2019-08-17: Never Look Back

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<Pose Tracker> Seymour Guado has posed.

Yevon has been on the defensive for the war. In a way, the very act of going to war took Yevon by surprise; war was a scarce thing on Spira. Sin allowed little time for war.

But invaders from beyond the Great Sea have changed everything, and Yevon has been forced to rally.

Like the thing that led them into this mess, the plan today is the brainchild of Maester Wen Kinoc. This is a counterattack, but not a standard sort: rather than a mass movement of the Warrior Monks, there are a half-dozen strikes by smaller Warrior Monk units across the Highroad. This is to distract from one of the lead fortresses, with its wooden palisades, constructed by the Guard.

Which is where Maester Seymour is commanding a strange unit: a group of Guado Guardians, supported by otherworlder mercenaries. The Maester wears his robes, and ducks low behind a rise. Next to him, Biggs and Wedge Guado kneel. They glance at each other.

"Ready, Maester Seymour?" Wedge asks.

"Mm. Yes," Seymour says. He turns -- looking at the gathered Drifters. "We are, as we have been, in your debt. I trust you all to fight hard for us... but do not throw your lives away, either. While we would prefer to destroy -- or take -- this little fortification... the true goal, today, is to make a statement. To let them know that Yevon shall not roll over and die."

He smiles, once. "Now... go."

Seymour stands up, holding a hand up -- and then a massive chunk of ice slams down into the wooden walls of the fort. When it does, there is a fierce bellow -- and Wedge and Biggs bolt over the rise, down the hill and towards the fort.

DC: Marivel Armitage switches forms to Beware of UV Rays!
<Pose Tracker> Gon Guado has posed.

    It is something of a simple story to those Otherworlder types, isn't it? Native people under siege by invaders, requiring the assistance of all sympathetic and able-bodied to help them preserve their ways of life, that sort of dreck. Where Seymour's words are of gratitude and a desire for them to not throw away their lives in a simple statement being made to Althena's own, Gon - one of the veteran foot soldiers of the Guado people - shows no kindness nor warmth upon his brow as he sees to the collected.
     Never mind the handful of times that any number of them might have seen him live.
     As the Maester makes the giant strike of ice the signal, Gon joins his brethren in the running assault. The Guado people boast some of the fastest - maybe even the fastest! - foot speed of all the people of Spira, and even in Gon's advancing age he keeps pace with the rest of the able-bodied as light glints off the metal of his clawed gauntlets.
     He is decidedly far more comfortable acting among his own kind, as it were.

<Pose Tracker> Kaguya Alathfar has posed.

War comes naturally enough to people, it would seem; being away from it for a thousand years can't entirely dull the taste for it, only hide it for a while. So some might claim in the face of this plan, anyway. It's the sort of brooding appropriate to the moment, as Kaguya looks down over a map at a table on which markers have been placed noting expected troop emblacements and their own movements. The whole thing is bare-bones, considering its placement here on the Highroad behind the little fortification, rather than a proper building--built in the shell of an ancient ruin--but it's good enough. Or... theoretically, it's good enough. As it stands, abrubtly the table shakes--

"Enemy combatants incoming!" Calls a scout who will be lucky to have a job tomorrow, thanks to Maester Seymour's surprise attack with the assembled Guado and Drifters both. Just at the last moment, even.

"You think?" Kaguya answers in that exactly flavor of Youth Sarcasm to the man in leather armor, pushing upward from the table and starting for the outside. And--

Starts giving orders. To a group to check the rear; to another to ready wood. But here--

"We've got company! Time to get famous or get dead! Form up!"

Dressed in casual enough attire, green-based primarily, backed by strange metal visible here and there in odd green, the very small blonde warrior steps towards the palisade's wall--towards the section that's buckling under Seymour's powerful magic. She is flanked by two warriors in chain and plate with green tabards and her insignia on her shields, each with an ARM of her own make and a sheathed sword.

They won't make it in time to prevent the breach--but she'll be at the forefront of what they find through it.

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    Loren isn't here because he wants to be.

    But there's no such thing as 'wants' for him. If he's told to support the Maester in according with his abilities by none other than the man's scribe, then that is what he will do.

    For someone like him, that is all there can be. He does as he is ordered, in the hopes that...

    He's borrowed a sword. It's not balanced as well as his own was -- he would swear that this, too, was meant for someone taller. It evokes a glimmer of irritation within him when he thinks about it. He can't tell if the armorer did it intentionally or not. But it isn't as if he can complain about it, or explain why it's off. He's supposed to be 'just' a scribe.
    A scribe with some skill in magic and with some combat expertise, but still 'just a scribe'.
    His hand rests on that hilt now, his gaze off and down at the fort they're about to conquer.

    Another time, he might have made some flat remark, but...
    ...that's odd. 'Another time'?

    But here and now isn't the place to dwell on even an anomaly. His pulse is racing.
    They're to war, once again.

<Pose Tracker> Violet Salazar has posed.

Violet glances up. She's not yet used to the Guado, their strange ways, their not-quite-human proportions, but they seem decent enough. They've treated her equitably so far. And they're fighting against religious fanatics who want to impose their faith -- by force, if necessary -- on the native Spirans. That was reason enough to fight. Not that she trusted the Spirans' gods any more than the Filgaian ones. They favored their Chosen with power, and as for the rest of the people...tough luck. So far they'd turned deaf ears to her own prayers, even those for her patients. The will of the gods, the seers said, was inscrutable. It seemed to be so.

No time to think about that now -- something is happening! The chief Guado gives an encouraging speech, then sends a mystical lance of ice straight into the fort. Most of the rest of the Guado charge. Violet isn't among them; she's hardly a natural footsoldier -- or capable of hand-to-hand combat-- at her age. She hangs back, waiting for a chance to use her ARM. It's not cowardice, she tells herself: it's practicality, for so her years have taught her. She waits. Surely the inhabitants of the fort will swarm out -- or form ranks, if they're disciplined. They probably are disciplined, she reflects. Such is the nature of sectarians. She takes a sip from her canteen as she patiently observes the scene. At least Spira has decent water!

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"You know - noone would notice if we just slipped away Hiro."

"I know how you feel about Luca - but we did what we could."

Hiro's been pretty quiet the whole way, as he's slid himself into the drifters that are part of Yevon's counterattack, and the winged cat - or dragon depending on your perspective, Ruby has been whispering his way the whole time.

It hasn't been too long and that loss still stings. Perhaps someone returning has applied a balm to it, but it doesn't take back some of the things said the Guard said to him. It doesn't take back what they've done.

He's been hesitant all this time to join in on a counterattack. Aggression has never been his way. Yet it's aggression in response to a stimulus... it feels justified. And Hiro - well, he feels angry. Still it's hard not to feel like this isn't a mission purely for vengeance.

He's been thinking that until he's heard Seymour's speech. And some of the tension in him releases. 'Don't throw away your lives.' 'Make a statement.'

It's an admirable approach, an admirable speech in his eyes, and his respect for Maester Seymour grows just listening to it.

It's to be expected. Summoners are Spira's hope - aren't they? Eyeing Gwen, he manages a little bit of a smile

"You know what Gwen...?"

Hiro says as he grasps his sword by the hilt and slides it out of its sheath.

"...I think I can get on board with us making a statement of our own."

"Hiro - if you go in there attacking - that's the only message they're going to get. You realize that right?"

Hiro gets this little grin as the signal is given and raises his sword in a salute to Ruby.

"Well Ruby sometimes that's okay and..."

And then Hiro breaks into a charge towards the gate, while Ruby takes off overhead, flying above like an angry pink gnat as the Yevon forces crash against the gate.

"...they don't call them S-words for nothing."

Ruby's indignation is lost to the din.

<Pose Tracker> Hilde has posed.

The entire fort shakes from the force of Seymour's magical might. It's no small thing - Hilde can feel it through her armor.

"So, they have come." Hilde murmurs to herself. Was this the lashings of a cornered beast, or a scheme with a direct goal and purpose?

...Well, no matter. Either way, battle was upon them, and it would not do to keep them waiting.

She marches out alongside Duchess Alathfar and her unit. In one hand, she carries a battle standard bearing the emblem of Althena's Guard, in the other, a tall shield, covering most of her form.

She stands tall in gleaming armor, her cape fluttering behind her as she moves. They approach the wall as enemies begin to surge forward, and in response Hilde plants the standard into the ground.

"Hold strong, my friends! We will not let them rout us!" She shouts, her voice rising, encouraging, over the din. And then, she draws her sword, scanning the area ahead.

<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

"Wonderful," says MARGARET, the BLACK PEARL of NEO-VANE. SHE TOTALLY DOES NOT MEAN THAT. It is SARCASM, a SECRET MAGIC invented in NEO-VANE.

She is present, with her squad - and more besides. The specialist task force, regrouped, unified after Operation Mi'ihen.

"Rex..."

"Hrm..." says the older man. He considers... and then says, "No. This isn't the right time. And in this environment, my arrows are going to be the weaker part."

"Wise enough. But we're going to have to get something done soon, won't we?" Margaret murmurs to him, scratching the mostly-healed tattoo mark on her right shoulder.

Then she whistles with her tongue. "Form up," Margaret tells the others.

***

"It'll be fine," Silf assures Dolly.

Dolly doesn't answer and grips her staff tighter.

"Seriously! This is totally different. These are like... these aren't giant horrible monsters, they're just guys! That isn't to say they're not STRONG or whatever," Silf says, picking her nose openly in front of the goddess and everyone, "because they are, but like, different kinda thing."

"I wish Jack were here," Dolly murmurs.

"... heh," Silf replies.

***

Behind the Guard line, a group of people immediately make a left turn and jump down to shore. It may look like morale breaking, seen externally. They sure do haul butt.

Margaret raises a hand once she calculates they're out of the perceptual attention range of the attacking Yevon forces and their Drifter allies. (Griz then says, during the momentary halt, "Heh... wow! Look at that ice spike!")

"Go," Margaret says. The group of mages breathe in deep and speak the words as one:

THUNDER ROAD

***

So all of that prelude is why, SOMEHOW, despite the Yevon column being on the attack, they are being attacked from the right flank (??) There is a lot of flashy noise and sound coming from the unnamed individuals, but the real punchline here is probably

BIGGS GUADO

Who is being targetted by a naginata held by a woman running as fast as a chocobo. "HOOOWAAAAAAAAUUUUUUU" Margaret shouts, doppler-distortion adding an unearthly note.

Wedge Guado, for his part, is being body tackled by a big guy with no shirt and a layer of ice armor. Well, attempted to be tackled. Griz is also running as fast as a chocobo. This is an inexact science.

Behind THESE TWO FOOLS is Dolly, a woman with a staff, stark-white face paint, and an expression that can be rendered thus in a pretty accurate way: :|;; She opts to throw one of those 'Calm Litany' things towards the noisemaking assault troopers, one of whom had suffered a fireworks accident.

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel nods once to Maester Seymour. "Think nothing of it. You have been reasonable and have done right by us so far. Besides," She shakes her head from side to side while shrugging her arms. "I have already declared Althena my enemy. That leaves me with but one option, no? The Althena I knew would condemn this war."

Of course it's day right now, so Marivel is fully wrapped up though instead of a black mage cap she wears a red mage one these days, her hair pulled back into twin braids behind her head.

"Good luck with your offensive, Maester Seymour."

Of course she honestly has her doubts about Wen Kinoc's plans here. Everybody loses battles but that fight with Sin was catastrophic. She supposes she'll find out about whether his tactical acumen simply had a failure as everyone does in the art of war and bloodshed or if there is a pattern.

"I'm not fond of statements, of course, so I suppose I will have to do my very best."

She probably won't though. She used a great deal of energy against Amaterasu in their last fight.

"Oh hello friend," She adds to the Solarian as if she hadn't noticed his presence from the start. "It seems we are fated to run into one another on and on and on." She winks at him. "Do not worry for me, I am quite capable at shedding blood."

Marivel seems to exemplify aggression at times like these. "Hiro! I've been holding out for you. Hold on--"

She starts trotting after her pal towards the gate before glancing upward with a raised eyebrow towards the rapports and cups her mouth with one hand to shout at her.

"HEY SHORTSTUFF!" Marivel she's basically the same size as you. "HOW'S THE WEATHER UP THERE?" That's not even how it works Marivel!! "Why don't you come on down so we can kill each other?"

Marivel's orders to ARMS has generally told them to involve themselves in the war as they seemed appropriate so far but as the war is getting bigger and bigger, Marivel has clearly sided herself with Yevon because it's a death cult in her eyes and therefore more trustworthy than Althena. She isn't really MAKING anybody participate.

But she has given additional instructions to those that HAVE elected to join her: Take that fortification or take it out. Seymour wants to make a statement, Marivel wants to end this war sooner rather than later. If Yuna is right, then this war will only attract more Sin-shaped problems and leave the opoprtunity for more fiends to arise.

"It'll be fun!" Marivel tries further to convince Kaguya.

GS: Margaret has attacked Seymour Guado with Gambit - Theatrical Performance!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

'Otherworlder mercenary' is an apt descriptor for Ashton Anchors. While some would call the man with three heads a bit more deep than that, it covers a lot of the basics.

'Currently charging forward' is also apt, but that's more of a momentary thing.

That charge is not straight for the breach, however - he has other objectives. Ashton instead is angling a bit off to the side of the rest. The reason becomes clear in short order: he has dragons. And the wall is made of wood.

Creepy rears first before unleashing a roaring stream of dragonflame into another section of pallisade. Weepy comes in next, using blasts of hoarfrost to keep the blaze contained. He's trying to create another breach, not burn the entire thing down.

Amongst it all, Ashton waves a blade in the air. "FORWARD! We've only a few minutes before they find reinforcements, so make each moment count!"

GS: Seymour Guado guards a hit from Margaret's Gambit - Theatrical Performance for 60 hit points!
GS: Quick! applied to Margaret!
<Pose Tracker> Seymour Guado has posed.

Biggs and Wedge have not fought in full-fledged wars, but they are older Guado soldiers. They cut their teeth when Seymour's father brought Yevon to their people; they fought in many a skirmish against the humans. In a way, for the both of them, ths is a return to normalcy.

And, of course, they expect the humans to do something completely unexpected.

Biggs is a big, brutish (for a Guado) figure, wearing plate armor fashioned to look like shells. He turns as he spots the woman with the naginata. Margaret's weapon slams ijnto his shield, sparks exploding as the weapon drags a line across it.

Wedge, for his part, is a more lithe figure. The monk turns -- and then gets tackled, slammed into the ground by Griz. And yet, he somehow wriggles free -- a movement of joints bending ways they shouldn't, of slipping like an eel, and then springing to his feet.

"My," Maester Seymour says, with a smile. "How bold."

He throws a hand out -- and a gout of flame leaps from it, arches high, and then comes crashing down for Dolly.

Biggs and Wedge look at each other, then turn to face their foes -- and back up until they're back to back. "Looks like we're at it again, Wedge."

"Never gets boring, eh?" Biggs says, before he spits in Margaret's direction. "Come on, little human. Why did you cut your ears like that?"

Seymour knows what elves are, though they are exceedingly rare in Spira. He considers correcting Biggs. Then, he remembers that he is Seymour Guado, and laughs a little for some reason.

GS: Seymour Guado has attacked Margaret with Fira!
GS: Seymour Guado has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seymour Guado has completed his action.
GS: Margaret guards a hit from Seymour Guado's Fira for 92 hit points!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with BULLYING A DYING CHILD!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Gwen stands by Hiro, her hands folded, the the loose sleeves of her green Spiran tunic fluttering slightly in the wind. For the most part, she's been quiet, letting Hiro and Ruby have the space to make their decision. It's a big one, being that the Fiends don't have as much skin in this game.

    Out of the corner of her eye, she spots a few Yevon soldiers, ones that have been in one previous battle or another, giving her a suspicious eye, then her right ARM, which is thankfully covered underneath a black tight sleeve and her leather glove. Beyond this, they don't move, accepting her as a necessary aspect towards a potential victory. Gwen, on the other hand, tries to lighten the mood with a big thumbs up with her left hand, startling one before he realizes which hand it is.

    With an uneasy laugh, she turns towards Hiro and Ruby. "So, what's you guys's call on this?"

    It's as good as any. Seymour's speech is short and sweet, and Hiro seems energized by it. "That's enough of a reason for me. They're gonna need all the help they can get."

    Watching as Hiro gives the signal and charges, Gwen is left behind for a moment, chewing on his last words.

    "S... words...?" Gwen's eyes begin to cross, a loud groan of utter despair and frustration ushering from her mouth, the noise of it joining with Ruby's own reaction. "GAGH, Hiro! That's gotta be your worst pun so far!"

    At least it got her off her mood.

<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

Griz bounces and tussles with Wedge. The downside of this is that the reflex benefits of this Althenan spell are somewhat abated. However, he's enjoying himself, rather than worrying, so that's good.

Margaret's naginata throws sparks as she scrapes off Biggs' shield, passing him on sheer momentum. She is, in fact, completely off the ground when Seymour calls her bold.

She winks at him. "Famous for it," she says.

BUT THEN

Dolly stares a Fira right dead in the face. For a moment she locks up, thinking of a man's entire blood supply falling out on the sand before her. She clutches her staff. A moment too late she tries to raise her magical defenses, to guard herself. What keeps her from immediate obliteration - or at the least, fire-induced obliteration - is a small rushing form that smashes into her from the side! It's like the Raiders out there!

Fortunately this sack and tackle puts Dolly out of the centerline. The fire is agony but not *crippling* agony. And atop her now is Silf, who leaps to her feet. "Scoot,"S Silf tells Dolly, before declaring, "I! Am your opponent!"

Griz, breaking the clinch and kipping back up, calls, "NICE"

Margaret's free hand comes up to half-veil her eyes as she looks towards Biggs. "I don't know... why are your hands the size of oars? The same reason, I expect."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BsLd4Y060Q

"I was born that way," Margaret says, before she seems to fade slightly...

because the actual Margaret is running towards Seymour!! There is still some distance, but his sworn men may need to hustle to defend him from a short, sharp lesson in spear-strikes! (Silf runs in, scorched but still game, drawing twinned blades. Griz is still close enough to throw an ice-gauntleted jab-straight-jab at Wedge, though!)

<Pose Tracker> Brad Evans has posed.

Brad Evans is generally not a person who taunts people on purpose. Or gets involved in wars, if he can help it.

If Brad has reservations about helping Yevon, a group of people who not all that long ago comitted multiple outrages upon the dignity of their people directly in front of him, he is not currently showing it. The big man looms behind Marivel as she speaks with Seymour, re-securing the ARM Mechanical Glove, fussing with small switches and straps on the device until it suddenly crackles.

That's when he stops messing with it. His eyes linger for a number of seconds on Seymour and his crew before the engagement begins in earnest.

At the battle against Sin, Brad had a certain energy about him; the renewed vigor of a soldier returning to his true home, the field. Something's missing, this time. He looks up as Marivel sets about yelling up at the ramparts like she thinks she's from one of those pre-fall farces out of Meria Boule.

...he doesn't reply, other than to briefly shove on the data slate plugged into his ARM, making sure the contacts have secured themselves. "I'll assist," he says, simply, a cloud of floating plasma hovering over the palm of his hand.

GS: Margaret has attacked Seymour Guado with Pearl Diver!
GS: Margaret has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Seymour Guado critically Guards a hit from Margaret's Pearl Diver for 25 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya Alathfar takes a solid hit from Marivel Armitage's BULLYING A DYING CHILD for 0 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seymour Guado has posed.

Seymour Guado, despite all of his skill and bravery, is not much of a physical fighter. There isn't any time to enjoy Dolly being thrown to the side by Silf.

Because, unfortunately, Biggs Guado is distracted by Margaret's shadowy clone. That leaves the Black Pearl able to rush right for the Maester, who draws in a sharp gasp. He steps backward -- and there is a slight stumble, before the end of his Magus Staff catches the rock and keeps him from falling over.

"HYAAH!"

Wedge's battle cry interjects itself -- a moment before Wedge does. The naginata's first strike touches Seymour's shoulder, drawing blood. The second comes back, and then a beam of white energy comes screaming in for Margaret's side.

Wedge lets his hands fall away from their cupped motion, fingers curled. Light flickers off them.

And then Biggs bellows, and rushes for Silf. He slams his shield for the side of his head. "Damned otherworlders!"

GS: Seymour Guado has attacked Margaret with Guado Guardian Aura Bolt!
GS: Seymour Guado has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seymour Guado has completed his action.
GS: Margaret completely evades a hit from Seymour Guado's Guado Guardian Aura Bolt!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya Alathfar has posed.

"You ass!" Kaguya shouts back down at Marivel. "I bet that extra centimeter of height is just tall shoes!" ...The young woman in fine attire, attended by bodyguards or lieutenants or both, does in fact just shout back down at Marivel. "And for the record the weather is great up here!"

A beat, as she grins, showing sharp fanglike teeth. "But yeah I'm down to mix it up."

Funnily, Kaguya has a lot of views in common with Marivel, here. ...Less funnily, she's got at least like five horror grenades in her pockets. Regardless, she gives a firm nod to Hilde nearby. "With you around, I know the rest won't give up." She says this quietly, because she can't have it getting out that she's saying something nice or something, or maybe because it's only meant for the interesting Knight herself.

So, the Veruni scientist just steps forward off of the rampart, and slams downward hard eenough to knock up a small shockwave of dust where she lands in a half-crouch. "...It will be fun," she agrees, and her strange green eyes settle on Loren, the scribe. "We meet again, Thomas. But this time, your boss's boss is too busy to save you."

Wait, what? She's totally rolling with his cover story. "Let's see if you..."

Kaguya pauses, as she spots the man beside Marivel, and blinks. "Whoa," she says, "You're huge. This is going to be fun."

The two armored and caped warriors that were beside her hop down next, somewhat less dramatically--and pull their ARMs, custom-made heavy pistols. "Big man, Guado charging this position!"

Oh, she's seen Gon, all right--his cold expression, his interesting clawed gauntlets, his... planty nature. Maybe if she could get one of those...

Her soldiers follow orders; Aiming, shields up for cover, they start firing ringing shots at Brad and Gon both, as Kaguya herself runs low to the ground, and stops short as she reaches the edge of a hill--

Before she takes hold of and rips a great off-white stone out of the ground bigger than she is, twirls and throws it straight for Marivel. "Catch!"

Her hands press together after and she grins at Loren. "Don't catch! Dragon Shot!"

This one turns out to be a focused beam of ki, golden tinged with pale green, straight for his position. "C'mon over!"

GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Brad Evans with Covering Fire!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Gon Guado with Covering Fire!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar enters a Counter stance!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Marivel Armitage with Meteor Stance!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Loren Voss with Dragon Shot!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has completed her action.
GS: Gon Guado critically Guards a hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Covering Fire for 26 hit points!
GS: Loren Voss takes a solid hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Dragon Shot for 144 hit points!
GS: Cripple! applied to Loren Voss!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes a glancing hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Meteor Stance for 51 hit points!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar's  stance ends. She enters the Avenger stance!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

Margaret swings the naginata back and --

Her ears flatten against her head as she sees, feels, SOMEthing pointed towards her. Her head snaps towards Wedge and a moment later she is executing a perfect backflip away from Seymour, the screaming ray of aural light smashing through the air - but clipping a limestone protrusion, leaving a small but perfectly circular hole in it.

Griz steps back from Wedge. To conceal this cowardice, he says: "You guys are the ones with the Filgaians, pal! We just did a tour out there!"

Silf is less adroit than Margaret, despite being a smaller target. She half bobs away from the shield swing, which means she isn't brained; the motion however nearly knocks her over, and Biggs clips her on the back stroke, intercepting (inadvertently?) an effort to do some kind of mule kick at his belly. Dolly steps back another pace, seemingly frozen in place.

But hey, it happens. The problem is how rarely it gets to happen TWICE, eh?

"That's quite the technique you have there," Margaret says, having gotten outside of stab-lunge range of Seymour. "All of you are impressive magicians out here. It's irregular, but I come from an irregular place... I don't suppose you're looking for a new career?"

She clicks her tongue twice, then, and whistles a short chord. This is almost certainly some kind of Althenian battle-language. Unfortunately, knowing that does not reveal its secrets.

Margaret cartwheels - quite literally - round Seymour, staying at that range and ending up with her back facing the Althenan line before she jabs the weapon at him, a short series of feints followed by a sudden committed thrust at his legs. Silf and Griz guard themselves, circling - ah, so that was the call: to make Biggs and Wedge have to deal with violent foreigners to get to Seymour!

GS: Margaret has attacked Seymour Guado with Turtle Flip Thrust!
GS: Margaret has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Seymour Guado guards a hit from Margaret's Turtle Flip Thrust for 57 hit points!
GS: Break! applied to Seymour Guado!
GS: Brad Evans critically Guards a hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Covering Fire for 25 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Hilde has posed.

"That is what I am here for." Hilde replies to Kaguya, just as quietly. "They will not falter easily - but neither will our enemy. We must show them that our defensive capabilities are equally as strong as our offense."

But now, it is stime for battle. As Kaguya leaps into the fray, Hilde strides that was as well, stepping down a pile of rubble as if it were a staircase.

"I must commend your courage, soldiers of Yevon!" Hilde calls out as she steps forward into the fray, her sword drawn. "However, I must stop you here."

She strides into battle, sword and shield at the ready and scans the crowd.

"I am Hilde, Knight-Protector of Hyland. If any of you wish to retreat, I will allow you to leave unscathed! But if battle is your desire, then I shall be your opponent this day." She announces. "Now! Show me your conviction!"

And with that, she charges into her fray. Several Warrior Monks open fire upon her, but her shield catches them. She hurls her shield in their direction and it collides with them solidly, knocking them off their feet - and, conveniently, richocheting toward Violet!

Whether or not it strikes her, Hilde yanks it back with the rope attaching it to her arm before charging, shield forward, toward where Ashton is attempting to open up a new breach with dragonfire.

"I'm afraid I cannot allow that, friend." She says, rushing at him shield-first in a shield bash.

And then, her sword arcs out twice - once toward Hiro and once toward Gwen. The former gives her some pause.

"...You look familiar, young man." She comments.

She's recalling the descriptions she was given of the Lord of Calamity's Evil Lieutenant. This is her first time seeing him in person - it'll take her a second.

GS: Hilde has attacked Violet Salazar with Shield Toss!
GS: Hilde has attacked Ashton Anchors with Shield Bash!
GS: Hilde has attacked Hiro with Silver Arc!
GS: Hilde has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hilde has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Silver Arc!
GS: Hilde has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hilde has completed her action.
GS: Hiro critically Guards a hit from Hilde's Silver Arc for 31 hit points!
GS: Violet Salazar guards a hit from Hilde's Shield Toss for 71 hit points!
GS: Ashton Anchors guards a hit from Hilde's Shield Bash for 86 hit points!
GS: Cover! applied to Hilde!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Hilde's Silver Arc for 157 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Violet Salazar has posed.

Violet watches as a woman in armor and bearing a shield, majestic, with the posture of a warrior, steps out from the fortress, proudly brandishing a pennant with the Guard's symbol on it. Well, if she can take out the standard, it should certainly damage the Guard's morale! Before Violet can react, the woman's shield, tossed, strikes her, leaving bruises along her torso. The warrior retrieves it before the Beastwoman can confiscate it. Violet recovers as well as she's able, takes careful aim and fires, placing her ARM in shotgun mode. She's expecting collateral damage to the woman from her shells but isn't trying to kill her. Maybe, she hopes, this attack will discourage her into retreating. Not that she really expects retreat from a cultist. They are stubborn!

GS: Violet Salazar has attacked Hilde with Look of Eagles!
GS: Violet Salazar has completed her action.
GS: Hilde critically Guards a hit from Violet Salazar's Look of Eagles for 30 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seymour Guado has posed.

"Gh! Weak!" Biggs snarls at Silf. He looks down at her -- and then raises his shield. The sun glints off it, the shield raised, before he slams it downward...

Seymour backs away a little -- and that results in Wedge hurrying to his master's side, raising a hand up. "That's no magic," he says. "This is a tried and true martial arts technique, passed down from Guado to Guado."

However, ths time, he cannot quite get there in time to deal with Margaret -- and has to leave Griz behind, though he proves speedy.

Seymour blocks one of the slashes of Margaret's on his staff. The next, however, gets him in the leg. He lets out a long, slow hiss. "I've no need of a new career. I've found my spells by the grace of Yevon--"

He raises a hand, and shoots another fireball. This one shoots just over Margaret's shoulder. It may seem that it is about to miss...

...except that it comes flying in for Griz, instead.

That leaves Wedge free to run straight at Margaret from behind. He throws a mighty haymaker at her -- and then does a roundhouse kick. His left foot leaves the ground and comes down; then Wedge spins, doing a somersault kick right his right foot, and leaps into the air.

This reveals that Biggs has already approached, and hid in Wedge's lee. But, how did he get there so quickly?

The answer, simply, is when he threw his shield down. Biggs rides the shield down the slope that led closer to the fort, sending a wave of dust in his wake, and then chops his broadsword for Margaret's side from behind as he rockets past.

The other hand grabs Seymour, and pulls the Maester onto his makeshift surfboard.

GS: Seymour Guado has attacked Margaret with Guado Guardian Triple Raid!
GS: Seymour Guado has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seymour Guado has completed his action.
GS: Margaret critically Guards a hit from Seymour Guado's Guado Guardian Triple Raid for 32 hit points!
GS: Cover and Mighty! applied to Seymour Guado!
<Pose Tracker> Brad Evans has posed.

Brad watches the...odd, exchange between Marivel and Kaguya, with a somewhat nonplussed expression. "....pull-ups," he says, flatly, to Kaguya's noting his size.

Then he's being shot at!! Brad throws his Mechanical Glove up, the heavy surface crackling with energy as it repels the first few shots. Then he thunders into one of the two men, sweeping directly into his space. He never dodges, though he does attempt to mix up his approach by lunging from side to side a few times amid the fire. Then he reals his fist back; the Mechanical Glove flashes, once, brightly! He swings hard for the soldier's face!

And stops, short, inches from his nose, palm open.

"Twenty-one foot rule," Brad says.

Then the mine he's holding explodes into the armored soldier.

GS: Brad Evans has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Directional Mine!
GS: Brad Evans has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Brad Evans has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

"Yeah Brad's a big guy." Marivel says. "Kind of chatty though." That's the biggest lie Marivel has told yet. She glances towards Dolly, briefly, before murmuring to herself, "She'll be alright. I won't go after the Hounds."

She looks back up to Kaguya before adding, "No I grew an inch while I was dead! It was great!" This is also a lie. She actually specifically materialized her body one inch higher just so she could make a crack about Kaguya being short. Marivel doesn't live life by halfs.

She says, "Hey! Hey!!" She shouts at Kaguya's aides. "Dont shoot his face! He's the pretty boy of the group!"

But then Kaguya is ripping THE GROUND out of the ground and now the time for quips and sassery are over. "Nobody in your family does anything by halves either, do they?" Marivel mulls aloud. "But we'll see if you're a better challenge than your sister."

She does not mention the fact that after her battle with Amaterasu she had to lie around in the Kinship for like 3 days in a dark room to recover but technically speaking she isn't saying that Amaterasu was a POOR challenge, she's just letting the implication exist to see if that makes Kaguya hesitate or twitch.

A large stone has been flung towards her, though. She ends up getting thrown off her feet by said rock as it slams into her body! Guess 'catching' was the wrong choice!

Or was it? Because Marivel places a hand on the stone. Her eyes flash red briefly as she places her hand on the rock and whispers, "Aport."

The large stone vanishes from sight as Marivel drops down into a crouch, skidding back several yards as she keeps her eyes squarely on Kaguya.

And the large slab of stone that Kaguya threw at her has rematerialized with Kaguya's throwing strength behind it, quickly approaching the Veruni from behind.

"Dang Brad," She adds after he punch exploes a dude.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"Glad I haven't lost my touch!" Hiro quips towards Gwen gleefully, even as Marivel calls out to him.

"Holding out for me?" Hiro seems a little confused, "Do you mean holding out on me? It's okay if you have your secrets Marivel!"

Which is when he winces at her calling out Kaguya, cringing a little mid-run, "Uh - good luck to you. She really - hates... short jokes. Um - guess I should back you up here..."

It's a thought. Though it's not precisely a thought that he can act upon as Hilde joins the fray. Sword and shield at the ready - a gleaming knight.

He stops short, warily, keeping his shield arm up and at the ready, as her blade arcs out twice. The impact hammering upon the shield and knocking him back a step.

"Do I? Maybe Leo hired a better artist for his posters." The young man says, while taking a deep breath. Even bringing up Leo stings right now, even in a retort.

"You want to see my conviction? Then show me yours first."

Holding his blade up at a High Guard, he begins to slip in, with a flurry of elegant slashes that seem meant to aim at the gaps in her defenses. At the joints in her armor, "I once met a Princess of Hyland-"

Before he then suddenly swings back, and rushes forward with one final fast blow across her mid-section, "-who I'm pretty sure would frown upon this invasion you're taking part in."

GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Augmented Aport!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Hiro has attacked Hilde with Sword Dance!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

Ha ha! Fire! Burn it all!
Creepy, please. Some restraint? It's a wall, not--

CLONG

And Ashton gets hit in the face by a charging shield-bash because he was busy arguging with one of his other heads.

While he is not a fool by any means, even his closest friends would admit that Ashton can be sort of a fool sometimes.

With his attempt to blast more of a gap in the wall foiled, the swordsman staggers. It takes a moment to regain his balance before locking eyes on Hilde. "I fear what you can and cannot allow is of little bearing, Lady Hilde." Ashton's sure to use the appropriate title - this is merely war, there's no need to be impolite. "But if you insist, I can respect your intentions."

Steel hisses through the air as the sellsword advances on her. "Allow me to rebut!" Ashton charges... and then isn't.

His charge crosses over itself as one swordsman becomes three - illusions of magic, but ones strong enough. The three hold their blades out, thin beams of mystic energy trailing between them. It takes only a moment before they spread themselves around Hilde - and the beams flash. And between them? A detonation of magic energy.

The effect is somewhat ruined by the blue dragon head whipping around to look in Hiro's direction, bobbing cheerfully.

Oh! It's the cute flying cat! Hi Ruby!
Damn it Weepy, THIS IS NOT THE TIME. Pay attention! She can't hear you anyway!

GS: Ashton Anchors has attacked Hilde with Deadly Triangle!
GS: Ashton Anchors has completed his action.
GS: Hilde critically Guards a hit from Hiro's Sword Dance for 23 hit points!
GS: Hilde critically Guards a hit from Ashton Anchors's Deadly Triangle for 21 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    He draws his blade and then, it's onwards, onto the field.

    Just for a heartbeat he misses Schiehallion.
    Before thinking of the Gear dredges forth other, uglier memories.

    Now is no time for this...!

    His gaze snaps across the field, meeting their equal on the side of the Guard. Blade in hand, dressed in the robes of a scholar, he looks perhaps more of a joke than a threat--
    At least, to those who 'judge a book by their cover'.

    What place is vulnerable? Who is weakest?

    He doesn't get to work that out. He finds, instead, Kaguya, as she jumps from the rampart.
    The sword he bears now is not the sword she'd hidden from him, the one he'd reclaimed at great cost to his dignity.

    "You--"
    He blinks, perhaps as dumbfounded by her 'playing along' with his cover story as anyone might be.
    And then indignation takes over, hot and blazing in the face of recent failures. "--Shut UP! I'm not playing around!" he snaps, knuckles white around the sword's hilt.
    He has at best a moment to take in the matter of his 'allies' in this fight.
    And then, as she grins at him and gives him the most flippant of 'warnings' his entire world seems to explode in a blaze of golden-green light.
    He staggers back, smoking gently, his swordhand shaking in the wake of it. He plants that sword -- made for a bigger man than him -- point down, as if to use it as a crutch to remain upright.

    He exhales once.

    Then stands upright, his hands leaving the blade behind in the earth.
    Wrath in his eyes as he stares Kaguya down, he repeats:

    "I said. I'M NOT PLAYING AROUND!"

    Dust rises around him in a swirling storm, drawn forth by his will, then hardens.
    Then comes raining as a storm of stone flechettes for Kaguya.

GS: Loren Voss has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Terra Set!
GS: Loren Voss has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Gon Guado has posed.

    Shots ring out from those strange machina weapons the Otherworlders brought with them. Owing to Spira's general level of social and technological development, most of Spira's own simply do not have the means to withstand this much concentrated fire - even with the existence of roughly equivalent weapons that are often toted about by the more mischievous among the Al Bhed (and also the Warrior Monks shhh).
     Most of them are simply not dressed or equipped to deal with that sort of weaponry.
     The only thing on Gon's person that might protect against the machina weapons are his metal gauntlets, and that he brings the large surface area of his oversized hands around his face and chest-level as he falls to a crouch is much less the measured defense of a veteran warrior and just a step shy of outright cowering like a giant yellow worm... slug... naga... thing.
     Bullets impact. They do not punch clean holes through the gauntlets' metal, but they do warp and bend them such that a puncture downgrades to a somewhat less injurious punch against the back of the left hand - the one set lower down - and pain shoots through it. A bullet gets lodged between one of the joint sets about the right thumb, making that part of the gauntlet inflexible. One bullet grazes his left elbow. One whizzes just past his ear.
     A stark contrast to the ease in which Brad appears to deflect it, from its own construction.
     Gon exhales loudly as he reclaims the distant-seeming calm his people are known to possess as he comes just shy of losing it, following from behind where Brad has managed to make direct contact first - circling as if intending to have him soak up any additional fire that might be trained on him. His assault his delayed by a mine's explosion at that distance?!
     ...
     When Gon once again reclaims his composure, he hurls himself bodily towards the nearest soldier who isn't pointing any weapon his way in a pouncing tackle to bowl them over, his other hand vaguely outstretched in the direction of other hostiles as though it might shield him from further fire (this is debatable).

GS: Gon Guado has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Garm Tackle!
GS: Gon Guado has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gon Guado has completed his action.
GS: Kaguya Alathfar takes a glancing hit from Brad Evans's Directional Mine for 55 hit points!
GS: COUNTER! Kaguya Alathfar counterattacks Marivel Armitagewith Counter Attack!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar takes a glancing hit from Marivel Armitage's Augmented Aport for 69 hit points!
GS: Hyper! applied to Marivel Armitage!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar critically Guards a hit from Loren Voss's Terra Set for 24 hit points!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar takes a solid hit from Gon Guado's Garm Tackle for 147 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! applied to Kaguya Alathfar!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes a glancing hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Counter Attack for 64 hit points!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar assumes the Avenger stance!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    The Fiends. A shadowy group, ruled with an iron fist by the Lord of Calamity, a young woman as powerful and cold as she is beautiful. A powerful, ferocious group that craves the corruption of the pure land of Lunar.

    And what is Hilde's first chance to really get to know them?

    "'Touch'? More like you're _out of touch_ on what funny means!" Gwen is charging in after Hiro, then groans, offering up a weak addition for her defense, "... ... y'got me..."

    Momentairely looking away, she spots the dragon'ed swordsman. "Oh hey! It's-" Ashton's name is there, somewhere, in Gwen's brain. Unfortunately, visions of barrels come to mind instead. "Barr....ton? Wait, no, Ashton!"

    She clears her throat.

    Gwen then holds a hand up, feeling that she must follow with her own words of wisdom while facing this mighty knight. She opens her mouth, then closes it, offering instead a wince of a smile. "What they all said- wh-"
    
    Gwen eats Hilde's attack straight on, but doesn't look entirely all that terrible for it, for now.

    Alright, time to follow Violet's example. Less talky, more... shooty, or punchy? Shooty.

    With a flick of the wrist, Gwen fires a bullet at Hilde, the expelling of electricity grazing past her as she moves to a better vantage point. "I'll try to cover, guys, do your best!"

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Hilde with Crackshot!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Hilde guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Crackshot for 73 hit points!
GS: Cripple! applied to Hilde!
<Pose Tracker> Hilde has posed.

This isn't Hilde's first time in a large-scale battle. She takes in everything, every moment. She notes the Beastwoman who her shield had struck before raising an ARM at her and Hilde shifts her shield in response. The shield takes the bulk of the ARMSfire, leaving marks on the shield's surface. Her hand stings from the force of it, but she doesn't move outwardly in response.

"Hm. A quick reaction. I take it that is your answer?" Hilde notes. As she speaks, a blue aura begins to slide down the length of her blade. She thrusts the weapon in Violet's direction, emitting a burst of blue energy toward her.

Her shield bash causes Ashton to stagger, but he is not undone. The dual swordsman charges toward her...and then vanishes, reappearing as three.

"That is fair, I suppose." She replies. She watches his movements and then exhales, shifting her stance. It's a strong, durable one. The three illusions of Ashtons hold their blades out and emit beams that collide and detonate all around her, but she remains standing strong - even if smoke wafts up from her. "A curious technique - and an apt rebuttal."

She takes note of the dragon head and raises an eyebrow, but instead turns her attention toward Hiro.

"...Ah, yes. I know who you are, now." She replies. "You are the one they call 'Hiro', correct?"

And then, he challenges her to show him her conviction. He slips forward and she shifts her shield to deflect the blows before catching his sword with her own.

"It is at the council's discretion that I am here, taking part in Althena's crusade. It was deemed necessary to protect our land from the creature known as Sin." Hilde replies. "If the Princess is displeased with that..."

...Well, she would have to think about how she would react when the time came. It's not enough to give her pause in the moment, however, as she pushes his sword back with her own and thrusts it in his direction. Like with Violet, a burst of blue light goes rushing in Hiro's direction.

Meanwhile, Hilde turns toward Gwen as she speaks - and, her words are the first thing today that has given her pause.

"...I'm sorry?" She comments. She feels like she missed something. Well, she supposes banter among one's comrades is to be expected and encouraged - perhaps it was a testament to their confidence that they could still speak like this even in the midst of battle. "You must be another of the Fiends."

Their arrival was unexpected, but perhaps it could be a boon - they could always use more information on their actions.

Gwen elects 'shooty', and she's rewarded for her decision - Hilde turns her shield to intercept the bullet but it can't quite disperse the electric charge that courses through it, from her shield and into her arm. She grits her teeth through the pain and tightens her grip on the handle of her shield, but then loosens it.

Loosens it at Gwen, rather, sending the shield flying toward her as she moves to put some distance between the two of them. The shield then comes flying back around toward Ashton before returning to Hilde's hand.

GS: Hilde has attacked Violet Salazar with Force Blade!
GS: Hilde has attacked Hiro with Force Blade!
GS: Hilde has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hilde has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Shield Toss!
GS: Hilde has attacked Ashton Anchors with Shield Toss!
GS: Hilde enters a Counter stance!
GS: Hilde has attacked Hilde with Phalanx!
GS: Hilde has completed her action.
GS: Hilde takes a solid hit from Hilde's Phalanx for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield! applied to Hilde!
GS: Violet Salazar takes a glancing hit from Hilde's Force Blade for 78 hit points!
GS: Hiro guards a hit from Hilde's Force Blade for 84 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Violet Salazar has posed.

The armor-clad lady Knight seems calm, almost unnaturally calm, as she surveys her opponents. She deals with them one at a time -- in Violet's case, with a slash from her blue, glowing blade.

That can't be good, Violet thinks -- and she's quite right, for the weapon leaves a bleeding gash across her left thigh, staining her worn blue dress -- the one she traded for once she arrived on Spira. "Well fought," Violet murmurs grudgingly. Hilde's knightly bearing is no illusion -- she knows her way around a battlefield -- and is probably high-ranking among the cultists. "My turn!" Violet loads a solid slug into her ARM and fires. Her opponent, it is clear, isn't the sort to be discouraged by armed -- or ARMED -- resistance. Quite the contrary!

GS: Violet Salazar has attacked Hilde with Hot Blooded!
GS: Violet Salazar has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Violet Salazar has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya Alathfar has posed.

Hiro's seen how Kaguya feels about short jokes. Perhaps Marivel gets a better, more cheerfully violent reaction specifically because she's also short. Maybe Kaguya is just keeping her rage on the ins--

Yeah that would never happen.

She just lifts an eyebrow at Brad. "...Sure, why not?" she asks.

The first few shots are repelled, but this gun holds more than two; the green-shielded soldier keeps firing on Brad, but the ammunition just isn't powerful enough to pierce through the Mechanical glove. The former mercenary grits his teeth as Brad approaches, bringing up his shield as he determines he doesn't have the leverage to dodge the strike to his face, and--pauses, right before finishing his shield bash, when it stops. "What the--"

'Twenty-one foot rule.'

"Bal--" His expletive is cut off as the mine outright explodes, launching the man backward straight against one of the walls, which cracks under the impact of armor as he hits it and then the ground. He does not get back up.

"You don't grow when you're dead, that's dumb!" Kaguya answers Marivel, and--hey, hey. The Green Guard who isn't immediately mined calls back to Marivel, "We'll be sure to aim for the giant chest then!" ...This one, as it turns out, is a lady--with a few notable scars already of her own. But that particular challenge...

"Oh she's got a ton more skill at fighting than I have," Kaguya answers Marivel as the rock hits her to punctuate her answer, though the fact that she takes the time to answer mid-swing suggests it might matter a little. The stone disappears--

Kaguya grins again, sharply, as if about to finish her sentence--

And then the stone crashes into her, cracking and then shattering against her armor and driving her multiple steps forward with the force of the impact. She doesn't fall, though. "...Nice," she admits, and prepares to say something smug, and menacing, before Loren's indignation slides home; he's already moved by then, using that other sword, not the one she recalls, and she sees the sheer anger in his expression--before she feels its manifestation. Stones rush towards her, myriad blades and chunks and fragments, so she lunges back and and drops down beneath the biggest chunk of rock left, letting it absorb much of the worst of the impacts and be completely destroyed in the process. ...What did get through was enough to tear up the appearance of being wholly untouched, easily.

"Guess not," Kaguya says. "So, show me your serious self, then. The self that was in Krosse, when I met you there."

During this confrontation, Gon reasonably goes after another of the soldiers Kaguya brought with her, her personal guard. The guns are an advantage at first, to be sure--his mode of guarding is oddly familiar on a spiritual level perhaps, but only as much as deja vu, if that. He pushes through the gun fire, but doesn't stop--and that soldier narrows their eyes at Gon--a little too late, as their weapon is already aimed at Brad. The shot doesn't make it--instead, Gon bowls this one over, and the next few moments are spent in an attempt at grappling--one that's somewhat one-sided, with the mercenary's ARMs and mundane arms out of reach save a less spiked gauntlet.

"...Pretty good, to get through elites," she admits, as she looks to the three before her, perhaps soon to be four--she only had the two with her. Her eyes narrow again--

The pulse of not-quite-Ether that announces her magic is strange, a little sickly; wind whips up around her, and she throws out a hand; at Marivel's feet erupts a profusion of vibes that start to wrap--and sprout blossoms that open beautifully in all directions at the same time that their thorns jab inward. None of these flowers have been seen before on Lunar.

"You," Kaguya says to Brad, "Let's see how many pullups you can do in hell!!"

She lunges to the side, moving quicker than she ought be able, and stops to whirl into a spinning kick to knock him away from her soldier before she admits, "Man, I should keep that one for later."

Then something altogether more serious is there in her face as she looks at Loren, all in brief space. "Blade to blade, right?"

From the single sheath in which they rest, she pulls her butterfly swords--and starts advancing, each movement hard to predict because it's so shallow, shows no wasted movement--before with a glow she finishes a slash that glows mid-air, "Demon Fang!"

GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Gon Guado with Grapple Check!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Marivel Armitage with Crimson Bloom!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Loren Voss with Demon Fang!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Brad Evans with Off The Minion!!!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has completed her action.
GS: Ashton Anchors guards a hit from Hilde's Shield Toss for 65 hit points!
GS: Brad Evans has activated a Force Action!
GS: Brad Evans guards a hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Off The Minion!! for 72 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Hilde's Shield Toss for 74 hit points!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes a glancing hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Crimson Bloom for 85 hit points!
GS: Marivel Armitage suffers an additional 26 from Poison's Combo effect!
GS: Entangle and Poison! applied to Marivel Armitage!
GS: Marivel Armitage enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

"Darling," Margaret says to Wedge, "you don't have to be ashamed about it." The swerving escape of Wedge leaves Griz open -- both to attack... and to new possibilities. CAN you just learn that with martial arts?

Perhaps he's found a new path today.

A moment later, though, he finds something else - the fireball of Yevon! The fiery justice smashes into him - the layers of ice he had summoned as armor, as weapon, vaporize and melt into so much water, the impact throwing him to his back. Dolly reaches out towards him.

"Oh shit this is all going south fast, oh goddess, oh," Griz hyperventilates, even as the Calm Litany lays on him. As Dolly hoists him upwards, he screams out, seeing a spray of blood, "CAPTAIN!!!"

Dolly looks up and says, with sudden coldness, "She's going to -"

"Check this," Silf says, having been given time to recuperate from the brutal strike Biggs had given her. She is cradling one arm - perhaps broken.

And surrounded on three sides:

* * *

Margaret, like many a second-best wizard with weird friends before her, is in a pickle. Wedge's punch staggers her, breaking her assault against Seymour. His kick seems to hit her so hard she just twists and sprawls, sinking to one knee, struggling to get up to her feet. The shield-riding Biggs carves a bloody swath in her side.

Struggling, blood seeping from between her clenched teeth, Margaret shoves her naginata upwards - towards Wedge's belly, though the blow is clumsy, telegraphed, lacking poise.

It's almost as if she doesn't WANT to ACTUALLY hit him. But the reason for this is -

A tiny shadow passes, through the growing haze of war, over the shield-surfing Biggs and his payload.

Up in the aerial reaches above Spira, Margaret glances round for a fraction of a second. (She's not looking back - but she wants to look around her, now.)

Everything seems so tiny up here, Margaret thinks. Could I make it to Neo-Vane from the ground, now? Or is it just the land tricking my eyes?

Her eyes turn back downwards as she reaches the apex of a sparkling leap, most of whose shimmering magical afterglow came to pass from about thirty feet on up. She twists round the naginata, bracing with her knees, her feet, and both hands on the butt as she sights down along it. "Do you think you can really get away so easily?" Margaret asks herself, rhetorically.

What Wedge fights... is an illusion!

And now, one truth descends, wrapped in nebular glory!

GS: Gon Guado critically Guards a hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Grapple Check for 13 hit points!
GS: Margaret has spent 1 Combo on Link, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Margaret has attacked Margaret with Let slip the bonds of mere gravity...!
GS: Margaret has launched an attack Link!
GS: Margaret takes a solid hit from Margaret's Let slip the bonds of mere gravity... for 0 hit points!
GS: Burst! applied to Margaret!
GS: Margaret has attacked Seymour Guado with The Fate Of A Lieutenant?!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Margaret's attack becomes clear!
GS: Seymour Guado takes a solid hit from Margaret's Illusion Dragoon Dive for 151 hit points!
GS: Loren Voss critically Guards a hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Demon Fang for 23 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Hilde guards a hit from Violet Salazar's Hot Blooded for 123 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak! applied to Hilde!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


Hiro looks wounded for a moment, until he realizes that Gwen did the same as him, then he bursts out into a guffaw, "I finally wore you down! I knew I would!"

Ruby waves excitedly at Weepy and then makes a gesture with a pawsie at the side of her head which indicates 'Call me.'

Meanwhile Hiro is sorely pressed by Hilde's wall of steel, as she intercepts blow after blow on her shield in a manner that's already making him sweat. "That's right." He indicates, having no desire to hide who he is tonight.

And then - a burst of blue light is sent hurtling towards him, and he hastily tries to put his shield in the way. The impact sends him stumbling backwards, light sizzling off of him as he stagger-stumbles in a desperate struggle to regain his balance.

"Politics." The boy mutters, and it's the closest thing to a swear that might pass through his lips. Raising his blade up warily, he starts to walk in a circle, looking for an opening.

"And just what does invading Luca have to do with stopping Sin?"

He asks, a touch hotly.

"Everything that happened there - everything that's happening now - has nothing to do with Sin. And everything to do with the Church's wounded pride."

Perhaps even that is just pretense. A pretense for invasion, but Hiro assumes the best rather than the worst of the Guard, even now.

Wounded pride is better than just invading for power - isn't it?

"If this keeps up I think you're going to need another title. Knight-'Protector' just won't suit you anymore." A beat, "Oh right - and also-"

A hand juts out as he harnesses Althena's blessing. The wind currents violently shift into a rush of wind that attempts to slam into Hilde and knock her off-balance, with howling force.

"-FEROCIOUS WINDS!"

GS: Hiro has attacked Hilde with Squall!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Hilde takes a glancing hit from Hiro's Squall for 41 hit points!
GS: Break! applied to Hilde!
<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

There's a certain... assurance in how Hilde moves. More than merely confidence - it's a deep knowledge that holds her even more steadfast than mere bravado would.

It makes Ashton frown.

It isn't enough for him to back off, of course. He's made of sterner stuff than that. But he doesn't like this one bit.

He still manages a grin to flash Gwen. "Evening, Miss Whitlock!" Unfortunately, his split-self makes this a give-away. With Weepy looking at Hiro and Ashton looking at Gwen, it's easy to triangulate which one of the three of him is the real one from how their heads are pointed.

That Ashton eats a shield to the back of the head, staggering him again. The extra two Ashtons disappear out of existence in a fzzt of static. For a moment, the Symbological Swordsman glares at Hilde. Just for a moment before he composes himself again.

"I warn you, Lady, that the next time you hit me with that shield I reserve the right to not return it in good condition." Polite or not, Ashton is certainly annoyed with the shield-beating at this point.

Perhaps that's why he chooses his tactic of choice - letting Creepy pick up where he left off. Turning a shoulder towards Hilde, Ashton braces as the red dragon rears back. And, in a burst - unleashes another gout of flame at the Knight-Protector. That should at least keep her from throwing the damn thing at him again.

Weepy, meanwhile, continues to be unhelpful and waggles an eyeridge at Ruby.

GS: Ashton Anchors has attacked Hilde with Gyoro's Flame!
GS: Ashton Anchors has completed his action.
GS: COUNTER! Hilde counterattacks Ashton Anchorswith Counter Attack!
GS: Hilde takes a solid hit from Ashton Anchors's Gyoro's Flame for 126 hit points!
GS: Ashton Anchors critically Guards a hit from Hilde's Counter Attack for 22 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seymour Guado has posed.

Wedge steps backward--and then his eyes widen. That, the Guado Guardian thinks, was too easy to dodge.

But dodge it he did, and Margaret seems injured. He brings back a hand -- and then he glances upward, eyes widening for a moment. Then, Margaret comes crashing down from the air. Her spear slams into the Guado's shoulder. He drops, the weapon piercing through, and he crumples to the ground in a heap.

He screams, though it stops partway through.

Seymour looks up on the shield. Biggs does the same. The big Guado jerks it to the side; both of them hop off, and then the two start to stride forward. Biggs speaks, first. "Gonna make you pay for that one," he says, bluntly.

Seymour holds a hand out. "Levin of the land, flow and gather! Thundara!"

And then a bolt of lightning arcs off, soaring high, and then comes down as separate forks that converge about Margaret. When they do, lightning snaps and shoots across the ground near her, too. It seems quite stubborn.

GS: Seymour Guado has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Seymour Guado enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seymour Guado has attacked Margaret with Thundara!
GS: Break expired!
GS: Seymour Guado has completed his action.
GS: Margaret guards a hit from Seymour Guado's Thundara for 97 hit points!
GS: Margaret suffers an additional 18 from Poison's Combo effect!
GS: Poison! applied to Margaret!
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

It's okay if a short person says it! "It's okay if a short person says it!" Marivel tells Hiro.

But then calms to add: "Haha, not exactly, Hiro. Don't worry about it. What I'm trying to say is that I'm glad you're here." She looks to Kaguya and adds, "I really am getting quite proud of that one." She seems to be asking Loren rather than her about getting serious but Loren's rage is a little unusual. Sure, he always had a chip on his shoulder but it was a sullen chip not quite like this. She wonders if something happened. Ultimately not reeally her business. She doesn't complain about Brad being shot in the chest. She's pretty sure his pecs can deflect bullets anyway.

Kaguya though has a trick up her sleeve that is a little unusual as far as Marivel is concerned. She is summoning flippin' flowers (and vines (and vibes)) to attack her with! Marivel thinks that's pretty cool even if they are, like, evil flowers but the important thing isn't the effect so much as the source. Yet another unusual type of power, Marivel reflects. She certainly has found herself living in interesting times. Well. 'Living'.

Marivel is wrapped up in these vines that dig into her body even as she is more perplexed than panicky. Like Kaguya has presented her with a difficult math problem.

"Your golem was a little strange as well. There are a lot of little strange touches to this war that is atypical for such things."

She flops over to the side, imprisoned by the vines.

"So I think right now I ought to investigate. Please, Kaguya..."

Her eyes flash red again as her eyes peer towards Kaguya as she attempts to draw a blue-ish energy away from her and into her own body.

Marivel then hops up, wrapped up in the vines almost cartoonishly as she hops around from side to side, literally unable to move any other way.

Or at least...giving off that impression.

"I like her." Marivel adds on the matter of Amaterasu. "I shot her with the soul of an atom bomb. Took it like a champ."

GS: Marivel Armitage enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Skill Drain!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes 25 damage from Poison!
GS: Entangle expired!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Gon Guado has posed.

    It's a grappling contest that Kaguya's personal guard should, in most circumstances, win. The Guado are not as strong, physically, as most others among Spira. The enemy guard in question is likely shorter and thus enjoys a further leverage advantage when push comes to shove. (Or grapple comes to grapple?)
     It is to the martial mastery Gon possesses that he allows the enemy soldier to rise in so much that he then wrestles and maneuvers to point the back of them towards where the other Otherworlders are posturing, striking, blasting.
     To use the enemy's body as something of a shield, if such need arises, before Gon presses the physical advantage he does have - the claws at the tip of the gauntlets. The right thumb is presently inflexible due to a bullet lodged there, but the aging Guado warrior tries to dig those sharp metal nails as deep into the flesh as possible even as the jostling rattles his own lighter frame.
     "The nerve of it all," Gon scowls as he finds that emotional footing to once more look down his nose towards an enemy hostile, as if on some level finding a catharthic release for being able to act as directly as he does as he's still locked with this guard, "that the lot of you saunter in and disrupt what all we have toiled for...!"
     Then, Gon takes a short leap, mid-grapple, to strike with both legs against the other guard's body and launch them as a bodily projectile somewhere in Kaguya's direction - he has to disengage that grapple lest that guard's hold begin to fracture bone.

GS: Gon Guado has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Mook Projectile!
GS: Gon Guado has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gon Guado has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    Rock falls upon her in a rain.
    And in the end, Kaguya's still standing.

    He grits his teeth as she goads him on. Reaching out, Loren wrenches that blade from the earth where he'd left it, brandishing it before him with both hands.

    "I. Am. Serious!" he growls, his fury very nearly a palpable thing.

    Is she just messing with him, still? Is all this just meant to provoke?
    ...Or is it true?
    That he just. Can't. Measure up.
    No matter what he does.

    Fury, hatred, loathing...
    There's a thing about emotions, when it comes to Ether.
    There's a thing about that, and that's why they teach emotional control in Jugend.

    The blade in his hands shakes, and it's not solely because of that ki blast from before.

    He sidesteps, watching her as she at last turns her attention on him once again.

    The nature of earth, Leah had said, months ago, was stability.
    Water, of course, is change, a circular motion. With wind, potential -- what will be.
    And fire... formlessness. Becoming unstable.

    With the last... he had trouble. Finding the place to be and not be, between motions.
    He can barely track Kaguya's motions now, as she moves as wildly as flame, and with as much intent. She's--

    going to be

    yes

    He moves, understanding in that moment the meaning of that lesson. Metal sings on metal.

    And he holds that guarding stance, holding back her blades from him with all the force he can muster. The blade trembles, shakes. But still he stands.

    "Is this," he hisses to her, "serious enough for you?"

    The ground, beneath, readjusts itself. The warning sign is a brief tremblor.

    Before the earth itself screams as he draws up with his mind -- with all his hatred and loathing and fury -- a great stabbing spire of stone.

GS: Loren Voss has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Terra Axiom!
GS: Loren Voss has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    If Hiro had looked hurt for longer than one moment, Gwen would have likely groveled right then and there, but even that would have allowed Gwen more pride than hearing his triumphant laughter. "So this is my fate..."

    And for her efforts, Gwen is awarded a metal shield, the surface making a meaty 'konk' and an following 'ow!' as it lands against her upraised arms.

    As Hilde speaks, Gwen's light-hearted approach begins to darken in tone. But before she thinks to speak, Hiro answers, speaking with a deserved degree of passion on the topic. It is, after all, the side of Lunar that he comes from.

    "Many of us were there when Sin invaded Azado," Gwen adds, her demeanor and tone shifted sober. "My hope was at its highest when we were all combining our forces together. We can still do that; no one has to face Sin alone now! We lost a lot of people, but we stand to lose even more by fighting against each other. No one wins here; Yevon, the Guard... all it means is whoever is leftover will directly bear the burden of Sin. I'm an outsider, I know. I don't get Althena like Hiro and you do. But I refuse to believe someone so loved would force her people to do that!"

    It wouldn't be enough to convince anyone, of course.

    But the fact that she's now within punching distance will ensure she can try to end her speech with a (hopefully) disarming punch.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Hilde with Special Delivery!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Hilde takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Special Delivery for 52 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

Margaret draws back her weapon and looks towards Biggs. Her ears are still pressed back against the side of her head. She grins at Biggs. But Seymour's moving -

Thunder cracks.

Thunder descends and it is not friendly. Margaret's intrinsic nature touches against lightning, perhaps, or so you might say if you were theorizing in Neo-Vane, but here this does her little good. The halos of a saint form round the metal things upon her; then they strike and she jitters and staggers and jerks, a horrid and uncoordinated dance. She barks out something like a disciplined scream that almost but doesn't quite become a shout.

And over some distance away --

Silf cracks her neck and raises up her good arm. She sucks in breath through teeth that aren't all there. She stiffens her back --

A blue-green sparkle hits her. "Uh!"

"I think I get it," Dolly says. The two women look at each other for a moment, then look ahead.

Dolly taps Silf on the head with her staff for a moment.

Silf disappears from view, meaning that it seems that it is only a woman with a white mask of face paint and the cloth garb of a healer running towards them. A low breeze whiffs past Seymour -

Silf *re*appears in view when she aims to carve a furrow into Biggs' dominant side!

"Heh," Margaret says to Seymour. "You know, I wonder... were you the vanguard? The general? I don't get how all of this works... ngh! Uhgh! Curse your infernal lingering galvanism!!"

GS: Margaret takes 20 damage from Poison!
GS: Quick expired!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Margaret has attacked Seymour Guado with Pray Turn Thy Foe For Trick Attack!
GS: Margaret has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Margaret takes 20 damage from Poison!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Brad Evans has posed.

Brad blows a man clear across the field and then raises to his full, towering height, eyes casting about for the next taker. He's half-turned, spotting a weapon trained on him from the other soldier, but Gon takes care of that problem. No call of acknowledgement for it, but Brad grunts in his direction before turning over to where Kaguya is yelling and--

WHAMMO

Brad takes a roundhouse to the side and it is a testament, perhaps, to the big man's durability that his arm doesn't snap. He's able to get the Glove in place and it mercifully doesn't dent but the blow does force Brad to yield several steps, and the way he rolls his shoulder after says that one stung. "Strong," he observes, with some surprise. "Fast, too."

Then he snaps the Mechanical Glove up, and a port off to one side of the front facing irises open. "'Fraid I already broke outta Hell, though," he notes. Then it ROARS as it releases a shell the size of a golf ball at Kaguya!

GS: Brad Evans has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Onboard Cannon!
GS: Brad Evans has completed his action.
GS: Seymour Guado takes a solid hit from Margaret's Pray Turn Thy Foe For Trick Attack for 87 hit points!
GS: Quick! applied to Margaret!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar critically Guards a hit from Marivel Armitage's Skill Drain for 16 hit points!
GS: Marivel Armitage drains Kaguya Alathfar! Marivel Armitage gains 8 temporary hit points!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar takes a solid hit from Gon Guado's Mook Projectile for 106 hit points!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar takes a glancing hit from Loren Voss's Terra Axiom for 80 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! applied to Kaguya Alathfar!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has lost 1 Combo from Interrupt!
GS: Loren Voss assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar critically Guards a hit from Brad Evans's Onboard Cannon for 24 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Hilde has posed.

Hilde acknowledges Violet's compliment, begrudging as it may be, with a simple nod. But this fight isn't nearly over yet, as Violet indicates. It's the Beastwoman's turn now, and she retaliates with a red-hot slug that slams solidly into her shield.

And if that weren't bad enough for her, the red dragon on Ashton's shoulder rears back, unleashing a gout of flame that completes the work Violet started. Her shield heats up - unbearably hot. She is forced to detach it from herself, leaving it on the ground to cool.

"Duly noted." She replies to Ashton. This might seem problematic for her, deprived of her shield, but she is as ever capable of adapting on the battlefield. She takes her sword up in both hands, adopting a more offensive, aggressive stance as she fixes Hiro with her single good eye.

"Do you truly think so little of us?" Hilde replies. "There is much more at stake than 'pride'."

She looks toward Gwen, then.

"We attempted to cooperate with them, miss. At Operation Mi'ihen, we banded together in an attempt to take down Sin - and when it failed they cast us aside. Us, and the Crusaders that had served as Spira's protectors for so long. The Maesters of Yevon have proven their character. Diplomacy with them is out of the question."

Hiro calls upon the winds of Althena's Blessing, creating a violent current that harries her, attempting to force her off-balance. Her footing remains certain, rooted as she is by her heavy armor - but even so, the winds make movement difficult. As Gwen closes in with a punch Hilde has to shift her movement, intercepting the strike with the flat of her blade and shifting it aside with a grunt of effort. It's harder to defend with a sword than it is a shield - it wasn't exactly made for that.

The blue glow coating her sword spreads to her arm nows and she steps forward.

"Now then. Prepare yourselves." She rushes forward, clearing distances with ease as each of them are assaulted with a devastating flurry of strikes. She does not strike to kill, but that does not mean that each attack is painless.

GS: Hilde has attacked Hilde with Focus Spirits!
GS: Hilde has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hilde takes a solid hit from Hilde's Focus Spirits for 0 hit points!
GS: Burst and Hyper! applied to Hilde!
GS: Hilde has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Giantslayer!
GS: Hilde has attacked Hiro with Giantslayer!
GS: Hilde has attacked Ashton Anchors with Giantslayer!
GS: Hilde has attacked Violet Salazar with Giantslayer!
GS: Cover expired!
GS: Hilde has completed her action.
GS: Violet Salazar takes a solid hit from Hilde's Giantslayer for 140 hit points!
GS: Hiro critically Guards a hit from Hilde's Giantslayer for 77 hit points!
GS: Ashton Anchors critically Guards a hit from Hilde's Giantslayer for 65 hit points!
GS: Ashton Anchors enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Seymour Guado has posed.

"Gh!" Biggs grunts, gritting hi teeth as Silf's sudden reappearance earns a strike against him. His armor is cut through; his blood begins to well up through it. He swings a mailed fist at her head.

Seymour looks at Margaret, head tilted to the side. "I'm neither," he says. "I am a Maester of Yevon. A hope, to these people. And, more than that... I am simply your better."

He glances at Biggs. The big Guado slams his shield at Silf, just enough to buy some room -- and then he sprints, sheathing his sword mid-run, and grabs Wedge by the scruff of the neck. This leaves Seymour undefended, for just a moment. He throws his staff out before him, and then light gathers at the top of it.

"Sing, muse, of a people abandoned and a world left desolate! Sing, I command, and deliver unto us our--" The light inverts; it becomes a bead of darkness, and the shadows cast by it are white light, turning everything into negative. Then, that bead flies -- past Margaret, and between her and her compatriots.

It slams into the ground, and the earth shatters. A thousand shafts of white light explode out, ahead of a roaring ball of consuming darkness that surges for all of them in turn.

"REQUIEUM!"

GS: Seymour Guado has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seymour Guado has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Seymour Guado has attacked Margaret with Requiem!
GS: Seymour Guado has completed his action.
GS: Margaret critically Guards a hit from Seymour Guado's Requiem for 43 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Violet Salazar has posed.

Violet grunts as Hilde's attack slams home, cutting *over* her bruises. It hurts enough to make breathing painful and leaves yet again still more bloodstains over the front of her gown. Even without her shield the Knight is formidable -- which she proves again as she presses her advantage against Violet and her companions. Violet has, at least, the presence of mind to fall back and attack from a distance -- close fighting is hardly her forte, and her threadbare clothing offers no protection. She calls on her ARM once again, firing both types of shells, one close after the other. Part of her mind gauges her dwindling ammunition, but this isn't the time to worry about it. She knew the fort would have defenders but not that they would be so determined -- or so capable. She is not convinced she'll be able to take it.

GS: Violet Salazar has activated a Force Action!
GS: Violet Salazar has spent 2 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Violet Salazar has attacked Hilde with Finishing Touch!
GS: Violet Salazar has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Violet Salazar has completed her action.
GS: Hilde takes a solid hit from Violet Salazar's Finishing Touch for 151 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

Ashton's intended route of attack is a success! He isn't hit in the face with a shield. Again.

However, not everything works quite as intended. Creepy notices Weepy making eyes at Ruby. The red suddenly lunges over and bites the blue in a burst of jealousy. And within seconds, the two dragons are fighting and snapping at each other over his head.

Ashton does his best to ignore them. This just makes it look even more ridiculous.

Never the less, he inserts himself into the argument between Hilde and Gwen. "And so instead of diplomacy you choose reckless bloodshed? Driving bystanders from their homes as you burn them? Using giant weapons of war to smash cities?" Ashton braces himself - it's hard to miss that bright blue glow. "We stood with the Crusaders as well - bled with them! And you eagerly drew steel against us, even as you lecture about events we were present for!"

Hilde comes at him - and Ashton is ready. The technique she uses is not so different from his own, and he has twice as much blade. It keeps Ashton on his back foot, but he swings in return just as she does to let steel ring on steel in one parry after another.

"Defeated by Sin, and your choice was to instead waste your strength on those who stood beside you!" The last blow before Hilde turns to the others sends Ashton sliding back a few feet. "You're damned fools who try to damn the rest of us, Lady. Wounded wolves who would rather eat their kin than fight the bear. I'm sorry you can't see that."

Ashton's swords trace the air, leaving pale blue-white lines of frost behind them. A cross - a diamond - a shield. The wall of ice bursts, spraying a wave of razor-sharp flechettes at Hidle.

GS: Ashton Anchors has attacked Hilde with Northern Cross!
GS: Ashton Anchors has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ashton Anchors has completed his action.
GS: Hilde takes a glancing hit from Ashton Anchors's Northern Cross for 54 hit points!
GS:  Dispel reduces positive status durations by 3 rounds each!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"Wait it is!?" Hiro says, astounded, since he's short for a guy, but not so short that he thinks it's okay to say it to Kaguya. Also because he likes having his lungs inside of his body rather than outside of it.

"Oh! Well I'm glad you're here too!" He beams, and perhaps he doesn't just mean here as in here in the battle.

Hilde asks whether he thought so little of Althena's Guard, and he doesn't answer right away, perhaps because he's listening to the remainder of her answer, what she's saying to Gwen.

However he hasn't framed an answer before she rushes forward - with that blade coated in blue. Suddenly on desperate defense, the wind currents swirl up around his blade, as he brings it up again and again to try to parry it.

He can hardly keep it up. The effort bringing him to his knees before long. As he pants, sweat beading on his forehead, his arm feeling like gelatin.

"I thought the world of Althena's Guard." Hiro finally says once he's caught his breath, sounding a little emotional in his admission, "I thought the world of White Knight Leo. Even if we disagreed - I thought you were all good people trying to do the right thing."

From the haphazard position on his knees, he slowly brings himself up to a single knee, sweeping his sword behind him. "And then I saw civilians wielding sticks getting trampled for defending their homes."

He then takes off in a dash towards Hilde, his blade igniting from the air friction caused by the currents around it. He slashes once at Hilde, and it erupts into a wave of sleeping flame. "So don't you dare tell me this is just about Yevon!"

Then a second, and a third. The slashes blurring together from the heat mirage left in their wake. "Not after Luca!"

-=-=-

Meanwhile Ruby descends to pat both Creepy and Weepy on the necks as they fight. "Boys - boys! There's no need to fight! There's enough of me for the two of you!"

(Note: Ruby has no idea if Creepy and Weepy are in fact boys.)

GS: Hiro has spent 1 Combo on Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Hiro has attacked Hilde with Battalion Sword!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Hilde takes a glancing hit from Hiro's Battalion Sword for 84 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Hilde's Giantslayer for 107 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Kaguya Alathfar has posed.

"It's pretty cool," Kaguya admits of Marivel's spell when she mentions her pride. "I mean, my version's a little more physical, but you gotta appreciate a little physics-breaking, right?" Her eyes don't entirely leave Loren for long, as serious as he is for the moment--it is different. Very different, somehow.

Did she actually trap Marivel? Who knows? Marivel's tricksy. But Kaguya doesn't move immediately to follow up, either. She turns to glance in her direction partially. "Of course it was. It was custom designed, after all. And I've got so /many/ things that'd be new to you, since our time away..."

Marivel moves to investigate, with the power of draining--and Kaguya's eyes flash, too, a much darker green than usual. Energy rushes out of her--but it's sickly, anemic in passing, and Marivel can feel, for the flash of a moment, the barest sliver of an instant--

Something worse than a Golem, a raw hostility that her form cannot completely contain, the weight of wasting as surely as her people once did.

"Don't," the Veruni instructs.

...The levity doesn't come back quickly. She answers, "That's Mat, all right. She always was powerful. Way better in a straight fight than me."

At the same time, Kaguya's soldier works to overcome Gon's grip--but they are in the Guado's realm of strength here, and he can't pry himself free, or quite reach the knife that Gon can now see concealed against the inside of his gauntlet. "I don't care what you toiled for," he says back, teeth gritted. Kaguya is busy, or too disciplined, or both, doesn't attack through her soldier, the other unconscious now--

Is she making fun of Loren? It's hard to say; her manner is irreverent, the implication that she makes fun of everyone. She can sense his fury. ...But there is something different, from her magic, how the Solarians use magic. She will find it soon. She feels the anathemic energy of her own element--and Loren finds the key.

Her blades spark against Loren's, and she finds herself visibly surprised, approving in some way, that he can hold her back. "...You are," she says, as if analyzing--and there--there is the earth. As fast as Kaguya moves, she nearly doesn't move fast enough, the spike ripping from the ground, the stones groaning under their mistreatment as their edge cuts a bloody gash in her arm, rips through a sleeve, forces her to widen her stance steps away to avoid hitting the ground, throws her off of her balance. She grits her teeth.

"Yeah," she tells Brad then, amidst the melee. "That's me." And he opens his weapon--"...Heh. You are a cool guy, huh?" she starts, appreciative in a way of his quip, but her eyes are on his weapon. The shell rockets out towards her with enough power to pulp concrete, to shatter walls--and it bursts against her bizarre alien breastplate, sending a shockwave that knocks her backwards but does not break her armor. Before she can say something to Brad, however...

Here, Gon's gambit pays off. The guard is thrown towards her, and the weight of his armor and his body both slam into the small woman, knocking her from her feet and making an awful set of noises that suggest one of them will hav einjuries to deal with later. There's silence, for an instant, and there may be a moment's relief on the part of her foes.

The small pile of person shifts, and Kaguya rises, her unconscious(?) soldier sliding off as she stands. "...You're..." She reaches her full height, inconsiderable as it is, and turns to look upon her foes. "Really starting to get on my nerves."

Her glare settles forcefully on Gon--but she looks warily to Brad, and Loren, too, taking a couple of steps back to get them all in her field of vision. "I wonder--I can guess why you're fighting," she says to Gon, but to Loren and Brad, "I can't imagine it's to be some kind of hero, Thomas. You know how good it feels to break something, don't you? I can tell. Just look at everything in front of you, break it all 'til you're finally done with it."

"...You, though. Are you the type? Mari's noble soldier? I wonder." She breathes in, and it seems she's been gathering power, as green energy begins to funnel towards her. "...Because there's no point in it."

Her weapons down, Kaguya instead raises gauntleted hands to shape energy that is just out of step with the world around her. It begins to swirl, then, to darken, like a cloud at sea level somehow.

"...O violent gale, born of fear..."

The words accompany the spell darkening, and growing. Dust and dirt at her feet begin to rise in a spiral, under the work of her hands. A palpable aura of menace exudes from her as her eyes snap back open.

"To the void! Fearful Storm!"

A cyclone some twelve feet tall erupts from the magic Kaguya had been conquering, practically black with shadow, crashing around to seek Loren, Gon, Brad, all--

--That spell from Maester Seymour, across the battlefield, draws a sharp glance from the Duchess Alathfar, who seems in the moment to know where it comes from as soon as it hits the air, turns light negative. She can't stare into the explosion for more than an instant, but she presses her lips together, and finishes her motion as her spell does its work, pulling a syringe--and jabbing it into her arm.

GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Gon Guado with Fearful Storm!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Brad Evans with Fearful Storm!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Loren Voss with Fearful Storm!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Formula VM-54X!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar has completed her action.
GS: Kaguya Alathfar takes a solid hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Formula VM-54X for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! applied to Kaguya Alathfar!
GS: Brad Evans guards a hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Fearful Storm for 119 hit points!
GS: Brad Evans enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Loren Voss guards a hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Fearful Storm for 113 hit points!
GS: Gon Guado has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gon Guado takes a solid hit from Kaguya Alathfar's Fearful Storm for 180 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

"A hope? Truly? Is that what you are?" Margaret says.

Uh oh. Her eyes widen. "A hope to ALL the people? Each and every ONE of them? Because you have a lot of people here who aren't exactly living off the fat of the land! What do you offer them - some promised land to which they'll have the chance to repair after spending their life in terror and destitution? Trick them, will you, into rendering their lives in supplication?"

Her head tilts back as she looks momentarily towards Biggs. Silf, to her dismay, proves vulnerable to a shielding and hits the ground again with an 'uff', scrabbling for her knives afterwards.

"You claim to be my better? On what grounds! Do you claim it on right of prior residence?? Or - hah! You appeal to s-"

Margaret stops at the exact point when she realizes it's an incantation. She grips her naginata tighter as Seymour throws that pinpoint of superheated unlight into the ground and then the ground begins to shatter--

--

It's happening again, thinks Dolly. They're going to die.

They're going to die!!

Her staff is raised up - she had not attempted to prosecute any offensive against Seymour, no doubt due to her noodly arms and lack of a solid weapon. She starts to run away from Seymour. Desperately, as the ground cracks. (Margaret staggers, one of her ridiculous heels falling into a crack when the rest of her foot was safe. She will learn nothing from this.)

She shouts something. The torment of the stone hides it. But as the dark sphere spreads outwards, there is a flicker on the far side of it.

When the light fades, Dolly and Margaret are both no longer visible.

Silf is. She is already in the process of throwing down a thin-walled glass phial full of something neon pink. It reacts with the air, alchemically, producing a huge billow of similarly-colored smoke. A single muffled curse and then she is gone, too. (Though her route is clearer: she went towards the beach.)

The remainder of the sallying squad is falling back towards the beach, suddenly jerking into chocobo-swift motion in dribs and drabs.

* * *

"What in the SIXTEEN PURPLE HELLS was that," Margaret shouts in dismay, in a familiar crevasse in the ground.

"quiet maam, they may be using these"

<Pose Tracker> Seymour Guado has posed.

"And why, exactly, would I justify myself to you?" Seymour answers Margaret.

Or, really, doesn't.

As Requiem's light fades, Seymour lowers his staff -- and Biggs approaches, the unconscious Wedge held around the shoulders. Seymour looks at him. "We'll pull back," he says. "Wedge's wounds must be seen to you."

"Understood, Lord Seymour," Biggs says. He glances back at the battle. "We'll hope the otherworlders have this."

"Indeed."

Seymour and Biggs begin to beat a hasty retreat towards the same hill they came from.

<Pose Tracker> Gon Guado has posed.

    There is a dance of fire and force behind the guard Gon wrestled with, only knowing there was an incredible force with impotent effect. His knees suffer the consequences of being rattled from standing near the seismic force of Thomas's growing fury. With the prattling that goes on, Marivel's contribution to the aging Guado is not a hit to his physical well-being...
     ...but his patience.
     "Enough!" He calls, in that moment where Kaguya seems taken care of. "This land is not an open canvas for you to carry forth your--"
     Kaguya talks, and he stops talking. The way Kaguya glares at the haughty, irritated Guado... is a look he has never seen. A look he has never dealt with. It's a novel experience.
     It is an unwanted novel experience, and he finds himself taking a step back as she coolly dismisses his part in this with her well-founded and unvoiced guess as to why he's fighting, as she goes back to taunting Thomas, and to the large man.
     "Is this how you Otherworlders resolve your conflicts?" Gon asks, venom dripping from that maw of his (figuratively). "Inviting yourselves to others' lands, trading mortal blows with the same dialogue one might share over tea--"
     Kaguya's chanting drowns him out. (Nothing of value is lost.)
     "You will not cast me aside like a piece of refuse!!" He snarls.
     By the time dust and dirt rise in a spiral, he cannot be heard at all. This is because he stops talking, and crosses his arms over himself. As a highly skilled caller of 'prayers,' sorcery is scarcely as effective an assault upon his person than most. But this is an element being called that is not commonly of use in Spira, and it is of a character besides that is wholly and utterly foreign. The look on his face at first is as defiant and dismissive as ever, as though confident he could withstand it.
     The Fearful Storm extends outward, and Gon's feet drag against the ground as he is pushed back. Four seconds later...
     ...he gets swept up and whirled around the extending shadowy wind, as if the fearful storm were happy to clear aside those who will soon no longer have any voice in the matter - if Kaguya will have her way.

GS: Gon Guado has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Is it okay for a short person to quip at a short person about being short? Gwen casts a wide-eyed look at Hiro, then Marivel further beyond. "Uh, I don't think that'll overrule the power of hurt pride."

    As Hilde answers, Gwen frowns. "I know the Guard did. I was a part of the squad that was on the front." She pauses, guiltily looking away. "... You wouldn't have known this, but yeah. What I'm sayin' is not that the Guard neglected t'do their part in the Mi'hen battle, but that we should've learned from it. The Yevon faith is stubborn, but if we could just find some way t'see eye t'eye? They've already seen how a lotta us Drifters are tryin' to come to their aid, even if their faith..." A wince creases the corners of her mouth. "Even if they half-suspect many of us are the reason for Sin t'be here in the first place. But, as someone who's watched and tried to support Hiro, bein' seen as the doom of the world ain't somethin' new to some of us."

    Mere words cannot overcome Hilde's blade. Gwen attempts to force past it, gritting her teeth as red droplets of blood come away from Hilde's clean strikes.
    
    "For Hiro, it was Luca. For me, it was Kilika. The Guard seemed to have no provisions for the way certain things act here. It's like takin' over a desert town and refusin' t'believe that dust storms will be a problem. Only, on a more dangerous scale. The Yevon have managed to survive. I won't question what Althena is doin', but I can question whether this is simply ensurin' that Spira dies."

    Then, she rushes ahead, a sudden burst of bright light from her palm, allowing Gwen to leap back to a better vantage point. "So that's my side of things. That's all I got for ya."

    The last syllable of her words is consumed by the whine of her ARM, fully extended and loaded, aimed at Hilde. "Not after Kilika," she says as the beam fires, much like Hiro's own words.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Hilde with Quasar Palm!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has launched an attack Link!
<Pose Tracker> Brad Evans has posed.

Brad's eyes widen visibly as his shell loses the fight with a standing, armored target. "Hardened," he breathes. Then, rather than do things Kaguya might be more accustomed to, like panic or scream, his eyes narrow. "Not a cyborg...just the armor?" he murmurs, and yields a step back, bringing his Mechanical Glove up in a way he can adjust some concealed controls.

Which prevents him from stopping Kaguya, as he releases a latch, RIPS a datastore the size of a dinner plate out of the thing's side, shoves it in a pocket somewhere we won't ask questions about, and produces a second one, which he jams into place. "Guess we'll go with these," he mutters, forcing it with his wrist until it loudly clicks.

He looks up just in time to hear Kaguya declare the name of his doom. "Horsefeathers," he mutters, lashing out with the Glove for some handhold to purchase on. He realizes too late that the only thing to grip in the vicinity is other people and the wall they're trying to breach, and soon the cyclone pitches him into the air, sending the big man pinwheeling into the sky on a chaotic trajectory.

"Gonna sting," he mutters, in the sky, words stolen by the wind. Then he struggles to suck in a breath, and ROARS: "COVER YOUR EARS!"

Then he shoves his legs down just as the Mechanical Glove blasts out a cloud of light that resolves into a massive rifle-type ARM, a bipod attached to the barrel which Brad has fashioned into impromptu stirrups as he flies through the air; a scope atop, a vent at the muzzle.

If Claude Kenny were on hand, he could identify the device as a descendent of the venerable anti-tank rifles of Earth's history, except even less capable of being fired safely by a single person. Kaguya, handily, probably also could make this identification, as Brad finds a moment, amid being buffeted by the winds and claimed by the sweet siren song of gravitation, to release a thundercrack from the muzzle that manages to outscream the whirling sky.

Then gravity reclaims him, and Brad SLAMS into the ground, cratering the dirt, kicking up clouds of dust.

If Kaguya's able to listen very, very closely, maybe she hears the sound of precision machinery being set up just before another four shots scream out, bullets designed to tear holes in Gears cruising in on that impenetrable breastplate.

.....then Brad collapses backward, groaning wordlessly at his probably several fractures.

GS: Brad Evans has activated a Force Action!
GS: Brad Evans has spent 1 Combo on Link, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Brad Evans has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Anti-Gear Rifle!
GS: Brad Evans has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Brad Evans has launched an attack Link!
GS: Hilde takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Quasar Palm for 0 hit points!
GS: Jam! applied to Hilde!
GS: Brad Evans enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Brad Evans has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Cover Your Ears!
GS: Brad Evans has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has spent 2 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Hilde with Corona Discharge!
GS: Hilde guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Corona Discharge for 119 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    It's as if they're cousins. Their magic, that is -- Loren is no expert in etheric studies, and he's still young, yet. But whatever his faults are, he's not unobservant in matters like this -- he's noticed it even before now.
    The way it works -- seems to work -- is different and similar. Not entirely one and the same, but not entirely dissimilar...

    The difference between molten stone and grown crystal, perhaps: one with order in the disorder, the other order from disorder.

    A thing to consider in another time. Here and now, he locks his blade with her, holds her just long enough that he can discharge a fraction of his hate and frustration via the mechanism of the earth itself. He draws back as she's forced away, unbalanced blade held still before him.

    He stares at her. Stares at her still as attacks upon her are loosed from various angles and approaches.

    Stares at her as she finally arises from that pile of person she's become entangled within.

    "...You're wrong," he says, stance tensing. "You're wrong! You don't know a single thing about me!" he insists, perhaps with surprising vehemence.
    Become a hero? If he only could--
    Break everything? Even if he wanted to (wants to) he--

    But the sky grows dark, swirling with menace. His attention cracks away from her spell just once, as the Maester's own magic is loosed, and something feels as if it's just crawled up the back of his spine in sympathy with the pitch of the spellcraft.

    He can't look at it. Can't look away. Not as the storm's pitch intensifies...

    And explodes. White crystal-fractal light weaving into position about 'Thomas' is the only sign that he in any way attempts to deflect the inexorable.

    Even then, it hasn't shielded him from everything. Blood drips from his right hand as he once more plants his blade into the earth, leaning on the hilt again for support. His head bows for just the moment.
    Now... what?

    Before he, staring at that pattern in the dust, is reminded. He hesitates before drawing it out of his bag, he stares down at the stone plate that he (again) has smeared with his blood. "I'm not begging you," he murmurs to the Medium. "So don't even think about it. I'm-- telling you what to do this time--"

    "DINOGINOS!" he shouts, brandishing the hated Medium as if it were a shield.

    Around Kaguya, the earth seemingly cracks, a chaotic array of fractures webbing their way across the ground. Light, heat, seethes from the depths.

    The blood of mountains is fire.

    With a roar, the Mountain Guardian -- semitransparant, neither truly here or not -- erupts from below, bringing rock and magma both with its clawing, ripping rise.
    There is, briefly, the impression of heat.
    Then nothing more, as the summoning ceases.

    Loren -- Thomas, here -- staggers back, as if beckoning the Guardian took something out of him.

GS: Loren Voss has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Lock On!
GS: Loren Voss has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Material - Hypogaean Pyre!
GS: Cripple expired!
GS: Loren Voss has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Violet Salazar has posed.

Violet notices Seymour and Biggs retreating and takes a moment to contemplate her own position. She is wounded, and Hilde has the upper hand. Survival takes priority over continuing to fight. She fires one last set of rounds as she, too, retreats -- distracted momentarily by a big man yelling "COVER YOUR EARS!", which she does. They're sensitive anyway. Next time they'll have to attack the fortress more strategically...perhaps with more magical support. Not that Violet is capable of providing that. She sighs and turns away with a flick of her tail. Next time...

GS: Violet Salazar has attacked Hilde with Both Barrels!
GS: Violet Salazar has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Hilde guards a hit from Violet Salazar's Both Barrels for 148 hit points!
GS: Hilde enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Cripple and Shieldbreak expired!
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel says, "You are very spry for someone I heard from a friend is about to die." The friend here being Kaguya herself. "I wonder if tis from the drugs or from your new power."

She catches a taste of Kaguya. The anemia makes her dizzy and she falls over onto her side once more, but she did--at least--expect something like that when she reached out to, as a certain mythical Noble once said, get some sip.

Dolly is in distress. Somehow Marivel knows without even looking, without even healing. In that moment of weakness, that little bit of Jack that is now a little bit of Marivel rails against her. Contradiction is malevolence but there is nothing contradictory about a Crimson Noble being full of contradictions. Even so, there's a bit of a double whammy. The hostility, the hate is too powerful and Marivel turns her head and spits the substance back out and it gradually dissipitates away.

"Never... a good sign," Marivel pants. "When a noble can't stomach what's inside you, Kaguya."

Shadows slice away from her body and rip apart the vines in short order--Marivel is indeed tricksy and the good humor is gone.

Marivel has put on her real face. Her eyes narrow with concern and--in fact--there's a hint, just a smidgen, of sorrow that flickers behind those eyes.

"Golems contain the essence of eons, but you Kaguya---you put them to shame. Whether the invasive plantlife is green or silver, tis no matter to me but you make me think of Mother more than any Hyadean has right now."

She walks forward even as Kaguya strikes at her comrades, even as she monologues about heroism. She smiles briefly when she calls Brad a noble soldier, a crooked boogiepop smile.

"I cannot hold back against threats to the world, Kaguya." Marivel says. "Whether I like you or do not like you does not come into it. Whether I care for you or do not is immaterial. Tis my duty. And I know that such threats to the world, Kaguya, they would not hold back against me, nor would they expect me to. Indeed, they would wish for us to fight with everything we had. That is the bond I share with my enemies. That malice within you, Kaguya... I encourage you to turn your back on it for the more you rely on it, the more 'twill intertwine with your soul more surely than the vines you unleashed upon me, more 'twill suffocate you and you wouldn't even know it."

She gestures to the side, "You have become serious. So I will become serious."

She starts chanting her own spell. Fire swirls around her, growing in intensity moment after moment. For someone who burns so readily, her affinity with fire isn't any weaker. If she were to be judged by most other spell systems she would be a prodigy, but of course to a Crimson Noble, this is just what they do. Nobody in modern history will ever know if Marivel is a prodigy of her people or a black sheep, or weak for her people or strong. She is the only survivor, though, so in a way--she has already proven herself to be the strongest by that take.

"What use is a pulse that does not quicken? Unleash the fires that keep the underworld warm! CREMATION!"

The fire comes crashing down upon Kaguya in short order and normally Marivel would have left it at that.

But in truth, Marivel may be using less power than she used against Amaterasu--

--but she knows now she ought to be using MORE. This is simply what she can spare. She backdashes away from Kaguya as she, like many a proper red mage, promptly follows up with a dualcast.

"Even the hearts of the dead shall race! The chill of an entropic end! Unleash the chill of the fallout ice age! ABSOLUTE ZERO!"

And then Kaguya is promptly assaulted by a follow up blizzard. Neither spell interferes with the other despite the opposing elements, simply electing to coexist like a wildfire in Arctica itself.

"You may have the day, Kaguya, you may even have the moon! But you will never have the night!"

But then something else happens. Loren summons a Guardian. Marivel's eyes widen sharply. She seems surprised by this turn of events.

But not for long because Brad is crashing over there and Marivel starts shifting that-a-ways in case he needs a hand. Or an evac.

GS: Marivel Armitage has activated a Force Action!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with What Use Is A Pulse That Does Not Quicken - Cremation!
GS: Marivel Armitage has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Marivel Armitage has launched an attack Link!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Kaguya Alathfar with Even The Hearts Of The Dead Shall Race - Absolute Zero!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes 24 damage from Poison!
GS: Poison expired!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Kaguya Alathfar guards a hit from Brad Evans's Anti-Gear Rifle for 96 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Kaguya Alathfar takes a glancing hit from Brad Evans's Cover Your Ears for 144 hit points!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar takes a solid hit from Loren Voss's Material - Hypogaean Pyre for 173 hit points!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar completely evades a hit from Marivel Armitage's What Use Is A Pulse That Does Not Quicken -
Cremation!
GS: Riposte! applied to Marivel Armitage!
GS: Kaguya Alathfar guards a hit from Marivel Armitage's Even The Hearts Of The Dead Shall Race - Absolute Zero for 108
hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Hilde has posed.

Hilde does not respond to Ashton and Hiro's accusations right away. She goes quiet, taking time to consider them. But that does not mean she is idle - no, she's keeping a careful eye on her opponents.

First is Violet's volley - a pain of twin shells, one after the other. ARMs are a little outside of Hilde's knowledge-base - she knows of them from when they were brought to Hyland, but she had little personal experience with dealing with them. She attempts to parry the shots but they go wide, deflecting off her sword and striking her solidly in the chest. Her armor protects her, but the force is enough to push her back a step.

"...You may call us what you like." She replies, glancing toward Ashton. "But do not think that we have forgotten the metaphorical bear."

Ashton is upon her next as he traces a wall of ice into the air which soon bursts into a shrapnel volley. She swings her sword through the ice to cut through a large portion of it but much of it still goes through, leaving cuts across her face, shattering against her armor and frosting it over, and tearing through her cape.

"...I see. I am sorry." Hilde replies, looking toward Hiro next. And then it's his turn - Hilde might be able to parry the sword slashes, but she's unable to contain the flames emanating from his blade. Each attempt to guard herself is not without cost, leaving her singed.

Even after all that, Hilde stands - her armor tarnished and battered but not broken. And neither is she.

She exhales a breath.

"It is, and it is not. Spira must be brought into Althena's fold. I would have preferred it a more peaceful movement. But this is the way of things, and I will not abandon my allies, my comrades." She replies, then looks toward Gwen. "...I will assure you, however, that I, at least, do not wish for Spira's death."

If it got that far, what would she do? ...She isn't sure. But, she has to remain in the here and now - and in the here and now Gwen is aiming her ARM at her. A brilliant beam fires and Hilde braces herself as a powerful burst of energy rushes toward her, the sheer force of it pushing her back a good distance.

She stands up straight, then, looking toward Hiro.

"...You asked me before to show you my conviction, Sir Hiro. And so, I shall." She says. The blue aura spreads over her whole body, then. "You have all demonstrated your courage and determination to me! It has been an honor - now! Endure this!"

Ashton is her first target - she comes down upon him with a powerful, cleaving downward slash, designed to topple even the largest foes, no matter how durable.

She rushes toward Violet, then, picking up her now-cooled shield on the way. She delivers a shield bash much like she used on Ashton before, but with all the weight of her convictions behind it.

She whirls, then, facing down upon Hiro. She strikes first with the shield, then with her sword, and continues forward in a symphony of steel, finishing with a spinning strike to scatter all those around her.

For Gwen, Hilde approaches...but then dives to the side with a swing of her sword, carving a threatening arc of silver through the sky.

...And then, she comes to a stand still and waits, her eyes turning toward the ramparts for a brief moment.

GS: Hilde has activated a Force Action!
GS: Hilde has attacked Violet Salazar with Dauntless Charge!
GS: Hilde has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Hilde has attacked Ashton Anchors with Titan Cleaver!
GS: Hilde has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Force Blade!
GS: Hilde has spent 4 Combo on Link and Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Hilde has attacked Hiro with Steel Symphony!
GS: Hilde has launched an attack Link!
GS: Hilde has attacked Hiro with Finale!
GS: Hilde has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Break expired!
GS: Hilde has completed her action.
GS: Ashton Anchors critically Guards a hit from Hilde's Titan Cleaver for 35 hit points!
GS: Violet Salazar completely evades a hit from Hilde's Dauntless Charge!
GS: Cover! applied to Hilde!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Hilde's Force Blade for 96 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Violet Salazar has posed.

Using the last of her strength, Violet ducks away from Hilde's shield-charge, fervently hoping that the lack of connection will throw the warrior-woman off balance, literally or psychologically. She continues to retreat, following Seymour and Biggs towards the nearby hill. She hopes Hilde won't pursue -- surely she sees her duty as protecting the fortress? The Yevonites will have to change strategy next time they attack the fortress -- if there IS a next time. They'll need more reinforcements...

GS: Violet Salazar has completed her action.
GS: Hiro has activated a Force Action!
GS: Hiro guards a hit from Hilde's Steel Symphony for 101 hit points!
GS: Hiro guards a hit from Hilde's Finale for 87 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ashton Anchors has posed.

Hilde says her peace - and Ashton seems non-plussed by it. "You may not wish for Spira's death, Lady Hilde. But you do a damnable good job of assuring it none the less."

Then she's upon him.

Her strike is powerful - no denying that. A hard, solid overhead blow that would make most veteran fighters a pancake at best. Ashton Anchors is not most, and he doesn't flinch from it.

Both his blades rise, catching her downstroke between them. Light suddenly blazes along the Symbological Swordsman's body as mystical ink flares to life - rich brown tattoos reflect Earth magics and turn mere muscle to sinews of stone.

Ashton takes the blow full on and doesn't buckle.

That's as far as he gets, however. Hilde peels away to lay her blade into the others. Before he can rally, however, the call to retreat echoes over the field.

And while Ashton doesn't like it? Part of him is still relieved. Blood shed in war is still something he dislikes.

Backpedalling, he brings his dragons to bea--- to bear---

Oh dash it all, they're both trying to silently communicate with Ruby.

Letting out a long-suffering sigh, Ashton simply backs away from the center of the battle and moves to withdraw.

GS: Ashton Anchors has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


Hiro despite his accusations, does think the best of the Guard - and Hilde. Perhaps it's from the ideals that surround the idea of a Knight. Perhaps it's from the mythology that surrounds his concept of a Goddess. So when she says she's sorry, he actually believes her. He lands on the other side, for a moment switching his sword from one hand to another as it cools down in a form of hot potato.

Like he hasn't quite mastered him doing that yet. It's a cool idea to get the idea of putting flames on his blade - but much harder to actually control the after-effects of it.

And then he listens to what she prefers. He does not respond right away. He does not respond even as she says that she will show her confiction. Instead he stands still, finally catching his blade once it's cooled enough for him to keep hold of it, whirling it in a slow circle, then turning as Hilde approaches. She might feel the wind currents pick up as she does. A defensive attempt to try to carry her blows slightly awry. Her shield slams his aside, into a body blow. Her follow - up catches upon his blade, as she brings it down low. Then follows up, beating the youth back one blow after another that glance off his armor.

In the end he's gagging, perhaps from countless blunted blows on his armor, to his chest and abdomen - bruising his ribs and stomach beneath it.

Doubling over, he slams his sword point down in the ground.

"S'funny. The way I was taug-hrk." He retches, a sound like he's dry heaving, before he tries again, "The way I was taught - when you believe things should be different than they are - you stand up for the way they should be." A beat, "No matter who says otherwise."

If he's endured Hilde's assault, he's rather messed up from it.

"Don't abandon them. Just... jus..."

He lets out a breath, like a sigh, "... just convince them this is wrong."

Nudging the blade out of the ground and picking himself up, he starts to limp away from the battle, taking this as a sign that it is time to withdraw.

-=-=-

Not Long After.

"You were what with who now. Wait that's what you were doing? ... ... ... They can't even talk."

"Oh Hiro - when you're as attuned to Dragonkind as I am - who needs words?"

<Pose Tracker> Kaguya Alathfar has posed.

"Nah," Kaguya answers Gon as he's swept away, launched outward, a low voice without mirth. "Mari and I are just loudmouth jerks. That's all. Most of us are civilized enough to pretend to gravity when it comes to wrecking things."

Her head turns. She looks upon Brad, next. She considers his reaction--no fear, no breaking ranks, just moving to try another strategy. In better circumstances, she would appreciate that, actually. But in these, the fact that he is still conscious after being caught up in her spell is simply an inconvenient point of data. She finds him, in the air--and she sure can identify that device. a massive ARM, firing...

"Huh," she answers, recognizing its function easily enough. The terrible scream from the sky of it that comes rockets towards her. The gigantic round fired straight for her is too quick to dodge, is too large for even the refined materials science of the Veruni to block in so thin an armor, designed to break through tanks. So... she doesn't, this time, rely on her armor.

As Brad aims, Kaguya is already in motion; she reaches to a low wall that was once part of an ancient building, and rips part of the structure free in a shower of dust, swinging it hard enough that she hits the shell just ahead of her, causing a great explosion--

An explosion just in front of her, slamming her backwards through the air, instead of showing exactly what a truly direct hit would look like. ...Or, perhaps, because a direct hit could have harmed the fallen soldier at her feet. .

The burns and blackened fabric and metal are visible, even before the next four shots scream out. She's a small target, hard to hit with such large fire, but even 'close enough' is sufficient--they explode in a roaring set of shots just beside her, the ground erupting with sufficiently force that when the light fades her sleeve on that side is gone, chainmail and all; and instead her thin arm is dusted in acrid residue.

She's wrong, 'Thomas' had said. Kaguya is already starting to rise again. "...Am I?" she asks him. This strange opponent, an enemy that has been by turns mocking opponent and even lent assistance--

"No. I see it. We know our own, people like us."

But she's interrupted, by Marivels voice, which gets Kaguya's attention, and she remembers her words--

"...Heh. Little of column A... little of column B... So you did notice. Then you know better than to try that again."

She speaks in words like her lighter ones, but they are too harsh for that here. Marivel delivers a judgement of her--or did, moments ago. Here?

"So sure you understand everything, aren't you?" Kaguya asks. "If you did, you'd know better than to test me. You're more fun when we're playing games."

She laughs, faintly, unpleasantly. "But sure, go ahead. I don't need to you hold back."

Weak, or strong, black sheep or typical member--it is hard to say. But a pulse that does not quicken...

That is not Kaguya's. The flames crash down towards her, and suddenly Kaguya just isn't where she was. Marivel's backdash gives her time to locate Kaguya's new position, as she turns, scowls at her, standing again. The sudden change of ice replacing all around her is as sharp as it is abrubt, and ice collects against her skin, draping from her earlobes like jewelry even after the bulk of it fades, its sharpness and cold both burning in the way that the true nature of cold does.

She lifts her head again, to begin to answer--and that's when she sees it. Whatever she'd been going to say dies--because Loren, 'Thomas', produces a Medium, and Kaguya's strange eyes widen at the sight--not just for what it is, but... "You?" she hisses suddenly. "You son of--"

The explosions are not finished; the ground at Kaguya's feet erupts once more, this time in spectral sight before heat, magma, all of them crash forward, and the Mountain Guardian bellows its rage as its power is called forth. Kaguya falls to a knee when the magic fades, when the red-hot air becomes breathable again, briefly stunned to look--

...Except for her hand, that curls into a fist in th dirt. "...Even... you, are favored by the Guardians. Even YOU! Even HERE! I'll RIP OUT YOUR--"

She stops, grits her teeth suddenly, as if wracked by some unseen malady. It's just enough to interrupt her growing rant, as she laughs faintly. "...Heh. You almost got me there. You almost made me lose my temper," she says, but she sounds angry--more than angry. "But you know, 'Thomas'... I respect that you can put your power where your rage is. I was looking forward to it... Even if you did it in a way I don't like."

She finishes standing, and moves to the body that the Guardian's power didn't touch. She kneels down, and throws the armored man over her shoulder with ease, turning to look at Marivel and Brad both.

"...Day, and night... Once, you know--Once, I didn't need either of them. Just the sky, endless and full of wonders."

She starts to walk, and moves towards the soldier Brad's mine knocked into the wall, picks them up too, under her other arm. Her clear and obvious wounds don't deter her from this particular set of actions, despite the way armor chafes and breaks bare skin that is now showing instead of padding against the mail her soldiers wear.

"...You'd better hope they don't disappoint us," she says to Marivel. "You, and me. For their sakes, too. I'm not your real enemy... for now."

It would be good, it would be proper, to tell something to the Knight-Protector still fighting of her plans.

She'll just look her way, once, and if she catches her gaze, nod.

She bends at the knee, and leaps up to the ramparts. It's possible to fire at her back. But she says nothing else for now.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.


    "... Don't worry." Gwen shakes her head, solemnly gazing back at Hilde. "Most of you guys... I think you really want the best. It's what makes this so hard."

    Hilde's blade cuts against Gwen's defenses, drawing a sizable gash of red in its wake. "Gh...!"

    Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Hiro doubled over, his sword wedged into the ground as a means of support.

    In that moment of time, her ongoing indecision is exposed, naked and raw, in that wide-eyed glance. Anger could follow. It would not be the first time Hiro's been wounded in battle, especially in a fight against a honorable, even-headed knight.

    But they're losing. Again. For once, she begins to understand Hiro's earlier frustration.

    There's a part of her that wants to push further. And further. And on and on and on, never stopping, because she can now, she can take on all of them-

    Gwen makes a face, and shakes her head. Yeah, that's... kind of a really dumb idea. Didn't Seymour say something warning against this?

    In fact...

    Turning to Hiro, she finds him already having gotten up, beginning to limp away. Gwen takes it as a sign. If Hiro is lagging, her own energy levels can't be far behind, once the adrenaline wears down.

    Soon, Hiro will find her right there, supporting him along, even if she has some wounds of her own. Nothing as impressive as Hiro's, but something that will definitely come to haunt her in the morning. "Guardians, Hiro, I was hopin' I'd get t'repay you for cartin' my ass off t'safety, but I think you're gonna have t'settle for some well-meaning pats on the back and a shoulder t'lean on." She breathes, casting a look towards Hilde, as well as if anyone's coming to follow. "Let's get bandaged up. ...."

    Something is missing.

    "... Where's Ruby?"

<Pose Tracker> Brad Evans has posed.

Brad confirms that Kaguya has left the field, and then decides he's done thank you and goodbye.

"A hero," he murmurs, belatedly musing on her jeer from earlier.

"...no," he breathes, and winces as he slaps a hand to the ground and force himself to stand. His eyes swing, finding the devestation left behind by Seymour's battles.

For a moment, he remembers a great whale. A power unlike anything he'd ever imagined, ripping the very laws of nature apart before him like an inconvenient bill.

He remembers a declaration, a grand Maester of Yevon speaking cold damnation from the podium. He barely notices when his memory blurs in association to a dulled, sepia-tone memory of two men in blue uniforms, watching a royal crier announce the latest injustice. The larger's fist balls silently. The smaller man gently sets a hand on the larger's elbow, sparing him a glance out of the corner of his eye.

"Don't suppose a hero would be able to set that aside," he says to nobody, and forces his feet beneath him.

<Pose Tracker> Hilde has posed.

Hilde thinks on those words, from Ashton and Hiro. If she could clear the air, she would...but, for now, that would be impossible. Quietly, she bows her head respectfully toward Ashton, Hiro, Gwen, and Violet as they retreat - they may have been her enemy but they had fought valiantly, holding true to their beliefs. She could not help but to respect them for that. She allows them to escape unhindered - they had earned that right.

But even so, the battle had not yet concluded - there were still enemies at their doorstep. She catches Kaguya's gaze and returns the nod with one of her own - quick and brief, but respectful. It's hard to tell if she knows what Kaguya's planning, but her trust is in the Duchess.

She draws a length of rope from out behind her cape and hurls it to the ramparts where she had planted her standard. The rope spirals around the pole and holds form, allowing her to pull it out and toward her before raising it into the sky.

"Brave men and women of Althena's Guard! Push forward now! If they do not retreat of their own voliton, then break their ranks and force them back!" She shouts, raising the standard into the sky. "Show them that we will not fall this day!"

And then she thrusts the standard forward as a command - a command to rally the rest of the Guard still fighting, a command that gets a loud cheer in response.

They fight still, with an even greater fervor, intent to push the attackers back and away from the fortress if they choose to continue fighting.

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

"I don't understand everything." Marivel says. "I simply understand what I need to know."

Marivel IS more fun while playing games, but she saw something today that she didn't see before. She does not care for the taste of poison.

She is similarly surprised to see a Guardian in 'Thomas's' hands there but it doesn't enrage her. The Guardians have always been strange in their ways. Perhaps they offer their power more freely than before because there is plenty of armageddon coming to go around.

Just endless sky, Kaguya says.

"You have friends and family," Marivel says in response. "Comrades who would share their strength with yours. Know this: That power within you has never once surpassed that strength. I need not know its name to understand that."

But she is departing and Marivel looks to Brad, then towards the devastation. She'll just have to keep playing along until she can sneak a glance at the cards.

She rests a hand on Brad, not so much as healing his wounds so much as rewinding the wounds away as best she can before she take one last look along the battlefield.

"If war summons Sin as Yuna advised, tis only a matter of time." She murmurs before she withdraws as well.

She can't end the threat with her current resources.

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

It can be seen in his eyes -- her reaction to the Medium had not been anticipated. Surprise, maybe, but that response from her, now...

In another time he'll wonder over it. He'll wonder over the Veruni. He'll wonder over, yes, even the /Guardians/ and their role in this world -- their connection and influence on things.
On people.
On those who came to Filgaia on a night of falling stars.

And on the nature of an illness.

On, perhaps, even what it means to /be/ an illness.
What happens to something that does not belong when it enters the body?

But all at another time. Right now, she's near-feral. Right now, she seemingly is about to rise and avenge herself upon him.

Right now, Loren has realized, his sword is two feet away and even if he moved for it now, would it be fast enough?

But her fury has control in it. She hauls on her own metaphorical leash and restrains herself.
He's just left standing there, looking at her.

"My... power," he murmurs, his forehead creasing as if in thought.

His power.

When he moves at last -- as she begins to pull back -- it's only to retrieved the borrowed blade. He stares at it, resting in his hand.
His power.

He turns, his gaze up at the sky briefly as both sides fall into a sort of retreat, pulling back to limp home or tend to their wounded.

...Right now, he has a job that needs to be done. But for a moment his gaze is for the blue sphere in the sky.

And then he's gone. There's no room for longing in war.