2022-07-02: Saints Preserve Us

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Sometimes, a solution gets decided for you.


<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    It's been several months since the Lightning Shrine was first rediscovered, thanks to information from the ancient Seraph named Zenrus. When a certain group of intrepid explorers journeyed past Pao Village to find a hidden tunnel in the side of the mountains, then followed it forward and then up into the Shrine built up in the distant, craggy peaks, they'd also found an abominable mass of Malevolence.
    
    The source? The bones of a dead(?) Fell Dragon that had been pierced by lightning turrents placed throughout the Shrine to channel the ever-present storms that rage above. Suffice to say, the party's progression was to open the door, get a look at that awful tableau, and then immediately slam the door shut again and get the hell out of dodge.
    
    It's unknown how it got there. It's unknown how it died, or if it's even truly dead at all. And it's also unknown how anyone's supposed to get *in* there. Seraphim can't even approach without a vessel, and it's in their vessel they must stay. For her part, Ragnell has been hanging out in and near Pao Village for a while now that all other Shrines except for the Water Shrine--which is under Solaris's control--have been essayed. She's talked about it with a few people, but she just can't think of a way to get safely inside...
    
    On the one hand: sometimes, if you wait long enough, a solution will happen for you.
    On the other hand: that solution won't necessarily be one you like.
    
    It's on a day when Ragnell's sent out word to various Drifters to come to Pao Village to put their heads together on how to deal with that Malevolence that it happens. A massive shadow passes overhead. It doesn't sweep down towards the tiny town below; its sights are fixed on a much tastier prize.
    
    Ragnell looks up at it, curses loudly and violently, and instantly abandons everything else to sprint after it. A trip through the underground tunnels to the Lightning Shrine later, and she slams herself against the chained doors, ripping off the locks and kicking the entry open, heedless of the danger on the other side.
    
    There has been a distinct change in the Lightning Shrine, as anyone who followed after Ragnell would instantly see. The overwhelming Malevolence that once blighted this place is--not *gone*, but it's far lighter now; light enough for even Seraphim to remain in the open as long as they keep their vessels close. Ragnell's always gotten by on the purity of her mission, but others... More than that, the bones of the Fell Dragon are quivering atop those lightning spires. Why? From the looks of it, because there's some atop it, gorging itself on the Malevolence that putrified the land.
    
    A second Fell Dragon.
    
    This one is very much alive. Silver, perhaps, though it's hard to tell under the stormy lighting. Armored with scales, with massive claws and wings and a pair of horns that curve forward past its fanged snout, Malevolence just keeps on flowing into its greedy gullet. Those who were at Lastonbell during its destruction will recognize it: the Saint of Sinners.
    
    It's for this reason that the feel is temporarily lighter... but considering the Saint is, in fact, a Fell Dragon, there's surely no doubt that its own Domain will assert itself, stronger and more horrific than ever, once it's done feasting.
    
    "STOP IT!" Ragnell screams with a raw anger, fear, and desperation few present have ever seen from her. She bolts out towards the Shrine, over towards the Saint of Sinners, heedless of the danger. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?! GET THE HELL OUT!" Pounding a fist helplessly on the walls, her voice tears out of her throat and through the storm: "STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!!!"

<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

Thunder is a constant companion of the Lightning Shrine. The storms that rage across bloated gray clouds are an eternal presence thanks to the elemental nature of the lands beneath it.

Lightning cracks. Thunder roars. Lightning cracks. Thunder roars.

Lightning cracks.

    Something hideous roars.

The sound of it is horrifying and beautiful at once in a way that creates a nauseating contradiction that could sink straight into the core of a person. It is a sound that shakes the ground as they walk it, trembling down into the bedrock of the mountain.

From its perch, the monster of myths known as the Saint of Sinners pauses in its consumption. So massive it casts its shadow across the entire approach to the shrine, its glowing claws dig into the bones of its Fell and supposedly fallen kin beneath it with a groaning protest of black bones. Malevolence is still congealing in thick plumes around its maw as it turns its violet, visor-like stare upon Ragnell and her companions. Malevolence condenses into a tight sphere of contradiction within the Saint's throat, visible seconds before it snaps it shut.

'STOP IT!!!'

And it stops.

Seconds before that roar rips through the skies, piercing and painful and horrendous and beautiful.

Wings stretch wide. They beat exactly once, carrying the beast into the air and ripping winds down the mountainside more violent than the storm itself.

And as it makes its brief ascent, the fattened clouds in the sky bleed from thunderous grays to Malevolent violets as a Fell Dragon's foul Domain asserts itself over the grounds of the Lightning Shrine. It is thick, overwhelming, and yet... different. Where other Malevolent Domains suppress and drown, this one seems to see fit to agitate, exacerbate -- to draw aggression and deep-seated emotions up from the depths of the soul rather than crush completely.

It's a sickening sensation that those gathered will have little time to contemplate; just as soon as the Saint of Sinners rises, it -falls- upon the mountain grounds in a way that looses rock and rubble from the quaking mountainside.

Landing...

... right in their path.

(OOC: The Saint of Sinners' Domain works different! Rather than cutting off magic and suppressing people under MALEVOLENT PRESSURE it instead agitates and tries to drag out deep impulses, sentiments, aggressions, and so on. This is an opt-in aspect; feel free to play with this or not at your leisure!)

DC: Saint of Sinners switches forms to The Saint of Sinners!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    The Lightning Shrine has demanded less of Ida's attention than certain other problems, because it's more or less static. The dead Dragon's Domain is a difficult force to contend with--Ida felt it when she first traveled to there, and she knows how close she came to being Hellionized again. But it's not getting that much worse, nor is it corrupting wildlife and travelers, what with it being tremendously isolated.

    With the help of Lulu, and some other sorcerous experts, Ida has developed a working prototype of a... talisman, of sorts, a hand-brazier of the type carried during some religious rituals. Inside are a variety of Symbols, Crest inscriptions, and Blessing invocations; it was forged using techniques passed down by metalsmiths who venerate Moor Gault as a forge-god.

    The brazier sways gently on its sturdy metal chain as Ida walks up the mountain. It sheds a brilliant glow, strong enough to overcome the ambient Malevolence that is ever-present in Lunar's air. It emits plumes of white smoke. Ida herself wears her standard Lunar garb: a short-sleeved golden tunic, brass-edged fingerless armguards, matching leg-guards, and cream-colored slacks. Her flame-edged black Seer's mantle rests over her tunic.

    Ida sights the others. She has prepared her explanation, her monologue about the brazier and her insistence that she be the one to carry it into the shrine. Perhaps a few rejoinders to Magilou and Ragnell.

    All that goes out the window as the great draconic shape arcs through the air.

    "DRAGON!" Ida shouts--screams, really. She thrusts the brazier forward like a holy icon. The Saint's Domain washes over her a moment later. She remembers a city in flames, beating wings, reaching out and touching an ancient skull with tiny hands. Terror and joy and envy. Her face twists in a look of raw--something. She's grinning with equal parts fierce joy and defiance and terror. The flame within the brazier roars, tendrils licking out from the holes within it. "It's... it's working!"

    Sort of. It was designed to withstand /one/ Fell Dragon/ Domain, not two. There is a faint but noticeable bubble around Ida where the Domain thins, but... not a solution.

    Nevertheless, Ida hurries forwards, running across the sodden ground. She's soaked to the bone, but the flame still burns. "SAINT OF SINNERS!" Ida roars, as if to outmatch the thunder and the dragon. She looks at Ragnell, sees the fear in her eyes. Normally she hides it. "STAND DOWN!"

<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Jean waited in Pao for the other Vile Fiends, corrupting an inn and meeting a Magilou in the process--but she was here to help with the Lightning Shrine, and that's what she intends to do. At least... it was what she had intended to do. When Ragnell put out a call, Jean was happy to answer with the others. It's what she meant to do regardless, so meeting Ragnell again is a nice bonus... until....

"Ragnell!"

Jean sprints after Ragnell as she goes, still in grays and blacks at the moment, her traveling clothes. "Ragnell, don't--"

The second Fell Dragon. Jean's eyes widen as she looks upon it. "That's--"

Something roars. And to Jean's surprise, it listens to Ragnell. She watches the Malevolence turn, and she feels the pressure... but less than it should be. Until suddenly--

"Ragnell!"

The dragon roars. And then it comes. Its massive form dwarfs Jean's, but fear of danger is not a quality that is strong in her. So she starts to bolt after Ragnell anyway, though she's forced to a stop when the Saint of Sinners touches down, rocking on her feet and having to employ her skills not to fall down the sliding rocks. But it is in their path, and--

Jean doesn't even notice the pressure in the moment, though it certainly affects her. She rushes forward on impulse, towards Ragnell, to reach her, "Ragnell! You can't be here!" It's not the horrid venom of the Shadow Dragon that spills forth from her lips. It's... a different sentiment.

"Whatever makes you so certain it can't be here, we can do something about it together! But you can't be the free Seraph I know if you turn!"

Jean reaches out for Ragnell, heedless of the danger. It's the first time she's seen her in perhaps years, but--under this Domain...

She doesn't notice how ragged her breathing is already.

<Pose Tracker> Magilou has posed.

    "Ragnell."

    Magilou's voice isn't pitched with anger or desire; slung low, there's little emphasis to it at all. Malevolence has never found purchase in her shattered heart. Faced with two Fell Dragons' power, all the falsities of her cheer fall away, stripped down to the bones of her hollowed disconnection.

    "That won't work out for you."

    She follows her, without the fury and the force which carries Ragnell out first. The triumph, the anger...

    "... the Saint of Sinners' Domain is spreading," Magilou observes, in the tone of a droning professor whose lectures haven't been remembered by a single student in three decades. "But it's still establishing itself. This is our chance. We need to retrieve the Lightning Gem -- now."

    Her gaze falls over everyone, and all the volume in their words. "... before someone hits their limit."

    In the end, she's looking straight at Ragnell.

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Two more shrines.

Marivel knows that the last one's gonna be a doozy. But the Lightning Shrine seemed impossible. There wouldn't be any POINT if she could just deal with it herself--but sending a bunch of susceptibles in...

Still, she had a few ideas. This wouldn't be the first cleanup operation she had to organize--but before she can express any of her ideas to Ragnell--

--someone, or something--has another opinion to share.

Marivel follows after Ragnell, just sort of appearing at the start of every scene transition, watching her friend(?) with concern but quietly so.

The Malevolence is lighter now, she thinks.

"Even that much can be consumed..." Marivel murmurs, cupping her chin. "But that wouldn't be good for Pao Village."

She feels something tugging and pulling on her impulses. She runs her tongue across her teeth, letting it dally on each one of her fangs before pursing her lips with a deep unending hunger.

No, she thinks, this is someone Ragnell knows. This is someone she is supposed to try saving. Marivel refuses to believe that anybody has to be sacrificed even if there's nothing left.

She steadies herself, bringing a hand to her forehead. As a Sorceress of Eld she can maintain her control. She is not some kind of pup who lets mere spiritual fuckery to let her lose control. If she is going to lose control it will be on her terms.

Steadying herself she says, "Ragnell," softly. "I'll follow your lead but whatever we do we should decide quickly. Mayhaps we can split into two teams, one to lead this creature astray and another to deal with the local Malevolence. Spare it the poison ere it can consume more of it."

She wipes some saliva from her mouth with her wrist, grimacing. When she lets her arm drop it's enlongated and crackles with crimson energies, fingers shifting into sharp talons.

"Figure out a way..." Marivel pants. "To disrupt the Malevolence cycle later. There has to be a sorcerous solution. There always is. If not to save that soul then to at least spare it further suffering."

She knows there's some manner of connection to Ragnell.

So even as the unending hunger of her people threatens to drown her, she racks her brain for a solution to spare Ragnell further horror.

Ida brings forth an icon. A small measure of fortune from the lady of Guild Galad.

She doesn't say anything to the Saint, she just looks towards the massive monster but her eyes do not seem to see a beast but rather...

Magilou speaks of a Limit and Marivel bares her mouth full of fangs. They seem sharper now than they did a moment before.

"This is nothing." She says. "I'm fine."

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Azoth had been among those who first discovered the corpse of the dragon during a venture toward the lightning shrine. A horrific sight on its own, but the malevolence it gave off presented a real danger to the Seraphim... and, perhaps, life in general. Out of his element Azoth may be, this is something important to Ragnell, and if there's anything Azoth can do to help, Azoth will be there so long as Solaris doesn't yank his leash.

He is, of course, quick to chase after her when the worrying shadow passes overhead and sends her running toward the danger. Far as Azoth's known, Ragnell's resistant to Malevolence, but this is more than he's ever seen in one place.

And the lightning... Azoth's eyes flicker like the storm were threatening to cut his power as he beholds the Saint of Sinners. Their glow seems brilliant in the darkness brought on by the fell dragon's influence, though in truth they're dimmer than usual. A spark of energy crawls across Azoth's spine like a shudder, tinged violent in encroaching Malevolence.

Sometimes Azoth struggles with the influence of Domains, the data yet inconclusive if he's merely an empty machine playacting at personhood, or if there are more complicated factors to consider. It almost doesn't matter if there's any rage to pull from his steel or not: the power here is strangling his circuits.

"Ragnell!" he calls out, trying to be louder than the beast's roar and Ragnell's own shouting, "Ragnell, please, tell me what needs to happen -- how you want it to happen -- and I'll do everything I can."

He looks toward Magilou with trepidation, gaze flitting to Ragnell and back again. The Lightning Gem...

A hierarchy of priorities is rapidly forming.

DC: 1 turn has elapsed in the battle against Saint of Sinners! 4 turns remain!
DC: 2 turns have elapsed in the battle against Saint of Sinners! 3 turns remain!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

The shrines. Malevolence, brought to Filgaia (oops, that one's probably on them, fam). The questions of Althena. And, of course, the people who seek the Goddess for whom Margaret has feelings for. Yes; Margaret has many reasons to aid this quest.

Several of them are personal.

None of them involved a giant dragon, though. That one was not in her personal star chart for this situation. No, folks; she figured any dragons would be merely large reptiles or perhaps the Fell Dragons or something Filgaian. Yet we all have hopes, don't we?

Given that this tete-a-tete-a-tete-a-Ruby-a-tete was on Lunar, Margaret did not bring a whole posse with her. Dollie, one of her best aides de camp, had come with her -- but the healer can barely sustain herself in the face of this horrible feeling, and when Margaret bursts out of the win, the reinforcement ribbing on her dress rattling despite the hastily applied disguising paint --

She looks over her shoulder and sees no healer-woman coming after her with familiar staff and rustle. "..."

The others speak hastily. They cry their entreaties. Margaret's head tilts slightly -- her ears flatten back. A Seraph!? Yes, she thinks, Ragnell, recalling her from incidental meetings if no close affairs. "Althena's teats, she needs to leave an hour ago," Margaret says to herself.

The others speak quickly and Margaret does not. In fact - though she feels her heart race, and considers two separate concepts for 'just run away! real winners quit! u have speed magic, stupid!' even as her eyes flicker over Marivel, Ida, and then finally Magilou, she ends up taking a deep breath and closing her eyes.

The thunder clashes. Marivel articulates something. Her mind, already close to lightning, flashes to ground:

"So I see," Margaret says, reaching to her hip and undoing the little latch on her sword, previously undescribed.

"I'll get on that one, then. All of you be on about your business," Margaret says, marching forwards and then lateral towards the small cluster of people. She stares at the Saint of Sinners as she does; her ears pressed back and flat against her head, but it doesn't quite leak into her face.

Ugh, she thinks. I feel like crying. Or is that just the rain. She runs her tongue over her lips, because they're too dry to whistle properly.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Saint of Sinners with The Lotus Heir Returns...?!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

With the exception of the Water Shrine and the Lightning Shrine, all of the shrines have been visited. Now it's just a matter of... deciding what to do about the last two. Ragnell has called a meeting in Pao Village, and so Clarine makes her way there. Ideally, they'd all work together to make a plan to deal with the domain preventing them from entering the Shrine...

...But, everything goes out the window the moment a massive shadow crosses over head.

"Ah! Ragnell! Please wait for us...!" Clarine requests, chasing right after her. The chase takes them to the Lightning Shrine, where they're treated to a horrible sight - the sight of the Fell Dragon cconsuming the Malevolence.

"M-my goodness..." Clarine breathes out, shocked. She can feel the weight of the Saint of Sinners' domain pressing in. Reactively, Clarine reaches for something around her neck - a necklace, one forged and crafted from pure silver to act as a vessel for her and, eventually, given to a friend for safe keeping. She's used many other vessels since, but this one has the most sentimental value. And sentiment now may be what she needs - drawing on the warmth of the memories contained within in an attempt to keep herself stabilized, even as the Saint of Sinners' domain threatens to stoke the fires of emotion into a frenzy.

"Ragnell... I know how much this must hurt, but please, we must focus. What is the most important thing to do right now?" Clarine asks.

GS: COUNTER! Saint of Sinners counterattacks Ida Everstead-Rey with Counter Attack!
GS: Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Ida Everstead-Rey's The Lotus Heir Returns...? for 0 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Power Burst!
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    Of course it would be lightning next.

    Josie's reasons are her own: she'll point the finger firmly at Yvain if pressed on the matter and refuse to divulge anything more. Her own passage of the shrines has seen her bereft of the stones the others need to pass the barrier around Pentagulia, but this is again not her aim. By now, she's traveled to all of the sites save for water, light... and lightning. One had been passed up on out of necessities at the moment. Another had simply been hesitation on her part. But the third and last, well...

    The raw truth of the matter is that she hadn't known where to proceed to, having of course been a bit cut out of such plans. Not that she bore any animus regarding, all considering -- it was good sense if she's honest about it.

    A royal pain in the ass, but good sense.

    So she'd gone and asked, thoughts still circulating about her own lightning storm, and she'd gotten her answer.

    As it turns out, the lightning shrine is also a royal pain in the ass, from the looks of it. She can tell even before getting close that something is deeply amiss: there's a deep ache to the site that made her teeth hurt before she even got close to the door. Lightning is lightning and that's sure dangerous enough, but there are things that speak on a primal level 'touch me not' and even someone like Josie must obey such a command.

    It all goes down rather quickly when it happens. One moment, Josie's revaluating the site from a safer distance and having herself a smoke. In the next, a large dark shadow swoops down from on high.
    Ah, there's that ache again.

    "Shit," she says, because boy does she know what that is, having encountered it prior. "Don't tell me it's gonna...!"

    She's catapulted herself forward before she even realizes what she's doing. Someone, oh right that's Ragnell, is screaming at the dragon, which touches down.

    Oh and if Josie doesn't do something about this now then oh yes something terrible will certainly happen. If she turns around now if she does anything less than her utmost then she knows precisely what she is and will forever be. Yes of course she already knew that. Of course. But this will prove it without room to twist and deny otherwise.

    She's taken that shotgun in hand, proceeding in a march towards the corruption's core.

    She's walking towards death.
    Does she deserve otherwise?

    "Hey," she tells the dragon, perfectly calm to the outside world. "Over here."

    And then she simply whips the ARM upright and attempts to shoot it in the head.

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Saint of Sinners with Liquorice Piercer!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Josephine Lovelace's Liquorice Piercer for 105 hit points!
GS: Interrupt applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

How do you deal with a dead Fell Dragon? Well... while it's an overwhelming amount of malevolence, they only had one real solution to it that Hiro could think of, brute forcing it with enough Oracles and Seers to purify it. Gathering in Pao, Hiro decided to leave this to the experts. While he knew a thing or two about malevolence by now, he knew there was nothing he could personally offer to that effort in particular. In such an effort he's just another sword arm.

However, Hiro feels it a bit after everyone else, that change in the Lightning Shrine from afar. "Any chance it's Sorey?" "Hey yeah? Maybe he's taking care of it for us."

However, that vain hope was dispelled the moment he heard Ragnell shouting. "NOT SOREY NOT SOREY!" Hiro didn't even have to look at the Fell Dragon, not because he could sense it but because...

... he'd only ever heard Ragnell shout like that once before. In Lastonbell, when it showed up to consume the malevolence to grow stronger.

"Fate. Destiny. Instinct. Whatever you want to call it, I don't care..."

The pressure is even stronger than before, and Hiro instantly feels aggression bubble up out of him like last time. He tries to resist it. He tries. Unfortunately... Ragnell's mix of emotions is palpable, and he instantly feels an urge to strike the thing with his sword until it stopped hurting her. He doesn't know who this dragon was to her, but he knows what it's done to her every time it's showed up.

"...why couldn't you have just stayed away from her?" His sword's already out, and he's struggling against the urge to just charge forward. Ruby however, flies off his shoulder, she feels ill, nauseous. She's grown in spiritual power too but this is taxing her to her limit as well. As she eventually hovers near Ragnell, as Jean and Ragnell reach out to her. "Please... fall back to somewhere safe. Just let - let them handle it. I don't want this to happen to you."

Ruby can only imagine what it's like, living centuries knowing someone you once knew was out there, in this state. ... She doesn't want to find out how Ragnell feels first hand.

When Hiro does give in, it's a quiet thing. There's no shout, just a soundless rage as he darts forward, sword held out in an aggressive, reckless thrust at Dragonscale. A violent rush of wind behind him.

GS: Hiro has attacked Saint of Sinners with Hurricane Thrust!
GS: Hiro has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Hiro has entered Avenger Stance!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Margaret has attacked Margaret with Starlight Express!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Margaret accepts Margaret's Starlight Express for 0 hit points!
GS: Burst, Hyper, and Quick applied to Margaret!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Lanval has posed.

    For Seraph Lanval's part, as the Oracle of Schturdark, he needs to be present in the planning. While last time the approach was futile, he is of such station that any potential solution in which to deal with the Malevolence may yet involve him and his Seers.

     From within a bottle, it tilts to the side as if that might get a better look at a massive shadow going overhead during the meeting. He doesn't even get to make the observation out loud when Ragnell bails back in the direction of the tunnels.

     The timing can't be any worse, with his two Seers away from Pao Village on some equally important business (and/or distractions). He has every reasonable excuse not to follow when Seraph Ragnell takes off like she's been pinched and dragged about the ear by a determined rubber glove.

     But he does, even if he might be carried by someone else and/or somehow having pitched himself inside someone's knapsack. (Lanval is a masterful mooch, he finds a way.)

     He stays inside that bottle for the duration of that journey down into the tunnels, expecting the same issue as before. Seraphim do not have the luxury of getting to let their minds wander even with the protection of a vessel when it comes to Domains of that intensity, and it is the lessened pressure in which they're greeted until Magilou drones out her words as plain, simple facts. Ida's protective bauble gives another 'breaching' space, should he choose to manifest.

     Seraph Lanval does so, expelling a wave of pure water ahead via Arte as a precaution against an initial stray lightning strike from the Domain, but none of it goes so far to strike the Dragon.

     He has /never/ heard Ragnell scream with such emotion as he looks upon the changed circumstances of the Saint of Sinners consuming the Malevolence of its skeletonized peer. He doesn't notice how his brow is furrowed - by the nature of his own personal Domain, Lanval's strength tends to grow when he is happier (and/or drunker), and there is no joy here.

     He's coming up on her right flank.

     "I ain't lettin' ya go dragon on ush when yer trouble enough!" Lanval snaps out, held together with the experience of having been a Lord of the Land for half a millennium gives someone.

     There's no opening strike made against the Saint of Sinners as he asserts himself, hand outstretched, trying to come as close as he can get to Ragnell's (and Azoth's, he's her vessel) side.

     "'n I don't think they'd want ya ta do sho either," a bit more sober.

GS: Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Hiro's Hurricane Thrust for 202 hit points!
GS: Mighty and Shield applied to Hiro!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Power Burst and Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    The pale red curls of Gwen's hair are even more wild under the influence of the static in the air. Her ARM quivers, individual digits of her fingers occasionally jerking sympathetically.

    It was the element of lightning that brought Gwen to see Seraphs-- specifically, a mischievous Ragnell, whose little shocks surprised the more fragile coupling of Gwen's system.

    .... And when Gwen woke up, she could see Ragnell.

    "Ragnell..."

    Gwen has not once ever seen Ragnell be this emotional, even through all the glimpses of Ragnell's mysterious past. Perhaps the one time was when she allied herself with Ragnell that one time, as Ragnell tried to defend the secret of that mountain from people who were trying to encroach on that land. No... there was another time, in Lastonbell. Gwen really should be scared. Normally, she would, seeing someone so in control, or hearing Hiro's voice as Ruby begs.

    Fear bleeds out of her, leaving her in a similar state that had led to the problem of the Fire Thief. An impulse to throw herself into the situation, dragons of saints or sinners be damned. It's a height not even her optimism and sometimes brash decision-making never gets to, because even at her worst, Gwen did it with the idea that she had a way to avoid getting in over her head. Or, a sense of humor that almost expected the worst and the best all at the same time.

    Now she's drunk on that terrible seed, with no theft of fire to call on.

    It might not be such a bad thing, either, sometimes.

    "When things get back, I'll turn on my ARM's acceleration mode. I'll have trouble stopping then, but... all you'll need to do is let me tire out and then drag my happy ass out." She's got that smirk on her face, like someone with a deck of aces, waiting for the first card to turn over. "Nothing will get in my way. I'll protect everyone here."

    She makes a show of pulling up the sleeve up her right arm, blue-grey eyes glinting with none of the humor her voice suggests. "... Your violence, your anger, your sorrow... I'll take it all on!"

    The courier darts in, her form miniscle against the dragon's own, the slighting clawed fingers of her right hand thurst forward, Hiro's wind blustering by her.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Saint of Sinners with Return to Sender!
GS: Gwen Whitlock enters a Counter stance!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Gwen Whitlock's Return to Sender for 104 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ragnell glares at the Saint of Sinners with a ferocity, a *passion*, that is beyond love or hate. It truly is *fear*, a soul-gripping terror that sets the normally cocksure Seraph trembling, sets her heaving as if struggling to breathe in a form that has no need for breath. She stands tall as the Fell Dragon stops--as it looks at her and all of them--as it beats its massive wings once and touches down before them all--but it's fear that tests her all the same.
    
    Fear, and anguish.
    
    It's very, very good that Ida has that anti-Malevolence brazier handy. It might not be capable of taking on two Malevolent Domains at once, but one of them is weakened, and the other hasn't yet fully formed; for now, it'll do well enough to protect who needs protecting. The Saint isn't likely to stand down as she demands, but... at least that inciting Domain may not be as all-consuming as it might otherwise be in other circumstances. It helps when Jean grabs her, insists that they can take care of this together--though Ragnell's wild, ferocious stare doesn't actually *calm* until Magilou speaks.
    
    Perhaps it's that icy demeanor that does it. That flat nothing, so opposite of what she herself feels right now. She stares at the jester witch for a moment. Then she stares around at the others--Azoth saying he'll do whatever she deems necessary; to Marivel, suggesting much along the same lines as Magilou, but more detailed; to Margaret, as she marches up to the Saint ready to do what needs to be done; to Josephine and Hiro, who take that a step further and unloads their attacks on the Saint; to Ruby, beseeching Ragnell to fall back before this same fate befalls her, and Lanval, *telling* her just as much; to Gwen, as she bares that cocky smirk; to Clarine, asking what's most important right now.
    
    Ragnell stares at her blankly at that last question. What's most important right now? All of a sudden, she grimaces, lips twisting and peeling back, eyes scrunching up as if she's about to cry. She doesn't cry. She cries *out*, raising an awful wailing scream before punching the rocky ground.
    
    Just once, though. And as her scream peters out, she breathes... and then stands again.
    
    "Okay. So," she says, the tremble of emotion belying the steel now in her voice. "Azoth, you're with me. Gonna need you. Magilou, you go get that--fuck'nin'--bauble or whatever. Grab who you need. Everyone else--we're not gonna kill this... one. Not even if y'all try. But we can sure as hell make a distraction."
    
    Despite her words, she doesn't actually look at anyone else who's engaging in the fight. She doesn't pull her twin pistols out, either. Instead... she draws from her travel pouch a small, rounded, gun-like object. She handles it with care, and aims it at the Saint's center of mass.
    
    "How dare you..." she growls. She snaps her head up and roars, "How DARE YOU SHOW THAT FACE!! You wanna do this so bad?! FINE! I WILL SHOOT THE EVERLOVING SHIT OUT OF YOU!!"
    
    For all that she says that though, the pull of the trigger is for just an instant--just enough for a sizeable but not overwhelming beam of energy--and she keeps back next to Azoth.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Saint of Sinners with Tempest Laser!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has entered Stoic Stance!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Seraph Ragnell's Tempest Laser for 132 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

It might be majestic, if it weren't wreathed in such aggressive, seething malevolence.

Rainwater, muddled with the faint traces of glowing violets, pitter-patters violently across the dragon-scaled hide of the Saint of Sinners as it looms large over those who arrive seeking the Gem of Lightning. Pink-violet fire burns at its claws as Malevolence from the skeletal, supposed corpse behind it continue to wisp winding paths towards the behemoth, as if naturally drawn towards the orbit of a greater source of its taint. Every swell and release of its chest burns pure, fiery violence into the air.

And yet, it doesn't advance. It holds its ground -- as if daring those gathered to approach.

A fact that it does not need to wait long for.

There is Ida, first. She roars, brandishing her brazier like a sacred ward against the fell thing that towers before her. Her commands see the burning, single slit that accounts for the Saint's 'gaze' turning on her. It feels, for a moment, like it might be staring at that brazier in particular.

And slowly, that long neck cranes down towards Ida as that colossal, fangy maw opens. The mass of Malevolence still swimming deep within its throat churns with a sickening twist of space --

'Hey.'

    BANG

A bullet shot cracks square across the beast's horned skull, sending it lurching towards its right.

'Over here.'

The shot follows swift by the piercing thrust of Hiro's blade; it -drives- into dense dragonscale and finds -- something denser -still- beneath it. Winds and Gwen's thrust fist rush past and bludgeon the behemoth, forcing it to stagger briefly a single step towards its side just as Hiro might see the sickening bubble of liquified Malevolence oozing and spider-webbing up his blade.

One massive claw CRASHES into the earth.

And, as if the very nature of the world around it responded to its movement, the earth beneath Ida Everstead-Rey begins to split and fissure, letting out a strange sound not unlike a sharp, anguished cry --

--before a pillar of tremendous, broiling Malevolence bursts out from beneath her.

Claws dig deep furrows into earth. The stagger stops.

Its violence, its anger, its sorrow...

OST: Darkeater Midir - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4IMtnD7K4g

'How DARE YOU SHOW THAT FACE!!'

A brief beam of crackling energy flashes through the violet, cloudy skies. And the Saint's wings BEAT as it rears up and lurches forward, jaws snapping as it BITES into that powerful if brief burst of energy. It explodes in a superheated crackle across the hideous mouth of the Fell Dragon, making its head snap violently upwards.

And, smoke belching forth from it, that great maw opens as the Saint lets out a keening roar. Something different from before. Something almost like singing. It ripples wrongness that feels at odds with the haunting beauty of the sound.

And as it does, above it, the sky tears open.

One hole. Two. Three. Tears in space bloom in a number counting beyond the dozens. Opening to... somewhere. Somewhere dark. Churning.

Somewhere wrong on some deeply unspeakable level.

Very wrong, and very suddenly -spitting- massive masses of meteors from their depths, caked in layers of burning, Malevolent flame.

Ragnell's orders are given. Those who need to retrieve the gem know who they are. But first -- they're going to have to get past a shower of rock, crashing cataclysmically across the mountainside in explosions of Malevolence might, one after the other. Rubble flies. Stone tumbles.

--things that look suspiciously like graceful archways, finely appointed support columns and stately chunks of rooftops soar past--

                     M i s s i o n O b j e c t i v e
                            Saints Preserve Us

  Survive the Saint of Sinners and until the Lightning Gem is retrieved!
                              (Last 3 turns!)

GS: Saint of Sinners has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Lanval with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Hiro with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Clarine with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Margaret with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Azoth with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Marivel Armitage with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Magilou with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Jean with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Malice Meteor!
GS: Saint of Sinners has completed their action.
DC: 3 turns have elapsed in the battle against Saint of Sinners! 2 turns remain!
GS: Please react targeting the attack number in +queue.
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Jean takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 90 hit points!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Lanval suffers a terrible blow from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 172 hit points!
GS: COUNTER! Gwen Whitlock counterattacks Saint of Sinners with Counter Attack!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock suffers a terrible blow from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 197 hit points!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Magilou takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 155 hit points!
GS: Magilou activates Arcane Font!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Clarine solidly guards Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 71 hit points!
GS: Seraph Clarine activates Arcane Font!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: Marivel Armitage takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 118 hit points!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Hiro solidly guards Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 74 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's  for 171 hit points!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Ida Everstead-Rey takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 74 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ida Everstead-Rey gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Ragnell fully evades Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 0 hit points!
GS: Please react targeting the attack number in +queue.
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Azoth solidly guards Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 71 hit points!
GS: Azoth activates Guard bonus!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Josephine Lovelace takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 76 hit points!
GS: Interrupt! Attack weakened!
GS: CRITICAL! Margaret partially evades Saint of Sinners's Malice Meteor for 115 hit points!
GS: Margaret activates Arcane Font!
<Pose Tracker> Magilou has posed.

    Ragnell... gets a hold of herself, if only for those moments. Magilou, watching, nods once.

    "We'll be back soon. Bear it until then."

    They're words which address everyone, but it's impossible to say they don't have one specific target, called down like a lightning rod to ground. A mood like this doesn't suit Ragnell in the slightest; though her pragmatic plot hardly shows it, Magilou is aware she would be worried for Ragnell, if she felt anything at all.

    "Marivel. Clarine." Magilou raises her voice, loud enough to be heard over the volume. The words ring no less hollow. "You're with me. We're going inside to retrieve the Gem."

    A mouth full of fangs, and a light in the darkness... perhaps it's no wonder Magilou would take those two inside, away from the distraction out here. She sees one as a guide, elementally -- the other, a force unto herself, forged over too many centuries.

    It's an eminently practical sort of... logic, cold as ice.

    Magilou doesn't feel anything about that, either.

    She pulls her shikigami from her sleeve, and leaps onto it, as it lays horizontal. Weaving through those tumbling rocks, one crashes down on her shoulder in a heavy impact; two more crash together right before they would have both hit her, and a shower of smaller Malevolent stones hail over her as if the rain has become so much more PRESENT. Another lands right in front of her -- she has to jag, abruptly and gracelessly, and it's only her sense of balance that keeps her from tumbling right off into the avalanche.

    To the wall which surrounds the Shrine, Magilou leaps from her paper doll, and wrenches open the gates.

    Inside the walls --

    Each direction hosts a spire in the open air, stretching tall to the skies; lightning crackles down them, active, activated. From this angle, looking up, they can SEE the bones of the Fell Dragon who was the Saint of Sinners' meal -- it hangs over them, held aloft by the spires like sick tentpoles. South pins its tail upwards; north, its skull is propped atop another, jaws lanced straight through. East and west, the spires each hoist a wing in their grasp, those thin finger-bones speared through what ought to be their palms.

    As a shelter, it does nothing to keep out the rain.

    There is shelter here, though, for all the Shrine is an open-plan design -- smaller buildings connect everything together, and the largest amongst them is an observatory built around the fifth and final spire, stretching up in the middle of like the seat of a compass-hand. "There," Magilou decides, at once, and hurries to the door.

    Throwing it open -- there are broad windows to show the weather conditions outside, and panels which haven't been lit. (Perhaps all the power is going to the spires.) There are, in turn, three doors, as well as a staircase leading up, and Magilou turns to Clarine.

    "Light us a path."

    No 'how are you doing', no 'keep holding on'...

<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

Margaret, having made her decision, breathes out.

Perhaps this is the last time, she thinks. Maybe this is when it will pass into legend. Ah, I hope it does, Margaret thinks; the ambience around the Lightning Shrine naturally makes the Lightning spell come easily:

"Starlight Express," Margaret says, the nebular-thunderous cloud rising round her and then crystallizing largely in her lower body, as she draws forth Steel's Kiss II and points it towards the Saint of Sinners. "Come, wyrm!" she says.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgC2prJ2YdA

"By all rights, I am the Black Drago" and then someone shoots a gun.

STOP BGM.

Margaret turns her head to look at Josie. "Excuse me," she says to her, "I'm trying to have a heroic bloody last stand against all odds to enter the realms of a living legend or the REGULAR kind of legend --"

Others are moving as well! There's Hiro, sounding unusually nastier. Ida closes ground. She hears Lanval. Margaret's free hand, not currently holding Steel's Kiss II in a two hand grip, comes up as if to gesticulate and indicate 'honestly'!

And she nearly pays for it with her life, because only at the last moment does she quite tell what it is that the Fell Dragon is doing. The indirect attack did not set off many of her little inner reflexes; but she sees something tear in the sky above her, something pulsating and unholy. She twitches once --

And THEN she suddenly rushes out of the way. A meteor that would have simply reduced her to, if she was fortunate, a broken piece of elven wreckage, and if she was unfortunate, to nothing but a bad joke, instead simply explodes where she was standing, showering her with shrapnel.

Margaret feels the bite on her legs but she keeps moving, despite droplets of blood whipping behind her in the slipstream.

At her speed it does not take her long to reach a slight rise which is what she had wanted so that she could raise her free hand aloft and -- sparkle, twist -- hurl herself with magic into the air, sufficient to kick off of a piece of long and level stone (Oh fuck, Margaret thinks, this is CARVED stone, where in Althena's NAME did) and run three paces before leaping again, striking another meteor, and throwing herself forth -- with another pair of flick-flick twists, perhaps to try to bait out a lunging bite, concluding with a single dual-handed slash at the Saint of Sinners' vast neck before she lands.

Near its front.

Margaret breaks left after this, calling "Hiih! Hyah! Come get more if you care to!" over her shoulder, perhaps more for herself than for the Fell Dragon.

GS: Formation! Margaret has attacked Saint of Sinners with Manual of Arms!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners solidly guards Margaret's Manual of Arms for 28 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Saint of Sinners gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Quick applied to Margaret!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Guard bonus, Power Burst, and Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

"That face..." Marivel says. "They have another one?" She considers this for a moment but ultimately shakes her head, trying to clear it. Not the time for mystery.

She starts running towards the Shrine, ignoring all her instincts telling her to turn around and SNACK. Perhaps it's thanks to Magilou's instructions, perhaps she just knows instinctually to not linger. There's a time limit now. She feels it in the bones.

She brings the crimson claw to her forehead as she runs. A meteor teeeearrrsss of her still humanlike limb, a cloud of dark smoke of crimson energies erupting from the limb before it disintegrates into nothingness.

But not before she opened up her bag. She reaches into it gingerly with a claw before drawing out her ELECTOOL.

"Guardians..." She murmurs. "I'm starving... how unfair... to enflame my hunger."

Once inside, Marivel places her claw on Magilou's shoulder, using it to steady herself. Or maybe she sees Magilou as a ready meal right nearby. But she doesn't, at least, take a bite--not through fang or claw.

She turns her head to look into Magilou's eyes. She stares.

And then she straightens up, finding some inner resolve against the desperate hunger. "Do it Clarine." She repeats. Clarine is still her soldier. "No time to hesitate. I can disable the pillars. Just get me to them."

Her eyes glimmer with crimson hue. Just exactly how would a creature, last of her kind, react if left to stir in this storm?

You probably don't want to find out.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    The Saint of Sinners looks at her, and for an instant, Ida feels like it knows. There's always been something uncanny about its presence, but Ida doesn't know if that's a feature of Fell Dragons in general; Yvain, at least, seemed to remember parts of his old life, even if he wasn't nearly so far gone. Does the Saint?

    "LASTONBELL!" Ida shouts. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Magilou making for the Shrine proper while several others chase after her. Everyone else is the distraction.

    Ida can work with that. She feels the Domain boring into her mind, the way it did at Lastonbell, but this time Ida herself is not torn by irreconcilable contradiction. And what boils out of her is...

    "DO YOU REMEMBER?!" Ragnell is more terrified--more upset--than Ida's ever seen her. If nothing else, she can spare her injury, keep the Dragon off her--

    The earth rips open. Ida wraps the brazier's chain around her forearm, and wills the flame to blaze brighter. Malevolence rushes out around her, a geyser of earthen shards and churning energies. It hits the heat of the censer's field and keeps going, weakened--but still enough to envelop Ida completely. For a moment, she's lost in the spray. A meteor--part of an archway--slams into the tear in the ground...

    And Ida surges forwards. Burns mar her face and clothing, and a lock of hair is smoldering. The rain slicks over her, putting out the lesser flames. Her feet churn up the earth as she runs. "HEAR ME! THIS FLAME WILL NOT BE EXTINGUISHED!" She whirls the censer around her, and it starts to smoke more vigorously; Ida's pouring more of her power into it, extending the field as far as she dares to protect the others. But she can't neglect herself, either. Metal pours from her skin, slicking across her burned flesh and twisting into black-and-blue armor accented heavily with gold.

    The Saint's never seen that one.

    "I'VE LEARNED SO MUCH SINCE LASTONBELL! LET ME SHOW YOU!"

    This is what the Saint has dragged out of Ida's soul: the perilous, fearful exhilaration that comes from challenging something far stronger. The deep desire to take on something earthshaking in its terror, and to be tested to her limits. The joy of learning and bonding with a foe, and knowing that they are your mirror.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Third Method - Shaping the Battle-Forged Shell!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 3 Combo!
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> Jean has posed.

Jean notices Magilou's iciness--a big change from how she'd acted before. She looks towards her for a moment, to all the others as Ragnell focuses. And what's important...

Ragnell screams, and Jean watches her. Until...

"I can distract," Jean says. "I'm really good at distraction." She rolls her shoulders back and adopts a ready stance, pulling her fans from the sides. Not the claws--the fans.

But then she glances over at Margaret with a wink, "I'll be sure to tell people about it!"

It's definitely not rage that this agitation is giving her, at least. She is curious to see the effects on the others, would probably put it together if she didn't herself feel a need to move. And moving is a good idea indeed. She hurls herself out of the way of that horrible, unnatural meteor, and is spared becoming a dancer-shaped stain on the ground. The explosion still knocks debris towards her though, and she winces as the rock slams into her back, having to force herself back up painfully.

"Guess I'm a little rusty..."

But she starts to feel better, as the censer affects her. Calmer. She breathes out, quickly--and launches forward, into the dragon's center of view.

"Hey!" she calls. "The Guard tells me this spreads Malevolence! What do you think?"

She moves into the intricate steps of a dance, fast then slow, fast then slow, as she sweeps in motions in towards herself to draw in attention, to soothe and calm...

GS: Jean has attacked Saint of Sinners with Dream Dance!
GS: Jean has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Azoth flashes Ragnell a bright smile in spite of the storm and the overwhelming Domain around them. "You've got it! And if it gets bad... take cover."

Priorty one: protect Ragnell. Priority two: raise enough hell to distract an overpowering fell dragon.

The sky splits open, and Malevolence rains down. Azoth thrusts out his arms, geometric veins glowing across synthetic flesh from his circuitry powering up from within with the power he demands from his core. A veil of light blossoms out, shielding him -- and Ragnell, he hopes -- as flaming meteors strike against its surface. Cracks spread with each successful blow like it were spiritual glass, and when it finally shatters at the end of the assault, Azoth staggers back from the force as if it had collided with him directly. In a way, it had.

He remembers Yvain's flute: utterly ravaged by Malevolence despite being a vessel, crushed, and failing in its purpose of protecting its Seraph. Azoth has to make sure that doesn't happen with Ragnell -- a conviction that dominates his calculations. At least he has the advantage of autonomy over the typical musical instrument. That was the whole point of his creation, even if this particular function was never his intended use.

But Ragnell always seemed to understand Azoth's programming better than anyone who has more specific designs for his operation. That's part of why he's here with her now.

For this battle, he doesn't want to be far from Ragnell -- he needs to be close by in case a vessel becomes suddenly necessary. Energy dances along his arm, crackling and gathered from the excess overflowing in his core. It gathers at his palm, then launched out in a spread of erratic, chaotic energy as he discharges built up heat and power to smash into the scales of the Saint of Sinners.

Those around him are incited by the Domain, and Azoth begins to understand what it's meant to show, just as he understood the Shadow Shrine. That, too, drew out his nothingness.

There's only his purpose, flickering just out of reach in disconnected memories.

GS: Azoth has attacked Saint of Sinners with Heat Sink!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

It hurts to see Ragnell like that. That awful, wailing scream... But Clarine doesn't look away, only shutting her eyes quietly for a brief moment.

"...I'm sorry." Clarine murmurs in apology. But right now, as Magilou said, this may be their only chance to get what they came here for, before it becomes impossible once more. Ragnell divides up the tasks and Clarine nods, looking toward Magilou as she addresses her.

"Understood." Clarine replies, with another nod of agreement. Anything that might have been between them, she's willing to put aside. And to the others... "Please be safe! We shall return shortly."

And with that, Clarine makes her way to that gate, gliding over the ground at top speed. ...But, it is easier said than done - space tears open, issuing forth Malevolent meteors. In one quick gesture, Clarine draws a series of mirrors from her sleeves. They create a network connected by motes of light, together forming a barrier that intercepts the meteors that threaten to crash against. Clarine winces against the backlash, the immense pressure that threatens to shatter her barrier - shatter her - but she can't allow herself to be slowed.

She makes her way into the gate, into the shrine, following Magilou as she chooses a door.

"Hold strong, Marivel... I am with you." Clarine entreats her, before nodding toward the both of them. Once again she draws something from her sleeves - a sphere of crystal which she urges forward ahead of them. Her light shines through it, and with her light it begins to shine - dispelling falsehoods and unveiling hidden truths as it lights their path. With this, they may be able to see even that which cannot otherwise be seen.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

Ruby seeing Ragnell get ahold of herself, just gives her this sort of helpless nod. Ragnell knows her own limits better than anyone, it's just, she can't help but be worried, "Please be okay when this is over." She whispers, watching her shout and engage the Dragon.

"Don't think I won't." Hiro says to Gwen, about dragging her out. As for Hiro where his sword strikes, malevolence seeps up his blade. And Hiro has to work to wrench it free, as the malevolence claws his way like a living thing. It's easy to think one knows the nature of malevolence when one gets used to the sheer quantity clinging to Lucia. However, it's always humbling him.

Or at least it would be if he wasn't so mad.

Darting away from the massive claws and tails, the keening roar stuns him, even as the sky opens up and churning malevolent flames fall to the Earth. One for him.

There's a sudden rush of wind in front of him, as his hasty spell tries to counterforce the malevolence's momentum. It's in vain of course. Wind isn't going to halt that meteor. The churning meteor though strikes against the shield on his arm, and he feels it wrench so hard that it's like its out of socket, as he twists and the malevolence crashes and explodes to the Earth, sending him staggering back a few steps.

It would be wiser to back off. All of his years of experience fighting tell him that.

     He doesn't.

His blade still drips with malevolence as he suddenly launches himself skyward, and he tries to plunge to strike down savagely into it. 'Dodge this!' no. "Get Lost."

Despite the blood haze as he lands, he can't help but hear Jean's comment, and somehow that flippancy seems to deescalate him, just subtly. Not much, but a little. It's good to have her here... "Anyone who says that, ought to come here to learn what real malevolence is."

GS: Hiro spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Hiro has attacked Saint of Sinners with Poe Sword!
GS: Hiro has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Jean's Dream Dance for 70 hit points!
GS: Drowsy applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
GS: Saint of Sinners partially guards Azoth's Heat Sink for 139 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Guard bonus and Sufferer!
GS: Azoth drains Saint of Sinners! Azoth gains 70 temporary hit points!
GS: Strain! Azoth takes 81 damage!
GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners solidly guards Hiro's Poe Sword for 62 hit points!
GS: Hyper and Shield applied to Hiro!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Power Burst and Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    What a terrible scream to hear. It's only too familiar, for Josie.

    As she dashs into the space already falling under the sway of the Saint, that scream only hardens her resolve. Of course she understands what must be done the only thing left that someone like her can still do. She's had her stay but see how the bill always comes due.

    "Ah?"

    So Josie begins, slowly turning her head towards Margaret. She looks her over. "Heh. Workin' out well for ya, then?" Her lips have split in tight, slightly off-kilter-even-for-Josie sort of smile. It isn't matched by the look in her eyes.

    Margaret may well have the impression that Josie is about to say more, but it's then that the air, the sky, reality itself rips right on open and exposes for an instant what crawls underneath. "Oh," Josie manages to say, staring at the onsailing roil of meteoric annihilation. That she throws herself sidelong in the next is testament purely to instinct taking the reins. Even as she drops, rolling against solid earth, she can feel it erupting and exploding about her. Can feel, too, that brief hot kiss of pain in her flank. Something struck her, but only in passing. It was only shrapnel. If it had been anything larger, she might not have been able to rise again, ever.

    The fact that it was a piece of rock that, if someone had closely inspected it, might have looked rather suspiciously like a piece of roof tiling is a matter best left for speculation at a much later date.

    Why did she dodge it? What right did she think she had to dodge it. Someone else might have been struck by the rock that missed her. This is her place to stand to fight to--

    Josie has reached stiffly with her right hand to touch her side; her glove comes away crimson. "Heh..." she heaves out, more breath than word. "You... you ain't half playin' fair, are ya," she tells the Fell Dragon. "That's alright. I ain't... ain't much for playin' fair either...!"

    That's right that's right she's a sinner herself and there's nothing better to fight a sinner but another sinner!

    "C'mon, you! Look at me proper-like!" she calls out, turning just to break into a dash that should arc her away from the Saint and way from the others. "Ain't it me you're here for?!"

    If it looks, that's when she'll shoot it. If it doesn't look, that's when she'll shoot it. It's just a matter if her target is its face or the back of its skull.

GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Saint of Sinners with Scorched Wing!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a glancing hit from Josephine Lovelace's Scorched Wing for 39 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Saint of Sinners gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Jam applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    It's not really a matter of protection. Gwen makes no move to throw herself in front of people's attacks (which is a good thing) or take strategic measures to make her stand from a better position, like she'd do in her more sober moments with a well-placed bullet.

    If her counterattack lands, her right hand's increasingly talon-like fingers find some purchase in the armor of the dragon, twisting it and wretching her clawed fist away, electricity jumping from point to point.

    The meteor strikes her head on in her commitment to that attack, even if it did little in the way of damage compared to what she suffers in return.

    But Gwen isn't not alone here, as Hiro's comment lends credence to. The dancing of Jean's heretic steps, as if they were gathered by a bonfire. Azoth's beautiful reach to that full understanding of himself. Ida's growth into being a master of that mysterious art, tied so closely to that twilight space of humanity and something else.

    "... It doesn't matter what fate's in store," Gwen states, sharing a grin with Hiro, "... we'll break through the muck and go to where we need to be."

    Ragnell's anguished scream hits the back of her head. The censer bubble's field of influence expands further beyond Ida.

    For one, dear moment, she glances back, her body still aching from the brunt of the Saint of Sinner's attack.

    "... Ragnell... When this is over... " Tears flash in her wincing eyes, and Gwen gives Ragnell a wide grin, as if she had simply swallowed some bitter wine. "We're gonna have to try t'make some happy memories to make up for all those tears."

    Her right hand twitches, and the power within is leaned into, just a little.

    Yellow bleeds up Gwen's neck and face, and her smile grows warmer as her tears threaten to fall over her singed cheeks. "Even if we don't succeed... won't it be fun, just in the trying?"

GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Bounding Flight!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Gwen Whitlock accepts Gwen Whitlock's Bounding Flight for 0 hit points!
GS: Amplify, Hyper, and Quick applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Gwen Whitlock's  for 93 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Saint of Sinners gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    'Bear it until then,' Magilou says, and then peels off on a shikigami with Marivel and Clarine in tow. Ragnell doesn't respond--doesn't look at them, doesn't acknowledge Marivel's ponderings or Clarine's concern--and so it might seem as though she ignored the three of them, maybe didn't hear them at all. In her heart, though, she acknowledges. She does appreciate what Magilou is doing for her, appreciates that she's pulling Marivel away, and especially appreciates that she takes Clarine with her. Clarine is one of Ragnell's oldest friends, after all--going back even further than Magilou herself--and Ragnell doesn't want *her* getting caught up in all this Malevolence.
    
    She doesn't want that for Lanval either, which is why, as meteors fall, she does give *him* a sharp look as he remains at her other side. "Go back! Go back and--protect the door or whatever, make sure we got a way out of here," she snaps at him. She doesn't wait for a response; she just shoves him, hopefully towards Ruby so the two of them can take care of that together, and focuses on the falling stone and the horrible song that the Saint sends echoing out into the pitiless world.
    
    Or so she tries. Margaret complains at Josephine for interrupting her moment of glory; Gwen grins at Ragnell and talks about how they'll chat about better days once this is all over. Ragnell lances them both with furious, hateful eyes.
    
    "SHUT UP! You think this is FUN? You think this is a GAME? FUCK YOU!!"
    
    ...definitely unlike her. Isn't she always the one not taking things seriously--leaving sarcastic remarks and snide observations about other situations? But then, everyone has their weak points... Perhaps it can simply be considered...
    
    ...a contradiction.
    
    The incense from Ida's censer spreads as she leaps out of the flame. Perhaps that's what makes Ragnell shake her head and pull herself together after that outburst. Maybe it's the effects of Jean's dance as she steps forward and attempts to lull the Saint with her swaying limbs. Definitely Azoth raising up that defensive barrier in front of him and her does, taking on the onus of the effort to keep her safe. Something in her expression changes. It's hard to define exactly what it is. "...Okay," she replies, unusually subdued. But, in this case, maybe that's a good thing.
    
    Of course, she doesn't apologize to Gwen or Margaret for lashing out at either of them. That's just not her style. Maybe *that's* a good thing, too, given all her other atypical behavior right now. Still, she stands a little straighter, a little taller, as she lets Azoth keep her safe. As he charges up his blast, she charges up an arte, calling upon the electric energies of the Shrine to boost her own Seraphic spell. A golden glyph shines at her feet, and she skips the chant, opting instead to call directly: "Divine Saber!"
    
    Bolts of lightning encircle the Saint, now framed in a glyph of its own. Each strike lands on different points within the rim of that circle until finally they close in at the center, dropping bolt after bolt after bolt down upon the Saint's skull.

GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Saint of Sinners with Divine Saber!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Divine Saber for 149 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

Head reared upward, 'gaze' blazing with violet-pink life, wings folding against its back, the Saint of Sinners towers large and proud over its carnage as the strange, song-like roar comes to an end. Space stitches itself up as rubble and debris cools, shattered and entrenched across the mountainside.

The Saint takes a single, lumbering stride forward, stalking past a fragmented piece of a statue's sculpted face. Margaret lunges across falling debris, pouncing from one flaming wreckage to the next. The Saint's head swoops low, as predicted. That maw, far bigger than the entirety of Margaret, yawns wide open --

--and SNAPS just barely out of the elf's nimble range as she treats her draconic foe to a kiss on the edge of her blade.

She carves into scales, into dense Malevolence; the act is akin to trying to carve through the very mountain they fight on.

But she scores a shallow wound across its neck...

... a shallow wound that BURSTS into flaring bubbles of Malevolence that seek to envelop the elf within its searing embrace before she can complete her descent and dart, carrying with it a strange, song-like sensation that seeps into the soul and lets its maddening melody linger there for a spell.

It's testament to a simple fact: every part of this foul creature is a weapon, in some form or another. Some, however, are more obvious than others: as Jean calls out to the beast, demands attention to her heretic's waltz, the Saint of Sinners' baleful stare falls upon her. Those motions are fast, slow, fast again, but the full scope of its attention is upon Jean. The blows of Jean's dance make the dragon lurch, almost laconic in the slowness of it all. The ground quakes beneath its backward sway.

But does it spread Malevolence?

The answer, perhaps, ultimately comes when the abomination in dragon's form suddenly -pounces- forward in a graceful if devastating by scale alone motion all its own, bringing one burning, spiteful paw outward to -swipe- at Jean in one titanically powerful motion -- its massive claws sheathed in that ever-burning malevolent flame that brings disease festering on its heels, for what the claws cannot simply -skewer-.

And there it might press its assault further, if not for another distraction all its own. Ida shouts out, and as if -feeling- the bloom of that brazier even more than sensing it, its long neck turns, so that its burning stare can settle on her.

There is something strange behind that look, even with how utterly inhuman it is. Is it comprehension? Does it hear her?

Does it understand?

They are questions with no easy answers -- and certainly none forthcoming, especially as Azoth and Hiro's assaults strike in tandem. Spiderwebbing patterns of chaotic energy branch out and -sear- into the hide of the Saint, shearing off scales so large they literally -crash- into the ground and embed there, seething with Malevolence, when they fall. The impact is enough to briefly disorient the great beast --

-- which provides Hiro more than ample opportunity to -leap- and -plunge- his blade into the horrific hide of his adversary. The Saint roars; agitation rings so thickly one could reach out and touch it as those Malevolent vibrations shake the earth around them. Its wings spread.

And the dragon -beats- upward, intent to shake Hiro off of it as it improbably -spins- through the air --

--and sends the broadside of its absolutely massive tail careening towards Hiro to try to swat him towards the unforgiving earth like a meteor all his own.

The Fell Dragon lands bodily into the ground; its strange, how flexible these large creatures are, how it rolls in a way like any other four-limbed animal might; save that when -it- does something like this, the mountainside quakes all the way down to the foundation of the shrine beyond as strangely sculpted meteoric rubble looses and rolls across the craggy earth. It ultimately comes to a stop, burning claws tearing through the ground, when...

<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

'C'mon, you! Look at me proper-like!'

The Saint looks.

And that is when Josephine shoots it, in the dead center of its face, between those dangerous, forward-swept horns.

The shot CRACKS out. The Dragon's head -yanks- backward.

... and then, slowly, it lowers again, until that burning visor of a gaze turns its alien, eldritch stare upon Josephine Lovelance once more.

Her bullet is wedged there, small but glinting, just above that singular flare of a stare. Its entire body lowers then towards its stomach, as if it could look at Josephine at eye level just like that.

Its mouth opens. It gifts Josephine with the sight of all that Malevolence churning within its gullet.

And then... it exhales.

Dragons breathe fire. It's perhaps the best known thing about the scaled entities. Fell Dragons are truly little different. The Saint exhales.

And an inferno of violet blooms from its maw, rushing across air and ground in a tidal wave of putrid flame that looks to consume and engulf Josephine if she does not move fast enough.

What's the worst way to die? ...

The conflagration would continue on, and on, and on, if not for the sudden bolts of lightning that frame and surround the Saint before lightning from the violet-stained heavens -smites- its skull with repeated, merciless violence. The act alone is enough for the first bolt to -snap- that jaw shut, guttering broiling flames within the ionizing crackle of Ragnell's electrified wrath. A second, a third, all come down with force enough that, given the draconic beast's position, -hammer- its head into the earth, POUNDING it into rock over and over again. The bolts of lightning -ripple- electricity down its mighty, scaled frame --

And then it looses a sudden, ear-splitting -roar- that borders between pain and annoyance as it rears itself backwards, wings snapping spread -wide-.

The Dragon -smashes- its way through the next bolt, and the -next-, -tearing- through the warding bolts of lightning and the glyph beneath it. Its clawed forelimbs -smash- into the ground beneath it.

And then it -lunges-, biting the rain-soaked air in the space just above Ragnell, Azoth, Gwen and Ida.

And -wrenches-.

There is a strange sight -- the sight of space literally wrinkling, pinching, and -ripping- between the Saint of Sinner's jaws. And then --

IT is a singularity that spawns above them all, churning, gripping, grabbing -- pulling and crushing with intense, overwhelming gravitic wrath that seeks to take Seraph and Vessel, Seer and brazier, even courier and her confident defiance, into its hateful embrace.

And even as it does, that Domain intensifies. Expands.

And its wounds begin to knit in a sickening stitch of Malevolence and scales.

GS: Saint of Sinners has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Margaret with Nightmare!
GS: Saint of Sinners has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Interrupt expired!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Black Hole!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Black Hole!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Black Hole!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Azoth with Black Hole!
GS: Saint of Sinners has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Hiro with Tail of the Serpent!
GS: Saint of Sinners has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Jean with Claw of the Saint!
GS: Saint of Sinners spends 3 Combo on Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Sigh of the Sinner!
GS: Saint of Sinners has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Saint of Sinners has completed their action.
GS: CRITICAL! Hiro takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Tail of the Serpent for 120 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Hiro gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Hiro activates Power Burst!
DC: 4 turns have elapsed in the battle against Saint of Sinners! 1 turns remain!
GS: CRITICAL! Seraph Ragnell takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Black Hole for 300 hit points!
GS: CRITICAL! Jean takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Claw of the Saint for 101 hit points!
GS: Disease applied to Jean!
GS: Jean activates Power Burst and Sufferer!
GS: CRITICAL! Margaret suffers a terrible blow from Saint of Sinners's Nightmare for 201 hit points!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Jam applied to Margaret!
GS: Margaret activates Arcane Font!
GS: CRITICAL! Gwen Whitlock takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Black Hole for 138 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Gwen Whitlock gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: CRITICAL! Josephine Lovelace solidly guards Saint of Sinners's Sigh of the Sinner for 132 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Josephine Lovelace gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Shieldbreak applied to Josephine Lovelace!
GS: Josephine Lovelace activates Guard bonus!
GS: CRITICAL! Azoth takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Black Hole for 149 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Azoth gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

Jean hopes Magilou, Marivel and Clarine are OK in there, but what she can do right now to make that true is to keep as much attention on her as possible. ...But her attention slides to Azoth for a moment. Energy along his arms... she isn't completely unfamiliar with circuitry. It makes her wonder.

But Hiro, he's--"Hiro! Be careful!" She's noticed his... anger. Whatever it was he would call that. "Fight with your mind, not just your anger!"

She dances closer to Josie for a moment. "You all right there? I don't think any of us can afford to play 'fair'..."

Ragnell shouting doesn't get an immediate reaction out of Jean except for a look at her, examining that expression, those hateful eyes. It is a contradiction... But Jean said a long time ago that she doesn't mind those in Ragnell. For all she knows, she'll be fighting Ragnell again in a week. Worrying too much about the future isn't something she can afford to do right now.

That burning, spiteful paw extends towards her, and Jean leaps backwards. She evades the physicality of the claw entirely, able to leap upward and clear in a graceful vault--but that ever-burning malevolent flame is wider than the claw, and that burns into the dancer, sending her tumbling back to the ground afterward where she hits stone and rolls. She suffers it in silence, accustomed to pain even now, but someone could see in her expression to look the difficulty she has in controlling her limbs for a moment after that attack.

Shadow is not the same as Malevolence. Jean knows this. She's familiar. And she knows what she needs to lean on. It is not the hateful venom of the Shadow Dragon--somehow, she knows, if she draws on that here...

She'd surely be lost.

So instead, she starts a slower dance, one with exaggerated, careful motions, done in perfect time with a music that only she can hear. Dreadfully slowly, she moves, languid, into broad jumps and great sweeps that make full use of her flexibility.

The shadow gathers around her as she does, forming a magical glyph at her feet that she elaborates with each dancing step.

There is no 'hit', but the world wavers around her for an instant as her attack launches forth.

GS: Jean has activated a Force Action!
GS: Formation! Jean has attacked Saint of Sinners with Adagio Night!
GS: Jean has gained 3 Combo!
GS: Jean has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Ida Everstead-Rey partially guards Saint of Sinners's Black Hole for 151 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Ida Everstead-Rey gains 1 additional Combo!
<Pose Tracker> Magilou has posed.

    Magilou hears Marivel's muttering -- and feels the claw, on her bare shoulder. There's nothing between her neck and those fangs but her ruff of black feathers, so perhaps she should look more nervous than she does as she meets Marivel's eyes.

    She doesn't look nervous. She doesn't look much of anything. For a moment, she isn't even looking at Marivel, not really.

    'I'll devour you once this is over, if you want.'

    "Devour me once this is over, if you want," she remembers, and she is bored -- somehow, a reaction almost as horrifying as anything else. Not even blinking; no moment of hesitation. As if it just doesn't matter, at all.

    She should feel something, with the sensation of those claws against her skin. She should feel something, gazing into the eyes of a predator. She should -- and she does not, standing on distant shore.

    She should... miss her.

    And it should feel horrible that she can't.

    She should feel more grateful to Clarine, too, as Marivel straightens; certainly, they've had enough disagreements in the past that it's not nothing, for her to call on her like this. That Clarine is willing to try to reason with the predator beside them not to drink the only blood here should mean something; would mean something, to a heart less shattered.

    Oh, it isn't just the pressure of the Fell Dragon's Malevolence which sends Magilou to this oblivion. Yes -- yes, their power is great; greater still than any Malevolence they could stumble upon, in their day-to-day adventures. Even Magilou's pure heart must tremble, in the face of them. But once upon a time, she was able to face Dragons with humour and with sardony, with that manufactured vim she carries through life --

    until --

    Don't ask how many times her heart has broken. Don't ask how many pieces. Don't ask how many souls, forgotten, forsaken. Don't ask why she does not struggle against the pain of her immortal friends as they crash against the limits of their selves; don't ask why she retreats so fully to her pragmatism, abandons all pretence.

    Don't ask why she volunteered.

    But she understands the meaning of Ragnell asking her to take who she needs for this, even under the strain Ragnell must be feeling, now. She asks for Clarine's help, and takes it -- that light, shining through the crystal, illuminating.

    The panels show data, as the light passes over them, inscribed in the Ancient Tongue: this Shrine kept data on stormfronts and lightning strikes, with all the gravitas of an enshrined library. This data runs up to a few hundred years ago -- at which point it stops, and all the data is replaced with sharp reports of - SPIRE OVERLOAD -.

    There are also control panels, also detailed in Ancient, for the Pillars.

    "Whatever that says," Magilou, as it happens, still can't read Ancient; she's stubborn, and it's the main reason she and Grimoirh ever get to catch up, these days, "if there's something there that will turn those spires off -- I need you to figure it out as we're leaving, Marivel. Releasing one Fell Dragon will distract the other. ... if we do it now, we'll just make things harder for ourselves." Right now, at least, the dead? Fell Dragon's aura is consumed by the Saint of Sinners' hunger; no wonder what might happen to them, under here, if it were able to stand up again.

    Clarine's light also reveals a crackle of energy from upstairs, imperceptible to the naked gaze -- and Magilou nods. "Let's go." Following that light, they're able to make their path up the tower, disregarding the doors which lead to optional battles; if not for Clarine's guiding light, they'd surely have eaten through many more minutes on the timer at the top right of the screen as they dealt with the sorts of trap rooms endemic to these missions.

    Tragically, it can't guide them around the point of the Shrine: the Seraphim who designed these places built in challenges to test those who would enter their Shrines, and those challenges remain -- even now the only one standing over the Shrine is a Fell Dragon. They come to a room, atop the tower --

    The base of the spire cuts through the middle of the room, a railing protecting the people from the energy -- another of those control panels is set up at its base. There is an empty altar, on the other side of the panel. Around the room are set up various mirrors, in an arrangement which may be immediately obvious to one of their number: particularly given investigation of that console.

    The controls are simple: a little power from that central spire will be diverted to a lightning strike within in the room. But if the mirrors aren't arranged correctly, the lightning will hit one of the walls, and fizzle to nothing.

    No, the lightning needs to be echoed through the room -- bounced between every mirror here. Only then will the sequence be revealed...

    ... to travel back to the base of that spire...

    ... such that lightning can strike the altar, and reveal the Lightning Gem.

    "Arrange the mirrors," Magilou intuits the meaning of the puzzle, quickly, and without decoration moves to do just that.

GS: CRITICAL! Gamble: Lowest! Saint of Sinners solidly guards Jean's Adagio Night for 38 hit points!
GS: Shieldbreak applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

After her slice, Margaret is suddenly counter-struck in a way she did not expect - a burst of darkling force, something that RESEMBLES flame but seems to have a liquid and dissonant song to it, to say nothing of how it lingers in the back of her head, the proverbial ear-worm...

"Oh, to the wholly hypothetical HELL with the Guard," says Margaret as she concludes rolling out of the Near Occasion of Dragonic Claw-swipe. She glances at Jean. She does not instantly recognize her; it has been a while, and Margaret rarely worked on that particular beat.

She keeps moving. To stop too hard or too long is death. Ragnell screams at her; her ears press closer and she doesn't react beyond a brief look as if to see if that is coming with incoming assault, but it is not.

Why DID I do that, thinks Margaret (and this is the sort of thing that twenty years or more of magical studies will do for you -- sometimes you do question yourself; or perhaps it's because she's coming nearer to Ida in her high-speed run).

She shakes her head for a moment and looks towards Ida. She opens her mouth to speak, and then Ida surges forwards to punch and Margaret exhales with force. Maybe I should... not talk in battles, she thinks to herself, looking towards her feet for a moment. A fleeting moment, a relative moment; at the moment (so to speak) the world is slower for her, more leisurely, every heart-pounding instant taking longer.

The magic of the starlight.

But the creature - Oh no, Margaret thinks, even as that song threads in unusual chords (good chords? Margaret will remember them later, come what may, though she may not dare to suggest they be used in a composition). The world is ripping...

And she has...

A sword! Great, Margaret thinks, looking at it. It isn't even enchanted. "I feel so underdressed," she says aloud, before she pivots round and twists her hand in a great arc, as if to encompass Ida as well as Ragnell -- and, in her momentary immobility, Jean as well. The light around them bends and wobbles, in case the horrid *tear* the Saint of Sinners had just made in *the face of reality itself*, which Margaret is trying not to think about too hard right now, was not confusing enough in this paroxysmic night of horror.

GS: Margaret has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Premonition of Darkness!
GS: Margaret has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Premonition of Darkness!
GS: Margaret has attacked Jean with Premonition of Darkness!
GS: Margaret has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Margaret has completed her action.
GS: Jean accepts Margaret's Premonition of Darkness for 0 hit points!
GS: Jean activates Sufferer!
GS: Jean gains 2 Combo from Inspire!
<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

Ruby actually flies off with Lanval, though she gives Ragnell one last look. She knows what's going on, she's not stupid. That doesn't make it any easier. Tears in her eyes as they go. "We'll handle it."

Gwen's statement offers a cheerful spin on what's in store. "Yeah? Well it's got a sick sense of humor right now in the moment." He doesn't dismiss it, but that sense of optimism is gone in the moment for him. There's just anger.

He hears Ragnell yelling, and distantly he can think of... who was this Seraph to her? The story she once told him didn't have this figure in it, not that he expected her to say everything. Mostly though, despite the anger, she thinks its mostly a world of hurt she's feeling.

And he wants to hurt it back.

As his blade wedges in, the Dragon beats upwards to try and shake him off. And he tries to wedge on, he tries to twist the blade. He doesn't manage it though. This contest of strength is absolutely no contest at all. Shaken off - he sees the tail swinging in mid-air. And suddenly he uses a wind spell to try and shove him further out of the way.

An extra gust.

He almost makes it. However the side of the tail dips down mid-swing to connect to his side, into his armor with a horrible crack to swat him down to the ground. It smashes him into the muddy ground with force enough that the impact doesn't feel cushioned at all.

It's clear. This thing is beyond them all.

And he doesn't care one whit when it comes to his own safety.

'Fight with your mind, not just your anger!' Certain he's got at least a few cracked ribs, he hisses through his breath. It's hard for Jean's words to get through the blood haze, he's been seeing red for a while. However, he certainly knows from her the consequences of fighting with one's anger behind it.

"Jean. I know what it's doing. I know it."

It's just part of him doesn't mind his anger, in this moment. Right now, because Ragnell is hurting... and he can't even comprehend the depths of how this thing is hurting her. "Phantoms combine and tear asunder!" Two arcs of roiling green wind energy, so violent and turbulent at the tips of the curve that it appears like white edged blades form. "Cross Blade!" The two arcs converge on the target, slicing like blades.

"I want it to think twice before it comes back."

GS: Hiro has attacked Saint of Sinners with Cross Blade!
GS: Hiro has gained 2 Combo!
GS: Mighty expired!
GS: Hiro has completed his action.
GS: Saint of Sinners's Break Ward prevents an effect!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Hiro's Cross Blade for 106 hit points!
GS: Shield applied to Hiro!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey accepts Margaret's Premonition of Darkness for 0 hit points!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey gains 2 Combo from Inspire!
GS: Seraph Ragnell accepts Margaret's Premonition of Darkness for 0 hit points!
GS: Seraph Ragnell gains 2 Combo from Inspire!
<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

To call Ragnell rattled would be an understatement. Azoth doesn't understand the Domain well enough to know how much of its influence is contributing, and how much is the Saint of Sinners' very presence, Malevolence or no. His understanding is every fell dragon used to be a Seraph. Who, then, did this used to be? And how did they come to be this way? He knows asking aloud won't get him answers. Not right now, and certainly not from the dragon.

Whoever and whatever they were, what actions would lead to deserving this existence? And who could ever deserve to encounter it?

He looks to Ragnell's outburst in concern without the words to change it. Maybe words cannot -- it's like that for him, sometimes. Most times. But Ragnell's still holding on, and she's letting Azoth protect her -- a sign of trust he cannot betray. Not today, at least. The best he can do for her is maintain that purity of purpose.

The dragon lunges, and for a moment Azoth thinks the goal is to avoid its jaws. No. Like it ripped open the sky, it rips open space, pulling in toward gravitational darkness that seeks to collapse his chassis around his core.

It crushes not just him, but Ragnell, Ida, and Gwen as well.

Radiant blades of light leap from the churning hatred, dancing in spirals as they dive for the dragon. Azoth rockets himself from the gravitational pull with a burst of power that shakes his smoking joints, announcing himself with a glitched, electronic chord with no sense of harmony. Arcs of electricity dance around his frame, his eyes overflowing with light, and blade floating inches from his grip. He aims to smash into the dragon, providing the final, explosive strike personally, close enough to continue to pour his energy into it -- light gathering and blade growing brighter and bigger -- before thrusting it and commanding it to detonate.

GS: Azoth has activated a Force Action!
GS: Formation! Azoth has attacked Saint of Sinners with Blade Server!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Azoth's Blade Server for 313 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Guard bonus and Sufferer!
GS: Strain! Azoth takes 62 damage!
<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    Ida breathes deeply, focusing on the flame within the whirling censor. The bubble starts to grow again, but there's only so much it can do--Ida feels a tight strain in her chest as her spiritual core burns hotter and brighter. She's been making her way towards Ragnell, and now the bubble is big enough to engulf her--and Azoth, and Gwen--without forcing them to bunch up. Bunching up is a bad idea.

    Ragnell shouts something, and ice shoots down Ida's spine. What if she does turn? She'd always assumed Ragnell was strong enough to handle any sort of Malevolence, but she's never seen Ragnell in this state. For all the awful things she's done, the thought of her turning into a raging engine of destruction is too much.

    "Ragnell," Ida says, raising her voice. There's fear in it, but also steel. "If you slip, I'll try and catch you. That goes for all of you!"

    Then the Saint lands, and the earth bends and buckles beneath Ida's feet. She rolls with it, allowing herself to sway and stepping lightly so as not to slip in the muddy ground. She sees those jaws coming down. She remembers how Yvain almost bit her in two, how she had to fight him with every ounce of strength. But no. The Saint isn't coming for her. Instead--

    Space dislocates. Ida feels her joints wrench and pop. Bits of exoskeleton shatter from shearing force. She bites back a scream. When she can see straight, she looks down; bits of dissolving biometal litter the ground at her feet, and her armor looks like the Saint stepped on it. Her left shoulder and right hip pulse with dull pain. She can feel her flesh knitting temporary patches. Azoth--

    "AZOTH!" Ida cries, and for once, there is no fear in her voice when she says it--just determination. The wind picks up beneath her as she launches herself into the air alongside him. She whirls through the first motions of a fluid form--something more like Jean's dance--and the rain seems to take it as a sign. Between that and Margaret's subtle, oracular sorceries--she's able to weave forward, projecting not just one Ida...

    But a dozen. All of them are subtly different, like a mirror being viewed from different angles. All rush forward in mid-air to drive their right armored palm into the Saint's snout.

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

Marivel looks into Magilou's eyes. She senses that boredom but the hunger is fierce enough that she doesn't comment on it. Resisting the urge to feed is easy enough for Marivel in most circumstances but she is having a tough enough problem as it stands to keep going and not run back and feast.

Magilou graciously offers herself up when all is done. Marivel doesn't say anything for a moment. Clarine is telling her to hold strong. The Saint of Sinners is no longer in sight. That helps.

"Okay." She manages to tell Clarine. "Guide us."

Magilou feels nothing. It's a small mercy.

"Okay." She says to Magilou, of devouring her? Of something else. "I see... I'm not your first demon. Fuck..."

She doesn't try to devour Magilou, instead she keeps moving.

She isn't sure she's going to be able to handle something like that on the way back so instead she says, "Hob... Nob..."

The two little drones appear beside her, floating out from behind her cape.

"Activate the Electool at the designated points... But not now. Wait for the signal."

The two drones flit off, chirping merrily all the way.

She stumbles after Clarine. She really is relying on Magilou but even immortals leave you in the end. There's no such thing as a true eternal companion. Even Marivel knows this deep down in her dark heart.

She whispers, "Don't let me try to consume it," to Magilou? Herself? "Don't let me--too much--"

It's not human or elf she's hungering for but that promise keeps is still like the promise of an oasis in a desert.

She turns a mirror. And then another mirror. "Geometry. Right angles into other mirrors." She mumbles. "Just math. Just math. Remember her lessons. Building blocks of existence, the basic code."

"Okay," She says. "I'm done over here. Start from the end move out. Patience, patience. Two more. Two more until I can see you again."

"Not... Again... Betrayed... Never ends. Same story repeating. Repetition. Cycle. Almost over."

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Saint of Sinners with Water Dragon Form!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has entered Stoic Stance!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has canceled their attack on Saint of Sinners.
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Saint of Sinners with Coils of the Water Dragon!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Ida Everstead-Rey's Coils of the Water Dragon for 106 hit points!
GS: Delay applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Power Burst and Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

As they walk, Clarine's hands once more find the necklace she wears, her vessel - squeezing it tight and drawing strength from it. She's not sure what would happen were she to fall prey to the effects of the Saint of Sinners' domain, but right now her mind must remain clear. She nods to Marivel, then, staying close to her. That's the most she can do right now.

Clarine guides them forward, the crystal sphere floating along ahead of them. She glances, briefly, at the control panels. She can read what they say... but, she is much more comfortable leaving their actual use up to Marivel when the time comes. Technology has never been her strong suit.

Upstairs they go, avoiding potential trouble, until finally they arive at one of the shrine's challenges. Clarine looks it over considering, and lets out a small 'ah' of realisation. She looks toward Magilou and then nods, floating over to the mirrors that neither of the other two are managing and carefully rearranging them.

It's a matter of angles and, thankfully, that's something of a specialty of hers - it's something she does all the time in combat. It's lightning rather than light, but the principle remains the same. She can predict the path the lightning will take, and adjust accordingly.

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    Gwen's closed smile barely dims against the forces of Ragnell's fury. It takes more than a small pittance of hopeful words for better times to survive something able to shake them down to their core.

    She's placing her faith at Ragnell's feet like she's done times before, an enduring contradiction that, no matter what, when it came down to it, she believes in Ragnell.

    ... For the most part. It's not as if Josie hasn't been subjected to the same unyielding faith that they'll keep finding themselves fighting alongside one another. Margaret could be next to suffer this cruel fate, with enough time.

    If they all survive, that is.

    The gravitational pull nearly overwhelms Gwen's ability to escape it, pressing the air out of her lungs and causing her to sputter phlegm flecked with blood. Her right hand, gripping the ground, casts sparks in the air as she's dragged. But, with one heave, she flings herself from that hateful orbit.

    'Jean. I know what it's doing. I know it.'

    It's Hiro that makes Gwen realize. "... what it's doing..." She mistook the lack of anger and darkness within her as an effect of Ida's censer, but didn't Ida say something about that? About two domains?

    'I want it to think twice before it comes back.'

    Gwen wipes her mouth with the back of her left hand, still on one knee from where she had landed. "... We can't bring what's been there back, and we can't beat it..." She times it, her landing spot becoming her vantage point, waiting for Azoth and Ida's strikes to end before punctuating it with a follow-up from the Mockingbird.

    Yellow gold lances the malevolent air like a giant needle.

     "... but we can *damn sure* make it _know our names_!"

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: Gwen Whitlock spends 2 Combo on Headshot!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has attacked Saint of Sinners with Coronal Discharge!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    "Alright...?" She turns a slightly muzzy glance Jean's way. "Ain't you a fine face on a day like this. ...Don't think I am. Don't think," and here Josie takes another much-needed breath, "...don't think none of us are."

    It's a brief moment of lucidity. The impulses being dredged up from her depths are ones that she'd largely concealed, but once the floodgate is torn open, there's almost nothing left to keep them in check.

    Almost.

    Josie, in that one moment as she attempts to taunt the dragon, gets exactly what she wanted.
    Exactly what she deserves.

    "That's right. That's right! It's me you were comin' for!" Josie yells at it, her eyes open so wide the whites can be seen nearly all the way around. "It's me--"

    It isn't the flame that cuts her off first. That's still yet to come. Rather, Josie stares into the depths of the dragon's gullet, her ARM directly down at the ground now, the hand that holds it feeling near nerveless. It's her right hand that lifts as the dragon exhales, her right hand that moves to act out self preservation as the rest of her stands rigid. A sparking barrier -- merely a pale imitation of the storm -- erupts before her.

    Then she is lost in the violet flame. What is the worst way to die?

    This. Without question, the worst is this. Better to drown, to sink, to fade out. Only lightning -- her barrier, Ragnell's arte -- saves her, in the end. The violet flame ceases and Josie, swaying, soon drops to a knee as if all her strings had been cut.

    A low chuckle rises in her chest and grows until it becomes a throaty laugh. A mad cackle. A scream.

    "Did you-- did you think that was enough?!" she roars, her voice as cracked and raw as if she had in fact swallowed flame. She has lurched to her feet in the next moment, as ungainly as a clockwork automaton.

    "Come at me! DO IT!" A pair of bullets pepper the air around the dragon's head as she, again, tries to get the thing's attention. Every nerve in her body screams in unison: she hadn't been meant to survive that she was supposed to make up for it she was supposed to end it here no don't you look away don't you stop give me your all one more time please

    Those bullets were merely preamble. Leveling her ARM before her, Josie walks towards the dragon with a singular purpose, firing again and again and again, until she has nothing left to give.

GS: Josephine Lovelace spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Saint of Sinners with The Herald!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has launched an attack Link!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has entered Link Stance!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has attacked Saint of Sinners with The Flame!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has gained 1 Combo!
GS: You have finished a Link/Follow chain!
GS: Josephine Lovelace has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners solidly guards Gwen Whitlock's Coronal Discharge for 76 hit points!
GS: Jam applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Guard bonus and Sufferer!
GS: Saint of Sinners solidly guards Josephine Lovelace's The Herald for 0 hit points!
GS: Jam and Slow applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Guard bonus and Sufferer!
GS: Saint of Sinners solidly guards Josephine Lovelace's The Flame for 64 hit points!
GS: Infect! Debuff durations extended!!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Slow applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Guard bonus and Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ragnell of course knows that no amount of Seraphic artes or other attacks will meaningfully harm the Saint. (Knows? Has convinced herself? Fears? There is a kind of fear there, certainly.) Even so, defeat isn't the objective here--just buying time for Magilou's menagerie-of-the-moment to do what they need to do. And that was the whole point of this, wasn't it? To do what they need to do? To get that oh-so-precious lightning gem, one of eight, part of a quest for something entirely different? That also, nonetheless, needs doing?
    
    "*Fuck*," she spits.
    
    She's so angry. She's so afraid. She's so upset. When the Fell Dragon lunges and calls down that singularity, she doesn't try to move aside. She screams in pain as that magic pounds into her form, threatening to tear her to shreds, limb from phantasmic limb. At the end of it, she drops to her knees and hunches over. Her hat topples from her head, rolls on its brim for half a circle, and falls flat.
    
    "......" She looks up at it with darkened eyes. Azoth, ever near her, offers no words as he suffers the same fate, either in reassurance or of concern, and that's comforting in its own way. But right now, she can only look at that feather bending dangerously in the storm. She picks it up, places it back on her head, and sways back to her feet. The brim hides her gaze.
    
    Ida tells her she'll catch her if she slips; Hiro expresses his rage on her behalf at how this entity has hurt her. She doesn't respond them either any more than she did Magilou and the others, but in the same way, she acknowledges them in her heart. Ragnell never did like being open about her feelings, and this is a bad time--worst than most--to give in to them.
    
    The storm is still as powerful as ever around the Lightning Shrine. Does it ever stop storming here? So it's easy for the Lightning Seraph to pull upon the powers of the storm, to drag them by will and force in a circle around her, winds whorling and growing speed as she calls on them through a glyph. When the winds are at their peak, she fires several shots of pure energy into them, forming a lightning beyond lightning.
    
    "CYCLONE MIXER!" she calls, sending the storm forward to attempt to engulf the Saint of Sinners. If the awesome, awful creature is caught within that tempest, then it will rage on and on and on as those bolts sizzle into it, until the storm has at last worn itself out.
    
    Emotions are so high right now. Her head is buzzing. She glances at Azoth to ground her, lets her gaze go afield further to Gwen and Jean and Hiro and the others to chain herself down. She has to hold on a little longer, or she knows she'll regret it...

GS: Seraph Ragnell spends 1 Combo on Link!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Saint of Sinners with Cyclone Mixer!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has launched an attack Link!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has entered Link Stance!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has attacked Saint of Sinners with Tornado Chaser!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Seraph Ragnell has completed her action.
GS: CRITICAL! Saint of Sinners solidly guards Seraph Ragnell's Cyclone Mixer for 67 hit points!
GS: Amplify applied to Saint of Sinners!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
GS: Saint of Sinners takes a solid hit from Seraph Ragnell's Tornado Chaser for 94 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Guard bonus and Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

Within the hellish knot of distorting space it has created, the Saint of Sinners is unmoving. Embers of flame that bleed from pink to violet to black and back again spill from what accounts for its eyes as it channels that maleficent magic into crafting that singular abomination unto reality. It begins to ground, expanding the rip with a strangely audible shred of space impossible to quantify beyond a deep and existential feeling of nails on a chalkboard --

Before Azoth and Ida in tandem break through the hole and -strike-.

Twin blows, to body and to snout, scour the Fell Dragon without mercy. Azoth's blades IMPALE into the dragon's hide, before that final strike is -plunged- into it with such force that it digs -deep- into the hellish density of the dragon.

Its explosion, combined with the deluge of Ida's doubles striking a tandem stroke of armor and flesh against scale, is enough to -blow- the dragon back. The Saint roars out something like a cry, the hideous harmony of its call wobbling the air around it; a scorching wound decorates its breast as the space before them reknits and mends back into some approximation of normalcy -- as normal as the skies can be, right now, as the Saint's Domain paints them so many hues of purple.

There is no time for recovery, no time for hesitation. The assault is pressed upon the dragon before it can mount its counter-offensive. There is, perhaps, no direct physical component to Jean's assault -- but that languid, -purposeful- dance does what it needs to, the shadowy glyphs every step of her dance paints causing the world to shift and turn in a profound way. The dragon -roars- in response, the sheer force of it causing air and heat to -whip- violently around Jean. But it's not enough. Its defenses shatter, for a few precious moments --

And they are moments that Hiro capitalizes on in a fit of powerful, cleaving strokes, emerald energies of wind -carving- into the side of the dragon, -ripping- through its wings. Gwen is close behind, the bright molten gold of the Mockingbird's strike HAMMERING into the Fell Dragon, piercing into its back. Yellow crackles across its spine, mixing with the spewing and bubbling Malevolence that spools around that glowing gold like liquid fire as it bleeds from those wounds...

... when the storm, blighted as the skies might be, is seized upon by their master. Winds accelerate. Storm intensifies. Energy flies free.

And as billowing clouds stained violet fatten and swirl into a maelstrom, the Saint... does not try to resist their pull. Its scales protect -- the Malevolence, that deep, intense wellspring of contradiction it is made from protects it -- but it does not try to fight the encroaching storm.

Like it was accepting what comes next.

And what comes next is lightning. Bolts. And bolts. And bolts of superheated plasma that lance into the baleful behemoth, time and time again; caught within all those clouds, even its tremendous form is obscured, until all that can be seen is its writhing silhouette within the flashes of the storm.

But even eternal storms have their ends. Nothing lasts forever; perhaps the only absolute there is.

And as Ragnell's storm fades, as she glances towards the others --

-- a massive, burning claw BURSTS through the cloud coverage until it comes -crashing- down upon Ragnell.

It is so large. And yet -- all that limb seems to seek to do is bring Ragnell to the ground and -pin her there- against the rain-soaked earth. Rubble from another place, a land long lost, sloughs off past Ragnell in the thick swell of mud as the head of the great dragon pierces through the veil of clouds. First horns, than its sizzling snout...

And then that burning 'eye,' focused wholly on the Lightning Seraph.

Its body bends low. Until its maw is mere handfuls of feet from Ragnell.

And there it remains, for a few, preciously tense handful of seconds in which it simply -looks- at Ragnell, as if the Dragon could convey some meaning to the Seraph in the eye of the storm.

Its maw widens.

'Come at me! DO IT!'

And that is when Josephine's bullets hit the side its head.

Again. And again. And again. She shoots it over and over, -ripping- the titanic beast from Ragnell in a motion that sends the entire grounds quivering from the weight of the behemoth's stagger. She fires. And fires. And FIRES.

Bullets riddle the Dragon's body as her assault ends. Malevolence drips from wounds, each thick droplet bursting to violet flames when they hit the rainy ground.

Its nostrils flare. Its eye sears with blinding violence.

And its wings spread, membranes knitting themselves back together as six boiling blood read blades crackle into existence around its body.

With the beat of its wings, it rises into the air. And those blades rise with it, forming a hexagram of wrong, red light at their cores. The hexagram forms a massive glyph surrounding that which was once a Seraph.

And suddenly, force -swells- around it, like a tempest of its own, gripping upon Josie, upon Ragnell, upon -everyone-, to try to -lift- them into the air with their Saint.

To suspend them there, ringed around those great red pillars for a few sizzling moments, drawn closer, and closer...

... until a torrential EXPLOSION of Malevolence RIPS across the entire mountainside, intent to -blow- them all away as it churns rock and rubble into so much hellish nothingness within the bloom of a sickening star of deadened browns, violets and grays.

In the aftermath, the Saint of Sinners lands. Its Domain burgeoning to full, hideous power.

GS: Saint of Sinners has activated a Boss Action!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Seraph Ragnell with Dead Star!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Azoth with Dead Star!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Jean with Dead Star!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Margaret with Dead Star!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Hiro with Dead Star!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Ida Everstead-Rey with Dead Star!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Gwen Whitlock with Dead Star!
GS: Saint of Sinners has attacked Josephine Lovelace with Dead Star!
GS: Saint of Sinners has gained 1 Combo!
GS: Delay expired!
GS: Saint of Sinners has completed their action.
DC: 5 turns have elapsed in the battle against Saint of Sinners! No turns remain! Time has expired! The battle is over!
GS: Hiro has activated a Force Action!
GS: Hiro takes a solid hit from Saint of Sinners's Dead Star for 274 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Hiro gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Dispel! Hyper and Shield removed!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Mute applied to Hiro!
GS: Jean has activated a Force Action!
GS: Jean takes a glancing hit from Saint of Sinners's Dead Star for 144 hit points!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Mute applied to Jean!
GS: Jean activates Sufferer!
GS: Gwen Whitlock partially evades Saint of Sinners's Dead Star for 207 hit points!
GS: Dispel! Amplify, Hyper, and Quick removed!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Poison applied to Gwen Whitlock!
GS: Gwen Whitlock activates Evade bonus!
GS: Gwen Whitlock enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey suffers a terrible blow from Saint of Sinners's Dead Star for 267 hit points!
GS: Dispel! Cover and Shield removed!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Disease applied to Ida Everstead-Rey!
GS: Azoth suffers a terrible blow from Saint of Sinners's Dead Star for 358 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Azoth gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Disrupt applied to Azoth!
GS: Azoth enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Josephine Lovelace partially guards Saint of Sinners's Dead Star for 178 hit points!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Entangle applied to Josephine Lovelace!
GS: Josephine Lovelace enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Seraph Ragnell suffers a terrible blow from Saint of Sinners's Dead Star for 257 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Seraph Ragnell gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Misery inflicts a random effect! Weaken applied to Seraph Ragnell!
GS: Seraph Ragnell enters CONDITION GREEN!!
GS: Margaret's Cripple Ward prevents an effect!
GS: Margaret solidly guards Saint of Sinners's Dead Star for 121 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Margaret gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Dispel! Burst and Hyper removed!
GS: Margaret activates Arcane Font!
GS: Margaret enters CONDITION GREEN!!
<Pose Tracker> Magilou has posed.

    "No," Magilou answers Marivel, on the topic of demons. There is another. Her dark mistress...

    She pauses, looking back to the Crimson Demon, as she whispers.

    "Fine."

    As easy as that. Promises don't weigh much, when nothing really matters; whether Magilou promises this or nothing at all is only a difference in the shape of the words. Events for the future, which themselves are only actions taken in sequence...

    There are no colours, in a world like this. Magilou didn't bring Clarine exclusively for the Seraph's protection, as much as Ragnell might have been glad for it.

    Magilou can see, looking at Marivel through her disaffect, the shape of that ancient woman's limits; so too is she concerned, distantly, that the quiet focus on tasks from Clarine may be its own warning. As for her -- well.

    Logic is a miserable place to live.

    Thankfully, between Marivel's geometry, Clarine's intuitive grasp how mirrors dance with things which shed so much light, and Magilou's disaffected direction...

    Marivel commands the panel to send off a lightning bolt, navigating through that Ancient display; Clarine knows just where to have everyone stand, to avoid anyone getting fried by the bolt, as it bounces across the room. It glances from the mirror wedged against the ceiling; it strikes a full-length mirror, jumps to one positioned over a large window. Around and about, the lightning surges, until finally it crashes home --

    And the lightning crackles, against the altar. When it fades, the Lightning Gem is there, bright as the storm. Magilou plucks it up, in her fingers, and nods to Marivel.

    "Give the signal. It's --"

                Everything breaks.

    The windows of the top of the observatory are the first to go, in the wake of that horrific explosion of Malevolence, tearing across the mountainside. A nanosecond later, the bricks rip up just the same -- as all the walls facing the Saint of Sinners are summarily, immediately annihilated. The rubble blasts against the opposite side of the room, which doesn't fare much better, for all this is solid Seraphic design; enough of the room remains, at least, to catch the people inside if they're flung to the far end.

    Like Magilou, who hits the jagged edge of what remains of the wall and falls, strings cut.

    "Nnmh."

    There is blood from a wound, somewhere; Magilou rises, slowly, in the wake of that horrific wave of Malevolence. The Spire, at least, is still standing. The Lightning Gem, at least, is still cradled safely in her hands.

    "It's time to go," she repeats herself, more firm.

    As she passes Clarine, the direction she gives her is as pragmatic as anything -- a calculation of their internal landscapes, foreign as they are. "Support her." Marivel. The two of them must surely mean something to each other. Magilou estimates they'll need that -- both now, and when the Domain becomes ever more complex.

        Biennn... I hope you know what you're doing...

    "Oh, trust me," Magilou remarks, dull, as if to herself.

    "I don't want this to get any worse."

    And they both know how many of their friends are on the line, even if she's phrasing it in such a callous way.

    The path down the tower is half-destroyed -- but not all the way destroyed, not yet. Magilou brings out a shikigami to navigate past the debris; she knows that Marivel and Clarine have their own ways of getting past impassable terrain, just the same.

<Pose Tracker> Hiro has posed.

Hiro feels the tempest of malevolence swelling sees those blood blades forming. He sees them, and he tries to dig in his heels and get ready for what's coming. Digging in his heels doesn't matter at all, as he's levitated skyward, suspended. He can't even right himself properly.

The detonation is not one he can defend himself from. It's only one he can endure. The malevolent explosion that comes is great enough that it makes him feel like he's going to swoon.

And then he just does. The flood of malevolence causes his eyes to roll back and he's launched a great distance away.

When he comes to, his ears are ringing, and he hurts all over. He can still see the dragon vaguely in the distance through his blurred vision. And even though he can hardly coherent thoughts...

... he finds he's still angry.

He's not even within it's domain anymore. When he finally muddles through how he feels later, he's still more angry for Ragnell's pain... but he's also angry for his own weakness. He's not anywhere close to the kind of strength Ragnell once challenged him to achieve one day, and today is proof positive of that

<Pose Tracker> Marivel Armitage has posed.

It takes a moment for Marivel to realize that Magilou has the gem. She's intoxicated.

Moments before everything explodes Magilou says to 'give the signal'. Marivel says, "Hob Nob execute Seal Disruption Protocol 2-18A, dry extraction point Pao Village."

Everything explodes shortly after in a flood of malevolence. More than she can consume but she wants to eat and eat and eat forever.

No, she tells herself, you can't. There's still one more job to do. But she's so hungry. She has one arm. The work is done. She has the gem. She can eat--

--She promised. She smells Magilou's blood. Ancient with plenty of memories imbuing that sweet nectar, Over the empathite radio, a message of 'we've got it' can be heard to anyone in the area that has one. If she opens her mouth it'll be to sink her teeth into her throat. No, no, no.

She wants to tear her apart. She wants to embrace her. She reminds her so much of Althy...

As all witches who will stab you in the back with a smile do.

Marivel's got a big chunk of rock stock through her chest. She doesn't remember when that happened. She doesn't feel it. The wound only exacerbatees the hunger.

An electrical signal is expelled as seals are rent asunder. Hob and Nob flit back and push underneath Marivel's body, acting as a support.

Magilou promised.

It's not over yet.

Walk, Marivel.

Walk like it's after the war where you were surrounded by black clouds and poison.

Walk like the radiation isn't burning through your suit.

Walk like you aren't expecting to see more twisted corpses.

Leave, she thinks through the empathite radio over and over, Leave LEave LEAve LEAVE LEAVE. Domain vs Domain, even Marivel doesn't want to stick around. But she can't teleport out.

Not until she sees they have escaped.

She won't do what was done to her. She won't. She can't.

She won't abandon them. She won't let them be a sacrifice. She's not like that. No matter all the ways she has become like that, All the little ways she lost herself to that person she could never love again because of how that person had harmed her. No matter how much she wants to.

"Not... Time of Promise... Yet." She growls, bringing up her claw to her own face and gripping until gore pulses out from it. It is a focus.

It keeps her moving. Faster and faster. They need to know they can run.

They need to know. When movement isn't available, she risks teleports--taking Clarine along if she can.

Not until she's sure they're gone.

And then--she will make one last flash of teleportation to escape. But only once she sees they have fled.That part of herself must remain.

No matter how many time the world has ended since she made that vow.

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Azoth's blade punctures through the dragon's scales, but that doesn't mean anything, does it? Power courses through his body and explodes, tearing through the dragon's hide, but what purpose does that serve? It's not enough to stop it. Not enough to still it. It isn't enough to stop its assault, to stop himself from being thrown aside as it takes to motion again, to stop it from leaping at Ragnell, from pinning her down.

And Azoth's body isn't enough to move to get there, his joints bursting at their literal seams, his body ravaged by errant arcs of energy that shock him in their escape. He can tear himself apart, and it won't let him get there in time. Every calculation tells him so, even as he bolts forward, stumbling and hitting the ground -- odds even less than they were before that variable -- and trying before that maw can snap shut --

"Ragnell...!"

A rush of errors assaults him, mercy only granted with Josephine's distracting strike, and Azoth manages to close the rest of the distance.

That also doesn't matter.

Sensors scramble for coherency as he's in the air. Everyone's in the air, drawn in, and then the world becomes so loud that it may as well be silence. Crushing power stifles his own, damages threatening to shut him down. That won't matter, either. So very little matters, but there are things that still do even in the darkness, the rubble, the nothing that consumes them all.

Light, bright blue mixed with bright pink, pulses from his core, escaping in wisping ribbons to form a shield that means to envelop Ragnell. It's a weak, tiny thing, but it's all his power manages before interrupted by a chunk of rubble smashing into him and delivering him brutally to the earth.

GS: Azoth has attacked Seraph Ragnell with ex??.?ar ?EC?R?!
GS: Azoth has completed his action.
<Pose Tracker> Jean has posed.

"...Yeah," Jean says to Josie, "That's fair." She grimaces. It's definitely like that. She can't quite grin at Margaret in the wake of her comment on the Guard, but she nods at her when she glances her way. And in short order, she feels... Yes, that's the sensation of an illusion around her. She throws Margaret an appreciative look. but Hiro?

"Hiro--!" She grits her teeth. "Gwen!"

She's worried. In the radius of Ida's purifying flame, Jean is able to think clearly, and she sure doesn't think the others are. Not even Ragnell, who she looks back at intently when Ragnell looks to her. But soon...

The massive glyph rises, and Jean like the others is drawn up into the air. She curls up into a ball as she rises, and makes use of her skills--she jumps against nothing but the air, lunging down owards the ground, and so manages to evade some of the blast, though not enough that she isn't smoking when she hits the ground again. She digs her hands into the rocky ground, perfect nails breaking in places and hands straining at the force of staying close. She has to distract it long enough--so she manages to hold fast. But when she looks up, towards the tower, to see--

"THEY'RE OUT!" Jean calls, because her new friend Magilou wouldn't just abandon them all, right? Of course not.

"Come on, let's go!"

Jean can't force anyone to leave--but she can see who needs the help. Azoth...who Ragnell said she needed. Jean rushes over to him as he hits the ground. "Good work," she tells him, "Now let's all get out of here." If he can walk, she'll help him up. If he can't, she will strain with all her might to carry him... but do it.

So Jean will do what the Vile Fiends do best: run like hell.

<Pose Tracker> Josephine Lovelace has posed.

    It's coincidence, really, as it happens.

    That Josie happens to be able to return the favor to Ragnell so quickly. It would be shameful to her if anyone pointed it out: here she is caught up in her own violent emotions. Here she is not even noticing what's happening to the others -- even those she has allied with before and even traveled alongside recently. Here she is again going off untamed unrestricted.

    But no one points it out. She doesn't even notice it to make that particular connection. She has instead a moment to exult in its attention upon her.

    And then it takes flight.

    "No! Don't you DARE!" Josie howls at it.

    Perhaps it's to her liking that it soon collects her -- as it does so many others -- bearing her up into the air along with it. She's out of bullets, barely able to move a muscle. The only thing left to her is again that which her father drilled into her from childhood. No forget that accept this accept it give up.
    But Josie moves her lips, and that might have just been enough.

    She lands heavily, the sparking shield about her absorbing the worst -- but hardly all of -- the impact. With a groan, she manages to rise up onto her left elbow for a moment. Her head's spinning. It feels like she's woken up after a bender: head muzzy, vision blurred, ears ringing, guts twisted up.

    The dragon's still there, visible as a blurry smear at a distance.

    That all... really did happen. She did all that. They did all that. And it didn't count for a hill of beans. The dragon's still there.

    "Well. Fuck me," she says, slumping back where she'd landed. Everything hurts, Josie decides. Everything hurt and she wants a goddamned nap.

<Pose Tracker> Seraph Clarine has posed.

Together, they manage to set everything up just right. The bolt is fired, it bounces all around the room before eventually revealing a brilliant gem. This can only be the very Lightning Gem they've come here to find. Against all odds, they've managed to claim it. Everything is going according to plan...

...Until it doesn't.

A horrible explosion of Malevolence tears through the outer wall, blasting everyone back. Clarine crashes into the far wall with a yelp, managing to pick herself back up with a little effort. Her concern, though, falls upon Magilou as she notes the shed blood.

"Magilou, you're wounded..." Clarine notes, concerned. Concerned for Magilou, and concerned as to how Marivel might react. But Magilou tells her to support her - to support Marivel, and quietly, Clarine nods.

Briefly, she once again wraps her fingers around her necklace, taking a deep breath. It's getting more difficult now, but it's too soon to give in. They're not safe yet.

Just a little longer.

Clarine can glide - difficult terrain is no issue for her, as long as there's enough room for her to hover. And for those spaces where there isn't enough solid ground beneath her to maintain height, she can call upon her mirrors or her prisms to bridge the gap. But, that is a concern to face when it comes to that, because her biggest concern right now is Marivel. She stays by her side, carefully risking a brief hand on her shoulder.

"I am here. We are here. Focus on my voice." Clarine murmurs. She will accept her aid through teleportation, if only to provide Marivel some small peace of mind.

GS: Azoth heals Seraph Ragnell! She gains 100 temporary hit points!
<Pose Tracker> Seraph Ragnell has posed.

    Ragnell said before that they wouldn't be able to defeat the Saint. She meant that. But when she sees Azoth and Ida's attacks tear into the Fell Dragon's scales, she--flinches.
    
    Another contradiction. She'd just called down a cyclone of considerable proportions on the Saint of Sinners herself. Her entire self itches. No, she tells herself-- no, I still have something I need to do.
    
    It's not that Ragnell is resistant to Malevolence. She's as sensitive to it as any other Seraph. She's just protected by the one other thing besides a vessel that can shield a Seraph from that foul emotional cocktail: the purity of purpose.
    
    Perhaps it's for the same reason that, when that claw bursts from the scraps of the storm to pin her down, she yelps not with fear but with anger. Perhaps it's for the same reason that, when the Saint's head emerges and leers down at her from mere feet away, she glares back not with fear but with defiance. "..........."
    
    Gunfire crashes into it then. In the moment when the Saint is forced away, Ragnell scrambles to her feet and back-jumps, shooting a glance to the side. Josephine. It hadn't been Ragnell's intent to save Josephine from the Saint earlier; her spell had merely crashed down at just the right moment to make sure she was spared. Even so, she sure doesn't want to be in someone else's debt, so she calls, "Guess we're even now."
    
    It's such a paltry thing to focus on, especially as the Saint catches her and everyone else in a binding of geometric shapes. Azoth, damaged as he is, still materializes a barrier in front of Ragnell to mitigate the worst of the damage. A good thing he did, considering the blast that follows as the Saint fully unfurls its Domain literally knocks several of their group clear off the mountain.
    
    Ragnell lands, hard. It's a good thing she doesn't have bones. But that's hardly any comfort. As Jean rushes over to her and Azoth's sides to try to help, she peers up at the Saint with gritted teeth and frustrated eyes. Frustrated... and damp.
    
    With a sob, as two trails of tears streak down her cheeks, Ragnell punches the ground again. But past the Saint, down from the central spire of the Lightning Shrine, she sees something else--Magilou on her way back with Marivel, Clarine... and the gem.
    
    So at least this wasn't all for nothing.
    
    Tears mixing with the rain, Ragnell dissolves into an orb of golden light and zips into Azoth's battered body. This is as far as any of them go; now it's time to get out.

<Pose Tracker> Margaret has posed.

The storm is striking the Saint of Sinners. Well, Margaret thinks as she sucks in a deep breath, heedless of the risk of whatever mote of malevolence may come into her through it. Maybe the luck is breaking their way. She grasps the hilt of her blade, not wanting perhaps to withdraw it as

the electrical storm grows and STRIKES
and STRIKES
and STRIKES
and STRIKES
and the thunder rolls outwards with a sound of cosmic demolition

And it isn't enough. The bullets seem to be doing better than the swords, she judges in an abstract way and then it begins to rise and to beat its wings and there is something coming. Margaret rolls her head to the side and she turns and she begins to run but it isn't enough.

She is brought upwards with them. She grasps the hand with the ring into a tight fist as she whirls her eyes round and then

BURST
smash
ROLL
bounce
flop

Stillness for a quarter-second.

Not dead. Nothing long and load bearing seems broken. Margaret gets up and confirms the report of her senses. The Saint of Sinners is, unfortunately, still there.

Margaret wonders if this was done by the Goddess. The idea shocks her with its casual blasphemy; running away from authority due to a lack of afterlife penalties (contra the observable case of the Farplane) is one thing. Blasphemy on that level? Genuine *malice*, not isolation or some sort of misinterpretation? Harder. It's like stroking a cat the wrong way.

It's a question for the future. Will there even be one? Margaret does not swing her sword; she instead extends the hand with that pearled ring, which goes from grey-white to a gentle blue green as she sees the fleeing Jean. A wind would come; and with it a feeling of breezy ease. Or, well, something like that; more to the point would be the sudden freedom from the surly bonds of Lunar, and with a powerful kick, the possibility of flight.

Or at least a long, long jump.

-- Is that blonde hair, gleaming through the chaos?

Well, Margaret thinks as she turns, at least there's hope.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    The Saint is massive, a Malevolent juggernaut so dense and powerful that even those with no Resonance can see its presence. It reels back under the onslaught, and as Ida plants feet on its jaw--ricocheting off that armored hide--fierce, joyful satisfaction grips her heart. She arcs gracefully through the rain, over and back, and lands in a three-point crouch in the mud. The brazier still dangles from her arm, its chain fused into her exoskeleton.

    "KEEP PRESSING!" Ida bellows, her head whipping back and forth as she takes stock of the Saint and her comrades. She saw it regenerate from devastating wounds at Lastonbell, and not even she has that luxury. But it's not looking good. Azoth is sparking, Gwen is undoubtedly overexerting herself, Ragnell is--

    The claw comes down.

    "RAGNELL!" Ida screams, and she tears off across the field, mud splattering in her wake. She can still see Ragnell beneath the claw, pinned like a mouse beneath the paw of a cat. That means she's not dead. Right?

    For the first time in a long while, Ida is grateful for Josephine Lovelace's itchy trigger finger. She keeps sprinting towards Ragnell as the assault intensifies, but the dragon takes off, and Ida's eyes widen in shock as the glyph starts to form. Wrenching force seizes her, plucks her off the ground. She can brace for the worst as the Saint channels its fell power into a mockery of a Seraphic Arte.

    The resulting explosion of Malevolence throws Ida like a lawn dart. Pain shoots through her ribs. Stars ignite behind her eyes. She sucks in a ragged breath in mid-air, and Malevolence comes in with it, curdling inside her lungs. Ida's soul is steeled against this impurity, but that doesn't mean it can't sicken, weaken, and wound her.

    no

    Ida feels an insistent impulse: raise arm, aim for mountain, fire grappling tendril. She does so; a length of bright silvery biofiber shoots from behind her wrist, shooting through the air and attaching to a rocky overhang. It unspools and unspools and unspools, applying just enough force to slow Ida's flight. She doesn't exactly feel herself falling, or landing in a crouch near Azoth and Ragnell. When her vision clears, she just sees a sparking, muddied figure standing over another figure.

    WHAM.

    'THEY'RE OUT!'

    Ida makes the call with uncanny speed. "Run," she says. "Get them out of here. We'll keep it off you." Ida is a wreck. She can't quite place Jean's face in the heat of the moment. She turns to face the Saint anyway.

<Pose Tracker> Ida Everstead-Rey has posed.

    The heiress settles into a low, balanced stance. She pulls back her right hand, feels the flow of Breath as it ignites within her: brilliant golden-white encircling a corona of red-gold flame. Her fist shines like a tiny star, cutting through the murk and rain. She takes a step, then another; her movements start to flow with uncanny speed, turning into a charge. By the time she's taken twenty steps, the glow has spread to her entire arm. By the time she's taken thirty, it's engulfed her entire body. The wind surges up beneath her, lifting her into the air.

    Ida roars, her voice raw with pain. Her face is caked with mud and blood, and twisted with determination.

    Ida drives her fist forward, and the BOOM of a shockwave echoes through the air, blowing raindrops aside and sending lighter debris flying. The dragon-killing arts of Luisa Rey come to bear, augmented by the skill of one of the dragons she killed.

GS: Ida Everstead-Rey spends 5 Combo on Headshot and Gatling, loading 3 into Gatling!
GS: MYSTIC ARTE! Ida Everstead-Rey has attacked Saint of Sinners with Unbroken Lotus Fist!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has entered Avenger Stance!
GS: Ida Everstead-Rey has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Ida Everstead-Rey's Unbroken Lotus Fist for 728 hit points!
GS: Reaction switch bonus! Saint of Sinners gains 1 additional Combo!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Power Burst and Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

    "Ragnell..." Can the Saint of Sinners kill a Seraph?

    That's what Gwen asks herself as the Saint of Sinners levels its gaze on the Seraph of Lightning.

    Panic bleeds like a spike through the haze on Gwen's heart, and she abandons her spot to run, Josie's shots firing overhead.
    
    Before long, Gwen feels her boots fail to register on the ground, and she's floating, drifting like a rock in space from her momentum
        before it all
            blows
         apart
    
    "SHIT!" Gwen is blown back, thwacking her back against the ground until she has enough sense to slam her clawed right hand into the ground like she did before.
    
    If it worked once, it sure as hell can work again.

    She looks up and sees several people are suddenly missing. "Jean, where's Hiro, Josie's gone too... Guardians, I hope they're okay..." The sound of Azoth crashing into the ground snaps her attention his and Ragnell's direction. Trailing behind Jean, she pants, nodding her gratitude to Jean. ".... Thank you. I think I got one good shot in me... and if Ida's stayin'.... if one of us's still standin' we'll cart the other away. N' between the both of us... that's pretty likely." She gives Jean a shakey thumbs up.

    She's not going to think about what'd happen if neither of them get up.

    ".... Ida, let's do this! Two kinda dragons against a kinda dragon!" Blood keeps getting coughed up, and Gwen's glow is gone from her right eye; somehow, that last attack knocked it clean out of her.

    Time to make it stick. "I'll attack from the back. Got a clear shot." She holds up her ARM and holds it out, drawing symbols in the air in a brilliant dark pink script, circling around. ".... I'll work with you." The circle completed, she sticks her right hand in the middle and splays her fingers wide.

    As Ida runs in, Gwen smiles through her tears. "..... don't worry, Ida... I'll carry you out. .... I owe you and the other inside you a whole lot."

    Her aim is set, and the hand fires, red beginning to bleed through each pulse of the Mockingbird.

    She still has faith that Ragnell, Azoth, Jean, Hiro... all of them...

    They'll be okay.

GS: Gwen Whitlock has activated a Force Action!
GS: MYSTIC ARTE! Gwen Whitlock has attacked Saint of Sinners with Ringshine!
GS: Gwen Whitlock takes 25 damage from Poison!
GS: Gwen Whitlock has completed her action.
GS: Saint of Sinners suffers a terrible blow from Gwen Whitlock's Ringshine for 207 hit points!
GS: Saint of Sinners activates Sufferer!
<Pose Tracker> Saint of Sinners has posed.

Great wings beat, gusts of wind and rain sweeping out as the Saint of Sinners makes landfall again amid the fallen. Its Domain comes bearing its full weight, like a tempest in the soul as it advances. Burning claws sink into mud and crush rock and rubble underfoot with its every advance. Its attention seems to turn toward the shrine -- towards Magilou, Marivel, Clarine... and the spires holding down that seemingly dead dragon.

It draws back, Malevolence riding along its spine with an ominous crackle.

And then a bloom of red-gold reflects against the rain-slicked shine of its scales, and the Saint pauses.

That long dragon's neck cranes, and turns, and regards the corona of flame that has become Ida Everstead-Rey. Its maw cracks a slight opening, flames boiling from between its fangs as it turns to face her.

Ida roars. And so too does the Saint of Sinners, as it stands its ground in the face of an advancing star.

That maw opens wider. Flames spark deep within its gullet. It -breathes-

-- and all that torrent of Malevolent flame swings -wide- as the first shot of the Mockingbird hammers -violently- into the back of its neck.

Red bleeding into every burst, the blasts of the Mockingbird shed scales off the dense, natural armor of the Saint -- and it keeps it -locked down- and unable to aggress for those few precious seconds before --

        contact

A single strike, and a shockwave RIPS across the mountainside. A single strike, and the burning force behind Ida's fist BLOWS away scales and flesh and Malevolence until--

Everything -explodes-.

...

...

... in the aftermath, the Saint of Sinners still stands. Its chest has blown apart, revealing a ribcage of glowing violets and blues, encasing a deep dark pulsing star at the core of the Saint. There's something about it -- something dense -- something that makes it seem somehow so much more -vast- than it is --

--something hypnotic, like one could get lost into an entire other world if they stepped inside that ebbing, pulsing core that fuels the Saint's every step--

Flesh and bone begins to rapidly knit together as the Saint rears backward. It inhales, and there is a distinctive, sickening pull upon Gwen and Ida's souls--

                                    ---

There's a certain grim truth to Fell Dragons: they are endless engines of Malevolence. It makes certain things about them immutable: their lives, for example, and what it takes to end them.

To truly kill a Fell Dragon means that no trace of it exists. If anything remains - even just the bones - well...

The signal is given. The spires are shut down, one by one.

The bleak black skeleton that was the presumed corpse of a Dragon is still for five seconds...

... and then its rightmost claw twitches.

Its skull tilts.

And Malevolent light blooms within its empty eye sockets.

---

The Saint of Sinners rears back. There is a pulling sensation upon the soul. Its fanged maw begins to open wide --

-- when a second Domain blooms.

A single second passes by before a mass of bones and Malevolence collides into the side of the Saint with so much force it knocks the beast to the ground with an earthquaking impact.

Horns lock with horns. Jaws gnash. Roars split the skies, one so hauntingly harmonic, and the other shrill and gaunt. And a more conventionally oppressive Domain of Malevolence duels with the Saint's as the skeletal dragon proves itself very much alive -- for a given value of 'life.' Malevolence pure and simple fuels those bones, thick tendrils of it running throughout the skeleton like binding tendrils, but they suffice: the Saint and the skeleton tu1mble, fighting and biting and clawing as they roll across the craggy expanse of the mountain. Malevolence surges between them; a gout of flame spit from the skeletal Fell Dragon broils dangerously close to the shattered wall of the shrine. And as the Saint's claws clench into the jaws of its unliving kin to clamp them -shut- --

--skeletal claws grip the side of the Saint, seconds before both dragons go careening off the cliffside of the mountain in a cold WHOOSH of rainy air.

There is a long moment of tense silence, where nothing comes. No roars. No fires. No sounds of impact.

And it is when the fifth passes into the sixth that the large form of the dragon zombie can be seen ascending -wildly- into the air past the stormy cloud line with the Saint of Sinners in fast pursuit, the whole of its attention seemingly, strangely intent on giving chase to that skeletal dragon.

They both disappear in the swell of clouds moments after. The last thing that can be seen is the lash of the Saint's tail before its gobbled up by the barrier of the storm.

Their pressure both becomes an ever-dwindling thing, until slowly, slowly...

... the violet clouds turn gray once more.

And the eternal storm of the Lightning Shrine continues anew, with only the damage to its walls and the strange rubble of another land to mark the dragons' passing.