2015-09-26 - The Summer Homework Monster, Part Two

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Title: The Summer Homework Monster, Part One

Beckoned by mysterious notes, those in search of their stolen homework make their way to a mysterious cavern. Unfortunately, major players have major schemes in stock.


Cure Melody, Cure Pine, Cure Sword, Fuu Hououji, Hikaru Shidou, Lera Camry, Sailor Jupiter, Masque Feu, La Sirene du Nord, Lingshen Chao
GM: Honoka Yukishiro


Southern Cross Island

OOC - IC Date:

27 August 2014 - 09/26/2015

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.


All the summer homework, worked on whether diligently or lazily by thousands and thousands of Tokyo schoolchildren -- was stolen!

It reappeared inside a gigantic monster that melded arctic ice, gigantic plant vines, and robotic attachments. At Tokyo Tower, magical girls faced down the mighty MARATHON and, in so doing, felt their hearts resonate with their precious homework, connected tangibly by bolts of light!

In the end the monster was defeated, but the girls' homework -- and that of everyone they felt strongly about, friends and foes alike -- was the only homework not returned. And with the tight bonds in the magical girl community, that meant essentially every single one of them in all Tokyo, plus those innocents who dared to be their friends or rivals.

They all received a note:

If you want your homework back -- and that of all your friends -- come to these coordinates tomorrow night.


It's tomorrow night, and 'these coordinates', it turned out, led to a gaping cavern mouth at the edge of Southern Cross Island. Stalactites and stalagmites form jagged fangs, and what lies within is seemingly only darkness. The tide is out, and it's easy enough to pick a path along the kelpy rocks.

The night sky is veiled in an overcast blanket, thin and fluffy and gray. The barest hint of the waning moon can be seen behind it, but only as a diffuse splotch of paler hue.

Distantly, across the channel that separates the island from the rest of Tokyo, torches burn with radiant light, sparks flickering into the cool evening air. They're held by priests and parents and older children, all of them celebrating the end of this year's Fire Festival, a tradition that has primarily to do with Mt. Fuji, in theory, but in practice is mostly about getting to see a million torches in sufficiently close proximity as to make the Tokyo Fire Department want to tear out their fingernails one at a time.

This year, our heroines will only be able to view this spectacle from afar. But even at this distance, the light is warm.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji transforms into Magic Knight!

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou transforms into Magic Knight of Fire!
COMBAT: Seika Miuchi transforms into Masque Feu!
COMBAT: Nori Ankou transforms into La Sirene du Nord!
COMBAT: Makoto Kino transforms into Sailor Jupiter!
COMBAT: Lera Camry transforms into Barrier Jacket Perihelion!

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Sailor Jupiter wasn't there, at that previous battle. She was...

Well, Makoto Kino was failing to notice the absence of her workbooks completely, as she was churning out cookies like a professional bakery for her friends and for anyone else who might happen to be around. ...But mostly, in practice, for one Usagi Tsukino.

She's had a lot on her mind, and the best way to occupy her hands has been to do something for her friend, okay?

...But when she wasn't doing that, she's been trying to prepare. So she was already keyed up when circumstances conspired to make her see that note.

...So it is that the soldier of protection is picking her way across rocks and into a cavern path, looking carefully as she allows her eyes to adjust to the darkness, to the light only so far away.

...She might have watched it, otherwise.

"...Of all the low, contemptuous..."

...She's perhaps been talking like she's angry.

COMBAT: Inori Yamabuki transforms into Cure Pine!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

It's a safe guess that those who are still holding onto Fuu's homework - and that of the other magical girls of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area - already KNOW that she is, in fact, one of those magical girls. As such, she feels few compunctions about heading to the designated coordinates already transformed into her Magic Knight armor. The fact that she's not alone is something of a relief - not that she expected this to wind up being a solo mission in the first place, given the scenario and the stakes.

"Pardon me," she calls out softly as she spots Sailor Jupiter and attempts to catch up with the tall Senshi. "I hope you don't mind if we try to stick together as a group ... ?"

Should Jupiter happen to turn to face her, the Wind Knight smiles and bows politely.

<Pose Tracker> Masque Feu [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

What kind of cruel being threatens young people by stealing their homework?, Seika Miuchi wondered as she read the note with ever-increasing irritation.

With a quiet puff of displaced sand, Masque Feu descends from somewhere in the air - she doesn't go around advertising that she arrived in a small motorboat rgistered to the Miuchi family, so she jumped off it and nipped down from the rocks above the cave entrance so it looks more like she fell out of the sky. Lera knows who she is, but she doesn't know about the others, besides Fate. She would rather not take chances.

The lone Soeur pushes a hand up through her hair, dark locks crackling as she flicks them back before adjusting the perch of her mask atop her nose. She looks back for just a moment, across the channel to where she can see those countless sparks burning brightly. The Fire Festival must be starting, she realizes. It's something she would usually go to, traditionalist that she is.

She lets out a short, slightly indignant huff of breath and brings a single finger up. A small spark of Blessed Flame dances atop it. The light it gives off does not go far, but it should at least light the way through the caverns as she dips her way forward.

Catching sight of a brown ponytail, she clears her throat gently, flashing Sailor Jupiter a smile of recognition and silently lifting her flame finger a bit higher to help light the way for the tall Senshi. And Fuu, apparently.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera received the note, like so many magical girls did. She didn't forget about it, but after a rough morning, she tried to not think about it. She tried to not think, after a friend stormed out of her dorm room. But, she couldn't simply ignore the note or the situation; even if she feels utterly preoccupied, she knows what kind of misery that missing homework will cause. She simply cannot turn her back on it and ignore that.

Besides, Lera realizes, maybe stopping some misery will feel good.

She flies over the channel, while sparks from the Fire Festival waft up into the air. Her eyes scan over the ground, down towards Southern Cross Island; her nose wrinkles, as she does a tight turn, before she goes downward. "Is this it, buddy?"

<It is. Are you sure about this? This morning was... if you want a day off--it would be understandable.> Soaring Sky chimes softly.

"It's fine," she answers, quietly. "It's just--"

Underneath her sleeve, hidden by the bracer that now covers part of her coat, Lera Camry wears a second Device. Broken Ground, currently in his bracelet-shaped Standby Mode, chimes. <Sometimes doing something feels good.>

"...Yeah," Lera says. "Thanks, Ground."

She lowers herself downward, landing at the front of the gaping cavern mouth. She stares in with her amber eyes, while holding Soaring Sky in one hand. A little light emanates from the Device. She glances at Sailor Jupiter, Masque Feu, and the Wind Knight. "This is... pretty creepy, huh?"

COMBAT: Makoto Kenzaki transforms into Cure Sword!

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

La Sirene du Nord has no issue with the rocks, the cavern, or glimpsing a festival from afar. All of these things are actually extremely OK with her, as is the sea coast. Walking along the shores of this isle is familiar, comforting. Her biggest issue was figuring out what to do with... those coordinates.

But she at least figured out which way to go. And the great thing about an island is that if you keep walking around the edge, eventually...

La Sirene has guided herself by the dimmest unlight from the Brazen Pharos, and to her pleasant surprise, the darkness it produced was enough to guide her steps. She can't clearly explain why, and indeed it has not really made her that obtrusive upon her approach.

It may seem, in fact, that she just appeared out of nowhere as she closes the Pharos with a brassy little clank.

She's just in time to answer Lera. "I think it looks interesting. But... a little foreboding, too."

Batiste splashes his way out of the ocean onto a nearby rock, shaking a little to shed some incidental bonus water. La Sirene turns her head to smile at Sailor, Soeur, Lera, Knight.

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Hikaru got involved in this somehow, don't ask how though, because she doesn't want to talk about it right now. Right now she wants to take care of this whole thing and get back to living life as normal... for the time being. She, too, has changed into her Magic Knight armor, meaning she's now the Magic Knight of Fire. It's a good thing she's not alone either, as she breathes a sigh of relief as she spots Sailor Jupiter and her ally, the Magic Knight of Wind, nearby. She rushes to catch up to them, and upon doing so, stops to catch her breath.

"The more, the merrier, right?" The Fire Knight says as she catches up to her buddy, trying to force a smile.

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Whether or not Chao counts as a magical girl per se is a fascinating philosophical discussion that doesn't particularly matter, because there's at least one person who apparently counts as enough of a rival that Chao's homework is /still missing/. Chao Lingshen! The person whose job in her class is to wreck the curve so badly that it takes five of the dumbest kids in school to drag it back down to average! This is a fate she cannot abide.

So it seems that once again Lingshen has decided to take the stage again; leaping down from the overhanging mountainside in her cream-and-black jumpsuit, faint wire-like piping suggesting something more scientific than magical to its construction; she steps toward the gathering fighters, eyes ticking across them one by one. Assessing and identifying.

She settles into a more confident grin as she spots Lera, because bothering Lera always makes her feel slightly better about her day. "Nihao!" she chimes, with traditional pep. "It's a pretty spooky place, isn't it?"

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao transforms into Girl of the Future!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Sword [None] has posed.

Cure Sword wasn't present for the previous battle, either. She had no idea it was going on, or even that there was any problem with any summer homework, since she doesn't and has never attended school on Earth. Certain out-of-transformation things have her attention arrested too... but the idol Makoto Kenzaki is surrounded by adults every day, and those adults have school-age children who *are* afflicted. Even then, after overhearing the woes of their children, it didn't occur to her that their might be a magical cause until she started hearing about something similar through her Tuner connections. It's for the same reason that, although she doesn't get the ransom notice, she does hear about the get-together.

Now, all considered, considering the scale of the matter from what she call tell, her help is probably not needed. The magical girls of Earth can probably handle this on their own. What's more, Makopi has a concert to think about in the very near future. But that's precisely why Cure Sword decides to at least check out what's going on, to make sure it's well in hand before leaving--or make sure that it's a bigger problem than she realized and lend a hand.

As she leaps towards the cavern mouth at the edge of Southern Cross Island, the blazing bonfires of the Fire Festival catch her attention momentarily, but her only thought is one of concern, that there might be a fire on the opposite side of the channel. If there is, she's too far away to do something about it, though.

As she leaps across stones, while she takes care to choose a path that keeps her out of the others's way, she sees clearly that she's not the only one here--though of course she fully expected that to be the case. She recognizes several of the magical girls present, too, and while she's not sure if they can see her, she gives a polite nod to la Sirene and Masque Feu. It hasn't been that long since they had that conversation. Fuu gets a curt nod as well, though Sword doesn't recognize Hikaru and Jupiter with her.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Pine [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Inori just stares at a note in her hands, before falling down heavily into her seat, "N-No way! Who would steal my homework?" She tilts her head to the side, briefly wondering if this was a practical joke cooked up by Hibiki while she was over for her dog-walking 'penance'. The handwriting was too legible for it to be Tarte.

She disregards all these theories the moment she reads the line 'all your friends.' over. She'd consider Soular, but it was unlikely that he'd send a note. He'd force them to look for him and make them all more miserable in the process.

Sighing heavily, she looked over at the opposite table at a half finished project, laying by her sewing machine. She'd have to work on that later.

A few texts go out... then she enters in the coordinates into her Linkrun, waiting for the webpage to calculate a rough idea of the location. Her eyes widen a touch, "Huh?"

Cure Pine is the one who shows up the next night. She didn't leap here dramatically, she simply walked over the bridge as she usually does on her way to school, before veering off to skirt the shortline. She'd transformed only just before she got here, one short hop after another taking her along slick and slimy rocks until she'd come to stand towards the others milling about outside, "Good evening! Oh-"

She looks at the cavern's maw, "-you really think it's creepy? If not for the fact that our stolen homework was in there, I'd be really looking forward to going in there. I bet there's all sorts of interesting terrestrial cave animals living inside!" Looking back at the other magical girls however, she notices that Cure Sword is there... and suddenly she's a bit more subdued other than giving her a hesitant nod.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera's eyes turn, slowly, to Lingshen Chao -- and then her left eyebrow twitches. She /almost/ snaps at her immediately, because her mood is already a fragile thing. She refrains from the temptation, though, to instead glower briefly at her. "It's you," she says. "What are you doing here? Here to get your homework back?"

It would stand to reason. She knows that Chao has classes, too.

But then Cure Pine speaks, and her back goes rigid and she stares. She looks good and frightened for a moment -- staring ahead with wide eyes like saucers -- before she looks over her shoulder. She is startled enough that she forgets to reply to La Sirene du Nord. "C-Cure Pine," she says, with a soft gasp. "It's... I mean, it might be fun, y'know? I guess, um, knowing what's there."

She hesitates.

"Knowing we don't know what's there," she corrects. "That's kinda spooky, right? Um." This is terribly awkward. "C-caves, y'know?"

<Pose Tracker> Masque Feu [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Of course, Masque Feu thinks as Lera makes her presence known.

"We are magical girls," she answers, keeping her voice low and trying not to admit that she doesn't much like caves either. "We can deal with creepy."

La Sirene and Cure Sword arriving actually draws a quiet smile from Masque Feu; she bows her head a little, letting her flame wink in the darkness like a little beacon. "Gokigenyou," she murmurs politely.

"I am glad you're all here," she admits with an ever-so-slight duck of her head.

She looks briefly out to the entrance of the cave, then turns to lift her flame ever so slightly, trying to peer a little deeper into the cavern. "I should be able to sustain this light," she offers up. "Though we may want to be careful in case we are walking into a trap."

Meanwhile, outside the cave...

"I'm not /even/ going in there," Augustine the Heretic complains as he perches on the shore.

A small wavelet breaks across him and soaks him thoroughly.

"MASQUE FEU, WAIT UP," he trills as he comes rushing on his little bird feet after the Soeur in question.

COMBAT: Hibiki Houjou transforms into Cure Melody!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Melody [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"...of course I'm going! You worked really hard on it, and so did Souta, and... I know, of course it's a trap! I'm not an idiot! ...my math grades have nothing to do with this. ...yeah, I know - look, you've got your family to watch out for, I'll call you if it's more than everyone can handle. Don't let Souta burn down anything I wouldn't burn down!"

There's a pause, as Hibiki Houjou has to hold her phone away from her ear for a minute, due to the laughter. She's smiling at the end of it, though, and brings it back in close. "Yeah, yeah...don't worry about it - and don't worry about those assignments, I'm getting your workbook back." A pause. "...and you'll get it back right after I copy your math answers. Right, I'm here, later!" A click, before more than the first angry yell can sound from the cell's speaker. She's smiling - even as she looks down on a darkened beach. Somewhere, there...some villainous mastermind has something planned.

This is no place for a civilian. It is, however, a place for a Pretty Cure.

A faint light shines from the bejeweled ocarina-amulet over Cure Melody's heart as she strides down the beach. Sailor Jupiter's angry mutterings find an answer in a similar tone in short order as she calls out boldly. "You can say that again - and they called us the petty ones for wanting our work back!" Pink and frills may be at odds with the gloomy atmosphere here - but though she walks through the valley of darkness and water and incomplete assignments, Cure Melody shows no fear.

Lera and Masque Feu get a wave from their ally from the previous battle, and she calls out in answer to their brief debate. "It's gloomy, it's a trap..." And she cracks her knuckles, and grins. "And somewhere in there, someone needs to answer for stealing our homework. That's what matters, right?"

That grin is bright as she walks towards Cure Pine - and fades, a bit, as she catches a glimpse of Cure Sword. It's a momentary dampening of spirits, though, and she claps the yellow-clad Cure on the shoulder as she arrives. "Hey, Pine! Guess it's not just work done at the last minute that got stolen, right?"

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

And Lera rises to the bait, and Chao finds her mood lightening. She probably shouldn't get as much delight out of teasing the easy marks. "I have a reputation to protect," Chao declares, with an easy grin. "Someone's got to set the curve, you know."

She rolls a shoulder a little, feeling the mix of magic and tension rushing through her muscles. She doesn't know this cave, she thinks, eyes ticking around. When she confirmed Southern Cross Island, she wondered if she'd get stuck in an awkward situation. She still could, but...lips purse together, slowly. "I wonder," she says; ever the analytically-minded person, "What kind of person or thing hangs out in a cave like this?" Because she doesn't know. She doesn't like things she doesn't know. Variables. She taps her foot uncomfortably.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Sword [None] has posed.

More magical girls trickle in--and Cure Sword, finally landing before the cavern mouth, recognizes some more of them. Overhearing a certain voice, she shoots a side-eye Cure Pine and Cure Melody's way. It would be unsmiling, save that specifying such a thing is unnecessary when this Pretty Cure never seems to smile. Her lips thin when Pine gives her a hesitant nod and Melody's bright spirits dampen temporarily at the sight of her; then Melody claps Pine's shoulder, and Sword turns away. ...She didn't say anything harsh, at least, but she certainly wasn't friendly.

Instead, she focuses on Masque Feu and her little flame. She blinks once at the smile offered to her by both Feu and Sirene, stern expression softening briefly, before she focuses and replies, "That's a wise idea. It's better not to go into a cave like that blind, anyway."

Although she hadn't come here specifically intending to join in on a battle... but given that the source of this trouble is an enclosed area, she might not be able to avoid it. She rests a hand on her mouth. ...It *does* look kind of creepy, though she keeps this thought to herself. Augustine's squawking gets her attention next, but since he's bee-lining towards Feu, she does nothing more than cast him and his soaked feathers a concerned glance.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

"Of course I don't mind," Jupiter answers, glancing back as Fuu speaks to her, responding to that bow with a smile. Then she pauses, to chime in about the creep factor, "It'll be fine. We can't let someone get away with something like this! With--!"

Oh. ...She recognizes quite a number, actually. And then...

And then Cure Pine chimes in, and Jupiter finds herself looking over that way. "I guess you're right? But it's not exactly how I'd want to spend a festival night..."

'In case we're walking into a trap.'

"If we're in a trap, then we smash whoever it is," Sailor Jupiter suggests simply.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdS_rEzAFhc

The cavern wends and winds within the island. Did anyone know this place was under the school? Or maybe it's under Southern Cross Town, so often forgotten as a quiet, friendly coastal sort of place, with lots of good cafes from which to munch and watch the waves.

In an eerie parody of the Tokyo festival, torches blossom into being a few feet ahead of the front of the pack -- and extinguish themselves within their sconces, a few feet behind the girls' passing. But these flames are blue, and the shadows they cast create a confusing jumble, intermingling with the complex geometry all around. It started as roughly hewn rock of the sort molded simply by wind and waves, but gradually it is becoming shaped by a more deliberate hand, a dungeon or perhaps a mine, Subterranea a la Escher. Up and down, back and forth, the path takes them deeper and deeper into the earth.

And yet, strangely enough, the sound of water is growing louder and louder, though they've left the ocean far behind. Whether it's for decoration or coolant, there's no question that this chilly, dank space is dominated by the true fluid of life, immense waterfalls turning even larger turbines. And it is full of people. People, and stranger things.

The least strange of these, perhaps, is the missing homework: they are piled inside some sort of massive orb, which is set between two metal plates, one above and one below, with a tangle of wires more intricate than any garden crawling out of it into the rest of the labyrinthine laboratory.

The most strange, on the other hand, are the intensely creepy, contorted manniquins that stand in a range of poses around the area, each one filled with desperation. There is something blatantly ancient about them, in stark contrast to the equipment set up around the homework; ancient and forbidden, something lost to memory and time and best kept that way. They are far, far taller than a man, though manlike in their shape, with strange, spindly limbs and golden masks rather evocative of that being worn by the purple-haired man standing on a balcony, overlooking the girls, the homework, and everyone else.

He is joined by three others. Two, a man and a woman, remain in the shadows, but the fourth boldly bares herself to the eyes of her prey: no one less than Queen Beryl, resplendent with her violet gown and fiery mane, dark crown and orb-topped staff, welcomes the group with a cruel smile. Her eyes are hungry, her gaze eager to devour everyone before her, until her thirsty pride can be satiated at last.

But it's the masked man who speaks. "Throw the switch!" he instructs, and the man in the shadows walks with fluid grace over to the wall, where a massive circuit breaker-esque lever awaits. He raises it from high to low with a motion of lazy strength, of massive control...

...and the orb full of homework begins to crackle.

"A pretty trap," the shadowed man says, approvingly.

Energy pours out of it, in massive quantities, fizzling down the wires and away. And, in an awful reflection of the connection established in the fight against MARATHON, energy pours out of everyone whose homework is caught in this trap, surrounding them with an aura of their heart's light, an aura leeching away towards the orb.

Even transformations cannot stand against this drain, and they trickle away, into ribbons or lights or flames. While Recognition Inhibition may continue to disguise their identities, it cannot protect the girls' hearts.

It feels like being plunged into a frozen lake, or exposed to the sky of the most barren nighttime desert.

It feels like a knife twisting in the back, a door slamming shut, a friend not taking phone calls when it matters most.

It feels not like the exciting first day of a new school term, but the interminable third, where all the novelty has fallen away and all that's left is the slog, the endless, exhausting struggle.

Perhaps it feels like how normal people feel, when their energy is drained by a youma. Helpless... and hopeless.

<Pose Tracker> Masque Feu [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

A quiet Masque Feu tilts her head as Cure Melody more or less summarizes things. "There is that," she murmurs. "Let's at least not be caught flat-footed."

(Though can I be caught flat-footed in these shoes,) she wonders, glancing down at her high heels. She has gotten a lot better at walking in high heels.

Keeping the light winking atop her finger, she pushes deeper into the cavern, following the sound of water. As those flames extinguish, she frowns, weaving into the Escherian maze, through the bizarre crowds, towards what she eventually sees - a massive orb full of homework. A massive orb, in the middle of a lab, surrounded by...


The lone Soeur suppresses the urge to shudder as she looks up at one of the strange figures, up and along it, momentarily taken aback by what she finds. And yet - yet - it is the balcony that draws her attention. The balcony holding a man with purple hair, two figures she does not understand - and one she recognizes only through Augustine mentioning her.

"What is this," she breathes.

And then the trap is set - and the girl lets out a loud, pained gasp as /something/ is torn from her.

Power sloughs off Masque Feu like water off of polished steel. She lets out a little cry of surprise, holding up her arms as though to try and shield herself, but she can't manage it. All she feels is--

All she feels is a feeling like that day when she stood upon a balcony in a warehouse she did not know, while the man who was her brother was taken away. A feeling of profound helplessness and loss.

"This is," she gasps even as a subtle light suffuses her body. It mounts - and the Blessed Masque slips from her face on its own. She manages to catch it, but her hand feels so, so incredibly heavy right now. Even as her fingers curl around the mask, the light conceals her from sight for a moment before fading to leave her back in the neat black slacks and orange summer top she started the day with - along with her glasses. She widens her eyes and looks down at herself. Anyone who's been to Juuban High could recognize Seika Miuchi like this. Recognition Inhibition isn't doing anything to help her.

"Masque Feu," a damp Augustine cries from somewhere near the back, but he's also fallen on his chest to the point that it looks like he's deflating.

Seika clenches her teeth, struggling to push through that feeling of being drained of her willpower. "Not yet," she hisses, forcing herself to take a step forward. "Even if it is a trap, I can't...!"

COMBAT: Masque Feu transforms into Seika Miuchi!

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Having grinned at Cure Melody already, Sailor Jupiter feels confident walking on forward. "Right! That's what--" 'not just work done at the last minute!'


...She doesn't say anything about that however. She elects instead to keep walking, and suddenly she is quiet regardless, trying to look forward to whatever danger there must be--...until the light begins. The light, the path...

Setting her jaw, Sailor Jupiter takes a position near the front, in case any of these strange things come against the others... But none of her vigilance prepares her for what she sees after she sees the orbs of the homework and the strange equipment and--

And the woman from the vision they all shared.

"Wh--What!? I won't let you get away with--" Her words, meant to embolden, cut off instantly as the trap crackles to life. The green vitality of the planet Jupiter drains away, her heart suddenly cold, her eyes wide at the most awful feeling--

she knows this feeling. She remembers it, from a life that wasn't hers. And now...

Makoto Kino, obvious to anyone who's seen the tall girl, sinks to the ground, her knees impacting hard. ...She doesn't give any bluster, now. She only stares.

COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter transforms into Makoto Kino!

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera doesn't remark again to what Chao says. Her eyes narrow and she simmers, but she doesn't have a fight in her. She still feels drained, and the sigh that comes out is a little too long. She rubs at the bridge of her nose, before she looks back up. She tilts her head, when she hears Sailor Jupiter's idea. It brings a smile to her face.

<...Smash it. I like the way she thinks.> Broken Ground chimes, in Jupiter's general direction. Lera nods her head, with just a hint more cheer.

"Mm-hmm," Lera murmurs. She feels a little better. It's something.

She follows after Masque Feu, into the depths of the cavern. She walks, eyes glancing about, and she shivers as she sees the blue flames. She hasn't seen anything /quite/ like this in the Library Island's labyrinth. She has seen something close, but never quite this creepy. She shivers -- and then she pauses, as she reaches the bottom. Her eyes drift to the homework, first, and then at the turbines.

Then, she looks at the people, and she startles sharply when she sees Queen Beryl. She remembers her from her dreams -- from that nightmare -- and it makes her gasp sharply and freeze up. She takes a step backward.

But she is already in the trap.

The aura that suddenly surges out of her takes away her Barrier Jacket; it vanishes, the green coat and silvery shirt disappearing, and leaving her holding a tiny red pen -- and with a bracelet on her wrist. Her eyes widen, slightly, as she feels despair creep right back into her heart. It was easier than it should be.

She already thought she might not be able to do it. As far as she came, some things can't be solved by fighting. Some things are more complicated than that, and all of the spells in the world can't fix them. It feels, in the moment, a little how she felt after she lost Sky the last time.

Her eyes widen and she stumbles back, wearing a T-shirt and jeans instead. Lera opens her mouth, staring around, and then she hangs her head. She speaks, but it's a mumble that is barely audible. "What... what's..."

She doesn't finish. Soaring Sky remains silent, too, for once -- and Broken Ground's gem pulses, but the Intelligent Device has nothing to offer.

COMBAT: Lera Camry transforms into Lera Camry!

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

La Sirene looks at Hikaru, who is a familiar face if not an intimate one. Her head tilts. (So does Batiste's.) She seems curious, perhaps even concerned - and when Cure Sword presents herself, she curtseys to her, slightly.

She also glances to Cure Pine with approval. If brief and grim approval. Cure Melody gets a nod as well. La Sirene straightens up then: "I agree," she says after Jupiter makes her statement. "This homework is too precious to be left alone. School is starting soon..."

Inwards, then. Through the light. Through the torches, through the cavern, and through the areas carved and shape. La Sirene holds her lantern but in here it does not shine; she has, of course, friends (or allies, companions) to consider... but as the water's coursing goes stronger, she walks, until at last, they reach those enchanted depths.

And they are already being used to power machines. When the violet-gowned visage of Queen Beryl reveals herself, la Sirene goggles in shock; that gaze is a cruel one, and she has known some gazes in her time. But before she can do more than that, there's a crackle, and SOMETHING --

It feels like an old familiar lead weight resting on her shoulders. La Sirene staggers, letting out a croak. She sinks to one knee. Then the other. Her mouth opens and she lets out a strange noise, like a sob that ended where it should began. Something slides out of her, rising like a cloud, drawn forwards like smoke to an exhaust fan.

Nori Ankou is in her pajamas. (Why not?) Her hair falls in her face, veiling her face for the moment at least-- and the lantern clanks on the ground as she sags, bonelessly. She says nothing.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord transforms into Nori Ankou!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

The azure torches that light themselves to 'greet' the girls is quite enough to put the Wind Knight at unease; snuffing themselves out behind the group crosses the line to 'actively unnerving,' and marks the point at which she wills her quiver and bow to appear. An arrow is nocked to the bow's string, but she doesn't draw it back - not so long as there are no visible enemies to aim at. If she thought there were *invisible* enemies, she might chance it ...

And she nearly DOES not only draw the arrow back, but let it fly, when she spots the first of the mannequins. She holds her stance for a few seconds, arrowhead pointing at a mannequin which neglects to move at all; when she realizes it's not animate, the Wind Knight lets out a breath and slowly eases the pressure on the bow's string. resuming her advance with the others. It's not much longer than that before the balcony with its occupants comes into view; the Magic Knight of Wind raises her bow, ready to draw back -

The switch is thrown.

She draws and looses in the space of a heartbeat, but even as soon as the arrow leaves the string, the power of her will no longer drives it; a stray crossbreeze blows the shaft off-course and it flutters away, vanishing into whatever lies beneath. "N-no - !!" she cries out as she feels her energy being drained away ...

The armor of the Magic Knight of Wind gradually vanishes, and even the cloth of her uniform beneath it seems to unravel before the sundress she was wearing earlier snaps back into existence about her body. The only remaining trace of the Wind Knight's armor is the glove on her left hand, supporting a large green gemstone - and even that now looks less like a magical girl's equipment than a cheap cosplay accessory. Her transformation undone, her powers leeched away, Fuu Hououji sags to her knees, gasping against the ongoing drain of energy. All she can still do is struggle against the feeling of despair that threatens to overwhelm her; that literally takes all the willpower she can still muster, when reduced to an ordinary girl.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji transforms into Fuu Hououji!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Sword [None] has posed.

Cure Sword overhears Jupiter's declaration to just smash through any traps that may have been set for them, and she looks over at the brunette with a thoughtful look. She almost even smiles, the slightest nod her only obvious sign of approval. Sword never could stand trickery or deceit, and Jupiter's straightforward attitude appeals to something within her.

Too bad the reason why traps are so aggravating is because they are by design meant to punish straightforward attitudes.

Since it isn't immediately apparent from the outside whether or not this is something that her help is needed with, Cure Sword follows the others inside, and creepy or no, she strides forward as if undaunted. She keeps a weather eye out all the same, both at the front and in the back, and wonders why the sound of water is growing louder the deeper inside they go. She doesn't make any logical connections, though, nor does she understand anything about the disturbing mannequins that litter the interior. Uneasy as they make her, she continues her forward pace, until at last they reach their destination.

Cure Sword spots the crackling orb of homework and the strange trio who surround it, and not quite understanding how important it is to everyone here, her immediate reaction is caution, to go on the defensive in the event of an unexpected attack. And indeed, the attack that comes is very unexpected--a tidal wave of crackling energy that reduces the magical power of Sword's transformation into lavender sparkles. Her eyes widen in shock, and the cry she makes is one of both shock... and anguish.

She remembers with stark clarity the way the Lesser Egos overran the Trump Kingdom, how even with the utmost of her strength she was unable to stem the tide of their assault. Memories of rejoining with Princess An, only to have her fling her away mere moments later to protect her protector, stab into her heart like poisoned knives with no mercy. She clutches her shoulders and cries out again, knees shaking dangerously, as the light shatters, leaving her without even the meager power she had then. Makoto Kenzaki's only saving grace in terms of the privacy of her identity is that, this close to a concert, she made sure to leave in disguise, with a large hat and oversized non-prescription glasses to hide her features, a long and nondescript white T-shirt over a pair of jean shorts and sneakers.

"Princess!" Makoto all but sobs, finally dropping to her knees as Davi, in her Lovely Commune form, clatters to the ground next to her with a yelp of pain.

COMBAT: Cure Sword transforms into Makoto Kenzaki!

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The Magic Knight of Fire is usually a strong woman. Even if she's a young high school student by day, she's always a strong fighter as the Magic Knight. She's usually found the strength to overcome just about anything by putting her mind to things. Yet, somehow, things aren't feeling quite right at this time. In fact, it's worse than anything she's had to deal with. She grits her teeth and curls up slightly...

"No... I can do this!"

But it's no use. Hikaru's powers begin to drain from her body, her energy seeping out, and she begins to feel like something's definitely more wrong than usual here. "Keep it together, Hikaru! You can do it!"

But even the best motivation is no use here. Hikaru's weapons, her armor, everything begins to vanish as she drops to her knees, breathing deeply as if her energy is still draining. Eventually it disappears completely, leaving her as just an ordinary girl with no method of protecting herself or fighting back. Even the thought of using her kendo skills to help out doesn't occur in her mind. This is truly not the Hikaru most people would know!

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou transforms into Hikaru Shidou!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Melody [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Cure Melody grins at Sailor Jupiter's vehement proclamation, and elbows Cure Pine with a grin. She can't recall having met the Sailor Senshi before, but this is certainly a girl with her priorities in order. Melody, for her part, is ready to stride forward boldly, close to the head of the pack - but in the end, settles on sticking close to Pine. Neither of them have their usual teammates here tonight, so...

...the cavern is, in the end, spectacularly creepy. She nearly jumps the first time one of the flickering blue torches ignites, and courage backed by a trip to Library Island is beginning to falter - but she has to keep going. Her homework - Kanade's, Souta's, all her friends are depending on this. She does what she can to defy the creepiness, humming defiantly as she marches forward - perhaps not with the cheer Hummy would provide, but positive thinking all the same. Besides - she has friends here, what could go wrong?

The answer is soon provided. Cure Melody soon marvels at the entire ridiculous atmosphere - giant mannequins, grand machinery, ominous illumination...something greater than she can imagine is sure to be going on here. It lasts until she sees the masked purple-haired man, at which point she takes a bold step forward, hand clenched into a fist.

Bold steps falter as the others appear - Beryl among them. Even with faded memories of a strange dream, that face is one of omens and terror - and that pause is long enough for the grand switch to be thrown. Cure Melody lets out a pained yell as the trap pulls at her heart, pulls at all the power she wears - yells, as sad fading chimes accompany her transformation beginning to fade into ethereal pink ribbons.

(A new semester getting started, and I'm going to meet up with my best friend to bring the year to a great start! Just as soon as she arrives at the tree by the gate, like we agreed...)

(She's late. Everyone else is going in...she wouldn't have forgotten, right? They're going to enjoy the new year together...)

(...did I make too many jokes? What did I do wrong...)

Her friend isn't here - just like before, she's alone again. Bereft of friendship and of courage, Hibiki Houjou hangs her head as her shoulders sag.

COMBAT: Cure Melody transforms into Hibiki Houjou!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Pine [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Huh? Well I did say if not for the fact that our homework is..." Pine stops for a moment, reframes it for Lera, "Oh, you're really scared of caves! Well it'll be alright as long as we stay together."

A hand claps upon her shoulder. She smiles weakly, "You were supposed to be working harder on it so Rhythm would lift her ban." And then a glance to Jupiter, "Well. I guess that's right. It's just that most of my friends are busy and a festival isn't any fun by yourself."

Her attitude changes the moment blue torches flare into life, as they all walk along cautiously throughout the caves. She starts, then nervously chuckles like it was no big deal. Downward, downward following the light, past rushing waters. While the sight of all that homework in an orb does make her more anxious, all of that anxiety changes to horror as they encounter the Mannequins, the Dark Queen, and the others wearing masks and shadows alike.

When the call is made, her mind processes it almost like she would 'Nakewameke - Obey my Command!' Reflexively she tries to leap. To react. To do anything that might keep her from falling into the trap... Only for her foot to slide out from under her on the slick cave floor near the back of the group.

The pain of hitting the ground drowns out comprehension. Then it's the feeling of dread she has. The same feeling she had the day she became a Pretty Cure, when she'd searched for help and found noone...

When she'd rejected Love's offer to join her dancing group...

When she stood in a church alone...

When she'd felt helpless to help Setsuna with any of what she's going through...

It all washes over her, through her, she feels like she'd just shed a pair of clothes which were too large for her to begin with. That this power was never hers to begin with. She looks at herself through blurred eyes, at trembling palms, then the rest of her in her skirt and fluffy blouse. She sees what her heart already knows.

She's not a Pretty Cure anymore. And she may never be again.

And no amount of belief in herself could change that.

Inori Yamabuki doesn't get up, she only draws herself up into a more polite position on the ground, and sobs into her dirty hands.

COMBAT: Cure Pine transforms into Inori Yamabuki!

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao senses Lera's exhaustion in her manner, and gives her a curious look. Something specific eating her? she wonders. Jupiter and Ground's comments earn a small shrug from Chao, and a game walk along. "That seems like a pretty reliable solution," she admits. "Still...be cautious. This is definitely a trap."

One last look back, at the Tokyo they must leave above, for now. This seems like such a petty thing, compared to the lights above. But...well. Chao has her pride.

The self-lighting torches get Chao's eye. No time to investigate; she amuses herself considering the spells and batteries she'd combine to do it herself. "This place has been prepared," she mutters. They already agreed this was definitely a trap, but every scrap of evidence counts to the science-minded.

Her eyes track up. These mannequins...she tries to identify them, but she comes up blank. They feel faintly familiar, but 'they' have quite wisely not told her every detail, anymore than she has told 'them' all of her own plans.

Her eyes narrow. The man bugs her thoughts, but the /woman/ - Queen Beryl, a face she knows from textbooks as much as anything, a face she knows to fear - staring down at her with a hunger deeper than any ambition she could dare to wield.

She yields a step before it, but it's too late. The trap is set. Traceries of magic light run out from Chao's chest; magical circuity within the suit briefly lighted by a light of flaming red, crawling up off her suit and into her skin as she staggers back, clutching. She barely notices the explosive flash of cubic light as her armored suit flashes away, leaving Lingshen Chao in the Infinity uniform she wears seemingly always.

It burns like a poison in her blood. Her mind reels. Did the seal break? It wasn't designed to withstand this kind of tension! But if it broke she'd have already burnt to dust, shouldn't she? She tries to set her feet; prevent her knees from buckling, eyes tracing up to glare daggers at the device doing this. She tries to think through the burning; but her thoughts keep turning back to the seal, and the dust and ruin that made her forge it, and the ache in her jaw from her teeth clenched so tightly.

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao transforms into Lingshen Chao!

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZlgCXGXV48

In a place unseen by everyone underground, above and beyond, in shadow and chains, a girl sings. Though a fresh summer wind has reached the island today, her voice is more felt than heard, the sweet caress of winter's loneliness, the sleeping earth yearning for renewal, for the touch of light.

The dancing snowflakes are fragments of stars
Reaching out towards the heavens

The wires leading from the homework-filled orb, replete with the energy of magical girls, surge towards one of the strange, gigantic mannequins. There are only two colors now, the white of the magic and the black shadows cast by everyone around it.

The mysterious woman on the balcony, veiled more effectively than ever by this false darkness, wrinkles her nose. At no one's command but her own, she produces a small object -- tennis-ball-sized -- and hurls it towards the mannequin. It spreads out tiny rootlets as it impacts right in the center of its forehead.

"What is it that you people say? 'Apprivoiser'?"

I can feel my wishes as they come and go
Everything is now in monochrome...

And so it is, after an explosion of light from the mannequin, a golden pillar that twists and twines towards the unreachable heavens, sealed forever? beyond its touch. A false tree of life, it holds no salvation. The torrential cascades of water slow, then stop entirely, frozen in midair.

All the color in the world seems sapped out of existence... until, with a glittering shine, the golden mask of the man, and the glittering light of power around the other three, allow them motion as well, in this space beyond time.

The white breath spilling softly from my lips
Is shaped like the words I want to convey.
It must be the warmth that's making the sky grow faintly lighter
Our wings are drenched in our shared sorrow
Turning pure white as they overlap
And becoming a gentle courage for the future
We passed to each other...

The mannequin -- the Cybody's -- mask seems to glow in response to all this, and then, alive with red and black lightning that wriggles like snakes, it seems to explode with flesh -- or, rather, armor -- becoming far more than a mere abandoned doll. A twisted mass of briars and thorns crown its now larger, thicker golden mask.

It is by any metric a giant robot, but the most massively magical, sparkling one imagineable. Its plates of red armor glitter with golden specks that draw leaflike patterns, evershifting in an unseen breeze. Its thrusters emit a blue flame reminiscent of the torches on the cavern wall, but smokeless and soundless.

It has a cape, a curtain of black, waterfalling off its shoulders endlessly, and four arms. Two are magi-mechanical. And two are, not dissimilarly from MARATHON, purely organic, twisting, knotted, gnarly green-brown vines that throb with a dark power.

The beating of my heart as I wait for the dawn of an unknown world...
A new tomorrow that begins as I depart with the first rays of light
We each follow a different path
Even if we never meet again
The scattering stars are like sand
Tenderly caressing my heart again

Inhuman eyes behind the Cybody's golden mask flare with blood red light... which gradually dims, in the span of three heartbeats, to green.

And suddenly there is no world left at all... only an infinitely finite galaxy. A rainbow of stars whirl, reflected in a ground that belies their truth, like a mirror that can only see itself. Mystical gears of every conceivable color interlock the corners of this nonreality, literal seals of a place that is figurative, figment, at best. The girls are adrift in a space that is no space at all.

The afterimage of a dream during quiet slumber
All is still in a shade of monochrome...

Zero time.

There is a large audience in bubbles that float, glowing occasionally with translucent golden circuitry, through the zone. The four instigators of this plan, yes, but many others as well.

"You see? They're immobilized. Without their magic, they're helpless within Zero Time." The masked man gestures dramatically at the magical girls, drained of color and motion, arrayed at the feet of the Cybody.

Queen Beryl nods, and addresses the girls directly, imparting upon them their obvious doom with the air of someone consuming a delicious appetizer. "And nothing can save you from the outside. There is no power strong enough to penetrate this space... no power at your command, at any rate."

"I have control over this... Cybody. It is called Psienk, and it has yielded to my will." That was the woman who threw the rootball... thing, which seems to be growing within and without the suit of armor, inhabiting it as much as it enhances it. "And to think, none of this would have been possible without your energy... your despair. You have given life to this soldier... truly, you are the architect of your own demise!"

"A marvelous irony, yes." That was the man in shadows with the impossibly rich and layered voice. He hasn't done much since he threw that switch to start the energy drain, but he watches with intense satisfaction. "No matter how determined you are to save everyone... perhaps /because/ of how determined you are... you will fall. You must fall. It is as inevitable as the triumph of night over the day."

With a hum of concentration burbling from deep in her throat, the woman in shadows raises her hands, and the Cybody does, too, echoing her movements with its own massive size and strength.

Then she slams them down, Psienk moving to crush the girls beneath its palms as effortlessly as one might knead a loaf of bread...

...but is stopped, at the last moment, by a tiny flame. This one is unbelievably normal, like one of the million torchlights in Tokyo, being held aloft by normal people, people who dare to celebrate this festival of hope.

By children who remember the terror of their homework being lost for an hour, and the relief when it magically reappeared... and who know, if not consciously, that a small miracle happened there. Now it is one that can be returned.

The light of the torch flows over the girls, bringing with it color, and strength... and connection, a sense of closeness to those closest to them, who even now dare to celebrate the holiday even though their homework is still being held hostage by some mad prankster. Who believe that everything is going to turn out all right.

Who believe in their friends and rivals -- whether they know their magical secret, or are simply inspired by the many tiny, crucial ways that their lives touch day to day. Encouragement; inspiration. It doesn't take magic for a magical girl to be a hero to those around them.

Warmth flows from the flames of these touched souls, into the eyes and limbs and hearts of their companions...

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro transforms into Cybody Psienk!

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has fully healed herself. She is now ready to take on 10 opponents!

<Pose Tracker> Seika Miuchi [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Seika would comment on the stylishness of Cure Sword's hat were she not on the verge of collapsing into a pile of anguish. All she can really think about is seeing Shirou taken from her. Of her parents, walking out the door. Bye, daughter. We'll see you sometime. For five minutes before we say goodbye again.

(No. No, I can't break down,) a part of her mind screams at her. (I WON'T. I am SEIKA MIUCHI. I am a LADY. A lady does not collapse crying into a pile, no matter what they are trying to do to me! I will not give them the SATISFACTION of my tears of despair.)

It is hard for her to maintain that feeling. Not when she looks back and sees Lera collapsing - someone she recognizes as a tall junior from school, unveiled as Sailor Jupiter - so many of them buckling under the weight of despair. It is all she can do to give in and join them. She clenches her teeth and squeezes her eyes closed for a few seconds.

When she opens them again, a white breath spills softly from the lips of the world and washes out all colour save a glittering spark of gold. Something immense, caped and multi-limbed, rising to challenge girls who cannot fight back.

The world giving way to the glitter of stars, like countless tears in the night. The sound of Queen Beryl and the others, taunting her. Taunting all of them. Lera, Cure Sword, Nori -- all of them, mocked.

Until a torch gutters to life. A song whispers in her ears

And Seika draws in a breath - and holds out her hand. Her fingers slide over fingers that are not there.

A young man's smile shines in her eyes, dark hair framing his face. A dockworkers' union jacket rippling around him.

I know you'll come for me, Seika. I believe in you. I know it'll be alright.

"Shirou...!" Seika breathes, her eyes wide with a sudden well of emotion. She is not the least bit shy about letting these tears show, for they are tears of joy.

"I will," she whispers, as her fingers curl around her masque. She lifts it to her face as that torchlight flows around her, filling her world with colour again. With hope.

"I CALL UPON THE POWER OF THE BLESSED FLAME!!" she cries out. Her voice rings with authority.

White light curls forth. Tendrils of it bathe Seika's body, her hair streaming behind her as she's wreathed in a sheet of holy flame. The light coalesces into her tabard, her heels, the crisscrosses of her gloves and shoes. The little gem set in her mask glints as she opens her eyes, tears chasing into the air in beads of silver.

I could never give them the satisfaction of my despair, she realizes. Because Shirou is waiting for me. And because my friends are with me. Because I'm never truly alone.

She flings her hair back with a defiant crackle before finally touching down. Once again Masque Feu, she levels her right hand, drawing herself up with strength. "You are wrong," she declares. "I, Masque Feu, know of a power strong enough to conquer anything.

"Our belief in our bonds...!"

COMBAT: Seika Miuchi transforms into Masque Feu!

COMBAT: Masque Feu has used Remember This Day Forever on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Masque Feu has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The feeling of music touches something in Makoto's heart, but it feels so distant, so faint, that she can't think of it, can't even consider it. She can only look up, and watch, helplessly, at the explosions of light before her as she fails to protect those she loves again. As this thing appears, as...

This space that isn't space is strange to her, and she reflects while she's there that it it's the kind of place she thought she might fall. All she can force herself to do is turn her eyes to look upon Queen Beryl, the enemy she's been waiting to meet...

And she knows, as they speak, that she is alone. She knows it, with a certainty that makes it impossible for her to so much as breathe. The gigantic creature before them is going to crush her, and that will be the end of things.

...But, it doesn't.

The tiny spark of warmth brings life to her lungs again, brings a breath to her lips, and this feeling...

Tears settle in her eyes as she thinks of a girl probably off smiling right now. Hopefully off smiling, right now.

"You... You reached out to me... Even when you didn't know who I was," she murmurs, closing her eyes. "I can't let you down now. ...We have so many more things to do together. ...You haven't even tried the last batch..."


She knows it, in the moment. The pain in her knees floods back to her awareness, and she finds herself smiling regardless. "You're why I'm here. ...It's not about power. I don't need anything to stand, if it's for you." She feels the warmth, as the color flows back into her. The one who let her meet everyone she cares about, now. Not just her Princess, but...

Makoto rises to her feet again, reaches into her pocket for the pen she still has. "Everyone," she murmurs, "...I'll come back to you. We promised to keep going together."

Then, she raises it above her head in this bizarre space, and calls, "JUPITER POWER...!" The crackling of lightning all but drowns out her words, as she intones, "Make Up!" and that verdant power bursts around her, transforming her once again into the soldier she has /chosen/ to be in this life.

Sailor Jupiter dips backward, adopting a fighting stance and staring her challenge upward. "There's nothing inevitable about your triumph!" she calls. "...I don't care how strong you are, or how big you are. As long as I still have life..."

Her hands rise, "In the name of Jupiter, I will protect them!"

COMBAT: Makoto Kino transforms into Sailor Jupiter!

COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter has used In The Name Of Jupiter on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera looks up, slowly, when she sees the other girls falling. Some, she recognizes; some she doesn't. She isn't in a mental state to appreciate connections -- the discoveries she makes about girls like Sailor Jupiter or Cure Pine -- because two emotions war for dominance. One is the feeling of helplessness, about her life and one friend in particular. The second is fear and concern for all of the others here.

The feeling of helplessness compounds the second concern and wins over it. She feels tears beginning to form in her eyes, and when she looks up at the gigantic robot, she draws in a sharp and terrified gasp.

The world drains away under her, becoming that infinite galaxy and swirl of stars. She looks around, staring at it, confusing competing with that feeling of despair. She remains immobilized and colorless, though, left staring down. She squeezes her eyes shut, her teeth gritting together.

Then, though, she sees the flash of color -- the warmth of a torch glowing -- and she looks up, staring down at Psienk as it tries to crush her and all the girls here. She feels something in her heart. She thinks of Fate Testarossa, smiling at her. She thinks of her mother, telling her how proud she was. She thinks of Sky, of course.

Then, she remembers when Setsuna put her hand over hers.

Her fingers curl into a fist and she stands up. "Sky," she says. "C'mon. They're counting on us. We--"

<Before... like before...> The Device's chime is soft and subtly, in its own way, terrified. <When I was broken...>

Lera's eyes widen, her pupils shrinking. She stares down at the pen in her hand. Her fist shakes around. "Buddy...?"

<It's coming.> Lera looks up, drawing a sharp gasp, even as the others begin to find their strength. Broken Ground's chime warrants a nod.

"Something's wrong with Sky."

<Noticed. ...Camry.> Broken Ground hesitates for a moment. <Let's smash it.>

"What?" Lera sputters.

<You heard me. I'm not letting you die in a place like this. C'mon. We'll figure it out as we go... but you saw most of what I can do by now.>

Lera hesitates for a moment, but then she holds her hand up into the air. The bracelet on the wrist dips downward, the little yellow gem in the center of it flashing once. Lera hesitates, her mind racing, and then she yells out the first phrase that comes to mind. It feels right, though. "Earth's heart, erupting hope! Broken Ground, SET UP!"

<...Neat. Get set.>

Light flashes around -- green and brown, this time -- but the same long green jacket appears with a flutter, and then the feather-shaped charm in her hair. The bracelet on her wrist vanishes -- the gauntlets appear, after -- and then a warhammer appears, two clockwork halves around the yellow orb at the center. It pulses, once, and she turns on a foot.

She spins -- and a bolt of green-gold light appears with the swing of the hammer-shaped Device. It flies, turning over like molten liquid, and then the energy blast fires straight up at the Cybody!

COMBAT: Lera Camry transforms into Barrier Jacket Aphelion!

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Molten Bolt on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Lera Camry has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Hibiki Houjou [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Powerlessness. Despair. Helplessness. Countless words to describe a common principle - the principle that Hibiki Houjou can do nothing here. To face those enemies with her power would take more courage than sense ordinarily - but without her best friend, without her hopes, without any of her strength...

She can't hope to do anything but watch. Watch, as the cruel woman in the shadows does something to that mannequin - entwines it in strange plants, brings forth a terrible light of life. The strains of that lone singer's song resound in a heart that feels all too cold, as time grinds to a halt. As the mannequin becomes an armored, thorned monstrosity. As the world fades away to a strange realm, and...they're all alone.

("It's too bad Hibiki-neechan isn't here, she'd love this!")

("She's working hard - just like you should, when we get home.")

("Haha, she's not with you? Too bad, I was hoping she'd be up for a pickup game later...")

...is she? Steps taken in here in concert - and backed by all those who remain without hope for the semester's start. It's not for her own sake that she walked in here, she could do a terrible job in a day, but for her friends...

Hibiki opens her eyes - and there's a miracle. A flickering light, holding off terrible power, warming the darkest night...and if she strains, if she hopes, the brown-haired girl can almost hear voices. Voices talking warmly, remembering the summer they've had together...

She lifts her head, back straightening, murmuring under her breath. "...I wasn't abandoned - it was just a stupid misunderstanding, and we were both idiots about it." The world's changed around her, the enemy before her is terrifyingly grand - but her spirits are rising every moment. "I fight with my best friend, but that's just how honest we are with each other. I might be a bit of a slacker - but she believes in me. Her, her little brother, and all our other friends..."

Her hand felt cold, nearly dead - but warmth and defiance flow through her veins, and she brings her hand up to her chest with a thump. "Every day we laughed, every day we cried - we spent our summer together, and stealing our workbooks can't take that away! Even though they've walked another path tonight - our friendship goes beyond whatever this weird place is!" Her eyes rise to gaze upon the quartet in their bubble, light beginning to shine from the hand clasped to her chest. "Every day turns to night...but the next refrain will always start anew, heralding a new day together!"

"Let's Play! Pretty Cure Modulation!"

With the mystery lone singer's melody resounding in her heart, the girl transforms once more - spectral ribbons of brilliant pink wrapping around her. Hibiki Houjou vanishes - and Cure Melody explodes forward, fist outstretched to clash against the gargantuan robot's hand with all her might!

COMBAT: Hibiki Houjou transforms into Cure Melody!

COMBAT: Cure Melody has used Precure Uppercut on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Cure Melody has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly dodges Masque Feu's Remember This Day Forever, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Masque Feu is Psyched!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro perfectly braces Sailor Jupiter's In The Name Of Jupiter, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Brace!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro perfectly dodges Lera Camry's Molten Bolt, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Critical Dodge!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Cure Melody's Precure Uppercut, taking 10 Fatigue damage! Cure Melody is Psyched!

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kenzaki [None] has posed.

It's as much as Cure Sword--no, Makoto Kenzaki--can manage to simply look back and forth at those around her. She recognizes almost none of the girls around her, though the girl who is Cure Melody seems oddly familiar, but that isn't the point. The point is to see if someone, *anyone*, managed to keep a hold of themselves. When she sees that none of them did, that makes despair beat down on her all the more. Now there's no one to fight against this treachery... No one to protect this world from ending up just as the Trump Kingdom had. She bows her head, nearly curling in on herself, as an unknown song hums through space to bring about a nothing-time... and before she knows it, Makoto is frozen in that time. She might be smashed into dust there, completely unable to do anything about it... save for a flicker of a flame. And although she had nothing to do with the last battle, something reaches inside of her too.

~Cure Sword...~

Makoto's heart throbs in her chest.

~Cure Sword... You must stand.~

That voice, so familiar and longed for, echoes if not in her ears than in her soul. She lifts up her head, eyes brimming with tears and faltering hope. She doesn't know if that voice is real or not, but in that moment, she feels the Princess so close to her that she might reach out and touch her. She reaches out with both hands, even, and though there is nothing to physically touch, her heart races. In that moment, she knows.

~Everyone is waiting for your songs. I'm still with you. So you mustn't fall here.~

The seed of fear that Mammo had planted in her breast by insinuating that the Princess was already dead ruptures, but what sprouts from it is not despair but joy, as Makoto feels that deep sense of connection to the woman she dedicated her life to protecting. She knows, without a trace of a doubt, that she is alive. Whether this voice is hers or merely Makoto's projection of it doesn't change that fact at all.

And it doesn't change the fact of what she must do, here, in the face of the enemy.

"Cure Sword!" Davi calls out at her feet.

Blinking away tears, Makoto focuses on her fairy partner, then focuses and nods once, sharply. "Davi, let's go!" she calls, snatching up the phone-like object.

"Ready when you are!" the fairy cheers from within.

"Pretty Cure Love Link! L-O-V-E!!" Fingers trace the surface of the Lovely Commune, spelling out the letters Makoto calls aloud, and the holy magic of Pretty Cure envelopes Makoto, transforming her back in an instant. "The blade of courage: CURE SWORD!!" she calls as her transformation completes, voice resounding with passion and bravery throughout the cavern. Cure Sword lands lightly on her feet, sweeps her gaze like a blade across the room, and zeroes in on the perpeprators. Though she knows not who any of them are, she knows them for *what* they are--and they won't tear her hope from her like that again. No... Now she has more hope than ever. Hope and faith that she will see her beloved princess again!

"Whatever you tried to do," she shouts to them, "it didn't work. It won't work, and it will never work! As long as I have breath in my body, I *will* fight to protect what I love--and if you try to knock me down, I will stand up again, every time!" Lifting her hands and bringing them together to form the shape of a spade, the Pretty Cure stands unwavering and tall. Her ferocity and determination suffice her every motion, her every word, her every tone and inflection, as she calls, "I, Cure Sword, will cut down your ambitions with my sword of love!"

COMBAT: Makoto Kenzaki transforms into Cure Sword!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

The Cybody's hands come crashing down; Fuu hunches in on herself, knowing it's a pointless gesture but unable to stifle the terrified reflex --


She remembers the blast bearing down on her from the mouth of a beast that should already be dead; she remembers being rooted to the spot in terror and the certainty that she was about to die - followed by a strong body driving her away from what would have been her grave, knocking her glasses loose along the way.

And she remembers looking up to see, too close to be blurred by her lack of glasses, the face of her savior.

'Thank you so much ... you saved my life. You know, that's the first time I've ever been called an idiot ...'

Fuu lifts her head slowly, seeing a familiar hue in the flame that guards her. "Are you rescuing me again, Ferio-san?" she murmurs, reaching out as if to let the flame rest on her palm. She doesn't need to touch it to feel her strength flowing back, though, and she gets back to her feet.

She hardly thought that she would fall in love when she was summoned to save the otherworld of Cephiro ... but then, nobody ever really expects that when it actually happens, do they? And the knowledge that Ferio is still out there somewhere, possibly guarding her from a distance, always still believing in her ... still in love with her, too, to judge by their brief reunion at Tanabata.

"Belief becomes power ..."

She can't let him down, any more than she could let down any of her other friends, magical or mundane.

Her left hand closes into a fist, knuckles pressed against her chest before she flings her hand out to the side, then swings her arm straight up as she finishes, "WINDS! *GUIDE ME!!!*"

The glove-jewel - the ovum - flares with a brilliant green light, and a whirlwind erupts into existence around Fuu Hououji before the turbulence itself cloaks her from view. Within that miniature tornado, her civilian clothing vanishes once more, her armored and altered uniform rematerializing around her before the whirlwind dissipates, leaving the Magic Knight of Wind attired for battle once again.

"Winds of Admonishment!!" she shouts, this time sweeping her right arm upwards to gesture at the Cybody - and despite the enemy's size, she tries to bind Psienk within a conjured tornado. Her willpower freshly rekindled, she refuses to admit mere *size* as an obstacle to victory; aided by her friends and her fellow magical girls, there is nothing that they cannot overcome together.

COMBAT: Cure Sword has used The Blade of Courage on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Cure Sword has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly dodges Cure Sword's The Blade of Courage, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Cure Sword is Psyched!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji transforms into Magic Knight!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Admonishment on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro perfectly braces Fuu Hououji's Winds of Admonishment, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Brace!

<Pose Tracker> Inori Yamabuki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

It all happens so fast. As her palms draw away from her face, she can't even feel wonder at the celestial dome. As the gnarled roots of darkness twist around the Mannequin, which becomes a giant robot, the harbinger of their doom.

Just sorrow, and dread, and a feeling of... resignation. And guilt, for leaving everyone behind. For disappointing everyone.

She'd never get to be a veterinarian. "Sorry Okaasan. Otousan." She says softly, as if in farewell.

She'd disappear and Love and Miki would never even know what happened. "Sorry Peach, Berry. Please keep dancing without me."

She'd never get to see Setsuna again, never get to help her through what was going on with her, "Sorry... Setsuna-chan."

She leans forward, placing her palms upon the translucent ground of non-space, as Queen Beryl's words ring out, "I... I don't want to die. I don't want to leave everyone behind... I wanted to do so much..."

She looks up as a shadow casts over her in a place where no shadows ought to be. Psienk's palm starts crashing down, and a tiny sound erupts from her throat, she looks away. A second passes. Then another. She opens her eyes, she looks up, sees it stopped by a tiny flame. Then she feels light of warmth from what feels like infinite torches.

The warmth wraps around her like Love's arms at a time when she didn't expect it. She never did. She was always surprised by her infinite enthusiasm and zest for life. 'Shiawase Getto da yo!'

'I'm perfect!' It felt like Miki's eyes on her, that look that always exuded confidence, that made her feel a bit more confident too. All that affection with just a touch of buki you silly head.' for doubting herself.

It felt like Setsuna holding a kitten for the first time, wondering about them caring such important things as warmth instinctually. Or talking about fireflies and how passion was loud, not silent.

It felt like her parents, always there, so warm and supportive of her dreams, so validating of her feelings when she was low. So willing to lend moments to teach her something important about life, or the animals she cared about.

It felt like Miyuki, always being so patient and kind to teach them dance steps, or something as simple as working together as a group...

It felt like Hibiki and Kanade, arguing in a toy store over something as silly as the proper toy for Souta, laughingly playing a game of 'Pretty Dinos.'

It felt like every Pretty Cure, coming together to fight against Fusion as a sisterhood. Cure Black and White, arriving with Chiffon and mascots in tow. All of their hearts joining in unison to stagger even titans.

"Every girl is a lovely fighter." She whispers the line of a Trinity song as she staggers back to her feet. "Sorry if I lost confidence in myself for a bit. I can be a bit silly sometimes. Can you ever forgive me? The important thing is now - I believe." She says to noone visible, and everyone that matters. "Change!" Her clothing shimmers with golden light. "Pretty Cure - Beat Up!"

A leap of faith within Zero Time. The yellow heart is the emblem of faith.

As it finishes, still streaming golden light that has the fresh scent of ripened fruit in springtime, that feeling you have when you ace a test, or a friend declares that you need to feel more confident in yourself.

She leaps upwards, and crashes down against a root covered knee, with an outstretched leg, trying to crash against it with her heel. She strikes it once, then switches to punching it, her fists a blur as they pound the same spot repeatedly.

COMBAT: Inori Yamabuki transforms into Cure Pine!

COMBAT: Cure Pine has used Lock Stitch on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Cure Pine has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly dodges Cure Pine's Lock Stitch, taking 18 Fatigue damage! Tangle applied to Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Hikaru feels like everything is crushing her, physically, emotionally, mentally. But then a voice comes through her head, telling her not to give up. It's faint, but familiar, and when Hikaru tries to look, she can see the outline of the face in her mind, but the identity isn't clear. Nevertheless, it's more than enough to motivate her to get back onto her feet. "No, I can't give up! I won't give up! NEVER!" Hikaru grits her teeth and struggles, and then she finds the energy flowing back into her, almost like her mind is overcoming adversity on its own. "I'll do this! No one will stop me!"

Reaching for her glove-jewel, Hikaru begins the incantation. "Belief becomes power..." The flames begin to glow. "Flames guide me!" She slips on the glove-jewel, and with a fiery display, Hikaru returns to her form as the Magic Knight of Fire!

"Nothing will stop us!" The Magic Knight yells as she points at the Cybody. "We will make you pay for all you have done!" She points at the creature and yells, "FIRE ARROW!" At that, a flaming projectile, shaped like an arrow, appears and flies at the Cybody. "We will triumph!"

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou transforms into Magic Knight of Fire!

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Fire Arrow on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Hikaru Shidou's Fire Arrow, taking 9 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Nori doesn't look up at the looming form of the machine. Sparkling though it is, she stares at the ground. She doesn't see anything much, even though she does hear. The glory and the spectacular lights of the universe shine, and she only curls up tighter. The Brazen Pharos sits near her knee, ignored, a ridiculous piece of gaudy decor at this moment.

It's all ridiculous.

Queen Beryl's words are like acid on her neck. She can practically hear them going down her ears. It stings. Their determination did this.

No matter how hard she struggles, she will fall. It's inevitable. A few tears drip from her eyes, unheeded and hardly percieved. Nori feels numb. Empty. She wants to lay under a soft blanket for a thousand years but that's not going to happen, is it, she tells herself. These evil people will kill her. If she's lucky she'll be a ghost, like the poor Sirene of the outer banks. More probably she'll just be nothing, another broken piece of black glass in the ruins of Luxor.

Nobody will remember. It was all for nothing; all she did was take up the time of others, use up space and energy. She stares downwards, to where her tears glitter, and then the light changes a little. One of the stars was purple, and--

Nori can see it distorting a little. Pink. Her lips twitch.

Memory leaks in through cracks in the back of her mind. A plan for a witch costume. A clumsy period on the skis, and a hug, in an icy home she's come to hate. A slumber party invitation - and the breathtaking sight of beluga whales breaching in synch as they sat in the chilly bleachers and their hearts skipped a beat.

The same face. Someone who had no reason to believe in her - a meddling little presence, a dark shadow in the corners of school life - but who reached out a little and brought warmth to her heart. That girl, Madoka Kaname.

Nori doesn't feel the weight lift off her shoulders. It is an old and familiar presence. Something, instead, fills her. It's like cool light pouring down her arms and her legs, tightening her midsection. She shifts a little, fumbling for the Pharos. A single tear lands on the brass.

It glitters, a rainbow on black for a moment.

Nori's hand curls on the handle. She tries to rise, but in that instant she can't. She's feeling stronger. Not strong enough to push past that leaden coat. That's alright, because she knows what to say now. "Twinned in the mirror..."

She CAN lift the Pharos - shaking for a moment, the ammolite gleaming like the crazed quilt of stars around them, and steadying out afterwards. "The North Wind Comes..." Light shines out, a kaleidoscopic quivering of images reversing and twisting round each other, seafoam and lightning.

La Sirene du Nord IS strong enough to put her foot on the ground and push upwards. It's hard. But the second step is easier. She straightens up, her hair spilling back behind herself, the Brazen Pharos held forwards. That heavy feeling is better now. It feels almost... like armor.

La Sirene speaks, her voice slow and a little hollow but rippling, perhaps, with determination. "But this..."

I won't let her down, la Sirene thinks. I don't know what she saw exactly but I know she saw it. And with that and an electric jolt, her eyes snap open, pale and glittering again. "Isn't that day." The front of the lantern opens, slowly. The darkness leaks outwards - casting an impossible form out into the realm of Zero Time, a looming shadow. Not distorting anything, now; merely la Sirene du Nord, magnified.

"My sorrows are my own... but if you ask," la Sirene says, gazing towards the Cybody now: "I can help you discover your own..."

COMBAT: Nori Ankou transforms into La Sirene du Nord!

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Brockenspectre on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge La Sirene du Nord's Brockenspectre, taking 11 Fatigue damage! La Sirene du Nord is Psyched! Diversion applied to Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao might be thinking about this clearly enough to put together information she has that nobody else does - even if she wouldn't necessarily say it out loud - except...like the others, her heart is tied. Maybe it's just feedback through the seal, but the interference that shattered her henshin has left light flickering through her veins and her thoughts are too dizzied to work up the strength to even attempt to counter. If she could move she could...try, to fight...except, no.

Zero Time erupts around them in kaleidoscopic glory, and she yields another step at its beauty and strangeness. "Another...space," she croaks out. Tries to focus on the world around her even through the weight in her heart. She's worked through despair before. The shattered buildings; the lights in the sky, occasionally streaking down and crushing mountains beneath them. Ten-thousand magic arrows pounding against hemispherical emergency shelters, the nightmare conclusion to the war of science and magic. It dances across her thoughts. Her eyes wearily watch the hand come in, her muscles too fatigued to move. But...

Another comes. A different kind of fire. She finds different thoughts pushing through her. She remembers Chachamaru, the doll-girl who thinks she has no heart even as she silently tends to the homeless cats that approach the Chao Bao Zi. She remembers Hakase and the way her face lights up when she puts together a new machine, each wire attached with her own love and her own hands.

She remembers Negi, the bright-eyed boy who doesn't know how cruel his fate could be, and the young women who surround him, their destinies only beginning. And she remembers the sight of the city, torches burning across the horizon; hale and whole, hopeful and bright and vibrant. Things she once thought lost.

Her fingers tighten, and she feels the poison weaken in her blood. Imagination. Of course. She brings up her wrist, glaring up at the titanic Cybody above. "Even if they resent me," she wheezes, "I won't let you stamp out that light. LAST TALE!" the Spell Key rises from her lips, and the blue-gemmed bracelet on her wrist flashes a startling red. "My Magic Scir Magister!"

It explodes in a haze of cubic light, and when the light is gone, Chao is restored; the cream and black suit crackling and sparkling with strength. Her glare is sharp, drawing motes of flame behind her fingertips as she raises a hand. "This light cannot be replaced! Magic Archer! Five arrows of fire!" Motes of fire burst into being behind her, five cohesive orbs; and then they surge forward as burning brands of heat, searing the air toward Psienk.

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao transforms into Girl of the Future!

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has used Sagitta Magica on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly dodges Lingshen Chao's Sagitta Magica, taking 10 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Lingshen Chao is Psyched!

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kI_Ha7QhLWc

Brothers and best friends, Devices and Princesses (and Princes!), all are present, even if many are simultaneously far away. And their impact cannot be denied.

The audience murmurs as the strange golden circuitry on their bubbles flares in reaction to the light. "Impossible!" "This is Zero Time..." "Nothing should be able to..." "According to my calculations..."

But the man in the golden mask puts an end to the rabble with an outstretched swish of his flat hand, as cutting as any katana. "It doesn't matter, my friends. What can they hope to do against a Cybody -- much less an /amplified/ Cybody, as this one has been -- without one of their own?"

The answer is immediately forthcoming: everything and nothing. This strange, massive being spews blue sparkles everywhere as it moves so quickly out of the way of Lera's green-gold bolt that it might as well have teleported... and when Cure Melody punches its descending hand, it flexes outwards, spreading the impact.

Truly it is a mighty foe, even if now it has to fight opponents who can actually fight back.

And then it's among the group, along with the other three hands -- another of incandescent magitech, and two of vines. The former kind of swats away the Magic Knight's tornado, reducing it to naught against its massive plates of segmented armor, while the latter two run amok. They're composed of many, many, many smaller vines, more than enough for some to split off and start entangling girls wherever they can, like a spider spinning a verdant web in real time. Chao burns some away from her as they come in, but there are so very many.

La Sirene du Nord gets to have something of a field day making shadows out of all these, though something about Zero Time makes it extremely strange shadow, one that seems not like pure darkness but like a window into a different starry night sky, a greenish nebula on a black backdrop in stark contrast to the local rainbow galaxy. Queen Beryl, especially, narrows her eyes at this sight.

"Hmph. So, this is the power of a Cybody..." Whoever she is, the shadowy woman nearby sounds intrigued but not overwhelmed. Then again, her haughty tones make it clear that it would be hard for her to be impressed by much.

For example: Cure Pine leaps out of the fray to target a knee, and manages to tear several roots away, which are instantly vaporized by Hikaru's Fire Arrow. In response, she clenches a hand, and that first hand, the one that came down to smack everyone all at once, summons to itself an impossibly lovely light. It is as green as summer's peak. "Come to me, Peridon..." Gradually it composes in shape into a mighty broadsword, one which she slashes downwards with deadly precision towards Pretty Cure and Magic Knight.

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on Lingshen Chao.

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on La Sirene du Nord.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on Cure Sword.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on Cure Melody.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on Sailor Jupiter.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on Masque Feu.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Peridon Slice! on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Peridon Slice! on Cure Pine.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Cure Pine fails to dodge Honoka Yukishiro's Peridon Slice!, taking 43 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Masque Feu perfectly dodges Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Dodge! Masque Feu's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Cure Sword fails to dodge Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 50 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Blind, Cripple, Tangle, and Trap applied to Cure Sword!
COMBAT: Lera Camry narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 19 Fatigue damage! Lera Camry's Block ability activates! Lera Camry's Parry ability activates! Blind, Cripple, and Trap applied to Lera Camry!
COMBAT: Lingshen Chao fails to dodge Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 45 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Blind, Cripple, Tangle, and Trap applied to Lingshen Chao!
COMBAT: Cure Melody narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 12 Fatigue damage! Cure Melody's Block ability activates! Cure Melody's Parry ability activates! Blind, Cripple, Tangle, and Trap applied to Cure Melody!
COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 22 Fatigue damage! Sailor Jupiter's Block ability activates! Sailor Jupiter's Parry ability activates! Cripple, Tangle, and Trap applied to Sailor Jupiter!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 17 Fatigue damage! La Sirene du Nord's Block ability activates! La Sirene du Nord's Parry ability activates! Cripple, Tangle, and Trap applied to La Sirene du Nord!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji fails to dodge Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 50 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Blind, Cripple, Tangle, and Trap applied to Fuu Hououji!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou perfectly dodges Honoka Yukishiro's Peridon Slice!, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Dodge!

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

<It's fast!> Ground chimes. Lera grits her teeth, but nods. She isn't used to working with this Device -- she has no idea if this is a new bond or something temporary, born out of desperation -- and it slows her for a moment. She stares a little too long, as the Cybody moves with that blur of light.

The vines swing out, striking towards Lera. She takes a step backward; her first instinct is to dodge, but before she can, Ground chimes: <Protection!>

A shield of green light forms, far larger and sturdier than anything that Soaring Sky had made. Lera is briefly stunned by it -- but it keeps the vines from hitting her. It still slams into her, knocking her backward hard, and throws her across the zero time space. She stares down at Broken Ground, then nods. "Good job," she says. "Let's--"

<Smash it. We can't let it do this.> the Intelligent Device answers. She hesitates, before she nods. Then Lera points the hammer-shaped Device out towards the Cybody, staring at it for a moment, and focuses. Motes of light draw into the yellow gem.

Then, they explode outward. A rapid surge tiny darts of dark red light fire out from the hammer-like Device, sweeping up through the air, and then come raining down in a torrent of shots towards the Cybody. "Look out!" she yells. "This thing moves really quick!"

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Bombadier Rave on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Masque Feu [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

More girls rise to the occasion. Masque Feu can /feel/ their hope - La Sirene's, Lera's, Cure Sword's. It buoys her - enormously. She smiles, the expression small, but incredibly genuine.

And then the goliath Cybody, four-armed and enhanced, lunges into the fray, hurling vines about in a maddening web. Masque Feu sucks in an alarmed breath -

"MASQUE FEU!" Augustine yells from somewhere off to the side, fluttering still-damp wings madly. "/DOOOOOOOODGE!!/"

She takes the words to heart. Remembers how badly she was hurt fighting Mammo and the Jikochu, and more recently against Marathon. As the vines lunge for her, she leaps almost without thought, vaulting over the crisscross with a short, controlled leap. She flips in the air, coming down in a crouch; as more vines cross near her, she rolls to the side, then springs up to hop over one more. She keeps her movements much shorter and less soaring than she usually does, as though she's actually been practicing, training herself not to stumble or move too much.

"Thank you, Augustine," she whispers into open air as she ducks to safety - just ahead of another vine.

'What can they hope to do against a Cybody?' The words echo in Masque Feu's ears. She clenches a fist and tosses her hair back as she comes out of her dodge, heel clicking firmly against the ground.

"Hope is what we make," she declares, her voice firm and penetrating. "And we will make all that we need, against those who would try to take summer from the innocent...!"

She brings her hands together, thumbs and two first fingers splayed, then whips one up and the other down, bringing them out into double arcs until one holds above her head, the other below. Her eyes flicker with intent. "That Fire Arrow burned it," she murmurs as she holds her power for a moment, waiting for Lera to expend herself first. "That means...!"

As Lera's darts fly, Masque Feu levels both hands forward, cupped in a clamshell. "Pure SPARK!" she calls out, an echo in her voice. With a loud shimmer of magic, fireballs begin to explode from her hands, eight or ten of them arcing out like comets. She bends one knee, angling herself back a little and clenching her teeth as she steers the fireballs as best she can - trying to distribute them across the Cybody's upper body.

Trying to set its vine arms on fire.

COMBAT: Masque Feu has used Purespark Barrage on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Masque Feu has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Her challenge does nothing to the gigantic being; Sailor Jupiter is suddenly standing amidst the vines, entangled with only enough time to ready herself for the impact before she's trapped, the vines crushing her arm and her legs. "Aah--"

...But everyone is still fighting hard. Everyone, and she thinks she heard...


She thought she heard it, but for now, she has to struggle against the vines around her. The vines that she can't seem to get loose of--but at least she has the one arm, with which she rears back--

And lightning wreathes her once again. "I /said/--!"

She doesn't repeat herself in words; instead, she slams her fist with incredible strength, swinging where she can't escape to try to smash through this thing's armor in one blow.

COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter has used Lightning Knuckle on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

The Wind Knight winces a bit at how casually her Winds of Admonishment are dispelled, and almost doesn't notice the vines coming in.

And when she DOES notice them .... she's already surrounded. Her attempt to leap away from several questing tendrils carries her right into the hostile embrace of dozens more, and she's swiftly all but cocooned by the seeming foliage, swept away from her allies. And it doesn't seem like Ferio's about to come racing to her rescue *again*.

She can't launch arrows, she can't swing her sword; the only offense the Wind Knight has left is her magic. But she's going to use that while she can - and with a shout of "Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi!!" she sets out to do exactly that, conjuring and sending it racing amongst the hostile foliage. Hopefully, it'll also raze as it races ... and more hopefully, it'll help buy time for the Wind Knight to untangle herself from the vines before anything worse can happen to her.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Melody [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

The ring of fist against arcane metal is a strange and terrible one, echoing in Cure Melody's ears as she rebounds from where her blow struck. She pushes off before Psienk can think to clench that fist around her in retaliation, a spray of water-like fluid space scattering as she slides along the...

Does this kind of thing still count as 'ground'?

Retaliation does come, however - vines winding outward from the terrible machine like some monstrous spider's sinister web. They're plentiful enough that Cure Melody doesn't even try to get out of the web's path - she just digs her heels into whatever she's standing on, and meets the vines with raw stubborn force. It's partly effective - but as much as she's able to fend off the bulk of the vines, when the web is spun she's utterly surrounded by greenery - but not so engulfed that she can't see Pine's plight. And...

Everyone's fighting - and she won't be left behind!

Cure Melody grabs a portion of the web surrounding her, hauling herself up to land atop the vines. Trailing entangling plants, she runs along the winding web as best as I can - giving Pine a shout as she closes in to the Cybody once more. "Stay strong, Pine - let's drop this thing an octave!"

The pink-clad Cure runs in towards Psienk's legs, aiming to slam solidly into the left one - and get as firm a grip as she can. A bit big for judo - but if Pine hits at the right time, maybe she can manage to swing it off balance. "Pretty Cure..."

COMBAT: Cure Melody has started a combo targeting Honoka Yukishiro!

COMBAT: Your combo will now display as 'Pretty Cure Jazz #-1 INVALID ANSI DEFINITION: +pine Twist'.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Lera Camry's Bombadier Rave, taking 5 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly dodges Masque Feu's Purespark Barrage, taking 8 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Sailor Jupiter's Lightning Knuckle, taking 14 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge Fuu Hououji's Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi, taking 32 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Pine [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Plant matter is torn away, only to be vaporized by the arrow fired from a Magic Knight. Pine's boot connects with the same spot one last time, but this isn't an attack. It's merely her vaulting off of it into a high backflip. However... she underestimates Peridon's speed and power just a bit.

Within a split second, a titanic broad sword has appeared, and sings through the air. It's slice downwards displacing everything in it's way. This includes her. It's not so much the tip making contact with her flank, even though that hurts, but the sheer force of something so heavy moving so quickly past her. It casts her back down to the ground instantly, where she bounces once like a skipping stone, then again, before rolling the rest of the way.

She doesn't even have time to scream. Instead she makes choking sounds of agony from the spot where she lay.

It's tempting to just curl up and lay there, but no. So many were counting on her. She comes up to a knee, and nearly swoons, then lifts her chin. Focusing on her breathing. "It's t-tough!" She felt like she wasn't nearly enough, but that didn't matter. Because even if Peach and Berry weren't here, she was hardly alone.

She gives Melody a glance. A weak smile, and a promise of what they'd do once this is over. "We can." A beat, "You know we never asked if you and Rhythm wanted to come watch our dancing lessons. We should change that."

Pine looks so small, against the colossal cybody, as she rises to her feet, she takes off like a bolt, like Melody's enthusiasm had emboldened her. She wends her way towards the right leg, running past it in sync with Melody. She slams a foot right towards where the achilles tendon would be, replaced by vines, to try to throw it off-balance, then grips with both hands.

It weighs so much, that she feels like it can't possibly give way... but with Melody on the other side, she twists with all her own considerable might. "...Jazz Twist!"

COMBAT: Cure Pine has joined the combo started by Cure Melody!

COMBAT: Your combo will now display as 'Pretty Cure Jazz Twist'.
COMBAT: COMBO! Cure Melody and Cure Pine have used Combo: Pretty Cure Jazz Twist, composed of Pretty Cure Jazz Swing and Pineapple Twist, on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Cure Melody has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Cure Pine has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Meanwhile, Hikaru's senses have been on extra high alert right now, causing her to watch out extra carefully for incoming attacks. While the others might get caught, Hikaru swiftly moves out of the way and shakes her head. "You'll have to do a LOT better than that!" Hikaru says as she watches her enemy extra carefully. "I'm afraid that this is going to hurt a lot worse than even I thought!"

With that, Hikaru points her sword at her enemy and says, "I'm going to cut you down to size!" Before rushing in and attempting a direct strike on her enemy.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Sword Slash on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge Cure Melody and Cure Pine's Combo: Pretty Cure Jazz Twist, taking 35 Fatigue damage! Cure Melody and Cure Pine are Psyched!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly counters Hikaru Shidou's Sword Slash, taking 4 Fatigue damage! Hikaru Shidou is Psyched! Honoka Yukishiro's Reverse ability activates! Stun applied to Honoka Yukishiro!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro's counterattack, Peridon Slice!, partially gets through, doing 27 Fatigue damage to Hikaru Shidou!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Sword [None] has posed.

In her focus on the human, or at least human-shaped-and-sized, agents behind this chaos, Cure Sword doesn't so much dismiss the Cybody they command (it's impossible to not notice it) so much as not quite register at first that it's a threat. When she sees that only a few attacks levied against it actually find purchase and do any noticeable damage, it becomes clear to her that this thing is not a foe to be taken lightly. This is made only too clear when those spiderweb vines shoot out anywhere and everywhere, wrapping around Cure Sword and squeezing so hard that she screams in pain, bones creaking under the assault, fixing her very, very firmly in place.

She sags for a moment, overwhelmed by the agony--but even this isn't enough to dampen Cure Sword's spirits. For her, in this moment, the knowledge that Princess An is alive and somewhere out there is enough to pull her through any battle. Grimly though she may approach the battle, as hard as she grits her teeth as she forces herself to look up, her spirits have never been higher since she came to this planet.

It's just as she said. As long as she draws breath, she *will* fight.

Panting, it's an effort of unrelenting willpower for Cure Sword to pull her arms against the ties that bind her. At first, it might seem like a meaningless struggle, but her fingers inch closer and closer to the Lovely Commune at her hip. The instant they make contact, she calls hoarsely, "Davi!!"

"Davi de Davi de Davi!!" the fairy calls, the device and a certain Lovead materializing in midair. Sword grips it between two fingers and sets it in place, and magic pours from the Lovely Commune and into her hand, taking the shape of a long, thin sword of razor-sharp light.

"Twilight--" Cure Sword calls, gathering up all of her strength to *swing*, "CUTTER!!"

In an instant, the vines that bound her are sliced to tiny chunks, leaving Sword no less injured but at least free from her bonds. As the vines continue to pour in and around her, she continues to swing, but with a purpose. Masque Feu is fine, dodging nimbly among the many vines that seek to entrap her, and so Sword lets herself be heartened by that. Snapping her head around, she quickly spots la Sirene and leaps for her. With a dazzling series of sword strokes, the vines that capture her, too, are dispatched.

"Are you... all right?" she murmurs, chest heaving. Her eyes widen slightly then, and she shakes her head. "No, what am I saying? No time for that--we have to fight!"

Her next target is the Cybody itself. Sailor Jupiter's lightning-infused struggles against it catch her eye. Melody and Pine's powerful joint attack is noted as well, but that only earns them a narrow-eyed look. With a curt nod of farewell to Sirene, Sword leaps forward towards the thicket of vines that have Jupiter ensnared. A fierce shout, a swing from overhead, and the vines that attempt to hold the Guardian of Protection back are sliced clean through. She doesn't wait for a thank you or lack thereof, though; already Cure Sword moves in to respond to the Cybody's next attack, blade firmly in hand, her focus on the enemy.

COMBAT: Cure Sword has used Twilight Cutter on Cure Sword.

COMBAT: Cure Sword has used Twilight Cutter on La Sirene du Nord.
COMBAT: Cure Sword has used Twilight Cutter on Sailor Jupiter.
COMBAT: Cure Sword has finished attacking.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord accepts Cure Sword's Twilight Cutter, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Cleanse! All of La Sirene du Nord's debuffs are cleared!

COMBAT: Cure Sword accepts Cure Sword's Twilight Cutter, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Cleanse! All of Cure Sword's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter accepts Cure Sword's Twilight Cutter, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Cleanse! All of Sailor Jupiter's debuffs are cleared!

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Cybody. Chao remembers the word for later. This is a trial she didn't want to have. Now she's working with two competing impulses. Fortunately, the path to take is the same in both cases. Unfortunately, her burst of flame only serves her so well; and the entangling vines are almost immediately on her, crushing her tightly in its grip. She grits her teeth and can't suppress a call of pain, "NHAA!" air forced from her lungs by terrible compression

It'll be a big mana drain, she thinks, but as the vines tighten, she knows there's no choice. She adds something to the second scream: "CASSIOPEIA!"

There's a burst of shining light, and then the vine crushes completely - around nothing.

There's no actual sign of her reappearance; she's just /suddenly there/ right next to one of the straying hands of the Psienk; she whips around, an impossible motion made possible by magic, to slam her leg in a flying windmill kick to spike the flying hand toward the ground. "Watch those vines!" Chao calls down. "They'll crush you!" Pretty much everybody already learned that, but science is about repetition.

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has used Blink Striker on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro perfectly dodges Lingshen Chao's Blink Striker, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Dodge!

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Those shadows show a different world, but they're streaking away before she can do more than suck in a deep breath of triumph, the triumph of standing forth another day. Even if she is struck down instantly in this moment, she has already won a victory over despair!

Vines lash out then again. This is regrettably familiar to la Sirene as they lash and entangle around her, her lips curling back in agitation. Not again --

SWISH! A swipe of Cure Sword's... well... sword snaps her free, and la Sirene looks at her in momentary astonishment that shades towards thanks, though the heartfelt expression on her face only lasts a moment. Not from a lack of fondness - perhaps a little from a lack of articulacy when it comes to positive feelings - but mostly from the imminent presence of the Cybody.

La Sirene whirls on her heel -- throwing herself forwards with a sudden surge of speed, like a dam that cracked and is now falling asunder in a storm of feelings, to try and tackle the Cybody's leg.

If nothing else, it won't tangle itself up again... right?

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Riders On The Storm on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces La Sirene du Nord's Riders On The Storm, taking 2 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE9X_eyOz6A

Now the battle is joined in earnest.

Still moving with an impossible combination of strength and speed, Psienk faces Lera's darts and Jupiter's punch -- and Nori's body -- head on, letting them pitter-patter mostly-harmlessly against more armor (although, after all that, a crack /does/ appear on the left shin), then gets out of the way of that Purespark Barrage with extreme prejudice -- fire is, indeed, not its favorite enemy, and with near-teleport speed it reappears behind Masque Feu and tries to backstab her with a sword at least three times wider than she is.

The strange rainbow light of this space winks eerily off of its mask, surrounded by rootlets, as it winds up flipped head over heels by the teamwork of Pretty Cure. This whole weird space seems to shake with the not-impact, for how can you slam into a floor that is just... endless starlight? All the same, it happens, disorienting and strange, and in that moment the Magic Knight of Wind discovers that she can cut those awful vines away from her very effectively /indeed/. Removed from the supercharged Cybody, which still sparks and sparkles with the stolen power of the magical girls, they wither almost immediately, rendered unto dust on the not-ground.

The Magic Knight of Fire, having escaped the Star Sword once, decides to directly engage in swordplay with a multi-hundred-foot-tall Cybody, and the result is perhaps not the best, as her sword is intercepted with Peridon and driven back with cataclysic force. Chao tries to catch up with a the hand guiding the sword and finds that she simply cannot, for it's moving too quickly.

Distantly, someone notices Cure Sword's efforts to free the other ones. "That one there... tsk."

Whoever's controlling Psienk seems to not be above suggestion, and nods her head so sharply that her chin rends the air. "Quite." Stretching out a hand, she infuses the falling bits of vine around Cure Sword with fresh vitality, so instead of disappearing like the others, they split and split and split, resurging around her ankles, then in an instant, up as high as her neck. Fuu, who has found such success clearing a path, also discovers that the full attention of this Executive is nothing to be laughed at, in much the same way.

Everyone else? Well, the Cybody's arms have been quite busy throughout all this, but its two massive, thruster-powered legs have been slowly shifting their weight, so that all of it -- every tonne, and there are many -- can come slamming down on the group, literally crushed beneath a massive robotic heel.

And if a spare, viney hand appears here and there to block escape, well, that's hardly significant interference, is it?

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Peridon Slice! on Masque Feu.

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used The Slow Regard of Silent Things on Cure Sword.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used The Slow Regard of Silent Things on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Mostly Armless Stomp on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Mostly Armless Stomp on Cure Pine.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Mostly Armless Stomp on Cure Melody.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Mostly Armless Stomp on Sailor Jupiter.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Mostly Armless Stomp on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Mostly Armless Stomp on La Sirene du Nord.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Mostly Armless Stomp on Lingshen Chao.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Masque Feu fails to dodge Honoka Yukishiro's Peridon Slice!, taking 47 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Cure Pine narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Mostly Armless Stomp, taking 10 Fatigue damage! Cure Pine's Block ability activates! Cure Pine's Parry ability activates! Stun applied to Cure Pine!
COMBAT: Lingshen Chao narrowly counters Honoka Yukishiro's Mostly Armless Stomp, taking 7 Fatigue damage! Lingshen Chao's Reverse ability activates! Lingshen Chao's Tactician ability activates! Stun applied to Lingshen Chao!
COMBAT: Lingshen Chao's counterattack, Time-Leap Retaliation, partially gets through, doing 12 Fatigue damage to Honoka Yukishiro!
COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter perfectly counters Honoka Yukishiro's Mostly Armless Stomp, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Counter! Sailor Jupiter's Reverse ability activates! Sailor Jupiter's Tactician ability activates!
COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter's counterattack, Jupiter Kick, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Honoka Yukishiro!
COMBAT: Cure Sword fails to counter Honoka Yukishiro's The Slow Regard of Silent Things, taking 59 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Cure Sword is unable to keep fighting! Stun and Trap applied to Cure Sword!
COMBAT: Cure Sword's counterattack, Glow Edge, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Honoka Yukishiro!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou fails to dodge Honoka Yukishiro's Mostly Armless Stomp, taking 31 Fatigue damage! Stun applied to Hikaru Shidou!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji perfectly counters Honoka Yukishiro's The Slow Regard of Silent Things, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Counter!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji's counterattack, Spinning Slash, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Honoka Yukishiro!
COMBAT: Lera Camry narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Mostly Armless Stomp, taking 13 Fatigue damage! Lera Camry's Block ability activates! Lera Camry's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Cure Melody narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Mostly Armless Stomp, taking 4 Fatigue damage! Cure Melody's Block ability activates! Cure Melody's Parry ability activates! Stun applied to Cure Melody!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord narrowly dodges Honoka Yukishiro's Mostly Armless Stomp, taking 24 Fatigue damage! Stun applied to La Sirene du Nord!

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera has to resist the urge to rush straight at Psienk. She knows, though, what Broken Ground is good at. It is not close-ranged fighting. She doesn't find that she has a choice -- as the massive heel of the Cybody comes screaming in, far larger than she is. She cannot cry out for Cure Sword or do anything, as it threatens to smash her underneath. She swings a hand up and yells. "Ground! Now!"


Another of those barriers appears. The half-dome of green light erupts briefly around her, and the foot slams into it, making Lera scrape back across the impossible surface -- and not quite be hit. She strains to push mana into the barrier -- and then dispels it, once it ends. "There..."

<Still good?> Ground asks. Lera nods. <You know what to do.>

"Right!" Lera yells. She swings the hammer back with both hands -- and turns on her booted heel, before she slams it down. A blast of light fires off her hammer, shooting straight across the ground in a jagged line -- before it explodes, mightily, up at Psienk's feet.

<Fault Siege!>

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Fault Siege on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro perfectly dodges Lera Camry's Fault Siege, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Dodge!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Once the Wind Knight has an arm free, she can at least put her arm to some use - and she immediately does so, her sword materializing as she starts chopping her way loose of the vines. A fresh rush of vines comes just as she's mostly freed herself -

And she twists around hard enough to nearly pivot in a full circle, simultaneously prying herself the rest of the way loose, cutting through some remaining vines, and striking the attack hard enough to nullify its forward momentum. Now all she has to do is try and make it back to the path with the others. Even from here, though, she can see that many of them are in shape roughly as bad (or maybe worse) than her own.

That, at least, she can do something about.

"Winds of Healing!" she calls out, conjuring the restorative breeze that's one of her mainstay spells; she reserves some of its recuperative power for herself, but directs the rest of the soothing, succouring breeze to support Cure Pine and Cure Melody as she sees them getting thrown around by the Cybody's attacks.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on Cure Pine.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on Cure Melody.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Cure Pine accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Cleanse! All of Cure Pine's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Cleanse! All of Fuu Hououji's debuffs are cleared!

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The Fire Knight finds herself receiving what could easily be considered tantamount to being stomped hard. She lies flat on the ground for a few moments before forcing herself back up to her feet. She's badly hurt but refuses to go down quietly. She pushes herself back up and stares at the enemy. "That was harsh, but I've had worse!" She adds some flame to her sword. "Prepare to see what happens when you make me mad!"

Igniting quickly, the sword is swung at the enemy. "I'm gonna burn you and cut you down to size!"

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Flaming Slash on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to brace Hikaru Shidou's Flaming Slash, taking 20 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Jupiter lets out a breath after Cure Sword lets her free, and nods firmly at her disappearing form even as she's already moving; there's no time to talk, for her now. They both have things that they have to do. ...They all do.


The one who just helped her is targetted, and this huge foot is coming down. In this void, Sailor Jupiter can't tell what she can jump against, what she can work with--

So she /kicks/, slamming down on that spare hand and using her momentum to propel herself onward, away from where the heel crashes down to where she was a heartbeat ago.

"Don't give up!" Jupiter, still whirling through the not-air, turns to /hurl/ a bolt of lightning at the metallic part she can find of that massive leg, still trying to gain her bearings again.

COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter has used Jupiter Thunderbolt on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge Sailor Jupiter's Jupiter Thunderbolt, taking 23 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The downside of going for the leg is that sometimes it puts you in a perfect position to get stepped on. Like an ant. (Is this a Zero Time for ANTS?)

La Sirene du Nord rolls out of the way of the stomp. Mostly. It hits near her, and despite Zero Time's ineffable nature it still sends out enough of a wave of force that she rolls much further than she really ought to, pulling herself up with a stagger groans. The pain, at least, takes away from that internal heavy feeling a little. Or more accurately, 'makes something more pressing apparent'...

La Sirene doesn't thrash. Jupiter is encouraging them all; she turns, raising the Brazen Pharos to unleash another of those strips of unlight. Will it show that strange vision once more? What will happen when that streak intersects with the Cybody? "Give... give it back," la Sirene grates, shakily.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Pieces of the Perfect Black on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces La Sirene du Nord's Pieces of the Perfect Black, taking 11 Fatigue damage! Blind applied to Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Pine [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Noone is more surprised than Pine is when their efforts manage to throw the cybody. By all rights, she shouldn't be. She'd learned just how strong Pretty Cure could be working together against Fusion. Even so, her eyes widen a touch, as she flashes Melody a smile of delight. "Good work Melody! We'll get through this yet!"" The actions gave more promise to their survival than their words might.

Psienk's stomping feet is something she tries to run from at first, but given it's size it's not something she can really evade forever. When it comes down. She lashes out with both palms against the vines wrapped down against it. Gritting her teeth, she pushes back with equal force, in a desperate attempt not to get squished like one of the cute bugs she always felt horrible about stepping on. There's no ground for her to sink into, but her knees and elbows still bend, and give a little. The bone-flattening force just managing not to squish her flat, as she rolls out of the way at the last moment.

Every part of her feels numb after that, until a breeze washes over her. "Huh?" She stares at her hands, flexes her fingers, then her arms. They didn't hurt so much anymore. She glances sidelong at a Magic Knight, and offers another smile, "Arigato!"

She turns and surveys the battlefield, and sees just what happened to Cure Sword in those moments. Any sense of happiness over what they've done floods out of her, turning to a look of horror. "Sword!" The two of them hadn't gotten along so far. Sword was terse and far more serious than she was used to, but some part of her always made Pine feel like she was always doing something wrong herself. That she just didn't understand her or know what was going on.

Despite that deep down she simply wanted Sword to join them, to accept them, just like all of the other Pretty Cure she'd met did, to join them in their sisterhood. She suddenly glares at Psienk, gaze sharp enough to cut. She presses down, and leaps high, fist drawn back, it then surges forward as she gets close, with explosive might, to try to smash into the cybody dead center.

COMBAT: Cure Pine has used Pineapple Punch on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Cure Pine has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge Cure Pine's Pineapple Punch, taking 22 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Sword [None] has posed.

If it had to end, then better it be this way--targeted because she was helping others. Those aren't Cure Sword's thoughts, not specifically, when the vines she just sliced to pieces reform and begin to climb around her ankles, but that's the heart and soul of her sentiment as she struggles and cuts and swiftly realizes that she can't slice fast enough.

"/Go/!" she shouts to Sailor Jupiter, who hardly needs to prompting. Likewise, Sword hardly needs the prompting not to give up. Neither does she allow herself to get caught up in the horror in Pine's voice as the other Precure sees her situation. As the vines climb up to her neck and lift her up, she's still struggling, fighting with all her strength against a foe that has her thoroughly outmatched. Her expression is all stubborn defiance when they *slam* her down... and when the ground beneath her *shatters*, the bizarre non-space beyond swallowing her up, her final act is to reach out towards the battlefield, as if by doing so she might be allowed to continue to defy her foes.

Then she is submerged up past her fingertips, lost back to the other side of Zero Time where everything is within the monochrome.

So long as she draws breath, she will continue to fight. It only makes sense, then, that she would be utterly defeated by an attack so ferocious it sends her to a place where time, and thus breath, are completely stopped.

<Pose Tracker> Masque Feu [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

There are a lot of things Masque Feu can do. Most of them include setting things on fire. But she cannot teleport.

Slowly, Masque Feu begins to turn as the Cybody moves behind her. It unfolds in extreme slow motion. She draws in a breath and attempts to move.

It does her no good - and she suddenly finds herself in the path of a sword that is far too big to go through her without killing her.

"MASQUE FEU!" Augustine shrieks -

And a soft white dove nails Seika in the shoulder at top speed.

It is the only thing that saves her. Stumbling as Augustine crashes into her, Seika staggers to one side - and she hits the Peridon blade oddly, slamming into the flat of it hard enough that something goes /snap/ that shouldn't somewhere around her midsection. She lets out a strangled scream as she bounces off the blade at a bizarre angle, tumbling and hitting the ground before bouncing into the air not of her own volition but from sheer momentum. She lands; the wind erupts from her in a loud burst. Pain roars through her left side. A broken rib, she's sure. Maybe more than one.

"Thank you, Augustine-sama," she whispers as she pushes to her feet, wincing.

"Masque Feu, please try to remember what I told you about dodging," the turtledove sighs as he flutters there.

And then something happens - and Cure Sword is blown out to the other side of Zero Time.

"CURE SWORD," Masque Feu cries without thinking, her composure momentarily broken by a spike of sheer alarm.

The lavender Cure is not her friend. They are not even close. But Cure Sword was there for her when the Midnight Circle struck, and she was there to warn her about the Selfish Kingdom.

Clenching her jaw, Masque Feu breaks into a sprint, letting the fire from others hopefully distract the Cybody long enough for her to dash across the ground - and /dive./

She reaches for Cure Sword's hand as the girl grasps for the field. Reaches as hard as she can. Her fingertips strain close - but Cure Sword is gone before she can reach her.

"Cure Sword," she whispers, her voice tense with bitter disappointment. "I won't... let this stand. I'll..."

Scowling, she whips her hand towards the Cybody - and a sudden blast of flame tears from it. It's not a heavy blast - but it's /bright./ Dazzling. So bright that it threatens to sear the eyes of those who look at it. Certainly enough to fill the gaze with dazzled globs and shadows - enough to disorient and trick the gaze.

"I will win," she whispers.

COMBAT: Masque Feu has used Flash of Light on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Masque Feu has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge Masque Feu's Flash of Light, taking 10 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Melody [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall. A truism of judo - and with thoughts of camaraderie in her head, Cure Melody works with Cure Pine to apply it hear. Space splashes from the impact, and the universe seems to shake - but it can't shake the grin on her face. For a moment, she seems ready to high-five Pine, but just settles on an encouraging smile. "That's the spirit - and we should invite all three of you to piano practice! Or maybe even combine them..."

It's heartening and upbeat - and so the kind of thing the quartet in the bubble seem determined to stamp out. Literally, it seems - as vines erupt elsewhere, the blazing feet of the titan come smashing down again and again. Cure Melody would dart out of the way, try to make a break for it-

-but there's still vines ensnaring the area, even as they wither and die. The best she can do is roll with the impact - take a hit, and use that force to push herself out of the area. Which...works, though the ensuing tumble is completely wild across starry space. It's hard to stay oriented, but she can glimpse the state of things - Pine's desperate force, Jupiter's thunderous fury, Lera's hammering strike - and Cure Sword's defeat.

She might have been a bit of a jerk, but - "Cure Sword!...don't think you'll get away with this!" The vines remaining on her are still green, and thus still attached to the Cybody somewhere - so she hauls on them, more to pull herself forward than to bring the towering enemy to her. A kick off the ground, and she's airborne for a moment, tumbling through the air - and then descending rapidly, a high-heeled boot homing in on one of the machine's shoulders.

This would get her kicked out of any formal match - but going for the joint like this might help quiet its might!

COMBAT: You cannot attack until you have resolved the attacks in your reaction queue. Please check +queue.

COMBAT: Cure Melody accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Cleanse! All of Cure Melody's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Cure Melody has used Driven Decrescendo on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Cure Melody has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Cure Melody's Driven Decrescendo, taking 5 Fatigue damage! Exhausted applied to Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Too fast. Chao's spinning kick fails, and she finds herself falling back down. She hits the eerily perfect surface of Zero Time's endless stardust floor just as a shadow falls across her - and looks up. Tenses her whole body in preparation. "It's fast, but the sheer size means it hits so hard..." she mutters. "But maybe if I can..."

The foot comes down; and again, Chao declines to be present, simply vanishing seconds before impact. It's exhausting to use Cassiopeia so much, but she must; she reappears, this time in a better position to swing a hard kick into the viny machine's side. In that second, she looks over - and notes Cure Sword has been targeted. No, worse; smashed right through the floor and out of the field entirely. Her eyes widen. "What was that!?" she wonders aloud, curiosity welling up inside her. But it's not enough to overwhelm her knowledge that this thing is an obstacle to her goal. So she redirects her attention, as she's had to do too often for her own comfort; her glove emits a high whine as she focuses magic through the electrode in it - and then SLAMS it into the side of the machine, screaming a kiai and trying to blast enough energy into it to disrupt its workings a little and give them all some breathing room.

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has used YOU WA SHOCK on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly dodges Lingshen Chao's YOU WA SHOCK, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Exhausted applied to Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UconifZFZvk

The massive cybody clears the 'floor' after its stomp just in time to get out of the way of Lera's well-placed explosion, and in that crucial moment that it is mid-air, or at least mid-space, it has much less ability to defend itself. Its armor is tough, but Hikaru's sword is on fire, and Sailor Jupiter attacks faster than the speed of sound, thunder roaring behind the lightning bolt as it hits solidly in the crack opened up at the shin and courses through the leaf vein-like electronics. Cure Pine merely punches it, but it's the punch of Pretty Cure, and so carries with it a smash in no way indicated by the size and simplicity of the attack. A second crack rawls across its chest.

It's still reeling when La Sirene's strange unlight tickles across it. It fails to reflect or even refract -- instead it simply appears /behind/ the Cybody, casting a shadow that isn't, or at least that wasn't before. Now any ninja could pin it to this space, freeze it in an instant, if there were such a person available. Beryl's tongue twists across the roof of her mouth, creating an irritable crack, and a moment later she fades from this space.

That retreat seems ignominous until one realizes that she is quite calmly stepping out of Zero Time, a battle between instants so narrow that it appears that nothing happens in the interim. It seems the sorceress can slice time even more finely than Cybodies, and there's a murmur of surprise from many of the masked bubble-viewers. Their purple-haired leader just chuckles and shakes his head.

"Executive -- you're not wielding the Cybody to its full potential. I know you're compensating with your own power, but if you'd give it its head a little, let it /work/ for /you/..."

The shadowed woman appears to pay him no attention whatsoever, busy simultaneously directing the Cybody and the vines that are in some ways inherent to its melded being, and in other ways completely autonomous. That, and Masque Feu just blinded her with a well-timed burst of light. It's hard to see her face but there's an added tension to her silhouette in the moment. She's a fast learner, however, and with two magical girls starting to mess with light in this environment, she's all too happy to make it go in the other direction.

Psienk stabs its Star Sword through the shadow La Sirene has created, and she will discover that its tip is somehow bursting through the Pharos to try to assault her from an unexpected direction, at an unexpected size. A moment later the blade is withdrawn and swung outward, widely, the force of the swing warping the space such that no direct contact is necessary to threaten its midair assailants, Hikaru and Jupiter and Cure Pine. The Magic Knight of Wind is near enough to this action to be threatened by it as well, the air screaming a warning at her even as it explodes in her direction with a razor's edge.

Now Cure Melody is jumping in, but it's too late, it has mostly recovered its form; she bounces off its shoulder, the heel of her boot severing a single vine on the joint. That's more than nothing, but will it be enough to turn the tide? Perhaps not, as tiny green-tipped energy missiles appear from the armor, exploding towards the midair Cure with hunger for vengeance. Chao finds herself connecting her energy glove just below, and there's a satifying ZAP, but also more than enough missiles to dive at her as well.

Vines, meanwhile, explode from the two plant-like hands, diving through the edges of La Sirene's shadow to re-emerge, with a crack of starlight, underneath Lera's feet. It seems turnabout is very much fair play. The only one near enough, to hope to intervene in (well, outside of) time before the Midchildan shares the fate of Cure Sword is the Soldier of Protection herself.

And another round of vines shoot directly for Masque Feu, who, having spat magic in the mastermind's eye, must now deal with a moment of her full attention. The shadowy man nearby watches her watch the Seour, and then frowns, just a single eyebrow twitch's worth of a frown, as he notices a flash of white at the back of the Cybody, right at a seam of armor and vines.

"It can't be," he murmurs, too quietly to draw serious attention.

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Peridon Slice! on La Sirene du Nord.

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Invisible Slash on Sailor Jupiter.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Invisible Slash on Cure Pine.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Invisible Slash on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Invisible Slash on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Magic Missiles on Cure Melody.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Magic Missiles on Lingshen Chao.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Crush on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Zero Time Vine on Masque Feu.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Cure Pine narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Invisible Slash, taking 20 Fatigue damage! Cure Pine's Block ability activates! Cure Pine's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Masque Feu narrowly counters Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Vine, taking 39 Fatigue damage! Masque Feu's Reverse ability activates! Blind, Cripple, and Trap applied to Masque Feu!
COMBAT: Masque Feu's counterattack, Shining Burst, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Honoka Yukishiro!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Invisible Slash, taking 8 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Lingshen Chao narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Magic Missiles, taking 22 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou narrowly dodges Honoka Yukishiro's Invisible Slash, taking 7 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Invisible Slash, taking 6 Fatigue damage! Sailor Jupiter's Block ability activates! Sailor Jupiter's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter covers Lera Camry for Honoka Yukishiro's attack, Zero Time Crush, taking it upon themselves instead!
COMBAT: Sailor Jupiter narrowly braces Honoka Yukishiro's Zero Time Crush, taking 29 Fatigue damage! Sailor Jupiter is unable to keep fighting! Sailor Jupiter's Block ability activates! Sailor Jupiter's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Cure Melody narrowly counters Honoka Yukishiro's Magic Missiles, taking 15 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Cure Melody's counterattack, Animated Antiphon, partially gets through, doing 4 Fatigue damage to Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Still unsteady as she is, Sailor Jupiter can only brace herself against the warping in space roiling towards her, letting it drag her downward so that she can catch her footing on the surface that isn't a ground at all.

"No!" Jupiter calls, seeing--feeling--Beryl getting away from them, even if there's nothing she can do on her own--...but...

That's all. The fight keeps going, and suddenly nothing makes sense except the sight of the vines coming back, the knowledge that once again, someone near Jupiter is going to be hurt.

She doesn't hesitate; in an instant she's in motion, "Look out!"

Shoving Lera roughly out of the way, Jupiter steadies herself for the impact--

...But it still holds on too tightly, shrinking around her so suddenly that she can only grit her teeth against crying out.

"I won't... Let it happen again..."

When the vines fall, so does Sailor Jupiter.

<Pose Tracker> Masque Feu [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

It's another of those fights where Masque Feu is having a bad day.

Vines come whipping towards Masque Feu, and snag her through the last billows of her flame, defying her own defiance. She sucks in a breath and leaps - only for the vines to catch her about the legs. She's quickly bound up by the vine, encirled and squeezed like a rag doll. That broken rib hurts all the more; a violent stab of pain tears through her. She clenches her teeth, letting out a pained, strangled sound, struggling not to scream.

It's difficult. Her head screams with sheer, brutal agony. Nothing she's doing is working, and she's on the brink of losing consciousness.

She squeezes her eyes closed again and struggles to stay composed, but it doesn't help.

A sound slips from her. It's a choked-off cry of sheer agony, her head thrown back and her legs twitching as she struggles and struggles.

"N-no," she rasps weakly, tensing her shoulders, trying to push the vines back with strength she doesn't have. She forces her right eye open, gritting her teeth and pushing with all her might. She can see that image from a second ago - the memory of the defeated Cure Sword, reaching for her. The image from a year ago - of her brother being taken.

Of her homework, her friends' homework, floating in that globe.

"I can't give up," she groans as she pushes, pushes, /pushes,/ trying desperately to free herself. "I can't... give up...! I won't...!!"

Her body screams with pain. But her heart soars.

COMBAT: Masque Feu has used The Light of the Silver Shooting Star on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Masque Feu has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Masque Feu's The Light of the Silver Shooting Star, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Masque Feu is Psyched!

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

<Below you!>

Lera hears Broken Ground's warning, but there is precious little she can do. The vines come whipping up, threatening to engulf her completely in an instant like they did Cure Sword. But then Sailor Jupiter is there; she checks into the other girl with her shoulder, and throws her back. The vines instead whip up, and grasp Jupiter. Lera's eyes widen.

She knows Sailor Jupiter. She made her cookies once. They fought together before. They were friends, in the way two girls who don't -- didn't, until today -- know who the other was can be friends. She screams for her, wordlessly, but Jupiter is already falling.

<Camry. There isn't time.> Ground's chime is calm -- but the knife's edge sort of calm that can barely be sustained. <...Make it count.>


Lera's grip on the hammer changes; the weapon shimmers, and the head slides down to the center of the handle. The frame around the gem expands outward, until it creates a buckler -- and then a field of shimmering green light fills it in. <Lantern Mode.>

Then, a bolt of energy forms off the buckler -- and fires, shooting up towards the Cybody, with explosive promise. "She's my friend!" Lera yells. "She keeps getting up, y'know? No matter what happens! I'll make sure we get out of here, for Sailor Jupiter's sake!"

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Molten Bolt on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly dodges Lera Camry's Molten Bolt, taking 7 Fatigue damage! Lera Camry is Psyched!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord narrowly counters Honoka Yukishiro's Peridon Slice!, taking 33 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord's counterattack, Les Mysteres, partially gets through, doing 8 Fatigue damage to Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Pine [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Believe in Oneself - Tales of Xillia - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8pNAHqOHg8

There's just this instinctual feeling, enough of a warning sign, that Pine gets her arm up in time as she descends in mid-air. The blade glides off of it, cutting through fabric of her sleeve, causing a bit of blood to seep through. But she'd endure. Even through the force of the slash causing her descent to abruptly quicken. She lands hard, jarring her knee, but stays, mostly upright. Stumbling forward once.

She catches Sailor Jupiter fall out of the corner of her eyes, covering someone else. This had gone on for too long. She closes her eyes, then looks at the cybody hard. She whispers softly, "I just came for my homework. I didn't really expect this."

She slowly climbs to her feet. She has this embarrassed look of chagrin, despite the resolution in her eyes, she speaks almost conversationally, "I don't expect a lot of things. I guess I never really expected becoming something like a Pretty Cure either. Even when I accepted I was it never felt like it really fit who I am. Today kind of proved that feeling wrong I guess. That even if you take it away, it's still there, somewhere deep down. All I have to do... is believe in myself."

The yellow heart is the emblem of faith.

"Let's show them just what our belief in ourselves can do." She raises her arms over her head. "Nasty things- Nasty things fly away!" She lowers them, forms a diamond with her hands, "Pretty Cure-"

Her fingers spread outwards at the Cybody, and so too does shimmering light. Golden light, with the fresh scent of ripe fruit in springtime. The feel of a summer breeze across the skin. But also the feeling of someone with little confidence getting new dance steps right for the first time. The softness of kitten fur with all of the mewling adorable pleasure. "...Healing Prayer!"

COMBAT: FINISHER! Cure Pine has used Pretty Cure Healing Prayer on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Cure Pine has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Melody [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Snap. One vine. ...not quite as crippling as she'd hoped, admittedly.

Cure Melody kicks off the Cybody, hanging in midair for a long moment - and in that moment, shining green missiles swarm out to home in on her. There's dozens of them - and she does the only thing she can do in response, which is punching. Trying to match the tempo of the attack, bat the incoming explosives aside as best she can - or even send them careening back towards the Cybody. Eventually, she falters, and the last handful of detonations send her careening back downwards.

A bed of dead plants cushions her impact, even as they wither and fade - too late to do anything to help Sailor Jupiter. Cure Melody grits her teeth - but Cure Pine's impassioned speech shakes her from that anger. Slowly, a smile finds its way back onto her face. "...yeah. We came here for the sake of our hard work - but stayed because of all our friends you've bothered with this. Even in this weird place-"

Which Beryl can apparently leave. Completely sealed off, it isn't.

"-we have them with us. We'll sing it out again and again - however much power you have, whatever weird monsters you wake up, we'll always stand against you!" Her hand comes to her heart - her Cure Module - and it shines with pink light as she grins in anticipation. "Resonate, the wild rhythm!"

Staffs of music, emblazoned with shining clefs and nodes, swirl around Cure Melody. She strums them, sweeps her hands across them, and the tempo seems to pick up - and the bars of music fly forward, given shining form long enough to strike at vines and armor in equal measure. Joyful, crashing, aggressive music - a wild melody without rhythm to explode with full force against the towering foe. "Scatenato Slide!"

COMBAT: FINISHER! Cure Melody has used Scatenato Slide on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Cure Melody has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Cure Sword - La Sirene grinds her teeth. She won't give up. Not after all of this.

She misses the departure of Beryl, bound as she is in the heat of battle. The Star Sword bursts forwards and past the Pharos's beam of unlight and there is a shining moment in which la Sirene knows exactly where it is coming from and it does not do her ONE lick of good, scoring a slash over her back and making her cry out.

And turn round.

"Les Mysteres," la Sirene says, raising up her right hand - "Come!!" And the shimmering silver-in-black effect ripples forwards to CLING on that sword, shining and stinging and eating away at it perhaps, riding towards the Cybody itself. The vines aren't stopped, not now.

La Sirene staggers forwards a pace. Sucking in a breath, she sees Sailor Jupiter staggering. And Cure Pine... Cure Pine's encouraging them to believe in themselves.

Does she really believe in herself, la Sirene wonders.

She can't answer that. Not right now. But Madoka Kaname saw something in her -- and she has to at least give her the benefit of the doubt. Brandishing her Pharos towards the Cybody again, THIS time she takes careful aim towards that flickering hint of a light she sees - and aims to wash it in her /own/ darkness. What would that do?

Perhaps this is the final piece of homework... for everyone!

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Hit The Flashy Bit on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge Cure Pine's Finisher, Pretty Cure Healing Prayer, taking 108 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge Cure Melody's Finisher, Scatenato Slide, taking 67 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

It's the Wind Knight's instincts that guide her this time, nothing more or less; she holds her sword up to try and block the anticipated slash, her off-hand bracing the blade closer to its tip, and her wind magic spun into a barrier to try and blunt the strike further.

The impact is still bone-rattling, in a painfully literal sense of the words; her whole body is probably going to be sore tomorrow. But she doesn't get sliced in half by the devastating strike; she gets driven back a few meters by the impact, but when she stops sliding, she's still in a standing position - albeit just barely.

Her sword vanishes, her bow and quiver rematerializing, and she wastes little time in nocking an arrow, drawing it back. Her target, of course, is the Cybody that towers over her; it seems like a hopeless shot even for her skill, but that 'seeming' would ignore her magic and the strength of her will. A breeze rises up about her, lightly ruffling her skirt and her hair ...

"Gale Arrow."

Her voice seems far calmer than it should - but by contrast, the wind that envelopes her arrow howls like a midnight storm; the layer of wind magic both hastens and steadies the arrow's flight, guiding it straight towards one of Psienk's eyes.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Gale Arrow on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The Fire Knight is hit, but not as bad as it could have. Nevertheless, she can only stare at her enemy, her adrenaline overruling her body's desire to give up. She can't believe what has happened here, but she knows there has to be an end to it. And that end has to come now! Hikaru raises her sword and the flames engulf it like nothing else. "The flames shall burn you and make you suffer for what you have done! I shall see to that!"

The flames grow in size, and Hikaru's eyes narrow. "Prepare to fall now! CLAW OF FLAME!" Hikaru sends forth a flaming blast in the shape of a huge claw.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Hikaru Shidou has used Claw of Flame on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to dodge Fuu Hououji's Gale Arrow, taking 22 Fatigue damage! Fuu Hououji is Psyched!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Hikaru Shidou's Finisher, Claw of Flame, taking 27 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao's blast works and she immediately disengages; but she's not faster than /missiles/, and she only has a moment, once she lands, to throw her amrs in front of her and brace for the worst. The explosions pepper her, and she finds the ground of Zero Time cracking under her feet from distributed impact.

At the end of it she wheezes; breath heavy in her lungs. Sword's down, she thinks, relaxing an inch; but that means she's in no position to rush in to help Sailor Jupiter and Lera. Her fists clench. Leaping to save another. Yes, that's...familiar. She thinks back to a day that hasn't happened yet, and sins she wants to undo. Her hands clench tight. It was Lera, she thinks; reminds herself. Yet another good person throwing themselves so another can keep going, like fuel to a bonfire of sacrifice. How long does that fire have to burn? Can it ever be quelled?

"Last Tale," she breathes, the spell key winding its way from her heart to her lips. Her fists aren't a tool for this thing. "My Magic Scir Magister! Magic Archer!"

She throws her arms out wide, the orbs of light sparkling around her, hewing a dark and fiery red. "29 Magic Arrows!" Chao declares, ugly red light racing along the circuitry of her suit, illuminating a pulsing core in her chest. The orbs behind her multiply, popping into existence one by one until the spoken count appears. And then, one step forward, hand thrown out in casting: "CONVERGENCE OF FIRE!"

The orbs all of them race forward, javelins of light arcing around Chao and zeroing in on Psienk - but rather than simply raining all across its surface, the orbs all, as one, crash into a single point on the side of the beastly machine; a massive blow of fiery force!

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has used Convergence of Flame on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to brace Lingshen Chao's Convergence of Flame, taking 37 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces La Sirene du Nord's Hit The Flashy Bit, taking 3 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSnu1lcirYs

Masque Feu finds that her strength is just enough to tear herself free of the grasping vines, and in good time to see Lera land a simple but solid swipe of explosion, which splatters with strange energy across the Cybody's knee, while La Sirene sends darkness chasing after light with no obvious effect but the most crucial one: distraction.

And then Cure Pine and Cure Melody simply /explode/ the Cybody's knee, sending their energies of love and faith and music directly in where they will be most devastating. Vine bits scatter everywhere, and crucial cracks soar between joint and hip. The Magic Knights of Wind and Fire rush in with arrow and blast, and widen the crack further with a delightful melting in just the right spot for Chao's massive magical summoning.

But -- even so -- the Cybody regains its feet, joints grinding and vines writhing to cover the wound on its knee. Can it be stopped?


This whole battle is, essentially by definition, a clash of titans -- the Cybody in size, the magical girls in strength. It ranges up and down hundreds of feet as they're forced to engage it all across its massive form.

Amid such chaos, it is very possible for something sufficiently tiny to simply and almost casually sneak through. That the shadowy man catches the barest glimpse is testament to his experience -- and paranoia.

No one else catches so much of a glimpse of the flash of white almost tenderly unhook the wireplug attached to the homework orb, where it's tucked amid the armor plates of the Cybody. Certainly nobody sees what happens afterwards, as the catastrophic release of power instantly and totally vaporizes the one who dared to interfere with something so tiny as a single adorable paw.

Indeed, it's the larger effect that is more obvious: detached from the battery of pure, unfiltered magical girl-on-homework energy, the Cybody emits sparkles from every joint and seam and thruster, filling the air with so much glitter that it out-twinkles the infinite stars of this strange dimension.

And then the shimmer sails into the girls from whence it came, taking on their colors as it re-empowers them with their full might and then some, even as it disempowers the Cybody, making its movements jerky, puppeted by vines of absolutely massive strength and brutally precise intent, but no other, inherent motive force.

"I believe I have detected a flaw in this system of yours," the Executive says with impossible dryness and cold at the same time. "This is an inefficient use of power. It requires too many factors in play."

"It's not too late!" the masked man protests, reaching out his hand as though he could somehow also guide this machine from afar.

"Certainly I will attempt to spend the last of its strength wisely," the woman agrees coolly.

The Cybody-puppet, already starting to shrink down to its former mannequin-self, grasps its own shoulders, arms crossing across its chest. Its former mass begins rapidly converting to energy -- a fancy way to say that the Executive is going to use what's left of the monster as a bomb to clear the field if the girls don't clear it first!

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has used Countdown on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro accepts Honoka Yukishiro's Countdown, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Honoka Yukishiro is Reinforced by Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Masque Feu [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

With a pained gasp, Masque Feu slides free of the vine. She touches down in a crouch, wincing and pressing her hand to her side, only to indulge in a little smile as Lera and La Sirene do their respective things. Her friends, hard at work.

And she sees something else. Light shimmering towards her, in her colours, gold and white and orange. The Cybody's movements becoming herky-jerky as it begins to contract. For a moment, the lone Soeur stares, not entirely sure what is actually happening. Lera and La Sirene didn't hit it /that/ hard, did they?

"Masque Feu, hurry!" Augustine shouts from somewhere overhead.

The girl looks up with a sharp intake of breath. "Right...!"

Bringing her hands together over her head, she puts her pain out of her mind, focusing her flame into her hands. Cascades of fire pour out from her palms, weaving around her in a shining double helix. She spins on one toe, sweeping her arms across her body, down and out to her sides, then up again like angel's wings. "I call upon the power of the Blessed Flame," she intones, her voice ringing with a subtle echo as she lets the flame build and build, shining brighter and brighter. As the Cybody shrinks away, her own power does precisely the opposite.

"Crossfire IGNITION!" she cries, and sweeps her hands forward.

Twin coils of Blessed Flame rage from her palms. They coil around each other, then explode outwards, aiming to sweep into the contracting Cybody at full force - to pour the sacred fire into it, and burn away the darkness before it can do any more harm. To leave behind nothing but love and finished homework.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Masque Feu has used Crossfire Ignition on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Masque Feu has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera stares at the Cybody, as it shrinks down. Her eyes widen -- she didn't follow why it occurred, but she sees the effect. It takes her a moment to understand what is occurring. The arms across the chest makes no particular sense to her. She glances around -- at Sword and Jupiter, aware that they are vulnerable -- and back to the shrunken thing.

<It's gonna blow.>

"What?" she asks Ground.

<Might wanna smash it.>

"All right!" she cries out. She takes a step back, lowering the shield over her body. She takes a deep breath, then pulls the shield back. She runs in closer to the thing, darting forward. Her eyes drift, briefly, to Masque Feu as she runs in. Then, she keeps charging. She grits her teeth, holding onto thoughts of Fate -- of her mother -- of Setsuna. She owes it to them to get out of here.

"Ground!" she yells, as she sees the two spires of flame launch from Feu. "Remember what Sky said? You're a shield, right?"

<...That's right. I've got a spell that'll help. You're gonna need to focus.>

"I can do that, y'know!" Lera says, with a hesitant grin. There isn't anything but a nonverbal ping in the affirmative. Light swirls off the shield, out from the buckler, and then whips outward from the shield. It forms an immense barrier of light in front of Lera, which she points towards the shuddering Cybody. She takes a breath, then she yells the command phrase:


The barrier flies off. It shoots around the Cybody-puppet, and swirls outward, until it forms a half-dome of glowing green hexes around the thing. Then it condenses inward, all at once, before exploding in a shower of vermillion light.

<Strata Excelsior.>

COMBAT: FINISHER! Lera Camry has used Strata Excelsior on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Pine [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Pine sees the Cybody's knee explode. There was going to be cheering at first but... It gets up. It regains its feet. Pine takes a step back, "N-No way..." Her head bows for a moment as a touch of despair manages to sink in past the outpouring of belief, "We tried so hard."

But... something unseen thwarts the plan. Pine has no idea exactly what happened. But the air itself glitters, drowning out the stars of the sky. Despair is replaced by wide eyed wonder as strength floods back into her. She looks down at her hands then at Melody. "Did we do that...?" That too is just a momentary thought, from just being swept up in the moment. She doesn't really believe that on reflection.

She watches as the puppet moves drunkenly, then beginning to shrink down. However she also hears the meaning behind the words. Both fists clench at her sides. Even reempowered, she hardly had anything left to give. But what she had. She would. "Melody! We've got to help them end this now!" She looks at her way. There's only a pause, and then she says softly, "Aim for the head."

Pine leaps again, sailing up into the air. She tries to land on the left shoulder, to run across rapidly shrinking fingers, and then once near the neck she tries to punch the Cybody's head. She keeps trying to punch again and again over and over, alternating fists to synchronize with each punch from Melody, substituting her fists for every musical blast Melody throws in. It's not as hard as she can punch by a long shot, but it's as fast as she can.

She punches with desperation to save her life, to save Melody's life, and Sword's and Lera's and everyone's lives. Out of a desire to see all of her friends again. Out of a wish to see her dreams come true. She just prays that it'll be enough. She speaks her frustration that someone hates them so much that they'd resort to all of this to see them dead.

COMBAT: Cure Pine has started a combo targeting Honoka Yukishiro!

<Pose Tracker> Cure Melody [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Yellow and pink blaze, shining with joyful music and faithful healing - and the ensuing explosion momentarily cripples the titanic Cybody. Cure Melody stumbles for a moment, exhausted but jubilant as the last strains of that wild melody resound in her ears. Even though the winding vines are pulling it upright...in her heart, she knows. "We're not done yet - and you can't keep this up forever!"

She takes a step forward, breathing deeply...and then there is brilliant light. There's strength welling up in all their hearts, and Cure Melody finds exhaustion leaving her as the Cybody begins to stagger and slow. Her eyes are bright, even as the foes in their bubble argue about the best use of the monster's remaining power. The Cybody's preparing something in desperation...

But although it's still too powerful for any one of them to take down alone...they're not alone. Fires are igniting, hammers are about to be dropped, and Cure Melody answers Pine's plan with a nod. "Right - one more time! We won't let them get away with this!"

She puts her renewed strength to good use with a sprint forward. If she strains, she can still hear the echoes of her own wild music, and that irregular beat is matched by her footsteps. A few notes remain from that wild playing, and as she leaps from fading armor plate to fading armor plate, she begins to smile again. It's far from enough to bring back that power in full measure...but she can fill in the melody with the instrument of her fists. Matching Pine's pace, she alternates wild power with focused punches - hoping they can help bring this last verse of the battle to its end!

COMBAT: Cure Melody has joined the combo started by Cure Pine!

COMBAT: COMBO! Cure Pine and Cure Melody have used Combo: Last Refrain, composed of Final Prayer and Last Refrain, on Honoka Yukishiro.
COMBAT: Cure Pine has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Cure Melody has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

That presumably isn't a good sign either, the Wind Knight realizes. And she can tell that her magical reserves are at extremely low ebb; she can't launch an Emerald Cyclone at this point, and even most of her attacks would take more mana than she can spare while retaining any for a follow-up.

Still ... it doesn't take THAT much magical oomph to loose an arrow, does it? And with that in mind, the Wind Knight starts loosing more arrows at the now-shrinking Cybody. If she gets a chance to unleash something more potent, she'll most likely take the chance - but she'd rather stay on her feet than exhaust herself and collapse.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Basic Archery on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao falls to her knees as soon as the explosion of her hit goes off. Her lungs are burning. She huffs and puffs for breath, trying to cool the burning in her chest and limbs. Using magic is exhausting and a little painful, on top of the overall agony of the damage she's taken and the force she's putting out. Her soul feels like a strained muscle; overextended, aching. And then it gets back up and she releases a helpless groan, watching it seem to arise with no apparent difficulty. "How do you beat something...like this," she pants. They've got to keep going, she knows that. She prepares to engage again, stumbling forward into a loping run - but then has to stop soon after, as the magnificent light rshes through the machine. "What happened," she wonders; too exhausted to shout it. Then, finding strength, "What happened!"

What happened becomes obvious, as the phenomenal energy explodes outward, filling herself and the other girls with the power of their own dreams. It's easier to breathe, suddenly. She feels more power in her soul. So she lets herself rise. She sees what it's going to do. "Got to stop it," she tells herself, focusing on her breath. "I can't let it go off!"

"Grandfather," she mumbles, fist slowly clenching. She imagines the bracelet she uses, the intricate item she carries everywhere, fused to her spirit by magical artifice. "Thousand Master," she says, with the same thought in mind. "For the world you protected...I will do the same! I will not fall here! Once more...! Last Tale! My Magic Scir Magister!"

The magic booms out from within her; and she speaks, hands held forth, imagining the bracelet, casting from her heart. The words she says are Latin, but by the medium of the heart, all is understood, echoing subtly in counterpoint.

"Omne flammans flamma purgatus," Ever-burning fire of purification,

Between her hands, a flickering, sparking mote of light forms.

"Domine extinctionis et signum regenerationis," Lord of destruction and sign of rebirth,

The sphere quickly burns up, consuming magic and air until the ball she holds is the size of a basketball, throbbing with destructive impulse! Chao's whole bodysuit glows a rusty red-orange, like the suit itself were heating up from the force of the spell; red lines, like circuity, trace across the surface of the suit and seep into her skin, crawling up the side of her neck.

"In mea manu ens inimicum edat! Spring forth from my hand and devour my enemy!

Chao takes a step forward. Even that seemingly permanent blush across her cheeks is glowing now, faint tendrils of magic crawling along her body.


Chao thrusts the blast forward and the ball bursts apart, erupting into a column of flame that blasts into the puppet's body; but it scatters from there, an enormous shockwave of mystic flame erupting from the impact and crashing into the viney marionette strings, searing the plant matter with pure, magic fire.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Lingshen Chao has used Flagrantia Rubicans on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: Lingshen Chao has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

La Sirene du Nord certainly can't see that tiny streak of white, even if she aimed for it - of course, she did it because she thought it might be a weak point! Staggering as she is, she's lucky to have kept herself upright. But grim determination keeps her driving forwards.

She hears Augustine chirp in agitation. Where's Batiste, she thinks - is he lost? Perhaps he stayed at the cavern entrance. The memory makes her smile just a little, ruefully, and that alloys with her determination, putting steel in her spine. Her Pharos comes up again.

"To you who would use the ambitions of young women - their desire to fulfill the teachers' commands, and to learn even when school isn't in session - for evil... I say to you that you will never succeed! Try a thousand times - I, or others, will foil you a thousand more...!"

Her free hand clenches into a fist, as much to keep her on her feet as anything else. So does the one holding the Pharos.

The lens does not open a crack or a glimpse now, it opens ALL THE WAY. What pours out isn't a streak, it's a cone of that darkness - distorted and surreal as the shadowy unlight may be in this world. The stars within, perhaps, gleam with the colors of that secret and hidden abyssal rainbow, the lights that hide in the darkness, perhaps from a relentless and monochrome sun--

They aim outwards, to wrap around the Cybody as it contracts. To engulf it. To shroud it, and to hold it still. To BURY it in darkness, perhaps...

So that nothing may escape when it bursts. If it bursts.

COMBAT: FINISHER! La Sirene du Nord has used Paint It Black and Take It Back on Honoka Yukishiro.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Masque Feu's Finisher, Crossfire Ignition, taking 45 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Lera Camry's Finisher, Strata Excelsior, taking 68 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to brace La Sirene du Nord's Finisher, Paint It Black and Take It Back, taking 94 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to brace Cure Pine and Cure Melody's Combo: Last Refrain, taking 22 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro narrowly braces Lingshen Chao's Finisher, Flagrantia Rubicans, taking 39 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Honoka Yukishiro fails to brace Fuu Hououji's Basic Archery, taking 9 Fatigue damage! Honoka Yukishiro is unable to keep fighting!

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Holy light screams through the remnants of the Cybody, Masque Feu's sacred blaze and Chao's magical flame attracted directly towards the true Darkness present -- the vines -- and surging up them like a wildfire set loose in a drought basin. Blasts and punches from Melody and Pine, arrows from the Magic Knight of Wind, darkness from La Sirene; all of these supplement, and the detonation of everything all at once simply purges the remnant of the Cybody out of existence, and whatever what merged with it pops, once, twice, thrice, in a series of viney explosions.

There is a clear sense of its resistance to even this incredible assault, and the sense that if every single girl hadn't been present and accounted for here, this victory would have been impossible to achieve.

And in the end, there is no mannequin remaining at all. When the masked man sees this, he hesitates for the first time all evening. Perhaps this /wasn't/ the best idea.

"I gathered excellent intelligence. Thank you for your assistance," the Executive murmurs smugly as she fades away.

But she's not the only one -- all of Zero Time is rippling into nothingness, the timestream allowed to reconverge on the other side of the galactic rainbow, the normal world re-asserting itself.

Not that there's anything normal about the cavern they're standing it... which is rapidly starting to collapse. The orb is gone, though, and the homework with it, fading away in twinkling golden light which those who fought MARATHON will remember as a sign of its impending return.

But with boulders plunging everywhere, an evacuation is the only thing the girls can hope to do, their allies in tow; there will be no trace left of this strange conspiracy when the dust clears--!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

And this is why it's a good thing the Wind Knight *didn't* exhaust herself to the point of collapse. The two magical girls who fell during the fight need help evacuating, and there's no sign of the once-stolen homework; the Magic Knight of Wind does what she can to help get Jupiter and Cure Sword out safely. And if she was able to take note of their real identities at the outset, she's not going to make mention of them ... at least not until a more favorable situation, something more friendly to casual discussion. For those who learned the Wind Knight's identity ...

Well, Fuu isn't going to worry too much about it. She's been willing enough to share who she is with her fellow magical girls, for the sake of helping them out however she can. And she already has enemies who know who she is regardless of transformation, so she's used to exercising some precautions in her mundane daily life.

She's not going to stop to offer healing spells until everyone is out and safe, though. And ... she'll probably have to catch her breath first, before she can do anything productive.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera sets down on the cavern floor, taking a few deep breaths. Her hand reaches down, lowering with the shield in her arm. She looks down at Broken Ground for a moment -- in a little bit of wonder -- before she looks up at the other girls. She flashes them a sheepish grin. "W-Well, um," she says. "Looks like we saved the homework!"

Then she leans against a wall and lets out a long sigh. It takes her a moment to catch her breath, before she pats Broken Ground on the rim of his shield. "Good work, Ground. And... thanks."

<...Seemed like the right thing to do.> the Intelligent Device answers. <We were...> He hesitates, before he finishes: <...an all right team.>

"Mm," Lera murmurs. "Yeah. We were."

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

After all's said and done, Hikaru joins her ally in helping the wounded out of the area. This has been a rather bizarre fight, and quite an interesting turn of events in how she almost lost her will to be a Magic Knight. But deep inside, there's always that hidden, unseen power that's waiting to help you...

<Pose Tracker> Cure Sword [None] has posed.

Zero time ends, and Cure Sword's time restarts. With a start, the lavender Pretty Cure finds herself reaching for nothing but a rumbling cavern, staggers as she realizes those vines that bound her are no more. She looks around in confusion; the last she remembers is Masque Feu leaping out for her, trying to grab her hand, and then... nothing. Why would Feu expend so much effort to try to come to her aid, anyway...? The enemy was right before them. Why did she focus on her and not that?

But that quickly leaves the forefront of her mind when she realizes the cavern is... collapsing?! As exhausted as that battle left her, it takes little time for Sword to understand the situation, particularly when a boulder crashes nearby her and she has to leap out of the way to avoid it. She turns and starts dashing for the exit, but with her injuries and exhaustion, she staggers partway there, nearly veering headlong into a stalagmite. A stalactite cracks, wobbles, and then starts to come careening down towards her...

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

They did it. All of them. La Sirene sinks to one knee, feeling drained. She's sleeping all day tomorrow and will feel no guilt about it. She sucks in a deep breath as ZERO TIME fades, as the cavern reasserts itself -

A boulder lands (boldly) near her. That startles her up to her feet again. Swallowing she looks round, seeing the dark once more. The Magic Knights are moving, and she stumbles forwards, towards the way they came.

And sure enough, Batiste comes scampering up - though when he sees how pale and weary la Sirene looks, he says nothing, instead moving upwards to press against her leg. "Come on," he says to her: "This way! Hurry - the ground's settling -"

"What happened?" he asks.

"... I'll tell you... later..."

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao, now winded even despite the restoration of homework love, watches the power released upon that corrupted machine. That was...an incredible force. Every one of them...it took all the strength of every single one of them to win that. But they did win.

Other magical girls might simply take that as affirmation. For Chao, she finds her teeth clenching and her fist clenching. Victory isn't supposed to be bitter, she thinks.

She's also pretty sure she just personally helped screw up the plans of an Ends member. On the other hand, that's...not actually often a black mark. Ends is weird.

The Executive says her final, disturbing words...and Chao finds the world tearing itself apart and reassembling anew. She takes a few seconds to breathe. "So this is," she starts to say out loud, looking around at the strange cavern they find themselves in. The orb sparkles, and she considers what that means with narrowed eyes. She really hopes that means her homework is back. Maybe she could check in with Hakase?

Or, the cave could start to collapse. She turns on her heels and starts to run, feeling her muscles burn, but...

She stops short in a brief skid, looking at Lera, and then up at the ceiling. She doesn't so much run over as /appear/ at Lera's side, blowing a charge of Cassiopeia's power to teleport over and grab her by the wrist, then slap her hands down on Lera's shoulders. "Do they not have cave-ins on your planet!?" she asks, breathless, and then grabs for her wrist and starts running.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Pine [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The cybody fades, the executive leaves. It's like watching a planetarium dome get switched off gradually, except... it's the best planetarium Pine has ever witnessed. She shakes out her aching fists once. Catches a glimpse of her homework fading in golden sparkles.

She takes a breath. But only one, because the sound of crashing continues, grows to a rumbling crescendo. She blurts out in a near panicked tone as Lera settles down, "Everything's coming down! We've got to go!"

In fact she takes a step in that direction, but stops, when she sees Cure Sword trying to stumble out under her own power. She gives Melody a look, of solidarity in this. And then she rushes forward, sees the stalactite falling and... "Look out!" She cries as she grabs her under the shoulder, Melody and her pulling along while simultaneously ducking her own head. Her sidetail gets grazed by the stalactite chunk, more rock sized chunks then showering her back as it strikes the cave floor and shatters.

Once out of immediate danger, she repositions her, so that she's hoisting her up easier under the left shoulder, and lets Melody take her right. "We're all going to make it out of here." She whispers fervently, and runs in step with Melody. She makes little sounds from various near misses but... eventually the trio of exhausted and spent Pretty Cure make it out the caven's entrance, just as more rocks fall, and the dust finally settles.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

"What!?" Lera yelps. "Cave-ins--!? Broken Ground, are there--"

<I'm Broken Ground. I can handle a cave-in.>

<No you can't! That doesn't make any sense at all!> Soaring Sky complains, finally. Lera makes a face -- she stares at Chao for a moment, before she gets yanked after. She starts running, too, before she looks up at the ceiling. She gawks, then, and reaches down to scoop up Jupiter in an arm.

Then she sprints, throwing Jupiter over her shoulder in a fireman's carry.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Melody [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Briefly, Cure Melody lands on that strange not-ground as the Cybody suffers a total existence failure. Briefly - and then Zero Time becomes but a fleeting memory of a strange, frozen moment. In short order, the cavern is back in all its glory - all its strange, mysterious glory. But the homework's gone...

And there's a rumbling crash, as part of the ceiling caves in. Soon enough, it seems as though this place too will be suffering existence failure...

Cure Melody is set to head for the exit, but spots Cure Sword stumbling - and the stalactite falling towards her. She runs alongside Pine to the standoffish Cure's aid, grabbing one arm and hauling Cure Sword bodily forward. "Come on - we have to get out of here!"

For the length of the ominous walk into the cavern, escaping it goes much, much faster. As the trio emerges into the night air, Cure Melody practically collapses on the beach sand. She breathes heavily for a minute, catching her breath...then turns back to the other two. "Both of you all right? ...hey." She grins at Pine - and then at Sword. "...we did it. Beat the trap, and got all our hard work back." And with that, she just flops back to rest on the sand for a bit. Look up at the cloudy skies.

Maybe in a bit, she'll head to the finale of the Fire Festival - join up with Kanade and her family, and have fun together. It's not like they have to worry about their summer homework - they're all free.


Meanwhile, back in Hibiki's room, a loose sheaf of paper and workbooks - several with bright pink covers - manifests in the air to rest softly on the desk. Half the papers immediately slide off the pile to scatter across the floor, as the spot where the homework was mean to return was filled with a sleeping cat at the time.

Hummy proceeds to yawn stretch, and absently kick the rest of the homework to scatter across the room. Hopefully Hibiki will find it all...

<Pose Tracker> Cure Sword [None] has posed.

The stalactite crumbles above her, and Cure Sword looks up with eyes widen with alarm--and they stay widened when Cure Pine and Cure Melody leap in to drag her out of harm's way at the last moment. Sword can feel the air from the stone as it shatters behind her, and she feels both Pine and Melody helping her run out, each of her arms over their shoulders.

"What are you--why are you doing this?" she stammers, though she at least doesn't argue or fight when it comes to getting out of the collapsing cavern. "We're not friends or anything...!"

Once outside, Sword staggers away from them, leaning against one of the seaside rocks for support. She looks up and over at the other escaping magical girls...

<Pose Tracker> Cure Sword [None] has posed.

The stalactite crumbles above her, and Cure Sword looks up with eyes widen with alarm--and they stay widened when Cure Pine and Cure Melody leap in to drag her out of harm's way at the last moment. Sword can feel the air from the stone as it shatters behind her, and she feels both Pine and Melody helping her run out, each of her arms over their shoulders.

"What are you--why are you doing this?" she stammers, though she at least doesn't argue or fight when it comes to getting out of the collapsing cavern. "We're not friends or anything...!"

Once outside, Sword staggers away from them, leaning against one of the seaside rocks for support. Pine was right; they all made it. But why? Why did they stop to help her? She looks up and over at the other escaping magical girls... It looks like they all managed to escape too. She looks back at Pine and Melody, lips pursed, something uncertain in her lavender eyes. ...They beat the trap, Melody says. Sword's eyes hood; she was barely there at all. But still... it wasn't her fight to begin with, was it? And something good came out of it too. Princess...

She breathes out a sigh. "Let's leave it at that, then," she replies. "I have to go."

She turns away, preparing the trek back into town. She pauses before she does so, then glances back over her shoulder at the Pretty Cures. ...She saw their civilian forms. She has a feeling she's met Melody before. Should she say something? ...No, best not to. As she said, they're not friends or anything.

Even if their kindness did make her heart beat a little faster.

Steeling herself, Cure Sword focuses back on what she needs to do, and begins the leaping trek back. She's more cautious this time, at least; she'll need to rest once she's back so she's in good condition for the concert.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Pine [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The question doesn't get answered as they run. It's at too frenetic a pace for her to manage it. Once they make it out. Pine doesn't collapse on the beach sand because even exhausted, she's not quite that casual. Instead she just gently releases Sword as she staggers away, out of breath, then puts her hands on her knees. She allows herself to catch some of her wind back. "I think so."

When Melody mentions that they got their homework back, she sighs, joyous relief pouring off of her, "That's a relief. I wouldn't have time to do it all over again."

She straightens up from her current bent over position, then looks over at Sword who leans upon the seaside rocks. She smiles, it's a bit subdued, but not unfriendly, "Maybe that's true, but you don't have to be our friends for us to want to help you when you're in trouble."

Sword tells her that they're just going to leave it at that. Pine nods at her. "Have a good evening."

She turns, and looks across the bay. And she smiles at the sight of so many flickering lights. "I think... I think I could use some rest... but after..."

She glances sidelong at Melody, smiles. "I always think festivals are better when you're with a friend."