2019-05-11: Force Your Way

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=========================<* Crusader Forward Base *>==========================

To the west of the Mi'ihen Highroad is found a long, jagged mountain chain that serves as a weather break and help keep both Luca and the Highroad itself safe from vicious storms. A large plateau in this chain, overlooking a wide, sloping beach, has been selected as the forward operating base for the Crusaders' Operation Mi'ihen.

The site is swarming with frenetic activity, as Crusaders move on critical errands, or train in mass combat in preparation for the assault. A few Yevonite robes can be seen among the masses, belonging to priests and priestesses who have refused to abandon those who are seeking to put an end to Sin.

On either side of the plateau can be seen a pair of large, glistening metal... things. These are ancient machina weapons, being tended to by the Al Bhed. Even in spite of the cooperation existing between the two groups, each tends to associate with their own.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RA2mQV8iXxs
<Pose Tracker> Ganondorf Dragmire has posed.

It has been a time to mourn, to grieve, and to pick up the pieces. Bit by bit, the rubble of Operation Mi'ihen has been gathered up; Al Bhed taking it off on their too-few vessels, Crusaders limping back to bases that suddenly have too few men and women left to them. It's grim work, but it is work that is now complete.

Now it's time for ARMS to set about its next task. The next stop is the Thunder Plains, and the way there leads through Mushroom Rock Road, and from there to Guadosalam, gateway to the Plains. A treacherous journey through difficult terrain, but nothing Irving Vold Valeria's champions can't manage.

They descend slowly into a low, deep canyon between the spires. It's a long one, what feels like far below sea level, though that may be an illusion of the height of Mushroom Rock Road's towers. Deep, deep down, in the darkness...

Until crackles of lightning smash one of the plateaus, sending its top crashing down toward the Drifters walking the road. Their origin is revealed after a second blast of lightning, scouring the earth and revealing a man in thick robes, only his large hands and glowing eyes revealed by his heavy robes and hood.

Silence reigns for seconds after the initial assault, until the man speaks. "You have failed in your quest to kill a titan," he declares, loud and fierce. "You have failed to bring justice to a people not yours. You have failed to break the yoke of divinity."

"My master and the warlord Rhadamanthus are of a mind. You will be crushed while your souls bear the burden of those they have failed."

Power crackles around him, dark light blasting about like it were emerging from him and fountaining out of his robes. "I am Agahnim, and I serve Ganondorf Dragmire, King from the Desert. By his decree, be damned. ODESSA!"

His voice rises like thunder crackling, resounding through the cracks in Mushroom Rock Road's many walls. Reaching out to teams of men and women, here to kill.

"Leave NONE alive!"

<Pose Tracker> Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus has posed.

Lightning flashes, words are spoken, and Odessa levies war upon the storm-tossed servants of House Valeria. Yet though Agahnim has spoken truth... it is not the full truth. Not entirely. The Liberator and the so-called King from the Desert are of a mind in this matter, it is true... but not entirely.

Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus can be seen near the rear of the assaulting force, nearby the wizard, watching sorrowfully as soldiers and monsters alike rush down upon the weary, wounded members of ARMS. The old man is dressed in the same plate and mail he bore at the Sorcery Globe... yet it looks as though he has suffered since then. The left side of his face is the faded yellow-green-purple of an old but healing bruise, and thin red lines can be seen along his chin and the right side of his chest, a healed-over wound slipping down beneath the armour. Most notable, however, is that his left arm is bound in a heavy sling tied around his neck.

He looks like he has been down thirty miles of bad road. But he is still standing.

For a moment, he considers calling off the attack, trying once more to negotiate, rather than snuff out the potential of so many warriors. But then he remembers Elru, and Guild Galad, and steels his resolve. "It did not have to be like this," the old man says, his booming voice cutting across the field. "I want you to recall that, at the end. I invited you to join the ranks of those who fought for the world. Failing that, I invited you to stand aside and leave me to my work." His face creases into a frown. "Instead, you chose to fight for a merchant prince so cowardly he refuses to take the field himself. This was your choice," he says. "And this is what it gained you"

A gust of wind sets the old man's cape fluttering... but for the moment, he simply watches. "This much I will do for you, dogs of House Valeria," Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus says. "I will bear witness to your final moments. Die well."

DC: Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus switches forms to Regret For The Things One Has Done Can Be Tempered By Time - Regret For The
Things One Has Failed To Do Is Eternal And Inconsolable!
<Pose Tracker> Scythe Riebaure has posed.

        "So this is this 'ARMS' I've heard so much about."

        ARMS certainly has enough to worry about, but there's one added complication--not two seconds after Agahnim finishes his decree, a second voice chimes in to offer an opinion, coming from seemingly everywhere at once. It's a smooth, confident, self-satisfied tenor.

        "...pathetic."

        With a pop of displaced air, its owner appears--quite literally--from out of nowhere. He's a tall, rangy man with tanned skin, pale blonde hair, and angular black tattoos. His outfit could generously be called military-issue: his red combat jacket hangs open, his boots are a decidedly non-regulation white, and he's wearing more jewelry than any sensible soldier would wear in the field. He stands atop one of the larger mushroom rocks, and looks down his nose at the assembled members of ARMS.

        "I suppose you could amuse me, for a time."

        A crack like distant thunder splits the air. The bare-chested man stands atop another rock formation, larger than the first. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lieutenant Scythe Riebaure, elite magus of Odessa and Crimson Noble. Don't try to run. It will do you no good."

DC: Scythe Riebaure switches forms to Crimson Noble Scythe!
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

 
A man runs towards the front. He is wearing a bowler hat. His shaving is poor. He has no gun. Just suspenders and pants. And yet, he seems very confident. "Hey there!" says this man - DARIO - as he turns round, showing his back to the dogs of House Valeria (so called) and waving his arms. He jumps up and down.

This is suicidal! At least he isn't carrying explosives or anything equally absurd. He takes off his hat, waves it - wait, what's that thing sewn into the top of it?

Distantly someone calls, "Thank you~!"

It's a familiar voice.

ZOOM IN -- up at the top of a ridge space, about the size of a king-sized mattress and now boxed in with rubble and pieces of mushroom rock, there is a sniper's nest. Laying face down on a stack of half rotted cushions is --

ERZEBET MARA LEFANU
and a wicker basket full of drinks in gourds.

Erzebet raises one of Haborym's twin long guns to waggle in greeting. "Hello~!" she calls.

Then she fires a single range-getting shot, which hits Dario's foot - or nearly so. "Yeow!" says the man, jumping around in the middle of the battlefield.

"Ta tum tarum tarumpumpum," Erzebet begins to sort-of-sing aloud as she raises up her head. Her glasses glitter. In this dim light it is not reflection, very clearly. It is something else, and something more.

<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

        "They're here too...!" Ratatoskr's youthful, arrogant voice carries as individuals of great power and influence appear abruptly in the way of ARMS en route to the Thunder Plains. A crimson-hued silhouette of a horned squirrel - of one of the few remnants of the Hyadean people - grinning widely as he crosses his arms atop one of the rock walls.
        "They're here... they're all here...! Hyahaha--!" The Rapid Attacker laughs. His presence, in a way, is a revelation of a more harrowing truth - he was there to see everyone organize for the disastrous, failed operation that did not defeat Sin. This appears to be a tightly-coordinated ambush, as various members of Odessa filter out with great displays of presence or power from all sides.
        "I thought I was going to miss it... the greatest battles in history," he speaks with almost childlike reverence of the concept.
        He hops off the canyon wall, a liquid metal patagium extending between his limbs as he glides across the turbulent skies down to join the battle, mind alight and delighted with the potentials of further legendary battles with the greatest warriors of today, right here, right now!!

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

The plan is to get to the Thunder Plains through Guadosalam, hopefully before the Yevon church decides where to point their fingers. It's possible they'll be nice and acttually just blame the people responsible but considering one of the people who was setting it up was a man named Maester Wen Kinoc? And a Crusader nearly murdered the guy? Yeah, Marivel doesn't want to stick around for the politics. Not until they complete their mission.

Marivel had a nice talk with Auron before leaving, in fact, and learned that Vinsfeld had assaulted the summoners. That pretty much told her to expect an ambush (which she, frankly, expected anyway) and she has taken time to tell ARMS to expect that they be waylaid at some point during their travel.

What Marivel had not expected was Agahnim talking of Ganon, a Crimson Noble Imposter (sigh), and Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus himself.

"Tsk... they couldn't at least wound him?" She says, shaking her head.

"Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus! Perhaps you have forgotten, but Irving Valeria needs cane to walk and is not in any condition to fight! I know that inconvenient details are best left ignored, but they still exist whether you choose to recognize them or not!"

She flashes her fangs. "Besides. What was Odessa doing while we were battling Sin, destroyer of cities? Picking on a bunch of Guardians and defenseless Maesters? Your courage is as impressive as ever!"

She looks for Scythe to a moment, staring at him.

Then she exhales and says, "See, Erzebet? See?" She gestures to Scythe. "This is why I get upset! This right here! If you're not careful you're going to end up like this guy!"

She huffs once and then says, "ARMS." She gestures forward. "We are to push through. Whatever means neccessary!"

And with that she draws out that bloody blade she has as before and runs right for Scythe only to--

*blip*

--Appear in front of Vinsfeld and aim a slice of it across his face.

"You may insult me with this man, but insulting my house... That I will not forgive, Vinsfeld."

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        "Hmmm... So this is ARMS, huh."
        
        This casual, almost indifferent if it weren't laced with amusement, statement comes from what will be for some a familiar face. Dressed in an indigo tunic embroidered in gold, black slacks, brown boots and gloves, twin guns, and a decided lack of hat, Ragnell lounges on the crags that overlook the upcoming battlefield. She hears Agahnim declare that none shall be left alive, and Ragnell chuckles. She doesn't bother to let on what she thinks is so funny, though.
        
        She glances towards Vinsfeld as he declares he'll bear witness to the deaths of the members of ARMS, then around at the other emerging members of Odessa, the group she recently joined. Then she peers down at said members as she rises to her feet. Hmmm... She faints faintly when she spots Marivel, then frowns when she sees... Hnnh. Drawing her pistols, she aims down at her fellow Seraph, Clarine, and fires a single lightning bullet near her feet. It's aimed to miss--but it's also a very clear sign.
        
        "Yo, Clary!" she drawls, raising her voice to be heard down below. "We keep findin' ourselves in this position, huh?" She leaps down the canyon wall and lands, light and nimble, near the Light Seraph. Her smile as she rises is a grim one. "Well then... Whenever you're ready."
        
        Which, let's be real, is a courtesy Clarine wouldn't get from anyone else in Odessa. Maybe that'll balance out the sudden appearance of someone she'd believed before now to be dead.

<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

        Kamui spent most of Operation Mi'hen in shambles, had her voicebox ruined, and had to be fixed up by Marivel and Acacia. She fought and fought hard against what seemed like an endless wave of Sinspawn and Sinscales, and in the end... she witnessed that sorrow again. The sorrow that feels like it has gone on for centuries upon centuries.

        And then she chronicled it, in the Travel Sphere.

        And now she is quietly marching along the road, of Mushroom Rock Road's treacherous roads, with her tattered black cape draping over most of her body. It seems to just come and go as appropriately needed.

        But then Agahnim speaks, as lightning crashes. As Vinsfeld joins them in dramatic speech. And the one that says 'Crimson Noble'... and there's Erzebet too.

        ...

        Die well.

        "I can't die here yet..." Kamui quietly speaks.

        She grips at her cloak and throws it off to one side.

        The emerald gleam of a two-dimensional triangular Saber is seen in plain sight. No disguises today.

        "I already know where my tomb and place of rest is. And it is not here."

        Her camera eye flashes red.

        "Because Gami is waiting for me."

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda is here, and she's decidedly not happy about it. This feels like a waste, to her, and unlike Vinsfeld himself, she can't do the mental gymnastics necessary to make it palatable. Granted, her long term plans with Odessa -- such as they are -- have never been reliant on upper management meeting her minimum standards for behavior, so in the final analysis, this... is fine.

Matilda glances off into the distance, toward Erzebet, who... does not seem to be taking this very seriously. She makes a bit of a face. This is getting steadily less fine. She lets out a long, slow sigh, as she turns her thoughts instead to practicals. The blade at her hip? Freischütz, at her back? The hold-out pistol she's become increasingly reliant on, as her talent for battle outstrips Freischütz's hungry reload rate?

... The blade, for now.

Matilda advances, though without much heart in it just yet, hand ready to draw her blade the instant she has to defend herself -- though she isn't seeking targets with particular gusto.

<Pose Tracker> Clarissa Arwin has posed.

This was new for Clarissa. She remembers seeing some of the devastation after Slayheim, but she wasn't truly part of it. Operation Mi'ihen is different. She'd hoped it could be done. They all had. And instead they got... this.

The initial shock has passed, but the young woman is still subdued as she and Felius tail after ARMS.

Until something smashes into the cliff face in a spray of debris. Clarissa jerks aside with a startled yelp, pulled all the faster as Felius grabs her by the hand and tugs. The pair stagger out of the way of the worst of the debris - just in time for the wizard from up above to make his declaration.

"What are you talking about?!" Clarissa shouts back, more baffled than anything else. "Have you been here all along and just sat on your hands waiting for us to try and hoping we'd fail?! What kind of cynical--"

Clarissa trails off at the sight of a man in pants and suspenders jogging up and waving his arms. "--Uh, excuse me... what are you doing?" she asks with a blink.

A shot tears into the ground. Clarissa lets out a surprised yelp and jerks back. Her eyes instinctively track towards the angle she thought she saw the shot come from, and where the voice came from -

A familiar voice. And a glint of something. Frowning, Clarissa unbuttons the hip pouch she's taken to carrying Strahl Gewehr in. "I think I know that voice. That's got to be her," she declares. "Felius--"

Felius is already moving. He holds his glaive out to try and coax DARIO out of the way.

Clarissa dashes to the right, trying to get into the cover of a large boulder, and takes aim towards that glint. Light glimmers at the vertical bore of her curious ARM, building up, then bursting forth in a ray of blue-white light.

Two can fire from range: Strahl Gewehr's shot rips towards Erzebet's bluff, covering the distance in a flash. The beam doesn't lose its intensity.

It misses - but comes close enough to warn. It punches into the rock face below where Erzebet is hiding.

"I know you're up there, ERZEBET MARA LEFANU!" Clarissa shouts across the intervening distance. "I can hit you from here if I have to, but I'd really rather not!"

<Pose Tracker> Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus has posed.

Marivel flickers in, too fast for Odessa's soldiers to intervene, too swift even for Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus to react---

(It is in this moment that Marivel may recall Brad Evans' previous assessment of his former commander's speed, and begin to smell a rat.)

---the blade whips through Vinsfeld's face, passing out the other side... and causing his body to flicker, faintly, shimmering with a blue light before returning to its previous, faintly sad, faintly amused expression. "Swift of sinew, but not of thought - the true motto of House Valeria," Vinsfeld says, his lips curling into a smile. "I told you - I am here to witness your last moments. Were I to take the field, even like this," he says, lifting his splinted, slung arm. "You would have no chance at all."

The old man's eyes narrow. "And you must have a chance," he mutters. "There would be no point, otherwise."

<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

Zhang Xiumei, by herself, isn't much to look at.

She stands at about five feet, seven inches. She is imposing in neither height nor build, and her green eyes are accented by eyeglasses. She looks like an accountant, wearing a skirt, dress shirt, tie, and vest that have all gotten stained and dirtied by mud. She isn't, really, the sort of person who could call herself a hero. She mostly looks tired as she follows after the other members of the Agile Remote Mission Squad.

And then, as her green eyes look up, her expression changes to one of alarm. She looks between Agahnim and Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus. Her fingers twitch, near the small dagger at her side -- like it would ever be enough. "This--this is..."

'Gami.'

A voice stirs in her mind. A man's voice, calm and controlled. It takes her a moment of listening to the voice that only she can hear to realize. For once, that voice isn't talking past her.

> They're going to try to kill you. Kill us.

Her eyes widen; her hand stops at the dagger, and the bracelet on her wrist slips down, dangling at angle. Light glints off the relief-carved helmet on the center of the bracelet.

> It's time to stop them. This is what we are.

Xiumei swallows. Her eyes dart to her side -- meeting Eleanor's golden ones -- and then she holds a hand up, and yells: "Armor... CHANGE!"

Light flashes up around Zhang Xiumei, and the woman vanishes into it. When it fades, she is clad in dark green armor with purple highlights; it's over a black bodysuit. Her hand extends, and there is another flash of light, before a cylinder appears. Her fingers curl around it, and then a blade of green light erupts from it.

Xiumei turns her head, purple hair pulled in a ponytail, and her eyes -- without glasses, now -- look straight towards Ratatoskr and Matilda Whitehead alike.

"Understood," she says to no one standing here.

DC: Zhang Xiumei switches forms to Biometal Model V!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

Clarine had, somewhat listlessly, been following ARMS in their departure from Mushroom Rock Road. There was a lot to unpack following, well, everything that just happened - and as many of her non-Seraph friends and acquaintances ranked among ARMS numbers(or were otherwise attached to them), she found herself naturally drawn to following them.

She was one without purpose, so for now, she could follow them and look after them in her travels. She had heard Marivel's warning, that they could expect to be attacked at any time, but even so, she continued.

What she did not expect was a terrible presence, preceeded by crackling lightning - condemning them, and sentencing them to death.

Clarine freezes in place. The threat rings clear throughout her head, as another man appears, and another - all Odessa.

All declaring their death.

Clarissa, Marivel, Acacia, Kamui...and the others, those she had not spoken with, but were friends of theirs.

She did not want them to die. She couldn't let them. Quietly, she begins to go over the situation in her head - analyzing the area, trying to think of a way out for them. To those more familiar with the quiet, shy Clarine, the focused, determined expression that crosses over her face is unexpected.

"...This terrain is disadvantageous. I will attempt to devise..." She starts...and then, with a terrifying crack, a bullet of lightning impacts the ground near her feet.

Clarine's eyes grow wide, and her facade cracks. Disbelief appears on her face, and she becomes short of breath - which is impressive, for someone who does not technically need to be.

"I-It...it cannot be. Ragnell...?" She whispers. But that voice, that cheery greeting...there could be no mistaking it. And indeed, the Lightning Seraph herself drops down, dispelling all disbelief.

If this was not Ragnell, then it was a very convincing duplicate, to fool even her.

"...Ragnell...you you...you are alive...? I...I can scarcely believe it..." She murmurs, looking upon her. She doesn't need to ask what she's doing here. She knows from that grim smile on her face.

"...Must we always be on opposing sides...?" She murmurs. In one smooth, elegant motion she spins in place. Mirrors slide out of her sleeves, spiraling around her as she faces Ragnell once more.

Her stance is one ready for battle, but her face doesn't say the same.

She looks back at the others.

"I will...attempt...to keep her occupied." She says, for those of ARMS.

'Attempt' is the key word. Ragnell was always the better fighter of the two. Their last fight was enough proof that hadn't changed.

<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

        Acacia's been feeling strung-out ever since reaching Spira - no, even before that. More invested in home comforts than she'd like to admit, she's homesick and she knows it and, awkwardly, the only thing that'll help is curling up at, well, home. Things have been kind of a whirlwind ever since she descended down into a ruin and woke up a certain Reploid; a sudden and unexpected job offer, an abrupt trip to Elru, and a hurtling ejection to another world, one full of danger and death and destruction.

        "Urgh, no, that's too melodramatic," she mumbles to herself as she walks along, trying to shape the recent events in her mind as she pinches the bridge of her nose. Besides, it makes it sound like it's Kamui's fault, and that's the last thing she wants to imply. As fantastical as she is, as spaced-out as she can be, as much as Acacia doesn't really know all that much about her, having Kamui around has been a balancing force - something down-to-earth to focus in on, something to distract her from her anxiety.

        Moving on helps, as well. Marivel seems convinced that the Thunder Plains and Guadosalam are the way to progress forwards in terms of finding their way home, and it's not like the reporter has any better ideas. The Al Bhed might be a lead, sure, but for the time being she's most happy to be putting the Mi'ihen Highroad at her back. She'd never complain about a reporter's work (that's a lie, she would and has on many occasions, but always does a good job regardless) but it's a relief to be leaving that much pain and suffering behind.

        * * *

        Her and her big mouth. She feels her jaw clench at the sight of the arrayed Odessa troops. Honestly, she'd been assuming Vinsfeld was back on Filgaia, using the sudden lack of Drifters to do whatever it was he'd planned. She hadn't thought for an instant that he'd actually have followed them here; didn't that leave both of them isolated? she wonders, and then winces to herself. The obvious argument is that he had a way back.

        She is decidedly not a hero, as far as she's concerned - but she can at least feel for the reassuring weight of her pistol in her jacket, grimacing to herself; she's well aware that what she is is a big mouth. "This is what you call 'fighting for the world'? Running down a bunch of travellers who haven't even done anything to you yet? Swallowing them with numbers right after they're done trying to take on the biggest threat around? You're just a bunch of cowards," she finds herself snarling.

        There's a second reassuring weight as she whips out her camera, juking backwards a couple of steps as she brings up the viewfinder to her eyes. There's no time for accuracy, so she goes for speed instead, hammering the shutter several times as she sweeps over the assembled threats, trying to ignore the lump in her throat. "This is what 'power is strength' gets you," she mutters sourly as she rams it back into her pocket. "A bunch of bullies high on their own ego and hypocrisy."

        "Kamui! Weapons free-- but look after yourself!" she calls, knowing how much it can bolster the Reploid at times like these. "That's not an order! It's just a request! If we're in a battle, then--"

GS: Acacia Saitani has spent 1 Combo on Reload!
GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Kamui with Ugh! Fine!!
GS: Acacia Saitani has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
GS: Acacia Saitani heals Kamui! She gains 125 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Kamui gains 15 extra FP from Acacia Saitani!
GS: Kamui has attacked Acacia Saitani with Together with Master!!
GS: Kamui has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Kamui has completed her action.
GS: Kamui heals Acacia Saitani! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

        The way Ratatoskr hovers down, he has himself a nice bird's-eye (...flying squirrel's-eye) view of all the posturing, of all the warriors readying themselves for battle and it may well be the equivalent of being smashed on at least ten beers to just see it all. Some are familiar, all are interesting, but as chance has it as he comes down to a three-point stance before an unassuming young woman whose form has changed into such colorful armor, bearing a blade of green light.
        "What's that...?" He asks. "What's that!" He repeats, the solid yellow of his eyes lighting up to some body language that is positively alien. (He is technically one.) His segmented metal tail stands out on end, power coursing through the horn on his head as he rises up to his full height, raising his arms and bending one knee in a martial arts stance as he peeks through towards the swordswoman of exotic ARM technology.
        "...Show me!" He says, eager, pacing about. Erratic hopping. A boundless energy just waiting to be unleashed, as the blood of a warrior grows ever hotter. Enough that what is visible of his flesh grows a little more flushed in silver, as if goading - blatantly wanting - for Xiumei to come at him.

<Pose Tracker> Ganondorf Dragmire has posed.

Agahnim chuckles, a self-assured, pleased hum, as the battle begins.

He engages nobody himself; the wizard folding his arms into his voluminous robes, as the battle begins in earnest.

His eyes scan around, picking out participants in the crowd. Briefly, all may sense eyes upon them, piercing and assessing.

The last is Eleanor. The wizard's head tilts, ever so slightly.

Then he just...fades; flickers away like mist, leaving the battle to the rest of Odessa.

GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Ratatoskr with Boiling Quicksilver!
GS: Ratatoskr has completed his action.
GS: Ratatoskr takes a solid hit from Ratatoskr's Boiling Quicksilver for 0 hit points!
GS: Burst! applied to Ratatoskr!
GS: Ratatoskr assumes the Avenger stance!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        "Hmm... Is it really so shockin' that I'm alive? Solanine nearly fell off her seat too," Ragnell muses, tilting her head at Clarine. "All I did was fall into the Leyline, Clary. It's not that different from an Earthpulse here on Lunar. An' us Seraphim--we're basically made o' mana, aren't we?" She laughs. "You could say it's 'cuz I fell in the Leyline that I survived. If I'd stayed there in the temple with you an' everyone else hankerin' for a piece o' me, I probably wouldn't be here right now."
        
        Her smile fades. "But that's neither here nor there. I'm not that keen on havin' to fight you either, but--" She shrugs broadly as Clarine summons her mirrors. "I'd rather it be me than any o' these *other* assholes, so here we go."
        
        It's true, too; Ragnell *is* the better fighter of the two of them. That was true eight hundred years ago, and it's even more true now that Ragnell has had continuous experience with all kinds of battles and Clarine... somewhat less so. Neither of them has an elemental advantage over the other either; Clarine can only help that Ragnell is a sentimental enough person to go easy on an old friend in a one-on-one situation.
        
        She chuckles, too, at Clarine's call to the rest of ARMS, and lifts her left gun. The barrel glows as crackling light accumulates within, then shoots out in a swift laser towards Clarine. It may bounce off one of her mirrors--or it may shoot straight through. Either way, it's clear from Ragnell's stance that she's going to be hitting hard.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Seraph Clarine with Tempest Laser!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Clarine takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Tempest Laser for 139 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell assumes the Avenger stance!
<Pose Tracker> Scythe Riebaure has posed.

        Scythe takes a step forwards, crouches, and leans an elbow on his bent knee. "Do come up with some more heroic lines," he says to Acacia. "I don't want the last thing I hear from you to be a coward's whining." There's a patch on his jacket--Acacia might have to strain to make it out, but it's clearly the insignia of a military unit. A lance on a field of black and gold--

        "Oh! That's more like it!"

        Scythe greets Marivel's charge with a predatory smile, light glinting off sharp canine teeth. He spreads his feet, and raises both hands, fingers clenching. Fiery light spreads around them. The self-proclaimed Crimson Noble rises off the ground, the back of his jacket fluttering in the wind. "Come then, Valeria! Let's see if a slip like you can--"

        Marivel vanishes. Scythe looks gobsmacked for a second or two, but then his fine, noble features twist in rage. Displaced air blows out at Marivel's face as Scythe vanishes, reappearing right in front of her--overlapping with part of Vinsfeld's hologram, which shimmers right through him. "Right, then," Scythe says. He snaps his right hand forwards, and a length of blackened carbon steel drops into his hand. Scythe steps forwards, and drives the knife at Marivel's gut in a vicious upward stab.

GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Marivel Armitage with Stain the Blade!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has completed his action.
GS: Marivel Armitage critically Guards a hit from Scythe Riebaure's Stain the Blade for 25 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

 
Erzebet kisses the air in Matilda's general direction, because a further call would be rather contrary to purpose, wouldn't it?

Her attention turns outwards. There's Marivel. She breathes out in - what? SHe doesn't know. Marivel does raise a point, but, Erzebet thinks as she runs the tip of her tongue over the back of Haborym's larboard stock, that isn't what we're here to do, is it?

A ray of light smashes into her clifflet position!

From behind cover, Erzebet says, "Is THAT SO? You seem pretty eager to me! Anyway, through my witchcraft I heard what you said and I will now make my statement against it!"

"It is understandable, maybe even laudable, that you want to help the local people," Erzebet says, "but to my understanding here they have a pretty good thing going. This Sin situation is rough but they have a handle on it with the entire system with the Summoners. So you have helped to intervene... you've allied yourself with the Guard of Althena who, though I'm not going to praise them particularly, are definitely local!"

Erzebet is quiet for a moment.

She peeks over the rocks, her glasses gleaming. "I don't know where I was going with that. Anyway, the question ultimately and always comes down to: Who is the one at the top of the hill, firing down, and who is in the valley, pleading for mercy? Were our situations reversed, would you be so kind? Oh, perhaps you wouldn't kill us, you'd just strip us of our ARMS and put us in a corral where we won't make things any different."

"Because that's the scary thing, isn't it? Change?"

MEANWHILE, down on the floor of the valley, Dario is sweating a little. He is kind of out here and he doesn't have a weapon. He is, by sheer happenstance, standing near Kamui. He tips his hat on reflex. "Ma'am."

The spotter fabric in his hat twinkles.

Haborym gets a new signal lock.

"Huh," Erzebet says, before she raises one hand up above the rubble line - WITHOUT LOOKING - and pivots around. Several rounds aim towards Clarissa but the firing line is walked over towards Kamui, two or three rounds putting smouldering divots in the ground fruitlessly before one goes RIGHT through Dario's hat and straight at Kamui!

Dario tells Kamui, "This is yours now," and reaches over to put his hat on her head.

GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Clarissa Arwin with Beautiful Bullet Array!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Kamui with Beautiful Bullet Array!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Kamui with It's Easier To Wear A Hat!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has completed her action.
GS: Kamui guards a hit from Erzebet Lefanu's Beautiful Bullet Array for 73 hit points!
GS: Kamui takes a solid hit from Erzebet Lefanu's It's Easier To Wear A Hat for 0 hit points!
GS: Clarissa Arwin takes a glancing hit from Erzebet Lefanu's Beautiful Bullet Array for 60 hit points!
DC: Eleanor Klein switches forms to Crest Sorceress Eleanor!
DC: Eleanor Klein switches forms to Crest Sorceress Eleanor!
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel knew it wouldn't work but honestly, it's still a surprise. After a brief raising of her eyebrows, Marivel allows a small smirk to flicker upon her lips. "True, tis very fitting, Vinsfeld. All flash and naught a lick of substance. I know well what becomes of the lands you try to save. We will see if your acts lead to verdancy or to salt."

Scythe comes in shortly after. His own ability to teleport with such finesse is fascinating in its own way--it does not seem to be precisely the same kind she utilizes--but it's all kind of hampered by the fact that this guy is named Scythe. She catches the knife with her hand. It does not punch through her palm but it's still cutting through it as she is grabbing onto it through the blade. Black smoke drifts out of the wound rather than blood.

"So what's your real name?" Marivel asks. "Is it Harold?" That said, at the very least, Scythe knows style. Marivel can appreciate that even if she's all kinds of put out by this revelation.

She is distracted by Ragnell's appearance, and Clarine seeing her alive for the first time. Of course, Marivel doesn't seem surprised at all. She knew Ragnell was alive, but she certainly did not expect Ragnell's presence here. Is she with Odessa? It's hard to say. If she were, she would have almost certainly waited until they reached the Thunder Plains where she would have a considerable advantage. She gives Ragnell a small wave of her hand with her fingers curling down rather than swinging the arm around.

She swings her own blade up and across for Scythe's upper body. It does seem while they may not actually have the same race, they do have the same propensity to dedicated action that some might call ruthlessness.

Who are the people punching down? Who are the people punching up? Marivel would suspect the ones punching up would be the Al Bhed, a problem that may become worse shortly, but Marivel has elected to cross that bridge when they come to it.

"Where is he...?" She mutters to herself, turning inward.

GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Guillotine!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Scythe Riebaure completely evades a hit from Marivel Armitage's Guillotine!
<Pose Tracker> Clarissa Arwin has posed.

It's occurred to Clarissa intellectually that Odessa probably can't be talked down and that they're here to kill them. But there's a part of her that can't accept it.

As Erzebet delivers her piece, Clarissa presses her lips together firmly, ducking down behind a rock. She lowers her eyes for just a second - taking them off the fight.

It's brief. "No, change isn't scary at all!" she calls back, her voice louder and more clear. "I want to change Filgaia for the better! That's the reason I wake up in the morning! What you're doing is just the same cycle of arguing over power and politics!"

Rounds punch into the boulder Clarissa's hiding behind, blowing away a large chunk of it. Debris sprays back towards Clarissa, and she yelps as she jerks back, shielding herself with one arm to try and keep shards of white-hot rock out of her eyes. Most of them hit her in the glove and along her bicep, leaving a few ugly cuts and small burns behind. With a pained wince, she rolls out from behind the boulder and darts forward --

And realizes where the rounds are going. "Kamui, be careful!" she calls out. "I'm sure something is wrong with that hat--"

Clarissa catches herself. It feels ridiculous to even say it.

Then she dives forward. Hitting the ground with a burst of breath, she tumbles forward and takes cover behind a flowering bush. She times out a few heartbeats - one - two - three -

-couple extra, figuring Erzebet will expect three -

Clarissa leans out from hiding and squeezes off a shot. Strahl Gewehr shines as a long ray arcs towards the rim of the rubble line, trying to slice through it into the Erzebet hiding behind it. This time she's not shooting to warn.

"Why can't you accept that not everything is a calculated transaction of power?" she shouts after the shot goes off.

GS: Clarissa Arwin has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Strahl Gewehr!
GS: Clarissa Arwin has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Clarissa Arwin has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

It was a hard night. No, that doesn't express it--but does it? Eleanor Klein, for one, does not find that her mind feels entirely ready to move forward. Nevertheless, move forward they must, and she is with the others. Perhaps it's a sign of her thoughtful mood that she doesn't complain about the walking. Maybe not just that, though. There is something, something that has been bothering her. And here, suddenly--

Eleanor blinks, as she sees the strange robed man and his dark light. Her eyes widen. "It's--"

It begins to make sense. When Vinsfeld speaks up, Eleanor steps forward, in her Spiran clothes--but still wearing the signet of House Klein.

"I am no mongrel, usurper," snaps back the daughter of the Marchioness of Klein in Meria Boule. "You ask that we step aside so that you can murder and call it justice! Those in care of the world will not so easily surrender it to you!"

Her eyes flash as she looks with confusion to--a Crimson Noble? The appearance of a strange singsonging woman? A strange monster... There is much happening all at once. But the thing she was waiting for seems to come into place now, as--

"...You," Eleanor says, and the light of recognition is in her eyes as Matilda Whitehead steps forward, though they have never before met. She sees her advancing, and wonders. She sees--

"Xiumei!" Eleanor calls. She cannot focus then on Aganihm. She spots his attention--she stares back, uncertain why she feels... transfixed, for an instant.

She shakes it off. "All right, let's go!" Stepping up beside Xiumei, Eleanor keeps an eye on Matilda--but doesn't advance first. Instead, she pulls something from her things, and there in her hand flashes the power of the Ley.

"For the coming battle...! May the heavens witness!"

A flash of sparkling light shifts about Xiumei and Eleanor both, in that instant, the rocky magic of the earth wending lines as the rush of soothing water heals the wounds of the journey--and Eleanor adopts a ready stance.

GS: Erzebet Lefanu critically Guards a hit from Clarissa Arwin's Strahl Gewehr for 25 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

It was a hard night. No, that doesn't express it--but does it? Eleanor Klein, for one, does not find that her mind feels entirely ready to move forward. Nevertheless, move forward they must, and she is with the others. Perhaps it's a sign of her thoughtful mood that she doesn't complain about the walking. Maybe not just that, though. There is something, something that has been bothering her. And here, suddenly--

Eleanor blinks, as she sees the strange robed man and his dark light. Her eyes widen. "It's--"

It begins to make sense. When Vinsfeld speaks up, Eleanor steps forward, in her Spiran clothes--but still wearing the signet of House Klein.

"I am no mongrel, usurper," snaps back the daughter of the Marchioness of Klein in Meria Boule. "You ask that we step aside so that you can murder and call it justice! Those in care of the world will not so easily surrender it to you!"

Her eyes flash as she looks with confusion to--a Crimson Noble? The appearance of a strange singsonging woman? A strange monster... There is much happening all at once. But the thing she was waiting for seems to come into place now, as--

"...You," Eleanor says, and the light of recognition is in her eyes as Matilda Whitehead steps forward, though they have never before met. She sees her advancing, and wonders. She sees--

"Xiumei!" Eleanor calls. She cannot focus then on Aganihm. She spots his attention--she stares back, uncertain why she feels... transfixed, for an instant.

She shakes it off. "All right, let's go!" Stepping up beside Xiumei, Eleanor keeps an eye on Matilda--but doesn't advance first. Instead, she pulls something from her things, and there in her hand flashes the power of the Ley.

"For the coming battle...! May your light shine as the once-hidden sun!"

Eleanor extends her hand, palm-out, to Xiumei--and abrubtly, green light and blazing spectral flame enfold her, empowering her with the power of light.

GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Zhang Xiumei with Radiant Blow!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

        Weapons free, Kamui!

        "... ..."

        Kamui's camera eye closes for a moment, before she says, "I do not want to call them -Mavericks- just yet... it is not yet time to declare them necessary to be retired."

        It's always deeply ominous when she decides that, after all.

        She remembers Erzebet. Technically, Erzebet killed her once already. She exploded into blue bubbles and lost a Life. There's little worse in life than to have lost a 1-Up. To have the one up on something, someone, in a situation, gives one a strong and muistly muiciferous advantage.

        "Change is... scary," Kamui agrees, even as she starts dashing along one side and skids to a halt and--

        --and goes right by Dario, blinking for a moment as he tips his hat.

        Without even thinking, she throws herself in his way and takes a bullet, some kind of strange black Reploid fluid that has more to do with viscous oil than blood flowing out of her body.

        Then Dario puts his hat on her head and everything changes

        Get Equipped with -Hat-
        ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV9LyYzLUyQ )

        Kamui kicks and pivots as she pirouettes, twisting one way as she maneges aplomb to a freestyle ballotte.

        Au! Ooh-ooh-ooh!

        Battement! The effortless jump to brise! Full pirouette, en avant, fingerpoint and--

        Ooh Ooh Yeah!

        The energised hat flies towards Erzebet. It's more like a projectile than a simple hat now, seeking to land on her head and infect her with fever.

        "Mui Bien..."

GS: Kamui enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Kamui has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Arte of Dario - Muisterious F.E.V.E.R!
GS: Kamui has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Kamui has completed her action.
GS: Zhang Xiumei takes a solid hit from Eleanor Klein's Radiant Blow for 0 hit points!
GS: Amplify and Hyper! applied to Zhang Xiumei!
GS: Eleanor Klein assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu guards a hit from Kamui's Arte of Dario - Muisterious F.E.V.E.R for 57 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

"I...considered there was a possibility, but...I did not want to hope, only to never see you again..." Clarine replies quietly. She wants to say that she would've tried to protect Ragnell...but she knows that's wrong. It's not a lie, she certainly would've tried - but what would she have been able to accomplish?

Ragnell would prefer it to be her that fights her...and a part of Clarine prefers it this way, too, as difficult as it is for her to fight someone she had, only a few minutes ago, believed to be dead.

Ragnell lifts her left gun and Clarine moves her mirrors to defend...but Ragnell's reflexes are faster, the beam flying in between her mirrors before they're completely in place and impacting her in the shoulder, causing her to recoil backward and wincing.

She's...still a bit slow. The years she had spent in dormancy had not been kind to her - particularly for one who did not seek conflict like she did. Certainly, she had done her share of fighting - but only what she need to do in her usual explorations. Nothing on this scale, not since the battle at the Fallen Sanctuary.

She's...going to need to take a different approach. Clarine begins to close in, almost gliding as she does. Her mirrors follow her, forming up in front of her as a shield. With a swing of her left arm two of them detach from the main bunch and fly toward Ragnell.

It's as much a way to attack as it is to provide herself some cover - she isn't certain she can win, but if she can at least buy as much time as possible...

In the distance, she hears Acacia issuing an order to Kamui, who is now wearing a hat. She notes Marivel noticing Ragnell. She hears Clarissa's declaration to change Filgaia for the better.

She hopes they will all remain strong...

GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Dancing Glass!
GS: Seraph Clarine has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Seraph Clarine's Dancing Glass for 57 hit points!
GS: Cover! applied to Seraph Clarine!
<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

        There's no answer to Acacia's mumblings; perhaps that's for the best, because it's not like the reporter actually wants to call attention to herself if she can help it. They're at a disadvantage whichever way you look at it, with Odessa having a lot more in the way of ranged capability and a better vantage point. For a moment, she hisses to herself in thought, wondering if they've got any kind of way to send up some sort of signal flare. She can think of one, but...

        The thought flees her briefly as she watches Marivel square off against another 'Crimson Noble', and Acacia's naturally cynical mind has to frown at that claim. It wouldn't be out of the question for Marivel to have missed another one of her race, but she certainly sounded like she'd done some serious research, and the reporter trusts the vampire she does know enough to listen to the skepticism in her voice.

        "Shit," she whines to herself under her breath as she sees the wisp of black smoke curl up from Marivel's hand. Crimson Noble or not, Crimson Noble opponent or not, that surely can't be a good sign, and even if she doesn't have high expectations, her hand curls around the grip of her pistol. A sudden flurry of movement from Kamui gives her what she hopes is a distraction and cover as she draws, lines up her shot-- a flash of colour makes her lurch for a moment in recognition; her mouth falls open as her hands quiver slightly. Of course. Of course.

        Her knuckles whiten around the metal, and when she fires it's with her mouth in a grim line.

GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Snapshot!
GS: Acacia Saitani has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

Xiumei doesn't turn her head to Eleanor. She lets the spell that Eleanor cast over her settle in, infusing her with a brilliant green light that fades for a moment. She takes a few steps forward, and lifts her weapon up across the center of her body. The Pulse Saber makes the air around the beam blade waver, almost like a mirage. Then, she takes a few hurried steps forward. Xiumei becomes something more akin to a blur.

And then she leaps.

Her armored boots propel her high into the air; she twists around in the air, her entire body doing a pirouette, and her right hand swings the Pulse Saber back. She comes crashing down at Ratatoskr. She is silent, as she cleaves the weapon down.

The green beam saber curves, slightly, before straightening out on the downswing -- and tries to chop through the Metal Demon with one fine stroke.

GS: Zhang Xiumei has attacked Ratatoskr with Pulse Slash!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has completed her action.
GS: Ratatoskr takes a glancing hit from Zhang Xiumei's Pulse Slash for 57 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Taking a deep breath in through her nose, Matilda assesses the battlefield -- and Eleanor draws Matilda's attention to herself, in a way that... wait, what?

"... Have we met?" Matilda asks, genuinely baffled, even as she closes in; there's something about this situation that doesn't seem right to her, or at the very least, she's missing some important information. There's nothing for it, admittedly -- she'll just have to advance anyway, and hope she finds an answer in the moment.

As Eleanor helps Xiumei, Matilda continues her steady, even advance. "... I'm -- sorry about this," she says, with a faint grimace. That doesn't stop her from attacking, though; she draws her gleaming silver arming sword, steps in, and goes for a swift strike with the flat of the blade followed by a forceful knee strike. Nothing terribly complex or fancy -- or, for that matter, terribly lethal.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Eleanor Klein with Planting!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

Truly, Vinsfeld Rhadamanthys is a devious and cunning man. Not only has he stranded ARMS on a foreign world, but by some quirk of the Sorcery Globe's translocation technology has spread the organization's brightest stars across the surface of the moon. One man in particular has been unusually difficult to track down. You'd think 'blue hair, huge gun' would be a pretty distinct set of criteria, and if it wasn't for all the recent Filgaian immigrants, that would certainly be true.

But, the search has thus far been fruitless.

Ashley Winchester has been missing for weeks, and every day it seems as though hope of his reemergence has grown dimmer and dimmer.

...

Something's wrong.

There's a sound that is immediately familiar to anyone who has spent any reasonable amount of time among the locals of Spira. Clattering armor, talons thundering across a rain-slicked road. Has one of the Crusaders noticed the commotion and sallied forth to investigate? Do they know what danger they're riding into? Are they so driven to hopelessness that they'd consider such a suicidal charge a reasonable and acceptable sacrifice, that they might still join their fallen brethren on the Farplane...?

Yes. Almost definitely.

Except it's not a Crusader who's riding this particular bird.

"Everyone! I'm sorry I'm late!" A massive and utterly unwieldy bayonet, finally being used as the cavalry blade that it was designed to be, cleaves through a half-dozen moblins, one monster at a time. Wind whips through the valley, catching the hood shrouding a head of vibrant, electric-blue hair. Ashley Winchester yells as he bids his bird forward at top speed, right for...

The... the hologram of Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus.

Did he not get the memo?

Was he not paying attention when That Man was revealed to be a hologram!?

No, he's just getting into position.

Ashley gives his chocobo one last spur before digging his heels into the stirrups, leaping into the air...! Before firing a single, heavy canister right at what Ashley can only identify as some kind of evil Blitzball ace. "I had to take a few detours on the way here," he explains as the canister explodes into a cloud of frigid fog. "There were some bandits on the--"

Beat.

Ashley turns.

And stares RIGHT AT DARIO.

"How!?"

Ashley just looks... Utterly dumbstruck.

Do these two have history together!?

GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Canister - Freezing Fog!
GS: Ashley Winchester has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a glancing hit from Acacia Saitani's Snapshot for 68 hit points!
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a glancing hit from Ashley Winchester's Canister - Freezing Fog for 51 hit points!
GS: Slow! applied to Scythe Riebaure!
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

        When Eleanor casts a spell that bathes Xiumei in light, there is a moment in which the deliriously battle-ready Ratatoskr averts his gaze towards the Crest Sorceress for a passing moment. Since he always smiles in some fashion or another, it is tough to gauge if this is a mere acknowledgement of presence, or an indicator of something more - but it gives Xiumei the extra sliver of time to give her advantageous positioning.
        As the wielder of Model V takes to the air, Ratatoskr follows in a deft leap up to meet her from below. Both of them are blurs - one of green and black with trimmings of violet, one of crimson and silver with the faint trailing of yellow. He twists and contorts to minimize the depth in which the Pulse Saber cuts through Living Metal beyond the armor as it grazes across his torso. It goes a touch deeper than he might intend or think, owing to the slight deception involved in the way the Pulse Saber curls when swung. Small quantities of silver splatter against the stone.
        His grin doesn't fade.
        Whirling, unfurling the liquid metal patagium again for a momentary arrest of his aerial momentum, he tries to get Xiumei to pass beyond him before he descends upon her with an extended knee, intending to pounce and take the wind right out of her.
        Matilda might be sorry, reluctant.
        Her partner in battle... anything but, as both of them elect to strike with their knees.

GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Zhang Xiumei with Fly Into Fray!
GS: Ratatoskr has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ratatoskr has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell nods at Clarine's explanation. "Fair," she admits. "False hope *is* painful." As for whether Clarine would have protected her or not... it's true, isn't it? Even if Clarine weren't out of practice combat-wise, it was only one of her and quite a few of everyone else.
        
        Regardless.
        
        Marivel waves at Ragnell, and Ragnell waggles her other gun back at her in what can probably be construed as friendly wave considering she doesn't pull the trigger. During this time, Clarine pulls her mirrors in toward herself and runs at Ragnell, mirrors at the front to form a shield even as she closes ranks. Ragnell slips to one side, but the two detached mirrors still strike her as she go, slashing at her--if somewhat more shallowly if she hadn't moved.
        
        So what's the way to respond? Obviously, with an even more intimate violence. As Clarine draws close, Ragnell responds in kind--and then raises her boot to lash out several hefty kicks at the mirrors that shield her in an attempt to break through them and open Clarine up for further attacks.
        
        "So what is it you're tryin' to do now?" she asks as she strikes, over and over. "Did you join up with these guys, or're they just lettin' you tag along?"

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Seraph Clarine with Pummel Kick!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

 
"Politics is the nature of human interaction!" Erzebet counters. "You might as well complain that people need to eat and piss! You're afraid to engage in politics because you benefit from the existing schemae!"

YES! She carefully enunciated the term... SCHEMAE!

Erzebet remains behind her stone barrier. "You know what, Miss, I agree with you," Erzebet then says.

Pause.

"On one point," she continues. "It's not calculated. Nobody sat down and thought about it before Rhadamanthus, not in so many terms. But think about it, you know? You're going to get shot full of holes in this valley but how many people have been killed by border guards? How many people have been stopped from finding the food they need to survive because King A had the land and King B had some other land, and King B's people couldn't go to King A's without, you know, having to pay extra, or get picked on, or anything?"

MEANWHILE, Dario is hatless now.

Kamui begins to dance. "You do that," Dario says, turning around then.

Erzebet peeks out over her stone barrier to see this spectacular dance sequence, as well as to regenerate her targetting data. Her eyebrows lift. Her eyes widen. She is about to cheer when the hat comes flying towards her. "!!" She ducks back down. The hat strikes one of the larger rocks, which begins to roll merrily down, probably striking and killing someone or something in the way (not really).

Dario turns round - sees Ashley - and nods to him. "Don't be mad," he tells Ashley, "just be amazed." Then he books it, lunging to try and get onto the chocobo that Ashley just rode in.

Some things don't change.

MEANWHILE, on the cliff, Erzebet readjusts herself, facing outwards with both guns now. "Well, well - no castle lasts forever," she says, before leaning a bit further forwards, pointing one of Haborym's guns DOWN to shoot straight at Clarissa, possibly down the back of her outfit. The ball of munition (not, thankfully, Muni-tion) is hot enough to leave blisters and ignite paper. The other one turns round to target Kamui, who Haborym seems to be judging with a higher -Crisis Level-...

Erzebet shoots at Kamui and the round goes right past her ear.

... towards a flat rock formation behind her, off of which it will ricochet to hit her from behind!

GS: Erzebet Lefanu has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Clarissa Arwin with I'm Burning 4 U!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has gained 1 Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Clarine takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Pummel Kick for 125 hit points!
GS: Weaken! applied to Seraph Clarine!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Kamui with Haborym N.Os Guide Shot!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has completed her action.
GS: Kamui guards a hit from Erzebet Lefanu's Haborym N.Os Guide Shot for 60 hit points!
GS: Clarissa Arwin takes a solid hit from Erzebet Lefanu's I'm Burning 4 U for 117 hit points!
GS: Clarissa Arwin has been weakened by Disease! Temporary hit points tick down 1 round!
GS: Clarissa Arwin suffers an additional 24 from Poison's Combo effect!
GS: Disease and Poison! applied to Clarissa Arwin!
GS: Zhang Xiumei takes a solid hit from Ratatoskr's Fly Into Fray for 113 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Scythe Riebaure has posed.

        Marivel's comment earns a snarl from Scythe. Even this close in, it's nigh-impossible to tell if those teeth have been filed, but the difference is immaterial at the moment. "You must be a Valeria," Scythe says. "You show such disrespect for your betters! Such sass! It's almost admirable." Only now does Scythe get a good look at the weapon Marivel has in hand. His eyes light up at the sight of it. "What have we here?"

        Marivel drives the blood blade for Scythe's chest with terrifying force. The man is no longer there.

        A rush of air blows from the right as the Crimson Noble reappears, less than a foot away. His knife catches Marivel's blade, and his left arm twists up and around her elbow in a joint lock. The blood blade comes apart, twisting into twin trails of crimson. Scythe breathes in, and the space between the blood and his mouth evaporates. The fluid flows upwards and into his mouth, as naturally as if he were drinking a milkshake at a nice cafe. Scythe's eyes roll back. He licks his lips. When he looks back at Marivel, he looks like the wolf that's just seen the straying lamb. "My dear," Scythe says, "your blood is exquis--"

        A gunshot. Scythe snaps out of his reverie, alarm flickering across his features, followed by annoyance. Acacia's bullet stutters in mid-air, vanishing entirely and reappearing about a foot away. It slams into the rock at Scythe's feet, carving out a divot in the stone. The upshot is that Scythe doesn't notice Ashley's canister until it's three feet away from his head. Frozen fog rolls out across the field, chilling the warmth of life from Scythe's bones. "And you must be Ashley Winchester!" He turns his back on Acacia, very pointedly, and looks down at the man with the bayonet. "ARMS's finest...? Or simply just the leftovers of the ARMS that failed?" The man's tattoos flicker. He raises his left hand, and flame coils in his palm. A split second later, the Crimson Noble lets out a roar of "RED LANCE!", and the flame shoots across the field, a burning jet aimed right at Ashley. Scythe disappears--

        --And reappears, right above Acacia, flicking that same hand in a dismissive gesture. The air above her bursts outwards, heralding a localized firestorm--a firestorm falling right at Acacia's head.

        (Is Acacia not worth a dramatic spell announcement??)

        Scythe vanishes again. He reappears right behind Marivel, driving his knife for the small of her back. If it draws blood, the first thing Scythe does is lick it clean. Whatever Marivel has flowing through her veins, he seems to like it.

GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Ashley Winchester with Red Lance !
GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Acacia Saitani with Inferno!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has spent 2 Combo on Headshot, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Marivel Armitage with Empty the Vein!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has completed his action.
GS: Eleanor Klein takes a glancing hit from Matilda Whitehead's Planting for 82 hit points!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes a solid hit from Scythe Riebaure's Empty the Vein for 124 hit points!
GS: Acacia Saitani takes a solid hit from Scythe Riebaure's Inferno for 159 hit points!
GS: Ashley Winchester takes a glancing hit from Scythe Riebaure's Red Lance  for 65 hit points!
GS: Mighty! applied to Scythe Riebaure!
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel's eyes widen as the blood...flows...upwards into Scythe's mouth even as she is pulled into an arm lock. She grimaces in pain--she still seems to feel that despite her nature. But that pales in comparision to what she is seeing. She has never seen THAT kind of skill. Not from a human. Which Scythe still reads to her as. "That skill... I have not seen the likes of it from your--"

A canister is unleashed upon Scythe and Marivel's eyes widen, her mouth opens up in an o-shape, and she covers it up with a hand. "Ashley!"

She suddenly appears next to him rather than in her prior position, rubs at her arm to ease it back in position and does the following dance over two seconds: https:'pa1.narvii.com6129698a9b27075a6f054a3bbe96213c0e72c4519854_hq.gif

And then she says, "Have you been enjoying your vacation while we have been working? You missed the whale, Ashley, and we really could have used you there. Oh wait, not yet. But even so, participation is just as important as solutions even if the latter is not available."

Her gaze travels past Ashley towards Kamui who is... dancing. Marivel pats Ashley on the arm again, "Be right back. Do what you want with that guy he is offensive and is not worthy of mercy or whatever." Scythe promptly appears behind her at this point and stabs his knife into her back. More black smoke ripples out of her body, this time not a faint trickle at all.

She ports AGAIN towards Kamui. It is entirely possible that she is bouncing around to try and get Scythe to keep bouncing about in the world's most obnoxious kind of battle: A blink fight! She then promptly slaps Kamui's stomach and pulls her hand back, revealing...!!

A picture of what looks like Chill Penguin belly flopping with the words 'ICE MOVES' underneath. Scratching the sticker reveals a faint blue raspberry smell.

Deciding that she is not really in a position to try using blood techniques on this sort of person, she dispels her blade and instead appears RIGHT in front of Scythe where she tries to palm thrust into his body. If she strikes, her hand glows faintly blue as she pulls iat back and seems to...take a little bit of something. Not a lot. Just a bit.

It's more for information gathering on the skill than the skill itself.

GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Skill Drain!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Clarissa Arwin has posed.

Clarissa opens her mouth with wonder as Kamui hurls the rainbow hat at Erzebet. Why didn't I think of that," she murmurs, looking down at herself.

When she looks up again, she presses her lips together as she squints towards the distant outcrop that is Erzebet Land. She opens her mouth to say something, then closes it, frowning and glancing down at the ARM in her hand again.

Erzebet manages to get a shot in; Clarissa's at just the right angle that the shot arcs over her close enough to burn across her back. Most of the back of her shirt scorches away, leaving a couple of straps to keep the front in place, unable to stop the burns and blisters left behind. With a hiss, the girl ducks behind a smaller rock and hunkers down, pulling her shoulders in to make this as small as possible.

She's not having much luck here, she realizes with a pained wince. A colder realization kicks in:

        you're going to die here, you know

Clarissa swallows a lump in her throat and looks down at the ARM in her hands - the one her mother had called her good luck charm. The one that still didn't help her to--

"Erzebet, does your worldview have any room in it for the idea that sometimes people act in good faith and genuinely want to make the world better for it," Clarissa asks as she looks up again, forcing aside the moment of fear behind simple conviction. "Or is that just too something you write off because that ARM's having an effect on you?"

Clarissa bunches up a little before springing out from her makeshift hiding place. Her back is smoking a little. The last shot burned her quite badly but she keeps running anyway, snapping her arm back and firing shots up at Erzebet's hiding spot. Blue-white rays tear towards the cliff and the source of the voice, trying to blast chunks of the edge off and spray the debris back towards where Erzebet's hiding.

"I'm sorry we can't stop literally every bad thing in the world," she calls back, "but I'm only eighteen, okay?!"

GS: Clarissa Arwin has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Running Shot!
GS: Clarissa Arwin takes 31 damage from Poison!
GS: Clarissa Arwin has completed her action.
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a glancing hit from Marivel Armitage's Skill Drain for 40 hit points!
GS: Marivel Armitage drains Scythe Riebaure! Marivel Armitage gains 20 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Frankly, Eleanor is not really sure what Ratatoskr's expressions mean on a good day. He seems strange to her in the first place--but the best thing she can think to do now is work for Xiumei, make sure to stay close to her best friend and support her against the monster to come. But... She doesn't seem to discount Matilda, somehow. When the compounder looks at her in confusion--

"No," Eleanor answers her simply. "We haven't." And yet--she says it in a knowing way, only adding to that feeling. She grimaces, says she's sorry--and Eleanor inclines her head, once--

The sword comes in. Eleanor is graceful, and light on her feet. Nevertheless, she is not the seasoned combatant Matilda is.

A steady, even advance--Eleanor steps to the side to avoid the arming-sword, its flat swinging past her hair hard enough to shift the air about her--but she can't so easily avoid the knee that slams into her stomach and doubles her over, sending her falling back. "Gah--"

Eleanor hits the ground, sets her eyes up. "...You know, I think you mean it," she tells Matilda.

She shifts, rolling, and pushes herself up, stepping back quickly. "But I can't be sure." She seems... wary? No, it might be afraid, for no reason that is obvious, because injury seems not to have stopped her.

At least they get their backup. Ashley's presence is a balm--as Eleanor shifts her hands, and begins to trace lines in the air, holding another Crest this time as she intones, "Layer upon layer, the wheel rusts and rusts!"

The power of her Crests bursts forward this time to Matilda, a blast of magical energy to slow and tangle.

GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Leaden Invocation!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Eleanor Klein's Leaden Invocation for 39 hit points!
GS: Slow! applied to Matilda Whitehead!
<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

"Mister Winchester!" Xiumei calls out. "Your timing is impeccable!"

Ratatoskr is facing Xiumei. Matilda strikes out at Eleanor. Her first instinct is to rush to Eleanor's side; her brain tells her to not open herself up like that. She sees him coming up for her, and she grits her teeth. Xiumei leaps into the air, and tries to jerk to one side--

And Ratatoskr's knee smashes into her armored flank, scuffing the paint and leaving a dent in the chestplate. Xiumei keeps leaping upward, and she spins.

Xiumei, however, has Model V's boots. She leaps off of nothing with them, which sends her sailing over Ratatoskr's head. She comes crashing down, not at Ratatoskr, but at Matilda Whitehead from behind. The Pulse Saber whips out, slashing for her midsection, and then striking out in an upward slash just a moment after Eleanor's spell erupts around her.

GS: Zhang Xiumei has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Pulse Saber Cross Strike!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

        Clarissa warns her about the hat, but it's too late. Kamui lowers her head as she whispers, "I'm sorry, Clarissa Arwin. The fever comes and goes, influencing those that would blaze a path of disaster upon the dance floor."

        The fever misses Erzebet, but the hat causes a rock to roll. The dance will continue... elsewhere.

        But Erzebet's shot whizzes past her-- and she hears a rumble as she slowly steps out of the way and internal registers indicate that she's not going to avoid in time.

        She slashes with the Saber instead; the superheated beam weapon cleaves through portions of rock, but the rest crash against her, drawing more unusual blood.

        Dario sounds shocked. She looks up.

        "It's Ashley Winchester..." Kamui twitches as her memory registers start to fail her again. No, she has to keep going. Keep going... there it is. "The Boy Who Lives In His Girlfriend's Second Floor Loft Above Her Family Bakery!"

        ..... that's the way you remember Ashley, Kamui??? Mean!

        She looks so happy to have remembered someone correctly, though... and Marivel lands next to her and attaches an ICE MOVES sticker next to her. "Mari..."

        MEMORY ACCESSED

        "This is going to be the best ride of our lives, Kamui," speaks the adorably R.O.U.N.D. figure in front of her as it prepares to lean down onto the ski slope in front of them.

        "Hop on." A glint in its eyes. "We're going to soar high and brilliantly into the sky or my name isn't Icy Pengui--"

        MEMORY CORRUPTED

        A tear trickles down her one good eye. She swallows, hard.

        So she looks back towards Erzebet as she quietly turns her head down. She doesn't seem to be able to follow. So she only asks the things that her damaged, seven-eighths harmed memory can go:

        "Who's King A and King B?? I don't get it, mui..."

        And as she says that, her Saber flashes as she charges energy within and hurls a classic green sword wave out at Erzebet.

GS: Kamui has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with M.U.I.teorain!
GS: Kamui has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Kamui has completed her action.
 <Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda manages a quick back-turn out of the full extent of Eleanor's slowing magic -- but not out of *all* of it, and she can feel her energy starting to trickle from her. "This isn't a mission I believe in," Matilda admits. "But... there's so much that has to change, so much about Filgaia that needs to be dealt with before things can get any better. And I think Odessa... *can* do that."

Whether it will... well, Matilda has questions about that. But that'll have to wait for later. Right now, she has to focus on Eleanor -- as well as guarding herself from Xiumei, besides. She gnaws at her lower lip a bit, trying to pick an approach.

... Ratatoskr seems to have the better target. Focus on threats first -- deal with the support staff later. Matilda whirls in a blur of black and green, turning her attention away from Eleanor in an instant.

She has terrible positioning right now, though, and ends up whirling right into a series of slashes from the pulse saber. She staggers back, unable to meet them with a parry but at least able to scramble back a few steps and avoid the full series.

A swordfight it is, then; Matilda steps forward and slashes twice with the sword, eschewing fancier maneuvers for pure, solid work.

GS: Erzebet Lefanu guards a hit from Clarissa Arwin's Running Shot for 68 hit points!
GS: Riposte! applied to Clarissa Arwin!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu critically Guards a hit from Kamui's M.U.I.teorain for 27 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Zhang Xiumei's Pulse Saber Cross Strike for 80 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

Ragnell slips to one side and Clarine turns, her mirrors following her movements. One of them intercepts Ragnell's boot as she goes for a kick, and hangs there even as she continues to hammer into it.

Clarine winces with each repeated kick. Controlling them is not effortless. The boot slams into it over and over as Ragnell asks her an important question - what is she trying to do?

Eventually, there is a crack as the mirror finally takes too much punishment. It does not shatter into countless shards, as a physical mirror would. It breaks apart and dissipates into countless motes of light as Ragnell puts her foot into it one final time, continuing on and through - straight into Clarine's midsection, sending her recoiling back and causing the mirrors to clatter to the ground around her, her concentration temporarily broken. If she were a human, she undoubtedly would've had the breath knocked right out of her...but it is undoubtedly painful even still.

"Th-they are..." Clarine states, with some efforts. "They are...my friends. I was trapped in a dark place...and they saved me."

Sorcerous glyphs appear beneath her for a brief moment, and in response a single ray of light fires down from the heavens, aimed straight toward Ragnell.

"I...I cannot let them die here." She states.

Nearby, she sees the arrival of a familiar figure, and it almost distracts her - almost. That man, Ashley...she had run into him on the Highroad on her way to Mushroom Rock Road, but they had gotten separated.

...So, he was a member of ARMS, too...

GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Limited Ray!
GS: Seraph Clarine has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

        Much like Kamui, Acacia only has a very cursory memory of Ashley Winchester, mostly that of the unassuming boy who's too serious and innocent to ever consider giving her a discount on her morning sausage roll, and who hasn't quite figured out that when Acacia says a 'hot' coffee she means stinking hot. (She tends to prefer leaning on Marina's shoulder anyways; it means she gets some gossip with her breakfast, and in a town as close-knit as Meria Boule that can be invaluable.)

        She does catch a glimpse of familiar blue hair, but things are suddenly much too busy; she registers the way her bullet hangs in midair and grimaces, already instinctively trying to duck low and bolt to one side as she recognizes there's a good chance she's going to get counterattacked for it. There's a singing heat above her, but she bites back the cry of pain with a sudden angry fervour. Of all the people in this or any other world, there's one group she doesn't want to give the satisfaction of her pain to.

        Instead, she dives into a skid, wincing as she kicks off a small rock to spin herself around, her pistol already coming back up to sight on the fake(?) Crimson Noble. He doesn't look much older than her, and that brings an unpleasant little thought to her mind, documents and photos she'd long-since tucked away. "I figured," she hisses, more to keep herself concentrating rather than anything. "Vinsfeld's whole argument smacks of people wanting to be relevant again, pissed they can't just rampage as they like."

        Not yet, she thinks to herself - and then sweeps her aim aside, using her opponent's fixation on Marivel to pick out where he's going to go, rather than where he is, and making sure there's a bullet waiting for him.

GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Bury The Lede!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
Game> Gwen Whitlock just +fingered you!
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

        Ratatoskr comes down in a three-point stance again, clawed fingers scraping against the rock and tail flaring as if to keep his balance on an increasingly unstable piece of the ground after some of the blows it has had to take in recent days.
        He starts to dash after her--
        He gets a blast of hot, displaced air as V's evasive maneuvers discharge in his face, and it takes him a fraction of a second to see Xiumei move to protect her friend by going after Matilda.
        He's about to exclaim through clenched, sharp teeth - where are you going?! A youthful jealousy fills him as Matilda gets to be subject to the cross slash, but you know... she's not the only warrior there, is she.
        "...You," he says in Eleanor's direction, but that might be easy to miss in the chaos of battle, "that's Crest Sorcery..."
        He doesn't move in time to stop her from casting the Leaden Invocation upon Matilda, as he seems intent for the moment to watch how the Crests are held, how she chants the commands.
        It seems a little too 'polite' for war that he waits for her casting ritual to be done to hurl himself against her, leading with an elbow strike and some mechanical noise that precludes a follow-up from a small gap that can be seen within the knee proper.
        The discharge of a blast of compressed air, shotgun-like, as if to blow the elf sorceress away within that same elbow strike.
        "Show me? Show me!! Show me more!!" This is a savage enough combination just from sheer enthusiasm behind it. If Xiumei considers Eleanor in danger when beset upon by a reluctant opponent...
        What happens when someone like Ratatoskr suddenly goes after her, instead?
        "I want to remember all of this...! I want to keep all of this!!" Whatever... that means.

GS: Seraph Ragnell completely evades a hit from Seraph Clarine's Limited Ray!
GS: Ratatoskr used Mystic on Ratatoskr! Status effect durations increased by 2! Temporary HP duration increased by 2!
GS: Ratatoskr has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda manages a quick back-turn out of the full extent of Eleanor's slowing magic -- but not out of *all* of it, and she can feel her energy starting to trickle from her. "This isn't a mission I believe in," Matilda admits. "But... there's so much that has to change, so much about Filgaia that needs to be dealt with before things can get any better. And I think Odessa... *can* do that."

Whether it will... well, Matilda has questions about that. But that'll have to wait for later. Right now, she has to focus on Eleanor -- as well as guarding herself from Xiumei, besides. She gnaws at her lower lip a bit, trying to pick an approach.

... Ratatoskr seems to have the better target. Focus on threats first -- deal with the support staff later. Matilda whirls in a blur of black and green, turning her attention away from Eleanor in an instant.

She has terrible positioning right now, though, and ends up whirling right into a series of slashes from the pulse saber. She staggers back, unable to meet them with a parry but at least able to scramble back a few steps and avoid the full series.

A swordfight it is, then; Matilda steps forward and slashes twice with the sword, eschewing fancier maneuvers for pure, solid work.

GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Eleanor Klein with One Armed Dual Wield!
GS: Ratatoskr has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ratatoskr has completed his action.
GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Zhang Xiumei with Pruning!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: Zhang Xiumei takes a glancing hit from Matilda Whitehead's Pruning for 79 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: CRITICAL! Scythe Riebaure completely evades a hit from Acacia Saitani's Bury The Lede!
GS: Eleanor Klein takes a glancing hit from Ratatoskr's One Armed Dual Wield for 73 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

There are things that sane men are not meant to know.... Things that lurk behind the veil of the sky... Monsters that haunt in the dark... What they really put in hotdogs... And however it is that Dario, barrel-master, outspeeds a man on chocoboback when-- "You were unconscious," Ashley rolls and fails to disbelieve. "How--" He's so flabbergasted that he completely fails to stop Dario from stealing his chocobo and running off into the sunset.

Today, it is Dario who is truly triumphant.

Fortunately, Marivel is there to take his mind off things. Marivel, and Kamui. "I-- why is that what you remember about me? Seriously Kamui!?" A guy rides a strange bird halfway across Spira and the first thing his comrades say about him is that he WAS TOO LATE to get half-obliterated by a doomwhale with the rest of them, and also that he lives in his girlfriends' parents' house. "For your information, I worked in that bakery. Living there was extremely convenient! And--"

"Wait." Ashley's expression... turns into one of abject horror, "H-hold on! Marina and I are just really good friends, I--"

Oop, DEADLY LASER LANCE. Ash winces, just barely parrying the spear, scattering it into a coruscating cloud of crimson energy. "Right, this can wait. We've got business to do."

Ashley says.

As Marivel does a Character Recruitment Dance right next door.

                  ASHLEY WINCHESTER HAS REJOINED THE PARTY
           *you can tell because there's a jingle and everything*

"Uh. Yet? What?" Marivel teleports away! There's a vampire surfer dude standing behind her. Ashley's eyes narrow and he takes the perfect opportunity.

...Ashley goes to plunge the business end of the bayonet right into Scythe's chest.

And then he pulls the trigger.

                                  *!BLAM!*

GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Bolt Action!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a solid hit from Ashley Winchester's Bolt Action for 130 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

Matilda, having been trained by hard experience on Filgaia and experience with Kaguya, may quickly realize something about Zhang Xiumei: she is no trained swordfighter. There are flashes of brilliance -- moments where her memory comes to her -- but much of her movement is perfunctory and basic. She relies, heavily, on the sheer power of the Pulse Saber.

As a result, Matilda is able to dodge her counter-slash, and her first strike slams into her side. It meets armor, skids off it, and then slashes into the fabric of the bodysuit. It holds it from piercing through entirely but Xiumei calls out sharply.

She leaps, then -- bounding high into the air to get out of Matilda's reach with her blade, then holds a hand down. A flash of light, then a long barrel appears -- attached to a trapezoidal, enclosed handle. When Xiumei pulls the trigger, there is a flash from the barrel -- and a trio of bright violet beads of lght scream down at Matilda from above.

Xiumei's teeth grit, as she lands on the ground. "A reluctant Odessa member...?"

GS: Zhang Xiumei has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Pulse Cannon Auto Burst!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Amplify and Hyper expired!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

 
"Well, you know," Erzebet says, "yes, it does, and I do not appreciate you suggesting it does not, BUT I didn't want to have a spirited debate in the middle of a gunfight! I just took your invitation. I made no errors! All fault is on you -- but that's a little dishonest of me to say, isn't it?"

A beat passes.

Her lip curls then. "Why do you all act so jealous of my ARM," Erzebet then continues, much of the jollity now removed. "It isn't having any kind of an effect on me right now, I'll have you know. Perhaps I went a little hard! Is extremism in pursuit of a just goal, a -"

She pulls inwards, like a turtle. She still gets a blast clipping her own back. Back 2 back... Whose back will prevail?

From behind her rock, Erzebet answers Kamui with increasingly acerbic tones in her voice. "It's an illustration, don't be dense! When you say A and B like that, it's obvious that they're examples! Do you know what an example is? It's not something that used to be big!"

Heh, Erzebet thinks.

Then she thinks, damn, she's only eighteen? (Clarissa, not Kamui.) Ugh. Now I feel like an old lady. She pops upwards now, in an actual kneeling seiza posture, both guns upraised. She pivots the weapon towards Kamui, firing a short barrage at her. Her gun pivots towards Clarissa -

Violet-gray sparkles suddenly surge into the corners of Erzebet's vision. Nausea tugs at her. She slumps to the side a little. Her skin, already pale, gets paler.

"U-ugh... dammit..."

And so instead of shooting at Clarissa... the sniper...

Hides! Like a coward! Maybe this is the time to charge her little embankment.

GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Kamui with A Friendly Time with the Recently Deceased!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with I feel sick...!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has completed her action.
GS: Erzebet Lefanu heals Erzebet Lefanu! She gains 150 temporary hit points!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu assumes the Stoic stance!
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

"Isn't it?" Eleanor agrees with Xiumei about Ashley, but she can't quite keep up her good cheer for the moment. Instead, she looks to Matilda, and nods. "I can agree with that much--it's the methods I take issue with, your leader's sincerity--not the idea of change."

The focus is there--and suddenly, Matilda whirls away, and Ratatoskr is there, and his words start to make sense to her. Jealousy? ...No, fascination--

"You--" She blinks, looking at him, realizing he was just watching, and only then does he leap. She starts to shift away--

But with some alarm she sees the blast of air, and goes with it instead, letting herself be knocked back, take the smaller blow to evade the larger, and get a little space. "If you're that interested," she answers him, dubious--is her nose wrinkling at him?--"Then I can demonstrate."

She asides quickly as she pulls her crest to Matilda, "I think we nobility should be doing more for our people, for the world's peace! That's why I joined ARMS in the first place!"

In normal circumstances, she would fret, to see Xiumei attacked and focused on--but Xiumei just came to her defense, and... she can trust her, here, even if she does worry. So she whirls and begins her next casting. "This one," she says, "Relies upon the crests of Fray and Muse both, in the affirmative position--"

She makes the gestures with her hands and intones, "That which has crystallized--melt away!"

A blast of golden energy erupts at Ratatoskr to do away with enhancements, and give Eleanor a chance to step back... hopefully.

GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ratatoskr with Dazzling Negation!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
GS: Kamui guards a hit from Erzebet Lefanu's A Friendly Time with the Recently Deceased for 94 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead completely evades a hit from Zhang Xiumei's Pulse Cannon Auto Burst!
GS: Ratatoskr takes a solid hit from Eleanor Klein's Dazzling Negation for 92 hit points!
GS:  Dispel reduces positive status durations by 3 rounds each!
<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

        Erzebet's bullets fly forth scathingly, and they shred against both her cape and her skin. More and more, the mechanical girl's nature seems to just become more and more obvious than it already is; she's nothing but machinery, errant wiring and musculature fibre underneath. One of them scratches against her cheek and gives her more of that Terminator look.

        "Example...?" Kamui blinks a few times, before she proves that yes, indeed, she can be entirely that dense. From the perspective of a robot who routinely fails to remember people's identities and names, and often can't tell apart fact and fiction and thus has waged holy crusade against the Calendar Girl for she believes wholeheartedly that she will bring about the armuigeddon.

        "... I'm not jealous about your ARM," Kamui points out. "Because... I'm already an ARM. The entirety of me."

        She lowers her head.

        "King A... so King A is not a real person? Humans are really confusing, using make-believe people who may as well be strawmen to make their arguments..."

        A pause. She holds her head deeper.

        She looks to Ashley. "... ... it's because you never give me extra free muffins," she concludes, as if it were cold hard logic. "But, you're nice to me too, so I remember that much as well."

        She holds her head harder.

        "Clarissa Arwin... I'm providing support," she speaks as Erzebet hides and she decides to also hide. There's a bright flash, as the Saber charges up and she holds what mysteriously looks like a dodgy kind of Sphere and slaps it into the hilt. Healing energies which totally don't feel like magic but rather some kind of strange synthesis of magic erupts around them both.

        "Watch... I, too, can cast Muigic...!"

GS: Kamui has spent 1 Combo on Reload, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Kamui enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Kamui has attacked Kamui with Cure Muiteria - Full Kyure!
GS: Kamui has attacked Clarissa Arwin with Cure Muiteria - Full Kyure!
GS: Kamui has completed her action.
GS: Kamui heals Kamui! She gains 188 temporary hit points!
GS: Kamui's Reload flag cannot target herself!
GS: Clarissa Arwin takes a solid hit from Kamui's Cure Muiteria - Full Kyure for  hit points!
GS:  Restore reduces negative status durations by 3 rounds each!
GS: Reload! Clarissa Arwin gains 15 extra FP from Kamui!
<Pose Tracker> Clarissa Arwin has posed.

Clarissa manages to make it to cover she's fairly sure isn't directly in Erzebet's line of fire.

The woman is spared an immediate Clarissa charge because at the moment Clarissa is curling up and trying to get her body to adjust to how hurt she is. She winces and reaches around behind herself, flinching as she touches the burns Erzebet's weapon left. Quickly she pops a Scythe Riebaure.

It doesn't do anything. The burns are oozing painfully and nothing seems to put out the searing sensation. It's preventing her from focusing on the actual fight.

Muigic, however, helps. Clarissa inhales as the little robot holds up her dodgy sphere and calls forth the spell. Closing her eyes, she lifts her chin as the worst of the burn pain fades, and her shoulders come up a little. "...Kamui, you're a great person, do you know that?" she says with a quiet, honest smile, her eyes bright.

The smile fades as she looks back towards the cliff. Bounding to her feet, Clarissa kicks out from behind her rock, racing forward as fast as she can. "Kamui, Marivel said Erzebet's ARM does something to her," she calls back. "That it affects her mind somehow. Maybe that means if we can get it away from her somehow--"

She doesn't finish the sentence, largely because she has no idea if that would even work.

The rest of the reason is that she's scanning the cliff face for a way up. As she spots a gap in the rock, the blonde leaps up onto a boulder, then vaults upwards, over the edge of the cliff.

Clarissa snaps her ARM forward, then drops to one knee and calls out. "I'm sorry, Erzebet!" she calls out before opening fire. A wide blast rips out as she tries to just blow away Erzebet's embankment and probably bull through to hit her too.

GS: Clarissa Arwin has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Howling Shot!
GS: Clarissa Arwin has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Clarissa Arwin has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Scythe Riebaure has posed.

        No blood. Why is there no blood? Scythe's predatory grin turns frustrated, even as Marivel wisely makes herself scarce. "What are you?!" Scythe demands. All he has left is the aftertaste of that blood, and it's not enough. It's nowhere near enough to satisfy him, after what he just tasted. "Beyond, clearly someone who thinks they can match my skill! And then, Marivel makes her move. The true Crimson Noble plants her palm into the man's extremely-toned abs. She drinks, and tastes two kinds of power. The first is eminently familiar to her: the laws of the universe, channeled through shapes and signs. Symbology. The power coiled within that is not sorcerous. If it were sorcerous, it would feel like it should come from a source that's natural, and it doesn't.

        Scythe's eyes widen a moment. Did she--? She drank his power. Just a little bit, but she drank his power, and if she can do that--

        Distracted, all Scythe can really do as Ashley charges him is dodge the old-fashioned way. He sweeps his knife down, its darkened carbon-steel edge meeting with the edge of Ashley's bayonet. The weapon drags a line of red across Scythe's exposed skin, and all-too-human blood drips from the wound. The cartridge goes off against Scythe's side; the man howls as lead slugs tear into him, chewing into muscle and skin. Acacia takes her shot. A bullet speeds towards the wounded Crimson Noble, aimed with enough lead time that he can't just dodge it.

        Scythe's head snaps up. He snaps his fingers, and the speeding bullet vanishes. Where does it reappear? Nowhere visible. After this moment of UTTER BULLSHIT, Scythe vanishes, reappears in front of Marivel, his palm suddenly rushing at her face. Hot, painful energy boils off of it, and if it hits, that pain is going to linger in Marivel's body. He turns on a heel, sighting Ashley Winchester through the fray, and raising his voice. "All-consuming death-pyre!" Scythe roars. "Heed my call! Devour all who stand against me!"

                                       "Death Blossom!"

        Streamers of flame pour into the air, seeking out the musketeer from every available angle. They leave blazingly-hot, glassy streaks when they pass by stone.

        Scythe stows the combat knife in its sheath at his side, and reaches both hands into his jacket. His fingers hook into little divots in a set of handles, and when he pulls his hands free, two fistfuls of throwing knives glitter in the sun. Scythe drops all but one, lets them hang in the air in blatant defiance of the law of gravity--and with a flick of his wrist, he sends the first knife flying. The Crimson Noble plucks the remaining knives up and flings them, one after another. He's not aiming at... anything, and after about five or so feet, the knives flicker out of existence.

        Then, with no explanation whatsoever, all the knives appear within five feet of Acacia, flying at her with terminal speed from almost a dozen different angles. A heartbeat later, Scythe appears in front of her, and now--finally-- takes an actual look at Acacia's face. "Hm," he says.

GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Marivel Armitage with Noblesse Oblige!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Ashley Winchester with Death Blossom!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has spent 2 Combo on Headshot, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Acacia Saitani with Death of a Thousand Cuts!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has completed his action.
GS: Erzebet Lefanu takes a solid hit from Clarissa Arwin's Howling Shot for 184 hit points!
GS: Acacia Saitani guards a hit from Scythe Riebaure's Death of a Thousand Cuts for 103 hit points!
GS: Break! applied to Acacia Saitani!
GS: Ashley Winchester takes a solid hit from Scythe Riebaure's Death Blossom for 169 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Once Ragnell's kicked through Clarine's defenses and knocked her away, the arrival of ARMS reinforcements in the form of Ashley gets a glance in his direction; Ragnell doesn't pay him much more mind than that since he engages the fake Crimson Noble with the real Crimson Noble, not that she'd know either of them for Crimson Nobles at all.
        
        "They saved you, huh," she says softly, focusing back in on her own Seraph friend. "Hmmm..." For a moment, she doesn't respond, as Seraphic glyphs form beneath Clarine; then, perhaps knowing what's coming next, she backsteps just in time to avoid the beam of light that sails down at the spot where she was a moment before. It's a powerful, searing light, and it would've hurt like hell if it had impacted; it's only Ragnell's speed and experiences that lets her get clear.
        
        "Well, if it were up t' me, I don't really care if they live or die," she replies. "If they died, that just means they were too weak. But then, that's why I'm fightin' you an' not one of those other losers, huh?" In other words, despite what Agahnim said, Ragnell has no intention of killing Clarine. But that's not something you really wanna say in as many words when you're surrounded by Odessa dudes who probably *will* be trying to actually murder their opponents.
        
        "In any case--you really oughtta worry more 'bout yourself than the rest o' them at this rate," she adds, bringing up one arm as motes of golden light flow up from Seraphic glyphs at her own feet. "They're not gonna be able to save you *now*." She points a hand at her old friend, and concludes, "Pierce through! Shock Lancer!!"

GS: Seraph Ragnell enters a Counter stance!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Seraph Clarine with Shock Lancer!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Clarine critically Guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Shock Lancer for 23 hit points!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes a solid hit from Scythe Riebaure's Noblesse Oblige for 141 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! applied to Marivel Armitage!
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

        It's odd for a Hyadean to show such interest in something like that, isn't it - on more than one front. It's not something they, for the most part, can ever really take or use for themselves. Sorcery is just another weapon wielded by someone that - until recently - their entire lives were dedicated to defeating in the name of Mother's Conquest. Interest should begin and end, tactically and reasonably speaking, in 'how do I overcome this.'
        Especially when Odessa's stated goal, in no uncertain terms, is to put an end to ARMS within this ambush, already on shaky ground as an operation due to Ashley's belated arrival throwing a suggestion that there may yet be reinforcements lurking.
        Eleanor wrinkles her nose. He just grins some more. He is only an unruly audience in that he is still shifting and hopping around, whether out of anticipation or trying to decide the better angle to look at it - or anything else - like masses of electricity and light doing stuff in the distance there is really eye-catching.
        Fray and Muse, two of the four Crests of the discipline, are brought to bear. He seems to listen intently - let's drop the 'seems,' he totes is - as she finishes the incantation. Golden energy shoots towards Ratatoskr and - true to his word - he wants to feel it.
        He throws himself in there, as icy crystals form around his body. The temperature of his blood decreases, as though compelled by means totally alien to him to calm down. Enervation. The wash of heat within this dazzling negation melts and evaporates away the crystalized sorcerous ice that has formed out of these taken enhancements, and at the other end, Ratatoskr falls to a kneel with a droopy tail as the light of his yellow eyes dims.
        That grin sure doesn't.
        "...Only four crests... but so many ways... hyahaha--!" He knows it exceeds the logical count of combinations most would draw. That's what's so great. That he can still laugh like that as he is weakened, though...
        He draws his limbs back, lurches forward a half-step, and fights the momentary fatigue in his body in which to discharge compressed air from his trailing limbs. Hands, feet, the bursts of compressed air launches his body mass forward into Eleanor.
        In any other context this is an exciteable child going to a favored adult asking for more. In this aggressive tackle...
        "What else? Keep going, keep going...!! If it's your last... I want them all!!"

GS: Ratatoskr has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Eleanor Klein with Lost Count Wind!
GS: Ratatoskr has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

        One of Acacia's old bosses, after too much time reading the worst of Guild Galad's news stories, once told her that the definition of insanity was trying the same thing again and expecting something new. She's feeling kind of insane now, too riled up on adrenaline and anger - so perhaps it's only fitting that Scythe once again manages to stymie her shot, deflecting it to one side.

        "Shit," she mutters again, wincing as her mind spools back to a year ago. She'd remember seeing someone like this; she's pretty sure she wouldn't have escaped if he'd been there. Is he one of the kids that was trapped there? Is he part of what she saw in that dingy warehouse?

        There's no time to think, because her vision is suddenly filled with glinting metal; she coughs in surprised pain as the first of them sinks into her arm, and she dives to one side for the cover of a cleft of rock, hoping that less angles of attack will mean less attacks; she brings her arms up at the same time, hoping the thickness of her vest will help. It does, but only to a certain degree; by the end of it, her arms are raw, and there's cuts torn in her jeans, bleeding red as her muscles quiver to keep her up.

        More to the point, she's surrounded herself. Scythe is there in front of her, studying her like an insect, and she feels a sudden flare of anger ripple through her as she grips her weapon tight enough it shakes.

        Acacia's pistol is nothing special. It's not a relic from a ruin. It's not a fine-crafted piece made custom for her by some pink-haired mechanic, and as such wildly more irresponsible and dangerous than your average gunsmoke ARM. It's not some god-slaying legend or blessed by a holy ritual. She bought it from a local gunsmith, thirty percent off, because she figured a journalist running around at all hours might need some extra protection and insurance whenever going down a Guild Galad alleyway at night.

        It's depressingly normal.

        And it's glowing white-hot, enough that the metal is emitting a keening noise of stress.

        "Say cheese, asshole," Acacia grins without humour as she brings up her camera in her other hand, taking a photo in the instant before she squeezes the trigger. For an instant, the Thunder Plains can't compare to the sheer concentration of light and the thunderclap that surrounds her, blinding and deafening.

GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Paparazzi!
GS: Acacia Saitani has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

A year ago, Matilda was in much the same boat, really -- but, well, experience is what it is, and having a mid-size team of experienced fighters to iron out all your flaws doesn't really hurt, either. Matilda watches Xiumei move, and the instant she sees that long barrel appear, she recognizes it for... well, not necessarily exactly what it is, but what it is at a certain level of abstraction, at least. She goes into a quick sideways leap, and narrowly evades the first blast -- though her mantle is a little singed for her trouble. The latter two come easier, with quick steps taking her the rest of the way out of their path.

"Reluctant is... a strong word," Matilda says, though there's sadness in that too. "And --" She looks at Eleanor, sadly. ... She sounds like a good person. ... The road ahead is long and dark, and yet thinking about it is easier than thinking about the now, somehow.

She realizes that if she wants to get some serious offense in on *either* of her opponents, she's going to need to commit to something.

Ratatoskr steps in toward Eleanor, providing Matilda an opening to strike out at Xiumei, hoping she's still relatively unstable on the ground. Her first maneuver is simple -- just a shoulder check. It's nothing fancy, but ought to open her up, at least.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has activated a Force Action!

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Zhang Xiumei with Shoulder Check!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Matilda Whitehead's attack becomes clear!
GS: Zhang Xiumei takes a glancing hit from Matilda Whitehead's Iron in the Garden for 92 hit points!
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a solid hit from Acacia Saitani's Paparazzi for 0 hit points!
GS: Disrupt, Entangle, and Shieldbreak! applied to Scythe Riebaure!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Of course, sometimes, leading with one side is just to hide that you're coming in for a stab from the other. It's important to keep the opponent guessing, especially when you have a noticeable experience advantage.

GS: Eleanor Klein takes a solid hit from Ratatoskr's Lost Count Wind for 110 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

 
"They're placeholders," Erzebet complains. "Like variables in algebra. Do you know what algebra is or do you think it's something your mother washes --"

'I'm already an ARM'.

Erzebet peeks over her stone again and grimaces. She reaches for a drink. She drinks the cool fluid, some mango pulp with a lot of crushed ice that has partially melted. It soothes her tongue, it makes her feel less dry, but it doesn't HELP. It tastes wrong, it's what she wants but its not what she WANTS.

Kamui is complaining about muffins. Haborym downgrades her crisis level two steps.

Clarissa, though. "Stop snitching on me!" Erzebet complains to Clarissa. Then Clarissa fires and the explosion is upon her.

It is like a small mortar shell hitting the stone. Erzebet had prepared herself for what she reasonably expected ARMS to bring with them, which she thought would be primarily exotic forms of Symbology (can't help it), swordsmanship (avoided by not being down there) and some small ARMs fire. In the end, the ARMS have it. The cliff face does not simply burst, it actually ruptures. Erzebet throws herself backwards with a lurch.

She upends her beverages. She rolls down, bared skin - she is wearing a sarong and a beach-friendly top - scratching and weakly reddening on the way down. She lands on a heap, soaked with icy water. (The drinks did not rupture.) On her belly, Erzebet says, "I feel... I feel like..."

"I feel..."

"I feel..."

"Excited," Erzebet says, and in the moment she surges forwards, she lunges towards Kamui. Even as she draws on healing energies, Erzebet is swinging round Haborym to try and smash her on the dome, no doubt to dismay her or give her a traumatic injury to the ol' thinking device. Of course, tramui may be harder to inflict on her, but Erzebet *still* hasn't figured out what it means that she "is" an ARM! Give her time!

Having taken this swing, she reels on Clarissa. "Why are you apologizing?" she says to her even as the twin long pistols come up. "This is the only time I've felt like I'm really alive. All the studies in the world are just a prelude to this glorious symphony --"

And then she fires. And she fires. And she fires again, a one-woman rifle corps firing in staccato bursts at Clarissa. She aims low, perhaps out of a sick urge to see her dance, perhaps on the simple theory that a leg injury is less likely to be *instantly* fatal. "The line between mercy and sadism is awful thin, don't you think!? AHhh, I don't feel any relief here! This is real chaos! Can you smell it in the air!? I think I'm going to choke but I LO O O O O VE it!"

She remains within muilee range of somebody else.

GS: Erzebet Lefanu has spent 1 Combo on Link, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with I feel EXCITED!!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has launched an attack Link!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu takes a solid hit from Erzebet Lefanu's I feel EXCITED! for 0 hit points!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu's  stance ends. She enters the Avenger stance!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Kamui with My Present For You Is Gun!!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has completed her action.
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has attacked Clarissa Arwin with A Severe Gun Battle At The Hill of the Dead!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Clarissa Arwin takes a solid hit from Erzebet Lefanu's A Severe Gun Battle At The Hill of the Dead for 198 hit
points!
GS:  Dispel reduces positive status durations by 3 rounds each!
GS: Clarissa Arwin has been weakened by Disease! Temporary hit points tick down 1 round!
GS: Clarissa Arwin suffers an additional 28 from Poison's Combo effect!
GS: Disease and Poison! applied to Clarissa Arwin!
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel is clearly happy enough to see Ashley to do some weird homage to Death Parade.

"If you want free muffins, Kamui, you have to go as they are closing not as they are opening! The spare goods they did not sell will often go a lot cheaper!" She does not see Kamui's tear--she missed it--but to be fair someone did just drive a knife into her back.

Marivel analyzes Scythe's power. Symbology makes sense with the tattoos--truly a very powerful spellcrafting option provided you have skin--but beneath that is something...

He may not be a Crimson Noble, but maybe he is not just a cosplayer either. He has tapped into something and when you tap into that kind of well enough, well, you are what you eat. Eventually.

Marivel says, "Do you people just put your tongue on everything? Just because you can put something in your mouth does not mean you ought to."

The blink fight continues but Marivel seems to be on the back foot here. She does not get a guard up in time before Scythe's hand slams into her face and erupts plasmic energy right into her face before she collapses to the floor, her head obscured by smoke and the smell of burnt flesh. Most humans would be dead from a blow like that and, indeed, Marivel does not get up.

And then there is laughter. A faint rolling laughter from the corpse lying on the ground there.

"Tell me, Harold..." The corpse whispers through the smoke escaping where its face used to be. "Is a Crimson Noble content to be a lieutenant...? Hm hm hmm...."

The corpse does not sit up. It rises into the air, hovering in place as it rights itself. The head hangs languidly to one side, the tendons connecting face to neck having been burned to sludge. The faint creak of moving flesh jibbers as tendrils gradually repair the corpse's body. The voice is coming from the corpse's 'face'. But it is not coming from a mouth.

"Pretty words, strong arms, a reasonable enough will. Is this what Odessa thinks a Crimson Noble makes?"

The body lurches forward. Something drips from it, splotching to the ground. She grabs at that slinking head of hers and tugs it back into position.

"Pale skin, a thirst for blood, power. Is that all it takes?"

The corpse advances forward. "Surface answers for mortal minds. What makes a true Crimson Noble..."

Red glowing eyes peer out from the burning flesh.

"Is everything."

And the corpse suddenly bursts forward with sudden inhuman speed, turning from body into wolf in the span of a frame.

The wolf leaps for Scythe and aims to rip into him with its jaws in a single ferocious pounce.

One eye seems to focus on Acacia, having taken the moment of Acacia's 'FLASH' to strike.

"Perhaps tis not you who should fear Brionac, but Brionac should fear you." Smoke drifting from the wolf's jaws whispers, but is easily heard.

GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Hound of Hell!
GS: Marivel Armitage has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

Standing her ground, Xiumei can see Ratatoskr propel himself at Eleanor -- and she can't do anything to stop him. She calls out, for lack of anything else she can do: "Eleanor!"

But Matilda being in front of her, and still fighting with her, means that she has to focus on her. She hisses, and she she ducks just barely to the side to have the shoulder check pass by. Unfortunately, when she does so, that lets Matilda stab into the other. This time, the blade bites into and through the tightly-woven, armored bodysuit. Red blood oozes out from a slash that it leaves on Xiumei's waist.

"Nngh--"

> You can't panic. They're both obstacles. They'll both kill you.

Xiumei hesitates. Then, she tries thinking back to the voice: 'What do I do?'

> Be what you have to be. What I was. A weapon.

Xiumei's eyes narrow and set. "Reluctant or not, I won't let you--" Then, she rushes forward. The Pulse Cannon fires first -- a single ball of purple energy flying, before she charges at Matilda. The Pulse Saber snaps out in a downward slash, so fast that the beam blurs for a moment.

It strikes the ground, burning a black scar into the earth, and then Xiumei leaps. She bounds over Matilda's head, into a tight midair roll. That sends her flying directly over Ratatoskr after his charge.

Her green eyes glint in the light. She aims the barrel straight down -- and for a moment -- time seems to freeze. She sees the top of Ratatoskr's head, the ground below, and the shelved, mushroom-like rocks that have been cracked around her. She feels herself start to hesitate.

> Fire! Now!

Xiumei pulls the trigger. The cannon opens up, a dozen blasts of plasma raining down at Ratatoskr. Then, her somersault ends, and she slams down into the ground next to Eleanor in a three point stance.

GS: Zhang Xiumei has spent 1 Combo on Link, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Pulse Aerial Rush!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has launched an attack Link!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has attacked Ratatoskr with Pulse Cannon Max Burst!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Marivel Armitage's attack becomes clear!
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a glancing hit from Marivel Armitage's Red Power for 97 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

A part of Clarine is expecting the spell to miss. The moment she concludes the casting she begins to backpedal, putting some of her focus back on calling her mirrors to her side again.

"It is...better this way." Clarine agrees with a quiet nod. It's unfortunate, though, that it means any meeting between her friends would likely be somewhat awkward...assuming they survive.

She desperately wishes they do.

But, Ragnell's right - she ought to worry about herself right now. And she does. As Ragnell recites her incantation, Clarine's mirrors rise to protect her. Electricity crackles through the air as Ragnell's spell strikes them. She can feel it washing over her, even as her mirrors take the brunt of it. She's panting from the effort of it...but, she's still alive, so that's something.

"I...would not ask them to. It is my turn to do something for them. For all the care and kindness they've shown me...!" She replies. "Even this is all I can do..."

Once more, the mirrors begin to spin around her, and motes of light begin to rise up around her.

"Converge and contain! Photon!" The motes of light then fly toward Ragnell, forming concentric rings of light that converge on her location and limit her movement temporarily - at least until they detonate in a bright flash.

GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Photon!
GS: Seraph Clarine has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Cover expired!
GS: Seraph Clarine has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

"I can't give people free muffins when I'm on the job!" Ashley shouts, "You know our policy! First time customers or one free with every dozen, and that's IT."

Ashly lunges and fires. Blood spills from the wound. The glistening crimson mist paints the air the glorious colors of carnage. If it bleeds, it can die. If it bleeds, they can kill it. There's something viscerally satisfying about the sight of it, something that no living thing can deny. The exhultation of the hunt, of seeing the enemy bleed.
It's only human to revel in it.
Ashley, though, is a trained soldier. A man who, in spite of his extraordinarily spotty track record, is able to put those thoughts behind him, to focus on the task at hand and the here and now. A task that, presently, involves staring down a full barrage of screaming, vermilion firebolts converging on his location from all angles.

"Ah," Ashley observes, "Fudgenuggets."

The bolts connect with his raised guard, blossoming into a boquet of smoke and fire. It'd be easy to think him out of the fight, grievously burned at the very least by such an attack. And you'd be right!

Ashley Winchester hurts in ways that he hasn't known for months. His skin is charred and smoldering, smoke fills his lungs and throat with the agony of a million pins and needles. He staggers out of the explosion, looking for a moment that he's about to collapse onto his knees.
What are you doing?
But he doesn't.
Fight, you fool. It's what you were made for.
A throb of visceral, white-hot heat shoots across Ashley's mind. A dull recollection of words spoken only a few moments ago, but lost in the haze of battle. "You... What did you say about me?"
Yes.
Ashley takes aim.
This is the truth.
"People died in that accident. Innocent people. Don't you dare--" He fires, launching another canister for the so-called Crimson Noble. "--Disrespect their memory again!"
Your rage can make you strong.
This time, it bursts not into a haze of freezing fog...
Drink deep. Kill. Win.
...But a mess of sticky, burning napalm.

GS: Ashley Winchester has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Canister - Incendiary Round!
GS: Ashley Winchester has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
GS: Matilda Whitehead takes a glancing hit from Zhang Xiumei's Pulse Aerial Rush for 91 hit points!
GS: Mighty! applied to Zhang Xiumei!
GS: COUNTER! Seraph Ragnell counterattacks Seraph Clarinewith Counter Attack!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a solid hit from Seraph Clarine's Photon for 82 hit points!
GS: Entangle! applied to Seraph Ragnell!
GS: Seraph Clarine critically Guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Counter Attack for 27 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

It's odd, but Eleanor is hardly an expert on Hyadeans. Really, most of what she knew of Metal Demons until studying recent events could be summed up as 'ancient history, plus all the creepy dragonbone things in Guild Galad.' But, as a scholar...

Battle to the death or not, Eleanor Klein will not turn away a willing student. Maybe his curiousity will overcome his bloodlust?

He throws himself on in, and this is... an alarming experience, for her. She looks dubiously at him. "...Well," she begins, and then watches him prepare--

Eleanor, instead of dodging, or mustering a real defense, just shifts her stance to catch Ratatoskr, and in the process hanging onto him enough that she's pushed back but not down, shoving away with a wince as they come to a stop--it jars her arms, jolts her entire body, but it gives her time to focus instead of flail.

"Yes--On top of the Crests themselves, I practice an obscure older tradition of their use--my Graphs are optimized to bring forth certain aspects of each color of the Ley, which is the reason my spells are different from those you've likely seen. It's a tradeoff." Talking, talking--it gives her time to gather her magical energy, anyway. And to look at Matilda, to wonder--there is sadness there.

"What happened to you?" she finds herself asking, sounding... confused. Hurt, maybe. Before she shakes it off, and pulls her Crest after all, keeping it behind her. "This," she tells Ratatoskr, as she shows the gleam of the Crests, "Is the combination of Muse and Geo, in Declining position--as the water refreshes the earth..."

"...Through the lens of my Crest Graph, I identify the precise point of change--"

The Crest glows, unusually--not an ordinary casting at all, but instead more, as golden light shifts around it before blue and brown both sparkle around each of them--they shine, seem to speed, to slow, to exist in time for long moments--

And Xiumei, too, will feel the strength of what must be now.

"Xiumei! I'm still with you!"

GS: Eleanor Klein has activated a Force Action!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Zhang Xiumei with Fated Moment!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Eleanor Klein with Fated Moment!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Eleanor Klein! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Amplify, Burst, and Surge! applied to Eleanor Klein!
<Pose Tracker> Clarissa Arwin has posed.

"What do you mean snitching," Clarissa says with a blink, before Erzebet tumbles out of her enclosure.

Before she can say much more, Erzebet starts shooting at her.

The first shot hits her dead-on and hurls her backwards. Then the next one hits her. Then the next one, then the next one, then the next one. One of the shots breaks her leg just above the knee, a flash of bone erupting through her skin and throwing the girl off her feet. Another one hits her in the midsection and slashes a violent gash through her. Another one hits her in the neck and opens up a spurting injury there. She's thrown clean off her feet and sails through the air, a long comet's tail of smoke and blood arcing behind her.

She hits the ground with a sickening thud a moment later, landing near the foot of the cliff, bouncing once in a sickening arc, then hitting the ground again and landing on rock face-first to skid a short distance before her momentum expires and she goes limp. By the time she's landed, her arm's been twisted at a horrifying angle.

If she is still alive, she's not showing any signs of it, unless you count smouldering a little.

GS: Eleanor Klein heals Zhang Xiumei! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Amplify, Burst, and Surge! applied to Zhang Xiumei!
GS: Ratatoskr takes a glancing hit from Zhang Xiumei's Pulse Cannon Max Burst for 100 hit points!
GS: Zhang Xiumei assumes the Stoic stance!
GS: Ratatoskr has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ratatoskr has activated a Force Action!
GS: Kamui guards a hit from Erzebet Lefanu's My Present For You Is Gun! for 45 hit points!
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a glancing hit from Ashley Winchester's Canister - Incendiary Round for 72 hit points!
GS: Scythe Riebaure suffers an additional 25 from Poison's Combo effect!
GS: Poison! applied to Scythe Riebaure!
<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

        "We don't have enough money to buy two dozen muiffins, mui..." Kamui complains rather openly to Ashley. "And even when we do, Master never lets me buy a baker's dozen. Mwee...."

        That moment of complacence costs her, though, because Clarissa's taking a series of explosive hits and flew off the cliff.

        Her red camera eye shrinks tightly.

        She turns towards Erzebet and begins walking towards her. Erzebet's in a beach top and sarong, but the presence of summer outfits doesn't register as unusual to her. Is there some reason behind this, like some kind of limiter release?

        "That was... my friend. Clarissa Arwin."

        Where Haborym is lowering her Crisis Level, her own Crisis Level is increasing. Such that her attack command has an inconspicious arrow next to it...!

        She lowers her head.

        "I can't remember very many people. I struggle with their names, their faces, the different ways they go in and out of my life... right now, I'm not even sure if I've met you before, even if something in my Suffering Circuit is telling me I have."

        The Saber flares with energy once more.

        "But... I remember the people that've been nice to me. Master, Mari, Clarine, Clarissa Arwin... and..." Her lips tin. "Also the people who have been cruel."

        A cold, wintry chill erupts around the Saber as its emerald green blade turns a bright, cool blue.

        MEMORY ACCESSED

        "Heh... look at those two. Lumen knocked it out of the park this time, huh?" speaks A., a woman with a blurred face. She's looking over where Lumen's sighing and grumbling to tweak several errant bits on Kamui's open maintenance panel--

        --as she and said same R.O.U.N.D. creation of hers doze off after a fun afternoon at the slopes, half-covered by a kotatsu--

        MEMORY CORRUPTED

        "Air-Dash."

        Kamui blurs into little more than a streak of colour; Erzebet can trace her movement above her, where she's gripped her Saber in double knife-grip above her. There's a crackle and a hiss, as an enormous icicle manifests as the air supercools around the now-frozen blade.

        "Erzebet Lefanu. I will remember you. Now, my finishing strike... a memory of my close, chill friend..."

        She descends, thrusting her arms down to drive her blade in a manuever that will truly ruin summer. For as it stabs--

        Ice erupts everywhere.

GS: Kamui has spent 1 Combo on Link, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Kamui has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Limuits are Meant to be Broken...!
GS: Kamui has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Kamui has launched an attack Link!
GS: Kamui has attacked Erzebet Lefanu with Saber Arte -Hyouretsuzan-!
GS: Kamui has completed her action.
GS: Erzebet Lefanu takes a solid hit from Kamui's Limuits are Meant to be Broken... for 195 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Kamui's attack becomes clear!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu takes a solid hit from Kamui's Limuit Break -Memories of M. and A.- for 158 hit points!
GS: Erzebet Lefanu enters CONDITION GREEN!!
[OOC] Kamui says, "*blu-ray 'She turns towards Erzebet and begins walking towards her. The strike seems to just /land/
squarely upon her head; certainly there's only so much her already breached and broken head can take, but she's
continuing onward. In fact, it seems to spur her onward, as more memories come... loose?'"
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

        Overcome his bloodlust... or drive it further... that is a question, but there does seem to be a truly genuine interest even in the midst of this battle of life and death.
        He has more mass on Eleanor by no small margin, even for his lanky build, but the Crest Sorceress endures - it helps a lot that he overcommits to the tackle and is already in an imbalanced position so that she can shove him back. He overcompensates this recovery roll, even, putting distance between them.
        In that moment, Eleanor will notice the cutting wound from earlier - her partner's handiwork - has since stopped bleeding. He paces anew in a predatory fashion, unable to sit still as he listens to the explanation of her Crest Sorcery differences. He doesn't quite understand 'the Ley' or what aspects of a color means, but he's willing to parrot her word-for-word later.
        "Keep going!!" He calls as Eleanor turns to Matilda momentarily. Almost like a demand, as he watches her combine Muse and Geo, in 'Declining' position. He watches as the spell is cast, and he braces for the next volley.
        There is a next volley, but it's not what he thinks - Xiumei positions herself from above and takes a momentary time-out from the progression of time to line up the shot, and...
        Xiumei pulls the trigger. Plasma rains down everywhere, and he had backed away from Eleanor enough that Xiumei need not fear accidentally hurting her friend. She's about to have bigger problems.
        The way Ratatoskr bounds up the nearby canyon wall with such ferocity, even as bolts of plasma rain down and scorch him. One is especially visceral at one of his shoulders, a crisp scorching that doesn't seem to slow him too much as he gains in altitude to reach her...
        "Keep going!!" He calls to Eleanor as he faces the glowing, sparkling, re-energized Model V bearer. As the voice of Model V reminds her of the stakes, of what her opponents can/will do, there might be an interesting nuance in what follows.
        He comes in with a myriad of elbow strikes, knee bashes, kicks, even a few punches.
        He has claws. Claws that could rend flesh as well as they could biometal, perhaps.
        He's not using them. He's not using his sharp teeth that could easily take out someone's throat if he were of the mind. Some of his natural weapons are simply not in use, even though he very well could, as he finishes off the combination by twirling and trying to strike Xiumei by the tail back to the ground.
        The yellows in his eyes light up. "Both of you at once...? Both of you at once!!" He yells, alien adrenaline equivalent coursing through him. "I want to remember this moment...!"
        It may be an opening for Matilda to shrink away, to indulge in her hesitation, for how willing Ratatoskr is to maybe even get himself killed by an ancient power he scarce understands he's standing against, or by an exotic form of Crest Sorcery.

GS: Ratatoskr has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Zhang Xiumei with Ceaseless Conflict!
GS: Ratatoskr has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        The last of Ragnell's arte pours forth like starlight as Clarine unleashes her counter-spell, and the Photon bursts on Ragnell as her Shock Lancer pierces the last way through to Clarine. The heat and light make her stagger back, but she doesn't lose her footing--this is a bad place for that to happen in, even for a semi-corporeal Seraph.
        
        "So that's how it is. That always was how you were," Ragnell observes. "If that's what you wanna do, I won't stop you. You had a rough time between now an' when we traveled together, huh? It's not like I was there for you--" though in fairness to Ragnell, everyone separated after Bradamante's death-- "so I don't have a right to say anythin'.
        
        "That bein' said..."
        
        She leaps backwards, twisting in midair to land in a crouch, then aims both guns at Clarine and opens fire, BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM, with one after the other in successive turns. "If they ever start pickin' on you," she calls, even in the midst of her attack, "you jus' let me know!" The irony of her saying this in the middle of attacking her is of course not lost on the Lightning Seraph. Whether Clarine appreciates that is another story, though.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Seraph Clarine with Cessive Bullet!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Clarine guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Cessive Bullet for 88 hit points!
GS: Cripple! applied to Seraph Clarine!
GS: Seraph Clarine enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Weaken expired!
<Pose Tracker> Scythe Riebaure has posed.

        She's still alive?, Scythe thinks, blinking. At least he drew blood. The knives flicker out of existence, one by one, and reappear orbiting Scythe like glittering stars--except for the ones that drew Acacia's blood. Scythe opens a hand with fingers spread, and those knives appear between his fingers. The self-proclaimed Crimson Noble raises them to his mouth, one at a time, and licks them clean. "...Pedestrian," he says.

        'Do you people just put your tongue on everything?'

        "Eh...?" Scythe turns to look at his gruesome handiwork. He's seen dead people before. He's even seen bodies in worse condition than the one before him, and kept control of his stomach. But none of those bodies talked, or moved around, or did much of anything. Scythe swallows. Not even the taste of blood is enough to put him at ease. "Such meaningless questions," Scythe says. He's completely ignoring Acacia--he smells superheated metal, hears the racing of her heart, but he's more focused on Marivel.

        "Now, then. Why don't you lie back down and I can get back to figuring out how many pieces to send your body home to--"

        'Say cheese, asshole.'

        Acacia's flash goes off two feet from Scythe's face. Everything dissolves into brilliant light. A high-pitched ringing noise drowns out all sound. "DAMN YOU," Scythe shouts, but he can't hear his own voice. White-hot heat erupts in the air in front and above of him, splattering him with something that smells terrible and clings like hot tar. Something else--Marivel, but he can't tell--slams into him, knocking him off his feet. Scythe goes skidding off the edge of a mushroom-rock. There's a soft 'thump' a few seconds later.

        Scythe drags his burning arm across a rock, biting his cheek until it bleeds. It takes the edge off the pain, and scrapes off the worst of the gel, but it's not enough. He needs more. He needs more of her. Scythe scrabbles blindly for something beneath his jacket. Long, thin fingers close around a vial, and pull it free. Crimson liquid glistens behind the glass. Scythe pops the cork off and drinks the vial's contents in one fell swoop. The rush hits him, sweeps him along, drowning the pain of his injuries and the fear of what he's up against.

        Scythe reappears in the air above Ashley with a thunderclap of displaced air. His eyes blaze with crimson light, and some of the tattoos along his torso glow with the same hue. "Flames of the underworld! I command thee--consign my foes to an eternity of torment for their transgressions!"

        center,"Red Cataclysm!",80)

        The air around Marivel and Acacia begins to superheat. Blossoms of flame erupt around them from all directions, blazing brilliantly before fading away. They track the two of them as they move, surrounding both ARMS members in what amounts to a localized field of explosions. Ashley, though--Ashley gets a more personal touch. Space skews around him, subtly, in ways he can't see until he tries to move. No matter how he runs, or dodges, or jumps, he never moves from his position on the battlefield. Scythe appears behind him, his combat knife drawn, grinning viciously. Blood stains his pearly-white teeth. "Well, I was simply going to eat the rich, like Commander Vinsfeld said, but I'll have to settle."

        The knife comes down. A moment later, Scythe follows up with his fangs, seeking Ashley's lifeblood.

<Pose Tracker> Scythe Riebaure has posed.

        She's still alive?, Scythe thinks, blinking. At least he drew blood. The knives flicker out of existence, one by one, and reappear orbiting Scythe like glittering stars--except for the ones that drew Acacia's blood. Scythe opens a hand with fingers spread, and those knives appear between his fingers. The self-proclaimed Crimson Noble raises them to his mouth, one at a time, and licks them clean. "...Pedestrian," he says.

        'Do you people just put your tongue on everything?'

        "Eh...?" Scythe turns to look at his gruesome handiwork. He's seen dead people before. He's even seen bodies in worse condition than the one before him, and kept control of his stomach. But none of those bodies talked, or moved around, or did much of anything. Scythe swallows. Not even the taste of blood is enough to put him at ease. "Such meaningless questions," Scythe says. He's completely ignoring Acacia--he smells superheated metal, hears the racing of her heart, but he's more focused on Marivel.

        "Now, then. Why don't you lie back down and I can get back to figuring out how many pieces to send your body home to--"

        'Say cheese, asshole.'

        Acacia's flash goes off two feet from Scythe's face. Everything dissolves into brilliant light. A high-pitched ringing noise drowns out all sound. "DAMN YOU," Scythe shouts, but he can't hear his own voice. White-hot heat erupts in the air in front and above of him, splattering him with something that smells terrible and clings like hot tar. Something else--Marivel, but he can't tell--slams into him, knocking him off his feet. Scythe goes skidding off the edge of a mushroom-rock. There's a soft 'thump' a few seconds later.

        Scythe drags his burning arm across a rock, biting his cheek until it bleeds. It takes the edge off the pain, and scrapes off the worst of the gel, but it's not enough. He needs more. He needs more of her. Scythe scrabbles blindly for something beneath his jacket. Long, thin fingers close around a vial, and pull it free. Crimson liquid glistens behind the glass. Scythe pops the cork off and drinks the vial's contents in one fell swoop. The rush hits him, sweeps him along, drowning the pain of his injuries and the fear of what he's up against.

        Scythe reappears in the air above Ashley with a thunderclap of displaced air. His eyes blaze with crimson light, and some of the tattoos along his torso glow with the same hue. "Flames of the underworld! I command thee--consign my foes to an eternity of torment for their transgressions!"

                                        "Red Cataclysm!"

        The air around Marivel and Acacia begins to superheat. Blossoms of flame erupt around them from all directions, blazing brilliantly before fading away. They track the two of them as they move, surrounding both ARMS members in what amounts to a localized field of explosions. Ashley, though--Ashley gets a more personal touch. Space skews around him, subtly, in ways he can't see until he tries to move. No matter how he runs, or dodges, or jumps, he never moves from his position on the battlefield. Scythe appears behind him, his combat knife drawn, grinning viciously. Blood stains his pearly-white teeth. "Well, I was simply going to eat the rich, like Commander Vinsfeld said, but I'll have to settle."

        The knife comes down. A moment later, Scythe follows up with his fangs, seeking Ashley's lifeblood.

GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Scythe Riebaure with The Blood is Life!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has gained 2 Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Zhang Xiumei takes a glancing hit from Ratatoskr's Ceaseless Conflict for 85 hit points!
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a solid hit from Scythe Riebaure's The Blood is Life for 0 hit points!
GS: Surge! applied to Scythe Riebaure!
GS: Mighty! applied to Scythe Riebaure!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Marivel Armitage with Red Cataclysm !
GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Acacia Saitani with Red Cataclysm !
GS: Scythe Riebaure has spent 1 Combo on Link, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Ashley Winchester with Spatial Chains!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has launched an attack Link!
GS: Marivel Armitage guards a hit from Scythe Riebaure's Red Cataclysm  for 69 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Ashley Winchester takes a glancing hit from Scythe Riebaure's Spatial Chains for 0 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak! applied to Ashley Winchester!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has attacked Ashley Winchester with Crimson Feast!
GS: Scythe Riebaure has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ashley Winchester has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ashley Winchester takes a glancing hit from Scythe Riebaure's Crimson Feast for 80 hit points!
GS: Scythe Riebaure drains Ashley Winchester! Scythe Riebaure gains 40 temporary hit points!
GS: Acacia Saitani critically Guards a hit from Scythe Riebaure's Red Cataclysm  for 67 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda looks back to Eleanor, and answers her with a gallows smile. "... A lot," she says -- shortly before Xiumei gives her something rather more pressing to react to. She's not quite ready for the slash, and it leaves a nasty gash in her arm as she weaves backward -- enough to leave her whole body sagging. She still needs to work on getting herself into a defensive posture again after something tricky -- that'll be something to drill on.

Eleanor follows up with that bright, magical energy... and Matilda decides that now might be a good time to back away, at least for a few moments. She might do well to spend time on *herself* in much the same way Eleanor is... part of her thinks she might be bette roff helping Ratatoskr, but she's less certain about Metal Demon physiology than she'd like to be for *that*.

So she does, indeed, back off. She sheaths her weapons and reaches into a pocket, pulling out a vial of something vaguely berry-colored; she *could* load it into Freischütz, and indeed that's why she keeps it pre-mixed...

... but if it's for herself, she can just drink it and remain on guard.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Matilda Whitehead with Berry Shot!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Slow expired!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
GS: Matilda Whitehead heals Matilda Whitehead! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Burst! applied to Matilda Whitehead!
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

It's at about this time when Clarissa is about to fall off a cliff that Marivel remembers something. The wolf turns its head--

--too late to stop the weaponsfire. Too let to stop the tumble off the cliff. Eleanor sees it a split second before it happens. A moment of sharp clarity as Clarissa falls off the cliff, and splatters against the ground a broken mess. She can't tell whether or not she would have died that day. Certainly such wounds could easily have meant the end of her adventuring career even if she somehow managed to survive. By the time the vision fades, Kamui is already lamenting Clarissa's death and unleashing her fury upon Clarissa's 'killer'.

The wolf sees what Scythe is swallowing. Ashley unleashes his own vengeance first. The order of things becomes a bit jumbled at the recollections. It turns away and--and fire engulfs the wolf. When the flames fade, all that is left is smoke and ash. Perhaps burning fire claimed the last of the Crimson Nobles after all?

Or perhaps not. Moments after the wolf is gone, a pail drops down towards Scythe's head and, if it connects, will make a magnificent CLONK noise against his skull.

Yes, Clarissa was going to splatter against the ground here according to Eleanor's vision, but that is not what happens here. Moments before Clarissa smashes against the floor, the wolf leaps into the air and catches her body with its back before vanishing with her and reappearing along the battlefield, Clarissa's still heavily wounded but, at least, not shattered body with it.

Marivel shifts back into her humanoid form, smoke still drifting lazily from her body as she crouches down and immediately works on tending to her wounds at a feverish pace. Playing with the pretender is all well and good, but Clarissa is a friend with whom Marivel shared precious secrets. She has no intention of letting her be destroyed at this point in the timeline.

Yet she should have been, Eleanor. She should have been.

"Damn it..." Marivel says, the first sign of true genuine concern about how the battle is proceeding. She looks around the field.

"Get ready!" Marivel shouts to Ashley.

He figures he knows what to do.

GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Aport!
GS: Marivel Armitage has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

Xiumei can't do more than register Clarissa falling. She stands up a little straighter, as light shifts and turns around her from the Crests. She nods, her breathing hard, but her green eyes shift to the left for a moment to see Eleanor. "I know," she says, sounding breathless. Then, Ratatoskr is on her; his claws slam down, digging into the armor on her forearm as she lifts them up. The armor crumples and bends, almost tearing, before his tail swings in--

And she gets smashed to the ground. She rolls, once, and then comes up kneeling. Her eyes dart once to Matilda -- and then towards Ratatoskr. One at a time, she tells herself.

Her cannon vanishes in a burst of light. Her energy blade flashes -- and Xiumei charges so fast that she becomes a blur across the ground. The Pulse Saber is gripped in two hands -- and she does one, single, massive strike of the blade to chop into Ratatoskr's midsection before blitzing past him.

GS: Zhang Xiumei has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has attacked Ratatoskr with Pulse Saber Charge Slash!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a solid hit from Marivel Armitage's Aport for 101 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Erzebet Lefanu has posed.

 
As Clarissa falls, Erzebet exhales. Something about this does tug at her thoughts. It isn't satisfying. She turns away from her, perhaps a little too quickly.

To look at Kamui.

"Well, then, drag her -" Erzebet begins to say before Kamui speaks up. Erzebet's mouth stays partway open. It seems kind of pale in there, and her mouth does close slowly, brow knitting, as Kamui keeps reading. When she says 'Suffering Circuit' Erzebet's glasses actually go completely blank, which momentarily alarms her.

Then it comes up again. Red letters. They form a word that she recognizes. WARNING. Why am I getting ten warning words in sequence for this sad girl, Erzebet wonders, before saying aloud, "Why am I getting ten warning w-"

The saber flares.

She takes a step back, raising her weapons up. The saber makes sense, she thinks. It's like some kind of fire saber, like she saw that stunt Symbologist use. Relax, she tells herself. Why can't I relax? It's like the gun is pushing back something into my blood.

"My kidneys feel funny," she says to Kamui. "Am I about to have a stone from this again? Ugh, the first time -" AIR-DASH

BGM INSERT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OugVczuA55s

Erzebet looks up at Kamui. Her lips pull back from her teeth a little. She backs up another pace.

"Look," she says, "It's a fact here that there's a lot more thermal room on the fire end of things, but let's not be - let's not -" ERZEBET LEFANU

"No, no, it's fine, you don't have - You don't have to do a finishing strike, I believe you--"

Erzebet leaps back. This saves her from the initial sword stroke and she breaks out into a sweat of relief that she did not get immediately bisected. Why is the warning still flashing, she thinks.

The chain icicle begins.

Erzebet is knocked, well, it would be a relief if she fell on her ass, but her toppling backwards is at the worst potential angle. The rising crest of bursting ice does not just hit her, it *juggles* her; she raises upwards a good four yards before the burst back-curves, as if passing her around. Another two meters, halfway-crawling up the side of the canyon ambush, and a BURST -

That throws her up and over the lip of the dark and dreadful space!

Erzebet crests the lip, spiralling round like an endless cycle of death. She lands in a cart - she can't tell whose. She breathes out as if her soul is leaving her body.

Haborym's readout:

> wwwwwww
> pwnt
> necropsy survey.......................... n/a

"rude," Erzebet croaks.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

The last of the spell impacts her mirrors solidly, eliciting another wince of effort from Clarine to keep her defenses strong.

"...It was...difficult." Clarine admits, as Ragnell mentions that she's had a rough time. "I felt so very lost..."

But she is certain that feeling wasn't unique to her. She did not hold it against any of them.

Ragnell leaps backwards and Clarine readies herself once more. The rapidfire volley of bullets keeps her guessing, and she does not have nearly enough mirrors to protect herself from all of them. Many still slip through the gaps, forcing her back.

"I do not think they would do that...but of course, I will let you know. Thank you..." Clarine replies, with a slight smile. It seems she does appreciate the irony - or maybe the request just makes her happy. It's a very Ragnell thing to do.

But even so, she will return the favor. She doesn't know how long she can continue fighting in this tattered state...but at the very least, she's going to do her best.

"O seven brilliant blades, I call upon you to descend and loose your shining might! Prism Sword!" Clarine calls out - it's a familiar incantation to Ragnell.

Light shines down from above like before, but rather than a single beam, seven crystalline swords, glimmering in every color of the rainbow, fall - not toward Ragnell directly, but surrounding her. As soon as the last sword falls they unleash a brilliant glow, and detonate in an explosion of light and color.

GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Prism Sword!
GS: Seraph Clarine has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Seraph Clarine's Prism Sword for 135 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Entangle expired!
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

It's an awful expression for a person to have, Eleanor thinks, as she watches Matilda's smile. Not that Matilda, herself, is awful necessarily-- but that she would have to have it...

Yellow eyes tilt back to Xiumei--she cannot watch a fall, in this instant. Except--

Except she doesn't get the choice. Ratatoskr had demanded that she keep going, and she did her spell; she noticed his wounds. But now, she seems to see nothing at all, stumbling backwards with unseeing eyes. Her gaze looks far into the distance, eyes widened--

And she falls back, landing right on her ass with a jarring motion as her expression turns to one of horror. When it fades she forces her eyes closed through the start of tears, doubles back overto lean forward--

And remembers the battle. Xiumei is still fighting... Matilda hasn't given up. Ratatoskr--

But Marivel reappears with Eleanor after all, and Eleanor chokes in surprise and bewwilderment. This would be... a nasty opportunity, had Matilda not stepped back--as it stands, Eleanor quickly fumbles in her things--

And pulls out a huge revolver that is frankly overlarge in her delicate hand. It takes the same ammunition as some rifles, this Gunsmoke model, handcrafted for her use--and she lifts it, hand shaking until she applies the other hand for support.

"Xiumei!" She calls. "Duck left!"

She FIRES with a deafening report, one-two-three-four all at once once she's lined up the shot.

GS: Eleanor Klein has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ratatoskr with Rapid Shot!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
GS: Ratatoskr takes a solid hit from Zhang Xiumei's Pulse Saber Charge Slash for 189 hit points!
GS: Zhang Xiumei's Stoic stance ends. She enters the Avenger stance!
GS: Ratatoskr critically Guards a hit from Eleanor Klein's Rapid Shot for 23 hit points!
GS: Ratatoskr enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

        Kamui listens closely at Erzebet as she starts stammering about her kidneys, having a stone-- she doesn't understand that part. She has heard humans talk about their weight in stones before, is she about to absorb a lot of blood and gain a whole stone??

        She's no stranger to people with ailments, herself included, but...

        As the icicles shatter into thousands of little pieces, little more than a kind of synthesised para-magic (??), she stares towards where Erzebet has flown off to. "Erzebet Lefanu... ... ... I'm going to have a stone too."

        ???

        And then Kamui's heatsinks open up as a loud hisssssssss escapes the girl. Electricity floods the space around her red camera eye. That was a lot of energy expended, and she's deeply wounded from all the blasts Erzebet's inflicted upon her. She's a powerful one...

        But maybe that's not the stone she thinks of.

        "Mari. Master," she speaks out. "I'm going to help Clarissa Arwin and secure an escape route."

        And the Reploid dashes off into the distance with that, because she has a Saber and nothing is going to get in her way.

<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

        "What transgressions, you ass? Defending ourselves against people who attacked us out of the blue 'cause they didn't like something we said? Attempting to do exactly what your ethos says, and take on the biggest problems ourselves?" the reporter adds through gritted teeth, hissing through the pain of the myriad of cuts she's been given.

        She's ready for the heat this time, the sudden prickle of the air around her making her realize what's to come. This time, she's a lot more ready for it, her hand diving into the inner pocket of her coat to grasp for the hard, round shape she keeps tucked away inside of it. A moment of desperate concentration - and the field of searing heat is abruptly met by repeated flashes of ice, sheets of it forming and melting around her in rapid succession, warding off the worst of the flames.

        "When I first heard about ARMS, I wasn't even sure about it myself. You can't be, in my line of work. Figured it was some kinda rich man's attempt to grab some glory, play around, pretend he's doing something." She grits her teeth as she forces herself back up to her feet from where she's slumped against the rock; she grimaces, then runs a hand across her mouth, her eyes flicking to Marivel and then back. "But better that than on a drunken power trip. Kidnap any kids recently? Still holding them prisoner?"

        If bullets won't work, she's got other options, pulling the crystalline object she's holding onto from her coat. Raising one hand, the air above it starts to glow; an icicle begins to form out of supercooled air, building in size. Over the top of it, deliberately casual, Acacia nods. "Okay. Be careful," she nods with a grateful smile - deeply thankful she doesn't have to watch Kamui break down this time. Then without even a motion from herself, the missile looses from her hand towards the 'Crimson Noble'.

GS: Acacia Saitani enters a Counter stance!
GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Hit Piece!
GS: Acacia Saitani has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a solid hit from Acacia Saitani's Hit Piece for 112 hit points!
GS:  Infect extends negative status by 1 round!
<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

Somewhere in his peripheral vision, Ashley sees an unfamiliar blonde woman being flung bodily off a nearby cliff. All he knows about her is that she was fighting with them-- that's all he could make out through the carnage-- but it's enough. Enough that the unmistakable pang of guilt carves into Ashley's heart like a hot knife. This all happened because of Odessa. Because of some old man's twisted dreams...!

He can answer the injustice of Mui's unfortunate paycheck later. They have far too much righteous vengence to reap, and so little time to do it in.

Ashley doesn't hesitate. Charred and bruised, he races after Scythe's bounding body, racking his rifle's slide hard to make room for a fresh cartrige. They're going to finish this--

And then, Ashley comes to an abrupt stop.

He struggles against invisible chains-- as if the very fabric of reality were somehow squeezed around him like a vise. Muscles strain till they hurt to try and wrestle free-- but to no avail. He's helpless, unable to avoid the depredations of the beast driving its knife into his throat to feast on the life-giving blood within.
Oh?
But.
This is my vessel.
Something...
Or do you think you can contain my <<power>>, little parasite?
Something is wrong.

The blood burns hot against Scythe's tongue. It bursts from the wound even as it seems to cauterize beneath the spray of vital fluid. It surges as if trying to leap down his throat, to fill his heart with hate and heat and fire that burns the world clean until nothing remains but the rage and the burning.
What's wrong?
Ashley gasps and staggers away, only to turn, lips pulled into a furious snarl. He doesn't hear Marivel's voice, not immediately, not through this. Instead, he lifts his rifle and bayonet at the would-be vampire, the torrent of blood slowing to barely a trickle. "What's wrong?" he growls in a voice not quite his own, even as he surges forward to plunge the bayonet deep into Scythe's heart. "Too spicy for you!?"

It's only then, in the aftermath of that exchange that he seems to steady, eyes still wide, breaths still heaving, and notice that Marivel had shouted his way.

Ashley gives her a look, and mounts a particular canister to his rifle.

Give the signal.

GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Incendiary Omen!
GS: Ashley Winchester has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Seven swords of light fall down around Ragnell, trapping her in the circle of glittering power. When the last blade descends, she thus has nowhere to go to evade the attack, and it slices through her metaphorically and literally, leaving her snarling in pain as the light bursts, then fades. She clutches her wounds as she staggers to one side--but she's half-smiling all the same.
        
        "Hey, you're welcome," she murmurs back. "Doesn't have t' be these guys either. If anyone bullies you in general, I'll beat 'em up for ya. Jus' so you know." She straightens, lifting her chin to the skies beyond the edges of the canyons that surround them. "...but that'll have t' wait 'til after this fight. We're not exactly done here, either." She pauses in thought for a moment; then she nods to herself, a Seraphic glyph forming at her feet. "Blessed bolts, lay waste to our foes... Divine Saber!"
        
        This, too, in turn, would be a familiar spell to Clarine, and one very similar to her own--it's just that it's six points instead of seven, and lightning instead of light. A glyph forms below and above her, and lightning strikes in all directions in an attempt to lock her in before a single massive bolt pours down in the center.
        
        Ragnell relaxes somewhat after the arte is complete, though--not quite so hard on the offensive now.

GS: Seraph Ragnell enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Seraph Clarine with Divine Saber!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Ashley Winchester has canceled their attack on Scythe Riebaure.
GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Scythe Riebaure with Incendiary Omen!
GS: Shieldbreak expired!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
GS: Seraph Clarine critically Guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Divine Saber for 34 hit points!
GS: Scythe Riebaure takes a glancing hit from Ashley Winchester's Incendiary Omen for 66 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

        Ratatoskr comes down from that aerial display, standing upright as Zhang does. He doesn't push the offensive nearly as hard as he 'should.' Odessa's orders are to kill, but the wielder of Model V - and the Crest Sorceress over there - are being given too many gaps to compose themslves and act. He sounds and comes off as young, but is it really just youthful inexperience?
        His eyes light up again as the plasma swordswoman rushes right on in, and he runs right at her too, launching forward with a 'hyahaha--' plus a flying knee strike--
        There is an impact.
        Xiumei will not feel any sort of blunt trauma, for that missed her.
        Ratatoskr kneels on the other end of that... and quicksilver leaks, in no small quantity. A deep cut. A grievous wound. It should be enough to give anyone pause and reflect upon their mortality, as visual estimates would suggest it went at a depth of 'yes.' It should have severed important organs. It might have.
        He's still grinning.
        "...This is great..." Not at all said sarcastically. "You don't hold back, do you? You don't hold back, do you!" He cackles. "...I want tha--"
        Eleanor loads her ARM. Her shaking hands belie the speed in which she can hammer that trigger and fire off four shots. Two graze past his face, one of those two scraping the horn to an energetic surge. One misses entirely. The fourth...
        He catches. It digs into his palm, another springing wound. He holds that palm there for a moment before drawing back the large bullet. Most of the time, someone who has that capability would just mockingly show 'oh look, caught the bullet' and drop it.
        He clasps his hand around it gingerly and stows it away, as though he appreciates it.
        A piece of history. Something from a hero of today.
        It's his now.
        Hyadean regeneration starts to knit back together what it can, as Ratatoskr grins. The rest of his body isn't smiling so much. One of his legs is shaky. Quicksilver continues to stain down his side, down the thigh...
        "Tell me what that is..." He says to Xiumei as he rushes at her with raspy, pained but somehow contented laughter.
        There is a dramatic cut-in to his grinning face as he raises a hand upwards.
        "So I'll keep its name...!"
        He hurls himself onto her, going into that same series of combination strikes that largely serve to soften her up, and put her off-balance prior to the primary strike at the end of it, thrusting his horn into the armored swordswoman as it builds in power...
        ...and bursts a great laser blast upwards, trying to strike into her from point blank.
        "SERPENT'S OUTRAGE!!"

GS: Ratatoskr has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ratatoskr has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Zhang Xiumei with Serpent's Outrage!
GS: Ratatoskr has completed his action.
GS: Zhang Xiumei completely evades a hit from Ratatoskr's Serpent's Outrage!
<Pose Tracker> Scythe Riebaure has posed.

        Scythe presses his lips to Ashley Winchester's throat, and drinks. Hot liquid flows across his tongue, the familiar tastes of iron and copper underscored by the unmistakable taste of P O W E R--

        The burning hits him a moment later. A hatred that isn't his forces its way into his brain, driving away rational thought. It's all he can do to pull away, even as Ashley's blood surges down his throat, seemingly of its own accord. The 'Crimson Noble' gags, chokes, spits blood onto the ground. More of it dribbles down his chin, and his bare chest. At first it tasted almost like hers, but now it tastes wrong. It tastes wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong--

        Scythe meets Ashley Winchester's eyes, and the facade doesn't so much crack as crumble. "What are you?!" Scythe demands. His jaw trembles. His eyes dart sideways, and the way he looks at Acacia is very, very different. The predator is no longer on the hunt. It's cornered, trapped, and wounded. "What are you talking--!" The icicle flies. Scythe tries to twist out of the way, but the tainted blood burns in him, makes everything sluggish. The icicle slams into Scythe's right thigh, burying itself in the muscle. A moment later, Marivel's bucket slams into the Brionac operative's head with an audible CLONG.

        It is likely the most humiliating attack he's endured to date.

        "WHAT ARE YOU!?" Scythe screams, as Ashley(?) charges him. A last-second twist keeps the bayonet from Scythe's heart. Instead, it clips the side of his ribcage. The Crimson Noble's eyes dart between Ashley and Acacia. His hand reaches into his coat, fumbling with trembling fingers for another vial of her blood.

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

Matilda takes some time for herself -- and is likewise given a reprieve. She feels like she ought to be more concerned about Ratatoskr, but really, she isn't; indeed, while she appreciates his dedication to chronicling the present for posterity, she finds it... difficult, to worry excessively for him. Still -- he *is* good backup, so she really ought to take a second and provide him with some backup.

Her stance is a little open, and she knows it; she doesn't have her weapons out, and her positioning is just a little too aggressive for being in that situation to be a good idea. Step one to continuing the fight, thus, *has* to be buying herself back a little space. She finally draws Freischütz, using it for its simplest and most utilitarian form of combat: making rocks go very fast.

All the while, even as she fires shot after shot at Eleanor, she's backpedaling -- because again, the real goal is separation, space to work. It's not very flashy, but not every move needs to be -- solid offense, after all, is something of alost art.

GS: Matilda Whitehead has attacked Eleanor Klein with Freeshooter!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Matilda Whitehead has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel works on stabilizing Clarissa. She nods once to Kamui who is clearing a path and guide's her friend's body to her god-daughter. "Thank you." She tells her.

Scythe asks who Ashley is but it's Marivel who ends up answering the question. First, anyway.

She could call him the chosen one. She could call him a secret weapon. Or she could even call him 'A Baker'.

Instead she says, "Not yours." She gives a small nod to Ashley. "Now! ARMS! To Guadosalam together!"

They'll need to get some proper distance before they can properly examine Clarissa's wounds.

And, Marivel reflects, have a talk with Clarine about the future.

GS: Eleanor Klein takes a glancing hit from Matilda Whitehead's Freeshooter for 88 hit points!
GS: Matilda Whitehead's Avenger stance ends.
<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

'What are you!?'

For anyone else, the answer would be trivial. But for Ashley... What IS Ashley? What is this thing that looks like a man, acts like a man, walks and talks like a man-- and yet, and yet, how could this... this monster be a man?
You are no longer.
Ashley... Ashley asks himself that question, hoping that he'd find the answer easily and honestly.
The answer is obvious.
But...
You know what you are.
His shoulders heave with labored breath. Sweat beads across scorched skin. The look in this person's-- this parasite's fearful, terrified eyes-- it would be so easy to answer that question. So easy to charge forward one more time and snuff out that miserable life.
It'd be so easy.
So easy.
So very easy.
So very, very easy.
Do it. You know who you are.
"I," the gunman says as he takes aim, "I am Ashley Winchester, Field Captain of ARMS."
Tch.
He fires another canister, aimed right at the tiny vial clutched in Scythe's fingers.
Fine.
It bursts whether it makes contact or not, filling the world with an impenetrable veil of smoke. His hand quivers at the thought. It would be so easy, in this moment, to end that life.
I can wait.
But that's not what Ashley signed up to do.

"Everyone, grab who you can! We're getting out of here!"

ARMS is on the retreat...! Because in everybody getting out alive, there is victory.

<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

Xiumei lands, halfway in a crouch, and then she turns. She stares at Ratatoskr, with quicksilver blood running from the strike of her Pulse Saber. Her eyes narrow -- and then her eyes widen at the accusation that she doesn't hold back. It bothers her more, somehow, than seeing that she hurt someone.

She leaps as Ratatoskr hurtles at her. Xiumei jumps into the air; then, she jumps off the air itself, and lands on the ground diagonal from him. Her eyes are narrowed, now. "This--this is Model V," she stammers out, sounding uncertain. She hears Marivel's call.

Xiumei glances at Eleanor. She can move faster than her. Xiumei leaps down, grabbing hold of her by the waist -- and then makes another hope away, to higher ground. "We better hurry."

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

"...Thank you. I...I am glad." Clarine replies. In a way, it made her feel...very nostalgic. But Ragnell's comment jolts her out of the past and back into the presence. It reminds her of the here and now - they both had a job to do, after all, and couldn't afford to reminisce.

Particularly not when Ragnell is incanting another spell. Clarine tries to move out of the way, but before she can, it's too late - bolts of lightning trap her within the glyphs. Clarine braces herself, directing her mirrors to intercept what she knows is about to happen.

Lightning pours down, with the ferocity of the storm itself. It forces her down to her knees and her mirrors fall to the ground around her, each one disappearing in a flash before they hit.

It took everything she had left to defend against that last spell of Ragnell's.

"I-I still have a long way to go..." She mutters, with some effort, and she looks up at Ragnell. She's quiet for a moment...but before she can say what's on her mind, she hears Marivel call out for a retreat.

"It...it looks like it's time for me to go. W-we should, um...talk again soon." Clarine says, her voice quiet. When they both wouldn't be expected to do battle with each other.

Quickly, Clarine draws a length of silvery cloth from her sleeve, throwing it over herself. The lightbending veil, one of her many creations. Ragnell, of course, will be familiar with it and be able to track her...but along with the smokescreen provided by Ashley, it'd provide more than enough plausible deniability.

If necessary, she'll follow along as far as she needs to...but she's exhausted. But if anyone from ARMS draws close enough, she'll teeter over and retreat into her vessel - the golden amulet that she always wore.

It'd be easier for all of them that way - though if they're not familiar with the Seraphim, it might mean a lot of explaining later.

<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

This? This is not the outcome Eleanor expected, firing at Ratatoskr. He's much bigger than she is, frankly. The gun is a matter of exhaustion, a way to pull something unexpected--and yet, instead... It...

"Ah, well," she says, awkward, increasingly alarmed, "G-glad you... liked... it...?"

But he rushes Xiumei and Eleanor can only watch in dismay for the moment. She can't interfere so easily. And Matilda does not leave her to only watch, either. What happens next.. is quick. that strange ARM--

"Oh!" Eleanor rolls to the side, evading the first shot... but only the first. None seem to hit anything vital, but most of them hit indeed, clipping skin, hitting unarmored fabric--until one gets a cry that suggests it might have landed before Eleanor manages to hold out a strange object and somehow turn it into cover to hide behind--as... Xiumei dodges. She lands on the diagonal. "Ah--"

Xiumei picks her up, and Eleanor can't help but feel relief. The retreat is called, but...

Eleanor hangs on, closing her eyes. "Yes, we--We really..."

Buff. "Thank you..."

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell nods to herself when she sees Clarine stand up again after that last arte of hers. It might have taken her everything she had to defend, but she *did* defend. Still having a long ways to go doesn't mean someone hasn't come far, too. She glances up as the retreat is sounded, and in particular raises her eyebrows when Scythe starts screaming at Ashley--but then she focuses back in on Clarine.
        
        "Yeah, let's," she agrees. "You go take care o' your friends, Clary. But especially take care o' yourself."
        
        Then she holsters her guns and--aside from noting that lightweaving veil of Clarine's--does absolutely nothing to try to stop the retreat, instead opting to fold her arms beyond her neck and look around at her own side. Anybody dead? No? Well, her job here is done.

<Pose Tracker> Matilda Whitehead has posed.

As Eleanor backs off, Matilda likewise starts to do so -- it's clear that to actually convert on any of this, they'd have to commit... well, frankly, a *lot* more resources than would be strictly reasonable.

She's a little relieved.

She moves toward Scythe, instead; even if she has concerns about working on an apparent Crimson Noble from a logistical standpoint, she's fairly certain she can at least do *something* for him. ... Working with Riesenlied and Kaguya, after all, has given her a solid appreciation for what works for people who are a little left of human.

... Honestly, though, she doesn't want to get particularly close to Scythe, and she has a gun that can administer curatives at a distance. She decides to just dump a handful of pulverized Lunarian nuts and some water into Freischütz's reservoir and give the 'Crimsom Noble' a quick pick-me-up before starting to back off in earnest herself.

<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

        'This--this is Model V,' the name is at last surrendered.
        "Model V..." Ratatoskr repeats that name. The confirmation that he has heard it. The idea of the enemy merely repeating a name should be harmless, shouldn't it? "Model V..." He repeats again, like it were a thing of splendor. He's never seen anything like it.
        The mission 'should' be considered a failure, as a great billowing cloud of smoke helps obscure the movement of ARMS to get the hell away and head to Guadosalam. Physically wounded, Ratatoskr's visible flesh is paler for blood loss that stabilizes by the regenerative factors of Hyadean tissue. Some may scramble for some last shot or another, but as Ratatoskr helps himself to a nearby mushroom rock, he sits down instead like a hiker taking a little rest.
        He retrieves the taken bullet and starts to fiddle with it again as though it were a thing of immense curiosity. The caliber, the shape, the make...
        He keeps grinning.
        If only he got their names...

<Pose Tracker> Scythe Riebaure has posed.

        The vial shatters. Blood splatters Scythe's jacket, his skin, and the ground. Glass shards dig into the man's flesh, but the pain is so distant he doesn't notice. "No," the Crimson Noble chokes out. He puts his fingers to his mouth, heedless of the glass embedded in them. All he gets is a t a s t e. The burning doesn't stop. It wouldn't stop, even if he drank the whole vial.

        Scythe's legs give out. The sorcerer pitches forwards onto the ground, and just lies there, bleeding onto the rock. His chest heaves. Matilda's bullets find their mark, one after the other, delivering their healing payload. Scythe's flesh starts knitting itself back together. Slowly, he raises his head, and looks at Matilda--

        No. He looks through her.

        "It burns..." Scythe chokes out. "I--I can still see it..."

        And then nothing but pained, anguished whimpers.