2019-08-17: The Dreadnought

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========================<* Luca - Blitzball Stadium *>========================

Where the Holy City of Bevelle is the spiritual centre of Spira, the blitzball stadium is its beating heart. The stadium is an enormous, open-air construction capable of holding several thousand spectators; as a result of its size, in addition to games, it has often been used by Maesters of Yevon to deliver particularly important speeches or sermons.

The stadium itself is an ancient blend of machina and sorcery, capable of holding a suspended sphere of water in place for hours at a time. Tournaments The stadium is one of the only machina formally sanctioned by the Grand Maester of Yevon, and countless Crusaders have sacrificed their lives over the centuries to turn Sin away from the city. The reason for this is simple - Blitzball lifts the heart of all who live in Spira, and even the smallest joys must be cherished.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-QpnYvldmo

Dream Chasers - Saturday, August 17, 2019, 5:14 PM </poem>

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

So that's a lot of stuff that happened. Ganon unleashed the power of the Triforce (WHATEVER THAT IS) and poofed Marivel. And THEN Ashley Winchester, noted baker and founding member of ARMS we guess, turned into a friggin' demon and went to town. Regardless, their latest mission was technically a success (THE BEST KIND OF SUCCESS) so it was time for a debriefing.

Marivel has set up a meeting for the group in the inn room that ARMS just has been more or less constantly renting out for their operations and there should be enough room for a small group of elite drifters.

Marivel herself is sitting on her coffin at the end of the room. A small table of snacks has been left out including one juicebox that already has a red-stained straw in it (probably Marivel's 'tomato juice' she's been working on. You...might not want to sip on that). She fiddles around with a batwinged microphone as she waits for folks to file in.
Seraph Amaranth (Ammy) pages Seraph Clarine and Seraph Nimue: heyyy, I honestly forgot to say but we're gonna do a thing with Talia being kidnapped, I know the ARMS scene is going on but would you like Clarine/Nimue there?

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

The space underneath the Blitzball Stadium is, in fact, something of a ruin. The ancient machina that makes the stadium work is well-kept, but it is ancient and cavernous. There are places in its depths that have gone to ruin. Fortunately, with a determined group of humans and Seraphim, the path is found.

The path leads to a cavernous room.

The walls are made of steel, some of which has grown rusted and pitted with time. The room itself is a cavernous one, with a bowl-shaped floor, until it reaches a small rise on the opposite side. The ceiling cannot be seen, and yet pipes of all sizes criss-cross, and drop condensation down.

This forms pools and eddies on the floor. Man-made ponds, which in places seem impossibly deep, make for some obstacles.

The rise in the distance -- only a meter, at most -- makes for a sort of stage. It is there that some of the Shadow Dragon's acolytes have gathered. A trio of them stand around a cage, with rusted bars, that hangs a little off the floor by a chain. Talia sits inside it, wearing the same shirt, jacket, and pants she had on when she was kidnapped. She looks soaked, and has a cut on her right arm.

She is silent -- but her silence is easy to explain.

The leader of the Shadow Dragon stands before her. He has his arms crossed; he has a powerful, but lithe build, and the black robes he wears are flowing -- stylized like gi. But his face is obscured, by a red mask shaped to resemble a demonic visage.

"So," he says, his voice rumbling -- and distorted, slightly, by that same mask. "You come. Good."

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Amaranth -- Katherine -- had informed her closest friends of what had happened.

        Ivan was there; Ragnell and Lydia came to their aid not long after and conjured a plan in short order. From there, Lydia seemed to have more of a plan to find Jean, and she was in relatively easy reach through the other Vile Fiends... and of course, Amaranth made a promise to Clarine to tell her if she needed help.

        And she needed help right now.

        They arrive at the place where the note told them to -- in the underground below the Luca Coliseum. She wasn't expecting it to be quite like this... but more than any detail of the room--

        "T-Talia!"

        Amaranth is not like her usual self. She's wearing a dark purple and black shinobi garb with a mantle around her; there's a sigil upon it, in the mark of a three-bladed star. The Shadow Skean. She has armaments around her -- in particular a short katana-like blade, her kodachi. It's a look that she didn't want to don again, yet now...

        There was no choice.

        Her eyes narrow in terror towards the masked leader of the Shadow Dragon. "... I am here, as you ordered. Talia has nothing to do with what you want. Let... let her go."

        She swallows.

        "Let her live her life free of the Shadow Dragon's taint."

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

EARLIER

Lydia didn't really have any plans besides 'show up and kick ass', 'find Jean maybe?', and 'ILLUSIONS???'. This involved a lot of busting into random bars and yelling if Jean was there. Don't worry, her player will find a way to make this even worse by the time the full flashback happens.

"Man, didn't even let her change clothes? You're really putting the 'ass' into assassin huh?" Of course she really didn't expect them too but for what Lydia doesn't make up for in actual combat ability, she makes up for in being able to talk shit. That's the best skill she can provide beyond her nigh-invulnerability and maybe she figures if she relies on that a bit, the actual capable people in the party will be able to do something.

But even so she can't help but be relieved that Talia wasn't killed. She DID suggest that they take Mirage along because it's kind of a really useful movement ability but probably suggested either Ammy or Ivan hold onto it. If both declined, she'd probably drag it in herself.

She otherwise lets Ammy say her piece and doesn't add anything else until she's done at which point...

"Heh. She called you a taint."

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

Clarine had been busy of late with ARMS-work, but she always had time for Amaranth...and when Ammy reached out to her for help, with such desperation in her voice, Clarine dropped everything to be with her, to provide whatever help she could.

She had met Talia before, and she seemed nice - not only that, she couldn't tolerate anyone who would harm Amaranth's important person.

And so, she arrives with Ammy and the others at the Coliseum, a quiet, serious look on her face. It felt a little strange, to see Amaranth garbed in such a fashion and armed.

Clarine doesn't speak when Amaranth addresses the man in the demonic mask. Though it was partially because she was waiting to see how he reacted to Amaranth's demands, a part of it was due to the fact that she was...intimidated, by him. She could feel it from here, in his stance and in his voice.

This man was dangerous.

She had initially considered arriving concealed beneath the Lightbending Veil, but looking at him now, she's certain he would've been able to see right through even it. And even if not...maybe it was better to keep that trick in reserve until later.

Her eyes stray toward Amaranth for a brief moment to assess her condition before falling once more on the masked man - the one who must be the leader of the Shadow Dragons. Amaranth had told her of them before, but to think they would do something like this...

Unforgivable.

<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan came with them. He's a bundle of contained energy -- he wants to kick down every door and burn the place to the ground, but as best he can make sense of the situation, Talia's safety is best ensured not by a blind, angry charge, but if they can keep the cult guessing about whether they've got what they want.

They arrive to find Talia in a... ... a fucking cage.

"Talia!"

His blood boils. But Talia is still alive. She's here. Now, they just have to get her out of here and keep her that way?!

There's a chance, though, that they'll agree to the exchange. Then, once captured, maybe Amaranth does something slippery... and they all get away?? Or is that assuming too much luck? Well, time to try for confusion.

"You said this was an exchange. So give her back," he says, "And we'll tell you where Amaranth really is. Not like an illusion master would walk right up to you wearing her own face, right?"

<Pose Tracker> Pearl has posed.

        It's hard to tell individual figures amongst the Shadow Dragon acolytes. They are all dressed in the same black assassin's garb. It's easy, too, to see the similarities between the garb of the acolytes and the outfit Amaranth is reluctantly wearing. Their stance is identical, the only easy way of telling them apart being, say, height or eye colour, and the latter of those requires getting close.

        They are also, Pearl muses to herself, entirely for show. They aren't needed here. Even she isn't needed here. It may have been months since Pearl was back amongst her clan, but she was still well aware of the Master's strength. If anyone in the clan had had a hope of beating him, they would be the Master now, but he had yet to show any such signs of weakness.

        Pearl is nonetheless a figure that might be familiar to those who had been at Taben's Peak when the Shadow Dragons struck, or have recently been ambushed in Spira. She stands silently amongst the gathered acolytes, watching as the target and her allies arrive. Her grey eyes flick ever so briefly to Ivan, then back towards the form of Amaranth. Now that would be bold of them.

        She says nothing though, and waits for orders from the Master. She may be entirely surplus to requirements, but that is far from meaning she will simply have to stand there tonight.

DC: Pearl switches forms to Shadow Dragon Assassin Pearl!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell still thinks something about all of this is shady, but what can she do? Leave the girl her sister's smitten with to die? Yeah, that sounds like a terrible idea. She'll move forward with caution, even if that's a caution that leads to a major beatdown of some major Shadow Dragon asshole. There's no need to tip too much of her hand.
        
        The group arrives. Ragnell hangs towards the back, both to watch the group's back and also let the focus fall where it rightfully should, i.e. on Amaranth and Ivan. It's nice being on the same side as Clarine again, and it's cool seeing Jean again, but Ragnell will opt to keep her guard up until they know what exactly is up with this.
        
        She eyeballs the strange, distortion-voiced man and his assistant keeping watch over Talia. Talia herself looks to be alive, still... That's--probably good?

<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

The dancer--assassin?--of the Vile Fiends was found. There were conversations. Jean definitely warned Lydia not to talk too much shit.

But, it's Lydia, and she's made of metal, so we can see how well that went.
-=-=-

Go across the world, to the other side of the ocean... And some things are the same. There are old secrets and hidden places, and there are those that prefer to make use of them. It reminds Jean of places she's seen on Lunar... but more, of those she's seen on Filgaia. Except for the feeling, and that means one thing, no matter where it's left.

The green-haired woman has her own experience in illusions, though that doesn't seem to be what she favored today. No; she walks up, coming to a stop beside Katherine--beside Amaranth. She is likewise in dark attire, not her old Shadow Dragon uniform but close-fitting layers in purples and night colors, in which she can hide objects, that anchor well the claws strapped about her forearms, that offer ease of movement. Her hair is tied. And her expression is serious. Her dark eyes settle on the Master--

She remembers, of course. The voice. ...Their meetings. The day she left. She can't help but remember them. And she knows--she may have been stronger, that day long ago.

Her eyes flick to Pearl. She says nothing to her for the moment; she looks over each of the acolytes. Does she recognize them? Are any new?

"...She's too old for you to teach the ways of the Shadow Dragon, isn't she?" Jean says. She... doesn't look at Ivan. This man knows her tells too well not to see through, if she 'helped'.

...Jean isn't optimistic, that this will go as agreed. But here they are. It not going as planned is why they called her, isn't it? If even...

She glances to Amaranth, beside her, without diverting her attention--and offer something like sympathy in silence. ...Things have changed.

DC: Jean switches forms to Shadow Dragon Apostate!
<Pose Tracker> Shadow Dragon Leader has posed.

"You. A Seraph, who knows our arts... truly fascinating," the masked man says. "You have done well," he looks to Pearl, then, "to bring the attention of this one to me. You have come -- and now that you have, you shall divulge your secrets."

His eyes, behind the mask, briefly regard Lydia. He doesn't acknowledge her joke; he simply looks at Clarine and Ragnell. Then, his gaze settles on Ivan.

"I know one of my own when I see one, Ivan," he says, his voice the same rumble as before. "And I know you. Astounding, that one who has not been raised by us -- who has not had his weaknesses stripped away -- could have such potential. And yet... you could be like this failure." He motions, once, to Jean.

"You could succumb, as she did, to notions of the lie you call 'morality.' It is the chains around you -- around both of you -- that bring you here today. That bring you to your knees... when you could grow into something truly worthy," he says. "You think you have come here for an exchange. You have come here to renew and begin your tutelage, my apprentices."

"But," the Shadow Dragon leader says to Amaranth. "I will do as you say. I will let her live free of the Shadow Dragon's influence..."

There is a certain finality to how he says that.

The dagger is in his hand, quicker than one can register; a weighted throwing blade, slid from up his sleeve, and gripped tight in his hand. He throws the weapon behind him without look, and it flies straight and true. It flies between the bars of the cage.

"Urk--"

It slams into Talia's stomach. A dark red stain appears around the knife, where it pierces through her shirt, and starts to grow. A stomach wound, the sort that is sure to be fatal if not healed, but the sort of slow and agonizing death feared by those who fight.

The disciples pull on the chain, and jerk the cage up. That sends Talia forward, head against the bars. Her eyes are widen. "A-Ammy," she gasps. "Vanya..."

The cage lifts up into the air, out of the range of healing spells. The masked man glances to Pearl and the other acolytes. "Do not let them approach the cage."

The Shadow Dragon leader lifts his chin, and glowers down at them, before he raises his hands into a defensive stance. "...for the short time I will permit her. Come, I shall break your chains--I shall slay those you call dear, and fashion your hate into something worthwhile! I shall make you what you could be!"

DC: Shadow Dragon Leader switches forms to Lord of the Shadow Dragon!
DC: Lydia Seren switches forms to Stardust Sequence!
DC: 1 turn has elapsed in the battle against Shadow Dragon Leader! 4 turns remain!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Amaranth isn't alone. She has more aid than she could have hoped to have, and for that she is grateful to everyone here. Lydia's cheer is the only thing that's keeping her from going over the edge; Clarine and Ragnell being there, both, is supporting her from falling over. And Jean--

        When Jean arrives in those garbs of hers... she is surprised, of course. And feels guilty for dragging her past into this, yet... she knows they need to stand side by side.

        Ivan tries a bluff, but her countenance causes her to hesitate -- she knows that the Shadow Dragon Master works on a level beyond sight.

        Because she can see his threads. And she knows he, too, can see hers.

        It was how her sight was robbed. She does not know if the Shadow Dragon of today still does that, yet...

        She knows the principle still exists.

        But this all shifts when the Shadow Dragon raises the dagger--

        "Stop--"

        --and before anything else can happen, the dagger has stabbed onto Talia, and the cage raises. "TALIA!"

        She looks on with disbelief towards the Shadow Dragon Leader. "How could you... how-- how--"

        She's darted forward; her movements are a blur, as she raises herself to the air with a prodigious moonsault and launches several shuriken in rapid succession from where they hide in her shinobi hakama's pockets. "I'm going for the cage...!" she yells... but she's clearly in danger of not thinking clearly.

GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Yagyu Shuriken!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has completed her action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a glancing hit from Seraph Amaranth's Yagyu Shuriken for 37 hit points!
GS: Pearl has completed her action.
DC: 1 turn has elapsed in the battle against Pearl! 4 turns remain!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan's jaw clenches as the Shadow Dragon Cult leader calls him out as an assassin, and speculates on his potential as an acolyte.

"Thanks for the compliments, but I don't care about shedding my chains just to get a new shitty master. I'll just have my sister back, if you don't mind..."

I will let her live free of the Shadow Dragon's influence...

Tension rises at the tone of that -- it sounds more threat than promise. No, no.... Ivan moves to do something but he doesn't know what -- and before he can even think, a knife is driven into Talia's midsection.

"NO--!" Ivan cries out. Lashes of flame flare out around him in a reflexive, panicked reaction.

The cultists start to haul the cage up out of reach. No, no, no, it's exactly the way he feared it would go. It's never an exchange with people like this. They killed her because they could. Because they think it's some kind of lesson.

His thoughts race.

... ... ... she isn't dead yet. That wound... they have a few minutes at least.

All they have to do...

...is KILL EVERYONE KEEPING TALIA AWAY FROM THEM.

Thoughts of restraint gone to the wayside, Ivan charges in, screaming with rage, a translucent, red-hot spherical dome of fire crackling into existence from the fire that flares off of him, before it rolls on a path toward enveloping the Shadow Dragon leader, its interior searing with heat.

GS: Ivan has spent 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Ivan has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Searing Sphere!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader completely evades a hit from Ivan's Searing Sphere!
<Pose Tracker> Pearl has posed.


        Jean's presence DOES surprise Pearl, given the last time she saw her, Jean was unconscious on the side of the road in the time immediately following a siege. But of course she's here. The group assembled are small, but are nonetheless still a threat.

        And then she hears a speech. She has heard variants on it countless times. She was maybe six when she first heard it, shortly before getting a broken nose and being knocked unconscious. It's a rarity, though, to hear it offered to adults. A chill run downs her spine. She still remembers the absolute terror she experienced when she was huddled with other children, surrounded by shadowy figures. Even now, deep down, it scares her. He scares her. She looks at Jean again, hate in her eyes, then to Amaranth.

        And once the order is given, she indicates to some of the acolytes to take up position under the cage. She herself walks in front of them, to place herself as an obstacle to the most direct path to Talia's saviors. When she speaks, her voice, too, is deep and distorted, if not as much as the Masters. "Come, then. Let us see what strength you possess."

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia looks towards Pearl. Her eyes narrow briefly and she rubs at her stomach briefly (which last time Pearl saw her had a chi fist sized hole in it) and lets her hand drop after. She looks rapidly more and more agitated as the Shadow Dragon Leader keeps talking. "Morality's got nothin' to do with it!" She counters. "She's our friend! Do you let your pals hang around in cages or do you even got any??"

She can't help herself. Part of that is the terror, of course, but part of it is such extreme repulsion at their philosophy. It's not entirely impersonal either. She's a kidnapping victim too.

She was also turned 'into a weapon'.

And of course Talia, Talia pays the price of daring to have hope. Lydia is stunned at first, and then enraged. Her hands shake as she reaches into a pouch and draws out an item O'aka had given her for all her help in helping him. She crushes the bottle into her hands and small tendrils reach out, forming suckers as they absorb the contents of the bottle.

Her body glows in a bright white light, her purple armoring rapidly draining of color into a cool silver that creeps up Lydia's face rapidly until it too is fully garbed in a silver mask of its own. Blades push out of her arms, sharp thin edges. Whatever is going on here is not a process that Lydia has complete control over.

She screams wordlessly as she is flashes forward in an instant, moving faster than any here have seen her move, faster than a human body CAN move, stabbing with a hand out of which extends five blades.

"EXECUTE PROGRAM! EXECUTE YOU!" Lydia bellows, though the sound of her voice has shifted into something tinny, something kind of garbled--not quite human, maybe not human at all.

Guess she really is not entirely like her mom.

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Brilliant Comet!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

Clarine is also pleased to be on the same side as Ragnell for once, certainly, though it's a little dulled by the severity of the situation at hand. She can't take the time to enjoy it like she would otherwise.

And then, the masked man looks toward her and Ragnell. If his ability to spot Amaranth wasn't proof enough of his Resonance, that certainly was. And the way he speaks... Clarine frowns.

And then, she lets out a terrified gasp, as he looses a dagger toward Talia. Clarine immediately begins work on a healing spell...but before she can complete it, the cage is lifted up, out of her spell's range. Clarine grimaces. If only she had completed it faster...!

Amaranth reacts about as well as could be expected. She darts forward, and Clarine reaches out as she does.

"W-wait...!" She urges. They were up against a dangerous opponent - they couldn't afford to react without thinking. ...Not that she blames Amaranth for being upset.

Clarine redirects the partially completed healing spell, weaving protective light over Amaranth in hopes of keeping her safe from harm. The leftover power she redirects toward Ragnell. Ragnell can take care of herself, sure, but Clarine can't help but be worried.

Even if she's supposed to be cross with her right now, but even she seems to have forgotten about that in the face of what's ahead of them.

The Shadow Dragon Leader and his followers...one of whom places herself before them as yet another barrier between them and Talia. One eminently skilled assassin was bad enough, but two, and not to mention all the others waiting in their room...

...They truly had entered the lion's den. Clarine just had to hope they would be able to make it out of this, and with Talia alive and in tow.

GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Nurse!
GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Nurse!
GS: Seraph Clarine has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Clarine has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Clarine heals Seraph Ragnell! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader completely evades a hit from Lydia Seren's Brilliant Comet!
GS: Seraph Clarine heals Seraph Amaranth! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell is an asshole. As such, she knows how to recognize her own. The instant Lunn says 'I will let her life free of the Shadow Dragon's influence,' she tenses--and the instant the masked man hurls a dagger into Talia's cage, into her gut, she hisses a curse. She just knew that was coming, she KNEW it.
        
        Of little immediate relevance, but nonetheless of concern, is that this man hasn't an ounce of Malevolence to him. In other words, he has no contradiction to him. He truly enjoys and believes in what he does, and sees nothing wrong with causing death and suffering to others. People like that aren't as rare as one might think, but fighting them is no less of a pain in the ass. No point in talking to him, then; she knows damn well she's not going to change his mind, and the less attention he pays her, the better. She kind of wonders what would happen if she shoved Rose at this chode--but there was no time to get her *and* Jean, and Jean is rather more relevant to this battle.
        
        She eyes Amaranth and Ivan for their reactions to Talia's wound. As long as the blade remains in, she won't bleed out right away, at least--but it has to be incredibly painful, and neither of them will want to see Talia remain in that state. Then the cage rises, and Ragnell utters a low 'tch'--well, at least they won't have to see Talia in pain anymore!!
        
        All the same, she draws her twin pistols, keeping an eye on the masked man and his subordinates. Amaranth is probably not thinking clearly, and obviously she's going to run straight towards her girlfriend--oh, and there's Ivan, flipping out and ready to kill everyone. Yeah, neither of them are thinking. But, with the masked man having ordered his subordinates to keep them away from Talia's cage, this could work to their benefit.
        
        "I'll keep them off you two! Do what you gotta!" Ragnell shouts to her sister and her disciple as she breaks into an arcing run, firing a rapidfire series of lightning bolts from her paired pistols which in turn arch around to blast into various subordinates, including Pearl. The breath of healing as delivered to her by Clarine's Nurse arte helps, but for right now she doesn't have time to acknowledge her thanks to her old friend. Next time.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Pearl with Storm Runner!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Learning about Seraph Amaranth was... an experience. But for Jean, she can plainly see--she's more than that. She wants to be more than that, has worked so hard to be, Jean can tell--so can this man be forgiven for forcing her into this any more than for abducting Talia?

Of course he'd want any advantage he could get. But--

"Failing at your arts is better than succeeding," Jean retorts, with effort keeping herself loose, holding at bay the anger that threatens to shorten her vision. She doesn't interrupt--when he makes clear his deception. She knew that it couldn't be simple--And yet--

It doesn't make it easier to watch what he does, when he finds the cruelest way he can goad Amaranth. She keeps her mouth closed, doesn't let out any exclamation, ironically the same way she might have, long ago--But for different reasons.

"Amaranth!" Jean calls, as she sees her charge forward. "Keep hold of yourself--afraid is how he wants you!"

She has the same knowledge--she knows wounds, knows the way the human body breaks. The Master chose not to kill her immediately. If they can reach her--

The decision-making is all too familiar. Targets of varying hardness--which to strike first? Which is closer to her objective, which can affect the other? Bring down the Master and break them all--it's what the Shadow Dragon demands. But--

But Amaranth is charging to the cage, so Jean whirls from her sudden defensive stance and gathers shadowy energy about herself with an unsettling ease. Her lower, left hand shoots forward, hand arranged in a claw, and a ripple starts through the air--before Jean fades into a shadowy blur that travels with it. As the others charge the Master, Jean's body is visible in a half-crouch before them, ducking underneath one of Ragnell's lightning bolts. As she rises, she springs into a spinning kick meant to put them on the defensive quickly.

She's worried, to be sure--

"Strength? Manipulating people's emotions is strength!?"

GS: Jean has attacked Pearl with Vanishing Wave!
GS: Jean has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Shadow Dragon Leader has posed.

The Shadow Dragon's leader moves with a blurring speed. Amaranth's shuriken slam into the ground about him, and when he reappears, one is stuck in his shoulder. He flicks it away, and then looks at Amaranth as she leaps overhead.

"How could I? Easily," the Master replies.

Ivan's flame rushes at him -- it blows his robes back, and makes the air around him shift as a mirage. Then, in the blink of an eye, he is gone. He hurtles up to meet Amaranth -- appearing in front of her just in time to execute a brutal snap kick to her face.

Then, he drops down for Ivan. He comes crashing down on him from above, knee aimed at his back -- trying to smash him into the floor. "You will learn to harness your rage. I will break you, so that you can," he says, before he punches a hand into the ground. A shadowy blast of light explodes under Ivan's feet -- and tries to launch him, like a trebuchet shot, across the field and away from his sister. He turns to Lydia.

"I do not see friends. I do not see people," he spits. "I see two things: the worthy... and those to be crushed!"

Lydia's five blades come down -- and slash into the floor, sending sparks flying where they dig into steel. The masked man is gone, again; he reappears behind her, and lets out a single cry: "HYAH!"

Then he slams a palm at her back, that sends a rippling wave of wrongness through all of Lydia's body. "Strength, Jean, is tearing out weakness--at ripping away sentimentality, with bloodied hands. A lesson you refuse to learn!"

He whirls to face the next of them -- and light flashes, and crackles up the length of his arms and body, as he prepares for his next strike.

GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Way of the Shadow!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a solid hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Way of the Shadow for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper! applied to Shadow Dragon Leader!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader assumes the Stoic stance!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Shadow Dragon Kick!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Lydia Seren with Shadow Dragon Palm!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has spent 2 Combo on Poison and Link, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Ivan with Umbral Dive!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has launched an attack Link!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Ivan with Nadir Breaker!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has completed his action.
DC: 2 turns have elapsed in the battle against Shadow Dragon Leader! 3 turns remain!
GS: Pearl takes a glancing hit from Seraph Ragnell's Storm Runner for 71 hit points!
GS: Disrupt! applied to Pearl!
GS: Pearl takes a glancing hit from Jean's Vanishing Wave for 64 hit points!
GS: Seraph Amaranth takes a glancing hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Shadow Dragon Kick for 74 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"A-Ammy, Vanya, please, just--don't--" Talia finds her words failing her. She puts a hand to her stomach; it staunches the bleeding only some, and dark blood is soon flowing between her fingers. She slumps against the cage, forehead against the bars, and her red eyes wide.

She tries to make herself calm. It doesn't work very well. Her fingers slip a bit around the cut in her shirt and flesh. Her eyes fall onto Lydia, then Ragnell, and finally Clarine.

They came for her. She feels surprised -- and then guilty at that. She laughs, a little, and it becomes something more wrenched.

Blood drips down from the cage's bars, pattering onto the ground below.

GS: Ivan takes a solid hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Umbral Dive for 126 hit points!
GS: Ivan suffers an additional 24 from Poison's Combo effect!
GS: Poison! applied to Ivan!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader's Stoic stance ends. He enters the Avenger stance!
GS: Ivan completely evades a hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Nadir Breaker!
GS: Lydia Seren critically Guards a hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Shadow Dragon Palm for 32 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        In her tunneled vision, Amaranth misses Pearl -- and it's only with Ragnell's intervention towards her that she's spared from some sneak attack that would've caught her up in the assassin's wake, along with Jean's followup as she moves towards the other... does she know her? Amaranth has no time to think about it.

        She hears Jean's words. AFraid is how he wants her...

        Afraid...

        She's trying to grapple for some sense of stability. She's not succeeding entirely--

        But Clarine's light washing over her helps give a sense of pause and comfort. "Clarine..."

        Amaranth hears Talia's words, and perhaps they are most excruciating of all. "I promised... I promised you I'd get you out of this life... and..."

        Lydia has transformed, body enveloped in light; her eyes widen for a moment as Lydia speaks with a tone that isn't quite human. "Lydia--" she looks towards Ivan in turn, grimacing as his magic's backblast whips against her for a moment.

        Then Lunn's kick arrives and there's a cough as she holds her arms up and feels the sting of his power as she topples over, stopping into a three-point landing for a moment.

        "... you are not my once-master. Yet ..."

        She scowls deeper.

        "Nothing has changed in a thousand years. Your words are just like theirs. Morality, sentimentality, emotion... you would discard everything that is the experience of life... and in pursuit of what?"

        She raises several familiar tools -- they look like paper dolls, which she throws into the air; the illusion specialist is surrounded in a dozen translucent afterimages of herself.

        "Ragnell... Clarine... Lydia... Ivan... Jean... Talia... they all have shown me a way forward. Little by little... to not let fear paralyse me."

        And from there, she slips inbetween her clones, seeking to strike with her kodachi finally drawn.

        A thousand-year old blade... a thousand-year old arte. And a thousand years out of practice, as she feels her movements, her muscles faltering already.

GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Little Legion!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Pearl has posed.


        It seems they aren't all consumed completely by their rage. Well done to them. As Ragnell's pistol bolts fly free into the groups of Shadow Dragons, and Pearl darts to the side, but not fast enough. Several of Ragnell's blast hit home, striking her and several of the lesser cultists. That gives Jean an opening to exploit, and the spinning kick lays into Pearl and she slides across the floor. The cultist coming up behind her is less lucky, catching the follow through of the kick more head on.

        "One who fled from strength has no place speaking of it!" Pearl growls angrily at Jean, the martial artist easily getting under her skin. She moves towards Jean and lashes out with her hand in a claw grip, purple ki slashing out at her. It's an attack Jean will be familiar with, one of the cult's staples, but that makes it no less dangerous.

        She doesn't keep her attention on Jean long though, instead launching herself forwards towards Ragnell with an open palm, that follows into a sudden jabbing elbow. Several more blows rain towards the Seraph with speed, testing her guard and looking for openings. "A bold claim. You had best deliver, for your allies sake."

        But there's a third figure that has thus far gone unbothered, and Pearl lashes out a hand towards Clarine. She's too far away to strike directly, but she doesn't need to. "That's enough from you." Tendrils of shadow magic lash out from her hand, aiming to grab on and impede movement and spell casting both. It could, if you turn your head and squint, resemble the threads Amaranth can wield, but at most it's an inspiration. This is purely magical, from Althena's Blessing, rather than the martial arts of the Shadow Dragon.

GS: Pearl has attacked Jean with Inverse Claw!
GS: Pearl has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a solid hit from Seraph Amaranth's Little Legion for 118 hit points!
GS: Pearl has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Umbral Blitz!
GS: Pearl has attacked Seraph Clarine with Assassin's Blessing!
GS: Jean completely evades a hit from Pearl's Inverse Claw!
GS: Seraph Clarine guards a hit from Pearl's Assassin's Blessing for 0 hit points!
GS: Mute and Slow! applied to Seraph Clarine!
GS: Seraph Ragnell completely evades a hit from Pearl's Umbral Blitz!
GS: Riposte! applied to Pearl!
DC: 2 turns have elapsed in the battle against Pearl! 3 turns remain!
GS: Pearl has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan curses as the Shadow Dragon leader vanishes before the scorching sphere ever arrives, and begins to flicker around the battlefield. Flame still crackles around Ivan chaotically. It obeys his will when he commands it, but also seems to lash out on its own, throwing sparks and glowing embers amid tongues of flame.

He looks to one side and the other, waiting for the cult leader to reappear nearby, but the kick comes from behind, cracking into the bone of a shoulder blade and dropping Ivan to the ground with a yell.

"You're not my teacher, you piece of shit," he spits, in a raw voice.

The ground beneath him lights up strangely with some second attack, and his eyes widen with panic. He pushes down against the pain and dives aside, throwing himself into a cartwheel that carries him back onto his feet, as the ground beneath where he had been lying erupts with light.

He releases a breath.

"You're gonna wish I could control my rage!" he yells, and raises his hands up, and sweeps them down. The fire around him shoots upwards, twisting and whistling like fireworks, and coming down around the area where the cult leader stands in a hail of fireballs with cores of molten rock.

GS: Ivan has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Scorching Rain!
GS: Ivan takes 18 damage from Poison!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a solid hit from Ivan's Scorching Rain for 126 hit points!
GS: Ivan assumes the Avenger stance!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

The Shadow Dragon Leader slams a palm into Lydia's back. There is a faint rippling of the armor that Lydia wears but no apparent damage even when chi surges through her back and out her stomach. This would probably be a shock to Pearl because when SHE Shadow Dragon Palmed Lydia it punched through her back and out her chest. Odds are that it's not the Shadow Dragon Leader who is suddenly weak but Lydia's body...has changed.

"Technique recognized: August 2nd 500 Post Collapse. Adaptation active."

Lydia's body turns towards the Dragon Leader. Normally you'd expect her to say something like 'Then Wear Some Glasses!' to the leader. Instead she says, "Power equals Watts Divided By Time!" She pauses to add, "I can heal Talia if I can get to her!" She give a small glance to Amaranth's kind words regarding her, but it's just a glance. She doesn't feel like much of an inspiration right now anyway.

Instead she opens her mouth and eyes and a large burst of LASER erupts out of her head and launches out towards the Shadow Dragon leader.

"Who died and made you everybody's kung fu teacher?!"

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Peekaboo!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Shadow Dragon Leader completely evades a hit from Lydia Seren's Peekaboo!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Oh. This girl is good. Ragnell isn't going into this battle at full strength, not wanting to tip her cards too early against an enemy that's mostly a bunch of question marks, but strength and defense are two different things. Even as she weaves, light on the tips of her feet, around Pearl's flurry of blows, it's far from easy; Pearl is fast and ruthless and without mercy. While Pearl might not find the opening she seeks, she'll also sense her speed is hardly outmatched. Though, there *is* another reason for that.
        
        "I'm always bold, babe," Ragnell drawls in return, seeking openings in Pearl's own attack pattern as she dodges. When she thinks she spots it, she attempts to grab Pearl by the waist, spin her around in a semi-circle, and pull her intimately close--more like a dance, a tango, than a combat maneuver. Assuming it was successful, Ragnell dips her low and winks to put her off-balance in a variety of ways. "An' I *always* deliver," she purrs, leaning in closer, closer, yet closer...
        
        Then she attempts to clock Pearl on the side of her head with the butt of her gun and viciously kick her away, both from herself and from the cage, and towards Jean. "Just kiddin', honeysuckle," Ragnell adds. She then sticks out her tongue, because she's classy like that.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has spent 1 Combo on Interrupt, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Pearl with Pummel Kick!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Pearl takes a glancing hit from Seraph Ragnell's Pummel Kick for 42 hit points!
GS: Pearl has lost 2 Combo from Interrupt!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

The Shadow Dragon Leader says he doesn't see people - just the worthy, and those to be crushed. A frown crosses Clarine's face. This man...he reminds her of all the duplicitous, self-serving humans she had encountered in her life. Using others, and discarding them when it pleased them. She sees in him all the reasons why she had initially decided to hide away from the world.

"...Despicable." She mutters darkly. She lightens a little, however, at Amaranth's words. How they showed her the way forward.

"...We are here for you. You are not alone..." Clarine murmurs encouragingly. "...Unlike him. That man may have many others at his command, but I cannot think of a more lonely mindset."

With a gesture, a series of mirrors flies out of Clarine's sleeves, floating around her protectively. They cannot quite protect her from Pearl's tendrils of shadow magic, however, as she elects to try to impede her.

Clarine lets out a gasp of surprise and grimaces as the tendrils lash onto her, holding her tight and restricting her movement. Her mirrors shudder as she feels them restrict her sorcery - darkness was a personal weakness of hers.

A Seraphic glyph appears beneath her feet as she tries to invoke an arte, but it flickers as she feels her magic weakening from the threads.

""C-Converge and contain! Photon!" She manages to mutter out. Golden rings of runic light appear around Pearl, looking to converge on her location and restrict her movement much like she had restricted her own. Light begins to build - a light which will detonate in a burst of power, if Pearl doesn't escape the cage before that time.

"I will...not allow you to get in her way." Clarine says.

GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Pearl with Photon!
GS: Seraph Clarine has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Clarine has completed her action.
GS: Pearl takes a solid hit from Seraph Clarine's Photon for 74 hit points!
GS: Entangle! applied to Pearl!
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

He's too fast--that Jean remembers. The things he says, the explanations he gives--some are lessons she remembers well. Some are the reasons she cannot explain to the others, the 'truths' that ensure that the Shadow Dragon is as it is. It can only be known, experienced, carved over time like the river does the stone.

...So it's been for a long, long time, apparently.

"He'll just use your anger against you!" Jean snaps to Ivan when she's in place again--and as she faces the Shadow Dragon acolytes of which she once was one, jean can hear the lesson the Master seeks to impart again. First, though--a more familiar one.

Exploit the opening Jean does--and when Pearl answers Jean, full of her own rage, the dancer turns towards her, arms loose, still ready. She knows that move all too well--knows how dangerous it is, the way it saps at life force, even among the skilled.

So she darts at the last instant to the side, foot hitting ground before she springs to the side and the claw devastates the column where she'd stood.

"I know it better than any of you," Jean answers Pearl. "...Even if I wasn't strong enough then, to take you with me."

The magic--the magic is different. As is... Lydia's new set of moves, frankly.

But Amaranth's answer--it emboldens Jean. It's what she hopes to make true--. Between that, and Ragnell's sass, her morale is steady. "I'm starting to think you have a type," she says to the Seraph--before she comes to a stop, hands before her--and sprints. Low to the ground, she leaps upward, hands aglow with shadowy-dark power. It would be easy--it would be smart--to let herself embrace it. Maybe she could stop him, that way.

"Haah--!"

She throws out her hand, and a rain of black needles rushes to the Master, each directed for pressure points, for muscle--

"And what does that strength gain you except death!? Where does the road end?"

GS: Jean has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Needle Step!
GS: Jean has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a glancing hit from Jean's Needle Step for 16 hit points!
GS: Cripple! applied to Shadow Dragon Leader!
<Pose Tracker> Shadow Dragon Leader has posed.

For as much as the Shadow Dragon Master has bounced and leaped across the field, he is human. He shows it here -- as his eyes, barely visible behind the mask, register confusion at the multitude of Amaranth's shadow clones. And then, her blade swings in--and it bites deep into his flesh. Blood runs down his side...

...and he laughs. "Good... good!" he calls out. "You may say they guide you--but I see the rust on you! I see that you've let your skills atrophy... and yet they remain strong. You could be so much more! You could pursue might and power for its own sake!"

He surges to meet Amaranth. The Master does a backflip, sending an axe kick for her face -- and then lands, and launches an uppercut straight for her chin. He finishes with a sweeping kick, aimed to hurl her to one side.

Ivan comes at him from the side. Fire comes at the assassin's command, in streams of fireballs that slam into him -- and smash him back off the stage. He slams to the ground, into a three-point stance, then looks up with a snap of his head.

"Am I not already?" he asks. "You are wasted on your current master. You are a knife--something to be wielded with the gravest skill, with others of your kind. I teach you, even now!"

And yet, he doesn't strike Ivan. Instead, he vanishes. He reappears in a flash, and reappears before Clarine. He slams an open palm for her chest, then swings out a foot to kick into her side -- and each bursts with an inky, black chi.

"Call me what you will!" he says to Clarine. "But you... I see now. You're something that must be discarded, for Amaranth to become what she must!"

That chi explodes all at once -- the strikes that the Master laid on both Clarine and Amaranth erupting, at once across Clarine's body.

And then he whips around -- in time to see Lydia's laser fire. The Master leaps into the air. He does a cartwheel as the laser slashes along the floor, then up the wall, and finally severs several pipes. Water explodes out of them -- and the Master comes down. He slams a hand down for Lydia's stomach, open-palmed.

When he strikes, he finds the threads -- an twists them. Lydia's entire body seizes up at once.

"You are not my student," he says. "You... are a doll. And do you know what we do with dolls?"

Water comes pouring down over them, reducing the Master and Lydia to silhouettes.

GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Shade Blitz!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Seraph Clarine with Shade Blitz!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has gained 2 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia opens her mouth, and she tries to find some words to what Amaranth says. She wanted to get her out of this life. She almost did. And yet, there is a danger in thinking of it in the past tense -- like the growing numbness in her extremities, or the way she slips against the bars that are now slick, could be even more real.

"Y--You're great, no? You can do this," she says. It's loud, and yet not loud enough. Talia's hand is slipping, and she gasps a little louder with the pain of it all.

"Ivan, you--you have to keep your calm--" She sounds strained. She is. She slips again, against the bloodied bars. Then, she sees Lydia -- and the Master descending. She screams, with pain and fear, and everything else.

"LYDIA! GET AWAY!"

<Pose Tracker> Shadow Dragon Leader has posed.

The Master's hands hands grab onto Lydia's head and yank, trying to twist to the side until there is a sudden, sickening SNAP.

"We break them, so that a child may become an adult." He looks to Ivan... and waits, as the gout of water becomes a dribble. The rest of it pools around two sets of feet.

As it fades, he turns to the side. Water flies off his face mask -- and then he holds a hand out -- and catches the shadowy needles, hissing as the pain of them sets into his hand, into his body...

And though she can't see it, he smiles behind his mask. "The bloody journey, not the destination, is the goal! Something you never understood!"

GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Lydia Seren with Wavering Palm!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has completed his action.
DC: 3 turns have elapsed in the battle against Shadow Dragon Leader! 2 turns remain!
GS: Seraph Clarine takes a solid hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Shade Blitz for 190 hit points!
GS: Seraph Amaranth guards a hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Shade Blitz for 114 hit points!
GS: Seraph Amaranth enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Pearl has posed.

        Ragnell's defenses prove readier than Pearl expected. The Seraph is fast, and she manages that grip on Pearl's wrist. Pearl tries to pull free, but she simply isn't prepared for Ragnell to just... dip her. "What are you-" She expects a throw, maybe to be smashed into the ground, or a chokehold. Being pulled into an unwilling dance is completely off the cards. As Ragnell leans in close, Pearl jerks her head away like she's expecting to be struck across the face. Which is good, because that's what Ragnell attempts to do to her. The gun doesn't find it's mark properly, and she's able to recover from the kick. Her grey eyes look... angry. She charges back in with a sliding open palm thrust, aimed for Ragnell's throat. It's all she throws at her this time, as suddenly other things demand her attention.

        The golden rings of light surround Pearl, and she doesn't have the speed to escape them. They encase her, and explode, and she is sent rolling back. She looks at Clarine with hate, but doesn't counterattack. She leaves that to more brutal hands.

        "Throwing a tantrum like a petulant child will get you nothing but suffering." That's probably a literal statement. Pearl turns her attention to Ivan, and starts stepping towards him. With every step, a shadow rises up from behind her, or perhaps even another cultist. Before long there are four of her, and all of them launch at Ivan in different directions. The shell game of 'which one is real' proves to be a false one. They all are. "It will be easier on you if you accept your fate or accept death." Then there is a pause, and quietly- "If I were you I would take the latter." Is that... genuine advice?

        Jean is again too fast, and Pearl can't keep up. But it's not a blow that hits Pearl, but words. Her eyes widen, and she shakes, just momentarily. With rage. "How dare you..." Her voice is low, but full of anger. "How dare you claim to care now!?" She takes a stance, even as Jean fires darts at the Master. Her hands come together. She focuses that rage now, into a single point. Purple ki surrounds her hands. "You were just like him. We were all just tools to make you stronger. Now you claim you would have even tried to take us with you? You only moved to escape for yourself!"

        And then the energy gathered in her hands fires out, straight at Jean. A dark purple wave of energy, locked on one target. All the anger Pearl has is directed out in violent force. This, Ivan, is what it is to harness your rage. The Shadow Dragon Wave.

GS: Pearl has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Fury Charge!
GS: Pearl has attacked Ivan with Needle Kick!
GS: Pearl has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Shadow Dragon Leader has posed.

The masked man turns his head back to Ivan. His eyes drill down into him -- staring in the wake of Pearl's attack.

"You see, now, do you not?" he says. "As you are... you are misused. You are alone. A weapon belongs not in the hand of a craven... but in an armory, with other masterworks. Come, little dagger! Embrace what you are!"

GS: Pearl has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Pearl has attacked Jean with Shadow Dragon Wave!
GS: Pearl has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jean guards a hit from Pearl's Shadow Dragon Wave for 114 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren completely evades a hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Wavering Palm!
GS: Ivan guards a hit from Pearl's Needle Kick for 54 hit points!
GS: Break! applied to Ivan!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        "Ivan... I promise... we'll get her out of here..." Amaranth's hoarse words whisper in the din of battle as she witnesses Clarine and Ragnell both entangling -- in Ragnell's case, directly -- with Pearl. She grimaces and worries for them for a moment, but she knows they're buying her valuable time. "I--"

        Her eyes widen. "Ivan!" she exclaims,as Pearl charges towards her with a technique she's seen before. Four shadow clones... and yet there was something more--

        She coughs as Lunn dives towards her with a devastating axe kick that strikes hard against her head, and she's forced to bear with her kodachi out to guard against his uppercut. She can't stop the impact, however, and still gets swept away with a violent cough escaping from her.

        "Ivan, no matter what happens... do not forget that my door will always be open to you..."

        She scowls towards Lunn again as she says, "My skills have rusted because I chose to. Because they do not define me. Because I have found passion and light and love in the art of theatre and weaving. Things that bring smiles to the people I put a play on for, to the people I drape in wonderful clothing!"

        Her words are cut short when Talia screams out for Lydia, and her eyes widen-- "What--"

        SNAP.

        She falls dead silent for a moment.

        Her hand clenches hard around her kodachi.

        She throws more paper dolls which explode into a misty cloud that form more mirages upon her location. Then she strikes forward once more, seemingly with the same technique...

        She can't muster cohesive enough words right now, but glances towards Jean with another cough. "Jean-- I'll... I'll give you an opening...!"

        ... and then it diverges, for each afterimage of Amaranth's is charging forward, enveloped with the inky darkness of her element. One, two, three, they slash and dissolve into Darkness--

        "How could you... how could you do that to Lydia...!!"

        --followed by a final slash of darkness as she tries to carve through the mysterious Shadow Dragon Leader's defence, her kodachi held in knife-grip.

GS: Seraph Amaranth enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Artful Sacrifice!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has completed her action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader completely evades a hit from Seraph Amaranth's Artful Sacrifice!
GS: Seraph Ragnell guards a hit from Pearl's Fury Charge for 84 hit points!
GS: Pearl assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Riposte expired!
GS: Pearl has completed her action.
DC: 3 turns have elapsed in the battle against Pearl! 2 turns remain!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

"I'M NOT CONTROLLING MY ANGER UNTIL HE'S DEAD," Ivan snaps right back to Jean. He NEEDS this anger -- every second these cultists spend alive is pushing Talia closer to death. He needs every ounce of his anger to power these flames.

You are a knife--something to be wielded with the gravest skill, with others of your kind. I teach you, even now!

Ivan lets out a wordless yell, at that. It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter who he is or what he is -- if he's a person, or a weapon, or has a future for himself. Talia had a future! He just needs to keep Talia with him in the world, he can sort the rest out later...

He readies for an attack, but the cult leader simply bypasses him, striking at Clarine, and then calling a curtain of water down around himself and Lydia.

There's a SNAP, and the curtain falls away to reveal that he broke her neck with his sneer about broken dolls.

Ivan lets out an audible gasp, staring back at them, frozen with shock.

Pearl advises him to choose death over the Shadow Dragon leader's tutelage, as she assaults him from four directions.

He throws his arms up to keep the worst of it off of him, but even as he's bruised and battered by their strikes, he seems mentally numb to the pain. His attention is pulled back to the cult leader and his taunts.

"Stop... trying to teach me lessons..." he says, with a shaking voice. His hands reach forward, clawing into the air, his fingers dissappearing as if they reached into something opaque.

With a savage motion, he rips a hole in the air with his hands -- the portal he normally opens with the slice of a blade -- revealing a world behind it of roiling liquid fire.

It erupts in a chaotic cannon blast of magma that flows in a rush toward the cult leader.

All the while, the flames wreathing Ivan whirl, and leap, and pop, as though his control over them may be slipping.

GS: Ivan has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Molten Roar!
GS: Ivan takes 18 damage from Poison!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a glancing hit from Ivan's Molten Roar for 72 hit points!
GS: Disrupt and Shieldbreak! applied to Shadow Dragon Leader!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

Clarine grimaces as the Shadow Dragon Master moves to attack Amaranth, but there is no time for her to react as he is soon upon her, as well - with a terrible suddenness that leaves her no time to react.

Her mirrors move to try to intercept his blows...but she still remains bound by Pearl's tendrils of shadow magic. Controlling them with hand gestures was quicker and more accurate than willing them into place. Deprived of that, her movements are not quick enough to protect herself. The first blow, seething with an inky, black energy, strikes her solidly in the chest, eliciting a choked gasp from Clarine. If she were human, this certainly would've knocked the breath right out of her.

She sags back but doesn't fall, kept aloft by Pearl's tendrils. The second strikes her in the side, similarly sending Clarine reeling.

And then, the two strikes explode. This is what finally releases her from the bonds, the force sending her toppling limply to the ground.

She lays still, as she hears Amaranth talk about how her skills do not define her - and about what truly does. She doesn't see what happens to Lydia - but she can hear, vaguely, the shouts of concern as she lays there. She can only imagine what has become of her, particularly from that sickening noise.

Clarine shuts her eyes tight...and then one of her mirror floats up to her. With some effort one hand reaches out, using it to pick herself back up.

"I-It is...not your place...to decide what she must be." She mutters. "That is...purely for her to decide. And if you think 'discarding' me can make her what you want to be..."

Another Seraphic glyph appears beneath her feet.

"...Then you are mistaken. A gap of countless years, greater than your human lifetime, could not break our bonds... You misunderstand the nature of what it means to connect with others." She says. Her mirrors reorient themselves, flying into the sky. She releases a beam of light into one of them, which splits off, deflecting off of mirror after mirror to rain down toward the Shadow Dragon Leader in a volley of lasers impossible to fully predict.

Not that she expects it to do anything more than draw aggression - but if she could buy more time for Amaranth, so that they could save Talia, she would make whatever sacrifice she needed to.

GS: Seraph Clarine has spent 2 Combo on Gatling, including 2 on Gatling!
GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Radiant Cannonade!
GS: Seraph Clarine has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        Ragnell's flirtations get her an open palm strike to the throat. Fair enough. It hits fairly solidly, though not as crushingly as it might normally; Ragnell moves with the strike, using its force into a backwards roll and jump, something she can get away with because she doesn't actually need to breathe. A human definitely would've crumpled, at least for a moment. She holds back a grin all the same, despite Pearl's quite decisive rejection. After all, she got exactly what she wanted out of that exchange.
        
        So as much as she'd love to banter with Jean about what her type is--as much as she'd love to shoot the Shadow Dragon Master in the face for the inky chi he pours into his blows on Clarine--as much as that necksnack of Lydia's REALLY didn't sound healthy--as much as she'd love to just be a huge asshole, there's something else for her to focus on.
        
        For she's come up beneath Talia's cage, and the Shadow Dragons are all too busy fighting and/or being assholes.
        
        She holsters her guns. Ragnell then vanishes in a sizzling flash of electricity, reappears the next instant inside the cage, and hooks an arm around Talia right before both of them are consumed by the Lightning Seraph's element and reappear on the battlefield below, beyond the rusty bars.
        
        "Here's a lesson from your *actual* teacher, Ivan," she calls. Her free hand grabs something from her travel pack. In a decisive motion, she yanks the dagger from Talia's gut and shoves the item into her mouth--a pineapple gel, as it turns out. Then grabbing Talia anew to both steady her and protect her as the restorative goes to work, she concludes, "Fightin' is awesome an' all, but don't get so caught up in the enemy's pace that you can't keep your eyes on the prize."
        
        She flashes a razor-sharp grin at the Shadow Dragons. "Right~?"

GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a glancing hit from Seraph Clarine's Radiant Cannonade for 71 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

It doesn't really matter how powerful Lydia is. She has the skill of a completely untrained beastman in combat and that's not very better than a completely untrained human in combat. The closest training she had was with Kalve and that was like 50 percent pushups, 49 percent philosophy, and 1 percent actual assistance with technique. Lydia just doesn't have the temperment to be a martial artist, or even a warrior really. Rather, it was something that was pounded into her.

"Pretend they're your girlfriend?" Lydia answers The Shadow Dragon Leader moments before her body suddenly seized up--which apparently Adaptation was not prepared for. Water splooshes down upon them. It doesn't cause weakness damage but it's very cinematic and that's only going to help the kung fu wizard here.

There is some resistance to snapping her head all the way off but even the best tech Solaris can provide can only do so much to direct applied force from one of the greatest ninjas in the world. Lydia's last action before the inevitable happens is to try and spit in the Shadow Dragon Leader's face (mask).

SNAP!

Lydia tumbles to the ground haplessly.

Her gaze stares listlessly away, just like a broken doll.

I'm not dead

There is no response to Amaranth's cries. Nothing of the sort. Just listless staring ahead.

I can't move.

He is a knife, the Dragon Leader had said. She is a doll, the Dragon Leader had said.

I am wrong. We can move.

Lydia's fingers twitch at first, slowly slowly now reaching up to grab at her broken neck.

She stands herself up, bracing her broken neck with her hands. her eyes slant towawrds the people she knows before with a SNAP of her own.

"Ivan is not a knife." She says. "And I am not a doll."

Her hands fan from side to side. A bronze medium of Solais Emsu and an Original Medium of Celesdue float away from her body and hover at her side.

"Knives aren't even the best thing to kill people with. You stab someone and maybe, maybe they'll die, like, eventually. Knives can't think for themselves anyway. Because they're knives. They are metal are bone sharpened to an edge. If you try to sharpen a person, they don't become a blade. They bleed. That's it."

Her eyes flash silver. Shadow Dragon cultists around her start losing their footing as their personal gravity is simply... 'turned off'. She might very well be berserk right now. She's in pain and is hurting and she never ever ever said she was a good person who could never be pushed too far.

"And dolls... don't come equipped with spiritually empowered artillery."

You never see Rigdobrite appear because you're underground. But he is there, watching this even as his power is channeled--

--and explosive eruptions of light come searing THROUGH the ceiling of this underground lair, crashing down repeatedly towards the cultists over and over and over again. The Shadow Dragon Leader gets the worst of it, several plasma barrages crashing down towards him even as thin metal strands expel themselves from Lydia's body in an attempt to slice him to ribbons thus forcing the guy to use even more ridiculous kung fu tricks to avoid this new set of problems.

"There are plenty of people in this world who enjoy hurting others. Why don't you make the world a worse place with them instead of with cute fashionistas and gaslit kids?"

Spikes expel out from Lydia's back and slam into the ground, keeping her stabilizing her position in the ground.

GS: Lydia Seren has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Delta Attack!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Pearl with Delta Attack!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Lydia Seren's attack becomes clear!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader completely evades a hit from Lydia Seren's Glowbliterate!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Lydia Seren's attack becomes clear!
GS: Pearl takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Glowbliterate for 179 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Ivan shouts back--and Jean isn't his teacher, either. It isn't her place to tell him how to fight, and so she doesn't say it again for now. ...But the Master, she knows, though even she never learned all his secrets. It is a different kind of knowledge.

But she can only do what she is able. She feels her heart seize, when she sees the silhouettes, hears the talk of dolls, and understands what it is that he's doing. Talia calls out, but Jean is silent--

...The breaking of dolls. Does she remember, long ago? Something she had, when she first came? Something she learned to destroy herself. Something...

Jean's attack lands, at the hand if nothing else. She hears the hiss, though she cannot see the smile. And his answer--

"You..."

She can't stop--she can't give in to emotion, if she wants to help here. What choice does she have? To stop, to be human--

Pearl's rage is palpable, to Jean--a beacon as it powers one of the more advanced techniques of their school. The former acolyte turns her head, immediately watching Pearl and her power gathering, sees what she's doing--But more to the point, she hears what she's saying. Wouldn't it be nice, to think that way? To think that back then, she really meant to be heroic, instead of being a fool girl who had only started to see a truth she wasn't prepared for?

It would. ...Which is why Jean doesn't step out of the way. She doesn't move to dodge--she just steadies her stance, shifting to face the imcoming attack and crosses her wrists ahead of herself, claws up as a shield. The wave of dark power, sufficient for many, slams into Jean alone, and for an instant she cannot be seen in the shadow it creates. Pearl's rage is a fearsome, terrifying thing, a force unto itself, and there is only one choice--

...To accept it. Jean is utterly still, when the darkness fades--and only then do the cuts, do the scrapes appear, old wounds reopened as her body reacts to necrotic power. She looks ill, in tone, and blood drips down from beneath her claws.

She lowers them. "...I was," Jean agrees. "I won't pretend otherwise--I was a fool! And if I'd understood what strength was, I'd have thought to do more than go alone!"

She brings up her hands again; the pain even now floods through her, her body out of alignment with her spirit, but she doesn't fight that. She breathes it in. The secret always was...

...It was never about avoiding pain, fighting this way.

Her eyes open again. Anger? She knows it. She knows it here, and she wonders--is not feeling the same immediate loss a sign, a sign that he's right?

No--this isn't the time for thinking. Amaranth glances her way, coughs, as she begins her technique--

"...The journey," Jean repeats. That's... That's it, is it...?"

She wavers, for an instant, dressed in her dark wrappings, under the lingering flame of Pearl's rage. With Lydia, falling. The light of a Seraph is brilliant, but Jean doesn't look in the moment to Clarine. She remembers Lunn, too--too strong for her to defeat in half measures.

Amaranth's technique burns into her vision, something new. ...She thinks...

It is as Lydia stands that Jean is already shifting back, hands together--and she brings the pain through herself, lets it expand, fill space as surely as smoke in a room, become power. It is not her magic that she uses, the gifts of Althena that she discovered only late, but another advanced technique of the Shadow Dragon--

And suddenly there are three of her, each stepping out of the other, and their eyes snap up as one, to see Lydia rise.

"This... this is adulthood, to you. This."

Jean breathes in--and all three shift into the shadows, and return as one, launching an assault towards the Master of the Shadow Dragon. These are not the hard kicks with which she attacked Pearl, but moves claw-first, lighter, faster, slashing instead of committing--

"I," she says with one voice, and the next picks up, "Remember--"

Amaranth's selves fade, and as the light of Rigdobrite crashes down, Jean continues the offensive, her wounds if anything seeming to worsen with simple movement. The next Jean, "How it felt--"

GS: Jean has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Shadow Dance!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has activated a Force Action!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader completely evades a hit from Jean's Shadow Dance!
GS: Mighty and Riposte! applied to Jean!
<Pose Tracker> Shadow Dragon Leader has posed.

"How could I do that?" the Shadow Dragon leader repeats back at Amaranth. "With the greatest of ease. Do you see, now? Do you see how these people hold you back? Do you begin to understand? You clothe them... and bind yourself in so doing!"

The shadowy images come, and he darts and dives between them. He then whirls -- and meets the kodachi of Amaranth's final strike on armored bracer, sparks exploding and flying when they clash.

He throws his other hand out at her, palm open -- and a bolt of shadowy chi explodes off it, hurtling for her stomach. A few droplets of blood rain down from above, splashing onto his mask, and he walks out of them.

"These things... give you a hope that is a lie. They let you see a false world!" he snaps at Amaranth.

He catches Ivan tearing a hole in the world from the corner of his eye. The masked man whirls -- and there is a moment where he is given pause. A moment where he wonders at how he rips open that portal, and then he has to move. He jumps, rushing away from the blast of magma that scorches the ground and leaves it molten. It still half-catches him, and he spins to the side. Parts of his robe are left aflame, burning and turning to ember.

"Your rage will sputter and die when she does," the Master says. "I know this."

He slams his hands into the ground. Black lightning crackles across it, as he spins into the air -- and comes down, to deliver a massive drop kick for the top of Ivan's head. He braves the flames around him without the slightest pause.

But he does roll away, quickly. He comes up in time to see the beam of light exploding off Clarine's mirrors -- zigging and zagging at him. He ducks, weaves, and bobs through several of them, but more slash into his sides and through his robes. "Tch... you speak of years as if they matter. They do not! Centuries, years, or seconds--all of them can be wasted!"

And then Lydia speaks.

The Master sucks in a gasp, turning to stare at her. "How!? How did you--is this some Blue Star trickery!?"

The ceiling splits open in places. Outside, there are shouts of panic as Rigdobrite appears in the sky over the Stadium and fires down. The beams shoot through the ground and into the lair below. One slams into the ground where the Master stood, burning a crater into it...

...and yet he leapt away in time. He lands, crouched, and looks up. And then, the masked man pauses -- and stares up at the cage, before he screams one word: "NO!"

Jean comes for him, and he feels his rage. He grasps it -- he controls it, funneling a cold fury into his response. He sees the three of them -- and he slams a fist down.

Six of him appear. They shoot out around Jean in a half-arc, and her claw strikes are caught by the shadow clones. Each disperses in a puff of shadowstuff, one after the other, as Jean comes crashing down upon him. He deflects the blow on an armored bracer.

"And it meant NOTHING!"

He slams a hand at her throat, a knife-hand meant to crush her windpipe. Chi explodes from it. Then, he slams his hand at her midsection, open-palmed. Another burst of chi rolls from it. Then, he jumps into the air -- and does a rapid-fire spinning kick, each foot trying to connect.

And then, finally, rises -- and slams both hands down in a hammerblow, and tries to smite Jean to the ground.

"Kill them," he commands. "All of them, save our new students!"

GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Way of the Shadow!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has activated a Force Action!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has activated a Force Action!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has activated a Force Action!
GS: Hyper expired!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has completed his action.
DC: 4 turns have elapsed in the battle against Shadow Dragon Leader! 1 turns remain!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a solid hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Way of the Shadow for 0 hit points!
GS:  Restore reduces negative status durations by 3 rounds each!
GS: Hyper! applied to Shadow Dragon Leader!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader's Avenger stance ends. He enters the Stoic stance!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Seraph Amaranth with Shadow Dragon Pulse!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Ivan with Shadow Dragon Kick!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has attacked Jean with Shadow Dragon Perfected Kata!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Stagger expired!
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader has completed his action.
DC: 5 turns have elapsed in the battle against Shadow Dragon Leader! No turns remain! Time has expired! The battle is
over!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia feels tears in her eyes, her breath catching. She doesn't quite sob -- but she is hurt enough, and losing coherency from blood loss, that she can't have the usual stony exterior in the face of seeing Lydia's neck snapped.

'She'll be fine,' she tells herself. 'I've seen her survive worse. I've seen her...'

She slumps against the bars again. Her hand is on the dagger -- trying to keep it there, despite how much it hurts. Her fingers are so slick with blood that it proves hard.

And then there is a smell of ozone, a flash of light, and Ragnell. Talia looks at her with her crimson eyes, making a sound half between a laugh and a groan. "Ragnell! You... you really pulled it off, no?" she stammers out.

When the dagger comes out, she groans loudly. Then, she bites down into the pineapple gel, without any hesitation. One arm goes around Ragnell, with just a little more strength than she had a moment before.

GS: CRITICAL! Jean takes a glancing hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Shadow Dragon Perfected Kata for 205 hit points!
GS: Seraph Amaranth takes a solid hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Shadow Dragon Pulse for 172 hit points!
GS: Ivan takes a solid hit from Shadow Dragon Leader's Shadow Dragon Kick for 148 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Pearl has posed.

        Pearl is too wrapped up in her anger to realise what is happening. It's a moment too late that she sees what Ragnell is doing. She disappears in a burst of lightning, and suddenly- "After her!" Pearl yells, but the other cultists are not in position either. How could she have been so foolish.

        Pearl had no doubt. She would suffer for this failure.

        But she can't look away from Jean. Pearl watches as the woman she once hoped would save them all just takes the darkness. And her retort echoes in Pearl's head. Jean's admission that Pearl was right should help, shouldn't it? So why does it hurt more?

        She doesn't have time to reflect long on this though, as Lydia- who should frankly be dead- pulls herself upright. Pearl doesn't have time to bark out an order, and the blasts of light come blasting through the ceiling. She tries to bring her arms up to block, channeling darkness to counteract the light. But no darkness is a match for this. The light slams into Pearl, driving her into the ground. She feels an unwelcome crack in her arm as she lands, but the light does the worst of it, burning her flesh and setting flame to her assassin's garb.

        Those less skilled than Pearl are less lucky. One's head smashes into the ground so hard that there's a resounding 'crunch' and the awareness that that was the last sound he would ever hear. Another screams as her flesh is seared by the light, before crumpling dead to the ground. Another is blinded by the light, closing his eyes too late, and crying out in pain. The cultists are decimated by the power of a Medium.

        Pearl is the first to stand back up, her right arm held at her side. That would limit her options. But the pain is simply pain. She can handle pain. She can use pain. She stands up, flames still burning. "As you command." She says. Her eyes look to Ragnell and Talia, to Lydia, to Clarine. They are to die, then. Pearl rushes forward and launches into the air. This rush turns into a kick, dark purple ki surrounds her, and lashes out as she strikes for Clarine, corrosive ki aiming to eat away at her energy. She keeps moving, launching another of the same at Lydia, a technique that she hopefully won't have developed a defense to. Pearl keeps moving, shadows surrounding her as she springs off her good arm. She hits a wall and launches off, turning toward Ragnell. She charges forward, wrapped in shadows, as she moves to slash at Ragnell with her hands in claw grips, a more vicious version of the attack she unleashed on Jean earlier.

GS: Pearl has spent 1 Combo on Poison, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Pearl has attacked Seraph Clarine with Shadow Dragon Kick!
GS: Pearl has attacked Lydia Seren with Shadow Dragon Kick!
GS: Pearl has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Pearl has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Inverse Rend!
GS: Pearl has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Clarine critically Guards a hit from Pearl's Shadow Dragon Kick for 33 hit points!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Pearl's attack becomes clear!
GS: Seraph Ragnell guards a hit from Pearl's Umbral Ambush for 106 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Pearl's Shadow Dragon Kick for 185 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren suffers an additional 23 from Poison's Combo effect!
GS: Poison! applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Disrupt and Entangle expired!
GS: Pearl has completed her action.
DC: 4 turns have elapsed in the battle against Pearl! 1 turns remain!
<Pose Tracker> Pearl has posed.

        "You have only staved off the inevitable." The shadow clone of Pearl dissipates as the attack on Ragnell doesn't connect. It leaves her open for the follow up, Pearl appearing from above with a vicious falling axe kick, dark purple ki flowing around her foot. "She will die at our hands." Her words are cold, even as she unleashes that brutal attack.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        Amaranth finds her illusory attack to have been found out -- and when her kodachi finds bracer, she catches a glimpse of the Shadow Dragon Leader face to face as she questions her.

        Her, against her own cataract-laden, gray, filmy eyes.

        "My once-master bound me to them by robbing me of my sight."

        Her eyes widen further as he slams an open palm and BLASTS chi through her-- and she's sent careening off onto scorched ground where Ivan's spell once struck. She lets out a vigorous cough.

        "You tell me these things that give me hope is a lie. That they let me see a false world..."

        She lets a louder cough as she struggles to get back up. In the meantime, miraculous things happen -- because Clarine is enforcing their bonds, in turn. "I ran for centuries and wasn't there for yet... yet I still would like to mend those bonds of ours. It's never too late..."

        Ragnell, in turn, does the heroic deed of rescuing Talia -- and her expression lightens as she exclaims, "S-sis...! Great job...!" as she tries to pull up to her tabi-covered feet.

        Then Lydia arises, prompting a gasp. "Lydia, you're--!"

        She bears witness to Rigdobrite, for the first time. To Jean's own announcement as she admits that she shouldn't have gone alone. "It's never too late..." she whispers to Pearl. "I know she still cares, so please, don't let that heart of yours be closed..."

        Jean joins in with her own clones, following her opening.

        Then she finally rises... and brings out a familiar short sword.

        It is Mirage.

        "Talia...! I have a delivery for you..." she speaks between the taste of what feels like blood, if Seraphs can be said to have blood, in her mouth. "So here--"

        She throws Mirage, in the way she's seen Talia do, disappearing.

        "Let me show you... the colour that's been brought to my world. By my parents, by my sister, by everyone who's brought here..."

        She lands straight through on the other side where Talia and Ragnell are, having chosen to forego combat, coughing still as she holds Talia's hand and hands the hilt of the sword to her. She smiles appreciatively to her sister, as well.

        "I'll show you myself. Have it all-- the proof of the light in my life, true and resplendent, like a rainbow!"

        She reaches her hand out.

        "This is our...!"

        Fingersnap.

        A bright c o n f e t t i of doves and streamers and a rabbit in a top hat from whose top a cute frog that looks like TADPOLE (WE HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN YOU TADPOLE) cavorts joyfully around the area, filling the gloom of the basement of the Stadium with power, with protection, with healing, with...

        "Happy Boost!!"

DC: Seraph Amaranth switches forms to Phantom Thief -La Fille du Temps-!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has spent 1 Combo on Reload, including 1 on Gatling!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Jean with Baby - The Stars Shine Bright!!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Baby - The Stars Shine Bright!!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Seraph Clarine with Baby - The Stars Shine Bright!!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Ivan with Baby - The Stars Shine Bright!!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Lydia Seren with Baby - The Stars Shine Bright!!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has attacked Talia with Baby - The Stars Shine Bright!!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Amaranth has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Amaranth heals Seraph Clarine! She gains 250 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Seraph Clarine gains 15 extra FP from Seraph Amaranth!
GS: Seraph Amaranth heals Talia! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Talia enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Reload! Talia gains 15 extra FP from Seraph Amaranth!
GS: Seraph Amaranth heals Jean! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Jean enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Reload! Jean gains 15 extra FP from Seraph Amaranth!
GS: Seraph Amaranth heals Ivan! He gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Ivan gains 15 extra FP from Seraph Amaranth!
GS: Seraph Amaranth heals Seraph Ragnell! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Seraph Ragnell gains 15 extra FP from Seraph Amaranth!
GS: Seraph Amaranth heals Lydia Seren! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Reload! Lydia Seren gains 15 extra FP from Seraph Amaranth!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Your rage will sputter and die when she does

"It won't. Not until you do..." Ivan repeats, though his voice seems rough, and it's hard to tell whether it's from resolve or desperation.

The cult leader spins into the air, impossibly fast, driving down at Ivan with a kick to the head. He crashes down to the ground, reeling with pain as stars and darkness swirl, threatening to overtake his vision.

He can't give up, he can't fall, no, not until Talia...

He drags himself to his feet, blood trickling down from his scalp, searching with wild eyes to find the cult leader again to strike back.

Then... everything suddenly... flips.

Ragnell calls for his attention and says she has a lesson to impart. She vanishes and touches down again with Talia in her arms, giving her the healing she desperately needed.

Lydia rises, twisting herself back into shape and casting aside the cult leader's poisoned words with a few of her own before giving the cultists hell.

Amaranth infuses them with proof of her hope and resolve, showering them with joy and power and doves.

Ivan looks around himself, bewildered at the sudden resurgence of hope. His flames still dance madly. His breath is growing ragged, with a familiar ache growing in his chest.

The cultists... they still have to die...! Their leader has to die. It isn't over, that man knew all their secrets...

The sparks flying off of Ivan begin to dance strangely, making crackling and fizzing sounds not unlike a lighted fuse, as they fly through the air and begin detonating into fiery explosions. Though the bulk of them target the cultists, a number seem to be going off randomly, in clear range of his allies, as if they haven't been aimed consciously at all.

Those who have been cautioning him to hold his temper may not have realized how right they were.

GS: Ivan has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Stars of Fury!
GS: Ivan takes 25 damage from Poison!
GS: Poison expired!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a glancing hit from Ivan's Stars of Fury for 86 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

        "You know it," Ragnell drawls, winking at Talia. She grins, too, as Amaranth calls to her in joy, and gives her sister a big, jaunty thumbs-up. Her amusement fades as she focuses, steely-eyed, on the titanic clash before them. Quite frankly, the boss-man over there is kicking a ludicrous amount of ass, and while she'd like to see how she'd fare in a one-on-one showdown, this is not the time to indulge her lady-boner for kick-ass fight sequences. "But we ain't pulled this off 'til we get the hell outta here."
        
        Case in point: Pearl isn't just going to let Ragnell get away with rescuing Talia. When she dives in with her shadowmancy and her claws, Ragnell sweeps Talia behind her to take on that attack--and while she's prepared herself for it, those talons still dig deep into her as she digs her boots into the ground. She snarls in pain, but stands her ground... until Pearl surprises her with the follow-up and smashes her chi-infused heel into her shoulder, almost her head if she hadn't jerked it to one side in time. Either way, she staggers back, wounded considerably by the sneaky attack. But...
        
        Amaranth calls up a Happy Boost, and the joyous illusions spread throughout the room, energizing Ragnell in particular in the wake of Pearl's vicious maneuver. Ragnell smiles at her sister as she lands with her and Talia. Good--she can leave the girlfriend to the girlfriend. Now she turns that smile on Pearl... But it's no longer a nice smile.
        
        "I mighta kept my eyes on the prize, babe, but that doesn't mean I haven't seen you either. An' here's what I saw--" She leans in towards Pearl. She does not physically strike her, this time. Instead, she whispers for her ears only: "You resent Jean, because she's loved an' free, an' you're still trapped in hell with a man who don't care if you live or die. Who might jus' kill you tonight when you *don't* kill any of us like you were supposed to."
        
        She leans back, away, with a grin shining bright with sharp, white teeth. "But what do I know, right?" she chirps.
        
        And then she quickdraws and opens fire on Pearl, rapid and full blast with one barrel going off at a time, back and forth and back and forth, brilliant Seraphic glyphs formed underneath both of them, until Ragnell focuses both pistols together and charges up a massive, final, shiny laser-bolt. "Prism Tango!!"

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Pearl with Prism Tango!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia doesn't seem to realize that she's adding to her kill counter here. It's like she's firing the gun and letting God sort it out. The Master asks how she survived, but to be honest Lydia isn't quite sure how she lives again and again herself. It just happens. And it sucks every time but at least this time, at least this time it was her. And not her friends. Not her family. It's a kidnapping, yes, but they've survived though before.

"The universe is larger than either of us know." Lydia says. We will walk with God into the unknown."

"And one thing is for certain... You don't kidnap these kids to make them strong... You kidnap them so you can make yourself stronger!"

Opaque Panels burst out of Lydia's arms along her skin as she brings both limbs forward, squaring them on the Shadow Dragon Master. What she is planning can only be imagined.

But before that happens here comes Pearl! Apparently a Shadow Dragon Kick hasn't been adapted to, or optimized for, because the kick hits solidly (it's like kicking a large slab of metal). Her body indents in response and the spikes Lydia jammed into the ground snap off as Lydia tumbles to the side and unleashes a truly unreasonable amount of light that soars past the Dragon Master and--anyone really--before punching though the ceiling again and erupting into the night sky, temporarily creating another twinkle in the night sky.

Lydia doesn't react to this. Instead, she stands herself up again in short order, wobbbling briefly before the indentation on her body repairs itself in front of Pearl's eyes--also at an unreasonable speed. Her limbs start charging up once more as she guides them towards Pearl instead.

Only for a rabbit in a top hat to land on her head with a stream of colorful confetti that wholle obscures Lydia's vision of Pearl and also, apparently, snaps Lydia out of it.

She blinks, looks around in bewilderment before taking the rabbit off her head and petting the illuory creature with her hand.

"This rabbit is fluffy." She says. A nearby slab of ceiling crashes down next to her. In response to this, Lydia pets the rabbit under the chin as well. "I like this rabbit."

She looks at the corpses. The screaming. She says, "The ... the fuck happened here?"

There is a pause. "Uh." Pause. "We have Talia right?" She looks to Talia who seems to be doing better and is less stabbed than before.

Her gaze settles on Ivan and she says, "Ivan! we got Talia! We should uh... We should go. I mean. Uh. I think.... something happened... and now the ceiling might be kind of... in the process of giving up?"

Her eyes widen, "Oh no... Oh no oh no did I kill Blitzball? FUCK I KILLED BLITZBALL!"

She is starting to panic herself. "Guys we gotta bolt! I can't be blamed for killing Blitzball okay??" She collects her mediums and begs, "Rigdobrite! Make us scarce!"

Light starts wrapping around her friends. It may not stop EVERY cultist from finding them with their super cool chi abilities and ninjitsu and whatnot, but it should definitely help a great deal as they shimmer out of sight.

"Ivan you're super sexy right now but we should get outta here! I have a bunny! Also maybe I should've said that before I made you invisible."

She blinks a few times.

"Um, if you're going to head out with us and Talia clap your hands once, if you're going to chase after the Shadow Dragon Leader to try and satisfy a hopeless blood vendetta clap twice!"

GS: Lydia Seren has activated a Force Action!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Jean with Hide And Seek!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Lydia Seren with Hide And Seek!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Ivan with Hide And Seek!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Seraph Clarine with Hide And Seek!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren takes 23 damage from Poison!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Clarine takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Hide And Seek for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick! applied to Seraph Clarine!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Hide And Seek for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick! applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Jean takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Hide And Seek for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick! applied to Jean!
GS: Ivan takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Hide And Seek for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick! applied to Ivan!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

"Do you speak from experience, then? Do not lecture me on time." Clarine replies. "I know that full well. I know what it means to waste time - but the time I have spent with Amaranth and the others is time well spent."

With the Shadow Dragon Leader's focus on them, however, Ragnell has time to enact a plan into the cage she goes, and then out, Talia in tow.

"Ragnell...! Talia...!" Clarine says, her expression brightening. She looks toward Amaranth then, nodding.

"Yes...! It is never too late! I still have so much to tell you..." She agrees. This assertion gives her the strength to keep going, even as Pearl bears down on her with a powerful kick.

A gesture of Clarine's hand brings one of the mirrors up to intercept it. There's a wince of effort as Pearl's foot connects with it solidly, the corrosive ki pouring into the mirror. It eats away at the magic fortifying it, rendering it inert and severing the connection between it and Clarine. It falls to the ground, shattering - but its sacrifice protects her from further harm.

Talia is safe now, and what's more...Amaranth is speaking of everything that brings joy to her life, showing it all in a burst of light and rainbow and happiness.

It fills her heart with joy, and sparks a courage deep down inside.

"Ammy! Ragnell!" Clarine calls out. She draws a length of silvery cloth from her sleeves and hurls it in their direction. It's the Lightbending Veil - Clarine's ever-trusty cloak of invisibility that had seen her through many conflicts before. She's glad she held off on using it until just now. It doesn't matter who catches it - there's room underneath it for both of them and Talia.

Clarine starts to back away toward the exit, but not without working some magic and bringing down a rainbow of her own. A Seraphic glyph springs to life beneath her feet once more.

"O seven brilliant blades, I call upon you to descend and loose your shining might! Prism Sword!" Clarine incants.

At her call, six crystalline swords, each shining in every color of the rainbow, descend down toward the leader of the Shadow Dragons, forming a cage, after which a seventh and final one descends down toward him, at which point they all detonate in an explosion of multi-colored light.

Clarine uses this diversion to retreat toward Ragnell, Amaranth, and Talia, Lydia's invisibility spell wrapping around her.

She would thank her for it, but doing so now would kind of defeat the purpose. She makes a mental note to do so later, however.

GS: Seraph Clarine has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Lock On!
GS: Seraph Clarine has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Prism Sword!
GS: Mute expired!
GS: Seraph Clarine has completed her action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a solid hit from Seraph Clarine's Prism Sword for 163 hit points!
GS: Pearl takes a glancing hit from Seraph Ragnell's Prism Tango for 73 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

As Lydia's concealing power envelops them and she queries whether Ivan plans to stay and pursue a pointless blood vendetta, he claps once... ... ..twice... three times? He seems to be having trouble deciding.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"You can't clap three times! Three times wasn't one of the options! What does that even mean?" Lydia protests in despair as the rabbit nuzzles her cheek with its little bitty nose.

<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

'Hold her back.' Binding the self. Jean sees it--it's impossible not to see it, the shimmering, hazy image of the path the Master points out. Once, she would have agreed with it. She might've laughed off anger about such things. Is all of what remains a false world...?

She can take some satisfcation in the surprise Lydia brings. Only some. She is, after all--busy. In that instant, she makes her gambit. She swings, in many arms--

She knows he can more than match her technique. Nevertheless she keeps coming. The first strike, the second--

All of them are blocked, seemingly effortlessly answered. She feels the imapct of the bracer--

It meant nothing, he his rage says, and she feels an answering call welling up. It answers, at the knife hand that impacts her throat, exploding in chi. Her mouth slams shut, lips pressing--her midsection takes the full brunt of Shadow Dragon maneuver, knocking her backwards--and through the air, kicks slam against her, impacting with bone-cracking force--

And both hands connect, sending Jean slamming into the ground hard enough that the stone cracks beneath her. There's the command--the ones she once followed. And there is silence, for the long moments as much else happens here. Her admission doesn't help Pearl--will this? Can it?

...The brilliant, colorful energy showers down, onto the place in the ground where Jean is. It brings her enough life that she can feel the pain of the strikes, can feel the way it's turned her own body's energy against her. Its brilliant power...

It is not the flames that wash over her by accident, that register most. It is the repetition, from Ivan. It is the feeling of it. What can she say? Nothing, to Pearl dealing with Ragnell. Because it's true, in its way, and untrue, both. Either way... What right does she have, to live this way?

"...I'll go," comes Jean's voice, as she reaches a knee, battered and dusty. "But first..."

Ivan claps a few times. Jean gets up to her feet. A part of her feels alive, at this level of injury, calls out to deliver it back. Sees the fallen acolytes, considers the flame...

Her eyes set. A bend of the knee, and Jean moves, a blur of shadowy motion until she appears beside Ivan. "...Will it?" she asks, utterly serious, looking at the Master instead of at him. "Or will it just consume you, too? ....The way it might..."

She shakes her head, and breathes in. Her chi is out of alignment, her energy frazzled, but the disorder makes it simpler, in that way. The pain, the anger--the talk of it not mattering...

"You're right about one thing," Jean says, as the shadows about her swell, purple-black energy gathering in an aura around her, in all directions, at her hands--

"...It doesn't matter, how it felt. That day, when I left. Because..."

Her stance lowers; there's a brief inversion of color at the center of the aura. "...Pain is just pain."

She shapes it, with her hands, slowly at first, but also with her steps; one thing she hasn't even attempted since that day, hasn't done anything like. But here--

She stops in place, and murmurs, "Shadow Dragon... Storm."

Wreathed in energy, Jean slams her fist downward, and two rising waves of shadow erupt from the ground, growing as they move with spectral force, the next step of the Wave. "If you die here," she grit through her eeth, to Ivan, "You'll never have your revenge. Or your freedom."

...But is it enough, for her? Or has the time passed...?

GS: Jean has activated a Force Action!
GS: Jean has activated a Force Action!
GS: Jean has spent 3 Combo on Gatling, including 3 on Gatling!
GS: Jean has attacked Shadow Dragon Leader with Shadow Dragon Wave!
GS: Jean has attacked Pearl with Shadow Dragon Wave!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
GS: Shadow Dragon Leader takes a glancing hit from Jean's Shadow Dragon Wave for 68 hit points!
GS: Pearl takes a solid hit from Jean's Shadow Dragon Wave for 147 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Shadow Dragon Leader has posed.

There is sunlight falling into the sealed room, from the holes carved by Rigdobrite. The Master looks up at that, and there is a visible uncertainty in his bearing. Then, he looks down -- straight at Amaranth as confetti, doves, streamers, and a rabbit leap about. Illusions swirm about, and he is silent for a moment.

"This is... meaningless! Frivolity!"

Sparks from Ivan slam into him, and before he can rush him -- they impact, exploding about him. He raises an arm, as he is driven back, along with some of the other cultists.

Which is when six huge swords of light slam down -- and then explode in a rainbow shower. He shouts, thrown to the ground. He pushes off; he rolls, and raises his hand. It crackles with a dark-aspect chi--

And then his hand balls into a fist, the shadow chi snuffed out, as Jean's wave cascades towards him. He throws a hand out, blocking it -- and it splits in twain about him, blasting the wall. However, it throws him back, with the force.

And a blast of energy hits his mask. It cracks, and starts to slip down his face. He throws his arm, and the billowing robe around it, over his face. Then, he calls out: "We retreat!"

He bounds -- and vanishes into the shadows.

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"Ammy!" Talia calls out, as soon as she gets a good look at her. And then she spots Mirage, and it's like seeing an old friend -- even if it is an old friend she has a lot of mixed feelings about. The short sword flies to land near her.

And then Ammy is there, teleported to her, the way that Talia has a hundred times before. Her hand takes Ammy's with more strength than she had even a moment before. She smiles up at her, with relief and adoration, and then bites her lower lip.

It's not quite the right time to have a moment.

She smiles, briefly, at Ragnell. Then lets her be, because she has to ward Pearl off with some well-placed shots. Instead, Talia stands -- a little weakly, a little shakily -- and squeezes Amaranth's hand, as she summons the Happy Boost. Her eyes are full of doves, and streamers, and stars.

Stars from Ivan's assault. She stares, for a moment, and then she calls out: "Ivan! I am fine, no? We have to leave, now!"

She glances at Clarine -- and then she smiles, before she grabs it, and drags it around both her and Amaranth. They vanish from sight.

"Ammy, can you get us out of here?" she asks, inside the cloak.

<Pose Tracker> Pearl has posed.


        Pearl's attack is not the killing blow she would have hoped for. And then things start happening that she is in no way equipped for. "What in the world?" The battlefield is surrounded by confetti and happiness and this is frankly humiliating.

        Ragnell then gives a read on her situation that is.. not incorrect. Of course she resents Jean's freedom. Why would she not? She doesn't try to refute it. She doesn't have a response to this. Or to the fact that there's a strong possibility she won't live through the night. So she stays silent, even as Ragnell opens fire. She's not fast enough to escape the attack completely, and it scorches her face and sides. Green hair is briefly visible, unfurling from under her mask where it has been torn and burnt.

        And then before she can continue her assault, her prey vanishes from sight. The cloak and magic disrupt everything. As other cultists who survived Rigdobrite's assault start standing up, she looks around frantically and briefly, but vision won't help her here.

        The attack coming from Jean is a surprise. Of course Jean would have more than she did. Jean was the best student there had been. Pearl isn't able to evade, as the wave slams into her, and Pearl is knocked off her feet. She slams into a wall, and blood blood spurts from the open wounds all over her body. She coughs, and more blood hits the ground. She lands on all fours, looking up at nothing, hatred in her eyes.

        But the order comes to retreat. And it happens again. They are bested, they have lost the day. A part of her wants to stay and fight until the bitter end. But that's not her decision. She dares not disobey further than she already has.

        Shadows well up around here, and consume her. And then, she is gone.

DC: 5 turns have elapsed in the battle against Pearl! No turns remain! Time has expired! The battle is over!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Amaranth has posed.

        In truth, there's still a lot of fear inside Amaranth's heart.

        The fear of having very narrowly lost it all again. The fear of what she felt when she saw Talia kidnapped -- Talia hurt, brought up upon that cage. She doesn't forget it... but she doesn't have to forget everything that everyone's brought to this table too. Because it is true she isn't alone... and she can hold hope in that.

        Even if right now, Ivan--

        Ivan's rage... it reminds her of another time much longer in the past. Can she reach him, like she did, in the past?

        She feels Clarine's magic shrouding her as she throws her prism swords out. "Thank you, Clarine...!" she keeps mum as Ragnell keeps the offense on Pearl to give them some time, and Lydia in turn shrouds everyone else. The rabbit is very friendly to her. Is it real? is it fake? Who knows, mugu mugu.

        But Jean brings out a power towards the Shadow Dragon Master she hasn't seen before; she bites her lip in turn as she murmurs in agreement, "... we can't change what already happened. But neither can we get stuck upon it... because--"

        She looks to Talia again, having that darn moment even if the time isn't right.

        "I have to believe that we can have change. No matter what comes our way, no matter how scary."

        Talia asks if she can get them out of here.

        "Let's go, before the Guard comes! Anywhere Door!"

        She literally pulls a door out of her shinobi's purse and slaps it to a nearby wall, then hurries through it.

<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

The third clap, as it turned out, was Ivan realizing he'd blown through some kind of personal limit, and was now in the midst of a full-blown flare-up of his illness, his head spinning and his chest burning as his flames grow less and less inclined to listen to his will.

But because he's Ivan, he's thinking maybe he'll go on fighting anyway, even though the battlefield is spinning and his magic won't obey him. They need to die...! He can keep going with willpower alone if he has to!

He fumbles for a vial of medicine, as Jean warns him that the rage may overtake him, even if the wish for revenge is sated.

"I'd rather find that out from experience...!" he rasps back at her.

But the decision is made for him as their enemies... retreat!

Dismay grips him. If they ran, then they must have had some chance, and now they lost it... ... .. the next time they see them, they'll be at full strength, again, with some new, horrible trick...

But he gets some of the medicine down his throat, enough to be ambulatory enough to follow the others out through the magic door.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

The Shadow Dragon Leader might be departing...but Clarine knows that if he wished to press the fight, he likely very well could. It seemed that something else had evoked that reaction, though she didn't see what.

Clarine doesn't wait around - she hurries toward Amaranth and the others, flashing a brief smile in return in Talia's direction as she catches the Lightbending Veil.

She listens quietly as Amaranth speaks. 'We can have change. No matter what comes our way, no matter how scary...'

It's encouraging to Clarine, too.

She glides through the door, her mirrors trailing right along behind her and following her through it.

Hopefully, to safety.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia tries not to look at the corpses she made. They may buy them some time from the Cult.

Lydia rematerializes near Ivan, concern wracking her face. Worrying about Ivan right now is helping her not worry about the people she killed. Everybody said it was easier to kill again if you could kill before but honestly Lydia still feels like throwing up and is only managing not to right now because the fear of being caught here by the Guard or worse. Whomever said that the second time is easy was lying, she's pretty sure. It'd be nice if it was easy. Then she could just do it and cuddle with the guy she likes instead of fretting over if they managed to buy some time to survive this or if an ignoble end is all but inevitable, rubbing at Ivan's back as if she thinks it might help him swallow down the medicine better.

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia looks sideways at Ammy, and has a bright smile on her face. It flickers momentarily, as she looks at her brother. What is he doing?

Is he losing control? Or--

An attack, she realizes. Her eyes are wide for a moment; then, she sees him take the medicine, and Lydia is there. Talia can accept that. She looks back at Amaranth -- she smiles, then, again.

She squeezes her hand. "Let's go, no?"

And then she steps through the door.

<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Meaningless. IT's a tempting word. Easy to think about, far from her family, here, in the dark. But Jean's mind and heart have no room for idle thoughts right now.

She watches, as her attack hits, and doesn't hit--as the Master sems so effortlessly to block, and yet--

...And yet, is knocked backward. His mask cracks. She can't see under the mask--but her eyes widen, for an instant. It will mean questions, later--

...More of them, as she turns to see Pearl having fallen. Hatred in her eyes. They're gone. ...They're all gone.

"...Change, huh?" Jean asks, and she sounds very, very tired. Her gaze flicks back to Ivan, as she rises. She wonders--the way he lookd there, the sudden rush for some vial...

"Lucky you, that we don't always get what we'd rather," Jean answers him, and turns towards the Anywhere Door. "...I hope you're right."

Jean starts after--and she sets a hand on Lydia's shoulder, in passing, gives her a look. "...I know," she says softly. "I know."

She saw, too.

But she follows, and keeps her feet as she moves through the door.

...Can they, though? She thinks of the look in Pearl's eyes, and her own are closed when she passes the threshold.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia Seren immediately hugs her oneesama. "Thank you," She says, very simply, but potently. Luckily the laser panels seem to have vanished.