2021-01-15: The Garden of Embers

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  • Log: The Garden of Embers
  • Cast: Gwen Whitlock, Fei Fong Wong, Talia, Neriah Parringer, Jacqueline Barber, Eleanor Klein, Xantia, Hiro, Citan Uzuki, Ivan, Lan Lilac, Ida Everstead-Rey, Azoth
  • Where: Luca - Port District
  • Date: January 17, 2021
  • Summary: A strange fire demon has suddenly appeared in the Luca flower market. Civilizans are fleeing from the area, though a rare few have begun to walk calmly away with a glazed look on their faces, commenting on 'the beautiful flowers' there. This is Guard-controlled territory, but perhaps the Guard won't mind that some Drifters or Spirans have happened to be scouting the area, or just nearby. Or maybe, they will very well mind. The strange pockets of miasma will likely complicate matters even further.

DC: Gwen Whitlock switches forms to The Fire Thief!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

--EARLIER---

His fingertips lower from her temple.

"This world is endlessly cruel."

The threads of silk tighten as they wind into the gears just beyond the fire. Tongues of flame lick along the sheer lengths of those tight threads, bringing them to the slow surrender of heat. They tighten, pulsing slowly as the gears come to a shivering, transcendent standstill, on the precipice of one second while awash in the next.

"But in the war against now, any tool is of use."

The crows stretch as far as the eye can see. Limning the branches and buildings, they watch on in silent witness as the blue-eyed silhouette turns away, picking up his sword.

"No matter how I must make you suffer, no matter how much I must make you bleed, you are the cherished ones, those that came before. Suffer, and I will protect you. Bleed, and I will nourish you. This is the freedom and charge we share, knowing what passed us by. Over and over again, without end, we will labor in the world below to build in that shining dream of 'remembrance.'"

He walks away, the path that was set for those that were left behind.

"This is the work we must do. Ascend."

---NOW---

The Luca flower market is one of many in the city; a small section of buildings and streets that are host to many booths and kiosks where floral offerings from all over Spira are sold. The war has had visual economical effects here, with imports being limited to merchants who play well with Althena's Guard. What was once a street filled with garlands and thick sprays of single flowers has gone to more utilitarian wares, but the result is still appealig: heady herbs and brilliantly colored plants, the dyes made from them used to make the bright colors Spiran clothing is known for.

Different sorts of flowers bloom here, right now.

Fire spreads quickly as vendors and civilians scatter in confusion. The surprised Guard move in, fighting back the flames with water and ice magic. Nearby units, mobilizing with the assumption of an attack from the Al Bhed or the Yevon faithful, are unable to provide much more assistance, as confused units from other sectors of the city report no sightings. The fact that there may be a few scouting Drifters or Spirans in the area may complicate matters, but the source of the flame is found, soon enough.

"Stay put and hold the formation," the commander says. "We got her now!"

Flame is left behind in the bare footsteps of a humanoid creature, shining long curling ribbons of hair, or petals even, drifting behind them like a multi-layered veil of miasma. It would be easy to say 'her', instead of 'them', as the figure is feminine in shape, but lacks definition beyond a silhouette, the rest obscured by bright yellow of the flame that beats inside the being's body. With an arc of her left hand, a line of flame shoots through the paved road like a root, igniting up in a row of closed buds, which then spiral open in a set of blazing petals. They grow up the top of a nearby tent and spread out further, orange flowers licking away at the cloth and wood.

A figure huddles under a burlap sack in the stall, drawing the creature's attention. She looks down at him, her veil hair suspended in an eternal breeze, and reaches out her hand.

From the sack, a gloved hand snaps out, roughly grasping the creature's hand. He shouts. "NOW!"

Arrows and bullets fly from the rooftop and from the Guard's line, accompanied by a barrage of frigid water and ice, all aimed at the entity.

".... ah..." She recoils backwards by three steps, her body curved backwards from the force. The soft inhale passes from the demon(?)'s open mouth, and the fire around her seems to dim.

"hhaha...."

One by one, the arrows buried deep within her catch fire, each igniting with a higher pitch of sound.

"hahhaha!"

An inferno explodes from her, sending a shockwave outwards towards the line of Guards, knocking them off their feet. What was once a trail of fire has become a tunnel, the buildings on either side closing in the heat and keeping the flames from spreading further, but for how long?

 ( BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvvLAz_08x0 )

"The flowers became a goddess..." mumbles the stall's true merchant further back, gazing on with glassy eyes as he's pulled back by a Guard member. "She's come to save us!"

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

FEI PSYCHO: 10

Fei sighs. That inner peace he's been culminating in his heart and mind has scattered as he smells and feels the growing flames spreading throughout the city. He stands himself up, gives a crow a look, and stands himself up, stretching his arms out behind him and starts a jogging towards the flower market--
5r--only to find the Guard scattered from explosive shockwaves and an intense heat spreaading all around him. Fei sweats, but there's a fire within him that doesn't readily stumble to the flames of a even a Primarch. Moor Gault has been equipped in his Medium Slot since Chapter One Act 2. Discounting prior lives.

But he advances forward towards the large fire... person. He quirks his head slowly, looking less afraid and more like a guy already exhausted by how troublesome he expects the day to go.

"Hey," Fei says. "Fire is great and all but you have to use it responsibly. If you don't, people could get hurt or even killed and if you burn up everything and everyone, you'll run out of things to burn too."

He points a finger at the burning figure.

"So cut it out. Let's all relax and talk this out. Nobody got seriously hurt yet so there's no reason this needs to be a fight. Name's Fei, nice to meetcha, so how about we just sit around and have a chat?"

"Sound good?" He asks, still casual. "I mean if you're burning buildings, you're also going to send toxins into the air... The best way to keep a fire going is find aa nice controlled spot that you can continuously feed but won't spread out if there's a heavy wind and--"

He is going to go on and on like this unless interrupted.

<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia doesn't usually come to Luca. She didn't join the Caravan Kinship until after they had bounties on their heads, but her father's long reach has certainly been felt in Luca. She has little illusion that Duke Lubov could have agents here. Somewhere.

But sometimes, it is necessary to check up on something. In this case, it is trying to buy some of the cloth that is on sale in Luca's markets -- which she knows that Amaranth could put to good use -- and she is presently handing a few gil over, before she pulls back. She looks up, then -- and her eyes widen, as flame begins to erupt. Her mouth opens into an 'o' of surprise. Her eyes dart, at first, to the guards. Then, they move to the figure of flame.

"That's--"

She is laughing off their assault. Literally, as it happens -- the shockwave blows the Guards back, and Talia breathes in sharply. "You may want to run, no?" she says. She glances at the seller -- then turns her head, back to the next stall over. She isn't looking at its poultices, herbs, and other goods; she is looking at one of its customers. "Ivan! Ah, I think we have a problem, no?"

She motions to the fire-wreathed woman. "We should probably see what we can do!"

Her hand reaches down for the short sword at her side.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

The centrepiece of this tale is the flaming entity ravaging the innocent streets of Luca. More easily overlooked is the figure perched atop the highest rooftop in view of the flower garden, unnoticed by virtue of the blazing intruder capturing attention so completely.

"Nice of circumstances to serve up a little show for my first Spira trip," Neriah Parringer muses as she settles to a seat and crosses one leg over the other, though her body never quite touches the rooftop's edge - she floats a couple of inches above it. She dressed for the weather, namely by pairing one of her red dresses with a large red and black parasol to keep the sun from scorching her fair complexion. Holding the shade over herself, she raises a slender cigarette holder with her other hand.

She takes a single puff and breathes a slow stream of smoke. The billowing cloud drifts into a shape reminiscent of dancing flame.

"You know what would make this more fun?" she asks the open air. "Some poppèd corn."

On cue, a crow flutters to a landing beside her. It's carrying a small bag of popcorn in its bill, which it deposits neatly in her lap.

Neriah smiles a cheery little smile. "Gosh, I love my friend circle."

She makes no move to interfere - no move to even assist. She doesn't even move to make her presence known. But something about this in particular has drawn her interest.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline Barber is not the most welcome for the Guard. Sure, the Event that lead to her and them being on bad terms was... a while ago, but it was pretty well publicised, members of the Caravan Kinship having fought the Red Priestess, and moreover Jacqueline still felt pretty bad about it.

So when Jacqueline enters Luca today... it's as a mysterious hooded stranger, though anyone actually familiar with Jacqueline will likely be able to identify her easily. Several residents of the refugee camp, former citizens of Luca who had been displaced in the war, had expressed concerns about some of their friends and family who had been left behind in the city. Despite the risk, Jacqueline volunteered to check the situation out for them.

It's alarming, then, when she enters the city only to find the market ablaze. Several Crest Graphs are traded out in her left gauntlet and she casts her left hand out, the gesture activating one of said Crest Graphs and conjuring a downpour to put out some of the flames. ...But, it isn't enough - not nearly enough. There's still more, and they're spreading, and -

Jacqueline's head moves quietly to the side as she hears shouting. She looks to the side to see the Guard unleash a volley on a feminine entity wreathed in flame, only to get blasted backward.

"...Is everyone right? Take it easy..." Jacqueline murmurs. She'll perform what quick first aid she can - most likely in the form of a healing potion applied to the entire group with the power of Mystic - before turning her attention to the burning tunnel.

...It's concerning. It's not just fire - the power of the Ley, of Fray, is strong here. And yet... it's been twisted - corrupted. As a Crest Sorceress, one who works with the Ley, she feels she must investigate. And so she carefully picks her way down the tunnel of flame, aiming to pursue the entity and get to the bottom of the situation.

<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Eleanor Klein is not in Luca alone. Apparently there was already an effort in the works to look into the city, and she has married (so to speak) an effort towards it with herself and Ida, as well. Luca is a beautiful city, even under occupation, and Eleanor too worries about the outcome of fire in it. But she worries more about what she saw--what she couldn't put into words. What she saw of her friend...

That time, she thinks, has not yet come.

But making her way through the city, when she smelled fire, she suspected. Now here she is, running down the alleyway towards the sound and feeling of ice magic, to see burning into her mind the sensation of corrupted Fray, almost overwhelming even from back here. "No..."

Eleanor pulls one of her Crests, breathing in, despite the smoke. "Ida!" she calls. "Let's go! But remember--"

The red ring on her right hand is new; she expected fire, after all. But she rushes forward, and pulls the Crest inscribed with Wing and Fray from her pouch, skidding to a stop not far from the blazing form, well inside the 'tunnel' of flame. "We're here to help!"

She worries, though. And she calls on a spell--"Tempered by flame, carved by the wind--Marvelous Armament!" Sparkling golden light bursts around her and around Ida, and Ida can feel her arms and ARMs empowered.

"Normal means of putting out the flame won't be enough!"

GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Marvelous Armament!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
DC: You switch forms to Simple Country Doctor!
DC: Citan Uzuki switches forms to Simple Country Doctor!
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

It's been a long time since Xantia last visited Luca. The town gave her quite the rollercoaster ride, with her going from general problem-solver under the guise of Mystery Crusader X, to despised pariah upon public sentiment turning against Crusaders (despite never actually being with them in the first place), to desperate defender when the town was invaded by the Guard.

She didn't return again after being forced to flee following that incident. It wasn't so much the Guard - the thing she most feared was public sentiment. How would the people of Luca feel about her now? Being given those hateful stares after Operation Mi'ihen... it hurt a lot more than physical injuries commonly do.

But when the matter of liberating Luca came up with the Black Wolves and a scouting party was needed to do some recon, she didn't hesitate to volunteer. Though not exactly the queen of stealth and subtlety, even she could try to stay out of sight for a bit if it means she'll have the chance to make things right with the people of this city. Going around with her white hooded cloak wrapped about her rather than trailing behind her as it usually does isn't too much of an effort.

Of course all subtlety goes right out of the window when she follows the sounds of commotion to a standoff between the Guards and... some kind of fire creature? Xantia has a moment of doubt as she looks between the two assembled groups as things start to get out of hand. Should she intervene?

Of course she should. Things are rapidly being set on fire, and that's bad in any given populated area! Besides, jumping headlong into trouble is what she does. You think she's about to stop now? And so, a cloaked figure suddenly drops down a short distance removed from the fire demon/goddess(??), landing in a three-point stance before rising to her feet.

"Hold it right there! Stop setting things on fire right now, or face the fire of justice! Delivered by me, Mys--"

Whoops. Went into Hero Mode for a second there. Old habits die hard. She flips back the hood of her cloak, shakes her head, then corrects herself, "...No, it's just me, Xantia. And that's good enough!" She makes a fist, which spontaneously bursts into flame. Is she thinking about fighting fire with fire?

It's only then that she notices she landed right beside someone she originally came here with. "Oh, hi Fei! Guess you had the same idea, huh?" Vastly different execution of that idea, but never mind that.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


Somewhere along the Mi'ihen Highroad, a boy sits upon a stretch of fencing... eating an apple as he looks in the direction of Luca. An occasion trading bites over to a flying cat on his shoulder. "No change... at all." "I knowwww you're disappointed - but I could have told you that."

Hiro eats a chunk out of the edge of it, trading Ruby another bite. "It's just you know - I thought..." Looking up as if trying to choose the words, "... that cooler heads would prevail I guess."

"That'd be a miracle. But... hey look on the bright side... the Red Priestess wasn't the one left in charge!"

Hiro gives Ruby a look like that small joke is in bad taste, but then tries to crack a smile. "Yeah I guess that is... a bright sid-"

And then plumes of fire erupt over the cityscape, and the boy starts, then flails, tumbling backwards over the fence. Taking Ruby with him.

The two land in a tangle of limbs. "Hirooo. I think I'd like to rescind my previous statement."

"Keep that glass half full attitude Ruby... I think we're gonna need it."

-=-=-

"I have no idea what that is..." Hiro comments, as he peers over the edge of a rooftop, watching members of the Guard snipe at the flaming figure. Before he winces at the sudden inferno blast. And ducks back down over the side to shield his eyes. "You know for being stone - this town has REALLY bad luck with just how... flammable it's been." Ruby titters nervously.

Before Hiro then looks back over the edge, seeing the tunnel of fire that's just barely being contained. "Okay. Enough just watching."

And leaps over the edge of the roof, straight through part of the barrier of flames, a gust of wind surrounding him... it doesn't work out as well as he wanted it to, as flames blossom up and down his clothes, and he's forced to use his landing to pat them out. "Hey! Stop! This town's had enough...!" Hiro calls out to flame being as he draws his sword, ready to charge in to attack...

...then furrows his brow as he sees Fei trying to reason with it, which is an act that puts him momentarily on the backfoot. "Fei? Ah-" Hiro glances at the laughing inferno woman. Then back at Fei, "... uhhh... someone you... know?" He sorta vaguely gestures to her while looking at Fei, "...She really doesn't seem like... much of a talker?"

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey accepts Eleanor Klein's Marvelous Armament for 0 hit points!
GS: Amplify and Burst applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Citan Uzuki has posed.

    Eleanor had warned him of fire in Luca.

    "Fei! Wait!"

    Things are not going well, precisely.

    The task at hand had been simple enough: investigate and collect information, as well as begin organizing for an eventual attempt to retake Luca at some future date, to be determined. Enemy of my enemy is all well and good, but the Al Bhed are also no friends of the Guard; the taking of Luca had been devastating for its residents. Cutting off the Guard here could undermine their position in Spira altogether, the doctor had surmised -- though it was a bold plan.

    And as long as Fei and Xantia are involved, well. So is Citan Uzuki.

    It's just that what had been fairly mundane and even a bit fruitful on the intelligence-gathering front very quickly is not.

    There is a fire in Luca. No --

    To describe what walks in the streets as merely 'a fire' would be inaccurate. She -- there is no better word? -- is a humanoid flame, an animate natural disaster. And fire blooms where she walks.

    Currently, Fei is trying to reason with her. Citan has hurried after him, leaving Xantia behind and
    er, well, it would be better to say that he had left Xantia behind because now she's outright overtaken him and is similarly...

    ...well, at least he knows for sure where both of them are now.

    "Fei, Xantia... we must be careful," he says, finally catching up to them both and stopping a short distance away. "I know not what this might be, but we can be assured that it will not be easily stopped. ...Do not act rashly."

    If the air seems to brighten about the doctor, surely it's just a trick of the eye, some side effect of the burning figure before them all.

GS: Citan Uzuki has attacked Citan Uzuki with Kouga!
GS: Citan Uzuki assumes the Stoic stance!
GS: Citan Uzuki has completed his action.
GS: Citan Uzuki accepts Citan Uzuki's Kouga for 0 hit points!
GS: Cover and Riposte applied to Citan Uzuki!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Ivan was hoping that a careful visit to Luca's port might be a chance to renew arrangements to start getting his medicine imported from Glenwood again, but... such things are not quite as easy as they were when he was a member of the Guard. It seems he might need a bit more money to convince any of the merchants here to order it on his behalf... especially since he isn't sure if he's going to get recognized as an outlaw.

Ah, and also the market is on fire. That complicates things, too.

Ivan! Ah, I think we have a problem, no?

Ivan's first impulse on smelling the smoke is to look behind himself in alarm, wondering if he's caught something on fire, himself. But he soon follows Talia's gaze to the fire-wreathed woman and the forces trying to keep her at bay.

"Wha-- is that a Fiend?"

As a fire mage, he feels a bit... ill equipped for such a crisis, but he isn't without other options, and calls a blade to his hand as he follows after Talia toward the disturbance.

...Meanwhile, Fei is there, trying to talk things out with whoever or whatever it is. He squints a bit, wondering if it's working.

"...Are you making any progress...??"

Who knows, maybe there were MORE flames coming off of this being earlier...?

<Pose Tracker> Lan Lilac has posed.

    Lan has been making a pretty good living, by her reckoning, out of wildcrafting. It's not extremely exciting, and it's not a way to get rich quick, but it's simple work. Maybe not easy - for some plants grow in very out-of-the-way places - but there's a sort of zen to it. Wander, pick herbs, dry them, bring them to market.

    Of course, one wants to choose the best market to sell in, and 'an entirely different planet than where you got the herbs' is about as fortuitous as someone could choose.

    So, with a little extra jingle to her pockets, Lan had been prepared to sit back and maybe enjoy a nice cold drink or something before having to move along. Things are how they should be, certainly.

    She's about halfway through her cup of fruit juice when the roar of flame and shouting reach her ears.

    She arrives after the others with her long hair tied back, a hastily-snatched up bucket at the ready. Does Luca have, like, a well or something?! Lan never learned any water magic.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Something is wrong in Luca, all right. Eleanor's "intelligence" was right on the money. Ida is equal parts relieved and unnerved.

    The Everstead-Rey heiress follows her comrade at a safe but close distance, clad in blue-and-gold Spiran fashion with one notable addition--on her left hand, she wears a steel gauntlet embossed with warding patterns of red gold. "Eleanor," she says, keeping pace easily even as the smoke wafts past them. "What do you see? Is it--"

    'No...'

    Ida steps forward. "...Eleanor?" And then she looks past her friend, and sees the figure in the center of the flames. A chill crawls down her spine, despite the raging inferno around her. She's no Crest-wielder, but she sensed Setanta's power when the Primarch spoke to her in the depths of the Molten Scar. When they mistook her for her distant ancestor. This--this is not them, but it feels like them, but if not them, then who?

    "We are," Ida whispers, to Eleanor. Golden energy flows through her, chasing away that chill. Normal means won't be enough, Eleanor says. "Do you have Crests that can?" Ida says. Please say yes. "I--" A glance through the flame, and she spots Xantia, Fei, and Citan. "--We'll keep them off you!"

    Ida sucks in a breath, glances around the marketplace. Her eyes hood. Red-tinted quicksilver flows from every pore, engulfing Ida's body in a tide of undifferentiated Hyadean flesh. It hardens into fractal-like patterns, forming layer after flame-resistant layer; when the final layer is complete, Ida stands armored in Hyadean exoskeleton. It looks almost like Xiumei's armor--a composite of two different individuals. One is blue and black and gold, baroque and stylish yet no less functional for it. Another is sleek and deadly-looking, the blue in the color pattern replaced by crimson.

    "You heard Fei," Ida says, approaching the figure of flame. Fire gleams on the golden frame of the headgear surrounding her exposed face. It glitters on the wing-like spines protruding from her right shoulder. "Stand down."

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> Azoth has posed.

Eleanor had said something would happen in Probably Luca, and that there would be fire. Azoth didn't fully understand the nature of such intelligence, but he knew, because of her tone, and because of Ida's vitals, this was important. He'd offered his help in investigating. He is, as an android, a little less inclined to burn to death than most -- not that flames still cannot pose considerable danger.

But perhaps investigation is the wrong word here. Situations involving fire have a habit of drawing attention to themselves.

Azoth hurries toward the scene, skidding to a stop as he surveys the chaos around him. That figure of flames... Something about the data triggers familiar matches in his code, but nothing strikes conclusively. It's possible he's merely tripping over previous patterns by coincidence, but it makes him hesitate.

So does the attempts at negotiation. These Drifters really do all like to do this, don't they? Even as the market burns. But he can see the logic in it -- the attacks may only be aggravating her.

Azoth smiles faintly, chiming in with Fei. "R-Right! You do seem to be a creature of fire. So... if you need it, I'm sure we can find a spot to burn that's safer for you and everyone else..."

Maybe this won't work. But maybe they're onto something in at least trying in a world that can be so unforgiving otherwise. Maybe, even if it can't work, it still has value.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

'"...Are you making any progress...?' Ivan asks.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    '...Are you making any progress...?' Ivan asks.

    Fei and Xantia engage with the Fiend(?) causing her to look up, and... listen. Seems like a good sign, maybe, if you count her moving in their direction, drifting from foot to foot like she was lighter than air. Flames spring up in the space left by every footprint. Now closer, the figure has a face, definitely, but if it weren't for the glowing flames, it'd definitely be a lot easier to discern the features where eyes, and mouth would be. But there are other ways to tell her mood, like the way the flame inside her brightens briefly as she giggles, her shoulders dipping and rising slightly with the motion, her chin dipped low.

    The sound is eeriely light-hearted, but maybe, it's a good sign, as she holds out her hands in front of her in a welcoming gesture. Fire sprouts like roses inbetween then, then widen into the larger forms of hibiscus, yellow pistils sprouting up and spreading a cloud of shimmering miasma directly into their faces before they wink back out of existence. It expands outward, effecting Jay, Citan, and Azoth, as they come near.

    Ivan and Talia don't seem to faring any easier in convincing the fire thief to stop with their hands visible on their blades, one at her side and the other coming to his hand. The Thief spins slowly backwards, then bends down, pressing two fingers to the ground. A crack appears in the pavement, heat from Fray-induced lava (or is it magma?) glowing in the broken splinter as it splinters towards the, erupting in front of them.

    Ida calls her attention next, and Eleanor just beyond. The thief rises and leaps upwards in a low spin, unleashing an array of flame in Ida's direction. Thankfully, Ida's positioning keeps Eleanor from burnt as well, but for how long?

    As she comes down, her head focuses on Hiro. Specifically, his clothing, as he quickly attempts to pat it out. She raises her right hand to generate.. an icicle? If it hits, Hiro will be able to confirm: it's ice. It's definitely ice.

    This change in theme continues as the fiery being lands next to Lan, and... stops, holding a hand up to try to touch Lan's face.

    Ice will rocket through Lan if her hand connects, the water in her bucket growing cold as a formation of melting crystal forms from the Baskar girl's back.

     Surely this could be some form of progress.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Stolen Spark!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey critically guards Gwen Whitlock's Stolen Spark for 33 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey activates Guard bonus!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Distorted Call!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Distorted Call!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Xantia with Distorted Call!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Azoth with Distorted Call!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Citan Uzuki with Distorted Call!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Fei Fong Wong critically guards Gwen Whitlock's Distorted Call for 0 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong activates Arcane Font!
GS: Jacqueline Barber critically guards Gwen Whitlock's Distorted Call for 0 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber activates Guard bonus!
GS: Azoth takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Distorted Call for 0 hit points!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Entangle applied to Azoth!
GS: Xantia guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Distorted Call for 0 hit points!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Entangle applied to Xantia!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Hiro with Icicle Barrage!
GS: Hiro critically guards Gwen Whitlock's Icicle Barrage for 17 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Lan Lilac with A Familiar Touch!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ivan with Muspelheim!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Talia with Muspelheim!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

'Fei Wait!'

"Oh hey Doc," Fei says, spotting Ivan a moment later. Is he making any progress? He looks back to the fire creature then back to Ivan. "I'm feeling confident...!" He says with a big dumb grin on his face that only looks a little strained if you stare at it for a little while. "See? She's laughing! That's good right?"

"I thought maybe I'd try talking first for a change," He explains to Citan. "You know giving peace a proper opportunity, maybe sort of work on education and reform rather than jumping straight into corporeal punishmet."

Fire sprouts out in front of Fei as a miasma crashes into him. Fei extends his hand and the briilliant miasma just sort of...spreads around Fei instead of impacting into him directly.

"But I guess she's s till a little bitey. I'm a little worried that I'm going to hurt 'er and then find out it's someone I know and feel bad."

His eyes widen, however, as she unleashes...ice power?...upon Lan.

"No...! Not Lan...! She's... on the run and probably can't afford a hospital! Stop it right now...!"

He approaches and sends a plume of flame erupting o ut of his hands and threatening to impct THE FIRE CREATURE. Yes, Fei is intending to fight fire with fire.

He looks back to Xantia. "Oh shoot--! I just sort of punched fire without thinking about it..! Is this okay? I'm trying to sort of try to hash things out but this keeps happening...! Magic power s tarts flyinng arounnd everywhere and everyone j ust kinda mopes after...! It's terrible!" He pauses. "...Uh, Well," He admits this last part to Hiro. "I don't..know if I know them? Maybe they're someone I know in disguise. I wouldn't be surprised. I bet I'm going to punch her and find out it's Lulu or something and then be depressed all day."

GS: CRITICAL! Talia takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Muspelheim for 121 hit points!
GS: Disrupt applied to Talia!
DC: 1 turn has elapsed in the battle against Gwen Whitlock! 4 turns remain!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Kakei!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
GS: Citan Uzuki guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Distorted Call for 0 hit points!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Shieldbreak applied to Citan Uzuki!
GS: Ivan takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Muspelheim for 194 hit points!
GS: Disrupt applied to Ivan!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

Talia points at the tunnel of flames. She shakes her head. "It is no fiend!" Talia says. "Ah--well--unless you count Hiro, but he is a different sort of fiend. Hiro! We are here to help! Now--"

She claps her hands together. "Vanya!"

She points, again, at the tunnel of fire. "Use your fire magic to dispel that in an instant! Go, brother! I believe in you!"

990 YEARS AGO -- VANE

"Mmm... Nash," Mia Ausa murmured, as she looked up from the book she is reading. "Do you think that if magical education ground to a standstill, and only well-trained, well-schooled mages had a grasp of magical theory, that people with powerful magic could end up..."

"...total idiots?" Nash asked. He shrugged. "Probably so. Like some ice mage might just assume a fire mage could make a conflagration stop by wishing hard enough."

"Yes," Mia agreed. "Something like that."

NOW -- UNFORTUNATELY

She spots more people. Azoth -- the person with the Black Wolves she fought, once -- and a whole host of others. And, she realizes, Jacqueline Barber. Her eyes widen a little more. "You focus on that, brother!"

Mirage is drawn. The weapon glimmers, whorled red cascading up and down the blade, and the glow intensifying after she drew it. "Jay!" she cries out. "Be careful! She--"

A crack splits across the ground. Lava explodes outward; just the shockwave pushes Talia backward. A piece of molten rock slams into her leg, burning away some of her pants leg and leaving a blackened, burnt smear. She bounces, when she hops back, and then she breathes hard -- and then she holds a hand up. "Gh--something something, icy metaphor! Brr! Cool off! FREEZE LANCER!"

A magical circle explodes to life and light under her feet, Althenan script rotating inside of circles and between twisting triangles. Frost coalesces into the air, into a large javelin of ice. Then, it fires off towards the woman.

"Hiro!" she calls out. "Do you have any where she came from!?"

GS: Talia has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Freeze Lancer!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

"Of course! I'm careful!" Xantia's response to Citan is cheerful and might be taken as flippant if this wasn't Xantia, who doesn't even know what that word means. She genuinely thinks this is being careful! After all, she didn't just rush in and immediately punch the flaming figure in the face, right? In her frame of reference, that means she's giving this matter all due caution.

You can tell because as other people she knows begins to show up, she turns away from facing the fire creature to give them all a general wave, with her hand that is on fire. Being quite possibly in mortal peril is no excuse to not say hi to your friends, that's important. Priorities are totally in the correct order here.

Surely she must have noticed the probably-a-Fiend getting closer during this, but Xantia doesn't appear to be particularly alarmed by this. If this was going to be an attack, she would've expected faster movement, and less pleasant laughter. This is pleasant laughter, right? Sure it is. Fei says it's good, so it must be good.

She turns back in time to see pretty fire flowers being created in front of her, which she regards with curiosity. It doesn't look very dangerous. It looks pretty. Maybe the... whatever it actually is can't speak their language, and this is an attempt to communicate?

She's still just standing there gawking when miasma blasts her in the face, immediately sending her into a coughing fit. Okay, that was decidedly not pleasant. 'If this is supposed to be communication, she isn't very good at it,' she can't help but think while she takes a moment to recover. It's fine, though. She's fine, right? She feels fine.

She looks back to see Fei punching fire with fire, and seeming panicked about it. She can't help but laugh at that. "Oh Fei, you're so weird sometimes. That's just what you do! You set your hand on fire and then you punch the fire with more fire! If anything that wasn't enough fire! Look, here's how you do it."

The fire surrounding her own hand rapidly spreads to the rest of Xantia's body, surrounding her with a firey aura as she leaps towards the Fire Thief's new location, delivering a single blow before... landing flat on her face.

It takes approximately two seconds before she instantly lurches back to her feet, though she's looking a little... unstable, wobbling back and forth. She's still perfectly cheerful though. "...There, y'see? That's... the way y'do it."

GS: Xantia has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Elemental Fury!
GS: Xantia assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Eleanor doesn't know everyone who came, of course, but she knows enough--and knows the important part, that they're on the same side. To her mind, the effort to negotiate is doomed--but maybe it's important to try anyway. Even she can't know for sure it won't work, and it says something, trying. But for now, Eleanor hears Ida's voice, the whisper and the feeling in it.

Does Eleanor have spells that can put out this fire? That's going to be the question. "Ice and water aren't working... We'll have to smother it. Earth. But even ice and water may work if we can put out the source of the blaze--"

She nods to Citan, close by. "We'll back then up, right Doctor?"

She does feel reassured at his presence, and at his companions's too. Even with Fei worrying. He puts Lan immediately on her 'look after' list at this talk of not affording a hospital, and--

"If we don't do something about this power," Eleanor cautions the others, speaking up more loudly, "Then whoever's beneath all this flame will probably explode. This is nothing close to natural."

She stays behind Ida in the meantime, pulling more Crests as she goes. Magma is... a definite problem. Lava. And so is the flame that's catching on others forward. "Ida," she says. "Just be careful. Remember--focus on Ida."

There's worry in her voice as she pulls the next crest, this one of Geo and Fray that she lifts towards the sky again. "Hiro!" Eleanor calls. "Here, this should help you two!" Him and Ruby, taht is. Her Crest shines, and she calls out, "Shaped in the deeps, the resilience to move mountains! Stone Targe!"

Hiro's shield will harden and blaze in spectral flames that don't harm him.

"Oh, be careful!" she calls to Xantia.

GS: Eleanor Klein spends 1 Combo on Reload!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Hiro with Stone Targe!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
GS: Hiro accepts Eleanor Klein's Stone Targe for 0 hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Hiro!
GS: Hiro activates Reload!!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

From her perch up on the rooftop, Neriah nips down a handful of popcorn. A crow perches on each of her shoulders. It is somehow a single crow.

Still, she makes no effort to intervene in the conflict below. She watches with interest, canting her head to one side as she tries to pick out faces she recognizes in the group responding to the creature's rampage. A few voices reach her ears, and she connects them to names easily enough.

Ida. Neriah lowers her eyelids ever so slightly as a thought occurs to her:

    SHE *PUNCHED* ME. IN MY *STUPID FACE.*

Other voices register in kinder terms - she can hear Jacqueline down there. Setting aside her popcorn, the dark-haired woman brings her kiseru to her lips again and scowls as her mood gives way to something more troubled.

For all that she wants to see how this goes, and for all that's happened between herself and Jay, a part of her doesn't like to see the woman in trouble. She glances briefly at the crow on her shoulder.

Neriah stays put. She just leans forward, puffing out another smoke ring. "...Sorry, Jay," she murmurs to the open air, as if the alchemist could hear her. "But this is going to play out how it's going to play out."

The smoke ring floats into the shape of a lopsided heart before dissipating into the air.

<Pose Tracker> Citan Uzuki has posed.

    "That is... all well and good, Fei, Xantia. It is important to think before you fight and attempt to resolve matters in ways other than through violence," Citan says, calmly enough in spite of the occupant of his attention being the rolling flame in the shape of a woman.

    "...Nevertheless, I do not believe that now is the time! I think that we must--"

    Whatever that might be just get lost as the woman laughs hauntingly...

    And reacts with all due violence, unleashing a gas in their direction. The gas parts about Fei, but it keeps on flowing, rolling through the air like a river, and hits the doctor -- despite his attempts to shield himself against it -- like a tidal wave. It invades his lungs; he hunches over, hand over his mouth.

    Citan straightens after a moment, coughing and trying to clear the air about him of the clinging gas.
    It's strange. It smells like smoke. And it smells like roses.

    And he feels... odd. As if he's not truly occupying his all of his body. As if several key parts of his nervous system have been altogether pulled out of the socket. Something isn't right. But he can't yet work out what it is.

    And there is no time to work it out. Not now, of all times.

    The woman on fire continues to embody the aspect of flame--

    And flame is of course an ephemeral thing as he well knows.
    And so very, very hungry. Even ice and water seem of little avail against the flame and he takes a step back as Eleanor speaks to him.

    Funny. That movement just then felt... off.

    "Indeed... Miss Klein," he answers her, pulling on the few strands of ambient moisture that haven't been flung towards the living fire. He takes a breath, his gaze flickering over at Fei and Xantia.
    He weaves first for Fei the water and Ether into a vestment, a shield to absorb the figure's flames.

    "There is... something not quite right about this," he remarks to Eleanor. "Tell me, Miss Klein-- as a Crest Sorceror--"

    "...What do you think this is?"

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

The garden of fire that blooms might be something that could be considered beautiful.

It does not feel beautiful.

Azoth tries to lunge back from the glow of miasma that threatens to surround him. He thinks, for a fraction of a second, that he's pulled away in time... until he lands back on his heel wrong, balance wavering and sensors glitched over with brief static. Bright blue eyes flicker a strange red-orange. In a moment of terrifying stillness, his calculations come to several new distressing conclusions about his sense of balance.

"If we don't do something about this power, then whoever's beneath all this flame will probably explode."

Azoth's fingers twitch. "Sorry about this...!" The surge of power flowing through his arm is so forceful that his entire arm lights up with blue, geometric patterns visible through his black sleeves. His eyes flash too brightly, and energy explodes out of him as an unstable sword of white-blue energy manifests. He braces his outstretched arm, fingers flexed out as he commands it to fly straight for his target.

Once it fires, there's another explosive recoil in his body, and he twists and squeezes his sizzling wrist. None of that power calculation was remotely correct...! Either Azoth's just launched an attack more powerful than intended or, if most of it backfired into him, more pitiful than intended.

GS: Azoth has attacked Gwen Whitlock with ex?c.?? ERROR ? DIV ?? 0 ?!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: Citan Uzuki has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Gensoseii!
GS: Citan Uzuki has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Citan Uzuki has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


At the sound of the word fiend, Hiro looks up, and sorta, vaguely points at himself. But then his face splits into a grin as he sees the twins are here. "Hey Ivan, Talia! Didn't realize you were in the area." Hiro gives Ivan a silly grin, as if to indicate the two have a mutual reason why they wouldn't be thought to be in this particular area... yet both are. "Pretty fortuitous coincidence!"

And then Talia shouts that he can dispel the fire magic, and Hiro looks at her eagerly, "He can do that!? Amazing!"

Hiro believes sincerely in Ivan's ability to do this...

...for all of five seconds. "Wait... he can do that?"

Hiro is remembering the time they fought the giant Firebird fiend in Azado.

And that Lemina was there.

Also that precisely none of the flame at all was dispelled by Lemina wishing it to be so.

"Wait a secon-WHOA!"

Unfortunately, without much warning other than the fact she was you know, burning the whole town and laughing about it... she launches on the attack.

As an icicle forms in the hand of the being, Hiro doesn't seem all that startled by that mode of attack. After all... after all of his experiences with Lemina, he naturally presumes that fire goes hand in hand with ice. As if one were simply heat, and the other its absence. As it is sent in his direction, he slices his blade across it mid-flight. Destroying it into a spray of ice shards that shower his skin...

... but preventing it from doing more critical damage.

"I know I'd be surprised." Hiro counters to Fei, "But we'll figure it out later! After we stop her."

And then jutting a hand forward, he speaks a short incantation and shouts, "Ferocious Winds!"

Air currents suddenly shift and flow around her, moving from down to up. Billowing into a twisting column that moves vertically, high above the town... as if he was trying to vent some of toxic air way way up. And well... also to contain her, in his experience it's pretty hard to move, or work magic when one is being harassed on all sides by biting currents of tempestuous wind.

It's done in part at Fei's suggestion. Though then, he starts moving then, as if to try to get into a better position to deal with it, before Talia's question catches his attention.

"Not a clue! I was worried this might be connected to... something that we encountered in Azado right before Sin attacked but... her magic just... feels different?" He says, unable to articulate it. "And that thing sure wasn't doing a lot of ice magic... or... any, as it burned half the city."

Eleanor's enchantment then takes hold of his shield and it seems to grow more dense, the outside wood, banded in metal becoming hardened stone, licking with spectral flames. "Big help! I have a feeling I'm really gonna need this." He says her way. "... Maybe I even won't go through another shield today."

He's gone through a LOT of them.

Whereas Ruby flies through the air... and her whole body is now encased in stone armor with her bow jutting out of an impromptu helm. "Amazing! The resilience of the mountains! I've never felt sturdier." Ruby then flaps over to Eleanor, and while hovering in air presses a soft pawsie to her cheek. "Blessing of the Rocky Red Dragon upon you." And then he flies over to Fei. "And also to you." And to Ivan. "And you too - Believe in yourself Ivan!"

Her blessing doesn't actually do anything, her pawsie is just super soft.

GS: Hiro has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Tempest!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline closes in on the entity... but, she can see that she isn't the only one who's been pursuing her. There are others, too. Familiar faces, including...

"Talia!" Jacqueline calls back. But before either of them can continue, the entity attacks! Or...attacks?

It's hard to tell. Jacqueline watches as she produces plant-like forms, but quickly recoils as the fiery 'flowers' emit a cloud of miasma! She can feel the strong aspect of Fray emanating from it.

"Don't breathe it in! It's brimming with corrupted Fray... it can affect your mind and make you act in different ways." Jacqueline warns, backpedaling away. With a gesture of her left hand she invokes another Crest Graph, releasing a gust of wind that disperses the miasma in her immediate vicinity.

"Talia, Ivan, here... take this. This should help keep your mind clear." Jacqueline says, producing a pair of bottles filled with purple liquid and passing it out to the twins. Keyword being 'should'. She's never tested it against Fray energies like this, but in theory it should at least help - this particular potion was made to clear the mind and help focus, particularly effective when it comes to Sorcery.

She turns to study the entity, then.

"Are you...trying to reach out to us? Do you realise you're hurting people?" Jacqueline asks.

She is not aware that she's currently being watched.

GS: Jacqueline Barber has activated a Force Action!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Ivan with Focus Flask!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Talia with Focus Flask!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
GS: Citan Uzuki heals Fei Fong Wong! He gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Surge applied to Fei Fong Wong!
GS: Gwen Whitlock fully evades Hiro's Tempest for 0 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock activates Arcane Font!
GS: CRITICAL! Gamble: Low! Gwen Whitlock takes a glancing hit from Azoth's ex?c.?? ERROR ? DIV ?? 0 ? for 42 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Quick and Shield applied to Azoth!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Xantia's Elemental Fury for 118 hit points!
GS: Mighty applied to Xantia!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Talia's Freeze Lancer for 86 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock activates Guard bonus and Arcane Font!
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Ivan! He gains 110 temporary hit points!
GS: Restore! Disrupt removed!
GS: Surge applied to Ivan!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Fei Fong Wong's Kakei for 171 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Jacqueline Barber heals Talia! She gains 110 temporary hit points!
GS: Restore! Disrupt removed!
GS: Surge applied to Talia!
<Pose Tracker> Lan Lilac has posed.

    They're beautiful, the flowers...

    And the Fiend, despite the roar of flames and the heat licking her face, seems so... ethereal, maybe? They're nothing like the elementals Lan has met before. They're even... laughing?

    Maybe Fei is right. Maybe they're not aggressive. It'd be better to at least try to reason with them, or guide them elsewhere. She stiffens a bit as the being made of flame flits toward her, a hand reaching up - fire and golden heat reflect briefly in Lan's pale eyes - but the brief caress brings not only heat.

    A flash of bitter cold bursts through her, out of her, shards of ice exploding from like multiple misshapen wings. Lan gasps with the chill of it, the bucket falling from her fingers to clunk heavily on the paving stones.

    But... as cold, as shocking as it is... it doesn't actually hurt...?

    Shake it off! Lan takes a step back and stands up straight, a single determined STOMP of her foot enough to shatter the ice into a thousand glittering shards. They evaporate into steam upon hitting the ground, and Lan moves into a ready position.

    She hears her name yelled - "H-hey, no I'm good, see?" And because Lan hates it when people worry, hops up and down a couple of times. "See? I'm fine, Fei!"

    But if they don't do something, the whole market's going to burn down. And whoever's burning here... Are they burning inside? Are they scared?

    Breaking into a run, Lan's form practically blurs as she darts behind the Fiend and raises a leg to pivot and kick them back towards the others. "I'm sorry!"

<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

See? She's laughing! That's good right?

"Mmmaybe?" Little does Ivan realize that he and his sister are escalating tensions here by approaching with swords.

Ivan boggles as Fei tosses out the idea that this might be someone he knows, but then again would it be so strange, after all the things that have happened out in the world? Ivan tries to think if he knows anybody who might be a part-time fire demon...

Fortunately(??) Talia has a plan!

Use your fire magic to dispel that in an instant!

Ivan's jaw drops, and he flails at his sister.

"Talia!! When in our lives have I ever reduced the amount of fire in a situation?!"

Hiro, it seems, had approached the twins with a friendly greeting and is quite taken with the idea of fire cancelling fire, causing Ivan to feel embarrassed now that he has to dissappoint him. "You're giving Hiro weird ideas!!" he accuses Talia.

Around then is when the earth erupts beneath them, spewing magma and tossing them both to opposite sides. Ivan is knocked roughly to the ground and something searing hot crashes into his back; he has to roll quickly aside to dislodge the thick molten rock; it's burnt through his armor and working through layers of skin by the time he does. He strangles off a cry of pain and pushes to his feet. All of his instincts want to fight back with fire, but that would be absurd, and would probably escalate the situation in a way that would by upsetting and dangerous to the gathered folk around.

Instead, he tamps down his jumping nerves and channels concentration into his sword, punching it forward in a swift motion that carries toward the fire being in a shockwave of energy.

"Super Sonic Thrust!"

Somewhere in here, he receives the blessing of the Ruby, and an urging to BELIEVE IN HIMSELF.

"Th-thank you, Ruby, I will try."

Jacqueline Barber offers a slightly more tangible blessing, in a form of a potion to help counter the effects of Fray. Ivan drinks it down with a nod of thanks, but a look of confusion on his face.

"What is Fray...? Some kind of bad alchemy?"

GS: Lan Lilac accepts Gwen Whitlock's A Familiar Touch for 130 hit points!
GS: Ivan has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Super Sonic Thrust!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Lan Lilac has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Move Like Water!
GS: Lan Lilac has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lan Lilac has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Ivan's Super Sonic Thrust for 99 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Riposte applied to Ivan!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock takes a glancing hit from Lan Lilac's Move Like Water for 71 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Riposte applied to Lan Lilac!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida watches the fiery figure's body language--there's something serene and playful in it, and it's completely at odds with the destruction they're causing just by being here. "Weaken it first, then," she says, glancing back at Eleanor--but only for a moment. The street erupts in a burst of magma, and Ida steps back, away from the sudden, searing heat. Fiery flowers blossom from cracks in the stone, and the flames licking around the market stalls.

    "Who are you?" Ida asks. "Can you speak?!" Are they trying to?

    The figure leaps, and sends a wave of flame rushing down to meet Ida and Eleanor. The heiress can feel its infernal, unnatural heat, even through her armor--and that armor's endured some horrible burns before.

    "HAAH--!" Ida thrusts out her left arm, and the runes of the Red Gauntlet etch themselves on her exoskeleton in brilliant light. A moment later, the flame engulfs her, casting her as a dark silhouette against Setanta's stolen radiance. The runes erupt again, this time etched on the very air before Ida. The flame winks out, as if doused by a colossal candle-snuffer. Eleanor is completely unharmed.

    "Right, then," Ida says, coughing out a little soot. "Quite glad I listened to your provisioning advice!" Not that Ida would consider otherwise. Eleanor knows what she's talking about. Focus on Ida...?

    Ida closes the distance between her and her foe, and starts circling the flaming entity. Her hands lash out in jabs and palm-strikes, testing the entity's defenses--and whether or not it has any response at all.

    Out of the corner of her eye, though, she sees Xantia lose her balance, and moments later, Azoth erupts in an uncontrolled blast of power. "Damnation!" she cries, as Jay identifies the effect responsible. "Can you purge it from them?!"

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Water Dragon Form - Wave and Ripple Stance!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey assumes the Stoic stance!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Water Dragon Form - Wave and Ripple Stance for 92 hit
points!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Hiro's wind sails past the Thief, dispersing the remains of earlier miasma, but missing her altogether. She laughs, spinning in the aftermath, whirling her hair around like child that's stolen a bride's train from a chest, The hair lengthens in the air, this churns into a tornado of searing red, releasing from her grasp to roll towards Hiro,

    The Thief spins upsidedown, landing on her bare toes. Talia's lance of ice is met with a wall of sudden heat, the air shimmering as it cuts through it to crash against the Thief's left side. Talia calls to Ivan, who lets loose with a shockwave of fire, which the Thief attempts to evade this time, but is interrupted by Xantia's helpful demonstration to Fei, which allows both Ivan and Xantia's attacks to connect.

    Clapping her hands together once over her bowed head, the Thief spreads them wide, a sunny indentation of a grin on her face as fire swirls out with a thin whirl of ice, the katter siphoning off her right outstreched hand and arcing outwards towards Xantia, Ivan, Lan, and Talia.

    Flame shoots from Fei's fist, and the Thief laughs as Lan's kick throws her towards him, choosing to meet it head on and crash her head directly into his, Thankfully, this time, it's not to impart any sort of painful wisdom, except for that of pain of two hard heads knocking against one another.

    Which.... is a clue, perhaps. This is a physical spirit.

    '-Then whoever's beneath all this flame will probably explode.'

    The Fire Thief's head jerks upwards, her cruelly merry stepping from side to side slowing to a stop. The fire within her slows, like cooling lava, as the being looks up, towards the smoky sky. She looks down, at her hands, curling and flexing her fingers experimentally, rolling through them once before her body collapses in, her hair arcing and spiraling out chaotically as she spasms, barely managing to stay upright.

    She forces herself back to a stand, one eye now discernable through the spiking hair, a solid, glowing red of boiling rage, only amplified by Azoth's uncontrolled display of force crashing against her raised right arm, which the Thief returns, with a stab of her hair, elongating like a steel sheet towards his body.

    Ida charges, and suddenly, the Thief meets her, taking on her physical assault of jabs and hand strikes, none of them being met with any sort of intelligent trade of fists, only the force of her body as the Thief attempts to dodge straight _through_ Ida with a burst of flame, to get towards Eleanor, for her ineffable crime. Speeding past Citan, who is ignored for now, the Thief's left palm attempts to grab for Eleanor's chest to punch a radiating pulse of heat through her midsection, the flames jumping through the back.

    Jay attempts to reach out to her, in this state.

    Does she realize she's hurting people? Does she--

    A few seconds pass and the Thief has abandoned Eleanor, attempting to clap her hands to either side of her head. Unlike with Fei, this time, there's not force, just one, mental scream.

    --It hurts--

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Head-on Attack!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Azoth with Exposed Nerve!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Hiro with Fire Devil!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Orphan of Flame!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Harmonic Tremor!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Eleanor Klein with Gloriosa Fire Lily!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Talia with Fire and Ice!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ivan with Fire and Ice!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Xantia with Fire and Ice!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Lan Lilac with Fire and Ice!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Jacqueline Barber guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Harmonic Tremor for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Jacqueline Barber gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Delay applied to Jacqueline Barber!
DC: 2 turns have elapsed in the battle against Gwen Whitlock! 3 turns remain!
GS: CRITICAL! Hiro fully evades Gwen Whitlock's Fire Devil for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Hiro gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Riposte applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Hiro activates Evade bonus!
GS: Azoth guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Exposed Nerve for 94 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Azoth gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Lan Lilac fully evades Gwen Whitlock's Fire and Ice for 0 hit points!
GS: Lan Lilac activates Evade bonus!
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Fire and Ice for 132 hit points!
GS: Eleanor Klein takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Gloriosa Fire Lily for 187 hit points!
GS: Xantia guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Fire and Ice for 150 hit points!
GS: Fei Fong Wong takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Head-on Attack for 107 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Fei Fong Wong gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ivan critically guards Gwen Whitlock's Fire and Ice for 61 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ivan gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ivan activates Guard bonus!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Orphan of Flame for 184 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ida Everstead-Rey gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey activates Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"It seems logical!" Talia calls back to Hiro.

It is not logical. She looks at her brother -- opens her mouth -- then closes it. She reddens as she flusters, and her head jerks sharply to the side. "I-Ivan!" she complains. "It... it just seemed like... your special card, that you'd never played until a moment like this!"

She glances at Hiro. She considers what he says for a second -- shivers, a moment, at the mention of Azado -- and then she nods her head once, firmly. "I saw a little of that, no? But--even if she is something different--" Jay's words suggest that may be the case. "--we better not let her burn down the city!"

She glances as the alchemist. She blinks once, and then she takes the bottle -- uncorks it -- and drinks it down without a thought. "Thank you, Jay!" she says. "Now, ah--what does Fray mean? And... you... think this person--they may not mean to do this?"

Talia hisses softly, as she sees how her first spell is so easily sent away. She considers the Thief for a second more. She can spot an eye there -- glances at her brother -- and then she charges in. "I'll try to distract her! See if you can take advantage, no?"

She dives underneath the wave of fire, then hops up. She skids along the ground, then hops over the ice.

One nicks her side, as she comes in. She lands, not too far from Azoth, and her sword slashes downward as she lands. Then, she carves upward.

"Can you hear us?" she asks. "Where did you come from? I think you have people worried, and the way you're laughing--it is getting under my skin, no?"

GS: Talia has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Tiger Rage!
GS: Talia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

Fei looks back over to Lan and says, "I saw him you know. If you keep him in the dark he might resent you later." He looks to Hiro. "Uh--I was there man. I remember that...phoenix? we fought. It was a lot of fire."

he crosses his arms. "I don't really want to remember Azado right now though," He sighs, but Ruby's BLESSING OF THE ROCKY RED DRAGON seems to perk him up.

FEI PSYCHO 5

"Thanks Ruby." Fei says, "I feel a lot better already. But Ruby...!"

Fei presses a finger into Ruby's cheek. "Don't forget to save some Blessing of the Rocky Red Dragon for yourself!"

Fei may believe in himself with the iad of the Rocky Red Dragon's blessing but he's not going to believe in himself enough to think that anybody wants the Friendly Fei Blessing.

The Thief smashes her head into Fei's which luckily means it wasn't hitting anything important but he still stumbles back from the blow, grimacing as he's stunned by the strike. "Woof." He says, straightening and shaking his head a few more times. Citan's water shield ripples a round him which helps dissipitate some of the lingering flames off of him while further providing some resilience to further fire bursts that might hit him.

"Thanks Doc," Fei says. "Sorry I tried to keep the gas off off you but I still don't really have the best handle on moving this stuff around." He calls the ridiculous shit he does 'moving stuff' so far. He doesn't seem to have an idea on how else to put it.

Nevertheless, that mental scream and Fei bleeds briefly from his nose as he grimaces, grabbing at his head.

it hurts

Fei exhales slowly, shaking his head again. Dark ether crackles around his fistst as he straightens up and rolls his shouldders back. "Alright..." He pushes the pain slamming into his psyche down into his fists and leaps in towards the Thief, swinging both hands for the side of her head.

"I'm not going to try and hurt you too much...! But you need to calm down before we can help you!"

GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Infinite Darkness Ether Channel!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Fei Fong Wong assumes the Avenger stance!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Xantia lets out a long, drawn-out sigh when Eleanor calls out to be careful, physically waving off the concern. "I just saaaaid, I am careful! I'm always careful! Y'worry too much, Lily."

Where did that case of mistaken identity even come from? Maybe Xantia is not okay. She's rapidly starting to look less okay, both the look in her eyes and the way she's struggling to hold her footing making it look like she spent a little too much time at the tavern.

She turns back to face the threat that she should have been paying attention to, just in time to see a whirling vortex of two polar opposite elements being formed. "Oh neat! Maybe I could--"

That's as far as she gets before the blast is sent in her direction. Reflexively she crosses her arms in front of her, the attack partially absorbed by her magic-resistant bracer, but it's still plenty effective, eventually breaking through her guard and pushing her back as she weathers it as best she can. Though she manages to remain standing, she seems that much more disoriented afterwards, starting to stumble off in a seemingly random direction. Until she trips, loses her balance entirely...

...and crashes directly into Azoth. Not with a great deal of force, she just ends up using him to keep her balance, more or less draped all over him. It seems to take some effort for her to raise her head, peering into his eyes for a moment. Then she smiles, managing to at least identify this person correctly.

"...Azooooth, hiiii. Y'know somethin'?"

She leaves that - and herself - hanging there for a couple of seconds before she continues.

"I'm on fire. And now, so are you."

It's true. Xantia is on fire, and now Azoth's body is also wreathed in flames. Though this might be a deeply concerning experience, it doesn't actually feel like being on fire should. It's a strangely comfortable warmth, the flames not burning either of them. Others may wish to refrain from touching Azoth for a bit, though.

And then Xantia steps around Azoth and forcefully pushes him from behind, in the general direction of the Fire Thief. "Now go! Fight fire with fire with me!" She laughs like a maniac, evidently finding all this exceedingly entertaining.

She stops instantly when the mental scream rings out, freezing up, and just sort of staring now. Even in her current stupor, this seems to have made her realize that whatever is going on here is no laughing matter.

GS: Xantia has attacked Azoth with Fiery Embrace!
GS: Xantia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
GS: Azoth accepts Xantia's Fiery Embrace for 0 hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Azoth!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Fei Fong Wong's Infinite Darkness Ether Channel for 155 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock takes a glancing hit from Talia's Tiger Rage for 56 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Slow applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock activates Evade bonus!
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Eleanor does not think it's a good thing that she's laughing. But at least Jay is handling the effects of the miasma; Eleanor has her hands full trying to keep people standing otherwise.

Citan asks her her professional opinion on what they face, and so Eleanor reviews the facts in her mind again. Corrupted Fray, flame everywhere--capability of using ice, apparently, which surprises her--and a humanoid form. These, with others--And the way the Thief stops at what Eleanor says.

"A wellspring of corrupted Fray energies," Eleanor answers first. "I believe there may be a person within, channeling and focusing the energies, though I have no explanation as to why corrupted Fray can use ice."

Being a party healer means not having to say you're sorry, at least.

As, apparently, does one's magic sliding through to affect Ruby. A soft pawsie presses to her cheek, and Eleanor actually stops for an instant in all the chaos to smile warmly at Ruby. "Be safe," she asks her, and goes back to fighting.

Ida moves into action and mentions her advice, and Eleanor offers a different sort of smile--grimmer--to the direction of Ida in melee with the being, defending her from the terrible light. "Right now I'm glad of that myself!"

But being spared once does not continue it forever. The Thief fights through Ida towards Eleanor. As busy as she is, the young elf is not fast enough to get out of the way. The Thief's palm grabs at her and gets a good hold, blasting through her with a beautiful flowering of flame. Eleanor gives a cry of pain and stumbles backward, though her preparations--the suddenly blazing red gem on her right hand or perhaps Ruby's blessing--ensure that the flame is merely awful instead of also horrific. She slouches immediately, having trouble staying completely upright in the moments after--before she hears that scream...

"I don't think she likes us talking about her!" Eleanor forces her shoulders straight, and her magical protections ensure she isn't still smouldering. But that much power... Eleanor can feel the remnants of that corrupted Fray energy within her as her body returns to normal, and it's... dazing? Exhilirating? Also she's pretty sure Xantia called her Lily earlier. Where could that have come from? "Nn--"

Eleanor's boots slip against the stones as she tries to deal with the energies, but her eyes start to glow orangeish. She pulls her rifle from her back. "Ida!" she says. "This isn't the time--so we can't stop here!"

Her preparations already will see to Ida's safety--the magic she gave her, the things she had her equip. So with her foresight used, Eleanor can't quite stop herself from pulling her weapon--and firing, emptying the large rifle at her fiery foe with deafening report.

GS: Eleanor Klein spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Foresight!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has launched an attack Link!
GS: Eleanor Klein spends 2 Combo on Gatling, loading 2 into Gatling!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Abundance!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey accepts Eleanor Klein's Foresight for 0 hit points!
GS: Lock State applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


"You too." Ruby says to Eleanor, "But I guess right now I'm feeling extra safe thanks to you!" It also might just be that Ruby has discovered she's quite fire resistant but - she's not about to rain on Eleanor's parade by saying that.

"Ehehehe... Oh Fei!" Ruby daintily waves a pawsie in an almost Oh stop gesture as he touches her cheek before flying on. "Being me is a blessing!"

Humility, your name is Ruby.

Ruby flies en route to Ivan, where he says he'll try. "I'll accept 'try'!"

And then Talia... "She has a point Ivan! I mean- I think it'd be a bit strange if you didn't have a secret trump card of some sort that you've never shown anyone-!" "And when he plays it! It's going to be super cool!" Ruby calls out as she flies off.

Honestly Hiro would think this of any super ex-assassin. He knows Jean probably has like, three trump cards that she hasn't shown him.

Hiro isn't that surprised that Talia witnessed the burning of Azado, a lot of people showed up to fight Sin after. With a nod he calls out, "Yeah. Luca's gone through enough... without some random fire - whatever she is! Burning it all down for no reason."

The Thief dodges away from his tempest. "She's fast!" Hiro exclaims, but he's already running. Not to keep pace, but to at least remain just behind her. Trying to follow behind her. And then he feels this subtle difference in the air. This heat. Breaking to the side, he dashes behind a ruined stall right before a FLASH of twisting red incinerates it.

And then breaks into a rush out of that space the moment the initial blast hits it... and kicks off the side of a burning building, trying to keep up.

The laugh is starting to get under his skin as well, as he finds himself squinting, eyes burning against the heat - and ears ringing like some otherworldly echo against the laughter. The last time the laughter got to him this much... it was Zophar laughing at Lucia's misfortune.

Talia is trying to talk to it, still, and so is Fei. But Hiro sounds... unnerved a bit as he says, "If you're not going to listen to them then-" Sailing through the burning air, raising his blade in a powerful two handed slash that tries to strike her at a diagonal to try and disrupt whatever chaotic rhythm she's worked herself up into. "-DODGE THIS!"

GS: Hiro spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Hiro has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Poe Sword!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Hiro's Poe Sword for 128 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Hyper and Shield applied to Hiro!
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

There are some things Neriah enjoys. Watching Jay Barber suffer is not one of them.

Even from here, she can hear the edges of the mental voice crying out. She presses her lips together and exhales through her nose, balancing her cigarette holder delicately between her fingers. Something in her guts pushes at her - urges her to go down there and do something to help Jay.

She glances to one side, then back with a little hiss and a shake of her head. "She's a big girl," she mutters. "Besides, if she gets into trouble, I'm sure frigging Lunie will save her."

She says the name 'Lunie' with a certain bitterness. She practically spits it out.

Pushing herself to her feet, she finds her footing in open air, planting a hand at her hip. It's easier to spot her now, but she still holds off on jumping into things - she's just keeping an eye on Jay.

And on the figure of flame, curiously enough - though even there, she's not really helping. She just clicks her tongue in thought. "So she's still in there, anyway," she murmurs. "Wonder what they'll do about that."

She smiles with a spark of bitterness as a thought occurs to her: Funny how the only one to do it for me was Jay. More proof that all of these Drifters are garbage people who deserve what I have in store for them.

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

They ask who this is. They ask if she can hear them. They ask if she can speak at all.

It's familiar. They're always like this. They're always trying. Surrounded in flames or surrounded in blades, they're always trying. When does it get them killed? It hasn't yet. He wants it to work. He needs it to work. If it works, then --

But all of that is difficult to process while something in him pulses red-orange. It's like venom in his core filling the void of his spent battery. The unexpected explosion of power is more space for this new, strange energy to fill. Errors warn him of his systems running far too hot. Shouldn't be the case. Haven't --

Red hair lances toward him. Every calculation concludes moving is still a bad idea. The formulas are glitched. The numbers are wrong. Azoth erects a shield. It's tainted orange over the blue. The hair smashes into it, piercing, then pushes past to graze across his arm and slice open his sleeve. His shoulder sparks.

Those are red-orange, too.

Talia lands beside him.

ERROR FRIENDLY TARGET

Um, yes? Obviously?

ERROR FRIENDLY TARGET

???!?

But before Azoth can question himself further, he's suddenly got arms full of Xantia reflexively when she collides into him. ERROR FRIENDLY TARGET Yes, she IS, thank you? "...Xaaaaantia, helloooo," he mirrors, uncertain, as he tries to steady her. He'd ask if she were okay, but he thinks he knows the answer to that.

Then she's on fire. Then they're both on fire. Azoth's engulfed in that warmth, unburning and... cozy? Is that a feeling he's had before? This comfort...

With a dramatic shove, Azoth's thrust toward the Fire Thief... "W-Wait, Xantia -- I think there's something wrong with --" ...Who is not currently registered as any sort of friendly target.

His eyes flash red-orange, and without a second's protest or hesitation, that new warm power surges with the strange poison of violence absorbed in his core. What Xantia's shove doesn't cover, Azoth's sudden burst of energy does. Hand outstretched, several swords trail behind him. They chase his pursuit, gathering in a chain as he makes to hack through the Fire Thief with them in an upward slash, then smash them all explosively back down like a conductor managing his sword symphony.

Maybe laughter and giggling are common symptoms, but Azoth has to consciously fake that -- so for all the invasive joy buzzing in his core, there is absolutely nothing on his face.

GS: Azoth spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Gwen Whitlock with If Then!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Azoth has launched an attack Link!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Gwen Whitlock with End If!
GS: Azoth assumes the Stoic stance!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

Talia invents, and then Ruby perpetuates, the spurious rumor that Ivan has a secret power he has never displayed to anyone... and now... now he feels like he needs to get one.

And when he plays it! It's going to be super cool!

"Er... sure! But it's not making fire go away! It's... something else! Please wait for it!"

Waves of fire and ice crash toward them. Ivan dismisses his sword and quickly unsheathes the umbrella at his side, popping open the canopy. It shines with a sheltering force that helps deflect some of the ice shards, though swirls of flame still lick past it and lash into him.

Talia moves in close to distract the fire being, bidding him to use that as an opening.

As Talia starts to harry the fire being, Ivan releases a wave of holy force from his umbrella, which flies outward in a shape of a dome that creates a knockback pulse. There is something gently judgmental in the wash of holy light, as if the umbrella wishes her well, but thinks she has made some questionable life choices. Considering the burning marketplace around them, the umbrella may not be alone in this.

It hurts.

The voice takes Ivan aback, at odds with the figure that had been almost playful until now.

"--Are you all right? Do you know what you're doing?" Well, but why would asking now be any more effective than any of the others' attempts to get through to her?

GS: Ivan has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Umbrella Rebuke!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Ivan asks a question, and Talia follows it up. What is Fray?

"Fray is... it's the elemental essence of 'Fire', to put it simply. The fire aspect of the Leyline, and one of the four core elements used in Crest Sorcery." Jacqueline explains. "The others being Geo, the essence of Earth, Muse, the essence of Water, and Wing, the essence of Wind."

She frowns.

"And this entity, who or whatever she is... she's radiating with Fray-aspected energy, but... it's been corrupted, somehow." Jacqueline explains. And Eleanor puts forth a good question, too - she's able to utilize ice too, for some reason. That... Jacqueline does not have a good answer for.

It seems like the Fray miasma has affected some of the others, too. Ida asks if she can purge.

"I... I'm not sure, I've never tried to-" Jacqueline's words are cut off as the entity, the Fire Thief, approaches her in response to her reaching out. Before Jacqueline can recoil back, she finds her head clasped between both hands. And then... there's a SCREAM.

'It hurts'.

This thought fills her head, drowning out all others. Jacqueline's eyes open wide and she recoils back in shock, collapsing limply to her knees, her breathing unsteady. It takes her a second to stand up after that, still shaking as she tries to get back to her feet.

"...'It hurts'..." Jacqueline repeats. "She's... she's in pain."

She can't help feel a pang of sympathy. ...It's no wonder she's lashing out, in that case.

"It's...It's alright... we can help you. But first... you have to let us help you." Jacqueline urges. With that, she brings out a bottle. Very carefully, she tosses it at the Thief's feet. It erupts into a plume of lavender flame... but its the smoke from that flame that's the real key - it instills a feeling of sleepiness in those who breathe it in, slowly draining stamina until it can be shaken off.

GS: Jacqueline Barber spends 1 Combo on Poison!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Apothecary's Fire!
GS: Delay expired!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Citan Uzuki has posed.

    "...Then you think the same. I have not your senses for the elements, as such, Miss Klein... but other things are quite clear! As you said, we must see if we are able to box her in!"
    And snuff her flames.

    "Do not worry about that now, Fei! Focus on yourself!" the doctor calls back, shaking his head when Fei apologizes for not keeping the gas off him. The younger man might as well have apologized for letting the wind blow -- vapor and gas are difficult to contain and redirect.

    The situation is rapidly threatening to get out of control. If the Thief is not subdued soon, it's possible that all of Luca could burn...

    The town remaining under the Guard's control but whole would be preferable to this. And it's clear she's no Fiend, nor a Hellion. It's clear that someone is inside, under those flames. But who?

    A nasty, crawling possibility has begun to present itself in the back of Citan's mind. One hopes that he's wrong. It would be far preferable to be wrong.

    He doesn't dare voice it.

    'It can affect your mind and make you act in different ways', Jay explains.

    ...So that's what's happened. He'd been afraid it was something like that, that or a toxin. His mind seems to be more or less 'intact' but...
    But something still isn't right physiologically and he isn't yet sure what part of him has been affected. The only thing to do is wait and see.

    He draws on more yet of the lingering water vapor, again spinning it into a coherent shield for the other one he is currently watching out for: Xantia. Up in front, facing her flames straight on, she is far more at risk than he is should the humanoid flame lash out for her. Water isn't enough to douse the flames, as Eleanor had said--

    And it's Eleanor who is targetted in the next heartbeat. The Thief moves quickly, darting like flame along dry straw as she flows on past him to strike for Eleanor. Perhaps he would have rounded on her, doing what he could to force her back.

    But the woman -- the Thief -- screams, clutching at her head, and it is as sharp as a knife.

    -it hurts-

    "That woman... she is..." Citan shakes his head, reaching out a hand towards the young elf. "Miss Klein, you must fall back!"

GS: Citan Uzuki has attacked Xantia with Gensoseii!
GS: Citan Uzuki has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Cover and Riposte expired!
GS: Citan Uzuki has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida sees that sudden change in the Thief's demeanor--that moment of awareness, perhaps, in the midst of the roiling inferno. It reminds Ida far too much of when she was a Hellion, and the Malevolence pendulum swung back from rage to empathy. "Stop!" the martial artist cries, even as she launches her attack.

    Ida is playing a dangerous game, getting this close. Hyadean flesh wicks through her exposed face before the heat can blister her skin, lending it a silvery sheen. She takes a half-step to the right, but then the entity bull-rushes her, slamming into her with terrible force. Ida tries to sidestep, but she's caught off-guard. The entity knocks her off her feet, sends her sprawling to the ground; she skids a good five feet, ending up dangerously close to the pooling, roiling lava in the road. Fire licks across her body from where the thief touched her. Ida rolls across the ground, trying to smother it before it spreads. Smoke curls from her body, hiding a cloud of miasma as it approaches her.

    Burning Fray pours into Ida's lungs. She coughs and coughs until her body spasms, contorting into a C-shape--but she feels its claws sinking in.

    Red haze spreads through Ida's thoughts. Her pulse quickens; her heart begins to thunder in her ears. Sweat beads on her forehead.

    "Is that--is that all you have?" she growls, planting the sigil-adorned hand on the pavement and shoving herself upright. Crimson and quicksilver wick from a handful wounds--places where the Thief's unnatural fire ate through her exoskeleton. Between the coughing and the sharp impact to her ribs, it's difficult for her to breathe.

    it hurts

    "Ghk," Ida chokes out, stumbling back and pressing a hand to her temple. The battle-fury ebbs within her, pierced through by compassion. "Who are you?" Ida says, her tone harsher than she probably means.

    'Ida! This isn't the time--so we can't stop here!'

    "Right," Ida breathes. It takes physical effort, but she reaches down to her thigh, her exoskeleton sliding open to reveal her pocket. Ida pulls out a small vial--miraculously uncrushed, thanks to the presence of said exoskeleton--and downs it in a single gulp. The Remedy courses through her system, and she feels the high of the Fray infusion dissipate. She lets out a breath, and plumes of ethereal soot swirl away on the breeze.

    She flashes a thumbs-up to Eleanor, who encouraged her to buy that earlier.

    Then Ida presses fingers together, forming a single plane from thumb to pinky. She blurs across the road, her right hand snapping out in a classical knife-hand strike to the back of the Thief's neck. Her hand crackles with disruptive power--Ida's own life-force, condensed into a brilliant, pure energy. Should the strike hit, the energy leaps into the Thief's body, and quickly gets to work disrupting the flow of that tainted Fray.

    Ida's no sorceress, but she does know how to short-circuit someone's vital forces. If this energy is using this person as a host, she might be able to disrupt it.

    Then someone else joins in, glowing brilliant red-orange. Ida's eyes snap open in shock and horror. "Azoth?!"

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Searing Ember Strike!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey's Stoic stance ends.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Citan Uzuki heals Xantia! She gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Surge applied to Xantia!
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Eleanor Klein's Abundance for 102 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock fully evades Azoth's If Then for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Lan Lilac has posed.

    Flame arcs out and Lan somersaults backwards, bringing her arms up in front of her once she lands on her feet again. Safe! ...Oh... they're hurting, aren't they...? But they have to be stopped. They're going to end up hurting people, and if Eleanor is right they're going to end up being hurt.

    A theory that looks more and more likely when the Thief seems to stop, perhaps realizing something about itself as it looks down at its hands. Grabs its head in its hands.

    It's not like that's a particularly unique gesture, is it? So why is Lan struck by a sort of familiarity? It couldn't have been that, right? Her arms lower a scant few inches as she stares after the Thief.

    it hurts

    Lan twitches, eyes widening slowly. She's not looking at the flame, but through it - at something a million miles away. Somewhere distant, the flutter of wings.

    "Gwen...?" she whispers.

    No. No, it can't be--

    Something clicks into place, and Lan coils her body like a spring, launching herself for the Thief. It can't be. But if it is, then--!

    Once, twice, Lan's form blurs as she passes the humanoid pyre, momentum redirecting to take her safely out of harm's way once she's struck out twice. She ends up next to Fei, in time to hear that bombshell. "...Now's not the right time, okay?!" She knows, because--

GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Azoth's End If for 250 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Lan Lilac has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Double Weave!
GS: Lan Lilac has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Lan Lilac has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock guards a hit from Ivan's Umbrella Rebuke for 84 hit points!
GS: Dispel! Riposte removed!
GS: Gwen Whitlock activates Guard bonus!
GS: Delay! Attack weakened!
GS: Gwen Whitlock fully evades Jacqueline Barber's Apothecary's Fire for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a glancing hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Searing Ember Strike for 0 hit points!
GS: Cripple and Disease applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a glancing hit from Lan Lilac's Double Weave for 70 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Talia manages to slip under the Thief's flames and ice, drawing the demon(?)'s attention as Talia planned. Her sword meets the Thief's right arm, Talia's eyes meeting the Thief's as she further grabs the being's gaze, away from Ivan's rebuking umbrella, which she barely manages to raise her other hand against. It also draws her attention away from Azoth, who is just now been charged by Xantia's fiery influence. His two part binary symphony of swords hits against both of the Thief's arms now in that upward thrust of force. The downward thrust breaks the Thief's defense, hitting her core and throwing her back, wheeling through the air.

    Ivan's question draws a wide smile as the thief floats upward to a stand, veil hair radiating from her. Does she know what she's doing? Does a fire ever know?

    Dodging past Lan's combo, she zeroes in towards Fei, attracted to his words, or rather--

    His hands hit with well-timed strikes against her head, stilling the fire within temporarily, that is, until she attempts the same with him, grasping his head to try to hold him in place as transparent wide plans of lit gas hair wraps around him, trying to squeeze him like a fruit.

    It's not enough, when she breaks away. Jay attacks in just that instance, her expertise with with medicinal liquids managing to slow the thief down, just enough.

    '-DODGE THIS!'

    There's a glimmer of something in the fire demon(?)'s eyes as she tilts her head up towards Hiro, as he shouts his familiar phrase and crashing his blade down at her. It strikes hard, and the Thief raises her hands up, using that closeness to try to press two hands to his head, just as she had down with Jay moments before.

    There's warmth, but the warmth of a fire, of two friends talking, and laughing. Doubling over that brief warmth is concern, and fear. Concern for Hiro, fear for everyone, a crippling sadness. But something goes wrong, in the middle of that transfer, and that flash of realization is pierced by burning pain, which shoots out to Hiro. Pain, like being on fire, inside and out, an impossible sensation that should not exist because no mortal body should be alive at this point. It feels infinite, even if the exposure felt accidental, like holding back a scream. And then--

    The warmth of something narcotic, flooding in, easing the pain back, with a sharp stab of pride to narcotic levels. Everything, at their fingertips, a field of flowers, all here. She can see it. Then, riding atop all that, a growing hunger, as the Thief attempts to throw Hiro aside. The connection may not pierce through Hiro's mental defenses enough to affect his mental state, but he'd definitely feel it.

    The stolen bridal veil rips and spreads out like rivers, the Thief's body arcing back as rivers of lava form from the ground, snaking their way towards Azoth, Xantia, Ivan, and Talia, each edged with their own flower. Hibiscus for Ivan, white lilies for Talia, bright pansies for Xantiua, dhalias for Azoth.
    
    The hair slices through the shimmering heat of the street, the rising temperatures threatening to bring down the buildings on either side, even as they manage to limit the Thief's influence. Like the banners of a street fair, the strands lance towards Lan, swirling around her tight enough in an embrace that could cut deeply if she doesn't move, Citan, slicing through past his sides in a manner than fails to bring pain, towards the aiming Eleanor, ignorant of her rifle as they swipe cleanly past her cheek, and towards Ida, slicing as she charges up to the back of the Thief's neck.

    That would have been enough, right there, to silence her, if it hit. In another time, it would have, if not for Eleanor's shot, pinning the Thief just briefly enough for Ida's hand to disrupt her

    The miasma dissipates, but in its place, heat builds to oppressive levels. It must end now.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Hungry Ember!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Azoth with Phlegethon!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Xantia with Phlegethon!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Talia with Phlegethon!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ivan with Phlegethon!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Phlegethon!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Hiro with Thank you for the flowers!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Lan Lilac with Neurotic Fissure!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Citan Uzuki with Neurotic Fissure!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Eleanor Klein with Neurotic Fissure!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Neurotic Fissure!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Thank you for the flowers for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Hiro gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Infect! Debuff durations extended!!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Pray grants a random effect! Shield and Weaken applied to Hiro!
GS: Talia takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Phlegethon for 103 hit points!
GS: Slow applied to Talia!
GS: Talia enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: CRITICAL! Eleanor Klein takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Neurotic Fissure for 205 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Eleanor Klein gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Hex applied to Eleanor Klein!
GS: Azoth critically guards Gwen Whitlock's Phlegethon for 41 hit points!
GS: Jacqueline Barber takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Phlegethon for 203 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Jacqueline Barber gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Slow applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Citan Uzuki has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Accelerate!
GS: Ivan takes a glancing hit from Gwen Whitlock's Phlegethon for 111 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ivan gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Slow applied to Ivan!
GS: Ivan enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Citan Uzuki fully evades Gwen Whitlock's Neurotic Fissure for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Citan Uzuki gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Neurotic Fissure for 90 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ida Everstead-Rey gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Slow applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey activates Guard bonus!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Lan Lilac guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Neurotic Fissure for 88 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Lan Lilac gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Break applied to Lan Lilac!
GS: Lan Lilac enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Xantia takes a solid hit from Gwen Whitlock's Phlegethon for 207 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Xantia gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Slow applied to Xantia!
<Pose Tracker> Talia has posed.

"I believe in you, brother!" Talia calls back to her twin.

Then she looks to her side -- at Azoth and, by definition, also at Xantia -- and blinks. "Ah! Azoth!" she says. "You are on fire. But it seems to be fine, no?"

She glances to Jacqueline -- and her eyes widen, for a second. "Corrupted...? Is this like--no, it isn't Malevolence--" She frowns. "But... it is something bad, no? We should help her!"

She looks back at the Thief. Ivan, Jay, and a lot of others call out to her; Talia's eyes meet the Thief's, and she feels her blade bite into the arm. It is a tremendous surprise, the way she looks at her. It feels different -- it feels remarkable, somehow. Her breath catches for a second, and then she sees the Thief grab for Hiro. "Hiro!" she calls out. "Get back!"

Lava comes crashing at her. She just twists to the side, just managing to get away from it -- and the white lilies on the edges of the river cut into her side, splashing blood on the ground. Her leg stumbles; she spits, once, to the side.

"Ivan! Hiro! Azoth--I'll try to keep her in place!" she yells. "But it won't hold for long!"

A magical circle explodes underneath her feet again. It flares upward, bright blue-white light -- and then a large column of ice appears above the Thief, at an angle. It builds upon itself; ice expands outward, forming a cage that shoots around the Thief. It begins melting in an instant; rivulets of water are already falling onto Luca's streets.

But if it connects, it might pin her for just a moment.

GS: Talia has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Frigid Coffin!
GS: Talia has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Talia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

When someone says they're lost in thought, they probably don't mean they see a deluge of numbers and calculations. They're glitched and unreadable, Azoth's core burning with a fire that demands power output.

But after the explosion of force he's used, Azoth's eyes dim, then struggle to light before going dim again. It was a massive burst of power, and without his overrides, Azoth can abide by the risks. Save that energy, because he might just need it for an energy shield that helps him hold back a river of lava. It cracks and sputters, then breaks, but Azoth is spared welding to himself as the heat brings in more warnings to his core.

Miasma fades, and red-orange light becomes blue again. This flower... Dahlia pinnata...?

"Wh...at's... happening?" is what he manages to say, letting the fear emote into his voice, but so do a few glitched reverberations. "Xantia...? Xantia! Are you all right?!"

Talia calls out to him, and Azoth's awareness snaps back. The task at hand slams back to his awareness. "Understood!" The heat is rising, and the fire thief may well be exploding. If they can't end this now, then everyone's going to burn.

So while Talia tries to hold the Thief in place, Azoth conjures blue lances of light above her form. He spins around and snaps his fingers, commanding them all to converge down upon the thief's body with an explosive burst of power that hopefully seeks to rattle her defenses while Talia locks her down.

GS: Azoth has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Circuit Breaker!
GS: Azoth has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Entangle expired!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Talia's Frigid Coffin for 146 hit points!
GS: Delay and Entangle applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock activates Arcane Font!
<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Citan confirms his thoughts on the matter--strengthening Eleanor's theory. Other things are very clear. "Right!"

She does not hear Lan's whisper, or know what she knows, but she nods sharply back to Ida with whom she works like--well, like old comrades, at this point. That's one of the ways.

 The Thief's hair loops out, heat spilling all around her, and while Eleanor does not burn up--it feels like she might. The heat is so oppressive already, and the strands that wrap around her bring white-hot pain that blocks out all her senses for an instant as she stumbles back and hits the ground, her rifle suddenly too hot to hold now that she's fired it. Citan cautions her to get back--and as the corrupted Ley essence runs through her body, Eleanor realizes that he's entirely right. Well, between that and the tears in her eyes from the pain. She shifts back, and realizes that she can't get out in time. So... she needs a different method.

Talia says she'll hold her in place--Eleanor hears that, as her vision swims in the heat. Her lips feel dry; her throat hurts. The fire is more than she can handle, but she pulls something else from her things. Not a Crest, but a coppery-bronze flute that gleams harshly in the light, an instrument that she brings up from where she sits on the burning stone. Her magic can keep her only partly--but this is a different sort of magic, an older, stranger thing.

Eleanor breathes, and starts to play. The melody is strange and winding, music in a minor key. It loops low to high, the flute's voice fluttering into the air to shield others, to touch the flame itself and try to make it burn less, to soothe and confuse and disperse.

Eleanor's eyes squeeze shut as she plays, but the magic keeps the flames from touching her further for now.

GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Talia with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Lan Lilac with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Citan Uzuki with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Jacqueline Barber with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Ivan with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Azoth with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Hiro with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Eleanor Klein with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Xantia with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has attacked Fei Fong Wong with Shielding Melody!
GS: Eleanor Klein has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Eleanor Klein has completed her action.
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Jacqueline Barber! She gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Lock State applied to Jacqueline Barber!
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Hiro! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Shield applied to Hiro!
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Eleanor Klein! She gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Shield applied to Eleanor Klein!
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Ivan! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Lock State applied to Ivan!
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Lan Lilac! She gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Quick applied to Lan Lilac!
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Xantia! She gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Amplify applied to Xantia!
GS: ROU|LET|TE: Low! Fei Fong Wong guards a hit from Gwen Whitlock's Hungry Ember for 45 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Fei Fong Wong gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Fei Fong Wong activates Arcane Font!
GS: Fei Fong Wong enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Gwen Whitlock drains Fei Fong Wong! Gwen Whitlock gains 0 temporary hit points!
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Azoth! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Hyper applied to Azoth!
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Fei Fong Wong! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Amplify applied to Fei Fong Wong!
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Ida Everstead-Rey! She gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Quick applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
<Pose Tracker> Ivan has posed.

You are on fire. But it seems to be fine, no?

"T-talia, I don't know if it's for us to decide if it's fine that Azoth is on fire..." Ivan cuts in. But Azoth doesn't seem to be behaving in the ways you might expect from being on fire, and there is really too much going on to try to intervene if it's not an emergency...

More molten rock rages out from the earth at them, this time with strange flowers along the sides. Ivan manages to leap clear of the worst of it, propelling himself upward on jets of fire -- it's all right as long as he doesn't hit anything else that's flammable, right?

Meanwhile, Talia creates an icy prison to try to hold the fire being still for another attack barrage.

Is hurting her really the best thing to do? But reasoning certainly isn't working...

Ivan uses another fiery burst to aim his descent so that he's falling down toward the fire being, summoning his warhammer into his hands to give her a mighty (but hopefully nonlethal) bludgeoning on the way down.

GS: Ivan has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Rocket Boosters!
GS: Ivan has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Ivan gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Ivan has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Ivan's Rocket Boosters for 160 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes a solid hit from Azoth's Circuit Breaker for 156 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak applied to Gwen Whitlock!

"For all of the world's inequities and sin, there remains a special place for the iscariot," he muses.

As the pressure mounts, the world convulses, twisting on itself until wound so tight that even you can feel its heartbeat. The threads of fire licking at the sky are threads of that unimaginable pain and torment, and slowly, winding threads of flesh bleed into the burn, long fingers of the master running through the legacy's hair. Mote by mote, thread by thread, the fire turns, as black and as crystalline as an icy night sky.

"Give in, and know that you will be carried with them all, into a shining steel sky."

His voice is like liquid. His invitation is endless. And when he arrives, he is not seen, nor is he heard. His is the presence of those that were betrayed, those who were left behind, their fear, their anger, their wrath twisting tightly into knot upon knot. Their horror coalesces into a painful, shrill buzz, like the ominous laughter of cicadas deep in the summer night. The door opens, and the cold is let in in great steel baleclouds. The world itself feels as if it is tilting. But it is not any person you see. Only the vague revulsion of your own heartbeat recognizing an alien presence, and the pain of your own invasive thoughts rattling inside your own mind.

"Resist, and know that when the world that is dies, you too shall go along with it..."

It is a seductive case he makes, for one second, one moment, one blink of a time. Then, your strength comes to you. Then, the sky turns back, to endless, peerless, unrestrained fire. But the world continues its long suffering tilt. Something -- someone -- comes for the flame.


<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.


Hiro's still caught in the momentum of his blow when the 'demon' looks at him, like he's about to immediately follow up with another blow. And there's... this look in her eyes, in that transition from step to step in his swordwork. "... what..." He catches it, and pulls back whatever blow he was about to move into.

And for just a split second in time, the laughter clears in his head. To this myriad mixture of positivity that brings such strange feelings to the forefront. "... who...?" This sense of nostalgia, past and present overtakes him... as he looks at her for the first time. Actually looks, now that those feelings are there.

What he doesn't realize, is that he is blundering recklessly into what comes next. That pain takes him full on in the head. And the boy tries to bite down, "Aa-" But doesn't quite make it, before the sensation of fire overwhelms him, "-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

He does not hold back his own scream. As his hand drops his sword, and he falls to the ground as if he were simply going to drop, and writhe... and then... that edge is taken off while he's mid-fall.

Before he hits the ground, he's thrown aside, which is fortunate given Talia's call. And, hits the ground in a roll that feels strangely like he's floating, at least inside that sorta pleasant... liquid restraint to his emotional senses.

Lava flows around... hair turned fire blossoms floats away and...

"-ro! HI-RO!"

Pawsies shake him. "WAKE UP!" As pawsies painfully dig into his cheeks. "Ah-cha-cha-cha-Ruby! I'm up! I'm okay!" "You sure didn't LOOK fine!" Hiro seems to ignore that before he then calls over to Talia sluggishly, "Coming...!"

It all felt distant, but now it's like it snaps back in fast motion. And he remembers Talia's call.

As an icy binding cage takes form... Hiro drags himself up, and scoops up his sword on the way... his expression grim, as he says... "I know you... don't I?" All the talk of Fray energy. The corruption. All of it is stuff that doesn't make sense to him. He said as much to her when she tried to explain what she was going through.

He just knows what he felt.

"If I'm right well... I still don't get it but..." He takes a deep breath, and raises his sword up higher despite the lethargy that still overtakes him... "... I'm here."

Green energy swirls about him, tinged with thin whisps of shadow, as he then creates its sigils within the icy cage that Talia created. Runic sigils tracing themselves about on the ground, before erupting into a howling mass of wind currents that twists around with debris shards of wispy shadowy daggers. And then he charges right in... "Watch this." He says... and it feels less like a command, and more like a request. From a friend to a friend.

Because he hopes that after seeing it, it'll spark something else in her, in a way that words haven't. Charging into the ruined mass of Talia's prison and his own spell he shifts into a practiced rhythm of sword movements, slashing rapidly, faster and faster of blinding cuts that become a mere blur of after images of movement, before sliding back, and dashing forward with a one last slash she might not feel until after it connects...

GS: Hiro spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Formation! Hiro has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Black Storm!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro has launched an attack Link!
GS: Hiro has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Sword Dance!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Citan Uzuki! He gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Lock State applied to Citan Uzuki!
<Pose Tracker> Lan Lilac has posed.

    It can't be Gwen. It's just her imagination. It's just her stupid memories.

    She'll stay here, and see this through. It'll be fine. Don't think, feel--

    There are fingers in her hair, slender, familiar. Cool against the warmth of her scalp, combing through her hair, patiently setting to rights what her writhing has knotted. Putting her back together, making her--

    --Lan screams, but it's not because tendrils of fire have snared her, holding her tight, scorching--

    Black erupts from beneath her tawny skin, climbing her limbs like snakes, wrapping her tight. Lan screams again, somewhere between terror and helpless fury, and the black ribbons peel away from her body to flail and slice at the flames holding her, at the body they belong to, at everything that contrains her--

    Before with a final gasp, she shoves herself backwards, skidding across the stones until she crashes into the side of a stall. "Hgk!"

    No, get up, get up, he's coming he's coming--!!

    The tendrils of black sorcery twitch and writhe over her, around her, and Lan bites her lip until it threatens to bleed. /No./ She's-- got to keep herself together-- Gwen /needs them-- She slams a fist into the paving stones and shoves herself back to her feet, ribbons winding themselves back around her limbs.

GS: Lan Lilac spends 1 Combo on Interrupt!
GS: Lan Lilac has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Ribbon Dance!
GS: Lan Lilac gains 5 FP from Sufferer!
GS: Lan Lilac has completed her action.
GS: Eleanor Klein heals Talia! She gains 210 temporary hit points!
GS: Pray grants a random effect! Burst applied to Talia!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    "HIRO!" Ida screams, as the Thief's hands and hair close around the young man's head. Ida's hand whips back--

    And strands of molten flame-hair fly at her, like great burning streamers. Ida dodges the first, leaping to the side as she advances--but the second one lashes out, wraps around her right forearm. More wrap around her chest, pinning her left arm to her side. A scream of pain escapes her lips as the strands start to pull tighter, tighter. Ida's pupils dilate...

    SHING

    And in a heartbeat, her battered, burned exoskeleton erupts into action, sprouting gleaming biometal blades. Bits of severed hair fall to the street, or perhaps flow back into the Thief's scalp, freed from Ida's body. Smoke rises from the lines they burned into her carapace. She resumes her advance, doesn't stop until her hand slams into the Thief's neck.

    And then she stops, abruptly, her arms falling to her sides; her head tilts, as if she were craning an ear to listen to a distant voice. Her pupils dilate again. Gooseflesh would rise on her skin, if it weren't covered in armor. "Wh--"

    And then Ida snaps back into place, gasping for breath, eyes wide as saucers even as her pupils constrict. "No," she whispers. "Eleanor!" Her head whips to the side, and she sees Eleanor just as she pulls out that flute. The melody gives her something to latch on to, and she does so, letting it soothe the pain. "This ends," Ida croaks. "This ends, now!"

    And then Ida lunges forwards, to grapple with a being who seems to be made of living flame.

    She suddenly flows into the Thief's personal space, sweeping out a leg to try and trip her--at the same time, her elbow races for the Thief's ribcage. Flakes of ash appear on Ida's exoskeleton as the outer layers begin to burn off in totality. Ida throws an arm out, trying to grab the Thief's shoulders and twist her off-balance, again. From there, she flows into a movement a few others might recognize--she straight-up grabs for the Thief with both arms, stooping down and raising the fire-fiend up...

    And then throwing her to the dirt in a brutal suplex.

    "Get--out--" Ida spits, her whole face tight. Her right palm twists open, and Dragon Filaments glow brilliant blue-white with heat.

    Moments later, a plume of bright, cleansing flame streaks across the distance, towards the (hopefully) prone Thief.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has activated a Force Action!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Gwen Whitlock 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 spends 4 Combo on Poison and Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Breath Of The Fire Dragon!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"...That's right. I'm not sure what we can do... but we have to do something." Jacqueline says, with a nod toward Talia. She's not the sort of person who can abandon someone in pain.

...But, soon, rivers of lava begin to form. One rushes her way, lavenders blooming from the edges. It's quite beautiful, actually. Jacqueline has always loved lavender - the color, the smell, the calming effects when mixed with potions and teas...

...These she enjoys a bit less. Jacqueline wraps her cloak around her, wincing as the flames lick at her. It feels like she's burning up...

...but soon enough, she hears a melody beginning to play. A strange, winding melody that surrounds her, protecting her and driving back the flames. Jacqueline stumbles forward... but, she feels a little better.

"Thanks..." Jacqueline says, with a nod toward Eleanor. She takes a breath. It hurts a little, from the heat in the air. But she manages to stabilise herself.

...The Thief is still at large. ...But before they can help her, they need to stop her first.

"I hope this helps...!" Jacqueline says. She draws out a bottle. It's lavender colored and scented, too, much like the blazing flowers that had been sent her way. It's a potion for diminishing strength, and she hurls it the Thief's way. If she can reduce her strength, maybe that will help...

GS: Jacqueline Barber has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Diminishing Draught!
GS: Jacqueline Barber has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Xantia has posed.

Xantia has to resist cackling anew when she observes Azoth's actions. She sure feels happy enough about the results of what she did. But she's starting to realize something's wrong. She just clearly heard the words 'it hurts', and she's sure it's coming from the fire creature, which... should make her feel other things than happiness, shouldn't it? Why is everything making her feel happy? She rubs her temples, wondering out loud, "What's wrong with me...?"

Still in a foggy state, the nature of Citan's water shield doesn't immediately parse as such. For a moment, she's just standing there, tentatively reaching out towards where she senses foreign Ether, trying to determine the exact nature of it as an exercise to try and refocus her mind. Not that she fully realizes that's what she's doing at the moment.

Unfortunately, this is a bad time to just be standing around like that. The Fire Thief sends out lava flows ripping through the ground, and one is heading directly for her. She realizes just in time the protective nature of the water Ether she was sensing before she has acute need of it. The combination of fire and water both employed in a protective fashion causes a loud hissing sound and a large amount of steam to rise as everything all collides together.

For some reason, the flowers lining the lava flow strike a chord with Xantia. Even though she should be having different concerns at a time like this, somehow the only thought that will come to her is one of which she can't be sure what it's even based on.

'Don't these flowers represent... warm feelings?'

Standing in the path of a lava flow without moving could have ended exceedingly badly, but with so much etheric shielding going on, and additional shielding from Eleanor's magical music to boot, when the steam clears... Xantia is still there, not much worse for wear. In fact, she feels a little better, the impromptu steam bath having done wonders to clear her mind. The fire and water that used to surround her is entirely gone, but that's hardly of concern right now.

Hearing her name called, she gives a small wave and smile to Azoth. "...Looks that way," she responds, not entirely sure herself how she came out of that one so well. But now that she can think straight again, her attention quickly returns to Fire Thief, now looking at this creature - no, this person - with sympathetic eyes.

"...It's alright. We'll help you. But you need to stop now."

With that, she rushes forward, but stops before actually reaching the Fire Thief, throwing a punch well in advance. She is known to be able to cause shockwaves by doing this, but this time is a little different. Rather than being meant to physically bowl over the target, the displaced air carries what appears to be a static discharge - a discharge of Ether. It's not unlike being tasered. That's about the least violent way Xantia could come up with to try and force someone to stop.

GS: Xantia has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Drive Breaker!
GS: Entangle and Mighty expired!
GS: Xantia has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

"Gwen...?" Fei asks, head turning to Lan--and in that moment, The Thief slinks in and grabs Fei by his hand. Is this really Gwen, Fei wonders, even as burning hands leave burned imprints in his face. It'd have done worse if it wasn't for his association with Moor Gault. He screams in pain. It's like being tortured. He squeezes his eyes shut to try and push out the intense throbbing surging into his skull. Terror fills Fei's eyes. He doesn't want to hurt Gwen. He'd rather die than permanently hurt Gwen. But it's not Gwen. BUT IT IS GWEN. It's not Gwen. Even if it was Gwen, can she be Gwen again? A memory stirs within Fei and with a shout, "NO!!"

He refuses to remember. And he feels himself slipping--

    And...

            f
            a
            l
            l
            i
            n
            g

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM9V99VlgrI&ab_channel=Archeia

Fei opens his eyes. He sees a small child passing a ball to a wall. The silhouette of a woman--a mother--is shown against the wall.

The boy looks towards Fei and says, "You again..." A pause. "Get out. You're not supposed to be here."

He bounces the ball against the wall again. "This is our place."

"Who'se your friend dear?" The shadow on the wall asks, a small smile splitting against the shadow in a bright smile.

Blood spills out from the shadow's mouth like an open wound but the boy doesn't seem to notice, just bouncing the ball against the wall again and again. Catch and receive.

"People like you shouldn't be here." The boy says.

And Fei feels himself snapping back, dragged out by an invisible force from the room that he never manages to linger in for long as a cross swings from side to side.

MEANWHILE

Fei's eyes are closed. His body posture is relaxed. His eyes are crewed shut. It approaches The Thief. It walks through the oppressive flame. Fei's clothes catch fire but the flame doesn't seem to hurt im even as The Thief can get a small taste of infinity. A little spoonful that fades. Anyone with ether can get a little taste of the infinite. Fei shifts stances.

It's not one he's been seen to use before but those that have battled Wiseman might see a bit of familiarity in the movements. It isn't QUITE the same but there is some connection to the style of Shevat Martial Arts.

And then he darts forward, chi dancing at his fingertips--surging with ether within it as if the two forces within Fei are immutably linked.

He throws his finger towards The Thief's forehead, then two near the jawbone, then several chakric points along her arms before swinging a palm back and throwing a single palm thrust for the center of Gwen's mass--

--but it's not really striking at Gwen's physical form. Xantia did something similar to Fei once where she STRUCK Fei so hard it knocked the Id out of him. He's adapted that technique after experiencing it once into his own technique but instead of trying to knock out Gwen from her body?

He's trying to chase the Thief out of her home, sending a wave of chi and ether through Gwen with this intent in mind, adapting Xantia's strange technique into the Shevat Open Palm style.

Do you still exist Gwen?

Or is history repeating itself?

A window can always break more.

GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Hiro's Black Storm for 285 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Hiro's Sword Dance for 183 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Lan Lilac's Ribbon Dance for 0 hit points!
GS: Entangle and Slow applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has lost 2 Combo from Interrupt!
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Ida Everstead-Rey's Coils of the Water Dragon for 194 hit points!
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Ida Everstead-Rey's Breath Of The Fire Dragon for 230 hit points!
GS: Poison applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Jacqueline Barber's Diminishing Draught for 171 hit points!
GS: Delay and Weaken applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Xantia's Drive Breaker for 147 hit points!
GS: Delay and Disrupt applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has activated a Force Action!
GS: Fei Fong Wong spends 5 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Third Eye Sleepwalking!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Fei Fong Wong has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Fei Fong Wong's Third Eye Sleepwalking for 256 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Citan Uzuki has posed.

    It's the physicality. The lack of any sense of Malevolence's thrum. The way the Thief is unlike any Fiend he has every met in Spira.

    And it's also that horrible nagging thought, the memory of Gwen's symptoms and what she had told him that day in the Calm Lands camp. What she said she had done. What rested within her. Is it-- possible...?

    He doesn't dare voice it. Perhaps he's afraid of making it so. Or perhaps, he's afraid that everyone else will then...

    Lan may be the only other here to realize what the living flame might in truth be.
    ...And soon Fei joins that growing throng.

    'Get back', Citan cautions Eleanor, and it may be a warning already too late in its telling. He's too far to do anything to help her now, but others are at hand and,

    He has his own concerns as the Thief lashes out, her veil rent, doesn't he?

    The heat washes over him as the tendrils of the Thief's veil lick past, molten and hotter that even the heart of a bonfire.
    It should have hurt, even if it never so much as touches his flesh. It's hot enough that even as he twists and angles his body backwards, catching sight as the tattered veil lashes far, far too close to him, that even being close should have hurt.

    He doesn't feel anything of the sort. Just a wash of heat. Is this-- some nature of the fire? Or is it instead the--

    The world about him slows. Stops. He is surrounded by black flame, frozen mid-step in its dance. Is this also the effect of the gas?

    No, Citan realizes, as horror uncoils within him, a heavy icy weight in his gut. In a way, there's a familiarity to it -- that crawling realization that all was not as you had thought. That the worst has happened. Or was about to happen.
    But this feeling isn't the gas. It's not the gas that overrides his senses, that makes the world feel as if it's coming to some lurching unavoidable stop, that everything and everyone is about to be torn apart. That he's drowning.

    Gwen had spoken to him of 'the Stranger'.

    "Be... begone," the doctor hisses.
    Slowly -- eventually -- he's able to move, to continue that dance through the veil of flame. But the world still lies on a crooked axis, and he knows someone is coming for the flame. ...No, not someone. 'The Stranger.'

    Citan straightens, rounding towards the Thief -- towards Gwen. He has a moment to take in the rest of the street and those fighting.

    There is something amiss with Fei. The way he's moving now--
    And that woman, Lan--

    And the Thief. Or is it ' the one who will be thieved'?

    He doesn't have much choice now. Buy some time. Perhaps stop her, maybe stop everything. He follows up on Fei's attack, delivering a series of open-handed strikes for similar points on the Thief's form. This, too, is the Shevat Open Palm style.

GS: Citan Uzuki has activated a Force Action!
GS: You have activated the Force Action Full Clip!
GS: Citan Uzuki has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Renken!
GS: Citan Uzuki has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Shieldbreak expired!
GS: Citan Uzuki has completed his action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Citan Uzuki's Renken for 169 hit points!
GS: Delay applied to Gwen Whitlock!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Lan's ribbons of shadow seem to come from nowhere, startling the Thief just enough. Ida capitalizes on this with her own assault, grabbing her and throwing her down into the ground in a surplex, following it with a brilliant blue-white blast of heat, followed by Xantia's discharge of current.

    Then, Talia's ice cage encases the Fire Thief for just the right amount of time for Azoth to send blue lances of light into her, compounded by Ivan's firey bludgeon.

    And Hiro... "...." An eye opens, dim red, then closes, relaxing a slight nod of her head in Hiro's direction. Acceptance, or faith, that he'd know just how much he'd need...

    A soft melody, a dim draught, they seem to cool the Thief as well as the flames.

    Like a length of rope reclaimed from a deep well, the fires begin to dim, as if their fuel had been cut.

    Then, they are dimmed, because something... is trying to forcibly draw them back, with weakened strength.
    
    Citan and Fei combine their strikes, both remarkably fluid for a wandering artist and a simpole country doctor, and no less effective for their outward appearances.

    "You can stop yelling." There's an image, in Fei's mind. A short, sullen looking girl, dressed in hand-me-downs, the left sleeve pinned to her side. Her head is covered in a white stained scarf, protecting her head from the cruel sun. She grasps protectively onto her slumped twin there, missing the opposite arm, and dressed in matching clothes. "There's only room for one idiot in here." Electric energy expands outwards from angered girl, tinted that familiar cool yellow of pyrite, attempting to expel Fei's presence out. "GET OUT."

    A protective shout, it seems, as feathers like jagged ebony obsidian glass rain down, threatening to pierce into Fei's psyche if he resists.

    Two voices echo out after him, combining into one. "... I'll be there soon. I promised them, Lan, Boudicca, even Setanta, I would li--"

    A building finally gives way, at that instance, raining debris on those assembled closest to the downed, dimming Thief.

    The collapse is answered, by another explosion from the nearly smoldering being, throwing one last blast upwards, attempting to push anyone aside from the radius of the zone.

    "... I'm sorry, I have to--"

    The Thief- no, Gwen Whitlock, stands, her skin still cracked black magma. Tears welling in sorrowful human eyes.

    "I'm sorry!"

    She springs up with a small pulse of fire, pivoting away from the street.

<Pose Tracker> Eleanor Klein has posed.

Eleanor's perception shifts. She hears what she thinks is a voice; she feels the threads of fire burning at her but also at the sky, and then begins to see.. flesh. Black. Crystals.

She stares through the invitation, but her eyes do not glow for this vision. She remembers many whose his presence is, though she has not seen him before to her knowledge. Something knots in turn in the pit of her stomach, and between notes, between heartbeats, she feels--something. But there is a light that shines from her--

But not visible.

"C-cold," Eleanor murmurs over her flute, wobbling in place as she regains herself, having only given one missing note. She lowers her flute, her music done and worked, and looks ahead to see what has happened. She sees--Gwen.

"Gwen!" Eleanor calls, in worry, but then she is blasted backward, only able to grab at her rifle to take it with her before she sails across the rocks and out of the way, to the ground, where she hits hard, her weapon near her.

"I..."

Her eyes flutter. "It's... It's not time yet," she murmurs, holding herself up with a hand for a few moments. But only a few moments. "What was..."

She spotted Neriah, earlier, and now she sees crows. But there's enough fire...

Eleanor coughs from the smoke, and starts to gather up her things, moving as if it hurts because it does. "Gwen..."

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Together, it seems like they've all managed to make a difference. The fires are dimming. ...And then, a building starts to give way.

"Ah...!" Jacqueline gasps in surprise. She recoils back, preparing to cast a spell... but before she can, an explosion bursts out from the Thief's position, knocking Jacqueline and the others away - to safety, and out of the path of the collapsing building.

"...What...?" Jacqueline remarks, surprised... and then, she catches sight of the person responsible. She couldn't recognize her before, but with the flames subsided...

"...Gwen? Gwen, is that you?" Jacqueline asks. She starts to stand... but before she can, Gwen starts to run off. "W-wait! Let's-"

Jacqueline starts. ...But, it's too late. And the pile of rubble between the two of them means that she'll be long gone by the time they can climb over.

With a sigh, Jacqueline sits back down. She sits there for a moment before standing back up.

"...Is everyone alright? Does anyone need treatment...?" She asks. She'll help out where she can. They can decide what to do next once everyone's been treated appropriately.

<Pose Tracker> Fei Fong Wong has posed.

The image of Fei in Gwen's mind cracks. Thin spiderweb lines spread out across his visage. He doesn't seem perturbed by shards of obsidian glass tearing into his body, spreading the cracks further. Fei has been broken broken BROKEN BROKEN BROKEN BROKEN BROKEN BROKEN BROKEN BROKEN

For a very long time already. He raises a hand and catches one feather and it becomes a crow. He looks at it curiously, like one might a flower.

Then half of Fei's face looks up and smiles--the other half, seperated by shattered glass, remains the same. The teeth of that half Fei grins a bloody grin. It's unclear whose blood is in his mouth.

"Aw Gwen..." He says. "Is there a little psychic puppet hanging by string that we didn't kill yet?"

The cracks spread. And Gwen can feel it, the cracks spreading across her as well. The more they try to push him out, the more they try to break him--the more it's reflected back onto them. Like sticks and stones.

"Sounds like someone needs a scarecrow to keep the nasty little crows away from her. All you little broken people have figured I'm just a poor little sweetie haven't you? That's so lovely... How about I be your scarecrow?"

A flash of an image enters Gwen's mind.

It's Fei? It looks like Fei's body anyway, a sack of straw on his head, a smile painted red across its front. His hands speared against a wooden plank by nails, blood spewing from a wound in his chest. His feet are speared through the wood by a slew of nails. Fire surges behind him as his head tilts to the side--like his neck has been broken.

"How's this?" The corpse asks. "Well I'm sure Junior would complain if we use your head as a battleground. So I'll back off from now. Just enjoy...a little...taste."

And with that the presence fades from Gwen as Fei stirs awake and he says.

"Dangit...! Gwen! Get back here...!"

But he feels a pain in his gut and he winces, collapsing into a crouch. Fei blinks a few times and looks towards his hands. They're bloody. But there's no wound.

He blinks again and says, "Ugh... This sucks." He rubs his head. "My head's killing mee."