2019-02-15: Sandcastle Kingdoms

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<Pose Tracker> Janus Cascade has posed.

The beacon in the desert flared back up occasionally, over the course of the day or so following its initial eruption. A fountain of dark power drawing the eye, the attention, and the worry of anyone with the constitution and intent to see Filgaia set right.

The section of desert that pillar burst from seems unremarkable. There's no recorded ruins or dig sites in the area. And yet as Drifters arrive, they find a sand dune blown completely away, revealing a sleek structure, ornately decorated. It is short, roughly the size and shape of a small, quaint hut. An unfamiliar mark, regal and powerful, is splashed across the dais of the structure, an emblem like a bird in flight, rays like sunbeams bursting back from its wings, and cradled in the structure of its wings, an unfamiliar symbol - an equilateral triangle subdivided into three more, a hollow fourth equilateral in the center.

EMBLEM: https://dreamchasers.space/images/2/22/Fourth_shrine_emblem.png

The same symbol is on the door, with three sockets splashed across the surface, perfectly sized to fit the Pendants Janus Cascade and his foes have been pursuing.

Speaking of the door, it's completely intact.

Utterly unharmed.

Not a scratch on the thing.

You have enough time to be alarmed by this before a blast of power spears out of the very ground, coils of magic staggering the approaching drifters.

"Ka ha ha ha," giggles a strange voice, as a bizarre figure in robes melts out of the dais. His head is a perfect sphere, hidden under a thick, ornate hood of his thick, ornate robes. No eyes are visible; a centered mouth with rotten teeth grins out instead.

"Welcome, welcome! Welcome to a shrine long lost, adventurers," the strange wizard cackles. WIZZRO, DARK SORCERER's hands spread wide, and his mouth slips shut.

And opens as an eye, pulsing with might. Staring directly at Gwen and Talia. "So glad you answered my summons. You would not want to miss the return of this world's king."

GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Lydia Seren with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Talia with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Hiro with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Catenna with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ines Colina with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Mariel with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Quin Rosenberg with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ree with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Seraph Lanval with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Malicious Muck!
GS: Janus Cascade has completed his action.
GS: Catenna takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 62 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Catenna! Janus Cascade gains 31 temporary hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 70 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Jacqueline Barber! Janus Cascade gains 35 temporary hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Lydia Seren completely evades Malicious Muck from Janus Cascade!
GS: CRITICAL! Hiro critically Guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 37 hit points!
GS: Poison! Statuses applied to Hiro!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Hiro! Janus Cascade gains 18 temporary hit points!
GS: Ines Colina guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 78 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Ines Colina! Janus Cascade gains 39 temporary hit points!
GS: Ree guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 75 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Ree! Janus Cascade gains 37 temporary hit points!
GS: Seraph Lanval takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 64 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Seraph Lanval! Janus Cascade gains 32 temporary hit points!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Erzebet Lefanu completely evades Malicious Muck from Janus Cascade!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 68 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Seraph Ragnell! Janus Cascade gains 34 temporary hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Mariel critically Guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 34 hit points!
GS: Poison! Statuses applied to Mariel!
GS: Mariel has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Mariel! Janus Cascade gains 17 temporary hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Ida Everstead-Rey completely evades Malicious Muck from Janus Cascade!
GS: Gwen Whitlock critically Guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 25 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Gwen Whitlock! Janus Cascade gains 12 temporary hit points!
GS: Quin Rosenberg takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Malicious Muck for 62 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade drains Quin Rosenberg! Janus Cascade gains 31 temporary hit points!
DC: Janus Cascade switches forms to Outlaw Janus!
DC: Janus Cascade switches forms to Twisted Wizard Wizzro!
<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

Nothing that produces a ray of Malice visible for miles around can be good news.

Hooves thud against the desert as the rented horse surges beneath Catenna at a straight gallop. Her hair streams behind her as she races towards the source of that shadow, heart heavy with dread. Her experiences with the Malice have been nothing but dire - but she, at least, recognizes it. Many of her friends from these parts did not.

It's more than cultural, though. It's personal. Not only personal for her, but for the tiny Owlet sitting on the saddlebow and staring straight ahead.

The horse rears as it reaches the pillar, then descends with a snort. Bounding off the beast's back, Catenna starts towards the structure, drawing her bow and sliding an arrow from her quiver.

"That mark," the Moon Shaman murmurs, blinking twice. "Something about it...."

A memory scratches away the patina of years and time. Not the triangle motif. Something else. Catenna bites her lower lip, hesitating a moment. She takes a couple of steps closer as if to check if the door is intact.

It seems to be.

<Catenna, this should not be,> Saarda-Shanta begins to say, the owlet having perched on Catenna's shoulder again.

She can say nothing more before the ground begins to spawn something Catenna did not want to see.

Malice bubbles forth, reaching out for all those who come. There's a screech behind her as her horse descends into the muck. "No!" Catenna shouts, whirling - but the Malice surges up around her, an arc of it splashing dangerously close. She can feel the sickness of it, and she recoils, narrowly avoiding being sucked in. She whirls, darting to and fro; Saarda-Shanta flutters off of her shoulder with an uncharacteristic hoot of alarm, circling high and away to avoid being snagged.

As that DARK SORCERER spews himself from the dais, Catenna whirls into a ready stance, darting away from a last coil of Malice. She clutches her right hand tightly. "You mean the legend of The Demon King, do you not," she assumes tensely. "Is that what you are after? If so, then--"

Catenna holds her right hand out and barks a word of power - and the air around Wizzro ripples and fluctuates. Beneath the hovering figure, a pulsing white ring of blue-white light manifests.

Silvery moonlight begins to stream up from that runic circle - and it spreads as Catenna attempts to Dispel some of the Malice out of existence.

GS: Catenna has attacked Janus Cascade with Dispel!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ragnell is highly familiar with Malevolence, but Malice is a relatively new one on her. Thus, when a big old pillar of it explodes up from Bledavik, she decides it would be a good idea to check this out and see what's what. Lots of Drifters appear to have had the same idea that she did, and when she spots Gwen in the desert moonlight, she saunters on over to her with arms folded behind her neck.
    
    "Unusual weather we're havin', huh?" she drawls, before turning her attention to the strange structure at the epicenter of the Malice blast. There's a symbol on it that's basically a bunch of triangles. Not very imaginative, in Ragnell's opinion, but she suppose simple is as simple does. Strange, though; if this building was at the center of a blast of power, why is the front door completely unscathed?
    
    BOOM. Power surges outward and blasts into the assembled adventurers, Ragnell included. She rolls with the force, which mitigates some of its power, but there's something strange about it... It feels like it sapped some of her energy away, taking it back to... whoever Creepy McWhatthefuck is over there.
    
    "Nice welcome," she says dryly as she draws her paired pistols and opens fire with a one-two retort of lightning bullets. A glance Gwen and Talia's way, since they're who the strange Wizzro addresses for some reason. "What's this 'bout a king, ladies? You been revivin' ancient monarchies without tellin' me? For *shame*."

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Janus Cascade with Twin Bullet!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

A broken-down cart horse has been ridden by someone who shares its nature. Spent, staggering, but determined to go on. The horse, of indifferent breed and speckled coat, looks miserable. It isn't collapsing, not yet, but the swaybacked nag would need a good spell out to pasture before you could put it to work anywhere else. It's the kind of horse you'd send to the knacker's yard, which is in fact where Erzebet bought it before she rode out into the desert.

Why is she, specifically, here? An excellent question.

As she rides, wearing a straw hat with a wide brim tied under her chin, she holds the reins in one hand and a glass bottle of patent medicine in the other. "Hobgob liver, shredded fine... just a little Nisan wine... fat of snake and marrow too... heals the blood and makes sight true..." she mumbles to herself, humming along the medicine wagon theme as she goes.

The horse is a breed that is used to trudging through sand on at least some level. As it keeps staggering forwards, Erzebet raises her bottle of blood tonic and looks at the moon through the green glass for a moment. "Oh," she says, "so THAT'S what Tildypie was getting so excited about. Eheh. Heheh. Ehehehe."

The shrine comes closer. Erzebet doesn't say anything beyond an offhanded greeting to people she passes. The horse slows down to a walk, to its relief.

It then rears up, eyes rolling, in panic at the near occasion of Wizzro's dark art, when the wizard reveals himself. Erzebet lets herself slide outwards, landing on her ass with a plop, looking up at the horse with some consternation. She pivots on the sand even as her horse, now feeling the terror of sorcery, flees.

Her eyes turn towards Wizzro.

Her glasses seem to shine with interior light. Her left hand pulls out of one of Haborym's long guns. As she slews it round to sight on the wizard, she says, "No."

In her view, glittering dots and a surging encouragement form on Wizzro's torso.

"No kings," Erzebet says, before firing the gun exactly thirteen times.

"No kings," she concludes, wreathed briefly in greasy gunsmoke, as she levers herself back and kips up to her feet.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

    When Lanval sees the weird dark power erupting from wherever he was prior - the specifics here is not really important for expediency's sake - he doesn't shut up about the weird thing to anyone who can hear him. It's worrisome and weird and sort of familiar in feel in a way he doesn't like... but he can't turn his back on that. His manifestation of a back, anyway. But there's no time to dwell on semantics of physicality and heading.
     There's not even much time to manifest from one's chosen vessel (another bottle, surprise) to see the weird intact structure, unharmed and unopen. This is because there's suddenly a spark of evil that feels awful to the touch and Lanval just only avoids being enveloped by its touch completely by staggering with a frightful tumble, as if trying to run from something attempting to grab him, drink from him, or just get in him.
     He projects water haphazardly in a panic, as though the Seraphic equivalent of ralphing. It is not a courageous sight before...
     "Y-Yer Wizzro..." Lanval recalls that previous encounter, with their overwhelming power, as the Lunarian water elemental uprights himself with both eyes open half-lidded, both hands on his drinking gourd - his item of focus for casting his Seraphic Artes. He ambles along behind the general, vague vicinity of Gwen and Talia, if momentarily, as if electing himself to play the part of asking the obvious question on behalf of the audience.
     "Ya mean ta shay... the one with the Malice of the Demon King...?!" Lanval understands so little about it other than 'it's bad' and that it likes to do terrible, awful things to the water (such as himself). "Mmm..."
     The power he stands before is not fully understood in its scope, its depth, its history on his part - only that he knows it is bad. There is a projection of water splashing against Wizzro, much of it dissipating to begin with before it can fully reach or touch him. Some of it might be consumed. Some of it just seems like it's straight-up... walled ou, somehow.
     "'m... gonna hafta put a damper on that," for Lanval, those are big words, because of the differential in power. The intent, that's there. It kind of helps reassure him that Ragnell, another Seraphim, is on the same page as he is about this - not liking it.

GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Janus Cascade with A Friendly Time with the Newly Acquainted!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Janus Cascade with Putting Cold Water On That!
GS: Seraph Lanval has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia was, all told, not too shocked to see a beacon of dark power. The past few months have involved such occurrences... and, yet, they are no more or less disquieting than before. It's a tentative, tenuous friendship with Maya Schrodinger and Gwen Whitlock... but they're in this together, and so she came with them both. The black-haired assassin is walking along.

She pauses at the door, frowning at the trio of sockets. Her nose wrinkles for a moment. Which is when a blast of violet energy explodes from Wizzro -- and Talia dives, sharply, to one side. It smashes into the ground, leaving a streak in its wake, but she is frowning.

She pulls, from under her fur-lined collar, a pendant. It is blue. "Ah, ah, it is nothing, Ragnell! I am not so much for kings, no?" she says. She looks back at Wizzro, then she makes a face. "I am more for taking things that assholes want! It is a fun hobby!"

She stands up, holding out a hand. A magical circle swirls into being before it, and Talia calls out: "Blah blah, frozen stuff! Ice! Snow! Brr! Blah blah, Freeze LANCER!"

The air thickens with mist -- which turns into, with a flash, a spear of ice. It launches forward, hurtling towards Wizzro in an effort to spear the red robed thing through.

<Pose Tracker> Ree has posed.

Ree stares at the weird wizard-guy for a moment, especially his eye-for-a-mouth. Did he think he was the world's king, or was he acting on behalf of someone else? No matter -- the best thing to do was to wade in firing! Hey, it was self-defense! She raises both pistols and fires away, aiming for where his head should be. If, you know, there actually was a head under that hood. He was obviously already anatomically weird. No telling what her bullets would strike, if they did.

She is suprised to see Catenna, of all people, come galloping up on a strange horse. Catenna had been her employer more than once. She watches as the shamaness casts a spell on the wizard, but Ree cannot tell what kind of spell it is; her specialty is Ice Symbology. She is joined by several other people who unload their various weapons and magic onto the dark wizard. What had brought him here, now? What was secrets was the shrine hiding?

GS: Talia has attacked Janus Cascade with Ice Lance!
GS: Talia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: Ree has attacked Janus Cascade with Mad Dog Rondo!
GS: Ree has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia's initial instinct regarding a pillar of darkness appearing out of nowhere is to avoid it. she literally saved the world once already and maybe some folks are okay with that just being their job forever, but Lydia has her own smaller desires she wants to get in on.

But she can't deny requests of aid from both Mariel and Gwen. They're her pals, and she'll just have to involve herself in the latest nonsense.

Lydia trudges across the desert, looking frankly miserable. She was just about to head into Kislev for mysterious possibly Jay-unapproved purposes and she'd really like to get back to that. She is carting along a larger junky gunsmoke flavored chaingun that she was hoping to give to someone but has decided to bring along to test it out. It's a large weapon and she happens to be carrying it onehanded.

She tilts her head at the emblem for a moment.

Then she turns and looks towards the door that's completely intact and has three sockets. She has no idea what that's for. Nobody mentioned pendants to her after all.

That's when a blast of powerful magic crashes down upon Lydia.

Except Lydia has stepped forward and now her frame is being highlighted by the ray of uberdoom magic.

About halfway through Wizzro's words, she opens fire with the chaingun, bursts of smoke rippling out of the weapon in droves as she holds down the trigger. Lydia isn't a particularly expert marksman but she's attempting to make up for it with more bullets. The bullets that miss Wizzro crash into the sand and send up bursts of sand splashing into the air all around him.

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Janus Cascade with Comedic Ammounts Of Bullets!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel doesn't like Malice.

Well, that's half obvious and half an understatement. Nobody in their right mind likes Malice.

But Mariel especially doesn't like Malice. It's hard enough for her to live on Filgaia nowadays under the best of circumstances; there's a reason no other Elw stayed behind with her. But she's found, since encountering the return of the blights, that it is particularly bad for her. It's like a pit of open sewage oozing over her attunement to the planet, and she's more sensitive to it than most of the humans she knows.

Fortunately, she knows how it is cleaned up. Which means she is riding towards the beacon, not away, to do just that.

Mariel is a surprisingly good rider, but her short legs mean that she simply cannot sit on the largest horses comfortably - Mariel only tops five feet because of the bit of hair that persists in sticking up. Which is why she's on a smaller, lighter one, riding in sequence with Catenna.

"No, it isn't," she replies, whether to Catenna or Saarda-Shanta is unclear, before she pulls up her horse to a stop. She pats its neck, saying something to it low and not in any common language. The horse either understands her or is well-trained, because it backs off as Mariel moves forward, toward the muck. She wants to hold her breath, but she's pretty sure she cannot hold it long enough to matter.

Mariel does not get through finding what she needs in her bag before WIZZRO appears. The coil of magic hits her, and hits her harder than her companions; Mariel turns an unpleasant shade and clenches her mouth closed, jaw locked tight, to avoid being sick from the slimy, spiritual muck.

She gasps out, "If you mean the Demon King, he isn't King of this world or any other. Only his hatred lives," as she pulls something she had not originally been reaching for out of her bag. It's a mushroom with a mottled red cap, and she flings it at Wizzro entire, the poisonous mushroom bursting on impact - but it's still natural, untouched by corruption, which she expects will be as unpleasant for him as the Malice is for her.

GS: Mariel has spent 1 Combo on Disease, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Mariel has attacked Janus Cascade with Red Goblin Toadstool!
GS: Mariel takes 10 damage from Poison!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Quin Rosenberg has posed.

So... what the hell IS that thing? Damn thing's been firing off for hours, and no word on what the hell it even IS. So like. Quin isn't really the type to go off on crusades for the greater good, but her curiosity's gotten the better of her. That in mind, in short order, Quin will head down to figure out what the hell is going on. Of course there's going to be more people there. A metric CRAPTON of people, from the looks of it!

And of course they're almost immediately set upon by... actually Quin has no freaking clue who or what it is, but it's big and ugly. Not the biggest OR ugliest, but still big and ugly. And it immediately tries to get its ugly just ALL OVER THE PLACE! Unfortunately she's not QUITE able to get out of the way of the ugly-all-over, and feels her life-force getting drawn away a bit. "Augh..." Shudder!

"Right, I was gonna just come here t' talk. But I usu'lly make it a point not t' negotiate with people that come out swingin'," she decides. That decided, she reaches for her knives. There are a lot of people here, which is good -- there probably isn't going to be a lot she can do here. She's not about to just go wading into the melee, though. She needs to prepare first. Hopefully her power will be enough to keep her alive this time.

She calls forth her meager Symbology powers -- a little bit of Shadow -- and tries to cover herself in darkness, to make her harder to see.

GS: Quin Rosenberg has attacked Quin Rosenberg with Blur!
GS: Quin Rosenberg has completed her action.
GS: Quin Rosenberg takes a solid hit from Quin Rosenberg's Blur for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Quin Rosenberg!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Quin Rosenberg!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"So just a suggestion - we go back to looking over some Wyvern eggs rather than investigating the creepy font of darkness blotting out the sky."

"Hmm." The youth finds himself squinting at sight in the desert. "Well hey - if you think that's best Ruby. Head on back." But he keeps walking forward.

"... you're not coming with me if I do though." Hiro answers immediately, "Nope. I'm not going to guilt you into staying though. The Carakin has it taken care of but... you took to the idea pretty well."

Ruby sighs, "Guess they can handle it for a little while without real dragonfire keeping them warm."

-=-=-

Hiro considers sketching the emblem on the door to show to Lucia later...

... however before he can, a blast of power snakes out of the ground, sinister coils reaching for him.

Lashing out with his shield arm, he manages to deflect one of them, but takes a blow to his hand. The shock to his system is... "Hnngh."

     ... considerable.

"You don't seem all that welcoming." He offers quietly, trying to keep himself steady against the touch of darkness he feels coursing through his system. "This Ancient Thief - that's also a Demon King right? Gwen told me about him. Sounds like an interesting guy."

Hiro as he gives Gwen a glance, "Doesn't seem like someone we should let 'return' though." Ragnell though shows up with her usual aplomb, "Now you know that Gwen knows better than to do something like that Ragnell." Though he does squint at Talia, he seems reassured by her answer.

Ruby sets down upon a pillar herself, overhead, cringing, "Don't take this guy lightly Hiro! Gwen said he mopped the floor with everyone!"

"Yep." Hiro suddenly flicks his wrist, sending a boomerang outwards into the desert winds. The boomerang breaking apart into two at the last second to try to zip into a one-two combination of strikes. "... which is why I think I'll keep my distance for a little bit."

GS: Hiro has attacked Janus Cascade with Cross Boomerang!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro takes 10 damage from Poison!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"How'd he do that?" Lydia asks of Ruby. "Did he breathe on them?"

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"How should I know!? Maybe he literally turned everyone into a mop!"

<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

                               Some Time Ago

In the sweltering, molten heart of a cavern snaking deep through the bowels of the Earth, four adventuring girls stare solemnly at a tiny blue pendant. Despite its diminuitive size, the eons of struggle associated with it and its ilk lend it a crushing sense of gravity as it lies in the gloved palm of one Maya Scrodinger.

Maya stares blankly downwards for a time at it. She wears a mask of tired calmness, atop the figurative mask of the gunslinger she so often dons, thinking of the blood that has already been shed over these little things. Of ancient kings and magic beasts, braying for the dawn of a new world very much like the old world that once was. Of Janus Cascade's ridiculous calculus, trading the world itself for a handful of gella, time after time.

"Take it," the blonde wound up thrusting the pendant upon Talia, in the end. The reasons for that were many. Be it cowardice or cunning, who can say?

                                    Now

A glint of moonlight refracts off the lens of a scope somewhere in the dunes. No, it's not a marksman's rifle, but a telescope. The Schrodinger girl has been making her own effort to track Janus's movements for a while now, but she's remarkably poor and bad at it, and has only really found any sign of him at the 11th hour. That's why she's only found a certain angry bedsheet at the base of these sand-swept ruins, and not the man himself.

Still, a chance to settle the score is the next-best thing. Maya lowers her telescope and furrows her brow cutely, if frustratedly as Drifters pour onto the scene. The memory of everyone on a boat getting their ass beat by Wizzro is fresh in her mind, and averting a similar catastrophe sounds good right now.

That's why, as spellfire and gunsmoke fill the air, a silhouette flies across the moon with a dashing leap! A long-nosed revolver levelled at Wizzro as its wielder soars! It's the perfect angle for a shot, but...

... well, you know how trying to find something lost in the bedsheets is a fool's errand? This is like that, but with a gun.

GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Catenna's Dispel for 0 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has been weakened by Disease! They take 25 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Disease! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Twin Bullet for 91 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Erzebet Lefanu's A Friendly Time with the Newly Acquainted for 102 hit points!
DC: Maya Schrodinger switches forms to Gunslinging Heroine!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has attacked Janus Cascade with Peerless Flying Swallow Moonlight Shot!!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has completed her action.
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ree's Mad Dog Rondo for 73 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Talia has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Janus Cascade completely evades Ice Lance from Talia!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Rumors had been spreading of pillars of Malicious energy erupting from the desert. Jacqueline didn't need the rumors - she had seen them for herself.

The Demon King's Malice...such a large upswelling of it could not be good. Catenna and Mariel intended to go investigate it, and so, Jacqueline was right there alongside them.

She slides to a stop in front of that sleek structure. She looks upon it, puzzled.

"...I've never heard any reports of a structure like this out here... where'd it come from...?" Jacqueline murmurs with a frown. And then, there's an upswelling of power. With a gasp Jacqueline casts her hands out. Her gauntlets crackle, bringing up a barrier. The blast of power launches her upward and back, but she manages to right herself with visible effort.

Jacqueline only knows as much about the Demon King as she's heard from her more knowledgeable friends, but she knows that she ought to try and put a stop to this.

"Who are you? What is this place?" Jacqueline asks, fixing her gaze on Wizzro. He's...bizarre, like nothing she's seen before. Is that what happens when a person is twisted by Malice? "And, more importantly..."

Jacqueline concludes her statement by hurling a bottle of lavender liquid at the dark sorcerer - a weakening solution, with which she hopes to subdue at least some of that upswelling of power.

GS: Janus Cascade critically Guards a hit from Seraph Lanval's Putting Cold Water On That for 9 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Lanval has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Janus Cascade with Sapping Solution!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Hiro's Cross Boomerang for 87 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade critically Guards a hit from Mariel's Red Goblin Toadstool for 16 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Mariel has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Janus Cascade completely evades Comedic Ammounts Of Bullets from Lydia Seren!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Sapping Solution for 16 hit points!
GS: Weaken! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Maya Schrodinger's Peerless Flying Swallow Moonlight Shot! for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

    Among the crowd gathered is a giant of a beastwoman on a giant of a horse. Ines reason for being here had less to do with being requested, and more out of concern for the terrible beacon that burst up out of the desert. The fact that it led to a shrine- and several familiar faces- was reason enough to stick around and investigate.

    The shrine means little to her, but Wizzro? That's someone she wasn't hoping to see again. "Oh hell, you!?" The geohound pulls her arms up in front of her as the wave of horrid, malice filled muck surges towards everyone, letting out a grunt of pain as it impacts. It's enough to spare her the worst of it, but it still seeps into the skin.

    Still, Ines- for the moment at least- isn't eager to close with Wizzro, remembering what happened the last time she fought with the dark wizard. Instead, she steps back once and then swings out with a leg, generating a magical wind to slice at Wizzro, and waiting to see the effect the combined firepower will have on the horrible creature.

    "Just watch out if he sends a giant damn hand at you!" She warns, as others casually wonder how Wizzro did, rather calmly, kick a small group of drifters collective asses.

GS: Ines Colina has attacked Janus Cascade with Scything Wind Kick!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Catenna isn't the only one riding hell-for-leather at the moment. A dapple-grey mare gallops across the sands, the rider atop her crouched low in the stirrups, her long leather coat blowing in the wind. "Left, girl," Ida says, shouting to be heard over the chaos erupting around her. "Left! Steady!"% Grey Lady turns left, her hooves kicking up plumes of sand. Ida springs from the saddle, tucking in mid-flight and hitting ground shoulder-first. She rolls, comes up to her knee, and shouts after Grey Lady as the mare slows and turns to her rider. "Distance! Wait, distance!"

    They've practiced that command before. Stay at a safe distance until Ida comes back.

    Ida rises, and finishes the remaining distance on foot, sizing up the situation as she runs after Gwen. The Malice has been a constant presence in her spiritual sense for the past three miles, like chemical fumes lingering in the air after a spill. More of it surges upwards, through the sand, in a way that fluid absolutely should not do. Ida springs forwards, tumbling and rolling again as the eruption consumes the sand where she once stood. Her heart lurches in her chest. "We have you covered, Gwen!" Ida shouts, to her friend. Her right hand whips around her back, and comes up holding a heavy pistol made of some dark metal. It looks... unformed, and eight indentations--sockets?--mark the barrel. One is filled with a glimmering violet stone.

    Ida levels the new ARM at Wizzro and opens fire, pulling the trigger four times before the recoil gets a bit much. Lydia might be opting for volume of fire, but Ida's using precision.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Janus Cascade with Snap Shot!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    There wasn't really a whole lot of time. A giant beacon of dark power could be due to a number of various, terrible things of an equally concerning nature. All Gwen really had to go on was a gut feeling, and a mess of rumors of the Cascade gang's activities. .... Unfortunately, Gwen couldn't think of a whole lot to say in her messages to some friends. 'Please don't shoot them, they were my friends, it's complicated', 'the world may be in danger or not, I don't know', 'help me not die', 'hey this could be bad', or just a mishmash of various statements.

    The weight of the messages is much the same, though: 'I need your help'.

    Thankfully, Janus isn't here! But many of her friends are, as well as some wonderful random do-gooders(?). Gwen laughs uneasily as she regards the door, turning to regard Ragnell, an answer on her lips.

    Then Wizzro appears into the fray like the worst shop greeter ever.

    Gwen grits her teeth as she is pushed back from the hail of magic spears. "Okay."

    She lowers her right arm, her earlier awkward cheer completely gone. A look of gratitude leveled at Ida and Hiro, she looks back towards Wizzro.

    "Okay." She rubs the back of her neck. "So. Where's the Cascade gang? I don't give a damn about any kings, I just wanna stop them from doin' somethin' stupid. Like summonin' some king because some guy told 'em it'd be real swell. Someone might wanna hurt them for that, and I can't have that either." The same right hand travels from the back of her neck to level in front of her, a single bullet delivered with an explosive flick of her hand.

    "I don't have no qualms 'bout shootin' you tho."

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Janus Cascade with Crackshot!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ines Colina's Scything Wind Kick for 52 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Snap Shot for 74 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Crackshot for 58 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
<Pose Tracker> Janus Cascade has posed.

Wizzro cackles as he feeds on the powers of the Drifters here gathered, power draining away and into the twisted wizard.

That lasts until Catenna's purifying shock rips into him, boiling away the noxious muck beneath him. His chuckles turn to squawking, and that only worsens when Mariel's pitched mushroom lands in his open gob. He stops moving for a second and then YOWLS, a wail as he flaps his arms like he'd eaten some horribly spicy pepper. "OW OW OW OW OW GOODNESS! SWEETNESS AND LIGHT!! WHY DO PEOPLE EAT THESE THINGS?!"

He may be flustered but he's not down, as he sucks in a few long breaths and then whirls about, long-fingered hands, each nearly the size of the rest of him, splaying out. A barrier ripples into being, just in time for Talia's ice to slam into it and completely shatter, and Lanval's as well, splashing against it harmlessly. "No respect for the art form!" he objects to Talia. "Some people work for their arcane mastery of the elements, young lady!"

It endures even through Lydia's barrage of bullets, shells slamming into the magical field and then clattering to the ground, flattened. "Rudeness! At least let me taunt you more!" he cackles, and then surges forward - his robes splitting apart down the middle to reveal a tremendous HAND, which lashes across the distance, and summarily lifts Lydia up and SLAMS her into the ground. On its way back it snakes out and backhands Ree, for sauce.

That attack does cost him, though, as it allows Ragnell to fire into his coat unimpeded, and Erzebet's 13 shots pierce him 13 times, his laughter and screams intermingling. Hiro strikes and sends him reeling, Jay's potion sinks into noxious bones. Ida's and Maya's shots lance in, striking robes - but do they strike body? Impossible to say.

And Gwen...he thrusts another hand up, the blast stopping just short of impact. Ines' kick meets a similar fate.

He hovers, wheezing and huffing, before surging again, that spot where his mouth should be replaced again by a single, massive eye. He surges particularly for Catenna and Mariel, thrusting his hands to both with terrible signs of darkness lingering on his fingertips. "AS FOR YOU TWO," he calls. "You'll find that there is much more left of my King than his malice!"

His hands explode in a horrible, noxious blast, cursing them to their bones. "MUCH, MUCH MORE!!!" Wizzro screams. "You really don't understand, do you! Lost, all lost! That's fine....that's excellent, in fact. My king's Malice is not here, you see!!"

"Four parts, they cut the King of Evil into," comes a call from atop the shrine. Janus Cascade, sitting on the roof and grinning. "His body, they cast into the sea. His light, taken by the Goddess into their temple far away. His Malice, awakened and rampant."

He grins, wildly. Eyes hungry. "And last...his POWER."

"Sealed away where his servants could never find it! Ka ha ha! They never did respect my DILIGENCE!" Wizzro crows, and thrusts out his hand.

"Nor my CUNNING!"

A terrible shadow looms suddenly over Maya Schrodinger. "Remember what the punch lady mentioned about hands?" he taunts, just before a hand the size of an entire carriage drops out of the sky and clutches around her. It picks her up, lifts her off into the sky, and deposits her...

Somewhere quite concrete, actually. In that it puts her down directly next to Janus Cascade. The man in the red jacket grins, leveling his bayonet at the gunslinger.

"Now. Yer pendants, kindly," he says. "Wizzro, distract the rest."

"OH BOY!!" Wizzro cackles, and then starts firing balls of darkness at everyone he can see, raking across the whole field with a spiraling, spinning blast of darkness!

A few of those bolts slow down as they draw near to Gwen and Talia, though. Figures step out of them - Janus Cascade, but paler. Washed out.

"Yer pendants, kindly," they echo.

GS: Janus Cascade has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Lydia Seren with Floor Master!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ree with Malicious Beast!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Maya Schrodinger with Summon Wallmaster!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Shadow Bolt!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Seraph Lanval with Shadow Bolt!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Gwen Whitlock with DoppelGunner!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Talia with DoppelGunner!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Catenna with Shadow Eruption !
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Mariel with Shadow Eruption !
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Shadow Spiral!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ines Colina with Shadow Spiral!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Shadow Spiral!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Hiro with Shadow Spiral!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Quin Rosenberg with Shadow Spiral!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Shadow Spiral!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has completed his action.
GS: Maya Schrodinger takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Summon Wallmaster for 125 hit points!
GS: Reaper! Statuses applied to Maya Schrodinger!
GS: Maya Schrodinger takes an additional 5 damage from Reaper!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Spiral for 126 hit points!
GS: Catenna takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Eruption  for 0 hit points!
GS: Catenna has been afflicted by a Curse!
GS: Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken! Statuses applied to Catenna!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Lydia Seren completely evades Floor Master from Janus Cascade!
GS: Mariel takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Eruption  for 0 hit points!
GS: Mariel has been afflicted by a Curse!
GS: Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken! Statuses applied to Mariel!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Spiral for 110 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Ida Everstead-Rey completely evades Shadow Spiral from Janus Cascade!
GS: Ines Colina critically Guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Spiral for 44 hit points!
GS: Ines Colina has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Quin Rosenberg has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Quin Rosenberg completely evades Shadow Spiral from Janus Cascade!
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's DoppelGunner for 60 hit points!
GS: Cover! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Hiro guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Spiral for 133 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Janus Cascade's DoppelGunner for 70 hit points!
GS: Cover! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Seraph Lanval has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seraph Lanval has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Seraph Lanval completely evades Shadow Bolt from Janus Cascade!
GS: Ree has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Ree completely evades Malicious Beast from Janus Cascade!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Bolt for 91 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

One of the problems with Maya's plans is that they seldom survive contact with the enemy. One of the other problems with Maya's contact with the enemy tends to be their goal, too. You can see why this causes problems, especially against elder abominations whose machinations are millenia old.

You can also see why she forked over that pendant. It'd be as good as lost if she was holdin' onto it right now.

Anyway, the blonde is in the middle of a flip-slash-pirouette with one arm cocked to absorb the recoil of her weapon when an inky shadow washes across her form, something horrible blotting out the moonlight. She manages nary a word to her allies, who she oestensibly wanted to help, before the fingers of a great and grasping hand close around her frail and human form. What breath might have once served for an insult escapes her in a cracked wheeze, as mortal lungs flatten tight. It's a pretty gnarly squeeze in there.

At least there's no wind to be knocked out of the gunslinger as the hand deposits her uncerimoniously upon a solid surface again, face-down. Cool stone rushes up to meet her, which makes her quick recoil to a sitting position all the more impressive...

... and the instant cessation of motion as a gun barrel nudges the side of her head all the more poignant.

"Come on," is the breathless attempt at a wry retort as Maya raises her hands in half-hearted surrender. "You really think that lot are dumb enough to fork over that pendant for a stranger's life? I thought you were smarter than that."

<Pose Tracker> Ree has posed.

Ree snarls as Wizzro backhands her with that...unnatural digit. It's enough to throw her off balance, and she stumbles and falls -- coincidentally, out of reach of his next, eldritch attack. She regains her feet, cursing, and aims her guns right at his torso, firing quickly and hoping they strike home. She then reloads, anticipating more gunfire before the assembled Drifters can take him down -- or vice versa.

GS: Ree has attacked Janus Cascade with Vicious Gut Shot!
GS: Ree has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ree has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Nobody eats those mushrooms, Mariel thinks. They're poisonous.

She doesn't actually say that because she's still trying to recover from the first surge of Malice. It's all she can do to swallow it down, and just in time for Janus to speak. He's saying things that don't agree with the stories she's been told... but all she has heard are stories. They could be wrong. "No..."

But Wizzro is still casting, and it's not like Mariel can stop him. She reaches into her bag, hands wrapping around a bundle that she pulls out, grasping it as the curse washes over her. She feels it deep in the pit of her stomach, in her bones, the slimy disgusting fetid power of it, shrouding her from view in a field of purple.

But then the purple begins to be pushed back... by pink.

Mariel is holding her gloved hands cupped around a small white flower, held high. Little wisps of pink energy flutter away from the gaps between her hands, drifting like fireflies, and when she opens her hands it's like a blizzard of little sparks of light. They swirl left and right, darting as if caught in an invisible wind. Wisps of it track over to Catenna, pushing back against the curse there, too; others spread wildly around her, forming a bubble that isn't precisely *safe*, but it's a little safer, perhaps.

They do not dispel the Malice. But they hold it back, pushing against the curse, as Mariel channels energy that feels like Filgaia's natural energy, all the forces of the ley in balance.

"No!" she says, more loudly. "Don't!" But it's all she can do to hold the energy and maintain the focus she needs to channel through her link to Filgaia; she can't actually move a single step to help anyone else.

GS: Mariel has attacked Catenna with Small Flower!
GS: Mariel has attacked Mariel with Small Flower!
GS: Mariel has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Mariel takes 9 damage from Poison!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
GS: Catenna takes a solid hit from Mariel's Small Flower for 0 hit points!
GS: Catenna gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Catenna!
GS: Mariel takes a solid hit from Mariel's Small Flower for 0 hit points!
GS: Mariel gains Restore, shortening negative statuses by 3 turns each!
GS: Lock and State! Statuses applied to Mariel!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

There is a look of relief on Talia's face, to see Lydia here; also, to see Gwen and Maya both came. The same blue pendant that Wizzro called for is gleaming about her neck, and she turns her head back to him. Her eyes narrow a little. "Cascade, are you listening to this!?" she yells. "He is telling you why he is doing this, no? You should maybe reconsider your decisions!"

She tries to step back--

--and Janus Cascade's paler clone appears, stepping out of a bolt of darkness, and she doesn't duck aside in time. The bayonet slashes up the length of her side -- and Talia hisses, before she shoves herself back -- and then throws Mirage.

The blade spins, edge-over-hilt, and slams for Wizzro. Talia vanishes away from the shadow-clone of Janus, into strands of darkness. She reappears, and then swings up Mirage in a hard slash for the red-robed creature.

"Maya!" she yells. "Get back from him!"

GS: Talia has attacked Janus Cascade with Point-Warp Slash!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

    It's Catenna's intervention that takes some of the edge off of Lanval's anxieties and worries about the Malice trying to reach out and consume him. The rest of his unsteadiness is mostly him - well, that, and seeing how Wizzro dispels some of the elemental assaults as Filgaian weapons pick up the slack.
     A blast of power reaches for him. Lanval's stagger gives way to a very decisive, sincere-looking acrobatic back-flip... that ends on his back, not too far off from where Ragnell is at present. It takes him a moment to gather himself as the fell wizard's voice booms with exposition and explanation.
     "Huh... hey... hey, Ragnell," Lanval says, sitting up, "thish one... he knowsh what we are." He has to take a moment to drink to steady himself as he parses something else he said prior to all of that noise. "What he'sh shayin'," Lanval murmurs, "...ish that the Demon King's light..."
     He doesn't finish it aloud, but it's not hard to glean the end of the sentence he's too shocked to say: a piece of the Demon King might be in the Goddess Althena's possession on Lunar. If the understanding is correct.
     "I dunno what'sh goin' on in the big picture, but... whatever it all meansh," Lanval's unsteady slurring and difficulty standing back up belies a conviction that sees him drawing closer as he holds his gourd, "it ain't good."
     He's not going to tell Ragnell 'we need to stop this.' He doesn't need to. She's his senior by a handful of centuries anyway, differences in appearances between them suggesting otherwise, as he ambles closer towards Wizzro, spins the gourd on its rope a few times as he chants up a Seraphic Arte... then takes it in both hands and tips it over, pouring a whooooooole lot of sorcerous water on him, eyes still half-lidded, having trouble working up his trademark stupid cat-like smile in the pressure of all of this.

GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Janus Cascade with Spilling Goblet!
GS: Seraph Lanval has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Lanval has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

"Giant hand?" Erzebet says, hearing that among the warnings, shouts, and affirmations of social bonds. That one's sticking with her for some reason (the reason is drugs).

Upright, Erzebet breathes out as about fourteen thousand other Drifters (her estimate) fire at Wizzro. She looks at her feet for a moment, perhaps assuming the problem is taken care of. But then he begins to speak again in more detail, even as Erzebet focuses up. He explains about hands and he talks - no, Erzebet looks upwards. Someone else explains.

"His body... his malice... his light... his power..." Erzebet mumbles, before her nose twitches and she takes a deep breath. She draws the other part of Haborym. The trigger grip locks into place. Her shoulders shiver violently and the light plays over her glasses as she stands there like a statue.

"So he was cut into four parts... and he survived..."

Erzebet crosses her guns behind her head and seems to meditate on this. She takes another deep breath...

And electricity animates her form! (Not literally, but she does stiffen up.)

"So why does a shitty king get to be immortal!? Part of him living with a goddess, his power going into the land!? A king is dog crap!! A king is just a guy whose army was big enough to shut everyone else up and who can manage the politics enough to stay on top!! The only thing a king's got is the inertia behind his big fat ass, and he gets to be immortal!? Why doesn't a factory foreman get to be immortal!? They're usually just as fat and pale from working indoors and not having to run around as much, and on a foreman's wages you can eat a lot of butter, but nobody talks about the Immortal Dissected Regal Right of the Factory Foreman?!"

Erzebet unfolds her arms, waving both of them in the air like semaphore flags. "There's never a Temple of the Librarian, even though librarians teach the children how to read and keep you from peeing in the water bubbler!! Nobody ever talks about the Doctor's Treasures but a doctor puts leeches on you when you have too much blood in you!! But a king!! A king who got chopped into pieces gets to come back from hell!! I'm angry! This is critically unfair! CASCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADE!"

Her guns twist around. "I'm taking you in!! Double Sevens, LUCKY NUMB-"

Erzebet fires her guns in a just-out-of-synch way just as a burst of darkness staggers her back. "Gah!!" she says, but the die is cast. Except that the shots seem to be flying off over everyone's head, two red bullets that accomplish nothing -

In fact one of them veers enough to smash into the other. Smash it... downwards... and the smash-er zigs off improbably to pursue the smash-ee... Perhaps this red hot passionate fire has wisdom behind it.

Questionable, but possible. The target is every Janus Cascade Erzebet can see. As she tries to recover herself, she wails, "Three of you! TRIPLE BONUS, RIGHT??"

GS: Erzebet Lefanu has activated a Force Action!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Janus Cascade with Complaining Punctuated by Gunfire!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Quin Rosenberg has posed.

Fortunately her application of shadow seems to have helped, as the wizard seems to miss her completely with the shadow magic he starts spewing out copious quantities of the stuff. But while he's distracted with that, it means the darkened Quin can try to move around to a better position to strike from.

Of course there's a reason for trying to jockey for a better position. Because she's a melee fighter, and that means she needs to be in arms' reach to try to attack. And so once she can get where she thinks she might have a decent chance to attack from... pauses to measure the distance... and lets fly. She very briefly leaps into a whirling slash attack, her arms outstretched and her knives held tightly as she spins.

GS: Quin Rosenberg has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    The Demon King's Malice. Right, Ragnell remembers this now. It's been a while since she went through the tainted Serpent's Coils, but the insides were uhhhhhh unforgettable? Yeah. Something like that. Of course, she would've come regardless; Malice being an unfamiliar threat, she was always going to stick her nose in it to find out more. Knowledge is power! *===
    
    "Hey, Lanv, s'been a while. Nice seein' ya," Ragnell drawls to the Water Seraph. Her demeanor sobers as Lanval voices certain observations, though. "...Yeah. Sure seems like it." And the light... whatever 'light' refers to... could well be on Lunar. "If that's so, that'd explain somethin'..." she muses. "An' bring up a whole lotta other questions. So I guess it's good we both showed up, eh?"
    
    To Hiro, she smirks. "Ah, well, y'never know, Hiro. Sometimes you think a know a gal an' it turns out she's been workin' for the enemy all along, right?"
    
    Talia denies any monarchy-reinstating. "Pretty sure it's not nothin', Tali, but--" Ragnell breaks out laughing. "It *is* a fun hobby, i'n't it?" She grins lasciviously and winks at the former assassin. "Sounds like a certain someone's rubbin' off on you--in more ways than one~ o/`"
    
    Gwen almost gives Ragnell an answer. Ragnell raises an eyebrow at her. Unfortunately, that answer never comes. That's fine, though, since the questions were facetious anyway. Instead, she listens to Gwen's question to Wizzro and Wizzro's subsequent response. She doesn't care about the Cascade gang, but she'd had a feeling about Janus...
    
    Who turns out to be here, with Wizzro, apparently working with him, to get those pendants and--based on what he says--seek out the King's POWER. Wizzro meanwhile hurls out bolts of sizzling power, and while impact with one, however glancing as Ragnell jump-rolls to one side, might be *super* painful, Ragnell still manages enough guff to roll her eyes as she clutches her side. But... hm. She gives him a lingering look as he punks Maya and threatens Gwen and Talia with pasty clones of himself, then nods slightly to herself--and focuses on Wizzro.
    
    "Yeah? Obviously? Only been a little involved in this nonsense, so 'course I don't understand," she replies, before rising to her feet and curling an arm around herself. A Seraphic glyph forms at her feet, sending up motes of golden light. "If'n you're feelin' like layin' it out, though, feel free!" She points a hand at Wizzro, and declares, "Pierce through! Shock Lancer!!"
    
    Ironically, this for-serious chant is more concise than Talia's sassy chant for her Freeze Lancer. Talia, you should be ashamed of yourself. You won't be, but you should.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Janus Cascade with Shock Lancer!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

Even as Catenna lets the spell go, she can hear what Mariel is saying. It resonates. She knows of the legend of the Demon King.

"His hatred has already inflicted too much upon Filgaia," Catenna says with a scowl.

Ines calls out a warning; the Moon Shaman nods emphatically and begins to move - and to watch. Her spell, at least, seemed to have an effect.

So does Wizzro's. Signs of darkness dance in the air, and darkness surges into being. The malevolent light roils around Catenna, and she throws her arms up in a cross as if to try and ward off an evil too powerful to be staved off by such a small gesture.

Clenching her teeth, Catenna steels herself as best she can even as she feels her soul practically curl in on itself, some inner part of her threatening to quail and hide away. "Mariel," she calls in a voice that sounds hollow in her own ears, shifting over to try and move closer to the little Elw in some vain attempt to provide her cover. Saarda-Shanta joins the two soon enough, landing on Catenna's shoulder and hiding behind one of her wings.

Until a single, small flower is brought forth.

The soft light Mariel calls forth whisps about Catenna and Saarda-Shanta. The Malice is still there - but Catenna breathes a little easier. The curled soul within her swells with a spark of hope again. "Thank you," she whispers to the Elw.

And then Mariel calls out, as phantoms of Janus Cascade assert themselves across the field. She's not the only one to do so. <No! Don't!> Saarda-Shanta shouts in a voice heard in the mind but not in the ears, like a ringing bell of alarm.

Shadow flame flies, and the phantoms grasp Maya and glom in on two more women. Gwen and her friend, she realizes - Catenna barely knows Talia. But she reacts reflexively anyway; Mariel may be fixed to the spot, but Catenna can move just fine.

*TWANG* goes a bowstring as Catenna begins to fire arrows as fast as she can. The arrow tips are normal metal but glitter with subtle light as she fires off arrows toward every Janus she can see, joining Erzebet in trying to keep the phantoms away from Gwen, Talia and perhaps even Maya, if she can shoot that far.

"You have one hurdle left to cross," Catenna growls as she notches another arrow amid the storm, loosing it at Wizzro. "We have already slain one malicious god and I will not quietly accede to your trying to restore your Demon King after all that!"

GS: Catenna has attacked Janus Cascade with Moonlight Archery!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
GS: Quin Rosenberg has attacked Janus Cascade with Slashy!
GS: Quin Rosenberg has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"I'm super rude!" Lydia says as she leaps up, flipping over the giant hand, body twisting upside down as she takes stock of hte battlefield underneath her. Despite Lydia tending to loathe violence in digs, she seems to be capable enough out in the open but as she's about to bring that chaingun around to bear on Wizzro once more, she notices Janus taking Maya hostage.

Her pupils shrink as she narrows her eyes. Erzebet complains about the very nature of the monarchy and Lydia frankly disagrees, especially evil kings with people like Wizzro as a follower. Now Lydia doesn't know Wizzro too well, but Wizzro's teeth are even more awful than when Lydia had a literal asteroid for a head so that's not really endearing her.

But Lydia isn't thinking about any of that. She only thinks: JANUS. THREATENING. MAYA.

Now, in Lydia's list of favorite people, Maya is frankly tied topping that list with people like Ginny and her actual adoptive parents

Lydia howls in rage though on this kind of battlefield it might not really be noticed. She channels the power of Rigdobrite and summons a path of shimmering light before her and skates rapidly towards Janus. Is he distracted enough by the pendants? Maybe not but that doesn't mean Lydia isn't going to try to rear back with a fist and punch--

--oh no, no, it's not punching. A blade rips out of her arm in a spray of silver glowing brightly with light-enhanched shaman magic as she swings it for the Janus clone in a show of complete but typical recklessness that is not uncommon for Lydia at all.

"Don't you touch her!!"

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Janus Cascade with Speed of Light!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida dashes forwards as Gwen and Ines move in closer--if they're in Wizzro's face, he's probably going to have to deal with them, right?

    Then the hand emerges, and things go a little pear-shaped. Ida's eyes widen; she remembers what that thing did to Ines, and reflexively takes aim. A thunderous crack splits the air as Ida pulls the trigger of her as-of-yet-unnamed ARM. A bullet races past the Floor Master, missing it by inches. "Don't let it grab you!" The sand beneath her feet gives way to ancient, weathered stone. Ida leaps to the right, throws herself behind the half-intact stump of a limestone pillar. Those hands, she thinks. Those could be a real problem. Ida glances across the battlefield, only to catch sight of one as it falls down at Maya.

    "Maya!" Ida shouts. It's too late. By the time Ida catches sight of Maya again, Janus Cascade has a gun to her head. Ida's blood runs cold. She doesn't know the gunslinger that well, but this is one of the worst places anyone could be in.

    Ida holsters one ARM and draws another. Devil's Due gleams in the light as Ida steps out from behind her hiding-place, takes aim at Wizzro, and snaps off yet another shot. The bullet flies headlong at Wizzro, glowing with chi, gunsmoke powder boiling off it like a comet's tail. The smoke thickens into a cloud, blown by unseen winds into a barrier around Ida. Looking through it is like trying to look through the smoke from a burning building.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Janus Cascade with Ebon Devil Cloud!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline's bottle connects, but she can't really tell if it had the desired effect. And even so, it does nothing to dampen the sorcerer's spirits.

"What do you...?" Jacqueline starts, as Wizzro says that there's more of the Demon King left than his Malice. And then, there's a voice.

"Janus Cascade!?" Jacqueline says in surprise, looking up. The Demon King - the King of Evil - was cut into four parts...? She frowns.

Sealed away.

"...So if you're going through all this trouble, I imagine you already have those parts - or know how to find them." Jacqueline reasons. But before she can get an answer, they attack. She thrusts her hands out, a barrier forming around her as Wizzro begins firing a multitude of dark energy. She winces as they collide, flying off into the sand around her. It puts a strain on her...and eventually the barrage breaks through, colliding with her and sending her crashing to the sand.

With a wince she forces herself to her feet, looking toward Catenna and Mariel.

"Are you two alright?" She asks. They look fine, thanks to Mariel's sorcery, and she nods toward Catenna before looking back toward Wizzro.

"We're not going to just sit quietly by." She says. She makes a quick gesture with her right hand. A spear of light forms in the air in front of her, which she then sends flying straight towards Wizzro.

Jacqueline can tell the situation is getting worse elsewhere...but right now, she can't afford to take her eyes off the enemy in front of her, either.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Janus Cascade with Profit Through Preparation!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


There's something about the way Gwen's acting which is unnerving to Hiro. Ruby too, who's eyeing her for a little extra long. Yet he simply figures this whole debacle has put Gwen on edge. A lot having to do with Janus Cascade does. Ragnell though snarks at him, and Hiro tries to smile at what he regards as a jest, "Nice joke! No way that could ever be true with Gwen though!"

However, he's finding that Wizzro is forcing his attention off of her, because he's seemingly everywhere. Cursing, blocking...

Oh, and sending a spiralling blast of darkness his way.

The wind whips up, as the youth tries to parry the darkness on the flat of his blade. This turns out to be rather unwise, because while it blunts the impact, it sends him sprawling, just in time for his boomerangs to return. One-two, they embed themselves into the sand. His sword - which was disarmed by the blast follows a moment later.

Groaning, he looks up just in time to see the hand grab Maya. "Maya!" He croaks in alarm, as Janus points the ARM at her. "What the heck - Maya you said you were on good terms with him again! Gosh darnit! Janus stop frontstabbing everyone!"

He knows what he would do in this scenario, but he's not certain between Gwen and Talia what they're going to do. This hostage situation is a big mess and... Talia...

"Gwen what's your play here?"

He asks, as he plucks his sword out of the ground... and charges Wizzro, given that the fiend is a distraction that just can't be ignored.

"So what you're telling us then is that if we beat you..."

He says, as he lauches himself into the air with a simple cantrip.

"...there'll be noone diligent or cunning enough left to bring this guy back?"

And descends with a two handed slash that he tries to drive straight through the dark Magician's spooky robes.

GS: Hiro has attacked Janus Cascade with Poe Sword!
GS: Hiro takes 5 damage from Poison!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida dashes forwards as Gwen and Ines move in closer--if they're in Wizzro's face, he's probably going to have to deal with them, right?

    Then the hand emerges, and things go a little pear-shaped. Ida's eyes widen; she remembers what that thing did to Ines, and reflexively takes aim. A thunderous crack splits the air as Ida pulls the trigger of her as-of-yet-unnamed ARM. A bullet races past the Floor Master, missing it by inches. "Don't let it grab you!" The sand beneath her feet gives way to ancient, weathered stone. Ida leaps to the right, throws herself behind the half-intact stump of a limestone pillar. Those hands, she thinks. Those could be a real problem. Ida glances across the battlefield, only to catch sight of one as it falls down at Maya.

    "Maya!" Ida shouts. It's too late. By the time Ida catches sight of Maya again, Janus Cascade has a gun to her head. Ida's blood runs cold. She doesn't know the gunslinger that well, but this is one of the worst places anyone could be in.

    Wizzro gives Ida something else to worry about. Eldritch power surges up around him, and Ida's face pales. She whips around, pulling herself behind the pillar and huddling there, making herself as small of a target as she can manage. Blasts of shadow magic slam into the stone, coming close enough that Ida can feel the chill. Bits of stone rain down on her. The pillar groans, uneasily.

    Time to move.

    Ida holsters one ARM and draws another. Devil's Due gleams in the light as Ida steps out from behind her hiding-place, takes aim at Wizzro, and snaps off yet another shot. The bullet flies headlong at Wizzro, glowing with chi, gunsmoke powder boiling off it like a comet's tail. The smoke thickens into a cloud, blown by unseen winds into a barrier around Ida. Looking through it is like trying to look through the smoke from a burning building.

<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

    There's a tsk from Ines as Wizzro starts talking. On the upside, at least while he's talking, he's hitting people somewhat less. But Janus' introduction catches her eye. That's both of them, then. Great. She just listens at the combined ranting of Janus and his terrible dark wizard friend. Other people can rudely cut them off, Ines is more focused on getting into position.

    "P-punch lady?" The title catches Ines off guard, but sees too late the wallmaster heading for Maya. So much for the warning. And then the barrage of darkness comes, and again Ines plants her her feet and braces herself, the shadowy magic crashing against her arms. This time she's better prepared than the last. But now Janus has a hostage, and the scenario has changed. "Damnit..." She's too close range a fighter to be able to do anything there, and Wizzro's still causing trouble. Fine, time to tackle the problem she can help with.

    Somewhat literally, as Ines charges at Wizzro, an outstretched arm aiming to hit the horrid thing in centre of mass. At the same time, she's trying to make sure she isn't blocking shots, which is a lot easier said than done. Thankfully, most of the drifters here are good shots.

GS: Ines Colina has attacked Janus Cascade with Hills Hoist!
GS: Ines Colina has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Gwen asked where the Cascade gang was, and speak of the devil, there's Janus!

    .... And he's gotten a lot worse. The hunger in his eyes, displayed so openly.

    Something subtle shifts in Gwen's expression as the hit registers, a sort of mute melancholy that only gets worse as she spots Maya being delivered into Janus's version of hospitality. But how could she expect anything different? She should've left the damn pendant at home, for all the good it did to have it actually on her.

    'Gwen what's your play here?' Hiro's words manage to get through to Gwen then, a thread bringing her back from despair. But only barely.

    .... And even if she did give it over, it wouldn't guarantee Maya's safety. Janus's mercurial nature has only been enhanced by the past events.

    She looks over towards Talia, to see what her actions are. And past her, she sees an angry Lydia, intent on saving Maya.

    '...there'll be noone diligent or cunning enough left to bring this guy back?'

    Gwen finally laughs.

    She's not alone. She's no longer alone in this. Everyone here, friend and stranger alike, could ensure that some hope can remain in such a bleak situation.

    Her right hand goes to her chest, clutching the fabric where the pendant lay. She grins.

    "I dunno, Janus. How 'bout you come over n' take it from me instead~" A blast of electric energy explodes out from Gwen's right hand around her, radiating outward. "Or are you too chicken t'do it yourself?!"

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Janus Cascade with St. Elmo's Fire!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ree's Vicious Gut Shot for 74 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's St. Elmo's Fire for 98 hit points!
GS: Jam! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Seraph Lanval's Spilling Goblet for 80 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Erzebet Lefanu's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade guards a hit from Erzebet Lefanu's Falling into an Ambush with a Sexy Lure for 161 hit
points!
GS: Poison and Toxin! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Hyper, Quick, and Shield! Statuses applied to Erzebet Lefanu!
GS: Janus Cascade critically Guards a hit from Quin Rosenberg's Slashy for 14 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Quin Rosenberg has lost 1 Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Shock Lancer for 94 hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Seraph Ragnell!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Speed of Light for 98 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Catenna's Moonlight Archery for 63 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ines Colina's Hills Hoist for 71 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Hiro's Poe Sword for 84 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade critically Guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Profit Through Preparation for 28 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade critically Guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Ebon Devil Cloud for 23 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has lost 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Janus Cascade has posed.

"Ah, nah," Janus says, all grins and banter. "That's where ya got it wrong," he says, head tilting to Talia. "Wiz and I got an understanding. He'll show me the way. Give me my shot. Maybe I win it all. Maybe I die."

His lips turn up even higher, a nearly rictus smile. "I'd rather go out tryin', ya see. That's the nature of Power, don't you get it? It lingers...waits for us."

And then his head tilts toward Maya, and he snorts a mean laugh. "I admit, I was hopin' your dear darlin' demoness would be about for me to kill. But ya ain't strangers, are ya? You've traveled. Worked together. Besides..." His eyes slide toward Gwen. Quieter. Just for Maya: "I do think they're that stupid, actually."

Ree comes at Wizzro and the blast cuts through the wizard's barriers, just before Wizzro raises a hand and blasts back at her with a bolt of shadow. "That magic..." Wizzro seethes, eyeing Mariel. He raises a hand, power sparking between his fingers. He fires her way, a bolt of shadow blasting toward her.

Lanval saunters up, and Wizzro half-turns, about to say something, before he gets doused by the Seraphic Arte and carried away. While Wizzro is blubbering, Erzebet's assault on the Janus clones slams into each. One scatters apart in the moment, but the other stumbles away from where Talia used to be, raising up its gun to fire. The third shot from Erzebet, on Janus himself, encounters a bullet. BANG!! The thunderous report of a single massive revolver: Dario Nicolodi's personal ARM, preciselyl aimed. The rotund man stomps onto the field, grinning. Janus glances at him and says nothing.

Quin breaks in on Wizzro while the poor wizard is deluged, slicing at him - unfortunately that gives him something to latch on to, gripping her, YANKING her as he flips up. It's difficult to say with confidence that physics has much of anything to do with what just happened, but the result is Quin finds herself tasting dirt, and Wizzro is RIDING HIGH.

"Oh MADAM I ASSURE you," Wizzro cackles, as Ragnell's lightning blasts into him - caught between his hands, sparking in a magic vortex...then dissipating up along his arms, the Wizard shuddering as the power courses through him. "Ieeeyayayiaiai WOW that STINGS!" He cackles again. "Where was I! Oh right!"

Whatever he was about to say is interrupted by the camera choosing this moment to focus on Lydia taking aim at Janus - and instead getting caught by the remaining Janus clone, an arrow in its back from Catenna's assault, lunging into her path and attempting to RUN HER THROUGH to stop her momentum. It gets decapitated for its trouble, smoke instead of blood leaking from its stump of a neck before the doppelganger scatters.

"You'll find I don't care how loudly you give up!" Wizzro declares, as Catenna's arrow lands in his skull. ...it doesn't seem to bother him much, actually, though he bobbles weirdly afterward. "So long as at the end you KNEEL to SOMEBODY! KYAHAHAHA!"

"He long since gave up, ya see," Janus says - mostly to Maya, mostly to GLOAT, but he says it for the field just he same. "His king's gone...so any fool who can hold it will do." He chuckles. "So sure, I'll be a man's huckleberry, for a shot like that."

Others coming in - Hiro, Ines, slashing at Wizzro and punching both. The hits TAKE but it's like punching a mannequin - like his body's INTEGRITY doesn't really mean much for his VITALITY. He grins at them both just as Jay blasts him square in the chest. That one makes him howl, as does Devil's Due landing a shot that SHOULD blow his head right off his shoulders, or destroy his robes, or SOMETHING.

Yet he endures. A wizard of Malice, powerful and ancient and pure. One that Talia lunges at - not even lunges, simply APPEARS with the capability to attack. She slashes down, hard - slices the robes in a way that should cut him clear in twain - sends him flying backwards...

Which is when she will notice the glimmer around his finger. Wizzro slams into the door, but in his talons, he holds aloft the blue pendant, and his face turns to that grinning mouth. "Should call me sticky fingers!" he cackles, and slams the pendant into its slot.

And while Gwen feels for her pendant...she finds a hand.

Romero looks up at her with bug eyes. "Uh," he says, lightly. "...'tsup."

"KWAAAAAAAAAAAAA" he yelps as the electric blast flings him away - but he rips the pendant free even through the damage, FLINGS it down, and Dario catches it mid-air, slotting it in place too.

Janus smiles. "But I don't bet on stupidity, either," Janus says to Maya, casually, and then tosses Dario the third pendant to slot in.

The doors light up. A song, distantly, echoes int he heart, as the stones grind open. Within the shrine is a long, empty shaft, and out of that shaft emerges only one thing as the doors open:

Darkness. Blooming, blasting. Deeper than the night sky above, crackling gold and black, the darkness rushes out like a tide, as Janus Cascade steps into the heart of the surge.

"Your change, boy!" Wizzro cackles. "Your one opportunity to claim it! If that form of yours is not DESTROYED by the attempt!"

Janus stares into the churning abyss blasting out of the shrine, giving no regard at all for anything else.

GS: Janus Cascade critically Guards a hit from Talia's Point-Warp Slash for 21 hit points!
GS: Riposte! Statuses applied to Talia!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Talia has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ree with Shadow Bolt!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Mariel with Shadow Bolt!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ines Colina with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Hiro with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Lydia Seren with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Catenna with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Quin Rosenberg with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Seraph Lanval with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Talia with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Maya Schrodinger with Shadow Onslaught!
GS: Janus Cascade takes 6 damage from Poison!
GS: Janus Cascade takes 8 damage from Toxin!
GS: Janus Cascade has completed his action.
GS: Hiro critically Guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 63 hit points!
GS: Hiro enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Catenna completely evades Shadow Onslaught from Janus Cascade!
GS: Talia takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 176 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber critically Guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 60 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Quin Rosenberg takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 153 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Lydia Seren completely evades Shadow Onslaught from Janus Cascade!
GS: Mariel takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Bolt for 178 hit points!
GS: Ree has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Ree completely evades Shadow Bolt from Janus Cascade!
GS: Seraph Lanval takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 152 hit points!
GS: Ines Colina guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 113 hit points!
GS: Ines Colina enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Maya Schrodinger takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 148 hit points!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 136 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 119 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 175 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Shadow Onslaught for 162 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ree has posed.

Ree nimbly ducks out of the way of Wizzro's shadowy assault. You don't survive long in the Badlands without being able to duck. She glances in alarm at the darkness pouring forth from the now-open shrine. No telling what kind of magic it was, or what it could do, but she was sure it was Nothing Good. Was the pale-haired young man really fool enough to expose himself to it? No time to wait to see what happens. She fires at Wizzro again. What will it take to bring the wizard down?!?!

GS: Ree has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"A-A certain--" Talia blinks, then she reddens a little. At both the double entendre from Ragnell, but also the fact that most people don't know her girlfriend is a phantom thief. She laughs a little, though.

The humor isn't long-lived.

She narrows her eyes at Janus. There isn't much time to say anything. She stumbles back, eyes wide on the pendant held aloft -- and the torn black cord around her neck drifts away, falling to the floor. Talia stumbles back from Wizzrobe, and she stares at the door beyond. She forces herself back to her feet, the grinding of stone revealing darkness -- darkness that rushes out, and around Janus.

"CASCADE!" she yells. "This is a piss poor shot, no?" she snaps angrily, buffeted by a blast of darkness. Her hair is blown backward. Talia hefts her sword up. She glances at Wizzrobe. First thing's first, she tells herself.

She throws a hand out -- and then clenches it. Ice spikes shoot up, all around Wizzrobe -- and then more ice spikes shoot out afterward, trying to spear into his robes and lock the wizard in place for a moment.

GS: Talia has attacked Janus Cascade with Death's Grasp!
GS: Talia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
GS: Ree has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Ree has attacked Janus Cascade with Hired Gun!
GS: Ree has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel is, unfortunately for her, an easy target for blasting. Her flower may be enough to help her against curse of the Malice, but it does absolutely zip for shadow beams.

The blast hits her and bowls her over, sending her literally head over heels to tumble back about five yards. She lands in a heap, and for a moment she doesn't move at all.

But the dizziness clears, even if the pain does not. Mariel rights herself, rolling to hands and knees and raising her head. She's lost her headgear somewhere along the way, and one of her ears is flopped the wrong way, half-over her own head; she shakes her head to get everything back into place.

This was not in the stories. But Mariel starts to feel a pressure around her heart. The impending Malice, perhaps, or just her own dread as the doors light up and darkness radiates forth.

"No!" she calls, again. "If that is anything from the Demon King, then - then - do you know what you're doing?!" Mariel raises her voice as she so rarely does. She did speaking to Siegfried, certainly. Apparently Janus deserves it, or Wizzro does. Maybe both.

Mariel reaches for her bag, which requires her to crawl - she dropped it in her tumble. She grabs the first identifiable item out of it; this turns out to be a greenish fruit. She holds it in her hands, channeling just the echo of the power she raised previously before flinging it toward Catenna and Saarda-Shanta, the whole thing limned with pink. Even just touching it is energizing.

"Help!" she calls, having merely thrown it to the person she recognized who was the closest.

GS: Mariel has spent 1 Combo on Inspire, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Mariel has attacked Catenna with Baobab Fruit!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
GS: Catenna takes a solid hit from Mariel's Baobab Fruit for 0 hit points!
GS: Catenna gains a Combo from Inspire!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

    Lanval commits to pouring more and more of that water against Wizzro as they wash away. It takes his everything to keep the strength to push about such an ancient, powerful creature of pure Malice. Even in a moment of 'success' it feels like he's being toyed with by the cackling Wizzro, and before long even as they wash away he has to stagger back for his own safety, to disengage the flow of water in case Malice decides to go try and consume his very element.
     It gives him a moment of space to see to the drama building around the structure - the doors lighting up. Lanval is filled with (further) dread.
     Ragnell did bring up about how many questions they're all going to have about what's been truly going on. He has to stew quietly, even his trademark incessant laughter and giggling halted as he sees Janus wholeheartedly face the culmination of his ambitions.
     It's only briefly, because then there's all-consuming darkness that sees Lanval throw himself down into the sand like he could try and cower. Even when it all passes overhead - a technical 'miss' in a broad sense - the inky being of the darkness stings into one's resolve and person just by being, so oppressive and crushing that Lanval can hardly find it in him to crawl back up, or crawl much further.
     He tries, anyway. He has to. Filgaia's dying, and that's his home now. Like a body of water, he flows downhill. That Wizzro is somewhere in the path is incidental.
     "We gotta shtop 'em...!" Lanval says the obvious. Can they, with all the darkness bearing down on them? Lanval takes the rope of his gourd and gives it a good swing to whirl it about, have it gain momentum. He manages to rise back up, but the approach is torturous and difficult for the spirit. Especially when you are a spirit.
     Still, as he draws in close, he whirls the gourd at rapid speed, water spilling everywhere from the gourd as the whirling object is brought to bear against Wizzro's form in rapid battering.
     "'m not lettin'... not lettin' a Demon King..." Lanval doesn't have it in him to finish, because it's taking his will to just maintain an attack through all of the residual darkness.

GS: Seraph Lanval has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Janus Cascade with Water Wheel!
GS: Seraph Lanval has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Lanval has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Maya Schrodinger has posed.

Talia's advice falls on deaf ears - or, perhaps, unwilling ones? Maya lives enough of her life by the barrel of a gun to know there's no outrunning bullets. Not as a mere human, anyway. Metal Demons and Seraphs are exempt from this judgement. "Sorry," she calls, "But I'm not in much of a position to do anything, you know? Checkmated good and square."

Ida's concern is touching, but--well, as Maya adds with both hands still dilligently raised by the sides of her head, "Look, they're making a lot of noise, but I'm still banking on them not handing over their damn pendants." there's a pause, and her gaze flits across to where Hiro and Ruby are also yelling in angry disbelief. Maya forgot to inform them that Janus Cascade's true form is, and always will be, treachery. "Pretty sure, anyway."

The blonde's eyes narrow in mild, conversational disgust as Janus also admits that, yes, he thinks the assembled Drifters are actually that dumb. Cynical as she may seem sometimes, she doesn't readily agree. "C'mon, they've got to know there's more at stake." a beat. "Surely." but the evidence seems stacked against her, at this point, and she hangs her head with a beleaguered sigh.

Additionally: the leader of the Cascade gang gloats of his victory. Of his impending ascension to replace the King of Ould, as it were. "Seems a real risk to me," she muses as her gaze follows the blue pendant slipping from where it had been supposedly safe. Damn it all. "Storybook demons and twisted old kings have a really bad habit of getting cut down by plucky heroes, you know. Gonna be hard to cash it all in if some handsome little guy takes it to you."

Alas, their time to chat is cut short. Light streams from the opened temple, and a great shaking of the ground unsteadies things. More importantly, Lydia's rage needs quelling. "Lydie!" yells Maya, as the most adorable adopted daughter brutally lays waste to a simalcrum of the man who was just holding a gun to her head. "Get away from here before we're all dead!"

On one hand, Janus and his crew absconding to the temple as per Wizzro's wishes gives the gunslinger time to make good for her errors thus far. A revolver appears in her outstretched fingertips, as if called to shape from the air itself. Unfortunately, a tidal wave of fel blackness surges from the temple's doorway and carries Maya into an unfortunately-placed pillar, which cracks in half from the impact. Who put it there, anyway? Rude.

<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

Catenna's intent here is colder than it usually is. The threat to Filgaia is existential. Preventing Wizzro and Janus from getting the Pendants is new priority one. It's more important even than a hostage with a gun to her head.

The fact that Wizzro doesn't die after taking an arrow to the face does somewhat put a damper on things, unfortunately. But at least things are becoming more clear. "That kind of power will bring you to ruin in the end," she calls out, more to Janus than to Wizzro, though there's a part of her that's sure it won't matter.

And it does not. The pendants are taken. On Catenna's shoulder, Saarda-Shanta widens her eyes. <This is-->

The gate is opened - and that darkness surges forth like a polar front. The shadows crackle gold and black, and they surge forth as if to consume the Shaman of Celesdue and her Totem Owlet. With a gasp, Catenna drops back to try and shelter Mariel as best she can - but there's too much darkness. It swallows her up, too, roiling around her like an avalanche suffused with the malice and power of something that should not exist.

Its locus is on the last man on the planet Catenna would want to awaken the power of The Demon King.

"Another wound in the body of the world," Catenna whispers in a small voice before the darkness takes her.

She can hear a voice calling out in the darknes. "Mariel!" Catenna calls out - and Saarda-Shanta suddenly springs through the shadows and opens her beak as wide as she can, swallowing the entire fruit whole.

<Hold on tight,> the Owlet urges with uncharacteristic intent as she flutters towards Mariel, Catenna not far behind her. The little bird shimmers, a soft glow expanding to engulf Mariel and Catenna alike.

And from that shadowy morass, a spark of light shines.

Hurtling up from the darkness comes a speeding shape of resplendent snowy white. It unfurls itself into an immense snowy owl, metres upon metres in wingspan, its body even larger than that of a horse. Saarda-Shanta's wings flare as the tiny Owlet swells into her full-grown manifestation. Catenna's astride the owl's back, one arm around Mariel's shoulders as if she'd scooped her aboard the bird.

"Are you alright?" she asks the little Elw quietly.

Saarda-Shanta ascends with determination. Carrying Catenna and Mariel upon her back, the Great Owl of Celesdue crests towards the open sky, shimmering blue-white butterflies dancing through the air around her and spilling from her primary feathers with each wingbeat.

Those butterflies float towards the spark of serene light that has manifested above the desert. The Guardian of the Moon herself sits atop her gilded crescent, immense translucent butterfly wings flitting open behind her. She draws one hand into the open air, and with a ripple, a great longbow of gold manifests in her grip, a shimmering bolt of silver-blue in her hand.

<Then do with this power as you must,> the presence of Celesdue speaks, and it comes from both the manifest Guardian and from Saarda-Shanta in a shared voice - and she lets the arrow fly towards the soaring Owl.

The arrow streaks across the sky like a comet, swelling into a nimbus of light that engulfs Saarda-Shanta, Catenna and Mariel alike. The power radiates across them, rapidly shimmering into Catenna's hand as she draws her bow.

"The Demon King has already taken too much from us," she says as she draws the arrow even as Celesdue closes her wings and begins to fade from view. "But this Owl is the evidence of the truth."

"Filgaia finds a way," she says, before unleashing the arrow she has been given - a radiant bolt of pale moonlight, less physical than it is magical. The arrow of moonlight soars downwards - and it sails towards Janus Cascade. It brings with it not physical wounding, but an immense contortion of gravity - a surge of weightlessness, of confusion and chaos.

If I can just get the arrow through-- Catenna prays. Please, let it strike true...!

DC: Catenna switches forms to Great Owl Saarda-Shanta!
GS: Catenna has spent 4 Combo on Disease and Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Catenna has attacked Janus Cascade with Material - Indomitable Empress!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
GS: Maya Schrodinger has attacked Janus Cascade with Gunslinger Projection - Error.Spirit.Array.Out.Of.Bounds!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Maya Schrodinger has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"That's your gamble??" Lydia shouts in frustration. "What are you going to do with this kind of power? Do you even have any ambition besides power for power's sake!?" But the truth is many of Lydia's friends seem to be squared firmly against this Janus character and unlike some of her pals, she's never had the enjoyable experience of getting along with Janus.

Hell, she's worked with him before, but she remembers how he looked at her when she lost control.

She doesn't give much a second glance towards the Janus she decapitated. Truth told, she doesn't exactly see it as its own unique living being and just assumes it's a mindless construct of some kind. If it WAS a living creature and she knew it? She'd probably be freaking out way more than she is right now.

Wizzro literally spells out (haha, spells) that this is Janus's one chance. And for whatever reason, Janus is paying attention to nothing else and is just staring at the darkness.

Shadow lashes out at Lydia but Lydia's power is literally the opposite and it finds itself being pushed away from Lydia's glowing light, a white aura that expands outward before completely subsuming her form and obscuring it.

Filgaia is going to be in danger again, she thinks.

She will never get to save her people. It will be later, later, later, later. She can't wait anymore.

"I can't leave you!" Lydia shouts at Maya. "I can't let him use you to gain ultimate stupid power! I can't let him do that to you!" Each word is enchanted with her love from one of her dearest friends/coolest person she knows. "Filgaia just got saved again I can't...!"

She can hear Mariel shouting. "Don't worry, Mari." She murmurs, forcing herself at least visibly calm though the rage inside of her is still pulsing strongly.. "I've got this."

And with that she blasts off towards Janus, wearing back with one fist--her speed rapidly increasing with every moment.

And she swings back her fist as if to punch Janus's head off--

--but it's actually a feint, as Lydia's other hand aims for his back, wholly intent on unleashing a full dose of blindening light into his back. It probably won't be pleasant for anyone caught by that.

You can tell it's serious because the whole summon FMV was autoskipped to move straight to the violence.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Things unravel with frightening speed. Not for the first time, Ida wonders who is playing who in this partnership--she can't hear what Janus is saying, but it's clear to her that Wizzro vastly outstrips him. She can't see through the cloud of smoke, but she can feel the life-force moving around beyond it. Wizzro reeks of the Malice, and whatever's animating him feels like a negative-space to Ida's chi sense. He ducks in close to Talia, and then darts away, cackling. Ida doesn't need to see to know he's taken one of the pendants.

    "Open that door," Ida growls, "and I will kill you." Fear seeps into her voice. She's making that threat because she's realized there's nothing she can do to stop it.

    The door opens. Darkness boils out, washing over Ida like a thick, choking, corrosive haze. The cloud of smoke around her thins, beginning to dissipate as the raw power of what Janus unleashed overwhelms the chi holding it in place. It slams into Ida like a physical blow; she staggers back a step, the wind knocked from her, the metal inner layer of her coat straining to protect her. Metallic flesh flows out of her sleeve and up her arm, hardening into form-fitting armor. Her fingers tighten around her ARM.

    Ida lets out a hiss of breath, and a spark of chi flows from her lips, into the chamber of the gun. Ida pulls the trigger, and the Dragon Filament within roars to fiery life. A torrent of white-hot flame pours from the weapon's barrel, taking vague shape as it races towards Janus' back--a long, serpentine body, fangs, burning eyes. The dragon-apparition blackens the ground it passes over, melts sand to glass. It casts Catenna and her familiar into sharp, stark relief.

    Ida hopes it's enough, even if part of her is certain it's not.

DC: Lydia Seren switches forms to Stardust Sequence!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has spent 3 Combo on Poison and Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Janus Cascade with Dragon's Breath!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"What is this guy made of!?" Hiro complains as it feels like he's striking a doll. Like all the hacking apart his physical form would do no good at actually dispersing him forever. Thus proving it is far easier to 'say' you will defeat him than to actually do it.

Quick as a shadow, he's moving across the battlefield. And then everything falls apart, as Wizzro slams in the talisman that he picked from Talia, while Romero boosts Gwen's... and then... darkness floods out.

An overwhelming amount, which slams into him, for even a guy who has to deal with an overwhelming amount of malevolence on a daily basis, this is still enough that it's difficult for him to take a single step.

"JANUS CASCADE!" He shouts, angry, as he tries anyhow, keeping his shield up as malice roils over him. "Don't you dare take that gamble! Because when this King of Evil turns out to be more than you can handle..."

His anger turns into a sotto voce, "... there's someone out there that will still actually shed a tear for a scoundrel like you."

He means Gwen of course. Because he remembers her talking about her time growing up in Little Twister.

Grimacing as he grasps the hilt of his blade, he holds it aloft, trying to summon the desert winds, which form a counter-current surrounding his blade. Rippling around him with a certain feral fury.

The darkness finally bowls him over, but not before he slices his blade forward, sending out a pressurized sphere of wind at the malice surrounding Wizzro.

Upon contact with which, it detonates into a blast of wind energy.

GS: Hiro has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Hiro has attacked Janus Cascade with Sybillium Sword!
GS: Hiro has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Quin Rosenberg has posed.

Actually no, Quin DOESN'T taste dirt, as Wizzro hoped. She was smart enough to let go of her dagger. What need did Wizzro have for a piddly little dagger when he could spit darkness and Malice and evil across the battlefield? She'll get it back sooner or later. And even if she doesn't, they're like 10 Gella at literally any store that sells weapons. 50 at the most. Hell, she might have another one on her person. It ain't nothin'.

Fortunately for her, the result of letting go of her dagger when she's pulled up is that she's able to partially dodge the beams of darkness that come flying out of the now-opened... whatever. Quin hears some of the conversation and rolls her eyes. "'Ooh, let's play with magic we don't understand, it'll make us EVER so powerful!'," she chirps, in a sing-song voice that is clearly meant to be sarcastic. Back to her normal tone, she mutters under her breath, "Stupid ass."

Though here she sighs. "'S now or never, Quin," she mutters to herself. She slides a foot back, bending the knee of the leg in front, leaning into a crouch. Her arms go back, and she closes her eyes. Her body seems to darken, like the shadows are moving around her body to wrap around her. When her eyes open they seem black as pitch. Then she seems to fly forward. If she could get to Janus without tanking a Shoop da Woop of evil BS, she would, but for now Wizzro is an appropriate target.

If all goes well, her sudden forward momentum, seemingly leaving dark trails of shadow behind her, will take her right into Wizzro's range... where she'll try to stab him over as many times as she can possibly manage, all bolstered by unnatural speed and momentum given by her shadowy state. All of these are vicious, angry, overhead stabs, aimed at whatever she can possibly manage to hit.

The final strike of this vicious shadow-powered frenzy of mad stabs will at a hit? She draws her upper body back, and then attempts to just SLAM her shadowy fists into Wizzro. Hopefully if the fists don't connect, the shadow will. And hopefully it won't freaking HEAL him, even if it misses.

GS: Quin Rosenberg has attacked Janus Cascade with Dark of Night!
GS: Quin Rosenberg has completed her action.
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Janus Cascade with A Refusal To Be Left Behind Again!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

Erzebet's head snaps down when her shot on its homing spiralling route is intercepted by Dario's countershot. She is, suddenly and completely, awake and engaged in the world around her, when she wasn't before. Maybe she felt that. She grins like a slash and pivots herself around as she says, "Naughty boy! Interfering with perfectly legitimate bounty hunting activities!"

There is further explanation...

And Erzebet takes a deep breath through her nose. As the door lights up, she glances towards it as it opens, and out comes darkness. The shadow itself in tenebreous liquid form, like a disaster in the ink factory!

"So," Erzebet says, "that's your decision." And Erzebet's attention turns from Janus Cascade...

Past his gangster buddies...

To Wizzro.

"Shuuuuut uuuuuup! You're giving me a headache!" Erzebet then points a gun at him and shoots at him a bunch, each shot hissing with cherry-iron heat.

Headaches wait for no woman.

GS: Erzebet Lefanu enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Janus Cascade with Beautiful Bullet Array!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ragnell's own observations are met with silence from Lanval. That's how you can tell it's serious. She keeps him in the corner of her eye. Meanwhile, Hiro very firmly responds to Ragnell's snark as if it were a joke. This is fine. "Hahahaha. Guess only time will tell, huh?" Then Talia blushes, ever so faintly, at Ragnell. Ragnell crooks an ever-wider grin at her. And Gwen... well. Hiro may be put off by her change in personality, but Ragnell honestly likes what she sees.
    
    Darkness pours forth, both invasive and corrosive. Ragnell attempts to evade the wave with a backwards jump, but it's a little bit everywhere. It can't help but sear at her being, as magic can only do to magic. She lands with one hand down, teeth grit. Wizzro's not giving any convenient answers either--actually, Janus is more helpful in that regard, both earlier and now. And of course, he's about to eat an energy field bigger than his own head.
    
    "Have fun with that," she tells the Cascade man. "If you're gonna die, you may as well die enjoyin' yourself." And if he lives, well, hey, better a life of fun than a life of pain. In the meantime, she focuses herself, chanting, "O darkened stormclouds, loose thy blade and run mine enemy through! Thunder Blade!!"
    
    From above, a huge spear of lightning THWHOCKS down, letting out a paralyzing electric burst upon impact. If it catches Wizzro, and perhaps Team Janus as well if they're hanging about too closely, then it will EXPLODE with lightning a moment later. ...Well, it'll do that regardless, but it'll be that much more devastating to anyone caught in the first wave.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

    From Ines' point of view, it would be really nice if it felt like they were making even a little progress on Wizzro's horrific form. It's like the damn thing isn't even fazed. And then, in a moment, everything kind of goes to shit.

    The waves of darkness crash in to the geohound with enough force to nearly topple her over, sliding back too far from the fight. So much for stopping... whatever the hell is happening here. Whatever it is, the darkness is potent, and way beyond what Ines is equipped to deal with.

    "What the hell do we do now?" Ines asks, to anyone close enough to hear who has an idea. She's not sure if something's about to come out, though Wizzro's own comments are not... reassuring. "What kind of idiot goes marching into something like that!?" Someone who is hellbent on power above all else, that's who. Ines grimaces at that thought. Fine. If she can't close to Janus, she can at least do something about Wizzro. Maybe.

    She starts running, as symbological tattoos glow and a magicked metal covers her her fist and arm, spikes growing from her knuckles. She is going to go for the thing that served her so well last time. Punching Wizzro in his big damn eye. Mouth. Face thing.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Seraph Ragnell enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Janus Cascade with Thunder Blade!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Ines Colina has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ines Colina has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Ines Colina has attacked Janus Cascade with Hullbreaker Knuckle!
GS: Ines Colina has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ines Colina has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Janus Cascade completely evades Hullbreaker Knuckle from Ines Colina!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Talia's Death's Grasp for 41 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline can't help but be intimidated. It didn't seem to matter how much they unloaded on him - it was as if he was being driven by pure Malice. Even if they broke his body, would he still be able to keep going?

What would it take to put a stop to him? ...But even so, it seems they have what they need. The Cascade Gang claims the pendants, inserting them into the doors. The doors open, lighting up. A song echoes...and out of the door emerges darkness upon darkness.

Jacqueline conjures another spear of light. Not as a projectile - this time she positions it ahead of her. The darkness swords toward her, trying to overwhelm her. The spear cleaves through the darkness, parting it around her. And though she tries to empower it further, soon enough it is consumed and she is blasted back, though she manages to remain standing.

That darkness...they have to stop it somehow. As Catenna takes flight on Saarda-Shanta and calls upon the power of Celesdue, Jacqueline takes a deep breath and reaches out with her left hand. She begins to rapidly invoke earth pillars, a wall of stone rising up to try and block the path into the shrine. She's not intending to hit anyone with it...but it might just collide with Wizzro, Janus, or his gang if they're not watching out.

She knows it's just a temporary measure. But maybe, just maybe, if she can delay it by even a moment, they'll be able to figure something out...!

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Janus Cascade with Pillar Wall!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Catenna's Material - Indomitable Empress for 0 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has been weakened by Disease! They take 0 damage, and burn off all temporary hit points!
GS: Cripple, Disease, Jam, Mute, Poison, and Shieldbreak! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
DC: Janus Cascade switches forms to Cascade Gang!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Gwen's right hand, instead of feeling the comforting weight of the pendant through her blouse, instead finds... Romero's hand. "Uh." Wide eyes meet bug eyes. "Romero?" She freezes in place, really not sure how to handle the fact that Romero's trying to fee- oh right the pendant. Wait.

    _The pendant_.

    The courier's attack was too good; Romero is blasted away, pendant and a bit of Gwen's blouse expertly palmed in his hand, out of reach of Gwen's outreached fingers. "Nononono-"

    One pendant slammed in. Talia's follows in turn- Gwen didn't even spot when hers was taken. And then-

    "JANUS!"

    Gwen runs headlong into the darkness, giving as little regard to the way the blast slams into her body as Janus gives to the entire space behind him.

    "YOU GODDAMN IDIOT, STOP IT!"

    The ripped spot in the center of Gwen's blouse begins to glow pyrite yellow with the stress of body pushing against the blast if the abyss.

    Her heart, beating, pulsing, growing brighter.

    Come on, ARM. This is your one job. Don't worry about Wizzro or Romero or Dario or anything else. The others will make sure they get taken care of, if she just-

        keeps up-

    ----A CHILDHOOD AGO, IN LITTLE TWISTER----
    "That was a mighty fine punch you landed."

    The short girl stiffened at the approaching voice, nearly dropping the compress she held over the bruise blooming over one eye. Cautiously, she looked over at the pale-haired boy with the cocky smile. "... I just thought about what you said t'me earlier. 'Bout standin' up for myself n' everything."

    . . . .

    "So all I need t'do is keep up with you." Gwen itched under the sunbleached fabric of the scarf that covered her head as she regarded the grinning Janus. "That's fair. I don't want you to treat me differently from anybody else."

    She had looked away then, trying to keep from looking excited at the prospect of more friends, happier about the possibility of a future, even if it's just however many days or weeks or months-
        
    -----NOW-----------------

    For how useless the damn pendant seemed, the spot where it sat moments before feels hauntingly empty right now.

    Hiro is right. Tears are already streaming from Gwen's face as she ducks in, trying to slam her body into the very spot Janus was just a second before the surge overtook him.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Bounding Flight!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Bounding Flight for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Quick! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Pillar Wall for 81 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Ree's Hired Gun for 123 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Seraph Lanval's Water Wheel for 147 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Maya Schrodinger's Gunslinger Projection - Error.Spirit.Array.Out.Of.Bounds for 0
hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Dragon's Breath for 105 hit points!
GS: Toxin! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade guards a hit from Hiro's Sybillium Sword for 174 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Quin Rosenberg's attack becomes clear!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Quin Rosenberg's Dark of Night for 146 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Lydia Seren's attack becomes clear!
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Glowbliterate for 211 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade guards a hit from Erzebet Lefanu's Beautiful Bullet Array for 96 hit points!
GS: Poison! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Hyper, Quick, and Shield! Statuses applied to Erzebet Lefanu!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Thunder Blade for 136 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Janus Cascade has posed.

The waves of darkness steals away attacks. Ree lunges for Wizzro but doesn't entirely make it. But it's not the only thing that does so. "I think it's a pretty good one, actually!" Janus calls at Talia, that grin of his turning into a rictus smile. "Come on, come on! Find me! I know you hear this heart!" he calls.

A lot of the hate piles on Wizzro, who takes it with an unceasing cackle. "RISING, RISING! AWAKEN, FALLEN POWER! COME FORTH AND CROWN A NEW KING!"

Run through, skewered, iced, punched. Shot as many times as Erzebet dares. He staggers under each of them. He's BEING hit, he's BEING hurt, but it's so, so hard to judge damage on something so ephemeral. Quin's fist hits his jaw - such as it is - and small mercies, he doesn't get healed by the waves of shadow that follow. He blasts away, right into Hiro's spell. But then two things come in at once.

One, a beacon of light, shining in the darkness. A sacred, pure arrow, bulleting inward with eradicating, shredding intent. And Wizzro throws himself at it. Arms spread wide, to maximize his profile - defenses at apex, the arrow shines against his barrier, drilling through. "NOT YET!" Wizzro screams. "NOT NOW!!!"

The arrow drills through the shield and then through Wizzro, sending him slamming into the dais. Ragnell's explosion of lightning blasts him afterward, in one final spiteful smash.

Ida's dragon roars at Janus next. This one Dario catches - the rotund gunslinger throwing himself in the path, roaring his own defiance. "Won't....LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN!" Dario shrieks, roars, as the blast rips into his crossed guard. He finally, narrowly, exerts his whole mass to force the blast aside, sending it sailing off to glass a sand dune. "Not...again," Dario spits.

He and Romero rally up - both of them returning fire. They don't have anything to say - it's a series of kicks and bullets, materializing from the darkness as the duo rampage through the lanes.

"Nice work, boys!" Janus calls back, while Dario squares up in preparation to catch Gwen...and as something even darker still bursts from the shrine's portal.

Emerging from the depths it comes - a shining token. The form is familiar, almost frighteningly so. Square. Nearly the size of a dinner plate. An icon splashed across the front, an emblem like two vaguely triangular shapes atop and at bottom, and between them a pair of circles wedged in.

Except the whole object is an abyssal, black obsidian.

THE ICON OF THE BLACK MEDIUM: https://dreamchasers.space/images/6/69/Black_medium.png

"What am I doing," Janus breathes, in response to a thousand questions. "What am I doing? What I said I would."

To Gwen. All those days before, in the light of a dying fire. When he invited her on all this begin.

"I'll take all this power. And I'll BURN MY NAME INTO THE BONES OF THIS DAMN WORLD!"

BGM CUE: https://www.youtube.com/rQHFfVZcxho

He throws his arms wide even as a dozen attacks rain down on him. "I won't use it to conquer. I won't use it to rule. I won't use it to command or control! I will use it to speak the only language this world understands!"

The black medium comes to a halt, facing Janus.

"I WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING!" Janus screams. "UNTIL THE ONLY THING LEFT IN THIS WORLD IS GHOSTS CURSING JANUS CASCADE!!"

That one makes Dario and Romero stop. "Y, yo, what?" Romero stammers. "That wasn't the deal, boss!"

But the black medium is already resonating - even more power racing out of it, gushing like a dam released, as it engulfs Janus. The medium shines with a terrible anti-light, glimmering, visibly, amid the darkness.

For a moment, it seems like the only thing thing in the whole world. The only thing to see.

The only thing you could possibly concentrate on...

GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ines Colina with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Quin Rosenberg with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Hiro with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Lydia Seren with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Catenna with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Maya Schrodinger with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Seraph Lanval with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Mariel with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Talia with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Ree with Trinity Attack!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade takes 8 damage from Poison!
GS: Janus Cascade takes 13 damage from Toxin!
GS: Janus Cascade has completed his action.
GS: Catenna takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 153 hit points!
GS: Mariel takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 107 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 77 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 73 hit points!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu critically Guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 50 hit points!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 130 hit points!
GS: Quin Rosenberg takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 99 hit points!
GS: Ines Colina critically Guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 53 hit points!
GS: Ines Colina enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ines Colina has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 75 hit points!
GS: Ree has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has lost 1 Combo!
DC: MISS! Ree completely evades Trinity Attack from Janus Cascade!
GS: Seraph Lanval takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 113 hit points!
GS: Seraph Lanval enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 175 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 72 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has activated a Force Action!
GS: Catenna has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

When Mariel got up this morning she was not expected to be air-lifted by a magic owl while fighting someone in a pit of Malice who was attempting to draw on the power of an ancient terror so old even she has only heard stories.

Some days Mariel wonders what she did in her life to come to this. Other days, she already knows.

"Thank you!" Mariel clings to the Owlet - Owl now, really - pressing herself against it to ensure she doesn't fall off. She isn't scared of heights, but she's pretty sure that owls are not exactly built for riders, and in any case Catenna has the better spot; she'd better accomodate herself.

This does not stop her from getting shot by Dario as the great bird passes above the gang. Mariel yells. She is not shy about it.

But what she's mostly watching is Janus. That energy. That icon... It's old. She's never seen it before, and yet she knows what it means: it means that this is real, that Janus isn't reaching for anything but the power of the Demon King.

Mariel, pained, reaches into her bag. She has to dig deep to find what she's looking for; a pair of heavily stoppered bottles filled with a pale blue liquid. She almost never uses this stuff; none of her Caravan Kinship partners have seen her ever pull out *two* bottles of it. And yet that's exactly what she does, opening one with her teeth and splattering the contents on her own gunshot wound, and then splashing Catenna and Saarda-Shanta both.

The other one she pops open a moment later and sprinkles downward as Saarda-Shanta flies. She can't aim it, and it falls like rain, dripping and misting erratically.

The medicine is potent. Incredibly potent; splashing it on a wound causes it to stop hurting almost immediately, and healing to begin a moment after. The liquid is steeped in the energy of the Ley - good, balanced essences, not the foul stuff of the Malice - and is easy to draw either magical energy or physical revitalization from.

"Stop him!" she calls. "Do anything you can! Do not let him return!"

GS: Mariel has attacked Catenna with Ambrosia!
GS: Mariel has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Ambrosia!
GS: Mariel has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Ambrosia!
GS: Mariel has attacked Lydia Seren with Ambrosia!
GS: Mariel has attacked Quin Rosenberg with Ambrosia!
GS: Mariel has attacked Mariel with Ambrosia!
GS: Mariel has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
GS: Mariel heals Catenna! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Catenna gains 15 extra FP from Mariel!
GS: Mariel heals Jacqueline Barber! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Jacqueline Barber gains 15 extra FP from Mariel!
GS: Mariel heals Quin Rosenberg! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Quin Rosenberg gains 15 extra FP from Mariel!
GS: Mariel heals Mariel! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Mariel's Reload flag cannot target herself!
<Pose Tracker> Ree has posed.

Ree dances and ducks, boots scrunching in the desert sand in the moonlight. She sighs in relief, grateful Janus' attack missed her, then concentrates, the Symbological runes on her arms and neck glowing blue. Cold rises and whorls around her, building: then she releases a barrage of snow and ice right at Janus and the Black Medium. He had to be stopped, and she had the feeling magic would be more effective than her ARMs.

GS: Ree has attacked Janus Cascade with Blizzard!
GS: Ree has completed her action.
GS: Mariel heals Lydia Seren! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Reload! Lydia Seren gains 15 extra FP from Mariel!
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Trinity Attack for 92 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

    As Lanval fights through the darkness, he is in the company of mortals (and also another Seraphim, and a ca-- dragon) who have come to a collective understanding through all of this that they are not all right with the events that are transpiring. It helps ground his emotions when he is tempted to just go back into the bottle and hide from the lingering darkness. There is something poetic to be said how maybe some of the greatest of evils isn't just some ephemeral wrong-ness in the air.
     Much can be said about those just possessed of the idea to do nothing but harm. Dario and Romero's assaults are relentless, seemingly unfocused. Lanval isn't sure they can see him, but their efforts do inflict harm. Stray gunfire runs through him, there's some collateral from something one of them kicks over, but... from where he lies, he has himself another drink to steady himself. Another drink to steel himself. Another drink to... have another drink.
     Another burst of darkness as it emerges, and Lanval's appearance becomes hard to track as eyes fall upon the Black Medium, and Janus makes his claims and proclomations... and then,
     "I say to thee that thy ambition shalt not come to be!" A mirthful laugh booms through the battlefield. It is unwarranted, out of place, and incongruous even when the Demon King's influence isn't at play, but there he is - Seraph Lanval, the Mirthful Wellspring, eyes open with a shining aquamarine color. He is sitting upright in the dunes, with a gentle smile on his face - a grace befitting of a former Lord of the Land on Lunar.
     "Janus Cascade! I bid thee be on your in good health!" Lanval's laughter is powerful, bubbles forming around the shining column of darkness. They reflect Lanval's mirthful visage as they try to surround the anti-light beacon, exploding in great bursts of pure, shining water once Lanval thinks to wipe his mouth.
     This is no laughing matter, as Lanval himself may soon find out.

GS: Seraph Lanval has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Seraph Lanval has attacked Janus Cascade with Revelry Labyrinth!
GS: Seraph Lanval has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Lanval has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Janus's voice emerges from the darkness...and so does something else. It's clearly a Medium, but...it's formed of obsidian as black as the darkness it emerged from. And the Symbol...

"A M-Medium!? Is that..." Jacqueline says, and gasps as she seems to realise something. That was no Guardian. So, it had to be...!

Janus Cascade claims that he'll speak the only language this world understands. That he'll destroy everything until only ghosts are left. And so, power gushes forth from the black medium, and the world is engulfed in darkness.

The only thing she can see is the terrible anti-light of the Medium before her.

"There's more to this world...than violence! I know this is true! The only thing you'll destroy is yourself, Janus Cascade!" Jacqueline shouts into the darkness.

Here and now, it's as if the only thing that exists is herself and the Medium in front of her.

Except...that's not quite true. She can feel something washing over her. A very potent mixture. She knows this one - and she hears Mariel's voice.

"...Okay! I'll give it everything I have...!" She says, and takes a deep breath. With her left hand, energy tears through the air around the Medium. Her earlier-conjured pillars crumble, flying into the air. And then, swinging her right hand down like a blade, lightning crashes down toward the Medium, bringing all of the debris down toward it right alongside it.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Janus Cascade with Dualcast - Voltaic Quake!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

The arrow of the moon sails through the night. It seeks to end this before it begins. It carries the desire of the Shaman and the Owl to put this nightmare to rest.

And goddamn Wizzro throws himself into it.

"FUCK," Catenna shouts, just about bolting off Saarda-Shanta's back.

What emerges from the depths is something Catenna truly does not want to see, even though she does not understand it, nor the symbol upon its face. Only that the sigil must be that of the Demon King. Clenching her right hand around her bow, the Moon Shaman and the Great Owl listen in horror as Janus rants, unfazed by the punishment being directed down upon him. As the Black Medium vibrates, bullets pound through the air, Dario and Romero doing their part to try and keep the Moon Shaman and the Great Owl at bay. Shots slam into Saarda-Shanta, a couple of bullet wounds staining the Owl's flank, and another shot rips past Catenna's shoulder, one more glancing off her breastplate. Wincing in pain, Catenna holds on as the Owl hoots beneath her and lurches, but steadies herself.

"Mariel, hang on," she urges, reaching out to try and steady the smaller woman with a hand on her arm as she's hit. But the little Elw manages to stay mounted, and she brings forth the healing bottles. The flow of liquid draws a breath of relief from the Owl.

Mariel calls out what they need to do. "Yes," Catenna agrees as she reaches for her Medium.

Beneath Catenna, Saarda-Shanta vibrates with visible discomfort. <This is a perilous course that we propose,> she cautions, her voice haunted. Not only Catenna can hear it. So can everyone.

Catenna presses her lips together. "Saarda-Shanta... is the Demon King... also a Guardian of some fashion? Or was he what Sin is?"

The Great Owl does not answer for several seconds. Then, with reluctance, <...We have no choice anymore, Catenna. Mariel... you are not wrong. There is no option but to try and destroy the Medium. Fate preserve us.>

"What will that do?" Catenna asks, blinking and resting her hands on the Owl's back.

Saarda-Shanta's agonized silence is enough to tie Catenna's stomach in knots. It is the only course in front of them... yet a course that they cannot steer away from.

<Hold on tight,> Saarda-Shanta urges Mariel and Catenna. The Moon Shaman does, hanging on for dear life as the Great Owl tilts a little and descends into a swoop. The immense white shape flares her wings as she swoops in towards Janus and his gang - and as Catenna draws close, she focuses through her Medium as intently as she can.

An immense, crushing force of gravity suddenly descends upon Janus's location all at once, amplified by the power of the Great Owl. But it is not leveled at him.

It is leveled at the Black Medium. Catenna is attempting to crush it down into a crumpled wreck of an object, to collapse it beneath an incredible increase in the Medium's gravity.

GS: Catenna has spent 4 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Catenna has attacked Janus Cascade with Polarity Clutch!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"No you don't!" He gasps as Wizzro is caught in the assault of so many of the Drifters - swept away by Ragnell's lightning%r
However the fearsome teamwork of Romero and Dario takes Hiro off-guard from his prone position, as he's clotheslined by Dario's meaty arm, then kicked by Romero, just in time for Dario to fire another shot at him as the two pass on by unto the rest. Caught on both sides, he only barely manages to deflect the bullet, taking aching ribs for his pain.

The shining token appears. A black medium, it's mesmerizing, as if it were the only thing he could focus upon. "What... is that...? It looks like..."

The only possible thing. Save for Janus' scream of destruction.

Everything.

Everything.

It's easy to say that if everything here truly fell he could go back to Lunar. Yet then what happens to the people of this world?

"...you've changed from the man I fought at the statue."

He rasps, "Or maybe you were always like this, just deceiving us all."

Mariel's voice calls for him to stop them, and he's just caught between the idea of hurting someone Gwen is crying over to prevent the end of the world.

Raising his sword tiredly, he sights down the Medium and Janus.

"Sorry Gwen." He whispers, before starting to run. It's a limping, exhausted run at first, but then it's like the wind has his back sending him charging forward. His blade igniting mid-way before, he tries to bear down on Janus. "Can't let him do that."

He slashes three times in a blur, a trifold attack where the flames burn brighter with each attack in a last desperate gasp to try to stop him before it truly is too late.

GS: Hiro has activated a Force Action!
GS: Hiro has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Hiro has attacked Janus Cascade with Battalion Sword!!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

    Ines doesn't manage to connect with Wizzro, her spell dissipating as she goes wide. This leaves her open to the attack that comes. Bullets dig into her arms and legs, but avoid anything critical. But she lands again at a distance, and then comes Janus' declaration of omnnicide. She stares in disbelief as the medium appears, as the darkness consumes the violent bastard looking to kill everything. She clenches her teeth, and runes on her body glow.

    "The hell kind of monster are you!?" She'd really thought she'd seen everything in her long career, but clearly the last few months have proven her entirely wrong. It seems that when you think you've seen the worst the world has to offer, there's always someone who wants to set a new low bar.

    There's really only one option left here, and it may be already too late. Throw everything they have left at Janus, or where he was standing before the darkness consumed him.

    Shards of earth and metal rise up around Ines, and the surge of wind follows, whipping up a cyclone around her her. And once everything is spinning at speed, she opens her arms and then throws them forward, and the cyclone hurtles toward where Janus was.

GS: Ines Colina has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ines Colina has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ines Colina has attacked Janus Cascade with Shrapnel Twister!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
GS: Mariel heals Ida Everstead-Rey! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Ida Everstead-Rey gains 15 extra FP from Mariel!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida sees Dario leap into the way a second too late. "GET BACK!" she shouts, but it's too late. She grits her teeth and stares at him, eyes wide with shock and disbelief. The very end of her ARM's barrel glows cherry-red from residual heat. "Not again. Do you have any idea what he's about to--"

    A gunshot rings out, followed by the metallic thunk of a bullet slamming through armor. Blood sprays from Ida's chest, just below her collarbone. Dario shoots again, and again. Ida staggers back, swaying unsteadily, blood dripping from three wounds in her torso and one in her right bicep. Devil's Due drops from her grip, and skids across the sand, falling into a pool of liquid Malice. Ida sags forwards, and crimson drips in globules to the desert floor. Splatters of quicksilver join it.

    Ida rises to her full height, and clenches her right fist to steady herself--she looks Dario dead in the eye as her coat falls open, revealing more of that quicksilver blood, and the faintest outlines of armor beneath her clothing--spots of armor seamlessly molded into her flesh.

    Something flies out of the door. Ida blinks, slowly, trying to make sense of it--but the time for making sense will come later. Janus has made his intentions terrifyingly clear.

    A healing mist settles on Ida a moment later. The pain becomes bearable, then fades entirely. 'Stop him!', Mariel calls. Ida reaches up with her trembling left hand, flashes Mariel and Catenna the 'OK' sign, and stalks towards the door. quicksilver pulses through veins at her neck as she looks back at Hiro, and at Gwen, and at Jay. It's little more than a glance, but it seems to stretch on, and on. Dario's bullets eject themselves from her body in sprays of blood. Chi curls in tendrils around her right hand, a core of bright flame-like energy surrounded by a corona of golden-white. "Break a rock," Ida says, and she almost wants to laugh at how absurd that is--how inadequate it is for the task at hand. "I can break a rock." The Black Medium flies forwards. Ida surges towards it, pulls back her right fist, sets her feet. A kiai tears free from her throat. She swings at it, driving her right hand forwards in an open-palm strike backed by everything she can muster. Chi explodes from her palm, and for a moment, it's almost enough to dim the darkness around the Medium, just a little.

    Almost. Just a little.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has spent 5 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Janus Cascade with Unbroken Lotus Fist!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Quin Rosenberg has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ah.
    
    Well, seeking world destruction is a *kind* of fun, Ragnell supposes.
    
    This answers a lot of questions on her own end, though. Sorry, Gwen, but it looks like Janus will have to die after all. It might be too late for that now, but who knows until they try? And in the same way, Gwen doesn't know if she can save Janus until *she* tries, sending her running forth to try to knock him out of the way...
    
    That's why, when Ragnell chants and looses her Seraphic arte, it's aimed for the black Medium itself, rather than either human. She has no affection for Janus, but Gwen is another story, and she's *kind of* putting herself exactly where everyone's attacks are going.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Janus Cascade with Divine Saber!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Quin Rosenberg has posed.

Anti-light everywhere. It's hard to see. "What did that moron even DO?!" Quin squeaks, shielding her eyes from the un-light, while still trying to watch for oncoming danger. She almost gets hit by one of those... whatever it is full-on in the chest, but manages at the very last second to dodge aside. The thing still hits her in the arm and spins her in a complete circle, leaving her dazed for a few moments.

By that time Janus is already full on into his 'destroy the world' speech. "Oh, wonderful," Quin mutters. She could probably choreograph every moment of the guy's life up to this point if she wanted... but right now, she's more concerned about the current problem he's causing! Or rather, about to cause.

There's healing splattering down from above, and Mariel is calling out encouragement. Quin's magic (such as it is) does feel a little stronger now. Not... 'strength' wise. Just... usage-wise. It feels a little more replenished, just as her health does. Quin turns in Mariel's direction to offer a brief thumbs-up. "Thanks! Gonna give it our best, I'm sure!" she calls back.

Suddenly... laughter. A voice. She hears it. And turns in Lanval's direction. She hadn't seen him up to that point. Doesn't recognize him. But now... now she can see him. Something feels... strange about it. Like she shouldn't be able to see him. But she does. She can.

But YES. Mariel's right, some smack has to be laid down. She's not really the kind that goes out on crusades to smash evil regularly, but... she kinda doesn't like the idea of this world getting destroyed. All her stuff is there. Quin is not about to touch the Black Medium. She has no idea what that would even do if she were to touch it. And it's just easier for her to target Janus.

So once again, she leans forward as she had done before, one foot forward, her arms back... and holds. She gets a bead on Janus as well as she can, marking his position clearly. She can't miss. This time when she zips forward, it's in a front-flip. "HERE I COME!" she has the audacity to warn. Though given the megalomania she's seeing on display, he probably won't even care.

Bringing her into melee range with Janus is not a good idea, but at the moment, it's all she's got. This time, instead of a series of frenzied stabs, it's... basically a series of martial arts moves. Two slashes with her daggers, momentum from the second slash turning her body enough for a shoulder slam, into a roundhouse. And then her body turns forward, where she crosses her daggers so that a 'flash' of darkness explodes from them.

Hopefully this flashy-ass thing will actually hit. If not? She's getting the hell out of the way either way!

GS: Quin Rosenberg has attacked Janus Cascade with Shadow Dance!
GS: Quin Rosenberg has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"You're being an idiot!" Talia shouts back at Janus, because she's run out of cogent arguments.

She watches all of the incoming barrage -- blowing back Wizzrobe, and then nearly taking out Dario and Romero. Talia grits her teeth -- and then sees the Black Medium. Her red eyes widen; then her pupils shrink, before she slams Mirage into the ground, the blade dragging across the earth and sending up sparks where it cuts into the stone.

She grits her teeth, eyes narrowing, and stares into Janus's back. He is practically lost amidst the swirling darkness. She glances to the side, to Gwen, and then back at him.

"No, worse than an idiot." She scowls, hand held out -- and her eyes narrow. "Blah blah, frost and cold, I have no time for this, ugh, freezing--"

A massive block of ice crystallizes over the maelstrom of darkness and Janus -- and then it crashes down atop him, shattering apart into so many fragments. "Glacier Crash!"

GS: Talia has attacked Janus Cascade with Glacier Crash!
GS: Talia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia Seren slams into Janus but the sudden push of anti-light pushes her back and she crashes to the floor on her back, groaning.

"Okay, maybe I don't got this."

She lies on the floor for a moment. She feels more compelled to lay there when she sees what's beyond. A Black Medium.

"Is that...a medium for a Clysmian?" She wonders, thinking about how little the Baskar even know of their own gods. She curls a foot underneath her and crouches like a tiny orb of energy.

Why stand? For her own sake? Sometimes one person isn't enough to stand for, not even for Lydia.

Once again a dark secret of her very own religion is revealed to herself. Constantly constantly constantly she finds she knows less of her own religion than someone who doesn't even practice it. Now she's learning that Janus fucking Cascade knows more about her religion than she does.

What is the point of her people, if the knowledge they keep isn't even enough to protect something as terrible from this being usurped from the Cascade Gang?

She punches her fist into the ground in anger. "I know you are like the elements." Lydia says. "You cannot be swayed by words only by actions. That our fates are for us to seize... I know we worship not for blessings or for any kind of hands up over anyone else."

Why stand up?

"But I am tired...so fucking tired..." Lydia stands herself up. "Of you making us look like fools for believing in you! How many monsters in this world have you hid from us!? Are they just other Guardians you've hidden from us?!"

This doesn't stop her from being able to channel the Guardians from her Mediums. She places a hand on both of them, one stone, one silver. Rigdobrite and Solais Emsu crackle into being above her head. She swings back one hand and sends twin lasers spiraling towards Janus. Or the Medium? It's a bit hard to tell with all that anti-light blocking everything out.

GS: Lydia Seren has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lydia Seren has spent 3 Combo on Headshot, including 0 on Gatling!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Janus Cascade with X-Summon!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Ironically, it may have been Dario that keeps Gwen from meeting with a terrible fate, just then. Gwen barely has time to begin slowing down before crashing into Dario's bulk. "Dario, let go of me! You don't understand, he wants..."

    Ah. There it is. The truth she had been hiding all this time, the one she denied, but then secretly used as her reason to get involved, every time.

    She knew it all along. Gwen just didn't know where to put that information.

    The look on Gwen's face speaks the truth of Janus's words as she separates back from Dario says what she can't find the words to say, if anyone is able to look at her in that very moment.

    Janus is gone. There's nothing anyone could do to erase the damage of what happened before. And now, he just might unleash that pain on everyone else.

    It may be better if-
    Sometimes destruction is a mercy.
    "_No_."

    "I cried when you told me about Lucio, n' Keziah. How they died."

    So many regret attacking Janus at that moment. Gwen

    "I wasn't cryin' because I felt sorry for them. I cried because I was glad you were there for them, maybe even in their final moments. Neither of us are the same as we were back then."

    Raising her hand up, Gwen draws on the wealth of energy building up inside her.

    "This is the world they lived in. This is the world we live in. No more sacrifices, no more martyrs. Just possibilities."

    The light shines from her right hand, attempting to provide a desperate beacon against the growing influence of the black medium.

    "I won't let you snuff it all out because of that pain."

    A laser shoots from Gwen's splayed hand, aimed towards the black medium.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Ironically, it may have been Dario that keeps Gwen from meeting with a terrible fate, just then. Gwen barely has time to begin slowing down before crashing into Dario's bulk. "Dario, let go of me! You don't understand, he wants..."

    Ah. There it is. The truth she had been hiding all this time, the one she denied, but then secretly used as her reason to get involved, every time.

    She knew it all along. Gwen just didn't know where to put that information.

    The look on Gwen's face speaks the truth of Janus's words as she separates back from Dario says what she can't find the words to say, if anyone is able to look at her in that very moment.

    Janus is gone. There's nothing anyone could do to erase the damage of what happened before. And now, he just might unleash that pain on everyone else.

    It may be better if-
    Sometimes destruction is a mercy.
    "_No_."

    "I cried when you told me about Lucio, n' Keziah. How they died."

    So many regret attacking Janus at that moment. Gwen straightens, bolstered by the presence of her friends, the random do-gooders, everyone gathered.

    "I wasn't cryin' because I felt sorry for them. I cried because I was glad you were there for them, maybe even in their final moments. Neither of us are the same as we were back then."

    Raising her hand up, Gwen draws on the wealth of energy building up inside her.

    "This is the world they lived in. This is the world we live in. No more sacrifices, no more martyrs. Just possibilities."

    The light shines from her right hand, attempting to provide a desperate beacon against the growing influence of the black medium.

    "I won't let you snuff it all out because of that pain."

    A laser shoots from Gwen's splayed hand, aimed towards the black medium.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Full Clip!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Lock On!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Janus Cascade with Corona Discharge!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ree's Blizzard for 85 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Corona Discharge for 108 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Dualcast - Voltaic Quake for 139 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Catenna's Polarity Clutch for 174 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Hiro's Battalion Sword! for 123 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ines Colina's Shrapnel Twister for 97 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Unbroken Lotus Fist for 150 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Divine Saber for 109 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Quin Rosenberg's Shadow Dance for 93 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Seraph Lanval's Revelry Labyrinth for 126 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Talia's Glacier Crash for 76 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade suffers Infect, extending negative statuses by 1 turn each!
GS: Janus Cascade has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's X-Summon for 353 hit points!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Janus Cascade has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Janus Cascade has posed.

The medium's anti-light shines in eternity. Above, if one were of the mind to look up at a time like this, they'd find that the sky itself had changed, as the image of the Old Moon in the sky blurs, and turns a new shade. A dreadful, bloody red, bleeding out across the sky. Is it an illusion from the dark power being gathered here? No, it's more than that, isn't it? Something like a presence in the air - something COMING...

Dario releases Gwen. "Boss," he croaks. "This...this...this ain't--!" he calls out. Then, to Gwen, he turns. "P, please. Gwen. Ya gotta...the boss! He still--! WHAAAAAAAA"

But amid the blasting, billowing power, Dario and Romero get swept up - picked up and carried away in the storm of raw power. Assaults on Janus PING off, the power surging into him enough to force back spell and fist. The medium though, it takes it. Ragnell's thunder blasts it, Catenna's mighty gravity shreds at it. Jay's spears and lightning crackle across its surface and Lanval's doubles explode across it, their purity leaving something great sparkling within it. Ines' cyclone rips at it. Lydia's mediums BLAST it, shards of the Medium cracking off in chunks as the whole thing rattles under that force. And Gwen...

Janus ignores her until the light races right past his head and slams into that Medium. The cracks left by the others, the light of Gwen's power sinks into. The whole Medium rattles, like a machine damaged to the point of things coming loose.

Then it silently, unobtrusively, shatters. Like a crystal simply falling apart, it poofs away, shards flying in every direction. The unbelievable darkness rushing out from it changes paths - scattering in uncontrolled fashion, blasting out in every direction, seeping to...seep away. Back into the Ley, perhaps. Where it becomes the Guardians' problem again.

Janus stands where he was, eyes wide, jaw low. Horrified.

Defeated.

"You..." he says, low. Shaking.

Then he turns around, levels his Sniper Shark at Lydia, and pulls the trigger, causing the already-loaded Nova cartridge inside to release a powerful blast of light directly into her skull.

"You know, Gwen," he seethes. She speaks to him with such fondness. Such warm memories of the man he could have been. Keziah, Lucio...he shakes as he remembers them. His fingers clutch for the ring under his shirt. Keziah's ring. The last remnant of a man who could've been worth something.

His fist clenches around it, knuckles white, as he sucks in breath through his teeth. When he releases it, there's another look in his eye, as he turns to glare at Gwen.

"I'm glad you're here." He swings the weapon around, firing two shots straight up at Catenna and Mariel, assaulting the owl who brought so much power to bear. "At the end." He snaps around and finds Talia - and snakes out to slam his boot into her gut and then club her across the face with the butt of his gun. "So we can finally settle one last question."

    He turns his eyes on her.

    "When I run you through with this bayonet, you think they will hear you?"

And then he runs at her, screaming, face contorted by hate and bayonet gleaming in the moonlight.

DC: Janus Cascade switches forms to Outlaw Janus!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Lydia Seren with Nova Blaster!
GS: Janus Cascade has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Nova Blaster for 171 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Catenna with Sniper Shark XR!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Mariel with Sniper Shark XR!
GS: Janus Cascade enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Talia with Phantom Fang!
GS: Janus Cascade enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Janus Cascade has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Heretic Stab!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Catenna takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Sniper Shark XR for 80 hit points!
GS: Cripple! Statuses applied to Catenna!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Phantom Fang for 67 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! Statuses applied to Talia!
GS: Mariel takes a glancing hit from Janus Cascade's Sniper Shark XR for 75 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has activated a Force Action!
Hiro pages Gwen Whitlock and Jacqueline Barber: Any preference Gwen?
GS: Hiro used the Force Action Protect! He takes Janus Cascade's attack on Gwen Whitlock on himself!
GS: Hiro has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Hiro takes a solid hit from Janus Cascade's Heretic Stab for 102 hit points!
GS: Cripple and Cripple! Statuses applied to Hiro!
GS: Hyper! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
DC: Catenna switches forms to Zoa Priestess Catenna!
<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

Catenna can't fully hear Gwen from up here. All she can feel is something wrong - the Black Medium, and when she looks up, the Moon she loves stained with the blood of abominable tidings. All she can hear is the cries below. All she can see is everyone trying their damnedest to bring this atrocity to a halt.

And halt it does. The Black Medium crumbles, and Catenna widens her eyes, her mouth hanging open a little. "Thank the heavens," she breathes, looking up towards the Moon again.

Then Janus Cascade - without the power of the Demon King, but still a dangerous Drifter - opens up on them.

The Owlet hoots with pain beneath Catenna as those shots slam into the huge bird. Saarda-Shanta's descending course skews, and Catenna gasps. "Hang in there!" she calls as they drop, the descent just barely controlled - and feet above the ground, the immense white bird blurs and contracts. Catenna's breath bursts from her as she tumbles to the ground, reaching out to try and soak up some of the blow for Mariel. But it's in vain, really. She skids a little ways, rolling with a wince and a yelp until she comes to a stop on her side.

A tiny ball of white fluff plops down beside her. The Owlet's side is stained red. The little bird has shrunken back into her little form, shedding the bullets but not the pain.

"Saarda-Shanta," Catenna murmurs with alarm as she scoops up her tiny familiar and pulls her close. But just as she does, more happens. The man with the gun is whirling upon another foe.

Janus Cascade is about to murder Gwen Whitlock.

Squaring her jaw, Catenna holds her left hand out towards the Drifter's Drifter. Lunar power surges, steadier now. She builds her energy as quickly as she can. It may not be enough to stop Janus from intercepting Gwen, but Catenna's not close enough to do that physically, either.

But whether he stabs at Gwen or not, a crushing force will suddenly begin to compress around Janus. The ground itself will begin to attract. The force of gravity multiplies and multiplies as Catenna steadily ramps it up, attempting not just to fix Janus to the spot, but to multiply his weight again, then again, then again. "For what you have tried to do here, you do not belong on Filgaia any longer," Catenna growls.

Against most foes, Catenna can express kindness or sympathy. She has come to view even Hyadeans and Veruni with consideration. But existential threats to Filgaia and those who flirt with them are something else. She deals with it the only way she knows how: She ramps the gravity up once more as she attempts to simply compact and crush Janus to death under his own ever-increasing gravity.

GS: Catenna has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Catenna has attacked Janus Cascade with Polarity Clutch!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

    As Lanval laughs at one of the greatest possible expressions of his power, as the tide turns, up above something burns at his comprehension of the flows of energy of the world around him, and his eyes start to trail upwards towards the Old Moon in the lingering throes of his Mystic Arte, Revelry Labyrinth.
     They succeed in shattering the Black Medium. The darkness seems to all disappear, but the feeling of how it all moves, the sense of what was about to come down. It exerts a certain pressure he's not sure he can put into words for the uninitiated.
     Janus' rage... he can feel it from here. He's seen a lot of mortal quarrels, a lot of endings to those quarrels. The transient nature of the vast majority of their squabbles, at some point, it's impossible to not detach from some of it when there is a part of you largely keyed to something greater in scope than individual mortal lives. Especially... in the face of something unimaginable.
     The Seraph's smile fades, the shine of his eyes fading as he still look up towards that sky. That sense of what almost was - or could still be.
     He holds his gourd in both hands, taking a sip to try and calm what passes for nerves for a Seraph, for there is no ambiguity to his emotional state. Something has terrified him to complete silence, to suppress the mirth even when it appears they have already won and averted the worst.
     He might need to be called back to attention for emergency healing. It might be too late if it comes to that.

<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

That there was an anti-Medium was not actually the surprising part to Mariel. If you can make a Medium that is a connection to one aspect of the natural energies - and you can, at least with stone Mediums, which are made by shamans - you can make one for a twisted version.

But why *would* you??

No, the surprising part is that anyone would use it. Despite everything, Mariel still holds out some hope for humanity, when people like Janus aren't stomping all over it.

Mariel continues to hang onto the Owl. Even as Saarda-Shanta starts to go down, she hangs on with one hand, finding a healing herb with the other and hoping it will help. She gets it out just before she, too, takes another shot in the leg, and not only nearly drops it and her bag, she lets go of Saarda-Shanta entirely.

Fortunately (?), by that point the Owlet is becoming an owlet again, and Mariel doesn't have as far to drop as she otherwise would. Completely unfortunately, she lands on her wounded leg, which gives out under her with a hiss of pain. "I'm okay," she says to Catenna, though it is half a lie. She is not great.

Mariel did keep ahold of the healing herbs bundle, technically. She ignites it with a match pulled from her robe now that she doesn't need one hand to hold onto the Owlet. The sweet smoke invigorates it for the few seconds that Mariel waves it near Saarda-Shanta and Catenna before flinging it in the general direction of Talia. She is completely unworried about setting a fire. There's nothing to burn.

GS: Mariel has attacked Catenna with Healing Herb!
GS: Mariel has attacked Talia with Healing Herb!
GS: Mariel has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia turns to look at Gwen with a bewildered expression. She has no idea what she's talking about, that much is clear, but there's some anger there too. By appearances, to Lydia, it seems like she knew a fair amount of what was going on here but kept quiet, called her here at the last possible moment.

Her arm grips her own. It's the arm she had first lost and had temporarily replaced with her own metal arm. Lydia is exhausted, for a moment she even looks world-weary, as a grave threat has been just barely held back once again amongst many other times a grave threat has just barely been held off. If that's even what happened. Who knows what the long term consequences are of what happened here? Lydia doesn't. As noted, they didn't really cover this in Guardian Bible Study.

She starts to turn back but in that moment of lowered guard--

--Janus already has her bayonet pointed right at her face.

"Fuck--"

Light erupts from the bayonet and into Lydia's face. Flesh and hair are incinerated as Lydia is sent flying back. Not too far, just a few feet, hitting the ground. Smoke and what what smells like burning chemicals float into the air as she flops onto the ground.

She briefly raises her hand--perhaps her initial intent is to help Mariel or Talia, but maybe her instinct tells her who he is really going after--because she fans out her hand.

And Gwen finds the light reflecting away from her body, rapidly rendering her essentially invisible. It might not even mean anything as Janus has to contend with a whole lot of drifters going after him. It might be a miracle if he even reaches Gwen.

But that's what she does before her arm flops to the floor and her body goes still.

The smoke fades from her head revealing a metal skull. Two sunken silver eyes unleash small electrical sparks and hang out from the socket by two thin fibruous tiny metal cords. Several teeth have melted away from the pure heat of the Nova Blaster but those that remain reveal a similar mechanical underlay as the rest of the skull.

The light along the body fades, revealing her body and the technological mesh she has made her body starts melting around her into obscure goop.

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Hide And Seek!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Hide And Seek for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick! Statuses applied to Gwen Whitlock!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    The black Medium shatters. Ragnell breathes a faint sigh, then tilts the brim of her hat up to frown at the bloody moon and that sense of something approaching--even if perhaps it is by now fading away along with the darkness. Now Janus is but a man, one broken with all hope lost and nothing left to lose, and he's taking that out on... well, Gwen, primarily, but also several others. She gazes over at the courier, but does nothing to intervene, and instead heads slowly towards Lanval while still facing Januswards. You know. Just in case.
    
    "Looks like we're not likely to get any o' those answers we were lookin' for tonight," she murmurs to the Water Seraph, hand back on the brim of her hat. "At this point, it's boiled down to human drama. An' once it gets to that point..." She shrugs, quite casually for someone watching a potential fight to the death. Lydia might be dying as they speak, given that horrifying head injury she sustained. "They stop carin' 'bout anything outside themselves."

GS: Mariel heals Catenna! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


It says so much that in the end, when Janus has betrayed his own people, they appeal to Gwen. And Gwen answers.

'I won't let you snuff it all out because of that pain.'

A laser shot. And the Black Medium crumbles. Just like that, relief sweeps through him, as he slumps into a wobbling gait. As if they stopped another disaster - another dark entity, full of malice from entering the world.

And perhaps - just perhaps he wonders for a moment, that Gwen will reach him. Just for a moment.

That moment where he says 'I'm glad you're here.'

Until he fires two shots... "You!" - 'At the end.' And he slams a boot into someone else.

'So we can settle one last question.'

That question. That damning question. Hiro hears it, sees his face contort with hate, sees him bear down on Gwen.

And he wills himself to move.

Don't believe him if he tries to get all nice with you. He's out for himself.

It's funny how one can give that advice then still try to reach them. It's just something intrinsic about Gwen he guesses.

The things I had to deal with are mundane. Even my ARM, when you came down to it. It ain't like summoning wind from outta nowhere, or flying. Even death. The sorts of things that've happened t'me are the sorts of things that can and will happen to someone.

And yet despite those things, something as simple as a little belief in humanity can bring so much into other people's lives.

It's a fairly easy decision when it comes down to it, as he starts to hit the speeds that might just get him there in time. Protecting a friend from the worst side of someone they want to reach out to.

     ... Jean would do it for him.

It's a distant though, as his body overshadows Gwen's, just a second before Janus' maddened charge blows through his guard - and his bayonet slips through his chainmail links as easy as if he were puncturing cheesecloth with that strength and power.

The youth staggers, ragdolling for a moment from the intense pain - biting down for a moment before a piercing scream slides out of his throat - only a trickle of red sliding out due to the bayonet literally plugging the whole from where it entered just below his collarbone on his right side. "HIRO!"

And then he tries to clamp his hands down upon the barrel's rifle, though right now his strength may be a little inadequate to do anything more than hold on.

"Suh-"

He coughs, not even able to manage any facial expression other than agony for a second.

"-sorry... gonna have to... settle..."

Some questions should never be answered between two people who grew up together.

"...for..."

Especially not this one.

However it's like that thought changes, perhaps it's simply from the trauma. Perhaps it's simply from realizing what he wants to say isn't to Janus Cascade, but he shifts thoughts to...

"Hey Gwen..." He let's out this intense shudder, "... you tried."

The adventurer from Lunar swoons from the incredible pain a moment later and is forced to let go.

GS: Hiro enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Hiro has attacked Janus Cascade with Death Grip!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Quin Rosenberg has posed.

Quin just kinda... falls over once she's out of range of all this madness. This is really her first exposure to THIS level of craziness, and it's not sitting well with her sensibilities. She's out of range, so she just... sits down hard. A couple people went down, someone might be dead but like... some kind of machine?! Someone else gets run through. And Janus is still batshit.

And Quin does nothing.

One generally doesn't get 'training' for this sort of thing. There are people who can deal and people who can't. Quin, for right now, is in that latter camp. She just... sits where she is, taking all this in with a frozen look on her face.

<Pose Tracker> Ines Colina has posed.

    You'd think that would be it. The black medium shattered. But there's not really enough time to relax in that moment. Really, this is someone else's fight, someone else's vendetta. Sometimes you need to be allowed to resolve things yourself, and interference is unwelcome. Ines gets that.

    On the other hand, Janus also just blew a young woman's head open and is making to kill another, and to not try to do something to stop that would be straight up amoral.

    With a roar, Ines slams her fist into the ground, way too late to stop the attack. Jagged spikes of earth start heading for Janus' legs, too little, too late. as Hiro is skewered trying to defend Gwen. But at least she can hopefully make it hurt.

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

The sky is turning red. Talia looks up, gawking at the way the sky is changing, and then looks back down at Janus and the Black Medium. Her eyes are narrowing -- and then more so when the darkness is dissipated, blown apart by their work.

She looks at Lydia, eyes widening; she stares at her, something shaking as she sees her friend go down. Talia's eyes watch her roll to a stop, and then... shift, that way, and begin to melt.

She doesn't ask what she is. She turns, instead, looking back at Janus. She stays quiet.

Talia throws Mirage, one-handed. The blade shoots for Janus's hip -- though it may hit the ground. Talia vanishes, bursting apart into strands of shadowstuff, and comes together a moment later. Her expression is cold, nearly without emotion, as she draws her parrying dagger--

--and tries to slam it down into Janus's neck, from the side.

GS: Talia has activated a Force Action!
GS: Talia has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ines Colina has attacked Janus Cascade with Tectonic Breaker!
GS: Ines Colina has completed her action.
Jacqueline Barber (Jay) pages Gwen Whitlock and Hiro: Hiro, mind if Jay catches you so don't fall right onto your stab
wound?
GS: Mariel heals Talia! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Talia has attacked Janus Cascade with Sweep Kick!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
Hiro pages Jacqueline Barber and Gwen Whitlock: Don't mind at all!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    "RUN!" Ida shouts, to the man who just shot her, repeatedly. It's too late. Dario still seems to believe in Janus Cascade, and this belief costs him and Romero both. The darkness sweeps them away in a heartbeat. Ida's heart lurches.

    The Medium--if it was a true Medium, and not a mockery--shatters. Darkness sprays out of it like water from a ruptured pipe. A torrent of power rushes past Ida's head, missing her by less than a foot. A deathly chill lingers in its wake. Ida stands there a moment, staring at the shattered bits of rock that were once an artifact of great and terrible power. For a moment, it feels like she can breathe again. She glances back towards the pool of Malice where Devil's Due lies half-submerged.

    In that moment, Ida catches sight of Janus, and her blood runs cold. Adrenaline surges through her as he explodes into violence, shooting Lydia at point-blank range. Silver blood that isn't hers splatters her face. She sees Lydia's body fall to the ground in slow-motion, revealing the--

    there's so, so much blood

    Ida freezes. She stares at Janus, and through him, her breath coming in short, ragged gasps even as her instincts scream at her to move. For all the death she's seen, Ida has been spared the deaths of anyone she came to know and care for deeply. Janus might've just killed Lydia, and that 'might' is only there because Lydia's physiology does not remotely resemble a normal Beastwoman's. He's doing his damnedest to kill everyone else. Ida takes a halting step towards him, her breath hitching in her throat. what is this weakness?

    Talia inadvertently breaks Ida out of it. The look of empty horror in her eyes fades in an instant, replaced with incandescent fury. A roar of rage, underscored by a low, metallic hiss, tears free from her. She drives her right hand straight towards Janus's back, fingers forming a single, knife-like plane.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Janus Cascade with Gotta Get Doll Back Atemi!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

The Old Moon turns red. A deep, boody red, and an ominous sensation, a presence, fills the air.

They unload everything that have at it. She didn't think it was possible, but...

The Medium...shatters. Silently and quietly, as overwhelming force is arrayed against it. And so, the darkness subsides, seeping away. The power Janus had been seeking disappears, and a lot of things happens at once. He fires off numerous shots and then, screaming, charges toward Gwen.

"No!" Jacqueline gasps. She reaches for a Medium - the Artificial Copy Medium of Lucadia. Calling upon its power she Jumps to Gwen's side...

...But Hiro gets there first.

Jacqueline's eyes open wide in horror. She sees Lydia go flying, wounded beyond anything she's seen before. She sees Hiro impaled on Janus's bayonet.

"H-Hiro! Lydia!" She calls out in shock. She moves to catch Hiro as he swoons, falling away from Janus's bayonet.

"H-hold on, Hiro, I've got you..." Jacqueline murmurs, kneeling down to lower him gently. Her hands shaking somewhat she rummages for a potion, trying to apply it to stop the bleeding so he won't bleed out before she can give him a proper treatment.

She focuses on what she can do now. She's afraid for Lydia. She doesn't know if her regenerative qualities will be enough to save her this time.

And she can't bear to watch as the others move to stop Janus before he can hurt anyone else. She had said that the only one he would destroy was himself - she didn't realize how truly, horrifically right she might've been.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Hiro with Distribution Theory!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Hiro! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Ida Everstead-Rey's attack becomes clear!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Quicksilver Blade for 109 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida's arm changes. The armor flattens out, and beneath it, so does the arm. It stretches out, elongating to cross the distance between Ida and Janus more effectively. The hand twists into a point like a spearhead, and behind it, the edge grows wicked, tearing spikes. Ida drives the Demon ARM right for--and, quite likely, through--Janus's torso, her eyes blazing. There is no hesitance, no internal debate. All the arm is is a weapon, and all she wants to do is remove Janus from this life before he kills anyone else.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

    A fellow Seraph comes to Lanval, and he finds at least a little bit of a tether back to reality. There are other things that should yell at him to SNAP OUT OF IT. Hiro might be dying from being run through. Lydia is... not in good shape. So much about the world of sound and color is just a blur, a mess of distant echoes compared to the sensation of what he just bore witness to.
     He does remember hearing some of Lydia's anguish and anger over not being in the know - not being entrusted - with difficult truths the Guardians have tried to hide. Forces of nature, only interested in keeping up their world... not moral authorities.
     "...'m shure 'bout one thing, though," Lanval comments soberly. Not sober enough to let off the gas on the slurring.) Ragnell and himself do have differing opinions on mortals. He was willing to give them enough of a chance over five centuries to protect a small part of Meribus - and even now seems pretty okay and sociable with a bunch of people who will be dust in a blink of an eye.
     "I dunno what'sh goin' on, 'bout the Demon King and what Althena..." Should he even have the right to say her name any more? He is condemned. The Fallen Seraph. It's not something he suspects he'll be able to ever go back and see.
     "...I wanna do shomethin'... fer here."

<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

"Please hang in there," Catenna murmurs with a worried look towards Mariel. She draws in a breath, the lit herb filling her lungs with healing vapours.

It helps. Boy does it help.

What helps less is Janus blowing Lydia's face off. Catenna's mouth opens as a cold horror tightens around her heart - and she swallows the lump in her throat. The horror converts into conviction. Mercy is out of the question at this point. Filgaia was in danger and Lydia - closer to a little sister to Catenna than any of her actual siblings - might only be alive because of her insane physiology.

She curls her fingers more intensely, fighting to try and compress Janus into a bloody meat cube. She doesn't so much as blink.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    "I'm tryin'!" Gwen yells at Dario, trying to be heard over the roaring din of the gathering storm. If not even the final two members of the Cascade gang could get him to understand, or understand Janus, where does that leave the whole lot of them?

    "DARIO! ROMERO!" Gwen glances helplessly back as the two are swept up like leaves in a blustering gale, far out of view. Maybe it was a mercy he blew them back, a small thread of concern?

    But now, it's all over. The redhead looks on as the combined assault decimates the Medium, shattering it like so many of Janus's plans.

    They did it. Slowly, cautiously,

    "... Janus. It's time." This time, with her left hand, the same one she used to grasp and shake that boy's hand, all those years ago-

    'I'm glad you're here.'

    .... Silver blood sails through the air, clearly seen through the hand she stretched out just a moment ago. Lydia's name is on Gwen's lips, a scream-

    'When I run you through with this bayonet, you think they will hear you?'
        
    Somehow, all the times Janus has nearly killed Gwen before, it's never felt as real as it does right now. The way he snarls at her, looks at her with a level of personal, directed hatred she had never seen from anyone.

    But they all took it away from him, right? His dream. This is the consequence. Gwen prepares herself. She'll just try to take him on. She can protect herself, she's done it before. She'll survive this.

    It'll be fine.

    A shadow slips in front of her, a familiar silhouette, the young man from another world, practically giving up his life for hers. "HIRO!"

    Jay's interference is swift, keeping Hiro from further paying for his selfless action.

    Gwen looks down at Hiro, her initial terror and panic abated by Jay's quick care. 'You tried.'

    Vash said something to this effect, right? There were always things she couldn't control, no matter how hard she tried. She can't always keep people from getting hurt. And sometimes, it's their fault. Not just hers, because she couldn't have done this on her own.

    But that just meant-

    "... It's okay. I think I'm ready to end this." If her friends hadn't already.

    She stands, her clothing stained red, moving in front of Hiro and Jay protectively, looking on Janus. She won't pity him, as he never pitied her.

    As the attacks mount, she moves towards Janus, her left fist raised. She breathes, looking for the break, and runs in, fist held back.

    It means you keep on trying, one way or another.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Janus Cascade with Special Delivery!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has entered a Reflect stance!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Janus Cascade guards a hit from Catenna's Polarity Clutch for 117 hit points!
GS: Cripple, Jam, Mute, and Poison! Statuses applied to Janus Cascade!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Hiro's Death Grip for 45 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade guards a hit from Ines Colina's Tectonic Breaker for 84 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Talia's attack becomes clear!
GS: Janus Cascade critically Guards a hit from Talia's Mirage Edge for 35 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Talia has lost 1 Combo!
GS: Janus Cascade takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Special Delivery for 166 hit points!
GS: Janus Cascade has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Janus Cascade has posed.

Janus murders Lydia without really checking. One good deed for the day, he figures.

He charges. He knows where Gwen was, even as she flickers in his vision. A mirage? A spell? Janus himself isn't that banged up, all things considered, so he doesn't consider the possibility of exhaustion.

But the people trying to save Gwen aren't banged up enough, either. Jay all but teleports in the way, but it's HIRO who takes the spear.

Janus sneers. "A hero, are ya?" he spits. "Think I remember you. Funny story..."

"I'm fine killing you too," he says, and yanks the slide back on his rifle to jam in another Nova, so he can just vaporize Hiro and Gwen at the same time.

Which is when the counters start landing. Talia's Mirage doesn't run Janus through quite on the spot, hitting the dirt behind; but it does let her get into position to stab at him. Janus is a lifelong Drifter, and the man has defenses, so the dagger does not tear out his throat, banging against the armored high collar of that jacket. But it bites into his skin just the same, and he whips around, ripping his weapon out of Hiro's gut so he can offer the weapon to his next foe. That turns out to be Ida - he thrusts its broad side into her driving spear. No more words.

Just murderous intent. He screams, forcing back against Ida's attack. The weapon cracks, crackles, its whole frame rattling before Janus's arms fail and Ida drives the weapon into his chest. He groans from it. His legs are sore and bloody from dealing with Ines earlier, but he's still here.

Still dangerous. He snaps the Nova Cartridge into place. Slams the slide in. Whips it up at the entire cross-section of people he wants to murder.

And finds Gwen charging in. "Gwen," he snarls again.

They say hate and love are similar things. Attracting emotions; emotions that make you think about the other person, for good or ill.

Janus moves to block Gwen's punch. His leg is already moving to kick her knees out when Catenna's spell hits. He SCREAMS, his whole body quivering as he struggles to resist the monumental power of his own rapidly worsening gravitation.

Which is when Gwen's fist sheers entirely through his gun, detonating the Nova Cartridge inside.

The blast that results is monumental, a beacon of light to match the darkness that had been eating away the world earlier. The blast wave topples Gwen backwards, but it also sends Janus tumbling, rolling, skidding across the sand. Across the dais.

And into the abyss in the mouth of the shrine. A few moments later, a sickening, bone-cracking THUD follows.

Wizzro, the foul wizard who started all this, chuckles. "A failure, then!" the wizard crows, slumped against the shrine's mouth. "Or is it? The man failed, but the POWER is free now! It will find its other parts, I think. Yes, all of them, I think...feeding on each other...that is the way of these things..."

His body mists, a black smoke rising up from him as he watches the sky with that single eye.

"It doesn't matter. His prison is damaged. The Cascade boy failed, but the power is free! He will come again! The Demon King! King of Thieves! Kahahaa...even when they forgot you, I remembered you!"

        "G A N O N D O R F D R A G M I R E ! !"

And with that Wizzro too disappears - the wizard exploding away in a puff of Malicious smoke, the ring on his finger rolling to a stop on the dais and crumbling into dust.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ganondorf Dragmire... Ragnell's eyes widen, then narrow.
    
    But Wizzro is gone, and Janus is super mega ultra turbo dead. For now, she does a visual survey of those still standing and... those not standing. She might not have participated in the last leg of the battle, but she can offer some healing for folks she happens to like.
    
    "We'll talk more later, Lanv," she says to the Water Seraph, then strides off first towards Hiro, who might be missing an internal organ or two by this point. If someone else is on it by the time she reaches him, well... so much the better.

<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

Catenna widens her eyes at the sight of Janus sailing back through the mouth of the shrine, hopefully landing in the form of a corpse.

"Lydia," Catenna breathes a beat later. She takes a last look to check on Mariel before gesturing, rushing over to Lydia's side. The metallic structure of the Star Shaman always horrifies her a little when she sees her like this, but worse yet is the thought that Lydia might be a dead woman and she might not be able to do anything to help. Fumbling with her Sea Medium, the only source of healing light she can muster, Catenna almost doesn't notice when Wizzro begins to chuckle again.

Catenna looks up only briefly, her shoulders rising and tensing. "Ganondorf Dragmire," she murmurs, frowning before bowing her head over Lydia.

Saarda-Shanta has found herself a perch not on Catenna, but on Mariel's shoulder. The healing herbs helped.

<I was afraid of this,> the Owlet muses grimly. <This is deep magic. The Cascade human did not receive the power of this... Ganondorf. But the Medium must have... contained the Power of the Demon King, after a fashion. Now that it is free....>

Saarda-Shanta does not finish the sentence. Catenna doesn't either. She catches the implication.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

    That name. There's a cadence to it that's blood curdling but he's certain he's never, ever heard of it, and that other sensation of discomfort pulls Lanval further back mentally into the ground level of things in time to watch Wizzro disintegrate with some satisfaction of something being fulfilled.
     Ragnell bounds off as though there's an emergency and YES THERE IS there's at least two confirmed wounded - possibly mortally so - and Lanval stands up to start vaguely in Hiro's direction when he catches sight of--
     --who is that--
     --how can he not recognize who that is?!
     Lanval takes off across the glass-fused dunes from where incredible patches of heat struck prior, trying to go down towards Lydia's side alongside with Catenna as the Owlet muses grimly about the situation.
     "...Lydia? Lydiaaaa...!" He calls. He could try to attempt a restorative Seraphic Arte - and probably will, out of desperation. He was so frightened by what the hell was building, what was washing over them before they intervened...
     ...and might have made things worse in effect...
     He'll do what he can right now, at least, even as his mind nags about something a little more long-term.

<Pose Tracker> Quin Rosenberg has posed.

Quin will... do what she can. That might be the only thing she has in common with any of these people who fought here -- she was, and is, doing what what she can. For now, there are wounded, so she'll play the gofer and run healing stuff to people who needs it.

It's something to concentrate on besides what just happened. Something she's actually still trying to process. Or rather, trying NOT to process. It's just too big for her to think through. Right now, fetch and carry medical supplies. Concentrate on that.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

The healing seems to, at least, to stop the melting even if it doesn't undo the damage. Hard to say if she's alive. After all, there isn't a pulse to check for and her eyes seem to have been damaged enough that they're out of commissions.

If Lydia helped free the Demon King, well, Lydia's honestly willing to take her chances with some unknown demon king that led Filgaia into a thousand years of darkness over Janus Cascade. Not that she can really think about that right now.

If she's thinking of anything.

Might be a good idea to get Lydia to an expert or as close as you can find one anyway.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

 
Hiro doesn't get any more words in to Janus. Perhaps he's just in too much pain, or perhaps he doesn't have anything to say to that perhaps his actions speak for himself. He tries to hold on just long enough to give others the chance to stop Janus from killing Gwen.
 
And then he falls backwards into Jay's arms, out for a moment. Or at the very least just on that liminal edge between unconsciousness and waking. Without that bayonet plugging that hole - it's certainly giving a lovely exit point for the blood in his body.
 
Thankfully, Jay applies a potion, and the healing causes that bleeding to slow down instantly, like she's dammed it up from somewhere inside his body, as Ruby flies up and puts a pawsie over it.
 
"Oh Hiro... what'd you go and do that for!? Gwen had-"
 
There's an explosion of Janus' Nova cartridges going off.
 
-this." Ruby's voice sounds very small in that moment. And she's gone a little bug eyed.
 
Hiro's eyes flare open just as Wizzro speaks that name, perhaps because he did. "Gah!" And immediately wishes he was unconscious again as the pain sends shockwaves through his body, putting his opposite hand over the spot Ruby was holding. His eyes tilting upwards into Jay's face. "Thanks..." He allows a sheepish, albeit pained smile, "...thought I was a goner for sure."
 
And then he would have never gotten to...
 
"Should have known... you'd make sure I'd wake up again." "Dummy! Scaring me like that!"
 
"Ruby... Gwen?"
 
Ruby holds up a pawsie. "Healthy!"
 
"... Janus...?"
 
Ruby pauses for one long moment, then just shakes her head with this slight cringe.
 
Hiro lets out this small sigh, and lets his head rest back for a moment, his eyes closing in a slow blink.
 
I wouldn't call what I do admirable. It's just what I have t'do. We all do what we need to to get by, in this world.
 
"..."
 
I'd just be scared of losin' the thing that makes me me
 
"... Ah Gwen."
 
It's something like admiration and a sigh of worry, all at the same time.
 

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Hearing the sounds of combat and not seeing is almost worse than actually seeing him. She hears that THUD, wincing.

...And then there's a voice. Wizzro, who she had thought been dealt with, turns out to be very much still alive. And he speaks.

Ganondorf Dragmire.

...Jacqueline frowns. So, they were too late to stop it completely. The Demon King would return.

She adds that name to the list of potential future problems to deal with, but for now she looks back down at Hiro as he starts to come to. She offers him a weak smile.

"I did what I could." She replies with a nod, then goes quiet. Her eyes find Lydia again, and once more her eyes stray to the shrine.

She couldn't call this a victory. Too much had been lost here this day.