2016-07-22 - Belief Becomes Power 2

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Title: Belief Becomes Power 2

Fuu, Hikaru and friends mount a rescue mission to Cephiro for Umi and other students kidnapped by Alcyone at a fencing tournament. Fuu struggles with her inability to transform due to lack of belief in herself.


Homura Akemi, Endo Naoki, Hikaru Shidou, Nori Ankou, Fuu Hououji, Garnet, Fate Testarossa, Ren Aizawa

GM: Hotaru Tomoe


The Secret Garden in Tama, and Cephiro

OOC - IC Date:

07-22-2016 - 11-08-2014

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

Up on Jindai Hill are the famous and lovely Botanical Gardens, but there are other gardens too. They lie at the end of roads that have snaked around a corner to become humble pathways. They're tucked into alleyways, and hang from balconies. They're under bridges and at the margins of more fiercely tended athletic fields.

It is to one such garden that Fuu has been instructed to bring her friends, and that both the Magic Association and the Tuners have instructed others to come directly. Someone anonymous has put a bounty out on the safe return of the Ohtori students; the Association, meanwhile, has used its magic to send a telepathic plea for help into the minds of magical mascots throughout the city. Surely someone will answer the call.

This garden can only be entered by leaping across a stream one stepping stone at a time. They're smooth but not slick, separated but not impossible to jump, at least if one is a magical girl. Flying over them won't do; as feet impact each stone, they briefly sing out a soprano, dulcet tone, and the sequential rousing of this chord is what allows discovery that the other side is a gorgeous, green paradise, rather than the dirty, vacant lot seen from afar or overhead.

There are few tall trees, here, but many large roots. Moss-covered, their whorls and burls contain painstakingly tended little panoramas -- bonsai gardens of the highest order of quality. They seem almost like tiny, magical secret gardens of their own; each with its own distinctive personality, from a lively pine forest to a stately maple grove. And how the gardener has gotten the /flowers/ to grow tiny, too, not just the trees, that is a true mystery.

The Master Mage of Cephiro, called Guru Clef, looks like a white-haired, blue-eyed boy of perhaps eleven years old, with a horned headpiece that makes him look like nothing so much as like a grumpy unicorn child given human form. He carries an enormous staff, and right now its crowning blue gemstone is pulsing, faintly, with a flicker of power at its heart.

As people arrive, he refuses to become the heart of the crowd, instead lingering, separately, by the tree. All questions and introductions are directed towards Fuu Hououji and Hikaru Shidou. For his own part, his eyes are distant, as though seeing places and times very far from the here and now. It could be true; a feeling of gentle strength rolls off of him, as well as quiet wisdom, and terrible grief.

OOC: You may want to wait for Fuu and/or Hikaru to explain the basic situation before you pose in!

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

Since she wasn't sure where they'd be meeting Guru Clef, Fuu had to resort to picking a meeting spot on her own; fortunately, the Botanical Gardens are a manageable distance from Infinity's campus. And it was *as* Fuu Hououji that she met whoever answered her own summons, whether they came to meet her in transformed or civilian states.

It's also good fortune that she can - with some difficulty - manage the jumps between the stepping stones, even without transforming herself. She's been doing her best to improve her speed and mobility in physical education, taking advantage of the track and field activities which are part of the regular curriculum; conditioning herself in a mundane body can only help her as a Magic Knight ... although, with each jump, she remembers the difficult truth - she's NOT a Magic Knight. Not any more. Maybe not to be one ever again ... but if that's the case, how can -

The next jump interrupts that train of thought; one more jump sees her safely to the far shore, and the secret garden.. Fuu moves onto dry ground with visible relief - and audible as well, if you hear her sigh over the rushing stream. But she doesn't have time to savor her relief; in fact, there's little 'relief' in making it across the river, save a chance to catch her breath while the rest of the group gathers.

She takes one more look at her glove-jewel - worn for the sake of convenience, now, instead of carried in a pocket - before looking over the others who have gathered. "Thank you all for coming, whether you heard from me or from another. I am - normally - the Magic Knight of Wind, but my powers have vanished, and I pray it's only temporary. In the meantime, I offer my mundane human name: Fuu Hououji."

She pauses briefly, knowing that she's just surrendered what might be her greatest secret - but anyone who's made it this far was trusted enough to be invited in the first place.

"I believe some of you have previously encountered Alcyone-san, the one responsible for the incident at the fencing tournament, or her comrade, Ascot-san. Alcyone-san is a Cephiran sorceress who specializes in ice magic, although she also knows other incantations - she was Clef-san's pupil, before turning to Zagato's side. Ascot-san looks like a young boy, but he specializes in summoning magic and possesses a wide range of monsters whom he can call to the battlefield. He calls these monsters his 'friends,' and takes it poorly if they're wounded or slain, so ... you may wish to be cautious in how you deal with them. And we don't know who else Zagato will have to throw in our way; he may even join the fight himself."

Fuu pauses, unable to conceal her nervous fidgeting no matter how she tries. "I know little about Zagato's own capabilities, but ... he is the one who imprisoned Princess Emeraude, which means he has power equal to hers. The most important thing to remember about Cephiro is that the strength of your will determines how powerful you are." She glances again at her glove-jewel. "That ... leads to something I had meant to ask you, Clef-san. Alcyone hinted that she knew why my magic had failed, and that I should be able to figure it out for myself ..."

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

After Fuu is done speaking, Hikaru takes a moment to introduce herself as well. "I am the Magic Knight of Fire, or Hikaru Shidou as I am known as in human form. I, too, have a knowledge of what is going on with Fuu-chan here, somewhat. I can't say much, but from what I've seen, Fuu-chan is definitely telling the truth." She runs a hand through her hair and continues. "We are hoping to do look into the reason behind why Fuu-chan's powers have disappeared, but this will not be easy."

After she's done speaking, Hikaru looks to Fuu with a slight hint of tears in her eyes. There's a sad look on her face as she gazes at her best friend. "Fuu-chan," She says softly. "Don't say that about yourself. You're still a Magic Knight, I'm sure of it! Something just happened temporarily, but I'm sure you'll find your powers returned soon enough!" She forces a smile before looking to the others again, as if anticipating questions or things like that.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Homura Akemi is not Fuu's friend. She isn't any Magic Knight's friend, anymore than she is a friend of a Sailor Senshi, a member of the Hero Club, a Pretty Cure, or a mage. She is here for her own reasons -- and how she knew to be here is an open question.

But she is.

She keeps quiet as Fuu begins to speak. She doesn't nod or shake her head at having met Alcyone before. (She has, but not here.) She frowns, for a moment, and then she listens to them for a moment. The Puella Magi looks between them, before she flicks her fingers through her hair, and sends her snapping outward.

"Then, we have to travel to where Zagato is," she says, "and deal with him. To rescue those captured."

She gives Fuu -- and then Guru Clef, near his tree -- a long look. It isn't, exactly, a question.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

It's a Saturday. With a click of the bolt and a turn of the handle, Fate Testarossa still dressed in her uniform, opens the door to the Harlaown home. "I'm home!"

Sliding off her shoes into house slippers, Fate is immediately greeted to the sight of a sleepy Arf sprawled out on the couch in her puppy form, on her back, paws in the air, surrounded by throw pillows and her favorite orange blanket.

Arf turns over onto her belly, resting her head on her paws, too tired to use her mouth, she speaks mind to mind, <Welcome home Feito...> "Tiring day?" <Lot of errands.>

It trails off like she was already back to sleep, and Fate puts her bag on the kitchinette to have a seat, but not long after, <Did you have a good day at school?> "Oh yes."

Fate was already taking her notebook out. Then her pen, arranging her books around in an orderly fashion, including her kanji dictionary to do homework. Arf cracked open a single eye, watching her for a few seconds before continuing, <Not too much homework right?> "Well tomorrow is our day off so there's quite a bit. Why do you ask...?" <Because you're going to be busy. Lindy wanted me to tell you that there's a situation with some place called Sephi-something and you're supposed to go- somewhere when you get home.>

"Eh?" Fate stopped writing and started looking straight at her. <I'm going back to sleep.> Arf rolled over and... Fate was already over and gently nudging her, "Arf? Ah- Arf. Please deliver that message properly- Arf?"

~Not long after~

Despite Fate being able to fly, skipping from stone to stone is fun to an elementary schooler. She get's very into it, humming a tune as she goes. "Ah. These gardens are very pretty." Fate's eyes trail up to the tops of the trees, a breeze flowing through her hair, a small smile on her lips. Seeing as how Clef is off by himself and the closest person here to her age and stature kinda trails towards him since he doesn't seem to be the center of attention, "Ah. I'm Fate Testarossa, fourth year Infinity." A beat, "Do you go to my school?" To be fair, he does look like an elementary schooler.

But immediately Fuu is speaking then Hikaru as well, and so she straightens up to attention, her mien surprisingly serious as the two lay out the situation. "I see. I'll do everything in my power to assist." But then she's addressing the kid near her. But wait. Fuu says their name is Clef, which made them the teacher of... one of the people involved? Fate blinks her eyes rapidly as her mind goes over everything Fuu just said. Then she's just looking at Clef, with dot eyes.

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

"Cousin, the Magic Association is telling me that they need our aid," Batiste tells Nori.

Nori rolls over in her flumpfy bed. "... You know the Magic Association...?"

"Sometimes I receive telepathic signals from them," Batiste confides.

"Mm," Nori says. "That seems reasonable."


La Sirene du Nord has, presently, come, the thick and mystic roots of the trees beneath her feet alien but not unfamiliar. Batiste scampers along with her, and she regards Fuu now, as she explains and reveals herself.

"If I am free to act, I think that I could lead these monsters on a merry chase," la Sirene says, a bit diffidently, "without harm, if that is what is needed." Then her attention turns towards the Guru.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa transforms into Barrier Jacket!
COMBAT: Nori Ankou transforms into La Sirene du Nord!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi transforms into Puella Magi Homura!
<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Having received the call as a result of Heraut's telepathic capabilities, Ren wastes no time getting in touch with Endo about her intentions to answer to the summons. Luckily, Endo just so happened to be heading over for a date night, and apparently heard about the call from a source of his own. With those plans pretty much pushed aside for the meantime, they both arrive at the site of the meeting, Ren scrutinizing the stepping stones.

"I think it says we have to actually use them to get across..." Knowing she's not the most nimble person outside of when she's transformed, Ren looks a bit nervous about this task, though starts to cross nevertheless, hopping from stone to stone with a few balance issues here and there. But she ultimately makes it, eyes widening as the secret garden is revealed.

"W-Wow..." She looks back for Endo, momentarily, before turning to face the assembled group. Wait... Hououji-san is the Wind Knight?! Ren can barely hide her shock, though she listens to what the girl and her fellow knight have to say, feeling her sorrow profoundly. She looks to Fate, nodding along with her declaration to help however possible, going over to stand near the tiny girl and rest a hand on her shoulder.

"You have my help too. Ren Aizawa, eleventh grader at Infinity. I think we've see one another around before." She says with a sheepish chuckle.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Endo, when informed of distress, has come to answer the call. Generally he doesn't do what the Magic Association asks, but his informant-the 11 year old boy who made him run around chasing ribbons-has told him it might be a good idea. So, after consulting with Ren, he's come down to the garden to skip across stones.

He demonstrates no particular finesse in doing so. He could probably not do it for a living. He does seem impressed by the tones that each give out when his foot connects, and when he gets to the other side he bows his head a bit and listens to Fuu attentively. He's dressed plainly, having yet to don his barrier jacket, and chimes in: "I'm sorry you're having trouble, Fuu-san, we'll help however we can."

He makes polite nods around, smiling at the familiar sight of Fate, and other faces he knows. For the unenlightened, he introduces himself: "I'm Endo Naoki." He doesn't smile at Homura. Past encounters have inspired some wariness, perhaps.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3O67TxnmMU

Clef continues to concentrate on... whatever he's concentrating on, until, finally, he snaps back to the present -- or something like it. The light shining from his staff rises in intensity, and with a sweep of it, he summons into being a slightly cloudy and ephemeral vision, rather like the inside of a crystal ball.

Within it is the unmistakable sight of Umi Ryuuzaki, strung within a pillar of ice which has as many branches as a tree; it narrowly avoids being a crucifixion by having wholly encased most of Umi's body rather than impaling her instead.

Her head is free, and as brilliant red as her hair is blue. There's no audio, but it's obvious that she's spitting mad and yelling her head off.

Behind her are the other captured students, held in a cage of icy spikes. They appear to be unharmed, for now.

The Clef-o-Vision zooms out. They're being held in some kind of room... which has a window... because it's at the top of a tower... in the middle of a forest.

"They are at the Tower of Tears, in the middle of the Treacherous Woods," Clef says finally, his voice much older than his appearance, though not wheezing. If he heard any of the words addressed to him prior, he gives absolutely no sign of it. "This is fortunate -- the portal here exits at the edge of the woods, only an hour's travel from the tower. And even more importantly, this is not Zagato's headquarters; you may not have to face him, though certainly this is some kind of trap."

He taps his staff upon the ground, and the vision fades entirely. Turning to one of the nearby, massive roots, he shuffles along its length until he finds a bonsai garden that, upon close examination, looks very similar to the forest from before. It has several odd but lovely crystalline spikes within it; next to the tiny trees, they are like massive monoliths, even mountains.

Muttering something unintelligable and arcane, the mini-garden seems to grow... and grow... and grow, until everyone is standing in it. Other details change more gradually. The sky was overcast before, but the clouds seem to be parting, and up in the air are gigantic floating islands, some of which spill water off their edges. The air is impossibly clear and sweet, especially to the young lungs of Tokyo, but nowhere on Earth is the atmosphere so free of pollution. It's possible to see for miles around, and in the distance, mountains made out of pure crystal do seem to tower, magnificent when the sun refracts off in rainbow rays. A nearby pool of water is impossibly pure, bluer than bluer than blue.

Cephiro is not, by any means of the imagination, Earth.

"I will remain here," he says simply, "To guard this portal from those who would use it for ill. Now go -- that way," he points into the nearby, massive, ancient-looking forest with his staff, at a very precise angle. It seems like more than directions; it's A Direction, a heading to follow.

As the group disperses into the woods, he briefly holds back Fuu by the simple expedient of clasping her shoulder with his free hand (which is a little bit of a reach). "Little girl," he remarks simply, his gaze as endless as the depths of the heart (or a particularly boring lecture in the final period of a school day right before summer vacation; reactions to Clef vary), "You speak of your magic as though it has been lost, but it is not what has been lost at all."

He shakes his head disapprovingly. Adjusting his hand so that it's on Fuu's back instead, he shoves her forward, firmly, towards the forest. "This is Cephiro, where belief becomes power. But only you can decide what to believe in."

And then he vanishes. Perhaps he intends to use the portal as an ambush point for any of Zagato's forces that try to pass through it. Or maybe he just wanted to have the last word.

Master Magi are what they are.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UARM4q7hHU

The alien nature of Cephiro might be wonderful to some. Homura's violet eyes regard it with a certain coolness. It's the same coolness with which she regards Endo, Ren, and Fate. She remembers when she took the Jewel Seeds; she isn't remarking on it. Nor, for that matter, is she apologizing for it.

She frowns, instead. Clef's instructions hang in her mind: the Tower of Tears is in the middle of the Treacherous Woods. She nods at the Magus, then she turns and starts walking into the woods with that same cool that she always has.

Her shields hangs by her side. Her eyes are narrowed. However, as she walks, there is one little thing. A light humming.

...The tune may be familiar.

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet, having been notified by Steven, who received Fuu's missive on his phone, made her way to the intended spot.

The change in landscape, she finds not so much surprising as... nostalgic.

Gems are a race made of magic, and architecture made for the use of gems is brazenly magical, and she is remembers it, so many thousands of years ago.

Though of a different cultural make, clearly, the magical alien-ness of this place is quite welcome to a magical alien. She hops along the rising stones, seeming to savor each one, until she reaches the garden. he verdant richness of it reminds her of a dear, departed friend, who also gardened, cultivated, and imbued her plants with the substance of her heart and soul. Garnet stands in reverie for a moment.

Then, as Fuu begins to speak, she focuses on the task at hand.

She listens intently. She's not surprised to hear the revelation of Fuu's real name, as close friends and battlefield comrades both, Garnet has been priveleged with that knowledge for some time.

She's not the most talkative, but Garnet hopes just her presence demonstrates and reinforces to Fuu that she will support and stand by her (or in front of her if need be), against any trial or foe.

She follows the group when directed, and, though keeping the rear in case of ambush, enters into the woods with the rest of the magical girls.

<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Ren inclines her head at Endo with a smile, then turns to watch Clef as he speaks like a Master Magi would. She's definitely entranced by him and what he has to say. A gasp slips past her mouth as the vision of the trapped students is laid out before them. So they're in... a tower? Somewhere that looks old and nothing like Earth. Indeed, as Cephiro is revealed and Ren drinks in the utterly alien and fantastical sights (and smells) of it all, the weight of what'a being asked of them begins to click.

"We'll save them... right?" She looks down at Fate in particular, putting on a look of determination. They've been in pretty stick situations before -- and this was no different. Leaving Earth for another world is almost second nature for them now. Nothing to be nervous about, right?


When they get instructed to head into the woods, Ren hesistates a moment, looking to the others with the same steely determination. "Alright Heraut." She says after awhile, looking down at the ornate ring on her finger. It gem in the center of it glows along with a familiar chime of acknowledgement.


There's a flash of light as Ren transforms, Heraut now in the form of a powerful lance. "Let's go then..." She heads forward, eyes momentarily drifting to Homura, who is indeed here... hopefully for the right reasons.

COMBAT: Ren Aizawa transforms into Barrier Jacket Lustre!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Fate starts a little when Ren's hand descends on her shoulder. But then she smiles, looking a little pleased, as she nods at her and Endo in turn. "I'm glad you're both here." Even if she was from a different world, the thought of going to a magical world that had been taken over by such figures... is a little scary.

But her breath catches at the vision of cruelty of how Umi and the others are strung up in a pillar of ice. Fate remembers... she remembers being strung up like that. Helpless to the whims of another. And... when Ren says that, "We'll definitely save them." It is both a whisper and a vow in sotto voce.

No longer does she think of Clef as a child of her age, but a master magi which changes her attitude, no longer does she try to speak to him. It's not precisely the same way that she'd defer to her mother, however she's afraid of saying the wrong here and possibly offending him.

Her breath catches at the vision of Cephiro. She'd love to fly among those floating islands. To dance around and through those waterfalls. To explore those pure crystalline mountains... but instead they're going through a place known as the Treacherous Woods. Which looks especially dark and frightening.

Fate squares her small shoulders and steels herself for the task ahead, her hand gripping Bardiche as she takes in the direction of the finger point. "Here we go." Fate lifts off the ground and flies near the front of the group but relatively low to the ground.

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

At the name of that tower, la Sirene and Batiste both brighten slightly.

But that's just habit. She purses her lips at the news of the travel -- but the world changes, grows...

Batiste steps on the third world he has ever visited. La Sirene, too, if you think about it, though Batiste squeaks and gets on la Sirene's shoulder, rather than vice versa. And from here it is quite a walk, even in the company of others, some of whom are more familiar than others.

La Sirene finds herself absorbing the view in silence, breathing in the air, absorbing the place. (And admiring the flying skills of Fate, perhaps among others, with a little envy.)

"What's that song?" Batiste asks Homura, some time later.

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

It's not like Fuu can protest Clef-san having the last word in this case; still, his words are taken to heart. He's been one of the staunchest allies of the Magic Knights ever since they were first summoned to Cephiro, after all; he wants to see Emeraude rescued and Cephiro safe from evil. And she can't help but feel that he's given her exactly the clues she needed.

But for now, they have a direction in which to travel, and Fuu looks around at her allies. "Until I work out how to reawaken my magic, there's very little that I can do. I'm afraid I'll be dependent on the rest of you to protect me for the time being," she says apologetically, bowing to her allies. She's grateful that so many people have come to help - familiar and unfamiliar faces alike, and several whose identities she *hadn't* known willingly divulging their names in response to her own disclosure.

But her gratitude will have to be expressed later. For now, they have to traverse the Treacherous Woods and enter the Tower of Tears; Fuu had thought the Woods of Silence sounded foreboding enough. In the meantime, while staying as alert as she can for monsters or other hostiles, Fuu starts trying to puzzle out the riddle.

Homura's humming reaches her ears, though, and Fuu can't help but let out a soft giggle at the familiar melody.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Endo watches wide-eyed as the little trees grow into great, giant trees. And as the sky changes, and the air clears, the boy taking a big breath and trilling, "Wooow." He turns to Ren, asking, "Did you see that?" As if she wasn't standing next to him for the whole thing. He's more concerned about magic forests than he is what he's supposed to be doing in them.

At least for a moment. When he does remember, he makes a sharp nod of his head. "We should go forward! Stern, set up!" His hand rises, touching to his chest. Fingers explode with lurid, purple-black fire that burns across his entire body and leaves his new form in his wake. Armor, cape, giant sword, a proper faux-Belkan knight.

"Don't worry, we'll do our best." Endo assures Fuu, beginning to tromp forward with big, reaching steps. "This feels like a really good place to be a knight in."

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

The changes are surprising to some, but not to Hikaru. She simply watches, feeling a mixture of emotions flowing through her as these things happen. "We're going to help you, Fuu-chan, don't worry!" She says, still trying to force her smile. "We can do this!" But deep inside, Hikaru herself is starting to feel a bit of weakness herself, almost as if she feels like her emotions are dominating her and dragging her down. But unlike Fuu, who has lost her powers, Hikaru won't let this happen!

"We'll do more than do our best!" Hikaru comments in response to Endo. "We're gonna do this! We're gonna help Fuu-chan out, and we're gonna succeed!" As she speaks, the glistening of tears in her eyes can't be missed.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktxrmg5HYek

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.

They are lovely like a sword is lovely, as a form perfectly, breathtakingly suited to its function. Life is strong here, filling every possible space; there is life in the soil, roots and moss and ferns. There is life on the trunks, vines and twigs and leaves, a rainbow of flowers. There is life overhead, with the most spectacular foilage at the top of the canopy, but layers and layers of sub-canopies beneath, where cleverly angled leaves position themselves for every possible bit of light.

Which is also why it's dark.

And it's deep like the ocean is deep, which is to say, the further in one goes, the colder it gets and the harder it is to breathe. This is a forest that one could drown in.

Or perhaps it's deep like philosophy is deep -- impenetrable, confusing. Apt to give headaches when thought about too carefully.

Maybe that's stretching things too far. The Treacherous Woods are deep like a milkshake glass is deep. There are always a few drops at the very bottom that you just can't reach, and you try and try to get there, but if you try too hard you'll tip it all out at once and have a face full of a solid chunk of ice cream. Which is delicious but messy.

This one breaks down because the woods are not delicious at all. They are messy, though. It's all but impossible to stick to Clef's heading, because there are no paths in the Treacherous Woods -- which brings us back to philosophy, where there are no straightforward conversations, except for, possibly, ones involving strawmen and traps.

Which is more or less what happens after an hour of struggling forward through undergrowth and around impossibly thick tree trunks, any one of which could create a five minute detour. (One gets the sense that when Clef said 'an hour away' that was As The Master Magi Flies.) Finally, the trees part into something like a real road, but it's super, duper not the Tower of Tears at the end of this little forest boulevard, oh no.

It's wolves. Lots of wolves. Lots of wolves the size of Japanese sedans. Lots of wolves the size of Japanese sedans and the temperature of the South Pole, apparently, because steam is dripping from their jaws and it's not like firebreathing steam, it's definitely like dry-ice-hitting-room-temperature steam.

The wolves are white; their eyes are electric blue; they leave frosty pawprints. It is not very hard to guess whose beasts they are.

They howl as one, then charge, spreading out as they go to encircle the group!

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe transforms into Alcyone's Hunting Hounds!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has fully healed herself. She is now ready to take on 8 opponents!
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"Those don't look like natural wolves, do they?" Fuu wonders as she spots the icepack of wolves ahead. This is ... definitely, DEFINITELY not going to be easy - she can't even get a good count on how many there are. And they're already charging - by the time Fuu could get to a tree or something to try and climb to safety, she'd probably already be getting devoured alive.

Still - "Garnet-san, if Alcyone's magic doesn't reinforce those too much, then a few good punches should be enough to break each of them!" Fuu calls out. She's keeping in mind where each of her allies is, in case she needs to duck around one or another of them to shake a wolf off her back. Of course, with THIS many wolves, she'll just be putting herself in front of another, at least until the pack's numbers are whittled down.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou transforms into Magic Knight of Fire!
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Mm," Homura answers Batiste. "Something I remember from my childhood."

The humming stops a little after that. Perhaps it's self-consciousness; perhaps it's that laser focus on the mission that Homura Akemi often has.

She slows, though, as it grows darker. She slows as she has to pick, carefully, through paths that refuse to go straight -- at terrible brushes with tricks, confusion, and lots of underbrush. When she steps on the road, she is relieved.

Then she sees the wolves; her eyes narrow, for a moment, as she looks at the beasts with steram dripping from their jaws, and terrible ice on them. She reaches into her shield, then pulls out her Desert Eagle in a smooth motion. She cocks the pistol back, then starts running. As she does, she draws a bead.

The bullet fires, whipping towards one of the wolves, right between its eyes.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Impossible Aim on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Tactical Observation on Garnet.
COMBAT: Garnet accepts Fuu Hououji's Tactical Observation, taking 0 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Homura Akemi's Impossible Aim, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  Homura Akemi is Psyched!
<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Although she's already come to the conclusion that Cephiro is nothing like Earth, Ren still can't help but be gobsmacked by the differences. It's overwhelming in a sense. She looks to Endo more than once with a giddy smile, unable to stop herself from sharing in this sheer unbridled wonder with him. She suddenly wishes Lera were here to soak it all up, too.

Though, as they progress, and the natural light overhead begins to get blotted out, taking the heat out with it, she starts to worry. How long have they been walking now? Were they even still going in the right direction? She casts a weary glance at the canopy of trees above. How hard would it be for her to maneuver through them up into the air to get an idea of how far off course they may be? And even if she did manage to get past the overhang of greenery, what if she ends up getting lost? This doesn't seem like the place one unfamiliar with how things work here on Cephiro would want to get lost.

"Heraut, are you able to sense anything?" She finally asks, biting her bottom lip anxiously. Her device remains quiet, as if searching the immediate area, before hitting back with a sudden alert.

<Hostiles ahead!>

And that's when the wolves show themselves up ahead to the group, looking fearsome and not at all like natural wolves as Fuu points out. Indeed they do not -- wolves don't breathe steam like that. "Hououji-san!" Ren says as the beasts attack, prompting her to step in front of the currently powerless Wind Knight, lance inverted as she stabs it into the ground. The effect is immediately, as one of the wolves finds itself the target of a phantasmal spike of energy erupting out of the ground beneath it's charging feet!

COMBAT: Ren Aizawa has used Bane Spike on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

There's something about the woods that simultaneously takes her breath away from their loveliness, unnerves her, and makes her reconsider this course ...but Fate has promises to keep.

She has a difficult time following the heading though... because she's having to weave so much the claustrophic clusters of plantlife and wide trees while staying with the group. "Bardiche. Do you have any idea if we're on the right course?" <Unable to triangulate, Sir.>

After about an hour of travelling and trying to assist others having trouble finding their way around... until they hit a road. And down the forest boulevard of broken dreams is...

"Ah- incoming!" Now. Fate likes wolves. Fate likes wolves a lot. However these are giant monstrous wolves that look like they could freeze them solid given how their chill breath was steaming and... "Not at all!" Fate responds to Fuu saying whether they look like natural wolves.

She doesn't really hesitate. Flying a little higher with a spinning flourish of her poleaxe device before she points it at one of the lead wolves. A globe of energy starts to form at the twin diodes at the top. It's smaller than her normal presentations of lightning but... <Thunder Bullet> ... it's also faster.

The lightning projectile is a blur as it crosses the gap between them, trying to punch right into its flanks.

Fate watches Homura try to shoot another wolf between the eyes... Fate silently promised that she'd bring Arf an extra treat when she gets back.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Thunder Bullet on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

"But why don't we just cut it down?" This is probably the tenth time Endo has asked this on the trip. He's very adamant about going forward, and trees have not been helping the situation. His latest attempt to enact his strategy is, thankfully, rather abruptly derailed when there are worse things in the path than choking plants and twisting paths.

"Ah--wow. Aren't these things a little much?" More than a little, considering their size. Endo's head cranes around to look at the assembled travelers, making sure they're prepared before his attention snaps back to the charging animals.

<INCOMING.> Fallen Stern warbles helpfully.

"Got it!" And Endo goes to meet the charge. Toward the nearest one, flashing forward and just a smidge to the side of the first beast he can get near and driving his sword toward it.

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

Wolves... why did it have to be wolves?

No time for wondering now. Hikaru knows that she's got to do something about this, especially since her friend is in danger, along with the others here. Fortunately, Hikaru already had her glove-jewel on as well, so all she had to do was call out those magic words.

"Belief becomes power ... flames guide me!"

The flames do guide her, as they surround her and provide her with cover as she turns into the Magic Knight of Fire. The flames disappear and the Fire Knight is there now. She shakes her head and says, "You beasts don't scare me! We'll take care of you!"

Summoning forth the fiery power she possesses, the Fire Knight summons the flames into an arrow shape. "Fire Arrow!" She calls out, making a gesture almost like she's shooting an arrow or something, which is what she does as the fiery arrow flies at one of the wolves.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Blauverschiebung on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Fire Arrow on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Endo Naoki's Blauverschiebung, taking 10 Fatigue damage!  Endo Naoki is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Ren Aizawa's Bane Spike, taking 33 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Stun applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Fate Testarossa's Thunder Bullet, taking 18 Fatigue damage!  Fate Testarossa is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe perfectly dodges Hikaru Shidou's Fire Arrow, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!
<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet nods at Fuu's advice. "I'll try to deal with them quickly. Stay safe. I'll keep an eye out for you." A knowing semi-joke perhaps, only funny to Garnet so far, but from the sound of things, there are many grim times ahead.

Garnet cracks her knuckles, and focuses on the energy that flows through the cosmos, an easier task here almost than back on Earth, since the magical energies here make no attempts to hide themselves. In a a red-purple flash of light, her armored gauntlets appear on her hands!

She decides to start off strong, and jumps towards the wolves, smashing one over and over with a flurry of punches that defy sight, the light reflected off of her gauntlets creating a glittering trail of red-purple light as the wolf is struck over and over,!

COMBAT: Garnet transforms into Garnet's Got Gauntlets!
COMBAT: Garnet has used Adamantine Barrage on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Garnet's Adamantine Barrage, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Stagger applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

This hushed and mystic passage rests on la Sirene's thoughts as they keep on moving. It is a forest like an ocean, yes, and even the initial charm of another world fades as time passes. And then...

Wolves! Batiste squeaks in dismay, at the sight of a larger carnivore, but La Sirene is feeling perhaps unusually stoic today. (No, not really... but even if she is playing it in a devil may care way, the mixture of Fuu's heartfelt reveal of her identity and the fact that this witch, Alcyone, has come to Tokyo to add to their miseries has gotten her worked up.)

She takes in a deep breath of the chilled air, which is now lightly scented with cordite, aka The Scent of a Homu, and raises up her lantern.

"Behind you," she tells the wolves - she opens the lens -

There's a faint stir in the air and a shadowy la Sirene du Nord A GOOD HUNDRED FEET TALL cast on one of those immense trees behind them.

Hopefully they look!

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Brockenspectre on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace La Sirene du Nord's Brockenspectre, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  La Sirene du Nord is Psyched!  Diversion applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

The forest was claustrophobic before but it's infinitely worse with a difficult-to-count supply of magical icy hounds from a cold day in hell. People bump into each other, trip over roots, get momentarily separated and find themselves in almost total darkness -- it is not a good time all around.

The vanguard wolves don't have a very good time either, though; one ducks Homura's bullet only to be impaled by Ren's energy spike, and then rendered unto dust by Fate's lightning (don't feel too guilty, dog-lovers, the way that it breaks down into /nothing/ makes it pretty obvious that these are summoned creatures in the created-from-nothing-but-not-long-lasting sense), while a second wolf blocks Endo's strike by the simple expedient of whirling and taking Fallen Stern in its jaws for a moment, initiating a tug of war that's rather terrifyingly even-sided. The wolf should not be able to get that much leverage without hurting itself. Indeed, little spurts of icy blood -- which is to say, it's blue, and it freezes instantly upon contact with anything -- fly with each shake of its massive head.

Still another wolf weaves around Hikaru's Fire Arrow, then gets pummeled to bits by Garnet, in part because its buddy, who was about to leap on the Crystal Gem's back, got very distracted by the hundred-foot-tall La Sirene implied to be behind it.

After that, though, the rest of the pack arrives, and battle is joined in earnest. Whenever there's free space, suddenly there's a snarling, lunging wolf filling it, or at least passing claws or fangs through it. Hikaru and Fuu are particularly passionately pursued, to the point that the wolves are willing to endanger themselves to the girls' allies in order to get to them, with wolves shimmying underneath, around, and between people, to lunge at them, fangs-first.

Which isn't to say the others go ignored. Nori's wolf gets its head straight and somewhat belatedly howls at her, Garnet and Homura, trying to take them down with an onslaught of pure sonic hell. Ren and Fate are suddenly isolated and surrounded, beset on all sides like they're the holes in a figure 8. Fate's height is no safety at all, and indeed probably a liability; there are so many low branches, and so many of them at least as sharp as the average wolf claw, and also the wolves can leap from them...

What's more, growls from deeper inside the forest promise further reinforcements shortly.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Slavering Jaws on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Dreadful Fangs on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Dreadful Fangs on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Downed By The Bay on La Sirene du Nord.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Downed By The Bay on Garnet.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Downed By The Bay on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pack Tactics on Ren Aizawa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pack Tactics on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Who Let The Dogs Out on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe accepts Hotaru Tomoe's Who Let The Dogs Out, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Hotaru Tomoe is Reinforced by Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa narrowly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Pack Tactics, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Fate Testarossa's Reverse ability activates!  Fate Testarossa's Tactician ability activates!  Cripple, Diversion, and Trap applied to Fate Testarossa!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa's counterattack, Scythe Slash, partially gets through, doing 14 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Ren Aizawa narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Pack Tactics, taking 14 Fatigue damage!  Ren Aizawa's Flash ability activates!  Cripple, Diversion, and Trap applied to Ren Aizawa!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Slavering Jaws, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Endo Naoki's Block ability activates!  Endo Naoki's Parry ability activates!  Stagger and Stun applied to Endo Naoki!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou fails to brace Hotaru Tomoe's Dreadful Fangs, taking 37 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou covers Fuu Hououji for Hotaru Tomoe's attack, Dreadful Fangs, taking it upon themselves instead!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord perfectly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Downed By The Bay, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Counter!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord's counterattack, Les Mysteres, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou fails to brace Hotaru Tomoe's Dreadful Fangs, taking 35 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi perfectly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Downed By The Bay, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!  Homura Akemi's Fade ability activates!  Homura Akemi's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Garnet narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Downed By The Bay, taking 23 Fatigue damage!  Garnet's Fade ability activates!  Garnet's Flash ability activates!  Stun applied to Garnet!
<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The wolves come at the Fire Knight fast. So fast that she can't even protect herself in time. She finds herself getting set upon by at least one hungry wolf, sinking its fangs into her. She yelps and pushes the wolf off of her. "Unngh, stay away from me!" She looks at herself and sees that she's bleeding. "That hurt more than I thought..." Then she remembers Fuu is defenseless! "No! Hold on, Fuu-chan, I'm coming!"

Before the other wolf can get to Fuu, the Fire Knight is standing in front of her, planting herself firmly and attempting to defend herself. "You won't get my friend!" Unfortunately, the wolf is faster and more skilled than the Fire Knight is, as it sinks its fangs into the Fire Knight again, causing more blood to come out. This time, when the Fire Knight tries to attack again, she drops to one knee, gasping for air. "D-don't worry... about me, Fuu-chan... Find safety..." The Fire Knight takes a deep breath and then stands up, staring at the wolves again. Despite her injuries, she refuses to give up. Her fire magic engulfs her sword as she rushes at the wolves. "May you burn for what you've done!" She swings the fiery blade at the wolves, attempting to get at least one of them.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Flaming Slash on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Hikaru Shidou's Flaming Slash, taking 6 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Homura isn't wild about the dogs. She needs space to move, and the wolf pack is large enough that she feels that space is a precious commodity. Her strike doesn't hit, but she is pleased to see Ren's energy blast end it. She scowls, though, as she turns to see several of the dogs howling at her. Sound, however, moves as waves, and it stops when time stops.

The only sound is her shield clicking into place. Sands begin to flow -- and Homura jumps, leaping over the wolves, and landing in some of that precious space. She turns, drawing her bead, aiming her gun at four different frost wolves from behind.

She fires, each time. Bullets fly out -- then jerk to a stop, air spiralling behind each yet frozen. Homura takes a few steps back; she brushes against a tree, which turns from grey to its more vibrant greens.

Then, she clicks the shield into place again and time resumes. The bullets fly as one -- and Homura wasn't where the hounds had aimed at.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Bullet Time on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe perfectly braces Homura Akemi's Bullet Time, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Brace!
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Fuu had actually thought wolves were sort of neat, but then, she's never been staring a pack of ice-elemental wolves in the teeth like this. *And* she's completely helpless if they should happen to catch her, which is always good for adding extra terror to a situation. The best she can do is try to avoid them, and there are so many wolves - who likely know the forest better than any of the party from Tokyo - that dodging one wolf practically dumps her in the path of another one. She's just about to mentally apologize to her family for being so inconsiderate as to die when Hikaru comes out of nowhere to protect her.

At grievous cost.

"Hikaru-san!!" Fuu exclaims, wishing she could cast a healing spell - and for one split second, one fraction of an instant, she could swear she saw a glint of light in her glove-jewel. And then, when she blinks, it's gone again.

Find safety. Can wolves climb trees? Tigers probably could, or panthers, but wolves are closer to dogs than to cats, and it's not like anywhere on the ground is going to give her better odds. Fuu glances around briefly, spots what looks like a decent tree, and starts climbing as fast as she can. She's not exactly stocky with muscle, but between what upper-body conditioning she can claim from archery, and the lower-body conditioning that comes from phys ed class's track and field, she's probably in somewhat better shape than your typical middle-school RPG nerd.

And being light SHOULD help with trying to climb a tree.

<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

If anything, Ren should have expected more wolves to come out of the woodwork. "N-not fair!" But ice wolves probably don't know the meaning of fair. She's forced to try and move out of the way of the incoming beasts, ducking and weaving to the best of her ability. Unfortunately this means she mostly loses track of Fuu and the others. However! She /does/ somehow end up with Fate, the two of them cut off from the others.

And surrounded.

Not good /at all/.

"Fate-chan!" Ren shouts as she tries to dodge another one of the wolves, not being so lucky this time as she's hit once, twice, and then a third time by their streaking forms. She's tossed about like a pinball for a bit, before she regains her bearings and plants herself firmly by Fate's side once again. She's considerably faster in her new mode than before -- but the wolves are even swifter, still.

"Fate-chan." Ren says again, barrier jacket ripped in several places. "Let's blow our way out of this!"

<<Endo-kun! Fate and I are going to make some noise!>>


Midchildan runes flare to life as a torrent of energy is unleashed into the air around them, joining in with Fate's own efforts to hopefully burn their attackers to nothingness.

COMBAT: Ren Aizawa has started a combo targeting Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

That wolf is thrown, and as it turns itself to burst out a horrid howl, la Sirene is already raising up her hand. Some part of her exults in this, subtly, but in a way that struggles. Maybe it is simply a somewhat manic phase.

"Les Myste-"

"res, COME!" La Sirene cries out, even as bullets suddenly jerk around her. She has no idea what just happened, only that her own silvery chord of light smashed outwards, the silver-and-black light having its own characteristic wailing echo which inverts and neutralizes at least some of that oncoming howl - a sound map would show it beautifully, but for la Sirene, for a moment, there is only silence.

And darkness. Well. Something like darkness. "Hrah!" she declaims, as the lens of the Brazen Pharos opens again to pour out inky inverse-light out into the face of the frozen wolf. Even to IT this light may seem cold -- can it handle such inversions?

And if not, can Homura shoot it while it's distracted? Hopefully that one is a 'yes' if the first one is a 'no'...

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Skip a Turn on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji accepts Fuu Hououji's Skip a Turn, taking 0 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

<I HAVE BEEN SEIZED.> Fallen Stern's trip report on the battle so far sounds as disgruntled as an ugly, synthesized voice can.

Endo Naoki says, "Hey---let go! That's mine!" Endo flails back and forth when his target catches his weapon in its jaws, the boy furiously tugging it back toward them, wiggling left and right in attempt to dislodge his device from the wolf that's chewing on it. A vicious tug-of-war ensues.

<<Okay, Ren-kun, Fate-san, I'll-->>


"I'm trying!" It turns out Endo is too busy to help. He and the wolf go on like this for several seconds more before Endo decides to try something difference. He sets his feet, angled his sword, and pushes. Stern flares to life, propelling itself and Endo straight into the wolf. Hopefully to slam it into one of the trees behind it, and skewer it there."

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Asteroid Eilen on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe perfectly counters Endo Naoki's Asteroid Eilen, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Critical Counter!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe's counterattack, Go Dogs Go, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Endo Naoki!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

The way they're reduced to dust is a relief. "Constructs?" ... Now Fate felt much better about giving it her all.

But... there's a blur whipping by her, and Fate turns with a gasp as her cape flutters in its wake. Which gets caught on a low branch. Ripping it away with a quick motion, the low branches prevent her from flying any higher, in fact if anything she moves lower. "They're coming in fast!" <Scythe Form.>

Bardiche's pole axe head folds into itself and retracts backwards, a blade of jagged mana erupting. Another wolfen blur nips at her off-hand glove while Bardiche is shifting and she yelps. There are so many, and they're all closing in and... <Scythe Slash> Fate cuts a circular arc through the one that gripped onto her, before whipping the scythe back and forth in an attempt to ward them off.

But she can't cover all of her sides. They're all around her. They're all around Ren and... the two can't even fight back to back with the way the Wolves have surrounded them both. "Ren. We need to- we need to..." Suddenly she became calm. It felt a little strange, but she remembered fighting all of those magical girls at once, in the middle of the city. That desperation she felt. That drive to fulfill her mother's wish.

Now a drive to protect.

Ren is calling for her and... "...you're right. Let's blast our way out." With one last wave of her scythe to try to ward the wolves off, it starts to change again, <Sealing Form. Set up.> The head folds back even further until it's flat and parallel with the haft. Wings of mana erupt from the back. She holds it towards the center of the figure eight. <<It'll be a bit loud, but don't worry.>> Perhaps an understatement. When Midchildan mages team up it's always a cause for worry.

Two concentric targetting rings of runes form around the head. A pulsing globe of mana that forms, growing larger and larger and... <Raid Cross> "FIRE!"

The pulsing globe collapses into an eruption of power, crossing at the exact same spot as Ren's, before she arcs it around to each others in the crossfire of the two riotous streams of power.

Maybe somewhere out there, Nanoha Takamachi feels a swell of pride and doesn't know why.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has joined the combo started by Ren Aizawa!
COMBAT: COMBO! Ren Aizawa and Fate Testarossa have used Combo: Combination Crusade!, composed of Raid Cross, on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Ren Aizawa and Fate Testarossa's Combo: Combination Crusade!, taking 32 Fatigue damage!  Ren Aizawa and Fate Testarossa are Psyched!
<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

With the help of her comrades and her third eye, Garnet succeeds in destroying a wolf without any of the pack laying a claw or fang on her, but the numbers of the wolves are not without their dangers.

When the sonic hell comes, she has nowhere to dodge, and though she keeps herself from stumbling into any of the nearby wolves, she falls to the side grabbing her hair. Even its luxurious thickness offers little protection from the howl's assault.

She groans, but is momentarily relieved at seeing several wolves explode, even though the river of time seems to stop.

Garnet hops up as quickly as she can, and aiming low on a nearby wolf, brings up a one two combo of a sweeping bird kick, and a determined fist to its jaw!

COMBAT: Garnet has used Jawbreaker! on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Garnet's Jawbreaker!, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Garnet is Psyched!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Pieces of the Perfect Black on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe perfectly dodges La Sirene du Nord's Pieces of the Perfect Black, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!
<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apaJ3A56XbM

Hikaru's flaming blade provides much of the illumination for a few seconds, as she swings it through the air, then scorches three of the ice wolves consecutively, cutting through them like a hot knife through butter. Which makes a certain amount of sense, really. They continue to try to surround her, but once Fuu is more than a few feet off the ground, she's pretty safe. Their interest in branches extends only to the lowest ones.

It's in that light that Homura sees four wolves eat her bullets and then spit them out all mangled and small, ptoo, before charging her. La Sirene summons Halloween by adding black to the orange, creating a kind of strobe effect in which one can watch Endo blast forward with his Device, and the wolf plant ALL FOUR PAWS on the trunk of the tree, Pretty Cure style, and then WRENCH with all its might, trying to wrest Stern from his grasp or crack the blade, whichever comes first.

Ren and Fate spectacularly blast away many of the wolves, but they continuously circle away from the crossfire, and more rush out of the woods to reinforce their buddies. There are so many of them now that they're starting to just body check the girls, trying to slam them to the ground, then pile on. (Homura and her four wolves, it's worth noting, are near this fracas, and if they can the wolves will try to drive her into it thoroughly.)

La Sirene meanwhile has to contend with a wolf thoroughly abused by Garnet's feet and fists, who somehow manages to stagger away and try to get an icy grip on the Pharos in the same way that other one got ahold of Endo's sword. Garnet finds herself new partners quickly enough, who try to gnaw on any part of her they can grasp, and quickly they grasp /mentally/ that her hair is the most chewable.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Dreadful Fangs on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pack Tactics on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Dogpile on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Dogpile on Ren Aizawa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Dogpile on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Slavering Jaws on La Sirene du Nord.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Hungry Hungry Hounds on Garnet.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Who Let The Dogs Out on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe accepts Hotaru Tomoe's Who Let The Dogs Out, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe is Reinforced by Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Dogpile, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe is Psyched!  Blind applied to Fate Testarossa!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi perfectly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Dogpile, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Counter!  Homura Akemi's Reverse ability activates!  Homura Akemi's Tactician ability activates!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi's counterattack, Suspend Time, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Dreadful Fangs, taking 26 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Ren Aizawa narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Dogpile, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Ren Aizawa's Block ability activates!  Ren Aizawa's Parry ability activates!  Blind applied to Ren Aizawa!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Pack Tactics, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Diversion and Trap applied to Hikaru Shidou!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord fails to dodge Hotaru Tomoe's Slavering Jaws, taking 29 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Gh...!" Homura hisses, softly, as she sees the wolves /eat/ her bullets. She didn't expect that. She chides herself for it, mentally. She is aware, too, that Ren and Fate are having problems behind her. Someone more inclined to be a team player might think to move back with them -- to fight back-to-back.

Homura, instead, sees the four dogs pouncing at once to bodyslam her and stops time. She ducks low, running underneath one; then she turns on a heel, spinning to face the four wolves as they descend.

They fall directly towards a pipe bomb.

Homura's shield clicks back into place, the sands stopping their flow. The wolves come down -- and then the bomb explodes, fire and shrapnel shooting out at the four all at once.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Homemade Bomb on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Homura Akemi's Homemade Bomb, taking 3 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Garnet narrowly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Hungry Hungry Hounds, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Garnet's Tactician ability activates!  Bind Break! All of Hotaru Tomoe's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Garnet's counterattack, License to (Electric) Eel, partially gets through, doing 7 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Seeing several wolves get blasted away from them does wonders for Ren's morale, giving her some much needed breathing room. Though not for long, unfortunately, since even /more/ come flooding in and start to throw themselves directly at her and Fate. Ren dodges a couple, then throws up a hasty shield in time to tank most of the force from one of the wolves she's failed to avoid, sending her flying back into a tree. "Ungh!" She cries out, feeling her back erupt into mind-numbing pain. Nothing is broken however thanks in full to her barrier jacket's efficient buffer.

There's no time to focus on the pain, though, as the wolves just keep on coming. Ren spares a glance in Homura's direction, seeing that she too is having a hard time with the conjured beasts. Or maybe /not/, since in the blink of an eye she's no longer in the direct path of four oncoming wolves, who all dogpile on a-


...Bomb. Ren covers her face and lets out a gasp, a bit rattled by the sudden explosion. Right. That's how the mysterious magical girl fights. With conventional weapons. It's pretty risky since collateral damage is obviously a thing for her...

Shaking her head to clear it she springs back into action, trying to tag several of the wolves by dashing past them while delivering quick jabs with her lance.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

While her dual blast with Ren may have burned away so many Fate... is getting buried during the sudden rush of reinforcements. Overwhelmed by the sudden onrush of dogs, the only thing she can do is interpose Bardiche's haft, twisting it to catch each set of jaws or raking claws that comes her way.

It's a spinning flourish at first to parry each blow, but it soon becomes more and more desperate. She can't even see Ren and Endo anymore. She can just hear the explosions and the sound and fury. She can't bring the blade to bear... it's all she can do to just parry against the endless wave of fur and fang and claw. And most of her spells are cast directly through Bardiche...

...but not all.

While it's a risky gamble given that she won't have both of her hands holding him, she suddenly let's go with her right hand, drawing it back. A sphere of crackling electricity forms, swirling in that palm and... she punches it forward. <Spark Edge>

It explodes into a shower of glinting sparks whose brightness only seems to form deeper shadows throughout the forest as they course throughout the wolves.

COMBAT: Ren Aizawa has used Quick Jabs! on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Spark Edge on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Ren Aizawa's Quick Jabs!, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Ren Aizawa is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Fate Testarossa's Spark Edge, taking 11 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Cripple and Diversion applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet has her hands full dodging her new dancing partners. She takes small bites here and there deflecting what she can with her gauntlets, until the wolves suddenly seem to hit on an idea, and all start to target her hair! One grabs on! "Ow!" Then a second! And they begin to pull, when she decides to give them a bit more than they could chew. She sends her electrical magic through her body, and up to her hair!

Her hair expands unkeptly beyond its normal square constraints, but in exchange, she sends these bad boys a jolt that would make a shock collar envious.

She follows up with another pulse of electricity, a pulse of ball lightning equal to the wolves' size, bursting with heat and light, the better to put distance between them and the now somewhat physically frazzled Captain Square!

COMBAT: Garnet has used Adamantine Spark on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

So she's safe from the wolves, at least for the time being. That gives Fuu a fairly good view of her friends and allies being set upon en masse by the ice-wolves.

It's not exactly an enjoyable spectacle, of course, mostly because from the bulk of what she can see, her friends are *losing* - and unlike Tokyo, where the beaten magical girls could potentially pick themselves up and limp home, or revert to civilian identities and be rescued by professionals, if they get wiped out *here* then they'll be lucky to ever wake up again ... and if they do, most likely it'll be imprisoned next to Umi-san and the others.

Stil, there has to be something ... "They're magical constructs, right?" Fuu calls out. "That should mean that if we can break Alcyone's control over them - disrupt whatever spell created them - then they'll be weaker for it!"

"... hopefully," she adds under her breath. Then she looks around, trying to get her bearings on the tower again. If she could at least confirm which direction Alcyone-san is *in*, maybe she'd be able to distract the ice witch or something ... not that it would necessarily do that much good.

And there's one other possibility that comes to mind, but - well. She'd prefer not to have to fall back on THAT option, seeing as it could leave all of them helpless prisoners: hardly an optimal outcome.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Garnet's Adamantine Spark, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Diversion applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

A wolf lunging for the Pharos?! La Sirene dislikes this. Her first reflex is to clutch the treasure to her chest, but Batiste squeals a warning, too late - too late by half - because instead, that wolf digs in on her wrist and WRENCHES!

La Sirene is thrown to the side. Not to the ground, but twisted; the fanged embrace and the snap of that muscular neck twisting her like a ragdoll! Her eyes go wide as her spine pops in two places, as her arm seems to come aflame with pain...

She does not even really think about what she says next, well, does next - what she says is along the lines of "EEEAAAAGH!!!" What she DOES, though, is slam her free hand forwards, aiming to smash her knuckles into the wolf's snout with a shocking amount of force. "LET GO! You can't have it!!"

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Skip a Turn on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji accepts Fuu Hououji's Skip a Turn, taking 0 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used NO! BAD! on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges La Sirene du Nord's NO! BAD!, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Stagger applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Endo is surprised, to say the least, when the wolf gets the better of him. His last attempt to hang on to Stern goes disastrously, Endo up-ended and lifted from the ground as he loses his grip, his legs kicking in the air as he upside-down flails his way into a nearby tree.

<REQUESTING RETRIEVAL.> The dark metal that makes up Fallen Stern is developing fractures around the spot where teeth grip it, but the gem in its crossguard still pulses with its 'speech'.

When Endo picks himself up his head snaps around, taking what stock her can of the battle and where Fate, Ren, and the rest of his allies have fallen. But there are more important things to do.

He charges! He doesn't try to grab Stern this time, though. Instead he remembers his training; a year of drilling after school every day, an eon of sweat, pain, and determination. Now is the time to reap the reward. At the last second with just inches between him and the wolf he draws his foot back...and slams it into Fallen Stern like he's kicking off a Rugby ball.

And while the Device is freed and soaring skyward he punches the wolf right in its teeth.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Return of Real Skills on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Endo Naoki's Return of Real Skills, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Endo Naoki is Psyched!
<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Weakened but unable to stop fighting, the Fire Knight does her best to avoid the latest attack, but unfortunately she fails. She drops to the ground, trying to keep the wolves off of her, before she somehow leaps away, albeit very weakly, as she collapses to one knee while holding her sword in the ground as she does so. "No... mustn't let this happen!" She closes her eyes and begins to breathe deeply.

"Focus, you can do this!" She says to herself as she breathes even more. She won't give up that easily. "No, I'm not going to let this happen!" She casts another fire spell on her sword, only this time the flames are sent towards the wolves as she slashes her sword.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used You're Fired on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Hikaru Shidou's You're Fired, taking 6 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

'Homura puts a pipe bomb under the dogpile' is probably the most salient piece of the action around herself, Ren, and Fate, so let's discuss it in some detail. It means that most of the wolves are blasted straight up into the air, easy picking for Ren's lance, though they're moving so quickly that precise aim is difficult.

Some did land, though, all fur and claws in the girls' faces. It's a terrible few moments until Fate sends them blasting off again.

But what comes up... must come down. The wolves conspire to come down fangs-first, howling as they do. And some of them were sent flying well above Fuu's position, and seem eager to drag her back down to the hellish battlefield, breaking the relative peace of her perch with an abrupt intrusion of wolfen fang and claw.

Endo and Nori have kind of the same idea, what with punching the wolves holding onto their artifacts. It goes well for them both, if differently; La Sirene's wolf ducks under her fist, but that forces it to let go -- it will now try to grasp her leg, instead -- and Endo had already kicked Stern out, so, after his fist somewhat painfully grazes ice cold fangs, the wolf really has nothing else to do but accept the hand so graciously delivered unto its mouth. CHOMP.

Finally, Garnet and Hikaru wield electricity and fire against their wolves respectively, and both find some success. But it's not quite enough to clear them breathing room -- perhaps if they fought towards each other to be back-to-back, they would be able to turn the tide! In the meantime, burnt, shocked wolves are hungry for more...

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used All Dogs Go To Heaven on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used All Dogs Go To Heaven on Ren Aizawa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used All Dogs Go To Heaven on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used All Dogs Go To Heaven on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Dreadful Fangs on La Sirene du Nord..
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Dreadful Fangs on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Hungry Hungry Hounds on Garnet..
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Hungry Hungry Hounds on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's All Dogs Go To Heaven, taking 10 Fatigue damage!  Fate Testarossa's Fade ability activates!  Fate Testarossa's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Dreadful Fangs, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  La Sirene du Nord's Block ability activates!  La Sirene du Nord's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Dreadful Fangs, taking 34 Fatigue damage!  Endo Naoki's Block ability activates!  Endo Naoki's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Hungry Hungry Hounds, taking 2 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Hikaru Shidou's Block ability activates!  Hikaru Shidou's Parry ability activates!  Bind Break! All of Hotaru Tomoe's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Garnet narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Hungry Hungry Hounds, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Garnet's Fade ability activates!  Garnet's Flash ability activates!  Bind Break! All of Hotaru Tomoe's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa covers Fuu Hououji for Hotaru Tomoe's attack, All Dogs Go To Heaven, taking it upon themselves instead!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa fails to brace Hotaru Tomoe's All Dogs Go To Heaven, taking 17 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's All Dogs Go To Heaven, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Homura Akemi's Fade ability activates!  Homura Akemi's Flash ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Endo lets out a cry of pain when the wolf chomps down on his hand. That could have gone better. His fingers clench as the construct gnaws into his barrier jacket, a few jerking motions and steps taken back to free himself form it.

Having his sword again helps. When Fallen Stern comes tumbling down he reaches for it, grasping the hilt after the hunk of dark metal comes crashing to earth. Through the pain he starts his spell, Belkan triangles forming around the knight as he whips the weapon above his head. He moves faster, beginning to rotate, spinning like a top.

The blade comes around a huge arc, ugly purple contrails shimmering in the air. Just for a moment, and then Endo is sending the metal whirling into his opponent in hopes of cleaving it straight in half.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Meteor Absturz on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Homura ducks to the side, not managing to stop time; they creatures' fangs and claws slash at her, and she just barely gets to the side. A few strands of black hair, cut by the frost wolves' claws, drift away. She hisses, lightly, before she reaches into her shield. She pulls out one of those unlikely armaments she keeps there.


<They have the Key!> Soaring Sky's voice echoed through the skies of Tokyo. Homura watched the orange blur of Lera Camry sweep by, trying to catch up with a helicopter after her. Her violet eyes narrowed -- then widened, when an electrified net shot at the mage. Her limbs jolted, as it hit.

Then, Homura nodded, and flipped her shield into place. She leaped for the black helicopter -- and grabbed one of the nets out of the air.

She only paid a brief glance at the orange-haired Midchildan mage, scowling at her as Homura took the very net that struck her. "C'mon, you could have helped me!"

"I could do a lot of things," Homura muttered under her breath.


Now, Homura pulls the net out of her shield. She swings it, then looses it for the frost wolves. When it comes at the ones attacking her, Ren, and Fate, the net shudders -- and then electrifies, giving the wolves a good zap if it comes close, and more if they try to tear free. "Tch. You should stay down," she commands the wolves.

It's said coldly.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Relativity on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Endo Naoki's Meteor Absturz, taking 68 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Homura Akemi's Relativity, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Cripple and Trap applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Watching the wolves fall back, Garnet decides this has gone on too long, and she's had enough. She's going to tap into her inner berserker. She snaps her fingers, and pops on a red headband, the better to keep her hair somewhat contained for what's about to happen. And what's about to happen, is she's going to start hitting all that she can, as hard as she can, until they're all gone.

She focuses her magic into her gauntlets, again, feeling the harmony of the cosmos, and forging the energy with purpose! Her gauntlets grows four times their size, and she rushes towards the wolves!

Garnet bobs and weaves through their number, delivering glowing punches like pistons, over and over on each wolf she can reach, every impact causes a small shockwave of red-purple light, and sonic boom, that thumps along the assaulted wolves like a beat.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Garnet has used Omni Beat Mania on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

It's a chaotic mess with dogs flying everywhere. Up and down. A rain of them that is very hard to avoid. But Fate is swift...

...she's not called the Golden Flash for nothing.

A golden haze of mana follows her as she skirts between each falling descending canine. She twists, and rolls in a dazzling set of aerial maneuvers that are low to the ground in the treacherous forest. A few slash marks may appear across her barrier jacket with a grunt but she's acquitting herself well until...

... she sees them descending onto Fuu's position. A quite helpless Fuu, as it stands right now. She has only half a second to make a decision.

She turns abruptly, a blur of light beelining right for her, above her. Just as the wolf that was descending upon Fuu catches her instead.

Catches the wrist of the arm holding Bardiche, starting to wrestle the smaller Midchildan mage to the ground in a snarling mass. Others who were going for her find a far easier target on the mage and... "I d-did so many cruel t-things..." Her opposite hand rises abover her head, the child wincing as fangs dig deeper into her other arm. The forest is suddenly filled with so much light, motes of brightness like will'o'wisps or glittering stardust on a tapestry of obsidian trees.

"...nevertheless s-she was one of the f-first to welcome me when I... r-realized I was wrong." A strangled sound rises from her throat from the pain, "I won't... let you... h-hurt her..." Suddenly, like her hand was a singularity, calling them to one spot. "Please g-get clear." Fate looks over her shoulder at Fuu, indicating she means her. Despite the pain, the task of forming that spell while there are so many wolves she tries to smile as if to say she's alright.

It takes shape, and form there in her hand, the energy that she'd summoned becoming a bright lance of crackling lightning, several times as long as she is tall. "Spark-" A wolf leaps, trying to catch that arm. Fate hurls it in that same moment. "-Endo." The immediate area is filled with so much lightning, a massive sparking detonation to consume as many of the wolves as she can.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Fate Testarossa has used Spark End on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The snarling hound lets go of her arm. There is a hot intensity in the cold air that la Sirene can't quite place her finger on, though this moment of wondering just what the intense closeness of an encounter with what seems to be - in some sense - an animal, not a cruel being, created by spite or sin or dark magic.

There is a moment of hyper-awareness, perhaps. Batiste is squeaking but that's a familiar sound, easily filtered out. Did Fuu say that they were made by a spell? A spell that they can disrupt? But before she can develop that thought:

The wolf bites into her leg. La Sirene cries out again - loud, gusty, ringingly, and then she looks downwards as her toes curl inside of her boot. Something in her shifts around, a frustrated shift like when you drop from fifth gear into third without quite knowing what you were doing and everything JERKS, but it leaves her breathless momentarily.

Or maybe that was from the ice wolf biting on her like a delicious and juicy bone.

But she has both hands free...

The Brazen Pharos is tilted downwards, almost against the wolf, as Nori breathlessly recites the charm once more, gathers the force, and concludes: "COME!" as she calls again upon those enigmatic sponsors, Les Mysteres.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Les Mysteres on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Even in her weakened state, the Fire Knight believes that she can still do this. Breathing deeply, she moves out of the way as best as she can, finding she barely even gets hit, but then drops to one knee. "I... I won't give up..." She says, struggling to keep herself on her feet. "I... I must do this!" She closes her eyes with her sword raised. "I must focus! I can do this!"

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Skip A Turn on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou accepts Hikaru Shidou's Skip A Turn, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Her hits to the wolves aren't quite enough to completely knock them out of the fray, and Ren has to back off when a few of them snap their teeth at her, ripping more holes in various parts of her barrier jacket. And her flesh. Ow! She tears herself free of the scuffle, taking to the air as best she can due to all the low-hanging branches, which also poke and prod at her battered form. This forest is not very nice at all. She whips around just in time to see Fate take a hit intended for the currently unpowered Fuu, eyes widening. "Fate-chan!"

This has to stop. "Heraut... we need to make a bigger dent in these guys!"

<I am ready!>

Hoisting her mighty lance into the air, Ren calls forth the proper parameters for the spell she has in her mind's eye. A Midchildan runic circle spins into existence beneath her feet. <Maximum velocity is assured!> What could Heraut mean by this? Well, the wolves are certainly going to find out very, very soon. In the next instant Ren shoots upward like a rocket, breaking through the offending branches that have been hindering her and everyone else thus far. There's a moment where she's high in the sky, above the dense forest, nearly able to touch any wispy clouds that may be hanging in the Cephiro's immediate skyline.


The suddenly booming voice of Heraut can be heard by everyone down below, followed by a distinct whistling akin to something very heavy and damaging being dropped. The same area Ren blasted through just earlier provides a clear point of re-entry for the magical girl, who divebombs back into the area with over a dozen fantastic replicas of her lance streaking alongside her, all poised to ram directly into the rampaging pack of canines with devestating force.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Ren Aizawa has used Apex Torrent on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces La Sirene du Nord's Les Mysteres, taking 10 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Garnet's Finisher, Omni Beat Mania, taking 42 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Fate Testarossa's Finisher, Spark End, taking 140 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Ren Aizawa's Finisher, Apex Torrent, taking 77 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe is unable to keep fighting!
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"Fate-san!!" Fuu calls out as the blonde girl is the one to come to her rescue this time; her eyes are wide behind her glasses as Fate gets chomped on. For her sake.

And the pieces fall into place - why she accepted the role of a Magic Knight, why she kept bearing that role and duty and burden when they returned to Tokyo, why her magic failed her beginning from the day she failed the five innocents who died during the fight for the Key at Tokyo Tower.

Understanding is only the first step towards solving it, but the shape of the missing piece is finally clear to her. Her fists clench briefly against the bark of the tree she's perched in; she may understand what she needs to do, but *doing* it ...

In the meantime, she can at least try to give her friends *SOME* semblance of help. She reaches for a nearby branch, one too flimsy to support her weight - but that makes it flimsy enough for her to break, with a modicum of caution. It probably won't fly through the air very well at all, but still ...

"WOLF-SAN!!! *FETCH*!!!!!"

She throws it anyway, hoping to at least distract *one* of the ice wolves long enough for one ally or another to finish it off.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIokPxMt21E

This whole battle has felt like lightning -- it began in a flash, and it ends in one too, with Endo's massive bisection of the particularly large wolf he's been tangling with all this time, with Homura's electrified net holding most of them down while La Sirene's mysterious light corrals the stragglers, and Garnet systematically wades her way from one side to the other, Fate amps up the lightning a hundred-thousandfold, and finally Ren's massive strike, and the shockwave that roars through the clearing thereafter, finishes the job.

Well, maybe it ended in a few flashes, but the point is, it's over.

Fuu's branch goes clattering down the now-clear boulevard, which seems to emerge, only a few hundred yards down, into a clearing. There's something about the clean air here that makes it possible to see and hear at longer distances, or that's what it feels like anyway, because it is with dreadful clarity that one can see the Tower of Tears, there at the end of the path.

The door is abruptly yanked open, and out staggers Umi, battered, the blood of her enemies dripping off of her rapier. The other students cluster at the door, terrified, unable to emerge as their rescuer is immediately jumped by more ice wolves.

Umi faces this unexpected challenge with a full-throated scream. "I -- will not -- let you -- have them!"

One can close that distance at great speed, but it isn't fast enough. As though in slow motion, Umi executes wolf after wolf with beautiful maneuvers and incredible bravery, refusing to cave to their claws. Their icy breath just wafts off of her, the Magic Knight of Water deflecting and dispersing it with flicks of her blade. Finally, with a shout of "WATER DRAGON!" she immobilizes the rest -- using their own cold to instantly freeze them within the summoned spell, and then she shatters it all with a single perfect strike of her blade.

She sags, exhausted.

The students peek out from behind the door carefully. And they shout a warning, but it's too late--

--an ice spike emerges beneath Umi's breastplate, straight through her gut, having been summoned from the palm of the sorceress Alcyone, who materialized behind her.

Umi staggers, with who knows how many heartbeats left to live. Not very many. Not enough at all.

She catches her weight on her blade, plunged into the ground for support, and it's then that she looks up and sees Fuu, Hikaru and the others, at the edge of the clearing, so close, and yet so far away.

They can see her clearly, but to her the distance between them is widening, as though down a long, dark tunnel.

But then, with an extraordinary and possibly final burst of energy, the light returns to her eyes, her pleading, bewildered, agonized gaze finding the other Magic Knights and locking onto them.

A spark dawns within them, as brilliant as the barest edge of the rising sun -- a spark of hope.

"F-Fuu-chan," she begs.

And then she topples forward, towards the ground.