - indeed, you are the closest thing to rational that exists among Filgaia's teaming masses. But I will not permit you to disrupt my plans here!" He pauses for a moment, and even though his expression is completely concealed under that cloak, one can almost hear the evil grin. "In fact..."
 
 It was time to talk. Indeed, let them listen. Let them bring about their own doom!
 
 "Oh, so you think that by addressing me with some measure of inane absurdity that you will perhaps discover a way to cause me to lose track of my goals? I had always assumed that you Veruni were an advanced species - despite your difficulties with Filgaia's defense systems, it was possible for us to come to an understanding. But I can see that instead they have just send someone who is nothing more than a food!"
 
 There is something odd about Alhazred's voice as he speaks, and he turns his attention to Leo as he lunges for the device. Alhazred sounds annoyed as he continues to speak, although he realizes that despite that device being nearly configured, getting it back may be impossible. " Stop that you simpering simpleton!" he shouts at Leo, his voice becoming stranger and more distorted. "You do not know what you are doing! This is SCIENCE! THIS IS PROGRESS!"
 
 Unfortunately for Lanval's clever sneak attack, Alhazred is able to note the Seraph trying to roll underneath him. While Metal Demons normally do not possess the means to detect such spiritual entities, its clear that Alhazred has made some sort of modification to his own vision after hearing stories about them. And he brings up a full power shield between himself and Lanval, the gourd slamming into it and being deflected away a moment later. "You speak of 'homes' as if it were something you had a right to and we do not. But this world is as much our home as yours! We have made our claim here, and none will disrupt it!"
 
 Any real hope the Quarter Knight had of recovering the device is dashed as Leo lunges after it, and he pauses for a moment... just in time to be slammed backwards by the rising wall of rock. Alhazred fixes Leo with a baleful look, and states, "Do you even know what you are holding? That device is worthless to a fool like you! As for myself..."
 
 With a chuckle of amusement, Alhazred pulls another one out of his cloak. "It is not my last. Do with it as you will - the loss of one will not stop me!"
 
 Two might be a bad thing, however. But...
 
 All this time Alhazred has been unleashing an insidious attack - a soundwave distortion that he has found to have an effect on virtually any sentient being. It slowly builds, transmitted by Alhazred's voice into a crippling sonic attack that induces all manner of auditory, visual, and vestibular distortions that make actions extremely difficult to undertake. For a normal human, the effect is devastating - inducing a horrifying mental breakdown that it may take days to recover from. For hardened Drifters - not to mention a spirit and Gebler's Commander... it will not be that effective. But Alhazred hopes it can buy him time, and he begins to furiously work on the second of this three beacons to make preparations to teleport himself and his masterpiece out of the Gutter.

GS: Alhazred has activated a Force Action!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Kahran Ramses with Alhazred Symphony!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Seraph Lanval with Alhazred Symphony!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Ambrosius with Alhazred Symphony!
GS: Alhazred has attacked White Knight Leo with Alhazred Symphony!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Alhazred with Frantic Device Optimization!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Alhazred's Frantic Device Optimization for 0 hit points!
GS: Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Saint for 94 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
DC: 2 turns have elapsed in the battle against Alhazred! 3 turns remain!
DG: Noeline has drawn a new Challenge.
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
==================<* CHALLENGE - ...To be True to You... *>===================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 A massive thorn erupts from beneath the ground and bars your path. It         
 shimmers with a fearful light, the Dragon's own attempt to block you from     
 approaching ever closer, closer to fears too intimate to face.                
                                                                               
                   Often I wonder - where have our muses left?                 
                                                                               
                   To springs, shaded groves, and sunlit hills                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
 It glows to the touch, and can only be toppled over with an equally           
 passionate shove, filled with confidence.                                     
                                                                               
                  Smitten am I with a fear of love-filled song                 
                                                                               
                   That tell the tale of how sweet things fade                 
                                                                               
                                     But...                                    
                                                                               
                                                                               
 It takes strength to have confidence and say:                                 
                                                                               
                         It's all right to be afraid...                        
                                                                               
                                                                               
 The Ley Dragon relents, but for a moment. The light of the Ley suffuses the   
 Drifters outside, filling them with inspiration.                              
                                                                               
 Digger Effect:                                                                
 GS: The Ley Dragon grants Inspire and Reload to the Drifters!                 
=Dungeon Conditions: Treasure, Reckless=======================================
GS: COUNTER! Kahran Ramses strikes at Alhazred with a counter attack!
GS: CRITICAL! Kahran Ramses takes a glancing hit from Alhazred's Alhazred Symphony for 53 hit points!
GS: Kahran Ramses has been afflicted by a Curse!
GS: Break, Cripple, Cripple, Jam, Jam, Mute, Mute, Slow, and Weaken! Statuses applied to Kahran Ramses!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Riesenlied has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Ambrosius critically Guards a hit from Alhazred's Alhazred Symphony for 22 hit points!
GS: Ambrosius has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Golem Sado takes a glancing hit from Riesenlied's Arc Impulse for 52 hit points!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a glancing hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Saint for 171 hit points!
GS: Zed critically Guards a hit from Riesenlied's Stolen Ley - Fallen Saint for 34 hit points!
GS: Zed has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! White Knight Leo critically Guards a hit from Alhazred's Alhazred Symphony for 20 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: White Knight Leo has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 2 Combo on Inspire and Reload, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Neriah Parringer with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Golem Sado with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked White Knight Leo with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Seraph Lanval with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Zed with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Ambrosius with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Kahran Ramses with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Leon Albus with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Kahran Ramses takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Kahran Ramses gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Kahran Ramses gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Ambrosius takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Ambrosius gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Ambrosius gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Golem Sado takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Golem Sado gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Golem Sado gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Reload! Avril Vent Fleur gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Neriah Parringer takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Neriah Parringer gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Neriah Parringer gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Zed takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Zed gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Zed gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Seraph Lanval takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Seraph Lanval gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Seraph Lanval gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Seraph Lanval has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Seraph Lanval completely evades Alhazred Symphony from Alhazred!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Noeline is riding on raw emotion, a bundle of contradictions that she's only making work by ignoring them all. Too fatigued and too charged with power, too lost and confused and too filled with certainty, she charges forward after the only truth that she can register right now - the plaintive, tiny pull of the Song of the Giants somewhere ahead of them. Mid-run, she meets Siegfried's gaze; she doesn't really have it in her to be deferential, but she can at least manage a solemn moment in response to his command.

        And then she actually opens her mouth, her voice remarkably sharp to someone who could probably split her in two. "She is waiting for you just as much as she is us," she tells the Quarter Knight bluntly. Perhaps her daughter has rubbed off on her. "So don't you linger either. Trust me," she presses with her brow furrowed, the final hiss less directed at Siegfried and more at everyone around her, in hopes of easing their fears and bringing them together. As a group, they are certainly a bizarre collection of allies and enemies and the unknown - but the faith in her voice that Riesenlied has brought them all together is unmistakable.

        She isn't Riesenlied; she cannot be as empathic as her partner. But she can certainly put her trust and hope in the bonds that they have created together, and in the people that she's brought together.

        More than anything, that hope and trust is what lets her reply to Maya's question with a wild and fatigued laugh. She twists before answering, tearing the blade she's formed of her hand through another of the drones; in her desperation, much of her grace and pomp has been momentarily shorn away, but she finds a scrap of it as ragged mischief dances in her eyes. "He is..." she affords herself the tiniest of moments to pause, and then looks back to the cloaked figure with a quiet smile. "... well! Perhaps you should answer that yourself. Whatever you've decided, Riesenlied is waiting to hear it."

        It's a moment of near-normalcy that lets her redouble herself, her attention focusing back on the path ahead of them. "--Miss Mariel! You will be safe. I swear it! Miss Prissa, I strongly recommend you do not worry about that right now! Matilda, punch through on the left!" she yells in encouragement, if only because the more things she can distract herself with the less she has to wonder about the thought of 'lord gramps'. She does at least fall silent for the Trial Knight's speech, mostly because she wants to hear the words herself - but at the same time, it feels appropriate to mark it with silence, and a quiet but deep satisfaction.

        Riesenlied is all around her, and yet not - cloaked and subverted by Mother's power, there is a pressure on her mind from all sides, and as much as she tries to fight against it her concentration is being divided by too many concerns. That moment of levity is paid for and broken as she feels her hand - no, her entire arm spasm painfully. Outside, one of the chains twists and squeals in the way that only stretching metal can as the Ley Dragon thrashes against it, then the solid illusion of black shatters away into shards of mist-like sorcery, its smaller twin snapping apart in the palm of her hand.

        "We-- don't have long!" she grits her teeth past the sudden pulsing ache in her head, forcing herself to run onwards after the noise of the Song - but the hallway they're in twists and shudders again, seemingly collapsing in on itself as it shrinks. From the ground erupts a plant - no, a gigantic thorn, twisted and spiked with dozens of smaller thorns. Its presence seems to affects the walls, the floor - every surface seems spiked and dangerous, every movement fraught.

        Noeline swallows slowly as she takes it in, then drags out a breath; slowly, she brings both hands to her chest, where the Dragon's Tear lays against her skin. "... I know... it is difficult. I know that you must be scared," she whispers quietly - and then takes a careful step forwards, still having to wince as her foot meets the harsh spines on the floor ahead. "... but I will not stop trying to reach you. Time and time again. Whatever we discover, we will meet it together. Whatever we choose, we will choose together. I promise."

        She lays her left hand on the thorn, ignoring its surface - and pushes against it as hard as she can, the chains and the ring on her other hand held against the Tear.

DG: Noeline has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...To be True to You....
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Dean Stark critically Guards a hit from Riesenlied's Arc Impulse for 24 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 2 Combo on Inspire and Reload, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Dean Stark with ...To be True to You...!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Reload! Dean Stark gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Dean Stark gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: Leon Albus takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: Leon Albus enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Reload! Leon Albus gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: Leon Albus gains a Combo from Inspire!
GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...To be True to You... for 0 hit points!
GS: White Knight Leo enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Reload! White Knight Leo gains 15 extra FP from Riesenlied!
GS: White Knight Leo gains a Combo from Inspire!
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

"Keep at it, then!" Leon calls back to Dean. His eyes, however, turn down, towards Lily. He can see her on one of the secondary cameras. There is, tellingly, a moment's hesitation. Then, he nods. "I understand. We have to do what we can, then."

He swallows, a distinct tension entering his posture inside of Weglaff, as he sees Golem Sado unleash shots directly into the Ley. His jaw twitches, before it sets in nervousness. Then, he leans forward, and sucks a breath in. Weglaff withstands the outburst of Ley. The energy slams into the armored hide of the Gear, and ablative armor burns away; patches of silver appear, as the paint melts, and the Gear steps forward, as if it could step into the storm.

Leon's eyes are on the letter.

Leon Albus is not an expressive man. He is not the sort to shout his feelings; for him, understatement and containment are the emotional coping mechanisms of choice. At times, this is a deliberate repression. It is also a part of his character. He finds the idea of shouting his feelings, and wearing them on his sleeve, to be uncomfortable and alien.

But, he also finds speaking them honestly to be difficult. One finger reaches out, flipping the switch on the radio -- to send a tightbeam transmission, rather than the local shortwave. He opens a connection to the Ley Dragon.

"Riesenlied," he says. "I do not know if you can hear me. I've wondered, at times, at having you and Noeline in the Wolves. You're not like Lily and I, nor like Josie or Jude. You're not even like Fei, Elly, or Xantia... we're all harder, in different ways. We may not be happy to turn to violence, but we're willing -- or we know little else. But..."

He swallows. Weglaff charges, and it makes the cockpit shake around him. The ground rattles, too.

"...You remind us that we could be better," he says, finally. "You remind Lily that she could be better. The Wolves need you, or I fear we might lose our way."

Weglaff comes in close -- and then drops down. The Gear slides over the ground, feet first. The blue feet kick up sparks, as they slam across the ground, scoring the metal plating. The heat saber ignites, then; it goes from silver to a bright, fiery red in an instant, and then the superheated blade slashes hard across the Ley Dragon's legs.

GS: Leon Albus has activated a Force Action!
GS: Leon Albus has attacked Riesenlied with Commander's Strike!
GS: Leon Albus has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Kahran Ramses's Counter Attack for 176 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Siegfried frowns, slightly, at the term 'gramps.'

His eyes do glance after Mariel. His lips form the word, but he keeps the name of her kind to himself. It is Maya's outburst that draws a long look, and he keeps his silence on that. It is K.K. that draws words; he looks to his former comrade, and nods once to them. "I do," he says. "Go with them, though I no longer command you."

His head turns, to look at Noeline -- and then, he nods. "So be it," he says. He told K.K. he knew why he fought. He starts to walk, then, past the husks of shattered Esperanza. The Quarter Knight strides, with a glance at Maya; then, a glance at Noeline. "I will save my words for her."

He frowns, and then follows.

Siegfried slows, as he sees a gigantic thorn smash through the ground. He throws a hand out -- and a forcefield generates. It slams into one of the thorns, trying to push it backward, even as the Quarter Knight advance. A smaller thorn, on it, sends sparks of static through it.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah can feel the doubt - read the doubt. The way the ley eddies and dilutes seems to change something. The way the Ley Dragon moves telegraphs something. They're beginning to get through to Riesenlied - to wean her off the pulse and flow of the Ley.

But wielding her magic in this way is straining Neriah in a way open battle does not. The power of Valmar isn't necessarily the power to appeal or to shower someone with love. It's a power which demands battle and pain. And as she fights to hold those illusions in place, a little corner of her soul balks at it:

        WHAT ARE YOU DOING
        KILL ALL OF THEM
        DESTROY THE METAL SCUM
        THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE GOD

"We can do that later," whispers a part of Neriah she thought she had set aside while lying there dying in the street of Wayside with the bleeding imprint of Id's fist carved gorily into her face.

The Centaur manifests - one of the Guardians, and Neriah can't remember that one's name at the moment because she's just a terrible Guardian follower. The material figure bears down on her with a lance that seems more appropriately-sized for a Gear than for a lone woman hovering a few metres above the ground.

The illusions around Riese taper out as Neriah piles on another layer of shielding. Energy bursts out from her shield in mad arcs of black electricity as the lance crashes into it. The two immense forces hold each other at bay for a few seconds before Neriah's shields buckles, the lance punching through, though filaments of it break off as her shield degrades cells of data from it.

Energy slams into Neriah's body. She gasps as she's flung away. Pivoting in midair, she swings around to bring her heels down to the wall behind her with a sharp, resounding click.

Scowling, Neriah looks down at herself for a moment. Even as she fights to silence the murderous impulses within her, there's still a part of her that pines for the easy solution: Gathering enough power to just annihilate this place. But she's not sure she could do it against a Quarter Knight and a leyline - and even if she could, it would probably take Riese along. And pumping too much darkness into her--

Pumping darkness into her might turn her into the kind of abomination Neriah herself has become. The kind of abomination she turned Mederic and some of her followers into. Choices they made with pride, she reminds herself. But what I love about Riesenlied is her kindness -- her purity. I don't want to taint her.

But I can be straightforward. She raises her hand and lets Valmar's taint begin to flow. She can't shake the room with the mere act of charging right now; expending most of her power earlier in the day against a target as massive as the Titan of Mother ensured that. But the unsettling, scratching, curdling feeling of unholy energy can be felt, surging to a peak.

Neriah sweeps her arm - and throughout the chamber, blasts of shadowy energy begin to burst forth like bombs. Here the room does vibrate as those detonations tear through not only rock and metal and earth, but through the pulse of the Ley. Each one diverts the Ley around it, pushes some of it away, creates an obstacle, a dilution. The explosions come perilously close to the Ley Dragon, enough to rattle it and push it back, but not enough to cause serious physical injury.

Amidst the roar and rumble of the shadow explosions, Neriah begins to float forward again. "There's a part of me that wants to just fight my way through this," she says, her voice a little throaty as she holds emotion down. "That's the monster I've become. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I would.

"Because I failed you," Neriah says. "You put your faith in me and I turned out to be this kind of person. And the sad thing is that I loved you so much that I loved my way into failing you. I wanted to stop the Red Demon, for you. And I went too far, and lost my soul. And some days I realize that.

"And maybe our destiny will be to be at odds," Neriah concedes as she fires off another wave of explosions, slashing through the Ley with the darkness she inherited. "But right now, I can help everyone here do this one thing for you.

"Please, Riesenlied... please let me not let you down. Not this time."

GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with Dark Bomb!
GS: Neriah Parringer has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Leon Albus's attack becomes clear!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Leon Albus's Heat Saber for 162 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Dark Bomb for 159 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"Helmets are for nerds," Lydia says before crashing into a drone and getting a concussion.

MOMENTS LATER, holding her head in her hand, Lydia listens to K.K's words. There is not anything wrong with her. No thing she cannot overcome. Lydia grins widely again. "Thanks dude."

She skates forward. "You hear that mom?! Nothing you cannot overcome!!" Sigh borgs are pretty excitable it seems.

But then she is taken by the memories. Moments when even the old man showed kindness. A certain kind of empathy directed towards one who was cast out of society, one born 'Tainted'.

Lydia lets out a faint sigh, as sigh borgs are wont to do, as she thinks about how Riesenlied passed that kindness down to Mikaia, to Janey, to her, to her people, to the world.

Other memories are more familiar ot her, like as how Prissa so recently shouted. Her own words. Mariel's own kindness to the children of Wayside. Maya's words.

SHe is in no position to see her phantom.

Lydia skates to Maya. "Sorry, I'm just... I already hit her enough, you know?" Her cheeks puff out faintly. "Thanks for coming, alright? You're basically my hero now, fyi, and by now I mean like since like a year ago."

All these memories, Lydia thinks.

"You're our treasure." She repeats.

She readies her baseball bat. "Mom. Remember before we came to Elru...? I was freaking out alone in my room, you don't even know how bad it was... Heh, maybe you do."

She walks forward, "You came by with red velvet cake. You said it was okay. You were scared too. We all were scared? And..."

She smiles, tears in her eyes. "And we were going to be scared together. That made it okay. So it's not fair, for all this time, you couldn't let us be scared with you. That's so you, haha..." She wipes at her eyes. "But I can't let you be afraid alone. It's fine to be scared. It's okay to be afraid. But we'll be scared together."

She swings her bat as hard as she can against the thorn in a sudden swoop of motion! No hesitation. They don't have long.

"And I'm sorry... I'm sorry I couldn't hold your hand when you needed me to. I just missed it. But I can hold it now, if you'll let me."

DG: Lydia Seren has used her Tool Good Luck Bat toward her party's challenge, ...To be True to You....
<Pose Tracker> Prissa has posed.

 
Another person has joined them, Prissa realizes in surprise. Her head twists round as she says, "You!" to Siegfried, but there is no time to do more than that. How many people will be here on this path, she thinks, even as she half-squats to recover two of her throwing-darts from a downed drone.

"Ah," Prissa says to Mariel. Then, "Exactly one thousand?" -- but there is not time enough to clarify. Such mysteries inside of everyone, Prissa thinks. It's beautiful!

And terrifying. For some reason, Prissa pulls out an unworked bar of metal and tosses it into a corner. Looks like stock steel. She looks at Maya and says as she does, "I understand." DOES SHE?

Soon enough they are faced with a thorn blocking their passage. Noeline spills her guts and her tears and Prissa reaches for one of the hilts of her weapons - and seems to be thinking for long, breath-cycling moments.

"Riesenlied," Prissa says, raising her voice. "Do you remember? The weapon you gave me? The one that you thought was ruined?"

Prissa lowers her head. ("Hey, you," she says to Siegfried, who she does not know from Adam, "I'll make for you a spot.")

"I know that at that time I was light, and you were po-light, but there is a beauty in that crystal blade. I saw it, and I promised to bring it out - I forget if I said it aloud, but I did in my heart. Well, Riesenlied. That weapon, the blade of your old village."

Prissa pulls it out -

                            ANCIENT CRYSTAL BLADE
                                 MISTILTEINN

The crystal blade glitters, covered in thin copper wire that had been melted in a braidwork effect. The cracks, sealed! The chips, filled! All of it sprouting with a new growth, barely a tithe of the crystal itself covered. The light from Siegried's fields sparkles as she swings it forwards with show-womanly display.

"A dreamer comes and goes, but a dream is forever! Accept this truth, brought forth by the infinite howling furnace of my artistic vision! Where once was a relic now stands a blade reborn!"

And on that note, Prissa lunges forwards to stab through the thorn before her.

DG: Prissa has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...To be True to You....
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel quails from Siegfried's gaze, but Noeline's reassurance... well, okay, it's not that reassuring. Noeline is a Metal Demon - a Hyadean - too. But it helps, and she's among friends even if not everyone here is one - Siegfried certainly isn't, and never will be. She just has to keep that in mind.

Mariel knows the white flower Riesenlied is thinking of. It's the flower that Mariel plants everywhere around her home, when she has one; the little white flower that she loves so much that she grows wherever she can and gives away to cheer people up. It's not the kind embroidered on her satchel, but that doesn't matter. It's in her heart even if it isn't on her bag.

And if it isn't on her bag, it's in it.

Mariel pulls one of those small white flowers from her bag once the Esperanza are gone. She shouldn't have brought it; it serves no medicinal purpose, and most of what she packed were medicines, bandages, and the like, to protect and save the Diggers who chose to fight Mother. It takes up room (albeit not a lot) that could go to something more important. But she couldn't not bring any. She wouldn't be Mariel if she had left it out.

Mariel holds the small white flower in her hands for a moment as she regards the thorn. There's chaos elsewhere, around her; she tries to put it out of her head, though she's still scared and it shows in her posture. She holds the flower so she can look at it, then cups her hands around it. She doesn't do anything as blatant as others are doing with the energies of the ley; when Mariel touches it it's gentle, as if she wasn't pulling from it or forcing it to flow so much as simply changing its natural currents. It feels something like shamanism to the sensitive - not the kind that calls on a Medium, but its close cousin, communing with the minor spirits of Filgaia rather than the Guardians. Baskar wisemen and women use it to bless crops, or predict the weather.

But 'gentle' does not mean it's not intense. The flower in Mariel's hands transmutes into light, leaking around the edges of her grasp before she releases it towards the thorn, a cloud of pinkish sparks like tiny fireflies. They settle on the thorn, not damaging it, merely... pushing it with a simple purity of energy. Connected this way, she feels Riesenlied more than she did before, a faint bond forming between the two - not entirely without conflict, but still bright and shining. It's not just Riesenlied who feels it; so does Lydia, her closest friend of the group.

The nature of the Elw is to bond. With nature, with Filgaia itself - and with people. Mariel has pulled herself apart from that for so long that she'd almost forgotten what it felt like. Her bond with Filgaia was uncomfortable at best, painful at worst because of the nature of the planet, and she had not allowed herself to connect with people. Not in hundreds of years; not since the other Elw left.

"Thorns," Mariel says out loud, "aren't like you."

<Pose Tracker> Ambrosius has posed.

Ambrosius spots Leo claim something from Alhazred's machine. A beacon of sorts...? Interesting. Alhazred claims that it is not his last, and draws out another.

As he acts, though, he hears a memory...his own words, echoing back to him from Riesenlied. So, his influence was still there...she still remembered. This inspires him just as much as the surging light of the Ley, as it suffuses him. At this, Ambrosius chuckles wryly. The Leyline was the lifeblood's planet - the planet that rejected him and his people. And yet...

"...I shall make use of this. Thank you. I will not let you down, Riesenlied." Ambrosius murmurs, then turns his attention back to Alhazred. The Quarter Knight's voice...there was something odd to it. His voice was shifting, distorting. Behind his helmet, Ambrosius frowns. The reason for this distortion soon becomes clear - it takes the form of a crippling sonic attack.

But Ambrosius is not unprepared for this. His helmet filters the waves - dulling the effects down to a much more managable level. It slows him down a little, but it will not debilitate him as much as Alhazred may have hoped.

"The time for understanding has passed, I think." He replies. He levels his hand at Alhazred. The cast-off water from his earlier barrier begins to swirl and converge into a sphere in front of him before eventually being fired off toward him in the form of a high-pressure beam of water, capable of piercing through even steel.

GS: Ambrosius has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Ambrosius has attacked Alhazred with Pressure Beam!
GS: Ambrosius has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ambrosius has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        Working together with Zedder Robo to smash the dais is working well so far--the stone is splintering and cracking, the Ley Point beginning to show underneath. But that has its downsides, too. The Ley energy pulses, then flashes out to ram into everything in range, including Dean's Nimrod. It's been taking more damage than he thought thanks to something about the Ley Dragon's earlier attack. Something that's eating away at the armor, or the joints, or something like that; he doesn't *quite* understand all the readouts yet, but it's clear that he's continuing to take damage when he shouldn't be. But because of that, when the Ley flashes, Dean's quick to go on the defensive, Nimrod crossing its armored arms in front of it to protect its vitals. That saves him; because the energy pulses against the armor, the armor's able to soak most of the damage, taking a good battering but leaving the vitals within safe.
        
        Leon calls back to him. "You know it!" Dean calls back, turning back towards the dais. "Riesenlied... We're almost there! Just keep hanging on! Keep fighting! We're all coming for you, so you better be ready for us!"
        
        Perhaps she hears him. Even as the breath weapon continues to charge, the Ley Dragon relents, and this time, the Ley light radiates benevolent energy on the Drfiters. Dean can see it sparkling through Nimrod's cameras, and he smiles brilliantly in return, eyes shining. It's a beautiful sight, the light to Sado's shadow, and he grins, readier than ever for the battle. "All right! We can do this! Let's give it everything we've got! YAAAAAAARGH!!"
        
        With the full power of a hot-blooded shove of the controls, Dean has Nimrod unleash all of its weapons, all at once: a wrist-mounted spike, a wrist-mounted gun, a sword, and of course reinforced fists. First unloading with a barrage of bullets, Nimrod then slams down with the spike, follows up with a sword slash, and then joins both hands and *smashes* them down on whatever remains of the dais as one mega-fist.

GS: Dean Stark has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked Riesenlied with Alexandrite Assault!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark takes 18 damage from Acid!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Alhazred guards a hit from Ambrosius's Pressure Beam for 155 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

        The gourd bounces off of Alhazred's best-strength barrier. It returns and bounces off of Lanval's noggin at appreciable enough return force that it hurls Lanval back. Since he doesn't have a brain (probably), he's fine... enough.
        What's more stunning is in which to hear the White Knight refer to him as 'Holy Seraph' and come to his aid - to the aid of those on foot who are before the mighty power of the Wyvern. Lanval instinctively rolls along away from the sound of debris hitting earthen walls. At the end of all the ruckus that follows, where he hears Alhazred's retorts...
        "What yer doin' ish gonna kill yer home, though... ya reeeeaally don't wanna messh with it." Lanval sells Alhazred's ambitions foolishly short, blinded by his own ingrained understandings of these sorts of things - but he feels a little uncomfortable talking, thinking about those words. He's not sure why.
        Nonetheless, the sheer idea of a wide-scale terraforming thing is beyond him, as he is from a world where everything is bountiful, plenty... feasts for days! Feasts for weeks! It doesn't cross Lanval, in that moment, that it's hard to consider Filgaia 'living' in its current state, even with the flash of the Ley's light.
        Ya shaid yer mom got poishoned, huh... Lanval looks up from where he now sits. He didn't just say that. But he did say it before. From where? That ain't a problem. I can take care o' that... jusht take me to 'er. ...Oh, right. That's when he helped her - Riesenlied - with that poisoning. Why's he thinking of that? It feels like a nice memory, though. He kind of wonders if what Riese is going through was something he could've taken care of the same way, in an innocent presumption of his capabilities versus her present ailments. Maybe he'll get a chance to try after taking care of Alhazred. The thought amuses him.
        It's easier to hear the pleasant memory over the horrid noise that fills the air every time Alhazred speaks. Both of Lanval's eyes open half-lidded. He doesn't quite parse what it is. It's so discordant. Nasty... it feels like snippets of a song that someone would sing to communicate utter misery and despair in ways that just plain do not make sense to him. His confusion, though it does buy Alhazred a second or two out of sheer ponderance, appears to ultimately protect him from its collective effects.
        He watches Ambrosius fire off water. The water adept - a Veruni, is that what Filgaians call water adepts here, maybe? Alhazred seemed to consider them very smart - fires off something from their weird short hooked wand (...ARM, Lanval needs to remind himself, they're called ARMs) and sees a huge blast of water go at such pressure and power that Lanval has no idea what's going on. That is water, being used like that. Wow!
        Lanval staggers along. Leo's earth pillars do provide some interesting mobility challenges in ambling along across the debris-strewn Gutter, but he's happy to stumble along through the path cut open by the Pressure Beam. He quietly hums the rhythm of one of Talise's songs as he drones out the ambient discordance of having heard that weird modulation to Alhazred's voice. As if Alhazred isn't already having to deal with a great beam of water...
        Lanval stands on his tippy-toes, tilts the gourd as he holds it up on high, and it just gushes out even more water, trying to envelop the Quarter Knight with such a deluge that they might lose grasp of the other thing they're holding onto.
        "Ha ha ha!" Lanval finds strength in the pleasant memories imparted... mirth builds from him, like an aura of celebration and good tidings, even in a dreary place like this. Even in a situation like this where NO ONE SHOULD BE LAUGHING.
        ...But it's fine for him, for who he is, as his partially open eyes start to take brighter color...

GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Alhazred with Spilling Goblet!
GS: Seraph Lanval has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Seraph Lanval has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred critically Guards a hit from Seraph Lanval's Spilling Goblet for 25 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Lanval has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

That's much to the purpose, isn't it? If the world weren't so fragile, it wouldn't need its fragile people to step up for it.

Noeline shouts to Matilda, and Matilda nods back to her; she reaches into her coat and pulls forth a shield, getting ready to push on through. She doesn't totally abandon Mariel instantly, though; she starts punching through immediately, but only *stops* punching through once she's certain Mariel is okay to proceed, too.

The fear around Matilda is palpable, as she proceeds. She's a little numb to fear, a lot of the time; in Krosse, she was more than capable of shouting over those feelings with the feelings in her head. Here... here, things are different. It's not fear of being hurt -- fear of a thing Matilda knows will happen time and time again, fear of something that feels at this point as natural as sun and rain. It's a different fear, more vulnerable, more...

Matilda doesn't know its name. She swallows hard, once... and begins to push.

"Riesenlied," Matilda says, voice soft, quiet. She shares in the fear, more than anything else; it feels overwhelming, dizzying. Something seems to click, though, as she starts to push -- and that something catches in her throat for a moment. When she manages to speak again, amid the pushing, her voice remains quiet -- though perhaps... less soft.

"... How are you so afraid? You have so many people who came for you..."

DG: Matilda Whitehead has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...To be True to You....
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

Can it wait? murmurs a voice in the Trial Knight's ear.

K.K. strides over the smoking husks of the Esperanzas ravaged by an avaricious netherworld, not once looking back.

"It cannot," is their crisp reply, to all the world seeming like they're speaking to nothing but the open air.

                  ... to be held in captivity of will ...
            to not be allowed freedom of being... of agency...
                   ... that is the true loss of dignity.

There is no answer to Siegfried; not at first. The Trial Knight looks towards the Quarter Knight, as if quietly assessing the veracity of his words...

... before that helmed head dips once, in a single nod of respectful acknowledgment.

"So it shall be. Your words shall reach her."

Said as if there were not the slightest sliver of doubt in their mind.

"That, I shall see to."

They listen to the song, the sentiment behind it like a spiritual tether that leads even when conventional senses cannot. It wings through the halls of what could be the Photosphere in some sense of the word, their footfalls echoing resoundingly with every step they take as they mull over the content of those words.

It does not last long. Not before they feel the ground tremor beneath them. Not until they hear it crack.

Not until they see that monolithic thorn sunder the earth, decorated with a thousand thousand thorns more that seem like they could skewer even the most adamant of armor, trying to delay, to deter --

-- to force them off the path.

They listen, to Noeline's words, reaching out in a way only she could. They hear their own words, reflected in the sentiment of the soul. And K.K.'s helm dips slowly, horns gleaming against the pulsing light that surrounds them.

                  No matter how harsh the journey may be,
                 no matter how cold the winds may bite...

"... Remember, Riesenlied."

               ... I shall not suffer the fate of a coward.

"Fear is not cowardice."

Their right hand snaps to their side as they stride forward, straight for the unending sprawl of spikes. They do not elaborate.

They simply raise their hands high as a hammer of frightening proportions is suddenly just -there- in their hands --

-- being brought down with such unyielding force it is as if they wish to shatter that impasse down to its very roots. They do not elaborate.

Because they know they do not need to.

DG: K.K. has used their Tool Where Did You Get That Hammer toward their party's challenge, ...To be True to You....
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        Alhazred's voice lodges in Leo's brain. At first the sound is merely grating in some way he can't define, but with each word, everything grows stranger, as if the Demon were casting some sort of spell on him. "I said SILENCE!" the White Knight roars. Not even the sound of his own voice is enough to drown out the Quarter Knight's words.

        'That device is worthless to a fool like you!'
                "Ghk," is Leo's eloquent response. He's seeing two Alhazreds, each holding up his own beacon. The booming roar of Wyvern's engines distorts into something that sounds like reality itself were coming apart around him. The sorcerous might of Golem Sado becomes elemental terror. Leo clutches the beacon to his chest, sinking to a knee. Thoughts tear themselves apart before they can form.

        Leo's own voice comes back to him, clear and determined.

        'Go. Get your wounded out of here.'.

        It's a memory that's not his. He sees himself through someone else's eyes, regal despite the dirt and blood on his uniform. Behind him are Drifters, and citizens of Adlehyde whose hunger for vengeance has overwhelmed their honor. Leo's heart breaks at their pain, but he will not allow a slaughter. That is not justice.

        Leo's brain stops clawing at itself in confusion and terror. Things become comprehensible again. The first thing he sees is the form of the Ley Dragon, across the battlefield. He feels the weight of the beacon, and his blade. The energy of the Leyline surges through him, reinvigorating him, focusing him. The ringing in his ears becomes bearable.

        "Thank you," Leo whispers. Muscles tense. "I will not let your bravery be in vain."

        The Beastman raises Alhazred's beacon, one-handed, and hurls it to the ground. It strikes the earth, rolls a foot or two, and, if Alhazred doesn't manage to get to it in the interim, stops between a pair of earthen slabs as they rise up and crash down on it, crushing it to scrap.

        Freed of his burden, Leo rushes Alhazred and his machinery, closing to melee for the first time this fight. He moves with such speed that he's suddenly right there, in the Quarter Knight's face, bringing his blade down in a two-handed chop across Alhazred's midsection. It might look like a wild swing, but the terrifying power behind it is carefully-constrained. The stance is solid, difficult to break.

GS: White Knight Leo enters a Counter stance!
GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Alhazred with Flashing Crescent!
GS: White Knight Leo has gained 2 Combo!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Alhazred critically Guards a hit from White Knight Leo's Flashing Crescent for 59 hit points!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: White Knight Leo has lost 1 Combo!

GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Dean Stark's Alexandrite Assault for 162 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Kahran Ramses has posed.

Kahran Ramses snarls in frustration as Alhazred continues to elude lethal damage... and as the -Lambs- bawling around the creature prevent him from bringing his most powerful weapons to bear. "For you to call us rational taints us with a compliment," the big man counters, bringing Wyvern's massive sword around for another slapping, slashing strike, spraying additional shards in the Quarter Knight's direction. "The fruit your experimentation bears is not one we, nor the surface-dwellers, should wish to take from. Your plans---"

Further dialogue is cut off as Alhazred's true purpose behind his chatter is made clear; the sonic assault passes through the walls of Wyvern's cockpit, and begins attacking the Gebler Commander's inner ear, his sense of balance and vertigo. Ramses grits his teeth and bears it, a trickle of blood sliding down from his left nostril - though the former Wind Element is made of stern stuff indeed, even he has a threshold for pain. And if he does not end this swiftly, this Alhazred may surpass it.

Wyvern holds its ground now, rising to its full height, as tiny modules separate themselves from the wings at its back. The little golden pods - Aerods, for the few who know of them - begin carving out lines of light in the air as they dance around the Command Gear, flowing on tendrils of the Gebler Commander's raw power. Ramses pulses his energy through the Ether Amplifier, and Wyvern's body begins to shimmer with a mix of golden-green light. "As I was saying," snarls a perturbed Ramses, his head still throbbing from the assault, "Your plans, whatever they may be, are not something I will allow you to execute. This is not your world, creature," Ramses says, though he leaves the last two words of his rejoinder unspoken.

The Aerods spin in a rapid circle, and light begins to gather at the tip of each pod. "Anyone within a dozen yards of that machine may wish to evacuate," Ramses suggests, then counts

(one etrenank)
(two etrenank)
(three etrenank)
(four etrenank)

before unleashing a beam of brilliant power.

GS: Kahran Ramses has attacked Alhazred with Aerod - Full Charge!
GS: Kahran Ramses has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Kahran Ramses has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Kahran Ramses's Aerod - Full Charge for 69 hit points!
DG: Mariel has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...To be True to You....
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

You can tell some measure of a man (or woman (or nonbinary individual)) by the quality of their gaze. This, at least, is what Maya has been raised to think, and she finds her feet rooted squarely to the floor for the few brief moments that Siegfried's eyes make contact with hers. She cannot recognize him without his armour, without a certain polearm featuring a great and terrible eye set into it. What she does recognize is the gravity of uncountable years of experience, of hardship, and an unbending will. And no time for bullshit.

Noeline begins to speak, but doesn't finish her thought. 'He is...' is as far as she gets, as the man declines to answer. The girl with the golden curls speaks up in support of this move. "I--uh, suddenly don't feel like it's my place to ask. . ."

Best to leave it there. Maya hooks an arm around Lydia's as she skates near, the two secured together by shared crook of the elbow while they skid through shattered electronics and wreathing, spectral vines. 'You're basically my hero now, fyi,' Maya's senses reel at someone saying 'fyi' out loud, 'And by now I mean since like a year ago.' and the rattled Drifter's expression melts into a smile--as if the many existential threats looming outside didn't matter. And hell, perhaps they don't. Riesenlied's haunting melody reaches her ears in the same moment as those sentiments, and it reminds Maya that guns and spells won't win the day, they'll just buy them enough time to drum up what will really do the trick: empathy. Feelings. Memories.

"You goof." she speaks quietly, fondly, abandoning caution to the wind to embrace Lydia loosely with one arm before anything can befall them. Let Riesenlied know that even in the heart of danger, these bonds shine brighter still. "You're our favourite little sister," a pause, "or daughter. Whatever you prefer."

Maya releases her to do what she does best: be cute, and unleash a loving brand of hell. Handy, as Prissa apparently understood that awful explanation entirely and informs her of it. "Well--" Maya stutters at first. She also pauses, hands trailing over the surface of a strange and phantasmal thorn that bars her passage. And indeed, everyone's passage. "--that's good, because I had to go through an incredible amount of nonsense to get my head around it. You're a sharp one, you know that?"

'Fear is not cowardice', speaks the tower of armour which Maya cannot reasonably identify. But she is of a mind to take such things to heart, rather than dwell on the mystery. After all: anyone who has come to Riesenlied's aid at this hour must have some measure of heart, in which beats some measure of Good. That is simply how it is. The blonde looks down at the thorny mass before her, and at her bare hands, unarmoured as they are. "Good point..." she murmurs, then looks up to where the sky might be. In a normal place. "Hey, Riesenlady, are you scared out there? Well, I sure am. But you've got the biggest group of incredible people I've ever seen coming through to pick you up and make it all better, and--"

Maya closes her eyes and puts both hands upon the thorns. Let them hurt. It's only a temporary sting. "--when you're in the middle of a crowd, hell, it's really not that bad, so cheer up! Smile!"

Maya feels a fool, hoping the Dragon can hear her, but given the ability to weaponize empathy she experienced last week, she doesn't feel much of a fool.

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        The blood is red, red and brightly glimmering like the heart of a pomegranate.

        She already knew that this is Riesenlied's body. This is not some thing that holds the Hyadean captive at its core. This is her.

        I will not stop.

        Let us be rejected together.

        "Riesenlied!" she cries out from within the Gear, the great sword born before her as if it were again a replacement for a shield, the Gear's left hand steadying the blade before itself.

        "Do you remember how we had first met?"

        "When I had been trapped. When a girl and a boy went forth in search of assistance, you rose to the challenge though it put you in peril. What we faced in there that day and what we have faced since, I have not forgotten it. Riesenlied, I have not forgotten the warmth and kindness of your heart!"

        Even if the world should reject us both, we have found a place here speaks Avril on a deeper level, through whatever transmission she hopes the Medium might provide..
        Come back to us. Come back to the place you built.

        The Medium shifts again spiritually as if discomfited; something that should not be is coming. "Careful--" she warns again, though as the digitized copy of the protector Guardian surges into being, it may already be a warning come too late for her compatriots. As it stands, a massive pixelized and corrupted mace slams into her great sword, sending small chips flying. Her Gear, attempting to hold its ground, instead finds itself slowly forced back. Rubble flies up in a spray.

        Before Avril forces Skadi back in a mimicry of a human fighter's fade, pulling free of the clinch.

        Her gaze and attentions lift.
        Something... in the back of her mind...
        Calls to her.

        The Golem, she realizes with a start. It's the Golem.
        ...Charging something? It's trying to-- ah.
        But not... no, something is missing...
        Yes. She understands what it is now. What it needs. As she draws a breath. It's as easy as it is to draw a breath.

        Lily feeds the Golem Ether, or something like it.
        So does Avril.

        And Skadi, as if understanding something on a deeper level, immediately surges ahead, seeking a particular place to stand.

        Avril, stirring from her reverie, shouts out: "Everyone-- fall back!"

DG: Maya Schrodinger has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...To be True to You....
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has spent 1 Combo on Reload, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Golem Sado with Twinflower Maneuver!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
GS: Golem Sado takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Twinflower Maneuver for 0 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Avril Vent Fleur!
GS: Golem Sado enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Reload! Golem Sado gains 15 extra FP from Avril Vent Fleur!
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
==================<* CHALLENGE - ...To be True to You... *>===================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 A massive thorn erupts from beneath the ground and bars your path. It         
 shimmers with a fearful light, the Dragon's own attempt to block you from     
 approaching ever closer, closer to fears too intimate to face.                
                                                                               
                   Often I wonder - where have our muses left?                 
                                                                               
                   To springs, shaded groves, and sunlit hills                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
 It glows to the touch, and can only be toppled over with an equally           
 passionate shove, filled with confidence.                                     
                                                                               
                  Smitten am I with a fear of love-filled song                 
                                                                               
                   That tell the tale of how sweet things fade                 
                                                                               
                                     But...                                    
                                                                               
                                                                               
 It takes strength to have confidence and say:                                 
                                                                               
                         It's all right to be afraid...                        
                                                                               
                                                                               
 The Ley Dragon relents, but for a moment. The light of the Ley suffuses the   
 Drifters outside, filling them with inspiration.                              
                                                                               
 Digger Effect:                                                                
 GS: The Ley Dragon grants Inspire and Reload to the Drifters!                 
=Dungeon Conditions: Treasure, Reckless=======================================
===============<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart - Round 3 *>================
====================< Results - ...To be True to You... >=====================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mariel                              0 --(5)--> 5                   Fail
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matilda Whitehead                   0 --(5)--> 5                   Fail
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Prissa                              0 --(5)--> 5                   Fail
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Good Luck Bat                       2   Brute   Effects: Strengthen           
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
K.K.                                0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Where Did You Get That Hammer       2   Brute   Effects: Strengthen           
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Maya Schrodinger                    0 --(0)--> 0                   Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Noeline                     55 --(25)--> 80                Pass
Conditions: Hesitate(1)|Reckless(2)|Treasure(1)
Effects: Strengthen(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Noeline has passed this challenge! The party gained 25 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Amidst the churning Ley, a black silhouette advances ever deeper. The storm's intensity tears at him, burning at his body and soul with power that is utterly foreign to his physiology. But he must; the threads of power that connect Mother to the planet must be severed. They must be--

Something emerges from the lifeblood of the planet. Of all the Guardians, it is almost certainly the patron of St. Centour who has the most reason to loathe the creatures called Metal Demons. Memories of the empty streets, the overturned carts of fruit left rotting where they were sold, the of a people's everyday lives interrupted so suddenly and fatally.

They couldn't protect them.

All that could be protected-- was a single, solitary soul.

 And now, twisted and corrupted and false though it may be, the incarnation of that place's protector comes for him.

The sound of steel clattering against steel, of blade tearing through body, cuts through the air.

An arm... falls to the floor.

...

...

...

"Perfection...?" Zedder Robo whispers, Doom Bringer's baleful edge extending from a molten, boiling arm. "No. I don't need that. But you are right, Alhazred. She... Riese. I've always been kind of jealous."

"I know it's dumb. But you always seemed to know what you wanted to do," he says, lifting Doom Bringer's broad blade high. "You always seemed to have a... A purpose. Everyone that mattered always seemed to fall in love with you, just for being you. Heh. Heheheheh. It's a stupid thing to be envious about, to want to be the popular one, to have the strength to... To go your own way. To overcome... Everything."

"But."

"I saw you suffer. I saw you getting... Weaker. Every day, every time you gave a little more of yourself, sacrificed a little more. You threw away your dream for a hundred smaller ones, and I couldn't understand it! And so I... I couldn't look at you the way I should have; I kept searching for the idol that I built up in my head so much that I refused to see what was right in front of me. It hurt. It hurt to see you like that. I should have been there more. Should have tried to help you more." The Doom Bringer burns. A halo of inverted light surrounds it, just over a corona of brilliant, bright green energies, "But... I promised myself I wouldn't live a life of regrets anymore. I'm too greedy. I don't want to give up anything else. Anyone else."

"And that includes you! This life! This world! The warrior who I strived to surpass, the commander who guided our way, the sister who lit all of our worlds, I'll take them all back!" Zedder Robo charges, his voice reaches a tremendous crescendo. "We'll forge a place for all of us to live in this world! Guardians! As many times as it takes, we'll prove our worth! Again and again and again--!"

Doom Bringer is swung.

...Right through the thickest root of ley energy Zed could find.

Once, before, the Primarch Rahab's connection to the planet was severed in much the same way. Now, again, Zed becomes the blade that cleaves the world... To save the world...!

GS: Zed has spent 5 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Zed has attacked Riesenlied with Final Zednamic Special!
GS: Zed has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Golem Sado has posed.

Lily can't hear the private transmission Leon sends to Riesenlied. ...She can hear the hesitation in his voice speaking to her, though. It is telling. Lily says nothing for the moment. ...She can pretend that it's only because this control takes her full focus.

Defending certainly does. The Ley Dragon's talons rise, and Lily spots the burst of energy coming. She puts out her hand once more, and after an instant's charging responds to the power of the Ley with golden fire that erupts before her in a great wall. The force of it deflects most, but not all of the blast, the pure energy splashing at Lily herself with a terrible force. "Gh--"

But the explosion is working; Lily can see that the battle is changing, that her plan may well be working. With the efforts of the others to engage her, with the efforts of those assailing Riesenlied directly, Lily sees the use of her terrible weapon and knows what must come next.

But even as she feels herself sagging, burned, she stares forward.

If that weapon takes effect before they can finish this, will any of their efforts matter?

She is shielded from Alhazred's attack by her proximity to the Golem, luckily. But she could not count on the light that suffuses her after a moment; the sheer power of the Ley that rather than tearing at her being energizes her. Lily lets herself draw it in--and stares towards Riesenlied again. Behind her, the Golem looms, great, and if Sado does not look for Dean...

It at least remains a figure of nightmares past rather than going berserk on the Drifters here.

"...I love you, Riesenlied," Lily murmurs. "That's why..."

If there is an end to the sentence she does not give it. Instead she closes her eyes, and prepares. Both hands move to the sword she holds, the Galatine which rises in her grip, held parallel to her body before her. This blade, lent as an implement in action promised to be great, gleams in the light of the Ley ahead. ...Until the light around Lily goes out.

Shadows obscure her form abrubtly, and there is only a whisper where she must still be, "<...Power.>"

Golem Sado stretches up, up, upward, too large for any space, a titan in strange flesh and metal. Its mouth opens, horrific maw full of teeth, and it begins to draw in power. Lines of energy form, a visible vortex.

This is when Avril, too, channels power to the Golem, and the additional power floods into the ancient weapon. Something was missing, but an icy chill briefly surrounds the energies at its face. Strange light with no direction forms, and then compresses into a sphere of violet at Golem Sado's mouth. It intensifies, building, building, and building until it doubles in size, takes on an aurora of its own. The sheer force it brings to bear is itself oppressive, all light in Sado's vicinity beginning to dim as elemental Darkness itself asserts force. The very stone beneath it begins to crack, and an audible whine accompanies the level of magic brought to bear.

Slowly, agonizingly slowly to look at, as if time has slowed, the Golem lowers its head, tilting down, down, until it is staring directly at the center of the dais, at the Ley Point itself, the very energies that help to sustain this world. A tiny beam of white rockets forward, but it does nothing on its own, only a harbinger of what is to come. ...And so it does.

The energies before the Golem meet their zenith, pulse dangerously, and after an instant of stock-still silence erupt. Suddenly there is a violet beam of terrible power emitted straight from the Golem's mouth, and the entire battlefield seems dimmer as if all light has been weakened. Light reaches the blue-flame Ley point.

The bombardment lasts a moment, two, many seconds as the Golem vomits unholy power directly into the dais, the air thick with force until an explosion begins, a chain reaction that is brilliant in the gloom. A red dome begins, blotting out vision as it grows, and grows, and grows to encompass the altar in one grand explosion.

GS: Golem Sado has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        There is a streak of white.

        A silence.

        And then, all is rent asunder. Rock and rubble rises, caught in the aftershock of the explosion.

        Skadi jumps, attaining a sort of lift atop one piece of debris. Before it leaps.

GS: Golem Sado has spent 5 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Golem Sado has attacked Riesenlied with Armageddon!
GS: Golem Sado has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Golem Sado has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Riesenlied takes a glancing hit from Zed's Final Zednamic Special for 132 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Golem Sado's Armageddon for 273 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        DIGGER TEAM:

        Noeline speaks of how Riesenlied is waiting for her father as much as the rest of her family, her friends, her compatriots to Siegfried. She urges her to not linger, as she puts that trust and hope in which she has gathered, in the Tear...

        ... 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.

        No matter how much Noeline derides herself to not be as empathic -- they both know that being empathetic is not merely the act of possessing a power. Riesenlied intrinsically knows that on a subtle wavelength too. And that is why...

        Even as the chain continues to snap as the Ley Dragon continues to woefully struggle against them outside, she can keep pressing onward. As the Dragon's Tear lays against her, and it shimmers with a resplendent concotion of emotion--

        Whatever we discover... we will meet it together.
        Whatever we choose... we will choose together.
        I promise.

        A promise... that... is something that should not be broken...

        And Siegfried knows on some level, even as he glances to Mariel, as K.K. asks if his path is clear now. He no longer commands them. It is well and truly the end of an era.

        Siegfried says that he will save his words for her...

        "The practice stopped, as our race grew... as we found Filgaia to be our new home." His lips curl back, into a frown, and he kneels down in front of her. "But old traditions carry weight."

        It is not altogether an indistinct memory for her. The very moment in which she spoke to him, with no name... just a neonate, like any other, seeking the scantest bit of approval. A memory that she'll never forget... even now in this form...

        Those memories keep flooding forward. Lydia skates forward, as she speaks. She speaks of when they first came to Elru, and she was so scared she was freaking out in her room and she came back with cake... and said it was all right. And-- they don't just need to feel scared together...

        They can...

        I am happy now. I want to keep being happy. And comfortable. And I want our adventures to be full of laughs and joking around and being kind of lazy about it sometimes.

        Those words of Lydia's... that are keeping her buoyed. Even if she cannot hold her hand when it was needed... Riesenlied...

        ...I want... that too...

        *CRACK*

        As the bat hits hard, as the thorn starts to shimmer and fade.

        But here, for all they are called tainted, trash, whatever!" Prissa raises her hand, curling it hard enough to make the leather squeak a little. "They are strong. I can feel their energy! I wish I could catch it in a blade!

        There is something perhaps poetic and coincidental, in the way Riesenlied brings that memory to the fore. That she recalls Prissa wishing she could capture the Tainted's energy into a blade.

        Here, then, perhaps...

        She has now succeeded.

        A weapon thought ruined. A weapon of crystal, battered and damaged and blood-soaked, a weapon of untold grief. But it is hers. It is theirs.

        And this ancient crystal blade... 'Mistilteinn'. The sister to Laevateinn, perhaps.

        ...you...did catch it...

        It is theirs, and it encapsulates their energy... a blade reborn.

        Mariel may quail a little at some of the company present, but she recalls the white flower that Riesenlied thinks of. The little flower that she loves..

        The little white flower they both love.

        She pulls it out. It has no medicinal purpose, but that doesn't matter. She holds it, and cups it into her hands. It doesn't flash with the power of the ley or anything... it is simply-- gentle. Baskar wisemen and women use it to bless crops...

        ...the fereshte...did too...

        That's it. She's gravitated to it. It isn't intense, but... as that flower turns into light, the two start to bond. It's fragile, like a seed sown on bitter and shorn soil, but...

        There's something shining about it.

        K.K. inexorably continues onward. They appear satisfied with the exchange of which father has held to his own heart, to have words with their daughter such.

        The song continues onward, ever flowing, ever pathing them through this spiritual space... until they arrive at the thorn.

        Remember, Riesenlied. Fear is not cowardice.

        She remembers... she remembers the words. At a time upon which her newly burgeoned empathic senses blossomed and she was thrown into chaos and terror.

        When they came to her at a moment where she needed it most, time and time again...

        Yet...

        She knows their paths must diverge, at some point...

        And Maya? Maya speaks fondly to Lydia in turn. A bashful part of Riesenlied might say she's endeared that her daughter has found such a wonderful friend to hook onto. Maya listens to that song, and she knows that she'll be able to drum up what will really do it--

        Empathy.

        'Are you scared out there?

        It is these words that seem to be joined by Matilda's most sensible question. Even encompassed in her fear, she feels one that is slightly different. Not a fear of a thing that will recur again and again... but...

        ... how are you so afraid? You have so many people who came for you...

        Maya cheers her and says that when she's in the middle of a crowd, hell, it's not that bad! Cheer up, smile!

        But I'm sure you know by now that... Filgaia's not a world that sustains miracles.

        Those words... echo about her. Rebound around her. Is it the fear... no matter how scant, that a miracle may not be sustained? Will they succeed today, to be disappointed by tomorrow? Will the seedling of today be withered away by tomorrow's storm...?

        It's not clear... yet...

        As they shatter through the thorn...

        That awaits them.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        GUNSLINGER TEAM:

        Leon continues to perhaps do what he does best -- to be a commander. Here, with Dean under his wing, is there perhaps just the barest hint of the way things used to be? And yet, in many ways, a glimpse of how things have changed... but not particularly in a bad way.

        And while he is not expressive, he knows how to drill in statements at the right moment. The Dragon seems to connect to that tightbeam transmission, perhaps equipped with the mechanism in some fashion:

        You're not like Lily and I. Nor like Josie or Jude. Or even like Fei, Elly or Xantia...

        Once, she espoused those fears to Lily. How she feared she was falling behind. That she can't catch up to them. Those same fears led her to begin to really doubt herself... and in the interstice of that moment, when Lily and Leon were distracted such, when she found herself plagued by her own fears--

        ... You remind us that we could be better. You remind Lily that she could be better. The Wolves need you... or I fear we might lose her way.

        And with that spoken, the Gear slides over -- several slashes from his heat saber come with a brilliant flash, perhaps aided by the technique that he has learnt from the Kislevi Six Hews. Training that has served him well--

        --as the Ley Dragon stumbles and collapses with an almost final-sounding shriek.

        Neriah finds herself struggling in a unique way -- as she finds that Valmar's power demands something deeply direct. Not like the way she's manifested those loving and tender villagers and cuccos, always the cuccos that attract her... it is a power that demands pain.

        As she struggles against the part of her that just speaks to just annihilate the place whole, to consume it in darkness...

        What I love about Riesenlied is her kindness -- her purity. I don't want to taint her.

        But she can be straightforward, and as she summons that unholy energy, perhaps joining with that of the Golem Sado's, Neriah's dark bombs blast on through; one of them skirts Riesenlied and sends her sprawling, shackled by Noeline's chains that are preventing her from doing something truly self-dangerous.

        But Neriah... speaks frankly. She bares her soul. She loved her so much that she loved her way into failing her... As that Ley continues to thrum with an ebbing pain that Neriah can sense is close to its limits.

        She can hear a single coherent thought.

        I don't... want to... give up on you...

        Even in the midst of what must be extreme duress from the poisoning Alhazred has inflicted upon her. Even as she literally is being scorched alive by the very wellspring of the world. She still... thinks of her, in this moment...

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Within the distance, Ambrosius has a quiet, private smile to himself as he knows his words were heard. And Lanval ponders for a moment if he can cure her predeliction at present, with the same power over water that he once did for her before... and Leo recalls that moment of his, when he staved himself off against vengeance and slaughter. When he held steadfast to what his belief of justice is.

        There is a quiet sensation of a smile to them.

        And Dean continues to put pressure through the Nimrod, as he works together with Zed. He continues to speak with energy and power, buoyed by the feelings that they've both exchanged to each other. For a moment, she can see all the Drifters as they converge upon the Point. With all his power, Nimrod launches-- every single weapon at once--

        It hurts Dean to see other people's tears. But he wouldn't ever deny her the right to them.

        --it's perhaps not towards his swords, his guns, his fists that she sheds a tear. But because... perhaps... because that was when the heart ignites.

        When they're taking a small step towards a big dream... that is when Zed continues to proceed forward. Past the fake Centaur that so reminds Zed of the place where everyone's lives were so fatally interrupted. That left only a single soul...

        Zed speaks earnestly. He's jealous...

        You always seemed to know what you wanted to do. A... purpose.

        That everyone that mattered seemed to fall in love with her, just for being her... so why has she been so confused about herself all this time? What is shown in public, and what struggles in private... being the "popular one", as Zed might call it (and Riese would shyly deny it)...

        ...you chose...too...

        She has the werewithal to remind her of his own stand. Against Berserk, on that day in Wayside... perhaps they would not be here if he did not do that. But...

        He believes that he shouldn't have regrets anymore. And for that purpose--

        Doom Bringer is swung... straight through the Ley root.

        It is as Avril says. She calls out to her again. She implores her to remember how they first met. When a girl and a boy had went forth to search assistance, and she hurried despite the wounds in her own mind...

        We have found a place here.

        i... we can't turn away now... to the place... we'll return to someday...

        Avril feeds her power towards the Golem, Sado. And she warns everyone to fall back.

        It is at this time that the ancient Golem of Darkness moves. As Lily sees the battle shifting, that their plan may be working. But she is burned, sagging, her power diminished...

        And she speaks it. Within that ancient language of Zeboim, she speaks the word of <Power.>

        The Golem has loomed over the air, the violet sphere emanating over the Ley Dragon, further, further...

        ...until within that last moment-- that entire light seems to just vanish for a moment. Unholy power erupts into the dais--

        With the force of Valmar in the form of Neriah's Dark Bomb--
        With that inversion that Zed's Doom Bringer has once brought on Rahab--
        With the full force of Dean's assault as he unloads everything from his heart--
        With the strikes from Weglaff's heat saber as he brings the Dragon to the ground...

        And the Ley Point--

        shatters.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        What happens next is nothing short of a world-ending roar, a great blue conflagration that one may be forgiven for making feel at the time of Filgaia's ancient Great Conflagration or the Day of Collapse. The roar of the Ley comes nakedly and fully as the last of the blows shatters the Ley Point in its entirety--

        --but the fire-less flame passes, and the first, scant weaves of fresh air and something approaching safe space come back.

        And more than that, each of the combatants can see the effects as it launches upwards, like a bolt from the blue. Something critical and primal ruptures, and the bold and heavy shriek of the Ley as it takes gantries and building structures with it cannot be ignored, not even passingly.

        The backlash is severe -- severe enough that the pains are evidently so even from a distance. And to think of a world-leech that is directly supping upon it... for a moment, it feels as if that's... it. The mission-- successful. The Ley Point ruptured.

        Mother's connection to the Ley Line has been severed.

        But...

GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied has become ENRAGED!
GS: Riesenlied has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Riesenlied with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Alhazred with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Neriah Parringer with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Golem Sado with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked White Knight Leo with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Seraph Lanval with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Zed with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Ambrosius with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Kahran Ramses with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Leon Albus with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Dean Stark with The Ley Point Has Shattered!
GS: Zed takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to Zed!
GS: Zed takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Alhazred enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Alhazred completely evades The Ley Point Has Shattered from Riesenlied!
GS: Golem Sado takes a glancing hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to Golem Sado!
GS: Golem Sado takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Ambrosius guards a hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to Ambrosius!
GS: Ambrosius takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a glancing hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to Avril Vent Fleur!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Kahran Ramses enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Kahran Ramses has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Kahran Ramses completely evades The Ley Point Has Shattered from Riesenlied!
DG: Noeline has drawn a new Challenge.
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
==================<* CHALLENGE - Till Death Do Us Part... *>==================
|Type: Climax      |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 4          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 All the passages lead here in the end. To a large pit where you feel there    
 may have once been a Heart. An inexorable presence of sorrow and lament hits  
 you the moment you approach. But you must keep going. Go, into the dark.      
                                                                               
 But as you descend--                                                          
                                                                               
                     These fantastic memories that, one day                    
                                                                               
                     Will go and /truly/ become fantastic...                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
 It gets harder. And harder. The closer you get... the more the song...        
 fades.                                                                        
                                                                               
                              We all did our best.                             
                                                                               
                     So what is it that we have yearned for?                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
 There's nothing here. The closer you get... the more tempting it feels to     
 give in. Let your knees buckle. Let yourself sink. It's worse, further you    
 go into the dark. And at this moment where you think nobody can see you...    
                                                                               
                     Only the Stars in the sky would know...                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Is... this how it will truly end? A new world which was never sought. A       
 never-sought world, where no one can flourish. Here, in the dark, within the  
 realm of a girl's deep sleep. Within the realm where a Heart was torn apart.  
 Where one is bereft of body. Of mind. Of soul.                                
                                                                               
                           Before my final farewell...                         
                                                                               
                    I just want to say one more thing...I...                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
                          Let not hope disappear into                          
                                                                               
                                                                               
                                                                               
                                 Nothingness...                                
                                                                               
                                its dark in here                               
                                                                               
                              someone... please...                             
                                                                               
                                                                               
                                                                               
                                  GS: .........                                
=Dungeon Conditions: Collapse, Fright, Overzealous============================
GS: Neriah Parringer enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Neriah Parringer has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Neriah Parringer completely evades The Ley Point Has Shattered from Riesenlied!
GS: Leon Albus takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to Leon Albus!
GS: Leon Albus takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Seraph Lanval takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to Seraph Lanval!
GS: Seraph Lanval enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: White Knight Leo guards a hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: White Knight Leo enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 It is clear that none of these people have a proper appreciation for the miracle that Alhazred has wrought with this Tainted. "Yes, it is clear that none of you realize the follow of what you are doing!" Alhazred replies to Ambrosius with a dismissive tone. "What do you think you are doing for that poor girl? Do you think that you are saving her? Delivering her from pain and suffering? I have PERFECTED her! I have made it so the Guardians are unable to use their powers to harm her, even as she does everything that they ask! She begged them to show a way forward where Metal Demons and the Guardians can coexist - and what did they give her?"
 
 The blast of water slams into Alhazred, and from the shower of silver blood that erupts from where it has hit it is clear that it has done quite a bit of damage. But the Quarter Knight powers through the pain, reestablishing his shield as Lanval attempts to follow up on the attack. The spiritual entity clearly had a preference for water - and this time the anti-magic shell repels the attack, keeping most of it from breaking through. He looks at Lanval with a scoff, and continues. "They give her pain and suffering! She channels their power to her own detriment! The hypocritical gods of this world would see someone who clearly has a good soul suffer for their own amusement! To 'prove herself' as better than the disgusting, insipid vermin who team upon this world and the Guardians claim to be some 'chosen species' that they will support!"
 
 As Leo summons a pair of rock walls to try and crush him with, Alhazred cranks the disruption field to maximum power, the anti-magic shell disrupting the binding magic and crumbling the walls into lesser stones that fall to the ground. "And instead of pain, I have given her PERFECTION! And I will not allow you fools to rob me of my research!"
 
 He slams his claw into Leo as the knight closes in, keeping him from delivering much force behind his blow. It is a desperate move, and unfortunately there is a much more dangerous attack that he is going to have to deal with in a moment.
 
 The massive beams of power that Ramses unleash lash out towards the main unit that Alhazred has been calibrating. His red eyes widen for a moment... and there is not much more that he can do than jump in front of the incoming barrage of fire from the multiple aerods.
 
 The lasers converge together, just as the Quarter Knight interposes himself, throwing his claws up and generating a barrier...
 
 The Gutter is rocked by another earthshaking blast.
 
 Sparks and a stream of smoke pours from the central teleporter unit that Alhazred had been working on. If it is functional after that blast is indeed questionable - but Alhazred's technology is made of stern stuff. It may well be able to function at this point.
 
 Alhazred, on the other hand, is not in great shape.
 
 There is a large crunch as the Quarter Knight drops to the ground, landing heavily on two large claws... and quite a few smaller, insectoid looking ones. The golden mask is still there, although it is slightly melted and warped - but it rests above what looks like a horrifying mouth with an eye looking out of it. A wide, strange looking thorax rises up, topped by another eye with what looks like some strange, claw tipped wings that are clearly not capable of flight running down the sides. The dynamics between this thing and the cloth covered scientist before do not really seem to work, confusing the eye and making the brain demand to know * what the hell, seriously*??
 
 " It has been some time since I needed this form... and it appears that your allies have shattered Mother's dreams. Heh - I wish I could see her face at this moment." Alhazred states, his voice coming from the lower mouth... and the upper section as well, giving it an odd binaural quality. He grimaces as the leyline explodes, the energy lashing out everywhere - but he is Alhazred, AND HE WILL NOT BE DENIED. Not to mention the considerable defenses against magical energy woven into his body. " None the less, if I am to complete my work, I must repair the teleporter... and you must ALL DIE HERE AND NOW!"
 
 The Quarter Knight raises his upper portion, the eye scanning about for a moment as he rears back, one claw tapping onto a small device held by a metal tendril. Muttering rapidly under his breath, Alhazred makes a number of quick calculations, drawing the necessary field boundaries and coordinates - he needs to not hit himself or his device, and he certainly doesn't want to hit his masterpiece. And then with a snort, he hits a button - and grins maniacally. " TASTE THE POWER OF MY SCIENCE, AND THE FULL CAPACITY OF MY PERSONAL REACTOR'S POWER!"
 
 Energy swirls in the air, manifesting out of the walls of the Photosphere as it gathers into four bolts of deadly power. " DIE! SUPER TRANSMITTED MEGA CRAAAAAAAAASSSHHH!!!"
 
 Once again, the Gutter shudders as the Megacrash erupts downwards, aimed at Wyvern, Ambrosius, Lanval, and Leo in a massive display of power.

GS: Alhazred has activated a Force Action!
GS: Alhazred has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Kahran Ramses with Super Transmitted Mega Crash!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Seraph Lanval with Super Transmitted Mega Crash!
GS: Alhazred has attacked Ambrosius with Super Transmitted Mega Crash!
GS: Alhazred has attacked White Knight Leo with Super Transmitted Mega Crash!
GS: Alhazred has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark critically Guards a hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Ambrosius critically Guards a hit from Alhazred's Super Transmitted Mega Crash for 53 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Ambrosius!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Ambrosius takes an additional 45 damage from Reaper!
GS: Ambrosius has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Kahran Ramses has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        In the wake of Golem Sado's annihilation, in the wake of the Gears' concentrated assault as Zed slices through the Ley-root and Valmar's blasts of darkness overwhelm the Ley Point and let loose with that energy above...

        The Ley Dragon's silhouette remains from what is left of the Gutter -- not much more, from the conjoint conflagration of the Drifters and the resultant explosion from the Ley itself...

        But...

        Know That Mother has made her wishes known, to her other children--so that they might buoy you. Alhazred was most understanding.

        Her voice echoes.

        It is not her. She has Drifters to deal with at present. But this lingering sentiment... that which has usurped itself so deep into her, has now been made manifest.

        Riesenlied. My toy.

        Mother's mocking voice fades into little more than an echo. But the bleed that now exudes from the Ley Dragon rather visibly sends her spiralling out of control-- as she roars in a visible pain, her body rather clearly not hers. The level of violence has rose to a level above that which was seen before.

        Several points upon the Dragon's battered body suddenly erupt in mandalas of the Ley -- positive and negative, they erupt in conducive fashion, towards Neriah, towards Zed; towards the Weglaff, and Skadi, and especially the Golem Sado, as well as the Nimrod, criss-crossing beams of severe intensity, harnessed from the very body of the Dragon itself.

        Riesenlied herself... can barely be heard at this point. Is... is this the end? Did something lash utterly loose with that explosion? It cannot be... can it?

GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's The Ley Point Has Shattered for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied takes an additional 5 damage from Reaper!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Neriah Parringer with Dragon Verse - Reginleif!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Zed with Dragon Verse - Brynhildr!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied takes an additional 35 damage from Reaper!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Golem Sado with Dragon Verse - Reginleif!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied takes an additional 35 damage from Reaper!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Leon Albus with Dragon Verse - Sigrdrifa!
GS: Riesenlied takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with Dragon Verse - Sigrdrifa!
GS: Riesenlied takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Dean Stark with Dragon Verse - Brynhildr!
GS: Riesenlied takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: CRITICAL! Kahran Ramses takes a solid hit from Alhazred's Super Transmitted Mega Crash for 257 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Kahran Ramses!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Kahran Ramses enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: CRITICAL! Neriah Parringer guards a hit from Riesenlied's Dragon Verse - Reginleif for 115 hit points!
GS: Leon Albus guards a hit from Riesenlied's Dragon Verse - Sigrdrifa for 229 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak! Statuses applied to Leon Albus!
GS: Leon Albus takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Golem Sado has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riesenlied has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Golem Sado completely evades Dragon Verse - Reginleif from Riesenlied!
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Lanval critically Guards a hit from Alhazred's Super Transmitted Mega Crash for 59 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to Seraph Lanval!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: Seraph Lanval has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Dragon Verse - Sigrdrifa for 378 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak! Statuses applied to Avril Vent Fleur!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: CRITICAL! Zed guards a hit from Riesenlied's Dragon Verse - Brynhildr for 118 hit points!
GS: Entangle! Statuses applied to Zed!
GS: Zed takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: CRITICAL! White Knight Leo critically Guards a hit from Alhazred's Super Transmitted Mega Crash for 51 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Mute! Statuses applied to White Knight Leo!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: White Knight Leo has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Alhazred has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Kahran Ramses has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        From one moment to the next. From a moment of levity to a moment of heart-wrenching fear to a moment of peace. Bit by bit by bit, none of this is anything that Noeline can predict. She can only pursue the soft Song as quickly as she can, trust in her instincts and her connection to Riesenlied to pull her forwards - and as she feels the gentle rebuke from the space around her, she's forced to admit that she's trusting in her empathy as well. After all, without that, there would not have been a chance to build that trust, or that connection.

        She can admit that, even as she feels the second of the chains begin to quiver in her palm. She's managed to ignore it thus far, but there's a growing level of mental fatigue as she works to maintain the grand sorcery; her vision wavers for a moment, and she just about manages to catch herself as a dizzy spell washes over her, keeping her footing as she starts to pant from an exertion that doesn't match what she's put her body through.

        Her glance at Siegfried is not angry, at least; instead, she forces out a softer sigh of breath, a complicated smile finding its way across her face. "... a little gentler," she rebukes him with some sympathy in her voice, wondering at the fact she's even saying this in the first place. This was not exactly where she saw herself ending up, to say the least. "Opening up to someone is not something you can force, and that goes for the both of you. She is scared, but--"

        She kind of has to cut herself off as Lydia produces a baseball bat of all things, and Prissa upgrades to a ancestral crystalline blade, and the Trial Knight pulls out a goddamn hammer, and this time her sigh is terribly amused, despite the fear and tension of their descent. "Then again, perhaps it's about the time to force matters a little. Too long, we've held back, hm?"

        Her smile falls; she's caught the tail end of Matilda's question. It's something she's asked herself, before - something she may never fully understand, given the certainty with which she maintains her own identity. But she can at least understand enough. "... Riese defined herself by her connection to others. When that was stripped away... with that stripped away... well, doubt is a terrible thing," she mutters, catching Maya's glance at the same time to offer her rather a rueful smile. Perhaps it is against the rules - perhaps it is not her place to do it right now - but she silently and secretly mouths a name as she glances at the tall figure with them.

        The world rocks around them, despite their being in a spiritual space; the sheer power of Sado's attack and the subsequent shattering of the Ley Point is strong enough to have that sort of pull, and Noeline yelps again under her breath as she feels the enormous pain race through Riesenlied, disrupting her hold on the sorcery she's clinging to as hard as she can. The second chain quivers again - then tears itself apart in her hands and around the Ley Dragon both, both of them shattering into so much mist and illusion. "--one left!" she calls hoarsely, clapping both hands together around the last of the chains as she pours her concentration into it, pulling for every spare scrap of power she can.

        The passageway around them shears away from the sheer disruption of the Ley, dissipating from under their feet; one moment the group are standing in front of the remnants of the thorn that barred their progress, and the next they are falling, drifting down
        and down
        and down.

        For a moment, it feels to Noeline that they could be moving closer to that Song of Riesenlied's, but her heart races with the jitters of fear and concern and impending danger as everything around them begins to fade helplessly away. The closer they get to Riesenlied, the closer they get to Mother and that cloying cloud of blackness, and even she is not sure whether she could stand against it at full power, let alone as beleaguered as she is now.

        Terror grips her throat as she realizes she can barely sense anyone around her, let alone anything - and with her hands already clasped in prayer at her chest she dips her head as well, in desperation doing the last thing she can think of. A promise to keep - a single lifeline to hold onto. The Tear held between her hands, she clutches onto it as tight as she can, and softly and quietly preys; not to any god, but to a single person.

        "Riese... don't say final. Don't say farewell," she whispers desperately, fervently, against the ebb of the Tear at her chest. "I will find you. Even in the dark - even with the tiniest light - I will grasp for every inch I can. I'm coming. I love you," she adds softly, even as she loses sense of herself.

DG: Noeline has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Till Death Do Us Part....
GS: Dean Stark guards a hit from Riesenlied's Dragon Verse - Brynhildr for 228 hit points!
GS: Entangle! Statuses applied to Dean Stark!
GS: Dean Stark enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.


        And, as the Dragon's offensive launches -- it seems as if time is running well and clearly out for that breath-weapon:

                              A N - M A F L A - E

GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
DC: 3 turns have elapsed in the battle against Alhazred! 2 turns remain!
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

Leon is told to get clear, and when Lily tells Leon to get clear, he knows to listen. Weglaff's jump jets fire; the blast of fire from the thruster nozzles makes the air behind the Gear shimmer like a mirage as it rises. The Gear lifts, as a massive red dome of light ignites in the wake of Sado's attack. The blue Gear slams into the ground, skidding over it, and Leon looks at the rear-view monitor.

"Elw technology," he mutters. "It's a bloody powerful thing."

The heat blade punches into the metal plating on the ground. the superheated edge melting it -- and he brakes with it, dragging the Gear to a stop. That unorthodox braking mechanism complete, Weglaff stands back to its full height; the blade cools down, steam and smoke rising off it. The Gear turns to face the massive blue fire blast that rises upward, striking into the very roof of the Photosphere. The blast of energy rolls outward, and bathes Weglaff in azure light.

The fire wafts away, and Leon looks at the Ley Dragon, head tilted to the side. "Well done," he tells Lily and Avril. "Now... we have--"

That thought of Leon's is cut short, as the voice of Mother, perhaps reflecting some fear of Riesenlied's, speaks. A blast of light erupts, slamming into Weglaff's chest. Armor burns and melts away; a red-hot portion begins to cool, rapidly, but a circle of glowing, molten red is slow to do so.

"Riesenlied, she can't control you forever," he tries to insist. The blue Gear leaps, slamming its shoulder at the Ley Dragon. It falls back then; the feet slam into the ground, cockpit rattling, before the arm blade sweeps out in a wide arc, cutting across the Ley Dragon again.

GS: Leon Albus has attacked Riesenlied with Rip Slasher!
GS: Leon Albus takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Leon Albus has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied critically Guards a hit from Leon Albus's Rip Slasher for 25 hit points!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Leon Albus!
GS: Riesenlied takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Riesenlied has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Leon Albus has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Prissa's aside to Siegfried warrants a confused look from him. He watches her for a moment, before turning back to the task at hand. He is aware of Maya looking at him; considering him. He doesn't ignore it, precisely, but he processes it. There is something for him to focus on -- a place to channel his anger, his frustration, and all that happened in the last thousand years. For the first time in months, his path is clear.

He doesn't say the words that the others do. But, Siegfried only has a few to share -- and more than that, he has to make sure that this lot gets through.

There is a glance at Noeline, as she explains more. He starts to say something more, but the Ley Point detonates. It rocks Siegfried's feet under him. He stumbles, his feet nearly giving way, until he catches himself. The Quarter Knight rights himself, and looks at Noeline.

He follows her, and the rest, down.

He feels the cloud of darkness over him. The familiar sensation of Mother. His eyes narrow. "To think," he mutters, "that we let this false goddess define our people... tch. No, she created us."

She swallows. He steps into the dark. He can hear Mother's voice; he forces himself to ignore the complex feelings it brings up. Harken should be there, even now.

Instead, he calls out: "Riesenlied. The song of the giants. The voice that speaks now is not the one that sings that song."

GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        Skadi, borne up by the explosive updraft and drift, lands with an audible crunch atop a girder, a distance above the altar and Ley. Though it rings out a warning, it maintains. This was once a part of a stellar ship, and even today it does its job admirably. Even when the detonation of the Ley Point, burning blue, tints the air around the Gear and causes the overstressed girder to shudder.

        "Yes," she answers Leon. "We--"

        Before she realizes she cannot feel the presence of her Medium. A presence has shut it out.

        Within the cockpit, Avril draws up, nearly rigid with the realization. "No--"

        The voice makes it plain. And Avril, perched up on high as those mandalas begin to erupt: dark, light, positive, negative, urges the Skadi forward. It leaps from its perch, right into the eruption of Ley energy beams.

        The Gear can't realistically survive this. It wasn't built for this.

        And yet.

        Not in the slightest does Avril stay her course. Down into the heart of the storm she bears, blade born before her.

        The explosion of Ley energies tear into Skadi, shearing away whole sections of plating as the Gear plummets from the zenith of its upwards arc.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VUOadmYwMk

        She had said she would not stop. Not until this was done, to whatever conclusion was strewn out before them.

        I will not allow this!

        The thought is fierce, furious. The thought bears her and her blade, her broken and battered machine, all of it all together onwards.

        Downwards, to the bedraggled and forsaken Ley Dragon at its heart.

        Her sword leads the way.
        The rest of her follows.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has activated a Force Action!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has activated a Force Action!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur enters a Counter stance!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Riesenlied with Hundredth Petal!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Hundredth Petal for 180 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia smiles. "I know. We'll have so much time when we're together again. There will be, like, so many emotions, mom. All the emotions."

She leans into Maya's embrace. With connections like this, how could she have ever hated the world for long? How could she have ever despaired for long? In a way it can be painful to not have the anguish to rely on, to know that even in the worst of situations, you still have people to care about and people you love. It means you can never give up for long, always buoyed by the bonds that remain and the new bonds you make.

Like a certain Skeleton.

Hooked by Maya's arm, it's easy to forget they are in a fight for the fate of the world.

"That's why when I found a cat that took your name, I had to take them in."

And just like that, Schrodinger appears on Lydia's head. The cat seems to be napping for the moment but Lydia's eyes glance towards Mariel. She's accustomed to feeling the strength of bonds such as this. She isn't empathic, but she has been around them enough that recognizing what is happening is second nature.

She smiles at the Elw. "You took a lot of risks to help. Thank you so much."

She dips her head, keeping it casual.

"It's funny," Lydia continues to Maya. "I thought I would be crying a lot by now. Like face full of tears and sobbing and being unable to form words and all that stuff for like hours on end. And...maybe that's still coming but..."

"I dunno." Lydia's gaze shifts to Siegfried and then back forward. "I don't feel like crying at all right now cause I know we're going to bring her back. It's like waiting for 'er to come back home from a trip. It's about time and I can't stop smiling."

But then Mother's voice echoes.

Alhazred was most understanding.

"Alhazred don't understand what's most important about science."

Riesenlied my toy.

"She don't belong to you and neither do her dreams."

Her hands curl into her fists. "No final farewell... We'll get to say goodbye so many times! She won't lose hope. Lydia has given up enough for any one lifetime. She ain't giving up now.

Lydia lifts up Schrodinger and guides the cat into the air. Schrodinger floats and starts spinning around forward and closer to the heart. It's a torn apart heart.

Lydia blinks for a moment. "Noeline... the Rings. The Tear."

"Me..." Schrodinger says.

                        "...ow." Schrodinger says.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

        Alhazred is able to once more rebuke the spray of water from Lanval. To put it in scientific terms, Lanval is, with some window dressing, practically water with will and a torturous relationship with the laws of the universe. (Gravity is, at least, being heeded.) Long as the barrier's waterporoof, at minimum, it's golden for keeping the water walled out.
        Alhazred's words seem to lose that strange edge to them as he speaks, as though maybe these are words that are meant to be heard exactly as they're spoken - as if they are being spoken to enlighten the ignorant, that they are given an understanding of what the hell they're standing for.
        Alhazred speaks of the Guardians' discriminatory behaviors, how they make a truly good soul suffer even now. It's much to chew. What is there to say... what can be said...?
        Lanval wisely staggers away at cue about the idea that he needs to be far away from something. He just clears the blast zone, and flops over onto his seat by the shockwave--
        And then bounced around a few times, as something... shatters. It stabs Lanval. The Ley Point, shattering. It's like actually being punched in the gut if he had one. To feel the lifeblood of a place just... cut.
        All this, as something emerges... a shape terrifying and nonsensical to behold. Even as warped as creatures of contradictions can become, Lanval hasn't ever even seen a Hellion become as distorted as how Alhazred appears now. This is...
        Lanval's hands shake as he sits up. He clutches the gourd, holding it tight in his hands. Times like these... even as the creature's voice screams he must die here and now...
        Lanval takes a drink, as #-1 FUNCTION () NOT FOUND approaches. It obscures him, the culmination of Alhazred's research into anti-personnel technologies and techniques, to unmake them.
        ...And there is laughter.
        The Megacrash distorts, twists, and seems to be kept bay by... something splashing.
        This is followed by an incredible rise of water, uplifting and dispersing the deadly energies as it is smothered and shunted aside by these waves of water. Within them, lies a sitting, white-haired bearded wastrel with aquamarine tips. Well, that much is normal. What isn't, are the fully open eyes that gleam in aquamarine color.
        "'Twould be remiss of me to say I had never had mine own misgivings with Hellions in my time watching over Rylia, and what came after." What's a Rylia, some may ask. That's not important. "'Tis truth, mine desire to watch over it was born of fear of what a most dangerous force could do, should it had spread to mine home unchecked."
        Lanval doesn't stand up. His smile grows greater.
        "'Tis my lot in life, then, was to stop the Malevolence from growing too strong. There were yet many under its sway, whom bode ill by their very nature as means to yet spread more of it. Mayhaps it not the same way you speak... Alhazred. But 'twas not my lot to eradicate them. No! Hardly. For the ones afflicted, who yet did not desire to bring harm, 'twas my role to merely lessen the spread." These are all terms Alhazred probably may not know about. This is a pile of water babbling nonsense.
        "Ah. But time may yet grow short, so I say thus. Though there are challenges, yea, though there are differences of nature, we co-exist nonetheless! 'Twould be that Riesenlied hath found a way, at great pains. I know naught as to what may come from here on..."
        Lanval rises, holding his gourd in the air. A refreshing, celebratory feeling - though it may not be warranted, for what is happening elsewhere - moves to erase the lingering dread, unease, and malady from the Mega Crash, to... wash it away, figuratively and literally with a cool splash of water.
        It is decidedly un-scientific and basically complete nonsense. But yet, it is also a miracle.
        "I, Lanval the Mirthful Wellspring, hath full faith in the Guardians and Riesenlied, come what may! Mother shalt not win over her nor Filgaia!"

GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Ambrosius with Wake Up Splash!
GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked White Knight Leo with Wake Up Splash!
GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Seraph Lanval with Wake Up Splash!
GS: Seraph Lanval has completed his action.
GS: Seraph Lanval takes a solid hit from Seraph Lanval's Wake Up Splash for 0 hit points!
GS: Seraph Lanval gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
DG: Lydia Seren has used her Tool Schrodinger the Cat toward her party's challenge, Till Death Do Us Part....
GS: Ambrosius takes a solid hit from Seraph Lanval's Wake Up Splash for 0 hit points!
GS: Ambrosius gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Ambrosius enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

        Alhazred is able to once more rebuke the spray of water from Lanval. To put it in scientific terms, Lanval is, with some window dressing, practically water with will and a torturous relationship with the laws of the universe. (Gravity is, at least, being heeded.) Long as the barrier's waterporoof, at minimum, it's golden for keeping the water walled out.
        Alhazred's words seem to lose that strange edge to them as he speaks, as though maybe these are words that are meant to be heard exactly as they're spoken - as if they are being spoken to enlighten the ignorant, that they are given an understanding of what the hell they're standing for.
        Alhazred speaks of the Guardians' discriminatory behaviors, how they make a truly good soul suffer even now. It's much to chew. What is there to say... what can be said...?
        Lanval wisely staggers away at cue about the idea that he needs to be far away from something. He just clears the blast zone, and flops over onto his seat by the shockwave--
        And then bounced around a few times, as something... shatters. It stabs Lanval. The Ley Point, shattering. It's like actually being punched in the gut if he had one. To feel the lifeblood of a place just... cut.
        All this, as something emerges... a shape terrifying and nonsensical to behold. Even as warped as creatures of contradictions can become, Lanval hasn't ever even seen a Hellion become as distorted as how Alhazred appears now. This is...
        Lanval's hands shake as he sits up. He clutches the gourd, holding it tight in his hands. Times like these... even as the creature's voice screams he must die here and now...
        Lanval takes a drink, as science approaches. It obscures him, the culmination of Alhazred's research into anti-personnel technologies and techniques, to unmake them.
        ...And there is laughter.
        The Megacrash distorts, twists, and seems to be kept bay by... something splashing.
        This is followed by an incredible rise of water, uplifting and dispersing the deadly energies as it is smothered and shunted aside by these waves of water. Within them, lies a sitting, white-haired bearded wastrel with aquamarine tips. Well, that much is normal. What isn't, are the fully open eyes that gleam in aquamarine color.
        "'Twould be remiss of me to say I had never had mine own misgivings with Hellions in my time watching over Rylia, and what came after." What's a Rylia, some may ask. That's not important. "'Tis truth, mine desire to watch over it was born of fear of what a most dangerous force could do, should it had spread to mine home unchecked."
        Lanval doesn't stand up. His smile grows greater.
        "'Tis my lot in life, then, was to stop the Malevolence from growing too strong. There were yet many under its sway, whom bode ill by their very nature as means to yet spread more of it. Mayhaps it not the same way you speak... Alhazred. But 'twas not my lot to eradicate them. No! Hardly. For the ones afflicted, who yet did not desire to bring harm, 'twas my role to merely lessen the spread." These are all terms Alhazred probably may not know about. This is a pile of water babbling nonsense.
        "Ah. But time may yet grow short, so I say thus. Though there are challenges, yea, though there are differences of nature, we co-exist nonetheless! 'Twould be that Riesenlied hath found a way, at great pains. I know naught as to what may come from here on..."
        Lanval rises, holding his gourd in the air. A refreshing, celebratory feeling - though it may not be warranted, for what is happening elsewhere - moves to erase the lingering dread, unease, and malady from the Mega Crash, to... wash it away, figuratively and literally with a cool splash of water.
        It is decidedly un-scientific and basically complete nonsense. But yet, it is also a miracle.
        "I, Lanval the Mirthful Wellspring, hath full faith in the Guardians and Riesenlied, come what may! Mother shalt not win over her nor Filgaia!"

GS: White Knight Leo takes a solid hit from Seraph Lanval's Wake Up Splash for 0 hit points!
GS: White Knight Leo gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Lily's Golem starts doing something, and Neriah clenches her teeth, her right hand balling. Rays of white light spill between her fingers as she begins to concentrate power. But it's not meant for Lily and her friend. It's a thought that she has to try and just destroy a leyline outright.

But the emotions she's feeling make focusing on that hard. A single, coherent thought penetrates the ley madness that Riesenlied has become.

        She doesn't want to give up on me.

Tears stand in Neriah's eyes as her stomach tightens with a surge of emotion. The truth is all too apparent to her: She's going to fail Riese again and again, because too much of her life is sustained by the darkness now, after that day in the streets of Wayside when she embraced that power to pull herself back from the gates of death.

At least let me do the right thing this time. This one time. Give me this.

What is given to her is mostly the unleashing of the Ley. The connection to Mother breaks. The backlash is incredible, taking scenery and structure alike with it. With a gasp, Neriah does the only thing she can think of, as the darkness swells to consume her.





        save me, valmar.



Pushing through the screaming blaze of Ley energy comes a spheroid shape, the light sloughing around it like water. Somehow, the eldritch sphere behind it is holding off the worst of the attack - but behind it, shadow ripples up and around Neriah. For just a moment, she's entirely consumed by it again, phasing into a form like the one she took before she gained control of her powers. Only a pair of ghostly white openings and hair like streaming white cilia interrupt the shadow entity she's become as she draws upon the deepest part of her power - the part sustaining her. The essence of NUMBER EIGHT. She opens a slash of a mouth to scream:

                          " "

The Ley Dragon remains. NUMBER EIGHT can't hear Riesenlied anymore. Only the thunder of positive and negative Ley. Cross-beams ripping up to claim her life.

The Child of Valmar shrieks again, the absence of sound felt as ear-splitting bass more than truly heard, and thrusts her hands out. The patterns streaming across that eldritch sphere warp into mad, incomprehensible patterns as they converge on those cross rays. They scream over the roiling shield in a colossal crash, the filtered power of the earth itself against the most visceral powers that Neriah can truly muster. Bursts punch through and slash across the tenebrous energy consuming her. It hurts. But pain is irrelevant to her now. One thing is truly maddening her. Perhaps two.

That echo of Mother's words. A thought. And the fact that she can't feel Riesenlied clearly anymore. Riesenlied, my toy.

"R I E S E ," the entity screams as what's left of her mind whirls with what she needs to do.

RIESE RIESE RIESE RIESE RIESE RIESE SHE'S GONE SHE'S GONE I'LL KILL THEM ALL KILL MOTHER PUNISH THE METAL SCUM KILL THplease.L KILL KILL KILL KILL RIESE IS DEAD RIESE RIriese wouldn't want this.KILL THEM ALL KILL THEM Adon't let her down again.

The entity stops in her tracks. The thought punches through her with sterling clarity.

                           i'm letting her down.


                          I CAN'T. NOT THIS TIME.

With a deep rush of breath, NUMBER EIGHT inhales.

And in that breath, the darkness itself begins to pour back into her. It rushes up her body and into her eyes and mouth, like pouring smoke suddenly reversing itself. With each second, more and more of Neriah's body is revealed again. The darkness casts from her limbs and back into her, revealing her skin, her dress, her real face again - until she closes her mouth and swallows it all.

In times past, Neriah would become totally consumed when her body was taxed beyond its ability to handle her power. This time, it's different.

"This isn't over," Neriah states as she begins to rise, bringing her hand above her head and focusing that power as intensely as she can against the backdrop of murmurs urging her to destroy. Tears stand in her eyes as she fights to keep that thought central in her mind. "This won't be goodbye. Riesenlied....

"...Maybe you can't hear me," she whispers. "But I won't go crazy. I can't. Not until I've helped these people peel away all that evil science until we've found the real you. Not until your friends bring you somewhere safe and say what you said to me back in Wayside, when nobody else wanted me. When they say...

                              "...Welcome home."

The spark of power in Neriah's hand springs to life. Cold white light leaks between her fingers before she splays her palm, focusing the light down to a single spark dancing atop her index finger. As the tears roll free and begin to plot courses down her cheeks, Neriah aims that finger at the Ley Dragon. Doing it hurts her.

But she does it. The RAY she wielded against the Titan - though this one isn't the beneficiary of Neriah bottling up days of murderous rage, but a more surgical thing, directing that power towards the Ley Dragon in a power-packed slash. The dreadful power it carries bursts out in a thunderous wave wherever it hits. Impact is sufficient to cause yet another earthquake.

But she has to try. Has to try to peel away the Dragon and find Riesenlied. Has to try not to let her down this time.

GS: Neriah Parringer has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Neriah Parringer has attacked Riesenlied with Unshining Ray!
GS: Neriah Parringer has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Neriah Parringer has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Kahran Ramses has posed.

Ramses' mouth curls into a sneer as Alhazred's mask cracks, and the horror of the creature within comes spilling out of its shell. "So you reveal yourself," he says, whether to the Quarter Knight or to the haunting, echoing voice of Mother, like nails against the chalkboard of the spirit. But Ramses has felt worse than Mother's rage in the years he has walked this earth... and at the hands of a man he calls by a similar name. The walls of the Photosphere dance and flicker with power, presaging fury; Ramses regards them with a faint smile. "Then perhaps, maggot... I shall do the same."

Beams of power rip out from the walls and blaze into the Command Gear Wyvern, boiling away armour plating and scoring the golden sheen beyond repair. But rather than evade or defend himself, Ramses accepts damage as a price worth paying - like the difference between a rattan wand and live steel in a sparring match, the threat of death is a necessary thing. Necessary... but still insufficient.

Because while Alhazred's assault is powerful, destructive... it is simply insufficient to the task. Ramses has felt worse, not far from this place... and at the hands of a true demon.

And so the commander of Gebler grounds his sword in the Photosphere floor, gripping the hilt in both of the Wyvern's hands. Lily and the Veruni will feel it first - a sudden pressure behind the eyes, a lightning bolt in in the hindbrain, where the wild animal lives at the base of the thinking mind. It is the sure and certain sense of a hawk's shadow passing over the crouched form of a rodent, or the fin of a shark cresting briefly over the lip of the waves. It is the arrival of an apex predator in the vicinity.

It is the sense of Kahran Ramses calling on his full power.

Ether roars through the man at the Wyvern's heart, more even than Lily felt when she and Leon fought the man in the snows near the new Wayside. It starts to crest and then rises again, as a low, determined cry escapes the big man's lips; spittle flies from a cracking throat, but boils away into nothingness before it can spatter on the monitors. The energy flows into the Gear's Ether channels, and by now everyone can see it, a blazing blue light, dancing like a bonfire, enveloping the whole of Wyvern's body. The winds begin to howl and swirl within the confines of the battlefield as Ramses' scream tails off, and then passes into a slow exhalation. Wyvern's arms rise upward, and the Ether power begins to flow into its upraised blade, by now too brilliant to look at directly.

Ramses - his eyes literally glowing with power - inhales, once. His hands tighten on the controls of his machine, his soul dancing on the edge of a razor. An inch less control, and the power he's holding would tear him asunder. He holds there for a heartbeat, savouring the sensation.

"Fall."

Wyvern's arms come down, the blade moving with it, and then a raw line of Ether simply slices forward toward Alhazred, compressed in a five-foot line, the acrid tang of ozone filling the area as even the air is torn asunder.

GS: Kahran Ramses has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Kahran Ramses has attacked Alhazred with Apotheosis!
GS: Kahran Ramses has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Neriah Parringer's Unshining Ray for 263 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Kahran Ramses's Apotheosis for 214 hit points!
GS: Alhazred enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Ambrosius has posed.

The Seraph seems to marvel at his attack. Were the situation less tense, Ambrosius might be willing to elaborate on how it worked, but for now he can only offer a warning.

"Watch yourself." Ambrosius warns, backing himself away. This occurs shortly before the golden gear unleashes two pods. Ambrosius can sense the raw power connecting them to the pilot, and wisely chooses to be behind the stone cover provided by Leo earlier as they unleash their payload, sending a devastating beam of power down.

Hopefully Leo managed to get out of the way, too.

In the distance, he can feel a quiet smile...a familiar smile. And Alhazred speaks.

Ambrosius does not interrupt him...but then, the Gutter is shaken by a terrible force, as the altar is destroyed nearby. A primal, world-ending roar echoes throughout the gutter, spewing forth a great blue conflagration as Mother's connection is severed...but the backlash washes over the room. It is almost as if the light that powered him before turns against him.

And if that isn't bad enough...there's Alhazred. Ambrosius looks upon him once more as the Quarter Knight ceases to float. But what he sees is...not what he expected.

No. No one could have expected that. That grotesque form...it could not possibly be natural. Had he done that to himself...? Or was that truly what he was beneath that cloak?

As damaged as he may be, Alhazred's fervor is anything but. He unleases the full power of his science. Energy swirls through the air, manifesting from the Photosphere's very walls before concentrating into four bolts of deadly power that descends.

And one comes for him, as well. It bears down on him with devastating power, and Ambrosius fights back with everything he has. A barrier of water is created, but it only gives him a momentary reprieve before the bolt forces its way through, crashing into him and, seemingly, consuming him.

But when the smoke clears...Ambrosius is still there, a hand raised and breathing heavily. His helmet lies in ruin at his feet, and his armor bears the marks of what he's been through - cracks running through it in some places, and completely destroyed in others.

"...Perfection..." Ambrosius says between breaths. Without his helmet, his face is clear to see and unhidden. He is, in the end, just a man. A Veruni, but still just a man. Grey eyes, and the pointed ears typical of his people...

"...Perfection." He repeats. "You claim to have given her perfection."

He forces himself to his feet, with some difficulty, and affixes Alhazred with his gaze.

"When did she ask...for your idea of perfection?" He states. Without his helmet, his face is clear to see - and the look of barely-restrained fury it holds. "I have worked with that woman for some time. I have seen the way she functions. I have seen how she struggles, how she fights through that pain for those she cares for. Even for one such as myself, who...turned against her."

He exhales sharply, and nearly falls...but he is soon buoyed by a strange sensation. A refreshing, celebratory feeling that washes over him at odds with the feelings going through his mind at the moment. He sends Lanval a glance - takes a note of the Seraph's change in demeanor. It was a far cry from what he was used to. He sends him a brief nod of thanks before returning his attention to Alhazred, now steadier on his feet thanks to Lanval's miraculous intervention.

"Indeed, she has a good soul. And indeed, I am no friend to the Guardians. But you. You have taken that good soul and twisted it into something else - she is not your 'research' to conduct, Quarter Knight. She is not yours. You understand nothing, Alhazred."

His poncho is no longer there - burnt into nothing by Alhazred's attack. But from within the bags that still remain, he draws forth pieces of his ARM, combining them into one.

"I have tasted of your science. Now. Taste mine." Red light surrounds Veritas Varia before firing off in a sharply red beam, flying straight toward Alhazred. Heat ripples dangerously through the air.

...But as soon as it is fired, Ambrosius can feel something in the back of his head. A sensation of warning, as a great power is called forth from somewhere. Called forth from...the pilot of the golden Gear? It's specifications were certainly beyond what he expected, but to be at that level...!

Ambrosius takes a leap backwards. He may already be at range, but every fiber of his being is telling him not to be anywhere near the impact zone.

GS: Ambrosius has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Full Clip!
GS: Ambrosius has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Ambrosius has attacked Alhazred with VV-EXCIDIUM!
GS: Ambrosius has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Ambrosius's VV-EXCIDIUM for 190 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Zed feels Doom Bringer carve through the iridescent channel of lifeforce, the blade's dark halo simultaneously cutting, inverting and collapsing. With all the firepower pulverizing the Ley Point, the current flares one last time as something important finally fails. The aftermath is terrible. Zed is thrown bodily back into the rubble of the Gutter, corrosive ley energies still crackling across his extruded battle-form.

But...

But they did it. Somehow. They won. Mother's connection to the Ley Line has been severed.

And yet-- and yet, something isn't right.

Zed looks up just in time to hear that voice echo through the hollow of the Photosphere.

The Life-Deceiver.

The World-Devourer.

The Demon-Mother.

Zed feels his rage build with every word. There was a failsafe? No. A self-destruct. What happens when a battery fails? It ruptures-- fatally-- spilling its corroded contents into the world.

This...

A toy?

That's what she thinks Riesenlied is. That's what she thinks they all are! Rage fills his heart. Vitriol fills his voice. It's only this absolute sense of betrayal, this reminder of wrath, that keeps Zed together.

Literally, in fact.

Zed was never modified like Riesenlied was. This power is still anathema to his very nature. It smashes into him, threatening to extinguish the flame of his soul with the light of the world gone mad--

But he pushes back. He fights, with every single ounce of will he can gather. If this explosion of ley energy is tearing Riesenlied apart, then all they need to do is strip it away-- to burn it out, before it consumes her entirely.

"Riese--" Zed growls, his fists tightening. A port on his abdomen slides open. His arms spread wide as a he bares the very light of his life into the world. "You're in there. I know you are. Hold on. Not just to yourself-- hold on to your life! You've opened your heart to all of us, so many times before... Now it's our turn! Let us be your anchor! I lay bare this heart... This life... This soul... This shining beacon! Here I go-- Zedder......!"

                    BEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMMM-u!!!

With a roar, with a flash of pure zedder radiation, a beam of light erupts from Zed's heart, pouring out like a lance of demonic, maleficent energies!!

But.

This is power anathema in so many ways to the stuff of the world. Power that the Guardians reject. Power... That might just be able to counteract and counterbalance the energy threatening to blow Riesenlied to so many pieces...!

GS: Zed has attacked Riesenlied with Zedder Beam!
GS: Zed has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Zed takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Zed's Zedder Beam for 155 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Golem Sado has posed.

The Ley point shatters, and in the conflagration that comes even Golem Sado's titanic form is drowned out by the brilliance of destruction that passes. ...But when that fades, the ancient Elw weapon rises again to roll its sets of shoulders, strange muscles rippling as it recovers from that outpouring of energy. ...Nevertheless, spectral blue flames continue to sizzle about parts of its form, some wrapped about Lily's leg, the power clinging to her after the explosion but not engulfing her. She hisses with pain, but opens her eyes again to look towards the Dragon's silhouette.

'Well done,' comes Leon's voice. Lily breathes heavily, floating before the Golem with obvious exhaustion. No, more than exhaustion--her red attire largely masks it, but there is a trickle of blood trailing downward from one of her nostrils, the mark of great power channeled and the beginnings of a cost exacted. ...But even if this prevented the worst case--

Mother's voice is a reminder that their task is not yet finished. Lily looks balefully into nothing as she listens. "She," Lily breathes, but she has to move. The mocking echo, the spiral into which Riesenlied enters--Lily starts upward, preparing to erect another shield, but behind her Sado is already in motion. Faster than anything so large has a right to move, it banks, annihilating ancient stone as it moves to the side. The first beam hits where it was; a second meets a blast straight from the Golem's mouth, the third impacting Lily's barrier and knocking her back towards her weapon. "Heh." Lily hangs there for an instant, and thinks of a conversation she had here, waiting.

"...The others will do their part," she murmurs. "Together they have the power..." Lily looks up again to the Ley Dragon, "And I know Hesiod won't hesitate. It's why I'm glad he went there, not here."

"Riesenlied!" Lily calls. "...You can come back to us. Where's the woman who wanted so badly to help that she dove into my Gear? The one who took in Janey, and Mikaia? ...The one who constantly puts herself out there, regardless of the risk?"

"...I know that there are no chains that can hold you this way. Tell your Mother..."

Lily rises again, nods to Sado as she points her direction. "Tell her to choke on her wishes."

Sado rises, and an aura erupts outward; Lily can still see the coming flare, the devastation that must be. But in preparation--

In preparation, a violet haze floods the cavern, disappearing in an instant but inexorably tilting the elemental association here, laying down darkness to oppose the coming light.

"Blast everything if you have to! But then come BACK!"

GS: Golem Sado has activated a Force Action!
GS: Golem Sado has attacked Riesenlied with Dark Zone!
GS: Golem Sado has attacked Alhazred with Dark Zone!
GS: Golem Sado has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Golem Sado takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Golem Sado has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Golem Sado's Dark Zone for 0 hit points!
GS: Jam and Mute! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

A flower blooms.

Not physically, perhaps, but Mariel feels the shift even if she cannot push the thorn away by sheer force of blossom. Fortunately, other people are better at the more mundane strategies of getting rid of the thorn, and Mariel follows behind. The last specks of pink light drift away from her glove as she does.

There's only one way to go from here. Down, down, into a pit of blackness. Mariel hesitates for a moment at the edge - not fear, just being careful - but seeing as the others are going down, she follows.

She follows through the quake in the spiritual realm and the almost blinding surge of ley energy; Mariel wavers as if half-stunned by the discharge, reaching out, feeling - nothing - No. It's not the ley that's nothing, it's Riese, as if someone scooped out some of what should be in here. Removed... or hid.

Mother speaks, and something unexpected happens.

Mariel doesn't feel afraid. Or, well, she does, but she doesn't feel *more* afraid than she was before (which was, to be fair, quite a lot). When she heard Mother speak outside the Photosphere, she was petrified; she could barely move. But here - here she feels something else.

She thinks it might be resolve. Bravery. Mariel does not think of herself as brave. She is a survivor, but she is a survivor because she does not fight; she avoided conflict. She let other people handle the problems - though when she puts her mind to it she's incredibly, unceasingly stubborn. Planting gardens against the desertification of Filgaia takes a never-give-up attitude... and for the first time, Mariel feels that toward the desire to protect. More: she knows who the threat is.

It isn't Riesenlied.

Mariel stands in the emptiness. Alone in the dark, she can barely see anyone else... but she can feel the nascent bond to Lydia, the faint connection with Riesenlied, even the distant echo with the others she came in with - and Mariel knows she is not entirely on her own. She draws resolve from those bonds, and stands straight in the nothing.

Mariel reaches up toward her head and, very carefully, removes her headwrap. Then she pulls her gloves off, one after another, revealing (contrary to some rumours) rather ordinary-looking hands, if not quite human ones: her fingers are topped with short, blunt claws rather than purely human fingernails, and there is a tiny tuft of hair just near the back of each wrist.

"My name is Mariel," she says, as if introducing herself formally. "I have been afraid - afraid of you, and people like you, for all my life. I am an Elw, and I was young when your kind first came to Filgaia a thousand years ago. You frightened me. I was right to be afraid of the Metal Demon army; but I thought you were nothing *but* the army. I didn't stop to think that some of you must be something else. I never thought that you could be afraid, too. Or that you would want to help anyone. But... Mother is a horrible person. *You* are a good person. You want to help the Tainted. You set up Wayside. I was wrong, and I was upset that I was wrong."

"...I'm sorry."

Mariel doesn't do anything beyond that. She merely lets the bond sit, as it is, for Riesenlied to react to or ignore - it is offering, for the first time in her memory, the hand of friendship between Elw and Hyadean, gloves tucked under one arm as she finally admits to Riesenlied who and what she is.

It's all she can do.

<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

Once, a long time ago, there was an angel.

The angel was full of a deep and abiding love, but lived a lonely life in the dark of a cage they built of their own will.

Sometimes, it grew difficult to stay in that cage. Sometimes, they wished they could fly far, and high, and leave everything behind.

But they couldn't. They knew they couldn't. Yet every now and then, when that angel's loneliness felt like it could grow no greater...

... there came someone to visit their cage. Someone who told them stories. Someone who became their window to the world just outside their reach.

Someone to remind them just why they chose this cage called love.

But then...

                                    ---

The Ley shatters.

And with it, the ground beneath them.

There is no time to muster a defense. No time to react. No time to think. There is only falling.

Falling down
                down
                        down
                                down
                                        down
                                                down
                                                        down

                                                        into the dark.

Not even the sound of K.K.'s landing echoes in this place, absorbed into the blackness that spreads like a plague throughout the harrowing hollowness of this place. Where ought be a heart is little more than a vacant seat that feels ever more distant the closer they get to it.

Their steps ring out nothing but silence, even though every progressive one further grows heavier and heavier, slower and slower, until eventually even the Trial Knight seems to feel the effects. Like some unseen weight that has been there all along making itself known on their shoulders. Their fingers tremble, spasmodic in the dark. They feel the disruption of the lifeblood of this planet as acutely as if it were there own. Darkness, all around them. Like a cage.

In the dark, they still. And, unseen, they turn their attention towards the sound of a voice, of someone praying in the shadow. Of someone desperately trying to reach out through the dark.

"..."

                    Away from the cage that held me...
                 high into the airs that lift my wings...
                 and up, to the skies of these two worlds
               where I must still see, with my own two eyes.

The knight does not say a word. They just kneel near where Noeline prays, and dips their head. Hands in lap, they seem to do nothing, absolutely nothing.

                     That's... why this bird will fly.

And that is when they begin to shine.

For one often so cold, the knight seems strangely warm now in a way hard to describe. Soothing. Ephemeral. Calm. Like a port in a storm. Motes of white ebb off them in little pulses. A tiny, single light in the dark.

If it helps the others to focus, to calm, to find whatever determination they may need... it is incidental. Must be incidental. Because that light can only be afforded for one person.

They say nothing. But they say everything in sentiment that reaches deep into the dark of a parasite's scorn to reach out to whatever they might find within. To share a sentiment, a question, posed many months ago. They do not know if it can reach.

       Do you know what it means, to truly love a thing, Riesenlied?

But they know she knows the answer, too.

DG: K.K. has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward their party's challenge, Till Death Do Us Part....
DG: Mariel has used her Tool Millennium Diary toward her party's challenge, Till Death Do Us Part....
<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        The Gebler pilot leaves no uncertainty in his words. The instant Leo feels his blade hit metal, he pulls back, turns, and dives out of the way. The White Knight tumbles across the ground, kicking up dirt and rock and snow as Wyvern vents its fury on the space where he stood mere moments before. And--more importantly--on Alhazred. Leo doesn't dare look until the barrage dies down, and he doesn't get more than a glimpse before somet h i n g

        shatters

        The lifeforce of the planet recoils. It washes across the battlefield, scattering debris everywhere. Leo digs in with both hands, and bids the earth to shield him, but the rock wall that rises before him is small, fragile. He can hear a hideous voice over the din, and over the sounds of Riesenlied's suffering. Is that their Mother? The White Knight rises, turns back to his foe, and almost doesn't recognize him. Leo's eyes widen at the sight of the Quarter Knight's body--altered, or just revealed?--and at the thing he's holding. That's not good.

        "The Guardians are liars," Leo says, "but that hardly justifies what you've done to--" Leo's left ear twitches, swivels towards a distant sound as it grows closer. From above, like lightning. Leo sets his heels, raises his blade, and closes his hand around something bound on a chain around his neck. The Crest of the White Dragon. Obliterating fury falls on him. It rips apart the very air, shredding oxygen and nitrogen into a spray of subatomic particles. Exotic radiation spews out at Leo, forming the shockwave of a beam that will surely atomize him.

        It meets with a shield. Beautiful, pearlescent energy condenses in the air above the White Knight, serene and defiant in the face of the raw force slamming into it like an onrushing train. Sparks fly. A fraction of the beam splits off and vaporizes a chunk of reinforced plating fallen from the Photosphere's hull. When all is said and done, Leo still stands, his heels a good inch deeper in the ground from the force of the impact. His shoulder feels like it's going numb. And then--

        A splash of water. Seraph Lanval. Leo blinks, feeling a sense of refreshing joy as consecrated water drips down his face. That--that's the apostate? Here? The one Althena Herself disowned? Here, defending the Guardians?

        Distractions. Leo's duty lies before him, still.

        "Creature," Leo says. He settles into a low stance, both hands on his blade as he turns to Alhazred. "I said you would face Althena's justice, and I meant every word." Power rises from him, brilliant white fading to ruddy earth-tones striated with gold. It collects along the edge of his blade, like before, except now there's so much more of it. "MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR 'GODDESS!' LION'S HOWL!"

        Leo strikes. He steps forwards, sweeping his blade two-handed in a blow he's practiced hundreds and hundreds of times. The chi rips free of it, flowing from Leo's body and focused by the blade. It swells in mid-air, blooming from a tight sphere into a brilliant globe, and then into a recognizable shape. A lion, its mane flowing out behind it, its eyes like fire, its fangs ready to dig into Alhazred's flesh. Ramses undoubtedly has him beat for raw power, but the impact will be cataclysmic nevertheless.

GS: Alhazred guards a hit from Golem Sado's Dark Zone for 0 hit points!
GS: Jam and Mute! Statuses applied to Alhazred!
GS: White Knight Leo has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: White Knight Leo has attacked Alhazred with Lion's Howl!
GS: White Knight Leo has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

Maya's hands rest upon the thorns as they egress. Precious feelings, shared memories, shared struggles... they flow between her and Riesenlied, the blonde's eyes squeezing shut still. There are no pithy quips or asides, not at this stage. She cannot even bring herself to pretend it would be appropriate. And despite the shuddering and the shaking, the unsteadiness and the uncertainty, she smiles tiredly and picks herself up as the others walk, skate, and march on with their respective purposes.

Lydia admits, as the two lend each other strength, that she thought she would have been crying a lot more by now. The girl in the orange dress finds herself agreeing--silently at first. Then vocally. "Yeah--it's like that, isn't it? But those tears are holding on while we do the important stuff. When it's all over, and we've got her back, and she's safe and sound... they're gonna come rushing." the way she speaks of it, it's obviously something she looks forward to.

Perhaps cruelly, Maya is ignorant of all Mariel's struggles. She knows nothing of her people, or the lengths to which she has truly gone to be here, against all odds and all conventional wisdom. But her previously-voiced belief that anyone who comes to Riese's aid must be someone special remains true, and the Drifter bows her head in tandem with Lydia to her. "Thanks a bunch--I'm not good at this kinda thing, but I really mean it, so if you ever swing by the Outreach and need something, well..."

Awkward as the words might be, there is kindness in them, and perhaps this kindness will form a bulwark against the hardships still to be endured in the small team's flight to free Riesenlied. A bulwark Maya could use, herself, as her surroundings quickly swim with murky black and all light begins to fade. With every step, a void seethes and curls around her senses as she descends into a pit of pitch made from the same, empty stuff as the gap between the stars. The warmth of words and song gives way to the emptiness and the cold of nothing. The girl frowns, stops, and turns to look behind her to find that there is... of course, nothing. She is immersed, submersed, entirely in it.

"Rie--" Maya opens her mouth to call out, and nothingness rushes in. It steals the words from her tongue and the breath from her lungs. It is a curious, and not altogether pleasant, and frustratingly familiar sensation. The girl so clad in the colours of sunshine and daybreak, colours whose radiance is robbed in this empty place.

             Well, I don't need words to reach you, Riesenlady.

Maya tucks her head to her chest and brings both hands together. Her eyes squeeze shut and she allows the darkness of the depth of this sorrowful dragon's soul to suffuse her, utterly.

              If this void is how you're feeling right now...

Tiny motes, sparks, dance between her fingertips. The braying words of an Alien Goddess in the world outside don't even reach her ears. Without even a material frame of reference to draw from this time, the enigma's teeth grind as she conceptualizes everything that she thinks--no, she knows--that the kind-hearted Riesenlied means to her, and to everyone else.

     Then let it be filled with all the love you've brought to others.

Breathless, Maya lifts her head and glimmers with a pallid radiance formed of her total understanding of Riesenlied's endless capacity for love, and kindness. A bright pinprick on a canvas of velvety black.

DG: Maya Schrodinger has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Till Death Do Us Part....
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda pulls away from the thorn the instant it starts to give. In the end, such a thing is not within her power... but it's within someone's, and that's what matters. She looks to Noeline, nodding quietly -- before the world starts to shift. She tries to brace herself, but within an instant, she finds herself falling

and falling

and falling...

It's dark. The darkness is all-consuming, even choking. Something cuts through it...

'Riesenlied. My toy.'

Matilda's lips turn up into a snarl as that impression of the past cuts across her perception. Her teeth grind, her hands clenching into fists. "I won't -- I won't let this be how it ends," she half-hisses, under her breath. "I'm not going to let this be it." The world starts to fade out, to twist itself into nothing.

Matilda's hand rests in her pack, on a memory she'd intended to keep buried forever. No matter what's left in the world... even if she starts to fade away... she'll always have that scattered moment -- that memory of blood and bone and bullets, fear and freedom and *Filgaia* -- to hang onto.

Her eyes shut. In this space, bereft of body, she doesn't need to see. She turns her mind's eye inward, instead. She remembers the start of her path -- eight years ago, nearly nine, now. She practically dives into it, in desperation to keep some sense of herself together. She remembers the first time she heard the silent report of the Freeshooter. She remembers... she remembers...

Warmth. Fear. Freedom. Doubt. Self-loathing. Withdrawing. Dreams. Nightmares. Determination. Loss. Loss. Someone new. Control. Loss. Loss.

Refusal to lose anything else.

"Riesenlied..." she offers. Her voice is a low whisper. "I'm -- sorry, that I have to bring a feeling like this... so close to your heart."

DG: Matilda Whitehead has used her Tool Portable Library toward her party's challenge, Till Death Do Us Part....
<Pose Tracker> Prissa has posed.

 
Prissa has the habits of mind to sheathe the crystal blade before things become very strange, very surreal, in their way. They are falling down into some kind of - of what?

Is this that place? Prissa thinks as she looks round, remembering with belated dismay the tone that Matilda had taken. That poor girl, she thinks. Maybe we should hang out. I don't know. First we're going to die or explode or something.

Fear is not cowardice, that's what the spooky armor person said, Prissa thinks further. She exhales with some force, pursing her lips and turning her head to look towards...

Nothing.

Did I die? Prissa thinks, with a rude sort of shock.

Is that what happened here? Her head tilts upwards. She feels as though there are others here, she recalls an explosion, but... She ...

m
e
o
w

"Lydia is that your cat?" Prissa says aloud.

Then there's a moment as Prissa considers the implications of this turn of events.

And she slides in nearer, in time to feel everyone else phasing into perspective. Prissa pulls down her mask, no doubt helping her because her desert-warrior tinted lenses were making everything look even darker. There is the presence of Mariel, as she reveals her hands. At K.K. as something shines. There's the frigging cat. Prissa blinks several times.

Prissa looks upwards then. She cups her hands.

"Riesenlied!" she shouts upwards. "You call yourself a 'Tainted,' but this is from what, the quality of your metal? The metal that underlies a Hyadean like lymleis and lynpuh in our tribe, right?!"

She stabs the air with a finger.

"Everyone here has shown their love. Everyone believes in you. I won't tell you that you will feel any better here because I know enough about people that this is pressure, pressure that can make some things break or shatter or fracture. You must feel it like a big rock on you. But, Riesenlied, but!"

She curls her fingers into a loose fist. "I know that there is steel in you. Because I put it there myself!"

Her own memory rises. It is a sun-bright burning thing full of glittering metal, places not entirely dissimilar to the Photosphere, stunning landscapes, the beauty of superheated metal bending under blows. "So come on out! Everyone is waiting! We have to hurry to get that torturer there, the one calling you a toy! I'm full of energy, I do not want him to get away before I can have words!"

DG: Prissa has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Till Death Do Us Part....
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from White Knight Leo's Lion's Howl for 236 hit points!
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
==================<* CHALLENGE - Till Death Do Us Part... *>==================
|Type: Climax      |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 4          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 All the passages lead here in the end. To a large pit where you feel there    
 may have once been a Heart. An inexorable presence of sorrow and lament hits  
 you the moment you approach. But you must keep going. Go, into the dark.      
                                                                               
 But as you descend--                                                          
                                                                               
                     These fantastic memories that, one day                    
                                                                               
                     Will go and /truly/ become fantastic...                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
 It gets harder. And harder. The closer you get... the more the song...        
 fades.                                                                        
                                                                               
                              We all did our best.                             
                                                                               
                     So what is it that we have yearned for?                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
 There's nothing here. The closer you get... the more tempting it feels to     
 give in. Let your knees buckle. Let yourself sink. It's worse, further you    
 go into the dark. And at this moment where you think nobody can see you...    
                                                                               
                     Only the Stars in the sky would know...                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Is... this how it will truly end? A new world which was never sought. A       
 never-sought world, where no one can flourish. Here, in the dark, within the  
 realm of a girl's deep sleep. Within the realm where a Heart was torn apart.  
 Where one is bereft of body. Of mind. Of soul.                                
                                                                               
                           Before my final farewell...                         
                                                                               
                    I just want to say one more thing...I...                   
                                                                               
                                                                               
                          Let not hope disappear into                          
                                                                               
                                                                               
                                                                               
                                 Nothingness...                                
                                                                               
                                its dark in here                               
                                                                               
                              someone... please...                             
                                                                               
                                                                               
                                                                               
                                  GS: .........                                
=Dungeon Conditions: Collapse, Fright, Overzealous============================
===============<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart - Round 4 *>================
====================< Results - Till Death Do Us Part... >====================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mariel                              5 --(20)--> 25                 Fail
Millennium Diary                    2   Wits    Effects: Enlighten            
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matilda Whitehead                   5 --(15)--> 20                 Pass
Portable Library                    1   Wits    Effects: Cleanse              
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             0 --(20)--> 20                 Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Prissa                              5 --(20)--> 25                 Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         0 --(15)--> 15                 Pass
Schrodinger the Cat                 2   Wits    Effects: Enlighten            
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
K.K.                                0 --(20)--> 20                 Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Maya Schrodinger                    0 --(20)--> 20                 Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Noeline                     80 --(0)--> 80                 Fail
Conditions: Collapse|Fright(2)|Overzealous(2)|Reckless(1)
Effects: Cleanse|Enlighten(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Noeline has failed this challenge! The party gained 0 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        At first, it seems as though success is theirs. The Ley power shines and overwhelms. But then it becomes apparent--Riese's voice becomes fainter. Dean's Gear is struck with power that strips it of several pieces of heavy armor, which tear away without mercy. Nimrod, never a very agile Gear, can barely move. It can't even swing its weapons.
        
        But it can walk.
        
        "Nngh--we can't--let it end like this...! Nimrod! You've got--to keep going!" Dean shouts, as if his Gear were a Golem. But he holds tight to the controls, and it does keep moving, step by step... until he *slams* the controls down, and it JUMPS--with intent to slam itself, full body, onto the Ley Dragon.

GS: Dean Stark has attacked Riesenlied with Opal Overload!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Dean Stark's Opal Overload for 135 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        DIGGER TEAM:
        
        That moment of brief levity so seems dashed the moment they enter the darkness. As Noeline descends down, and down-- and down.

        For a moment, that song is still with them, but it becomes more... and more... and more muted. As despair starts to wrap around her and pull her down. As she becomes further and further ensconed in the dark...

        Don't say final. Don't say farewell.

        As she senses Noeline's terror, something in Riesenlied frets and fears for her safety, too. Even in the dark... even with the tiniest light-- the Tear begins to putter out. Its light does not seem enough in this darkness. But--

        I'm coming. I love you.

        "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."

        And that lights the tiniest of sparks.

        Siegfried is with her in the dark, however. Unlike the others, he is well familiar of how this darkness feels. It is the sensation of Mother, upon them. He ruminates on the irony of it all. How this false goddess of theirs created them...

        He speaks of the song of the giants. How the voice that speaks now is not the one that sings the song... They're both in tune with each other's thoughts, for what comes next... like the faintest of ropes being cast out against a storm--

        "Riesenlied," he declares, after a moment's thought. "Giant's Song. For the song that led our giants back to us. May it continue to do so."

        That spark continues to grow...

        Mariel may very well be the direct opposite of Siegfried, in race, in position, in stature, yet they're both here, even if they cannot look eye to eye...

        And...

        Mariel doesn't feel as afraid as before. The first time she heard Mother's voice, she was petrified, but now--

        She feels that resolve.

        As Mariel formally introduces herself. It is symbolic, as much as anything else. As she unveils her headwrap and shows herself -- as an Elw. As the representative of what was thought lost.

        I never thought that you could be afraid too... Or that you would want to help anyone.
        *You* are a good person.

        Mariel bears the courage to admit that she was upset that she was wrong -- and that she is sorry. And that spark takes in the gentle resplendence within that flower that so represents that nascent bond of theirs... blossoming, just a little.

        Maya embraces Lydia for a moment, as she comments that she took Schrodinger in because they had the same name. And then Schrodinger appears, meow--

        And when they're disappearing into the darkness...

        She doesn't belong to you and neither do her dreams.

        Lydia clenches her fists into balls. Nothing is final. Nothing is a farewell, as Noeline has reinforced before. Lydia urges Noeline to use the Rings, the Tear--

        And that spark, under Schrodinger's auspice, performs spooky action at a distance...

        And as it emanates, as the seven in the Dark can start to see... Maya, who Lydia confides she thinks she would have been crying a lot more. But she doesn't, because she's holding on while she's doing something important. And...

        Perhaps they both know that they're going to cry a lot after this.

        She tries to call for her name, and nothingness rushes in. But... they both also know--

        They don't need words to reach each other.

        If this void is how you're feeling right now...
        Then let it be filled with love you've brought to others.

        That spark joins in with another, and becomes a brighter and brighter colony of lights.

        Matilda is there too, adjoining Maya in the fall... and she insists that she won't let it end this way. The world gutters out into nothing, but she rests a hand onto her pack... she'll have that scattered moment--

        A terrifying moment that no one should have to deal with or experience, ever. But it is a bloody experience that has become part of Matilda, every part that she is...

        that's what makes it...not a miracle
but...something i can believe in...

        And that spark in turn weans from all that. Her warmth. Her fear. Her freedom. Her loss. Her dreams and nightmares... all that which makes her, her.

        Prissa brings the newly christened crystal blade into the dark. It gleams just a little, she can feel, as if it has the same kind of reaction that the Dragon's Tear might. As Matilda presses that feeling onward, she can feel it, from the tip of Mistilteinn--

        The same kind of regret and loss, yet...

        She speaks of lymleis and lynpuh, words that she doesn't understand. But she doesn't mind. As she said-- everyone here as shown their love... and there is steel in her.

        Because she put it there herself.

        And so reforged with that steel, that spark becomes ever more tempered... like the flickering embers from the greatest forge, like the sun-bright burning thing within Prissa's memories.

Once, K.K. showed them what it was that they held in them. Contrary to expectation, perhaps, it is not malice or vileness that wells past the super-heavy plates of armour... but rather--

        Past the cage called love that so must be shattered, sometimes...

        For just a moment, they both can sense well the answer to the question as K.K. kneels.

        The answer to the question:

        'Why do birds fly?'

        It is perhaps the most integral question that has been espoused between them. No further words need to be spoken.... The strange warmth and soothing measure in which K.K. shines, like a beacon...

        It is the reason... this spark will fly. Because it knows what it means... to truly love a thing.

        Those within the Dark can see--

        --the spark, as it flees for a moment, seeking others still... those that are still fighting outside!

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        GUNSLINGER TEAM:

        Skadi is not built for this kind of abuse -- but its pilot is what makes the difference, truly, as Avril steers through and stays her course. Down into the heart of the explosive Ley-storm that the Dragon has brought about...

        She said that she would not stop.

        Not until it was done.

        I will not allow this!

        Because... no matter how slim the chance is, no matter how improbable... all I know is that if I give up, then that chance will truly become zero.

        The blade is borne. Her broken and battered machine, spent.

        The sword descends on the forsaken...

        There is a cleaving sound. A large gash tears itself open; the Ley begins to leak and escape away as the Dragon hobbles onto only one leg left. Yet, even as it

        From within Avril's Medium, she can feel that spark incandescent...!

        Lanval takes a drink. And he laughs... laughs, even in the face of the super-transmission megacrash. The water rises high. And he speaks, eyes in aquamarine. He espouses how they co-exist, that a way was found at great pains....

        And he raises his gourd. For he is the Mirthful Wellspring, with full faith in the Guardians and her.

        The spark reverberates with the words of the Wellspring, effulgent...!

        Neriah gathers all that is her, even as she fears that she will fail her for too much of her life has been sustained by the darkness after that one fateful day when she tried to stop Id and suffered for it...

        And...

        The darkness takes her.

        The essence of Number Eight erupts forth from her, consuming her; the eldritch sphere saves her, and the Ley-bursts threaten to puncture over her tenebrous shield. Mother's words are echoing... and...

        She struggles. She struggles through, but when all seems like it would be lost, that she can't even do it this time--

        Maybe you can't hear me.

        That little spark gravitates towards the absolute direction in which Neriah is in. It seems piqued...

        I won't go crazy. Not until I've helped these people peel away at all that evil science... until we've found the real you.

        That spark gathers within Neriah's hand. Cold white light leaking through her fingers to splay at her palm... as she fires it towards the Ley Dragon--

        Until they say... what you said to me back in Wayside, when no one wanted me.

        --and it crosses the Dragon, that unshining ray-- it takes off several armour plates clean off to reveal more of that body underneath, scaly and flesh-like at the same time, white and blue; a rippling bleed flows through, the blood of the Tainted.

        ...Welcome home.

        And at that time -- the spark continues to vibrate, ever more and more illuminous...

        And Ambrosius challenges Alhazred. He questions, just exactly, when? When did she ever ask him for his idea of perfection?

        I have seen how she struggles, how she fights through that pain for those she cares for.

        A pause.

        Even for one such as myself, who.... Turned against her.

        The spark feels Ambrosius' regret... his sharp exhale, and yet-- the buoying of sensations. It is now radiant.

        Leo's anger is righteous, still, radiant in the moment. He is Heldalf's student, bearer of the secret and artful technique Lion's Howl. Here in this moment, as Lanval's water refreshes him, he speaks of how he would mete Althena's justice towards him.

        Power rises as he manifests forth his chi... and orders him to make peace with the false Goddess. Mother.

        That spark with which fully absorbs the courage within... becomes a little more brave...

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Is this a failsafe? Zed thinks. A self-destruct, the kind that happens when a battery fails... as he surmises, what happens when it spills its corroded contents to the world.

        That word that so incenses him.

        Rage and vitriol fills him. Riese-- he growls. He spreads his arm... and fires a shining beacon of light towards her.

        You're in there. I know you are. Hold on. Not just to yourself--

        And that spark floats by as the Zedder Beam flies straight into it... and it becomes-- something... truly shining. A shining... spark.

        Hold on to your life! Now it's our turn! Let us be your anchor!

        Leon murmurs of Elw technology for a moment, but he is unimpeded. Weglaff is smoking, and battered, but Leon isn't a Kislevi engineer for nothing; where he has made the Fereshte fly, Weglaff is no exception to that rule either.

        Riesenlied...

        The Golem Sado still stands strong against the roiling blaze of the Ley Point; as Mariel said, they were the only ones that could rebuff the Metal Demons back then, and for good reason. Yet nevertheless...

        Mother's voice cuts through to Lily, balefully so. As Leon says at seemingly the same time-- She cannot control you forever. And Lily knows that too, as she urges --

        Where's the woman who wanted so badly to help she dove into my Gear? The one who took in Janey, and Mikaia... the one who constantly puts herself out there, regardless of the risk?

        No chains... can hold her in this way. Tell her to choke... on her wishes.

        Weglaff descends and slams onto the Ley Dragon's shoulder -- the last of what looks like coils of filigree serving as armour is shred into so much debris, then fades away into what looks like... butterflies for a moment, at the same time Dean struggles-- but at the same time presses the Nimrod for one final push SLAMS into her full-bodied...

        She can hear her. Like the others said, as Matilda said -- they're not going to let it end like this.

        Sado's eruption spreads outwards; the incoming flare is imminent, and in preparation-- the violet haze that spreads forth, encompassing her and Alhazred seems choking for a moment. But then... but then...

        As that spark, now truly and well-formed by everyone's wishes... descends back into the body of the Ley Dragon--

        --where the Diggers can see that it has become a full-blown light, erasing the dark into...

DG: Noeline has drawn a new Challenge.
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
============<* CHALLENGE - ...Shall I Love You For All Eternity *>============
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 1          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 You have descended to the depths of the Heart.                                
                                                                               
 You land on a horrific mess of writhing cables and wiring; further ahead,     
 you can see Riesenlied, embedded deep within a machine. Her torso protrudes   
 out from a gnarled growth of scales overlapping a horrific mess of wiring     
 and cables threatening to grapple and choke you. The rest of the machine      
 joins the base, extending outwards to the rest of the Ley Dragon.             
                                                                               
                        My love in you shines everlasting                      
                                                                               
                      By no means is this vow made in jest                     
                                                                               
                                                                               
 But there are no more obstructions. No darkness. No veil of despair to        
 restrain you and pull you back.                                               
                                                                               
                      My heart pounds so fast 'til it hurt                     
                                                                               
                  Our combined wishes have became so radiant...                
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Even when she is masked, her eyes obscured, she leans her head forward. The   
 machine restrains her.                                                        
                                                                               
 But no machine can stop you now. Destroy it.                                  
                                                                               
                       Let us together seek the new world                      
                                                                               
                      A world where we can all flourish...                     
                                                                               
                                                                               
 GS: This is the end.                                                          
 GS: Don't hold anything back.                                                 
 GS: Have no regrets in your Heart.                                            
=Dungeon Conditions: Vault====================================================


<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.
<SoundTracker> Atelier Ayesha OST - MARIA - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znJgmEIbw-o

        And so spurred on-- by that light which has so absorbed the wishes and feelings of everyone--

        The last of Noeline's chains shatter.

        The Ley Dragon swoops up into the air, regardless of injury. That breath-weapon that has been so congealed into a singular point of energy within her mouth--

        Expands.

        A super-massive version of the mandala observed before when the Dragon went berserk erupts behind her back. It is beautiful, translucent and butterfly-like in motion.

        The transient fluttering of butterflies that reminds those who have visited Fereshte village appear; blue-and-white butterflies emanating with the source of life, all congregating upon the apex of her sphere--

        ...please... be...gone...

        Even after all this pain. All of this suffering. It is the most harsh words that she can expel upon her aggressor, her captor, her experimentor.

        And now she is poised--

        Loomed before the very truth of his form, which is hidden underneath the cloth this whole time. The strange, twisted 'thing' that on some level she cannot even begin to understand as a Hyadean save perhaps if he were a true, evolved version of what Yarobeleedt aspired to be...

        And now she is ready.

        What comes should remind one clear of the kind of devastation Golem Sado can bear.

        Yet there is no darkness here, no negativity that threatens to shatter the very point that sustains the world. No, rather, it is drawn from within what is left, contained in the shattered remnants of her body...

        Nothing short of pure light, a Ley which is perfectly neutral in positivity and negativity, seeps out. First as a thin, pencil-sized ray; then it expands, when it finds ground-- and further, further, and further--

        Those translucent butterflies expand from out of it, and out towards an ever-encompassing white light of spirits...

        It is quiet. It is gentle.

        And only Alhazred's silhouette shadows it.

GS: Riesenlied takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Riesenlied has completed her action.
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Riesenlied with The Sky will Fall...!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Riesenlied's attack becomes clear!
GS: Riesenlied takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's ...When the Last Chains Break for 0 hit points!
GS: Riesenlied gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Mighty! Statuses applied to Riesenlied!
GS: Riesenlied has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Riesenlied has attacked Alhazred with Dragon Breath - Anima Flare!
GS: Alhazred takes a solid hit from Riesenlied's Dragon Breath - Anima Flare for 257 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Noeline can barely sense Siegfried as the space around her darkens, though his anger is something that is easier to her to focus upon in the empathic surrounding - not to mention a source of deep-set relief to her to know that at this desperate last moment her race has truly begun to turn a corner. She can catch Lydia's quiet hope, and the exhortation that she use the power of the Tear, the connection she holds to Riesenlied. She can only offer an invisible nod in response, already concentrating on them for all that she's worth, the last hopes they have in this silent and empty void.

        Mariel's quiet speech seems terribly far away, as does Maya's gentle light; even Prissa's yells feel muted and distant. She's not sure if her eyes have slid shut or if she's simply losing strength; it's impossible to tell in the sheer black that surrounds her. Her limbs feel heavy as they drop to her side, and with nothing else to concentrate on she is suddenly, vividly aware of just how tired she is, just how much the last few days and weeks and months have taken out of her, time and time and time again.

        Her connection to Duras Drum suddenly drops as if it has been severed entirely, and through her fatigue and the fog that wraps her brain she clutches at the tiny link of chain that quivers in her hands as terror claws at the back of her mind. The metal is still there, the feel of the illusion-made-physical against her palm a welcome weight - but it suddenly feels vanishingly small, the last tiny vestiges of hope dwindling away in the darkness around them. Noeline barely even notices when the slivers that remain of it break apart into component pieces, drifting away on the nothingness around them.

        She... really is tired...


        And yet...
        And yet.
        Even now, she clings to the tiniest of promises. Even now, she clings to the tiniest part of her identity, pushing back against the dark space around her. Though her connection is dimmed, it is not severed; she can feel it, ever so slight, at the back of her mind. Egging her on. Humans and Hyadeans are not the only ones who have placed their faith in her.

        As if in response to that thought, the spark returns... and with everything that she has, and everything that she can muster, Noeline reaches for it.



        The world, the spiritual space, reasserts itself back around them as suddenly as it left; there is a deafening roar in Noeline's ears, and she can't say for certain if it's the sound of her own voice calling out, the rush of the blood around her metal veins, the cacophony of the battle outside, or the sheer exhilaration and emotion of the hope that buoys her up and forwards. There is movement; is she moving, or is the space moving around them, pulling them inwards to the Heart?

        She doesn't know.
        She can't tell.
        She doesn't care.

        Because nothing else matters but the sight in front of her. The swell of emotion is enough to make her choke out a sob of relief; her hands still clasped in front of her, she clutches the ring and the Tear together at her chest, blinking back tears that won't stop as she grits her teeth hard enough her head aches. Attacking the machine would be pointless, as far as she is concerned; she recognizes well enough that it is a symbol, not a physical thing - an indication of Mother's power and the sway she holds over Riesenlied.

        And there are much, much better ways to break something like that. "RIESE!" she yells at the top of her lungs, pouring her emotions into the shout and the relics she clings to; they pick up the light of the spark as it illuminates the final Heart of the Ley Dragon, and the bright fire that it has lit within the Tear grows and grows, amplified and reflected by the shine of Noeline's ring...

        ... and by its twin, still nestled on Riesenlied's finger.

        Hand outstreched, Noeline simply leaps for Riesenlied, uncaring of anything else in her path; around her, from her sheer force of will, the cables snap and tear and break, the casing of the machine flecks away like so much dust, sparks fly as mechanical failures cascade across its surface. Nothing will stop her. Not this time. She will reach Riesenlied, no matter what.

DG: Noeline has used her Tool Rings of Promise toward her party's challenge, ...Shall I Love You For All Eternity.
<Pose Tracker> Alhazred has posed.

 Results were... disappointing.
 
 In all likelihood, the disruption of the ley line had caused overloads in the Photosphere's own power supply, reducing the output of the attack. Or perhaps there was some other reason. It was impossible to say - Alhazred had little data to work with at this point, but it was clear that he had not destroyed his foes as he had hoped. Mother's plans were thwarted - and it remained to be seen if she was going to simply rampage and destroy the Photosphere or if the Drifters would somehow manage to kill her. In either case, the outcome might be academic for Alhazred.
 
 Ramses' attack is brutal - the blade of ether slams into the Quarter Knight, shattering his defensive field and slamming him backwards. Silver blood splatters across the ground behind the Quarter Knight in a wide fan, and one of his claws (and a good slice of his upper body) go flying from the force of the blow. The fact that Alhazred remains alive after being struck by a Gear like that is testament to his fortitude and determination... not to mention his ability to modify himself into an unstoppable killing machine.
 
 But Ambrosius lectures him, and Alhazred has only a laugh in response. "No one asks for the future to come. But it stalks us, endlessly waiting, endlessly patient. We can either seize hold of it, or we can allow it to devour us whole. You simply do not understand - you would be content to watch your own people suffer thanks to the Guardians' wrath, as well as letting that girl burn in their fire as she tries to prove herself to them!" The blast of flame Ambrosius unleashes slams into the Quarter Knight, and he roars as it burns him. Bits of metallic skin and flesh peel back from the impact, but he laughs despite the pain. "You lecture me, but what have you done for her? I have created something beyond humanity, beyond Hydian! And by studying her further, I can peel back the very foundations of this world! I can learn the Guardians' secrets, and the very truth of existence in time!"
 
 His laughter is almost deranged, but Alhazred seems almost happy despite the pain he is suffering. The wave of distortion from the golem rolls over him, and the Quarter Knight shudders as he takes a step forward. He just needs to kill these fools, and he can make good his escape. Perhaps taking Riesenlied might be impossible, but he will keep fighting. He will understand everything in time...!
 
 Lanval's healing flows over the group, and Alhazred grimaces for a moment. "All of you are ignorant fools! And I will not accept this! I will destroy you all...!"
 
 The force of Leo's technique slams Alhazred backwards, sending him flying into the damaged machine that he had been attempting to get running up until this point. He crushes it under his bulk, sending pieces of both normal and living metal and splashing Leo with a thin spatter of silver blood. The pain from the hit is incredible, and the Quarter Knight grimaces, the lower mouth flexing for a moment before it spits out a couple teeth. "...it seems I will need to use my last resort. Very well then vermin, watch now as I-!"
 
 The dragon, breaking free from the madness that had gripped it, unleashes a single, strangely peaceful blow.
 
 The beam of light strikes Alhazred - it can't be said to be violent, but it is still a torrent. An unstoppable wave of energy that washes over the Quarter Knight, engulfing him in the silent, dazzling torrent. For a moment all that can be seen is the twisted, strange outline of Alhazred. His machine crumbles apart into shadows behind him - and those shadows dissolving into nothing... And amidst that light, a single howl comes from Alhazred.
 
 "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"
 
 There is a flash. A wrenching distortion and a shower of debris that flies outwards in all directions, in contrast to the stream of energy that had been unleashed. But as the dust clears a moment later, where once had stood one of the leaders of the Metal Demons is now...
 
 ...nothing.

GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
GS: Alhazred has completed his action.
DC: 4 turns have elapsed in the battle against Alhazred! 1 turns remain!
DC: 5 turns have elapsed in the battle against Alhazred! No turns remain! Time has expired! The battle is over!
<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Siegfried knew that Mariel was an Elw, but hearing her declare it is different. The Elw were supposed to be dead; they were supposed to be vanquished. Even now, he thinks in those terms. He wonders what Riesenlied would think.

But, even if temporarily, there is something more important than the war.

He watches that spark. He sees it grow -- and sees it take off, leaving them standing in the dark. The darkness is not, at first, dispelled.

But the world renews around them, into the reality that Siegfried knew was there. He looks at Riesenlied, hanging in all of those machines; he doesn't rush ahead, the way that Noeline does. Glumzambor, resting over his shoulder, comes down. He is quiet, besides the sound of Glumzambor's darkened edge scraping against metal. Then, he swings out his sword. He bellows out a single shout: "HYAH!"

Light crackles up the blade. It has the inverse prismatic effect that was always Siegfried's trademark. Green and blue, cyan and yellow, black and white. Arcs of light explode out from his blade, and then scream through the air -- and start slamming into the machine all around her. Shattering it.

Freeing her.

<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

When the Ley Dragon breaks free of the chains, a part of Leon fears the worst. Perhaps Noeline has fallen; perhaps the team inside has failed. Weglaff, fresh off its last attack, takes a couple of steps backward. The single camera eye follows the ascent of the dragon, as it rises up high above the rest of them. He makes the Gear step back further.

His training and instincts take over. Leon calls out an order, though he doesn't know whether it will be heeded: "Take cover! Brace for impact!"

Then she fires. The light slams down to where Alhazred had stood -- and the Quarter Knight is gone, nothing but a few motes of light remaining. Leon stares; he swallows, and then he looks back up at the Ley Dragon. "Riese," he says. "Then, she's--Noeline! They must still be in there!"

<Pose Tracker> Ambrosius has posed.

Ambrosius listens as Alhazred responds. He frowns, keeping his ARM level at the Quarter Knight - preparing for whatever he plans next.

But even so, as Alhazred speaks...there is a small spark. A light, that struggles in the dark...and then grows. Intensifies...and gradually, becomes radiant. It reacts to everyones hopes and dreams, drawing courage from it...and forms fully.

And the Ley Dragon breaks free, and ascends. Ambrosius watches, hesitant. Will he need to defend himself...? A mandela erupts, beautiful, behind her back...and then she unleashes a stream of pure light upon Alhazred. And Ambrosius watchs as he-

...is consumed by the light of life. Ambrosius watches, and observes...and watches as the dust clears, with nothing remaining behind.

Ambrosius lowers Veritas Varia.

"It is as I said - you made a critical miscalculation, Alhazred." Ambrosius says. "Is this the future you envisioned?"

There is silence.

"I thought not."

And then he turns, to face the Ley Dragon herself - still, and dormant..

"Riesenlied. Return to us." Ambrosius entreats. "We are waiting for you. All of us."

Leon was right - they were still in there. But for the time being, this was all Ambrosius could do...

<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel does nothing - says nothing - for several long moments.

It is enough.

Riesenlied responds - not just to Mariel, not even mostly to Mariel; this was a team effort, and not just the team 'inside', and she knows it. But it's enough to get a smile from her. Giving away her secret was no struggle at all; Mariel only kept it quiet for fear of the Metal Demons, and she does not fear Riesenlied. Though Siegfried is another matter...

But that's a problem for later. Riesenlied is the goal here, and Mariel falls toward the strange machine. It's *wrong*. She can feel it being wrong in a way that she doesn't usually get from machinery; perhaps everything designed by Alhazred feels this way. "Riesenlied...! Please, help!" That last to the others, who she can see again.

Mariel does not fight, usually. She doesn't like to hurt anybody - people in pain only make her want to help them - and she's not good at it. It is something to be avoided, not desired.

None of this stops Mariel from reaching into her bag - the very depths, in fact and pulling out a length of wood, which she unfolds to reveal a heavy knife with a sharply curved blade, the edge on the inside of the curve instead of outside like a chopping weapon.

It is a pruning knife, and Mariel uses it freely against the weird tendrils and twisting wires of the machine, treating them as nothing more than vines that need to be cleared away. For all that Mariel does not know how to fight, she knows how to garden, and sometimes a gardener must remove overgrowth to help the plants being choked by them.

DG: Mariel has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...Shall I Love You For All Eternity.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

        The Ley Dragon breaks free, and Nimrod is forced back, though not altogether violently. Dean's easily able to have it regain its footing. However--the Ley Dragon shoots a beam, not at them, but at Alhazred, who is summarily blasted to nothing, and then goes dormant. He blinks rapidly. "What just... happened?" he wonders.
        
        Leon explains. Dean considers this, then nods. "Then we just have to have faith in Noeline and the others and wait," he concludes. "Noeline's *sure* to bring Riese back." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the Mountain Medium, which has a strange yet wholly natural warmth to it. He smiles, conveying his conviction through it--and, perhaps, to the other Original Medium wielders. "I know they will!"

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah hasn't lost control of her powers like this since she broke the Chains of Arius. Now, though, with her body running on the edge of exhaustion, the madness gnaws at her senses. It's all she can do to keep holding it back.

But she has to. She can't let Riesenlied down.

The ray expended, Neriah slouches forward and begins to slowly lose altitude, the persistent magical shell around her beginning to flicker and stutter. The patterns racing across it space out a little wider, taking on more comprehensible shapes. In truth, Neriah's been fighting at the higher end of her powers for what's felt like two straight days, and she's ready to either lose control or collapse.

But she can't. She can't let Riesenlied down.

Her eyes - they've darkened from a cool orchid to a deeper, reddish-purple colour - follow that growing spark. A spark composed of something she can't comprehend. The merest sight of it is enough to kindle something she hasn't felt in a long time. Hope and love struggle to gain a foothold among the morass of bitterness, arrogance, narcissism and pain that her heart has become over the past few years of her life.

But she has to feel that hope. She can't let Riesenlied down.

The drain on her body has been too great. For the first time tonight, Neriah's feet touch the ground. She lands with a soft click of heels that are truly too high to be practical for the way she used to fight. With a breath, she begins to crumple, but catches herself and forces her to hold her head high. The power within her roils and surges, but she holds it back. Sweat runs down her face, but she ignores it.

It's not important. She can't let Riesenlied down.

Before her, the Ley Dragon seems entirely open to attack. Neriah has nothing left in the tank. Drawing her mother's ARM on it would do next to nothing but hurt it more. She's not sure she can muster much darkness without losing her mind or becoming overloaded. More to the point, she could feel something. A spark, as if Riesenlied's soul were alive before her. That spark. A blossoming, tempered, incandescent, effulgent, piqued, illuminous, radiant, brave, shining thing filled with the hopes of all of them for a woman who touched their lives with kindness and love.

Neriah can't ignore that feeling. She can't let Riesenlied down.

The mandala of the creature's breath weapon expands. The Ley Dragon takes off, flies and descends to spend her fury upon Alhazred. Neriah wants to cheer, but all she can muster is the soft bead of tears down her cheek, persistent. She just closes her fist and holds it to her heart.

Without words, she must find love. She can't let Riesenlied down.

Neriah watches Alhazred reduced to nothing more than dust. She spares no tears for him. The surge of spiteful joy at the sight of the Dragon killing her tormentor is tempered by the fact that the Dragon is still the Dragon - and the emotion is too familiar.

She can't fight with hate right now. She can't let Riesenlied down.

Her heart beats faster. The darker parts of her spirit balk.

        HOPE... JOY.... LOVE
        FORGET THESE THINGS
        YOU HAVE CHOSEN YOUR LIFE
        THE LIFE OF A DESTROYER

"I can't... destroy her right now," Neriah hisses, her voice thin with exhaustion as she fights to consider how best to help Riesenlied escape that Dragon. Most of her spells are offensive. The complex ones she was weaving earlier are beyond her current level of focus.

A helpless feeling seizes her. Neriah finds herself just staring at the Ley Dragon, wishing with all her heart that she had just died on that street in Wayside, that she had never listened to Millenia, that she had never let Ginny Maxwell show her the nature of her powers, that she had never lashed out at those bandits back home, that she had never been born into this world, that she could have just been a normal person who was allowed to love and be loved.

        WELCOME HER HOME
        BUT KNOW THAT YOU CAN NEVER BE HOME WITH HER
        AND THAT YOUR FATE IS CERTAIN
        YOUR FATE IS THAT RIESENLIED WILL BE YOUR ENEMY
        ALL WHO STAND AGAINST YOU WILL BE YOUR ENEMY
        BECAUSE YOU HAVE A DESTROYER NATURE
        AND OUR POWER
        IS NOTHING LIKE THE LIFE SHE EXEMPLIFIES

The tears come in greater strength. Raw anguish rips across Neriah's face, her features twisting as she fights to hold back a sob that slashes through those feelings of hope.

Even if she does not let Riesenlied down, she will let Riesenlied down. Even if she turned away tomorrow and rebuked Valmar, the power is so central to her lifeforce now that it would continue to seize her. Even if she returned to Riesenlied's side, it would be with hands stained by the blood of too many. Of women and children and old men - the people of Three Cucco Spring and Lastonbell, of other, smaller places she's torn through on her path down the dark spiral.

And yet she wishes, just for a moment, that she could throw it all away. She can't let Riesenlied down.

The ambient energy around her eddies and shifts. It swells into another shimmering form like those she'd summoned earlier.

But it is someone entirely different. The shape floating towards the Ley Dragon looks a lot like Neriah, bare but featureless, with her long dark curls flowing around her like a cape and eyes shining in the colour they used to be. Their old natural shade of pale blue.

The phantom of the girl Neriah can never be anymore floats towards the Ley Dragon... and, silently, with an energetic brush barely felt, lays a soft hand on the draconic being, then steps in to rest her cheek against it.

        "Welcome home," the untainted memory of the girl whispers.

The touch is brief, fleeting. Slowly, the image of the Neriah from a time that can never come back fades into nothingness. And Neriah herself slouches to her knees and looks on, unable to keep the tears from dripping down her chin and onto the bodice of her dress.

She doesn't approach any further. She doesn't deserve to be front and centre, because even if she didn't let Riesenlied down here...

        ...she eventually will.

<Pose Tracker> Prissa has posed.

 
Light blooms. Prissa sees that spark, like light flying from a forge. The world turns into position. She looks ahead.

Fortunately for Prissa, even as she feels the intense strangeness of this bizarre assembly - the general of an enemy force, bent on the genocide of Filgaia (and how long after that before they looked to the world so nearby?); the polyflexible changeling form of Maya Schroedinger; the strange alterations of the True Shaman of Rigdobrite; the tearful love of the Hyadean soulmate of their victim. The Trial Knight who reduced Pendrago, right there, and feeling *warm* - what is up with that? Prissa looks, in so far as looking is a thing you do here, towards K.K.

Is it really 'that knight'? Prissa wonders.

Or is it their twin? A warm mirror to contrast slaughter and rapine?

Matilda is the one to whom she feels most akin, even if, in trivial matters of quiet space-sharing, she knows Mariel better. Of course, does she know Mariel? Mariel is older than actual, literal dirt.

But to return to Prissa's good fortune: Seeing Riesenlied before her, and apparently alive, she knows in her heart what she has to do.

"Riesenlied, of Filgaia!" Prissa declaims.

"I am Prissa, daughter of Noer. I have completed your commission!"

She walks forwards, drawing out the blade where it had sat on her hip again. This time she brings the scabbard with it, a piece of simple bent metal with a cheap discolored felt interior.

"I have given this blade a new name, and given it new strength. Have a care with it, for it is not yet perfected. But it will serve you well, and grow in the telling. It is a weapon for glory and for glamour, and you should not try to slash with it if you have a choice. Given your state, I take this privilege -"

She draws the blade out and tucks the scabbard down into another pouch, turning it round and grasping one of Riesenlied's hands with her own. She makes the fingers curl round the hilt.

"There! Now, take this weapon and, whether in peace or war - what is your phrase - "

"seek the new world."

Having done this Prissa puts her hands on her hips and steps back, feeling proud of herself. Several seconds later she sees what Mariel is doing, gets out a dirk and gets to work.

DG: Prissa has used her Tool A Disturbingly Large Quantity of Knives toward her party's challenge, ...Shall I Love You
For All Eternity.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

        Tremendous power fills the air, the space, the time. Everyone here is party to something wondrous - something beyond all of them... actually, no, no, that sells everyone's hearts short.
        To something that's always been in reach of one another, all from the will to come out with an open hand, rather than a closed fist.
        Lanval, sagely as he may sound when fully awakened, is not quite wise to the ways and environs of this place. He continues to laugh uproariously like a great time is about to be had by all - which is not quite what is happening. He is but a spirit of a whole other world. It could well be that he may yet face the challenges the Metal Demons themselves do... among the ones who have chosen themselves a path of coexistence.
        His is not the path of science that Alhazred professes. He may not exactly be a creature of logic, or anything that makes sense to the known laws of the universe.
        Through sheer tranquility of mirth, Lanval seems to avoid all the debris flying just past the manifestation of his very face - either by dumb luck, or just some underlying force that he knew it's okay to stand up and throw an arm up in celebration as everyone finds their peace and conviction to stand against Alhazred without doubt or hesitation. Too caught up in the moment, Lanval doesn't think too hard about being in the company of the White Knight Leo.
        "Riesenlied!" Calls Lanval, as just out of sheer intoxication of his own atmosphere, tries to amble up to the White Knight to get a fat arm around him. He will pay Alhazred's passing little further mind, rolling upon the momentum of newfound hope. "I bid thee return and live in good health...! Ha ha haaaaa!"
        He raises his gourd up in the air again with cheer, splashing clean, pure, beautiful, sanctified water everywhere... within the bottom-most levels of a place where it will do little to wash away the inherent grime and sadness baked into it from over a thousand years of tragedy, as he looks up to the Ley Dragon with just big dumb joyful laughter.

<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        Silver blood splatters Leo's face. He slumps forwards, his shoulders sagging--the glow of his chi dies down. That strike clearly took a lot out of him, but it seems the fight isn't over yet. Alhazred is still up after the massive amount of punishment he's taken, and still ranting about the future, about the twisted 'gift' he gave to Riesenlied. "You're mad," he says. His voice is matter-of-fact. Alhazred commands Leo to watch, but something Leo hears from elsewhere grabs his attention instead: a voice, soft, yet thunderous.

        ...please... be...gone...

        The beam races over Leo's head. It strikes Alhazred dead-on, his silhouette clear against its soft, pure radiance. Leo grits his teeth, braces, but the beam does not stray from its target. It does not relent until there is nothing left but dust and ashes.

        The White Knight stares at the spot where Alhazred and his machine stood, at once stunned into silence and appreciative of the poetry. Of course it was fitting that the woman Alhazred weaponized be the one to deliver the final blow. Now, only one thing remains.

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

        At this speed...

        ...with that much damage...

        ...and at that angle.

        Skadi does not land easily or well, mere instants after its blade rends across the damaged Ley Dragon. The ground shakes. Metal gives. Sliding forward, the badly damaged falls to a knee. Smoke and sparks billow from various points.

        Inside the cockpit, all is dark save the dull grey of the nearly out-of-commission sensory systems.

        Held in place by her harness, Avril reaches blindly forward in search of the Medium she knows must have tumbled from her lap...

        Only to realize it's still there. Impossibly.

        But nothing is impossible as long as you don't give up.

        Her fingers trace its edge, and she knows.

        The spark has not died.

        'Take cover!' Leon yells.
        In the darkness, a darkness that at last evokes no sense of fear or reluctance from within her heart, Avril holds the Medium in both hands and smiles.

        She doesn't see it, what happens.

        Emerging from the cockpit of the damaged machine in the aftermath, she stands there for a moment, the Medium clutched to her heart.

        Hopeful, in spite of everything.

        "They'll return," she says simply. "I know they will."

<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

             I knew we weren't diving heedlessly into the dark.

One heart reaches another.
        One thought finds company.
                One feeling grows among many.

Many sparks together blaze brightly. A warmth reaches through the darkness.

          We were chasing a kindness they tried to take from us...

Maybe the distance between one heart and another is infinite; space is a curious thing, doubly so when it is a thing of the soul. A girl with hair of flowing sunshine falls through the void between souls, but it isn't so dark and dreary a place now.

           ... so no matter how far away they tried to take you,

Souls can flock together, find common ground, and together, the very concept of 'impossible' winks out. Maya feels the winds on her cheek again, wreathed in ghostly motes of light and feeling that propel her through void at speeds that don't make sense, at a bearing with no angle. To a destination that is also a person.

           there's no place on Filgaia we wouldn't follow, Riese!

                                **KR--ACK**

A nest of rusted, twisted cables coils around the vast and vile machines binding Riesenlied to Mother's will. A great snarl of them twist and seize with motion, and then snap helplessly as a human torpedo explodes through the wall of this place, alight with the power of her will and buoyed on the shared emotions that give this group such terrifying strength.

"Riesenlady!" hollers Maya Schrodinger, a girl with a love for rare treasures and dusty relics with the misfortune to be staying in Adlehyde on That Day, forever binding her fate to an orbit around Riesenlied. "I should've said this before now! But, hell, here we are!" her voice carries as though the words were penned upon a page. Crystal clear, and strong.

The ordinary girl in the orange dress flies through the air as though it were her natural habitat. Soaring. Gaining distance from the grand and terrible machine, and looping around again to approach it. In her ordinary arms, a spiralling string of whimsical creation unfurls from fingertip and palm, coiling around her shoulders and forearms and waist, painting the skeletal structure of some perfectly ordinary weapon that anyone could find laying around.

"You're the mom I never had, Riesenlady, and the HELL if I am letting it end when I've just found the words to say it!"

Memories of strange, old things bubble to the surface from the beating of a heart whose purpose is true. The glowing weapon's skeleton around Maya rapidly gains form. The colour of molten steel fades to cobalt and white ceramics. A thick handle, a whole-body support harness, a focusing lens where the barrel should be.

The ordinary girl, Maya Schrodinger, pulls the trigger on whatever it is she has recalled. There is a sound quite like the spooling of a faraway turbine, the shrill scream of particles fusing, and a pillar of light crashes into the base of Alhazred's most wretched machine.

And he wasn't even around to see it happen.

DG: Maya Schrodinger has used her Tool Tankbuster Cartridge toward her party's challenge, ...Shall I Love You For All
Eternity.
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

The world -- or rather, this... half-layer of it -- reasserts itself, and Matilda is greeted with Noeline's relief. Her gaze follows the Metal Demon's, finding Riesenlied, finding the symbol of Mother's power over her even in this space.

She does not share Noeline's intuitive understanding of the space and what it means. She sees the machine as an obstacle before them -- something tangible, in many senses -- that needs to be destroyed to pull Riesenlied away from Mother.

She attacks the machine, thus, with the force that she believes it to be due. Reaching into her coat, she pulls forth the silver blade she found on Lunar, months ago, and starts to chop. Unlike Mariel, Matilda is not... deliberate, in her movements -- she is not pruning. Matilda has become a creature of the garden second and fighter for survival first -- and she moves like it. She puts her shield away, takes the blade in both hands, and starts to chop -- starts to beat and batter -- the machine before her.

Noeline can be the one to hold Riesenlied in her arms; Matilda just wants to make sure this awful thing never hurts anyone again.

DG: Matilda Whitehead has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...Shall I Love You For All
Eternity.
<Pose Tracker> Golem Sado has posed.

No, Dean's Gear is not a Golem. But Sado still stands behind, ready, preparing itself forr what is to come. ...And Lily remains in front of it. Their combination stands fast, an echo of the past. But Lily's attention is there, on Riesenlied, a hope that she allows to glow even in herself as she waits. The violet haze spreads...

And there is so much light.

Leon's voice calls out, and Lily has instincts and training along the same lines; when the order is given, she dives, throwing up a barrier with all the power that she can muster to shield her weapon, the great Golem that was her last resort against the world-ending forces ahead.

But the light shines. The Ley Dragon sweeps upward, and Lily watches, preparing for the final assault, for something that may be too much--thinking that maybe she has done part of what she must...

But the light that comes is pure, untainted. "You..."

Lily hears the words of the scientist. They linger in her, speak to her. And yet... the light passes. And he fades. Lily cannot relax precisely, but--

But she starts to float lower, lower, and touches the ground with her feet, leaning heavily against the Golem that has joined her in this battle, blade up but exhaustion plain. The blood that was trickling from her nose drips from her jacket, now, obvious and plain, but at least red.

"...Riesenlied," Lily breathes, exhausted, relieved, staring. "Of all the times to learn how to strike out at your enemy..."

Lily smiles faintly, strange in her inhuman guise. "That's a really damned good time."

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

A spark passes through the column of Zedder Energy. Zed sees it and, though he doesn't know what it is at first, its meaning is something he... can't not intuit.

"Riese--" Zed rumbles as the light of his beam finally fades. Zedder Robo falls to a knee, his body has been molten and frozen in quick succession a dozen times or more. His strength is spent, exhausted almost to the point of no return by the churning ley and his own final attack. He can do... Little more than this.

But...

Somehow. Please. It has to be enough.

It has to be... enough...!

The chains break, and for a moment, Zed feels his heart sink--

The dragon takes flight, and unleashes its full wrath...

On the one who probably deserves it the most.

...

"Uncle Al..." Zed sighs, lowering his head a bit. "...Maybe if you'd loved people more than science..."

But that was never going to happen, because everyone knows Alhazred's alignment was and will always be Science - Evil.

Now...

Siegfried Noeline and the others, they just need to push a little further. Zed turns his face toward the shining form of the Ley Dragon...

...And his eyes quietly shutter closed for the briefest of moments as he snaps a photo of what might be the one time anyone will ever see Dragon Riese Resplendant.

Odjn will want to see this. Probably. Then she'll cry a whole lot. Probably. But at least it could end up with a happy ending.

"You're almost there," Zed says as he forces himself to his feet. "Come on Riese... After all this, I want today to have a happy ending...!"

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia Seren says, "Can a cat really belong to anyone, Prissa?" This is the wisdom of a high priestess of Rigdobrite.

Mariel has the courage to admit that she's wrong. Hell, she even has the courage to show who she is. Say who she is. Lydia watches after Mariel, the girl who would sometimes duck behind her, stand out on her own.

She smiles in her direction. "Mari..." She says. "You're being so cool right now," ya nerd! Lydia doesn't say that part. Mariel is being that cool.

She then looks to Maya. "Maya, sorry for not fighting much 'till now. But right now, you'll see what I've been saving it all up for, arright?"

She nods once. It's time for her to show Riesenlied her Heart. She reluctantly steps away from Maya as she draws out the Silver Medium Rigdobrite into her hands.

She thinks about when she met Riesenlied. It was nearly bite at first sight, an act of violence inflicted upon Riesenlied because she was mad at a completely different person. You learn a lot about someone from how they react to when you bite them. Riesenlied ... was patient. It's as if she understood, even then, why Asteroid the Kid had to bite her right then.

She thinks about the time in Wayside, where she first really got to help people other than herself. She taught the children about soccer, she got them cheap uniforms, she didn't even realize she was helping them until she saw Janey's smiles, her excitement, Mikaia's strength.

Slowly, gradually, this stranger she bit became someone different in her eyes.

...I talked to Kaguya after. I asked her if she really saw you as 'Mom'. She said she did. She uh. I guess her mom mom kinda blew too. You're a better mom than mom. ... Mom.

Lydia starts chanting a traditional Baskar prayer, song filling her heart and soul. It's a welcoming song, but it's also a welcome back song. She remembers Granny Halle's words. Her willingness to accept Riesenlied as a friend of the Baskar people. A willingness supported by Lydia's own words.

The trouble you caused--it isn't something to be ashamed of

"The trouble you caused! It isn't something to be ashamed of!" Lydia shouts.

You've always been one us.

"You've always been one of us!" Lydia shouts, the tears finally flowing.

One of the large family we call Baskar.

"One of the large family we call Baskar!!" Lydia shouts louder and louder.

We must stand by one another

"We must stand be one another---!"

Even when...Especially when...one of our own is hurting

"Even when...especially when...one of our own is hurting!!!" Lydia screams, voice now hoarse.

She has spoken the words of Granny Halle, but as Rigdobrite crackles into being above her. Here, willing to lend everything to their loyal summone, Lydia adds her own words.

"So it's okay to be scared!"

"It's okay to feel like a burden!"

"It's okay to be a total klutz and goofy and weirdly enamored with cuccos!! It's okay to be sad and blame yourself! A shaman interprets the will of the Guardians and brings heart to their judgements, a scientist bends their will to the betterment of Filgaia, and I tell you...."

Lydia sinks to her knees, struggling to maintain even as much composure as she has.

"You're part of Filgaia's family too! You're part of our family!! So please....please!!!"

As others strike the machine, Rigdobrite lends a gentle light to their actions. A cape of stars materializes around Noeline, protecting her, empowering her, making it all but certain she has a path towards her destination. Throughout the galaxy, throughout the universe, their bond has infinite reach.

"MATERIALIZE RIESENLIED"

GS: Lydia Seren has become ENRAGED!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Riesenlied's Prison with X-Summon.
 
"And let the stars shine bright once more!!"
 
GS: Lydia Seren has buffed Mariel, Matilda Whitehead, Noeline, Prissa, K.K., Maya Schrodinger, and Siegfried??? with
Baby The Stars Shine Bright!
 
And with that, Lydia Seren follows Noeline's lead and leaps for Riesenlied, intent on giving her the biggest hug she has
given her yet.
 
And honestly, that's saying something.

DG: Lydia Seren has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, ...Shall I Love You For All
Eternity.
<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

In space like this, it is will that matters. Intent. The striving of metaphors and metatext to both destroy and create. Feelings. Sentiment.

This is a battleground fit for a war of hearts.

And in that much, K.K....

The Trial Knight seems to have no words anymore. That spark molds, grows, flies -- and the knight knows it will reach its intended target. If you were to ask, they wouldn't tell you how they did.

Because in truth, practically know one would believe the answer.

Things twist, things reshape, the dark melts away as if receding from that lone, focused spark of light, of focus, born in the shadows that would have loved nothing more than to smother it. K.K.'s hands, resting in their lap, start to shape the light that emanates from them in those faint wisps, the warmth of it in those fleeting moments similar to the presence of a Guardian and yet wholly different.

In the next moment, they are all caught within a web of machinery and tubes, a sterile cage designed to crush all hope and grind down will into something malleable. The Trial Knight's gauntleted hands curl tight around their weapon.

They made a promise to Siegfried. Their word is their bond.

They made a promise to Noeline, unspoken but sacred. Their word is their steel.

Their head lifts, towards the vinework of interlocking cables, seeking to choke these people accompanying K.K. out of reaching the person they came here for.

Their head lifts. A spear grasped in their hands. Of course, the spear. It had to be. They made a promise to someone more precious to them than anything.

Their word is everything.

And they do what they have to. What they can do. They are not the one to reach Riesenlied here. They cannot be.

But they can help bridge the ones who can. Noeline, Siegfried. The ones they can help, even if their efforts help Mariel, and Prissa, and Maya, and Lydia incidentally in the doing. Just as promised, the Trial Knight clears the way in a beautiful flurry of spear work, carving a path forward in a dance of destruction and a flash of metal and metaphorical violence, slicing through cable and machinery and any impediment in their way. It is what they can do.

Offering only one more silent sentiment as they do, a memory as true today as it was then.

                           ... come what may...
   ... know that I am proud of you and all that you have accomplished...
                     ... and all that you have yet to.

DG: K.K. has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward their party's challenge, ...Shall I Love You For All Eternity.
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
============<* CHALLENGE - ...Shall I Love You For All Eternity *>============
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 1          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 You have descended to the depths of the Heart.                                
                                                                               
 You land on a horrific mess of writhing cables and wiring; further ahead,     
 you can see Riesenlied, embedded deep within a machine. Her torso protrudes   
 out from a gnarled growth of scales overlapping a horrific mess of wiring     
 and cables threatening to grapple and choke you. The rest of the machine      
 joins the base, extending outwards to the rest of the Ley Dragon.             
                                                                               
                        My love in you shines everlasting                      
                                                                               
                      By no means is this vow made in jest                     
                                                                               
                                                                               
 But there are no more obstructions. No darkness. No veil of despair to        
 restrain you and pull you back.                                               
                                                                               
                      My heart pounds so fast 'til it hurt                     
                                                                               
                  Our combined wishes have became so radiant...                
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Even when she is masked, her eyes obscured, she leans her head forward. The   
 machine restrains her.                                                        
                                                                               
 But no machine can stop you now. Destroy it.                                  
                                                                               
                       Let us together seek the new world                      
                                                                               
                      A world where we can all flourish...                     
                                                                               
                                                                               
 GS: This is the end.                                                          
 GS: Don't hold anything back.                                                 
 GS: Have no regrets in your Heart.                                            
=Dungeon Conditions: Vault====================================================
===============<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart - Round 5 *>================
==============< Results - ...Shall I Love You For All Eternity >==============
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mariel                              25 --(0)--> 25                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matilda Whitehead                   20 --(0)--> 20                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             20 --(0)--> 20                 Pass
Rings of Promise                    4   Combat  Effects: Efficient and Rally  
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Prissa                              25 --(0)--> 25                 Pass
A Disturbingly Large Quantity of Kn 2   Combat  Effects: Embolden             
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         15 --(5)--> 20                 Fail
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
K.K.                                20 --(0)--> 20                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Maya Schrodinger                    20 --(0)--> 20                 Pass
Tankbuster Cartridge                1   Combat  Effects: Cleanse              
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Noeline                     80 --(35)--> 115               Pass
Conditions: Fright(1)|Overzealous(1)|Vault(1)
Effects: Cleanse|Embolden(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Noeline has successfully explored Photosphere - Dive to the Heart!
====================<* Photosphere - Dive to the Heart *>=====================
==================<* CHALLENGE - Thank You... Everyone... *>==================
|Type: Discovery   |Dungeon Ability: Conclusion|Challenge Rating: 1          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
                                   Everyone...                                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
 The mask cracks.                                                              
                                                                               
                                 Dau...ghter...                                
                                                                               
                                                                               
 A soft noise comes from her lips.                                             
                                                                               
                                  Fa...ther...                                 
                                                                               
                                                                               
 The crack spreads.                                                            
                                                                               
                                 Noe...line...!                                
                                                                               
                                                                               
 Light escapes from an expanding web of fissures within. With a thunderous     
 clap, it shatters to so many pieces over her cheeks. Riesenlied draws a       
 scaled arm out, free of the machine. Slowly, painfully.                       
                                                                               
 Cables spring out from their sockets with a distressing hiss. The scales of   
 the machine whine and crumble. A great tremor echoes through the chamber of   
 the Heart--                                                                   
                                                                               
 --and outside, the Ley Dragon reacts accordingly. You can see its scales and  
 skin shimmer, as motes of the Ley begin to release and escape out to the      
 Leyline proper. It howls with a noise that first resembles pain, subsiding    
 to relief and rest.                                                           
                                                                               
 As the creature dissipates, both teams can see each other once more,          
 centered around the remnants of the chamber.                                  
                                                                               
 It is over.                                                                   
                                                                               
 Mother will no longer be able to devour power from the broken Statues -- her  
 power will be severely weakened. Now, the leech is truly cut off from the     
 world she has tried so hard to consume.                                       
                                                                               
 But...                                                                        
=Dungeon Conditions: Wonder===================================================
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        They are both... extremely fatigued...

        Noeline and Riesenlied.

        Perhaps, not just today. But as Noeline felt at the beginning of this engagement-- they are both losing so much in so rapid a time. Losing their home. Losing their race, perhaps, as both individually strange specimens of a Metal Demon that both bear Original Artificial Mediums within their bodies, albeit differently.

        One a 'wildcard' of Duras Drum's; another, imposed upon Alhazred by a gift from the skies.

        But they together...

        Have been placed in a situation now where the Trial Knight and even Siegfried, her father, walk with them.

        As the spark spreads...

        As the spiritual space restores itself around them.

        As they collapse into the final chamber, the machine, which is perhaps only symbolic at this point, as Noeline has surmised. A last remnant of Mother's assertion upon her. A machine that cannot stop them.

        As Lydia encourages Mariel and tells her that she's being so cool, as she tells Maya she'll show what she's been saving it up for...

        She reflects upon when they first met. When Lydia bit Riesenlied at first sight, and Riesenlied wound up flailing with a reaction like 'hwee--!!'. Riesenlied was patient... and perhaps, that bite was very important for that very reason.

        All that time in Wayside, when she got to really help people other than herself, teach her soccer... befriend Janey and Mikaia...

        And she speaks of Kaguya, too, which really surprises Riesenlied as she stirs softly. "...lydia...kaguya..."

        Lydia speaks in that free way of hers. She speaks a Baskar prayer, the song filling her heart... and she speaks Granny Halle's words too. Granny Halle, who has offered her hand so warmly and reached out in friendship.

        To be one of them... one of the large family of the Baskar... standing by one another... especially when one of their own is hurting....

        They all resonate so well. Her eyes tear as she hears about Kaguya admitting that she really saw her as mom.

        "Lydia... Lydia..."

        And the Guardians have emerged, Rigdobrite manifesting to aid them with gentle light. Protecting Noeline, empowering her--

        Material...!

        Siegfried gazes as reality reasserts around them, too -- and he gazes towards Riesenlied. And Riesenlied gazes back towards him. There is nothing of that doll-like shell of a person which Mother so imposed upon him like a 'toy'.

        This time, it is for real.

        "...f...father..."

        Mariel feels no fear from Riesenlied, just from the Metal Demons. She feels the intrinsic wrongness from the machinery, however-- and she calls out for help.

        There's a grogginess from Riesenlied as she finally hears Mariel's voice for real, instead of through the cloud which has so connected them in this spiritual space all this whole. She cries for help to the others; the Hyadean tries to struggle, but finds herself too grasped... but Mariel chops her way through with a pruning knife--

        --for this is nothing but an overgrown garden full of weeds, they both know. The better to let more of those blossoming white flowers grow. Together.

        Right next to Prissa, as she declares her name. Riesenlied, of Filgaia. That has a good ring to it. She has always espoused herself as Filgaian... as much as she is Hyadean.

        She, like Mariel, declares her name in proper. She has known her before, but perhaps not more than ever before until now. Mistilteinn is drawn again, restored to a form only a masterful sword-smith as Prissa could.

        That weak hand of hers is curled around it, curling it towards her hand. Each finger, struggling with the shimmer of Noeline's ring upon it.

        "I... shall..." Riesenlied whispers. There is a soft emanation... a terribly faint glow as Riesenlied helps in the very little way that she can-- in the form of a light that soothes those that are struggling against the machine. Weakening its influence on them.

        She looks, towards Maya, as she calls her by that nickname of hers. Riesenlady. "...ma...ya..." she whispers. And... something more surprising, something she might have always known the way she wanted it to be--

        You're the mom I never had, Riesenlady, and the CUCCO if I am letting it end when I've just found the words to say it!

        "...daughter... I... I would... be happy..." Riesenlied whispers, voice hoarse, half-mechanised and so weak. The light crashes further, the ARM shattering the machine further.

        And Matilda... Matilda is more quiet. But it doesn't subtract from the fact that she is here, bearing all that she is. She cleaves through the mass of tendrils with her blade, as she gazes to her. She has a quiet smile for her...

        "... thank you..."

        K.K. understands the intent of the space. Force of will, not force of arms, has always been what defined Riesenlied, and in this space... will...

        A battlefield of a war of hearts. There are no words, no more...

        They are bonded by their promises. To her father. To her beloved. They are never one to draw back upon their word. Still in kneeling, holding their hands together with that warmth of theirs that is truly wonderful...

        And they carve out, in a flurry of spear work, which is more metaphorical than it is physical at this point. Another silent sentiment as Riesenlied gazes upon the faceless mentor of white steel that has been with her ever since she even knew her way...

        "K.K......"

        A pause, as she whispers sobbingly.

        "... I shall fly...ever higher... this bird shall soar....."

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Neriah is struggling, at the end of her ropes. But she clings close to that feeling of not letting Riesenlied down. Hope and love struggling against the bitterness, the arrogance, the narcissism...

        But she has to, right now. Her feet touch the ground... there is no longer anything to attack with, nor is there any point to it.

        Valmar continues to whisper to her. But she fights back still...

        As it is her fate...
        As a Destroyer.

        Perhaps Riesenlied understands on some intrinsic level. She bears a similar relationship to K.K., after all, who is unmistakably someone who has shaped her to the bird that flies today... yet their paths are destined to diverge.

        But right now, that isn't important.

        What is important is right now-- when Neriah fades away, dark curls flowing around her coloring back to blue.

        And she speaks it... too...

        Welcome home.

        And she can hear it. Neriah knows that she can. Everyone's wishes and feelings...

        Lanval is a sage as he is when awake, and he knows to not sell everyone's hearts short; to be able to sense something that has always been in reach... he unequivocally knows of the ties that can be. He laughs, in that jovial way that he does... a representation of his passion for life itself. He is the Mirthful Wellspring... and perhaps he will face the challenges they themselves face.

        Riesenlied! he calls. I bid thee return and live in good health...! Ha ha haaa....!!

        That enamoring voice, so full of joy... it lifts her up and so readily too. Truly, a blessing from a Seraph is a wonderful thing indeed.

        Leo utters of Alhazred's madness, and indeed there may very well be a point there. The 'perfection' she has so been forced upon... and he turns, as he faces towards the Dragon. His wish is as much with them as the others... and he appreciates the inherent poetry in the woman the scientist weaponised being the one to finish him.

        Perhaps, that will be enough for Althena's justice. Of the honour that first kindled something that could be... could it be sustained further? She can only hope...

        Leon, outside, cautiously steps back-- but the light does not descend upon them as he had feared. Instead, it has come to cause Alhazred to vanish -- perhaps for real, or perhaps to retreat, no one can particularly say...

        He calls. Noeline! They must still be in there!

        Lily has stopped for a moment, watching as she too prepares with Leon's warning for the final attack-- which proves unnecessary. She doesn't relax... but she does float against Sado, blood trickling against her. She compliments on her newfound ability to strike back, strange and circuited in Protocol as she is.

        Zed's heart sinks for a moment as the last chains break-- and the attack is turned on that who probably deserves it most. Uncle Al... even at this time, much like how Riesenlied speaks of Siegfried as 'Lord'... they both share that uncommon, unconditional respect, do they?

        ... and he quietly takes a picture of the resplendent dragon. Perhaps Odjn will be truly happy, to see what was probably only at best a Dragon Quarter be Fully a Dragon for once...

        You're almost there. Come on Riese... after all this, I want today to have a happy ending!

        Dean, too, agrees. I know they will! Noeline's *sure* to bring Riese back!

        Skadi has landed with a crash, badly damaged and fallen to one knee. Smoke and sparks escape from it... but the spark has not died. She doesn't see it, but she knows it.

        They'll return. I know they will.

        It cannot, after all, end any other way. Ambrosius, too, turns towards the Ley Dragon that now stays dormant before them. He can feel it in the air too... something will come to an end, soon.

        Riesenlied. Return to us. We are waiting for you. All of us...

        Human. Beastman. Al Bhed. Veruni. Hyadean. Seraph. Elw. Protocol. Zedder. K.K. Sighborg. Number Eight.

        For a moment just now... no matter what will come after, no matter what other struggles they have--

        For a moment.... that unclimbable wall between them crumbled.

        As the form of the Ley Dragon unfurls for those in their Gears, those fighting outside. They can all see the makeshift platform upon which the broken machine now rests, incapable of hurting anyone else as is Matilda's intent...

        As Glumzambor comes down, darkened edge slashing against metal. And he channels it, that power that he has so taught her in positive... as it must be in negative. The Negative Rainbow so flows freely, shattering the machine all around her; explosions start to rock and consume the ugly and grotesque contraption, chunks of metal and Ley splitting apart in a resplendent shine.

        The words are on her throat now. She wishes to scream it...

        "Father... Father...!!"

        So as Noeline shouts her name in turn--

        RIESE!!

        --in the most emotional manner she has been, their hearts bared for the both of them. Lydia throws herself in as well for the most heartwarming and powerful hug of her life. Family is, once more, reunited.

        Riesenlied's and Noeline's hands, fingers wrapped around one another's...

        Their rings of promise shining softly. Because of that promise that one day...

        They will all shine together.

DC: Riesenlied switches forms to Novice Heritor of the Fereshte!
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        Noeline trusts those behind her. It is why she can dive forward as she has; it is why she can throw herself after Riesenlied with the wild abandon she has in hopes of reaching her, knowing that those with her will be the ones to tear apart Alhazred's dread machine even if the strength of her own will cannot. She can feel the light of the Negative Rainbow as it slams home into the machine around her; she can feel the strength of Lydia's summon as Rigdobrite's power propels her forwards, the machine shattering and tearing around her.

        Prissa is beside her, offering a blade forwards to let Riesenlied fight with pride and identity; so much of that has she lacked as of late, Noeline thinks in the back of her head. Maya is there to profess her family ties, and she cannot help but let out half a laugh in response, but one that is genuine and fond above all else.

        Matilda provides an ever-present backup, the quiet reliability that Noeline would never openly admit to depending upon; it's one of those things she doesn't really think to mention, knowing that the two of them are cut from remarkably similar cloth. Mariel has risked a great deal to come here, to follow them down into this Heart - but Noeline cannot find anything but gratitude, in the moment, in hopes that this might spark a change between their races.

        Even the Trial Knight, she trusts in this moment. Even if she might not tomorrow - even if she cannot understand their motives and actions going forwards - she can at least offer that much, extend it forwards as much as she can.

        The machine tears and breaks around them as metal gives way beneath the combined assault, and before Noeline can fully comprehend what has happened the world has reasserted itself around her in a dizzying rush; there is light and sensation once more, even if the dim halls of the Photosphere barely count as such.

        But all of those are secondary concerns. The only thing that truly matters to her, right in this instant, is the simple feel of Riesenlied's fingers entwined with hers and the weight of her partner against her, buried in her arms as she hangs onto Riesenlied for dear life. "... let's go home," she whispers softly past her tears, her voice hoarse and rough with love and affection and fear and hope. It is not nearly enough, too short and simple to encompass everything she's feeling right now. But perhaps that's alright. "They're waiting."

<Pose Tracker> Siegfried has posed.

Glumzambor slams down into the ground. Siegfried stabs it into the ground, to look at Riesenlied. There is a fond smile on his face; it is something that looks incongruous, with the expression that was often there. The usual stern look -- or a mask of rage and hate -- isn't to be found. He looks exhausted; he looks, for once, his true age.

He nods his head, once, to her. He opens his mouth -- and, for once, Siegfried finds himself at a loss for words. Siegfried finds himself content to watch Noeline and Riesenlied, and to see the surroundings that have been restored to them.

For the first time in a thousand years, he feels a sense of peace.

It is a tragedy, then, that what comes next is discordant. It disrupts that sense of peace. It flees before Siegfried can truly feel it. Mother's furious, gut-wrenching scream echoes through the entire Photosphere.

There is nothing to follow it; whatever followed Mother's howl, those words are saved for the brave souls who would fight her. However, there is something else. The ground underneath the feet of everyone in the Gutter shakes--no, the whole structure of the Gutter shakes. Pieces of rusted and broken metal come crashing down from the ceiling, smashing upon the remains of the dais below.

Siegfried looks up, his eyes blinking with uncertain confusion. "What is--" Then, the realization begins to set in for him. A hum echoes through the entirety of the Photosphere's structure, and there is the slightest tilt. Some fallen pieces of metal roll with the new angle.

"She... she activated the drive," Siegfried says, with a sound of awe. "She has taken us to the skies!"

The Photosphere, after a thousand years of sitting in a crater in Arctica, is not meant for this. It shows, too; parts of the Photosphere begin to crack, and there are terrifying groans of metal creaking. The starship that bore the Metal Demons here is under a strain that time has not allowed for.

Nor has time been kind to its defenses.

High over all of their heads, bolts of green fire shred through parts of the Photosphere. Blasts from energy cannons leave gaping holes up above, and that lets the cloud skies of Arctica be seen. It also allows for something else to be seen: the Tzadkiel, the Gebler battleship that bore their squad here, and a trio of corvette-class airships and no small number of Gears in formation with it, already doing battle with Metal Beasts and a few of Mother's Metal Dragons.

Siegfried sees them, and his eyes narrow, with a mounting anger. "The Solarians..."

        ONE THOUSAND YEARS AGO

Smoke wafted from the shattered Elw homes. Theirs was a pastoral people, and despite a civilization that challenged the notion of taking to the stars, they had a way of seeming less thn advanced. To kill and strike them down, at times, proved easy: their villages were simple farming villages, and blade and ARM left them shattered. For Siegfried, this should have been easy.

Something about the stink of blood and burnt fur -- of burning wood and shattered stone -- felt like a foul haze, today. It was not in the devastation that he caused, for Siegfried never minded such devastation. It was in the violence wrought, when they expected none. It was an enemy that they never expected to encounter.

A terrific FLASH erupts before Siegfried's eyes.

Enkidu fell. The black smoke that rose from the gaping wound, through his chest and out his back, had an acrid and chemical stink to it. Siegfried looked down at the gold and red body; he did not understand, at first, even as quicksilver blood flowed out too freely. His mouth worked, but no words came. His eyes felt hot, though he could not say why.

"Enki..." His words came as a stammer, and then a sharp, harsh command: "...get up."

His eyes, steel that gleamed crimson, found no movement in his companion. He found it only in his killer: the human in blue armor, with its two shades of azure. Smoke wafted from the barrel of the Buster, too, though that was only a thin line of white vapor. The blue eyes that met his had nothing but cold determination in them.

The air behind this new figure crackled, and a hologram appeared: the golden visage, with a mask not unlike a skull's, that had been rallying the humans. The one who would call himself their Emperor.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1yp8LYvCVk

"Trigger. Do not let his anger stay your hand," Cain said. "Do not think justice's thirst will be slaked with the blood of but one Quarter Knight. Show him why you have descended upon this land. Show him the justice of humanity."

Bright beads of light formed before the barrel of the arm cannon, drawing into it. Siegfried's eyes twitched, beyond his control. His jaw opened, and the scream came out. Primal. Grieving. Furious.

A fury unending.

        NOW

Smoke rises and flame falls from the holes torn by Solarian cannons. The Photosphere shudders; it begins to list, under the pressures placed upon it. Siegfried's eyes widen, and then he looks back to Noeline -- looks to the others. "Go," he commands. "Flee this place. I think it will not stand for long... and I would not trust Gebler to spare any of you."

He starts to turn. He feels that same fury, as he looks up at the rends torn into the Photosphere. It burns through that fleeting sense of peace. But, he remembers:

'She's waiting.'

Siegfried stops walking. He turns, looking over his shoulder -- back to Riesenlied. The smile comes to his face again, if briefer than before. "Riesenlied. You've always made me proud. Stand tall. Carry yourself with your head held high. My daughter should do no less."

The Quarter Knight turns, after that. His white cape swirls after him -- and then he bolts, in a run, towards the nearest elevator. The Photosphere shakes, terribly, around all of them.

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

        The explosions above them bring the world sharply back into focus; Noeline gasps between surprise and sheer fatigue as her surroundings reassert themselves, and she meets Siegfried's gaze as he gives her an order. She has previously been a traitor; as she is now, she could be called anathema. Strictly speaking, she no longer heeds the Quarter Knights.

        But she doesn't need telling twice.

        "--get to the Fereshte!" she calls, and it's only in the seconds after that the she has the time to think: shit, I really hope it's still there. But if it isn't, they're out of luck anyway - and with that thought in mind she sweeps Riesenlied up into her arms, still finding the strength to do that much. "There is a way out through the base of the Gutter! Hurry!"

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

The Ley Dragon dissolves, Riesenlied and all the others emerge, and suddenly it feels like a weight is lifted from the world. "We did it... Hah... Hahahaha. Wow. I... need a break--"

There's no time to celebrate. The world starts to quake. The Photosphere begins to shake itself apart. Zed, even having been born shortly after the arrival of the starship, has never actually seen it take off. But...!

They need to go. Now...!

"Uncle Zeik," Zed grunts-- but his body won't move. Not fast enough to go after him. "Sieg, wait! Where are you going--?!"

Someone... might need to drag Zed along. Or maybe just pick him up with one of the larger gears.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

        Riesenlied is... not in what you would call a hale state.

        She is freed of the machine. She is her own person, her own will once more.

        But she is pale and weak; what was once her scales has dramatically shifted-- the body Noeline has lifted out of the machine has its residue in remnants, leaving her more scale-like and shifted than she was before.

        Her legs slump to one side, seemingly useless right now as they've been seated within the machine for weeks. Some part of Riesenlied fears for her mobility, but it is nothing in the face of--

        --of Mother's gut-wrenching scream. Her eyes widen as the Photosphere begins to move... as Siegfried says she's taken them to the skies.

        She clings tightly towards Noeline, wet and dripping with an almost thin quicksilver-like fluid as she trembles and whispers, "This place cannot hold... it cannot fly..."

        And that isn't all their woes. The Tzadkiel is a familiar sight, already. Her eyes widen further.

        "Father--"

        Siegfried stops. He urges them to flee, nor for Gebler to spare any of them. But... he has words for her.

        Riesenlied. You've always made me proud. Stand tall. Carry yourself with your head held high.

        She hiccups softly, whimpering. No... just when the family has all but come together. No, no-- would she have to feel it again? The pain that she felt when Nasrin left her forever? The pain that she once felt when she believed Noeline was gone for good, absconded to the world? This pain...

        My daughter should do no less.

        Just when she had the courage and bravey to admit it... just when he had the courage to respond to her such, rather then deny himself of what 'he could not be', in his words once when he left her with Trask.

        "No, please... it's too soon... I can't... Father-- Father!!"

        He turns. His white capes wirling as he runs towards that elevator.

        As Riesenlied slumps and tries to wriggle, nearly out of Noeline's strong embrace, but finds herself far too weak to do so.

        "FATHER!!"

        She isn't certain if she knew it then. That she would once more feel it. The pain...

        The pain of loss.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

As the Quarter Knight runs for the elevator, another man steps out from the shadows and into view. A man wearing a scarf around his face that he pulls tightly with his free hand against his face.

He is wounded, but it doesn't seem to slow him down. A determination moves his gait forward that wounds cannot stop.

The Elevator descends without him. "This is when they'd strike." He says. "They always do this, right at a moment like this...The Boy Emperor will make his move. Predictable...Predictable..."

He closes his eyes.

It's raining. It's so long ago even I...

They are carrying a man in a mask. A throne. A throne built on blood, intent on making more blood, a throne of deceit hiding the true history of this world for the one that they would make.

Fleeing from them is a man. And a woman. A tale as old as time itself.

Energy crackles around the throne but it comes from the man. It comes from the man who claims to be human. He has to live. The man knows he has to LIVE. The woman has to LIVE. They know the truth. They spoke the truth.

And now they will die for the truth because speaking the truth is the most vile crime imaginable.

no

The energy lances through her back and out her chest. There is less blood than he would have expected. Maybe the energy cauterized it. No. No. No. He can't be alone again.

"ELHAYM!!"

Abel...!

NO!!!

LIVE.

Zephyr gonna leave you, Zephyr gonna leave you feeling blue.

And then it's his turn.

It was so long ago... You see Siegfried...

Fei opens his eyes again.

You are the same as me...

"Brother..." Fei murmurs. "I won't let them..."

And with that he leaps onto the elevator as it descends below.

"I won't let them hurt you anymore."

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

As the Ley Dragon fades away before her very eyes, Neriah looks on through tears and exhaustion. Increasingly, she can see the group that ventured inside the beast - and Riesenlied with them, hand in hand with her incredibly sassy companion.

This time, at least, Neriah didn't let her down. None of them did. Her dark little heart soars with a sudden surge of emotion, and for the first time in what seems like an eternity, she smiles a genuinely happy, loving smile.

But it melts away. Grim realization sets in. None of this will change that she's a destroyer by nature - that she has a spirit marinated in whatever source of Valmar energy was found by that ancestor so long ago. And that essence gives her a mission. Bowing her head wearily, she draws in a breath to compose herself, then murmurs a few faint words, then a quiet order: "Return. We're finished here."

That order is all it takes - and throughout the Photosphere, individuals begin to vanish.

Neriah had brought the entire Cult of Valmar with her. At locations all around the site of battle, men and women in red robes begin to vanish in whisps of shadow and fire. Not too far outside the room, a large raven and a redhead with a huge sniper rifle vanish into a portal along with an unlikely duo: A pair of Tainted, still in Hyadean armour. Evidently the Cult of Valmar has some new recruits of the metal persuasion.

Most of them are gone by the time the Photosphere begins to lift off.

As green light begins to shred the Photosphere, Neriah looks up and watches the debris come down, exposing the open skies through the yawning hull breaches the rays left behind. There's a fleet out there. The Sky People, apparently. Thomas the Medical Student and his ilk, no doubt.

Slowly, Neriah shakes her head, lowering her eyes to her lap. "What do I care," she mutters venomously. "I'm just a piece of shit anyway."

With a huff, the forgotten High Priestess of Valmar winks out of existence in a telltale whisp of fire.

<Pose Tracker> K.K. has posed.

The work of that weapon is symbolic than actual. Destroying, after all, is not a matter of good or evil. It is a process. An end of one thing, whether through change or finality...

... and the beginning of something new.

The spear's blade shines resplendent within its final stroke, hitting ground with a ring of metal on metal. And there K.K. stands, implacable as a monolith might be to any who might spare a passing glance. For others who know, others who see deeper...

... I shall fly...ever higher... this bird shall soar.....

"Yes," intones the knight, with an assurance in their voice that sounds so absolute it masks the faint underscore of warmth behind that tone for all but those who know what to look for. The light intensifies as the dragon uncoils, bearing that platform to the world outside this cage. And K.K. seems to almost fade into that shine.

"You shall, Riesenlied. Of that, I have no doubt."

And when the dragon unfurls, when they are all once more ushered back into the world...

... the Trial Knight is no longer there, gone before chaos and tragedy unfurl.

Gone, as if they had never even been.

<Pose Tracker> Prissa has posed.

 
Prissa puts her hands on her hips again once Riesenlied emerges from the shattered metal. She is radiant with pride and the satisfaction of a job well done. She raises a hand as if to offer her knuckles to Matilda or, perhaps, K.K. when a monster screams.

Prissa freezes up.

"It can FLY!??!" Prissa exclaims in a mixture of awe and disgust. "It is a BUILDING!"

Things crack and Prissa grips onto a nearby protrusion, barely having gotten her bearings from the present situation. "How in the name of all that is holy was there one of these confluence - oh, she lands atop it, that makes sense," Prissa says to herself as she puts her mask back on again. Will she ever stop fiddling with it?

No.

The world cracks and Prissa turns her head to see, through the hole in the wall that reveals the WHIRLING SKY ITSELF, a fleet of flying objects. They are meaningless shapes to her for a moment until one of them fires at the Photosphere and a moment later there is a huge shower of sparks, one of which bounces off the protective lens over her eyes. EYE PROTECTION.

Noeline provides a hope that is named Fereshte. "Right!" Prissa says, whirling around with unwonted speed. Out comes one of the metal javelins Prissa had - but she does something peculiar with the cord: she loops it around several otherwise-pointless sewn-on straps on her jerkin, ties it tight, and holds the javelin ready in her hand as she runs after them. "Come on!"

She looks back towards -

"?? You saw the Trial Knight there, right?" she interrogates Matilda, as they run.

<Pose Tracker> Ambrosius has posed.

Slowly, the Ley Dragon begins to shimmer, and motes of Ley energy begin to escape, returning to the Leyline. The howl is concerning, at first, but it subsides soon enough. Ambrosius watches, with some amount of trepidation, as it dissipates...and as the others return once more.

"...Riesenlied. It is good to have you with us once more." Ambrosius says, a rare, quiet smile visible on his face.

The quiet is shattered, suddenly and violently, by a furious, gut-wrenching scream. Mother's scream, from the depths of the Photosphere. And then, the Gutter begins to shake, violently. This is a sensation Ambrosius is familiar with, the sensation of a vessel lifting off. Siegfried lays it out directly - the drive is activated. The Photosphere is taking to the sky.

"Such madness...does she intend to take us all with her...?" Ambrosius glowers. If he still had his poncho, he would wrap it around himself at this moment.

But it gets worse. Bolts of green fire tear through the Photosphere, and visible outside...the Solarian fleet.

With panic evident on his face Ambrosius turns, drawing a communicator out from his belongings.

He presses a few buttons quickly.

"Sentinel Elvis. Mother has taken the Photosphere to the skies." He says. His voice is unsteady, as he tries to remain calm. "Alert the reinforcements - it is under attack by a Solarian fleet. We must evacuate, quickly."

Solaris had come prepared for a war. In any other situation, Ambrosius might be prepared - but he was exhausted from his battle with Yarobeleedt and Alhazred both. He was not prepared for a full-on confrontation.

He shuts the device and stows it away, hurrying toward Noeline and Riesenlied. He could see that the latter was in pain.

"...Please. Allow me to assist you." If allowed, he would accompany them. If not, then he would make is own way. But one thing was clear - he could not stay here.

<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

                ... a dream where all our hearts are one ...

What a dream.

What a bold, beautiful dream.

Buoyed upon such a dream, anything is possible.

Maybe when you wake, things won't feel the same... but surely, you'll come to realize it again.

I look forward to it.

                                    ***

The world fades into focus. The ordinary girl still shoulders her weapon--she cannot even recall its name. Lights upon it blink a dull red, the colour of emptiness and error. Its form has already begun to boil away, rivets and bolts and cables fraying into ghostly motes of glowing sand that spill onto the ground and wink into nothing. The emblem of some unknown military on the side of the casing vanishes into so much smoke and imagination.

Maya opens her eyes, feeling the world fill her every sense with a terrifying clarity. The piercing cry of something furious, hungry, and wronged rips her from her reverie.

Noeline shouts for the group to make haste. The ordinary girl in the orange dress needs no reminding, and stoops to the Hyadean girl's side to give her some measure of leverage while carrying Riesenlied. It helps distract from the fact that the clouds far above the Photosphere have been rushing down to meet them.

"I've a feeling this is far from over." Maya shares in confidence her worries. "But we can sweat the details when we're someplace with a little less shaking."

To the compounder so wracked with doubt, to Matilda Whitehead, Maya's gloved hand enters her personal space. An invitation to take it, and be taken to safety. "Hey," she begins. "I'm still high as hell on emotion, and that makes me stupidly powerful right now. Let's get somewhere safe."

By way of proximity, and locked gazes, this offer seems extended to Prissa and her Javelins of Greater Locomotion. Of the Trial Knight, nothing is said.

(Maya doesn't know a god damn thing about K.K.)

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

        It all seems like good news - that everything from here on out will be all right, for the forseeable future, in the heat of the moment. Celebration is like that, isn't it? It's about the moment, just the now. Now is good, now is great...
        And then... the scream. Even Lanval is knocked right over by the sound of that, something so transcendently... wrathful, away from the White Knight, and then the Water Seraph returns to rolling about the debris while the ground shakes.
        "Wh-what'sh goin' ooooooooooonnnnn?!" Lanval, shaken out of his tranquility, is kind of helpless to do anything but go with the flow of the rumbling. Eventually he gets something resembling a footing when he is bounced to more level ground that is less strewn of debris, lying momentarily at Siegfried's feet (well, where he would've been had he not started walking three seconds prior).
        Lanval sizes him up. He can't quite read the Metal Demon the way he could humans. A different kind of person, altogether. In a way, he's walking just the same as he did when he tried to stand (...sit) against him at New Arctica. The same sense of resignation, of purpose. From a Seraph's view, taken at face value, detached from the dramas and highs and lows of the lives of others, Siegfried is the same.
        ...He's just resolute about a completely different cause, now.
        He resolved to be Mother's blade, not long ago.
        Now, he's resolved to be a blade that'll see Riesenlied and the others to safety, as he watches him bolt off.
        He can see that even with his eyes largely closed, face flush, drained from the shows of his power when fully tapped.
        "Mmmmph... ya heard 'em," Lanval says, as he shakily stands. "We gotta trusht 'em on thish one...!"
        He commences returning to his usual brand of locomotion, which is to say 'doing a disservice to the very concept of walking,' but he'll 'walk' in a correct enough set of directions with the rest on the way to wherever leads out...!

<Pose Tracker> Golem Sado has posed.

Another girl who would call Riesenlied Mother is far, far away. Frail, older than her look and younger than her years, she is a world away. Maybe, in the instant that that spark glows and glows, Kaguya is reminded of Riesenlied, and doesn't know why. ...There's no way to know from here. That is far away. Here, now...

Lily Keil looks up towards Riesenlied's revealed form. Towards the destruction of a machine--the work of Siegfried, because it must be him. But--

Mother's scream echoes around them, and the metal begins to shake, to rush apart. "What--"

"This damn thing still WORKS?" Lily calls out, before there's a quiet, sharp noise of pain, the sorceress doubling over, supported only by her sword for an instant. She breathes in a hiss, and releases the power that had flooded her, returning to her usual form. Her red attire conceals much of the blood, but she is dangerously pale, wounded from all the strikes she took for the Golem.

"Son of a--" Lily mutters, forcing herself to stand upright again. She realizes it, as Siegfried says it--what has happened. What must be happening. She thinks, at first--is it a betrayal?

...No, she realizes; to strike against this fortress is the right call. Perhaps they did betray them, but...

Lily looks to Siegfried. She stops for an instant, seeing him smile--"Siegfried!" Lily calls. "...Make sure you come back for her!"

But shouting is painful, and Lily suddenly brings a hand to her side, to her ribs. Get to the Fereshte, Noeline mentions. "Yes, you're right, we should--"

Fei leaps onto the elevator, as Lily watches. "Fei--damn it, Fei--"

She mutters more ancient curses than that, dazed enough not to notice the Zeboim speech she uses. Lily steps forward, and looks up to the titanic weapon before her. Golem Sado is still here; Golem Sado stretches, apparently eager to continue its work. It looks hungrily upon the stronghold of its enemy. ...And Lily pulls her radio.

"-Mission complete. Dispatching asset back to base. Complication arose. Report to come.-"

Whoever she spoke to, Lily steps forward again, far enough to shout, "Sado!" The Golem turns its head, looks down to her, and Lily stares upward. "Get to ground. Allow our allies to ride your arms if they will, then deposit them groundside and return to base."

With a breath, Lily reaches out, and once more a crackling force of violet erupts towards the Golem. Perhaps it is the real means by which her orders are translated... or maybe Lily isn't sure how high up they are.

Lily calls, "Get moving!" to everyone. "Noeline! Don't wait for me!"

Lily looks to the elevator, eyes narrowing. "...I'm not leaving Fei behind!"

With that, Lily begins to walk for the elevator. ...She won't reach it quickly enough to follow with speed, but...

She can climb down if she has to.

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

As the world starts to fade back in, Matilda smiles too -- though it's still quite tired looking. The bleach-blonde compounder turns to Prissa, and -- after a moment's thought about what she's being offered -- does indeed meet knuckle with knuckle, with her free hand. The other holds her sword, still -- she's not eager to put it away, not entirely.

She does have a moment to appreciate the closeness of Noeline and Riesenlied -- but only a moment, before the group needs to make haste. Maya offers her a hand -- and then shortly follows with the words Matilda likes to hear best.

She grabs the hand without hesitation and starts running.

<Pose Tracker> White Knight Leo has posed.

        The Ley Dragon comes apart, and for the first time in what feels like ages, Leo smiles a warm, honest smile. Riesenlied survived. Riesenlied survived a horrific ordeal, and the sight of her surrounded by loved ones and herself again is almost enough to make Leo flat-out ignore the Trial Knight standing among their number. The smile twitches, but it doesn't fade. Confusion wells up within his happiness. Fortunately for Lanval, Leo seems content to leave the whole matter of his excommunication out of this as well.

        Mother's scream echoes throughout the Photosphere.

        Leo's ears twitch. The ground shakes. The Photosphere has taken to the skies, Siegfried says. "In this state?" Leo murmurs. It's in better shape than Vane, but only barely--and falling debris soon reveals still more hazards.

        Leo runs.