2020-12-12: A Link Between Worlds

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<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

Cid promised the Drifters and ARMS members who helped them that he could do the same. Earlier today, each received their Reflector Key: a long, silver object with metal and crystal enclosed at one end. This will allow them to activate an Elw teleporter, hidden in a ruin that the Al Bhed know to be on Bikanel Island, and then transport themselves to another world.

But, they have to excavate that site first.

The Fahrenheit and Fereshte land a distance away. Cid walks with them as far as the next dune. He wears his Al Bhed garb, but goggles are pulled down over his face. The bald man has a large rifle on his back and gritted teeth -- and then his eyes widen as he crests the hell. "What in the..."

Someone has beaten them to the site. It most certainly is the site, for a spire at the center can be seen -- and a piece cracked off, where it was cut through. More than that, there is a domed roof that is just visible out of the sand. There are, scattered over the surroundings, troops wearing Odessa uniforms: olive drab, with large hats and goggles, and rifles. A few elite soldiers are there too.

So is a small, hunched over gear. A drill on it spins up -- then stops, as a warning shout comes.

"Aw, hell!" Cid yells. "Looks like Odessa found it too. Well... good news is, we know where it is! Bad news is, looks like there's someone we gotta run off!"

"Seems that way," Leon Albus says as he steps up to his once-and-current employer. The Black Wolves have taken jobs from the Al Bhed before, and they've taken a few since. Even without a standing mission to capture Yuna, there is money to be had.

Leon's eyes narrow, slowly, as he gets a look at Odessa's soldiers. He hesitates a moment -- just to judge distance, not out of any moral quandary -- and then pulls his shotgun ARM out. He takes aim; the sight moves over an Odessa soldier's head.

Then, with a crack-boom, that soldier's corpse drops to the floor. Leon looks at Cid, then says cheerfully: "That's one fewer."

"Welp!" Cid says. "Looks like we're doing this! Good luck everyone!"

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

A way back to Filgaia had been formulated. They had a key, and now they just needed to make their way to a place to use it. Of course, they needed to excavate it, first - and one of those here whose specialty was manipulating earth, Jacqueline had volunteered her talents to the mission. And so, she's among those marching out to the shrine...

...Only for a grimace to cross her face as she spots the Odessa soldiers arrayed around the ruins.

"...It's my fault, really. It's my fault for hoping that something would go right for us without having to have a big fight over it, first." Jacqueline says with a sigh, shaking her head. She takes a deep breath. Looks like they're doing this.

"I'll handle support! Try to approach with caution!" She says. She holds both hands out, and begins casting spells - battlefield manipulation spells to shape the earth and create cover and provide shelter for her allies in their approach on Odessa.

This will be her combat role, unless a certain someone has anything to say about it.
Seraph Boudicca (boudicca) pages Josephine Lovelace, Xantia, and Leon Albus: do you wish to posem first josie

<Pose Tracker> Yue Rohay has posed.

    *THOOOOOOOM*

    It is daylight on Bikanel, with nary a stormcloud in sight -- fresh blue skies as far as the eye can see.

    Yet the enormous shatter of thunder rings through the field, inexplicably -- a singular, white-hot lightning bolt coursing down from heavens knows where. A rider manifests within. Humanoid, clad in obsidian-black armour, astride a mechanical nightmare.

    "The Drifters are here," intones the mechanical voice underneath the helmet, electronically warped through a voice-modulator.

<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

    "Support?" There is that arrogant, youthful, kind of aggravating voice as a flash of blood red armor leaps about the dunes like some kind of critter who just has to make due with the existence of fine powdery substances slowing their roll but not the rock within that empowers the roll. Physics, though. Physics can dampen that rock. And it does, and that is enough with the metaphorical talk on that.
     Subtly, however, any fine granular matter that his body takes is exhaust right the hell back out of his elbows and feet, blasts of compressed air helping vent his limbs from being all clogged up by all of this sand, everywhere, and anywhere, as he leaps across the sky and comes down uncomfortably close to Jay (which is, in reality, not all that close to her - because almost any distance where he is in view can be construed as uncomfortable). His solid yellow eyes light up. That grin of his, well, it's a grin. It's slightly bigger than a normal grin? But a grin.
     "Support!" He follows up the questioning statement with that, as per tradition. "Come onnnn...!"
     He's on top of where Jay suddenly casts an earth manipulation spell, but this is by his design as he perches higher atop a pillar. "Why wouldn't you expect a big fight...? Everyone is at war... everyone!" He hops down the pillar, ever closer, before standing up and raising his arms in that fighting stance of his. Palms pointed down, one knee raised and bent inwards. "How would a lack of a fight 'go right' for anyone?! It's history in the making... come onnn! Come onnnn!"
     Ratatoskr, who once again has come out of nowhere to fight, in his annoying, youthful eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-old insistence.

<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    "What happens if we damage the ruins?" asks one of the soldiers overseeing the drilling operation, to a figure in a longcoat, a shotgun strapped along her back.

    Josephine Lovelace, for her part, shrugs her shoulders. "Can't make an omelet without breakin' a few eggs, right?" she remarks, a lopsided smile on her lips. "Come on. We'll worry about it if and when it happens." She glances up at the sky.

    A group of armed Drifters emerge from over the next hill. Josie blinks, slowly.

    ...A group of armed Drifters emerge over the crest of the next hill.

    "Fengalon's balls," utters the archaeologist, scowling, tugging her goggles down over her eyes. "Looks like we've got company!" The fact that someone takes out a soldier with a headshot -- as the drill whines down -- may only underscore that declaration.

    Her frown only deepens. Drawing the black shotgun -- Agares, the Bitter -- from where it rests holstered along her lower back, she spins it about in her left hand, ejecting the shells from an earlier encounter in a rain. That shot. That technique behind it.

    "...Albus. You're here, aren't you? Show yourself."

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Heart and Dart!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: Josephine Lovelace accepts Josephine Lovelace's Heart and Dart for 0 hit points!
GS: Amplify and Hyper applied to Josephine Lovelace!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ragnell doesn't wear the Odessa uniform. From the start, she's been here for her own reasons, and besides, those uniforms are hella ugly. She'll keep to her own style, thank ya kindly. On Lunar, and thus Spira, that means an indigo tunic top with golden embroidery, black slacks, and a ribbon-scarf--but she's still got a hat, gloves, and knee-high boots, even if only the hat is still the same across outfits. She's leaning on the drill, arms folded over her chest, and looks up when Drifters show up en masse and casually shoot a soldier dead.
    
    "Figures," she notes to Josie and whichever other Odessans might be nearby, just as casually. The desert has this sort of effect on people: even if someone drops dead, it's not strange at all. Or maybe Ragnell's just that jaded about human life. "Y' can't dig up some kinda ancient secrets without a bunch o' cats runnin' over t' poke their noses in an' sate their curiosity."
    
    She glances over at the Fjolnir as it rumbles onto the battlefield, then shifts her footing as she draws her paired pistols. To the Drifters and company, she shoots not bullets--yet--but a smirk. "Guess we oughtta do somethin' about it, huh?"

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

A convenient means of traveling to Filgaia and the technology of the Elw were both subjects of interest for Azoth for a number of reasons. So was knowing more precisely how Drifters aboard both the Fahrenheit and Fereshte would play into such an excavation. Not all his reasons could be freely given, but he had mentioned to Ivan the desire to get back to Filgaia.

Ivan had wondered why not stay here on Lunar, where those who might use him as a weapon presumably weren't? To integrate into Spira, disappear, become someone else... and leave the past in the past. A hypothetical as intriguing as it was impossible. But all Azoth gives on the matter is a smile and the insistence that he needs to find something, and it's not on Lunar.

But if Azoth had known they'd be attacked by Odessa, he wouldn't have asked for Ivan's help. He moves uneasily between Ivan and the line of sight of the new corpse as if an assassin hasn't seen a dead body before. (Maybe a reformed assassin is sensitive about dead bodies!)

"Sorry, this is a little more excitement than I envisioned," he says with a nervous smile.

Azoth produces a veil of light from his palm -- a blue-white shield with hexagonal patterns over the surface -- to catch enemy fire. He can't keep defenses like this up indefinitely, though, and in a moment when it's down he spots a familiar face on the wrong side of the battlefield.

"Ah-- Ragnell?!"

<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

Finally, a way home...! It's not like they've actually been here for that long, though. Or rather, it feels as though they were stranded in Spira only yesterday. Being enmeshed in religious upheaval and wanton heresy apparently makes the time go by pretty darn quick. They haven't even had a single encounter with Spira's resident doomwhale yet! Honestly, it feels kind of like going off on a vacation to a far off land and only eating at the hotel restaurant because the local cuisine is too exotic for your sister-in-law.

Ashley Winchester doesn't mind. It's much better that they can get home and tell everyone that they were whisked off to the moon again instead of, like, murdered by robots.

But just when he thought they were going to get off easy...

It's these guys again.

"Great," Ashley sighs as he racks a fresh cartrige into his oversized ARM. The expression he wears is... Just a *little* bit frustrated, maybe something closer to 'resigned' than anything else. "Are you guys going to sicc another genocidal master-robot at us this time too?"

He looks at Fjolnir, rattling her saber at them, and frowns. "Okay," he says.

Then he shoots her.

GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Yue Rohay with Shot Weapon!
GS: Ashley Winchester has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
GS: Yue Rohay has adjusted their boss level for 3 opponents!
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Ashley Winchester's Shot Weapon for 112 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ganondorf Dragmire has posed.

Ganondorf Dragmire had certain business on Bikanel a few days ago.

This was not that business, but it did give him an opportunity to pop back over here when he was done.

The King of the Desert Thieves stands in the open. He has spotted the airships landing, and throws a look in Ragnell's direction as soon as he confirms it. "....you may amuse yourself," he tells her, and then holds out a hand. Just as Drifters start cresting the ridge, a bead of raw voidal blackness drops from his palm, striking the sand below and expanding outward rapidly. Bright green-white lines draw themselves in that void, and then it shoots upward, elevating rapidly, transforming and solidifying.

In the end, a tremendous creature - the size of a small Gear, some several meters tall - forms. It is about 3/4 torso, with a massive, broad chest and a long, tattered cloak, and two swords like cleavers with twisted ends. It hovers, so its relatively dainty legs are no issue for it.

Its purple eyes gleam with menace, its blades sparking with threat.

Ganondorf turns on his heels and sweeps back into the shade of a tent, where he stands with arms crossed, unconcerned. "Bring me the elves," he says, firmly. The knight-like phantom growls, and begins to stomp forward.

DC: Ganondorf Dragmire switches forms to Phantom Ganon!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    Crack-BOOM.

    It might not be that loud in reality; it's that loud in the echoing halls of Seraph Boudicca, as she watches Leon Albus smoothly go from drawing his ARM to making that soldier very much not alive. It's not even just the death, though certainly it is the death; it is the ease of the killing, the lack of hesitation...

    A wince in her eyes, and the rest of her face, too.

    "Do... do not say that," she offers, to Jay, a little hesitation on her uptake. "Odessa's decisions are no fault of yours, Jacqueline." Well, she assures her, but it's a useful assurance for everyone present. Boudicca included.

    "I, too, assist." And it might be strange that she steps forward with that scion of the Black Wolves -- or maybe it's the most natural position in the world. More quietly, to him: "... if I ensure your safety, surely you do not have to be so indiscriminate, no?"

    Tragically, Boudicca understands nothing of stealth, as a green sigil alights beneath him and a warm spring breeze curls around, offering a wind-buffer barrier and the breeze at his heels.

    Looking up to the drilling site, and she steps forward --

    "Josephine," Boudicca calls, and hers is misery in layers, like a child rugged up in the depths of winter. "Do you truly mean to stand against us here..?" Her hand spreads out, without tonfa clasped inside. "... I have no wish to see you come to harm."

    The breeze rolls through, a shadow over her eyes, a shadow over her voice.

    "... but I must see this done, all the same."

GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Leon Albus with Fortifying Tailwind!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

Matters of technology are typically outside Catenna's wheelhouse, but Elw teleporters bring things closer to home.

She's been trying to figure out the Reflector Key she was given. It's a piece of machinery, and an advanced one at that - more opaque to her than usual. Turning it over in her hands, she eventually looks up to begin moving after Cid. For all that she's about as technically apt as a caveman, this is is an area she can help: Sounding out where the hidden ruin itself might be.

It proves unnecessary. The Moon Shaman draws up short at the sight of Odessa soldiers crawling all over the ruins.

Lowering her eyelids slightly, Catenna touches one hand to her temples as she grapples with an inner surge of irritation. Her relationship to Odessa has been different than that of most Drifters. "Things always seem to go this way," she murmurs.

There's little choice, of course. Catenna unbuttons her cloak and throws her hood back. The outfit beneath is a version of the modular Spiran one she's adopted, albeit in a different colour palette: White with geometric patterns in copper, red, gold and black. She takes her bow in hand and draws an arrow, beginning to move forward with quiet purpose.

She stops up short at the sight of someone else. She can make out the King of the Desert Thieves from across the way. A flicker of something dances behind her eyes.

Something about Ganondorf Dragmire unnerves her in ways that go beyond what should be logical. She glances towards her shoulder, where Saarda-Shanta has ducked her head and hunkered down into the shoulders of her wings.

When the phantom knight storms out onto the field, a massive floating giant, the Moon Shaman steals a look back towards those she came with - someone smaller than even she herself, really. With a quick snap of her wrist, she draws an arrow, then boosts herself into a long leap.

Catenna's jump carries her to one side of the emerging phantom knight. In mid-leap, she lets an arrow fly, sending the projectile sailing in towards the giant's shoulder.

She can't shake the deep nervousness. The rest of Odessa, except Ragnell, are easily written up in her mind as just another group of cynical political conquerors. Ganondorf Dragmire is something deeper, more profound and more terrifying, and his servants are not an exception.

GS: Catenna has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Arrow Snap!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Eleanor Klein thinks her key is rather cute, actually. It will be great to be able to use it, though... There are reasons she might've hoped for the Spiran journey to last longer, but she has responsibilities on Filgaia, and she can't neglect them longer than she has to. So here and now...

Eleanor is dressed in light-colored draping clothing against the desert heat, wide sleeves and sturdy boots for dealing with the sand and sun--she, like Cid, has a big rifle on her back, and peers out towards where Odessa has beaten them to it. "Well, that's not that much of a surprise," Eleanor admits. "Odessa trouble is always an option."

Pause.

"That is... a way to start the battle," Eleanor says of Leon's cheerful statement and shot. She rolls her shoulders a bit and readies to move forward, heedless of Yue's deito danger. She looks ahead to see the enemy assembling for combat, and quickly thinks of where she's best helpful--

before she sees Ganondorf's work, and her yellow eyes narrow. "I'm moving in," Eleanor says. She remembers what she 'saw' of Ganondorf well--

But the stomping knight is not Ganondorf himself. Is it?

Pulling her rifle off of her shoulder, the young elf takes a knee to aim, putting her gaze down the sight of the Veruni-made ARM and cradling it carefully in her hands. She takes aim for one of those phantom eyes.

Bang. She'll get up and pull her Crests as it gets closer.

GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Dead Shot!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Nimue has posed.

Nimue has resisted the urge to bite the Reflector Key, which is -- frankly -- a win.

(Nimue, earlier: "Oh, are we doing goggles? I love doing goggles! That's how I don't get shrapnel in my eyes.")

Nimue is of course, here, thus, with her ridiculous goggles actually on her face. She actually manages to stay silent and not preemptively alert anone -- but once Leon takes his shot, she immediately pipes up, "Yep! This is happening now!"

Now, by rights, she really ought to take on the same kind of role Jay is; instead, however, she is not going to do that -- nor does she have the chance to, when Ratatoskr approaches via Jay's earth-manipulation. Indeed, she decides to do the exact opposite of take a backseat.

"Listen up, dumbass, 'cuz I'm only gonna say this one time," Nimue starts, reaching behind herself to grab her sling-staff. "I've seen a whole lot of history and, like, trust me, dude, this right here? Boring. Duplicates itself like millions of times. Actually history's kinda boring in general. *Stuff* is neat but actual, like, events, people? Kiiiinda sameeeeeey!"

Nimue gives her staff a twirl, despite not having popped a grenade into it or anything; instead, when she gives it a flick, a gust of ice-cold wind issues forth. As it travels, it starts to pick up water vapor, forming small spikes of ice en route.

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel is being quiet. She strums at the guitar in her hands, holding it close to her body. She strums at it mildly, thinking to herself. She doesn't seem inclined to give ARMS direction today. Maybe they already know what they ought to be doing regardless. Cid calls out that Odessa is here too and Marivel sighs. At this point, she really shouldn't be fighting Odessa. Soon the Time of Promise is to come and she shouldn't be pressing on the scale.

She sees a familiar horse, and a familiar rider. Shee sets down the guitar and draws out her deadliest weapon: Her microphone-- and she makes her way onto the field, just walking towards Fjolnir.

"What if I don't want to cross blades?" Marivel asks, quirking her head at the horse only to jump a bit at Ashley opening fire. "Oh! Hey! you're here too huh...? Hmmm...."

She brings up two fingers to her mouth and whistles--

--causing the horse to gallop towards her at a quick speed! ... The negative side effects of riding Nyx into battle, perhaps. Marivel's intent? To hop on the horse WITH Fjolnir!

"Maybe I just want to have a nice talk, enjoy a peaceful moment free of concern for a mission, free of the future, living in a present moment and just appreciating what I feel in those moments, setting down that weight on my shoulders and allowing others to carry it for a time."

GS: Seraph Nimue has attacked Ratatoskr with Winter-Wind Blizzaga!
GS: Seraph Nimue has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Nimue has completed her action.
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Yue Rohay with Whistle!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Yue Rohay accepts Marivel Armitage's Whistle for 0 hit points!
GS: Leon Albus accepts Seraph Boudicca's Fortifying Tailwind for 0 hit points!
GS: Burst, Quick, and Shield applied to Leon Albus!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Yue Rohay with Whistle!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Yue Rohay critically guards Marivel Armitage's Whistle for 0 hit points!
GS: Yue Rohay activates Guard bonus!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

During their journey to the excavation site, Ivan is given plenty of time to ponder what mysterious item Azoth may be seeking that's so important he needs to risk putting himself back in the hands of his controllers over it. Technically, Ivan took a very similar risk in his bid to return to Lunar, but he supposes the thing Azoth is looking for probably isn't a highly specific set of medicinal plants. Is there some robot equivalent? A special energy source? Azoth may have been treated to a couple of outlandish, idle guesses of that nature along the way.

When they reach their destination, though, they find their way barred by the forces of Odessa, and things immediately turn bloody.

Sorry, this is a little more excitement than I envisioned

"I'm equipped to handle excitement!" Ivan protests, calling in a blade with a flash of his ring to prove it. "You don't need to shield me--" Is Azoth even trying to shield him from THE SIGHT OF A DEAD BODY?? This is so embarrassing?? (Ivan, no one is watching you.)

But he is distracted from these wounds to his pride when they find a surprising sight amongst the enemies standing before them...

"Ragnell! Are you ... helping them guard this ruin from us??"

It's not the first time Ragnell has showed up doing something unfathomable, but that doesn't in and of itself make it less unfathomable.

<Pose Tracker> Venetia Vuong has posed.

"What a tragic waste of human life," Venetia Vuong says as Leon Albus does a cold blooded murder in front of them. "But that's joining Odessa for you."

ICE COLD! This brave word lays over a squeamish feeling in the pit of Venetia's stomach, who has grown somewhat used to peril, yet less so for grisly mayhem. On the other hand, the entire situation here has a certain subtle desperation and as far as Venetia Vuong can tell, Odessa's main purpose is to get in the way of her own agenda.

"Noble of you," Venetia tells the looming mechanical figure. The mask hides the sweat. Up she raises - a Crest Graph - one that gleams! For it is less than three days old! Bronze doesn't corrode that fast! Ashley's boom gets a steady ts-ts-ts-ts counterpoint from a barrage of sparkling shards of stone, aiming to wash like a fire hose over the front of the great armored figure. Perhaps to seek weakness.

Perhaps to decorate.

"Were you there for Juno?" Venetia asks Ashley during this. "Do not get me started about that one. I can barely comprehend that malice even now." Towards the looming figure, she shouts, "WHAT ABOUT YOU? Are you working for Juno? Don't lie to me, I'm a sorceress!"

("Did you carry that horse with you?" Venetia asks Marivel, having astutely noticed the horse shortage in Spira.)

GS: Ratatoskr guards a hit from Seraph Nimue's Winter-Wind Blizzaga for 70 hit points!
GS: Venetia Vuong spends 1 Combo on Gatling, loading 1 into Gatling!
GS: Venetia Vuong has attacked Yue Rohay with Faceter!
GS: Venetia Vuong takes 23 damage from Poison!
GS: Venetia Vuong gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Venetia Vuong has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Given the promise of being able to return to Filgaia, that matter immediately had all of Xantia's attention. She's frequently pointed it out, especially to the other Black Wolves: she has a very strong sense of belonging on Filgaia - being stuck on Lunar is stressful, to put it mildly. Anything she can do to help speed up the process of their return, no one even needs to ask, it would've been more difficult to stop her from coming along. And hey, excavation happens to be one of her specialities anyway. She can handle smashing things and doing some heavy lifting, no problem.

The fact that it seems that there's going to have to be a fight before the excavating part can begin may well only make it better to her. She confirms as much when Cid points this out, cracking her knuckles with a bright smile. "Are you sure you've mentioned the bad news? I haven't heard any yet."

Leon doesn't waste any time taking out one of their opponents before giving them a fair shot. No objections from her. Well, there is one. "You're gonna leave some for me, right? Don't take them all down from far away, that's not fair." To her, she means, not having a gun and not favoring long range in general. Not exactly concerned with what's fair to Odessa.

...Then she hears a familiar voice, and her smile quickly vanishes.

Though she wasn't there when it happened, Xantia has obviously heard about it. One might expect her to be outraged at Josie's betrayal. And yet, once she's recovered from the initial surprise, the first thing she does... is smile, once again. But this is not a happy smile, or the kind of smile when she's looking forward to a good fight. Her eyes aren't smiling. This is a sad smile. But still a smile, nonetheless.

She looks over to Boudicca, lending unexpected support. Then back over to Leon. Her expression might be enough to convey her attention wordlessly, but she clarifies them to the Black Wolves' leader, just in case.

"...Leon. You remember what I said before, right? My thoughts on Josie? So... you can do this your way, of course. But let me do it my way. Okay?"

With that, she starts to walk forward. Just, casually going out in the open, not raising her hands in either aggression or surrender. "Josie? Hey. Long time no see. Just so we're clear... I prefer not to fight a friend, but I will if they're doing things that I can't agree with."

She's not so dense as to not 100 percent expect to get shot at. She's ready for that. Hopefully, ready enough to avoid that from happening.

GS: Xantia has attacked Xantia with This Is What Caution Looks Like!
GS: Xantia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Yue Rohay with Whistle!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Xantia accepts Xantia's This Is What Caution Looks Like for 0 hit points!
GS: Quick applied to Xantia!
GS: Hyper applied to Xantia!
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Venetia Vuong's Faceter for 121 hit points!
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Marivel Armitage's Whistle for 0 hit points!
GS: Yue Rohay has adjusted their boss level for 4 opponents!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Yue Rohay with Whistle!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Marivel Armitage's Whistle for 0 hit points!
GS: Mute and Slow applied to Yue Rohay!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida came prepared for a fight. Her salvaged Hyadean armor and steel-fabric trenchcoat may be uncomfortable in the desert heat, but they've served her well so far. Her reflector key is tucked safely into a metal scroll-case at the small of her back. The sand crunches beneath her boots as she steps forwards, putting a hand to her brow to survey the dig site in the few seconds she has before all hell breaks loose. She wonders if Odessa is here to capture this place, or to destroy it.

    Leon shoots a man dead, and jokes about it. Ida chokes down a spike of bilious anger, noting that it's become easier. She turns, instead, to Jacqueline Barber. "I know the feeling, but stay focused." Her eyes widen as she sees a familiar broad-shouldered figure, and then a sudden eruption of fel sorcery.

    'Bring me the elves.'

    Ida knows what her next priority is. Without so much as a word, she sprints across the dune, stopping just behind Eleanor. Ida whips Devil's Due from its holster, takes aim at the giant's center of mass, and fires. Gunsmoke propellant boils out of the bullet as it races at its target, stirred by an unseen wind into a thick cloud. It falls heavy around Ida, enshrouding her, and hiding her exact position from the enemy's sight. It's like a smoke grenade, except coming out of the back of a fast-moving projectile.

<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel tucked her Reflector Key away with a grave seriousness that hers - which she is fairly certain started life as an Elw cosmetic tool, though it's hard to tell because the actual head is missing - doesn't entirely deserve.

Except it does, after what Cid's done with it. Mariel has to acknowledge the skill required in finding a small Elw hand tool that still had a working power cell, to hook a crystal array up to it just so, and to manage to reverse engineer the teleporter enough to actually synchronize the crystal array well enough to do something useful. It's impressive.

But she still feels a little weird trusting her life to something that, a long time ago before she got in the habit of doing it by hand, she might have trimmed the fine fur of her ears with.

Mariel is mostly here to assist. She's not good at actual physical excavation, but she has a unique advantage amongst all the Drifters: she can read Elw, and thus if there are inscriptions with directions or warnings she can make sense of them. She has a basic idea how Elw machinery works, too. It's win-win!

But she was not expecting Odessa to be here already. "Do they have something like a Key?" she asks Cid, early on. "Did you lose any, back before...?" Because if one person can make it, another certainly can copy it.

She winces when Leon fires. Mariel doesn't want to see anyone dead this day. But - it is inadvisable to just let Odessa get what they want. She tells herself that. It doesn't really help. There's a feeling in her stomach, an unhappy sensation somewhere between guilt and nausea.

Or maybe that's the evil magic. It's hard to tell.

"Catenna!" Mariel runs after the Shaman, picking up the hem of her robe to go faster across the dunes. She sees what she's shooting at, and Mariel feels a whole lot less guilty about seeing the arrow go thataway instead of humans getting shot by shotguns.

Catenna might notice Mariel slipping up behind her and pulling one of the arrows out of her quiver. She certainly notices when Mariel hands it back a moment later, having rubbed an oil on the tip of it. The oil is thick and viscous and seems to be suspending little fragments of stone along the arrowhead.

The reason is visible a moment later, when the arrowhead - the actual metal tip, not the arrow itself - ignites. Mariel coats a couple more of the arrows for Catenna for good measure.

GS: Mariel has attacked Catenna with Flamestone Oil!
GS: Mariel has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
GS: Catenna accepts Mariel's Flamestone Oil for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Catenna!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Smoke Follows Fire Ignition!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey assumes the Stoic stance!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    'You may amuse yourself,' Ganondorf tells Ragnell, and the Seraph snorts in, well, amusement. "So glad t' have your permission, Your Majesty," she says with dry humor. She watches with interest as he summons up a phantom knight, then strides off to chill in a tent after commanding it to fight on his behalf. Ragnell snort-laughs and shakes her head. "If I had any doubt before, Ganon, I'd know it now: you really are a king."
    
    A lot of familiar voices arise from the Drifters, to Ragnell's total lack of surprise. She turns around when she hears her voice, though, and smiles when she sees its source. "Oh hey, Az," she says brightly, raising one hand to wiggle her fingers over her pistol. "Figured this might happen sooner or later--" Her smirk re-emerges. "--all considerin'." A thick, pregnant pause. She glances over at Ivan, next to/behind Azoth. "Hmmmm... Found yourself a new best friend, huh, Ivan? Or maybe a new boyfriend. Or maybe you just added one? 'm'sure Lydie wouldn't mind." Her expression turns thoughtful as she scratches her head with the muzzle of one of her guns. "Speakin' of, you really got a type, huh?"
    
    She glances further afield at Boudicca and Xantia as they challenge Josie, and Nimue as she jumps Ratatoskr. She smirks at the sight of Catenna and blows the murderous little shaman (never mind that she's only murderous towards a select few people) a wink and an air-kiss, just to be annoying. Marivel she pointedly ignores to focus back in on Ivan and Azoth.
    
    "Sure looks like it!" she tells the former assassin. "I'd ask you two if you *really* wanna fight me..." She grins broadly, baring sharp teeth. "But it'd be REAL embarrassin' for ya if you turned tail an' ran now, wouldn't it? So why don't we go 'round a few rounds an' have some fun?"
    
    She lifts one pistol and fires a shot high into the cloudless desert sky. Inexplicably, a moment later, a rapid rain of needle-like lightning and waterdrops pours down towards Ivan and Azoth, to drench and electrocute them in equal measure--as well as give Ragnell a bit of weather cover to give herself a defensive edge.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Azoth with Squall Shot!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Ivan with Squall Shot!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

"I'm not that fast with a gun," Leon says to Xantia, with a crooked grin.

Leon starts down the hill. It's with a sort of methodical approach, the way that he doesn't run. He moves quickly, but that puts him into the firing lines. One Odessa soldier swings a rifle up, taking aim -- and then Leon flicks Argent Divider II to the side. The barrels of shotgun snap apart; the blade telescopes out, a flickering and crackling blade of dark red energy explodes out of it.

He slashes through the bullet with a quick, sharp motion. It disintegrates in a moment, before he looks sideways at Boudicca. He gives her a moment's thought -- and his silver eyes are, for a second, inscrutable. He doesn't look bloodthirsty; merely tired. "Safety is a funny thing. And the more of them that are gone..."

He flicks his eyes out to the Odessa soldiers. "...the safer we are, in the long-term. But I suppose I can restrain myself. For the moment."

The energy blade around Argent Divider II flickers once, then fades out in the blink of an eye. Boudicca's sigil flashes up around him; his coat flutters, his longer hair flies up at the breeze, and he nods his gratitude to her.

Josie calls his name. Those same silver eyes are then anything but inscrutable. There is a flicker in them, somewhere between pained and enraged, somewhere between hurt and fury. Xantia speaks to him; it is something he hears through the din of his own mind, an echo that refuses to quite break through.

He doesn't think about the dome they need to secure.

He doesn't think about the Odessa soldiers he told Boudicca he wouldn't kill.

He doesn't think much at all, then.

"LOVELACE!" he screams, at the top of his lungs. Veins in his neck stand out; he snaps his sword again. The blade telescopes back in, and both the barrels snap into place, before he lifts them. He looks at Xantia, and there is a pained expression. She can do this her way. He can do this his.

But it's a reminder of how his way tends to get stares and discomfort. A reminder that his way is closer to their enemies. He hesitates for a second.

He remembers ice blue eyes.

Then he lifts Argent Divider II, aiming at Josephine. He fires -- but only after jerking to the side at the last minute, aiming to put a bullet through her knee instead of her torso. "Was it worth it?" he snaps. "The betrayal? Did you get everything you wanted?"

GS: Leon Albus has attacked Josephine Lovelace with RR-2 Diplomacy!
GS: Leon Albus enters a Counter stance!
GS: Leon Albus has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Leon Albus has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    If there is ever a way to get Gwen's attention (as if this was a difficult feat), is was to hand her a trinket, especially one that sparkles and has metal detailing. "... You know, the Al Bhed'd make a killin' if they went into jewelry makin', if they haven't already. People'd pay for this sort of thing just as a matter of something neat t'have!" She lightly waves her Reflector Key in the air. "Is this plan goes off without a hitch, think of all the oppurtunities for trade this could open up!"

    The call of CAPITALISM aside, the ships have landed on the shores of Bikanel Island, where destiny awaits!

    ... In the form of Odessa.

    Gwen's face falls as she crests the top of the dune. "Man, I don't mind a tussle, but that's gonna make establishing this as a possible route a little... annoying if we can't drive 'em off permanent-like." She itches the side of her cheek with a single finger. "Maybe we can--"

    With a crack-boom of Leon's ARM, an unfortunate Odessa soldier falls.

    Gwen can't help herself. She whistles at Leon's sharpshooting prowess, which seques into a cough as the fact that this was a living person that just came to their end. "... So much for a peaceful resolution."
    
    Sharp eyes see the exchange between Ganondorf and Ragnell, free of the actual words being said, and Gwen's expression barely changes. The disbelief on the others' faces, echoed in those who deal with the fact that Josie is also there, joining Odessa's forces.

    Clearly, it's--

    Eleanor parts for the mechnical(?) beast(?) knight(!), along with Catenna and Mariel. Gwen rushes to join them alongside Ida, her countenance more merry than Ida's, her right hand already freed of its protective glove. "Let's see how this thing does against a dose of good ol' electricity!"

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline pauses for a moment as Boudicca offers her assurance that it wasn't her fault. It had been hyperbole, mostly... but, she appreciates the gesture.

"...Thanks." Jacqueline replies, sending her a small, grateful smile, and a nod toward Ida as well. "Let's just try to make sure as few people get hurt as possible."

She looks toward the distance, where Ganondorf appears with his creation, and then to Catenna and Mariel. She knows this is a personal matter for them.

"...Be careful, alright...?" She says. She'd move to assist them... but it isn't long before a certain someone appears, standing atop one of her pillars.

"Ratatoskr!" Jacqueline calls out with a gasp. She backpedals quickly, just a tad unnerved as he drops down in front of her.

"Not everyone." Jacqueline replies, shaking her head. "And it's that kind of thinking that causes these incidents to keep happening, anyway!"

She frowns, then, at his next statement.

"Well, a fight certainly didn't go right for him, did it...?" Jacqueline asks, nodding her head in the direction of the Odessan scout Leon shot. "That man is dead. His future, everything he could've done, could've been, could've affected... they've all been cut short. This is the only thing that your fights produce, Ratatoskr."

She shakes her head.

"Violence and bloodshed - that's not 'history', Ratatoskr, that's just a tragedy!" She says. She looks toward Nimue, then, who comes in to assist in her own way. Jacqueline just shrugs. "...And she isn't wrong, either."

She doesn't move to attack just yet - maybe she's hoping she'll be able to get through to him.

GS: Azoth guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Squall Shot for 61 hit points!
GS: Cover applied to Seraph Ragnell!
GS: Azoth activates Countermeasures!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Comet Clip!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes 21 damage from Poison!
GS: Poison and Reaper expired!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock has canceled their attack on Ganondorf Dragmire.
GS: Josephine Lovelace takes a glancing hit from Leon Albus's RR-2 Diplomacy for 31 hit points!
GS: Dispel! Amplify and Hyper removed!
GS: Josephine Lovelace activates Countermeasures!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Comet Clip!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Ivan takes a glancing hit from Seraph Ragnell's Squall Shot for 63 hit points!
GS: Cover applied to Seraph Ragnell!
GS: CRITICAL! Ganondorf Dragmire guards a hit from Catenna's Arrow Snap for 145 hit points!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Eleanor Klein's Dead Shot for 176 hit points!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Smoke Follows Fire Ignition for 66 hit points!
GS: Riposte applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Comet Clip for 25 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ganondorf Dragmire gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Jam and Weaken applied to Ganondorf Dragmire!
<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

    She was meant to be on a date today, damn it.

    Acacia's not as stupid as she sometimes wishes she was. To be honest, it would make things a lot easier - she could spend the day wavering between understanding that Yue has a lot going on right now, and being mad at Yue for standing her up. Nice, easy, and simple. She'd stuff some horrible junk food in her mouth, complain at Kamui until the Reploid gave up on her, then lie on her bed and curl into a ball.

    It would mean she wouldn't necessarily connect the dots between some of the Veruni woman's injuries and the hits she's seen the black knight take, or mentally chart out Fjolnir's appearances and map them against the days when Yue is mysteriously busy. It would mean she wouldn't think twice about the hitch in Yue's voice before she disappeared, and wouldn't have made her excuses to the waiter and immediately slipped out after her.

    She'd kind of expected this, anyway. Ever since she'd heard news of a plan to excavate a way home, she'd been kind of assuming that their enemies would descend upon it like a ton of bricks. Yue being called up to assist isn't really a surprise, but she'd held out hope that maybe, if she tried to nudge the other woman away from it, maybe it would help just a little.

    And if not, at least she'd make Yue squirm. Which, y'know, bonus.

    * * *

    She's not mad at Yue, because the same insight that tells her what her girlfriend-question-mark has been up to also gives her an understanding of how little the Veruni actually wants to do any of this. If she could, Acacia would find a way out for the both of them, Minder and Yue both - but until then, all she can do is face Yue in a way that won't leave either of them with regrets.

    So she's not mad.

    She does feel entitled to a bit of pique, though.

    "It's really rude to leave me with the bill!" she yells as Marivel's whistle draws more than a horse. She doesn't have a big enough opinion of herself to consider her presence 'reinforcements', but she barrels over a nearby dune, carrying with her a poor Odessa rank-and-file she just kneed in the face. She lands in a roll, flicks her hand inside her vest, then comes up shooting.

GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Yue Rohay with Snapshot!
GS: Acacia Saitani has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    "Ain't nothing like a mystery, sure enough," Josie comments absently to Ragnell, her gaze briefly on the fallen soldier then over at the more-distant (but becoming less so) group. She seems distracted, and perhaps her remark on the origin of that shot...

    ...might point at the reason why.

    But it's not Leon who darkens her path first. It's Boudicca.

    For a moment and only a moment, Josie hesitates. "You..."
    But she shakes her head.

    "I've got my business. You've got yours, yeah?" she remarks, shifting her weight from one leg to the other where she stands and gesturing at Boudicca with her shotgun. "And they ain't agreeing or none. Heh. Looks like we ain't got a choice, lessen you feel like turning around here and now. Boudicca."

    But Boudicca isn't here alone. Xantia steps past the Seraph, approaching her with open arms.
    She would have expected this from Riesenlied. Indeed, she'd been steeling herself for that-- ...but Xantia's gambit catches her entirely unawares. Josie's grip on the ARM tightens.

    "Then turn yourself right round and get out of here," she replies, stalking forward two slow steps, the shotgun directed down at the ground by her side. "You stay out of my hair, I'll cut you some slack likewise. But, if you ain't leavin'--"

    She'd known Leon was here. It's only confirmed when he screams her name, takes that shot. She moves; the shot grazes her. Blood paints the rock beneath her in an artful splash. There is a tear through the back of her jacket. Moving out of the way costs her more than those minor marks though: it costs her her momentum, it leaves her off-kilter. Timing is everything in battle.

    The same could be said for his remarks. "Ain't got it yet," she snipes back, rolling towards him to crack off a shot in the wake of her recovery. The black shotgun dances for a moment in the air, skimming between him and the others present before she makes her decision.

    Her eyes are hidden by the goggles, dark with amber glass. Only the set of her mouth can be seen. There is no mirth to be found there.

    Once, twice, she pulls the trigger, her answer at last to Xantia and Boudicca's entreaties.

    "Ask me again later, Albus. Maybe I'll tell you all about it then!"

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Leon Albus with Scorched Wing!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Yue Rohay guards a hit from Acacia Saitani's Snapshot for 67 hit points!
GS: Jam applied to Yue Rohay!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Seraph Boudicca with Argent and Sable!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Xantia with Figure of Eight!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Boudicca takes a solid hit from Josephine Lovelace's Argent and Sable for 169 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Leon Albus critically guards Josephine Lovelace's Scorched Wing for 34 hit points!
GS: Leon Albus activates Guard bonus!
GS: Josephine Lovelace enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Xantia takes a glancing hit from Josephine Lovelace's Figure of Eight for 87 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Yue Rohay has posed.

    The first shot comes fast. It's Ashley. Of course it's Ashley; it couldn't be people she doesn't know! Just to rub things in. The bayonet-musket's shot erupts with a loud POP and--

    Nyx takes the brunt of the damage, sidestepping and letting the shot ping off its relatively bulky armour; even so, the jet-black plate hisses and collapses in short order.

    "Ashley Winchester," intones Fjolnir. "I shall not let ARMS take hold of this ruin!"

    Yue's cheeks puff as she grumbles. "These lines are really lame... I don't really feel like putting effort though..."

    Venetia comes next, challenging her with a simple question: Does she work for Juno? Don't lie to her, she's a sorceress!! Yue can attest. She's seen the powerful and wonderful effects of the Stygian Crests, and the Yashichi Ring...!!

    As she does now, sparkling shards of stone threatening to strike Nyx -- she wards it off with a spin of her staff, albeit with a deep clash of sparks as the weapon dents. Her manuever is not without cost.

    Yue rubs her head extra hard as she tries desperately to sort the jumble of names she's faced in just the last two days. "Is she referring to Odessan officer Juno? Blitzball rookie Juno? Cat Juno? No, there was another... oh!"

    "You seem to have a particular interest in that ancient machine, Venetia Vuong," queries Fjolnir. "Why?"

    Marivel is also on-scene; of all the people she hoped wouldn't be here, it'd be Marivel. It's in the middle of a desert in daylight!! What the heck!

    With a single whistle, Nyx's command is overridden and she's dragged in her direction. "So, you still have affection for your mistress!"

    "Well of course she does, it's not like I overrode the controls, that'd just be mean..." Yue sulks almost Pagliacci-like at her own performance.

    The Crimson Noble mentions she'd just like to have a nice talk for once, free of the future... allowing others to carry it for a time.

    Almost tipping her hand, Fjolnir intones, "... but you would never allow yourself to, Marivel Armitage, would you?"

    Aaaand here comes the date she ditched.

    "aaaaaaaa why why why" Yue is turning into a hollow imitation of a corn cob inside.

    Acacia yells something incredibly incriminating and it's all Fjolnir can do at the moment to prevent herself from just being pierced through the armour; her evasive manuever fails, however, and the shot glances across her back.

    "Mggh--!!"

    Something's wrong.

    The figure doubles over in pain, for a moment; a crimson flash erupts from the back spine of the armour, where it hosts a... device?

    It sparks with currents of red electricity; blood can plainly be smelled in the air, as a sudden ERUPTION of unstable currents threatens to catch all four engaged Drifters. Nyx lets out a cautionary whinny, ducking low to try to stabilise its rider.

    Suspiciously, even if the currents strike, the Drifters find themselves... empowered, perhaps suggesting the life-draining effects of the armour Fjolnir has donned?

GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Ashley Winchester with Consuming Dark!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Marivel Armitage with Consuming Dark!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Venetia Vuong with Consuming Dark!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Acacia Saitani with Consuming Dark!
GS: Yue Rohay gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Yue Rohay has completed her action.
GS: Marivel Armitage guards a hit from Yue Rohay's Consuming Dark for 81 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Marivel Armitage!
GS: Acacia Saitani guards a hit from Yue Rohay's Consuming Dark for 92 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Acacia Saitani!
GS: Venetia Vuong takes a solid hit from Yue Rohay's Consuming Dark for 125 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Venetia Vuong!
GS: Ashley Winchester guards a hit from Yue Rohay's Consuming Dark for 86 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Ashley Winchester!
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Normally Azoth would have nothing but the biggest smile to greet Ragnell with. Now, he hesitates, even a nervous smile falling. He thought a confrontation like this an inevitability, too (all considerin'), but not like this.

What right does he have to speak against it? What right has he to be shocked, or even hurt? Even now, he calculates how Ragnell's own denied softness could be in play even here with these behaviors. Or is his data biased with wishful thinking?

Azoth forces his smile back on. "...I'm his authorized guest," he corrects, for Ivan's sake, concerning their relationship status.

He doesn't want to fight. In fact, he can't attempt to draw first blood (not that robot or seraph have any real blood among the two of them) until Ragnell fires her shot and shatters her friendly status in his targeting systems.

The storm rains down, and Azoth erects a shield of light to protect him. But even with that dome, the lightning arcs over the rounded surface and against Azoth's chassis. His eyes light up and flicker in time with his own shield, and the latter sputters out of existence.

Azoth raises his arm from his side with an involuntary twitch of his shoulder. At his palm, he forms a blade of blue-white light.

"Well, if we must," he says with false cheer. "I do owe you a better performance than the last time...!"

He bursts from the muddied ground, sword chasing him by his side without him quite gripping it. Yet it's still with a swing of his arms that he tries to dash past Ragnell with a quick slice.

GS: Azoth has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Flash Drive!
GS: Azoth has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    "Why is it always us who are tasked to leave?" Boudicca finds herself in a queer position, between two mercenaries who know well the blood of men; but perhaps this is the best place for her, despite the strain of it all. It isn't as if she can't understand Leon's logic, even if it brings her sorrow, but...

    ... she's still glad to see his aim jerk to the side, to not lay death into Josie so soon.

    And she's not alone in approaching with empty palms, either.

    She and Xantia are given their just reward, of course, and Boudicca can't see what happens to the latter for a moment as the wind picks up around her to carry her away from the shotgun blast. Perhaps, if she spent more time in the company of people like Xantia and Leon and Lily, she would know why that didn't work: shotguns are, by their nature, designed to shoot over a broad area. Even though she's quick, Agares is widespread.

    Holes in her armour. There's no red seeping out from them. That would just make Ida or Mariel worry, if they looked over to see her efforts.

    "This will be difficult..." Boudicca does sound a little pained, though, as she straightens, and her gaze finds Xantia again. "... allow me to place my faith in you for the moment." Another green sigil, as she gestures out to a woman whose path she has only ever crossed in battles -- "Thousand Sky!"

    This, too, a spring breeze, but with a crisp nip of something... hard to define. Early in the season, perhaps; all fresh, all new.

    She turns; she finds her wayward friend again. "I abjure this occupation you have taken for yourself," she insists, something hot at the edge of the words. "You are not this scurrilous villain, Josephine. It is within your power to let us pass!"

GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Xantia with Thousand Sky!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ragnell lets out a string of shocking accusations toward Ivan, causing him to flail in denial.

"Azoth is not a friend or a boyfriend," he replies, as though both possibilities were equally presumptuous. "He is just an authorized--" Ivan has recently had to admit to himself that nobody outside of the context of the original conversation knows what an authorized guest is and he's just been confusing people trying to make that phrase happen.

"He is just an excessiely protective associate!"

Then Azoth does go ahead and call himself an authorized guest, causing Ivan to spend a silent moment confronting the fact that it actually sounds even more scandalous than the other two categories. AND HE'S BEEN GOING AROUND CALLING RANDOM PEOPLE THAT...

But there's no time to have a crisis! Ragnell wants to fight!

So why don't we go 'round a few rounds an' have some fun?

"I don't like fighting you without knowing why!! But if that's what you want..."

Apparently it is what Ragnell wants, because it starts to rain lightning from the sky. Ivan is light on his feet, but you have to be fast and lucky to dodge a lightning bolt, and his efforts to dance out of the way of the falling electric needles result in him getting sizzled by a fair number, despite his best efforts.

He huffs in irritation and blasts off the ground toward Ragnell on a stream of fire, making a projectile of himself and attempting to spear her on his blade. He assumes she'll be okay, being a lightning ghost and all, but he does keep his aim away from where her heart probably isn't, just in case.

GS: Ivan has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Rocket Boosters!
GS: Ivan has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Seraph Ragnell guards a hit from Azoth's Flash Drive for 58 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Ivan's Rocket Boosters for 82 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Ragnell gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell activates Evade bonus!
GS: Xantia accepts Seraph Boudicca's Thousand Sky for 0 hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Lock State and Shield applied to Xantia!
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

("Nah, I didn't bring that horse along. It was horsenapped from my castle. It's fine though. Nyx should be able to see the outside world.") Marivel answers Venetia.

But Fjolnir has words for her. And ACACIA has words for Fjolnir. Marivel turns her body to avoid the gunshot since hse just hopped onto the horse herself). But unfortunately being this close to Fjolnir leads MArivel to be an easy target for that crimson flash--as power augmented by Fjolnir's own pain slams into Marivel and knocks her off the horse. She hits the floor, rolls around for a bit, before shifting into a crouch--exhaling faintly.

But you would never allow yourself to, Marivel Armitage, would you?

She stands herself up. "I missed you so much," Marivel says. "Did you think I wouldn't have?"

She walks towards Fjolnir, glancing to Acacia. Her words confirm suspicions, but she refrains from voicing the identity she suspects.

"But perhaps tis my own doing. I have been so focused on my obligations I have cast aside my joys, thinking there'd be time later. But there is no time later."

She raises her microphone into the air. "The Time of Promise approaches fast. And what will be will be. I have done all I could. Now... Now I just...

She shakes her head slowly. "Allow me a moment of sincerity."

If you have trouble voicing it. Try singing it.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfmupLRxxM8

"Long ago, when I was just a girl o/~
"So alone the last of my kind in the world o/~
"I believe futures could be reborn o/~
I would go back in time o/~
Change what's to come o/~"

Marivel raises her head. "Honesty is not easy for me either. I too have worn the armor of the dark knight, thinking it would make things easier for me. For everyone. And my time wearing that armor is not even at an end. But... That time is not now. I've learned that I cannot change the future so easily. Not with plans or schemes. The heart is stronger than machinations."

She brings the mic back up to her mouth.

"Hunting, searching for futures I dreamed o/~
Ever chasing, believing visions unseen o/~
Hearing that hope is futile o/~
Only inspires me to not give up o/~"

She lowers the mic again as she brings her hand and aims it to Fjolnir.

"It is too hard for me to pretend," Marivel says. "That you are not someone I love. It must have been lonely for you too, being trapped in that cell. You wanted to protect her, I know, but... It is too hard for me to not desire your happy ending."

The music, there is a strange extra quality to it. That pain wracking Yue will fade, at least in part.

GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Yue Rohay with Red Skill ???????'s Healing Song!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Marivel Armitage heals Yue Rohay! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Yue Rohay gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Yue Rohay enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

"You know my name? Why does everyone in Odessa know who I am?!" Ashley Winchester whinges, despite knowing full well why everyone in Odessa knows who he is. And contrary to popular conspiracy theories, it's not because they're always watching through every available reflective surface. No, it's because of the creature lurking in his soul-- and the power it lets him wield.

Not that he's doing much of that right now. Instead he just double-takes as Marivel just... calls the rider's horse over and hops aboard like she owns it?? "Do you know her too?? How many of your friends are in Odessa, Marivel!?"

Ashley's incredulity is, today, unsurpassed.

"I was there, yeah," he says as he racks an ominously orange-colored canister into his ARM. "I've got a bone to pick with that Juno guy... But that can wait! You do too, miss Venetia?" Ashley is taking aim, getting ready to unleash a bombardment of morally questionable munitions... When, suddenly--

Something goes wrong.

"Um," Ashley hesitates as the Dark Knight collapses like she made the poor life choice of eating those two old bread slices for breakfast, only to notice the ominous grey-blue fuzz growing on the back butt of the loaf after finishing. "Are you okay? You look like..."

                                *~crackle~*

"Wha--" Crimson lightning pours out of Fjolnir's armor. Ashley braces against the flat-end of his bayonet, electricity coursing first through the weapon before slamming into him. He's sent sprawling with a pained yell, but catches himself on the lip of a large dune, still buzzing with power. "What's going on? This doesn't seem normal!"

Ashley fires regardless...!

But he launches a different canister than the one he intended to deploy. This one explodes into a tangle of barbed, electrically-charged webbing. In this particular situation though, the stunning effect is secondary to the web's ability to absorb and contain electrical energy. Like some kind of rapidly deployable Faraday cage...!

GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Yue Rohay with Canister - Electromagnetic Net!
GS: Ashley Winchester has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Xantia doesn't judge, of course. She hasn't criticized Leon once on the amount of murders he does. She acknowledges Ragnell's presence with a nod, seeming unsurprised and unconcerned about that, as well. Her way of thinking just tends to be... different. At least she's always honest about her feelings, even if it may not always be clear how they make sense to her.

She's probably not given the first thought in what way it makes logical sense to approach Josephine calmly when she knows Leon is not about to do the same. That's a pretty bizarre good cop/bad cop routine! Not that this is the plan or anything. She's made up her mind on how she's going to approach this, and that's as far as anything resembling an actual plan goes.

"I can't do that," is her simple reply to Josie's demand, continuing to walk forward. "Not when the way home is right there. But, if you step aside..."

She's not expecting that to happen. One way or another, there's going to be a fight. She's ready for it, even if she may not look it. When the shot heads her way, she dances aside in an instant. A projectile grazes her side, but aside from a brief grimace, she's undeterred. Smiling again in short order. Why?

"So you don't argue that we're still friends." Apparently, being shot at doesn't count as a argument against being friends.

Still, Xantia acknowledges the need to defend herself at this point. It only takes a quick swing of her right arm to strike up a massive gust, discouraging immediate follow-up fire, as well as attempting to force back the shooter.

"Just as well," she calmly continues. "You can't decide you aren't friends with people anymore on your own." She strikes up a combat stance at last, but makes no immediate moves to follow up, simply continuing to talk. "I'm sure you know why Leon's mad. Do you know why I'm not?"

She leaves that question hanging long enough for Josie to answer, should she choose to, before she gives her own answer: "Because the way you did what you did doesn't make any sense."

She glances aside at Boudicca, noting there's... something in the air, that isn't natural. 'Wind magic', she quickly pieces together. Her demeanor instantly grows five times more cheerful. "Oh, thanks, that'll help!"

She briefly returns her focus to Josie, before turning back to Boudicca again, now looking curious. "That's weird, I thought Seraphs only did one element. Didn't you do Fire?" It doesn't take very lengthy encounters for Xantia to Notice Things, it seems.

GS: Xantia has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Massive Shockwave!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

    Ratatoskr hears a voice in the wind that sounds familiar (for someone he has never directly met), though tinged with a tone and choice of word that isn't (which should clue him in that it's not who he thinks it is). He tries to track the movement of, to his perception where he sits at the exact borderline of Resonance, a person-shaped breeze of shimmering green as if startled and taken off-balance.
     As if experiencing a sensation like he himself tends to inflict for the first time.
     "Boring...?" His voice trails. "Boring!" He shouts. "Events.... people.... sameeeeeeey?!" He has problems tracking the exact movements of the staff and the intention of what they're going to do with it, until the ice-cold wind hits him. Small spikes of ice fly forth.
     Most of them don't get in too deep, as his natural armor holds well against it. A few do slip through the few openings, where at least two tiny trickles of quicksilver escape him. One larger icy spike (...among small spikes) lands in his palm, as if in a conscious effort to catch it.
     In this climate, icicles... do not last. Yet Ratatoskr stands there, holding the one he did catch, running his thumb across the grooves like it were something precious to handle with care. It doesn't snap under his touch, though his own natural body heat hastens the icicle's demise as solid state water.
     Jay scolds him, as is her wont (and she has excellent cause to, before a misbehaving youngster among the few survivors of Hyades). "It's not... history..."

     SHORTLY AFTER THE FALL OF ARCTICA

     They return to the Photosphere, bellowing in their one-sided victory. The humans have been routed. Mother has been recovered. A joyous occasion.
     Ratatoskr - not yet to be fielded, perhaps due to lack of cause to do so moreso than ability - dashes down several of those samey, sterile, structured hallways before those assembling to give their reports.
     He passes by someone dragging, supposedly, the one deeply-wounded scouting unit who was forced into regenerative torpor. Their sheet-like cocoon is dragged across the ground without care or concern for how comfortable it is. They were in no state to talk. No one else is going that way.
     He intrudes outright on another gathering heading to the command chamber.
     "That battle..." Ratatoskr speaks to one, an ogre-ish Hyadean fellow, who has the misfortune of being closest. "You were victorious?"
     "You doubt?!" The ogre-ish one laughs. "Doubt, like a quivering neonate waiting for culling?"
     "What were they like?" Ratatoskr asks, eagerly. True information is hard to come by about the human 'hordes.' But he has a few names. A few records of observed combat styles. All the simulations! No matter how 'slow,' 'weak,' or 'simple' for their lack of transforming limbs. He can imagine the battle even now.
     "They go squish." The ogre-ish one says.
     "...The fast draws! The... the Knights! Did you--"
     The ogre-ish one holds up a club. It is decorated in the color all young Hyadeans understand as a positive feedback - that blood red color. "They all look like this! Under their weak steel and brittle bones! That's all they were."
     Ratatoskr stares at the dried ichor. "...All of them...?"
     "All of them," the ogre-ish one grins, "glory be to Mother! When She wakes, we won't even see those squishy red bags even in our sleep."
     The rapid attacker and would-be battlefield messenger goes quiet... for as long as it takes for him to ask this question to the next one he can, which takes all of nine seconds.
     The next set of answers he gets are hardly different.

<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

    CURRENTLY

     "...You would dismiss him as just another death...?" Ratatoskr's voice shakes as he faces Jay. His hand tightens around the melting ice spike. "Advance scout... Paul William Creek. Former Guild Galad naval force... famed for tracking the source of a monster outbreak on a local island. A sharpshooter who had a confirmed kill from over three-hundred and fifty metres," which is no mean feat, "in the middle of a seasonal storm."
     The tightening does not destroy that ice spike. Gentle, still, running a thumb around it. "There are many soldiers... there are many who once served in Guild Galad... there are many trackers... plenty of sharpshooters..."
     He's dead. Leon blew off his head, to be another number of Odessa whose blood is spilled on these sands and his body to be swallowed by them.
     "You believe 'millions' lessen them? You believe 'millions' lessen them!" He snaps over to Nimue, if not making perfect eye contact. Energy surges through that horn on his head. "No! It does not... each and every warrior out there I can find, I can meet, I can fight... they're all worth keeping... everything about them, their fighting styles... just as much as I'll keep yours...!"
     Even so much as placing arbitrary value on just however shape a hodge-podge wind and water-made ice spell takes the moisture, as he hasn't let it be crushed in his hand while it starts to pool back into water.
     "They aren't just bags of red!!!" The yell is all but furious. Yelling doesn't usually hurt. It doesn't here.
     The discharge of energy that races out from his horn, twice - once to Jay and to Nimue alike, though. Lasers hurt, if they let them.

GS: Ratatoskr spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Seraph Nimue with Yggdrasil Burst!
GS: Ratatoskr spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Yggdrasil Burst!
GS: Ratatoskr has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ganondorf Dragmire has posed.

The tremendous Phantom Knight looms large, stomping toward the approaching drifters with glowing motes of darkness flowing off of it with every step. The first two shots hit direct; Eleanor's shot driving into the giant's eye, Catenna's crashing into its shoulder, shattering there. It groans under those attacks but does not so easily stagger. Ida's shot, it sweeps one of its twin blades quickly and deflects aside. Gwen's electrical assault doesn't seem to make it react, particularly, but then, if it's just a giant gallumphing homunculus, maybe it won't, particularly.

Drawn closer, it sweeps once, harshly, bringing a massive blade down toward Ida, then a second, striking down on Catenna. Then it casts the eye Eleanor damaged on the elf, and light traces through the spectral lines of its form! As if emerging from a mirage, a second Phantom Ganon appears, driving its blades toward Eleanor. It sweeps its vision then to Mariel.

Ganondorf, standing by, rumbles low. "That woman..." he says, with curiosity.

The duplicate charges for Mariel, slashing at her before bursting apart into light...

Which gather at the tip of the main Phantom's sword as it holds it up, then SLAMS it down, sending a shockwave of dark magic surging toward Gwen!!

Ganondorf crosses his arms, peering at the spectacle with an inscrutable stare down his steeply sloped nose. "The elf that escaped before...and another interesting one. I shall have to resume my work very soon, I think."

GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Phantasm Sweep!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Catenna with Spectral Blade!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Eleanor Klein with Impure Phantom!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Mariel with Impure Phantom!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Figments of a Drowned Past!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has completed his action.
GS: Catenna takes a glancing hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Spectral Blade for 75 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Ratatoskr's Yggdrasil Burst for 88 hit points!
GS: Eleanor Klein takes a solid hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Impure Phantom for 133 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Ganondorf Dragmire!
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

Leon lowers his gun, lips curled back into a snarl. His finger curls about the trigger of his ARM; he has to force himself to still it. His furious silver eyes still gleam as he looks at Josephine. He watches her move carefully; he reflects, for a moment, how little regret he feels for splattering a former friend's blood on the sand. But, it was always easy to hurt the people who betrayed him, wasn't it?

He reaches down to his belt. Josie recognizes this, but he moves fast still -- the raid funnels drop off, a trio of long, bronze triangular ARMs -- and then fly up. A barrier of shimmering green light explodes between them, and the bullet slams into the barrier.

It sizzles away into nothingness.

"Then you should have hurried," Leon snaps back at her. "Because you must have known what's coming. You saw what happened, when Colonel Keil sent other Wolves at us."

His eyes glance to the side -- at Boudicca, as she tries to reason with Josie. At Xantia, as she keeps talking to Josephine calmly. Leon wonders about that. Maybe he could do the same.

But then his eyes actually do come back to Josephine, and the fury is back. "You opened a wound that Lily almost closed. You've left Fei and Elly's faith ragged and worn through. You've taken things from the Wolves that you had no right to. You knew, Lovelace," he says, through gritted teeth. "You knew what was coming."

His eyes burn, but not with the periodic strange flashes of silver light that come when he touches the right ARM or enters the right place. They burn with ice; with anger; with a desire for justice that he cannot find. "And when I show up, you're stupid enough to NOT RUN AWAY!?"

He screams the last part of the question. One of the raid funnels breaks away; the triangle glimmers, and then a beam of bright green light explodes off it, hurtling straight for Josie.

GS: Leon Albus has attacked Josephine Lovelace with PMU-Z2 Raid Beam!
GS: Leon Albus has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Leon Albus has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Mariel takes a solid hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Impure Phantom for 148 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Ganondorf Dragmire!
GS: Seraph Nimue takes a glancing hit from Ratatoskr's Yggdrasil Burst for 74 hit points!
GS: Seraph Nimue activates Evade bonus!
GS: Josephine Lovelace fully evades Xantia's Massive Shockwave for 0 hit points!
GS: Josephine Lovelace activates Evade bonus!
GS: Gwen Whitlock critically guards Ganondorf Dragmire's Figments of a Drowned Past for 32 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Josephine Lovelace critically guards Leon Albus's PMU-Z2 Raid Beam for 30 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Josephine Lovelace gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace activates Guard bonus and Countermeasures!
GS: Yue Rohay takes a glancing hit from Ashley Winchester's Canister - Electromagnetic Net for 56 hit points!
GS: Jam applied to Yue Rohay!
GS: Yue Rohay activates Evade bonus!
GS: CRITICAL! Ida Everstead-Rey guards a hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Phantasm Sweep for 88 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey activates Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    "You an' I would know, right?" Ragnell says with a crooked smile Josie's way. She raises eyebrows when Leon flips his shit at Josie, though. "You sure got popular, didn't you?" she drawls to her.
    
    She can't spare much more commentary on that, though, because Azoth and Ivan are (in the latter's case, VERY QUICKLY) correcting her on what exactly their relationship is to one another. She raises her eyebrows *again*, even higher this time, and gives Ivan a long, pointed, and frankly uncomfortable stare. "Your 'authorized guest,' huh," she drawls. Just to make Azoth steam with inevitable embarrassment, because he is *sooo* easy to embarrass.
    
    Then she shrugs! "Well, as long as you're not *cheatin'*, it's all good. Then I'd have t' get mad on Lydie's behalf. You don't need t' cheat on her, she's fine with open relationships," Ragnell drawls. She smiles when Azoth agrees, however false his cheer, to go ahead and fight. "That's the spirit!" she chirps at Azoth. A shade more serious, she adds, "You'll get along better in life if you can separate 'fightin' time' from 'hang-out time.'" To Ivan, she clucks her tongue. "You *do* know why, though. There's a thing here, that Odessa wants, an' you an' your friends also want it, and we can't share it all peaceful-like so we're fightin' over it instead. You really do like to overthink things, huh?"
    
    Azoth charges towards Ragnell with blade in hand for a quick slice. She braces herself on the charge, moving with him when he closes in to mitigate the damage of the slash he inflicts upon her. (Volsung/Dean, ugh. PROBLEMATIC.) Quick on Azoth's heels is Ivan, shooting fire from his heels so he can rocket in and stab Ragnell. This Ragnell sidesteps--not completely, those blades still slice deep into her side--but it's better than taking it head-on.
    
    Where she twirls around, she backsteps, and where she lands, she opens fire from both guns upon Azoth, lightning bullets zipping forward to blast painful jolts into him. When she's done, she straightens and begins casting a Seraphic arte that charges quickly and ends with a call of, "Blitzstrahl!" A miniature stormcloud forms over Ivan's head and, a heartbeat later, sends down a single bolt of lightning.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Azoth with Twin Bullet!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Ivan with Blitzstrahl!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Venetia Vuong has posed.

"I see my reputation precedes me," says Venetia, holding her Crest Graph in between two fingers in the aftermath of her barrage. "The answer is simple. This Megaman Juno, whatever its original purpose, whatever their mission in life, whatever their reasons and their rationales, has done something unforgivable in my view - they have cuccosed me off."

Venetia frowns slightly for a moment.

IN THAT MOMENT a surging flash of power washes outwards over her. Venetia, caught utterly by shock, twists round, crying out "WHAT IN THE SIXTEEEN," but seems to catch herself, panting heavily as she sinks and wobbles to one knee.

She drops her Crest Graph.

This has been a problem for her and so she quickly recovers it and *puts it the hell away* while shaking numbness out of her hand, looking upwards with bared teeth.

"Good thought," Venetia tells Ashley, as she brings out another freshly graphed piece of bronze, twisting it around and narrowing her eyes. Why, this one has what looks like colorful etching in the engraving! Premium! Venetia's eyes narrow as she breathes quiet words and then:

The first oddity is the scent of dampness, for in a sense this calls upon water. But it is not liquid water, it is the scent of moisture rapidly hydrating mineral compounds. In the ambient dirt and dust, transformations occur below the threshold of easy apprehension if one is not watching the motion of power, until all of a sudden the shards of glittering purple and glasslike crystal come out -

And a moment later they all fly together, to try and entrap as much of the mighty figure in a CLINGING, STILL DAMP geode, a reification of millions of years in a single heart stopping instant!

Also it would suck to be trapped in. Even just your arm or horse.

She seems, speaking of horses, about to address Marivel - and yet, a song is not something even her stony heart can deny!

GS: Venetia Vuong has attacked Yue Rohay with GeodeSheller!
GS: Venetia Vuong has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Venetia Vuong has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

Catenna slows to let Mariel catch up. The other woman's legs are shorter than Catenna's are.

The arrow is taken, and she nods with quiet gratitude. "Thank you," she murmurs. "Please be careful."

It may go without saying, but nevertheless, it's said.

The arrows themselves aren't going to stop the Phantom Knight, of course. Once again, the Moon Shaman kicks into movement - but as the Knight strikes out at her, she's forced to jump, sucking in her breath in alarm. Nothing she's wearing is going to be able to stop that attack.

Only her speed spares her. She leaps over the blade; it slashes just close enough to leave a shallow cut along the curve of her hip, painful but not encumbering. She pivots in the air, hits the ground on one toe and dances forward, pirouetting almost as if performing before spinning away to gain distance again.

Just in time for her to spot the Phantom Night opening up on Mariel with something that looks entirely too dangerous. "Mariel!" Catenna cries out, her eyes going wide.

Saarda-Shanta circles overhead, anxious, as Catenna whips her hand towards the Phantom Knight. Power surges as she draws power through her Silver Medium. When she calls out, it's in her own language. "Chapan!"

A source of gravity surges into existence, pulsing aggressively enough that light begins to twist and bend in odd ways. The visual distortions are the only ways to actually see the spell, but it's easy to feel it - at least, if you are a Phantom Knight. The weight of everything steadily multiplies and enhances, making it harder to lift limbs, heft blades, move bodies.

Catenna's eyes flicker with intent. "Your being here makes no sense. Odessa are common thugs like a thousand other bands of thugs in history. What does the Demon King of legend seek from them, anyway?!"

GS: Catenna has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Weigh Weapon!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Azoth takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Twin Bullet for 133 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Azoth gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Azoth activates Countermeasures!
GS: Seraph Ragnell enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Yue Rohay guards a hit from Venetia Vuong's GeodeSheller for 70 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Yue Rohay gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Cripple applied to Yue Rohay!
GS: CRITICAL! Ivan takes a glancing hit from Seraph Ragnell's Blitzstrahl for 80 hit points!
GS: Break applied to Ivan!
<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

    Acacia skids to a halt near to Ashley, grimacing as she wipes at her mouth and for good measure nudges the poor Odessa trooper she used in her entrance out of the way. "Filgaia's full of old people who know each other," she grumbles a little sourly, but does her best not to get too carried away in grumping, aware that this is still a battle.

    She does trade a glance with Marivel as she goes through the motions of reloading her pistol, expecting her quiet frown to answer at least some of the vampire's suspicions. Strictly speaking, there's no need to reload, and she's not carrying any actual bullets or filling the chambers - but she's long-since learned that habit and perception are important to her.

    Yue's obligations mean that she has to fight them with all she's got, and Acacia's prepared to reply in kind - at least until one of them can't fight anymore, at which point normalcy resumes for a little longer, or something close enough that they can pretend. That's how it works, how it's worked for them for a while now. She thought she was comfortable in that.

    But some tiny spark of intuition tells her that the wash of crimson light is a sign of something worse entirely, and she feels a sinking pit in her stomach shortly before the sparking, wild current of energy slams into her. "Gnnh--" she grimaces, feeling the unpleasant wash of energy. It takes her a moment to realize that it isn't her own power bolstering her, but whatever just hit her - and the feel of it crawls under her skin.

    "--is that-- what that armor does to you?" she rasps, her throat suddenly too dry and acrid for anything else, the metallic taste in her mouth overpowering. She almost follows it up by questioning why Yue would ever wear it at all, but the words die in her mouth. She's missing a lot of pieces of the puzzle, but the overall shape of it is enough to make that a silly question.

    ... all her attempts to feel kind of serious and grimdark kind of fall apart when Marivel starts singing, though. "Uh," she starts to say, glancing over at the vampire. To her credit, she does really try to give Marivel the moment of sincerity she asks for, but moment by moment her expression turns into a squiggly line of uncertainty, and by the time the vampire talks about love she's distinctly off her game.

    "H-hey, uh--" she absolutely cannot find the words, feeling herself slide back towards some awkward teenage feelings, and so eventually clamps her mouth shut and chases after the damn horse and the damn vampire. It turns out that keeping up with a galloping horse is not really something you can do on foot, and she has to settle for a series of rapid-fire shots to try to corral the creature around and back towards them.

GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Yue Rohay with Red Tape!
GS: Acacia Saitani has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline listens to Ratatoskr. She doesn't interrupt him. She lets him finish - lets him tell the story of the man who lies dead on the ground. And then, she sighs. With one quick gesture of her left hand Jacqueline raises a pillar as Ratatoskr charges a burst of lasers. She can't quite defend against all of them - she winces as several of them sear past her.

"...You're so close, Ratatoskr. You're so close to getting it, but you still don't quite get it." Jacqueline replies, shaking her head. "You talk about his military and combat accomplishments... but what was his home life like? Did he have a family? People, or even just a pet, to go back to? What were his aspirations? What did he want to do? What did he want to be, before he found himself in with Odessa?"

With another gesture of her hand the pillar recedes and Jacqueline backpedals, reaching into her bags to draw out a bottle.

"Maybe some of us do, I won't deny that, but people don't fight just for the glory and honor of combat. They fight because they have something or someone to fight for, or because they have nothing left for themselves. That's why I hate fighting. Because I wish this was a world where that wasn't necessary." She says, shaking her head. "I appreciate what you're doing - I appreciate that you remember them, and ensure that they aren't forgotten. But as long as people continue to glorify violence, more people like him will continue to be lost. Because it's just going to keep that cycle going."

With that said, Jacqueline looks toward Nimue.

"Catch!" Jacqueline calls out, tossing the bottle her away. It's a concoction with an earthy color and scent to it, but the flavor is actually quite pleasant. Those who drink it will find it much easier to defend against attacks, particularly physical ones.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Seraph Nimue with Boulder Brew!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Ida behind her is reassuring, considering the instructions passed onto the monster ahead of them. She notes Gwen, keeps an eye out for what her electricity does--and Mariel, handling support. And Catenna... Offense.

The eye that Eleanor damaged sweeps to her, and through light, there is suddenly a second of them. This one drives straight for Eleanor, who is hit hard and knocked backward by the sweep of blades so heavy as to batter the elf back. "Ah--"

She hits the ground and skids back in the sand, managing to hold onto her weapon though she stows it just after in favor of her Crests as she stands. Her eyes flick to Catenna, to Gwen, and forward.

"I'm not sure I would call them common," Eleanor admits as she pulls one inscribed with Muse twinned with golden inscriptions. "Regardless..."

"I've had dealings with him before," she says. "Whatever he wants, we cannot allow him to have it." She speaks with sudden authority as she raises the Crest, and breathes in. "Ever-churning flow... Rip away! Violent Tide!"

She extends her hand, and with a sparkle of golden light, a blast of water erupts towards the Phantom Ganon before her, seeking to engulf the whole thing and squeeze with oceanic pressure.

"If we work together, we can do it!"

GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Violent Tide!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
GS: Yue Rohay fully evades Acacia Saitani's Red Tape for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Yue Rohay gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Seraph Nimue accepts Jacqueline Barber's Boulder Brew for 0 hit points!
GS: Burst and Shield applied to Seraph Nimue!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Nimue has posed.

"Hey, now, I never said that!" Nimue says, already on the move; she's not fast enough to fully outpace that discharge of energy, but she *is* fast enough to at least not let it hit her right in center of mass. She sags a little bit, but quickly rounds back toward Ratatoskr -- albeit not very *far* toward Ratatoskr.

"... but yeah actually I kinda do," she admits, once she has him in her sights again. "If you try to write down every dumbass thing every dumbass says and does, you're going to end up with a bunch of garbage! Maybe all us little people mean something or whatever but the sad truth is no one cares and if you care too much you're going to go crazy, and accomplish nothing, and..." Nimue actually starts doing a little drumroll on her staff with her fingers with one hand...

"... become someone no one cares about either!" She punctuates that sentence by catching Jay's offered drink, and quickly downs it. "... Ooooo, delicious," she says, before fishing in her own pack. For a moment, she considers thanking Jay with horse jerky (*where do you keep getting horse jerky*) but decides to take point on bombarding Ratatoskr instead.

This time, though, she *does* actually go for her usual strategy. Hand goes in bag, hand comes out with grenade, pull pin, toss grenade into air, snag with sling-staff, hurl with sling-staff. This one is, of course, the bog standard fragmentation grenade; Nimue has a lot of these -- even more now that she knows how to make them -- so it's not a big deal. It's sure still pretty miserable to get hit with all those shards of metal and ceramic, though!

GS: Seraph Nimue has attacked Ratatoskr with Razor Monsoon!
GS: Seraph Nimue has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Once Mariel has treated a few of Catenna's arrows, she breaks off - not far, but enough that she's not crowding the shaman. There are other people shooting at the homonculus too - not unexpected, as large and ominous as it is. She knows Ida and Gwen well enough - and even if she doesn't get along with Ida, in a situation like this she will absolutely work with her - and Eleanor a little less well, but she at least recognizes her.

But Mariel is not much of a fighter even now. When the phantom charges her, Mariel throws herself aside - too slow, as it turns out. The slash catches her in the back with the flat of the blade, but for all that it's hardly any less painful; the sheer momentum of the strike sends Mariel rolling several yards along the sand and stone to end in a heap of green robes.

She may not be an elf, but she's only one letter off, and there's enough about her to catch Ganondorf's eye, apparently. Which is not great!

Mariel is still moving after her tumble, though. She pushes herself up, sand cascading around her as she unburies herself. "Still, the Demon King, working with those who are not his servants..." Or maybe they *are* his servants. The thought makes her shudder.

While Ganondorf (and his phantom) are looking the other way, Mariel takes advantage of a moment's opportunity to withdraw a bundle of specially treated herbs. Flecks of pink light drift from them as she raises the bundle, igniting it; it trails smoke like incense, in thin wisps that also have a hint of unnatural (or perhaps, extremely natural) pink. The fumes are revitalizing, though the expense of power might draw further attention.

Everybody shoots the medic, after all. Mariel doesn't know why. Aren't you supposed to *not* shoot the medic?

GS: Mariel has attacked Mariel with Healing Herb!
GS: Mariel has attacked Catenna with Healing Herb!
GS: Mariel has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Healing Herb!
GS: Mariel has attacked Eleanor Klein with Healing Herb!
GS: Mariel has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Healing Herb!
GS: Mariel has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
GS: Mariel heals Catenna! She gains 110 temporary hit points!
GS: Mariel heals Gwen Whitlock! She gains 110 temporary hit points!
GS: Mariel heals Eleanor Klein! She gains 110 temporary hit points!
GS: Mariel heals Ida Everstead-Rey! She gains 110 temporary hit points!
GS: Ratatoskr takes a glancing hit from Seraph Nimue's Razor Monsoon for 77 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ratatoskr gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Mariel heals Mariel! She gains 110 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Yue Rohay has posed.

    The prototype device is malfunctioning. An internal grimace from Yue. She curses her mother's name, but finds herself having to speed through deliriousness and nausea, in the midst of combat as she is. She whirls Nyx around to face Marivel, but--

    I missed you so much. Did you think I wouldn't have?

    Marivel alternates between singing sincerely, and speaking sincerely to her.

    A LONG, LONG TIME AGO

    "What?" a much younger Yue, dressed very stiffly in formal academy garments, questions.

    If you have trouble voicing it, try singing it.

    There's a quiet huff as she turns her head away from the person she's speaking to, just off the screen. There's a peak of blue hair sneaking on-frame.

    "... I don't sing," she sulks, glancing towards the Crimson Noble sitting two tables away. The vampire watches their mentor with wide eyes, utterly enraptured by what she was saying. Yue's cheeks redden, and she huffs twice as she tucks her head down. Dummy...!

    NOW

    There is a longer pause from the dark knight, as Nyx cranes her head up. The music soothes her, somehow dampens the effects of that accursed device; for a time, she can hang on a little bit longer.

    "... ... it is hard, is it not? Sometimes, the people you wish to protect can be the ones who are most clueless," the dark knight answers. She does not glance towards Acacia because she is full aware of the absolute pot-kettle-black moment she's in.

    But the song does impact her, in her body language.

    (also hey, she's wearing dark knight armour, she's absolutely a black kettle at the moment)

    The moment is (un?)fortunately interrupted as Ashley launches an attack with an electromagnetic net that jolts Nyx -- and her -- backwards; the horse struggles, but eventually powers through the barbs of webbing as the dark knight swiftly strikes at different points to loosen it and free her mount of the damage.

    "Of course I know you," Fjolnir answers Ashley. "You are Ashley Winchester..." Here it comes, the demon, Knight Blazer, yadda yadda--

    "Ashley Winchester, ace baker. The prince of pastries, the duke of doughnuts."

    ... is that what Ashley's expecting?

    Venetia tells Fjolnir that Megaman Juno has done something to truly cucco her off. But the speech is mildly halted when the armour accidentally erupts;

    The dark knight answers with a question, "And what is it that they have done to offend you so?"

    Her high-tech visor is the first to warn her of dampness; then, suddenly, dirt and dust transform as they try to imprison her in a crystalline prison!!

    Nyx responds with glowing eyes -- and an emergency side-step frees them from the worst of it; her armored gauntlet becomes that much heavier, however, as the geodes cling to it. "This much is no impediment to me!"

    Yue mumbles, "It kind of is, though. It's real heavy... Stygian Crest magic sure is handy..."

    Acacia questions if that's what the armour does to her. She doesn't answer, knowing that answering is incriminating. More than she's been incriminated, anyway. She kind of hopes that Acacia can draw the lines from one to another. She always does in the end.

    The hope, however, lets her raise her arm -- and somehow, fortune favours Fjolnir, because the geodes that surround her gauntlet have formed a mighty enough shield to deflect Acacia's rapid-fire shots; slowly they crumble away, their job done--

    There's some redness and soreness underneath seeping through the black metal.

    "Acacia. So long as you are pursuing the truth... I shall have to answer in kind. Prepare yourself!"

    Inner Corncob Yue continues kicking and whining, "She's just gonna collate all these cheesy lines for later and tease me with it!"

    The dark knight raises her staff to the air, as Nyx circles around the crystalline spire to afford her some space; it shimmers with erratic, sparking lightning, then coalesces further into something dark and unpleasant as red circles appear underneath Ashley, Acacia and Venetia--

    "Master of all swords... cut energy! Night Sword!"

    --and phantasmal blades try to spike the three ARMS Drifters, laced with a redness that threatens to leech life away.

    Meanwhile, Nyx just shoots a positively pleading gaze at Marivel. Is it gonna work???

GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Acacia Saitani with Night Sword!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Ashley Winchester with Night Sword!
GS: Yue Rohay has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Venetia Vuong with Night Sword!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Marivel Armitage with Nyx's Gaze!
GS: Yue Rohay has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Mute and Slow expired!
GS: Yue Rohay gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Yue Rohay has completed her action.
GS: Marivel Armitage guards a hit from Yue Rohay's Nyx's Gaze for 88 hit points!
GS: Cripple applied to Marivel Armitage!
GS: Marivel Armitage activates Guard bonus!
GS: CRITICAL! Venetia Vuong guards a hit from Yue Rohay's Night Sword for 134 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Venetia Vuong gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Yue Rohay drains Venetia Vuong! Yue Rohay gains 67 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

An excessively protective associate!

"Aww, I think I like that one!" Azoth calls cheerfully to Ivan. He looks to Ragnell. "But, really, there's been a mistake. Let's not accuse Ivan of a crime he didn't commit. I promise he hasn't tried to seduce me." ... Is he legitimately trying to help, or is he playing along with Ragnell? A mystery.

But on the subject of a health fight-social balance, Azoth mirrors Ragnell's serious expression before responding with a guiltier side glance. So in control of his face, it's a message he means her to see. But for what purpose? The mysteries continue.

Electric bullets fly and Azoth's eyes flash, but no defense comes in time to keep one from embedding into his shoulder, and the other his chest. The water soaking him from Ragnell's self-made storm helps encourage electricity to lash even more violently over his body as he gargles a glitched, digital utterance and staggers backward.

Smoke puffs from Azoth's mouth as he smiles at Ragnell through a grimace. This is going about as well as the first time. He needs to step it up. Azoth's fingers twitch as he summons up another shield. It flickers erratically as he tries to stabilize its form while charging directly for Ragnell, energy bursting from his body to launch him at her in a ramming tackle with shield to protect him and bludgeon her.

GS: Azoth spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Azoth has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Voltaic Ram!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: Acacia Saitani guards a hit from Yue Rohay's Night Sword for 117 hit points!
GS: Yue Rohay drains Acacia Saitani! Yue Rohay gains 58 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    The cloud of smoke hangs around Ida's body, hiding her exact location. But the Phantom Knight has one advantage--with a blade that big, it doesn't need to aim too much. The cloud parts just enough to let Ida see the gleam of the weapon as it races towards her. Rather than duck, she meets it head-on, raising both arms in a cross-guard before her chest. Hyadean stem tissue surges down her arms, forming exoskeletal gauntlets in the space of a few heartbeats.

    A terrible KSHING echoes through the air. Ida flies backwards from the impact, only barely managing to catch herself before she falls on her ass. Bits of exoskeleton break free, and fall to the sand at her feet. She can still feel the impact reverberating in her bones. If she'd been a few seconds later...

    Ida takes a moment to focus on her breath. It's risky. Ratatoskr's speech, of all things, sinks into her heart, equal parts infuriatingly close and so far away. She grits her teeth. Her whole face tightens.

    And then Mariel's blessed smoke flows into her lungs, and the tension dissipates. At first she glances to Eleanor, but then she realizes that no, this is distinctly herbal. Ida gives Mariel a smile that is genuine, if strained from the fact that they're in a warzone right now.

    "Everyone stay alert!" Ida shouts. "Preparing a flare!" She whips a small metal canister off her belt, touches it against a contact filament on her right palm. The fuse begins to burn as Ida throws the grenade right for the Knight's head. Will an ordinary flashbang work on an eldritch construct summoned by an ancient sorceror-king? Let's find out.

GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Ragnell guards a hit from Azoth's Voltaic Ram for 103 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Ragnell gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Quick and Shield applied to Azoth!
GS: Azoth drains Seraph Ragnell! Azoth gains 52 temporary hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Flare Grenade!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Ashley Winchester takes a glancing hit from Yue Rohay's Night Sword for 83 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ashley Winchester gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Yue Rohay drains Ashley Winchester! Yue Rohay gains 42 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    Ragnell won't receive an answer, not verbally at least. The most she gets is the way that Josie's lips flatten into a line. But of course: when you travel as comrades in arms with another for so long, only to betray them--

    And where she's getting it from doesn't end with her former allies among the Wolves, at that.

    "YOu abjure it, what," Josie remarks, tilting her head slightly from side to side, as if she were trying to hunt the sense of the statement. "Don't see how you got any say in the matter, ghost girl. Anyway, you ain't getting through here. ...No matter how much you lot beg."

    "Tch," Josephine hisses, when Xantia declares that they're still friends. "You just can't catch a hint, can you?" Shells eject onto the rock and sand, the clattering this time more muffled. "So I'll bite," she answers Xantia, shotgun up and aimed at the younger woman. "Why ain't you mad?"

    Because the way she did what she did didn't make any sense.

    Josie's mouth pulls into a grimace. "Kiddo, once you get older -- if you get older -- you're gonna learn something real important--"

    And here she twists, flattening herself out and catapulting herself away from that shot of wind as it howls on past her, stray locks swept up in its wake. Her left arm snaps out as she vaults through the air for that brief moment.
    She only pulls the trigger the once.

    "...There ain't a goddamn thing," she says once she's landed, punctuating the curse with a crack of a heel against the rock as she stands, "in this world that's fair or just or 'makes sense'. Me included."

    As if to underscore this sentiment, she gestures sharply with her right hand, the fingers spreading stiffly.

    "Painra."

    The magic's form is a bruisy one, a wavering bullet that ricochets its way for Boudicca. The Seraph may not have a flesh and blood body. She may not have nerves or a physical brain. But but perhaps 'pain' she will know, nonetheless. And if she doesn't, the magic will teach her it.

    "Then let's have a race. Let's see which one of us is gonna get what they want first, Albus!" Josie taunts in turn. She bares her teeth; it would be a grin but for the fact that it's nearly more rictus than smile. "...And you're right. I knew. I knew from the start. What of it?"

    One of those funnels breaks off for her then; she brings Agares to bear against it, swinging the ARM like a club to meet the beam as it tunnels through the air itself. There is a brilliant explosion at short range, cracking off the strange black plating of that ARM. It has enough force to knock her back a short distance.
    But she herself remains unscathed.

    "Hah... you think I'd run? When I've yet to get what I want?" Agares is still smoking from that attack. Slowly she directs it towards Leon, her lips still parted as if in a grin. Is she aiming for his head? Or his chest? Or...
    She pulls the trigger, then.

    "Come on, Xantia, Boudicca! Why don't you follow Albus' lead, yeah? Come at me like you mean it."

    BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0Vr2ySOOGI

    She slings the shotgun against her shoulder, as if to taunt them to do their worst. "'Cause if I've got my way about it, your journey's endin' here!"

GS: Josephine Lovelace spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Xantia with Scarlet Tiger!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace spends 2 Combo on Poison and Interrupt!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Seraph Boudicca with Painra!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace spends 1 Combo on Interrupt!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Leon Albus with Liquorice Piercer!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: Leon Albus takes a solid hit from Josephine Lovelace's Liquorice Piercer for 120 hit points!
GS: Leon Albus has lost 2 Combo from Interrupt!
GS: Leon Albus used Defend! He takes Josephine Lovelace's Painra attack on Seraph Boudicca on himself!
GS: Leon Albus guards a hit from Josephine Lovelace's Painra for 0 hit points!
GS: Poison applied to Leon Albus!
GS: Leon Albus has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Leon Albus has lost 2 Combo from Interrupt!
GS: CRITICAL! Xantia takes a solid hit from Josephine Lovelace's Scarlet Tiger for 178 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Xantia gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Cripple and Jam applied to Xantia!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    It's the more subtle twists of the way lightning can affect just about any being, even those that foolishly try to claim some dominion over the element as a whole, like Gwen herself. When the shot lands, Gwen's lips spread in a satisfied grin. "Thaaaat's it, right there! Woo!"

    Leon's words interrupt Gwen's merriment, causing the courier to turn towards him, distracted by the utter *heaviness* in them. Surely, there was a reason for Josie, for all of this. But what reason would be important enough to stand up against the weight of that measure of anger?

    What would be worth sparking the ire of the Black Wolves?

    Gwen turns back, hearing Catenna's dismayed cry, and balks at there now being *two* Phantom Knights, cutting in half her previous efforts at slowing them down.

    And one of them bares down on Mariel, who bravely joined their fight. Whatever efforts Gwen may have tried to shield Mariel are stalled by the shockwave of dark magic, heading in the redhead's direction.

    Imagine it. Imagine the flying hailstones that weakly hit against her, over and over, as Gwen tried to follow Elly's patient teaching. Imagine each time

    Imagine the riceballs.

    Gwen has no aptitude for Ether, but for right now, Elly's training is enough substance to buffer the weight of Ganondorf's sword attack by proxy, the courier knocked backwards with a grunt, her hands over her body protectively.

    Eleanor rouses the group with a speech, and Gwen straightens from her crouch, breathing in the soothing scent of Mariel's herbs. "Damn *right*. It don't matter if there's one or *ten* of these. My fist will smash them all, and then, it'll crush *you*."
    
    And yes, Gwen will definitely take advantage of that flare Ida throws, running in the wake of gravity and water to leap up and attempt to plant a fist right in one of the knights' faces(?).

    She thinks it's the one she weakened earlier, but it's a little hard to tell, right now.

GS: Gwen Whitlock spends 1 Combo on Gatling, loading 1 into Gatling!
GS: Formation! Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Special Delivery!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Azoth declares that he likes the protective associate moniker. Ivan worries that means it's somehow too familiar. "Maybe I shouldn't use it..." he mutters.

Well, as long as you're not *cheatin'*, it's all good.

Ivan flails further. "I-- I promise you I will not go around collecting boyfriends or girlfriends behind Lydia's back so please don't decide on your own to invent those sorts of connections with anyone who happens to be standing nearby!" Oh no, Ivan is flustered enough now that Azoth was downgraded from guest to associate to 'person standing nearby!!'

Azoth claims Ivan has not tried to seduce him, and Ivan gives him a look that indicates he is, indeed, not sure if Azoth is legitimately trying to help.

There's a thing here, that Odessa wants, an' you an' your friends also want it, and we can't share it all peaceful-like so we're fightin' over it instead.

"But what does that have to do with you!"

Yes, Ivan did miss the memo that Ragnell works with Odessa.

Ragnell calls a stormcloud over his head; as a bolt of lightning slashes down, he leaps into a flip -- not quite fast enough, which makes for a rough landing as his muscles seize. He stifles a groan and pushes himself up, then begins moving his hands through the air in the pattern to summon a large sphere of roiling heat, which he pushes toward Ragnell as it seeks to engulf her like a bubble shield full of unpleasantness.

He looks to Azoth, who has been making weird noises and is now issuing some smoke.

"Is that all right...?"

GS: Ivan spends 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Ivan has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Searing Sphere!
GS: Ivan has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ivan gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Eleanor Klein's Violent Tide for 121 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ganondorf Dragmire gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Flare Grenade for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ganondorf Dragmire gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Blind applied to Ganondorf Dragmire!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Special Delivery for 62 hit points!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire critically guards Catenna's Weigh Weapon for 38 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ganondorf Dragmire gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

The wavering bullet of magic slams not into Boudicca, but the raid funnels. The trio of triangles fly, spinning end-over-end, with the shimmering field of green light between them. The blast slams into the barrier, exploding it apart with a tremendous blast of energy. It explodes through the three ARMs; they are thrown aside, one slammed into the sand and the other two rocketing into the air.

Leon grits his teeth. That takes the funnels out of the fight, if only for a moment. He looks back at Josie; at the gun that just shot at Xantia, and then back at Josie. The shot fires, and slams into Leon's side.

This time, his blood is splashed back onto the sand. He tilts his head to the side for a moment, and then he snaps Argent Divider to the side. The shotgun barrels split; the blade telescopes back out, and an angry red light explodes off it.

"Don't mistake them, Lovelace," he says. "They're not like me. You don't need to drag them down to our level."

He swings Argent Divider II up with both hands. The red energy field leaves an afterimage after it, before Leon leaps up -- and then slashes three times in the air. He doesn't have to close the distance between Josie and himself -- because the slashes leave crimson arcs in the air. They each over there, and then Leon's eyes blaze.

But not like before. There is a silver flash from them, something unleashed, and the arcs of red light rocket away from him simultaneously, all careening in towards Josephine.

"You should have known better!" he shouts back at her. "You should have been better! We trusted you--and you threw all of that away, and the rest of your whole bloody life with it! You're no different than your father!"

GS: Leon Albus has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Code.29 JOYEUSE!
GS: Leon Albus has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Leon Albus takes 25 damage from Poison!
GS: Burst, Quick, and Shield expired!
GS: Leon Albus has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Love does not come easily to the Crimson Noble people. Indeed, those that love too readily can be seen as black sheeps in the society. It all goes back to how they once terrorized this world and ever since have fought hard to serve it instead. She sees in Riesenlied and Noeline the beginnings of the true Crimson Noble people rather than merely the demon consuming demons they once were, gorging themselves on monsters and creatures so similar to them, so similar. They hungered for the light so fiercely, but all they could find was balance. They remained in the night, in the dark, but they found something in the Elw that kept their hungers at bay. And then others. Rather than war-bodies, their negative energies would fill something more suitable for touching, for caring, for growing, for understanding. Marivel, who loved too easily, was to be their desperate hope. They served tirelessly for Filgaia and in the end, they died for their home.

"They could have left, but they didn't.... They stuck around. They stuck around for this world." Marivel says. "I can hear the beating hearts of lost friends, pushing me to not forget them. I know you can as well. The last Hunters....of long dead civilizations...!" As if the Veruni of today, and the Veruni of the Zeboim people were two different peoples.

Maybe they are.

She draws out that guitar and says, "Life is naught but a consequential series of embarrassments. I refuse to be your mentor. I refuse to be your enemy. I refuse to be your victim. I just... want to be together with you."

She strums the guitar.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFfhbbHrJ9o

"As the true companions we always were! Whatever that takes... !"

She strums her guitar once more, an aura rippling around herself and her friends.

"Please save her. She's more than enough pain in her life. More than enough. She's not had the chance to set down her burdens in millenia. Please."

THE HORSE GIVES MARIVEL A SAD LOOK.

Marivel takes significant morale damage. But she remains standing. For now.

GS: Marivel Armitage has activated a Force Action!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Acacia Saitani with Booster!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Venetia Vuong with Booster!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Ashley Winchester with Booster!
GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Marivel Armitage with Booster!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Marivel Armitage accepts Marivel Armitage's Booster for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper, Quick, and Shield applied to Marivel Armitage!
GS: Ashley Winchester accepts Marivel Armitage's Booster for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper, Quick, and Shield applied to Ashley Winchester!
GS: Josephine Lovelace takes a solid hit from Leon Albus's Code.29 JOYEUSE for 170 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Josephine Lovelace gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace activates Countermeasures!
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

    Jay has more pointed questions about the specifics of the late Paul W. Creek. Ratatoskr's face, though hardly all that expressive or personable at rest (a conscious 'design' decision of Mother's abhorrent genetic designs for 'her' children), looks more like the snarling, fearsome creature of war he was meant to be. A grin that never stops being one but looks more like bared teeth, the lighting of his solid yellow eyes dimming as a subconscious reflex to lower the visibility thereof, as he has no eyelids in the normal sense.
     He doesn't have an answer to that because he doesn't know. What would a world without fighting even look like?
     That wasn't the first time that sort of thought has come to mind. What next? Is there a next? Can there be a next? If there is a next, will there, in time, never be a 'before'?
     Nimue's words are easier for him to follow and yell at, and that's useful because younger people like him always want to have something to snap back and yell at and get the last word over. "I care! I care! I care!" He repeats that because he's not sure he's being heard over the cacophony of weapons fire and other miscellaneous yelling and screaming. "Garbage? Garbage! None of it is... no one is..." He is far too young to have the perspective of one who has seen and lived more than at least ten random people here combined, give or take a few abnormalities in terms of how one counts a proper lifetime.
     "Come onnn!" He snarls as Jay hurls a drink, leaping towards Nimue as she slings the bog standard fragmentation grenade. As he is interrupting its flight path by hurling himself into that space, it sort of deflects off his shoulder and goes up higher, and then explodes at an angle encompassing the back of his head and back. He has that segmented metal plate tail that sort of absorbs part of that blast, but it does disrupt his flight path.
     The 'flight path' in question being a flying knee attack. He might angle lower and come short of Nimue in terms of a knee but he's still a Hyadean. A lighter model one, but a Hyadean at any velocity is not an ideal medium for playing catch.
     "You keep saying you hate it!" Oh no he's bearing down ever closer to Jay, allowing Nimue a better look at what the fragmentation grenade did to him (oh wow that's a shard in his neck, that's kind of bad-looking, how can he yell) with heightened aggression for her passive, supportive nature. "You keep showing up... you want no part but then you're part of it... that makes no sense...!" He goes towards her with any number of strikes. Knees, elbows, kicks. Some punches, some open hand. "What are you giving them? What are you fighting for? Why are you here?! Why are you here!! Fighting so that there is no fighting?"
     But no claws. Yet. "I don't get it... I don't get it!"

GS: Ratatoskr has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Seraph Nimue with Fly Into Fray!
GS: Ratatoskr has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ratatoskr has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ratatoskr spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Ratatoskr has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Ceaseless Conflict!
GS: Ratatoskr has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ratatoskr has completed his action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber critically guards Ratatoskr's Ceaseless Conflict for 27 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    "None can silence the wind," Boudicca insists, to Josephine. "Though I grant you my howling may have little effect, I shall not cease to speak my piece. Would you call it begging... this saddens me," she admits, "but I am unswayed."

    She might have said more about Josephine's outlook, if not for the fact that Xantia's question just landed for her, and all a sudden her sorrow is interrupted by an absolutely daft expression.

    "Eh? Fire..?"

    Boudicca - who is, we will remind the viewers, resolutely Not A Soldier - flusters immediately, with a glance back and forth across the battlefield. "Gracious, no! Do not let Nimue hear you say such things, I shall never hear the end of it! I am of the wind! I simply have an arrangement with Moor Gault, ah, you see, it is quite complex, and not precisely normative, but --"

    Painra.

    The damage that spell could cause is something to fear. Bullets don't much bother the spiritual Boudicca, but magic -- magic is so much closer to herself. She looks back too late to do anything about the spell flying her way, but neither does she have to, as it strikes barrier and winnows the furrows away. "Ah--!" Boudicca gasps, hand to her chest. "Leon!"

    He saved her from that, even though he's so furious...

    "... you have my gratitude," she breathes out, a moment later. "Please, allow me to ensure my words are true." More sigils, lighting up -- a warm summer breeze, curling around Leon and Xantia and Boudicca, too, because in the end bullets still kind of hurt.

GS: Seraph Boudicca has activated a Force Action!
GS: Acacia Saitani accepts Marivel Armitage's Booster for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper, Quick, and Shield applied to Acacia Saitani!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Xantia with Calming Breeze!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Leon Albus with Calming Breeze!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

The thing that Ashley thought was about to come--

Does not, in fact come.

"You--" She... what?? "I uh, hm." Ashley! Looks genuinely conflicted about this whole thing. On the one hand... Yes? This is all true? Also better than being known as a walking can of preserved apocalypse? But also, does this mean Odessa knows where he lives? Do they know where he bakes!?! "I'm... flattered? Uh."

Ashley looks at Marivel for help. This is a situation he was not exactly mentally prepared to deal with!!

Fortunately he is mentally prepared to deal with swords from the ground. Ashley yelps and darts away, just narrowly avoiding getting bisected from below by an inverted guillotine. Still, he isn't able to escape it completely-- but Yue might have to count her lucky stars that Ashley's brief befuddlement has knocked him completely out of any lingering BATTLE FURY-type emotions. The energy she drains is laced with the all-consuming fire of oblivion itself-- but only just enough that it leaves an aftertaste in her energy-mouth similar to that which comes from biting into a juice jalapeño.

"Ghh-- look!" Ashley shouts downstream, "If you know who I am, and know who Marivel is--" He doesn't mention Acacia because Ashley Winchester is utterly unable to sense romantic tension at all, apparently whatever he uses to gel his hair acts as a very specifically-tuned emotional tinfoil hat. "--Then... How about we just, call this whole thing off!? I--"

Marivel's impassioned plea cuts through whatever tirade it was Ashley was going to go into. He looks to her with his jaw agape-- then clicks his mouth shut, swallows, and nods. Energy floods through his body as he clenches a hand tight around another one of those canister rounds. His heartbeat pulses once, twice, but the power that floods outward is not the color of flame and armageddon, but rather a cool, frigid blue.

Last time he had to escape from Spira, Ashley Winchester encountered a power that, for once, saw first the man that he was instead of the monster he could become. Gelid energies gather into the barrel of the Bayonet as he takes aim, and rush outward as he fires. The canister soars through the air and bursts into a blossoming glacier of sky-blue ice that might just freeze solid horse and rider both...!

GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Yue Rohay with Hi-Canister - Frigid Coffin!
GS: Ashley Winchester has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
GS: Seraph Boudicca heals Xantia! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Quick applied to Seraph Boudicca!
GS: Seraph Nimue guards a hit from Ratatoskr's Fly Into Fray for 64 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Nimue gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Seraph Nimue activates Guard bonus!
GS: Seraph Nimue enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Your next attack with the Sneak flag will display with the name Between the Screen and the Windowpane.
GS: Seraph Boudicca heals Leon Albus! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Quick applied to Seraph Boudicca!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    It's fine if Josie doesn't give Ragnell a verbal answer. That thinning of her lips is answer enough.
    
    Azoth meanwhile insists that, no, really, Ivan hasn't tried to seduce him at all. She winks at him and drawls, "Ahhh, but if you were his sexy side partner, you *would* try t' cover for him, wouldn't ya? Just like you tried to cover 'im from that dead body--like he hasn't seen plenty in his time. If you hover over 'im too much, he'll start t' hate you, you know!" She does see that serious look, followed up by a side glance, and she reflects back a rueful smile and a slight shrug. Message received and returned. What it means, Ivan can obsess over later--assuming he notices.
    
    Meanwhile Ivan is downgrading his relationship with Azoth further and further. "'Happens t' be standin' nearby'? Is *that* what he is now? You're so cold, Ivan! An' here he's tryin' to risk himself to protect you! Jus' like a lover would..." she croons, eyes sparkling, grin wolfish. Yeah Ragnell's just fucking with him for the fun of it now. When he asks what that has to do with her, though, she blinks. "I work with Odessa?" she says. "Did you... not know that? Hm." She scratches her cheek. "Guess I never mentioned." But then, Ragnell doesn't really tend to tell folks what she's about, does she?
    
    Azoth takes those lightning bullets and decides to live up to his promise to give her a better fight than last time by charging again--this time with energy lancing out to sap some of her magic from her and back into him as he slams into her with a shield, knocking her backwards. Both of them being electric-types, it's surprisingly super effective. But then, electricity is like a tasty snack to Azoth. She still hasn't managed to figure out how to make tasty snacks *from* lightning, but this might help her on that later...
    
    As she staggers away from him, Ivan tag-teams Azoth by channeling an arte of his own to send down a sphere of searing sorrow, swallowing her up for an instant before she leaps out in a spinning kick for Azoth, trailing smoke and flames from her crispy edges. A one-two blow rains down on Azoth from above if he doesn't move out of the way in time; either way, she'll hurl herself to the side into a roll and come up casting another Seraphic arte. "O darkened stormclouds! Thunder Blade!" she calls.
    
    A sword made of lightning shears down towards Ivan from a diagonal, unleashing a burst of energy on impact that may knock him down. A heartbeat or two later, that sword EXPLODES with thunderous power, possibly enveloping him in the process.

GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a solid hit from Ivan's Searing Sphere for 157 hit points!
GS: Poison applied to Seraph Ragnell!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Azoth with Heartbreaker!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Seraph Ragnell spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Ivan with Thunder Blade!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes 26 damage from Poison!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Ivan guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Thunder Blade for 97 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ivan gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ivan activates Guard bonus!
<Pose Tracker> Venetia Vuong has posed.

"Armor? What?" Venetia asks Acacia.

SWORD!

The energy surrounding Venetia is cut like a hot knife through a spiderweb made out of butter. While this is, fortunately, a drawing upon the ambient energies of the realm and principles rather than some kind of interior pattern buffer, it nonetheless cuts against Venetia hard enough that this time she DOES sink to a knee, blanching as the world chills and power flows from her towards Yue.

For a moment she thinks: Is this hurting me so much because - of my impure heart?

No, Venetia immediately resolves: It's the armor of death that's wrong.

"So there's someone inside of it?" Venetia says, not yet getting up. "Well, that rules out the gun. And I do not esteem my strength so much as to say, time to charge up and try to punch the metal off of it." A glance at Ashley after saying this, for some reason, but then dead on ahead.

"Once more," she says, "With feeling." A different Crest, and this time she stays crouched - perhaps to more easily feel if there is to be a third spiritual scourging. But the magic has not yet left. Gathering, it coalesces above Venetia as she raises her other hand, holding her stylish rod of authority. The butterfly decoration catches the violet shape --

And as it finishes cementing itself, she hurls it forwards! On the way, the quartz lump gains weight (which also gains velocity! or rather, velocity remains same - mass increases! magic!) and firmness, ending up approximately one Venetia in mass shortly before impact against Fjolnir!

GS: Venetia Vuong accepts Marivel Armitage's Booster for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper, Quick, and Shield applied to Venetia Vuong!
GS: Venetia Vuong has attacked Yue Rohay with Stygian Amethyst!
GS: Venetia Vuong has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Venetia Vuong has completed her action.
GS: Azoth guards a hit from Seraph Ragnell's Heartbreaker for 85 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Azoth gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Ganondorf Dragmire has posed.

The Demon King watches the battle with Phantom Ganon silently. Is he even really here...? No, there's no magic that does that...is there? Who knows!?

Phantom Ganon's sword and body are dragged by Catenna's magic, but the thing pulses with light and shrugs off the sorcery. Ganondorf himself turns his eyes on Catenna's question, chuckling low. "Why, I am honoring an agreement with the Warlord Rhadamanthus," he says, coolly. "Besides...making titans of thieves is a specialty of mine."

Eleanor's sorcerous power compresses in on the titanic magical beast, but Phantom Ganon, a moment later, tears his way free, lowering a hand to Eleanor.

Whatever it was about to do is held at bay by Gwen's strike, followed swiftly by Ida's flashing grenade searing its blazing eyes. It sweeps its wide blade first left, then, right, then screams and stabs BOTH blades down into the sand. Shadow blooms from the impact point, firing out in lines and forming up in puddles before each fighter.

"Any number, did she say," Ganondorf says to himself, with some amusement, as a Phantom Ganon forms for each Drifter, then it raises its hand and each one fires a crackling blast of eerie green-white light!

GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Eleanor Klein with Phantoms of a Demon King!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Phantoms of a Demon King!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Mariel with Phantoms of a Demon King!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Phantoms of a Demon King!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Catenna with Phantoms of a Demon King!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Xantia pays close attention to Boudicca's explanation for the whole Fire Thing. Just a little bit too much attention. Perhaps she should have kept her eyes on the person who's likely to shoot at her again in short order. Before she can hear all of it, she pays for the distraction by taking that next shotgun blast full-on, knocking her flat. Xantia can take a hit, but she isn't exactky bulletproof. This is probably cause for more than a little concern.

The lack of any blood is the first hint that the end result wasn't quite as bad as it looked. The second is that she's soon sitting up again, groaning and coughing. "...good magic," is all she's able to sputter out for the moment. That protective wind barrier of Boudicca's paid off immediately. Now she only feels as if she were punched by a fist as big as her body, which is not great, but certainly better than being full of holes.

Thankfully, Boudicca also has ways of lessening the pain, allowing her to get back to her feet in short order. "Thanks... again," she sighs, rubbing the sore spot on her torso. At this point, she can see the wisdom in suggesting, "Maybe we should talk later."

She lost her momentum, getting knocked down like that, but she's not about to back down. Certainly not now, with Leon still fighting, injured and standing up for her. There's not much she can say to Josie's rebuttal. She has certainly noticed that some things in life are just not fair and make no sense. That's not something she has any mind to argue. This isn't about what life is like. This is about what Josie's like. That's where she's bringing her argument.

"...I heard about what happened, when you broke ties with the Wolves. They trusted you. You could have easily led everybody into a big ambush with no chance to escape. Instead, you fought them yourself. Why would you do that?"

There's a subtle shift in the air around Xantia, who doesn't leave an opening to respond this time. "You know what I think?"

In the next instant, she vanishes in a blur of movement, trailing red afterimages as she closes the distance between herself and Josephine in no time flat. A punch to the midsection is thrown as soon as she's able.

"I think you were punishing yourself."

The other arm swings high, the second punch aiming for the face.

"I think you were trying to make it easier, make them hate you."

A knee comes up for the previously targeted spot on the torso.

"I think you were confident that they could handle it."

Finally, Xantia twists about, finishing the combo with a spin kick. She allows for a moment before she finishes speaking her thoughts.

"And I think you are very, very good at making it look like you're doing the best you can, even when you're not doing that at all."

GS: Xantia has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Cardinal Impulse!
GS: Xantia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Catenna takes a glancing hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Phantoms of a Demon King for 123 hit points!
GS: Catenna activates Evade bonus and Arcane Font!
GS: Catenna enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Ashley Winchester's Hi-Canister - Frigid Coffin for 152 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Yue Rohay gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Delay and Slow applied to Yue Rohay!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a glancing hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Phantoms of a Demon King for 95 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ida Everstead-Rey gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein takes a solid hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Phantoms of a Demon King for 190 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Eleanor Klein gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Venetia Vuong's Stygian Amethyst for 137 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Phantoms of a Demon King for 145 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Mariel critically guards Ganondorf Dragmire's Phantoms of a Demon King for 37 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Mariel gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

    Acacia doesn't really expect an answer either way, understanding that much about how the two of them must face the plots between them. It just helps for her to keep musing to herself, running the thoughts through her mind over and over.

    "I knew that much," she grumbles to herself, grimacing as her shots are blocked; turns out it's a lot harder to spook a horse with bullets when that horse is a possibly-demonic thing with a hell of a lot more sentient thought and a hell of a lot less raw animalistic panic. She's not used to horses that aren't bags of imminent self-injury on four spindly legs.

    The impending energy feels much like the corruptive force she felt when the device on the dark knight's back malfunctioned, but this time focused at her rather than wild and unfettered; she grits her teeth and tries to brace against it, but the sensation is so different to her first experience that any hope she had of trying to harness the energy fades as it tears at her.

    She does her best to push through the nausea that comes with it, dizziness nearly overtaking her for a moment - but then the Crimson Noble's power washes over her, drawing a gasp out of her as the world reforms into sharp focus. "What the heck do you think I've been trying to do?" she rasps out, but the sharp tongue is more force of habit than her actually being upset.

    What she doesn't voice is that she's absolutely, utterly certain that breaking Yue's armor isn't going to 'save' her - that accomplishing Marivel's request is something that's going to take a hell of a lot longer than just today. But maybe it'll be enough for now.

    "Okay, then," she says instead to Marivel, letting out a slow breath and straightening up. Perhaps it's a weird time for her to shake out her arms and loosen up, but she seems to have enough-- trust?-- in her opponent that she does it anyway, then raises her pistol again to sight along it. All she's got is a hunch, and she kind of hopes that she's not about to cause another storm of corruptive energy--

    --but the bright line of white that fires from the unassuming pistol, sun-bright and eerily silent - is of course aimed right for the glowing red bit of the boss. That's the rules.

GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Yue Rohay with Deadline!
GS: Acacia Saitani has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
GS: Josephine Lovelace takes a solid hit from Xantia's Cardinal Impulse for 147 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Josephine Lovelace gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Charge!! You gain 40 FP!
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    "Then that's it, then," Josie sighs at Boudicca. Her mouth quirks into a mirthless smile. "If neither of us're gonna leave then we're gonna have to fight, yeah?" It's almost amicable--

    But the stakes are lower against her and the Seraph she's surely disappointed than against her former comrades-in-arms.

    "Me? Know better?" is what Josie says, gazing up at Leon as he rises before her, Argent Divider II in hand. She tenses up, as if trying to decide which way to dodge.
    And in a moment more, there is no time left. Neither is there any place to dodge. The arcs of light left by the blade -- she remembers its birth, the making of it, the first it was used -- fall without mercy.

    Blood drips across stone and sand afterwards. Right hand clutched against her chest, Josie hunches over.

    'You're no different from your father!'

    At that she straightens, as if her spine were replaced by steel. "Say that again," she threatens Leon. "I dare you to say that again!"

    She really is her father's daughter. Would that he were here to hear that.

    It's Xantia, though, who addresses more directly the incident that caused the rift in the first place. For the moment, Josie's attention is off Leon and on the younger woman. "Kiddo, stop talking about stuff you weren't about for--"

    Xantia doesn't give her the room to respond otherwise, her statements punctuated with a series of blows. Midsection. Face. Torso. A kick that, even as she attempts to dart away from still catches her and still leaves her reeling. Swaying for the moment, Josie exhales a weighty breath, as if all her focus were going to simply staying upright. Her lips part. "You..."

    "...really are just a kid."

    There is no direct attack from her this time upon Leon or Boudicca. Instead, Josephine casts her right hand out, angled stiffly before her. A small shimmering ball of light rests in her palm before it floats lazily up to bob in the air a few feet above her. "Light Flare!" she calls out, summoning forth the least and first of the spells her father taught her.

    The sphere explodes in a burst of brilliant light. Can Seraphs be dazzled?
    Perhaps the archaeologist aims to find out.

    She moves, then, for Xantia, the shotgun at her side rising up to dance before the young woman, as if to decide where she intends to put a bullet in her next as her finger eases over the trigger.

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Leon Albus with Light Flare!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Seraph Boudicca with Light Flare!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Xantia with Between the Screen and the Windowpane!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Downgraded further! There is a brief pout and shoulder slump from Azoth. And what if she's right that Ivan might begin to hate him...!

(But wouldn't that be for the best?)

"It's -- fine," Azoth says to Ivan concerning the smoke he's spewing. Which, of course, comes with more smoke. "Don't -- worry about me...!" But his lips aren't quite moving in sync with his voice. So that's weird!

Azoth wasn't aware of Ragnell's allegiance to Odessa either. This complicates things. But hanging out and fighting as separate... Azoth clings to that, even in the heat of their battle. It doesn't mean he can hold back, but it means the sting of loneliness is dulled in the background noise of pain.

"But why choose to side with them?" he asks without anger, lip syncing re-enabled.

He settles from his own charge, the twitching and flicking lessened with the stability siphoned from Ragnell. But then she's bursting unexpectedly out of a sphere of flames. The first blow strikes hard into Azoth, who only has a thin cushion of synthetic skin before Ragnell's rattled his metal shell, but he deftly brings up a shield of light like a buckler to guard the second blow -- which may just be easier for Ragnell to kick off of.

Azoth dismisses the shield into motes and conjures another blade of light. As he sweeps his arm to command it to flick, it multiplies. Azoth lunges for Ragnell, aiming an upward slash with this chain of swords through her. But just as they reach the apex of the strike, he sweeps his hand down, commanding the formation of blades to pierce down into Ragnell one after another in an explosive, detonating barrage. The last burst is the most powerful, and Azoth rides the momentum to leap into the air and flip away, giving himself a moment to reassess his defenses.

GS: Azoth has activated a Force Action!
GS: Azoth spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Seraph Ragnell with If Then!
GS: Azoth has launched an attack Link!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Seraph Ragnell with End If!
GS: Azoth assumes the Stoic stance!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Acacia Saitani's Deadline for 121 hit points!
GS: Disease applied to Yue Rohay!
GS: Leon Albus takes a glancing hit from Josephine Lovelace's Light Flare for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Leon Albus gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Blind applied to Leon Albus!
<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

Catenna snaps a glance towards Eleanor. "I admit to viewing them through a different perspective," she asides, voice quieting momentarily.

The Moon Shaman is decidedly not an elf, nor even an Elw. There shouldn't be anything about the idea of Ganondorf Dragmire that'd make her especially nervous - and yet, there are fingerprints of his in unexpected places.

Not the least of them is before her. She looks to one side, her eyes locking on the observing King of Thieves. There's something about him that hits her square in a very primal part of her heart --

    she traced her fingers over the mask. the designs slashing across it are old and unexplained. the red mane that hangs around it is even older. she knows nothing of where they came from.
    only what they will do. make a beast of her. the things that will connect her to the world of monsters and madness.

Her thoughts flicker back from that old childhood memory. "You've done more than that," she breathes, but before she can figure out where her thoughts take her, the Phantom Ganon multiplies and casts forth the light of damnation.

Wide-eyed, Catenna hurls herself into a backwards leap - but it's too late to save herself entirely. The blast of haunting light tears into the sand mere inches from her, and though the potentially fatal solid hit is avoided by virtue of her sheer agility, the shockwave is dangerous enough. She's hurled through the air and lands with a crash, rolling and wincing in pain as she jars her shoulder and upper back. Only sand breaks her fall - and prevents her from breaking bones.

When she rolls back into a ready position, it's with her Silver Medium in her off hand. Her eyes remain wide, tension etched across the dusky angularity of her face. "You make titans of thieves and monsters of lambs," she hisses. "My people have known your Malice and what it has done. Something about you--"

She clicks her teeth together. She doesn't want to finish the sentence.

Something about him makes her want to curl up in a small, obedient little ball and just follow. It is the kind of horrible feeling she fled from, years ago.

"--Whatever you once were, however my people know you, you are no king to me!" Catenna manages to organize her thoughts into a spark of defiance even as she raises her Medium. A glimmer of silver shines at its heart.

For just a moment, another figure hovers behind her. A woman of similar complexion to Catenna herself, but with silvery hair, perched upon a gold crescent. The Guardian of the Moon appears only briefly.

Celesdue says nothing. If she has any light to shine on a mystery, she leaves it unspoken.

She shares only the power of gravity. An inexorable force ripples to life at the heart of the battlefield, exerting a physical and spiritual pressure upon the multiple Phantom Ganons. The power of the Moon pulls at them, trying to suck them all into a single place.

It is a spell that should draw the Phantom Knights in, and recombine them by force.

GS: Catenna has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Material - Merciless Queen!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Boudicca takes a solid hit from Josephine Lovelace's Light Flare for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Boudicca gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Blind applied to Seraph Boudicca!
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Josephine Lovelace's attack becomes clear!
GS: Xantia takes a solid hit from Josephine Lovelace's Silver Hook for 71 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Xantia gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Dispel! Lock State removed!
GS: Disease applied to Xantia!
GS: Xantia enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a solid hit from Azoth's If Then for 181 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Ragnell gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline listens to Nimue's response to Ratatoskr. It... explains a lot, really. She looks back toward Ratatoskr, then... but, he doesn't have an answer to her question. Does he not know? Had he ever even thought about it?

"It's true - I do hate it." Jacqueline confirms as Ratatoskr comes rushing in with a flurry of strikes. They're quick and powerful attacks. When it comes to pure hand-to-hand skill, she's at a disadvantage - she's far more comfortable at range. But she does, at least, have some tools at her disposal to help deal with it.

Jacqueline wraps her cloak around herself, and Ratatoskr will find that despite looking like simple cloth, it's like striking steel - not only that, it obscures her form to make targeting her vulnerable spots that much more difficult.

"I hate fighting, and violence, and bloodshed. I hate unnecessary loss of life. ...But that's why I'm here. I'm here because I can help people - medicines to mend wounds, protective spells to save someone at the last moment." She explains. "'Fighting so that there is no fighting'... That's a good way to put it. I'm here to protect others, and to put a stop to people who'd abuse their strength to hurt others, in the hopes that someday things will finally be peaceful."

"Besides!" With a gesture of her left hand, concealed beneath her cloak, a pillar of earth rises above Jacqueline's feet, launching her into the air and over Ratatoskr. As she flies, she hurls a bottle of lavender-colored liquid at his feet, causing it to erupt in a plume of smoke that, if he inhales too much of it, will sap his strength leave him weakened.

"It's not like we came here looking for a fight. There's more to life than fighting, after all." She concludes as she lands, shaking her head. "It's not like we spend every moment between fights looking for the next one. Certainly even you aren't picking fights every minute of every hour of every day. Don't you have things you like to do in your downtime?"

She gestures to herself.

"I like to read books. Fiction, non-fiction... I love learning things and taking in stories." She looks toward Nimue. "What do you like to do in your down time?"

She looks toward Ratatoskr, then.

"And what do you like to do, Ratatoskr?" She asks. It may seem random, but she's trying to make a point here.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Ratatoskr with Sapping Solution!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    She does not, in fact, shoot Xantia. Instead, Josie swings the shotgun low and to the side, only to bring suddenly upwards at speed to collide with Xantia as if she were wielding a club.

GS: Seraph Ragnell takes a glancing hit from Azoth's End If for 110 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

"I'll try to use your gratitude effectively, then," Leon answers Boudicca, with a glance over his shoulder at her and a nod. He seems to mean it sincerely. He breathes in, the warm breeze filling his lungs as some of the wound on his side begins to knit shut.

His eyes narrow as Xanthia makes her theory known. He wonders -- the cynic in him dismisses it -- but he wonders, nonetheless, and can't quite quiet that other voice.

"Say it, then," Leon snaps back at her. "Say that your father would do better. That he wouldn't use people so."

The light flashes, a brilliant explosion that blinds Leon for a moment. He blinks his eyes with a grunt, floaters lingering and obscuring his vision. "Gh--"

He sees Josephine, and decides it's best to run in. He sprints across the ground, Argent Divider gripped in both hands. The narrow blade now has no red, angry light wreathing it.

Leon closes the distance, and then does a hard, wide slash with both hands -- and leaves a trail of red-orange light in his wake, with the strike.

GS: Leon Albus has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Riot Crash!
GS: Leon Albus has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Leon Albus takes 18 damage from Poison!
GS: Leon Albus has completed his action.
GS: Josephine Lovelace takes a solid hit from Leon Albus's Riot Crash for 130 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Josephine Lovelace gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

"Fair enough! Far be it from me to quibble over what to call our enemies in the middle of a battle!"

Eleanor breathes in the revitalizing pink fumes, enjoying the relatively rare (to her) experience of being on the receiving end of support as much as the fragrant healing itself. She may have to keep up on offense, for that matter. As Ida announces her flare, Eleanor looks away for its impact, and then moves forward again as she spots her own spell having worked. Titans of thieves...

She doesn't know what personal matter Catenna has with Ganondorf, but she can tell it exists--can tell there's a great deal there somewhere. She files it away, for now, though she flashes a smile to Gwen at her confidence, and a grateful one at that for Gwen's strike that shields her. But apparently there are... more.

"That's not ideal," Eleanor winces, bracing for a hit she's too flat-footed to dodge that blasts her down into the sand, forced to one knee by its sheer power. "Aah--"

Eleanor struggles back up, pulling her rifle again, and this time levelling it on the first of the Phantoms near her. "Don't give up! He wants us to be afraid!"

She then takes a breath, and starts to channel the intent hidden in her weapon, the small magic that every object has, as she aims. The weapon's barrel glows faintly, and an aura surrounds the entire thing as Eleanor braces it.

She fires, and the bullet shines golden in the beating sun on its path towards a Phantom Ganon.

GS: Formation! Eleanor Klein has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Mystic Shot!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Nimue has posed.

Nimue brings her staff up to defend herself; she doesn't do a particularly great job of it, all told, with plenty of punches and kicks breaking through her guard. Still, she seems to have more grit than one would expect of her tiny frame; even by the time he's done pummeling her and she manages to disengage, she seems... a little on the sunny side, if maybe only in her usual Nimue Nimuway.

"... Yeah, I hate it too, actually! But it keeps finding me no matter what I do, so I figure, I may as well participate and have a little control over the outcome instead of just being stuck with whatever garbage gets chucked into my life by garbage people!" Nimue answers, a little bitterly. "It's something you'll probably understand after your crappy club for jerks explodes."

A pause, as Nimue reflects, "Actually you already had one crappy club for jerks explode so maybe, uh, I dunno. Hmmm. Now I really don't know what to tell you." With a shrug, Nimue settles for, "Can't win 'em all, I guess!"

Nimue takes a second to consider her options, before... deciding to just go with it. Beanballing Ratatoskr with a grenade worked out just fine a little bit ago -- why not do it on purpose this time? Nimue pops a few grenades out of her pack, one after another, quick-as-you-please -- each by the pin, of course, there's no time to be *responsible* about this.

After catching all three in her sling-staff at once, she gives it a quick flick, sending all three toward Ratatoskr at slightly different angles. They physically hit bang-on first, assuming Ratatoskr doesn't get out of the way; it takes a moment before *all* of them explode in a vicious chain reaction.

GS: Seraph Nimue spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Seraph Nimue has attacked Ratatoskr with Jetstream Scatter!
GS: Seraph Nimue has launched an attack Link!
GS: Seraph Nimue spends 1 Combo on Gatling, loading 1 into Gatling!
GS: Seraph Nimue enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Nimue has attacked Ratatoskr with Explosion!
GS: Seraph Nimue has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Nimue has completed her action.
GS: Ratatoskr critically guards Jacqueline Barber's Sapping Solution for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ratatoskr gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ratatoskr activates Guard bonus!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida's gaze flicks between Catenna and the distant form of Ganondorf. "Be careful," she says, her voice low and deadly serious. She still remembers the power that he unleashed in the Lapisera Mines--a power that ARMS would not have survived had Marivel not prepared a power of her own, within Ashley. Ida still remembers how her skin burned beneath that golden light. He could do it again, if he wanted.

    Instead, the puppet. The phantom is still an unknown quantity to Ida--it seems to have vision, judging by how it stumbles about, but the way it reacts to being blinded is unexpected. Ida leaps back, thinking at first that it's simply flailing blindly--but then shadow bursts from the dunes before her, forming yet another Phantom Ganon. One of a set, Ida realizes, with sudden horror.

    The heiress throws herself out of the way of the bolt, and almost makes it. Power washes over her left shoulder, shattering the exoskeleton, tearing through the armor, and searing the all-too-human flesh beneath. Ida hits the sand in a three-point crouch, biting back a scream. Smoke streams from her wounded shoulder. Ida does not want to think about what a direct hit would've done.

    Instinct takes over, and it's not Ida's. The woman's body rises to its feet, metallic armor rippling as her fingers extend into bladed claws.

    And then there's a blink, and Ida is fully in control. She surges forwards, tries to keep her back to Mariel so the Elw doesn't have to see what's going on. With claw-hand strikes, she rips into the Phantom projected to fight her, trying to tear chunks out of its legs.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Muscle Memory!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey's Stoic stance ends.
GS: Riposte expired!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    In the end, Boudicca is a very different Beast. Wolves don't eat bread; they eat meat. And yet, in this circumstance...

    "I think this to be wise," she cedes, to Xantia. A battlefield is no place for a conversation! There's no time, between the bullets, to try and puzzle out the meaning of Leon's rage or Xantia's inquisitiveness.

    Because, in the end, the light blazes. Her eyes are useless to her - yes. But her eyes are only one part of her; a pleasantry, really. Jelly in bone. The strict meaning of their purpose is unlike their ultimate messaging.

    Which is to say: Boudicca can't see shit, capt'n.

    But she can still tell Xantia's in trouble.

    "You call her child," Boudicca says, face turned a little to the left of where their assailant is, "but I think you are downplaying her wisdom, Josephine. How hard you portray yourself! Do you never tire of it?" This is a rhetorical question; Boudicca knows the answer.

    She's kind enough not to spell it out.

    Perhaps that's a tragedy of her own ignorance.

    The wind finds Xantia again, much the way it did Leon. How does it find her when Boudicca is still blinking the lights from her eyes..? ... it's magic.

GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Xantia with Fortifying Tailwind!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Boudicca gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Yue Rohay has posed.

    Can Yue hear the beating hearts of lost friends?

    In a stroke of pure accident and irony, she dwelled within the earth for millennia, a jealously guarded fire of a prometheus from a forgotten age. But where the Crimson Nobles found companionship in the Elw...

    They left.

    They all left.

    They left on their great exodus, leaving behind their problems. While she slept, hanging on a single thread of mechanical function for life, they fled and explored the stars. And now they are back, and their answer leaves much to be desired.

    "Acacia is right. Filgaia is too full of old people. Old ghosts," Fjolnir murmurs. "Phantasms that plague you day after day, ever leading you forward until a certain promise that must be fulfilled."

    I just... want to be together with you.

    ...

    As the true companions we always were!

    ...

    Whatever that takes!

    "... even now, you ask me to save her," Fjolnir answers, perhaps more and more shedding any pretense. "She, whose shadow you continue to chase forward, towards that time when you must fulfill your promise. I know."

    A pause.

    "And yet I have never said no. I cannot yet stand with you, however..."

    Battle is still ongoing. Ashley's energy -- though she is no vampire or Crimson Noble -- is enough to give her pause for a moment; he asks if they can just call this whole thing off. It's tempting. It's always oh so darn tempting, and yet...

    "I do not battle for my own sake. ... I have never," Fjolnir answers as Ashley readies another canister -- this time it's ice; Nyx struggles once more as its mechanical hooves become stuck, in a similar way to the shelling geodes that Venetia threatened earlier.

    The mount is fast; it springs out of the way before it's permanently immobile, sparks coursing across both Nyx and Fjolnir's bodies as flecks of ice frost the surface of their metallic limbs.

    "I see. Did you think me a machine like Juno, Crest Sorceress? I may yet disappoint you further."

    Another Crest is procured, and Venetia creates a powerful quartz lump that flies severely towards her! Her aim is true! She cannot evade--

    "GUH!" Fjolnir shouts, as a last-ditch barrier of darkness erupts around her arm; the mass is stopped, but at huge cost; more blood seeps out of the back-spine of that armour, red electricity erupting all the same as she struggles to hide an electronically warbled cough.

    Then, Acacia follows with what she largely expects -- another blast from the pistol, dangerously aimed straight towards the device that she grazed earlier. There's a moment of genuine fear hidden under the mask as Yue herself has no idea what will happen if the device takes more damage--

    *RRRRRIP*

    "... your control is... getting better, still," Fjolnir half-warbles, half-gasps. Acacia (and the others) can see it -- the more damage it receives, the more that erratic red lightning bounces and dances out of control. And the more power leaks into the very air, creating a haze of heat and supercharging it.

    The stain of blood from the broken device certainly, literally paints a complete picture.

    "Enough."

    The dark knight's mount withdraws; there is a good thirty or more feet of distance between them, which may not be all that disadvantageous to the musketeer, crest sorceress and ether-gunner. Yet it's with confidence that Fjolnir discards that black staff, which disappears into motes of ether...

    ...

    And a sword appears.

    It is an unreasonable sword, scythe-like at its thickest portion where a point would grace a reasonable blade; it is easily longer than the dark knight is tall, yet she wields it one-handed with seeming ease.

    Those that have been to the depths of Linaweyul and back may recognise it for what it is, tinged with characteristic black and purple--

    BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIWfW7iaj68

    A Devil Arm.

    With a single, swift motion, the dark knight raises her sword...

      ==== !\ WARNING !\ ==== !\ WARNING !\ ==== !\ WARNING !\ ====

               A powerful attack is incoming in the next round!

      But once, the warrior was felled when lightning struck her sword...

      ==== !\ WARNING !\ ==== !\ WARNING !\ ==== !\ WARNING !\ ====

    "... break my charge. It is your only option."

GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Yue Rohay with Fjolnir raises their Sword...!
GS: Yue Rohay assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Yue Rohay accepts Yue Rohay's Fjolnir raises their Sword... for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Yue Rohay!
GS: Mighty applied to Yue Rohay!
GS: Delay expired!
GS: Yue Rohay gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Yue Rohay has completed her action.
GS: Ratatoskr takes a solid hit from Seraph Nimue's Jetstream Scatter for 90 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ratatoskr gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ratatoskr enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: CRITICAL! Ratatoskr takes a solid hit from Seraph Nimue's Explosion for 212 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ratatoskr gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

"It's said that your word is nothing." Mariel raises her voice; even to her it still sounds a little weak, but she steadies soon enough. "I would never trust you to honour an agreement, and if they trust you, Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus is less intelligent than I gave him credit for. You are nothing but hate and malice - "

One phantom Ganon is plenty. One each is a little *too* many.

Mariel holds up her bag as if it was a shield - and, for an instant, it actually serves as one. The blast from the phantom impacts it and *splashes*, blasting around the edges of the bag, which is blackened and scorched where it hit. Unfortunately, 'around the edges of the bag' includes Mariel, though she's avoided getting hit in the face at least.

Mariel bites back a sound of pain - literally; she clamps her jaw shut and holds most of it in, though she does emit a soft sound and her exhalation is a little shuddering. It means Ida gets what she wants; Mariel doesn't see what she's doing very clearly, between the bag-as-shield and the flash of light followed by pain.

Even though it she hears Catenna. Mariel has not spent time with the Zortroa in centuries, and never as much as the Baskar, but she understands a fragment. A fragment is enough, for now. She may find it in her to look for more later.

Mariel reaches into her bag again. It's damaged but not destroyed, and most of the contents are usable. She doesn't seem to find what she's looking for immediately, judging by how she keeps going through it, but she does find a small satchel of powder.

Mariel considers it for a moment. It should work, she considers, and scatters it, releasing the bundled blessed salt within in an arc. It is harmless to her fingers, but where it strikes foreign magic, it burns with a white flame - and where it touches the corrupt or the evil, it burns all the brighter.

Then she goes back to digging. They'll need this, she thinks. They're all fighting against him...

GS: Mariel has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Purifying Salt!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
GS: Xantia accepts Seraph Boudicca's Fortifying Tailwind for 0 hit points!
GS: Burst, Quick, and Shield applied to Xantia!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ragnell doubles down on the teasing, tossing out 'lover' this and 'sexy' that, causing Ivan to stammer and sputter denials before announcing "Aaah!" and shooting an undirected burst of flame from his shoulders and head as the embarassment quite literally boils over. Although fire was momentarily engulfing part of his body, he seems perfectly unharmed by the flames once they pass.

He sees Azoth slumping about the downgrade. "D-don't act sad, you'll only make it worse!!" As if it wasn't Ivan's own over-reactions egging her on the most...

Azoth assures him that his own signs of overheating are fine, with his lip synch out of whack.

"If...you say so," Ivan says, frowning skeptically before catching himself and adding, "I mean, it doesn't really matter to me, though, you're just some... adjacent stranger...!" ...Even Ivan realizes that was too much. Now he's re-embarrassed himself and also feels kind of bad about it.

Ragnell clarifies her presence on the battlefield. I work with Odessa?

"But... ... what for!" Ivan asks, echoing Azoth's question.

A blade made from lightning cuts down from the sky -- Ivan throws up his arms to dampen the blow with his bracers, but the explosion of the blade surprises him, throwing him from his feet as the electricity surrounds and races through him.

Once his muscles unclench, he pushes up onto an elbow and unleashes a swarm of flickering sparks at Ragnell from the ground; on arrival, they begin to detonate int explosive bursts.

GS: Ivan spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Ivan has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Stars of Fury!
GS: Ivan gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Seraph Ragnell guards a hit from Ivan's Stars of Fury for 120 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Ragnell gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    'If I flinch, he'll be encouraged.'

    This is Gwen's thought, as Gwen's own personal knight, created just now, just for her, fires at her.

    She leans into the shot, flinching anyway, and then some, blown off her feet to roll chaotically like some heavy tumbleweed, a few meters back from where she made her stand.

    "Gh..." The sense of pink well-being from Mariel's herbs is gone, but Gwen still manages to stand back up, probably *because* they were there in the first place, taking the blow for Gwen's increasing hubris instead of her body.

    Seeing Catenna attempt to use the power of the Moon to combine the many Knights into one (no pun intended), Gwen readies for a shot, eying Ida with a flash of worry as she rises with an almost automatic type of determination.

    But it's Mariel that manages to capture Gwen's attention entirely.

    Seeing Mariel stand and cast salt before the Demon King, Gwen is focused to stand back and reflect, hearing the Primarch Setanta's words of animosity towards the Elw, towards hearing one still lived. "Setanta, if only you could see this..." How hard Mariel fights for all their sakes, despite being the only one left of the race that created, then cast them aside.

    One girl, bearing the hopes and sins of an entire civilization, long gone.

    Eleanor fires a golden bullet towards a phantom Ganon, and Gwen collapses her attention back to her own self, and closes her eyes.

    "Let's go!"

    Her eyes open, and golden light infused with red traces the nervess in Gwen's neck, going into her face, but not completely. "I'm comin' for ya, Ganondorf, y'better get prepared all quick-like!"

    She could stand to work on her threatening words a little more.

GS: Gwen Whitlock enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Bounding Flight!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Gwen Whitlock's Bounding Flight for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Quick applied to Gwen Whitlock!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Truthfully, Xantia was expecting more of a direct objection to her claims. She wouldn't believe it if Josie denied it, of course, she's already made up her mind about all this. And she isn't exactly considering that punctuating your words with violence might make it a little difficult to reply in great detail. Even so, she's surprised to hear the first words spoken in response being what they are.

You... ...really are just a kid.

"...So what if I am?"

She genuinely doesn't see what that has to do with anything, which could be said to support the point, though Boudicca offers a counterpoint. Xantia herself doesn't argue - right now she has to worry about making sure she isn't shot again. She can't gamble on Boudicca's magic keeping her safe from a second time.

It's a complete surprise to instead get smacked physically by a ranged weapon. The impact sends her reeling, and she stumbles back a few paces before regaining her balance. It created an easy opening. Why wasn't it taken advantage of? Xantia is ready to use the absence of a follow-up to support her point, when she realizes it's actually Leon's actions she probably has to thank for that.

At which point she steps in, saying only, "Leon." It's a tone that implies 'wait', though she doesn't actually say the word. She would like the fighting to stop, but she can't exactly demand it. The way Leon feels is valid, too. But, if possible, she would prefer the chance to continue doing this her way. And so, she continues to speak.

"...I'd like to ask what this is all for, Josie. I don't believe this is just a job to you, so... what does 'Akasha' mean to you?" She leaves all of half a second of an opening before...

"'None of your business.' That's what you'd answer that with, right? That's fair. You are a friend, after all. I trust my friends to know what they're doing, even if they won't tell me what it is."

At this point, Boudicca's winds surround her once more, and she finds her strength further bolstered. She could surely drive her point home effectively with this power. Grinning, she flexes her hands open and closed. "Onnn the other hand... I am pretty curious! So, I'll just have to see what it's gonna take before you're willing to tell me! You could save us some time by just doing it now, you know I never give up once I've made up my mind about something."

She then proceeds to use all that awesome power given to her to do....... absolutely nothing.

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel shakes her head slowly. "I loved all of them... Of course I did. But I'm not talking about Ana or Althena right now. I'm talking about you. Yue." Unfortunately for Ashley, Marivel doesn't have the power to tell him the correct path here. For whatever futures Marivel has seen, she wants to throw Yue into a new path. Is it even possible to change a fate foreseen?

"You were always one of us... Ana thought so too. We all did. We thought--it was fun competing with you. It ... We didn't take it seriously. We never saw you as a foe."

Marivel lowers her head. "I was still young, then. You were the first people I knew. I wasn't socially adept, I was awkward like Acacia over there," HEY NOW MARIVEL DO YOU HAVE TO?? "I didn't know you were still here." Marivel says. "I didn't know that you survived. I would have dug you out of that cell as soon as the radiation died down. There would have been time enough, time enough..."

And yet I have never said no. I cannot yet stand with you, however...

"I don't care...!" Marivel says. "How long do I have to keep on pretending?! I'm tired of lying--"

Yue Rohay draws the Devil Arm. Marivel grimaces and stumbles, not quite dropping her mic. She exhales faintly and slides it back into her pouch.

"I met Luceid again. He hates me now." Marivel says. "Ana is gone. Althena is gone mad." Kamui is better off without me. "I don't have many links to this world left. How am I supposed to strike at them?"

But Fjolnir raaises that blade into the air. An ultimatum is given.

"...Okay." Marivel says,exhaling out a long sgh. She's drained but she can cast something.

She reaches forward with her hands and unleashes her ultimate spell.

"APORT."

A bucket lands, open end first, towards Fjolnir's head.

GS: Marivel Armitage has attacked Yue Rohay with Enhanced Aport Riposte!
GS: Marivel Armitage has completed her action.
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Marivel Armitage's Enhanced Aport Riposte for 122 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Yue Rohay gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

Ashley is a mortal pawn by every possible definition of the phrase. He has been bootstrapped into a painful fate by immortal architects to enact a plan whose origins lie beyond the hazy veil of time. The nature of his choice in the matter (or rather, the lack thereof) is complicated and complex. By and large, he has not complained-- and yet, it's true what Acacia says-- what Yue focuses on.

He is one of the victims of those hoary specters of the past, of Filgaia's long and painful history.

And yet...

And yet--

"So what if it is?" Ashley asks, even as the dark knight unveils a sword that-- frankly, is quite painful to look at. Something within his very being spasms and pulses painfully at the sight of it. But he doesn't give in, that power is not needed here, not yet. "Just because a dream is old doesn't mean it isn't worth pursuing. Old people-- even ones as old as Marivel-- still deserve to hold on to hope! Even if there are details I don't quite understand, and even if I keep running into old friends of hers that want the both of us dead-- just because the road is long doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing, and even if it's old that doesn't mean there aren't new people willing to join in!"

An ominous feeling washes over the Musketeer. It feels as though that blade was inexplicably poised over his neck specifically, ready to strike at any moment, and yet...

They can stop it. They can stop it, can't they? Stop the sword from falling, save the woman in the armor who Ashley still hasn't quite figured out is Yue Rohay. The Musketeer loads another canister, this one a strange metallic cylinder shod with inlaid crystalline panels. A little miracle, courtesy of the R&D corps back at Valeria Chateau. He slides the device into position, his weapon again beginning to shine with a pale blue light. "I... I admit that I don't get it. I'm nowhere near able to understand what the passing of so many years can do to a person. But even so... There's a place for it on Filgaia, I think. For old dreams and young alike. For me-- it may already be too late. But I've hitched my wagon to Marivel's, and I'm not about to let her down when she asks for my help! So--!"

Ashley pulls the trigger. The Bayonet disgorges a column of searing, azure light as wide as a certain deceased Hero of Slayheim was tall. Where it passes, sand turns to glass and night to day...

But it might lose a little bit of impact considering Marivel just dropped a bucket on that poor woman's head like, a split second before Ashley fired.

But then maybe that'll just keep the dark knight from going blind???

GS: Ashley Winchester has activated a Force Action!
<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

    Part of the reporter wonders if that was perhaps a terrible idea, targeting the thing on the knight's back; the spray of blood raises uncomfortable questions about how integrated the equipment might be with Yue directly, and maybe it isn't the best ever plan to just rip the damn thing out and break it. On the other hand, well... it's kind of her thing, to offer Yue a rather tough and no-nonsense brand of love, and she's long past the point of worrying about something like that.

    She watches, her frame full of tension, as the dark horse and its rider retreat. She doesn't have to be an empath or some kind of combat savant to feel the chill that runs down her spine, the tension in the air suddenly thick enough to cut - probably with the terrible blade that Fjolnir is now wielding. It is-- well, if she's honest, the photographer in her can really appreciate the shot, a sense of awe bubbling up behind her. She can just picture a storm behind Yue, and it would honestly look a lot better without her helmet, her hair whipping in the wind.

    Acacia is not as stupid as she sometimes wishes, but she can still be pretty stupid sometimes.

    Maybe that - and the unspoken rules about meeting Yue's situation head-on - are also the reason she doesn't interfere with the knight's preparations. Instead, she lowers her pistol, grounding her feet as she lets out a slow and even breath. When she brings her guard back up she's holstered her weapon, blocking in the way a boxer might as she glares from between her forearms. "Okay."

GS: Acacia Saitani has attacked Acacia Saitani with Retraction!
GS: Acacia Saitani has completed her action.
GS: Acacia Saitani heals Acacia Saitani! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Cover applied to Acacia Saitani!
GS: Ashley Winchester spends 5 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Yue Rohay with Rising Nova!
GS: Ashley Winchester has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Ashley Winchester's Rising Nova for 256 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

    The first time Ratatoskr directly lays an open-hand strike to that steel-like cloak, his wrist soaks the impact improperly. His attack is utterly reckless, and in that moment he sustains an injury that would put out most humans without access to healing magic out for a month or two. For someone like him, far less - but enough for him to withdraw the limb, as he is unable to stop Jay from describing her position.
     (The irony of how many people would like for him to stop talking about his spheres of interest, spheres that may well be four-dimensional constructs for the sheer obsession involved, is lost on him.)
     She boosts to the air on a pilar, and hurls down that lavender-colored liquid with the intent to work its pacifying chemistry upon him. It tumbles down... and misses the ground.
     Because his horn spears through the cork, catching it. Tiny droplets make miniscule, insignificant runs for freedom, failing to come together and turn to vapor in enough quantity in order to do much. (He could remove it with his other hand, but there's still that tiny, tiny fleck of translucent water-wind-conjured ice he is savoring the touch of, when there is scant little else about it that differentiates it from a ball of snow and ice he could've picked up in Elru.)
     "Tch...! I don't understand...! You oppose me when I am keeping these war heroes within these stories you'll read... what would you even read?" Hyadean regeneration takes back over the injured wrist, allowing him to re-clench that hand. Then his claws dig into said palm, which is counter-productive and the problematic reminder of how pain has never been the most reliable teacher for his ilk. "What would you even read!"
     Incensed by this, so much, he tries to leap towards Jay with the appearance of an overhead axe-kick in mid-air, which he appears to overshoot the height of... because the target is to point the end of the barrel within his leg to discharge a shotgun-like blast of compressed air down at her.
     This helps Nimue's work immensely, because he can't help but charge right into flung grenades from his sheer inertia (and even if he could, it wouldn't be a hard Cheating Wind Seraphim-style cheat to adjust the angle).
     "I like to see it all.."
     One grenade pings off his head.
     "...I like to feel it all..."
     Another grenade bounces off an elbow towards the ground, but that's still in his landing trajectory so that's a win for the very near future that is almost here.
     "I like to live it all..." Third one bounces off a knee.
     That lack of divide between 'fight' and 'not fight.' That cultural lack-of-wedge all former Metal Demons have struggled with, in some form. That he can't divide sightseeing from fighting. That he can't divide thrillseeking from fighting. That he can't divide living from fighting.
     Well, he gets to see an explosion, blinding and bright.
     He gets to feel an explosion, searing and tearing.
     He gets to live through an explosion.
     All of that, three times! Nimue's assault is its own form of indulgence.
     The sprays of quicksilver and fragmented blood red-tinted Hyadean armoring really cannot be called indulgence. It can be called gut-wrenching. It's awful to look at, when some of the smoke clears. Only some, because the lavendar smoke from the weakening agent has now been activated by the grenades. Ratatoskr does not look like someone who is pretty miserable. He does not even look like someone who is ugly miserable either.
     The grin is still there.
     "...Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus could lose, too..." As did Mother. Odessa is a jerk club without a clear vision for what comes after conquest. "...But I got to live to see one of the greatest modern day military leaders of the people of Filgaia make his biggest campaign ever... I'm getting to be part of it... I see them win... I see them lose... I'm there. I'm here..."
     Quicksilver pools from open wounds. The armor he wears, when fragmented and stripped, reveals his actual flesh to be relatively spindly. There is a cylinder-like bone protrusion - the barrel of in-built ARMs that discharge compressed air. And yet...
     Flesh starts to mend, crawling back over exposure.
     "Being here... being part of all of it... that's something I like to do... win 'em all?"
     He grins a bit more. "I love 'em all..."
     He doesn't seem as though he can stand up and fight, as if pushed close to the limit of his biological elasticity. One hand grabs at the sand underneath, caked in his own blood but focusing on the tiny differences in the color and the feel of it compared to any other sand through Filgaia, Lunar, or anywhere.
     As if happy to simply be.

GS: Ganondorf Dragmire critically guards Catenna's Material - Merciless Queen for 0 hit points!
GS: Ratatoskr has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Eleanor Klein's Mystic Shot for 239 hit points!
GS: Dispel! Hyper removed!
GS: Delay applied to Ganondorf Dragmire!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Muscle Memory for 114 hit points!
GS: Mighty applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    And why would he be aware? It's not something she advertises, and she doesn't advertise it because... well, Ragnell doesn't advertise much about herself. Realizing that might not help Azoth's sense of loneliness... but maybe it might help later that Ragnell really does separate the social arena from the battlefield. She'll be precisely herself and no one else when next they meet.
    
    For now, though--Azoth and Ivan both ask why she's with Odessa, both in their unique ways. Ragnell snorts first at Ivan's absolute social fail, then whirls as each of them rebound off one another. Once she's close enough to the two that she won't be overheard, she states, "Well, if you *really* want th' truth: I'm jus' here to keep an eye on a certain someone. I don't care about Odessa's ideals, an' honestly I'm pretty sure the group is gonna implode, or explode, or both at once, in the near future. So stickin' around to watch the train wreck is up there, too!"
    
    Playing that straight doesn't do her any favors. Does straightness ever, though? Ivan calls up explosive orbs of force from below, and Azoth slices down with his sword from above before calling down a *rain* of swords, trapping her between fire and blades from either angle. The massive sword conflagration envelopes her as Azoth flips away, and an explosion *rocks* the immediate area. When it fades, Ragnell staggers to one side, then drops to one knee, coughing and trailing smoke and red fluid.
    
    "Damn, Azoth," she croaks. Then she grins, sharp and glinty. "Now that's what I'm talkin' about." Her eyes narrow. "I'll have to go a little tougher on you next time around." She tilts a pained nod Ivan's way. "You did good too, Ivan--but I barely have t' tell *you* that; you already know you're strong. That teamwork wasn't bad, though." She coughs again, and grins. "For a pair of adjacent strangers, anyway."
    
    Wobbling, she manages to get up to her feet. "For now, though, I'll cede this one to y'all. Don't do anything I'd do, y'hear?" A flash of light, and she transforms into a golden orb of light and zips up and away into the sky.

GS: CRITICAL! Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Mariel's Purifying Salt for 122 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    In spite of her fury -- or maybe because of it -- Josie's lips pull into a too-wide grin, one that is as much menace as grim amusement. "You've met him, ain't you? Don't you think you got an answer for that already?!"

    The fact of the matter is that she knows that--

    "Don't you encourage her none!" Josie shouts at Boudicca, gritting her teeth. "And do you think I'm gonna stop? Just 'cause you lot came at me with bullshit?!"

    Maybe that's part of the reason she comes for Xantia in that manner, or why her ARM dances back to her, as if she were about to follow up that strike with a shot while the younger woman were still off-balance.

    'Leon', Xantia says, as if to say wait, and while she might have directed it at the Captain of the Black Wolves...

    Josie's finger eases off the trigger.

    "What is it for?" she echoes, only to shake her head. She aims the shotgun back towards the earth again. "Don't you see it, kiddo? Filgaia's done for, especially if this all keeps up. Vinsfeld and his lot... I told you. This goes back before I met you. Before I met any of you." Her jaw sets when Xantia asks about Akasha. Perhaps her answer would be--

    To twist in a unmerciful smile, when Xantia guesses what Josie would say about it, and even goes on to say that she's going to keep on trying until she figures out what it is.

    "You're hopeless," Josie laments, shaking her head. Here in the middle of the conflict, it might even seem for a moment that Xantia has reached her, particularly when Josie answers:

    "'Akasha'... is salvation."

    And the illusion might have maintained itself, if Josie hadn't then swung Agares' black barrel back up for Xantia, her finger over the trigger.

    But Leon, even in spite of the spell, intrudes. The shot goes wide; Josie steps back, dancing away a few steps, but here he has the advantage. He presses her, forcing her away from Xantia. Soon there's nowhere for her to go, no way to escape the force of nature he's become.

    And then his blade need swing only once. She still tries to twist away from him. The blade still catches her.

    The world is red, and the world is white. She staggers back from Leon, her right hand clutched to her wound as she exhales a pained gasp.

    "Sorry... but I ain't done, yet." she tells him, fighting to stand as the pain nearly levels her. Her lips move as if she were trying to whisper something but only those close enough to invade her personal space will be able to hear the words:

    "Bolt Lance."

    Her hand, drenched with her own blood, pulls away from her wound. She points at him--
    No, at Argent Divider II.

    She doesn't stop there. "Light Flare!" she calls again, palming the shimmering sphere to hurl it at the collective feet of her opponents. The explosion this time is more brilliant, almost defiantly so.

    When the light fades, she's nowhere to be seen. Only a short trail of blood suggests the direction in which she might have fled, and that too eventually ends.

<Pose Tracker> Venetia Vuong has posed.

"There's a key difference," Venetia answers Fjolnir as she slowly rises to her feet again, "between you and Megaman Juno, mysterious warrior."

"Megaman Juno is an ass-hole," Venetia says, with the full word value of it. "Megaman Juno is a problem that will need to be solved, or which will perhaps one day solve us - or at least Meria Boule. You are not a problem. You are a victim. Perhaps this armor of proof you are wearing, or -"

Venetia is momentarily aghast at the summoning of the Devil Arm. She grits her teeth. Sweat runs down her back despite the dry heat of Bikanel and the peril of conflict. Acacia and this being speak to each other, but it is not just some being, it is Yue - it is a person, Venetia infers, that Marivel knows.

Venetia reaches up to run her fingers over one brow, breathing out.

"Too many old souls, old ghosts... well, here's something new. Whatever technological or metamagical situation plagues you, I have resolved that AS OF THIS DAY, such things are going to be different. None of you are going to be in discord or aberrance. None of you are going to be alone. I have no idea what is going on with your weapon, your armor, even your charming horse, BUT! The person Marivel calls YUE! You are getting a new honor!"

And with this Venetia draws out once more a freshly-made Graph, even as Ashley readies his weapon. "Whatever course this catalogue of glories shall take, I will tell you right now," Venetia intones: "That you and this phenomenon, whether ARM or art, shall be entry number one. Even if you cut off my head," Venetia continues with a rising intensity, "it's started now!! You're the first of the future!!"

Is that a threat?... or a promise!!

The Graph is raised high upwards. Venetia looks towards the sky. "Come forth, ye Deepest Art! Born across the glory of the Abyss! Dreamed in a mine shaft, built on a beach: No wrought iron stands past thine reach!" Violet light swirls round her again, rising upwards -- and as Venetia's head tilts down, so she can look, it must be said, slightly down her nose towards Fjolnir despite the obvious problems, she says, "OLIVINE WIND"

just in time to send the screaming howl of a living, vibrant sandstorm of emerald-green sand towards Fjolnir -

Just as Ashley sends out that sand-melting ray of cosmic intensity?! Venetia's face, in the glare, is briefly contorted in the expression of one who has found themselves in a double tech, despite their best intentions.

GS: Venetia Vuong has activated a Force Action!
GS: Venetia Vuong has attacked Yue Rohay with Deepest Art: Olivine Wind!
GS: Venetia Vuong has gained 3 Combo!
GS: Venetia Vuong has completed her action.
GS: Yue Rohay takes a solid hit from Venetia Vuong's Deepest Art: Olivine Wind for 170 hit points!
GS: Hex and Jam applied to Yue Rohay!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline sighs, shaking her head.

"No, I- I told you already. Not everything is about war and fighting! I like to learn more about plants, animals, and the world. Places to visit, sights to see... I like reading stories about people having adventures and getting along. Nothing to do with war!" Jacqueline tries to explain. But she can't really get any further than that, because Ratatoskr is upon her once more. She quickly backpedals to try and avoid his attack, her eyes opening wide in surprise as she realises its a feint.

...Fortunately, Nimue is there to attack where she won't, and Ratatoskr explodes. Jacqueline winces at the result... but she can't help but be grateful that at least it wasn't her. She shakes her head, looking down at Ratatoskr with something akin to pity.

"...And where will you be afterward, Ratatoskr? Where will you be? What will you become?" She asks. "Someday, the fighting is going to end. I'll see to that. Oh, sure, there might be pockets of it here and there, but nothing so great as what's happening these days. Maybe you should start thinking about what comes after."

She reaches into her bags and draws out a bottle, a healing potion, and tosses it into the sand next to him.

And with that done, she starts to walk past him. There's still more left to be done today, after all.

<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

Leon hesitates for just a moment, when Xantia says his name. But he does quiet; he doesn't follow his statement up with any further verbal jabs. He lets her ask her questions and say her piece.

But Josie's last spell catches his weapon. Argent Divider II is well insulated; it is not prone to being overloaded with electricity from being exposed to it. Still, the bolt of lightning catches it and hurls it backward. It flies out of his hand -- slams into the sand, spunning -- and leaves a trail of Josie's blood.

"Damn--" Leon goes for his sidearm.

But a second bright flash explodes. He covers his eyes then -- and when the spots fade, and his vision comes back in fits and starts, he sees only that she fled. He looks around -- at many other Odessa soldiers fleeing -- and then breathes a sigh of relief.

"Seems we have them on the run," he opines. He takes a breath; he tries to steady himself, after that. It was harder than he wants to admit. It made him doubt himself in ways he mislikes.

"Everyone all right?" he asks of Xantia and Boudicca, before sparing a glance at other parts of the fighting.

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Ivan catches fire and Azoth's feeling his own sense of guilt. For playing along, or not mitigating hard enough? He knows the flames don't hurt Ivan (allegedly), but they've been observed as a result of acute emotional distress.

But that dismissal...! An adjacent stranger! It hurts at least a little. Accidentally causing a problem in Ivan and Lydia's relationship would hurt more. Maybe he should clarify this with Lydia next time he sees her.

How much of what Ragnell says is the truth? Rather: how much of the truth isn't being said? But there isn't anything in her words that Azoth can't see as applicable to what he knows of Ragnell so far. For the second time, he wonders: was her fighting them a way to keep them from facing foes who wouldn't hold back the same way...?

Yet the punches aren't completely pulled on either side. Azoth winces when they bring Ragnell to her knees before finally giving a soft smile at her words. "...I'll look forward to it," he responds instead.

Maybe he will. Maybe it's good to know this can happen, and they can still be happy to see each other the next time they meet.

As the battle clears, he hurries over to Ivan and starts to reach out, but thinks better of it given the, er, everything. "Are you hurt?" he asks. "I'm sorry if... if I shouldn't have asked you to come with me. You can stay with the ship -- but maybe there's time to help the others."

<Pose Tracker> Ganondorf Dragmire has posed.

Ganondorf turns his full attention on Mariel. It's a terrifying thing to behold, a massive gravity of fearsome focus. "Yes," he says, simply. "That does sound like what the Hylians said."

He takes a step forward, darkness igniting around him like a corona of mounting power. "I thought you were all gone. I've been sifting through byproducts. But there you are..."

He stops, scuffing his foot to a stop.

His gaze ticks to the phantom. "Retrieve the Elw."

Phantom Ganon says nothing, it merely eerily turns its focus onto Mariel in particular. It holds its hands up, light gathering within them, and fires blast after blast of crackling light, first at Gwen, then at Ida, while Ganondorf's focus zeroes in on Eleanor, Catenna, and Mariel. "Your people know me, you say," he breathes, staring at her. "Red hair...." .... "Do go on," he says, finally. He tips his head up. Domineering. "A King does love to hear of his reputation."

Meanwhile, Phantom Ganon sweeps a hand forward at Catenna, Eleanor, and Mariel, and a BLAST of raw darkness, an eruption of unlight, washes over them, grasping and crippling.

GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Dead Man's Volley!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire enters a Counter stance!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Dead Man's Volley!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire enters a Counter stance!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire's  stance ends. He enters the  stance!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Eleanor Klein with Radiant Darkness!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Catenna with Radiant Darkness!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has attacked Mariel with Radiant Darkness!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Delay, Jam, and Weaken expired!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Catenna takes a solid hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Radiant Darkness for 0 hit points!
GS: Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken applied to Catenna!
GS: Catenna activates Arcane Font!
GS: Eleanor Klein takes a glancing hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Radiant Darkness for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Eleanor Klein gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken applied to Eleanor Klein!
GS: Mariel guards a hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Radiant Darkness for 0 hit points!
GS: Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken applied to Mariel!
GS: Mariel activates Guard bonus!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Dead Man's Volley for 175 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ida Everstead-Rey gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Infect! Debuff durations extended!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Ganondorf Dragmire's Dead Man's Volley for 167 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Infect! Debuff durations extended!!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

About the last thing that Xantia was expecting was any sort of an hint at an answer. She repeats it, confusion self-evident. "'Akasha' is... salvation?"

What happens next happens very fast. While Xantia's normal instinct is to go on the offense, she pointedly does not do so this time, leaping aside to dodge the shot that never ends up going in her direction. She quickly rolls back to her feet, but still doesn't appear to be in as much of a hurry to jump into the violence as she usually is. She's wavering, trying to decide the best course of action at this point. And she wavers long enough to have to cover her eyes from the blinding light of a flare, rendering the decision moot.

"...Yeah," is her simple answer to Leon. She can't really tell if that went well or not. And she can't put that word out of her mind. 'Salvation'. For who, or what? Given what Josie said before... salvation for Filgaia? Now she's even more curious.

Once capable of putting her musings aside, she does smile at Leon and Boudicca, considering it safe to cheerfully onclude, "Well, that could've gone worse! Can we go home now?" It should be obvious what she means by 'home', given the current context.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    Filgaia is done for... if this all keeps up.

    Boudicca thinks of the Reflector Key, tucked away in her beltbags. Her hand drops, in fact, as if to cover it, and it is well that Josephine has other things to focus on right now aside from ancient technology.

    (Is it an electronic toothbrush? A cooking thermometer? Some form of... molecular discombobulator? Boudicca could ask Mariel, but the idea that this ancient technology is mundane as a household tool does not, in fact, even cross her mind.)

    She doesn't have much time to think on the implications of that - of Akasha - or even of Xantia, who strikes her in that moment of restraint as the wisest amongst them all. Because there is the light, again --

    "But, listen! You were kind to me--!"

    They are words written on the white background of the FLASH, blinded but not drowned, and Boudicca does not know if the direction with which she reaches is close to where Josephine is. Or - as the light fades - where she was.

    Boudicca's hand falls, slowly; she looks down, shaking her head. "... that is why... I cannot accept it... Josephine." That's what she says, but there's a resignation to her words which suggests she won't be running after Josephine today.

    Not today.

    Looking to Leon and Xantia, she puffs out a breath, and puts on a smile. "I am still whole," she assures him, and picks up a healing breeze amongst them to make sure they're still healthy, too. "Thank you for your help... Leon, yes? I do not know that I have introduced myself... I am the Seraph Boudicca. I am sorry to meddle in what seems a personal affair, but... Josephine is known to me, as well."

    Not as well as she'd like.

    Did she ever know her?

    "Yes," she answers Xantia, with a smile which is a little less of an effort. "Let us push on. We will reach Filgaia soon... we will get you home." And that's a good thing - isn't it?

    ... maybe there's one question about these keys she will end up asking Mariel.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Nimue has posed.

Nimue ... finds herself utterly at a loss for words. In many ways, this is an attitude so singularly alien to her that she can't metabolize the mere idea of it; after a thousand years of being part of 'it,' Nimue finds 'it' miserable, and is mostly fighting for the sake of having periods of 'it' not being a thing at all. Accordingly, she can only stare at Ratatoskr, mystified, uncomprehending, as he explains what he gets out of this, out of... all of this.

"... Uhhh, have fun with that," is all she eventually manages; after a few moments, she forms up with Jay, glancing back at the healing potion she tossed Ratatoskr. "... You're way too nice for..." Nimue considers. "Your own good? Everyone else's? Something like that."

Nimue glances down. "... I kinda wish more people were like that," she eventually mumbles. It is difficult to be too insincere for too long.

<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan's eyes veritably shimmer with gratitude as he receives a rare treasure: A CLEAR ANSWER ABOUT RAGNELL'S MOTIVES FOR DOING SOMETHING. All of her prior nonsense is momentarily forgiven. He nods, moved. The idea of disbelieving her doesn't even enter his mind. She actually willingly gave an answer!!

As Ragnell decides to call it a day and departs, she leaves them with praise for the damage they dished out, and A REMINDER OF IVAN'S CRIMES. He pales with shame, but musters a farewell. "Uh... bye... good fight!"

As she zips away, he looks to Azoth. "I'm sorry I called you an adjacent stranger! That... wasn't the truth!"

Are you hurt?

"No! Not at all!" He hurries to push back up to his feet to prove this true, regardless of whether it entirely is. The lightning damage has him weaker and more jittery than he'd like, but he hasn't lost any blood or broken any bones, so there's nothing keeping him from pressing on. "I don't need to wait in the ship...!"

<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

"Good," Leon says, with a glance at Xantia. He looks her over for a moment -- takes a second, then, to take a deep breath. Then, he looks at Boudicca; it takes him a moment to put everything together. A Seraph. It would make sense; he only sort of understands what Seraphim are, but it matches his prior experiences with them.

"A pleasure," he says to Boudicca. "Leon Albus, Captain of the Black Wolves. We're a mercenary group."

He runs his hand through his blonde hair, then glances at the horizon. On the dunes, a few Al Bhed are standing up. Cid stands at the center of them. He shoots them all a thumbs-up. "We work with him, sometimes," he adds to Boudicca. He hesitates a moment, before he nods. "You have my thanks. I realize that was... ugly."

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

That... wasn't the truth!

Azoth's eyes light up, then wibble. He looks dangerously close to crying or hugging Ivan, though he does neither.

"Then I'm still registered as an authorized guest?"

<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan is taken aback by the wibble for a moment, before shaking his head vehemently. "No. You are absolutely an overprotective associate."

<Pose Tracker> Yue Rohay has posed.

    Underneath the mask, Yue is caught by surprise.

    She was talking about... her?

    Maybe for all Marivel has her own blindspots, Yue realises she has her own. She's so used to the Marivel that faces away from her, towards Anastasia, that she forgets there is a Marivel who turns around and looks towards her.

    She's one of them. Ana thought so too.

    In hindsight, she knew that. Ana was always the most perceptive one of them all. She would be the one to slip some subtle words that always found their mark, when Yue was at her worst; even when she was turning her blade against them--

    We never saw you as a foe.

    --and she knows that, too. The times she spent tumbling with Marivel, that one time they were awkwardly entrapped in a ruin together, all those moments outside of the battlefield...

    "... I'm tired too, Marivel," Yue gives Marivel one piece of genuine honesty.

    So tired, that she can't even respond comically to having a bucket dropped on her head; it clatters against her horned helmet, ringing hollow and warbling as it stations into place.

    Even under the bucket, she can hear what Ashley's saying.

    So what if it is?

    Even old dreams are worth pursuing. Even the ancient are allowed to hold onto hope. It's an unusual statement, one that Yue has admittedly never expressed herself; she typically views herself as a spectre of the past that needs to be exorcised, after all.

    "... you speak of it yourself, Ashley. 'It's too late for me'."

    A longer pause, as the trigger is pulled; there's a shattering blue light that may very well be lightning, another crystalline miracle. It impacts against the sword--

    --and it COURSES through the entirety of the armour in turn; there's a low rumbling noise as what runs through the dark knight feels no less than a frightening sense of possibly lethal shock.

    ... yet when the light fades, she is still there. Her armor pitted, blackened; as if a spectre holding a devil's sword that wishes nothing but to cut.

    The bucket protects her. Yet it--

    *cracks*

    "I grieve every time the young has to say that, for the sake of the old...!"

    The bucket falls apart into two. And underneath... the mask is ruin. The demon-like visage is marred with cobwebs, threatening to fall apart at any moment.

    Acacia has few words for her -- but sometimes, she's a young woman of few words, and Yue honestly finds that attractive. The way she just exudes confidence when she has it; in her photography, in her journal-writing, in the way she doggedly chases after buried truths.

    Okay, is what she says, drawing her arms up in the way a boxer might.

    "... I will make it up to you another time," answers Fjolnir.

    Venetia speaks firmly; Juno is a problem that must be solved. But she is different -- she is a victim, as evidenced by the armour she wears... but then she promises.

    That she will be... the first of a phenomenon.

    Then, Olivine Winds erupts -- dreamt of in a mineshaft, built on a beach; the emerald-green sands shatter her already-battered form, as the rest of the armour continues to shred and shatter apart, plates of protective measure turning into less than spent hunks of debris.

    The mask continues to hold.

    But a single purple eye is seen underneath it.

    "I am worthy of no such honour, but if you will insist upon it, Venetia Vuong..."

    Nyx is poised and ready, as the steed charges; with each passing step, red sparks of lightning erupt from its hooves. Then it rears powerfully on its forelegs, and

SPRINGS
  high into the air _/
      and the blade /`
  a devil's blade /`
      meant for cutting no less than iron `'` _-
       plays a trick on all `///--`
         our eyes ____-./
               for /`-``
             but one / \`.
             moment ' `-
           space ///
              -==o==---
                                  
               --==o==-
                  / time itself
              ---` is spliced in twain
             /` only one
           `' line remains whole;
         `' aah
         /` yes
  -,___'` then
     / reality does
      ' RESUME

GS: Yue Rohay has activated a Force Action!
GS: Yue Rohay has activated a Force Action!
GS: Yue Rohay has activated a Force Action!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Ashley Winchester with Iron-Cutting Blade -Zantetsuken-...?!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Marivel Armitage with Iron-Cutting Blade -Zantetsuken-...?!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Venetia Vuong with Iron-Cutting Blade -Zantetsuken-...?!
GS: Yue Rohay has attacked Acacia Saitani with Iron-Cutting Blade -Zantetsuken-...?!
GS: Ashley Winchester takes a solid hit from Yue Rohay's Iron-Cutting Blade -Zantetsuken-...? for 0 hit points!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes a solid hit from Yue Rohay's Iron-Cutting Blade -Zantetsuken-...? for 0 hit points!
GS: Acacia Saitani takes a solid hit from Yue Rohay's Iron-Cutting Blade -Zantetsuken-...? for 0 hit points!
GS: Acacia Saitani enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Venetia Vuong takes a glancing hit from Yue Rohay's Iron-Cutting Blade -Zantetsuken-...? for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Venetia Vuong gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Ratatoskr has posed.

    Where will he be afterward? Where will he be? What will he become? All good questions that younger people don't quite have the time and perspective to comprehend, let alone answer. A healing potion plops into the sand. One hand rests atop it... but doesn't open it.
     He takes it, though... and does not appear to be in position to lash out at her as she walks past.
     Nimue tells him to have fun with 'that.' Whether he interprets it to be a follow-up to Jay's kind gesture or the overall broad and impossible nature of what he desires - though a desire he holds with all his being - is vague.
     Ratatoskr, at his lowest, can only ever go as far down as 'a smile.' Is he capable of fully comprehending what it means to be anything other than what such an expression implies?

<Pose Tracker> Mariel has posed.

Mariel drew Ganondorf's attention away from some of her allies and friends. ...good?

No, not good! Mariel regrets it almost immediately when he turns and just *looks* at her. She can't meet his gaze and doesn't try... until he talks about her people. Byproducts. Remnants.

She's a remnant too. But probably not the kind Ganondorf was expecting to see.

"No," Mariel says, quietly, before speaking louder: "I will not go with you. I will not accept your Malice... my people are gone, but I do not hate the humans that are left. Filgaia is theirs now; they have inherited it. Not mine... and not yours..."

It's hard for her to manage full sentences in the face of Ganondorf's Power. It deserves the capital letter. Mariel finally finds something in her bag, reaching deep inside, pulling out not what she'd originally intended to but something dear to her, the only thing that will help her center herself right now:

A small white flower. Still alive, despite not being in the soil; sustained on faith and hope. Some days Mariel doesn't know why it still lives. She's seen so much that it would be easy to lose her hope entirely. But at a time like this, she's glad it does.

Ganon's unlight washes over Mariel, over Catenna, over Eleanor. She cannot possibly hold it back, and she doesn't try; she takes a step back, absorbing the 'impact' of it. She feels it - and whether it is Malice as it is known by the world or not, it is full of malice in the more direct sense. It's a force of Darkness.

And Mariel holds up her little charm. Her hands, filling with pink sparks from nothing at all, cup around a point in space; she opens them to the sky, surrounding her with a flurry of pink lights like drifting fireflies, points of real light in the darkness.

She can't hold it back, or push against it. Ganondorf is far more powerful than her, she could tell that as soon as he saw his aura, and challenging him force to force is a fool's task. But she can put something of her own in it, and that might be enough. She will not give in to - *this*. "Leave them alone!" Her voice wavers, but her heart is strong.

GS: Mariel has attacked Mariel with Small Flower!
GS: Mariel has attacked Catenna with Small Flower!
GS: Mariel has attacked Eleanor Klein with Small Flower!
GS: Mariel has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Small Flower!
GS: Mariel has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Small Flower!
GS: Mariel has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Mariel has completed her action.
GS: Catenna accepts Mariel's Small Flower for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken removed!
GS: Lock State applied to Catenna!
GS: Mariel accepts Mariel's Small Flower for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken removed!
GS: Lock State applied to Mariel!
GS: Eleanor Klein accepts Mariel's Small Flower for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Break, Cripple, Jam, Mute, Slow, and Weaken removed!
GS: Lock State applied to Eleanor Klein!
GS: Eleanor Klein enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Yue Rohay has posed.

    ... ...

    Nobody is cut.

    The dark knight passes. Her mechanical steed lands on all fours on the other side of the battlefield.

    Nobody is cut.

    There's a deeply unpleasant vacuum in the very air that desperately breathes sand and air to fill itself; a section of the very world that has experienced a very sudden splice mending itself.

    The mask continues to crack, and--

    Long brown hair spills out of the helmet, out towards the back of the spent and useless black armour. Violet eyes turn to face the four, the iron-cutting sword clattering against the ground and disappearing into less than little black motes.

    "I hope... I have lived up to your honour, Venetia," she first speaks to the Crest Sorceress.

    "... but the pretense is over," Yue murmurs. "I can... no longer work with ARMS. I'm... going to have to disappoint you one more time, Marivel."

    She feels a signal, some kind of whimpering noise. The others have retreated; she's being pulled to do the same, and-- her body starts to glow as a teleporter is forced on her.

    Yue bites her lip, and then murmurs, "... thank you for all the doughnuts, Ashley. Minder liked them very much."

    Her eyes glance strong against Acacia, conflicted; she is the clear picture of someone who doesn't know what her position is now, left only to future orders. As she always has been. Yue's arms and limbs begin to vanish, and she casts a final glance to the reporter...

    "... sorry."

    ... and tosses the bouquet of Moonflow flowers her way, before the teleportation eats her entirely.

<Pose Tracker> Catenna has posed.

More than anything, the uncertainty is killing Catenna - the fact that she doesn't know what her issue is with Ganondorf. She can see the Demon King's signature all over parts of her culture but she can't draw the connections on anything more than an instinctive, visceral level. It all feels so vague, so extrapolated.

Even Ganon doesn't give her a straight answer. She herself isn't redheaded, but there's something about her features, isn't there? Her teeth click together as she stares back at the Demon King. "All the Dark Summoners wear red manes, yes," she begins before clicking her teeth together. "All of us know of the Malice. The power to madden the beasts of this world. There's some part of you that's older than anything, isn't there?"

She doesn't have time to figure it all out. The Phantom Ganon is sweeping unlight towards her, and for an excruciating moment, she finds herself too paralyzed by her own mind and her own fears to even move.

The dreadful power roils over her, saturating her senses in crippling darkness. She fights to try and shield herself from it, but there's only so much she can do. Squeezing an eye closed, she doubles at the waist and sags beneath the sickening force.

She wants to vomit. She wants to scream. She wants to tear open history and figure out why she's so viscerally terrified, in a way even this darkness shouldn't rip from her.

"Were we doing that all this time," she hisses through her teeth as she forces herself back to a standing position. "Drawing ourselves closer to the monsters... to bring out the demons in ourselves... to bring ourselves closer to a Demon King we didn't know was there? If that's what it was--"

There is one way of sunshine that cuts through the night: Mariel's little flower.

The little Elw's power can't hold back the dark. But she can give a little hope in the midst of it all. As Mariel calls out, Catenna forces herself to her feet, throwing her dark hair back in a flurry before leveling her hand towards the Phantom Ganon once more.

"...Whatever answer you can give is one I will likely hate," she whispers as power wells at the centre of her palm. "But here - now - you will not take my friend. Not now and not ever!"

The spell Catenna releases bursts into existence with an unnatural violence, tearing open the sky itself. A yawning black rift screams into existence around the Phantom Ganon. The pull of gravity from within the black hole Catenna's opening is so powerful that light itself begins to collapse and distort. Sight lines to the phantom twist hideously as time and distance warp beneath the mind-boggling power of the singularity - one that's attempting to suck the Phantom Ganon inside and crush the being down to something about the size of an atom.

GS: Catenna spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Catenna has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Grand Singularity!
GS: Catenna has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Catenna has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Mariel's Small Flower for 0 hit points!
GS: Lock State applied to Gwen Whitlock!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

"It wasn't so bad!" Xantia is quick to interject with her usual optimistic viewpoint when Leon calls the situation ugly. "All things considered, I think we should all be proud of ourselves!" Her smile lingers on Leon in particular. Everything that happened was fine, as far as she's concerned. No need to worry about a thing.

"I'm Xantia!" she adds for Boudicca's benefit, evidently having figured out the Seraph thing on her own already, apart from the elemental confusion. "Don't be silly, you weren't meddling, you were helping!" She seems almost like a different person now, more befitting that 'kid' moniker rather than 'the wisest one here'. A fitting introduction to Xantia, all told.

<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Eleanor listens to what Mariel has to say about Ganondorf, always out to find more information as she's able. His reputation...

She didn't meet Setanta. But she recognizes...

She recognizes this. She has been the target of Ganondorf's full attention before, and is likely to be again. But for right now, as she stares down Phantom Ganon...

Eleanor reaches into her bag just a moment before the blast of raw darkness comes at them, and it slames into her, grasping and tearing and bringing her again to one knee. She reaches to her bag for something almost before it hits, but can't quite reach it in time--the darkness chains her down to the ground. "Gh--I--Won't..."

There's pink light, of a sudden--Eleanor does not see that tiny flower, but she feels the focus it brings. Leave them alone, Mariel says. And Eleanor finds... She finds nothing, for a moment, it seems--she stumbles, and stares into space for long instants. She recovers herself after just a couple of seconds.

"...I know..."

"That i'm not the one who will defeat you, Ganondorf." She can hear his voice, anyway. "But there's one thing... That I also know."

Eleanor pulls a Crest emblazoned with the power of Wing in its twinned state. "I see tomorrow. And it doesn't end here!"

Eleanor charges the Crest with power, golden light surging around her hand as colors begin to sparkle down around her. Then she extends her hand in focus, and a whirlwind bursts into existence, picking up sand as it goes. It crashes towards the Phantom, and it is with golden light that it seems to shine this time, not just green.

Straight on top of Catenna's gravitic magic.

"Not to a mere shadow!"

GS: Eleanor Klein has activated a Force Action!
GS: Eleanor Klein spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Mistral Judgment!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Acacia Saitani has posed.

    There is absolutely a part of Acacia yelling at herself that she's being an idiot and maybe she should run, or dodge, or do anything but stand in the way of what is surely a full-force attack. Yue is quite the schemer when she wants to be, but the redhead is certain this isn't a scheme or a ruse - it's an attempt to clear them out of her path, as her enemies in this fight.

    The attack is fierce enough that it rips the breath from her throat, and she realises too late that all the introspective lectures in the world couldn't make up for the simple fact that she wasn't taking Yue seriously enough, was taking the Veruni too much for granted. That her blade is going to simply cleave this one inconsequential human in two, and--



    --and her heart is hammering in her ribcage as something completely fails to manifest, leaving Acacia staring at the middle distance as her mind catches up to the shock of it. Her hands grasp at empty air for a stunned moment; whatever Acacia had planned is forcibly set aside, its opportunity missed completely as she stares wide-eyed at empty space.

    But perhaps that's for the best, a little voice tells her in the next instant. Dragging Yue off her horse, capturing and unmasking her - she has no idea what it might mean for Minder or for Yue, let alone anyone else in this tangle of relationships and history.

    "You'd better," she finds herself rasping out - in the few seconds before Yue is unmasked anyway.

    When she turns, it's to take in the sight of the Veruni atop her steed, sucking a breath slowly in and out. Her mind, still kind of reeling and addled, decides: definitely better without the helmet. Then the rest of her brain catches up to what's happening, and she does her best to give Yue a firm expression in return, despite the storm that's starting to build in her eyes.

    "You said it yourself. I'm going to keep chasing, ARMS or no ARMS. You think I'd give up on any of this--"

    But the last part is forced to be a rhetorical question, as something obstructs her view. She catches the bouquet without even registering what it is, pulls back towards Yue, and finds only empty air.

<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

"You're mixing up acceptance with resignation-- I might have been dragged into this, but I want to be here! Even if it doesn't seem like I have a choice, I still do. I have a choice... in how I want to live. To fight against this fate or to embrace it-- to resent these people, or to accept them...!" And yet, even with all their strength, it's still not enough. The dark knight does not fall, and her blade is swung...

And it feels as though all of time has suddenly stood still.

But then... Nobody... nobody is cut. Nobody dies. Ashley looks around, confused and dumbstruck, and then he turns toward the dark knight--

No, to a woman he recognizes. To Yue Rohay. She says something, but his hands are already in motion. It's muscle memory-- Another canister is loaded into the chamber of his ARM. Is Ashley simply not hearing her? Is he just... shell-shocked by yet another near death experience...?

"Yue Rohay!" Ashley roars, his voice full of emotion and defiance as he pulls the trigger. The canister fires and crosses the gulf a split second before the teleporter whisks this sad, ancient woman away...

It's going... right for her gut...!

GS: Ashley Winchester has attacked Yue Rohay with Canister - Portable Pastries!
GS: Quick and Shield expired!
GS: Ashley Winchester has completed his action.
GS: Yue Rohay accepts Ashley Winchester's Canister - Portable Pastries for 0 hit points! Disease prevents the heal!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Lock State applied to Yue Rohay!
<Pose Tracker> Leon Albus has posed.

Cid cups his hands around his mouth. There is a worried glance at Ganondorf, Phantom Ganon, and that fight -- but they seem to have it in hand enough. At the very least, he has confidence in their ability to overwhelm it.

"Once you got the area secured, we're gonna look for a way in!" he yells. "Looks like most of 'em left! Including the one who was on that weird, armored dog-chocobo!"

He doesn't know what a horse is. But it looks sort of like a dog (four legs, longer face, tail). He frowns for a second, then calls out: "Good work! If you're wounded, pull back to the airships!"

<Pose Tracker> Ashley Winchester has posed.

Figuratively.

...because when it explodes, it's actually carrying a roll of donuts.

"...Even if you turn your back, there are people who love you-- who won't let you go so easily. So..." Ashley lowers his weapon, fatigue creeping into his tired arms. "...Don't go saying things like 'it's over' so carelessly. You'll only make them chase you harder, right...?"

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Cut time in half, Marivel won't be there. She's been cut free of time for some time. But all the same--the Dark Knight does not cut Marivel either. The helmet splits free.

But though the blade does not cut Marivel at all, Yue has words sharper than any blade ready.

I'm... going to have to disappoint you one more time, Marivel.

"No!!" Marivel shouts, throwing herself at Yue--

--and grasping at nothing but light as she hits the ground.

They were so united once, but now they are carved up and split into other worlds, other organizations, other philosophies, by memory--

And though Venetia says those words, those lovely words... Marivel is alone once more.

Marivel stands up. She looks quietly at Ashley, and then she just starts walking away--

--towards Mariel. There is no life in her eyes as she looks towards the Phantom.

"Touch her and I'll ensure your legacy is even more buried than it is now. Even the demon worlds will forget your name. It will be as if you never were."

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey accepts Mariel's Small Flower for 0 hit points!
GS: Lock State applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Azoth's whole face lights up with a dangerous amount of joy at this attempt of Ivan's to backpedal to 'overprotective associate'.

"Then I will protect you!"

He grabs Ivan by the wrist to drag along in further securing of the area, as per Cid's direction.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ganondorf's gaze snaps into terrifying focus. Ida realizes who he's looking at, and instinctively steps between the Phantom and Mariel, as if she could hope to shield her from his attention.

    'Retrieve the Elw.'

    Despite the pain, and the smoke still wafting up from her shoulder, Ida sets her feet and bares her teeth. Fresh stem tissue pours from her wounds, reinforcing her exoskeleton and covering raw, bleeding flesh with silvery-blue patches. "You're not going to touch her," Ida snarls. As if openly defying Ganondorf would somehow make everything okay between the two of them. As if she could prove herself by offering up her tainted body as a sacrifice.

    As if you could do anything to stop him, idiot girl.

    Ida thought she'd seen the worst of the Phantom's power. She was wrong. An eruption of unlight washes over her, and it's all she can do to shield her face with her arms. Biometal exoskeleton vaporizes instantly. The armor beneath it warps and twists as eldritch energies pour into it. The apparition's sorcery eats into her flesh like acid. Every wound feels like it's on fire.

    This time, Ida can't bite back the scream. It tears free from her throat as she sinks to one knee, curled up in a little ball of agony. She barely manages to look up, and see Mariel stepping forwards. "Mariel!" Ida screams, her voice raw. "Get back!"

    But in her fear, Ida is making one crucial mistake--she's vastly underestimating Mariel's resolve.

    Pink sparks light up the sky, and rain down on her. The pain begins to die down. Hope exists again. "Mariel," Ida says, again, tears in the corners of her eyes. "You heard them," she says, turning back to Ganondorf. "You will not take anyone, today."

    Blood drips from Ida's right hand as it curls into a fist. Power pulses through every vein and muscle as she slips into a striking stance--left arm raised to guard, right hand pulled back. Her bipartite aura ignites around her, and her hand starts to glow like a tiny sun.

    Ida surges forwards. She barely seems to move, and yet she's suddenly right there, bearing down on the Phantom, her right hand rushing forward in a punch that seems to rend the very air. The energy erupts from her fist a second later, packing enough power to punch through a Gear's armor.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Unbroken Lotus Fist!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire critically guards Catenna's Grand Singularity for 71 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Ganondorf Dragmire guards a hit from Eleanor Klein's Mistral Judgment for 147 hit points!
GS: Jam applied to Ganondorf Dragmire!
GS: Quick applied to Eleanor Klein!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire guards a hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Unbroken Lotus Fist for 254 hit points!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire activates Guard bonus!
<Pose Tracker> Venetia Vuong has posed.

Aloud, Venetia Vuong answers Yue with a crisp calm, with the air of a murmur. "Your actions have nothing to do with it. You are a person, too. Even if we were forced to lethal battle, that would not change."

To herself, Venetia thinks: I need to not flop over. Can there be fewer horrible near misses with swords?

(Later, Venetia will wake up in terror at the feeling of her head being sliced off several times. It will fade in time. There are new perils ahead!)

That is the limit of what she can say to Yue Rohay, even as she takes her leave. Venetia relaxes, gradually then, feeling the sweat evaporate from her skin. She breathes out, slowly... slowly. Perhaps they've prevailed. She can hear that Albhed (Venetia is not clear it's two words, really) man saying encouraging things.

She looks up and sees that Marivel is --

--- walking towards --

Venetia looks momentarily towards Acacia as she catches that precious bouquet.

Then she looks towards Ashley.

It is Ashley she approaches. "How's your munitions, old bean," she says to him. "I think I've got a little in the tank and it looks as though all of this may have been a feint, if I'm hearing Armitage right here in my shell like ear." After a pause, Venetia clarifies: "I think we may have to actually kill somebody." She points her chin in the direction where Marivel is headed. (She has little idea beyond 'that human over there.' Probably human-adjacent.)

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    'Retrieve the Elw.'

    Ganondorf's words fall across Gwen's ears like a blast of icy water. "Over my *dead body* you will!"

    Like an answer, one of the Knights bears down on her and Ida, and like Ida, Gwen is hit, despite her attempts to evade.

    The petals of Mariel bring the courier back like a cleansing wind on a hot day of travel, centering the courier back to this moment.

    "You won't lay a finger on her, or anyone else! One friend of mine was lost to you even before you got here, and I'll not let your grubby hands claim another!"

    And so, Gwen Whitlock, the courier bearing the scorched touch of the Primarch of Fray--

    Well, she doesn't burst into vindictive fire and poetically use Setanta's fire to seal away the danger of Ganondorf in defense of Mariel and Eleanor. This is reality. If there's anything here, it's at the will of Gwen herself, and only Gwen, right in this moment, evident in the surge of lightning in the air.

    She'll show Setanta, in time. But that's for tomorrow, and to get to tomorrow, she needs to survive today. She'll show Setanta, she'll meet Lombardia again, and she'll tell them all the stories she's heard, and experienced, and listen to theirs. She will give seeds to Mariel, and find joy in the botantical treasures Mariel finds and supports, as precious as any gem.

    She will watch this wonderful world grow, and continue on, just as she had, so long ago. For is that not still life?

    "Do whatcha need to do," she shouts, back at Cid, momentairely catching his gaze with a thumbs up with her left hand, the other occupied with the cumbersome act of charging. "We'll more than enough to deal with this!"

    She realizes Cid may not understand that gesture, but the foolhardy grin that accompanied it should say enough.

    Light blazes in pyrite gold around her, whipping her light red curls with static and air, before she releases her blast, straight through a line of knights, and maybe, hopefully, into Ganondorf himself, if she could be so lucky.

    She'll be okay with just showing the king what a subject thinks of him.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Quasar Palm!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has launched an attack Link!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ganondorf Dragmire with Corona Discharge!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Quasar Palm for 0 hit points!
GS: Jam applied to Ganondorf Dragmire!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Corona Discharge for 207 hit points!
GS: Jam applied to Ganondorf Dragmire!
GS: Ganondorf Dragmire has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Ganondorf Dragmire has posed.

The Phantom draws near to Mariel, to Catenna, to Eleanor; and its instructions are unambiguous. It drives one of its swords into the ground, reaching down toward Mariel.

Marivel threatens, confidently. Ganondorf simply stands by, observing silently.

The deciding factor is Mariel herself, bringing forth that floral magic that cuts through the binding gloom. That frees Catenna and Eleanor to drive their powers into the Phantom Ganon. Light bursts in its center...

"Do you..." Ganondorf murmurs, low.

And then Gwen and Ida strike, driving their powers deep into the Phantom. It shudders, light erupting out of it at odd angles.

Ganondorf hems, as his creation explodes into expanding smoke, seeming unconcerned with the numbers.

"You asked me why I was here," he says, suddenly.

"Perhaps now it is obvious."

His body wavers, and then he fades into a miasma of darkness, portaling somewhere far away.