2021-06-12: What Makes a Monster

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  • Log: What Makes a Monster
  • Cast: Xander Lovell, Avril Vent Fleur, Rebecca Streisand, Dean Stark, Riley Arwell
  • Where: Bikanel Island
  • Date: June 12, 2021
  • Summary: Avril receives a premonition, finding the Fangs in the middle of a hunt (murder). She, Rebecca, and Dean manage to stop them in time... but learn the situation is more complicated than it first seems.

=============================<* Bikanel Island *>=============================

Bikanel is an island to the west of the mainland of Spira. It is a large, arid desert with one (singular) oasis, featuring palm trees and a drinkable water source. The rest of it is just desert, desert, and more desert. Some ruins and sand-swept camp sites dot the landscape, but other than that - desert. Definitely nothing else here. Why are you here, anyway?

Ku yfyo bmayca.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3rjtbrIJNM&ab_channel=Ultimatefighter343
DC: Dean Stark switches forms to The Daring Boy!
DC: Rebecca Streisand switches forms to Small Town Girl!
DC: Riley Arwell switches forms to Smiling Gravedigger!
<Pose Tracker> Xander Lovell has posed.

The usual, unassuming quiet of Bikanel Island is shattered by an explosion. Sand ripples across the dunes in a cascade, the ground trembling and a storm of dust tearing through the air from the shockwave. Anyone who chases after the sound will hear frantic shouts in Al Bhed once the ringing stops.

An overgrowth of thorned vines and roots disperses through the desolate landscape. Pieces of machina lie scattered, impaled on thorns and eroded by the inside-out by ages of plantscape happening in the span of seconds. What had been the experimental test run of a machina vehicle turned to disaster when a cursed pair of travelers decided murders performed in an empty desert was an opportunity too valuable to let slip through their fingers.

In Xander's defense, he didn't expect the machine to detonate.

If they killed someone in the explosion, does that count? There'd be a splatter, as horrible as it would be satisfying. ... He can still feel the thorns digging into the skin under his eyepatch. Did nobody die? He catches sight of silhouettes obscured by dust and debris crawling away. Nobody died?!

"Xander, are you all right?" That's Riley trying to make sure Xander didn't die, as several pieces of shrapnel have flown free from the machina and embedded in the sand around them, and the cloud of dust is still settling. Riley'hand finds Xander's shoulder, but as the haze fades, he can see the same thing Xander can--their prey is escaping.

Xander squeezes his wrist, trying to encourage more flow of blood from his self-inflicted wound before smashing his bloodied palm into the sands. Thorny vines spring out around him, snapping out to entangle and ensnare the engineers trying desperately to flee the scene, connecting from one chunk of debris to the next.

When it's done, three dangle from vegetation like insects caught in a spider's web. A fourth emerges from the rubble late and escapes the snare, taking off at a run.

Riley shoots a conflicted look toward Xander. Do they need all four? Could they just let this one have his luck and go? But they've collected too many witnesses as it is. And he can't leave Xander to do the dirty work alone. With a resigned 'tch,' he drags his dagger along the outside of his arm, letting more blood flow as an offering to Valmar. As it hits the sand, he makes a coaxing motion with his hand.

"All right, who wants this? I know you're all hungry, you never let us forget."

As the man runs, he is snapped up by a massive flower bud that cocoons around him like the closing jaws of a crocodile. He still lives, clawing at his prison and making panicked cries for help in his native language from within. But an eerie mist seeps from between the petals, its sickening color hinting at poison filling the space within.

Xander shares a glance with Riley, grim and determined, and summons his scythe, raising it high as he prepares to cleave through the victims in his thorny web.

DC: Avril Vent Fleur switches forms to The Amnesiac Girl!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    The roar in the distance accelerates suddenly. All of the thrusters of the Gear that is suddenly upon the two young men and their captives are ablaze, as if the pilot were throwing caution to the wind and simply trying to cross the distance at speed.

    She had a premonition again.

    To her horror, it had not been for nothing.

    Still, the Al Bhed currently beset by the Fangs are lucky: it had been today that the three of them had reunited, and today that they had set out for the shrine using Avril's Gear, Skadi.
    And she had that sudden sense of forboding, that something was amiss, that she needed to be somewhere else and had, with her friends' encouragement, investigated.

    Even at a distance, it had been clear what was happening.

    Avril had gunned it, warning them that it would be a rough landing--

    The thrusters cut out as the Gear closes on in on the young men and their captives, sending up a near-tsunami of sand in its wake as it rapidly decelerates.
    But she had done something like this once before, it seems. Her sense of timing is impeccable: the Skadi slows to a stop perhaps twenty feet from the tableau that's in the process of unfolding. The cockpit opens.

    Nothing less than a salvo of ice, raining down in unmelting spears before Xander as he advances on the entangled Al Bhed.
    They're followed by Avril, absolute fury in her eyes as she descends from above with her Medium's assistance. Ice still sparkles in the air about her as she advances on Xander.

    "How could you?" she asks of him, blade quite literally appearing in her right hand. Her gaze, briefly, flits Riley's way. "You lied to me, Riley."
    She had believed him. Believed both of them, in as much as Xander had gone alone with that tale.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Xander Lovell with Courant Glaciaire!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Rebecca Streisand has posed.

Avril's instincts are always something she trusts. If she has to entrust anything to faith, she'll always prefer those feelings of Avril to that of the Guardians or anything she's ever heard of Granas. The implication of a rough landing is only half the reason she grips the back of the seat so hard... until the moment that the cockpit opens.
It's difficult to see Rebecca at first with the hot Bikanel sun overhead and the sand that Skadi has whipped up crashing into their location. Avril's entrance alone demands so much attention with all that ice - until a shadow which slits the sunlight in twain overhead from an acrobatic portal assisted leap out of the cockpit. Inverted and flanking Avril's target as she advances on Xander with glacial fury, she's sighting down her Revolver like ARM, held with both hands. One eye squinted. "Fancy seeing you two again! Hey Xander-"
And that's when the bullets rain down. In what's perhaps familiar to anyone on Filgaia that knows anything about ARMs, Rebecca starts emptying her clip into the ground near Xander. Bullets whizzing by in what seems like many near misses of suppressing fire that zing by him to impact the ground and force him away.
"-mind showing off your dance moves for me?"
Except what are numerous near misses actually zip by to hit their mark. Just not the mark expected except perhaps a few grazing wounds if she's lucky. An attempt at distraction...
... but also perhaps liberation. As bullets from the Pizzicato Pistol impact the ensorcelled stem of his conjured bud one after the other, trying to chew through parts of it enough to weaken it's composition considerably.
"Dean! That's your cue!"
Upon landing, she immediately flips open her ARM, and makes a point of reloading it one bullet at a time, rapidly... while staring at the pair. "This is my fault for getting taken in by your charm... should have known better than to let my guard down."
It's perhaps hard to know if she's talking about Riley's ambush upon Avril... or the fact that she mentioned 'another world' which handed the two another hunting ground for lives to sacrifice. Snapping her ARM shut, she spins it back up and around before pointing it their way. "Guess it's only right that I'm here now to take responsibility for my mistakes."

GS: Rebecca Streisand has attacked Xander Lovell with Quick Repeater!
GS: Rebecca Streisand has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    When Avril has a premonition about something, it's usually spot-on. Dean and Rebecca hadn't hesitated to encourage her to trust in her instincts, and they'd gone out into the desert to see--this. Even without the explosion, they'd have found it, though the blast had certainly made it *easier*... and probably masked their approach by Gear, too. When Avril warns them the landing will be rough, Dean only nods firmly. He's ready.
    So when the cockpit opens, he only calls, back to Rebecca:
    "Already on it!"
    As shocked (but not blindsided, as Avril and Rebecca had warned him of the truth) as Dean is by Xander and Riley's exterminationcapades, there are people in trouble--people who will die if they don't act immediately, after all. As Rebecca shoots decisively through the stem of the poison bud, Dean's already leaping down from Skadi's cockpit, landing in a forward tumble and kicking up into a sprint for the bud.
    As he moves, he unholsters not Twin Fenrir but Ace of Spades from his back. With a fierce, loud roar, he swings it HARD for where Rebecca's bullets have weakened the petal structure of the poison bud, hopefully creating a crack through with the poison gas--and the Al Bhed inside--can escape. Dean shoves the shovel *hard* to widen that crack, then leaves it there to prop the crack open.
    "Hurry and jump out! I'll catch you!" Dean shouts up to them, backing up a couple steps and holding his arms out. Hopefully, by doing so, even if the Al Bhed doesn't understand what he *says*, they can understand his meaning anyway.
    Once that Al Bhed is out and caught, Dean positions himself between them and the Fangs of Valmar, Twin Fenrir flashing into his hands. "How could you??" he utters, echoing Avril, furious and raw and *betrayed*, despite the fact that he's met the two all but once. "Even if you *are* cursed, you should be fighting it, not giving in to it!!"
    Looks like he has a different understanding than Avril of what's going on here.

GS: Dean Stark has attacked Xander Lovell with Violence Vice!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Xander Lovell takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Courant Glaciaire for 127 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Xander Lovell critically guards Rebecca Streisand's Quick Repeater for 10 hit points!
GS: Xander Lovell fully evades Dean Stark's Violence Vice for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Xander Lovell gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Xander Lovell activates Evade bonus!
GS: Your next attack with the Sneak flag will display with the name Bloodlust.
<Pose Tracker> Xander Lovell has posed.

The world rumbles with Skadi's arrival, but Xander has to keep focus. Their lives depend on this, so close, don't hesitate, address it only after the bloodlust is sated --

Before his scythe can fall, ice lances into his shoulder. Xander staggers, attention forced on the others that descend upon him. He cleaves a couple in half before forced to fall back, blood staining his sleeve deep red.

Avril's voice pierces deeper than her spears of ice do. Xander casts an exhausted look to Riley. "One in a million chance. What did I tell you?"

But he does not have time to complain before Rebecca greets him with a rain of bullets, several grazing against his skin with a few holes punctured through his mantle. Those that pass by bite into the vines, eating through vegetation until they shriek, snapping apart and dropping the victims they hold. The Al Bhed do not waste time getting to cover as Xander lurches forward with a wild swing of his scythe -- missing entirely as the icicle impaling his arm hinders his range of motion. Xander embeds his scythe into the sand with a harsh swing, grabbing the ice with a gloved hand and ripping it free to let the blood fall. He's unable to work to stop Dean from continuing to rescue their eager to escape prey.

How could you, they ask him. Xander breathes in deeply, the alchemical perfume on his collar calming his nerves. How could he, indeed? But he's killed friends before. He promised Riley he wasn't going to hesitate.

"It's too late for that," he tells Dean, taking up his scythe again. He looks to all three of them, the bags under his eye more pronounced. "Think of me as another monster. I need to hunt. You need to stop me. That's all."

He does not wait for Riley to approval before lunging forward, whirling the scythe bestowed upon him by Valmar in a horizontal spin as he makes to reap his way past Dean. It bleeds with dark energy -- an unsettling aura -- but right not it's only the force of Xander's strength and intent behind the assault. The blade tilts downward, dragging into the sands and swinging into an upward cleave toward Rebecca that comes with a geyser of sand.

GS: Xander Lovell has attacked Dean Stark with Vicious Circle!
GS: Xander Lovell has attacked Rebecca Streisand with Bloodlust!
GS: Xander Lovell has completed his action.
GS: Sneak! The true nature of Xander Lovell's attack becomes clear!
GS: Gamble: High! Rebecca Streisand takes a glancing hit from Xander Lovell's Foul Play for 49 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Xander Lovell has posed.

...But the scythe doesn't reach Rebecca's flesh, flying upward into the sky like an out of control boomerang. Xander darts through the haze of dust, weaving behind her and aiming a dagger for her back.

GS: Dean Stark guards a hit from Xander Lovell's Vicious Circle for 84 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riley Arwell has posed.

They're moments from getting the kill they need.

But then, everything changes.

The trio arrives on the scene in a storm of ice spears, a hail of bullets, and a mightily swinging shovel.

None of these attacks find Riley -- he shouts a stunned warning to Xander as the first ice spears whiz by.

The giant bud cracks open under the combined assault, spilling free its occupant, who falls into Dean's arms, coughing as he gasps down fresh air. In Al Bhed, he thanks him and bids him to take care before rushing off to find shelter from the crazy murderers that are on the loose.

Meanwhile, Riley is pinned by the raw simplicity and dissappointment of Avril's accusation, soon echoed by Dean. "It was... mostly true!" he answers in a panic, not prepared to have to answer for his sins in the midst of committing them. "The curse just isn't over. We get vacations after we kill."

Even if you *are* cursed, you should be fighting it, not giving in to it!!

Riley makes a useless, frustrated gesture with his arms. "Tried that--ran out of hope and gave up a long time ago! Why are all of you here?! We're going to have to kill you, now, just like Xander has been warning me about..."

He turns sharply to Xander. "And I DON'T accept responsibility for this! It obviously came directly out of your psyche!"

Looking at Xander is a reminder that Avril has already speared him with ice and may be prepared to do worse to stop them, and Riley grits his teeth in resignation.

"I did want to be friends," he says bitterly, even as he draws his bow and takes aim at her. He lets one shadowy arrow fly, and midflight, it becomes three, their targets spread out around Avril's torso.

GS: Riley Arwell has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with Split Arrow!
GS: Riley Arwell has completed his action.
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a solid hit from Riley Arwell's Split Arrow for 118 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    "It was 'mostly true'? Explain yourself!" Avril demands; she is in this moment still 'herself' but it is easy to see where the lines can blur between herselves. "The curse wasn't a lie? Then--"

    'We get vacations after we kill'.

    Which means that, after he encountered her on that road, he...


    Avril's hand tightens about the hilt of her sword. "Who did you kill," she states more than asks. "Answer me. Riley." But for her eyes, there is no expression at all on her face. And as for her eyes, well... 'if looks could kill' is a good starting place.

    "We're here to stop you two," she says, quite simply. "If you do not cease this at once, then we shall make you." Bold words, perhaps.

    "Dean, I will cover you!" Avril shouts, her long silver hair whipping about as she twists to see him catch the Al Bhed. Her blade flashes through the air fleetingly, as if in warning to Xander as she stares him right in the eye.

    Dean has... gravely misunderstood the precise color of their betrayal here, she realizes, but this time -- of all times -- is not the moment to make corrections.
    Particularly not when the near-victims are not necessarily in the clear just yet, and particularly not when she is still so close to Xander.

    But it isn't her that she goes after. It's--

    "No!" Avril calls out, whipping about as if to then pursue him.

    It's Riley who stops her in her tracks.


    Red flowers bloom where she's been struck; she staggers back, left hand hovering before herself a moment as if she were uncertain about which wound to attempt to staunch.

    But it only lasts for a moment.

    As does Avril in that space.

    Even bleeding from no less than three wounds to her person, she charges for Riley, blade glittering brilliantly in the air as she descends upon him in a flurry. Her form is a strange one: it would seem at a glance to be better suited for the fencing arena than the battlefield.
    But fencing is not merely a diversion for the upper crust. In the right hand, with the right skill behind it, it can be quite deadly.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Riley Arwell with Innocent Saber!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Rebecca Streisand has posed.

It's somewhat disturbing listening to plants shriek, so she tries not to focus on that. Instead upon the fact that Dean is prying the poisonous bud open and that perhaps the Al Bhed might be saved.
"Nice going Dean!"
How Dean appeals to them though is not... unexpected. Rebecca tries to harden herself to it somewhat. It's necessary.
That's what she tells herself.
Whereas Avril... well... she can sense the intensity off of her after Riley reveals that they get vacations after they murder. She doesn't say anything herself to that, just bristling - the idea rankling her too much. Instead calling out to them...
"Careful! These two and their powers are-"
Xander's sudden rush cuts off her 'weird' as if she's not certain their normal cooperative tactics are gonna work - she tries to sight him down, spraying gunfire with a few quick squeezes of the trigger to try to cut off his advance but...
"So fast-!"
Calculating her chances, she suddenly finds herself leaping backwards. Perhaps mentally cheering that she missed the scythe.
Xander isn't there though.
In mid-air, she suddenly twists sideways as his dagger grazes her vest and ribcage, before knocking his arm aside with her elbow to try and prevent follow up as she sails backwards and lands more roughly than intended.
Trying to hold in a pained noise, she grasps her side with one hand, staggering as she aims her ARM towards him anew one handed. "Treating you like a monster is too easy. Monster extermination is the simplest kind of job a Drifter is called upon to do."
There's a pause and...
"Monsters don't advise you not to keep someone waiting for too long." She says, more softly to Xander... perhaps unable to harden herself fully, maybe that's Dean's effect, or Riley's... saying that he did want to be friends.
Avril's 'Ah--' causes her to look for a moment, then set her jaw.
Spinning her ARM up and around to get herself back into rhythm in the adrenaline rush, it suddenly looks like she makes a fatal error, as she spins that ARM up and... it just launches mid-air like she let loose of it.
Save that her other hand is now holding a Medium that she's taken out of her Vest pocket and brandished. Fiery energy boiling off the ground around in a hexagonal pattern.
"'Think of me as another monster.' 'I need to hunt.' We don't need you to spare our feelings..."
Xander might sense a welling up of something beneath him. And then fiery energy geysers up in a column of terrible heat and fire - before then expanding outward in a secondary blast wave of flame.
"... not when I'd wager that you're not doing your own any favors right now."
And on it's downward descent, she catches her ARM as easily as if she'd practiced that move relentlessly until she got it right.

GS: Rebecca Streisand has attacked Xander Lovell with Ley Blast!
GS: Rebecca Streisand has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    The Al Bhed lands in his arms, says something Dean doesn't understand, and runs for it. Dean nods fiercely to them all the same. "Run! And keep running! We'll cover you!" he tells them, and never mind that they probably don't understand him back. He's already focused back on Xander and Riley, now that their would-be victims are freed and running. What's important now is to keep the Fangs of Valmar from chasing them. So when Avril tells him she'll cover him, and Rebecca tells him nice going, he flashes them both a grin and a thumbs-up. But...
    "I could never!!" Dean shouts back at Xander, impassioned. "I *do* need to stop you, but I could never think of you as another monster! You're a person! You're in love!!" (oh no that's what he remembered of their single interaction) "You've made some terrible decisions, but that doesn't mean you can't start over! If you're not willing to see that yet, though--I'll keep getting in your way until you are!!"
    Xander swings that scythe. Dean stands his ground, which means that the blade makes contact--but though it tears through his clothes and flashes blood through the glittering hot air, he still doesn't back down. He does grunt in pain, though, because that hurt no matter how determined he is to not back down and keep the would-be victims safe. ...even if he has gravely misunderstood the way in which they've been betrayed. He did hear about the betrayal secondhand, after all.
    "Isn't over?" Dean echoes, squinting over at Riley. His eyebrows furrow. "How many people have you had to kill?" They furrow further, this time in anger, when he and Xander say they gave up hope of fighting back. "That's your problem, then!! How're you supposed to beat this curse if you give up?! Are you really okay with murdering innocent people?! Is that really the kind of people you guys are?!" They're going to have to kill them? "Just try it! I've survived fights with crazy strong folks--I'm not gonna fall to you guys, when you don't even believe in what you're doing! When you're only doing it because you *gave up*!!"
    Not that it would be okay for them to kill if they *did* believe in it, but that's not the point. Dean's ARMs flash out of his hands as he reaches up and grabs Ace of Spades, then wrenches it loose from the poison bud. As Riley opens fire on Avril, Dean *hurls* the shovel at him like a javelin. It screams. Maybe literally. "I thought we *were* friends! We were *shovel buddies*!" he cries. It might be hilarious if he didn't sound so devastated. It might still be hilarious, depending on one's attitude.

GS: Dean Stark has attacked Riley Arwell with Assault Battery!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! Xander Lovell critically guards Rebecca Streisand's Ley Blast for 28 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Xander Lovell gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Mighty applied to Rebecca Streisand!
GS: Xander Lovell activates Guard bonus!
GS: Riley Arwell takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Innocent Saber for 128 hit points!
GS: Riley Arwell guards a hit from Dean Stark's Assault Battery for 88 hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Xander Lovell has posed.

"Don't turn this back around at me!" Xander snaps back at Riley, his cold dismissal boiling into anger. "You were the one who insisted on making friends! But you and I -- we don't get to have friends!"

There's enough heat left over to meet Avril's stare with his own hardened gaze. "You can try." Bold begets bold. But Xander knows why she fights -- and he knows that means there's no reconciliation on this battlefield.

Xander curses inwardly when his blade barely catches Rebecca. Before he can find her among his own cloud of dust, he feels the heat of Rebecca's medium, the hair on his neck rising. Not this time. He leaps back and sweeps out his arm, still soaked in his blood from Avril's ice spear, and splatters it against the sand. Vines spring forth in a wall to protect him from the expanding flames to be devoured to ash in his place.

"Don't be naive. Monsters can say plenty," Xander says to Rebecca. But there's a flicker in his one-eyed gaze with her insistence. And with Dean's. And then -- Dean -- says -- the thing --

Xander's face turns bright red like he is not trying to conduct several murders here, and instead of catching his falling scythe like he intended, it bonks him directly on the head.

He scrambles to catch and grab it, growling as Dean goes on and on about giving up. About Riley calling it giving up. About how they can do better, like it's that easy.

"This isn't giving up!" he growls. "Giving up was accepting purification! Giving up was sacrificing him for the good of everyone else!" Blood drips into the ground, each sprouting into a crimson blossom. "I'll kill a thousand innocent people if that's what it takes to save him. And if it's you or him -- !"

Thorned vines coated in red buds rip out of the earth, flailing wildly like a nest of snakes. The flowers open up with maws of monstrous teeth, ravenously seeking out flesh to chomp into to siphon blood -- and it's Avril and Rebecca who are, unfortunately, in their hungry warpath.

GS: Xander Lovell spends 1 Combo on Reload!
GS: Healthy! For entering Condition Green, Xander Lovell receives 50 temporary hit points.
GS: Xander Lovell enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Xander Lovell has attacked Riley Arwell with Flustered Xander!
GS: Xander Lovell enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Xander Lovell has attacked Rebecca Streisand with Hungering Garden!
GS: Xander Lovell has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with Hungering Garden!
GS: Xander Lovell has completed his action.
GS: Rebecca Streisand takes a solid hit from Xander Lovell's Hungering Garden for 145 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Rebecca Streisand gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Xander Lovell drains Rebecca Streisand! Xander Lovell gains 72 temporary hit points!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur takes a solid hit from Xander Lovell's Hungering Garden for 158 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Avril Vent Fleur gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur activates Arcane Font!
GS: Xander Lovell drains Avril Vent Fleur! Xander Lovell gains 79 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Riley Arwell has posed.

Who did you kill.

Heat rushes to Riley's face as he realizes he doesn't know their last victims' names. He flashes an uncomfortable smile. "You mean the last round? Or since the beginning?" Avril comes at him with a sword in a fencer's strike, her reach far outmatching Riley's dagger. He intentionally scrapes the blade against his off hand, a thorny shield bursting from the skin of that hand and knocking aside the blade so that it digs into his shoulder instead of burying in his chest.

Xander calls them monsters, and Rebecca... argues with him?" Riley casts a questioning, worried look at them both, wondering where she's going with that, if anywhere. Is she going to try to reform them? Could he... work with that? He can't con them twice, can he? Maybe she's just trying to have a painfully honest conversation while they kill one another.

Unsure what to do, he falls back on a familiar standby: teasing Xander. "Ha, she saw right through you, Xander!" He makes a plaintive gesture to Rebecca. "He's actually very softhearted despite everything, please be gentle with him." ...he's not helping their chances of coming off as sincere, is he?

You've made some terrible decisions, but that doesn't mean you can't start over!

Okay, though, Dean is DEFINITELY trying to reform them. But this is a lot of idealism coming at them like a firehose, and Riley can't get a word in edgewise. The you're in love! in particular reverberates through him and causes him to look at Xander briefly both to catch his reaction and give him a 'can you believe this interaction is happening' look. Unlike Xander, he seemed to kind of enjoy that part. But as for the rest... well first of all there is A SHOVEL FLYING AT HIS FACE. He makes a startled yelp as it sideswipes him, sending him staggering backwards with a ringing head and a bloodied nose.

"Back the hell off for a second!" he says, and looses an arrow for Dean as soon as the double images of him resolve back into one. But instead of striking him, it falls just short, embedding instead in the ground at his feet. And the ground beneath him stirs, fresh, thorny vines surging upward around him and red flowers unfurling into bells not unlike that of a hibiscus, emanating a sickly sweet mist. Though the flowers of the Blood Garden all bloom the same shade of crimson, each variety has their own unique... personality, and even Riley isn't sure what to expect from the perfume of this one he's just unleashed.

Meanwhile, he reddens faintly with Xander's shouts. Giving up was accepting purification! Giving up was sacrificing him for the good of everyone else!

More quietly, he adds, "...like Xander's saying, it's more complicated than you assume it is. Resisting the curse would mean laying down our lives. And we decided not to. But our lives will be pretty short either way, if that gives you any incentive to overlook this. We probably won't do that much more damage while we're here."

GS: Riley Arwell accepts Xander Lovell's Flustered Xander for 0 hit points!
GS: Riley Arwell activates Xander Lovell's Reload!!
GS: Riley Arwell has attacked Dean Stark with See What Blooms!
GS: Riley Arwell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Riley Arwell has completed his action.
GS: CRITICAL! ROU|LET|TE: Catastrophic! Dean Stark guards a hit from Riley Arwell's See What Blooms for 217 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Dean Stark gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Shieldbreak and Slow applied to Dean Stark!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    "Very well," is all that Avril says to Xander in response, icily formal.

    Her blue eyes widen a moment, as if to realize without question how many Riley and Xander have killed. But her expression hardens. "Yes," she answers Riley. "From the beginning."

    Into this, Dean calls out... quite blunt. "Even so..." she murmurs, frowning. "Dean, are you prepared for what it means to accept them both as fellow humans? What it will mean to strike them down?" Because... the fervent belief of the Dean she knows...

    "And you, too, Rebecca. Are you... prepared?'

    An odd question, particularly in this moment.

    It isn't only her companions that she has questions for. "Accepting purification? ...Laying down your lives?" Avril echoes, blade raised as she attempts to circle Riley, take advantage of some weak point. "What do you mean by that?"

    She might not get an answer to that immediately. What she does receive is Xander's conviction, unwavering. Even if it were a thousand innocents, he would still--

    Avril cannot say she would not do the same. Not without facing the same test.

    She brings up her sword; the blade arcs through the air in an attempt to deflect or even cut down the flowers-on-vines that come for her.

    But regardless of whether she severs even one blossom or as many as twenty, it's always going to be one blossom too little. Teeth sink onto her swordarm, coming from a direction she seemingly did not anticipate.

    And she cannot help but cry out for a second time, likely doing Rebecca no favors.

    Ripping her arm free, she withdraws half a step, trailing blood in her wake. But while her gaze settles on Xander for a moment...

    It's the garden that blooms and swells around Dean, leaving him sorely afflicted, that rips her attention away even from her own opponent. "Dean--"

    And in that moment, Avril draws out her Medium. Light traces the octagonal disc; the thing is soon alive with it, as if it held within it some hidden sun.

    "Lucadia... in my time of need..." she intones, her gaze in this moment unfocused and distant. Light streams up from the Medium, sailing from where she stands as if it intended to reach the Blue Star of Filgaia.

    It's echoed in muted form by the glow that begins to pile up around Dean: moonlight on a dark sea. Guidance and strength from the depths of desperation.

    Fleetingly, he might well scent the sea. And then Guardian's power -- healing, strengthening -- takes hold.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Dean Stark with Sea of Crises!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
GS: Avril Vent Fleur heals Dean Stark! He gains 200 temporary hit points!
GS: Hyper applied to Dean Stark!
<Pose Tracker> Rebecca Streisand has posed.

"Who's being naive?!" Rebecca retorts to Xander in a way that feels childish until she adds, "Monsters wouldn't - care." Having met a monster in Timotheus Lovelace and Kartikeya... "Unless you're just playing games with me, but that's not it huh?" Xander can feel her skeptical eye.
Until Riley comments, and she glances at him out of the corner of her eye. "Say... what!?" She asks in disbelief, as if she can't believe he's being so unserious right now. "Are you really asking me to be gentle when you're in the middle of trying to slaughter these people?"
Then Dean just says you're in love and Rebecca has to resist the urge to take her eyes off Xander to look at Riley instead. It's not that she's surprised to hear this from Dean - but still hearing what's on her mind and she's too embarrassed to say it out loud startles her all the same, briefly flushing despite herself.
Backing up slowly, she spins her gun back and forth, her arm up and down in a rhythm which makes it deceptive on when her ARM might go off next. When Avril speaks on what it means to accept them as fellow humans...
... Avril...
It's not as if she hasn't thought about it. Not just with Riley and Xander, but with the idea of becoming a Drifter. Greg once told them that pointing a gun at someone means they have a right to shoot back. By that reasoning, the very act of carrying her ARM means one day she might have to use to make the decision to end someone's life.
It's a weighty decision... and not one she feels like she's qualified to make but...
"I'm prepared to take on that responsibility." Rebecca says her voice low and soft - 'I'm prepared to kill someone if it it comes down to it.'
... even if she's not qualified to make that kind of decision. It doesn't matter. The weight of such decisions is part of growing up. Part of becoming an adult.
As thorned vines appear around her, Rebecca tries to take off into a run, tries to dive through a thread of the vines, twisting her body to pass through harmlessly. At least, that's how it works out in her head.
What actually happens is that the bud of a flower dips down, and bloodthirstily chomps down on one of her legs before it rips her out of mid-air and tries to put her in a helpless situation. Biting back down on a scream, it takes Rebecca a few seconds to plant her other foot against the edge of the bud and rip her caught one out from the serrated teeth - Avril's cry forcing her to kick all the more vigorously against the bud and channeling the scream she wants to make into another cry altogether. "Avril!"
When she hits the ground, she's a shade paler, her leg punctured and lacerated in several places. But relieved... when she looks and Avril is calling upon Lucadia.
Relief though quickly changes to anger, "I-Idiot! Moron!" She stammers out words that are usually reserved only for Dean when he's really upset her, as she tries to stay standing on her leg that feels like buckling.
"Who do you think you're fooling? In what world-"
Her ARM swings up, suddenly sending a pair of shots hurtling towards Xander's right shoulder and left thigh, attempting to catch him off guard by shooting while talking.
It's only after the shots go off that she finish that thought, "-does staining your hands to protect someone you've got feelings for makes you a monster?"

GS: Rebecca Streisand has attacked Xander Lovell with Swift Revolver!
GS: Rebecca Streisand has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Rebecca Streisand has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    'This isn't giving up!' Xander protests, and explains why. Riley quietly backs this up, perhaps a bit more moved than his initial joking around might indicate (though actually, Dean believes 100% that Xander is more soft-hearted than he tries to present himself as). Xander had gone red-faced and missed catching his scythe too. Even Dean, who has all the romantic sensitivity of a rock, catches what he's trying to say. His eyes widen. "You love him that much...? Wow--honestly, that's really hard for me to imagine..."
    Then Riley tells him to back off and shoots an arrow at his feet, and Dean tenses. It seems like it's a missed shot, so he instead pays attention to Xander's hungry flowers--but then a flower sprouts up and sprays Dean in the face with a corrosive mist, sending the young man reeling and coughing as he tries to wipe the ochre dust away with one sleeve. It doesn't do much to help; this perfume is so noxious that Dean swoons and nearly *faints*, instead dropping to one knee as he hacks and coughs so hard he seems in danger of literally coughing up a lung.
    It's Avril who comes to his rescue. Lucadia's power surges like the ocean it is, sweeping away that noxious scent with the salt of the sea. Dean's paroxysms ease, settling into 'occasional' down from 'paralyzing.' As he sucks in air, he looks up and over at Avril in gratitude--but also something more tense, more fretful and disconcerted.
    'Dean, are you prepared for what it means to accept them both as fellow humans? What it will mean to strike them down?'
    For a couple of heartbeats, it seems he can only let himself trail off. Rebecca, for all that she can be indecisive sometimes, says right away that she's willing to bear that responsibility, and Dean's reminded of why she's one of his best friends. Then he turns his gaze back to Xander. He doesn't know what kind of purification he's talking about--it's clearly not Malevolence-related, he knows that much--but... even if he doesn't understand the particulars of what the two mean, he thinks he grasps their overall meaning. As he props himself back up to his feet, Dean frowns... but with eyebrows pinched and turned upwards.
    "Rebecca's right. As for me... I don't know what I'd do if I were in your position, Xander," he admits. "I could never do what you're doing now. But I couldn't just let someone I care about die, either. It must be awful, huh? To be forced to make that kind of horrible choice. I'm really sorry you and Riley have to deal with that."
    He looks at Riley next. "...I think I get now why he told us to think of you guys as monsters. Monsters have to kill to eat, right? It's nothing personal, and they're not trying to be mean--they just want to live. You guys, you just want to live, too, don't you? To live your lives with the one you care most about. I... can't tell you that's wrong."
    He shakes his head a little, readjusting his footing. "If you guys gave up hope, that means you had hope before, right? Hope that you could find a third choice, or a way out. If you want to give that hope a try again, I'll do whatever I can to help you guys," he continues earnestly. He pauses to nod once to Avril, and looks back at the Fangs with his expression set with grim determination. "But until then--Xander, Riley, I'm really sorry. But I can't just let you slaughter people. They want to live, too."
    It's as much Dean's answer to Avril as it is to them. He can sympathize, but he can't step aside. He lifts Twin Fenrir and opens fire with both barrels, unleashing a shower of bullets onto Riley in an attempt to wear him down. These particular bullets, despite the advanced tech of the ARMs (or perhaps because of), won't blow holes in the other shovel-user, but they WILL hurt a heck of a lot if they make contact.

GS: Dean Stark spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked Riley Arwell with Bullet Shower!
GS: Dean Stark has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: Xander Lovell used Defend! He takes Dean Stark's Bullet Shower attack on Riley Arwell on himself!
GS: Xander Lovell guards a hit from Rebecca Streisand's Swift Revolver for 111 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Xander Lovell gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Charge!! You gain 40 FP!
GS: Xander Lovell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Xander Lovell takes a solid hit from Dean Stark's Bullet Shower for 124 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Xander Lovell gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Xander Lovell has posed.

Rebecca's unrelenting skepticism meets Xander's hardened gaze. His jaw tightens, and he fails to find a retort until Riley's teasing chimes in. Predictably, this awards him an inhuman snarl from Xander, fangs bared.

"If it's from the beginning you want," Xander says to Avril, "Then it's me you should be asking."

Avril cries out, and Rebecca cries out for her while the nightmarish garden lashes out with Xander's fervor. That citrus perfume isn't enough to drown out blood mingling with floral scents. The thorny vines retract back into the sand as Xander wavers, some of them withering before they can. He catches his head in his hand as he struggles to keep his balance. The blood they spill invigorates him, as sickening and nauseating as the first time. And Rebecca's stubborn insistence isn't helping. Her bullets fly, grazing just past his shoulder, but striking into his thigh as he grimaces and leans his weight into his scythe.

Friends. Why did Riley have to go and try to make friends? Why with these Drifters with their own stories of dreams and love yet untold? Xander's resolve can't waver, but Riley --

Dean's bullets go flying, and despite the injury to his leg, Xander lunges across the battlefield. He shoves Riley back, taking the brunt of the storm of bullets in his place. He's lucky Dean isn't trying to puncture him given the reckless maneuver, each strike blurring together into a single, throbbing ache. A few hit the leg wound Rebecca already gave him, and Xander grimaces, but he only lets himself fall to his knees once the gunfire's stopped.

"Shut up," he says to Riley, the anger in his voice drained out of him by the pain. "I told you... I'm not... letting us die..." The line between denial and hope blurs more every day. He looks to Dean. "And you -- stop it. Just... stop..."

Somewhere in the storm of bullets, something grazed Xander's eyepatch. It slips from him, then flutters off in the desert wind. Thorns and flowers eat through where his eye used to be, much like new growths can be seen sprouting in his open wounds even now. Without the patch to hide them from the light, the red buds pulse and bloom open. Xander winces as the thorns begin to dig into his cheek. "If we don't hunt -- do you think you can find an answer before this kills us?"

He forces himself back up, scythe heavy in his grip and his own blood dripping into the sand as he lunges toward Dean. "Do you think you can find anything where I can't?!"

With the bullet in his arm, and the damage from Avril's ice spear, his grip falters. Xander abandons the weapon to push forward, flicking his blood out to call on a carnivorous flower to sprout from the sands behind Dean, mouth filled with rows of horny teeth, before trying to kick him into it to trigger it to snap shut. He vaults from him toward Rebecca, dagger blade glinting.

GS: Xander Lovell has attacked Dean Stark with Dionaea!
GS: Xander Lovell has attacked Rebecca Streisand with Out for Blood!
GS: Xander Lovell enters a Counter stance!
GS: Xander Lovell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Xander Lovell has completed his action.
GS: Rebecca Streisand takes a glancing hit from Xander Lovell's Out for Blood for 47 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Rebecca Streisand gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Riley Arwell has posed.

If Riley's evil flower magic is especially potent today, perhaps it is because he has been energized by the magical sight of Xander getting so flustered at the notion of being in love that he let himself get bonked in the head with his own scythe.

But, Avril is calling them to account for their actions. From the beginning.

Riley sets his jaw. "My first sacrifice's name was Avery. But I can't stand here and recite them all. Some of them we ambushed and never found out their names. Others..." His gaze flicks to Xander, but what happened to their hometown is not his to tell. Especially not in the midst of all this. "If you're looking for proof I'm treating them all the lives I've taken with the reverence they deserve, I don't think I can offer that." He's focused on trying to make something worthwhile out of the time they've got left, not on doing penance for what they had to do to get it. As far as he's concerned, they're already getting punished as part of the deal. But that doesn't mean it isn't shameful to admit. Even though his tone is defiant, a part of him cringes. What happened to the Riley who was prepared to die instead of giving in to this?

She asks what he means about laying down their lives.

"There's a Part of Valmar mixed in with our souls, the Fangs. The Fangs want sacrifices, and if we make them wait too long for blood, we get thorns growing through our bodies, more of them the longer we take. They started in Xander's lungs last time. When I first got cursed, we looked for a way to get it out, but the only option the church could offer was 'volunteer to die and we'll purify your body so the Fangs won't just jump to a new host' "

Are you really asking me to be gentle when you're in the middle of trying to slaughter these people?

"Well, when you put it like that, it does sound crazy, but it doesn't hurt to ask," Riley protests. "If you'd all be willing to just walk away..." But even though she empathizes, Rebecca seems to be talking herself into using deadly force against them. Shit.

Dean takes a lungful of... whatever was in that flower, and it seems that the poison may be potent enough to asphyxiate him on the spot. Riley holds his own breath, surprising himself with how sickened he is at the thought. But there's no salvaging this now, they're not going to walk away, he needs to get used to the idea that they're going to kill the three of them -- but then Avril calls upon the power of Lucadia, allowing breath back into Dean's lungs. Relief floods through Riley, even if this means he's going to have to do it all over again.

It doesn't help that Dean, too, is empathizing with them. Saying that it's an awful choice, and he understands wanting to live, too. Offering to help them if they wanted to try again to find another way.

Riley finds tears springing to his eyes at the dissonance of hearing such things from someone he just nearly killed.

But I can't just let you slaughter people. They want to live, too.

"...Thanks for saying all that, though," Riley says. And he's caught up enough in his conflicting emotions that when Dean takes aim at him, he doesn't move -- but Xander does.

There's a moment of paralyzing fear when Xander pushes in front of him into the hail of bullets. "Xander... Xander!" Riley reaches for him, expecting him to crumble, but he's still standing, somehow. Was Dean not going for a kill, or is Xander just running on adrenaline and willpower...?

I told you... I'm not... letting us die...

"...then we'll live," Riley agrees quietly. Focus on what's important.

He calls his cursed shovel up from the earth. "If you can't leave us be, then you can be our sacrifices today."

He charges toward Avril, swinging the shovel toward her in an arc. A cold shadow flies from the weapon as it comes down; similar to its usual unsettling aura, but now ravenous, the very touch of it trying to drink from her lifeforce.

GS: Riley Arwell has attacked Avril Vent Fleur with Brush with Death!
GS: Riley Arwell has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Riley Arwell has completed his action.
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has activated a Force Action!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur fully evades Riley Arwell's Brush with Death for 0 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Avril Vent Fleur gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur activates Evade bonus and Arcane Font!
GS: Dean Stark guards a hit from Xander Lovell's Dionaea for 84 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Dean Stark gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    It's cruel to ask them this.

    But it would be crueler still to let them continue, to let them find out what the next part entails on their own. It's a feeling that she...

    That she finds a part of her knows. She already knew all of this, even if she can't remember why--

    'If you're looking for proof I'm treating them all the lives I've taken with the reverence they deserve,' Riley says to her.

    Avril shakes her head. "No. I only wished to know how many," she tells him, her gaze a hard one as it turns between him and Xander. "Were you the first?"

    Because, as they explain, they are bound by a curse to Valmar.


    Her gaze grows distant for a moment -- a dangerous thing in pitched combat -- the (recent) memory bubbling up to the surface. "There was a crypt... it was filled with a dark power. So that force lives in within you two, as well..." Her grip tightens on the hilt of her blade.

    There was no other option for them, Riley explains. The Church had told them they could die, their bodies purified. A sacrifice for the rest of the world, one they were unwilling to make.

    "...I see. A life is a precious treasure," she murmurs, gaze hooded in those moments before she draws out the Medium, and with all the power she can muster, heals some of what afflicts Dean. But even this is a drop in the proverbial ocean: her own wounds would need tending next, and all the while, the two that they are facing off against continue to carve away at their bodies and wear down their morale.

    Rebecca and Dean might have made their decisions plain, but Avril, as their friends knows that this cannot continue.

    "Rebecca-- I am all right," she insists, in spite of those injuries. "Dean... that should help." What else would they do? Flee this place? Even if the Al Bhed have escaped their immediate vicinity, this still isn't all over and done with.
    And she knows their movements well enough to say that they would not 'simply' escape, having separated Xander and Riley from their prey. Much as Riley will soon promise, they'll have their due from their bodies. No, they need to force them back, or...

    And even now, their opponents work to try to keep one another alive. Can Dean and Rebecca do what is necessary? Or--

    Will it fall to her, once again?

    Riley moves and she turns to meet him, her gaze tracing the weapon he wields. That shovel, like Dean's own...

    Ah. She remembers when Dean broke that shovel of his, attempting to protect the both of them. How strange that she thinks of it now as that shadowy bolt rolls off the edge of Riley's own, lurching its way towards her. She moves, and in this moment, it's as if she's following the steps of a dance she's practiced well. She can feel it as it rips right past her, carrying a few shimmering silver strands of her hair. It's... cold, she can't help but think, trancelike, her mind floating on a plane separate from her body. She lands not far from her friends and rises to her feet, her gaze still a million miles away. Once, twice: it takes her two blinks to return to the here and now, to then turn towards Rebecca.

    "Rebecca! Are you prepared?"

    And she leaps, buoyed in the air for a long time by the power of her Medium. The blade is gone from her right hand, reduced to its hilt and tucked away. When Avril floats in the air, hair billowing about her like a nimbus, she bears only the Medium.

    And soon, a chaotic galactic ring of ice crystals, cast off to spin in the air before her and above Xander, waiting for the next step from her friend and partner.

GS: Avril Vent Fleur spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Formation! Avril Vent Fleur has attacked Xander Lovell with Overhead Sorcery!
GS: Avril Vent Fleur has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Rebecca Streisand has posed.

Avril's question suddenly draws her full attention. 'Were you the first?' And the implications stun her emotionally. She can't even comprehend being in that position, being put in that position.
Dean's appeal is so kind that Rebecca almost scolds him. Maybe if they were at the start of their journey, she would. Instead, however... she just keeps her eyes on both of them, making certain to cover him while he's talking to them. "Dean..."
'It's not so simple.'
The old her would say. Those words don't come.
"...when you put it like that, I have half a mind to search for one too."
They have their own problems. But...
Xander's interception of Dean's attack though causes his eyepatch to come off, and Rebecca goes even paler.
Simple talk, to call him not a monster. When the reality is that something is making him one.
The response: 'No.' pounds in her ears. What can she do against a flower in his eye socket that forces his compliance? Burn it away? Set fire to the inside of his skull? Wish it weren't so? What kind of childish solution is that? And what if it doesn't respond to Dean's purification? What do they have then?
In that moment, all of her being won over to Dean's idealism starts to waver.
Rebecca yells as she turns to try and snap off a shot to sever the flower's stem that's pressing onto him - and then immediately try to turn and shoot Riley before he can get Avril - the cold shadow descending on her suddenly causing her to second guess her target priorities.
As she's about to pull the trigger though, Xander suddenly launches himself at her out of the corner of her vision. Instinctively she takes a single step forward, before her entire body launches up into a sideways tuck. Xander finds the blade that was aimed at something more vital suddenly making contact with her fast moving form.
Not quite a pound of flesh was carved, but perhaps a respectable amount.
Landing rougher than she'd want, and holding a fast growing red stain...
Avril though... "You're sure?!" She asks belatedly, as if in disbelief over the circumstances, "I saw - I thought..."
'Rebecca! Are you prepared?'
All of her concern changes into resolve - the mere moment she asks something of her. "... I'm ready. Let's end this!"
As Avril leaps into the air, Rebecca takes a low three point stance, her right leg extended. There's a gleam of magical energy in the toe of her boot that she abruptly shifts around and traces a shining circle... which then seemingly launches her high in the air, leaving a faint glimmering spiral behind. The moment that the galaxy of ice crystals form, her own body is a blur as it rises up to meet it. Inverted - it's like time slows in that moment, as the shine in her boot makes contact with the center mass of that nebula of shining ice.
It's just a small point of contact, but that galaxy of ice suddenly descends towards Xander as if Rebecca were kicking a Blitzball rather than Avril's magical creation at him
"You'll live."
The soft words from her lips either a feeble promise, or a small wish... in light of Xander's revelation, because of their continued attack. It's all she can offer them over the priority of protecting the people who matter to her the most.

GS: Rebecca Streisand has activated a Force Action!
GS: Rebecca Streisand spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Formation! Rebecca Streisand has attacked Xander Lovell with Overhead Sorcery!
GS: Rebecca Streisand has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Mighty expired!
GS: Rebecca Streisand has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Dean Stark has posed.

    Dean nods over to Avril, smiling now that he's got the breath to let himself do so. "Yeah, it helps a lot. Thanks a ton," he tells her. Whether he really can do what's necessary is questionable, but he is at least emotionally prepared for it. Valmar, though... ... ... ...where's he heard that name again?
    Xander leaps in front of Riley, to protect him from Dean's attack. That doesn't really surprise Dean. What *does* is when the strap of Xander's eyepatch snaps, and the patch comes fluttering down, revealing horrific growth underneath. Dean gawps in open horror upon seeing it--and once he sees *that*, he notices all the greenery starting to creep out from Xander's wounds, as the buds bloom and thorns tear.
    "Xander!" he calls, openly concerned. Riley explains that this is part of the curse--that if they don't water the plants with others' blood, it'll feed on their own. That it started in Xander's lungs, last time. That the only solution the church offered was a mercy killing. Concern morphs into horror. "That's awful!!"
    But... Riley also says that he hasn't kept track of how many he's killed, that most of their victims were nameless to them, unknown victims of an ambush. And that's awful too, which communicates itself clearly as Dean grimaces. His jaw sets when Xander gets back to his feet. He doesn't quite get Avril's implications about 'the first,' but still he says, "I don't know. And we'll never know if we don't try! Are you willing to try again? I don't know if it'd work on you guys, but I *do* have some purification powers--"
    His gaze softens when he spots tears in the corners of Riley's eyes. He always was weak to other people's tears. He just can't stand to see other people in pain. "Riley..." Rebecca chimes in with her support, and Dean can't help but smile her way too. Things really are different from when they started their journey four years ago, aren't they?
    But then Xander flicks his blood down. A giant flowery fly-trap sprouts behind and beneath Dean, aiming to gobble him up in one bite--with help from Xander kicking him in. And Xander *does* kick him in, but Dean grabs the sides of the toothy maw just in time to keep himself from falling in all the way. Still, for a moment, he struggles to stay where he is, arms bent with only his ARMs to keep those fangs from digging into his soft flesh.
    "Hnnrgh--we're not gonna--be your sacrifices--either!" he protests, gradually straightening out his arms. Finally, he manages to kick backwards and, while Xander is occupied with Rebecca, falls forward into a roll to safety. He pants in exhaustion as he rises, though--that took a lot out of him. Still, Avril and Rebecca are putting all they've got into this to stop Xander and Riley. He can't make them do everything.
    It really is an awful choice, though. If they protect the people Xander and Riley would "hunt," they consign the two to a slow and horrible death. It's so awful and unfair it makes Dean want to cry, too.
    Those two don't deserve to suffer like this.
    With a fierce, agonized roar, as Avril and Rebecca combine their strength to assail Xander, Dean opens rapid, unrelenting fire again on Riley. It's a ratatatatatat of bullets from one gun; then Dean spins and opens fire, ratatatatatat with the other, and then back again, and then both together, with a seemingly unending hail of hot rubber. Searing light burns into the combat rods on his twin guns, and Dean digs his heels into the sand, then launches himself at Riley in an attempt to ram into him HARD with that blazing force. Hit or miss, he'll jump backwards, point both muzzles at him again, and charge up a blast of energy that merges once he unleashes it, flying forward to explode upon impact.

GS: Dean Stark spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked Riley Arwell with Twin Fenrir - Laser Impact!
GS: Dean Stark has launched an attack Link!
GS: Dean Stark spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Dean Stark has attacked Riley Arwell with Scarlet Dynamo!
GS: Dean Stark has completed his action.
GS: COUNTER! Xander Lovell counterattacks Avril Vent Fleur with Counter Attack!
GS: Xander Lovell takes a solid hit from Avril Vent Fleur's Overhead Sorcery for 222 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Xander Lovell gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Charge!! You gain 55 FP!
GS: Xander Lovell used Defend! He takes Dean Stark's Scarlet Dynamo attack on Riley Arwell on himself!
GS: Xander Lovell guards a hit from Rebecca Streisand's Overhead Sorcery for 158 hit points!
GS: Charge!! You gain 55 FP!
GS: Xander Lovell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Xander Lovell guards a hit from Dean Stark's Scarlet Dynamo for 83 hit points!
GS: Charge!! You gain 35 FP!
GS: Xander Lovell has Fallen! He is no longer able to fight!
<Pose Tracker> Xander Lovell has posed.

Were you the first?

Xander gives Avril a bitter smile. "You don't think he offered his life when he found out? After all that time I spent searching and fighting only to end up leading him to his death, that he didn't ask me to do the 'right' thing once we'd run out of time?" The 'right' thing. He spits it out like an accusation. How? How could removing Riley in the world have ever been right? He's shaken with the memory of it, dagger rattling in his hand. "Of course it was me."

It all comes spilling out raw in the heat of battle -- fragmented and incomplete as the story is -- while lives are on the line. And what does it matter now that they know? Some people like closure, Riley told him, so fine, they can have whatever answers they want before someone ends up dead.

He breathes in deep, forcing himself to keep moving on his injured leg. "Laurel Fulcher, Clifton Tamblin, Rella and Arletta Elsworth, Wright Wilkie." Xander swallows to wet his drying throat. "Reuben and Kattie Norwood, Arlie Norwood." His voice grows more intense with each name, muscles shaking visibly. "Alexis Lovell. Setta Lovell. I can keep going!"

The crack in his voice suggests he cannot.

Dean cries to him with concern and Xander feels that lump in his throat tighten.

He starts to make his charge, but Avril goes above, and Dean takes aim at Riley, who's already got tears in his eyes and damn it Riley. Xander turns his dagger onto himself, slashing his arm and bloodletting to conjure a cocoon of vines to surround Riley and protect him from the bullets. He barely has time to do it before the galaxy of ice descends upon him, smashing into him and sending his frosted body tumbling across the sand as jagged ice rips further against him with Rebecca's words ringing in his ears as if they were his own.

Xander quivers, pushing himself up on one arm, then the other. He grits his teeth, rising only to slip back into a kneel. With another trembling shove, he forces himself back to his feet...

...and takes all of two steps before collapsing motionless in the desert.

<Pose Tracker> Riley Arwell has posed.

Are you willing to try again? I don't know if it'd work on you guys, but I *do* have some purification powers--

"I... you're saying you have some kind of magic that could help us!?" The thought of opening himself up to hope again is frightening. The last time they did, it seemed as if Valmar sensed it, and next thing they knew, Xander was coughing blood. The time before that... ...

Avril dances away from the hungry shadow that Riley sends her way, and it's another poisoned gift. Riley doesn't want anyone here to die by his hand, but he can't make Xander carry him and take it all on himself. It's all the worse because Xander was afraid this would happen. It seemed like an unbelievable stroke of luck when Avril believed his lies and gave him a second chance. Their luck must have run out...

Xander is forcing himself to tell the story of what happened back then, to recite the names of the dead. "Xander, you don't have to..."

And as Riley's attention is split with his worry, Dean unleashes another hail of bullets toward him, but Xander intervenes again, spilling his own blood to make a shield before Avril and Rebecca join their powers to send jagged pieces of ice raining down on him.

Riley watches as he tries to rise, staggers and falls, his heart twisting as he rushes over to confirm he's still breathing.

He gathers him up into his arms and stands up slowly, giving the trio a wary, challenging look before turning his back on them and starting to walk away. If they take a shot, then this must be where it was meant to end. If not...

"Right now I need to help Xander. ...But if we ever meet again, I want to know about your purification."

<Pose Tracker> Avril Vent Fleur has posed.

    Avril doesn't so much as glance over at Rebecca as she reacts to the question she's just asked of Xander.

    It's cruel to ask him that.

    But as cruel as it was to ask that question so directly, Avril had to know. It doesn't change a single thing, this knowledge, but she had to know.

    "Yes. I had thought that you might," she says, even in the face of that admission. "You could not bear such otherwise. ...I understand."

    She's calm. Glacial, really, as she gazes at him as he begins to list off that litany of names.

    "But we cannot permit you to sacrifice more lives still," she finishes. Her expression hasn't changed a bit. Unless one looks her in the eye, that is.

    Meltwater runs under the glacier, even if there is no space for it to bubble to the top.

    And so it is that she does as she must, as her friends do as they must. Avril lands, floating lightly to the ground as Rebecca's foot impacts her spell.

    As it rains down upon
    As Dean

    Her grip tightens on her Medium as Xander interposes himself between Dean's bullets and Riley, and if just for a moment, even if she's prepared to strike the both of them down...

    Her breath catches.

    She doesn't move a muscle when Riley gathers up the fallen Xander, gazing at the both of them for what feels like an eternity.

    "Go," she says then.

    ...But this 'mercy' of hers will put another life in danger. The practical ancient part of herself roils in the dark corners of her mind: if she means to protect others, she should strike now and with purpose. To do otherwise is be a fool.

    But she looks at Riley, Xander in his arms as he slowly stands, and Avril looks away.

    If this is foolish... then let me be a fool.

    "Dean," she'll ask quietly, once the both of the Fangs are gone.

    "Can you... truly help them?"

<Pose Tracker> Rebecca Streisand has posed.

Avril's question is hard, but it couldn't have really prepared her for the answer. Hearing it from Xander, her throat feels tight, she can't breathe.
Maybe it confirms the fact that he's no monster. She doubts that Janus Cascade would remember the names of everyone he's killed...
... but it doesn't make it any better. Not to hear that Riley was going to be the first sacrifice, nor to hear that there are two Lovell's on that list. She wishes she had Avril's calm in this situation in light of what they were hearing.
It's no surprise to her however, when Xander defends Riley from vines conjured from his own blood.
Rebecca's boots patter down, and she points her ARM forward as Xander takes a knee. She makes no attempt to pull a trigger... just... somber, intense in her silence. The uncertainty present in the gap between him and her.
Back on his feet, and she tries her best to steady her arm, keeping a hand upon her bleeding side.
And then a flood of intense relief as he finally falls.
Rebecca's ARM points at the sand rather than him after that, as she allows herself a deep breath.
Riley she doesn't point the ARM at, he seems more open to Dean's suggestion. Rebecca feels uncertain, she's seen Dean do miraculous things with purification. She wants to believe it can help here.
Does she dare to let herself do it? Dare to hope that this pair has a future that isn't murdering and murdering until they die?
Avril says 'Go' and Rebecca instead says... "Was as gentle as I could be." She says without looking at him, about the closest to an apology she can afford to let herself make.
If they'd been rendered helpless, she doesn't doubt they'd already been put in the ground... and the dark powers he wielded made it seem real likely they would have been.
'If this is foolish...'
"That makes two of us." Rebecca breathes, grateful beyond all belief, before she looks sidelong at Dean at Avril's question. "... the powers they use, it feels real different than malevolence Dean... so..."
Rebecca gives him a long look, though there's perhaps, more respect in her eyes than usual. He's come a long way in these past four years, "... be sure first? For that pair, feels like it'd be the worst kind of cruelty to give them hope, then dash it away again."
An excerpt from Rebecca's Secret Poetry Journal(Do not read - this means you Dean):
Copper scents, flowers as white as alyssum.
Hidden by the sands, a secret corpse garden.
A tithe paid to behold it.
Blood-dripping flower, warm with tenderness.
Foolish choice, fleeting pain, eternal sleep.
The cycle takes another turn - until it can turn no more.