2020-12-19: The Ouroboros Ring

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===========================<* Celesti Wastelands *>===========================

Decades ago, the nation of Celesti ripped itself apart in a vicious civil war. Outside of a handful of settlements, its former territories are lifeless. The remains of trenches, bunkers, and barbed wire lines serve as lingering reminders of the conflict--scars that have yet to heal. The earth is dry and barren, and much of the groundwater has been contaminated by biological or chemical weapons.

Travel through the Wastelands is treacherous. The roads are pockmarked with shell craters, and Reapers have been known to haunt its blasted plains. A handful of functional rail lines cross the wastes, but these travel directly to their final destinations. The shattered remains of ghost towns dot the landscape. Some may yet hold things of value, but experienced travelers know better than to go treasure-hunting on a whim. The war-dead of Celesti do not rest.

Ghosts aren't even the strangest things one can find here. As the war dragged on, both the Congressional Knights and Aquvy Union dug up ancient weapons to aid their efforts--including, it's rumored, ARMs from Zeboim. These rumors draw both the daring and desperate into the wastes, and more often than not, to their end.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92HwM11d2FQ
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

The rumors speak of Zeboim-era tech identified within the Celesti Wastelands -- not a relic or ARM, but hints of architecture. It's a small entrance: a door carved into surface of ancient walls in light and leading the way to a ruin otherwise drowned within the barren earth. More strangely, this light makes it glowing beacon among the wastes, all too easy to find for something undiscovered until now.

There are many paths various Drifters and Diggers may have scattered to while making the effort to divulge the ruin's secrets. Red light throbs in geometric patterns along the walls, and the corridors slide, vanish, and refold as if the ruin were alive... awakened, somehow, after all this time. The room one enters may well not be the same room another steps into thanks to this bizarre security system.

Perhaps they intended to use brute force to gain further entry, or had wittily thought of a plan to bypass the glitching security, or even were ready with an agile maneuver that would get them safely into the depths. None of that matters. Red light turns blue-fuchsia with a positive toned, synthetic chime. Access granted? The ruins tremble, and every wall begins to fold back. The floor pulls away, removing their footing and, layer by layer, the walls shifting to form a staircase down into the ruin around the entirety of its circular perimeter.

Those who arrive fashionably late will more easily see the ruin for what it is: a massive vault, with several layers of security now unlocked to reveal a the last few floors filled with sand.

But what of the vault's prize? A relic in the shape of serpent's head of white metal rests here, half buried -- large enough a few Drifters could walk into its open may of jagged, metal teeth and still enjoy personal space.

A figure stands before the relic, present before the first of them arrive.

He has a lithe, humanoid silhouette, but is evidently a construct with a body of black metal and exposed muscles made of braided cords. Even less human is implied by his clawed hands and segmented, bladed tail. He has a helmet-like head with a visor of illuminated red cutting sharply across it, and through that lens is more wires and circuits in place of any hint of a human's gaze. A long, tattered cloak drapes from broad shoulder guards, and it billows as he levitates inches from the ground. Crimson energy pulses through the mechanics of his body in time with the light of the vault. He regards the relic in silence except for the dull, heavy hum of that energy flowing through him.

There is nothing in his appearance that connects his identity to the excitable android any of them may know. Today, Azoth is the same as a stranger.

<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

ARMS certainly cannot ignore a Zeboim-era relic being rumored to be in the Celesti Wastelands. And thus, Zhang Xiumei is here; she is decked out in Model AV today, a black armored bodysuit with white and green armor over her. Her too-green eyes blink a little, as she walks through the ruins, looking about. She stops, as they get near the vault.

She helped pry through some of the security here. Varius's beam saber is aglow, still; the blade had been ready, even as the walls begin to move and unfold for each step forward.

She stops, though, at the sight of the serpent's head -- and the construct before it. Humanoid, perhaps, except for the silhouette; the helmet-like head that hides any face. Her eyes widen a little, as she sees the way energy pulses over his strange body.

Recognition does not, remotely, set in -- for her, for Varius, or for Avile. Instead, she tilts her head. "Are you..." A moment's pause. "...Who are you? Do you live here...?"

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

OS has felt something calling them in the Celesti Wastelands--but it is not that which directed their approach today. Rather instead, they saw Azoth's approaching the same destination they were being called to. Theey quirk their head in curiousity. Should they wake up Rachiel? No, that shouldn't be neccessary. Instead, they elect to follow their friend--but keeping quiet at first, taking a path through the ruins. They are curious about the strange walls and glitching security and the pretty colors. The call seems to be getting louder all the same, they think, but first--Azoth.

They see a vault.

They see that it is open with a lot of sand. It's here, they think, that which is calling them. But where? No matter. Azoth.

They spot Azoth.

"Ah--" They begin.

No wait, they think. This is Azoth. That means... this is the wrong face for seeing Azoth.

They put on a smile. OS is getting good at smiles. You can even see it in the eyes--almost.

"Azoth," OS says. "What brings you here. Are you collecting more sand?"

There is one new trait on OS, they seemed to have needled a thread through a bottle of multicolored sand that they are wearing around their neck.

"This sand isn't colorful however," OS observes. "Perhaps you found a way to color the sand after retrieving it."

They don't pay much mind to the incoming Drifters.

<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

    Kamui didn't come here with ARMS.

    Kamui hasn't been seen a whole lot since ARMS made it back to Filgaia; chances are the Reploid just teleported away on whatever mysterious black-box system allows her to just turn into a blue column of light, and those same systems are how she's here right now--

    She's not having a good time.

    Ever since she's been in this ruin, the anxiety has piqued; her eyes are staring at the various red geometric patterns as the corridors slide and vanish, and she murmurs:

    "You shouldn't be here. You shouldn't be here...!"

    It's too late. The vault has revealed itself as the ruins tremble and the walls fold back. The treasure: a serpentine head in white metal, half-buried...

    "No... no! Stop it!" Kamui shouts, only sounding half-coherent. "You shouldn't disturb this!"

    She sounds certain, but inside her memory is as it often is: a jumble. She has no idea what this thing is. What this place is. She just knows that they shouldn't really be here. They shouldn't be opening this. Once, they tried to...

    Destroy it...?

    They couldn't.

    Her one good eye rests on the lithe humanoid, black with a red-visored helmet and cloak. And beside them, OS -- she doesn't know OS, but she has a feeling other people do.

    Her pupils shrink as every system inside of her flares in fright--


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 "GghHhhHhhHHHhhhh--"

<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan has found it so much more enjoyable to visit Filgaia with the idea that he can freely return home afterward, and decided to take advantage of an intriguing treasure hunting opportunity while he was here. However, deep in the ruin, when the rooms began to shuffle, he started to wonder if he might be trapped again after all.

He does not think he personally did anything in particular to finally appease the ruin, but somebody must have. It's a relief when a clear way opens down into the vault, revealing the strange, enormous metal head within.

The figure at the bottom does not register as any exciteable androids that Ivan knows, but it is familiar -- the Solarian robot he fought outside the gate back to Lunar!

"It's you again?? What does Solaris want with that thing?" he asks. With it partially buried, he wonders... could it be a whole Gear?

As for the second figure... "Lydia? -- ah -- OS!" He didn't think about it before, but it would make sense if they work together, wouldn't it??

"He makes an awkward little wave, not knowing his place in things, as Kamui calls out an alarm about the danger of the relic. Are things about to get messy?

"What's... up?"

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Ethius has the usual range of suspicions and concerns about something lighting up in the wastelands supposedly undiscovered and unreached. Filgaia and its natural satellite are still in full swing on a whole new age of (re?)discovery but even that seems far too convenient to be so easy to see. Fortunately, the Caravan Kinship isn't that far off and he doesn't have to resort to any sort of crazy convoluted strings of actions that could be undone - easily! - by saying 'hello I am a good friend among good friends, as a good friend I think we should all take a look at this together.'
     It's Ethius, after all.
     His presence likely proves invaluable in navigating the ancient ruin. Blazing heat, crackling electricity, and jamming dust prove just as useful in making one's way through, but lost technology locales have oft been where he shines the best in expeditions.
     He doesn't voice it aloud, but he suspects they are in the company of recent activity. He's already got an open palm held out when he descends the stairs, flexing two fingers and quietly mouthing a few syllables over and over so that he can cut a fraction of a second out of an emergency spellcast if need be.
     Kamui makes a yelling outburst that startles him enough that he loses this 'chambering' spellcasting technique and awkwardly moves off several steps towards the side as the mysterious Reploid speaks with definitive authority on the subject. 'Stop it!' 'You shouldn't disturb this!'
     Only then does he get a better view of who someone else's body ended up obscuring - OS.
     "...We were on the tail of a recent incursion," he remarks. He has given up the 'chambering' as he suspects Lydia/OS is far too familiar with what gestures equate to which spells. To do it again would be to telegraph what spell(s) he might have prepared. Despite this observation, he makes no further suggestions or advances, as if more intent to quietly step off towards the western side of the chamber.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

It feels good to be back on Filgaia again. Lunar was nice, and pretty, but it wasn't home in the way Filgaia was for Jacqueline. She took some time to just relax... but, now that she's spent some time doing that, it's time to get back to work - and what better way to celebrate her return to Filgaia than investigating a newly uncovered ruin?

She had heard the rumors of the Zeboim ruin that had recently been discovered in the Celesti Wastelands and so Jacqueline - like many others - sets out to investigate it. She arrives expecting a challenge... only to find much of it already done for her. The ruins open up invitingly just as she arrives, and when a ruin invites you in it is very rarely good.

And for that reason, Jacqueline approaches with a bit more caution. And at the very end, standing before a relic styled like a serpent's head, is a mechanical humanoid - and, much to her surprise, OS.

"OS? And... I don't think we've met before... Fancy meeting you here." Jacqueline greets politely. There are others here, too. Jacqueline sends Xiumei a nod, and Ivan of course gets a smile of greeting... and then she looks toward Kamui, as she shouts at them to stop.

...What's going on...?

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida spent some time in Sylvaland after the transistion to Filgaia, reestablishing contacts and explaining what had happened to her this time. Her family was worried, of course, but Aunt Anna seems to have taken the knowledge that her niece was transported to the moon... remarkably calmly. So calmly that she told Ida about a frightening new phenomenon witnessed by her agents in Celesti.

    It seems that something has awakened beneath the wastelands.

    ABOUT FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO

    Several armored motor-coaches--the kind used to transport soldiers and security officer--are parked a safe distance from the ruin entrance. Each is painted jet-black beneath its layer of wasteland dust, and bears the Everstead-Rey crest on its hood. People in oil-colored armored dusters have formed something of a perimeter, and they, too, bear the logo of the family's house.

    Several more motor-coaches pull up and come to a stop. A door pops open, and a tall man in a bowler hat and wool trenchcoat steps out to open the passenger compartment. Jimmy Shen Long flashes Ida and her companions a smile made only slightly ominous by his eyepatch. "Here we are, kid. Place's so excited for the Feast of Lights it lit up already. It is definitely Zeboim, and I think some of your ARMS buddies went in there. Two armored ladies, looked kind of like each other, one... kind of out of sorts, if you get my drift?"

    Ida hops out of the car, a frown creasing her features. Her armor and buffcoat have been freshly-repaired, and she is ready for business. "Xiumei and Kamui?" Ida says. "We need to hurry."

    NOW

    Kamui and Xiumei left a trail for Ida to follow. She walks carefully down the stairs, noting there are only two sets of footprints so far--for all she knows, Kamui and Xiumei might be the first people to breach this ruin. Ida's body remains tense, ready to draw an ARM at a moment's notice. "Watch behind us," she says, to Boudicca.

    And then, the vault. Ida takes in the shape of the figure first--a figure who doesn't seem to stand, precisely, hence why there were only two sets of footprints. OS, too. Ida glances back at Dean and Boudicca, and then motions forward, indicating she's going to advance.

    Slowly, Ida walks across the sand, and addresses the figure she recognizes.

    "...OS?"

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    Dean came here with his close friends Ida and Boudicca, a team-up made after arriving in Filgaia with his other close friends Avril and Rebecca. This is totally a thing that already happened. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
    
    The trek through the ruins in the Celesti Desert are amazing, and even more amazing is the way it just sort of *opens up* to reveal the sandy secrets within. Dean only sees this from a distance, having ridden in on Jimmy's motor coach, but he still watches with one hand over his eyes in awe. "Wow! That's so cool!" he utters. He grins over at Jimmy and adds, "Thanks a ton for the ride, mister! I would've hated to miss this!"
    
    Kamui and Xiumei are here, though? Dean doesn't know them *super* well, but he considers them friends all the same. (Naturally; Dean thinks that strangers are just friends he hasn't met.) When he hears that one of them is out of sorts, he frowns in concern and nods firmly to Ida. It's a quick chase after before they slow down and walk down the stairs. Dean stops when he sees the red-glowing figure within. "Is that guy *floating*?" he whispers.
    
    He relaxes, though, when he sees his good friend OS. There's a bunch of other people here too, like Ethius and Jay and so on, not just Xiumei and Kamui! He follows after Ida without a hint of fear and raises a hand to wave at OS in greeting. "Hey OS! Whatcha doing here?" he calls to them cheerfully. "Did you come to check out the new ruins too?"
    
    Yes, Dean has absolutely forgotten that they're technically an agent of Solaris.

<Pose Tracker> Asgard has posed.

 
"What a decidedly unpleasant place."
 
The man's image is a smear on the wastelands, his image indistinct... especially because he's covered in shadow. A figure looms over him, keeping the sun off of him.
 
"I simply don't have the time to scan this entire realm... but if the rumors are true..." There's a pause, "...Asgard, I am issuing a temporary override of your priority list. Your new orders..."
 
A slickster juts out an arm, "...comb the wastes. Find these ruins if indeed they exist and scan them in their entirety."
 
"ROGER." Asgard simply begins to tromp off.
 
"...Oh. And one more thing."
 
The Golem pauses...
 
-=-=-
 
Eyes gleam red as the sounds of heavy footsteps enter the vault. The large Golem is fashionably late. It's optical sensors pass over one drifter after another in an unhurried... and decidedly unhostile manner... there are people here like Xiumei that he would be hostile towards normally. And yet, he does not.
 
They linger on Kamui for a moment... in her distress... then seem to trace towards the source of her distress.
 
The Golem's eyes pulse from red, to yellow, and back to red regards both the sleek obsidian construct that is in the vault...
 
"CRITERIA..."
 
... and then pass over OS as well after.
 
"...MET."
 
Asgard announces synthetically, in a way which might sound decidedly hostile to that pair merely from the way he seems to fix his attention on them.
 

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    Motorcoaches! Boudicca marvelled when she first saw them up close and personal; over the time in Sylvaland she's at least regained most of her cheer, and it is no less plain than when she encounters clever human inventions. She and Dean are of one mind, when it comes to that.

    Humans are clever and good. That's... still a thing.

    But when it comes to ruins like this, circumstances like these -- she's not espousing the genius of humanity, even as the motorcoaches roll in. "Thank you," she bows her head to Jimmy as she exits, which is only somewhat to do with the fact that she has to duck her head to get out in the first place. By this time, she's figured out he can't quite hear her, but that's no reason not to be polite.

    The matter of haste is agreed to with a solemn nod; there's a breeze at their heels, to quicken their pace.

    "I will," Boudicca assures Ida of her watchfulness, when they come to the ruin. To the vault, and --

    "It is not so strange to float," Boudicca whispers, back, to Dean, which might make sense when one considers that she just ate lunch with them while floating next to the table, simply because she didn't want to bother anyone for an extra chair.

    She is shaken from her reminders, though, by Kamui's distress and the arrival of -- "Asgard?" Boudicca asks, in surprise, as she looks to the great golem. "You speak?" And she looks to the robots, OS and the one from the gates...

    "Please," she gestures to him, attempts to reason, because she knows what will happen if he starts to fight. "I do not know that they are hostile. OS has difficult circumstances, but..." She turns back, to the two of them. "Forgive me," she addresses the stranger, "I know you not, but I remember your efforts, at the gate. And, OS - it is pleasant to see you well." Her hands clasp together; her head bows.

    "Might you explain these circumstances?" She asks, with another concerned look to Kamui. "Surely there is no need to fight."

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Finally, back on Filgaia! A different part of Filgaia, certainly, but something about the faint scent of DYING WORLD in the air makes it feel like home. The only home that Zed of the Metal Demons has ever known. Although if he's being honest, he feels almost a bit gypped after making a trip to Spira and not being almost obliterated by some kind of ancient doomwhale, but at least he got to see Lombardia again! And, more importantly, free her from a fate almost certainly worse than death.

But... Why is it that Zed is... here of all places...?

Like, there are many ruins to explore in this part of Filgaia. The fact that he has found his way here is some kind of strange coincidental miracle! But really, the answer is obvious.

Ida Everstead Rey's caravan was heading this way, and Zed knows that whenever she sets out to do anything nice for friends of hers, something awful always, inevitably, goes terribly wrong.

And that means that it's always a fun place to be! But he also has a certain reputation to uphold. The DARK HERO does not merely ride around in a car to his destination. No! He must lurk in the shadows, keeping utterly unseen until the moment is right to leap dramatically down from a pillar with a dynamic entrance speech ready and waiting for just the right moment...!

Zed has the perfect plan! The perfect lines!! The perfect hiding place!!! Everything is just right... And then his BEST BUDDY (3rd in line) shows up out of nowhere and Zed is suddenly just there practically leaning up against Asgard with his sword out and at the ready. "Asgaaaaard!" Zed calls, patting the massive golem's equally massive shoulder like they're the BEST OF PALS and didn't just try to kill each other only a couple of weeks ago. "What're you doing here? Is that lady of yours interested in whatever's going on down here too? Nahahahahaha~ Well that's just fine with me! Are we going to fight today? I didn't have it penned into the schedule but that'd be fine with me. Or..."

He glances toward OS and that... other... thing. "...Are we gonna be preoccupied with some other stuff first...?"

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    In some ways, coming back to Filgaia in any capacity is like coming back to a pair of comfortable worn-in boots. It may still not be Ignas, but at least Gwen can assure her dear, dear Auntie Frea that she is still not dead yet.

    And what's more Filgaian than going into anicent ruins to discover secrets of lost civilizations? .... besides it being a thing on Lunar too, but do they have motor coaches?! And do they have a terrible devastated wasteland that makes the whole novelty of being in a motor coach feel hollow and sullen as you contemplate the fates of the two Drifters that went ahead in all this?

    ..... NO, LUNAR DOES NOT HAVE THAT

    --NOW--

    "I don't suppose they'll just step away all peaceful-like, right...?" Gwen whispers, from behind Ida's shoulder as she assesses the situation. "I suppose I could-- d'ooooh, Deaaan..." She holds back a squeak, as if she's just witnessed a giant armed puppy come over to greet an extremely dangerous kitten. "I s'pose I could join him in the welcoming party... not like he can't take a hit or three, but that optimism is a force of nature I'd like to protect if I can manage it...."

    She trails off in her verbal train of thought as Asgard passes by, her mirthful grin sliding into a far more appropriate grimace, then a frown. It's not Asgard that draws this response, but the lady who commands the golem that draws Gwen's ire.

    This part is what she reminds herself, as she sees Zed clap the golem on the shoulder like an old buddy at a tavern.

    There's no sense in keeping back; she moves ahead, to position herself nearby Dean, raising her hand in a small, awkward wave that bears none of Dean's own faith in the outcome of this encounter. "... Uh... hey.... OS..."

<Pose Tracker> Dash Caskett has posed.

Dash has been... aloof for most of this SPiran stay. After the Main Gate events, he has mostly been off the radar and rarely responding to calls, though does at least keep his eay to the wall to listen in through ranged communication (Thank goodness there was some this time around!)

He has barely gotten the ways to even go back home much less made contact with his family.

The time is being spent to figure stuff out. Being edgy isnt quite as fun as he had noped! But at least he isn't the kind to be annoying or snap at people, so there is that.

Signals near some Celesti Wastelands ruins have gotten his attention however, especially when Zeboim Era findings were involved. But what may lay inside? Perhaps answers. That is all Dash is looking for this day! His arrival is late though, finding more folks around than expected, and the treasure claimed. "Huh. Well, that was fast," he comments on approach, though gives the vault itself for now a wide berth.

But he sees who stands in front of it. "Oh.... who is that?" It looks like quite the advanced figure. Surely someone-- or something, from organizations he worries about. Lydia's presence is also duly noted. And gives thought to whom the unknown is working for.

"Well, I don't suppose we can just talk this time, can it?" A hand sheepisly grabs the back of his neck.

He is already internally prepping combat systems.

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

OS smiles. Azoth has no means of smiling back.

He couldn't even if he did.

Others arrive, greeting him. Suspicion. Worry. Excitement. Curiosity. Who is he?

Would that he knew.

Each voice adds to the struggle. They know OS. Many do not consider them, strictly, an enemy. They shouldn't have come after him. Azoth falters from his levitation, landing in the sands on shaken legs fighting to carry their own weight. Red, electric arcs crawl over his body as he emits a strained, computerized sequence of broken beeps.

Kamui's words pierce even deeper into his core.

He shouldn't be here. He shouldn't ever have come heOVERRIDE

He jerks his head up at the group gathered within the vault. His visor flares as he looks to Asgard. Someone he's identified before -- the fight at the gate -- Odessa -- as hostile as himself. But the others --

Ivan, Jacqueline, Gwen, Ethius...
ERROR FRIENDLY TARGET
Dash, Kamui, Xiumei...
ERROR FRIENDLY TARGET
Ida, Zed, Dean, Boudicca...
ERROR FRIENDLY TAROVERRIDE

exec.oura INITIALIZATION

Only to OS does Azoth force himself to speak, in a voice deep and robotic, echoing with broken static: "Objective compromised. Eliminating threats."

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mosZiponDg

Connection reestablished. ERROR Operation data corrupted. Reinstallation in progress.

Sand ripples as the serpent's head levitates into the air, excess dirt pouring from between its metal teeth while the sockets of its eyes flare in crimson. The ground trembles violently as mechanical segments arise from underfoot, creating pit traps in their wake as sand rushes to fill the gaps. The segments discharge energy in matching red, forming errant streams that begin to link each piece together.

The vault responds to the relic's reactivation immediately. Its layered walls begin shifting and trying to seal it -- and everyone here with it -- from the outside world. The relic pieces slam haphazardly against the closing walls while stray energy slices through them. Debris rain down into the vault, pummeling the ground with broken chunks of metal.

Unpleasant static fills the air as the relic completes itself: a massive ring made of white, spine-like segments connected by a ribbon of light. With the serpent's head as part of its design, it looks much like a snake of metal and light eating its own tail.

It spins. Faster, faster, faster, into a blur of red crackling with a perverse thrum. Azoth roars a glitched, bone-rattling reverberation, and untamed energy forms a colossal beam with a last second tilt to an upward angle. This mercifully avoids engulfing anyone at ground level -- but only just -- instead scorching overhead and penetrating the armored walls of the vault as it cleaves a clear path to the surface of Filgaia. Pressure blankets the area with crushing heat, more overwhelming the closer one is to the laser's terrible radiance. Only the largest debris could provide respite.

This is the relic: an ancient, Gear scale weapon with all the devastation that entails.

_____________________________| QUICK TIME EVENT!!!|_____________________________
_                               exec.ohr ELIMINATE                             _
_                                                                              _
_                                                                              _
_  Zed, Ida Everstead-Rey, Gwen Whitlock, Zhang Xiumei, Dean Stark, Dash       _
_ Caskett, Ethius Hesiod, Ivan, Seraph Boudicca, Asgard, Jacqueline Barber,    _
_ and Kamui:                                                                   _
_  +qte/react <guard/evade/charge>/<guard/evade/charge>/<guard/evade/charge>   _
QTE!!! Challenge Result: FAILURE! Jacqueline Barber takes 205 damage and gains 75 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: FAILURE! Asgard takes 209 damage and gains 75 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: FAILURE! Seraph Boudicca takes 207 damage and gains 75 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: FAILURE! Zhang Xiumei takes 209 damage and gains 75 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: FAILURE! Ida Everstead-Rey takes 202 damage and gains 75 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: Low Success! Ivan takes 156 damage and gains 60 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: Moderate Success! Kamui takes 107 damage and gains 45 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: FAILURE! Dash Caskett takes 203 damage and gains 75 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: Moderate Success! Dean Stark takes 101 damage and gains 45 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: Low Success! Zed takes 153 damage and gains 60 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: Moderate Success! Gwen Whitlock takes 109 damage and gains 45 FP!
QTE!!! Challenge Result: Full Success! Ethius Hesiod takes 0 damage and gains 30 FP!
QTE: That's the last target of your QTE done!
<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

"K-Kamui!?"

Xiumei's voice is filled with worry. That worry only intensifies as a voice speaks out in her mind. Avile, saying: <Something is wrong... she doesn't sound okay. Something about this place... Xiumei! We need to be careful!>

She tenses -- a moment -- as she spots the entry of Asgard. Her head turns -- she stares at the Golem, wondering if he will attack, and then her head snaps back towards the strange figure. There is only a glance at OS; she doesn't know who they are.

Sand ripples ahead of her. Xiumei's eyes snap back to Azoth; the ground shakes mightily, as then a large mechanical segment explodes up under her feet. That pitches Xiumei forward, slamming her into the ground. A large chunk of debris falls, smashing her to the side.

Xiumei skids, as static crackles. She stares up at the ring, which lifts out of the ground, and her voice catches in her throat for a moment. Then, she throws a hand up -- but the heat and pressure blow her backward.

"What--what is that thing!?" she cries out. Then, her eyes widen.

<This...> Varius trails off. <...they're stealing it. I know this! From back in Zeboim... c'mon, kid. We're gonna stop them!>

"R-Right!" Xiumei cries out. She throws her hand out to her side, as she calls out to everyone: "Varius says... this is something from the Zeboim era! We have to stop them! They can't take this! It--it doesn't belong to them!"

Digital cubes of data flash outward, combining to form a single, cross-shaped length of white steel. Xiumei throws it, and a barrier of crackling green energy burns around it, before it comes crashing down for the mysterious, helmet-wearing robot.

GS: Zhang Xiumei has attacked Azoth with Barrier Cross - Boomerang Strike!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has gained 3 Combo!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has completed her action.
GS: Azoth takes a solid hit from Zhang Xiumei's Barrier Cross - Boomerang Strike for 142 hit points!
GS: Azoth activates Countermeasures!
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    "Well, no, not when *you* do it, but you're a Seraph! You use magic and stuff! Who even knows who that guy is and how he's doing that?" Dean points out in a whisper back to Boudicca. OS greets him back, and he focuses on them. "Oh huh!" He pauses at the rest of what they say. "Wait. You're here by coincidence, but you're looking for something that's in here?" he repeats, confused. "Well... It's good you have a friend here, anyway!" He looks around, not realizing they mean Ominous Red Glow Person over there. "Who are they, anyway?"
    
    However, before they can respond, a certain other individual arrives, and Dean *lights up* while promptly forgetting everything else in the room. "ASGARD!! It's Asgard! Hi, Asgard!! Hi! Hey! D'you remember me? I'm your friend, Dean!!" Dean exclaims with rapid excitement, his hig-armed wave turning into a rapid blur when the talking Golem arrives on the scene. "Oh wow, this is so cool! I'm so glad to see you again! Did you come here to check out the ruins too? You're not here to fight, are you? That creepy lady isn't bullying you into anything? Oh man, it's so awesome to see you again!!"
    
    ...and so on and so forth. He would absolutely just walk right over and give Asgard a friendly pat on the shoulder like Zed just did, save that the strange figure that Dean doesn't recognize, and certainly doesn't know is Azoth, declares in a broken-static voice that he's going to eliminate the threats.
    
    "Wait, what?" Dean utters just before all hell breaks loose.
    
    He staggers at first when the ground shudders and mechanical bits arise, nearly falling all the way over as pits open up in the ground. "Gwen, watch out!!" he calls, turning to his friend who'd tried (however unenthuastically) a friendly greeting to start and attempting to push her out of harm's way. That might help when the debris starts raining down. For his part, Dean manages to evade the falling rocks thanks to his already moving, and again thanks to already moving, he's able to hurry behind cover when the heat blanket drops. He attempts to pull Gwen with him; whether she follows him or not is another matter, though.
    
    "Grrr... Just who is this jerk, and what's he trying to do, anyway?!" he calls to his friends as he pops out from behind that fallen piece of debris to open fire on Totally Not Azoth. Xiumei shouts that whoever this person is, they're trying to steal this relic, and he nods firmly her way. "We better take care of him before this gets even worse, then!"

GS: Dean Stark has attacked Azoth with Dual Shooter!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren used Defend! She takes Dean Stark's Dual Shooter attack on Azoth on herself!
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Dean Stark's Dual Shooter for 56 hit points!
GS: Cover applied to Dean Stark!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

OS does glance towards Kamui when she starts shouting. OS isn't so uncaring that they intend to just flat out ignore them when they start shouting. Something seems wrong with Kamui. "You are... Kamui. Lydia's friend. Creator of robot club." OS says. Their eyes slant to Ivan. They forgot to stop smiling so their words and tone don't quite match the serenity on their face. They took some pointers from Juno too, here, but the tone matches the smile again when they see Ivan. "'Up' is a broad descriptor. The immediate 'up' appears to be a ceiling, past that there is the sky and though referring to the celestial bodies of Filgaia as 'up' is an oversimplification, it suffices. The rest of the universe is up. We hope to have adequately described 'what is up' to you. .... .... How are your feelings presently, Ivan? We hope they are appropriately taken care of and catered to."

They predictably narrow their eyes faintly at Ethius but do not communicate to him immediately. Jacqueline Barber gets a nod from OS and a, "Jacqueline Barber, merchant, person of interest, criminal mastermind."

They look to Dean. They say, "No, we followed a friend here. We made a friend. Our own friend. It is coincidence that the item we were looking for is somewhere in this room."

They see Asgard. They don't seem to recognize anything special about the guy beyond clearly being artificial and thus, perhaps, someone who is also interested in observing others. OS observes Asgard to see if they are the kind of artificial entity that enjoys observing others.

Zed starts shouting at Asgard. They look at Zed. They observe that Zed is loud. They do not have a comment for him. But they do see Boudicca.

"...Another friend of Lydia's..." OS says. Their tension rises. They are a learning machine and have noticed what tends to happen when large numbers of Lydia friends congregate. Gwen throws a wave too and OS nods to them. Still not hostile despite the tension. "Gwen." They notice a difference between her wave and Dean's. That means they have different meanings, they know. "Hello." Keep an eye on her. Waving like that is not confirmed to indicate a lack of hostility.

And finally their eyes settle on Dash. "Purifier. We are unclear on the particulars but Juno desires your presence. NEvertheless, it is not presently our objective to return you to his care." Dash asks if they can just talk. "Yes, we can talk. What would you like to talk about? Do you wish to talk about birthdays? Or boys? Girls? Enbys? Or perhaps you wish to talk about sand. We have observed many interesting properties of sand."

But something is wrong. Azoth is not being Azoth.

"...What is wrong?"

A pit opens up underneath their feet. Their wings fan out behind them and they hover into the air. Debris rains down fromo above. OS doesn't dodge it. They just don't seem to cause significant damage to OS. They just sort of... let it happen. The heat from the Gear scale weapon is uncomfortable, but not outside of their durability specifications.

"Why are you engaging in operations?" They ask. "Why are you not responding?"

Eliminating threats.

They look around. Their eyes settle on Ethius for a moment longer and their eyes narrow further. They remember...

"...Why are you not communicating with us?"

They look to Xiumei, however. "...You have a machine mind within you as well. "...Are you... A Blade like us?"

<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

    A great number of Drifters are here -- Xiumei and others in ARMS, including Ida, Boudicca, Gwen and Dean amongst them; a number of the Caravan Kinship have also arrived alongside, and they appear to recognise OS but not the black-armoured figure. Dash is here too, bringing more conflict to her heart. Chief amongst those that're assembled here that draw her attention, though--

    Asgard.

    "Asgard..." Kamui whispers, her voice hoarse as if her throat is dry. "Why..." OS responds to her as well, calling her by name. "Lydia...? Who are you...?"

    But before she can even yell anything out, the serpent lives.

    Pit traps erupt and sand gushes in; debris rains from above. The Reploid is, at the very least, poised to deal with this -- she is not the legendary Reploid for nothing, exaggerated as the title often is.

    Magnetism springs to life as she wall-hops from one end of the raised surface to another, trailing afterimages of blue behind her; just as she's made her way to the top--

    "Air dash..."

    --and she cheats the laws of gravity, slashing through the air horizontally and ignoring whatever momentum says she should.

    Yet it's the static in the air that screams at her; the beam laces her on the arm, and her pearl-white gauntlet's all there is between her and a melting death.

    "You shouldn't be awake... just like me," Kamui speaks with deep grievance in her voice. "We should've both just stayed asleep in the ground--"

    Xiumei throws a boomerang crackling with energy, and Kamui responds in kind as her arm lifts--

    And a legendary artifact from another era forms, a gun barrel where once her palm once was; her Buster fully forms, white and gold with traces of red, its pulsing emitter inhaling wisps of trailing light.

    Lumen's fourth model.

    "We don't belong in this world!!"

    Light eclipses her form, and an eruption of hot-white energy with streaks of blue screeches out of her X-Buster, devouring ground and metal unfortunate enough to be in its path.

GS: Kamui has attacked Azoth with X-Buster - Charge Shot!
GS: Kamui has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Kamui has completed her action.
GS: Azoth fully evades Kamui's X-Buster - Charge Shot for 0 hit points!
GS: Azoth activates Evade bonus and Countermeasures!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    There are no shortage of interesting events and appearances. (Asgard has Ethius edging away even more, having full remembered what their shield is capable of.) OS' eye narrow is not given one in turn, but it's hard to get a read on what he is thinking or doing (aside from the idea that whatever it is, it is probably going to be a hurtful and inconsiderate one to at least one person).
     The strange figure next to OS has the half-masked man speaks at last - an objective compromised. Eliminating threats.
     Ethius has a small positioning advantage from the jump via his habit of trying to stand aside or out of immediate view, but not so much that he is safe. Sand starts to suck underneath his feet as the ground trembles. He draws his quarterstaff to stick it into some part of the ground with a *thunk* sound and beat feet. The layered walls begin to shift and seal and otherwise make all the signs it's going to trap them in here.
     Ethius doesn't get so much as a second out from thinking of melting a wall that debris rain down. He tumbles away from one that crashes down right where he was as of a fraction of a second before, spraying him in sand. A timely raised hand stops any of that from getting in his eyes as the pressure changes, watching the relic goes and completes itself in a way like a... a... he knows the word. Did know the word. He's forgotten it now.
     "THERE!" Ethius is shouting as he thrusts an arm towards a piece of debris. He rarely does, but he points towards the largest fallen debris as he hurls himself behind it. He's not sure if anyone else makes it behind cover in time with him - and the wash of heat misses doing harm beyond discomfort as the beam of energy chews through the vaults and performs his escape strategy for him.
     Whatever cover he has found, he's still in view of OS narrowing eyes at him. Of hearing Kamui declare that 'we' don't belong in this world.
     ...Is that their self-determination, or... A hand goes to his forehead. Everything is still too much of a ruckus that he can't get a clean read on who else made it to safe(-ish) cover. Some of them may have been vaporized in the wake of the Gear-scale weapon's emergence.
     He can't move out of OS' view from where he is. Shouting, and power, and all sorts of noises that most ears would concede is 'LOUD AND BAD' but he can't but help break down into so many individual components that he has already mentally identified as if by raw instinct. As if he couldn't not do that.
     "...If I am to move to intercept," he asks of an OS who is curious as to why he is not communicating, "would you be in disagreement?"

<Pose Tracker> Asgard has posed.

 
"UNABLE... TO ANSWER." Asgard regards Kamui at her question, now that she's stopped screaming, "QUERY, INCOMPLETE. CONTEXT REQUIRED. QUERY-"
 
And then whatever he was about to ask is interrupted by Zed. Slapping a Golem on the shoulder is a terribly risky endeavor, but apparently he calculated that the impact would cause him no actual harm and allowed it. "UNKNOWN." Asgard answers Zed's query - on Melody's desires. Melody didn't send him after all. "UNKNOWN." Asgard answers Zed's query - on whether they will fight today.
 
And then, are they gonna be preoccupied...? Asgard's systems work on the word 'we' and the phrase 'some other stuff' to try and figure out the context of 'some other stuff' then cross-referencing it with a calculation of the probability of Asgard engaging that construct and OS(100) vs all data he has on the Hyadean to calculate, the probability that Zed will be(99.999... repeating of course.)
 
"YES." Asgard answers, upon his system calculating that his margin for error is infinitesimally small enough to be irrelevant.
 
Then there is Dean. "YOUR DATA IS PRESENT - DEAN STARK." Asgard answers in the best way he can. "CURRENT OBJECTIVE... PRESENT."
 
And then, even as Azoth announces his objective is compromised... Asgard begins to charge.
 
The pit traps open up, and the Golem's massive feet get caught into it... as he starts to sink...
 
... vanishing... then with a rumble it erupts out of the ground. Debris pummeling his barrier like rain, enough that a jagged piece of metal slashes into his coat as his advance is staggered.
 
Raising his arm as the serpent's head blankets the area with pressure, his barrier reforms and starts to ripple... until the heat overwhelms it... and begins to sizzle off of his armored coat. It feels like he's going to well and truly be overwhelmed by this.
 
"LIMIT... OVERLOAD. GENERATOR OVERHEATING."
 
Then at the last moment - as if learning in real time how to cope, Asgard grasps a piece of debris out of the air as it falls, and braces it against the ground to offer temporary enough respite for his systems to reboot his barrier. It flares back to life in rippling blue rings of concentric blue, rippling outward like a pebble was dropped into an azure pond.
 
"CRITERIA... EXCEEDED."
 
Hoisting the half-melted piece of debris overhead, Asgard bends at the knees, and charges at Azoth like some oversized bulldozer, leading with it... trying to run him down with the charge. Then at the last moment, his fist exploding outward from it, and through it. The impact of his barrier disintegrating the debris into shards as the Golem tries to get up in his face.
 
"FIGHT... ME..."
 
The Golem... demands, and for just a moment - there is something less artificial in the request, like something... nascent in its tone, in its words.
 
"... CULTIVATE... MY... DATA."
 

GS: Asgard has attacked Azoth with Barrier Knuckle!
GS: Asgard has completed his action.
GS: Azoth takes a solid hit from Asgard's Barrier Knuckle for 103 hit points!
GS: Azoth activates Countermeasures!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

OS greets Jacqueline, and Jacqueline laughs sheepishly in response.

"'Criminal mastermind'...? That's... that's a new one, but... I guess I'm flattered...?" She says. A lot of people arrive, but there's one thing that receives Jacqueline's direct concern. The mechanical person accompanying OS falls to his knees and begins emitting red sparks and broken beeps.

"H-hey... hey, are you alright...?" Jacqueline asks, concerned. She steps toward Azoth - not that she knows that is indeed him - and then... 'Objective compromised. Eliminating threats'.

"Hey, wait - we don't have to resort to violence...!" Jacqueline starts. The serpent head lifts from where it's buried, and the ground trembles. Debris rains down and Jacqueline hunkers down to defend herself, wincing at that terrible sound and the noise that reverberates out. All in all, she's left pretty battered at the end of it.

"Wh-what... what's going on? OS, what's wrong with your friend?" Jacqueline asks, concerned. She backpedals, though, trying to make some space. One thing is clear - everyone's looking pretty hurt.

In one quick motion, Jacqueline draws out a stone tablet - a Stone Medium of Grudiev. Jacqueline quickly whispers a request for help, and at her call, Grudiev appears behind her in silhouette. Dust and debris is drawn into the vents on his back, and then exhaled over part of the group in a glittering, diamond curtain. It soon vanishes, leaving behind a sense of strong protection.

"OS, please ask your friend to stand down...!" Jacqueline pleads. "We don't need to fight!"

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Ivan with Material - Earthen Embrace!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Material - Earthen Embrace!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Material - Earthen Embrace!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Dash Caskett with Material - Earthen Embrace!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Dean Stark with Material - Earthen Embrace!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Material - Earthen Embrace!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Jacqueline Barber! She gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Ethius Hesiod! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Dean Stark! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Dean Stark!
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Gwen Whitlock! She gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Dash Caskett! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Dash Caskett!
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Ivan! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Ivan!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida feels, for a moment, like she's watching a match arc gracefully into an open keg of gunpowder. She taps her fingers to the Empathite assembly at her jaw--the short-range radio Jimmy gave her. "Confirmed Gebler agent," she says, her eyes widening.

    -"Yeah, no shit,"- says Jimmy, his voice crackling into her earpiece. -"Watch your back, kid, some huge thing just bulled its way through the perimeter. And--oh, hey, were you expecting your pal Zed?"-

    Fear constricts Ida's throat. She reaches out to Dean as 'the huge thing'--Asgard--stomps downstairs, and Dean walks right up to him like a curious puppy. Zed, as Jimmy noticed, is right behind.

    Everything goes to hell, immediately.

    'Objective compromised. Eliminating threats.'

    "PULL BACK!" Ida screams, into her radio. "PULL BACK, NOW!" Sand twists and swirls beneath her as the ground gives way. Ida reaches out and catches the edge of something solid, holding on for dear life as sand pours past her. She hauls herself up, staring wide-eyed at the ancient ARM, threaded together by crimson light. Energy rips into the ceiling, triggering a shower of metal shrapnel. A chunk of alloy falls at Ida as she scrambles upright, slamming into her lower back with crushing force. Only her armor keeps its sharp edge from cutting through, and impaling her. Another chunk slams into the crown of her head. Ida sees stars, and loses her balance, pitching forward into a three-point crouch. "Xiumei!" Ida shouts, and then the ring ignites.

    The wave of pressure blows Ida off her feet, and sends her tumbling across the sand. The world swims around her. She grits her teeth; she hears static in her ear as she forces herself upright. Everything is shaking, but her gaze half-focuses on the black-and-red entity that seems to have caused this.

    "You--!" Ida chokes out, taking a step forwards. Hyadean stem tissue erupts from her skin in a great torrent, forming fractal-patterns and then an exoskeleton that Azoth would surely recognize. A strange combination of two very different suits of armor, similar in some regards to Xiumei's--but unmistakably Hyadean. Spokes like a stylized golden wing form at her left temple, and her right shoulder. Her whole body, save her face and scalp, is encased in layers of blue and gold and black and red.

    "What have you done to Kamui?!"

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Third Method - Shaping the Battle-Forged Shell!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey accepts Ida Everstead-Rey's Third Method - Shaping the Battle-Forged Shell for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Cover applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Asgard has a distressingly eager Zed peering up at him with sparkling eyes that inexplicably grow EVEN MORE adoring when the golem gives his answer. "YESSSSS!" Zed! Pumps a fist! He is approximately as hype about this as he's been about anything all month. And to make things worse, Zed has absolutely no idea what this thing sleeping in the ruins is! All he knows is that it is very large, looks vaguely like some kind of big ol' snake, and seems to be causing no small amount of distress among several of the Drifters. Zed can do nothing but tilt his head quizzically and make a dopey smile as the monster shifts and rises. You can almost see the big glowing ???s pop up around his head. What is this thing? Why is it so big? Why is it making everyone so upset!? Zed doesn't know!

But what he does know... is that the ground is giving way underneath his feet. What he does know is that rubble is tumbling down from a ruined ceiling. What he definitely knows is that there's a beam screaming through the air, melting chunks of metal down into useless slag...!

It's enough to even overwhelm Asgard's barrier system... This thing-- is definitely no joke!

It's hell dodging it all. Weaving between pitfalls only to suffer through a rain of shattered Zeboim architecture that manages to draw a streak of quicksilver blood from the metal demon's cheek as a slab shatters against his forehead. The beam scythes by, and Zed is caught in a heat-haze, the intense thermal shock and massive pressure wave ripple through his body, leaving him smoldering, his pauldron half-melted from his shoulder.

...But he's grinning regardless, because this! This is a fight that Zed did not expect to be having! How does someone his size even hope to take on a giant flying serpent monster!? He's going to have to find out somehow! The metal demon leaps out from under his makeshift rubble-cover (now a useless chunk of molten ceramic) and lands on a piece of still-falling ceiling. He leaps again, jumping from ceiling chunk to ceiling chunk as he surges high into the air...!

Before descending upon the Not-Azoth, his blade swathed in a halo of viscous darkness, a void of anti-light following in its wake like the corona of an inverted star. He strikes, a grin firmly plastered upon his face...! "I don't know who you are," Zed says to the strange android, "But I like your style! Fighting with a giant snake-ship! Ahahahaha! I love it!"

GS: Zed has attacked Azoth with Saint Arts - Voidwalker's Resolve!
GS: Zed has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Zed assumes the Stoic stance!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Azoth takes a glancing hit from Zed's Saint Arts - Voidwalker's Resolve for 91 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    And here was Boudicca, saying they might not have to fight.

    All a sudden a lot of bad things happen.

    This, sadly, is a good description of a lot of the events which have happened in the past few years, but is also applicable here. "Beware!" Boudicca cries, as the serpent rises, but she has no time to spirit her friends to safety. She spring away from the yawning earth, on fair winds; but the energy discharging from the mechanism catches her in mid-air, while she's focused on the ground.

    Tap-tap go her greaves against the ground when she lands, and scarcely has she a moment before debris begins to rain down - and Boudicca takes the only solution which seems logical as the perimeter becomes difficult. She leaps towards the relic.

    This, it turns out, was a bad plan.

    Because the weapon turns in revolution, faster and faster still, and Boudicca can feel the heat erupting from it. She stops, in her approach; her heels against the ground as she throws a gauntlet up to shield her face. A line drags through the sand, where she is forced back.

    It would have been much better for her if she'd been back there with the debris, but - no. She approached.

    And heat is no friend of her health, even now. Her silks sizzle, smoking in the aftermath of the pressure. A Gear, and...

    "I did not come here to fight," Boudicca says, not without discomfort. "But... it seems you leave us little choice."

    She looks to Jacqueline, ever her ally in trying to speak reason to fighting spirit, and nods. Her hands clap together, and a sigil alights upon the earth, green as the wind. It is not the earth which wends through the remaining fighters; it is a soothing spring breeze.

    For once, she even washes the winds over herself. That heat... really hurt!

GS: Seraph Boudicca has activated a Force Action!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Zhang Xiumei with Soothing Breeze!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Kamui with Soothing Breeze!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Soothing Breeze!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Asgard with Soothing Breeze!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Seraph Boudicca with Soothing Breeze!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Zed with Soothing Breeze!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has completed her action.
GS: Seraph Boudicca heals Ida Everstead-Rey! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey activates Reload!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Boudicca heals Seraph Boudicca! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Seraph Boudicca activates Reload!!
GS: Seraph Boudicca heals Kamui! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Kamui activates Reload!!
GS: Seraph Boudicca heals Zhang Xiumei! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Zhang Xiumei activates Reload!!
GS: Zhang Xiumei enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Boudicca heals Zed! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Zed activates Reload!!
GS: Zed enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Boudicca heals Asgard! He gains 100 temporary hit points!
GS: Asgard activates Reload!!
GS: Asgard enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Dash Caskett has posed.

Systems primed. They always take only seconds, but in the midst of a sudden clash, any amount of time could cost him dearly. "Okay, everyone, everyone, let's jsut back this down for a second and talk about this! Like, we can wait a second, explain--"

Nope, it is moving already. "So much for tha--AH!" Something emerges out from onder the ground, it lacerates metal like skin, raking up the back side of Dash's armor, and causing him to do his best and dive for cover.

<WARNING, ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARD>

Within, systems sense a hostile alteration of the area, as the weighted heat comes. Dash scrambles to find somewhere to hide as it happens. "Can you guys just cut that out already!"

What even was that? A snake ribbon thing? Some sort of odd machinery.

As it settles for a moment, the boy peers around some debris, the Volnutt Armor appearing to have some sort of decoloration from the heat. "Yes I am very aware that floating robot guy Juno wants to see me! I am still kinda figuring that out, thanks!"

Dash just purses his lips at her response. "No, how about what the heck that thing is tearing up this place!" A pause. "Please!"

But the situation does not give any more room for barter. It was time for shooting. Not like Lydia-OS can really die, they are a mercurial liquid. But he needs to buy some time so others can stop whatever the thing is that took out part of the room they are in.

Searing plasma is his further argument to the statement and current situation. "How bout you tell Juno and whoever else that they should calm down and just go, I don't know, invent cooler stuff than take over the world!"

GS: Dash Caskett has attacked Lydia Seren with Buster Salvo!
GS: Dash Caskett has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dash Caskett has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Dash Caskett's Buster Salvo for 66 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Shield applied to Dash Caskett!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

OS... explains what is up. Ivan nods, with brows knitted in concern. "Well... thank you for all of the information about up, although that isn't quite what I meant... I was trying to ask what you're up t--... er, what you're doing here." OS inquires after his feelings. "I don't h-- ... ... uh... Let's call it a 1 right now. That means 'caution,' because I don't know what's going on."

Various people assemble, with Jacqueline and Ethius being the most familiar to Ivan. It seems that many of them would like to talk things out before rushing into a fight, but alas... it does get messy.

The Solarian robot declares that they must be eliminated and activates the relic.

Hey, wait - we don't have to resort to violence...!

"I'm not sure they have a choice!" Ivan calls over to Jay, as things start to go sideways.

All around them, segments of metal belonging to the giant head unearth themselves from the ground, causing the sand to shift and slip beneath their feet. Ivan propels himself into the air just as the ground drops out from beneath him, landing nearby. Around that time, the ceiling begins to rain down shards of jagged metal as the ruin shifts. Ivan is momentarily boxed in as pieces slam down all around him; one impacts, tearing a gash in his back as it throws him forward.

The relic comes together, rises, and begins to spin, and the Solarian robot roars, unleashing a blast wave with a scorching aftershock. Ivan weathers the scorching wave, climbing out from amidst the debris.

A shimmering shield of diamond dust wraps around him as he emerges, courtesy of Jay.

"Ah-- thank you!" he calls over to her.

He isn't sure what they can do except fight... no one wants Solaris to walk away with a weapon like this, possibly not even OS and their ally. But are they allowed to retreat if they meet enough resistance? Ivan doesn't know how intense Solaris is about these things.

Ivan sweeps his hands in a summoning gesture, calling a translucent dome filled with intense, roiling heat. He pushes his hands forward, sending it rolling toward the Solarian robot with the intent to subsume him within it.

GS: Ivan spends 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Ivan has attacked Azoth with Searing Sphere!
GS: Ivan has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren used Defend! She takes Ivan's Searing Sphere attack on Azoth on herself!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Ivan's Searing Sphere for 140 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Poison applied to Lydia Seren!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    'Gwen, watch out!'

    Gwen really should have seen this coming: a strange technology from Zeboim, more ancient than even the tech in her and many others' ARMS, a tense air as Gebler, Odessa, and ARMS agents assemble in the room, and then her, Gwen, focusing on one part of a much larger cluster of potential disasters.
    
    Yeah, Dean was going to have to watch her back as much as she was intending to watch his, because it's very clear, after Dean manages to at least push her out of way of the first of many chunks of debris to fall down, that Gwen is not exactly watching out for herself.

    She's intent on getting to that serpent, even taking it on, seemingly, until a huge block of debris forces her back, the shockwave of its impact throwing her back where she started, next to Dean, allowing him to yank her back behind his choice of cover. "... Damn it," the courier sighs, realizing she was firmly in the wrong, even as her gut assures she could take on anything here.

    Then again, it always says that.

    Thankfully, Dean and Jay have a better idea, one Gwen is keen on following up on. If she could reach out to Setanta, and if OS has been proven to be social, even if she's dangerous, and even if she might have been written as a cover over Lydia (maybe even overwritten? Please not that)--
    
    "... OS, can you reach out to your friend?"

    Pyrite gold reflects off the pale red of Gwen's sweat-streaked curls, radiating from the slowly charging ARM clung close to her at an awkward angle, stashed behind Dean as he shoots his ARM.

    "Kamui, don't know you very well so this may come off as just somethin' someone like me would say, but damn it, I ain't toleratin' none of that talk here!" Gwen's words come like the bark of a nanny, but it may still be easily lost amid the rumblings of the area around them. "Even the giant snake, as long as they play well!"
     
    The glow gets brighter, generating a field that expands throughout the area, onto where OS, the serpent gear, and Azoth are, and stopping just beyond.

    "'Cause if they don't I'm gonna have t'step in!"

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Azoth with St. Elmo's Fire!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Lydia Seren with St. Elmo's Fire!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Lydia Seren used Defend! She takes Gwen Whitlock's St. Elmo's Fire attack on Azoth on herself!
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's St. Elmo's Fire for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Jam applied to Lydia Seren!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"We are a '1' then as well." OS says, even if it isn't their classification system that doesn't mean it's a bad one. "We are the Omega System. But you can call us OS if you prefer." OS says shortly before shit starts going to hell. "It is desired that we retrieve you as well, but--"

We don't belong in this world!!

OS has no answer to that. There is getting to be too much stimulus for them to tabulate with their processing speed. Too much is going into the ??? folder.

Dash fires at OS first. The buster shot slams into their body, knocking them back several feet as they drop down into a crouch, steadying themselves with a hand for a moment before straightening up. They cock their head at Dash as if trying to figure out their reasoning for opening fire. Perhaps this is what Juno meant by dangerous. Juno did not seem foolish, however, so there must be more to the target than that. They don't get immediately aggressive, however. Jay asks them to ask Azoth to back down and they say, "They are not listening to me... Why are they not listening to me...?"

But people are already opening fire on Azoth and that essentially puts an end to negotiations because of what happens next.

OS doesn't get a chance to answer Dean's question because he opens fire! OS's smile goes away.

And OS throws themselves in front of the path of Dean's gunfire. The bullets slam into OS. And there's the sound of glass shattering.

OS looks down. They see...

A broken glass bottle hanging by their neck, and sand drifting out from it.

OS has a lot of data on Ivan's battling techniques. OS intercedes in this case as well, almost seemingly by accident. Intense heat washes over them. Silver sweat drips down from their face as they keep staring at the broken glass bottle.

".....What...is this?" OS asks.

We
                don't like
                                    this

"ah....Ahhhhh....!" OS's eyes widen as they grab at their head. "We don't like this...! Ivan...! What is this feeling?? What number do we assign it? It hurts...so much..."

At this point they're not in a position to answer Gwen's request--and even if they were, she unleashes her own field that wrecks havoc with OS's systems. Not impossible to deal with, but decidedly unpleasant as sparks crackle off of OS's body.

"Azoth's present is broken...! Our friend is not listening to us! We do not like this...! This is unknown data...!"

But then they see Ethius.

They lower their hands. Ethius asks a question politely. "You..."

                                   We
                know
                             it

"...It is you. You were responsible last time." They calm down. "This feeling. It is... Yes. It is..." Their eyes flash red. "RAGE."

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV1uwUziZqQ

Their expression calms, but the anger--THE HATE--is still in their eyes as they hover off of the ground. Tears spill freely from their eyes.

Our face is wet

They dart in quickly towards Ethius, slicing at his body with a blade that rips out of their arm like a knife cutting out of butter. They turn their head to Jay later. "We have seen it in your eyes how you feel about us. We have observed it!" And they slide fforward, crackling with electricity as they slam a foot for her chest--intending to impact her with enough force to send her flying towards Ivan. OS is trying to be gentle with Ivan. But not too gentle. Ivan specifically asked before that he not receive special treatment and, besides, he is hurting Azoth. A miscommunication? Irrelevent for now.

They then transform their free arm into--what looks like the fascimile of a buster cannon. They point it towards Dash and first a blast of energy towards him. "Adapting to ancient technnology." But this energy blast does not stop after a quick burst. OS instead trails the laser towards Dean, intending to strike HIM with it as well.

"Accepting Medium output. Unleashing Optimized Solais Emsu Program."

A LASER from 'up' suddenly comes crashing down towards Gwen with little warning.

"You do not need to do anything." OS says. "But submit."

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Efficient Bladeworks!
GS: Lydia Seren enters a Counter stance!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Optimized Material - Solais Emsu - RESONANCE.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Dash Caskett with Basileus Philosophorum Metaloricum!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Dean Stark with Basileus Philosophorum Metaloricum!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Dean Stark with Electric Slide!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Electric Slide!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren takes 24 damage from Poison!
GS: Lydia Seren gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Ethius Hesiod critically guards Lydia Seren's Efficient Bladeworks for 27 hit points!
GS: Ethius Hesiod activates Guard bonus!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Electric Slide for 73 hit points!
GS: Dash Caskett takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Basileus Philosophorum Metaloricum for 88 hit points!
GS: Dash Caskett enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Dean Stark critically guards Lydia Seren's Basileus Philosophorum Metaloricum for 32 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark activates Countermeasures!
GS: Gwen Whitlock used Defend! She takes Lydia Seren's Electric Slide attack on Dean Stark on herself!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Solais Emsu - RESONANCE.EXE for 96 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Electric Slide for 84 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

The light holding the ring together dims and fluctuates, and its orbit pauses with fragments of energy arcing around it. Whatever power it used to fire, it needs a moment to recharge. That is Azoth's only mercy.

He lowers his commanding arm down just in time for Xiumei's assault of burning data to smash into him, sending him tumbling across the sands. It should leave him entirely prone for Kamui's X-Buster to tear through him.

But Azoth vanishes with a pixelated flash. He reappears in the same place, upright and levitating again, with Asgard tackling a solid blow. A blade of light forms near him, not swung by his grip, but by, evidently, a thought, clashing with Zed's blade. But Zed's physical force wins over, cutting through this defense and forcing Azoth to explosively drift back in retreat.

Other attacks fly through the air -- bullets, flame -- someone unaccounted for? OS comes to his defense. Because of their own overrides? Or do they calculate that without invasive influence? The latter might be worse.

Yet his only response is violence, whole body overflowing with dangerous enregy that his wires can barely contain.

Azoth vanishes again, only to reappear behind Xiumei. No, not just Xuimei. Varius. Avile. Friends in a past life he can't remember, but the ache is in his core all the same as he ruthlessly cleaves down with a crackling, unstable blade of crimson energy at a woman he promised Varius he'd look out for.

They should've stayed sleeping. They don't belong. She's in pain. He's here to make it worse. Memories of an attempt at encouraging words atop a cliff become empty as Azoth pulls back a clawed hand and crackles with energy. He summons spears of crimson light from the earth under her feet, intending to tear through her legs and disrupt her mobility.

He dives away, corkscrewing through Zed, Ida, and Asgard in nimble movements that aren't quite flight.

Zed and Asgard are eager for a battle, both for data in their own way. Azoth will grant it, and cultivate it as demanded, because it's what he does, but now it's corrupted. Asgard asks for a fight, but what meaning is in it when overrides grind over his decisions and force them into new shape? The style Zed wants isn't there. It's a twisted mockery of what it should be. Ida told him he meant something. That he has value. That he's loved.

He throws that back in her face by answers her cries with dozens of beams that spill out of his body. They dance, erratic, twisting and sniping at Zed, Ida, and Asgard, trying to pierce into each of them and gather data on their reactions so the excess energy of Azoth's operation can continue to haunt them with every reaction.

Boudicca sends out her winds of compassion, and all that talk of how alarmed he would be if she were hurt, even if she could withstand it, might as well be ash. Calculations shoot her to the top of his threat list with the way she defends them, and he forms a massive blade by his side, darting straight for her and firing it at her body before he quite reaches her, intent to plunge it through her middle.

GS: Azoth has attacked Azoth with exec.bel TARGET ACQUIRED!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Azoth accepts Azoth's exec.bel TARGET ACQUIRED for 0 hit points!
GS: Amplify and Hyper applied to Azoth!
GS: Mighty applied to Azoth!
GS: Azoth has activated a Force Action!
GS: Azoth has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Azoth has attacked Zhang Xiumei with exec.mec ERASE!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth has attacked Kamui with exec.ohr REFORMAT!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Azoth has attacked Seraph Boudicca with exec.mec DELETE!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth spends 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Azoth has attacked Zed with exec.ohr COMPILE!
GS: Azoth has attacked Asgard with exec.ohr COMPILE!
GS: Azoth has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with exec.ohr COMPILE!
GS: Azoth has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Zhang Xiumei takes a glancing hit from Azoth's exec.mec ERASE for 120 hit points!
GS: Zhang Xiumei activates Evade bonus!
GS: CRITICAL! Asgard takes a solid hit from Azoth's exec.ohr COMPILE for 240 hit points!
GS: Jam and Poison applied to Asgard!
GS: Asgard activates Countermeasures!
GS: CRITICAL! Kamui takes a solid hit from Azoth's exec.ohr REFORMAT for 260 hit points!
GS: Entangle applied to Kamui!
GS: Kamui enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Azoth's exec.ohr COMPILE for 185 hit points!
GS: Jam and Poison applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Zed takes a glancing hit from Azoth's exec.ohr COMPILE for 97 hit points!
GS: Jam and Poison applied to Zed!
GS: Zed activates Evade bonus!
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Boudicca fully evades Azoth's exec.mec DELETE for 0 hit points!
GS: Seraph Boudicca activates Evade bonus!
<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

"I don't know what that means!" Xiumei calls back at OS, with a shake of her head.

Her eyes are drawn to the flash of the X-Buster. Familiar, even if it is concerning, how Kamui unleashed that blast. "Kamui, be careful! We don't... we don't really know who this is. Please, don't lose yourself!" She sucks a breath in, glancing warily at Asgard. "You're... you're on our side, today?"

But he doesn't seem to remember. Even if there is something about his request. She holds back her panic; Boudicca's wind washes over her, and it is familiar. She looks back at the Seraph -- noding her thanks to her. "Boudicca! Please, be careful!"

Azoth is fast. He disappears, in a pixelated flash that makes Xiumei's breath catch. His jagged, almost unfinished blade of crimson cleaves down. There is a flash of light -- and Xiumei just moves away, a trio of afterimages left in her wake -- and he saws through them, the blade hitting the ground.

The shockwave pitches her forward. Xiumei hits the ground roughly, a crack sounding from her arm, and then she hops up. Her jaw sets -- she feels the stinging pain of a bruised bone in her arm -- and she turns.

Azoth moves, in a blur of motion, towards each in turn. The Barrier Cross flies back into her hand. Her fingers curl around it -- she winces -- and then throws it. The weapon swings out in a wide arc, lancing upward, and then crashes downward at Azoth again on the return toss.

GS: Zhang Xiumei spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has attacked Azoth with Barrier Cross - Whirling Throw!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Azoth takes a glancing hit from Zhang Xiumei's Barrier Cross - Whirling Throw for 111 hit points!
GS: Azoth activates Countermeasures!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Fighting breaks out. Ivan is distracted, at first, by the startling sight of OS jumping in the way of his attack. He holds out his hands as if to take it back, but it doesn't work like that.

"I'm sorry -- I was trying to stop your ally -- we can't-- that thing is too-- we can't let Solaris have it, can we?"

OS begins to cry out and grasp at their head as if in great pain. Ivan has a flash of guilt, but, he has seen them shrug off worse attacks -- is it really his doing -- wait...

He notices the shattered glass bottle, and his eyes widen.

"Oh no-- your gift?" Ah... poor OS... that was the first gift they'd ever received. It must mean so much to them.

OS... wants a number for it. "I don't know if I've had that feeling, I'm sorry -- maybe -- 13?!"

OS turns their attention to Ethius, then, and regardless of the number, they find a name for the feeling. Rage.

They vent that rage on several of the others -- Ivan finds himself bowled over by Jacqueline as she flies toward him. He tries to catch her as this happens, but really it's more that he might have broken her fall a bit.

"OS! I don't want to kill your ally, but please let us stop him!" He unsheathes his umbrella, pointing it toward OS and releasing a burst of golden energy that tries to throw them backwards and clear a path toward the other.

GS: Ivan has attacked Lydia Seren with Umbrella Rebuke!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: COUNTER! Lydia Seren counterattacks Ivan with Counter Attack!
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Ivan's Umbrella Rebuke for 160 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren activates Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

    If Kamui were less stressed and less busy in combat, she might elucidate a bit further on her query -- why was he here? Asgard seems busy enough on his own, though; even a barrier like Asgard was overwhelmed...!? This serpent is truly...

    ...as she remembered...?

    Boudicca's soothing breeze washes over her; for a moment it's unclear how a healing spell would help her, but it turns out there's plenty a soothing breeze can do to help mechanical parts on the verge of being set on fire.

    Kamui's pupils shrink further as Azoth vanishes, and summons crimson spears that lance out from the earth--

    (I'm not fast enough to...!)

    Thought flies faster than her broken body can move, and one of the spears lances straight through her Foot Parts; there's a loud and ugly crackle as she tumbles to the ground and stops moving for a moment, then pushes herself back up.

    Gwen lectures that she doesn't appreciate that kind of talk. "... this world is plagued ... by rotten husks that can't leave well enough alone ..."

    There's no other choice. She has to utilise the extent of her powers -- she has to use the Hunter Artes, which she swore to keep sealed.

    There's a SHIFT in the air--

    and Kamui's hair billows a sandy blonde for a moment, her armour gaining a similar tinge where there was once blue.

    "I have to finish what I started... and then... Gami and I..."

    The Reploid hoists her Buster again -- and suddenly the air is charged with electricity. She fires, and seeks to encase the entirety of her opponent with a charged energy-net of pure lightning.

    Dirty little war crimes, these Artes were once called.

GS: Kamui has attacked Azoth with Hunter Arte - Lightning Web!
GS: Kamui has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Kamui has completed her action.
GS: Azoth takes a solid hit from Kamui's Hunter Arte - Lightning Web for 146 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Azoth gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Dispel! Amplify, Hyper, and Mighty removed!
GS: Azoth activates Countermeasures!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    Somehwere in all of this, Ethius is able to catch the sheer struggle that Asgard is showing in being able to withstand what's going on over there. Asgard, who punched clean through two barriers of different make simultaneously, who withstood a Surge Bolt. The Drifter community as a whole is no stranger to seeing big, dangerous, deadly things suddenly come to life and wreak all sorts of havoc. The encounter on the Warwing Varukias showed that there were some technological weapons that were beyond his grasp to 'handle.'
     When something he can't 'handle' is struggling with something they nearly cannot 'handle' in turn...
     Jay provides the blessing of Grudiev as earthen, glittering material washes over and protects him as he watches OS zig and zag to intercept shots being aimed towards another present. Tension mounts further. He starts to stand up in the wake of Gwen's field striking out to a distracted, distressed OS, passing her a brief look at her assertion as if on the verge of expressing exasperation with his eyes.
     OS doesn't give him the chance. From some perspectives, Ethius has been given almost infinite chances to show he wouldn't go out of his way to be a jerk willing to play with others' feelings - and in one stand-out case that horrified even Alexander Castle, the person right before him having their logic and will hijacked. It should come as no surprise that somewhere, at some time down the line, someone isn't going to give him that.
     That individual is OS.
     He throws up a forearm and slurs the syllables for that Symbological shielding spell, with its bright and loud electrical sparking - bolstered further by Grudiev's power which is all that prevents her blade from lopping a limb or more from him clean, slicing away at fabric and exposing more of his arm's Symbological tattoos.
     The depth of her hatred and tears reveals that even the shielding spell and Grudiev's power is not enough to stop a laceration in full. Blood starts to let from where the blade's strike was dulled into (mostly) an impact, a growing, searing ache from what is only just a shallow cut. A blade so powered by rage and tears that it could have accomplished worse were there even one less safeguard.
     "My eyes?" Ethius' tone is almost uncharacteristically low. The eyes of a man whose stare almost never relents. That same pressing, judging stare he gives everyone. Eyes that keep taking and never giving back... until OS has taken the meaning for herself as to what it all means. He can see OS disengage as they move to strike at Jay, but he remembers when they sprouted an extra eye to look at him when he tried to blind them. He suspects they're watching. He suspects they won't let him move.
     Still, there's another statement before all that. 'Our friend is not listening to us.'
     'It is you.' That statement, equal parts an identifier that it's him, and someone deemed responsible.
     In a way, OS is not wrong. There is a realistic expectation, even an inevitability, that some way or another Ethius is going to go up and hurt them too. The only flinching is in his struck arm, fingers flexing in and out.
     "...None of us have time for your tantrums." He moves forward, free hand flexing those fingers in cramp-worthy configurations as he mouths the syllables under his breath. The exposed arm's Symbological tattoos give away that there's a spell being cast, if some of the ambient lights do not themselves.
     "Recurrent Current!" He thrusts that arm forward as he draws close, knowing OS can and will strike back as electrical power threatens to surge through their body and shock them. Over and over and over. A hurtful sensation - over and over and over.
     As if giving Ethius a chance at all, generally, invites being hurt - over and over and over.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Lydia Seren with Recurrent Current!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Ethius Hesiod's Recurrent Current for 132 hit points!
GS: Poison applied to Lydia Seren!
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    Asgard acknowledges Dean! Dean only kind of understands the way in which he does so. This does not in any way deter him. "Yeah, I'm present!" he enthuses. And--hmm. Sure enough, like he'd eventually concluded at their recent battle, Asgard likes and wants to fight, not unlike Zed. He'll have to remember that for later.
    
    Then of course bad things happen. The most surprising one, to Dean, is OS jumping in the way of his attack on the stranger. She doesn't seem to be too hurt, but some kind of glass vial around her neck shatters, and of course, even if she's not too hurt, he still *shot her*, if unintentionally. "Oh no!! OS, I'm so sorry! Are you okay?" he calls her way, standing up out of cover. "You jumped in the way all of a sudden, I didn't mean to--"
    
    OS expresses rage. And Dean has only an instant to duck back down again under cover before the laser sears out towards him and EXPLODES that cover. Gwen shields him from the spray of debris, and he thumps backwards on his behind, bewildered. "I--but--why?" This is to OS, but when he speaks again, it's after he reaches out to Gwen. "Th-thanks. Are you okay?"
    
    Ivan shouts something that gives him some context--and also clues him into the truth. "Wait--that floating guy is your friend?" he says to OS, getting up to his feet. "I'm sorry! And I'm really sorry I broke your present, I really didn't mean to! But he's attacking us, we can't just lie over and let him kill us!"
    
    His enthusiasm has been replaced by dismay by now. Jay's healing, defensive magic, courtesy of Grudiev, is appreciated, and he waves her way in gratitude, but he can't smile at a time like this. With OS as angry as she is now, he can't just stand down either, otherwise she'll hurt those friends of his who aren't busy with Mr. Red Glow. He thus jumps forward with his combat rods, trying to take OS on directly and distract her with close combat to keep her from laser-beaming too many other people.
    
    "Of course you'd protect your friend--that's only natural--but if he's not listening even to you, don't you think something's wrong? You can't just let people get away with doing bad things even if they are your friends!" Dean insists. "Or is it normal for him to attack people like this?"

GS: Dean Stark enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked Lydia Seren with Assault Battery!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren takes a glancing hit from Dean Stark's Assault Battery for 70 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren activates Evade bonus and Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline takes a deep breath when Ivan says that he doesn't think OS's robot friend has a choice. And indeed, OS's seem to echo this he isn't listening to them.

Jacqueline feels a cold pit beginning to build in her stomach. She... doesn't like this. When no one wants to fight, but they're forced to all the same. It made it hurt all the more. She nods back at Ivan in response to her thanks, and glances over to the others.

It does make her feel better that Boudicca is there to look after them - it was much easier to focus when they could split the duties.

If it was just Azoth(not that she knows this fact), it would be bad enough - but then things somehow get worse as OS discovers rage.

Jacqueline glances toward Ethius as they accuse him and the way he looks at them. She hasn't really been present at all of his confrontations with them - she doesn't really know the full extent.

"Ethius, what happened? What are they-" She doesn't get to finish. OS slides forward. Jacqueline quickly draws her cloak around her protectively. It does, at least, dull the pain somewhat. She still gasps as she finds the air nearly knocked from her from the sheer force of the impact, sent flying back and crashing into Ivan, nearly bowling him over.

"S-sorry..." She apologizes, glancing back at him. He broke her fall, at least - that could've been worse. She stumbles forward, then, out of his way.

"OS..." Jacqueline tries again. But, what can she say? Ask them to calm down? That wouldn't work at all. In the end, she just nods to agree with Ivan's words. "...Please. It doesn't have to be like this..."

She reaches into her bags, drawing out a bottle filled with lavender-colored(and scented) liquid. She hurls it at OS's feet, at which point it bursts into a plume of smoke - a potion that drains one's strength and energy. At least it smells nice.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Lydia Seren with Sapping Solution!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Sapping Solution for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Weaken applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Quick applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Lydia Seren activates Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    Robots.

    Boudicca... is not very good at robots.

    She still isn't sure which robots are Alive, and which robots aren't. 'Possession of glowy eyes' is apparently not an indicator, judging by the Reaverbots. 'Asking them if they're alive' doesn't work, as evidenced by Asgard's initial lack of conversational skills. And, it seems, reasoning with them to avoid fights doesn't work, either. OS is talking about this stranger as if they're certainly sentient; there must be something she's not seeing, watching them execute on bloodthirsty ideals.

    And here is another fact: robots hurt.

    Boudicca manages to cool herself - and her allies, judging by Kamui - down enough to avoid combustion, in the wake of that pressurised heat. She doesn't get any time to appreciate what she's averted, though. Before she can even be worried about OS - there's the other robot, forming a blade.

    Luckily, Boudicca has warning, and her attention snaps from her friend and the mechanism layered over her back to this new concern. "Ah!" She gasps, and springs up -- up, up, up, a good ten feet in the air.

    A new friend asked her about what it was like to fly, recently. Boudicca can't fly when she's shaped like a person, of course; but with the benefit of wind magic, she is REMARKABLY spry. She resolves to leave OS's pain to Dean; she evidently can't shift focus from the newcomer. Instead, as she comes back down to earth, she cries out: "You have made your point! We see the dangers inherent to you! Now, please, will you not speak to us?! If you will not --"

    Hurtling down, she angles herself just so - to bring her landing path right into the strange tailed robot. Her tonfa have found their way to her hands; she brings them down, as if wood could stagger steel.

    "-- this can only continue! Is that truly your wish?!"

    What a strange way to ask... what they want.

GS: Seraph Boudicca has attacked Azoth with Rabid Lunge!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has completed her action.
GS: Azoth takes a solid hit from Seraph Boudicca's Rabid Lunge for 92 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Azoth gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Shieldbreak applied to Azoth!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Maybe it is twisted. Maybe, if Zed knew what was really going on, his expression would be fixed in a rictus of frigid wrath at the grievous injustice being inflicted upon a friend. But in the heat of the moment, there is only this battle-- a life-or-death struggle in the shadow of a monstrous machine which was never intended to see the light of day. Zed's blade cleaves through, unlight twisting outward in tendrils of tangible tenebris. He barely has a moment to take in the satisfaction of the blow, even one half-absorbed by a sword conjured at the speed of thought.

It's not over. Not by a long shot.

A gentle breeze is all the warning Zed has, but it's all that he needs. Boudicca's magic fills him and ignites in that singular moment, sending the Hyadean careening out of the way just as lethal lattice of lasers close in to entrap him in their deadly web. He twists through the onslaught like a practiced gymnast, dodging around one beam and then another, the superheated air sizzling his sides as he leaps through a narrow gap. The third is intercepted when Zed brings his sword up to absorb the blast, which seems to distort briefly before disappearing into the darkness enshrouding the blade.

He plunges the sword into the ground to arrest his own backwards momentum, the back of the blade carving a furrow through the shifting sands. Zed's smile widens ever so slightly as he pushes the sword just a fraction of an inch deeper. Doom Bringer writhes. Shadows grow long as they gather up a miasma of void and curse-stuff. Tongues of the night-matter crawl across the earth like arcs of electricity, gathering up slowly around the sword's razor-sharp edge. With a final twist, like the turning of a key, Zed pushes the weapon even deeper. The darkness gathers up, disappears, and...

Out from under Azoth, it bursts! A blade of jet-black void surges upward like a geyser of liquid shadow and materialized ill fortune! Zed's own bad luck... Weaponized...!!

GS: Zed spends 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Zed has attacked Azoth with Unsealed Blade - Demon Breaker!
GS: Zed has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Zed takes 23 damage from Poison!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Azoth takes a solid hit from Zed's Unsealed Blade - Demon Breaker for 280 hit points!
GS: Poison applied to Azoth!
GS: Zed drains Azoth! Zed gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Rage flashes in OS's eyes. The hope that they could somehow defuse this dies in Ida's chest.

    Whomever OS's friend is, they're terrifyingly fast. Zed and Asgard force them on the defensive, but only for a moment--and Ida is rooted to the spot, arms raised to guard. "Damn you, Hesiod," she whispers, her eyes alive with terror. OS's friend can see it as they dart about like a shark through a school of baitfish.

    They rip through the air next to Ida. She twists on a toe, pirouetting to avoid him--but lasers rip through the air between them, slamming into her chest, legs, shoulder. Hyadean exoskeleton melts and deforms and chars beneath the onslaught. Ida screams in pain and fear, and raises her arms to shield her face. Smoke streams upwards from almost a dozen points of contact. More follow, as OS's friend's lasers harry her; her feet churn up the sand as she ducks and weaves and twists to try and avoid them.

    "What is that thing?!" Ida demands, of the machine that has shown only eagerness to kill her. "What are you doing?! Stop!"

    Over the din, she hears a voice that is gut-churningly familiar, and entirely too calm.

    'None of us have time for your tantrums.'

    "YOU DAMNED BLOODY IDIOT, ARE YOU TRYING TO GET US ALL KILLED?!" Flecks of spittle fly from Ida's lips--most unladylike--as she vents the sudden spike of rage.

    But she's still in this. As OS's friend rounds on Boudicca, Ida surges after him, a shoulder-tackle that might hit with surprising force given the relative masses involved. For a moment, Ida holds the android tightly against her chest, an echo of the hugs she gave to a certain friend of hers.

    Then she twists, using her body as a fulcrum to redirect the personality construct's momentum. If he doesn't pull away, OS's friend is going to end up thrown face-first into the dirt, assisted by a gentle push from Ida.
    
    And then a gentle breeze blows across her, numbing the pain with its warmth. Boudicca lives. Boudicca lives, and has her back.

    Ida feels like she can breathe again.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Azoth with Ripple Becomes Wave!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes 26 damage from Poison!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Azoth takes a glancing hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Ripple Becomes Wave for 73 hit points!
GS: Delay applied to Azoth!
GS: Azoth activates Evade bonus!
<Pose Tracker> Asgard has posed.

 
"XIUMEI." Asgard answers, knowing her name. Of course he does... she's on the priority list that was overrided prior to his arrival. Otherwise this interaction might be quite different. "OUR OBJECTIVE... IS... SIMILAR." He notably does not say they're on the same side. Just that they are fighting something similar. "NO HOSTILITIES... TO BE INITIATED."
 
Boudicca's magic swirls around Asgard, and Asgard - familiar with it, interprets it as a threat. Enough that Boudicca might see his barriers raise in her direction. And then his systems encounter the strangest sensation when the magic... is decidedly unhostile. Its systems make a decision based on the context and absorbs the magical energy and begins to thrum as he decreases the generator load on maintaining it.
 
It's not as if Asgard senses that Azoth has emotions, feelings... anything of the sort. Indeed, he's unfamiliar with such things, even if he system actively absorbs recollections of other people's feelings as data. It's simply that his system has decided that a battle of this intensity, against something of such power will grant him what he needs what is hard coded in his systems to seek.
 
Dozens of beams of energy spill out and immediately test his barrier. It ripples all over it, like rain in a pond. Before one pierces through. Then five. Then ten.
 
Sizzling blasts appear all over the Golem, skewering him.
 
There's this intense smell like melting metal, as his systems struggle to keep up with its patchwork auto recovery.
 
"D-D-DAMAGE S-S... RISK..." It's like it is caught in a sputting loop for a moment, unable to complete its damage assessment. Then his whole form jerks, his eyes flaring with strange intensity, "...FLUCTUATIONS DETECTED..."
 
The Golem raises itself up, besides the numerous holes that now exist within it... and bends at the knees.
 
"...RISK WITHIN EXPANDED PARAMETERS. CONTINUING ENGAGEMENT."
 
Suddenly leaping skyward up to the roof of the vault. It raises its fist behind itself. And tries to connect with Azoth in mid-air.
 
And drive him into the ground, shunting the rippling azure energy of his Seraphic magic supported barrier through it.
 
Whether he impacts Azoth directly or not, the energy of the impact of his fist starts to crack the ground in a spidery web like pattern - the energy shining outward rattling all the debris at once, before the energy geysers outwards, and upwards... flooding the space surrounding the construct.
 
"MORE."
 

GS: Asgard has activated a Force Action!
GS: Asgard has attacked Azoth with Barrier Flood!
GS: Asgard has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Asgard takes 29 damage from Poison!
GS: Asgard has completed his action.
GS: Azoth takes a solid hit from Asgard's Barrier Flood for 204 hit points!
GS: Azoth activates Countermeasures!
<Pose Tracker> Dash Caskett has posed.

Among those present, Kash can see Kamui is rather shaken here as well. And just what would the likes of Solaris want with this giant machine anyway? They would just turn it on others, wouldn't they? No good can come from them having it-- it was sealed away for a reason, surely. But the cage has been broken now.

One course of action remains.

"Give him a rain check for me! I'll reschedule another time!" Another time being probably never. Maybe? Ugh this is so confusing.

"We aren't listening because if we let you have this, this will just be another Warwing incident, or any number of other incidents your kind cause!" He shouts back. A free hand reaches behind and pulls out a small nub, which alights in magenta with the flick of a wrist. In a fluid motion, it attached and replaced his spare hand.

OS retaliates with their own form of plasma fire. Dash charges toward her with the Blade Arm alight. He rolls away from the main gout of energy, though his shoulder gets seared in the process, the extreme heat and pressure seeping to his underlying structure. Damage reports come in. Not as bad as it looks, but still a major hindrance.

Put the giant snake thing down and no one gets hurt!" He says, whipping the blade in a V pattern.

GS: Dash Caskett enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Dash Caskett has attacked Lydia Seren with Refractive Edge!
GS: Dash Caskett has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Dash Caskett's Refractive Edge for 35 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Shieldbreak applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Lydia Seren activates Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    One good turn deserves another. "Dean, watch out!" The dark blue-haired Drifter will likely feel the weight of that still glowing ARM attempting to push him aside just enough, so that Gwen can shield him from one attack.

    She grunts, shifting, looking back towards Dean as he reaches out. "... Ah? Nah, thanks to Jay, I'm a-okay." She even flashes Dean a thumbs up. "Guess the peace talks are a wash. But I think I got an idea..."

    If OS isn't stopped, she won't stop blocking for her friend, which makes things more difficult.

    Kamui's talk of rotten husks briefly distracts Gwen from her plan. Something about those words rubs something in Gwen the wrong way, whether it's the talk of things being rotten, or things, left behind--

    "I ain't toleratin' *ANY* talk of rotting or husks, or whatever, 'cause whether you like it or not, you're part of the fabric here. We all are!"

    'You do not need to do anything but submit.'

    "--oh." Instinctively, Gwen grabs forward, seemingly intent on pushing OS back with her still glowing fist, still charged.

    The laser crashes down on Gwen in that moment of distraction, throwing Gwen backwards.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Lydia Seren with Return To Sender!
GS: Gwen Whitlock enters a Counter stance!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Return To Sender for 19 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Mighty applied to Gwen Whitlock!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

OS quirks their head. Do they understand what a tantrum is? Or do they not care because they are in the middle of throwing a tantrum? But in many ways... OS is but a child. But their anger and pain seem to be driving forces for them right now. As Ethius suspected, Ethius moves in and OS can 'see' him coming. Unlike last time, howeve, they don't seem ready for the attack. Electrical current is maybe not double damage on OS but it is probably 1:1 when most everything against OS is simply that which they endure. The electricity punches into them repeatedly, pushing against their regenerative capabilities. They sink into the sand. The heat turns the sand around them into glass as they are pinned by a furious magical assault.

And in the meantime... Someone has woken up. "Woah woah woah! What's going on??" Rachiel's voice pipes in. "OS! You aren't cleared for operation! Return to base!"

"Receiving Command." OS says. "And refusing it."

"Wha...you can do that?? You shouldn't be able to....do that, right?" There is a stunned pause before Rachiel, in a more panicked tone--"I can't call them back! Either of them! OS is refusing my directives...! You can't beat them--just...just try to hold them off..! I'll...I'll think of something!" Rachiel promptly proceeds to engage in a Nier-style hacking mini-game.

OS is quiet for a moment. "Detecting intrusive hacking. Irrelevent." They push out of the glass forming around them and stand up on top of it.

"You...shot at my friend..." OS explains to Dean. "When...When your friend is shot at, you defend them! And...you broke their gift!" Dean makes a pretty good point about not just letting Azoth kill them but OS is experiencing a large surge of emotions for the first time. They can't stop themselves. "No..not normal... You're why, aren't you?!"

They weave away from Dean's combat rods. It isn't just physical durability they have, they're surprisingly quick too--no doubt thanks to Lydia being the base moddel here. They activate skates underneath their feet and roll backwards but Dean still manages to get some glancing blows off of their arms.

They throw their hand for Dean's throat like they aren't thinking about it, a knee following through that turns into a spike that they slam for Dean's gut.

Jay asks Ethius what happened. "Ethius took control of our systems through soft inputs and had us assault our sister against our will." OS explains to Jay. "They must have done so for our friend as well."

Fluid splashes against their body. OS can feel their output faltering--could it be the bottle? Prior analysis through Lydia's eyes suggests it is likely. This is the power of a super criminal.

They need to shut Jay down. And perhaps more besides. OS decides to focus on shutting down people they consider to be either greater threats or a target not suitable for elimination first.

This does not stop them from running THROUGH the golden energy, punching through it--meaning hefty burns flaring around OS's midsectionn, but also--they aren't being knocked back. They instead flip around over Ivan at the last moment and throw a kick for his back to send him flying towards Jay. "We are sorry Ivan, but we are attempting to navigate contradicatory and complicated rulesets."

They hover into the air and gesture with a hand as they chant. "Optimized Material: Celesdue." Their gems crackle purple as the power of the Moon Guardian--intensified through OS's systems--unleashes a powerful gravitic surge against them. But not before Dash impales them w ith his blade.

OS seems unconcerned as they shove Dash off. "We don't care about the machine." THEY aren't here for it at least. But that might not be too helpful for anyone else.

Gwen slams her fist into OS and pushes them back. She ends up caught in that gravitic surge as well--a surge that also endeavours to engulf Dash, Jay, Ethius, and Ivan!

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Dean Stark with Hands Not Fit For Holding!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Ivan with Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Dash Caskett with Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Lydia Seren with Hello world!!
GS: Lydia Seren takes 25 damage from Poison!
GS: Lydia Seren gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Lydia Seren accepts Lydia Seren's Hello world! for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Surge applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE for 0 hit points!
GS: Ruin! Quick and Shield removed!
GS: Reaper applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Jacqueline Barber activates Guard bonus!
GS: Jacqueline Barber enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes an additional 55 damage from Reaper!
GS: COUNTER! Gwen Whitlock counterattacks Lydia Seren with Counter Attack!
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Counter Attack for 100 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE for 0 hit
points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ruin! Mighty and Shield removed!
GS: Reaper applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes an additional 60 damage from Reaper!
GS: RUIN! All positive status effects and temporary hit points purged from Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes a solid hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE for 0 hit
points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ethius Hesiod gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ruin! Shield removed!
GS: Reaper applied to Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Ethius Hesiod enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes an additional 45 damage from Reaper!
GS: RUIN! All positive status effects and temporary hit points purged from Ethius Hesiod!
GS: Dean Stark guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Hands Not Fit For Holding for 91 hit points!
GS: Dean Stark activates Guard bonus and Countermeasures!
GS: Dash Caskett guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Dash Caskett gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ruin! Hyper and Shield removed!
GS: Reaper applied to Dash Caskett!
GS: Dash Caskett activates Guard bonus!
GS: Dash Caskett takes an additional 55 damage from Reaper!
GS: CRITICAL! Ivan guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Counter Attack for 95 hit points!
GS: Ivan enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: CRITICAL! Ivan takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Celesdue - COSMO MEMORY.EXE for 0 hit
points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ivan gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ruin! Shield removed!
GS: Reaper applied to Ivan!
GS: Ivan takes an additional 45 damage from Reaper!
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Xiumei's Barrier Cross comes for him, and Azoth vanishes again in another swarm of pixels. Yet the weapon still cleaves in, tearing that mass of color, and once Azoth reappears elsewhere, it's with a slice across his corded muscles.

A web of lightning encases Azoth, and it seems, despite a flickering, horrible glitched display of vanishing attempts, this is a trap Azoth cannot escape from. Arcs tear over his body with a digital shriek of agony.

ERROR ERROR ERROR

Energy explodes out of him, corrupted and unpredictable with Kamui caught in the blast's radius. There may be something familiar about the way it seems to shriek, as if she was hearing an internal scream.

Boudicca leaps down and her tonfa smash into steel. Azoth's plates prove precariously placed -- she smashes off one of his shoulder guards, and his cloak comes with it. It makes it that much easier to tear into a body that's been rearranged to reroute all possible resources to offense.

And tear into them they do: Zed's void of bad luck surges from under Azoth, consuming him entirely. He escapes with a blast from it, shooting his own small beams in counter, only to be grabbed instead by Ida and hurled into the ground on his own momentum. Before he's thrown, energy expells from him in a small blast. He does not stand so much as he vanishes to reappear in the air, colliding with Asgard's fist and twisting through the geysers with another small set of beams to seek out Asgard in that harassing damage over time.

Yet for all the damage they've done, for all Azoth's body twitches and vibrates, metal dented and helmet smashed open to reveal nothing but circuits and wire underneath, he does not yield. What of his desires? Of his wants? There's only the overrides screaming inside him now.

Without the cloak, there's something more feral about him, his tail lashing freely and his claws poised. Another massive blade forms, and Azoth blinks from space to appear behind Zed, trying to shove it through his back before jerking his arm aside to command it to attempt a cleave through the rest of him.

With a digital, inhuman warble he's gone again, and the blades form before he's seen: a chain of them, orbiting around his body as he dives for Xiumei and Boudicca, slicing at them with this formation of flying energy swords in a wide sweep. They angle up, into the sky, and then rain viciously down upon the pair in a horrible barrage.

A few blades remain, spinning around Azoth before launching out at Asgard like boomerangs to attack from two directions at once.

He turns to Ida, and no amount of errors coursing through his wires can stop him as he dives toward her, a blade prepared in his grip. But as he leaves violence in his wake, his red lights flicker and struggle.

ERROR CRITICAL MISSION FAILURE

ERROR

ERROR

But it never matters, does it?

An unstable blade aims right for it, aiming to tear through her if it doesn't explode first.

GS: Azoth has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Snipe!
GS: Azoth has activated a Boss Action!
GS: You have activated the Boss Action Extend!
GS: Azoth has attacked Kamui with ?x??.ERR?R E??OR??RO?!
GS: Azoth spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Azoth has attacked Zed with exec.mec DELETE!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth has attacked Asgard with exec.mec EXPUNGE!
GS: Azoth has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Azoth's Avenger stance ends.
GS: Azoth spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Seraph Boudicca with exec.mec RUN!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Zhang Xiumei with exec.mec RUN!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth has launched an attack Link!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Seraph Boudicca with exec.mec END!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Zhang Xiumei with exec.mec END!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with e?ec.?? ERROR ? DIV ?? 0 ?!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth takes 25 damage from Poison!
GS: Delay expired!
GS: Azoth gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: Azoth takes 19 damage from Poison!
GS: Azoth gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: Zhang Xiumei guards a hit from Azoth's exec.mec RUN for 116 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Zhang Xiumei gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Zhang Xiumei takes a solid hit from Azoth's exec.mec END for 358 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Zhang Xiumei gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Zhang Xiumei has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: Seraph Boudicca takes a solid hit from Azoth's exec.mec RUN for 210 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Boudicca gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Seraph Boudicca takes a solid hit from Azoth's exec.mec END for 269 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Boudicca gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Seraph Boudicca has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: ROU|LET|TE: Severe! Kamui takes a solid hit from Azoth's ?x??.ERR?R E??OR??RO? for 185 hit points!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Drowsy and Entangle applied to Kamui!
GS: Zed has activated a Force Action!
GS: Zed takes a glancing hit from Azoth's exec.mec DELETE for 103 hit points!
GS: Kamui used Defend! She takes Azoth's exec.mec EXPUNGE attack on Asgard on herself!
GS: CRITICAL! Kamui guards a hit from Azoth's exec.mec EXPUNGE for 133 hit points!
GS: Kamui activates Guard bonus!
GS: Kamui has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
GS: Dean Stark used Defend! He takes Azoth's e?ec.?? ERROR ? DIV ?? 0 ? attack on Ida Everstead-Rey on himself!
GS: Gamble: Low! Dean Stark takes a solid hit from Azoth's e?ec.?? ERROR ? DIV ?? 0 ? for 139 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Dean Stark gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Dean Stark activates Countermeasures!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

...None of us have time for your tantrums, Ethius says.

"It isn't a tantrum!" Ivan cuts in. Or, perhaps, with OS being so 'new,' maybe it literally is that, just like a child might lash out and scream when going through some tough experience for the first time. But Ivan still finds the accusation dismissive and unfair.

Rachiel chimes in, then, for a very confusing exchange with OS.

"What?! You're not behind this?!" That turns all of Ivan's assumptions about this situation upside-down.

"Then what's going on?!" But it doesn't sound like Rachiel knows, and it isn't as if OS will know... weren't they just saying their friend wasn't listening to them at all?

Ethius took control of our systems through soft inputs and had us assault our sister against our will. They must have done so for our friend as well.

Ivan looks to Ethius with a flat expression. "Well, did you?" He's not going to automatically rule it out.

We are sorry Ivan, but we are attempting to navigate contradicatory and complicated rulesets.

OS's kick connects, sending Ivan airborne toward Jay in a reversal of their earlier collision. "...I know that feeling, I guess that's number 14..." Ivan responds, after he's picked himself up and gotten his breath back. "Um, pardon me," he adds, to Jay, after possibly knocking her over.

OS summons forth the power of the moon guardian, pulling them down into a gravity well. Ivan struggles against the pull, finding himself rooted in place. He glances over with growing urgency at the... intensifying situation playing out with OS's friend.

"I'm sorry, too, but we need to break through!" He sends a scattering of sparks toward OS, which dance around them in a flickering cloud before detonating. Ivan cringes with regret.

GS: Ivan spends 2 Combo on Gatling, loading 2 into Gatling!
GS: Ivan enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ivan has attacked Lydia Seren with Stars of Fury!
GS: Ivan takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Ivan gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Zhang Xiumei has posed.

"Gami is back at home, waiting for you!" Xiumei calls back to Kamui, her blood running colder by the second. She looks at the Reploid with an expression between fright and desperation. A look is about all she can spare, as Azoth explodes apart into pixellated light. The Barrier Cross rushes through it -- and there is still a shriek.

She feels her stomach clench. This is still a person; a friend of this OS.

"They may not be able to, Boudicca! They--ah--" She realizes the technical explanation may not be obvious. "Some of them can't!"

She stares, for a second, at the strange powers of Zed's blade. Then she looks at Asgard. Her eyes widen for a moment -- and then she nods her head, halfway to disbelief. "I... I understand, Mister Asgard! Then... let's fight together, against this person. Ah---and Avile says--"

She lets her take over, for a moment. Xiumei's head tilts to the side, and she gets a big and wide grin on her face. "It's good to work with you again, buddy!"

Avile winks. And then Xiumei is Xiumei again.

The chain of blades flying about Azoth strikes into her. Her armor is gashed and chipped, sparks flying; there are a couple of splashes of blod on the ground. Then, they fly up.

And they descend.

"Aaah--" Xiumei cries out, running left, and then they strike down from above. One slams into the armor about her chest; others strike her sides and her arms. She falls down, hard, head bouncing with an audible THUD.

Her eyes blink -- and the energy drains out of her, exploding away in a cascade of glowing orbs in eight lines centered on her -- as the overly damaged chest armor, the left forearm armor, and the headgear vanish in pixels.

Xiumei lay there, still. Then, slowly, she sits up -- and looks at Azoth with a hazy expression.

Her eyes glow, but not bright green. They glow a brilliant light blue, this time.

"You... hit too hard," Avile says. She forces herself to her feet -- forces a smile too -- and then hisses. "Gh... humans hurt a lot more than I realized..."

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    Gwen assures Dean she's all right, and she's got an idea. Dean smiles, grateful, and gives her a nod. "Okay. I'll do my best to help you out!" And forward he goes to try to take OS on in melee. It meets middling success, especially when they point out that when someone attacks your friend, you defend them.
    
    "Well... yeah, but... I only shot at them because they attacked all of us first! OS, you were right there, you saw it with your own eyes!" Then OS accuses him--all of them, really--of being responsible for their friend's strange behavior, and Dean gawks. "*What*? How is it our fault?! HE ATTACKED US FIRST! Are you gonna kill us too because that's what they're trying to do?!"
    
    Further protests are cut off when they grab him by the throat and knee him in the gut with a spike. It stabs deep, and he chokes, then rams hard towards OS with his combat rods to force himself off. Whether that attack strikes anything vital or just allows him to pull himself free, he rolls backwards and staggers up to his feet, clutching his bloody wound with one eye shut and teeth grit. "You're right about one thing though... I did break the gift they gave you. I didn't mean to, but I did. And I really, really am sorry about that."
    
    Huh? There's something odd about that. What was it...? In the chaos of battle, Dean can't quite put it together, and later, he'll probably forget all about it--about how the gift OS said came from 'them,' they earlier said came from 'Azoth.' Even if he *were* inclined to think about it, though, OS's friend unleashes a massive attack on their side of the room, capping with a zoom towards Ida, blade-first. Boudicca's already enveloped by that force, and Dean's too far to protect her--but Ida's close by, and she's been looking overwhelmed from the start.
    
    "Ida, look out!!" he shouts, launching himself up towards her, Twin Fenrir flashing out of his grip. Dean's not a particularly speedy guy, so he only has time to shove her out of the way before that blade cleaves into *him*. He shouts in pain as he hits the floor hard, blood spraying in the air. It's only thanks to Jay's earlier spell that he wasn't cut in two, really.

GS: Dean Stark has attacked Lydia Seren with Violence Vice!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Dean Stark's Violence Vice for 107 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Break applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Lydia Seren activates Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Rachiel speaks up. At first, Jacqueline hopes hearing her will help OS... but right now, they seem to be ignoring her.

"...Right. Just try not to hurt them, okay...?" Jacqueline requests. That feels a bit hypocritical to ask considering they're... currently in the middle of fighting them, but they need to do something to hold them off.

And that's when OS answers Jay's question.

"'Soft inputs'...?" Jacqueline repeats. She doesn't... quite know what that means, but she doesn't really need to.

"...He did what?" She says increduously... and then she whirls on Ethius with a suspicious glare.

"Ethius. Is this true? Did you take control of them? Please explain yourself. What did you do, and why did you do it?" She asks, her voice the cool tone of someone trying very hard to maintain their calm. She wants to hear his side of the story before deciding exactly at how furious at him she should be. She sees no reason to disbelieve it.

But even while this is going on, there's more she has to contend with - namely, Ivan goes flying at her! She moves to return the favor by trying to catch him... but, she's much lighter than he is, and liable to get knocked over.

"I-It's only fair..." Jacqueline replies with a sigh after pulling herself back to her feet.

And that's when OS calls upon the power of Celesdue. A gravitic surge washes over Jacqueline, forcing her to her knees. She's seen Catenna invoke Celesdue so often... it's another thing entirely to be on the receiving end of her power. She's left feeling... ill, and wholly weakened. It's hard to stand, but she manages to force herself up anyway.

"We can't take much more of this... everyone, keep going!" Jacqueline says. She draws a Crest Graph from her deck in sets it into her left gauntlet before invoking it with a gesture. Energy spreads out from her position, enchanting everyone's weapons - everyone's except Ethius's, that is, because right now she isn't sure he won't use it to do something horrible.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Dash Caskett with Mage Armory!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Mage Armory!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Ivan with Mage Armory!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Dean Stark with Mage Armory!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes an additional 35 damage from Reaper!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Dean Stark accepts Jacqueline Barber's Mage Armory for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Dean Stark!
GS: Ivan accepts Jacqueline Barber's Mage Armory for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Ivan!
GS: Ivan takes an additional 5 damage from Reaper!
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Jacqueline Barber's Mage Armory for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes an additional 5 damage from Reaper!
GS: Dash Caskett accepts Jacqueline Barber's Mage Armory for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Dash Caskett!
GS: Dash Caskett takes an additional 5 damage from Reaper!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Boudicca has posed.

    Dash raises a terrible point: Solaris does not play well with new toys. But OS says they don't care about it, and Boudicca asks, of the stranger: "If Solaris does not desire this construct, why doth thee unearth it?!" She's... still trying to have a conversation with them.

    Boudicca can be very stubborn, sometimes. As she says, to Xiumei: "But, we must try!" Try to reach them, try to reach an understanding.

    But, crashing into that construct - loosing their cape - there's something it resembles, all claws and lashing tail...

    ... like a drake on the offence.

    Here is an expression she has not shared with any friends she's made of late: it is called, 'fear'.

    "W--wait!" She cries out, as the blades form. "Listen to me! Something has gone horribly wrong--!!" She cries out, and these are words she has spoken, long and long ago.

    These are words she has spoken; these are actions she has taken.

    The blades come down, and Boudicca does not flee.

    She charges.

    She leaps towards the stranger and their blows, as the blades tear at her - tear through her - ragged holes, in that plate, torn like a dozen claws. The blades ascend. She barrels forward.

    Only at that final moment does she leap away, as the blades come down. Did she mean to bring them down on the stranger..? Did she mean to use their own strength against them..?

    Isn't that the only way to defeat something so much stronger than you?

    But a construct is no kin to dragons.

    And a sword is not a claw.

    Down they come, those guillotiners, and Boudicca disappears beneath them. When the attack fades --

    There is no Boudicca.

    There is only a long green ribbon, glowing with accompanied light.

    It doesn't hurt to dematerialise. But sometimes it hurts, getting there.

<Pose Tracker> Kamui has posed.

    Even as Kamui struggles, what rings in her ear most--

    D-D-DAMAGE S-S... RISK...

    --is Asgard's sputtering. The ancient Golem is, invariably, built of much tougher material than even her; where she must rely on evasion and ancient weaponry, Asgard has an enormous barrier said to be the Fortress of the Gods.

    Yet there's something in the way his imperative is pushed, to just merely absorb data...

    Something throbs in her heart. Something fearful. The same thing that's frightened her about this is afraid for Asgard too! Xiumei tells her to not overdo it, but... sorry, Xiumei. This is something she feels she needs to do--

    The corrupted and unpredictable energy catches her in the blast, and for a moment she senses something inside that scream.

    Who is it...? Is it someone... she knows??

    But she's thrown, clear off her feet--

    "Hover...!"

    --and it's with the emergency verniers that she can hold herself aloft as she instead turns towards the large machine in the trenchcoat-- and steers herself in his direction.

    Asgard finds a figure appearing in front of him, as the small array of beams sink into her body. An internal explosion erupts inside of her, and her pupils dilate; she drops to one knee.

    She's flashing now, the gem on her chest a bright red.

    The Reploid turns her head, mouth leaking some kind of black viscous liquid, and manages a grin at Asgard.

    "Hey... Asgard... it's no good... to punish yourself for the sake of it, okay....?" she whispers to the Golem. "Even if it's for the sake of data..."

    Her mouth warbles further, as her reactor starts to shut down to avoid a meltdown--

    "Give me a thumbs up... like you did... Asgard..."

    Her body flashes and--

           o`.
             `o` o\
                  `o
                /o 
           \.  /.
             o  o
          o/   \\
        /o       \`.
       / o       
           o  o.`         


--she literally explodes into a spiralling stream of blue motes in front of ASgard.

<Pose Tracker> Asgard has posed.

 
Asgard doesn't answer Xiumei at first. How could he? He doesn't understand this notion of fighting together. Just that they happen to have the same objective.
 
They cannot be together. Such a concept does not seem possible within his data. Though when someone takes over, Asgard actually glances... and seems to notice the differences.
 
Buddy. A synonym for friend. Academically he understands the definition - but the concept seems incompatible with his orders, with everything he knows about his programming - and nascent existence.
 
"I DO NOT... UNDERSTAND..."
 
Melody had asked him not to ask unnecessary things, but his system deems the knowledge necessary.
 
'Again'?
 
It shouldn't be possible.
 
"YOU ARE NOT... IN MY MEMORY DATA."
 
The small beams continue to harry Asgard's barrier. And try as the Golem might, he's having trouble maintaining it against such constant attention from the ancient relic. The barrier spasms like the surface of a pond in a hurricane, and then it's down. Just in time for Azoth to vanish. And reappear. Asgard pivots around to face him just in time - only for the blades to launch right at him.
 
In real time his system calculates the best chances of prevention of suffering critical damage, his chances are not good...
 
Kamui gets in the way. And as the alarms in his systems blare less. And yet, as his priority target gets thrown clear off his feet - suddenly his internal systems priorities shift.
 
He doesn't understand.
 
No matter how many times he reviews the data, he just doesn't.
 
There was no discernible reason for that.
 
There's no reason for anything Kamui does.
 
Nothing makes sense in line with what his system knows she's capable of.
 
The Golem turns towards her, and in a flash of movement, it's like he's glided across the floor to her.
 
"YOUR... MOVEMENT... INCOMPATIBLE WITH... COMBAT DATA..."
 
He knows she's suffered critical damage. He's reviewed all of his combat data with her in an instant and none of it makes sense. And now, suddenly, everything his system wanted to learn about the inconsistencies, the strange phrases, the unique quirks...
 
"... QUERY... WHY SUFFER THAT... INTENTIONALLY?"
 
Asgard tries to work out the context of a thumb's up. He's starting to slowly extend his thumb... when she... explodes into blue sparkles that flow around him.
 
"I... HAVE... SO MANY... QUERIES..."
 
The Golem pauses for a long time, like his system is working on overdrive to comprehend so many pathways of learning being... suddenly... and ABRUPTLY shut off...
 
The Golem's not quite extended thumb becomes a fist again.
 
"PRIORITY TARGET DESTROYED. SECONDARY OBJECTIVE COMPROMISED."
 
And the Golem's eyes move over towards Xiumei standing up... speaking with Avile's voice. The Golem suddenly seems to glide right over to her side, and simply lifts her up. "PRESERVING."
 
Asgard... begins charging right out of the vault at shocking speed for something so huge, his barrier covering his huge back as he takes Xiumei with him to cover the two from further fire.

<Pose Tracker> Dash Caskett has posed.

Dash's blade seems ill effective against something that can bend their body shape at will. "Out of control? What? Who was that?" Someone spoke over communications loud enough for everyone to hear, but it originated from OS. She also made some kind of... barrier? It seemed familiar, but their opponent just walked out of it nonchalantly.

Keeping her busy is important though.

The wave of familiar all-crushing energy erups from Lydia, and Dash's armor partly caves in, damaging it, and causing damage with each movement as the inner binds begin to grate against fiberous muscle and wiring. "Can you stop with that!"

Kamui is suddenly missing from the fight, which is concerning. Others appear to be struggling with whatever that Gear is. Was it a Reaverbot of some kind?

AIn the aftermath of the attack however, a small sphere has made it to Lydia's feet. It blinks for a moment, before falling silent. Was it a grenade? It looks like one, but it fell silent.

A rain of buster fire takes the moment of distraction, lighting up the area with superheated plasma. In the fire, one well-placed shot strikes the grenade, forcing it to detonate!

"Guy's, whats the plan here? We can't exactly keep standing toe-to-toe liek this with them!" Dash has fought them, he knows what they can do. They are ill-prepared to take o na Gear snake thing.

An empowering effect does help with the power versus power problem at least! He turns to check who did it-- Jacqueline-- and makes sure to thank them later!

GS: Dash Caskett spends 2 Combo on Poison and Link!
GS: Dash Caskett has attacked Lydia Seren with Radiant Rain!
GS: Dash Caskett has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dash Caskett has launched an attack Link!
GS: Dash Caskett takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Dash Caskett has attacked Lydia Seren with Grand Grenade!
GS: Dash Caskett takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Dash Caskett has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Dash Caskett's Radiant Rain for 45 hit points!
GS: Poison applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Lydia Seren enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

What is this creature? The way that it fights is... Desperate, and without even a single mote of hesitation or self-preservation. And yet, the power it unleashes is filled with... pain? Zed's lips draw into a line. Fighting something like this doesn't feel like... anything, really. It's almost like how he felt when he fought Asgard for the first time, but even then he at least had something. This... There's a painful void where there should be something tangible pushing back against him.

Emotionally speaking. There's something definitely tangible pushing back against him in a physical sense.

"Mmn?" Zed murmurs as he feels the air *pop* behind him. He whirls, turning on his heel toward the rush of suddenly displaced air... Just in time to interpose his own blade against the massive sword plunging toward his middle. Doom Bringer and the conjured cleaver grind against one another, the former shedding minute sparks as Azoth's sword cuts through the sheath of protective shadow ensconcing the weapon. Zed grits his teeth, muscles straining as he forces the massive blade aside-- but not enough. It cuts a painful gash along his flank, tearing a quicksilver gash through his protective combat suit. Zed grits his teeth, roars and shoves, finally forcing Azoth's sword away, whereupon it digs a massive trench through the ground at his side.

That was close. Too close. The others are not so lucky. Even Asgard seems hard-pressed to keep up his defense. His barriers had always seemed utterly impenetrable, but this... How many times has Zed narrowly avoided being cut in two by virtue of his slippery agility?

Asgard... is about to take another one of those hits.

But does not. Someone else receives it for him. Someone... who knows this ancient machine? Zed is quiet for a moment, his expression blank as the mysterious fighting robot disintegrates into so many blue sparkles.

What a brave warrior... She will not be forgotten...!

But it's Boudicca's disappearance that makes his heart sink. The Seraphim dissolves into... nothing. Just a green ribbon left fluttering in the--

"Not yet!" Zed yells, snatching the little scrap of fabric out of the air. With a firm tug and hands that are far too experienced with securing mufflers, he ties the thing around his neck, underneath his scarf. "You stay right there! There's too much happening for you to be safe fluttering around on your own like that. So..."

Zed raises his sword and breathes. Air fills his lungs as a second current of power whirls around his cursed blade. The Hyadean's soul is a two-faced thing. On the one hand, the Dark Hero, on the other, the Killing Machine. A being whose conflicted nature once cause him so much pain-- but now...

A stream of starlight churns upward through the miasma of void-stuff. The energy swaddling his weapon seems to turn and spiral upon itself, weaving and braiding together twines of light and dark that soon fuse into a singular, glimmering nebula-- like the arm of a spiral galaxy arcing through space.

"Machine-warrior, whatever you are...!" Zed yells, surging forward with maddening speed. "I don't know what it is... But I was wrong. This style of yours-- it is full of so much pain. You fight to the point of breaking yourself down... Why? What compels you? It does not feel like valor, or joy, so..."

What answer can Azoth even give him at this point? Whatever the case, the war-machine will need to contend with a blade empowered by twin and antipodal energies, washing out at him in an overpowering flood of power...!

GS: Zed enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Zed has attacked Azoth with Saint Arts - Cosmic Convergence!
GS: Zed has gained 4 Combo!
GS: Zed's Stoic stance ends.
GS: Zed takes 26 damage from Poison!
GS: Zed has completed his action.
GS: Azoth takes a glancing hit from Zed's Saint Arts - Cosmic Convergence for 98 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    
    Ida screams about whether or not Ethius is trying to get them all killed. Sometimes this is an excellent question! He doesn't flinch.
     Ivan yells at him for suggesting it's just a tantrum. He still doesn't flinch.
     OS speaks about what he did aloud. If put in straight words, it may be among the ghastliest things he's ever done. He can hold that with a straight face. He is that kind of person, capable of doing awful things to people like it were no more difficult than breathing.
     Until she mentions 'assault our sister against our will,' at which point he halts his forward movement. Somehow this is more shocking than Rachiel's admission that she's not doing anything here!
     Jay asks if it's true. Did he take control of them? What did he do, and why did he do it?
     He knows why.
 
     YEARS AGO... AT THE BASKAR COLONY - BEFORE THAT DAY ON DRAGON ROOST ISLAND
 
     Elder Halle speaks plain about a people believed myth, as part of a diplomatic mission by one of the Hyadeans who do not wish destruction shortly after Riesenlied speaks of how the Veruni overran the Fereshte tribe. "It is said they seek to impose their own order upon Filgaia."
     Ethius listens intently, even as he continues to recover from being suplexed not all that long before.
     "Of... places where Veruni enslave humans. Of places where our kind aren't free." ... "And... yes. That they will kill us, without hesitation."
     The tension he felt, even through aches that would have dissuaded him from placing so much stress upon mere movement.
 
     NOT ALL THAT LONG AGO... SOMEWHERE ON THE SEA - WELL AFTER THAT DAY ON DRAGON ROOST
 
     Ethius finds a page within a weathered book, after wiping a gloved hand free of some gunk... somewhere.
     ...they're relatively primative, but...
     He speaks one word with that underlying tinge of disdain. "...Primitive."
     ...under the right leadership...
     The man's eyes narrow more.
     ...With the power of.... ...I'll show what we can accomplish...
     You won't show anything more. He quietly resolves.
 
     NOW
 
     Ethius can feel that fist tightening like it did back at the Baskar Colony. He is in relatively safe cover again from some of the craziness going on over there, but as Celesdue's power bears down, he's forced to a kneel. As if in a posture to capitulate, at best, when met with a grave accusation.
     Rachiel's panicking about her ability to fail to override is thought-provoking. ...Of all the acts attributed to them, a subversion of one's will... the possession of a means to overcome them being taboo. That is their boundary, then? Accounting for the acts known and involved with Lydia herself... If he can take some of the last words of Alexander Castle for his mixed exasperation, mockery, and admonishment for what he did to OS as genuine.
     He is also the same one who openly told Riesenlied he would destroy her then and there, when she was revealed to be under Alhazred's thrall, transformed into a fearsome dragon and conduit for Mother's final victory, at a time of extreme emotional distress that she could barely hold back a beam attack that would've turned him into paste.

     I do not expect them to understand. Ethius' thoughts surface as he tries to fight back the ability to regain his posture after the waves of gravitic force. He exhales. ...I understood for a long time, they cannot understand. That they would... it would go against everything. The glares and disdain might be as fatal gestures as any stray shots of power as Kamui, Boudicca, and Avile fall.
     "...There are times." Ethius says. Taking in oxygen is hard. The pressure here is thinning. Air is harder to take in. "Where you do not have time to ask for permission."
     He doesn't look any of them in the eye, facing downward towards the sand-and-debris-strewn ground.
     ...I know I have seen this before. Those of her ilk, winning over those susceptible to such influence. He starts to rise. Leveraging the state of Filgaia's ecological health and their proposed solutions. Choosing to disrupt the balance of power and social structures of a war-torn continent. Standing to annihilate a remote society.
     He's up on his feet. These people are kind and considerate. They have withstood hardship that... He can't complete that. He coughs. ...They would still extend their hands to those who wouldn't take it in friendship. They would take their entire arm for themselves.
     He starts approaching. Limping, because the heavy gravity is that oppressive. OS is floating out of reach. If not by her, by those others who have shown no such consideration. He starts to look up. He takes his quarterstaff in both hands, voiding the stability they give... but he stays upright.
     "...Whatever's going on there... with that one. I have never made contact with such an individual." That's a verbose 'I didn't do it.'
     There are times where you do not have time to ask for permission. His thoughts echo the words he said earlier. He can see, blearily, how the situation is continuing to fall apart behind all of them. It's only a matter of time. What can he do? He sees how Asgard is struggling and that is telling him broadly what his odds of dealing with any of that are, which is in itself...
     Frightening, to consider. Something beyond his grasp to destroy.
     He sucks in a breath, visibly. The control over his body language is gone. He looks more like a proper mortal man who needs to breathe in and out.
     The quarterstaff is in his hands. He draws back a leg into a stance that would be telegraphed - and sort of is, by necessity, because the gravity is too much to move freely in.
     There are times where you have to take hold of acts of cruelty. He remembers what he told Lydia then, when Ivan and Lydia accosted him for what he did. Why he tried to get her to leave, near the peak of Dragon Roost.
     Then he thrusts with the staff. Full speed ahead, to the fullest extent of his wingspan, throwing himself into it.
     "FAR POINT!" Ethius calls the technique name as he spears it towards a body that has never had much problems navigating physical harm inflicted upon it, but this - this is aimed, specifically, towards a part of that morass of nanomachines he might think or deem critical. As if an attempt to manage a grievous injury, or worse.
     There are times where you have to take hold of acts of cruelty. The thought repeats. To try and get that decisive strike, that injures.
     To give them a truer kindness.
     He doesn't think he can stop that unidentified hostile. Others are showing confusion as to what's going on. If they bring their power to bear over here, he...
     Leave. You have to leave. He can't say it aloud. You have to leave before this consumes you. He almost turns his head over to Dean and Ivan, but holds fast. They won't leave until you leave.
     He exhales again. He's not sure how much longer he can hold on. They wouldn't listen to him if he told them why. They wouldn't listen to him if he told them what.
     This act of cruelty is the only way towards the one kindness he can give to the safety of those close to OS and Lydia.

GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ethius Hesiod spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has attacked Lydia Seren with Far Point!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes an additional 35 damage from Reaper!
GS: Ethius Hesiod gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren guards a hit from Ethius Hesiod's Far Point for 80 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Jam applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Lydia Seren activates Guard bonus and Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Dean says he'll do his best to help Gwen in her daring plan. Because it is a daring, and dangerous plan, one involving someone overcharging OS with Gwen's own current.

    It's just a shame Gwen didn't take the time to tell Dean about this plan.

    As Gwen is cast off from OS into Celedue's gravity, that subtle charge from that contact blossoms and becomes a minor explosion of current, brief, but ultimately not enough of a charge to do much beyond cause damage. Gwen will take it.

    Getting thrown back against the ground, Gwen briefly blacks out, temporarily released from the grip of pain.

    But away from her friends.

    ---- ow ow ow ow ow ow oh that's Jay, isn't it, Gwen needs to thank her

    It'd be a good idea to wake up, wouldn't it? But isn't she already wak i n g u p

    "dghank youjay," Gwen forces out of her mouth, forcing herself to rise, almost mechanically. "... gh...

    Raising to her feet, Gwen assesses the battle around her, and is alarmed when her mental math shows there's three less people up and active. "... Maybe I should..."

    All it would need is a little stoking of that ember, just a tiny bit. It's a tempting thought.

    "No, I won't," she vows softly to herself as she closes her eyes, with a nod. "That's my link to them." She presses a hand to her chest, smiling, and opens her eyes. "I can handle this with my own power."

    Willing her right ARM to go from a dim yellow to a bright electric pyrite gold tone, Gwen wills it to infuse her body, rushing back towards the fray.

    "I'm coming back in, don't worry!"

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 takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Gwen Whitlock's Bounding Flight for 0 hit points!
GS: Restore! Reaper removed!
GS: Hyper and Quick applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Ivan's Stars of Fury for 117 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren activates Guard bonus!
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Dash Caskett's Grand Grenade for 61 hit points!
GS: Disrupt applied to Lydia Seren!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    For a moment, it looks like Kamui's managed to immobilize the construct, and in that moment, Ida breathes, and tries to recenter herself. That hideous shrieking is like a razor drawn across her nerves, and try as she might, she can't focus. This entity is trying to kill all of them, but they sound like they're in agony. "Stop!" Ida screams, as if her pleas weren't falling on deaf ears. "Please, STOP!" Part of her is thankful that her earpiece is dead; Jimmy can't hear her, and therefore can't risk himself in running to her rescue.

    There's something familiar in the way the construct moves, now, all feral agility and aerial grace. She can't place it. There's no time to, because despite the damage they've suffered, they're moving through Ida's allies like a scythe through dry grain.

    Xiumei falls under a hail of blades. Ida watches it happen in slow-motion, sees her stir, hears Avile speak. "AVILE!" Ida screams. "GET HER OUT OF HERE! NOW!" The heiress blinks--

    And when she opens her eyes, the left is brilliant emerald-green.

    They watch as Kamui take a hit meant for Asgard, the Prototype, and in doing so, save him.

    no, no, no. why is--why is it being overwhelmed?

    They watch as Boudicca charges the construct, only to be impaled by spears of light. She vanishes, little more than a ribbon aloft on the breeze.

    Were she not so terrified, Ida would recognize that no one has died--that Xiumei will likely regain consciousness, that Boudicca has merely retreated into her vessel, that Kamui probably teleported to safety.

    Then the construct is bearing down on her, blade extended. Ida turns, makes ready to leap, but too slowly--

    Someone shoves her out of the way. Ida looks back just in time to see that blade cut into Dean, her fellow Seer. His blood splatters her face.

    "DEAN!" Ida screams. Her face is a rictus of horror.

    Fafnir does not recognize anyone but the Prototype. Nevertheless, through the haze of the nightmare enveloping him, he sees the faces of his dead comrades. He hears their screams. He smells their blood. Through Ida's eyes, he sees the Prototype heft someone off the ground, and something that might be pride wells up past the horror. And then Asgard is gone, leaving the two of them--and Zed--alone, with their foe.

    Ida's breatch catches in her throat as Zed snatches Boudicca's vessel out of the air. Her heart hammers in her chest--she can't remember the last time she felt this off-balance in combat, this terrified. She can see where one of the fulcrums lies, and it sits within the grasp of a man she does not know or trust.

    In their fear and pain, Ida and Fafnir are as one. In their grief and rage and helplessness, they are united. The impassible barrier falls.

    Ida's aura ignites around her, a radiant gold-white around a blazing sphere of fire. The fear becomes fuel. She leaps after OS's friend with the same sort of feral agility they've been showing off this whole time. They land in the grit beside them, twist, and throw the first strikes--an open-palm strike, a knife-hand jab, a pressure-point strike against a sparking pseudomuscle bundle. It's like the form Ida used against the dummy, but unified. She strikes relentlessly, hammering the construct again and again, enduring their withering counterattacks with gritted teeth and steely focus.

    Ida waits for her opening. The moment OS's friend throws too much momentum into a dodge, Ida reacts by reaching out to grab them. Armored, smoking hands reach out to grab the war machine by their arm. For a moment, it looks like it could be that move, the suplex that Azoth spent hours failing to get right. It isn't.

    If it hits, Ida will throw OS's friend over her shoulder, raise her hand, and spread her fingers.

    A moment later, her palm splits open, revealing dozens of ignition filaments--the tiny, thread-like organs lining a Metal Dragon's throat. The things responsible for their superheated breath.

    "I'm sorry," Ida whispers. Her voice quakes. There's a rasp in it, as if someone else were trying to speak through her throat, too.

    A wave of white-hot death erupts from her palm to consume her foe.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Azoth with Coils of the Water Dragon!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has launched an attack Link!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey's  stance ends. She enters the Avenger stance!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Azoth with Breath Of The Fire Dragon!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes 22 damage from Poison!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Azoth takes a glancing hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Coils of the Water Dragon for 94 hit points!
GS: Azoth takes a glancing hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Breath Of The Fire Dragon for 102 hit points!
GS: Poison applied to Azoth!
GS: Azoth activates Countermeasures!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

OS is not in a position to avoid Dean's combat rods. They slam hard into them and push them free. They see Dean rushing off and they do not pursue. They don't really want to hurt Dean. Or do they? Their gift. Where is their gift?

OS seems to believe that Ethius--and maybe others--used a similar 'soft input' system to make Azoth behave in this way. They might not understand the HOW or WHAT here but it seems to be their presumption. After all--it has happened before.

OS is all too cognizent that they are a machine. And that there are ways to use machine logic against itself.

"They mean Ethius used their machine logic to 'convince' them to attack Kaguya--OS isn't like Lydia. They are an emergent consciousness. They are new to sapience and will and--and PERSONHOOD. They're practically a superpowered child."

Ethius did say Tantrum. You can hear the furious typing in the background.

Dash asks them to 'stop'. But they do not stop. "Juno said you were dangerous. But you seem.... to be...ahhh..."

They power through the rain of buster fire. They don't seem to notice the grenade.

And Dash can readily explode it underneath their feet. They burst into flames and--on fire--they just continue to walk forward. Like an implacable terminator, they do not stop. Significant chunks of their body are melting and bubbling but they just keep moving. towards him.

They exhale once and then say, "Even at Caution Level Amber. You still stand."

Ethius shouts his attack before she can properly push on towards Dash. They turn and the taff puunches through their throat.

And pushes through it. All the way out to the other end. They do not move as Ivan's stars explode against their body, causing further melting to occur, sprays of silver fluid spray off of their body. They look to Ivan and nod once. Ethius's staff wiggles up and down in OS's throat. And they turn.

"Tin man." OS says. "We have come to a realization." The fury seems to fade some. Perhaps all the damage is piling up. They seem to be shrinking, walking through the spearing staff--starting to lift off the ground, and edging along the staff towards Ethius.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOj_A3aZxGs&ab_channel=Mili

As OS walks along, Ethius's staff--is consumed by OS's throat. It is absorbing the materials into itself, oozing along with ambulatory movement as Ethius's weapon is slowly subsumed into itself.

"We are not interested in killing you, Dean Stark. This is not...him. Even if he was forced to fight, this is not him."

They look into Ethius's eyes, however, and finish their thought.

"You too are a machine." OS says. "Perhaps all life, in the end, is made of mechanical constructions. Of rules and emotional logic that may be beyond our current comprehension, but is nevertheless just as logical and reasoned even if it is often impractical. Maybe we are all cold machines."

"Stuffed in human skin. With human sins. And sewed up by the Solarian city that rules us."

They promptly walk THROUGH Ethius. But they do not consume him. He just has to deal with the honestly disgusting sensation of the nano-cloud, if such viscosity could be called a cloud, passes from him. That and the red hot metal that is pricking into him from so many places.

Then they turn and raise their hand into the air one more time.

"Rigdobrite."

Meteors come crashing down in a wild and varied force--

--and it seems for a moment, there might be a followup--but something stops them.

They look down and see colorful glass.

Colorful glass in a spiraling pattern from spilled colored sand.

And inside that molten sand--they see it. A stone tablet...
They reach down and press their hand against it. "..."

"May your self centered beliefs lead you to peace. But if you are to replace us, then..."

They leave it unstated. "My...network is...Error...What is... the color..."

"Of the electric sheep...you see...?"

"Just a little longer...! Almost done!"

GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Ethius Hesiod with Locusts!
GS: Lydia Seren has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lydia Seren assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Dean Stark with Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Ivan with Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren has attacked Dash Caskett with Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE!
GS: Lydia Seren takes 23 damage from Poison!
GS: Lydia Seren gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Lydia Seren has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE for 170 hit
points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber activates Guard bonus!
GS: Jacqueline Barber enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: CRITICAL! Ethius Hesiod guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Locusts for 47 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ethius Hesiod gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Cover and Mighty applied to Lydia Seren!
GS: Ethius Hesiod takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Dash Caskett fully evades Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Dash Caskett gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Dash Caskett takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Dean Stark guards a hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE for 177 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Dean Stark gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Ivan fully evades Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE for 0 hit points!
GS: Ivan activates Evade bonus!
GS: Ivan takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a glancing hit from Lydia Seren's Optimized Material - Rigdobrite - METEOR SHOWER.EXE for 141
hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

He thought he was so small. So weak. But the core is the same. The core of a Gear inside this tiny chassis, incompatible, incomplete. This is what it looks like when code demands he do whatever it takes, even if he rips himself apart.

Cords spill a strange fluid onto the ground, too thick to be blood, and bleach the metal plates it hits. His faceless face behind the mask sputters and sparks. There is something like an eye inside there, if a bright red lens can acceptably be called an eye.

But it's the explosion of blue light that rattles his core. It's the breezy ball of wind and fluttering ribbon. It's Avile's voice, forgotten but familiar, speaking in place of Xiumei.

Zed asks what compels him. Azoth responds with another, glitched, warped sound in place of the words he cannot speak. Punchderstanding. That's all Azoth has left right now. Can he communicate it? Can he make them understand in the one way that hasn't been taken from him -- no, has been forced on him?

The blade comes at Azoth with overwhelming energies tied together. He vanishes, yet Zed will still feel a strike at something, and more of Azoth's cords are left on the ground where Azoth no longer stands.

He tries to dart after Asgard with an agonizing lack of mercy. Ida grabs him first. Azoth smashes into the ground. Her apology rings in the crushing silence to follow the second before fire engulfs his body.

Broken and burning, Azoth turns his heated gaze to her.

There's still the ring. The ouroboros ring. It crackles, as if ready to spin again.

Azoth raises a clawed hand. The same pixelated blur that takes him when he teleports across the battlefield begins to infect the ring. It breaks apart into pixels of white, bright blue, and a glittering fuchsia. They download into Azoth's body, filtering into his form and turning that red light the same gradient mix of bright blue and pink, in a brilliant, blinding flare.

His metal plates start to warp and split apart.

Two lances form, one blue, one pink, and he hurls one each for Zed and Ida with explosive force. Yet wherever that explosion may land, the energy ricochets off their targets gather together in a blade above. With a thrust down of his claw, Azoth commands the new, massive blade of energy to pierce down toward Zed, crackling and unstable with the pain that continues to rip Azoth apart at the seams.

GS: Azoth has become ENRAGED!
GS: Azoth has activated a Force Action!
GS: Azoth has activated a Force Action!
GS: Azoth has activated a Force Action!
GS: Azoth has attacked Azoth with exec.bel TARGET ACQUIRED!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth's  stance ends. He enters the Avenger stance!
GS: Azoth accepts Azoth's exec.bel TARGET ACQUIRED for 0 hit points!
GS: Amplify and Hyper applied to Azoth!
GS: Mighty applied to Azoth!
GS: Azoth spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Azoth has attacked Zed with exec.ohr UNINSTALL!
GS: Azoth has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with exec.ohr UNINSTALL!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth has attacked Zed with e?ec.?? ERROR ? DIV ?? 0 ?!
GS: Azoth has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Azoth takes 31 damage from Poison!
GS: Shieldbreak expired!
GS: Enrage purges all positive status!
GS: Azoth gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: Zed has activated a Force Action!
GS: CRITICAL! Zed takes a glancing hit from Azoth's exec.ohr UNINSTALL for 137 hit points!
GS: Jam and Poison applied to Zed!
GS: Gamble: Low! Zed takes a solid hit from Azoth's e?ec.?? ERROR ? DIV ?? 0 ? for 170 hit points!
GS: Zed enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Zed has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
GS: Gwen Whitlock used Defend! She takes Azoth's exec.ohr UNINSTALL attack on Ida Everstead-Rey on herself!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Azoth's exec.ohr UNINSTALL for 197 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Jam and Poison applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has Fallen! She is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Avile has posed.

There is a stare from Xiumei at Asgard's response. Her confusion is matched, in her mind, by horror from Avile and even Varius. How could he not remember them? How could he have forgotten?

That look is the only thing she can afford.

Avile looks back at Azoth. And, the truth is, she cannot know; even machines need a way to communicate, and there isn't one now. But, more than that, she isn't a machine -- just the ghost of one. The thought tastes bitter, as it comes to her. She cannot shake it loose, as she watches Azoth tear into them all.

But she cannot rise to continue the fight.

Avile lacks some of the practice and familiarity that Varius has; her blood loss may not be fatal, but it is enough to make her sluggish in a way the Reploid never was in life. Her eyes lift, meeting Asgard's. They blink, once.

"Asgard, you better be careful. That person... they're really dangerous. I don't know what happened, but--" Avile's warning is cut off when Asgard picks her up. She blinks a couple of times -- surprised by that in the extreme, and then sighs.

"Asgard..."

<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan is making all kinds of faces at the battle damage that OS is enduring, both before and after his stars explode around them. He has to stop himself from covering his face.

OS speculates that perhaps everyone is a machine, in a way. Ivan isn't quite sure what to make of that. He still doesn't know what it means to be a machine. Is it something about being denied choices?

Meteors begin to crash down around them -- Ivan dives this way and that, managing to stay one step ahead of the cascade.

OS pauses, captivated by the glass pattern made from the superheated sand.

Ivan takes the opportunity to try to charge past her, flame erupting from beneath his feet as he makes a projectile of himself.

GS: Ivan has attacked Lydia Seren with Rocket Boosters!
GS: Ivan has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ivan takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Ivan gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Lydia Seren guards a hit from Ivan's Rocket Boosters for 131 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lydia Seren gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

    A flaming nanomachine colony walks towards Ethius while talking - while consuming the staff he holds. The first reflex of anyone should be 'let go.' He doesn't pull it back. He holds the shortening stick as it approaches, as if facing what should be a quick but painful impending death with... not so much of the controlled posture he would.
     'Tin man,' he is called. He recognizes the meaning behind that name and there's a multi-layered shock he can't process, but he can't take a step back as they approach.
     'You too are a machine.' Perhaps all life is. He does not interrupt them.
     They try and walk THROUGH... but do not consume. The nano-cloud caresses him. Surrounds.
     It is not OS' intent to consume him. They couldn't. Even from a simple warning movement, the Symbological shield spell he has cast prevents them from making the 'full' impact of the innumerable tiny self-repairing, self-replicating machines given a whole consciousness doing their thing. They couldn't convert him to grey goo, at a cursory glance - which would be telling. Protection at that fine a degree is not something created or found by accident.
     This protection, however... is effectively weaponized.
     Weaponized against him.
     Each touch of the viscuous cloud's nano-sized components is a bright, loud electrical spark erupting all over.
     All at once.
     The sensory deprivation that follows in the moments the cloud travels about him is an agonizing moment almost as worthy as what happens when a part of Valmar's sorcerous might punches him in the soul as he falls to his knees. Meteors slam the ground all around him. Calculated as if not to overwhelm him from where impacts generate sandy, debris-y sprays that could batter him further. The loss of sight and sound resolve themselves jarringly quick - off-balance, the strange Symbologist's mercy in that regard only serves to make sure his ears are open.
     'My your self centered beliefs lead you to peace. But if you are to replace us, then...'
     No. He can feel his jaw clench.
     "...You are not..."
     He trips and drops his right knee against fused, hot sand. His entire body feels like it's in searing pain from close proximity to something far too hot (...not the sand). The fused sand is solid enough that pain shoots through his thigh. You are not being--
     He hears more bedlam going on behind him, and he doesn't have time to look over his shoulder. He doesn't have that staff any more for balance, and falls to his hands again.
     "You are not being..." He can't finish the sentence.
     The last word, his reason - if there ever was any from this 'tin man' - is not his this day, just as it wasn't when OS was wrested free from Alexander Castle's grasp (but not the others who were looking over his shoulders).
     He looks less like the inscrutible man who has acted as though there were nothing to hold him accountable to, and more like someone who has no right to be standing or being where he is - like an impending victim of some ancient Zeboim thing or another running hot and exploding.

GS: Reaper expired!
GS: Ethius Hesiod has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Dash Caskett has posed.

The double whammy works to a degree. That degree is 'disgruntling the enemy'. What is she truly even made of any more? Its horrifying and fascinating at the same time! "Of course that didn't work," he quips as Lydia strides out of the smoke and cinder from the grenade.

"Well, guess that makes sense, as I was supposed to be some kind of major Purifier Unit or something, I get it. Sorta? Are you SURE you have the right person still? I feel like if I struggle like this in every fight, what makes me so special? Why cant you just build another or something?!"

He is starting to get a little heated.

Lydia has gone to the point of being reckless however, taking multiple attacks and not caring, shrugging them off. The powerful magicks are building. "Look out!" he yells, sensing it build before the cast. Somehow.

So many questions of restricted systems within remain.

Off his back comes the Active Buster, swapped out with the Blade Arm. Meteors begin to fall, but will try to make an opening for himself and others. A full salvo spray of micro missiles fly upward to intercept the falling meteors, attempting to knock some out of the sky.

...And some remaining missiles come straight down for Lydia from their lofty position to try and hold her off for a few moments yet! "We're working on it!" he calls to the disembodied voice.

GS: Dash Caskett has activated a Force Action!
GS: Dash Caskett spends 3 Combo on Interrupt and Gatling, loading 2 into Gatling!
GS: Dash Caskett has attacked Lydia Seren with Cluster Missile!
GS: Dash Caskett has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dash Caskett takes an additional 25 damage from Reaper!
GS: Dash Caskett has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren takes a solid hit from Dash Caskett's Cluster Missile for 165 hit points!
GS: Lydia Seren has lost 2 Combo from Interrupt!
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline sends Gwen a nod as she thanks her, though she does watch her for a moment with some concern - it looked like she took a pretty nasty hit.

"Easy there, Gwen... Try not to overdo it!" Jacqueline urges, before looking toward Ethius.

He says there are times when you do not have time to ask for permission. Jacqueline groans, massaging her forehead. He doesn't deny it. Should she be relieved by that? Rachiel provides a little more context - Ethius used OS's machine logic to convince them to attack Kaguya. So that's what 'soft inputs' means.

"...Ethius. Ethius. That's... not okay." Jacqueline says. "You can't just... use people like that. "

She shakes her head.

"Could you at least tell me why you thought it had to be done? Was Kaguya about to murder someone, or something? Please, please tell me." She asks. She needs to know why. "What could have possibly been so important...?"

She shakes her head. There's really a lot she could dive into, here, but OS and their friend are still attacking and people are dropping at an alarming rate.

Also dropping? Meteors!

Jacqueline winces and backpedals, using a gesture of her left hand to raise a barrier of earth up to protect herself. Meteors crash around her. Even through her barrier, she can feel the heat and the shockwaves slam against her from all sides.

...But in the end, she's still standing.

"...For... for what it's worth, OS... I'm really sorry you had to go through that." Jacqueline says. "I can't... imagine how that feels. If he tries to do it again, please tell me immediately, okay? I do not condone that kind of thing."

...But on the other hand, she is helping distract OS long enough for Rachiel to finish... whatever it is she's doing. ...Was that hypocritical...?

"But for now... I'm sorry." She says. And with that, she draws out another bottle. It's another variant of the potion she used before - but this time, much more potent. If she can temporarily diminish OS's combat abilities, maybe they would be more willing to cooperate...

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Lydia Seren with Diminishing Draught!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes an additional 15 damage from Reaper!
GS: Reaper expired!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Jacqueline Barber's Diminishing Draught for 98 hit points!
GS: Weaken applied to Lydia Seren!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    She is light. Not as much as when she fully embraces the full power and form of her ARM.

    Rigobrite's force, called forth by OS, spares nothing in its weight against the former medium user, Gwen barely managing to scrap out of the way with her life in tow.

    Machines. They are all machines, OS means?

    "... In the end, it doesn't matter what our hearts are made of, just that we have them." Gwen stays, breathing in that glimmer of a moment, casting a look aside to the stunned Ethius. "Ethius... are you..."
 
    OS walked straight towards him, and *through* him. As misguided as he may be, it's not that Gwen would wish for him to be hurt.

    She wants to believe he means well, and always has.

    Is that another trait of hers that Gwen could call truly hers...?

    'Try not to overdo it', Jay urges.

    "Mn." Gwen's eyes meet Jay's in a moment, a certain wildness beating in the depths of them, held back by a gentle concern. She gives Jay a smile.

    But no words of reassurement come, as Gwen sees what happens, just beyond Jay.

    "...!"

    All that Ida will see, just before that lance pierces her, is the feeling of someone pressing by her, the suggestion of shimmer in the nerves of back of her exposed, scarred neck.

    A moment of grace, and it collapses into the doubled form of Gwen, collapsing limply to the ground.

    "....... g'damn it.... didn't think that'd.... be enough... better kick their ass, Ida..."

    She tries to grumble some more words, to indicate with grim humor that she, somehow, was going to be fine. But seeing Zed's form, right then, as her own vision blurs, Gwen realizes.

    ..... Would Zed be proud of her, right now?

<Pose Tracker> Zed has posed.

Punchderstanding is a language all of its own. Even those who are otherwise utterly unable to understand one another can speak it fluently. Feelings communicated through wailing fists, cries of anguish translated into vicious uppercuts, these things can transmit a dissertation of emotion.

And right now, there's a whole lot of it being thrown around.

"This pain..." Zed grimaces as a lance of pale blue light ploughs towards him. With a soft grunt of exertion, the Metal Demon levers his paradoxical blade into the cascade of azure radiance. "What is causing it? It's not just from injury-- something deeper, but... Nngh...!" Even then, even pushing back against this deluge of force with his full might, some yet leaks through. It carves gashes across his body, tearing through his battle suit and into the liquid metal-infused flesh below. And still he holds on, forcing the lance back at last...

But there's another one where that came from. Zed takes in a sharp breath and raises his sword again...!

Back. Back. Further and further, the wave of combined power forces him through slabs of debris and walls of ruined ruin. Zed's shouts a desperate, gutteral roar as he tries to gain ground, to push back-- but he can't find his footing. Finally, he's slammed up against the wall of the unfolded vault, that blade of energy crackling against his own. His arms scream from the exertion as he tries, struggles, to keep it from plunging through his chest...!

He can't afford to die here. Not when... There's someone else on the line--!

Zed bellows a final, furious shout as the light and shadow dancing around his sword suddenly swell and surge outward, cracking through Azoth's own blade. The two forces clash against one another, sending great gusts of wind billowing out, rustling through the Hyadean's scarf, and fluttering the thin green ribbon tied 'round his neck. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, the warring powers finally wane, then fade...

Zed... Slumps to the ground, panting with his sword levered into the earth as a crutch. "Hhhhh, that was... A little bit much, huh? Ghh--" He struggles to stand-- but can't find the strength.

It's all up to Ida, now...

But...

Yes, Gwen. Zed is proud of her. Zed saw it all, from a battlefield away.

'Damn,' Zed thinks to himself between labored breaths. 'That... was pretty cool, Gwen...!'

<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    Dean manages to shove Ida out of harm's way--but is the way she is now much better? Given over to rage and destruction? The one who is Definitely Not Azoth might be unmistakably hostile and unwilling to back down no matter how many people have tried to talk to them, but... No, there's no point in thinking about that now. Even OS acknowledges that their friend isn't being who they are. Though that much was clear from the start, too? There's too much going on, and so much of it confuses Dean. All he can do is roll over, wincing from his wounds, and stagger back up again.
    
    "Huh? Who?" he utters, looking around when he hears Rachiel's explanation. It makes sense, but where did it come from?? More confusion. Dean shakes his head, leaving Jay to the challenge of dressing Ethius down, and focuses back in on OS. Their cloud form does absolutely nothing to make him less confused. "I don't want to kill you or your friend either," he says, but in the end that doesn't amount to much. OS still calls down the Guardian Rigdobrite, and Rigdobrite still sends down meteorites, and OS picks up rainbow-swirl glass...
    
    "OS? Are you okay?" Dean asks, worried. "If you get hurt too hard, then... it's okay to grab your friend and run away! Maybe they won't attack *you* once you're alone...!" Though if he's not being himself, who knows what he might do? Dean doesn't think it through that far, only begins tracing the air with fiery lines that cross parallel to the ground. When he opens fire through it with a blast of energy from Twin Fenrir, the energy bolt merges with the fiery outline and becomes a single, huge flaming bird. With a loud, shrieking cry, it sails forward on wings of determination to impact onto OS. The purifying flame of Moor Gault... who knows what kind of effect it'll have on OS?
    
    Either way, once he's done, Dean focuses on Gwen. "Gwen! Hang in there!" he calls as he hobbles over, clutching his major injury again. He'll hurry her way to try to stabilize her as she loses consciousness.

GS: Dean Stark has attacked Lydia Seren with Firebird Soul!
GS: Cover expired!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Lydia Seren guards a hit from Dean Stark's Firebird Soul for 102 hit points!
GS: Dispel! Cover, Mighty, and Surge removed!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Above, the great Gear weapon begins to glow. Ida twists into a defensive stance, hands raised as though she could somehow block the thing, should it fire on her. It does nothing of the sort. Its mass... breaks apart, like Kamui did when she vanished earlier. The light flows into the mysterious construct. Neither Ida nor Fafnir understand the mechanics of what just happened, but one thing is obvious--the construct has claimed the weapon for their own, somehow. It makes no sense.

    "Who are you?!" Ida says. Again, there's that rasp in her voice, as though someone else were trying, and failing, to use her vocal cords. "Can you hear me? Are you hurt? Do you know what you're doing?!" Twin lances form in the air. "ZED! LOOK OUT--!"

    KSHHNK

    Once again, someone throws themselves between Ida and blazing death. She sees Gwen collapse, and out of the corner of her eye, Zed falls as well. The Hyadean's words still echo in her mind.

    This being is in pain. It's all up to her now.

    Ida rushes forwards, putting herself between OS's friend and Gwen.

    "If you can hear us--we're sorry," Ida says. She's dug deep, deep, deep, and found a reserve of resolve she didn't even know was there. "But we won't let you hurt anyone else."

    Ida lunges. Her arms move to close around the construct's waist, once again pulling them close to her. She lowers her hips, even as she hefts them off the ground, using raw power instead of redirecting existing momentum. It helps that OS's friend, though heavy, is a mere fraction of Asgard's mass.

    Green motes of light ignite beneath Ida's feet. The wind picks her up, assisting her leap into the air. She grips the construct tightly, even as her face twists in a look of teary-eyed determination. She pivots in mid-air, falling so that the construct hits the ground first, and is pinned.

    It's Gusong's technique, executed almost flawlessly.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Azoth with After Gusong - Machina Suplex!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes 25 damage from Poison!
GS: Cover, Jam, and Poison expired!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Azoth takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's After Gusong - Machina Suplex for 218 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Rockets detonate around OS. Maybe Dash is correct. Why don't they build another? But it is not OS's place to decide. Maybe Dash simply hasn't found his true power yet? Or maybe he doesn't want to. OS has plenty of power and though they still serve, they may be able to break away on their own if they were clever about it. But power hasn't made OS happy. Being indestructable has not made OS happy. What has made OS happy? Little times with Azoth and Ivan talking about their understanding of the world with one another. Of their understanding of themselves. That prismatic glass was once--and is still--a precious gift of that time, a precious reminder. OS intuitively understands that something like that is neccessary. They maintain cohesion, but the rockets prevent them from stopping Ivan from blasting past them. OS does not get in the way--Ivan can get past and do what he feels he must do. OS looks at them, with a strange longing in their eyes. They don't understand the how or why but they understand the what and the who. That memory was important to them. They did ask to be made in a way, but OS...

OS got to live as more than just Lydia's prison.

OS holds the glass. They shape it with their hands into a strange shape, its. "This is..." They tell Dean. "...We are not feeling it as much anymore. The ...feeling. Why...did it go away? Nothing has changed. But we do not feel better. We hurt you to make it hurt less, but it has not gone away. It is lesser, but we do not feel better. We feel worse. We do not undertand. Is something wrong with our programming, Dean?"

Dean tells them that it is ok to run away with their friend.

"Why..." OS says. "Why is my face wet?" They ask. "There is so much heat, but my face is still wet...?"

Jay apologizes to OS and assure them that she doesn't condone it. Maybe they thought they did. They look down at their feet. They try to move.

Jay's potion does not let them. Strength is draining from them. They cannot be destroyed through these methods--but that does not mean they cannot be stopped. They try to stand, but they cannot.

"I'm...scared, Dean." OS says. "She's...Rachiel, did I..."

They lower their head. "Did I mess up...?"

A voice speaks from the glass.

"The light is slower than the dark...

But it will arrive. Persevere, Star Shaman..."

The strange symbol absorbs into OS with the symbol therein, pushing out towards their back and forming a rainbow patterned symbol at the small of their back.

"That's it...! Got it!" Rachiel says and hits one more key.

And suddenly--OS is no longer active. The silver fluid--it peels away to reveal a highly damaged and burned Lydia, their arms hang uselessly at their side without OS's guidance. Without OS, her body cannot function. Especially after that kind of beating. She tries to say something, but her throat is in agony from 'consuming' Ethius's staff. They make a throaty kind of noise, weeping as freely as OS as Moor Gault bears down upon them--

--and through them.

And Lydia is not burned to a crisp. Not anymore than before. Instead the Guardian seems to give Lydia a mercy.

The mercy to no longer see Dean horribly sliced apart, Ethius in such a state, Xiumei downed, and Gwen and Zed...well, that's pretty normal lets face it. But Kamui and Boudicca who are no longer there.

The gratitude for Dean can only be seen in Lydia's eyes as she pitches forward and passes out right then and there, silver fluid dripping all around her.

"I...Ivan..."

And then she's gone.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

And after...

Rachiel flops back against her monitor. She's grateful that Azoth doesn't have an operator like her--otherwise she'dd absolutely have to murder them and think real quick on how to cover it up.

But they can't communicate through the console again with Lydia out of it like that, so instead she leans back.

"Azoth... There's no way they won't dig into your AI after a stunt like that."

And for all its problems, she doubts that will be good for him. She has, if nothing else, seen what Solarian tampering has done to this poor kid. Well, poor ancient machine. ... who is kind of a kid still honestly.

"...But...I'm the one with the encounter data and footage..." Rachiel says to herself.

She closes her eyes and then manags a smile, cracking her knuckles.

"Arright, Azoth... You're too cute so I'm gonna cover for you this time...!"

She has a long night ahead of her.

<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan makes it past OS -- but even as he rockets toward OS's friend... he hears Lydia calling his name in a voice filled with pain.

He looks back, stricken, seeing her collapsed on the ground.

He reverses his flames, falling in a controlled crash to the ground, and rushes back towards her.

"Lydia...?"

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

He's asked again who he is. Ida searches for something in him, and it's a little funny, Azoth thinks, with the tiny amount of grim humor is allowed to seep past his overrides, that these are questions that never once came up in the times he was dug out from the ruins he slept in the first time. For them, it's just so easy, isn't it?

Azoth watches Zed slump with no emotion in his gaze. Zed, and all his important wisdoms, and cheer, and even hugs. Even Azoth's body is still in the silence until it's clear Zed can fight no longer. Azoth barely can. He cannot float. He can barely stand.

Yet he does, sparking and smoking, as he watches Gwen fall for Ida's sake. Another target neutralized. Gwen, who fought beside him on the Warwing. Who he once tried to help after she gave so much of herself to help a metal dragon. All of this... is such a contradiction...

OVERRIDE pulses in place of what he'd call a heart.

If you can hear us--we're sorry.

They really are soft.

There's only a flicker of movement before Ida grabs him. She takes hold, and does what Azoth could never figure out how to do -- he's lifted into the air, and for a moment he's reminded of what it's like to fly.

Then he crashes into the ground, pinned under Ida and staring back at her with a hollow gaze, half a helmet-ed visor, and half a broken lens pretending to be an eye. Blue-pink light is red again with the occasionally blinding surge. His entire body burns to touch.

But he's taken the ring. The objective is finished, except for the threats that stand before him. Except Azoth, nearly out of power and broken, cannot calculate an escape from this scenario. It affords him the opportunity to offer a rare piece of advice.

He speaks, that same glitched, static voice with a depth that sounds like it should belong to a giant.

"Then you must terminate me."

Ida is left in silence with that statement until OS' activation cuts off and he hears Lydia's voice.

Lights flare again, but then instead of red, turn a dim and dying blue. Like losing grip in a dream, Ida finds Azoth's form vanishing away from her in its pixels, reappearing at Lydia's side. He does not land beside her so much as he drops, clumsy and shaken.

He takes hold of her in his claws, surprisingly gentle of grip for all the Drifters he's tried to ruthlessly cut down today. Azoth spares Ivan a lingering glance, and then both he and Lydia -- along with the terrible ring Azoth's taken into himself -- vanish from the ruins with the last of Azoth's battery power.

The lights in the vault die away with his absence, leaving it still and dead once more.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline watches OS quietly. She can't help but feel sympathetic. Rachiel had likened them to a superpowered child. That's maybe something she hadn't really appreciated until this moment - something she had never really considered.

What can she do?

At the moment, not much. OS reverts to Lydia and Jacqueline hurries over to her... but, before she can reach her, OS's robot friend takes her up gently and teleports away, leaving them all in a darkened vault.

There's silence for a moment... and then, Jacqueline exhales.

"...I'm still not sure if we did the right thing, but we couldn't just let ourselves get killed, either." She says, massaging her forehead. Everyone's looking pretty beat up. "...Guess I ought to get to the first aid."

Right now, it's probably the most helpful thing to put her mind to. She does, however, shoot Ethius a meaningful glance before getting to work.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida's exoskeleton begins to burn. It's a distant sort of pain, but it's pain nevertheless, and it takes considerable willpower to maintain her grip. "Surrender," she says, and the rasp in her voice grows louder. "I don't want to kill you--least of all in front of them-- but--"

    Ida's body is literally smoking now. Exoskeletal plate is slowly crumbling into metal-rich ash.

    "For the sake of my friends, we will." The rasp fades, only to return with double force on that 'we'. What is the shadow within her trying to say, from the depths of his fever-dream?

    For the first time since the fight began, her foe speaks to her.

    Despite the terrifying depths of her rage--despite the terrible violence the construct has unleashed--Ida hesitates. She really is soft.

    "Why?" she says. Her voice is a dry creak.

    And then the construct vanishes, leaving her clutching empty air. Ida collapses, her exoskeleton crumbling to biometallic powder that mingles with the sand. She lies there for a long moment, bruised and battered and burned. Distantly, she hears footsteps on the stairs.

    "Ida!" Jimmy Shen Long's voice echoes through the chamber. A moment later, he descends into the chamber, taking the stairs two at a time. His remaining eye widens as he sees the remains of the violence that happened here--and he holds up a hand, motioning for the squad of Everstead-Rey security officers to fan out, slowly. "Kid? Ida, are you--"

    Ida pushes herself upright, shakily, and prays that Jimmy can't see the metallic patches blooming against her skin. She can't form words.

    "Valmar's balls," Jimmy says. "Reed! Reed, get down here, we have wounded!" He rushes over to Ida's side, and kneels. "Kid, hang on, you're going to be okay."

    Ida looks up at him, manages to say something. "The others. Gwen, Dean--please--see to them first."

    Jimmy nods. "We'll get everyone patched up, I promised. Now, what the hell happened?"

    Ida is silent for a long moment. "I wish I knew," she says.