2017-08-26 - What Lies Beneath 8

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What Lies Beneath 8

Having stolen the Key to Library Island's card catalog Index from the dragon Rajadh (a life choice that will surely never come back to bite them later), the magical girls return to the depths to /use/ it, in order to find and secure the sacred chamber of Library Island's heart. But the noxious and terrible protodaimons, who were conspicuously absent throughout this adventure, eagerly return to follow the path the girls have uncovered...


Mai Mishou, Yumi Ohzora, Fuu Hououji, Chitose Shiratori, Fate Testarossa

GM: Hotaru Tomoe


Library Island

OOC - IC Date:

08-26-2017 - 02-13-2015

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


Kaoruko Hanasaki, chief botanist at Jindai Botanical Gardens and also an elder of the Magic Association, meets with any magical girl she can to convince them to go find out who or what is trying to taint Library Island -- and steal the apocalyptic power of the World Tree!

Also she serves really good tea.


Venturing proactively into the depths of Library Island for the first time (as opposed to reactively, in response to another kidnapped person being dragged down there), our heroes find none of the sarcophagi, lab equipment, and protodaimons that had previously endangered them -- instead they encounter what might be the Library's central hall of records, surmounted by the Card Catalog's Index. It is in turn locked by the Key of Khartoum-Rajadh, which can, apparently, only be used once by any single person, to look up any single thing in the library.

The Key is missing of course, but with a little help from a band of pixies, they're able to recover it from the lair of Rajadh herself, who somewhat inevitably turns out to be a dragon.

Escaping with their lives (if not all of their secrets) intact, the group opts to reconvene another day to finally use the Key to unlock the Index...


This time the stairs into the chaos of the Library's labyrinthine floors are from, if anything, a creaky back attic -- scary steep but not otherwise dangerous. Still, it's a far cry from the grand staircase that swept, ballroom-style, into the central hall last time.

At the bottom, however, the hall is similar. This is like coming in through the back door, and they're down a row of bookshelves a bit, but it doesn't take too much wandering to find the main aisle, with its foot-eatingly plush red carpet, dancing-flame braziers every few dozen yards, invisibly high ceiling that has disappeared into the dark, wandering paths through the shelves everywhere...

...and yes, in the center, the desk made out of a single huge cross-section of a tree trunk. The desk with a massive book on top of it. A massive, locked book. The dragon's-head lock makes more sense now.

And its key waits with Fate Testarossa.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa transforms into Barrier Jacket Assault!
<Pose Tracker> Mai Mishou [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

Mai Mishou -- as Cure Egret -- starts down the stairs, slowly. Her violet eyes are wide, but focused. Egret almost had two friends stolen from this place -- new friends, but dear ones. She doesn't want to see it happen again. She stops, though, as she reaches the bottom. Her nose wrinkles, for a moment, and she looks down at the huge desk.

Her breath catches for a moment. Then, she looks to the side, and peers towards the girl with the key. She nods, once.

"This... should help us?" she asks. The Cure sounds nervous.

She is.

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora transforms into Witch Ivy!
COMBAT: Mai Mishou transforms into Cure Egret!
COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori transforms into Barrier Jacket!
COMBAT: Saki Hyuuga transforms into Cure Bloom!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji transforms into Wind Knight!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Yumi Ohzora was here on their last endeavor, though wondrous sights and incredible locations that somehow all fit right down here, as if they were merely sitting on top of incredible magic. The young Witch met pixies, saw a dragon... And had to give up a secret.

Yumi Ohzora is still depressed. But she tries not to show it.

It's easy not to when she's focusing nervously on these tiny stairs, trying to get her clumsy self and her staff down them without falling and hurting herself, probing each one with the base of her magical implement as she goes. "Aaah, come on..." She'd rather take the ones that disappeared. ...No, these are better. No...

But as they make it down to this room again she sighs, looking around at all the books she could try to read, watching the flames, the carpet...

She walks towards the desk, and once they arrve, stares at the lock again before looking to Fate Testarossa. She's the one with the Key.

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

The Magic Knight of Wind makes her way down the stairs as well, holding a mundane flashlight ready in hand - just in case it's necessary for the descent; her other hand, not occupied by flashlight-holding, helps to maintain her balance on the way down those incredibly steep stairs, closer to a ladder than a staircase. Upon reaching the central hall and its braziers, though, she puts the flashlight back into her glove-jewel. If she's discomfited about anything, she's doing a good job of not showing it.

"Have we decided on how we're going to word our question ... or," her lips quirk slightly, "should I say our 'search query'? If we can only ask one question before the Key returns to the pixies' village, we need to get it right the first time ... but presumably it's Fate-san who needs to be the one who asks."

Maybe she's not quite as cheery as she's trying to look - the surrounding shelves don't even seem to interest the Wind Knight, although she does look around as if expecting some kind of trouble. Or maybe just so she doesn't wind up staring at anything in particular.

<Pose Tracker> Chitose Shiratori [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Chitose Shiratori is here! Mostly because she's been here a few times before, and after not one but two shafts fully covered in arrows and darts, she wants something out of these trips. Even if it's just 'a warm feeling of accomplishment'. She feels like she's owed one, by now.

Because of this strange feeling, she's one of the last one down the stairs, and she takes the rickety stairs down without too much issue. Admittedly, this may be because she flies the rest of the way down once she gets about halfway through.

It's only when she gets to the rest of the group and the lock that she lands with a simple tap of her feet. She keeps herself in the back of the group, as per usual.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Fake Wings - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIZxQFO6Oe0

Fate Testarossa is holding the key with all the anxiety and gravity of a ringbearer or a flower girl at a wedding. She's in her barrier jacket, though Bardiche is a golden triangle on the back of her hand rather than a materialized poleaxe. Perhaps she felt she needed both hands to handle this solemn duty.

Her lips pressed together, she can only stare at the book. She knew from the Jewel Seeds that she had to stay focused in thought. That even the slightest deviance could cause her wish to manifest.

She wondered if it could be the same way here too. What if her thoughts went astray and suddenly the key were back at Rajadh- and none of them had answers except for her?

She tries not to think about that little stab of selfishness. The questions she'd want to ask.

"So long as I keep in mind why we're here."

She answers Cure Egret, without looking at her.

She closes her eyes, and thinks of the 'Great Guardian'. How if she does this right, then her exile might be lifted- because the key will return to the village of Khartoum rather than the hoard of Rajadh.

That's a very sobering thought for this girl. It's not as important in the scheme of things as whatever force that's trying to taint the Island, and steal the power of the World Tree... and yet to her it held no less importance.

Tokyo's World Tree has budded a month early.

A daughter can only reunite with her mother if she does this the right way.

Equal weight.

"I'm not sure there will be a need to word it." She says softly to Fuu, having reason to believe this given her experiences with such items. "But if there is... then don't worry."

Her eyes slowly open revealing the red irises of the young girl as she looks upon each person that retrieved the key with her, upon Witch, and Pretty Cure, and Magic Knight, and Mage, "I won't fail."

Stepping forward, she rebalances the key within her hand. Rather than floating up in the air, she stands on her tip toes and extend her arms. She balances it carefully and inserts the ridges of the key into the dragon's head lock- waiting until she meets resistance.

And then she turns it. A wish upon her heart.

And her lips if need be.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Bloom [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

Saki Hyuga met with Kaoruko Hanasaki that day - and has seen some of the horrors under Library Island for herself. She promised herself and her partner that they'd help, but when the last expedition went in, they had been waylaid by the harshest mistress of all (a big crowd at Panpakapan). Now, though, she can come.

And so she has; Cure Bloom's wide shoes clomping down the creaky stairs only a single step behind Egret. They march in. This place nearly stole her new, precious friends away...is it selfish, that that makes her madder than all the other horror, here? Maybe...

But as people walk with confidence into the hall, Cure Bloom is ready as well. She had to have the basics explain to her, so Egret's question is reflected in her eyes - and she finds herself holding her breath as Fate dares to move.

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

The 'Great Guardian' (who turned out not to be, so much) is a tiny purple wingless pixie type who shops in the same places as Indiana Jones and sports a great fauxhawk.

And it appears she's been waiting back where she first met the group in the first place -- seated on Library Island's Index itself, her little feet kicking off the edge of the book. "Yo," she greets with a small salute, before hastily getting out of their way.

Her little feet go pit-pat on the surface of the desk as she lands, and coils the rope she used to get up there in the first place.

The lock clicks open -- and the key remains in it, for the moment. The pixie looks up at everyone expectantly. There's a grin tucked into the corners of her mouths, popping out of the backs of her eyes. She's excited!

"Well, go on then," she says. "It's an index, you have to look something up in it! It's alphabetized... mostly? Whatever you're looking for, you'll find it if you try. But not if you just leave the cover closed like that!"

Her heels click together, she can't stay still. At least it occurs to her that maybe she might be a distraction, so she starts scampering off across the desk where she can fidget elsewhere.

The index is as she promised, though. There are all kinds of letters, and they seem to shift depending on who's looking where on the page. The paper itself is impossibly smooth in that way that ancient texts sometimes are, as compared to modern, machined stuff. It smells a little bit like the dragon did; spicy and strange. Otherworldly.

From A to zedolpha, from q'qok to velour, it's all to be found there. And, as Fate might have suspected, the pages yield to her intentions without too much guidance -- she opens right to where she needs to be.

H, it transpires, is for Heart.


THE HEART CHAMBER OF LIBRARY ISLAND can be found, but you must dip deeper down.


The floor is starting to shake. Books, teetering off of shelves. An earthquake?

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Yumi watches Fate say she won't fail, and nods. "I believe you," the older girl says, looking to the book again. They all have different things on their minds here; for Yumi it's not that she can't think of what's at stake, but...

It's hard to get much through the filter of what she feels right now. She smiles at The 'Great Guardian' anyway as they're here. "it's nice to see you," she chimes in with a little wave, and ten waits for the key. She'd be excited too. "Oh right... an index," Yumi says, and prepares to try to help, but the book opens to Fate's will. The smell hits her nose, and it is lovely in its way, strange. And then... they read. Deeper down... Dip deeper down?

"Uh?" The room shakes, and Yum blinks up to see a nearby shelf, rushing to the side to catch a large book whose title she doesn't even read. "Aaah! Careful!" This book is older than she is, to be sure. "Which way!?"

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

"Oh you're here." Fate says without allowing herself to be too distracted, as she says in a voice that's low and sweet. "I'm glad."

The purple pixie's instructions cause her to slowly tug at the heavy cover. She doesn't need to tug far before it yields, and she starts turning pages straight to H. The feel of the pages in her gloved hands is pleasant in a way that's entirely different from crisp loose leaf in class, or in a hardback copy of the book she's reading with Nanoha for her book report.

It feels otherworldly in that familiar way, it reminds her of her mother's library- in a strangely familiar way, even though it's different too.

It causes her to inhale almost nostalgically as she turns the pages.

She's feels a surge of joy as turns straight to the Heart Chamber of the Island rather than one of the Chambers of the Heart. Standing on her tip toes she reads aloud, as if she'd been called upon to read a passage in her class by these solemn duties.

"Deeper. We have to go deeper."

Fate repeats the information aloud to the brave girls with her. "Dip Deeper." She corrects herself, to try to be precise.

And that's when the hall starts to shake. Trembling at her feet. And Fate takes a step back, wondering if she did that. But it doesn't matter since everything is being tossed around the room.

Fate lifts into the air as she looks around hurriedly at all the expensive artifacts seated on the shelf. There are so many wondrous objects she could save here. Golden scaled candelabras that could be mermaid scales. Objects adorned with what could be unicorn horns...

Instead she's a golden blur that dives low to the ground to catch a fragile looking tea tray that just wobbled off the top of a high shelf. Moving the tray with desperate and hurried arms she catches the pot, the dishes, the cups that followed.

A single cup is missed by the tray, her foot darts up and catches the handle of the cup with the armored toe of her boot. Reaching out she grasps it before it wobbles off and replaces it by the tray. "Safe."

In short order, the girl is beaned by a large book that didn't register on Bardiche's auto-protection spells. ... but the tea service is safe.

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

You don't grow up in Tokyo without growing accustomed to mild earthquakes, and at the initial tremor, the Wind Knight just looks about herself - distracted from watching Fate looking up her question by the vibration. But it scales up pretty noticeably, pretty quickly, and curiosity turns to worry as she sees books starting to get rattled off of their shelves. She can only hope that the bookcases themselves aren't going to fall over as well -

But even as that thought crosses her mind, the Wind Knight is already in motion; the shelf she's heading towards has already lost several volumes to gravity's cold grasp, but the book she's trying to catch is much larger and more ornate. Why she headed in *that* direction, even she isn't entirely sure - just some intuition, some gut feeling, not far removed from the feeling that's led her to join battles against quite a few agents of evil.

Whether the book she's catching is good, evil, or simply of great power but not aligned one way or the other, she still does her best to keep it from hitting the ground hard enough to get damaged. She doesn't even look at the cover, at least not right away. Maybe after things settle down ...

Assuming she still has the book when they do.

<Pose Tracker> Chitose Shiratori [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Chitose watches as she sees the exiled fairy again, and she smiles when the larger woman sees them. But then the index opens, and her eyes grow wide as Chitose walks in. She doesn't take off, either, like she is prone to do. No, she walks in.

Her eyes are fixated on the shelves and the books therein, and less on the golden and more priceless artifacts. "Hrm." She considers to herself as she looks at the shelves. While the others are looking for why they're here, she can spend some time with the other books. She'd love to read about something... but what?

Of course, the sudden shaking and disrupting shudders cause her to pause for a moment, and the woman teeters with it before she finally starts flying too. She grabs a falling smaller book with one hand, about the size of one of her university textbooks. The other hand instinctively grabs another, but this one is a lot larger-- it makes dictionaries look tiny. She barely gets her hand around the binding, and the weight slightly knocks her off balance as the book continues to fall even though she has her hand on it, only stopped by the length of her arm.

"Geez, not again." She grumbles. "Is the library changing again?"

<Pose Tracker> Cure Bloom [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

Cure Bloom is a very rude person and stands on tip-toes to see over Fate's shoulder. The possibility this could lead to catastrophe is either lost or unknown to her. She lives with a fairy so the pixie does not rate new reaction beyond a small, uncertain wave.

Fate reads the results aloud. Cure Bloom's lips come together. "Deeper," she murmurs. "This place is such a maze, though...I don't really want to blast our way down eith-OOH!?" she squawks, as the floor starts to shake. "Uh!?" She flails a little, panicking, and throws herself to one side, Pretty Cure power diving her to catch a falling -- sculpture!

Her knees are bent in a hard squat because it is very heavy. Who put this thing on a shelf, Hercules?!

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

Yumi winds up rescuing something called The Daedechadreon. Fuu's book is completely illegible -- whatever runes mark its cover, they aren't familiar and distinctly feel like they aren't from Earth. Chitose gets a tiny book of poetry and a massive book of maps. Fate's tea set, it transpires, is marked with delicate little lilies, inscribed with gold upon the porcelain. And Bloom's sculpture... there isn't a lot of time to look at it right now, but in her marbline face is an echo of the nice lady with the tea, if she were fifty years younger.

It's a good thing there aren't hanging lights, because they would be swinging precariously. As it is, the braziers are huge stone things seemingly carved straight out of the floor itself, and seem to be at no real risk of spilling their flaming contents onto the library floor.

Which isn't to say they're unaffected -- they're burning hotter than ever, giving off waves of heat that impact the group with physical force. The golden light they shed broadens, removing shadows, revealing unnoticed corners.

Also, the hole opening up in front of the desk, in the middle of that main aisle. Nobody is standing on top of it, fortunately, because it drops not like an elevator and more like a bore that is just now piercing its peak; one second, floor. The next second, endless pit. A soft, warm draft rises out of it, and also a very, very faintly living scent. The smell of green leaves?


A falcon's cry? Ah -- the page of the Index with information about the Heart has torn free from the book (which, itself, is the only thing not shaking, as though the eye of this magical storm). It folds rapidly into an origami bird, then takes flight...

...before furling its wings and going into an utterly vertical dive, down, down into the darkness.


It's then that something else changes.

It's the light, again. The furthest braziers, at the foot of that eye-blurringly distant grand staircase, have stopped burning gold -- now they burn violet. Now the next pair. Now the next. One gets the distinct sense that they are being transformed by something that's passing straight through them, making great speed for that pit the girls have just revealed.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Fh3b-2PbXk

Something is coming.

Something bad.

Something ... wrong.

"Screeeeeeee~!" shrieks the animate page of the Index, distantly, as it rushes further downwards, all but disappearing into the darkness of the pit. If it didn't shed its own pale luminescence, tenuous as a candle in a storm, it would already be lost to sight.

In response, the flames convert to violet ever faster -- *paff* *paff* *paff* -- now there are only ten brazier pairs between the girls and the violet flames -- now five -- three -- whatever's coming, it's accelerating--!

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe transforms into Proto-Daimon!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

The Daedechahedreon is shoved into Yumi's bag as best it can be, partway sticking out as she takes her staff in both hands to try to think about what they're going to do next. "I guess!" Yumi calls to Chitose, and she doesn't want to try blasting either. Scultpure, books, tea service...

But the waves of heat knock Yumi backward, but the horrible sounds are not... great. There's a less horrible sound that Yumi watches, a bird floating ownward, and she immediately moves to the edge o the pit, looking down. "Um, guys?" And then the... light changes. Something awful is coming, and it grabs at her heart. "Um, maybe we should--shouuld--" She slips, with all this moving, and flails backwards. The Witch of Lost Ivy falls straight into the pit after the bird.


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

A lot happens after she puts that lovely tea set back up. She only has a moment to admire those lilies before the desk opens a hole into the Earth, and the index folds into an origami bird to descend.

But it's then that she feels it. A darkness that deep that reminds her of D-Point. And yet more alien. Fate looks in that direction before Bardiche pings urgently with. <CAUTION>

Her wrist snaps into position and Bardiche appears in her hand in a crackle of electricity.

The familiar swell of memories causes her hand to shake.

She can still hear the bird deep below. It's coming for them. It's coming.

And then Witch Ivy is falling. Fate doesn't even think about it any longer, she just reacts with a gasp. And a- "Everyone in!" Looping up and over, she then descends with all the speed she's known for. "-In!"

She reaches out a hand.



And then grasping her wrist. "I've got you."

But rather than slowing down.

Fate Testarossa speeds up.

"Don't stop! Nobody stop!" She shouts with a desperate imperative...

... it doesn't occur to her until a few seconds later that some of the others definitely can't fly and suddenly she's looking for them in the dark. ... Because she's realized that they'll be too good at following her command.

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

To be fair, when the Library floor started trembling right after reading that they needed to 'dip deeper,' the Wind Knight *did* wonder if the Library itself was preparing to open a path to where they needed to be. But the growing heat from the braziers - if you can call it 'growing' whne it simply SPIKES like that, along with the light they cast - keeps her from sharing that theory ... and makes her hold that indecipherable tome even closer, as though to protect it against catching fire.

The page folds itself into a bird and dives into the opening hole - or is it more a 'tunnel,' for all that it seems to go straight down? - and before the Wind Knight can debate how to give chase, the braziers in the distance change, their light turning a warning purple. Beyond that suddenly-violet fire, something ....

The Magic Knight of Wind grits her teeth, shifting the tome to her left arm and freeing up her right hand for her sword to materialize. Of *course* it isn't as simple as heading to the Heart Chamber of the Library - of *course* the forces of Darkness were hoping for such a chance at this. Even if this isn't one of those awful monsters that fuel themselves with their victims' lives ...

The Witch of Lost Ivy is already descending, Fate is diving after her. The Wind Knight's sword vanishes again as she simply dives into the hole as well, straining her eyes to catch sight of the flying page-bird. Her best hope for *not* hitting the ground at dangerous velocity is to conjure an updraft to brake her own descent, but the timing will be .... tricky, to say the least ... particularly if she doesn't have some help in controlling her vertical speed.

<Pose Tracker> Chitose Shiratori [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Chitose is still in the air, so to speak, so to ignore the rattling of the room.

Well, minus everything falling, as the braided girl has to bob and weave to dodge falling things.

She doesn't notice, say, the fire changing colors at first, but what she does hear is the incredibly loud falcon cry, and then... the page flies away? Chitose watches it for a few moments, eyebrow raised, before it flies into the pit.

She's only distracted by the sudden sounds of the flames changing colors, and how they're coming... closer. She squints into the darkness, tring to see if she can see what's coming...

And then Yumi falls down the pit, causing her to look back behind her. Then Fate follows after, and then Fuu. Chitose looks back down the hall into the darkness, and lifts White Omen, firing a few bolts into the unseen, though she doesn't even attempt to try and aim. After that, she turns and flies into the pit herself.

Once in the pit, Chitose speeds up to catch up with the group. When she does, she lets go of her books, in order to have her hands free to grab Fuu's arm, and holds out her other arm in case some other faller wants some help. Once she's got a good grip, she slows down just a little bit, in order to try and slow down enough to make the eventual landing easier on them.

Hopefully her books survive the fall! Chitose really wants something out of this.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Bloom [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

Cure Bloom briefly feels somewhat at home for some mysterious reason as she looks at that sculpture. She very tenderly puts it down somewhere closer to the ground, and then looks up - her arm sheds sparkling light as the heat barrages her. Such power being thrown about...!

And then... "The index!?" she gasps out, just as it folds itself up and rockets into the darkness.

And then...something coming. The fire changing. Bloom glances to Yuri, then to Fate, and then nods. "Right!" she says, following the plan instinctively; she dashes toward the pit, takes one last look at the last set of braziers being twisted before her, and then hops up in a single forward flip, and seems to - stop, like she were standing upside-down in mid-air, power glowing at her feet.

And then there's an explosion of magic like a rocket as Cure Bloom BULLETS down into darkness, shedding golden light all around! Hopefully that backblast will keep the Horribleness back, too...!

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








There is no bottom to this pit -- this vertical tunnel? -- in sight. The closest there is to any kind of demarcation, any hope of sense of scale, is the tiny Index Bird itself, which plunges faster and faster into darkness and is not, as yet, something anyone is close to catching up to. So long as it does so, there is no risk of impact -- just more endless darkness beneath.

The fading light from above, from the Hall of Records, swiftly becomes violet -- and then vanishes completely. There are some long seconds where the only company anyone has is each other, to go with the rushing winds of velocity itself.

That doesn't last.

As ever, protodaimons are felt before they're seen, like the encroachment of winter -- or of endless space. And in this strange situation, they are mostly just outlines against the soft lights various magical girls are emitting from themselves.

Like the silhouette that body blocks into Yumi, tearing her straight out of Fate's grasp and slamming her into the wall!

The wall -- which is changing with the fall. Towards the top it was brick, which gradually shifted to stone. Now it's some kind of more-ancient cobble (Yumi can tell, you see, because it is being pushed very roughly against her as she falls), but it isn't cobble alone.

There are leaves there -- ivy which, considering their location, could until this moment only be considered lost.

One snippet of vine tears away with her hand, and wraps around it encouragingly, like a warm grasp -- and then stretches, elongates, gaining mass and shape. A long, straight staff that culminates in one such cobblestone, what looks to be a rough rock indeed; at the other, sprays of ivy, densely packed together and as bushy as... a... broom...

There is unfortunately more than one demon alien, however; more of them -- exact numbers are difficult under the circumstances -- rush downwards, crashing into girls and trying to make them lose control. On contact their skin is gooshy and horrible, slimy like jello and clingy like syrup and full of mouths, mouths of gnashing teeth.

This horror may be familiar to some who've fought protodaimon before, but it does not get better with time...

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Mass Effect on Cure Bloom.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Mass Effect on Chitose Shiratori.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Mass Effect on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Mass Effect on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Mass Effect on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa perfectly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Mass Effect, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Counter!  Fate
Testarossa's Reverse ability activates!  Fate Testarossa's Tactician ability activates!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa's counterattack, Blitz Rush, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji perfectly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Mass Effect, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Critical Counter!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji's counterattack, Spinning Slash, bursts all the way through, doing 16 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora fails to brace Hotaru Tomoe's Mass Effect, taking 25 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Hotaru Tomoe is Psyched!
COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Mass Effect, taking 11 Fatigue damage!  Chitose Shiratori's Parry ability
COMBAT: Cure Bloom fails to counter Hotaru Tomoe's Mass Effect, taking 27 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Cure Bloom's counterattack, Petal Flash, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Yumi is falling. Falling through the air, and it's like floating except for the light above rapidly disappearing giving her the sense that no, no after all, it's definitely falling. She tries to look around for something to hang onto...

And 'something' comes to her, a smaller hand taking her wrist with the strength of something beyond ordinary. Yumi lets out a breath quickly and smiles up at Fate. "Thanks you--Aaaah!" They're speeding up, all right, and suddenly Yumi is above Fate with how fast they're going. She.. Well, she sure doesn't stop.

"It's fine!" she calls to the others, whispering magic to keep her hat on as she moves with a point of her staff. "We're all--aaah!"

But there are moments where they're alone... Moments before that horrible feeling comes back, and Yumi stares into the darkness moving towards her. "Um--" She tries to shove her staff before herself to defend against what's coming, but it doesn't work--it hits her hard, dragging her against the wall painfully through what was brick, stone, now is some sort of cobble and she tumbles against it. "Ugh--" She scrabbles with a gloved hand, but then she feels ivy at her hands, ivy unknown to many. She stares and then there's plant around her wrist, tearing off with her, and it's wam, relieving somehow despite the danger...

Now she has two staves for an instant. The second becomes a--

Yumi grabs onto the proom and sits down, knees together, trying to hold her Staff in one hand and control this with the other. "B-But I don't know how to--"

She shoots off of the wall, suddenly, darting through with the very silhouette of a Witch. "Haha-Ha!" She zooms down and suddenly there are more demons, so she darts down, trying not to get touched again. This horror is a memory now, and she throws out her hand. "Come on...!" She throws out her staff and a great green-edged white beam crashes towards one of the others before her, pure and brilliant to scythe through darkness. "I'm fine!" she calls to the others as she tries to blast the Protodaimon.

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Sacred Ray on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Yumi Ohzora's Sacred Ray, taking 13 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe's Fade ability activates!
Hotaru Tomoe's Flash ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

The rush of air flows over Fate's face- causing her twintails to stream behind her. The light is fast fading behind her and she's just trying to hold on- and dive as fatst as she can.

She's known for her speed, but even falling, she can feel the Proto-Daimons coming. She tries to speed up- in a way that might be uncomfortable ofr her passenger. Which is when something impacts the girl she's holding onto- ripping her from her grasp- "Ivy!" She yelps, the impact having been hard on her wrist too this time.

She's diverting, to try to help her-

When suddenly another is upon her.

The sight of the alien Protodaimon up close is something that will haunt her worst nightmares.

And that's to a girl who has a lot of nightmares about the things she's seen.

Her breath quickens, her pupils dilate-

<Blitz Rush.>

The spell she casts mentally, that her partner responds to, is what saves her. Becoming a flashing blur. A strobe light darting around the tunnel. She flashes over to the cobbled wall with the vines. "Are you-"

Fate flashes gold again and she reappears near Yumi's ivy-vined broom. "-sure." It becomes less a question and more of a statement as she sees her now.

And then she keeps diving down into the abyss. Trusting in the unknown far more than the certainty of death by this alien darkness.

Twirling around once, a quartet of arrowheaded projectiles form within runic rings, each yellow and crackling with violet electricity. <Plasma Lancer> Sweeping Bardiche across the gap, she shouts, "FIRE!"

The projectiles fire backwards while the girl rights herself and goes forward. They stream backwards and light up the dark, impacting with the strength of a thunderbolt. "Don't stop! Don't stop!"

It's not even a command to everyone else. It's more a plea to herself. If she voices it aloud, then perhaps it will come true.

She won't stop.

And she won't be devoured.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Plasma Lancer on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly counters Fate Testarossa's Plasma Lancer, taking 22 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe's Reverse ability
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe's counterattack, Space Invasion, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Fate Testarossa!
<Pose Tracker> Chitose Shiratori [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Chitose continues flying downwards. Less falling, because falling is really just flying downwards. At least, that's what she hopes as she continues to go down.

She doesn't do anything for the first few moments, but the silence is kind of calming. At least, until she sees something coming. She can't tell what, but she can feel it, the horror pulsing through her like a sickened sound.

One manages to detatch Ivy from Fate, and that catches Chitose's attention, as well as Fate's speeding and her sheer brightness.

It's only another daimon managing to get close to her that Chitose looks back towards their pursuers. As close as they are, Chitose keeps hold of Fuu with her free hand, but her left arm points upwards, directly at the evil masses incoming.

<Thunder Dove.>

And of course, the birds made out of light emerge, and fly towards the darkness. Whether they attack the actual darkness, or more proverbial horror darkness pursuing, Chitose doesn't seem to care. Just as long as something explodes.

COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori has used Thunder Dove on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Cure Bloom [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

The power of Pretty Cure's light allows Saki to rocket down after the sacred bird, but mostly it means she ends up even with the others. That's still fine. She'd rather be...with, people, down here, in this horrible place.

But soon the skittering comes to her mind. "These things again..." she breathes. Last time, they battered her until she could hardly move, and Saki Hyuuga had to complete the task. She's worried. Has she gotten any stronger since that day...?

She throws out her arm to try and dissuade the first attack with a blast of inchoate sparkles, and quickly receives a good solid NO in response to her worries, as the creature bursts through the wave of Pretty Cure Magic and crashes horribly into her. Her light goes out for a second; she slams into the wall and bounces off, falls tumbling for a few seconds before her light slowly recovers. She lashes out with a fist. She can't shoot, that is not the power of Cure Bloom - but she does manage to create two glowing points of power on her fingertips and jab them into the walls before boosting down.

Moments later those motes of light explode with magic, hopefully searing and blasting away any protodaimon close by. "These things again...we can't let them find the Heart...!"

COMBAT: Cure Bloom has used Petal Seed on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

With Chitose latching onto her arm, the Wind Knight spares a glance, and a thankful grin, up at her fellow magical girl. She could *probably* have handled her landing, but it's a great relief that she'll have help -

And then the Protodaimon pursues them into the pit. Or rather, the Protodaimons pursue, plural. (Of *course* there's more than one, never mind that one Protodaimon alone would probably be ample --)

The Wind Knight's sword flashes back into existence from a flaring streak of green-tinged light; she can't twist all the way around, but an almost instinctive conjuration of wind covers the angles that her blade doesn't, adding up to more than enough to fend off that first engulfing onslaught. It's a moment's respite, scant seconds in which to breathe and to think, to try and form some kind of plan ...

She can't use her archery. She can use her sword to a limited extent - she doesn't have the mobility for real leverage or movement, because she depends for now on Chitose's support. She needs options - and none of those options, voiced by Cure Bloom, can include 'wait until we're on solid ground'; just letting even one of these monsters set foot, pseudopod, or tentacle within the Heart could be all it takes for darkness to taint that vital point. They have to fight, and they have to do so without solid ground.

But then ... she's the Magic Knight of Wind, isn't she?

"Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi!!" the green-clad Magic Knight calls out, conjuring the whirlwind at a point just below the descending magical girls, aimed so that it's not *directly* below any of them. Gravity and actual flight carry them onwards, but the mystic tempest erupts as the girls pass it - and even if it doesn't peel off any protodaimon that's already below it, the raging winds should do quite a lot to shred any monsters which follow behind/above them ... and with nothing but walls on all sides of the shaft, at least that the Wind Knight can see, she's less concerned about collateral damage than she would have been in the Library's main hall, or among the stacks. Not *un*concerned, but - hopefully, there's nothing they really need to worry about.

Except the monsters, of course.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Cure Bloom's Petal Seed, taking 18 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe's Fade ability activates!
Hotaru Tomoe's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Chitose Shiratori's Thunder Dove, taking 10 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Hotaru Tomoe's
Block ability activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to counter Fuu Hououji's Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi, taking 35 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe's counterattack, Devouring Shadow, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Fuu Hououji!
<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

For a few moments, this is something like a chase sequence -- first the Index Bird, then the magical girls, and finally the protodaimon. The girls shoot things up behind them -- Yumi's beam, which the demons flinch away from, but whose nearness leaves them more gray than purple or black for a few moments; Fate's bolts, most of which disappear harmlessly into their mass but some of which continue to crackle from within; Chitose's birds, which seem to momentarily confuse the demons -- considering their target -- and whose explosions shake their jello forms; Cure Bloom's spiritual time bombs, which, as with Yumi's ray, they break from; and finally Fuu's tempest, left in the wake of their fall, which goes so far as to momentarily slow the monsters' advance, allowing the gap between girls and demons to grow by a few heartbeats.

As the wind rips and tears at their forms, subtler features emerge, like the tip of a shoe or a finger. They are quickly consumed anew, of course.

But then it stops being like a chase sequence and just becomes a full-on falling brawl. The demons blanket each other like sheathes over a missile, then plunge through the wind and through the group.

One breaks off to grab Fuu and Chitose, tear them apart, then slam them together, all this with huge claws that seem to be composed of living, solid blood.

Another tries to wholly encase Fate in itself, by the simple expedient of rocketing beneath her then 'pulling the chute', if the chute were vestigial flaps, vaguely batlike, that appear out of its churning form.

Cure Bloom might feel unassaulted for a moment, until one of the shadows on the wall -- which are no longer cobble, let's note, they are now some sort of diamond-hard, marble-smooth, hypermodern(?) black surface with soft blue lightning in the cracks -- explodes outwards, fangs-first.

And Yumi, newly alighted upon a broom that responds so effortlessly to her touch that it feels wholly and totally hers... feels eyes on her back. Eyes that trace and catch her, eyes that dare to shake her.

A moment later, that daimon blows straight past her harmlessly--

--reaching out for the Index Bird.

They're above, below, and all around, now. And still no end to the fall in sight!

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used The Claws That Catch on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used The Claws That Catch on Chitose Shiratori.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Space Invasion on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used The Jaws That Bite on Cure Bloom.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Eyes From The Shadows on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Space Invasion, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Fate Testarossa's Block ability
activates!  Fate Testarossa's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora narrowly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Eyes From The Shadows, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Yumi Ohzora is Quipped!
Yumi Ohzora's Reverse ability activates!  Yumi Ohzora's Tactician ability activates!  Blind, Diversion, and Exhausted applied to
Yumi Ohzora!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora's counterattack, Witch's Mirror, partially gets through, doing 17 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's The Claws That Catch, taking 16 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Fuu Hououji's
Block ability activates!  Fuu Hououji's Parry ability activates!  Stun applied to Fuu Hououji!
COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori fails to dodge Hotaru Tomoe's The Claws That Catch, taking 28 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Stagger,
Stun, Tangle, and Trap applied to Chitose Shiratori!
COMBAT: Cure Bloom narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's The Jaws That Bite, taking 41 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe is Psyched!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

"Sure!" Yumi says to Fate, exhilheration warring with fear and finding itself at least a little compatible as Yumi darts down through the pit. It moves so fast that it's hard for her to keep up with, this broom, sending her spinning once as she goes, "Right, won't stop!"

These things are so scary that stopping doesn't feel like much of an option.

The Witch of Lost Ivy looks around to the glow of her friends and companions, darting out of the way of a great wind, as she follows the bird they're chasing. The INdex Bird, which is a great name for it. As the protodaimons turn gray, Yumi bites her lip, wondering what more she can do, but trying to keep her eyesforward so she doesn't hit anything or anyone. But everyone is still fighing, still in danger, and--and...

A chill follows down her spine as she looks over her shoulder tosome sort of awful creature behind. "Aaah..." She shoves her staff under her leg with the broom and starts to trace runes with her hands, which begin to glow as it moves... past her, rather than at her. "no!"

A beam rockets out at the Protodaimon as she readies another spell, "Feel the weakness of falling...!"

Was that a shoe, in one of the others? ...A finger?

"And throw down your hopes!" She throws out he hands, and black energy crackles towards the Protodaimon that rocketed past her, a curse to prevent it reaching the Bird if she can.

But she feels weak heself, and dizzy, reaching down immediately after to hold broom and staff woozily. "I don't... I don't feel so good..."

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Weakness Hex on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Yumi Ohzora's Weakness Hex, taking 1 Fatigue damage!  Yumi Ohzora is Psyched!  Hotaru Tomoe's
Block ability activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!  Exhausted applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

They move like quicksilver shadows. And she can't stop in time. She can't.

So what does she do? She disappears.

There's not even a sign of her being left behind, unlike the tip of the shoe or the finger.

Fate is just gone.

Inside, she's experiencing a living nightmare.

The girl screams and noone can hear her except for her partner, who is desperately maintaining her spells of protection. The shimmering field of Defenser Plus shines all around her. There's not enough space to even move inside of it.

The only light is that which shines in her barriers and fields. And what she sees...

She doesn't understand it. But she knows she'll become it in a few seconds.

She flexes her arm as if to raise Bardiche and finds he won't move.

She's scared. ... ... ... Fear isn't comfortable, but right now it's all she has.


To those on the outside, there's a series of muffled chimes.


Nothing seems to happen, other than the creature surrounding her seems to be enjoying itself.


There's the sound of a piston pounding. It's not unlike a small explosion within. The feeling of gathering energy.


A hook of yellow energy erupts out the side of the churning mass. It flexes from side to side, widening the gap ever so slightly, moment by moment- and the girl emerges with a sob that's somewhere between fear and pain and desperation, kicking off tendrils that try to keep latched onto her.

With a shriek of that desperate determination, she raises Bardiche high, a crackling golden hook, and he chimes a fourth time. <Haken Saber>

She chops it towards it simultaneously, the curved yellow blade is launched at point blank range, as she kicks off int he opposite direction, tearing tendrils off. She puts some distance between them, a hand on her throat as she breathes raspily, once, twice, thrice- and she shouts out with all the might of her tiny lungs- "DISAPPEAR!"

It's not normally what she says. It isn't at all.

But perhaps it doesn't matter what she says. Maybe it's only the feelings behind it.

The titanic answering detonation far behind her is evidence of this.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Haken Saber on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Fate Testarossa's Haken Saber, taking 39 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe's Fade ability
activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Flash ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Chitose Shiratori [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Chitose continues firing birds, to protect the bird made out of magical paper.

If she ever has grandchildren, she'll tell them how this story went exactly like that.

But for now, all she can really do is shoot them.

Which may or may not be working, depending on how one looks at it. One of them manages to grab her (as opposed to the paper bird), and pull her away from Fuu, the blood-claws ripping at her jacket. "Ahhh!"

Hoping to free herself of the claws, Chitose once again points White Omen towards the enemy, and fires.

<Starling Shot.>

This time, Chitose fires one shot, which splits into multiple smaller bolts, which rain down (or up?) on the approaching monsters.

Regardless of what happens, though, the blood and terror continues to stick on Chitose, and while she can still fly, the grossness starts to weigh heavily, both physically and also on her mind.

COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori has used Starling Shot on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Chitose Shiratori's Starling Shot, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Hotaru Tomoe's
Block ability activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"Aaaaaaaah!!!" the Wind Knight calls out, struggling briefly as those massive, sanguinous claws wrap around her, pulling her away from Chitose just long enough to violently re-introduce them to each other. She manages to keep her sword arm more or less free, which is arguably what counts the most, but her other arm (and the tome she saved up above) are pinned against her breastplate, which isn't too bad but is far from comfortable. Not that she's thinking about *that* so much ...

Not when it's her head that cracks hardest against Chitose's form - or maybe it's one of the other claws that takes the impact. She doesn't exactly see the hit when it happens, after all, and she's not terribly worried about the details of it after the fact. Ironically, the foremost thought in her mind at that moment isn't about the fact that they're falling, or even that they're in battle against one of the more terrifying types of monster that the Wind Knight has joined battle against.

(Her train of thought, at that moment, is actually much closer to 'I have entrance exams to finish tomorrow, I can't afford a concussion.' Just for what that's worth.)

"LIBERATING GALE!!" the Wind Knight shouts, conjuring a layer of wind magic practically on the surface of her armor and clothes ... and then just letting that magic rip outwards away from her, in every direction. Hopefully that'll be enough to dislodge the Protodaimon wrapped around her - and if the layer of healing magic woven into the wind has its chance to clear her head from the aching and ringing, so much the better.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Liberating Gale on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly counters Fuu Hououji's Liberating Gale, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe's Reverse ability
activates!  Bind Break! All of Fuu Hououji's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe's counterattack, Space Invasion, partially gets through, doing 31 Fatigue damage to Fuu Hououji!  Critical
<Pose Tracker> Cure Bloom [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

Cure Bloom is good at mid-air fighting, honestly; though albeit she is better at it with wide-open quarters. But the Protodaimons always seem to get the better of her, even when she thinks she's got an angle. She's moving as fast as she can, trying to catch up or at least keep pace. She looks back, feeling for a moment like she might just be in the clear? But then her eyes swing down, and--

Her eyes widen. She veers hard, trying to get out of the way of the horrible thing leaping at her; and in this fails entirely, the thing biting FULLY down on basically her entire torso.

She screams as the teeth dig in, but the rest - all she can really do is slam her fist down hard on the thing burning with spiritual light. "LEGGO!"

COMBAT: Cure Bloom has used Fistful of Flowers on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Cure Bloom's Fistful of Flowers, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Cure Bloom is Psyched!  Hotaru
Tomoe's Block ability activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Inner Universe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIVgSuuUTwQ

Yumi's downward beam forces the demon off course, and her weakness hex, though mostly shrugged off its weird form -- what is weakening exactly, does it really have muscles? -- does slow its fall, just a little, just enough for the Index Bird to further furl its wings into just the barest single pinions on either side, and escape further downwards.

Fate, meanwhile, forces her demon off of her by igniting her scythe from within. It wants no part of that slicing, none at all, and she quickly finds herself free -- but with her brilliant golden blade only a few inches away from Cure Bloom, who is wailing away on the mass trying to devour her, and manages to jar herself free without seeming to do much visible damage.

Oh... because it's turning around to surprise FATE with those jaws, while leaving Bloom to contend simply with its mass invading her space, trying to slam her against the wall again.

And it's then that there's a moment of awful realization: in the chaotic darkness it's been hard to tell how many protodaimon there are. But, as light begins to snake its way up from the bottom -- the bottom! -- the blackness becomes more of a haze, and in the haze there are only two protodaimon.

Only two, who have stretched and elongated extensions of themselves to fight various girls at various times. Those snarling fangs in Bloom's face had extended themselves from the one that engulfed Fate, of course. But so did the claws, the claws on Fuu and Chitose. Which means the group has been struggling mightily all this time against one protodaimon for the most part, while the other goes after the Bird.

The group falls past the lower of the two (who struggles against a sort of molasses-like binding, the remnants of Yumi's hex), still fighting. Chitose's bolts wind up mostly impaling that one instead of the one right in her face, therefore, as it acts as an accidental and mostly inhuman shield. So she's still too close to comfort, as those claws near her jacket ripple and shift, becoming fangs like the ones that menaced Bloom -- and start to close.

Fuu has less trouble getting away, slipping soapily out of its grasped, greased by her gale, but winds up impacting the now Starling Shot-riddled one just above, which is entirely happy to avoid giving her a concussion because, at the moment, it is soft and squishy. But it's burning, burning like acid -- filling the confined air of the pit with the acrid metallic smell of chemical smoke. Smoke that wafts into the already distressed Yumi's path, and starts burning away at her, too, from all sides.

But the bottom -- we did mention the bottom -- is closing fast. It appears to be a riot of vines and leaves and flowers, all pouring out from what appears to be a pair of huge stone doors. The Bird turns out of its dive on a dime, and goes straight through, and afterwards there's a fluttering sound, flapping paper.

The group can find out what that's all about -- if they can survive the fall. If they can get through the door. If they can separate themselves from these protodaimon, whose absence was conspicuous throughout their earlier adventures... perhaps because they were waiting, all this time, for the girls to show them the way to their true goal...

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used The Jaws That Bite on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Space Invasion on Cure Bloom.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used The Jaws That Bite on Chitose Shiratori.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Acidic Flesh on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Acidic Flesh on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's The Jaws That Bite, taking 44 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Hotaru Tomoe
is Psyched!  Fate Testarossa's Fade ability activates!  Fate Testarossa's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's The Jaws That Bite, taking 39 Fatigue damage!  Chitose Shiratori's Fade
ability activates!  Chitose Shiratori's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Acidic Flesh, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Yumi Ohzora's Block ability activates!
Yumi Ohzora's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Cure Bloom narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Space Invasion, taking 13 Fatigue damage!  Cure Bloom's Block ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Yumi doesn't know what makes up the Protodaimon but she has guesses about what's inside it, and she doesn't like a single one of them. Even thinking about it is nauseating... which doesn't help given this situation, this dizzying flight, and he fact that there are so many of them all right there.

"Fate-chan!" Yumi calls as Fate comes back into view, seeing Chitose, and Fuu, and Cures. But there's not much she can do about them. There's too much to do to really think about how afraid she is of those things, instead focusing on--

"Got it!" as the Index Bird manages to go on, feeling that little bit of relief as she still has to struggle not to fall off her broom, despite it responding so well to her movements. ...Well, maybe because it responds so well. It's like a dream, except for the nightmares all around them. "Light...?" A gulp, "T-two. Right. Two. Two isn't so.."

They all move around the others and that /smoke/ gets to her as she flies down, straight through it, and she shrieks despite herself as she feels the smoke all around her burns her cheeks and sink into her mantle. It's gone soon enough, but the /feeling/ lingers as she moves to the bottom, almost hit as she /lunges--

She throws up runes and beams and beams crackle up and around to try to cover her descent as she goes straight for the doors. Were they waiting?

Does it matter? They're here.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji perfectly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Acidic Flesh, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!  Fuu Hououji's Fade
ability activates!  Fuu Hououji's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Dark Radiance on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Yumi Ohzora's Dark Radiance, taking 16 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Hotaru Tomoe's Fade
ability activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Flash ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Yumi calls her name. She answers in the midst of things, "Ivy. I'm-" It turns away from Pretty Cure to snap at her- and Fate reflexively jerks away. And loses her whole cape, And part of her barrier jacket, at the small of her back.

Gagging from the pain, she bounces off the cobbled wall in a daze. Her unfocused eyes look down into the light shaking its way upwards. Only for them to grow wide as she sees the truth of matters. Just as Yumi calls it out. Two. Just two. And one has been-

Fate looks upward at the one besetting the Pretty Cure- "Bloom!" -and wills herself to turn upwards. A golden blur slips momentarily back up just past the Proto-Daimon, and there's a SCHWING of a cutting arc to the side of that blur.

It detonates not long after, roaring with the sound of thunder. There's purpose to this, trying to give Cure Bloom a few precious seconds to get ahead.

Because the bottom is fast approaching, and once they get down, and she sees the bird turn- right towards... she's going to have to hope that the Witch can blast through it, because right now she's a half step behind.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Thunderous Clash on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Fate Testarossa's Thunderous Clash, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Fate Testarossa is Psyched!
Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!  Stun applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Chitose Shiratori [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Chitose continues falling! Which, admittedly, has been the order of the day for the last little while. But she puts that out of her mind as the protodaimons continue to swarm them.

Except for Fuu colliding with her, which throws her a slight distance away from her escort. So, Chitose puts Fuu out of her mind for a moment, as she starts to focus on the daimons.

Of course, this doesn't prevent the daimons from trying to eat her, and the jaws just go chomp, directly on her barrier jacket. With a yelp, Chitose points White Omen directly at the daimon's mouth, and fires a more simpler spell than she usually casts- just a burst of magical light!

"This is just like that time at Okinawa." She grumbles, remembering the time flowers tried to eat her.

COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori has used Magical Burst on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Chitose Shiratori's Magical Burst, taking 13 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe's Fade ability
activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Flash ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

As is so often the case, good news and bad news in the thick of combat come closely intertwined. The good, for now, is that the Wind Knight is once again falling on her own, unencumbered by her immediate foe; also, there are only two protodaimons after all, as best she can see.

The bad news is that there *ARE* two protodaimons, when single monsters of that sort have proven more than sufficient adversaries in the past, even with greater numbers of magical girls to fight against them. Also, their free-fall battle is going to reach a conclusion in no long time; whatever their terminal velocity may be at the moment, it's certainly going to be enough to cripple if not kill - and the amorphous monsters descending with them, bereft of bones to shatter or internal organs to burst, will almost certainly stick the landing far better than the plucky yet plummeting heroines. Maybe all the vines and leaves will make a softer landing for the magical girls, but if the protodaimons are still in a position to wreak havoc, that won't matter much.

There's really only one option the Wind Knight can still exercise - and even as she straightens herself out and lets gravity assist her descent further (*just* enough to steer clear of the corrosive cloud), she's preparing to do that. The acrid smell abates, and the Wind Knight spreads her arms to generate a bit more resistance once again - even though she's aiming a hand up at the protodaimons.

"Winds of Admonishment!!!"

Moments before, she unleashed a much more damaging tempest to try and tear the protodaimons up in passing. This time, she intends to *stop* the monsters - or at least to make it much harder for them to keep wreaking havoc. If she can stop them cold, excellent - but any damage, any hindrance, any obstacle she can throw in the protodaimons' path? Those can only give the girls at least a *little* more of a fighting chance.

Maybe that 'little more' will also be 'just enough'.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Admonishment on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Cure Bloom [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

Cure Bloom's fists crash home again and again, but do so, so little. But, she has to believe in it. She has to believe in her Pretty Cure Power! So the thing deciding Fate is the bigger threat is some modicum of a blessing; Bloom crosses her arms in a block as the thing intrudes her space, grinding her against the far wall. She screams, because there's not much else to do, and ultimately has no recourse but to force herself away, tumbling helplessly for some distance before reigniting her powers and boosting back down. Not the point. Fighting these things...it's not what they're here to do! She sees the bottom coming up. She swings back; releasing the biggest haymaker she still has in her into the thing's flank, blasting it with Pretty Cure strength. At about that point, Fate's blast goes off, and she calls, "Thanks!" before igniting her power anew; her feet igniting with light and rocketing her to the ground. She whips her feet down at the last moment and despite the speed, the spirits answer her; she goes from a bullet-like blast of speed to a dead stop without any trouble, the light of the spirits softening her landing. She transitions directly into a dead sprint for the doors.

COMBAT: Cure Bloom has used Bloom Strikes on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Cure Bloom's Bloom Strikes, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates!
Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Fuu Hououji's Winds of Admonishment, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Fuu Hououji is Psyched!
Hotaru Tomoe's Fade ability activates!  Hotaru Tomoe's Flash ability activates!  Trap applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Fortress of Lies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMBScNW_CNc

It's a total and unrelenting maelstrom of a fight, right down to the floor. Girls only narrowly avoid hitting each other, never mind the protodaimons; there just isn't a whole lot of room. And hit they do -- beams and slashes, winds and punches, light and darkness -- all find their marks, at least to some degree.

But not without cost.

The girls who fly, who stagger, who crawl through the double stone doors do so with the phantom remnants of flesh and claw and fang on their skin -- memories that won't be left behind so easily.

The demons won't be either. Through strength or spell, the doors slam shut squarely in the face of their tsunami-like advance; once they impact the floor, and the fines, they merge into a single, larger monster, rear up, and-- DOORS.

There's a great boom. Dust rises. Those doors are not going to hold for very long.

But what's on the other side... everyone who took tea with Kaoruko recognizes it, as do those who were at St. Ursula's the day it fell to darkness. This underground chamber is ancient, and a perfect circle, with ancient runes on every wall. Like the Index upstairs, their exact configuration changes from eyeblink to eyeblink. Unlike the Index, they are incomprehensible.

As for the single page that became a bird -- it's a page again, quiescent on the floor, and also blank. Whatever magic animated it is gone.

(Upstairs, a certain pixie has just regained her wings, and the Key of Khartoum-Rajadh shimmers back into existence in that pixie's village...)


Below Jindai Botanical Gardens, in that complex's corresponding room, Kaoruko said, her voice leathery with age and kind with it, too: "I think it begins with returning to Library Island and finding this chamber, within. Making contact with the heart of the space. Surely it still exists, some part of it untainted."


The door shakes again, behind them. But there, ahead: roots, surely roots of the World Tree, which rise and fall from floor and ceiling like stalagmites and stalactites, coming together around an orb that glows, faintly but steadily, golden and beautiful, like the sun.

With a soft, scraping sound, they retract, just a little. It's a clear invitation, an offer, relinquishing the orb of light into the heroines' custody. All someone has to do is reach out and grab it -- Fuu is closest.

It would be foolish to send everybody, though. Spots of darkness, like black mold, are already forming on the interior of the door. It won't hold out for long.

Darkness is coming -- and they must be ready to face it when it does.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Not Without Cost on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Not Without Cost on Cure Bloom.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Not Without Cost on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Not Without Cost on Chitose Shiratori.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Not Without Cost on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Not Without Cost, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Fate Testarossa's Block ability
activates!  Fate Testarossa's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Not Without Cost, taking 10 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Yumi Ohzora's Block
ability activates!  Yumi Ohzora's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Not Without Cost, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Fuu Hououji's Block
ability activates!  Fuu Hououji's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Cure Bloom narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Not Without Cost, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Cure Bloom's Block
ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Ivy can at least hear Fate's voice, though she wishes she could stop and think better about all of this. Unfortunately... She can.'t. With them all fighting on the way down here, with the Protodaimons crashing around, and with flying, the Witch finds herself firing off her beams and then crashing towards the doors, a psudeopod latching onto her arm, another brushing her face as it tries to drag her closer, and she pushes through as she sees the light of the next chamber.

...Pushes through, and skids along the ground, her broom and staff safe as she hits boots along the ground while stopping, letting out a hard breath. "That--Whew--" SHe looks to everyone else, to the chamber, and the latter she looks at in wonder, that orb...

But the doors have tht strange darkness, and Yumi turns around taking her staff up again. "I don't think so..."

"Okay, I might be able to slow them down a little, but... That's all. Good luck, everybody." The Witch takes another breath and starts to work the symbol of her curse.

When the door open, she throws it outward, and from the ground ivy--like her broom--launches upward, spectral, to try to take hold of the Protodaimons just long enough. "No!" she insists, and grits her teeth, feet on the ground again.

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Ivy Binding on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Not Without Cost, taking 15 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Chitose
Shiratori's Fade ability activates!  Chitose Shiratori's Flash ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

"Always." She calls back to Bloom. Here's what happens as Fate Testarossa abruptly tries to make the same turn towards the door. Dodging and weaving her way to the floor of the cavern, she tries to arc into that turn. Just as the shadow of a tendril falls under her. She spins around, still flying backwards, Bardiche raised.

A blobby tendril smacks him, and the girl's shields spring into place. <Defenser Plus>

Knocked to the ground, she skips like a bright rippling stone through the doors And then dust rises, as the girl skids to a stop in a daze, realizing the doors slammed shut.

In a daze the girl sits up- to look around in wonder at the chamber lined with ever shifting ancient runes. There's magic here- and despite being proud of her magical aptitude, she feels like she could study the magic here for a life time and understand it no better.

Her barrier jacket is in tatters by now as she stands up, sans cape, missing whole swatches in places. She finds herself staring for just a moment at the roots- and that soft, golden, beautiful orb. But she looks behind her after a moment.

"We need... we must... face them here... if we're going to stand a chance of leaving with it." The girl whispers, nodding as Yumi says she'll try to slow them down. And hopes the others agree. She's proud for their choice to follow the bird, but she's weary from it too. It cost them, it cost all of them. Instead of raising Bardiche, she raises a single palm when she faces the door- and closes her eyes.

"Whatever happens..." She considers for a moment and then smiles, "... well I'm glad we're all going to face it together."

One- two- A trio of runic rings form over her hand, orbitting them. Pulsing energy starts to gather within her hand in a manner that's both like her best friend's famed spell and unlike it too in so many other ways.

Behind closed eyes, she sees the visage of horror that followed her, that followed them all during their fall.

Shuddering, she opens her eyes again, to see the darkness flowing through the door, to see it congealing, coagulating, surging "Plasma-" It thrums within her palm, and then becomes a riotous outpouring of golden energy, encircled with violet towards the pair of demonic aliens, "-SMASHER!"

COMBAT: FINISHER! Fate Testarossa has used Plasma Smasher on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

When protodaimons hit, it may take any form, or next to none. The one constant is that it hurts - and getting body-checked by one is as painful as anything. The Wind Knight doesn't have enough of a chance to defend herself when that hit connects with her; she goes flying past the door just as it opens, tumbling and then sliding to a halt, her sword dislodged from her hand and clattering along, the tome she'd been carrying bouncing on the floor before it, too, comes to rest. The book remains where it fell; the sword shimmers, then vanishes, half-consciously recalled as the Magic Knight of Wind clmibs back to her feet, in considerable pain but not out of the battle.

The Heart Chamber, the innermost sanctuary, the Heart of the Library and the point from which the World Tree can be influenced. Somehow they made it - somehow, in spite of the monsters, they got here. And the glowing orb captures the Magic Knight's attention - not grabbing it, not beguiling her, but simply Being there.

This is what must be protected. She knows it. This heart of light, beautiful and fragile, must be safeguarded against the ugliness and darkness of Evil.

For the past several weeks - maybe even months by now - Fuu Hououji has found herself wrestling with one question, simple yet grave. Magical girls are those who protect those in need; that is the truth Fuu embraced when she first brought her own magic to bear in Tokyo. And that choice has given birth to her own terrible doubt, a question which left her powerless once before.

But here, in this chamber, now, in this moment, she sees beyond her question. She reaches out to the orb of light, her touch hesitant at first, but still willing to protect that which matters so very much, a treasure precious beyond value.

If her magic is insufficient, she will still exert her will. If her will is too weak, she will still interpose her body. If her body is too frail, she will still struggle to stand her ground - but here and now, she doesn't stand alone, and her faith in her friends, her allies, her comrades, is strong.

She may doubt her ability to protect ... but after overcoming her last such trial, she will still protect those which need protection, with whatever 'everything' she can call upon.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Bloom [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

Cure Bloom hits the ground, and even still she is assailed. She's used to team maneuvering, even among the chaotic fighting styles of many Pretty Cures; but still, with blasts and scythes and all sorts of other things flying around, it's hard to keep herself out of the friendly fire, let alone the decidedly unfriendly biting, clawing fangs of the Protodaimon. She hits the ground and runs. The doors are safest. A claw shoots - shoots - at her on some horrible tendril, slashing through what would be her achilles' tendon and only isn't because of Pretty Cure protection. It hurts, still, and she stumbles, whirls. She's close to the door now. A rake of claws across her chest, but she's finished circling. She sees the main body of at least one of them, right in front of her, assembling itself for another horrible, twisting assault.

She doesn't know how she's standing as it slams her with something like an arm, just a harsh, brutal crash against her. She yields only a step, onto her weakened leg, and then her eyes open. Golden light erupts out of her, exploding Earthly power. "HAAAAAAAAAH!" she screams, and forces herself a step forward, and then swings her arm up at the thing. She might, just, fall short; but Cure Bloom's magic erupts out of her in a column of magic, blasting into the belly of the thing and hopefully sending it RIGHT back up the shaft, blasted back up the way it came with impossible strength!

And with that released, Cure Bloom staggers back; stumbles as far as her legs will carry her inside the doors; and collapses.

She wheezes for breath.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Cure Bloom has used Bloom Petal Straight on Hotaru Tomoe.
<Pose Tracker> Chitose Shiratori [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Chitose still continues falling! At this point in the fight that's basically all that she knows, falling.

Then, she remembers she could fly! While someone like her usually doesn't forget, and she didn't really forget at this point, this is when she realizes that flying is probably the better idea, right now. So, adjusting her spells, she tears off towards the exit. Though the protodaimons continue going after her, blood claws, and blood and claws tear at her just moments before she manages to get through the door, and once the doors close she tumbles to a stop at the far end of the door. "Ughhh." She mutters, mostly from the pain and terror, before she stands back up.

At this moment, Chitose doesn't even see the orb, or the area-- an area which she is completely unfamiliar with. Instead, she only sees the door and the creeping shadow coming to consume it. So when it starts to congeal closer and close, Chitose whips up White Omen and points directly at it. The muzzle of the crossbow-device shift, slide, and enlarge, and Chitose squints to aim.

<Nightingale's Lament.>

A large, beam of light erupts from the Device, but once it fires it splits into a number of smaller bolts, just like Starling Shot did before.

But Chitose likens Starling Shot to a rainstorm, a rainstorm of lasers, bolts, and explosions. This?

This is more like a monsoon.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Chitose Shiratori has used Nightingale's Lament on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Yumi Ohzora's Ivy Binding, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates!
Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!  Trap applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Fate Testarossa's Finisher, Plasma Smasher, taking 80 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Cure Bloom's Finisher, Bloom Petal Straight, taking 76 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Chitose Shiratori's Finisher, Nightingale's Lament, taking 64 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

Fuu's fingers are lost from view as they enter the radius of the light -- it's brightening by the moment, becoming impossible to look at directly. But she feels something, within, both literally and figuratively. Her hand closes around something fierce and hot and kind of round; and she feels it in her heart, too, a keen sense of connection with something -- someone? There doesn't have to be comprehension, and isn't. As fleeting as met eyes on the subway, as a shared smile in the hall, and as powerful, it comes and it goes.

In the same instant, the doors explode inward. Yumi's ivy surges upward at her command, and though it can only hope to hold parts of the protodaimons, and that only for moments, that's all anyone needs. Fate invokes her grandiose plasmic magic, Cure Bloom calls forth the strength of the Earth, Chitose blankets the whole area with a whole haystack's worth of needles, each one of them a potentially fatal lance.

One thing the demons haven't done yet tonight is scream, but they scream now, in that awful, familiar aharmonic of monster and victim inside. They scream as lightning scalds them and the spirits rush through them and they're pierced, over and over, unable to escape due to the plants holding them down.

And then, they keep screaming, as they step forward. And again. Again.

They're inside the sacred chamber, now--

--The orb's radiance abruptly explodes, washing over everyone, consuming first Fuu and then everyone else. The last thing they see, as they become one with the light and it becomes one with them, are the protodaimon break free of what bound and sealed them, and rush to fill the Heart of Library Island with nothing, nothing but themselves.


The girls reincorporate at the top of the stairs, that barrier between something vaguely resembling a normal school library... and what lies beneath. As the light ebbs, it swirls and pulses back into the object in Fuu's hand, which has resolved into a pendant. A rich and lustrous brown, it could have been carved out of a single gnarled knot off a massive trunk. Or it could be an immense seed, the great-grandmother of the tiny golden ones bestowed by the flowers beneath Jindai.

Natural or hand-made, it is beautiful. And it is almost electric to the touch. It feels brand new, like potential, and incredibly old at the same time.