2018-12-23: Das Rheingold

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<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    The Photosphere is coming apart.

    As above, so below (in a manner of speaking): Riesenlied has been restored. Mother has been slain.

    And from the heavens, battleships rain down artillery upon the once-home of the Metal Demons.

    The Gutter, already, was a far-from-stable environment: between the battles raging as Drifters and others pushing their way in and the current turn of events, this has only become moreso.
    It only took a single falling section of debris to cut off part of the group that came to assist down in the Gutter. What may have been a simple avenue of retreat has become infinitely more complicated: sections of the Gutter have changed. Walls have collapsed; portals, reaction to a once and gone signaling from Mother moments before slam shut; snapped electrical systems become a liability.

    And debris continues to fall in from overhead: a mere soft spring rain of metal and dust now, but it likely will not remain so. A swift-as-possible escape is imperative.

    "If we... can reach the supports to the outskirts of the settlement," Avril gasps, racing up a tight pathway that had not been present before, "we should be able to escape. Ah-- is that the...?"

    It's the office she and Dean had encountered before, now accessible through an entirely different route, all thanks to a wall subsumed into the wreckage.
    It's still icy. The frost that's seeped in has not abated in the slightest; without careful progression through the remnants of the office safe passage may be dicey.
    ...This was, once, Riesenlied's office. Avril turns one quick glance at the desk and its paperwork -- most of it now littering the floor -- before pressing on out the entrance.

    "It should not-- be long from here. There, I can see it--"

    The pathway that she had followed down here before with Dean.
    It still stands. Once they pass upwards through it, they'll be closer to where they had come in... or other places where an exit might be made.

    And here with their passage out and out of the Photosphere in sight, Avril pauses but a moment to look at her friends.

    I still... have something to tell you.

    She takes a step. She had realized something speaking to Lily, down below.

    When we leave. When we're safe. I promise. I'll tell you everything I know.

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia knows Avril, Rebecca, and Dean. She doesn't know them well, but well is an utterly relative thing in a place like the Photosphere. Most of the time, she looked about the Photosphere and tried to handle Metal Demons still loyal to Mother, help the people of the Gutter, and protect the Festina Lente. After the Photosphere began to fly, she told Amaranth she would be right back, and--

--And went to see who needs help. After all, the Festina Lente should be able to get out. It is a giant shop.

She drops down a moment later, from some of the rafters, to land by Avril and the others. It is harder, as the Gutter is shaking and collapsing about them. She looks at Avril, for a moment, before she flashes a smile. "Yes!" she says. "Ah, I know some place we may be able to go, no?"

She pauses. "She snuck an... item shop... inside."

Talia opens her mouth, as if to explain more. Then, she decides, that is something that one cannot explain. She lets that explanation ride as-is.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    Riesenlied and Noeline had gone on to desperately find Siegfried, following his departure down the elevator to face Gebler.

    But it was not immediate - they were there with Avril and Dean when the Photosphere tore away and up from the ground and lifted into the skies.

    The Hyadean was collapsed on the very floor where the Ley Dragon once stood; she's laid on the ground in a half-transformed state, her extremities covered in the metallic scales where Noeline, Lydia, Siegfried and everyone else had helped rip her away from the horrid abomination of a machine Alhazred had placed her within.

    "f-father-- ffffather..." Riesenlied cries in a wounded, mechanical tone, just before the debris collapses and falls with a resounding crash. She shrieks--

    --and the single portion of debris had ripped Avril and the others from her, eyes widening as she stares down towards what she recognises is once her office. "a-avril! avril!! dean!" she cries out. "are you all right...?"

    She pauses, trying to push herself up and over-- but realises it would be a horribly nasty spill with how she's still crawling on the ground. "i can't reach you from here, i--"

    She looks. Siegfried. If she doesn't chase after her--

    The debris keeps falling. There's another yelp as Riesenlied falls and stumbles in Noeline's arms. "please... be safe..." she begs of them.

    Just after they'd come to her rescue... after all they'd done with Nimrod and Skadi...

    The dust and debris continues to fall. It's not safe for someone as debilitated as Riesenlied to be here.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    .... ... she snuck an item shop... inside.


    Ammy's head is popped out of the chimney of the mysteriously pliant and bouncing Festina Lente, her cheeks puffed up as she goes "HMMPF--"

    And if you've never seen an item shop frog-leap from one girder of the Photosphere to another, well, now you have!!

    "Be safe, Talia...."

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Down, down below--Lily remembers the conversation she had with Avril. She remembers that she said that she would keep her eyes open, would look into this Johnny Appleseed... but she doesn't really expect that to be cashed in as quickly as it's about to be. She is, in short, busy.

Golem Sado is already making its way out of the Photosphere, but Lily is moving on foot, trying to get to the exit, to where she saw Fei disappear before she could follow him. She is moving about as quickly as she's able, but she's both battered and exhausted; her red attire hides much of the blood. But coming out from the Gutter, well...

It's not as easy to get out without this going on. Lily stops short as she hears the others coming up from behind--she'd slowed down, unfortunately, and now is reaching into her bag. "...Didn't want to have to do this," she mutters, and then blinks at Talia. "An--"

Lily shakes her head. "We need to get to the exit--Fei... Fei went on--alone."

Her breathing is heavy for obvious reasons--but she pulls out a syringe and rolls up her sleeve. The strange, circuit-like markings gleam with faint power. ...Then she jabs a needle into the muscle near her elbow and depresses the plunger like a pro.

She hears Riesenlied... "I'm coming," she murmurs. But... She isn't willing to leave these kids and Avril behind. "Come on!"

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    The Photosphere is collapsing! This isn't super-great, especially since Dean and his friends are trying to escape with their lives. Rebecca is no doubt about, scouting out ahead or trailing behind to make sure the group isn't followed; we'll leave that in a bit of a Schroedinger's cat state. Still, Dean and Avril have definitely not left the third member of their friend group behind. She's just... not immediately right here.
    "Hey, it's Riese's office," Dean comments, shielding his eyes with one hand as he peers at the crumbling infrastructure. "Yeah, if we've made it this far, we should be able to get out from here no problem!" He looks over at Talia as she gives her own explanation. Sort of. Dean pauses. "...can she sneak it back out?" he hazards. Then he looks at Lily, frowning in concern about Fei going on alone. Still: "...All right. I'm sure we'll meet again," he says.
    But then, as he's climbing down, he hears a voice calling his and Avril's names. He stops, looks around, and-- "Riesenlied!" he calls urgently. She can't get over to them, can't even stand up. "We're fine! Hang in there, we're gonna come down to you and get you out of there!" Even as he speaks, Dean's already in the midst of doing exactly that. There's absolutely no way he would leave her behind here.

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda's formed up with Avril in her escape; it's always best to be in a call, good or bad, with someone you trust, and at this point Matilda is fairly certain that insofar as she trusts anyone she trusts Avril. As they move through the office, she briefly consdiers trying to grab the paperwork -- but it's too much effort, too risky as the place starts to collapse around them.

"It can't be much farther now," she says to Lily -- and sure enough, they have a passage out.

Avril pauses... and Matilda pauses, too. She waits, slightly uneasily, at that pause; it makes her a little nervous, though -- so she takes that momentary pause as a chance to check her gear.

Riesenlied cries out to them -- and Matilda's whole body tenses up. She's unsure what to do -- but Dean seems to have a plan, and Matilda joins him... though she's not as well-equipped to help as he is.

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Unlike the others, Cyre isn't coming from the depths of the Photosphere but escaping from its innermost sanctum. The Mother is dead, and he was there to see her last moments.

And, you know, to make sure she'd never return to trouble the world ever again. Always make sure to double-tap the corpse of the destroyer-god, even if doubletapping just involves blasting it with way too many lasers.

But while would have been able to escape along with the rest of the Carakin... Something seemed to bother him too much to leave yet. Even as the Photosphere comes crashing down all around them...

There're people in the Gutter he needs to make sure get out, too.

And so a massive column of beams and hyper-pressurized wind blasts straight through a collapsed hallway... And trapses straight into Riesenlied's old officespace.

"...Matilda," Cyre says, fixing the Scholar-Merchant with a grin. "Good to see you in one piece. Came to make sure you get out in one piece too--"

Dean calls out to Riesenlied, and the shaman's head whips over to find her. And... "Oh. Oh wow. We need to get you out of here too... All of you. Come on, I've tried to carve a path to an escape pod back this way...!"

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    This will not be the only time Gwen has had to force herself to wake up, today.

    'Wake up.'

    It would not be the last time she saw that room, the mental construct in her mind, of a girl, her younger self, sitting on that threadbare bed, with its metal frame, the yellowing, flimsy, dog-earred books scattered around it in haphazard stacks. The stucco walls, the wood beam ceiling. The hard, wooden floor. The 'whiff, whiff' sound of the girl, meticulously applying her new bandages, as she kicks her feet with shoes two sizes too big for her. If the girl kicked any harder, she'd definitely manage to nudge Gwen's nose with tip of her shoe.

    Because Gwen is there, on the ground, as if she had walked in and rudely laid on her back. 'Hello, uh, me.'

    One wall, as before, is missing, showing an impossible view of the sky, as if the room was simply levitating above the clouds. Which it is. Things like that happen in this space. It's better to not think too critically about it.

    'Do I really need to?'

    'Yes.' The feet kick harder.

    'H-hey, that's hitting my nose.'

    'Don't force me to do worse. Wake up.'


    It will not be the last time. But it will be the first.

    "D-e... Avr... guh!" Gwen unceremoniously crashes in from an unsteady piece of flooring, attempting in vain to tug her undershirt over her upper frame. "W-wait up!"

    The outer layers of her usual Elru uniform (read: parka, lots of layered clothing) are gone, for the most part, exposing much of those parts she had been so self-conscious over all these years.

    For once, she just doesn't care. It's not like she's the only one here with parts exposed. Lily, for example. And they're all scratched, charred, exhausted, and still, they keep going.

    She's not sure about what's going on, why Riesenlied is over there, if she's still being controlled, where Fei is, and so many, many other things. She just sees them digging.

    "Hold on, lemme get that boulder outta the way-" Without much of an introduction, she plants herself next to the party Dean had started, and begins to haul a particularly heavy piece of rock.

    ".... Riese, ah, this is... your office? It's... very nice." Well, once you account for all the falling debris. And the fact that Gwen's just wanting to get Riesenlied to keep talking.

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    'Someone is coming'. A premonition, of a sort--?

    It's at that precise moment that Talia drops down beside them. A normal reaction might have been to start or jump at the woman's sudden arrival, but Avril merely shifts her weight from one foot to the other and blinks.

    "Talia...? Oh, then you must know a way out? I feel we must move quickly, lest the Photosphere collapse. We..."
    Avril trails out.
    Tilts her head to one side. "An item shop? In a cart, then?"
    ...perhaps some things really do defy description.

    Lily speaks up. "...He went on alone," Avril repeats, glancing over at the injured, battered soldier. "Lily, your injuries... would you prefer if I--"
    The syringe slides into flesh. Avril watches on, her lips pursed and brow furrowed.
    Familiar. Again.

    "Yes," she says, as Matilda renders her opinion. "We should be able to reach the upper levels from here if we proceed. Do you know if there is a particular place he may have gone?"
    It's all so familiar. Even here, she has the feeling like she... might know where Fei is now.

    "Gwen?" A pause, before Avril starts off towards the young woman who has apparently unceremoniously dropped in from the 'sky'. "Are you alright? Ah, Cyre, perhaps--"

    In the distance -- from beyond the fallen debris -- Riesenlied calls out to them.

    "Riesenlied-- we are unharmed," Avril shouts back, hoping she can be heard on the other side. "There is a path up from where we are now. We would be able to escape using it. Please, do not worry about us." She pauses. "Do you have the means to escape? We should still have enough time to clear a path."

<Pose Tracker> Volsung has posed.
<SoundTracker> Falling Into the Shadow of the Locus Solus - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgwVNm9Scm8


So empty is this place, the sound of footfalls is like a heretical intrusion.

It is cold here. A pervasive, preserving cold that coils in thickly condensed mists around the ring of booted heels against sterilized metal. They carry their owner across the chillingly clean emptiness of this place, grand and featureless and so very spartan, towards the lone occupant nestled deep within: a simple pod, hissing with coolant life, lit with an ephemeral blue haze that seems like it has been sustaining itself for countless lifetimes. The weight of history is here, hallowed and uninterrupted.


Until now.

The door of the cryopod opens. And its occupants first sight is the hazy figure of a man with dark skin, glasses glinting in the light and a smile colder than even this room on his lips.

A hand reaches out, in offering. A voice comes soon after.

"So you're the one who can give me what I desire, are you? It's time..."

                                                  The Photosphere

"... Lolithia."


The sound of violence is almost deafening in the way it literally ripples across the structure of the crumbling office. Just past that exit, Metal Beasts -- or at least, the pieces of them -- fly past, crashing through walls and embedding in the strange alloys of the Photosphere's infrastructure as something -large- whips past them. Powerful. Sudden. -Loud-.

And yet even in so raucous a place as this, the sound of footfalls ring out with a damning clarity.

And that voice. It comes calm, cool -- and yet it carries through even as the Photosphere begins to quite literally tear itself apart under its own aging weight. Booted heels crunch against crumbling shambles of metal.

And those gathered need but turn their attention to the promise of that exit to find the source in the silhouette of a lone man standing unperturbed amidst the destruction. He looks young -- in his twenties, perhaps -- his long hair a light, sandy shade, his skin a darker tan, an ostentatious coat of violets and reds adorning him. He smiles.

But it is his eyes that are the most noteworthy thing about him, in the way that smile never quite reaches them.

In the way they seem to chill a person down to something deeper than flesh and bone.

"The Photosphere ruined, the Metal Demons fractured and their Mother vanquished... and the Teardrop no where to be found in this crumbling wreck. I had almost thought this alliance would bear no fruit at all. And then... I find you. After all this time. I wonder, is this what providence feels like?"

The man, even in the midst of encroaching ruins, presses a gloved hand to his chest. He dips into a bow one might reserve for the presence of nobility.

"We have finally come for you, my lady," greets Volsung of the Veruni, and if there is any question of who he means --

The focus of his gaze squarely upon Avril Vent Fleur should disabuse any confusion.

"We have been terrified for your well-being since you were lost to us. My deepest apologies that it took us so long to come for you, but this place is not safe." Icy blue eyes lift, focusing on those who have come to surround Avril.

"... These people, not fit. Come. I will bring you back to the Locus Solus, where you belong."

His smile is respectful. His tone polite. Deferential, even. And yet still those eyes. And yet still --

-- the massive glaive that -flies- into his hand not seconds later, shining with the smear of blood both quicksilver and crimson and the promise of violence.

A hand reaches out, in offering. His voice comes soon after.

"It's time to return home, Lolithia."

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

    Riesenlied, at the very least, doesn't appear under the control of someone. But she is still freshly slicked in the quicksilver... substance that gelled her into the machine, thrumming with the errant glow of the Ley. She looks to Lily for a moment, biting her lip -- remembering the pain she must have felt with each evocation from the Golem Sado. Where had it gone?

    "o-okay, dean...!" Riesenlied calls towards the daring boy as he starts moving towards them; she's reluctant to leave more of the work to those that've given so much to rescue her, but she has no choice.

    She glances to Talia as she drops down next to Avril. She knows of a place to go? "oh, thank you, miss talia..." she only has seen her once, but...

    She bites her lip and looks to Matilda. She still recalls those feelings from before... the words from before. A miracle had happened... did it? Filgaia, however, is not a world that sustains such things...

    Perhaps she's about to really realise what that means.

    Cyre calls out to the compounder, her eyes widening slower. "y-yes, we'll try--"

    Gwen has joined them as well, pushing a boulder aside. "gwen, i'm so glad to see you...!"

    Avril addresses her too. We are unharmed, she says, and there's a visible sigh of relief. She's about to speak up and--


    There's another yelp as the entire floor above her suddenly caves. For a moment, it seems like she'll be consumed by the debris--

    --her expression dropping.

    "lord volsung...." she whispers. She hadn't seen him since their initial meeting into the Metal Demons' and Veruni alliance, but she did not forget the sensation of hatred that welled deep from within him. It was one to truly cast a pallor over her...

    "lord volsung, let her be, please, i--"

    More debris shatters, a particularly large and sharp jag of rock threatening to fall underneath her, when--


    A very round yellow shadow whips forward in the blink of an eye. A rubber-like 'boing' sound can be heard, and when the debris settles inbetween large explosions, the very familiarly round Dragon can be seen sheltering both Hyadeans from harm.

    "muni..." Riesenlied whispers, as she's summarily scooped by a mysterious Noeline-like shadow to the Dragon's mount. They begin to rise. It's for the best -- she'll be buried under the rubble if she were left here any longer.

    "everyone... please-- be safe..."

    Her eyes are cast on Avril and Volsung as she's spirited away on yellow wings, swallowing.

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"No, ah--it is a shop. It moves on its own, no? It is something of a wonder." She glances at Dean, then. Her brow furrows. "I... think so," Talia says. She frowns. "I should be sure of this, no? I wouldn't want to leave Katherine on her own. Oh, it is her shop!" She winks at Dean, before she turns her head. She glances momentarily at Lily; her eyes blink a couple of times, but there is only a brief reticence at the thought the sorcerer might turn on her. Her eyes are drawn, instead, to Riesenlied.

"Lydia's mother," she murmurs, softly.

She keeps her quiet otherwise, though. Especially after she sees Matilda -- and there isn't even the feigned acknowledgment of awkwardness. The last time she really saw Doctor Whitehead was...

...probably one of the worst days of her life. She swallows, glancing to the side. "Well, ah," she says. "I'm... glad we're all here, now. It means we can all leave safely, no?"

The explosion of the office that they considered draws her attention, immediately. She hears the footsteps; the name that this man said was heard, but Talia has no idea what it means. She stares at him for a second, before her eyes narrow, slowly. It dawns on Talia who he is speaking to -- and she glances, sideways, at Avril. Her mouth opens, before it closes, and she looks back at Volsung. She stares at the round dragon, that shields some of them -- but not her. Then, she steps up next to Avril and Dean.

"You know him?"

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    "Oh, huh! A moving item shop, huh? That's really cool!" Dean tells Talia. Has he heard of this before? He can't quite recall, and this isn't the best time to wrack his brains over it. "Is she gonna be able to get out okay?"
    When that's answered, he doesn't look over his shoulder as he jumps from debris to rubble to get down towards Riese, but as Matilda follows him down, he does glance over at her and give her a firm nod, a silent sort of 'follow my lead' or maybe 'watch my back.' Cyre and Gwen both appear all of a sudden, and Dean brightens to see them.
    "Cyre! You've got an escape pod? That's awesome, Riese is really gonna need it! Gwen--oh man, thank you!" he adds, interrupting himself when the super courier starts moving a boulder to one side, as your average totally normal human being is absolutely capable of doing. "Hold that rock for a bit! Matilda, let's help Noeline get Riese out of there and over to Cyre's pod thingie! Talia, watch out for any falling debris over our heads, see if you can't knock it out of the way if it gets too close! Lily, keep the way out clear!" He nods at Avril long enough to listen to her own input, particularly to Riesenlied. "If you don't, don't worry, we'll come to you! We're all gonna get out of here together!"
    ...but Dean's attempts at rallying everyone together to save their friend (at leadership, specifically, though he doesn't think of it like that in the moment) come to naught when footsteps approach. Dean doesn't pay attention to them at first, so focused is he at getting past the rumbling debris to reach Riesenlied. However, he's slowed down enough that the newcomer arrives long before he can get to the injured Hyadean and her chevalier knight. A voice calls the name of Lolithia.
    "Huh?" he utters, looking over his shoulder. The only Lolithia he knows is--but then something EXPLODES, Metal Beasts flying in literally every direction. Dean braces himself just in time to not get blown away, one arm over his face, back to Riese and Noeline to try to cover them. When he lowers his arm, he sees... ... ... ...
    "Nope," he says blankly to Talia. "Never seen this guy in my life."
    But he *does* seem to know Avril. And as he holds out a hand to her and calls her by a name that isn't hers, Dean recalls--the wanted posters for Avril weren't because she was a criminal but because someone was worried about her, looking for her, in Elru. Someone had claimed that Avril was the Queen of the Veruni, too, and this guy talks to her like she's someone important. Which she is, but not in the sense Dean considers her. At his back, Riesenlied whispers a name--Volsung. Hasn't he heard that before too...?
    Then Muni munis in and rockets Noeline and Riese out of there, which is good because things are about to get ugly. "--oh!" Dean utters, looking up at them. He waves an arm to Riese. "You too! We'll be right behind you!"
    And then he looks back at Volsung, frowning. Dean doesn't like that line about him and the others being 'unfit' to bring her out of here, but--if this is Avril's family or friend, he can overlook a little rudeness. So, Dean turns to his best friend.
    "What d'you want to do, Avril?" he asks. "You wanna go with this guy, or d'you wanna come with us still?" As long as she leaves safely, that's the important part in his opinion, even if he has no idea what this Locus Solus whatever is that he's talking about. He doesn't think this Volsung guy means her any harm, but... it's important that Avril get to do what she thinks is best for herself.

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

"Cyre," Matilda says, with a respectful nod. "If you could -- help Riesenlied..." Matilda doesn't exactly have the tools to navigate this crumbling infrastructure. The compounder is a good climber, but that's not exactly useful in this situation.

She doesn't actually have time to follow up on that line of thought, though -- the massive BOOM makes her turn immediately to face it. Riesenlied is all but completely forgotten. Matilda looks Volsung over as he approaches, her heart already starting to race a little.

He addresses Avril. Matilda seems -- confused, more than anything. Is Avril some runaway princess, then? Somehow that doesn't seem quite right -- but nor does it seem completely wrong, with the way Volsung's behaving.

... There's something she doesn't trust, though, in those eyes. She remains on her guard, scooting toward Avril and saying nothing just yet.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    "I'm glad t'see you too, Riese! Don't worry, we'll get you out in a jiff-"


    The explosion pins Gwen against the heavy boulder she was moving along (as normal people do). The sound of the man's entrance causes Gwen crane her head around, briefly, before focusing back on Riesenlied. "Hold on!" What was Riesenlied whispering about? Why was she afraid? Mother was taken care of. And the Veruni-

    And then, Muni munis the day, whisking Noeline and Riesenlied to safety. "Go Muni! Don't worry, we'll take it from here, just get t'safety, you two!"

    After all, it's just one man, and maybe, he'll be friendly once everything is explained. Dusting herself as she steps from the boulder (which slumps down with a dusty echoing 'puff' as it hits the ground), Gwen puts on her best 'Super Courier' face. "... Ah, I take it you're one of the Veruni?" Elvis never mentioned the Teardrop in his explanation to Gwen. But the Veruni were the only ones that Gwen knew were allying with the Hyadeans. "Lord Volsung?" Had she heard that name before? Perhaps. Elvis had mentioned it before; it simply didn't rise to the level of relevance until now. "You definitely dress like one! Very nice outfit."

    Whatever words die upon her lips as he moves straight to business, focusing entirely on Avril. They're... unfit? Ah, so, these sorts are in the Veruni as well. He *is* a lord. Maybe.

    The glaive that flies into Volsung's hands cause Gwen's shoulders to tense, but she does not act just yet.
    It ultimately depends on Avril. Or Lolithia, as the man is calling her.

    She looks to the young woman with a gentle glance. "We can take care of ourselves either way, Avril. Maybe if we explain what's goin' on?"

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

"Yeah," Cyre says, looking a little pale at Riesenlied's... diminished state. "Yeah, right this way. Come on, let's go--"

There's another explosion. People seem to just be blasting through the Photosphere, likely doing all kinds of terrible things to what little of its structural integrity remains. Cyre squints and shields his eyes from the rushing cloud of dust. "What in the name of--"

'Lord Volsung,' Riesenlied says. 'An alliance with the Metal Demons' Volsung says.

'Lolithia' he says, and suddenly Cyre has all too good of an idea of what he's dealing with here.

"I've only heard that name refered to with such reverance twice... And I'm guessing that you're not talking about the Golem, are you?" Cyre mutters, his eyes narrowing. A sudden burst of wind clears the lingering clouds of dust.

"Dean," Cyre murmurs, every sense screaming at him that this man is dangerous. "Careful. This guy..." He seems suspicious. The idea is conveyed either way.

You know, judging by how he just summoned a massive death glaive and is BRISTLING WITH VIOLENT INTENT. "...I don't think he'll take no for an answer."

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

While it's not strange to wonder that Lily might turn on someone... she doesn't, this time. She is busy for a moment, looking out towards Riesenlied's voice. Lily looks back to her--and some worry slips into her expression. She knows how difficult all of that was. But--

"I'm fine," Lily tells Avril a moment after, "Or I will be. I saw him, but--"

She shakes her head to Cyre. "I can't go with you to the pod. I have to find Fei. ...And if I can, Siegfried."

But Avril--Avril, who doesn't know her past. Avril, who Lily has agreed to help. She comes to mind quickly, given the things that this strange man says. Lily looks him over--his sheer calm is too strange, too concerning in a place like this. Lily knows she has little energy, but she doesn't recognize him as a Metal Demon, and...

"The alliance," Lily murmurs. "You're.."

Veruni. It's the only possible answer. And he speaks as if Avril is..

Avril mentioned the magic was like hers. Lily looks between Avril and Volsung and then looks back to Avril in turn. He uses another name for her, but...

The sorceress takes a step closer to Avril, and keeps her hands at her sides. They are open, however, fingers curled--a casting stance to anyone who knows Ether and similar powers.

"That's her choice," Lily says simply. "You can take your 'not fit' and--"

There's a faint explosion in the background that cuts off what Lily says for the moment, but the set of her jaw is clear. "...Maybe you should explain how you know her."

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.
<SoundTracker> From Anxiety to Impatience http://www.mysterymeep.net/Shrimp/From_Anxiety_to_Impatience.mp3

    Before Riesenlied can speak.
    Before anyone can do anything.

    There is an explosion from above. Avril jerks her head up, fast enough that her long hair ripples in a wave.

    She finds him immediately: that man, there in the middle of ruin.
    He smiles at them, at her. His eyes remain cold.
    ...He isn't a human being, Avril realizes. He reminds her of Kaguya. Of Elvis.
    Of even Ambrosius.

    ...Because he is a Veruni, as Gwen points out.

    He is nothing but polite, reverential even. It's as it was in the Memorial Sanctuary. Though he tends no shock or fear as those Veruni had done, he presents her with the respect one might offer to a noble figure. "..." Avril breathes out, a mere puff of air. The world around her narrows.

    So it was true.
    She had known it was true. After what Lily had said to her, there was almost no chance it was anything but that, no means of an alternate explanation anymore. The style of magic alone... made it irrevocably so.
    Yet, she had hoped otherwise. As foolish as it was.

    But there is no denying it anymore.

    "I am... a Veruni. I understand now," she murmurs, gaze hooded. "Dean. I am sorry. I should have spoken of my suspicions sooner. I had meant to tell you once we escaped."
    The truth has a way of nastily arriving to assert itself whether one likes it or not.

    'It's time to return home, Lolithia.'

    "It was... my name," she utters, her gaze distant, as if she were approaching her situation now from a great long distance away. It was her name.

    She remains so still, as if frozen to the ground where she now stands. Talia voices a particular question. Has... she seen him before?

    Slowly, Avril begins to shake her head in response, a 'no' in any stretch of the sense. Only, she hesitates, her expression taking on a strange cast.

    Cold. In her nightmares, it is dark and it is cold.
    She is alone. No one answers, however she may call out.
    Something happens. Something punctures the darkness. She's brought out into the light. She...

    Those cold eyes. Those cold, hateful eyes. She remembers those eyes.
    Avril, in the here and now, takes one slow backwards step, treading on debris with a low 'crunch'.

    'Do you want to go with this guy', Dean asks, drawing upon his recollection of what he had uncovered about the intent behind her bounty.
    Someone was looking for her. Someone wanted her home.
    Someone who was willing to hire bounty hunters like Janus Cascade.
    A Veruni.
    The same people who had enslaved the kin of the Baskars.
    The same people who had allied themselves with the Metal Demons.

    ...This man, with a soulless gaze.

    Riesenlied's last, parting words ring still in her ears. 'Let her be.'
    'This guy... I don't think he'll take no for an answer,' cautions Cyre.
    'That's her choice,' Lily opines.

    She glances but once sidelong at both Dean and Matilda then takes one step forward.


    Avril's answer is direct. She stares Volsung down, right in the eyes.

    "No, I will not go with you. There is much to which I must attend." She pauses, lifting her chin, for an instant the portrait of an empress. "We may speak of this in another time and place, but I will not now depart from my friends. Please, leave us."

<Pose Tracker> Volsung has posed.
<SoundTracker> Volsung XERD_3113 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vetZOVs2oUg


The name, a distant murmur though it is, draws the attention of that blue-eyed stare. Volsung focuses on Riesenlied, past the wreckage, even as a suspiciously Muni-like shape whisks her away in a very Muni-like fashion.

"So she's been freed, too," he muses, his voice an exhale under his breath. His eyes shut, hand lifting to push glasses up the bridge of his nose. His expression, for a moment, grows pensive.


But eventually, his attention returns squarely on Avril and her companions. He does not pursue the retreating Riesenlied; a matter for another time. Instead...

Instead, that hand is extended. That offer is made. But it isn't really an offer, is it? It's in the tone. In the stance. In the stare. As if all of this was simply a matter of course. And yet, it doesn't seem like an order or ultimatum, either. He does not carry himself with the weight of someone making a command. It's more like...

... someone has already made the choice. And he is nothing more than the instrument to carry it through.

The vassal of another's will.

But it is a choice he seems ill-disposed to back down from; if ever there was any doubt as to whether this man was a Veruni or not with all those assembled clues, it should be wiped away by the way he seems to simply ignore everyone else outside of Avril in those moments. As if they were beneath him. As if they were not truly people, worthy of being acknowledged. Avril answers them for him. Of her name. Of what he is. Of what she is. His brows furrow as she mentions her suspicions.

It was... my name.

"Lolithia is an ancient word," he says, within the slow breath of his exhale. "A name of power."

He takes a single step forward.

lord volsung, let her be

"A name of great significance to our people."

Another step. We can take care of ourselves either way, Avril.

"A name often imitated, but never succeeded."

Another step. That's her choice.

"Because only one has ever been deserving of its significance."

Another step. This guy... I don't think he'll take no for an answer.

"One lost to us, and now found. And now..."

One final step.

What d'you want to do, Avril?


... And he stops.

And there Volsung stands, hand outstretched, blood dripping from the tip of his tremendous weapon. He watches, as Avril speaks. Directly, unflinchingly. Like a ruler come to life. And yet...

"You still don't remember, then."

The words come with an almost resigned finality to them. Volsung closes his eyes; his hand, drops. And for a moment, there is silence. For a moment, it seems as if, perhaps, they might all have their reprieve. For a moment --

"... Unfortunately, time is something we can no longer afford."

-- there might be hope.

The long arm holding that massive weapon rises. And in a single moment, everything shifts. A black haze like smoke coils around Volsung as that weapon lifts high into the air, shining with a gleam that all but nauseates. The pressure within the room grows strangling.

"Please forgive me, my lady. But this is a decision that has already been made."

And the blade

There's very few ways to properly describe the sheer amount of force that -ripples- from the impact point of that blade as it drives into the crumbling metal of the Photosphere floor. Unbridled, it feels like an earthquake is blooming in mid-air as it tears apart chunks of ground and sends pieces of ceiling crashing down around them all in an expulsion of raw, monumental kinetic force. And yet somehow, improbably, all that collateral damage seems to be -directed- -- raw force to blow back those on the peripheries, chunks of debris falling haphazard near Lily and Dean and anyone else too close to Avril... and yet all of it avoiding her completely.

Like she were the eye of an angry god's storm.

"You are returning with me. Because that is the Ice Queen's will."

                    M i s s i o n O b j e c t i v e
                               For Our Queen

                  Escape Volsung! (Survive Three Rounds!)

GS: Volsung has attacked Lily Keil with Gram-Zanber!
GS: Volsung has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Gram-Zanber!
GS: Volsung has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Gram-Zanber!
GS: Volsung has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has attacked Dean Stark with Gram-Zanber!
GS: Volsung has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Gram-Zanber!
GS: Volsung has attacked Talia with Gram-Zanber!
GS: Volsung has completed his action.
GS: Dean Stark guards a hit from Volsung's Gram-Zanber for 133 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a solid hit from Volsung's Gram-Zanber for 217 hit points!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz takes a glancing hit from Volsung's Gram-Zanber for 110 hit points!
GS: Talia takes a solid hit from Volsung's Gram-Zanber for 216 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil takes a solid hit from Volsung's Gram-Zanber for 222 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Volsung's Gram-Zanber for 219 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Altogether, Talia can't answer additional questions about a jumping item shop. She swallows, nodding to Dean. Her hand doesn't go for a weapon immediately, but nor does she ignore the prospect. Her hand is at her side, fingers twitching over the weapon.

Then, she looks sideways at Avril. She blinks her eyes a couple of times. A Veruni? She knows a little -- she knows they are dangerous. She knows they are powerful. It doesn't add up, at first. Her experience with Veruni is with Kaguya; with the little woman who was so strong that she could throw her about without a problem. Her tension only heightens.

"You heard her, no?" she says, after Avril steps forward. "She is not going anywhere she doesn't want to. Now, how about you--"

She spoke while he stepped forward. Gram-Zanber swings down, and the blast from the weapon slams into Talia, hurtling her back into the wall of the Photosphere. The Gutter's damaged wall cracks and crumbles, instantly. She stumbles away, blood running from a cut on her scalp.

"What the hell is this guy!?" she yells. She extends a hand out, palm outstretched; a magical circle swirls to life just off her palm, before a long spike of ice forms. It flies off it, hurtling towards the Veruni commander.

GS: Talia has attacked Volsung with Freeze Lancer!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: Volsung takes a solid hit from Talia's Freeze Lancer for 63 hit points!
DC: 1 turn has elapsed in the battle against Volsung! 2 turns remain!
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    Volsung might be radiating hostility, and he might have summoned a glaive into one hand, but he might be a friend or family of Avril's, so Dean wants to give him the benefit of the doubt. Like Gwen, surely if he *does* get violent, they just need to explain that they're her friends and he'll let them on along their way!
    ...That said, he's not entirely dense. So when Cyre gives him a muttered warning, Dean glances at him and nods. Message received. Hopefully it won't turn out badly. At least they all have Avril's back, if in somewhat more vulgar ways where Lily's concerned, or quiet ways with Matilda.
    Avril realizes, admits she's a Veruni. Dean nods once. "It's okay," he says simply. After what they heard at the Memorial Sanctuary, this isn't in any way a surprise. Even if it were, though, that wouldn't matter. Because... "Veruni or human, you're still you." He smiles. "My best friend."
    Though, he has to admit, it is *super duper cool* that Avril is (was? apparently? that's not important though) named after a Golem. So lucky!
    All the same, when Avril point-blank refuses Volsung's invitation, Dean relaxes. For one, he's glad that she'd prefer to be with him; for another, even though Dean knows the Veruni aren't all bad, they've still done a lot of terrible things that their leader ought to answer for; for at last, this, he's sure, will be the end of it. "We don't have a lot of time--this place is coming down on our heads as we speak," he tells Volsung as the blond falls into silence. "If you're worried about her, why don't you come with us until the exit?"
    Volsung answers with something more forceful than a mere 'no.' It turns out Cyre was right to be wary of him. Who knew!
    That blade comes down, and that single swipe sends colossal force roaring forth, ripping at those who dare to cling to the Ice Queen's side. Thanks to that warning from earlier, Dean calls up his paired ARMs in time, flashing into his grip with a technology that simply no longer exists in present day, and slams the rods down in front of him in an X position to both protect himself and help him dig his feet into the rubble at his feet.
    Even with that, though, it's a struggle with every ounce of his strength just to not get swatted away by the sheer wind of that sword-swing. When he raises his arms and ARMS, he's already panting. "Dammit! He's strong...!" What *is* Volsung? We just don't know, Talia. Dean meanwhile looks over at his best friend. "Avril! Everybody! We can't get caught up fighting this guy, not with the Photosphere coming down! Let's force our way past and get to that escape pod!" Good thing he missed what Lily said earlier about going back to find Fei and Siegfried, or that would complicate things further.
    For now, though, he charges towards Volsung despite all the evidence that this is a bad idea and indeed all common sense, the rods of Twin Fenrir rapidly heating up to critical levels. Once he's close enough, he'll attempt to whirl them around and strike into Volsung's arms and sides, his intent to leave behind serious burns. If he's got burns to treat, then he'll have to *re*treat! Eh? Eh??

GS: Dean Stark has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked Volsung with Burning Booster!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Volsung takes a glancing hit from Dean Stark's Burning Booster for 27 hit points!
GS: Toxin! Statuses applied to Volsung!
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

From personal experience watching a certain other Veruni man-handle things all across Lunar, Cyre knows all too well how strong that species can be. But then he remembers, Kaguya was a terminally ill Veruni. How strong, then, can one who is close to the very image of health be...?

The answer, clearly, is 'strong enough to collapse several sections of the Photosphere in a single blow.'

Cyre winces as the shockwaves reverberating outwards from the Gram-Zanber's downward swing threatens to throw him into a nearby wall. It's only because of his mastery over wind and air that he can just barely deflect the blastwave before it breaks him into a bloody pulp. "Damn," the shaman curses, shielding his eyes from the blast. "This is bad. I'm too worn out to risk transforming now... We need to hold off till we can find a way out! Hold on for as long as you can!"

But... how are they going to get out of here...?

"Whatever he wants Avril for, it can't be good! We can't let him take her!" Cyre yells, darting aside and standing ready near a conspicuously crumpled section of corridor. "Veruni or not... She doesn't act like the rest of you, and that's good enough reason for me! Come on Volsung! A half-dead hospice patient hits harder than you!

Cyre slams his palm into the ground, sending a shockwave of his own shrieking towards the Veruni. Portions of his blast solidifies into walls of standing pressure, bulwarks to hide behind and try to soften incoming blows. But also... to focus incoming blasts to a single point.

...What is he planning...?

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Volsung with Stepping Wind!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
GS: Volsung takes a glancing hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Stepping Wind for 16 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Cyre H. Lorentz!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Gram-Zanber swings down, and debris flies every which way; Matilda takes a sizeable chunk of it directly to the head, and immediately sets about bleeding. It's not a small gash that it leaves behind, either, though she's not quite in the horror movie zone.

Avril refuses to go. Matilda has a distinct opinion on this situation, which forms immediately. No one's going anywhere they don't want to go -- at least, not if she has anything to say about it. On the other hand, after being hit directly in the orbital bone with a rock, she doesn't think that can be secured entirely with foce of arms.

"Scatter! We'll be able to make an opportunity more easily!" Matilda calls, before doing just that; within moments, Freischütz is out and in hand, too. Matilda fires off a quick shot at... Avril?

Oh -- it's a blueberry. It begins its work in invigorating 'Lolithia' immediately, while Matilda herself starts to beat feet to one side.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with Blueberry Bullet!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

A Veruni. Avril... is a Veruni. The implication seems so clear from their last conversation, the confirmation closing off a door, Lily thinks, of one possibility. "That's--the name of the Golem...?" Is it related? Could it be related? Maybe she was named for something of such power. "Well, Veruni or human, I'll hold to my word." But, the question of what Avril is--of what she is--is something that has to wait. Lily has a fine sense for danger...

...But it's worse even than she expected. The force of the blade's impact is impossibly strong. Even prepared for casting, Lily is struck by it, frozen in place an instant before she stumbles back, and then the debris that crashes down completely destroys the place where she'd been standing, and knocks her down and away from it. "Gh--"

"I don't take orders from any Queen, Ice or otherwise," Lily spits with some blood, as she drags herself back up. She has more wounds than she did before. That was entirely too much. But Matilda suggests scatter--

"Dean! Stick with Avril--he won't use his abilities right on her!"

Lily, however, does sprint to the side, and pulls her rifle off of her back, leaving the greatsword in its place. The beautiful red wood of the stock somehow keeps perfectly with the metal. She pulls it out, aims straight for Volsung's heart--

And fires. No matter what, she starts shifting, moving to cover Matilda.

GS: Lily Keil has attacked Volsung with Iron Howl!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    As time passes, even Gwen's insistent optimism begins to flag. The way he focuses in on Avril, ignoring all interaction, save hers. None of them matter. The bodies of the Metal Demons did not matter, despite the Veruni's (former) alliance. Nothing mattered.

    Save for Avril.

     Cyre is right. This man will not take no for an answer, even if that 'no' comes directly from Avril herself.

    "I admit, I'm kinda surprised, Avril, but at this point, I'm just happy we're all okay." Dean's right; the fact that Avril is a Veruni does not change any part of what Avril means to many of them.

    It also doesn't change the fact that the place is coming down right on their heads. When Dean makes his offer, Gwen tenses.

    'Please forgive me, my lady. But this is a decision that has already been made.'

    She's already bringing the Mockingbird up, breathing in and focusing on the already stressed ARM to protect her against the attack that's certain to happen. Dean can be the optimistic one here, so she'll just-

    Oh. Well. Screw being protective.

    Gwen is blown ass over teakettle against some rubble, limply sliding against the rocky ground.

    _She really, really, *really* underestimated this man._

    Cyre can't transform, and Gwen's own reserves are running low. Falling unconscious helped *some*, but it's far from any sort of replacement for a week or more worth of rest and copious calorie consumption.

    If they can just slow him down...!

    "Be careful, Dean, I don't think he'll play fair here!!" Especially if it may force Avril's hand. What better way, than for her best friend to be in mortal danger? Keep scattered, Matilda says. Even if the man's blade is on par with Siegfried's, it still makes sense. "Avril, whatever you do, stick to your decision! If we work together, we got this!"


    Taking advantage of Dean's assault, Gwen rushes in and ducks low, taking pains to avoid Talia's ice magic and Cyre's command of the wind. If Volsung needs to be pushed back, she'll do it manually.

    By jolting upwards after Dean is done and Lily is done shooting, and attempting to plant the knuckles of her Veruni-installed ARM against the regal cut of Volsung's chin and jaw.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Volsung with Shoryu-gwen!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Volsung takes a solid hit from Lily Keil's Iron Howl for 52 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Volsung!
GS: CRITICAL! Volsung takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Shoryu-gwen for 0 hit points!
GS: Break and Jam! Statuses applied to Volsung!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Matilda Whitehead heals Avril Vent Fleur! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    So he had thought so, too. A fraction of the tension that had gripped the young woman melts away, replaced by something resembling a tiny piece of relief.
    ...But her 'race' isn't the only part of it, the thought does speak.
    There is the other thing that she realized when fighting Harken, realized over and over on Lunar. Something she still needs to tell them.

    You still don't remember, then.

    Though her overall expression changes not, her eyes widen as she stares him down.
    He knows that about her already. That she's forgotten.

    "What else... do you know of me?" she voices, no queen now in this moment.
    Just a young woman, confused and seeking what has been lost to her.

    All for that moment when hope remains still entangled in threads, still within her -- their -- grasp.
    They must flee this place before an exit is closed off to them for good. They need to find Fei. They must help--
    Before those frail threads are severed in a single statement. A single swing of that sword. That great blade.

    Hope begins to tumble away.

    He has his orders. This decision has already been made.
    And the blade strikes with precisely the same force at that statement.

    Force rends outwards. It is a colossus, one that destroys all within its reach--

    but Avril. Hair set aflutter by the force that churns about and beyond her, the place where she stands is untouched.
    She is utterly unharmed. For this is the Ice Queen's will.

    Avril's lips part, her gaze for an instant distant. "Everyone--" Shock to concern to regret -- Avril's expression as she realizes what has happened to those here, realizes that she alone has been spared, is a demonstrable calvacade. If she had agreed, would...
    Gwen's shout brings her to her senses: she made her decision; she should stick to it. There is no time now for regret. In the same moment that Talia yells her question of the man's nature, Avril has made one decision more.

    "...I know. We do not have the time to fight!" And there is no place to retreat. "We must break through--" She cuts off, her attention stolen first by the words the shaman speaks.
    'She doesn't act like the rest of you'.
    And then by his spell. Cyre is... doing something. Part of that magic he just worked would have been unneccessary if he wanted to strike at Volsung alone. So what is he...

    Ah. She understands now. She glances just once his way, trying to draw his gaze. As if to say: 'I understand what you're doing'.

    She has an idea herself. But first, she needs to discover if she can...

    A shot rings out. Avril turns her head to suddenly stare at Matilda, before realizing -- as the blueberry's power is removed from it and funneled into her -- that Matilda's weapon is indeed a device of many abilities. She feels stronger.

    If there had been any doubt -- even the smallest bit -- that she was in truth Avril Vent Fleur, the weapon she draws would soon silence it. A twist of the wrist, a flash: here is the sword known as Absolute Zero. A tried and true saber, no question of it.
    And yet, when compared to the blade Volsung brandishes against them, it looks but a toy.

    It's this weapon that she, without hesitation, turns on the Veruni: dashing forward, blade before her, she aims one quick, piercing stab for Volsung.

    And in doing so, interposing herself between him and Dean. She will not permit him to be harmed, if she has any say in the matter.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Volsung with Innocent Saber!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
GS: Volsung takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Innocent Saber for 57 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Volsung has posed.


Everything about Volsung in this moment feels utterly unnatural. Veruni are strong -- frighteningly, frighteningly strong. And yet this man seems to carry with him the kind of strength one might expect from a Gear. The motion of that grand sword is a casual one, a flick of the wrist, a downward drive like someone settling their weapon at their side. Yet it carries with it calamitous force.

But it's more than just that.

"It's time to go, my lady."

The way he moves. The way he talks. So calmly, even as he makes himself the center of a maelstrom that could not be born out of anything but wrath. As if he were utterly and completely detached from the world around him, Volsung makes his way forward past the wreckage, brushing debris aside as if it weighed little more than paper. Indifference etches on his features as those winter blue eyes fall upon Avril. Pale pink light begins to suffuse around his palm as he reaches forward.

"It's time to deliver our people to the fate they deserve--"

And it is Dean who springs upon the blond Veruni commander first; seconds before he can reach his target, the shovel-toting Drifter collides with Volsung in a speedy smudge of tans and blues and red hot heat rods. The first blow -smacks- into Volsung's arm; the impact is practically like trying to dent steel with cardboard, but it knocks that gloved hand aside in the nick of time. The second --

"'Come with us,' you said, didn't you?"

The second, before it can find its mark, is -intercepted- by a single, gloved hand, -gripping- that white hot blaze of the Twin Fenrir like an uncompromising vice. It should burn him. Scald his skin.

And yet, he only -stares- down at Dean as that glove sizzles, distaste curdling at his lips.

"As if we're peers."

That hand grips tighter. Metal groans.

"There's only one end of the road for cattle."

His blade rises high, as if to demonstrate that point... and then Volsung pauses. His blond brows furrow inward.

His gaze falls on the Twin Fenrirs.

"... What is your name, boy--"


Dean finds his freedom courtesy of one Gwen Whitlock as she delivers her super courier special straight to the jaw of the Veruni leader. The blow comes suddenly enough to take the man by surprise -- the feeling of that collision like pounding cement as his head lurches back, his hand loosens, and his heel clicks backwards a single step. Blue eyes blink once beneath the sheen of their glasses. He looks almost... surprised.

"That arm," he breathes out, voice calm against the ever-worsening disaster,

"Where did you get it?"

Whatever the possible reasons for that question, Gwen, at least, as a brief span of time to mull it over as a gust of wind -howls- through the air in a shockwave of mounting pressure; Volsung reacts instantly, the sharpened tip of the Gram-Zanbor swinging -upward- and gathering a charged crackle of white liht, particles coalescing into a bright point --

-- that fires a BEAM of searing white -straight- through that build up of magic-laced wind, cleaving the bulk of the original offensive away into dwindling amounts that buffet against the blond halfbreed and cannons forward, melting through walls, -obliterating- consoles and carving a new open wound through the side of the Photosphere on its wrathful path for Cyre -- something he might just be able to use.

"You call her a Veruni," he muses. "Interesting."

If he has more to say, the shot that -rings- out through the air prevents it. A bullet flies --

--and is introduced to the palm of a glove seconds before it can reach the Veruni's heart.

The momentum is enough to -smack- that hand aside as it catches the bullet out of mid-air. The force of the velocity enough to send Volsung lurching slightly backward. But his gaze is unwavering as he straightens anew, the chime of a bullet bouncing across the ground ringing through the air as his palm loosens. I don't take orders from any Queen, Lily insists.

"No, you don't," Volsung agrees. But his eyes are settling elsewhere.

"Ordering you would be far beneath her station."

<Pose Tracker> Volsung has posed.

They're on Dean.

Dean, who Gwen called out to. Dean, who Lily tries to help. Dean --

-- who Avril interposes herself before. To protect.

That saber flies, a swift stab; and it speaks to something that Volsung does not even try to stop her; it strikes true, piercing a shallow wound into his midsection. But before she can retreat --

The free hand of the Veruni commander lances out, snatching the blade between his fingers.

"He's distracting you, your grace. But I have no interest in him, one way or the other. You want to know, don't you?"

It's a question that has the underscoring of promise to it. He's only interested in her. In letting her know the truth. The rest of them -- he would happily let them flee. If only...

Cold. It's a familiar sensation, perhaps, as it rockets past Avril towards Volsung. Shards of ice fly from Talia's sorcerous circle, and the Veruni reacts instantly, releasing Avril's weapon to lash -out- with his own. Ice shatters, shards pelting him with chilling if diluted strength as he takes a single step backwards. What the hell is he?

"I am Volsung," he answers, helpfully, as an ill light of violets and blues start to surround him. It feels like Ether, but not. Feels like Veruni sorcery...

"Leader of the Veruni."

... but not.

Something similar, but different. Off. A step beyond.

"But I'm merely custodian to the throne. A throne that has gone empty for far too long."

His free hand snaps outward, fingers splayed.

And all around them, will-o'-wisps of bruise-colored magic starts to surge to life, all but howling through the air as it -rips- through the structure of the Photosphere. They fill the air, weaving this way and that with wild, frenetic strength, seeking to plow straight through anyone in their path like lamentable specters. The bring pain and horrible, magical might. But more than that, they bring a cold, sinking feeling that pervades the soul with something undeniable. Something primordial. Something eternal.

That poison called hatred.

"So, the truth then, your grace."


As those swirling storms of wisps fly through the air, singing their sad song to the open air, the entire hall starts to lurch downward as whatever was holding it together just starts to snap and break. Rubble slides across the ground and falls into the wide, cold open air beyond them as the haphazard flooring slants downward.

And through it all, Volsung strides forward, towards Avril. Magic conjures a ring of that ether-like violet light around Avril, attempting to seize hold of her, stripping away her strength and saddling her with weakness. To keep her in place, if only just long enough...

"I've come for you, because you asked me to. I looked, across this entire world, just for you, on your orders. Because it was your decree, your divine will, that when the Veruni returned from their exile, when the time came for our people to come home..."

... for the truth.

"... you would take the title of Johnny Appleseed once more and wipe the slate clean to make this world ours once more, like it was so long ago."

GS: Volsung has attacked Volsung with The Song of the Nibelungs!
GS: Volsung has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Volsung has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Volsung takes a solid hit from Volsung's The Song of the Nibelungs for 0 hit points!
GS: Volsung gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Volsung!
GS: Volsung has activated a Force Action!
GS: Volsung has spent 2 Combo on Poison and Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Volsung has attacked Dean Stark with Gotterdammerung!
GS: Volsung has attacked Talia with Gotterdammerung!
GS: Volsung has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Gotterdammerung!
GS: Volsung has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Gotterdammerung!
GS: Volsung has attacked Lily Keil with Gotterdammerung!
GS: Volsung enters a Counter stance!
GS: Volsung has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with Photon Drive!
GS: Volsung has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with The Ring!
GS: Volsung has completed his action.
DC: 2 turns have elapsed in the battle against Volsung! 1 turns remain!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Volsung's Gotterdammerung for 67 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease, Reaper, and Toxin! Statuses applied to Matilda Whitehead!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes an additional 45 damage from Reaper!
GS: CRITICAL! Cyre H. Lorentz takes a glancing hit from Volsung's Photon Drive for 95 hit points!
GS: Talia takes a solid hit from Volsung's Gotterdammerung for 121 hit points!
GS: Talia has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease, Reaper, and Toxin! Statuses applied to Talia!
GS: Talia takes an additional 45 damage from Reaper!
GS: Lily Keil guards a hit from Volsung's Gotterdammerung for 74 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease, Reaper, and Toxin! Statuses applied to Lily Keil!
GS: Lily Keil takes an additional 45 damage from Reaper!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Avril Vent Fleur completely evades The Ring from Volsung!
GS: Dean Stark critically Guards a hit from Volsung's Gotterdammerung for 27 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has lost 1 Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Volsung's Gotterdammerung for 145 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease, Reaper, and Toxin! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes an additional 60 damage from Reaper!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia meets Dean's eyes, and she realizes: none of them know what Volsung is. The strength is unlike anything that Kaguya had. She grits her teeth, watching the ice spell that hurled be shattered so easily. She lowers her hand, and her fingers tremble ever-so-slightly. "Leader of the Veruni, no?" she says. Her head tilts. "...I don't see how Avril could order you. Even if she did--she made herself clear."

Still, she feels that way his magic -- his presence -- brings a terrible pressure with it. She grits her teeth, leaping over rubble, as will o' the wisps whip by her. She gets slammed into one, and a spasm of pain erupts her back and down her leg. Talia stumbles, but her hand draws Mirage from her side. The blue-black blade glints oddly, the light catching the whorled steel in all the wrong ways.

The hilt of the weapon spins, easy, in her fingers.

Then she throws it. The short sword slams for Volsung. Talia's body splits apart into a half-dozen flowing strands of shadowstuff, then reform. When they do, her foot is already catching the ground; her left hand is already drawing her parrying dagger, and she tries to slam the weapon, hard, into Volsung's side.

"So back off, no?"

GS: Talia has attacked Volsung with Point-Warp Slash!
GS: Talia takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Talia takes 11 damage from Toxin!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

For a moment, when Volsung properly introduces himself, Matilda feels conflicted. She's had sympathy for the Veruni for so long... she feels like Volsung's words should mean something to her. Like they ought to encourage her to encourage *him.*

She looks to Avril, and promptly decides they don't mean anything. No one's going anywhere they don't want to. Besides -- what was it she'd said to Kaguya, all those months ago? Their loyalty is to each other, first. To care for each other, first. That 'Human' or 'Veruni' don't mean anything in the face of that, that their own priorities come before the abstract idea of a 'people.'

And no one's going anywhere they don't want to.

That poisonous, bruise-like magic catches Matilda full-on... but she barely notices the uptick in the feeling. She was working herself into an angry lather the more she thought about the situation anyway.

Anger has so often been quiet, for Matilda -- at least, since her windfall. Crying gets you hurt. Shouting means broken fingers and injured dogs. If you're going to hate -- hate someone, hate something -- you do it quietly... and you don't do it by half-measures.

She reaches into her long, white coat for her blade, giving it a twirl as she starts forward. She's normally one to move in with a plan, cautious and careful... but right now, she has other priorities. She takes to the air as she approaches; it looks like she's coming in for a high, flying knee -- possibly to open Volsung's guard or stagger him before she does anything else.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has activated a Force Action!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Volsung with Charging Strike!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes 14 damage from Toxin!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.


It's something terrible and primordial, something based so strongly in the very fabric of humanity. Cyre has felt this kind of spiritual poison before. He knows the sensation of the creeping cold that lets one life extinguish another without care for the gravity of such an act. A poison that acts within life to destroy life, to narrow the mind, to close off possibility.

Sometimes, it is necessary.

This? This reminds him far too much of another spiritual toxin.

This... feels far too much like Malevolence. But it also feels like something else.

A notion of discomfort sparks at the very back of his mind, in a place that usually only activates when he communes with the Guardians. It's Fengalon, something about this... Something has brought feedback through his link with the Guardians, a notion of discomfort and revulsion.

...But why?

No, he can dwell on it later. Even a momentary lapse of attention now would be a lethal mistake. A beam of pure destructive force pours out from Volsung's lance. In the moment before impact, Avril would see him return her gaze-- and offer a knowing grin in reply.

But now, business.

 Cyre hisses a curse as it slams through the first of his protective walls, then the second and the third. But the fourth holds, bolstered by the addition of his own body mass behind it. The beam burns through his tattered robe and singes at his flesh, but...

The air seems to ripple as though it were afflicted by a passing heat-haze. A single ring of light appears around Volsung's beam, the power of Fengalon's mastery of wind and air combines with Solais Emsu's dominion over the heavens and partial control over light and the sun...!

To bend the beam before it can fully cut through Cyre's guard. The blast ploughs through the rubble next to him, melting a corridor out of the collapsed alien steel that made up the Photosphere. "...So she's not a Veruni, then?" Cyre mutters. "From before... The Filgaia Restoration Project...?" He shakes his head as the makeshift corridor cools and solidifies. "...Whatever her will once was, she's clearly made another choice now. THAT SAID, it's time for us to get out of here!" The shaman hops towards the corridor and slams his hands together. Suddenly, lances of compressed air assemble all around him and begin launching like air-burst explosive munitions. "Come on everyone! Our good Lord Volsung here was so kind to give us an out! Let's get while the going's good! I'll provide cover fire, move! Move! Move!"

GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has attacked Volsung with Air Burst Missile - Covering Fire!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Knowing Lily, one might expect more anger in her reaction to Volsung's utterly casual dismissal--that she would reply with rage at being considered beneath him and beneath Avril. She doesn't. She simply looks at him as she reaches Matilda, studying him for an instant.

"As you say," the former soldier replies simply. "Nevertheless. I..." Lily pauses, for an instant, as if suddenly confused by something, but when she looks up it is not with confusion. It is with a totally changed demeanor, a fascination that borders on the manic at Volsung and his strange powers and incredible strength.

It passes, and Lily blinks, shaking her head, and frowning as if things around her have briefly changed. She spots Volsung again, locked with Avril. There, there are answers. Avril had wanted to know who she was...

But will she like what she's learned?

For her part, Lily suddenly curses the fact that she already sent the Golem along. Maybe that would be enough. Maybe. But--

But she feels it. Ether... But not. It is strange. The sensation of it prickles at the back of Lily's neck, uncomfortable, wrong. But she cannot analyze the sensation for very long. The magic comes to life, howling, and it rips past her, too--through her, and they bring an agony that is indescribable, but also...

...A hatred that she understands well. In one thing, she finds she knows this man.

Lily falls to one knee, gritting her teeth to avoid making much noise. She lowers her rifle, breathes as best she can. Even standing is difficult; she can feel the corruptive influence of the magic flowing through her... and it seems to burn in her blood, even more than the initial response. A hissing noise passes through her teeth. She does not stand. Standing is energy she can't place into attacking. Matilda goes in... And Lily decides that could be the opening she needs.

She thinks of Avril, and how she promised to help her, but that is not enough to fuel her magic when she is so exhausted. She thinks of Dean, and Matilda, and friends, but those cannot fuel the engines of her destruction. So she finds something else, instead; something deep...

Betrayal. Her own. Yes, this is something she can hate.

Ether--true Ether, though strange, crackles about Lily in the moment. Lines of circuitry pulse on what exposed skin there is, not very much, and it builds around her to become violet lightning. "I..."

Her eyes glaze over, and fill in, black for sclera and iris and pupil as her head jerks upward and her hand clenches into a fist. With a scream that echoes as if from two throats, Lily hurls forth her will into...

No, it's not a construct. It's simply a point near her enemy that buckles in reality, that is the center of a blast of unmaking, destroying air that is replaced in an instant by a roaring noise, imploding and attempting to drag everything near it into its brief event horizon.


GS: Lily Keil has attacked Volsung with Annihilation Signal!
GS: Lily Keil takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Lily Keil takes 8 damage from Toxin!
GS: Lily Keil has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    "Yeah, that's right!" Dean shoots back at Volsung, teeth grit, of his earlier suggestion. He's beyond strong. Despite the super-heating of Twin Fenrir's rods, this guy could probably swing them up, and him with them, and send them all flying with little to no effort. He already felt how that initial strike landed: that is to say, like--what was it?--cardboard striking steel. With that one hit, Dean knows that beating his man is way beyond his abilities right now. Yet... "And the offer's still on the table, if you're willing to not be such a stupid jerk about it!!"
    Strong words.
    Lily calls to Dean, tells him to stick close to Avril. Dean shoots her a quick look and a nod. "Got it!" he calls back. Gwen meanwhile warns him that she doesn't think Volsung will play fair. "Yeah, I'm kinda getting that drift about now!!" Matilda tells everyone to scatter and then does the same, but, well... Dean kind of made his bed the instant he charged Volsung head-on, didn't he? With the leader of the Veruni gripping his combat rod like that, he's not going anywhere. (It does not occur to Dean to dismiss his ARMs and then resummon them.)
    "Wha--Malevolence??" he utters, blinking at the violet-blue waves swirling up around Volsung. But... while Dean's spiritual senses are fairly new, they're also decently sensitive after having been developed very rapidly in a very short amount of time. This feels similar to Malevolence, but somehow, it's not exactly the same. What does that mean? But that's not all. Volsung jeers at him as cattle, nettling him hard-- "So you're one of *those* Veruni!" --and then claims that *Avril herself* is Johnny Appleseed--and beyond that... "Wipe the slate clean? What's that supposed to mean?!"
    But when Volsung asks his name, he meets the taller man's eyes. Dean's own gaze is unclouded, clear, and, though he has plenty of reason to fear this man, unwilling to back down. Avril said she wouldn't go with him, and he'll support her to the end. It's with all of those feelings that he replies, "Dean. Dean Stark!"
    Will-o-wisps surge then in the wake of Volsung's Malevolent-yet-not aura, smashing through debris, laying waste to the already crumbling Photosphere, imbuing the feeling of Hatred upon those who bask in its ill light. Dean roars and falls back a step once Volsung is distracted enough to not be holding him in place and holds his ground, those ARMs crossed protectively before him. And somehow--somehow--that *works*, it shields him from the worst of the blast, it shields him from the emotional poison that would have consumed anyone else, despite the fact that Volsung is disrespecting what Avril just said, despite the fact that he's attacking his friends, despite the fact that he referred to humans as cattle. And maybe part of it was just dumb luck, but it's not just that. After all, though he might be but a fledgling human, weak and surely inferior to a Veruni--especially one of Volsung's caliber--he has two advantages: one, a heart that is both pure and partly tempered by the tragedies he has encountered on his journeys; and two, a pair of customized ARMs made, as previously mentioned, with technology that hasn't been seen in millennia, because it was created specifically for him by the Ice Queen herself. And by 'specifically for him,' one means 'with defensive capabilities that can stand up even to Volsung's worst'--which may have some interesting implications for those orders he happens to be carrying.
    But it's only implications. And anyway, how could ARMs that were created millennia ago be made for this seventeen-year-old boy, sixteen when he received them? That's just ridiculous.
    That being said, the technology is without question something crafted by Her Majesty's hand. Given that he's standing right next to her, that she cares enough for him to place herself between him and Volsung, that might be enough, but...
    Speaking of which, Dean blinks in shock when Avril does precisely that. It's true that Volsung doesn't want to hurt her, and so it's just plain sensible for her to protect him in this situation, but for a split-second, he doesn't think of that. "Avril!!" he calls, before remembering--and then raises Twin Fenrir, aiming over Avril's head at Volsung. "Okay! Let's do this together, then!" And then he opens fire with both barrels at Volsung, hoping to blind him, or at least distract him, for long enough that Dean can dismiss one of those ARMs and grab Avril's wrist. He'll give her a short, curt nod... and then he'll try to run with her, past Volsung, as Cyre provides extra cover fire.

GS: Dean Stark has spent 2 Combo on Smite, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked Volsung with Twin Drive!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: COUNTER! Volsung strikes at Dean Stark with a counter attack!
GS: Volsung takes a solid hit from Dean Stark's Twin Drive for 47 hit points!
GS: Volsung takes a glancing hit from Talia's Point-Warp Slash for 23 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Talia!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Matilda Whitehead's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Volsung takes a glancing hit from Matilda Whitehead's Iron in the Garden for 64 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, and Poison! Statuses applied to Volsung!
GS: Hyper, Quick, and Shield! Statuses applied to Matilda Whitehead!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Cyre H. Lorentz's attack becomes clear!
GS: Volsung takes a glancing hit from Cyre H. Lorentz's Cyclone Joker for 47 hit points!
GS: Disease and Poison! Statuses applied to Volsung!
GS: Volsung takes a glancing hit from Lily Keil's Annihilation Signal for 64 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil has lost 0 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

It wasn't a flying knee strike.

Matilda's whole body snaps forward, whip-like, at the apex of her jump; rather than a knee strike at center of mass, Matilda delivers a forceful, extremely overcommitted sword thrust at collarbone height. Granted, Gram-Zanber's size may make it perfectly feasible to parry this with the same motion that would've been intended to protect the midsection...

... but it's the thought that counts.

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Several of the air lances explode exactly as expected. That's what they're meant for. That's what they were designed to do...

And then Cyre clenches a fist and the remainder suddenly turn on a dime and pour down directly into Volsung's present position, looking to skewer him to the spot with pure kinetic force...!

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    "Oho~ now you're interested, eh?" Gwen manages a playful quip at Volsung's expense, hopping back. Another jab is forming on her lips, just before whatever spirit she may have gained wilt in the wake of Volsung's counterattack towards Cyre.

    Volsung is violent, magnificently so, bringing to mind Kaguya's own force, despite her being ill, as well as Elvis's own massive strength. This is... what a Veruni is...?

    If it could have been simply that, Gwen would have been fine, even if it meant charging up against forces beyond her ability to counter. They just needed to get out, and Volsung's attack just may have made that outing.

    Cyre's logic is sound.

    Unfortunately, Gwen doesn't seem to be listening.

    She's not talking either.

    She's hunched over, as the bruise-colored magic washed over her, rocking slightly like a pebble cast about in the foam of a receding tide. "... ah..."

    Electric yellow light suddenly surges up and down Gwen's exposed right arm, angrily crackling like a nest of hornets over a fire. The resulting static feeds up through her clothing, through her hair, billowing them out like in some unseen wind. And her gaze-

    It's Gwen, but it's not. Her eyes are still that grey blue, but they are stand stark against the whites of her eyes, the drawn grimace of her mouth.

    If anyone is in her way, they get an uncharacteristically brutal shove to the side, with Gwen charging past them with a single-minded determination.
    Her charred boots cast debris as she picks up speed, one foot jamming through the discarded arm of a Hyadean, casting quicksliver in the arm with the motion. Her ARM is violently thrust forward, almost as if to press her palm against the Veruni leader's bespectacled face, or to cast her fingers again his cheek.

    Instead, at some point, the ARM fires, attempting to blast the man back. The action is jerky, the planning flawed, the terrain slick and uneven. It may slip past the tan-skinned man's side instead, or hit his shoulder.

    .... It's really hard to remember yourself when you're already low on energy, it turns out.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Volsung with Corona Discharge!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes 10 damage from Toxin!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Volsung takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Corona Discharge for 121 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Volsung!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sister Friede & Father Ariandel (Piano) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRsuO9t4au0

    Not a Veruni? Then... what?
    The opening for the question does not present itself.

    A brief look, then, and that is all there is. She makes her move.

    The blade is true. As she knew it would be.
    But he hadn't... moved, had he...
    He answers that fleeting question for her when he seizes Absolute Zero in his hand, grasping the blade as if it were but an apprentice's practice sword. She looks up into those eyes.

    Hatred. She can feel his hatred.

    "Know...? Yes, of course I do..."

    Ice sprays past her (Talia's spell, she thinks); he releases her blade. She falls back, sword held in a guard, hip to shoulder, before her.

    "So that is your name. Volsung." Has she heard it before? She doesn't remember.

    Something behind her rends. His plan had gone as precisely as he had intended. But... a problem remains: should they run, would Volsung not give chase?

    Until now she has only ever attained that fugue state when another has been harmed.
    Under duress.
    ...Would it be possible -- could it be possible -- for her to reach that peak by her own volition?

    She only needs the power it would grant her for a moment. Just a moment, under her own control.

    The truth?
    The implied question may be read from the look she gives Volsung alone.

    He strides towards her, ether-like light trailing from him. It spirals out in wisps
    in chains
    yes she can see that now
    what it intends
    as if she can see into the heart of the world

    He's come to retrieve her because she had asked him to. For that had been the plan, a decree passed down through the ages: that of the Ice Queen's desire.
    For it is she.

    "I remember only what I have already spoken of before I awoke, and otherwise all else is gone to me. This is the reason we are traveling, to find out who I am, where I came from, and locate Johnny Appleseed."
    So she had said to Lily.

    "Maybe Johnny was a person once, but then the name became a title? Things like that happen, sometimes. Maybe the first sheriff was a guy named Sheriff!"
    Gwen, it seemed, had been more right than she had realized.

    "I am..." Avril utters, the tendrils beginning to chain about her, to bind her in place. "I... am Johnny Appleseed?"

    Here, deep within. In the abyss called oneself...

    The walls of ice extend into eternity. What cannot, must not, shall never be freed lies beyond. She sees but her own reflection, distorted by frozen rime.

    DO NOT RETURN, warns the impulse. As ever, as every time she visits this place, the traveler ever returning.
    She speaks thus to the ice: "I am sorry."
    and smashes through the wall.

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    Without, Avril jerks a hand free of the magic that had bound her. The magic sizzles. It burns away like frost under the morning sun. Such a fate awaits every bit of the spell he has wrought upon her.

    And when she takes a step forward, out of the place where she been so bound, her footfalls erupt in a spiderweb crackling of frost.

    "Do not," Avril orders Volsung, raising her left hand in the air, "touch me."

    The air erupts in a spray of ice at her command, spinning out in a haze before her. Light -- from somewhere? nowhere? -- spills in a lazy circle, burning bright at each quarter junction.

    And erupts outwards for Volsung.

    "Cyre," this Avril speaks, her gaze upon the Veruni ruler alone. "See the others out. I shall be along shortly."

    She must ensure he cannot follow. Cannot hurt them anymore.

    And into the heart of this decision...

    Dean grabs her wrist.
    Her hand is cold. Burning, in fact, with the frost she now freely channels.
    She here turns her head. Looks at him with an expression that is at once the friend he's known since that day she fell from the sky, and yet a million miles away.
    She recognizes him. She is not herself.

    "Dean," she says, each syllable as crisp as a winter morning, "do not be afraid."

    And she takes a breath. And she unspools yet more of the power from beyond the wall out into the physical world.

    She'll freeze it over. She'll render everything to ice.

    "I will be with you soon."

DC: You switch forms to The Ice Queen!
DC: Avril Vent Fleur switches forms to The Ice Queen!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Volsung with Grand Halo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
GS: Volsung takes a glancing hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Grand Halo for 53 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Volsung has posed.

"You're all surprisingly persistent."

That voice carries through the hell that is being wreaked upon the collapsing Photosphere with an unerringly ambivalent commitment. By now, Volsung's own gambit should be becoming increasingly clear, if seemingly suicidal: the Veruni is tearing apart the Photosphere, or at least this chunk of it, to destabilize the very ground they're all walking on.

If he doesn't make a short end of Avril's companions, gravity doubtlessly will.

That it might do the same to him never seems to even enter the blond man's mind as he advances upon Avril. Perhaps he has contingencies. Perhaps he simply thinks the two of them can survive it. And the truly frightening thing is, it might be entirely believable in this moment that they could.

Regardless, the end result is an unhampered, even relaxed stride that carries him towards the would-be Johnny Appleseed. And it is a gait that is only interrupted when Dean once more makes himself known. Dean Stark, he called himself. Dean Stark, with that irritatingly upbeat face. Dean Stark, with those ARMs that have such a distinctive, recognizable design ethic to them. Dean Stark, who used those weapons, knowingly or not, to defy him.

Dean. Stark. Volsung commits the name to memory. Surprisingly. Persistent.

"Let's do something about that."

Dean turns those ARMs on him. Volsung swings his massive blade to his right, the wind whipping violently in its wake. The light of bending space heralds the summoning of strange floating, mechanical drones, lenses glowing bright. Dean fires those bullets.

And the floating bits fire a collective burst of energy at the same time, a trade of blows that happens within a flash.

The power behind those weapons are obvious -- but Dean, despite it, manages enough of a distraction to grab Avril and make his move. Volsung swings his blade, intercepting the bulk of the Twin Fenrir's assault -- the rest ricochets off of him over and over, buying enough ground for Dean to start running. Volsung snaps his head in their direction, the faintest of frowns twitching at the corners of his lips. Inconvenient. Annoying.

Hatred bubbles as he turns the attention of those drones towards Dean. A precision shot. Spine. That ought to be enough.

They crackle with light again --

-- but before they can make their move, a blade impacts his shoulder with sudden, violent force. It digs in through coat, scraping a shallow drag across that impossibly dense flesh. He hears the squeak of a foot dragging across ground. He looks towards his side --

-- and feels the bite of a dagger -shoved- into his midsection. Talia can feel her weapon bite flesh as she speaks. As those cold blue eyes turn towards her with that stare that seems like the icy burn of absolute zero.

So back off, no?

The bits turn toward Talia, shining bright.



<Pose Tracker> Volsung has posed.

The drones are still sizzling with excess, air ionizing around them as the Veruni leader makes his way inevitably towards Avril and Dean. But they are not without their support, first in the form of Matilda and Cyre, one from afar and one up close and personal. Matilda, first. He can sense her before he sees her. A quiet seethe on the peripheries of the senses. Cold blue eyes look in her direction as she leaps into the air for him. He knows that look. He knows that approach.

There is, in that moment, a silent understanding as Volsung grips tight upon his blade. If you're going to hate, you do it quietly...

... and you don't do it by half-measures.

The great edge of that ARM swings upward, just as Matilda anticipated. The feint succeeds, bringing her blade driving into his collar. So big is that blade that she can't get a clean hit even from this position -- but she manages to bite through clothes, into flesh. A pinprick of red oozes at the tip of her weapon as Volsung snaps his hand out to grip it tight.

"You know, don't you? The one thing so many people only think they do. I can see it in your eyes," he muses almost curiously. "That sensation you can't ever forget.

"The infuriating feeling of being truly powerless."

And then he -pushes-, intent to throw her further into the collapsing Photosphere just as lances of air provide further cover for Dean and Avril's intended escape. Explosions ripple across the Veruni's body, slowing his advance, distracting him just enough...

... so that those searing spears of kinetic force can riddle him that much more cleanly, tearing at clothes and bludgeoning at body with relentless certainty. Volsung lowers himself, hand clenching tightly around the Gram-Zanbor. Astute gaze falls on the exit that Cyre has made for them all through Volsung's own power.

His smirk is a cold and dangerous one.

"Clever. Unfortunately, not clever enough--"

Rage. Another form of hatred, louder and more obvious and more immediately destructive than the violent seethe. He is well-acquainted with its ilk, too. One can debate which is the more irrational of the pair --


-- but there's certainly no place to argue about immediate effectiveness.

Gwen Whitlock lunges. Swings her hand out for his face. Fires. And as the bits surrounding him fire a burning blast of their own, issuing a blinding FLASH of pure power, the force of the Gwen's attack alone is enough to send Volsung skidding -upward- along the tilted floor, free hand snapping up to grip his face as smoke rises from the point of impact. He smashes back-first into the nearest, intact wall, bending it backwards just slightly as smoke fumes between the grip of his fingers. A chuckle escapes him.

"... I see, now. Heh."

A chuckle that one might have called amused, if it weren't so devoid of it. When his hand falls, little bits of glass all but drip from the fractured lenses of his glasses. It is only then that Volsung turns his attention towards Lily, through the crack of his glasses. He peers at her, brows furrowed against the pulsing lines of circuitry, the flanged scream, the shift of her eyes. He feels the space around him churn into a miniature singularity.


And his response is to -shove his fist into the event horizon-.

He doesn't blink. Not once. He struggles, clearly, but that he struggles at all against such a phenomenon is truly saying something -- perhaps both ways. He feels the warping bend of space, the suck of light all around him as reality knots and deconstructs matter around him. Blue and red fumes around him as he reaches down deep into that hole of nothing --

-- grips tight --

"Hrnn. This is... How old are you supposed to be, exactly?"

And -rips-.

His glove is in tatters as his hand -yanks- free, unmaking the unmaking, smothering an implosion into a more absolute nothingness that churns painfully at his palm before dissipating entirely. His fingers flex, as he stares at it, almost fascinated past the dead-eyed stare.

"Hm. I suppose it won't matter."

Whereupon, those drones ignite again in a twining stream of light aimed at Lily.

And that is when his attentions turn. Because he sees it. Because he senses it. Spiderwebs of frost that were once in the peripheries of his vision.

Do not touch me.

All of it brought to more pressing clarity in an instant as that frosting light -pummels- him with violence. Light explodes against him, frost shatters across his body. Between working off Lily's prior assault and the power of this one, it is enough to send him stumbling back, however briefly, until one heeled boot -slams- into the ground to steady him. Light burns a hazy trail around him. Don't touch her?

"If that is your will, your grace," he says, respectfully. So respectfully. He looks up, towards the peeled ceiling, the open air howling beyond. He grips tightly upon the Gram-Zanbor.

"I will not lay a finger on you."

And then -tosses- it into the air.

That weapon grows smaller and smaller, until it is little more than a pinprick in the skies beyond the collapsing Photosphere. And after it jumps Volsung in one mighty surge, a smear of purples and reds that disappears rapidly. Into the air he goes, catching up with his weapon. He grips the heft. Plants his foot upon the pommel, such as it is. For a moment, everything freezes.

And then, with all his considerable strength, Volsung -kicks- that weapon downward.

And down it screams, down, down down, a smudge of dizzyingly insane velocities like it was launched off a mass driver, aimed for a collision point --

--right in front of Dean Stark.


It isn't the blade. Not the blade that is the problem. It's the impact. Like a meteor, it EXPLODES, a ripple of cerulean force that YANKS the entirety of that segment of the Photosphere off its axis, threatening to catch Cyre, Matilda and Dean all unimpeded in incomprehensible wrath. The impact is blinding.

... And in the aftermath, as Volsung hits the ground, as the chunk of Photosphere half-hangs, ready to drop at any moment and take them all with it if they cannot move fast enough, the half-breed king smiles. Coldly.

He promised, after all.

He wouldn't touch -her-.

GS: Volsung has activated a Force Action!
GS: Volsung enters a Counter stance!
GS: Volsung has attacked Lily Keil with Walkurenritt!
GS: Volsung enters a Counter stance!
GS: Volsung has attacked Talia with Walkurenritt!
GS: Volsung enters a Counter stance!
GS: Volsung has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Walkurenritt!
GS: Volsung has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Dean Stark guards a hit from Volsung's Counter Attack for 112 hit points!
GS: Volsung has spent 8 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, including 4 on Gatling!
GS: Volsung has attacked Dean Stark with GZ Nemesis!
GS: Volsung has attacked Cyre H. Lorentz with GZ Nemesis!
GS: Volsung has attacked Matilda Whitehead with GZ Nemesis!
GS: Volsung has gained 1 Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Dean Stark critically Guards a hit from Volsung's GZ Nemesis for 71 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Talia enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Talia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Talia completely evades Walkurenritt from Volsung!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has activated a Force Action!
GS: Cyre H. Lorentz has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Cyre H. Lorentz completely evades GZ Nemesis from Volsung!
GS: Lily Keil has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lily Keil guards a hit from Volsung's Walkurenritt for 99 hit points!
GS: Lily Keil takes an additional 45 damage from Reaper!
GS: Volsung has lost 0 Combo!
GS: Lily Keil has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
DC: 3 turns have elapsed in the battle against Volsung! No turns remain! Time has expired! The battle is over!
GS: Gwen Whitlock critically Guards a hit from Volsung's Walkurenritt for 32 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes an additional 55 damage from Reaper!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Volsung has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Matilda Whitehead completely evades GZ Nemesis from Volsung!
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

There's something about the way Avril speaks... Orders? The imperious authority in her voice is unmistakable. Even without actually making it sound like a request, it feels like anything but.

But it's fine. That's something that Cyre was planning on doing anyway. "You got it, Your Highness," he answers with a smirk, "Give him hell... And get out of here alive, too! I don't think Dean would ever forgive me if we got out and you ended up stuck behind!"

But then--

Then Volsung does... Something absurd. Something incredible. He launches a bolt of destructive power so mighty that it threatens to tear an entire section free of the Photosphere. And indeed, perhaps that does in fact happen. Maybe this explosion is enough to tear the Photosphere asunder.

The shockwave roars through, a blue-white dome of absolute devastation. Cyre has barely a chance to spit an explitive before he's caught in it and overwhelmed...!




No. There! Something unfolds in the Arctican sky beyond the Photosphere's shattered hull. Cyre Lorentz, his arms and legs still smoldering but covered in a hastily erected layer of rime, is... Flying?

Indeed, everyone who has ever been on a dig with him more than once would likely have seen him do this before. The winds howl around him, swirling powerfully into a thick cloth glider that holds him suspended in the air...!

"Damn, that almost killed me. Shows what he knows-- of course I'm clever enough to have a backup plan," Cyre mutters, staring in disbelief at what used to be a Hyadean bulkhead. "This is gonna suck too, but--" He folds his cloak inward, suddenly accelerating towards the gap in the vessel's outer hull. Multicolored lasers sweep out to widen the hole and send the Photosphere chunk creaking ever more perilously toward the breaking point. Cyre darts into the gap and lobs a series of ropes- and exactly one sturdy-looking chain with a decorative censer mounted to the far end- at the stranded diggers.

"Alright everybody, all aboard! I'll take whoever I can carry! It won't be pleasant, this much weight won't make flying easy-- but I'll try my best to get us down safe!" Cyre glances furtively over at Volsung as Avril... continues to do her thing. "...Hopefully he doesn't shoot me out of the sky. Come on, secure the wounded first, then grab hold! We're going down!"

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    "If that is your will, your grace," he says to her.
    "I will not lay a finger on you."

    He tosses his blade in the air.

    Indeed. Not even a hair on her head is harmed.


    "--Dean!" and it is both this other aspect of Avril and the confused young woman Dean knows so well who screams out his name.

    "You may not hurt him," the wrathful queen declares. The nimbus of frost that had clung to her skin blazes free, billowing into a flickering flame of cold about her.

    What she had done before she adds to.

    The ice spreads. Crystals reach untold sizes in an eyeblink, rising upwards to tear through even the roof that overhangs the gutter. At such speed, if one were to ascend one of those frigid pillars, they might find themselves with the means to attain height quickly through this section of the Photosphere.

    Perhaps beyond that, with the power Avril feeds into the ice now.

    Another time, she would have focused all her power upon Volsung alone. Would have punished him for striking at Dean so.
    Today, he is a casualty of her newfound control over this state.

    The furious anger may still cling within her, but she is able to claim it for fuel, more material to render into the ice eternal.

    She'll seal Volsung in, trapped behind the wall she generates, icy spire by spire.

    And after that...

    After that Avril staggers back, the power melting from her hands. Another step more and she falls to her knees and slouches forward.

    She may have broken the wall.
    But limits still exist to her.

    Someone may need to pull her along and help her, drained from that extertion, to the escape pod.
    Before the Photosphere falls.
    Before her wall's resilience can be fully tested.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has activated a Force Action!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Volsung with Glace Bleue!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
GS: COUNTER! Volsung strikes at Avril Vent Fleur with a counter attack!
GS: Volsung takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Glace Bleue for 86 hit points!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur drains Volsung! Avril Vent Fleur gains 43 temporary hit points!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a glancing hit from Volsung's Counter Attack for 117 hit points!
GS: Volsung has lost 0 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia gets only a brief satisfaction, before she sees those cold blue eyes turning on him. Her eyes widen -- and then the blasts from the drones come down at her. She shouts, wordless, and throws Mirage up.

She vanishes in a halo of golden light -- and shadowstuff. The strands of shadow merge back together, leaving Talia on the ceiling, upside down, and clutching Mirage. The weapon is buried in the ceiling -- and it buckles and shifts under her weight. "This place, it is coming apart..." She mutters under her breath.

She kicks into the ceiling. The metal plate there buckles inward, then swings away, falling down at the ground. Talia clutches it, tightly. She twists it around -- sucks in a deep, hard breath -- and dares a glance at Dean, before she ducks down low.

The explosion hits the metal plate.

It sears it hot enough to scorch her hand and feet, even through glove and boots. However, much of the fire washes over it -- and Talia rides the plate on the shockwave -- throwing herself down the hallway. She leaps off near the end, and the plate hits the ground, skids, and then tumbles to a stop. She glances over her shoulder.

"Avril, you'd better hurry, no!" she yells, before grabbing onto one of those ice crystals that she made. She winces, when she does. "C-Cold... Dean, you too!"

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

If they live through all of this, Lily might have to talk with Gwen about how best to use her anger--because it's impressive what she does, the seeds that are there. But Lily's conscious mind does not focus on this, or on the way Talia moves, or on the feinting sneak attack Matilda delivers in that moment, or in any of the others. She processes each sight and adds it to her calculations... but does not stop.

She does not have to stop to recall that infuriating feeling that it seems Volsung and Matilda can identify.

She can't, frankly; it's all so much sensory junk to her as she conjures forth her magic, powering it in lieu of any reserves with sheer hatred alone. She can see again after she delivers it, conjures it--and in that moment she can see Volsung studying her. 'Interesting', he says.

Not the reaction she would hope. She attempts to channel more power into it--

And that's when he shoves his fist into it. Lily, linked to her uncreation in that instant, finds that her blackened eyes widen. "What--" Yes, he struggles. He doesn't blink, but it takes effort. Nevertheless, he does it. Her will to destroy does not umake him. How old is she...?

In an ancient language Lily answers, "<How the shit-->"

As he rips Lily abrubtly goes stock still, as if struck, and then reels even before the drones ignite. Blood trickles down from her ear as she half-swoons, and then the stream of light crashes towards her. It impacts with a great explosion, and Lily is knocked through the air, impacting a wall and cracking it, and probably a few ribs in the process. She is not in a position to defend as the haze of continuing magic seeps through her, seems to attack her from the inside. "Nng--"

...Ad then the blade impacts. The explosion that comes tears this section of the Photopshere apart, and the floor on which Lily is curled is one of the chunks that burns away into the rest of its depths. She is no longer visible when it clears; she is not close to the ice, but she feels sunlight on her skin...

She coughs blood, as she looks up--sees somethig. She puts out a hand, curls her fingers into a fist.


After all this--Is this how it ends? "I'm... coming..." The blood glistens in her hair.

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    The magic that had coiled around Avril disippates--but not for no reason. The aura around Avril is a familiar one to Dean, now that he's seen it several times. He doesn't fully understand it, though he has a concept that it's related to the Ice Queen. And when she speaks in a crisp voice like frost in the morning, stands tall and gives directives, to Volsung not to touch her, to Cyre to escort the others out, and when she looks at him with eyes both familiar and alien...
    He *is* afraid.
    Afraid for her.
    But she reassures him explicitly, specifically against this. Tells him that she'll be with him soon. For an instant, Dean's hand, Dean's gaze, lingers on her.
    "You promise?" he asks. And then... his hand releases hers. "Okay. I trust you, Avril," he concludes.
    Hilarious irony determines that this is thus the second that the beam from Volsung's drone hits him in the spine, sending him down HARD on the collapsing ground. "OW"
    And of course Avril has a lot to say about that. Dean groans as Volsung throws his blade into the air and leaps up after it... but while the pain is immense, intense, he manages to stagger up to his feet. It's that that saves him; when Volsung KICKS Glumzabor back down, Dean looks up, and manages, just barely, to cross his ARMs in his own defense before the massive blade SLAMS back down and sends a massive shockwave forward, right in his darn face.
    It feels like trying to hold onto a house porch while the rest of it is getting sucked up by a tornado. The Photosphere absolutely has not much longer for this world, and that massive attack of Volsung's is making it that much worse... but as Talia calls for him and Avril to hurry, Dean floats back to the ground, panting, and nods her way. "Y-you too, Talia! Lily, Gwen--" Wait. Lily and Gwen are nowhere to be seen. They must have gotten caught up in Volsung's attack when he punched the void (mission status: sick), but where are they now?! The obvious solution is to go high with Cyre and see if they can't spot and grab them on the way out, but there's also Avril, who calls up her powers to seal Volsung in ice...
    She slumps now. Dean dismisses his ARMs and rushes over to her, ignoring how every spot on his body feels like one big bruise. "Avril--Avril, you okay?" he asks, kneeling down next to her. "Thanks for everything. Let's hurry and get out of here with everyone..." Offering her his shoulder, slinging her arm around his if necessary, Dean will help Avril up and hitch a ride with Cyre on the way out, keeping his eyes open for the rest of his friends so they can get out too as needed.
    As for Volsung... well. He'll probably be okay.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Gwen, in her burning rage, has completely failed to respect the laws of physics.

    Naturally, this leads to some terrible events, as a consequence of Gwen's recent terrible life decisions. But really, isn't invading an angry hive of an alien race bent on destroying you and/or converting you and your friends into their new super soldiers just one big series of terrible life decisions?

    First, there's recoil. She must understand that recoil is a thing. It will always be a thing, no matter how much her body's managed to navigate this lifestyle of 'shoot and get thrown back'.

    Second, there's _Volsung_. Even worse than recoil, it's Volsung, and he's appreciating the fact that Gwen is clearly augmented with more than the average ARM. Which means he's just straight up blasting her as she's being thrown back.

    It's a very, very painful moment, but it's not as terrible as what may be facing her friends below.

    There's a hole from her exit from the area, and, just as quickly as she joined this group-

    Gwen is gone.

    Not dead, however.

    It takes a lot more than that to keep a super courier from making her next delivery, after all.


    She is back, on the wood floor, in the room.

    'You should really wake up, now.'
    It would not be the first time this would happen today. But it will, hopefully, be the last.

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

The leader of the Veruni grips Matilda's blade -- and she doesn't flinch. To an observer, Matilda would look almost impossibly removed from the girl she was not two years ago -- the sad, scared, lonely thing, greeting people with a smile of faint desperation, the woman who responded to a petty bandit lord's mere presence by retreating into a little corner in her mind and staying there until he was gone, the woman who brought *more food* as a gesture of goodwill to a meeting offering free food.

The truth is that none of that has left her. She's still afraid. When she feels her blade *stop* in Volsung, feels the breaching of armor to be not enough to deliver much in the way of real damage -- that's fear. A fear that travels up her arms and settles in her spine, a fear that tugs her shoulder blades together under her coat and makes her teeth grind. When he addresses her -- that's fear, too. Fear of returning to the place he describes -- the place he recognizes so clearly.

But Matilda's learned that there's a lot she can do with fear. With hatred. With the feeling she gets when -- like now -- her heart beats so hard she can hear it over the rumbling of the crumbling Photosphere. With the feeling she gets when she thinks about the blue-and-brown jewel called Filgaia -- and all the dismal, dusty facets it's chosen to show her. With the feeling she gets when she imagines that there might not be some light at the end of the tunnel, some meaning to all this suffering or at *least* some capacity to squeeze something from it.

Volsung grips Matilda's weapon and pushes.

Matilda lets that fear, that anger, slide from her shoulder blades down to her legs.

She pushes back.

That's not to say it works out perfectly; Matilda still slides across the ground -- but she doesn't go flying. Her boots grind across rubble and metal, and her eyes remain on Volsung's as she keeps control through their disengagement. "... You're absolutely right," she says, lip curled up in a faint snarl. "And there's not a day I don't think about it."

She hops back toward Dean -- just in time for Volsung to slam the blade down toward the three of them. Matilda, with the moment of reaction time she bought herself by not backing down from Volsung, makes a snap decision. Her blade is put away in an instant --

-- and replaced with her shield. She ducks low, guarding herself as best she can with machined metal. In that moment, Matilda turns those feelings -- hatred, fear -- into the thing she tries to turn them into when they're at their worst: understanding.

No, not an airy, loving understanding, not some new respect for Volsung's principles, not some desire to reach out; a clinical, cold understanding, a swift assessment of everything around her and a snap judgment. She recognizes the strike for what it is -- something that will generate a shockwave, in a situation where Matilda already needs to acquire some height, quickly.

The shockwave hits her shoulders through the shield. It will hurt tomorrow. It *also* propels her onto a high spire of ice -- toward sunlight -- toward escape.

Powerlessness to fear, fear to hatred, hatred to understanding, understanding to escape.

Nothing changes.