2018-03-17 - Shinjuku: Ingress

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Shinjuku: Ingress

The Chevaliers have taken Ueno from the Shepherds, but Shinjuku, capital of Tokyo, remains. The germ of this war was planted here long ago in a lonely alleyway. Now, this grand, grim cityscape wil be the site of a final, no-holds-barred battle for the soul of magical girlhood. It begins with an incursion by a choice group of Chevaliers, who hope to defuse the trap the Shepherds have surely been preparing.


Sayaka Miki, Fate Testarossa, Mami Tomoe, Eri Shimanouchi, Tsubasa Kazanari, Garnet, Homura Akemi, Kyouko Sakura, Kasagami Araki, Utena Tenjou, Yumi Ohzora, Mikoto Minagi, Kozue Kaoru, Anthy Himemiya, Haruka Tenoh, Endo Naoki, Lera Camry, Michiru Kaioh


Shinjuku Capital Ward

OOC - IC Date:

03-17-2018 - 04-07-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Shinjuku Capital Ward +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+
  The skyscrapers are tall, the streets crowded, the nights bright with neon
  signs. This is Shinjuku, a densely populated district of Tokyo nestled right
  in the middle of its 23 wards. It is central in other ways, as well, as it
  contains Japan Rail's Shinjuku Station, a transportation hub that has the
  noisy honor of being the busiest train station in the world. The Station is
  surrounded, as might be expected, by hotels, stores, and restaurants that
  feast on the three-million-plus passengers that pass through daily, and many
  major companies have their headquarters in the commercial district nearby.

  Finally, Shinjuku is an administrative center as well. The Tokyo
  Metropolitan Government Building, a massive, modern-styled 48-story building
  that wears two jutting towers like a crown atop its 32nd floor, hosts the
  central government of all of Tokyo, including its suburban areas and smaller
  settlements in the surrounding area. Three entire blocks are devoted to the
  building (also known as Tokyo City Hall) and the smaller structures that
  attend it. The Japanese Ministry of Defense is also headquartered in the

  There is much to do in Shinjuku for those unconcerned with government and
  business, all within walking distance of the station. There are several
  parks, the largest being the Shinjuku Gyoen (which crosses into Shibuya),
  with traditional Japanese gardens and plenty of cherry blossom trees for
  viewing around late March/early April. The Shinjuku-ni-chome area plays host
  to the highest concentration of gay bars in the world, along with other
  businesses devoted to the subculture. For the artistically inclined, the
  Golden Gai area offers a lively social scene of bars and clubs focused
  around musicians and artists of various stripes.
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Puella Magi Kyouko!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki transforms into Crimson Rose Duelist!
COMBAT: Anthy Himemiya transforms into The Rose Bride!
COMBAT: Chitose Shiratori transforms into Barrier Jacket!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi transforms into HiME Mikoto!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki transforms into Barrier Jacket Aufprall!
COMBAT: Garnet transforms into Garnet's Got Gauntlets!
COMBAT: Sayaka Miki transforms into Puella Magi Sayaka!
Haruka Tenoh walks over from Yamanote High City.
COMBAT: Haruka Tenoh transforms into Sailor Uranus!
COMBAT: Mami Tomoe transforms into Puella Mami!
COMBAT: Tsubasa Kazanari transforms into Symphogear!
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> You Never Loved This City - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3ws-aT1Raw

This is it. The last train.

Ahead, a great tiered platform is coming into sight. Built for giants, it stands like a great concrete temple, each layer wider than the last until it reaches the base, which is nothing but a wide empty maw. Into this shadowed mouth are drawn a dozen sets of tracks, but at this hour, all of them are empty but one. All of them are dark, save the one traced by a lonely set of headlights, and clattering with the weight of an endless silver train.

In winter the Chevaliers walked these tracks between the claustrophobic walls of snow heaped, then abandoned, by city workers, fighting a losing battle against a blizzard. Now the walls are melted away, and rows of sakura trees sprinkle their gentler snow. Now draws near the place of the first great battle between Tokyo's magical girls. Not more distant draws midnight.

As steel whines and cars shudder, the train comes to a stop. The Chevaliers atop it were greeted here by an open show of force, once. Now there is only silence, and the ghastly emptiness of a place walked daily by too many feet. The train lingers a few minutes, its doors open in vain. The spring air is soft and warm, but violence is suspended in it like bitter salt. Too long it waits, bright-windowed, inviting. Many are the shadows that could hold eyes.

At last the doors slither closed. The slow chug of renewed motion bears the Chevaliers deeper into the strength of their foes.

Shinjuku, the city within a city, is vast. The very sidewalks teem, crawling beneath neon. Every alley a township, every window an anonymous soul. If you don't know what you want, you'll find it here within minutes. But if do know, and you search to find it, you could wander for a lifetime. The Chevaliers might sooner comb the desert for one grain of sand than prise apart these grey walls for one fragile girl.

But there is one place here which the Shepherds cannot cede, Sayaka thinks. She was there, when rain came from the ceiling and blood flowed in tendrils through it. She was there when Eri first killed. Perhaps the other Shepherds would feint away from it, or use it as a false prize. Perhaps they stand for an ideology alone, cruel as Sayaka may find it--one that frees them of all weakness. But there is one Shepherd who is chained down, who is trapped more surely and permanently than the lost Kozue Kaoru. There is someone out there in the dark just like Sayaka Miki: someone who has only one choice remaining to her tonight.

This track is a circle that has never ended before. Around and around it goes, like a wheel or the sky or the way your worst memory turns at last into a fantasy of tself. But tonight, the track ends at the Tokyo Metropolitan building.

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

Fate Testarossa soared in synch with the gleaming metallic body of the train. Resisting the urge to look down and wave at the Chevaliers riding it, or to her other aerial comrades... keeping an eye out instead for signs of an ambush.

Yet there's been nothing present that indicates, well much of anything. After what she'd heard about Christmas Eve, she'd expected to be attacked the moment they crossed where the train line crossed over from Shibuya, but no.

As the train passed into the station for the platform for it's line, she banked upwards, floating over the massive beating heart of Tokyo's transit infrastructure. Bardiche pinged.

<Wide Area Search.>

Concentric runic circles of yellow sprouted beneath her feet as she hovered in the air. Her brow furrowing in concentration as waves of magic pulsed one after the other. Telepathically she sent a message out to the other Chevaliers.

<<Shinjuku station is...>>

All that nervous adrenaline that had caused her to grip Bardiche extra tightly was gone, leaving a sense of fatigue from a battle never fought.

<<...clear. I don't think they're here.>>

The anxiety was swiftly replaced as they went from one station to the next. Unspoken by her was the feeling that they were walking into a trap. All of her ruthless instincts cultivated during her time with Dark Fall indicated this. But what choice did they have?

The conjoined towers of Tokyo Metropolitian loomed overhead- knowing well what had happened there from the meeting which had formed the girls she'd joined on a mission of mercy to save Magical Girls from their dark path. She'd flown over it so many times back when she was hunting for Jewel Seeds, but she didn't understand it's importance until social studies class.

Just over the courtyard she stopped, floating a good thirty stories in the air, but still far below the level of the Metropolitian building's apex. The greenery was in full bloom, leaving the appearance of a carpeting of cherry blossom pink from on high, given how it blanketed the place.

Red lights twinkled above Shinjuku, warning away low flying aircraft from the tall skyscrapers of glass and steel. Lights shone only in the occasional building. Not at the Metropolitian though. All of the government clerks and workers had gone home to their families or the drinking after-parties.

Again Bardiche pinged, as she set herself up for another search. At first nothing, and she had to quietly wonder how many witches and familiars her magic can't even detect. Choking the halls of this important building that took such a role in the lives of so many. But then... her eyes snapped to a singular floor.

<<I feel something inside. A single magical signature about halfway up...>>

Could it be her? Or was it something far worse.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A great temple--but whose temple? Who is the supplicant, who is the goddess? In winter, the Chevaliers awlked these tracks. Now, they travel the train, Mami kneelt on the roof watching quietly, looking into this place. ...She moves. She is leading.

Golden-haired Mami Tomoe walks at the front of the group, the low heels of her boots settling along the ground as she turns her head from one side to another. Her expression is serious, every inch the veteran magical girl in all seriousness. ...And there's a reason for that, despite the fact that they haven't been attacked yet. ...No, because they haven't been attacked yet.

...But she knows better than to waste magic on the mere feeling of security when it takes up her hands--Mami is not carrying a weapon, though she is certainly transformed. Her hands are free as she steps from the station towards the towers. ...Shinjuku. It used to have such a different feeling for her. Now...

She's no stranger to telepathy, at least. <<Let's all keep our eyes open. Don't underestimate them.>>

Mami looks up about the courtyard, seeing the cherry blossoms, the curtain that could conceal so much despite how beautiful they are. ...She only allows herself a brief moment to appreciate the sight. Just that, before she looks forward, and starts ahead.

<<These are good places for Witches to hide, too. Don't put it past them.>.

Mami steps inside ahead of the others, hands at her sides, ready.


The complex stretches before them, and Mami looks up at the atrium, at empty receptionists' desks... And steps past the elevators, towards the doorway marked stairs. "...This way," she says to the others, softly. "It's tight quarters in here. Mind your escape routes." -=-=-

<<Halfway... We're on the way then. Wait for my signal, Fate-chan.>>

Higher up, Mami makes her way down empty halls here in the dead of night. Mami knows what they are looking for, knows what Sayaka will find. So it is that she walks ahead, careful, letting her eyes grow used to the darkness. Light would be a liability, easy to lose, draw the attention of their foes. So she doesn't use it. All their planning, all their preparation...

Would it have led here regardless? Is this destiny, or as Kyouko said, was that just Mami's wishful thinking?

It doesn't matter, she thinks. What matters is the doorway ahead, the set of windows that Mami is about to walk in front of over carpeted floors, in the empty Metropolitan. She has avoided contact with even monsters, avoided all that she can--kept her Soul Gem as concealed as she can.

Now she walks with the skyline on her right, the streets far below, another building beside her. She glances once, and then starts forward, continuing still in near-silence. <<We're searching the floor now.>>

"...Stay close," Mami suggests.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Escape routes," Sayaka echoes Mami, in a worried tone. She turns to look up (and then up a bit further) to Garnet's hard-edged sunglasses. "Garnet? Could you stay here and make sure no one follows us in? Fate doesn't sense anything, but..." Sayaka glances uneasily at the buildings around.

"They can't be far."

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

Even from up high, knowing they couldn't see it, Fate Testarossa nods at the directions. <<Right Sayaka. Lera... Endo. Keep eyes on different parts of the Metropolitian building. We'll keep everyone linked with our magic. Be ready to back them up or evacuate as necessary... Endo could you setup by Garnet? Just in case she needs to be airlifted in.>>%

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIqNx2IMaqU

Inside the skyscraper right next door, a girl paced back and forth just out of sight of the windows. Every so often she peered through the slats of the blinds, her fingers working to tap out a message as she assessed it.

Mass txt: It looks like they're splitting up. Lookouts and reinforcements on the outside. Let's make a quick split ourselves. Get ready.

Thumbing over to a call that was already in progress, she put the phone back up to her ear. "How's it looking on your end? Do we know yet for sure?"

Silence met her question. Sidling out of view and pressing her back up against the drywall. She inhaled through her nostrils, closing her eyes.

Finally there was an answer.

"Do it then. I'll make sure everyone is good to go."

Eri Shimanouchi ended the call, already jogging towards the fire escape of the building. Pressing the bar she double timed it up the stairwell to the roof.

<Pose Tracker> Tsubasa Kazanari [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Tsubasa walks in silence; though she accompanies the rest of the Chevalier, she does her best to put them out of mind. While she trusts them in a sense -- enough to assume they'd not get in her way when combat inevitable breaks out, enough to trust the young Fate when she points them in the direction of a magical signal -- the blue-haired swordswoman still do not fully consider them her comrades. They may be on the same side, and fight the same enemy, but Kazanari Tsubasa did not have 'comrades'.

She refused to. She would never accept it.

With her guard fully ready, Tsubasa had already transformed with the power of the relic Ame-no-Habakiri, armouring her in her Symphogear. In her transformed state, her long blade is always firmly in her hand... Though in all honesty, Tsubasa's sword was always unsheathed. Right now, it was just literal rather than metaphorical.

Following Mami, Sayaka and the rest, Tsubasa does not lighten her grim expression, nor does she speak to her allies. She is merely following along, prepared to fight for the Chevalier. That is the only purpose a living sword has, after all.

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet nods to Sayaka and to Lera and Endo both before they deploy to other positions, and solemnly takes point at the door of the Metropolitan.

GThe Gem keeps a steady guard, using her obscured but unique field of vision to her advantage, and momentarily concentrates on a second sight, one that perceives the eventual flows of time and...

A brief flash of red in the dark.

Then all is fire and violence.

Garnet immediately tries her hand at the telepathic link bestowed by Fate.

<<Inside team. The signal is a trap. There is some sort of explosive inside. Get out as quickly and calmly as you can.>>

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Step, step, step. Mami remains quiet; she doesn't look back to Tsubasa or Sayaka, trusting them as they are, trusting their group. She keeps her eyes ahead, to the side, looking carefully through for their target, for signs of life, for anything. ...The black and white of her attire are both played by shadows as they pass through the area with the tall windows, her lips closed.

"...Right door first," she says as she starts to approach a set of them, and then abrubtly stops--

Her honeyed eyes set on a tiny, blinking red light, and the bomb to which it's attached.

<Pose Tracker> Tsubasa Kazanari [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

A lifetime of battle and combat had brought Tsubasa plenty of suffering, but every now and again, there came a time where said misery proved beneficial. Thanks to her permanent heightened guard, she was able to make react and make a swift judgement the moment she saw that blinking red light. Diving forward, Tsubasa aimed to get in front of the group; her long arm reached around Mami, grabbing her to pull her closer to Tsubasa's own body. Guarding her with her body, she turned around, her back facing towards the bomb!

Though Tsubasa was reckless with her own life, she did not intend to sacrifice herself today.

Heaven's Wrath!

A large blade, conjured from her relic, materized from the sky, and slammed down against the ground! The blade, an enormous, thick slab of steel, became a wall guarding them from the explosive device!

As the sword came to guard the group, Tsubasa didn't know why she instinctively moved to guard Mami and the others; after all, she refused to see them as her comrades. But maybe, the refusal came from her stubborn pride, and not from her genuine emotions.

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

Tsubasa's sword slams down between the Chevaliers and a brick of C4... the first of thirty-four bricks.

They limn the whole floor, a daisy chain of death. Meticulous care went into their placement. Homura Akemi was absolutely thorough. Overkill is certainty, or at least is the closest she can get to it.

Dead reflective darkness disappears from the windows of that floor to outside observers as black burns brilliant white, then yellow, then orange. The windows bloom into the night outside, a concussive bouquet of fire lilies sparkling with shards of glass in a shattered rain. Within...

Fire and violence claims the entire floor, exactly as in Garnet's vision.

Walls obliterate.

Desks and chairs pulp to projectile detritus.

Concrete pulverizes, turning the air to gritty dust that tastes like burning.

After, it is black again, and even more dead.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo3StFtLIlM

Her arms crossed, Kyouko stands, flanked by the tall towers of the Metropolitan Building's highest floors. Taking one of the last bites her apple has left to offer, she studies the procession threading through the underlying courtyard, a small little ribbon of colored dots from her high vantage. A girl flies near, but Kyouko..well, she has a way of staying hidden when she wants to be. She has not yet donned her armor, her spear. Not much of a signature to scan.

And tonight, she doesn't stand alone. Turning on her heel, she strides towards a small portable awning set up on the building's crown, like one might find in an outdoor retailer, and peeks her head through muslin curtain that they've wrapped around its legs to form a crude wall. Its colors are quite close to that of the rest of the roof, and only close inspection or familiarity with the area would tip somebody off that the mini-structure is out of place. She smiles to the Shepherds within, quickly scanning their faces, assessing their readiness. She previously insisted that nobody transform before the signal, to better stay under the radar. Risky..but not for much longer.

"I think their spy just buzzed by, not long now." And then her head vanishes back into the naked night for her own spying.

About half of the march is now gone, worming its way past the great structure's doors. But the rest only spread out and take up post.

She smirks, and pictures herself in a chef's hat, staring down at a mixing bowl, making sure the proportions are just right. Not too much, too little...but just enough to cook. Tossing the apple core over her shoulder, she glances to her pockets, her thumb tapping something out on her cell phone..and then the wind rises.

Even up there, the explosion is deafening. A flash of her own red light bursts out in rapid response, her clothes restitched into something more familiar to a battlefield. No more hiding..

"There's our dinner bell, get your forks ready an' dig in!"r

Shattered glass glitters in the air like stardust cast by a godly hand, making the light below dance like a field of sparks. Falling with it is a red tailed comet tipped with a dragon's fang, her hair whipping behind her with all the chaos and tumult that floods passion and thrill into her hard beating heart. Debris from the windows crunches beneath her boots as she lands in the open courtyard, and stands, brandishing her spear with a perfect flourish. Flashing a grin, all fang, she spits out an apple seed, and surges towards the shellshocked girls who wandered somewhere they have no business being.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo3StFtLIlM

Her arms crossed, Kyouko stands, flanked by the tall towers of the Metropolitan Building's highest floors. Taking one of the last bites her apple has left to offer, she studies the procession threading through the underlying courtyard, a small little ribbon of colored dots from her high vantage. A girl flies near, but Kyouko..well, she has a way of staying hidden when she wants to be. She has not yet donned her armor, her spear. Not much of a signature to scan.

And tonight, she doesn't stand alone. Turning on her heel, she strides towards a small portable awning set up on the building's crown, like one might find in an outdoor retailer, and peeks her head through muslin curtain that they've wrapped around its legs to form a crude wall. Its colors are quite close to that of the rest of the roof, and only close inspection or familiarity with the area would tip somebody off that the mini-structure is out of place. She smiles to the Shepherds within, quickly scanning their faces, assessing their readiness. She previously insisted that nobody transform before the signal, to better stay under the radar. Risky..but not for much longer.

"I think their spy just buzzed by, not long now." And then her head vanishes back into the naked night for her own spying.

About half of the march is now gone, worming its way past the great structure's doors. But the rest only spread out and take up post.

She smirks, and pictures herself in a chef's hat, staring down at a mixing bowl, making sure the proportions are just right. Not too much, too little...but just enough to cook. Tossing the apple core over her shoulder, she glances to her pockets, her thumb tapping something out on her cell phone..and then the wind rises.

Even up there, the explosion is deafening. A flash of her own red light bursts out in rapid response, her clothes restitched into something more familiar to a battlefield. No more hiding..

"There's our dinner bell, get your forks ready an' dig in!"

Shattered glass glitters in the air like stardust cast by a godly hand, making the light below dance like a field of sparks. Falling with it is a red tailed comet tipped with a dragon's fang, her hair whipping behind her with all the chaos and tumult that floods passion and thrill into her hard beating heart. Debris from the windows crunches beneath her boots as she lands in the open courtyard, and stands, brandishing her spear with a perfect flourish. Flashing a grin, all fang, she spits out an apple seed, and surges towards the shellshocked girls who wandered somewhere they have no business being.

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora transforms into Witch Ivy!
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Curling around Utena's jawline, and softly luminescing teal off of her pajamas, what leaks from her cell phone screen jammed between cheek and shoulder is the only light in the room. Her free hand holds a dumbbell. She'd been doing sets in the dark.

"Yo, I'm coming down tonight. Yuh-huh. For Kozue. Yeah. No, I'm better enough. Mm, I gotta try. Okay. I'm on my way."

Her bare feet slap the floor as she springs out of bed and they sound like cracking glass, the soft swishing of her clothes like falling redwood foilage, as she automatically pulls on the first outfit that comes to hand.

She's halfway out the door when she sees the gleam of someone else's eyes, looking after her worriedly.

"I'll be back," promises Utena.

"I have to go. They kidnapped Kozue -- I have to help," she replies, to the obvious question.

"I mean," Utena's flustered now, her everything-will-be-fine smile fading at the inevitable second question, "No. No, it hasn't. I haven't."

"But I have to go anyway," Utena sighs, drawn towards the other girl like stray iron filings towards a magnetic pole. She sways. "I have promises to keep. Older promises. It's okay, you know? Because..."

Utena retreats towards the door. "Because before I ever even heard of Ohtori Academy, I'd already decided. I knew what I was going to be. And now I have to be, she needs me, they need me. None of the rest of it even matters, you know? I just have to go." She turns for the door.

Her smile is back, but her eyes are soft and serious, as she glances over her shoulder, a last long look at the safety she's leaving behind as she vanishes into the night. "But I'll be back."


BGM: SKU - Pessimism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBEuIb1m_Gc

Having missed the last inbound train, Utena chews the inside of her cheek in time with the thrum and joggle of the last inbound bus. Shinjuku is rising all around her and she can already taste concrete and sweat and her own blood. Anxiety is not a habit; it's a lifestyle. And the other girl's question is her question too, the one she's been trying not to think about ever since she was brought back from the cliff.

Now that it's been spoken out loud, though, it's latched onto her like another parasite.

Right palm up, left thumb and forefinger close around the sides of the signet ring. She spins, spins, spins it, and every turn is like another tightening of the vice.

What if it doesn't work? She doesn't even remember how it does work, anymore. She can't remember what it feels like, much less know how to make it feel right. She can only remember all the times she got it wrong, concrete and sweat and blood and Shinjuku. Things feel less hopeless now, a little pregnant with potential, like a loose tooth she can wiggle, but in terms of getting it out, she only knows how to rip it out at the roots and she definitely knows how totally that tactic will fail.

She wishes there were magic words, like some of the others have. "Moon Prism Power..."

A wry slash of her lips reflects in the cloudy car window, as she realizes that she said it out loud. Utena looks left, looks right, is relieved nobody seems to hear, or else nobody seems to care. Feels silly. A little guilty, but mostly silly, to be worrying about this when she should be worrying about Kozue, about Sayaka.

She closes her eyes slowly, opens them again, lets the side of her head hit the window. Lets the bus' vibrations make what's left of her hair stand on end.

(BGM Ends)

Her hands close into fists.

She knows what she's going to be. None of the rest of it even matters. She just has to go. To be there.

"Shinjuku Station," says the driver, and she steps out onto the sidewalk with a steady, determined gait.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Building explodes.

Utena breaks into a run.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

An opera monocular pressed to her eye, white and gilded with gold, Kasagami Araki mutters to herself. For about the fiftieth time, she relates that she hates this plan. Not that it's a bad plan. She just hates it with a furious passion.

Only her loss to Mami keeps her from actually outright objecting to it. Plus, getting to see a huge building blown up with the duo of blonde and blue inside?

Okay, so she only hates a vast majority of this plan.

This is all said while under the hidden awning station that Kyouko so thoughtfully set up. She is in a chair, boots kicked up on a table and sipping a glass of something vaguely like champagne. The flute empties, and is set down. Then she throws an arm around her purple haired companion, pulls her closer in a motion that's almost too friendly if there weren't the everpresent aura of disdain Kasagami has for one Antnhy Himemiya.

Point! "Now that is what I call fireworks. I take it back, Kyokuko-chan! I thought this would be boring, but I was wrong! This is going to be cause for celebration! When we win this, everyone, we are going to hold a Shepherd's Gala at my home! All for you beautiful, devious souls! Cling tight to your ambitions and dreams, make sure you know why and for who you're fighting! That way lies victory! Forward, our time is come! With your Liege, to arms!" She leaps up, points dramatically, and her coat flutters behind her. She's wearing her favorite red and black shirt given by a certain someone, designer jeans and a pair of sunglasses. Then she's grabbing Anthy's tiny birdy-bone wrist, and leaping out of cover. Kassie has come heavily armed today.

On her back is her family's nodachi, and on her side is kept a full daisho of two smaller blades. Kassie has come to end this, and is being paranoid about it. Plus, there's the fourth blade she's running forward with. All around her, flowers and the light of Ohtori flares as her Signet Ring glints in the darkness. Her coat is reamed with sweet-smelling petals, and her nodachi is in one hand with a smooth motion. Only once she spies the flying form of Lera Camry does she let go of Anthy, and shouts back to her.

"Use me as a shield, Anthy! Your liege will draw you if she needs it! For now...time to dance!" A leap into the air. She can't fly. But Kassie has one heck of an arm. Just ask the Ohtori Baseball Team.

Four points appear in her free hand, and then Kassie lashes out. Like mini missiles, rose-covered knives leap to try to take the mage from out of the sky.

"Come down here and fight like a sane person!" Kasagami Araki has no sense of irony.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used King's Blades on Lera Camry.
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Yumi waits with the others, anxious, a hand twirling a lock of her gray hair as she looks to the building. She has none of her magic out, none of it all that ready, at Kyouko's insistence, and that makes her uncomfortable too. She is... not on spy duty, obviously not on spy duty, as clumsy as she is. She hasn't voiced any objections, either.

...But her breath catches at the explosion, and she startles, freezing for an instant after. It hurts her ears. But Kyouko...

Kyouko transforms, and Yumi closes her eyes, drawing out the magic stored away in her phone--a long, white staff appears in her hand, and she looks forward. "...Come on," she says. "For Eri-chan." It's quiet.

"Staff of Lost Ivy... In my hands, remembered be."

A green light encompasses her, drawing away her layers against the night air in favor of draping black, of green gloves and boots in leather, of a pointed hat--her glasses fade into sparkles, and she stares forward... Before murmuring an incantation under her breath; there's a spark at her hair, and then her phone is abrubtly missing its tiny broom charm as a ride that looks almost still-living wood appears in her other hand. Her staff floats before her as she sits side-saddle down and then launches upward into the air, on a collision course towards Fate Testarossa, her hat and mantle whipping lightly in the rush, her staff in her hands.

"...Stop and feel gravity's weight," she intones, drawing up her power, "And find yourself the cold ground's mate!"

The crystal at the top of her gem glows as spectral ivy erupts from behind the cherry blossoms, pinkened as it, too, blooms, launching towrds Fate to try to drag her downward and into the fight.

"...Sorry," the witch says after a wince, hit or miss. "Gotta remember..."

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Ivy Binding on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa decisively counters 12 Fatigue damage from Yumi Ohzora's Ivy Binding, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Critical
Hit!  Fate Testarossa's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!  Stun applied to Fate Testarossa!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa's counterattack, Blitz Rush, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Yumi Ohzora!
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Wait and see, wait and see, there is a surprise...

Mikoto Minagi waits with the others - pacing, quietly and intently, around Kasagami's luxurious setup. Yellow eyes cast this way and that, empty hands clench and unclench. Miroku lies, undrawn, in the container upon her back. "Nervous," she grumbles, quietly. "Don't like waiting."

She hates the Chevaliers who hate Eri, but she doesn't underestimate them. She's worried they're too smart for this plan. Her nostrils flare as she sniffs the air, as if she could smell her enemy's suspicion. She's enough of an independent agent that she has to question plans, sometimes, even though it's plainly obvious that she is meant to follow them instead of make them.

It's a visible relief when Kyouko pops in to tell them the spy has passed, but she doesn't fully relax. It would be a very poor idea to relax under the circumstances.

But, in the end, Mikoto is made to follow plans, not to make them. In the end, this plan is perfectly, devastatingly functional. As Kyouko declares dinnertime, and Kasagami crows her enthusiasm, Mikoto swings Miroku's case around and draws the blade in one swift motion. She's said few words, in the leadup to this. Now, she says none.

It doesn't mean she's silent. She screams, wordlessly, as she follows the other girls down. Hers is a black streak through the air, obsidian glittering like the void beyond space. She can't fly - but she falls with aplomb, shifting in the air, blade held to her side.

She looks down into the courtyard.

She sees him.

Target acquired.

Howling wildly, Mikoto does not come unannounced. She angles herself downwards, and hefts Miroku in a mighty swing, cleaving through wind resistance, using the horrible velocity she has gained to lend ferocity to her attack.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Dauntlessness on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used King's Blades on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Lera Camry partially dodges 2 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's King's Blades, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry's
Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki decisively counters 30 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Dauntlessness, taking 10 Fatigue
damage!  Mikoto Minagi is Psyched!  Endo Naoki's Reverse ability activates!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki's counterattack, Asteroid Eilen, partially gets through, doing 30 Fatigue damage to Mikoto Minagi!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Red lights appear in her vision. A thunderous chain as chain of explosions set an entire floor of the building alight and showering the courtyard below with tinkling glass and debris as if it were rain.

Nearly level with that floor, the detonation bowled her over in the air, sending her head over heels as the blast wave struck.

Dazed, she shook off her twintails, as horror dawned in her swiftly dilating pupils as the piercing whoops of fire alarms sounded, "NO!"

Fate doesn't see the green light at first because she's tunnel visioned on getting to the building. She takes off in a golden drive towards it. But that chant causes her to stop short.


Spectral ivy erupts from down to up, away from where she's looking. Vines whip around her in binding circles, lashing her once and knocking her downwards as they try to box her in.

<Blitz Rush>

Bardiche chimes and she becomes a golden blur, a flash of light zips out of the blooming vines, as they cover around empty space.

When next Fate appears, she's standing atop the courtyard building, her barriers are sparking from where Yumi lashed her barrier jacket. Her voice strained. "Let me through! Let me through right now! They could be-

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJJRSe13naA

Chaos is breaking out. Shepherds are appearing everywhere. And she realizes that kind of entreaty won't work at this point. That they're beyond that. These girls all thought this was just reality, that it was logic, practical fact. And that that can't be denied. But still she would oppose them. So calling back to Yumi, "I always used to say that too, whenever I was hurting someone. Sorry. An apology that they couldn't even hear. I think I was saying it to myself most of the time. As if that would alleviate some of the guilt. But it doesn't..."

Her metal gauntlet scrapes against the haft, "IT ABSOLUTELY DOESN'T!" <Load Cartridge.> A plate on Bardiche slides down, and gold light bleeds off of her as she rockets straight up, arcing up and down in a zig-zag to keep herself a moving target as she hits the witch, "Don't tell yourself - or anyone else you're sorry for what you're doing unless something will change! Because all your sorry means right now-"

Drawing it back, the sleek metallic halberd is swung around in a bright arc that detonates into a thunderclap shockwave upon her position, "-IS YOU'RE IN MY WAY!"

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Thunderous Clash on Yumi Ohzora.
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

Not so far away...

Kozue Kaoru is blindfolded, and gagged. Her binds are starting to itch. Noise-cancelling headphones covering her ears pipe in a constant stream of tunes, warding off any possibility of sleep.

Here's a sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIKqgE4BwAY

If she could make a joke about how she can't tolerate music this sweet... she would.

But when one tune was switching to the next. She thought... she heard something. She's been deciding for nigh on two minutes if it was significant or not.

If I'm wrong I'm... probably dead.

But... if our positions were reversed. She'd call out, and keep calling out...

And that thought puts whim into action, from a simple leap of faith.

The girl speaks a word subvocally behind her gag. The word less important than the call behind it.

... guess we can be stupid together in this too.

A few blocks away from where the battle is brewing, concrete shatters and a storefront that's was in the process of being renovated explodes, the head of an enormous bird bursting out of the shattering debris and flying mortar dust.

The Child raises its head through the basement floor and opens its metallic beak for an answering screech to the explosion. The shriek is an reverberating din throughout the district like some ancient Kaiju had awakened and shouted a singular message to the heavens.

Here! I'm here!

It's loud enough that windows crack and shatter - leaving a trail of glass. The streets start to crack as droplets of water flow out of it in an inverted rise as if gravity had been suspended.

Only to be cut off so abruptly that each of those droplets splatter on the pavement, like raindrops that fell without clouds. The bird's head has vanished like it was never there.

Dust settles.

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora braces 10 Fatigue damage from Fate Testarossa's Thunderous Clash, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Fate Testarossa is
Psyched!  Yumi Ohzora's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Night winds bite at Anthy Himemiya's bare legs and ruffle the pleats of her uniform skirt, and she hugs her elbows with her hands. In the company of untransformed magical girls she is still out of place, her beauty glasslike and fragile.

Snagged by the arm of her Engaged, she tucks to the side of Kasagami Araki -- a beautiful doll clutched close, without protest. Her thin arms swing down, a bit limp, and follow along after her body's sway. The taller young woman launches into grandiloquence and the Bride remains silent, lips closed, corners curled slightly upward in an opaque smile.

Beneath, she is a swirl of fear and misery. This is not unusual for Anthy Himemiya. It is simply... heightened.

The floor occupied by the invading Chevaliers explodes and shatters fiery fragments into the night. Anthy blinks rapidly, and her Engaged can feel a slight shiver from the girl tucked into her side.

With her fine-spun wrist fast in Kasagami's powerful grip she can only follow, tripping along behind and following that leap to the courtyard. The flowers and magic spill from Kasagami backward and roll over Anthy in a light-pregnant wave, and when she emerges on the other side of it she has traded her uniform for a ballgown that blooms as red, in the night, as the explosions did.

The Rose Bride stops at the very spot Kasagami leaps up from, and stands there in the great courtyard as the fireworks of traded magical blows begin to detonate all around. Anthy Himemiya looks, and feels, very small, a drop of blood or a red red rose petal against the shine of so many grey tiles. Chin tilted up, she watches her Engaged loose thorns of her own at Lera Camry, and keeps that frozen smile over wide, wide eyes.

"Yes, Araki-sama," she replies to that command in a voice that may not carry over the sounds of battle.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Uranus [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Sailor Uranus had to submit to a certain level of indignity for this plan to work: she, like her partner Sailor Neptune, has yet to reveal her civilian identity to the Shepherds. So as she waits with her allies, she has to disguise herself without a henshin. But this indignity is looking oddly, well, dignified. She's wearing a tuxedo into action, like James Bond might. But it's the accessories that really matter.

We will examine them in a moment.

"Just for Eri-chan?" she asks Yumi quietly, as she watches Fate Testarossa flying around unwitting above. Her clear blue eyes sparkle. "There isn't anyone... else, here, that you might fight for?"

Her lips curl at the explosion. Standing straight, she rests a gloved hand on the edge of the structure. "It's that time, then?"

OST - A Stolen Theme - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoNDrrQ0k6g

Whatever Lera is up to is about to be interrupted by a thin metal girder. It slings through the air with a sharp metallic sound, its whistle a warning before it either strikes Lera or just in front of her.

"I can see you Chevaliers are having regrets about coming here already." About thirty feet behind the girder lands someone that looks like a sailor senshi, save for the domino mask and cape, which have survived Uranus's henshin. "Don't worry. You won't have to feel them for long."

For the first time in some years, Masked Tuxedo has made an appearance, albeit in a sort of hybrid form. If the world will see Masked Tuxedo in his/her true form again, that moment lies in the future...

For now, Masked Tuxedo sweeps her cape aside to charge forward...

COMBAT: Sailor Uranus has used Elegant Throw on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Lera Camry cleanly braces 28 Fatigue damage from Masked Tuxedo's Elegant Throw, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry is
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

For Endo, this train ride that lead here weasn't much different from the last. There's plenty to think about on the way, perhaps even more after the last battle with the Shepards-but there are familiar faces nearby too, friends and allies that help put his mind at ease and give him something else to focus on. He gives a reassuring smile to the first group of infiltrators when they part ways near the front of the Metropolitan Building, taking up position soon after.

<<Sure, I'll take care of it.>> He chimes that back at Fate's request.

A nod is given to Garnet as he posts up nearby the Gem, noting, "The walls aren't that thick, right? It'll be easy to get in if something goes wrong." Historically he's had more success making new escape routes than navigating the architecturally recommended ones. He posts up against that gigantic sword he's drug behind him, and he waits.

And then everything happens far too fast.

Garnet's warning is barked, and before he can do anything--so far away, he is--the pop of explosives light up the sky above. His breath catches in his throat as his gaze locks on the smoking remains of the floor that his companions were on, fear seizing his body. It's hard to think, to breathe, to react to what's happening around him and the figures descending down through the dark.

If he was alone, he'd be done. Shorn in half in one clean swoop, armor alone no match for Mikoto's weapon and the velocity behind it. One more Chevalier down. But even with the rest of his allies scrambling, turning to face their own threats...Endo is never alone.

<ABOVE.> Warbles the ugly, synthesized voice of Fallen Stern. <-----NOW.>

It's instinct and anger that drive his hand, that turns the blade to swing up to meet Mikoto's own. The forces behind it, wielder and weapon, share one simple desire: to obliterate anything within reach. Fallen Stern and Miroku collide once more, and Endo barely registers the shock that ripples through his arms as they impact.

His response after comes in just an instant. He knows Mikoto, and he knows she's a threat. The finer details elude him for the moment, and his response is nearly rote. A hand snaps up, palm thrust forward. Familiar Belkan symbols whirl into existence, lurid blacks and purples from which burst forth a dozen grasping chains. Mikoto's probably well-familiar with their behavior: They go straight for her, snaking through the air toward wherever she's landed.


COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Kette Binden on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi perfectly dodges 0 Fatigue damage from Endo Naoki's Kette Binden, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!
Mikoto Minagi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

<<All right! I get you, y'know? We'll keep an eye out.>> Lera sends the thought out telepathically, as her flight -- along with the train, and then to the building -- comes to a stop before the mirrored walls of the famed Tokyo Metropolitan Building. Her reflection looks back at her, as pensive as she feels. Her eyebrows knit, before she looks sideways to Endo.

The explosion causes glass to explode outward. Lera shrieks, flying backward sharply, and soars away from the glass that comes raining down. It doesn't hit her head, by virtue of moving so fast. She still sees the debris shorn from the building come raining down for where she was a moment ago.

The blink of an eye, sometimes, is the margin between injury and escape.

"LOOK OUT!" she cries out, even as Garnet warns them. She eschews the telepathy for now. As she cries out, her Device cries out too: <Incoming!>

Knives colored pink slash through the air. Four of them rush in for Lera, and then girl sweeps to the left in a sharp motion -- a zig-zag, tight and fast, of red-orange light is left in her wake. They slash through it, making a pair of holes torn through the wake of the attack. Lera spins around -- and the remaining two knives come in, with a brilliant gleam that reflects in her eyes.

Then slash along her left leg, striking her thigh and grazing it. She hisses sharply, but softly. There is nothing soft about her words as she calls down to Kasagami.

"Sane person!? I'm not--this is a family tradition! There's a whole school of magic that fights this way!" she yells. "Don't insult fighting styles you don't know anything about, y'know!"

Vines reach for Fate. Mikoto rushes for Endo. Mami is inside a building that exploded. Lera wants to intervene -- wants to be in a hundred places at once -- but she can't. She has to be right here, looking down at Kasagami. Her green coat flutters out behind her, as she swings Soaring Sky up to point down at her. The two-toned blade glints gold and silver, and then there is a flash of red-orange light--

--and Lera is there in a blink, right in front of Kasagami. She swings the sword down, smashing with a two-handed strike at the duelist. When she does, flame roils up the length of the sword. It joins the fireworks dancing around them, though far lower in the air. Because, in fact, it comes crashing down at Kasagami, instead of soaring ever higher.

<Inferno Slasher!>

The blast explodes outward -- at Kasagami, and at risk of striking the Rose Bride. It kicks up debris, shattered glass and broken chunks of stone, and sends them flying with the point-blank blast from Lera's strike. As the fires fade, Lera's eyes are narrowed, and she is swinging her sword back to stab just as the flames recede -- intent on skewering Kasagami through. But then, before she can follow through with the strike...

A thin metal girder slams into Soaring Sky and knocks the sword away. The two-toned device flips high into the air, then slams down point-first into the ground. Lera's teeth grit, as she turns to look at Tuxedo Mask, in some hybrid form. A Sailor Senshi, yet also the familiar form of Tuxedo Mask. Her breath catches, for a moment, and she feels a pang of panic and fear for Usagi Tsukino.

"You... you're alive," she says. She looks to Sky. She throws her hand out. "Sky!"


The sword-device flies in, and she grips the blade tightly, then swings it to point at the masked person. A bolt of light shimmers up the length of the sword, and fires in a streak towards her. "Where--where have you been!? Sailor Moon was--everyone thought you were gone!"

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Inferno Slasher on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Aurora Pulse on Masked Tuxedo.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki dodges 13 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Inferno Slasher, taking 20 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry is
Psyched!  Kasagami Araki's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Masked Tuxedo braces 7 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Aurora Pulse, taking 10 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
<Pose Tracker> Sailor Neptune [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.


There are several comfortable chairs near the confined person, and a tasteful lamp, and it is possible, just, for Sailor Neptune to neglect the harsh fact of her duty of the evening in order to focus on a topic that passes the time.

She might study, but she sees no need - and has none. To bring her violin here would be rather giving the game away, although she has considered music more often than not, because in this silent concrete emplacement deep in the bowels of a building, there are... leaks.

Not leaks of water - dampness in a building is something that Sailor Neptune is familiar with. Leaks, rather, of sound, seeping gently like trickles of faintly dissonant resonation around the edges of the earbuds and the ears themselves of the Blue Princess.

But Sailor Neptune has had to ignore a lot of things in her time. Under her breath, as she turns the page in the gardening magazine that she had found laying around -- her phone is in her bag, and might as well be on the other side of the world -- she muses, "Perhaps for that trellis..."

Something moves. Sailor Neptune's eyes turn to the left, towards the captive.

And when the Child comes and shrieks she does not hesitate. The magazine is flung aside, she leaps to her feet, she crosses the room with a weave round the spreading wings of the creature even as she feels her very bones rattle with the scream of the ascendant Child -- and she lowers one white-gloved hand in a sharp atemi strike at the back of Kozue's head.

Silence returns. (For once, given all, it is a relief to Sailor Neptune.) She takes a moment or two to shift the stunned captive, lets out a breath she didn't know that she was holding, and steps out of the front of the store, quiet and neat, as if she belonged there.

Alone, she takes a breath. "It was smaller before, wasn't it?" Neptune murmurs.

It's a troubling thought. After this she turns her head - and in the not-so-great distance, a vast light rises, casting a shadow into the cityscape of Shinjuku. "Ah," Neptune says. And then she smiles. A moment later, she leaps.


"How thorough was your search?" comes a cultured voice from behind Lera.

An aqua-hued streak comes down then, and a white-gloved hand descends to give to Lera Camry the same blow that had just been delivered, gratis, to Kozue Kaoru not so long or so far away.

Looking up and past her, Sailor Neptune smiles towards the Masked Tuxedo. "Answer her, of course; where have you been?" she calls towards the other Sailor Soldier on her way to land, with deft silence, in the courtyard. That self-same hand, so lately used for violence, goes down to rest on her hip.

COMBAT: Sailor Neptune has used Calculated Dissonance on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Lera Camry perfectly dodges 19 Fatigue damage from Sailor Neptune's Calculated Dissonance, taking 0 Fatigue damage!
Critical Dodge!  Lera Camry's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Unlike the fearful owl that is Anthy, Kasagami Araki seems way too eager for this conflict. The explosion doesn't make her quail. The fighting only excites her. She looks back to the dutiful Rose Bride in her beautiful dress, and nods.

"You really are a pretty little sheath. Fitting of a King to wield! Keep your guard up!" Not that Anthy has one. Kasagami, once again, assumes that Anthy knows at least enough to not die when dragged out onto a battlefield. Surely someone in her position would. Surely.

But her attention is right on Lera. "Please! I will insult a style worthy of insulting! The truly brave do things face-to-face, warrior to warrior! They don't fly in the sky like mile-high club members looking for extra points!" Kassie has the audacity to point right at Lera while saying this.

Oh, hey, suddenly Lera's swords are on fire and she's in front of her, warrior to warrior. Whatever quip Kasagami has for the magical girl is completely lost as Lera finishes her spell. And then those blades crash down. The scent, point blank blast of flame and plasma hits her nose. Her eye goes wide. Half of her body flares up in pure agony. And only part of it's physical. Only part of it from the spell itself as it erupts against her.

"AWAY!" Is the only coherent word that Kasagami Araki manages to yell out towards Anthy Himemiya before Lera's attack strikes. With a scream of absolute terror, Kasagami slashes down with her sword to meet the fire coming for her. Roses fly to her sword, shrouding the long blade in endless dark red petals. The impact of her trying to ward it away from herself and her Sheath is destructive indeed. Half of her coat is obliterated in a moment, and she's pushed back as flame crashes around her. Her scream is a phobic one, Kassie battling her terror and old demons rising up. Flame lashes across the right side of her body. Her face sizzles, old wounds worked over once again. Her minds blanks. She lashes aside with her nodachi, and a vast majority of the worst of the Inferno Slasher is wiped away. Her right arm is naked, skin scorched anew.

Her words are almost incoherent. Kasagami doesn't even see the amazing thrown girter or her ally's arrival in that beautiful cape. She doesn't see Lera.

"DEMON!" Howls Kasagami. "Give her back to me, you monster!"

For a long moment, Kasagami Araki looks right through Lera Camry with a haunted, spaced out look.

Then she realizes that not all of that fire was blocked. The nightmare playing in her head becomes all too real. Except this time, right here, she's her mother. And Anthy is the defenseless girl, flame lashing out ready to crash into her. Kasagami had missed some in her flare of fear and old ghosts.

She turns. Her boots are paralyzed by fear. Even if they weren't? The King is far too slow to protect her subject right now.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used DEMON! on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Lera Camry braces 0 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's DEMON!, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry is Quipped!
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

They are never alone; they are more similar than they realise. Where Endo has Fallen Stern, that unshakeable voice of fierce reason, Mikoto has Miroku - implicit, instinctive, and indominable.

One speaks a warning. The other says nothing, as it always has.

Swords clash and sparks fly as Mikoto presses into Endo - but she's thrown back by the might of his counterattack, behemoth meeting behemoth on the open field. She lands on her feet, as all cats do, skidding back against the concrete; Miroku carves a thin line into the ground.

It sounds, for all the world, like Fallen Stern says 'cat binding'. Mikoto doesn't speak German, after all. But she has heard these words before, and she's running before the Device speaks the last syllable, feet pounding against the pavement. She leaps onto a prominent statue, first the concrete base around it, then onto its broad shoulders, as all around her chains slam onto the surface in search of her flesh. They're made of magic, and leave negible marks - but Miroku is firm and physical, and Mikoto doesn't have time to be careful, as hard as the chains are coming. As she leaps away, it cleaves through the arm of the statue, from wrist to shoulder. The crook of an elbow and the arm around it crashes to the ground, a right-angle of negligence born from a swift retreat.

In the end, she stands in front of Endo unbound and unbroken. As she grasps Miroku's hilt, body tilted forward and lips drawn up in a feral growl, the unspoken message is clear: she will not be bound.

She will not be bound, and Endo will be broken.

The charge comes anew, a terrible scream parting Mikoto's lips as she barrels towards Endo. She plants her feet in front of him, spinning wildly as she angles her claymore upwards. Her attack is not as mindless as it might seem: she's aiming for his sword-arm, to cripple the stalwart defense he presents.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Devastation on Endo Naoki.
<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

'Use me as a shield' came the command, and the Rose Bride did her best to obey her Engaged, standing directly beneath so that Kasagami is between her and the foe she attacks.

'AWAY!' comes another command as inferno splashes forth from Lera's blade, and the Bride's legs jerk, but there is no time.

Magical flame is a ravenous, flickering liquid in the night, pouring down across Kasagami Araki despite her efforts and dripping past to taste of the girl beneath. Explosions reflect in saucer-wide eyes, briefly transmuting green to red-orange-red.

The Rose Bride shrieks, a high clear note of terror piercing through the rumbles and blasts and weaponsclash, and drops huddled with bare brown arms thrown over her head. It is like an offering to that kindling appetite. Here: feast upon this flesh of my arms and be satisfied with that.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki braces 19 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Devastation, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto
Minagi is Psyched!  Endo Naoki's Block and Parry abilities activate!  Stagger and Stun applied to Endo Naoki!
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.


Utena has, shall we say, an intimate relationship with the bedroom ceiling. It's a good place to stare, to try to empty her mind and not think about something. But the elephants in the room are always persistent. Flinching away from the faintest thought of Anthy Himemiya was her defense mechanism for a long time, but ever since she called Wakaba and apologized and promised that, yes, she'd be coming back to school next term, yes, definitely... she and the three a.m. shadows have been forced to strategize at least a little. To come to a reckoning.

Play it cool, she'd finally decided. Anthy doesn't owe her anything -- she left because Utena had to be left, because there was hardly anything left to leave but a broken thing on the floor. Anthy deserved better -- and still does. In fact, she deserves an apology, but not, like, a needy apology. It isn't fair to put all that pressure on her. So, just be chill, keep your distance, give her whatever space she wants, and someday, when it can be about her instead of about you, apologize.

Play it cool.

But Utena didn't throw on her old winter uniform in the middle of the night -- laundered and mended by the fairies of the Fujino estate, and the only set of her own clothes that ever made it out of her suitcase because she never opened her suitcase -- thinking about the possibility of a reunion with her former roommate. In fact, the idea never even entered her mind. It's taboo, sancrosanct; in better times and in worse, she never so much as considered venturing out looking for trouble with Anthy in tow. Sure, sometimes trouble came to them, but that was different. When Utena spoiled for a fight, she spoiled solo.

It's the perfect attire in which to play it cool, fortunately. With the cap at a rakish angle, halfway over her eyes, and her whipcord-lean body boyishly ensconced in those skinny slacks and that knife-flat jacket, black stripes on a cream background emphasizing her lankiness, she's the very image of hip and aloof -- and vulnerable. There is always something inescapably vulnerable about the Utena Tenjou who hides as much of her skin as she can beneath layers of white.

But when Utena first spots Anthy across the courtyard, as she skids to a sprinting-ending, staggering stop, she discovers that as far as her heart is concerned, this moment is completely devoid of context. Forget Shinjuku and forget the war, it's like bumping into someone long-lost on the street. Her morose preparations shatter into a million tiny pieces. The clothes don't make the man and they can't prevent her from smiling. Her grin is totally unstoppable, goofily wide in its shameless escape from her lips. She wasn't prepared for the fire in her belly and she burns, burns with a simple, pure happiness to see Anthy again, to see that she's well and in one piece. There was never a more perfect color than purple hair, than green eyes, and her own heavenly blue eyes overflow with warmth to see them. To see her.

...To see her about to be kissed by an entirely different sort of flame.

Her gut turns to ice, her lungs jagged with it, every droplet of sweat from her nighttime rush transformed to liquid nitrogen -- she's still burning, now with cold.

The whole world stops alongside Utena's heart. She doesn't think. She can't think, much less overthink.

She simply moves.

She erupts.


And the world erupts with her.

BGM Swap: Debussy ~ Clair de Lune https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvFH_6DNRCY

The courtyard is abruptly treated to a blizzard of white petals, each one perfect, silken, unmarred. Silent. Some are whole roseheads which spin slowly into individual petals while in flight; some simply came into being on their own, no less lovely for their individuality. They drift downwards with a peaceful beauty totally at odds with the battlefield below, landing delicately on chunks of debris, on shoulders, in hair.

Utena is a rocket, horizontal in midair, launched on a direct collision course with the Rose Bride. It all happens so fast, and yet somehow it takes all of time -- her pants mostly disappear, becoming bike shorts, while her jacket is embellished with a line of crimson that descends like a snake, separating white and black and trimming her newly gigantic cuffs. Red-capped epaulettes are next, golden-tasseled, while a green gem comes into being at Utena's throat, twin to Anthy's own and connected to one shoulder by heavy cord. Her shoes are replaced in a sparkle, from neutral black flats to bow-trimmed red and white two-toned sneakers. From androgynous hipster to full-chested prince in a second flat, she embodies the contradiction in terms -- on her own terms.

As her arms wrap around Anthy and she continues onwards, to soar them both safely out of the path of the stray flame, the Rose Bride can feel her savior's strength, too. It's more than a couple of weeks of working out and heavy eating can account for, when it comes to undoing the lasting damage she's done herself -- yet now there's a fullness to Utena, an overflowing vitality, which is both familiar and, though it's subtle in the moment, still incomplete.

But most dramatic of all is how her hair unfurls behind her just like the roses did all around her, as though all its repressed growth is expressed in an instant, its damage erased and then some. A wave of pink that puts the courtyard sakura to shame, it catches up with them just as she lands in a two-footed SMACK, endless (and now bare) legs flexing to keep the two of them upright, one hand on Anthy's back and the other arm beneath her knees as elegantly as though they simply crossed a threshhold.

The arrested momentum takes time to travel down the luscious mane, to catch up with the rest of her. It curls around them for a second, like a fine canopy -- or a shared comforter.

It smells like -- she smells like -- wild roses. Like freshly mown grass. Like sun-drenched summer afternoons.

Utena is left in the unexpected position of brushing a tendril of her own hair out of Anthy's face, off of her cheek, but hair isn't the most important thing on her mind right now, even as she automatically does so with shaking fingertips. Indeed, she hasn't even stopped to notice her own transformation.

"Himemiya," she repeats in a wheeze, panting, as she inspects her carefully for burns. Finding none, summer triumphs once more over winter, within. She can no more stop grinning than she can keep the sun from rising, and it does, lighting up her face, the whole city block even, like noon at midnight.

For a single moment, it's just the two of them. Utena's expression may overflow with gladness, but it's no less tender for the strength of the feeling, as she politely adjusts her arms to let Anthy down at whatever pace Anthy prefers.

She finds her breath, and with it, her voice, which is gentle as the white petals still quietly drifting onto them both.

"Himemiya," that's three times in a row, and every rendition sweeter than the last, "Hey... you all right?"

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou transforms into Revolutionary Girl Utena!
<Pose Tracker> Masked Tuxedo [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

A top hat is slowly wafting down through the air, with motions like a pendulum. Masked Tuxedo reaches a hand up without a glance and snags it, placing it on her head with a neat sparkle of her perfect white teeth.

With a vampiric motion, Masked Tuxedo draws her cape up before her and takes the blast from Lera's sword right on her forearm, skidding a step back before dancing out of the momentum with a twirl.

"Was she, now?" Masked Tuxedo asks drolly, not seeming to require a verb from Lera to understand. She lets Sailor Neptune make her own dramatic entrance, brow only gently knitting when Lera manages to evade the surprise attack. She dips her head to acknowledge Sailor Neptune's instruction to apply herself to Lera's question.

"You can tell Sailor Moon that I never went anywhere," she says. She's running, juking. "I'm still right there, standing between her and what scares her the most." She's in range.

Masked Tuxedo leads with a knee (and a flying skirt--a SKIRT, Lera) and follows it nimbly with a switched leg and a sweeping heel. She twists out from her own hat during this latter manuever, and it drops towards the ground. "That used to be a monster," she grunts through a jabbing elbow, staying in close to limit the advantage of Lera's sword. "Now it's something else."

Snatching her hat from the air again, Masked Tuxedo shoves it onto her head at the same time she's driving a palm towards Lera's stomach. "That's all, she says, and she finally lets distance form, standing up straight. The hollow of her back beneath the cape, her folded arms... it is as though she is leaving a Neptune-shaped space behind her.

COMBAT: Masked Tuxedo has used Karate: Eight Limbs on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Lera Camry counters 10 Fatigue damage from Masked Tuxedo's Karate: Eight Limbs, taking 31 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry's
Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Lera Camry's counterattack, Sentinel Flash, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Masked Tuxedo!
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

A white-gloved hand comes swinging for the back of Lera's head--

--and Lera ducks down low, air whooshing over her head of red-orange hair. She has to go down to the ground, though, and her feet crunch into the pavement when she does. She turns quickly to face Kasagami, though beset on enemies by three sides is -- she must admit -- not the advantageous position that she hoped for.

She meets a cry of 'DEMON!' She sees a terrified look in her eyes -- but hollow instead of filled with fright, the sort of hollow that sends a chill down her spine through the glow of the plasma from Soaring Sky's strike. She is, for a moment, briefly and utterly confused by this.

That confusion is replaced by a moment of panic as she sees the Rose Bride leaping in, arms crossed, and Lera opens her mouth to cry out a response. But so does someone else.


The worried, half-formed shout becomes a grin as Utena is suddenly right there, transformed, and takes the Rose Bride out of harm's way. She knows enough to know that Utena is on their side; a Chevalier, and more of one than Lera ever was. She doesn't say anything to that, just yet. She turns, instead, wheeling around to put herself between Sailors Uranus and Neptune -- and have her eyes on both, as hard as that proves when she stands between and perpendicular to them.

Which is when 'Masked Tuxedo' comes rushing for her. The knee slams in for her, and she swings a hand out. Soaring Sky pulses with light -- and there is a brilliant, cross-shaped flash of light that blocks the knee, then the swing of her heeled foot. Skirts rustle as 'Masked Tuxedo' strikes, and the realization plays out across Lera's face:

Nimble movements, like she so idealized.

A skirt, twirling with that brutal elegance.

Sailor Neptune.

A palm that slams into her stomach.

Locks of light brown hair, not dark.

An elbow that hits her jaw hard, sending her head back, and spittle flying.

"URANUS!" she shouts, with dawning realization -- and then the anger is there, fresh and awful, and she doesn't know what to do with it. The words exchanged in Lindy Harlaown's house come back; the sharp exchange that ended in the two of them walking away, but it didn't feel like closure. It plays on many more memories, hovering in the back of her mind, and her eyes start to widen in anger.

They screw up, in fact.

And then she rushes in. She swings back Soaring Sky with a two-handed movement, and closes the distance in what is practically a blur of green, red, and orange. The sword comes swinging inward for Sailor Uranus in an uppercut-style slash. <Aura Smite!> Sky intones, just as he strikes, and a brilliant flash of white and golden fire explodes upward in the shape of a sharp, controlled fang.

Except, as it fades, Lera is gone.

The girl went airborne, soaring a good sixty feet above their heads, and comes down in a split second to strike at Sailor Neptune from above. She comes crashing down like a meteor -- and Soaring Sky strikes downward. When it comes close, a blade of angry red light erupts off it, lengthening the blade -- and drives down for her Neptune's midsection.


Lera's feet hit the ground, right next to Neptune, and she finishes the stab -- the lance of light disappears from her blade -- just to her side.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Aura Smite on Masked Tuxedo.
COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Lanzebrecher on Sailor Neptune.
<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

The Future becomes the present. The flames and violence her vision foretold knock Garnet away from the building, and the Gem is just able to adjust to the force and land without major injury, thanks to the distance and structure between herself and the point of ignition.

The Crystal Gem turned Chevalier frantically scans the Future again as she rights herself, in hopes of finding out if her allies inside have survived, much less sustained injury, but again her prescience is consumed with a foreboding redness, less luminous this time, but no less dangerous.

Red in a wicked piercing end.

Red accented with a white trim.

Though she'd much prefer to divine the fate of the others and go to their aid, this Red future is descending too quickly.

If she hesitates much longer, Kyouko Sakura, the Puella Magi "senpai" who taught Eri the joy of the ambush, will do what she does best. Presented with the choice to accept that fate, or try to change it, Garnet decides to put put her best fist forward.She concentrates and reads the flow of time to pinpoint where the Puella will most likely be, and blurs at speed to herald her arrival with the back of a red armored gauntlet.

COMBAT: Garnet has used Supersonic Backhand on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Masked Tuxedo perfectly counters 35 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Aura Smite, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Critical Counter!  Masked Tuxedo's Tactician ability activates!
COMBAT: Masked Tuxedo's counterattack, Elbow Takedown, bursts all the way through, doing 21 Fatigue damage to Lera Camry!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura braces 14 Fatigue damage from Garnet's Supersonic Backhand, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Kyouko Sakura's Block
and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Sailor Neptune partially dodges 8 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Lanzebrecher, taking 32 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

At the best of times Endo isn't a great strategist. If things were different, he might have remembered that Mikoto is far too fast to be caught so easily. If his mind wasn't a tumbling mass of panic, worry, and anger, he might have chosen a different method of attack.

But here she is again, in front of him and as dangerous as ever. He has no time to check on his allies, to shift focus to help the outnumbered Lera or make a mad scramble to aid the others. Instead, he has to focus on the little berserker and the terror of her blade that marked him so viciously in their last encounter. He's operating on impulse now, his weapon turning, moving to shield him from the brunt of the blow.

The force of it still drives him back, makes his bones ache and hands clench with pain as he stumbles away. His hand shakes, weapon nearly falling from his grasp as his body rattles. His teeth are clenched tight, his eyes slanted into tight lines. It's a familiar expression, one he wore shades of before. There's fury there now, indignation at the inevitability of what's come to pass. At his inability to help anyone, with the threat of Mikoto in his way. It's easier to be angry.

His stance shifts, a visible indicator to his opponent that he intends to retaliate. He does it swiftly, as much as he can manage with the weight of the huge sword he wields. It helps that it's magic, that it can aid in propelling itself toward his opponent. The weapon comes in a sharp horizontal line as he rushes forward, striking toward her right side.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Blauverschiebung on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi counters 7 Fatigue damage from Endo Naoki's Blauverschiebung, taking 21 Fatigue damage!  Endo Naoki is
Psyched!  Mikoto Minagi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Obsidian Blade: Dynamo, partially gets through, doing 12 Fatigue damage to Endo Naoki!
<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Battle bursts into full bloom, and amidst its field fighters pair off, joined by hand and foot like debutantes linking together to dance at a ball. Each partnership is formed in its own way, by its own criteria. Personal stakes, physical proximity, pure randomness or intuition..for her own part, Kyouko invests much of her trust in instinct. Her innate sensibilities point, and she follows. And in this moment, one option stands head and shoulders above the others.

Garnet...that tall, strange woman who has stood against Kyouko and those she stands with so many times, part of the solid backbone of the Chevaliers that have driven all of this chaos and mess. Her knuckles tighten as her gaze fixates upon that purplish pillar of an opponent..

..and a sliver of a moment after Kyouko identifies her target of choice, let alone pursues it, the fight is on. Snapping into action more quickly than her statuesque form and heavy wrought hands would suggest, an imposing fist slams into Kyouko's body with all the startling suddenness a bird perhaps experiences when flying into a clean glass window. Her muscles reflexively coil, the long length of her spearshaft striking twelve on the clockface to absorb much of the impact even as her arms groan in protest.

And she grins with teeth bared, relishing the sight in the fire's full light. Somebody who doesn't mess around, or waste time, or posture. Just gets down to it, no frills and no fuss. Just as she likes.

That speed is a problem, and she understands that this strange sentinel possesses some measure of predictive powers. She also understands that countermeasures can be overloaded, and speed is found in as ample supply as safe ground. And so there is really only one move to make.

Spear still vertical, Kyouko crashes its butt into the ground like a heavy walking staff, and like sugar glass it instantly shatters into a cloud of tiny splinters..but instead of falling inert like so many pine needles, the fractaled remnants of her lethal will rotate to a horizontal posture and start spraying all around. In mid air the wood becomes metal, each little sliver growing in size, fueled by Kyouko's magic, and flechette made fuller and more fearsome.

Stay or go, she'll risk a blow.

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has used Pincushion on Garnet.
COMBAT: Garnet fails to brace Kyouko Sakura's Pincushion, taking 14 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Garnet is Quipped!  Exhausted
applied to Garnet!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Indignity. Sure. Yumi's used to enough of that, anyway, and she's freezing out here even in her jacket. ...It's not that cold. But as she gets herself ready--

Haruka--not that Yumi knows her as such--asks her a quiet question, and Yumi's eyes widen as she turns to look at her--and then spots that... sparkle.

"W-well, I mean, um--" She starts babbling her response immediately, cheeks heating up. "That's not--"


Are they all right in there?

Yumi hovers in place, pink eyes on Fate as she finds her again by sensing for the magic in the air, staff still in her hands. It's chaos, all right--a kind of chaos altogether unfamiliar to the black-clad witch staring Fate down. ...And Fate calls back. Fate--with her history.

Doesn't it?

"...Guess not," Yumi says over another wince, but then abrubtly Fate is moving, and Yumi can't just talk to her--she has to act. One hand comes off her staff before she evne realizes she's reacting, not even trying to to counterattack at first--instead she has to deal with Fate's sheer speed. Don't say she's--

The halberd's blade meets a green barrier of light, Yumi's teeth gritting as she pours her power into it and is knocked backwards regardless by the sheer force of it, coming to a slowing halt some fifteen feet back in the air.

"..." The woman in the tuxedo's words come to her for some reason--not just her, huh? Maybe she was just teasing her, but...

"Okay. Fine. ...But I'm here to protect someone." The explosion comes next, one she wasn't expecting--the bird. Yumi blinks, and then turns her attention back to Fate again--it wa less than a moment that she was distracted, but it was that. She doesn't dare look away at the sound of a girl calling out behind, at Utena or Kasagami or Anthy, not hearing what she has about Fate.

"You guys... If you keep this up, she's going to die. It's only getting worse becase you won't leave her alone!" Yumi follows up her words in the air, suddenly darting upward as she inhales and begins another curse. "...Know the agony of hunger unfulfilled..."

On a person.

Runes alight as Yumi traces the air, "Hollow Curse!"

The spectral runes collapse together and rush for Fate, homing, searching her out, spiritual more than physical. "You're only making it worse!"

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Hollow Curse on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa braces 7 Fatigue damage from Yumi Ohzora's Hollow Curse, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Fate Testarossa's Block
and Parry abilities activate!  Cripple and Diversion applied to Fate Testarossa!
<Pose Tracker> Sailor Neptune [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

The howl of Kasagami Araki is one of the first things that Sailor Neptune notices. The next is the Rose Bride, behind her. The Bride is frail and helpless.

But perhaps, Neptune thinks, eyes widening slightly, not without her aid. The arrival of that woman, Utena Tenjou, bursting in all of her glory and splendor and bearing that woman to safety - it does not reach her face but there is a transient feeling of a smile somewhere in the depths of Sailor Neptune's soul.

She breathes in that smell of summer in bloom.

And then Lera Camry descends. Punishment perhaps for being sloppy. Neptune's head snaps up at about the six-meters-up mark and she spins to the side of Lera's incoming descent. The motion means that when her stab comes it is not struck towards the center of her abdomen; but it does lance along her side, leaving a streak of scorched fabric along her immaculate uniform blouse.

And from the passing look on her face, more than that beneath.

But it's a passing look. Turning, she finds herself leaning against the taller, broader figure of Sailor Uranus, eyes lidding shut for a moment. "She's quick... and she recognizes you, too." A hand comes up to run fingers through her hair even as Neptune's attention seems to drift, though it is in fact turned fractionally towards Kasagami and the two other women. "She's rather fiery, isn't she? Shall I take - the lead?" Neptune says.

That momentary falter may tell Uranus all she truly would need to know about Lera's strength.

But Neptune, of course, has strength of her own. She raises one hand above her head gradually, fingers trailing blue-green light as they draw up. The air breathes, that summer-damp air turning into something more surging, weightier, laden with passion as that drawn magic focuses into a sphere; swells;

The sea itself seems to surge down, concentrated in that turquoise orb, storming low and then high as it rises towards Lera.

"There was an incident," she tells the mysterious tuxedo behind her, with a gently over-the-shoulder tone, "but it's safe now. Honestly..." And then Neptune murmurs a word that one might not expect, though only one could hear it for certain:


COMBAT: Sailor Neptune has used Dolphin Wave on Lera Camry.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Now she's in the thick of battle, against a familiar foe, Mikoto's mind is clear of distractions like worry or fear. She has slipped, comfortably, into her role as berserkergang: fit to destroy until none are left standing, or else until she is called off.

It means that when Kasagami screams, it's just one more noise in the battlefield, absorbed and ignored.

The raw fear and terror don't reach her.

She is simply too far away.

So, too, do new additions and considerations roll from her hunched back. If they are factors, they'll present themselves. Until then, they are not her primary consideration. It's fair to say, deep in her mind, she is scared of the power Endo presents, scared of the way he tried to reach her, scared of what he represents as her Chevalier mirror. But it presents itself only as a terrible, singular focus, as bright yellow eyes track his movements, his expression, his stance.

He is angry. The fact slips into her mind, tangentially relevant. There is anger in him, ferocity, like her.

He is angry. He is a threat. He is an enemy. He must be defeated.

The way her lips lift in a snarl as Endo charges forward is not unlike a wild beast. She brings Miroku up, in a wide stance, and the swords clash again. Blades grind against each other with a terrible metal wail, as Mikoto struggles to ward off Endo's rage. These are not considered movements - not artful, graceful, nor precise. They are titans, despite their size.

Fallen Stern presses close to her chest, her throat, kept at bay by Miroku's broad side. Her muscles strain with the effort. In the end, she deflects him, electing to take a slice on her arm rather than risk her precious core.

She doesn't stop. That same movement of deflection turns into a step further into his personal space, blade swinging around in a wide arc for a second pass at his own midsection. She is perilously close to his blade, now. She cannot think any thought but for his destruction.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Demolition on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Lera Camry perfectly dodges 49 Fatigue damage from Sailor Neptune's Dolphin Wave, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical
Dodge!  Lera Camry's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki fails to brace Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Demolition, taking 36 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.


Through flame and fear clarion syllables find the girl they name. They wash over her and they flush through her, igniting every last nerve in her body before the fire can ever reach her. The shock could be no greater if the Rose Bride plunged into a frozen lake.

The majority of Anthy Himemiya's heart, a despairing thicket of thorns woven fast around the secretive spark within, spasms. That part, the greater part, is shrouded black with mourning. It believed that she would never hear that voice again.

Those fine slender hands of hers, cupped upward and overhead against the coming fire, instead feel velvet that her gardener's palms know well -- they fill with blessed snow, rose petals of purest white. Goosebumps race down her arms from there to utterly pebble the rest of her, raising the light wisps of hair at the back of her neck below her coif.

And as Utena Tenjou collides with Anthy Himemiya the hidden spark beneath the bracken of her heart pulses with sweetly edged pain. It feels like a birthing; it feels like a small death. It believed for her, in secret, even if the Rose Bride did not.

She is a soft bundle in Utena's grasp, as gently yielding as she has ever been. They come together like puzzle pieces and cross the courtyard as if it is a dance floor, the Bride's red skirt unfurling a sail of silk in their wake as pink hair cradles the rest of them -- a flower blooming in the midst of a battlefield, lovely and rare and perfect.

Anthy inhales of Utena, breathes wild roses and clean warmth, and her lungs ache just as her heart does. She exhales and all is tender and lovely, the carefully tended aroma of a garden of roses cultivated by loving hand mingling with that air.

'Himemiya,' and she looks up with round eyes and parted lips, the returns of untrammeled wonder. The endless vivid green of a grassy hill beneath a kindly shade tree meets the unquenchable cerulean of the heavens.

That pink tendril shifts from the curve of a dark round cheek easily enough, and the skin Utena brushes is as velvety-smooth as the rose petals storming around them. Anthy cannot yet speak, her breath coming quick and fast. She has no words in her head; her heart is beyond them. Utena grins, and it is the only thing she can see.

Only Utena could let her down to earth again, and as she does so, the Bride finds her knees are made of water instead of bone and ligament. She clutches at the lapels of Utena's jacket, her hands still full of petals, and between that and that strong arm still at her back she somehow stands.

'Himemiya,' a third time, that magical number -- it casts a spell over Anthy; it breaks it.

Is she all right?


She is a shattered, twisted, darkhearted thing; she is venom and spite and agony, a wounded bird in a gilded cage who has only ever sung the songs of others.

Except that right now, in this suspended moment, she is better than she has ever been. That is a different sort of pain, a scab dislodged from a great wound, and Anthy bleeds. But she also smiles. It is a quick and gossamer thing, like a bubble floating up from unfathomable depths.

Is she all right?

From somewhere, Anthy finds an answer. "Y.. yes. Yes. I am... yes. You were- you're..."

Words do not normally fall from her like this, but they are as scattered as the drifting petals in this moment.

"You're here," she finishes. It means 'You're alive.' It means 'You came for me.'

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

Endo presses and Fallen Stern grinds viciously against Miroku during those brief seconds. All that's in his ears is the clang of metal, discordant crashes punctuated by rattling pain. There's nothing on his lips, only breaths and grunts of effort. There's nothing to be said now, nobody to come between them. What needs to be said can be done through metal.

But Fallen Stern doesn't speak loud enough this time. It's pushed back, the pressure of the device forced to relent against Mikoto's strength and Endo required to rebalance to compensate for Mikoto's push. When he does he's not expecting her to get in so close, to come in so savagely and quickly with her own blade in reply.

There's not much time to think, and not enough space to properly react. Not with all the options available to him, not with magic or anything but familiar steel. Fallen Stern turns, Endo making hasty effort to interpose it between himself and Mikoto's weapon. It's a difficult task, the sword and unwieldy, hard to maneuver at the precise angles necessary.

Too hard. Sparks crack as dark metals meet, and the best that Endo can do is guide Mikoto's blow further up and toward less necessary things. It bites deep into his shoulder, barrier jacket shearing, metal biting down into skin beneath. The blow is visible as it registers, his body jerking back and face twisting in pain. A hiss too, to let Mikoto know she's struck home.

He's acutely aware through the pain that he's got to force her backward. To throw her off balance, before more and permanent damage can be done. He does so awkwardly, blade jerking back up from it's brief fall and sweeping out in desperate bid to force Mikoto back.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Blauverschiebung on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to dodge Endo Naoki's Blauverschiebung, taking 29 Fatigue damage!  Endo Naoki is Psyched!
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Flame fades. Her body is still half in shock. Lera Camry is forgotten, her allies are forgotten. The world has shrunk to herself and fire. Then it expands, encompassing the Rose Bride. Her prize that she fought so desperately for, was humiliated for, and honed herself to a keenness that would make her mother proud if she'd seen it. She fought and won against other dominant fighters. She took Anthy, and then defended her position as Engaged.

None of those help her against the fear. None of those accomplishments can wash away the ghosts of the past that nip at Kasagami Araki's heels, that leave such a strong young woman unable to act when acting is the essence of her being and of her family's swordsmanship. Decisive, overpowering, precise blows.

Her physical power is nothing if the hand that wields such trembles. Then white roses flash past her gaze. Some mingle amidst her half-ruined coat. The wind of Utena's return, and subsequent rocketing towards Anthy where she herself can't help to move in the grip of her own terror causes Kasagami's coat to flutter away in the backblast.

Kasagami's knee gives out. Anthy is safe. Her mind can't comprehend it. A flash of pink, and then, fluttering locks of a familiar color. Her body tenses. Kassie's world expands to a third person. Someone she knows. Someone she cares about, that she had long thought a walk corpse, a mere broken doll in comparison to the shining light she'd once seen her as.

Yet, with Anthy in her arms and those de-shorn locks returning to her, the picture of the Prince that she'd known is here. The one she was so captivated by, who had pulled her up in a time of need. Who she had prayed for a glorious battle with only for it to fade into concern for Utena's well being and her own furious greed for power. It's as if time has stepped backwards. As if the doll was whole and unbroken and strong.

Kasagami's other knee gives out, and there's a scratch of metal on concrete as she leans on the long blade in her hands. Slowly, tears begin to fall down her good eye. Anthy is safe. Her Sword is safe. And it's all thanks to Utena Tenjou. The fear ends as she sees that single truth. The pain in her scorched arm doesn't go away, but it's ignored by the sudden burst in her chest. Of hope and relief as one. Slowly, Kasagami finds strength in her legs and stands up. She gazes upon the pair. "Ute...na?" Whispers the young woman, shock evident in her voice.

"Thank God." Her whispers grows, a little less inaudible, as Anthy speaks amidst scattered petals. Finally, then, things click. Kassie blinks, and sees Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride, her precious little Sheath and Sword in Utena's hands.

Pride flares, and she's back to her feet. With every step behind the pair, she starts to loom. A shadow appears over the two, and Kasagami's eye narrows. Her side is still smoking. A baleful look is given to the thief of her weapon. Yet there's a softness to it. A relief. There's a ghost here, and there's only one way she can be sure if it's the Prince that Kasagami has written into her heart as her proper subordinate.

"Now that is a face I hadn't thought to see again. It's actually a bit like seeing a ghost! ANTHY!" Kasagami's howl is forceful, commanding, and pure. Breaking up the beautiful moment with volume and a tyrant's fury. Slowly, Kassie's family nodachi slides into it's sheath with a click, and she motions to her side. She doesn't spare a look to Utena.

A grin, cheshire and ugly splits her face. "But I'm not sure that this isn't an illusion! That this isn't the fake Utena Tenjou that broke my heart! Either way, you have your hands on something that belongs to me! ANTHY! Come to your liege! Bring her a weapon to divide truth from fiction!"

A pointed finger, and Kassie's gaze is conflicted. Much of it is anger, for having touched the Rose Bride, pulling her from the Engaged. Yet an equal amount is naked relief at Utena's heroics. And then?

Kasagami can't quite let go of the hope that Prince Utena has once again graced her with her presence.

"Show me! Show me that you're the real Utena Tenjou! Otherwise I will scatter virgin-white petals to the wind! UTENA!" Her cry is meant to be ferocious.

It's instead teetering on the edge of hope and despair for a friend she thought was long gone.

<Pose Tracker> Masked Tuxedo [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

The very idea that Masked Tuxedo would leave Sailor Neptune to fight alone! Casually, Masked Tuxedo tugs a corner of the bow at the base of Neptune's back to straighten it, to make it as perfect as Neptune is. It's a familiarity they have earned with one another over multiple lifetimes. Masked Tuxedo gives Neptune a fond smile that flattens a little at the mention of an incident.

"Baby what?" she asks, suspiciously. She didn't catch the rest of the word, and what she did hear, well. It's scary word for any handsome swain to hear from the lips of her paramour...

There are more immediate threats to Masked Tuxedo's bachelor lifestyle though, first and foremost a fearsome slash from Lera that births a tooth of flame. Masked Tuxedo, unlike her ally Kasagami, has no fear of fire, and blots its far tongues with her cape for just an instant as she ducks into Lera's reach again. An arm hooks through Lera's, jamming Lera's wrist beneath Masked Tuxedo's armpit and pinching it there hard. Masked Tuxedo hauls her arm towards the sky, right through Lera's elbow, locking it and then distending it to force the shorter girl onto her tiptoes and off of her balance. Grasping Lera by her opposite shoulder as well, Masked Tuxedo suddenly reverses all of her force and twists on the elbow, forcing Lera to smash herself into the ground to avoid breaking the joint.

Releasing Lera before she can use this forced proximity as an excuse to just rake a magical weapon along her arm, Masked Tuxedo feigns a retreat, but springs in instantly as soon as Lera rises, sweeping a rock-hard shin through Lera's ankles. The goal? To suspend her briefly airborne. To tee her up.

COMBAT: Masked Tuxedo has used Sweep the Leg on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Lera Camry decisively counters 18 Fatigue damage from Masked Tuxedo's Sweep the Leg, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Lera
Camry's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Lera Camry's counterattack, Sentinel Flash, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Masked Tuxedo!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Below Garnet and Crimson clash. Above are Green and Gold.

The barrier halts her drive and Fate calls out in firm resolution, "BREAK THROUGH!" <Yes Sir> Bardiche's affirmation isn't quite enough. As the Golden force clashes with emerald wall the explosion causes her to skid off of Yumi's barrier, sending her to a higher altitude and out of position. Stopping momentarily nearby at the piercing din. Others are joining the battle. Odds getting worse by the minute as Neptune makes her glorious entrance and better once Utena seems to riposte with her own - saving a girl.

But for a moment she seems distracted. Flying up a little higher, looking one way then another. The magical source is long gone - but there are other tell tale signs. The shattered glass. The streets awash like they'd gone through a short Spring shower that had spared the rest of them. Banking downward Fate descends into the courtyard, sliding far too close to spear and fist, she calls out to the others, "I think she's East of here! Can anyone get to her?"

There are so many things they must do. It's an impossible uphill climb. She knows even now she's ceding checking on those caught in the explosion for the sake of a girl that betrayed them. But all it had taken was one look at Sayaka for her become invested in this objective.

The battle must be rejoined as Yumi demands her attention in the form of a spectral curse. Fate spins into a slicing circle that cuts through the spectral runes. The power behind them though is not so easily dispelled. The spiritual hunger of unfulfilled desire seizes hold of her.

Something within her aches, and she knows what it is.

Her mother fell into the abyss. And she could do nothing but reach out her hand uselessly. A hand she'd reached out so many times, but had never been taken.

A dire craving for affection that had never been fulfilled.

It's like she hits a wall, her entire being wracked in mid-air by what she feels.

But no matter how much hollow unfulfillment is within her soul, she can't let it weigh her down. And she won't.

There was too much on the line.

"I thought I was protecting someone too... trying to fulfill their wish... it made a pretty excuse. A white coat of paint over the terrible things I was doing in her name... one layer after another..."

Her eyes level upon the witch. "... what excuse would have been good enough if my mother had destroyed the world for her wish? If the other Chevaliers died in that explosion, would protecting your friend be a good enough reason to justify that? Stop making excuses."

If she can't discard that hollow feeling, then she'd take off her armor instead in her need for haste.

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET5IA1XYFSo

<Sonic Drive: IGNITION!>

Her barrier jacket shifts. Her cape vanishing, her skirt shimmering into a pair of shorts. All armoring fades, replaced instead by golden wings on each wrist and ankle.

<Haken Form> Bardiche shifts into a curved hook of jagged lightning.

And then she's on her in a flash, crossing the gap towards her in an instant, the cleaving slash of the magical weapon more like a bolt of lightning instead- swift enough that it might be difficult even the keen eyes of a witch to follow as she tries to drive past her and bowl her off her broom. "Own up to what you're letting happen tonight!"

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa transforms into Barrier Jacket Sonic!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Golden Flash on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora fails to counter Fate Testarossa's Golden Flash, taking 44 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora's counterattack, Witch's Mirror, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Fate Testarossa!
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera's outstretched weapon strikes a hit on Sailor Neptune, but then Uranus strikes. First, she finds an arm hooked through hers -- and she gets pulled upward, and then off ehr balance. She yelps, feet kicking -- and then goes flying down at the ground. She screams as she does.

But it isn't, entirely, panic.

It is another of those cross-shaped blasts of energy, perfectly squared. It catches Lera -- and as Haruka lets go, she slides along it, and then turns around to come up standing straight.

In time for Neptune to strike.

The sea billows and churns, and magic-made water comes crashing down at Lera. Except, of course, that she isn't there for long. She shoots up into the air, and the waves slam into each other and break with seafoam spray and the titanic collision of water on water. It washes away, at a conspicuously blank space, where Lera Camry once stood. She hovers, instead,a good ten feet off the ground, and looks down at the pair of Sailor Senshi.

She looks enraged. Blood runs down her leg, where Kasagami's blades bit deep; she has a deepening bruise on her side, where Haruka's elbow strike broke through her Barrier Jacket's warding to break a rib. Her cheek has a few scratches on it, and some of that wild, unkempt orange hair hangs in front of her face. "You... you know," she manages, "I used to look up to both of you. Did you ever really notice us? The magical girls who were new to this, a year ago? Who were trying to figure out how everything worked? Who were scared out of their minds?"

She lifts Soaring Sky up, then runs her hand through her hair, and slicks her bangs back over her head. "You were everything I wasn't. I was clumsy. You were graceful. You were smart and knew what to say. I felt like anything I said to someone I was fighting wouldn't get through, no matter how I put it. You... you weren't scared to love someone."

Her jaw sets, and she looks up, light fluttering and dancing across her, as she focused. She isn't entirely idle; she is letting the Barrier Jacket patch in a few holes -- and hovering off the ground.

"But you're--you're so wrong about this, about all of this! You betrayed Sailor Moon, you've said you have to kill people to save them! You say it's not easy, but that's--" She shakes her head, angrily, and then throws her free hand out to the side. "That's the easy way out! You're putting death before life! But if you put life before death, you have to ask what comes after this! And--"

She yells out the last of the words.

"There isn't an answer that's satisfying! Life has to be worth living, and doing things the way you are... it won't be! What's the point of saving the world, if it makes the world like this!?"

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used The Point on Masked Tuxedo.
COMBAT: Lera Camry has used The Point on Sailor Neptune.
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Green and gold. Yumi is used to fighting much larger targets than Fate, is used to the barriers being her only defense against earth-shaking blows, and she grits her teeth as Fate finally skids off of her barrier, looking up at her. Others are joining in, all right--Yumi spots the distraction, and maybe Mikoto would take advantage of the moment, maybe Kyouko would have a sharp retort just for the moment.

...Would Yumi? She does. She has the right moment, she throws out her curse, and this time she doesn't apologize. Instead she places a hand on her broom and dives, dives downward, dives in the wake of her spell and of Fate spinning into her circle. She lets her magic work, a magic she learned the seed of mother to daughter, Ohzora magic.

Fate answers, and Yumi banks, stopping when level with Fate again--even if it is above, straight in a line. "That's--"

Fate's eyes are upon her. The world destroyed? Would protecting her friend...?

"That wasn't my idea--"

She starts, but Fate changes form, getting rid of her armor, and Yumi's eyes widen at the change. "Sonic--?" An instant is more than enough to close the gap. Yumi doesn't even have time to react, to throw up another of her barriers properly; she just starts tracing a protective rune to turn the attack on Fate in the heartbeat she's being slashed. Her sticking spell is overcome; Yumi falls off the broom in an instant, knocked backwards and starting to plunge to the ground. "I--"

It hurts, more than enough to stun her from doing anything for a few moments, enough that she simply starts sinking like a stone. The lightning still seems to be running through her, making her movements jerky; she doesn't even notice the way she cried out in pain after she was struck, is still falling, falling, falling. How is that girl so fast...?

She coughs, something she doesn't usually have to do much in this form, staff clung to in one hand and her other--

Her other yanks at air to draw her broom closer, and she forces herself to try to turn as she falls, looking up towards Fate. "Don't tell me about excuses!" she shouts back, and starts tracing the air before her--green hovers in place, turning black before her as the magic starts to work. "Wrath of forgotten spirits..." Black-lined green pulses as she forms her incantation, and then her eyes narrow. "DARK RADIANCE!"

The runes burst, exploding into a cascade of beams crashing towards Fate like waves, magical energy each the width of her hand, each set to hammer into her foe.

Yumi throws out her hand then and grabs hold of the broom that came on her order, hanging mid-air as her attack goes off.

"You don't--" She's still trying to hang on, "We didn't start this! You did! And I--"

"I know her! I know them! They're only trying to--to help!"

She doesn't sound confident--but that might just be the pain of moving like this, of that spell.

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Dark Radiance on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa dodges 18 Fatigue damage from Yumi Ohzora's Dark Radiance, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Fate Testarossa's
Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Sailor Neptune cleanly braces 0 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's The Point, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Sailor Neptune is Quipped!  Sailor Neptune's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Masked Tuxedo fails to counter Lera Camry's The Point, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Masked Tuxedo is Quipped!
COMBAT: Masked Tuxedo's counterattack, Feet of Clay, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Lera Camry!
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Miroku bites. It has long thirsted for blood, and blood it gets. It brings in Mikoto a base satisfaction, that Endo is mortal, that Endo can bleed. Her nostrils flare with the scent of it.

But it is in her nature to strike and retreat, strike and retreat. She plants her feet to spring away - and is caught, mid-jump, by Fallen Stern carving upwards. The blade scores her shin, up past her outer leg, cuts a tear through the side of her skirt not unlike the styles favoured by her friends given to delinquency. She staggers as she lands.

Pain. He has brought her pain again.

Fallen Stern's wielder is the person who will make her hurt.

BGM change: Regina Spektor - Après Moi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbeHq1CLqJ8

Here is where any normal girl would consider her safety. Here is where any normal girl would recognise a pattern, and retreat. Here is where any normal girl would recognise she cannot beat this boy, no matter her resolve.

Fevrale dostat chernil I plakat

(February. Get ink, shed tears.)

Blood drip-drips onto the concrete, and it's her blood, now, from her leg and her arm. She is leaking. Slowly, she is breaking.

Pisat O Fevrale navsnryd

(Write of it, sob your heart out, sing.)

Tears of pain leak from her eyes, and she howls, in anger and frustration. She cannot break. This lesson she has learned. No fear, no pain.

Distantly, You are a perfect killer, Mikoto-chan.

Distantly, You don't have to worry about being hurt.

Distantly, You cannot run from this.

Poka grohochushaya slyakot

(While torrential slush that roars,)

Cherry blossom petals float between the two of them. Last time, Nao intervened, and the words of an ally brought her back from the brink. Last time, they were able to speak.

There is no one here now. There is no one, and Mikoto's eyes glow with retribution.

Vesnoyu charnoyu gorit

(Burns in the blackness of the spring.)

Miroku gleams, glowing slits along its length, and Mikoto knows what she must do. There is nothing else she could possibly do. She leaps high, on injured leg, the cut visibly tearing for anyone who cares to pay enough attention to see it. In the air, she spins, a 360-degree roll. Miroku cleaves through snowflakes on its path towards Endo's centre, and they separate into two halves, fluttering behind her.

It is not just snowflakes it would cut. It is obvious, to someone with Endo's swordarm, what the velocity and the ferocity together represent.

As it draws close, the glowing slits along the claymore open, become piercing, magical sigils in the form of eyes, full of malice.

Who is wielder? Who is wielded?

Mikoto screams, a wounded beast.

I - must - go on standing -- you can't - break that - which isn't - yours -- I - must - go on standing -- I'm not - my own - it's not - my choice -

COMBAT: FINISHER! Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Death on Endo Naoki.
<Pose Tracker> Sailor Neptune [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"Mm," Neptune answers the Masked Tuxedo. Then the other moves and she sinks herself back, one heeled foot drawing back. As Uranus closes the distance, Neptune can hear the words from Lera, pausing only in a fractional glance of the eyes as Kasagami speaks so passionately about flowers.

"Yes," Neptune answers Lera. "I did."

Then matters progress. Neptune's face sets and her jaw tightens slightly as she does not interrupt the wielder of Soaring Sky. Her eyes turn down, even as her hands do, the gloved fingers curling slightly. "Mm," she says once more.

Neptune takes a deep breath.

"I'll certainly praise you: You speak with great passion," she says. "I know that your heart burns with what you see, and you speak that fire with great skill."

Neptune's eyes come up and they are somehow different. Normally there is a hint of gauzey dreaminess in them, the eyes of an elegant spectre from a more civilized era, the ineffable wisp of grace. The gauze is gone now; Sailor Neptune looks tired, perhaps, or haunted. Or driven.

"Fire burns out," Sailor Neptune says.

Sailor Neptune's left leg moves with a teal-tinged white blur as she seems to flow forwards a pace. In that moment of time she has rendered three separate kicks at Lera's side, each of them with vicious crushing force; worst, her aim is precise, that grace now turned to less pleasant ends as she aims like a trip-hammer right at the other side of Lera's ribcage, low down. Her armor is there, of course; but will it simply spread the strikes over the anvil of her body?

"I envy you your certainty," Sailor Neptune says: "Or, at least, its object."

COMBAT: Sailor Neptune has used Aquatic Allemande on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Lera Camry perfectly counters 25 Fatigue damage from Sailor Neptune's Aquatic Allemande, taking 0 Fatigue damage!
Critical Hit!  Critical Counter!  Lera Camry's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Lera Camry's counterattack, Sentinel Flash, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Sailor Neptune!
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kassie pants as her outburst fades. Her legs ache. Her body burns, but the proud Disciplinary Executive stands tall despite what Lera has wrought in her heart. Pride keeps her up, and seeing Utena has buoyed her heart in ways she can't, or doesn't want, to think about. A fist clenches. The world is dirty, terrible, and needs Revolution. Only a King can ensure that happens. She tells herself that, and finds the fear receding to that dark corner of her heart where the scared little crippled girl remains. Small and weak, no matter how much power and skill she gains. A weight growing ever heavier around her neck.

A hand runs through her hair, and her hairtie flutters away. Crimson-tipped raven locks fly free, almost as heavy as Utena's own. The wind has them obscuring half of her face, and her good eye narrows.

"Seriously, Utena-chan. You really shouldn't bother being concerned with a pretty little hood ornament. What you have in your arms isn't even a person. Just a pretty little doll that bends when you tell her to. That probably doesn't make much sense to you. You do better with examples, right?"

Another laugh, and then Kassie's right arm bends just enough. She offers a fulcrum to the Rose Bride. Ready to catch, to have her lay back as they've come to know each other. An instinctive call from Engaged to Rose Bride, utterly commanding. "Anthy. You are mine. Give me the Sword, NOW!" Her words are astonishingly cold, without concern for the woman. Only what she contains. A single eye narrows, filled with greed for what lays within the frail form of Anthy Himemiya.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The verdant dappling of sunlight filtered through oak leaves overhead dwells within Anthy Himemiya's eyes. Wonderment makes perfect circles of them, and there are circles within circles: round eyewhites broadened by shock, irises brilliant and clear, pupils dilate with emotion. All for the hero of her gallant rescue; all for Utena Tenjou.

When their margins shift by fractions, ruining that concentric perfection: this is when the moment ends for Anthy.

When doubt pinches their corners. When those lids and their lush thick curling lashes lower, veiling wonder with wariness. When pain draws a small vertical line between the brows above.

Though Anthy's eyes are still open, they are closed now to Utena. Her soul has slammed its windows shut.

The Rose Bride draws away, pushing her waist against that politely supportive arm; her fists drop from Utena's black-and-white jacket, to be lost in folds of red silk. The change comes from within her, unbidden by anything but her own desperately roiling emotions. They give rise to questions and accusations and wicked, wicked thoughts.

Now she comes. Why now? Where has Utena Tenjou been all this time, if not dead?

She looks like she cares, but that doesn't mean anything. Not really. It proves nothing. The rescue... proves nothing. It's very bold, very dashing, but Anthy has been here this whole time, and she never stopped needing rescue. Too little, too late, howls Anthy's heart.

Deep down in the center of the blackness, the Bride thinks: Perhaps Utena should have been dead. That would be better than knowing she was out there all along, doing nothing for Anthy and her suffering.

Her eyes are that same vivid green. Now, though, they have more in common with pools of acid.

The spell is broken before Kasagami Araki thunders onto the scene, still smoking from Lera's attack. It is there on the Bride's face for Utena to read, right up until Anthy tilts her head to the command of her Engaged and white reflections fill glasses lenses, truly closing her gaze off to the other girl. The last thing visibly filling those eyes was reproach.

Kasagami demands her by name. "Of course, Araki-sama."

The Rose Bride knows who she belongs to. She trots directly up to the tall swordswoman with a lightness in her step that does not seem feigned (it is). In a swirl of skirts Utena is left where she stands.

A doll, a hood ornament, a sheath: she is all those things in Kasagami's grasp, an aesthetic little marionette with a painted smile. If such cold objectification bothers the Rose Bride, there is no sign of it. She settles into the familiar agony of her role with what could be called relief.

Acquiescence in every willow-supple line of bended limbs and arching back, Anthy Himemiya reclines upon the arm of her Engaged. "Rose of the noble castle," she intones, and splayed fingers curl to cradle a blooming spark of light.

"Power of Dios that sleeps within me." Is it wind that pushes the Rose Bride's skirts to flutter and rise, or does the growing sphere of white before her have its own strange gravity?

Eyes closed, throat bared, back bent, she calls: "Heed your master and come forth!" One of many swords within the Rose Bride stirs. It answers Anthy's call and offers itself to the Engaged, justifying the lovely receptacle in her grip.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgRP1Mv5mLs&t=3s

It would wound Kasagami Araki to know that their darker thoughts align. Where has Utena been indeed? For Kassie, that question doesn't start at the young woman's defeat. Much earlier than that. Draining or not, she'd thought more than that of Utena. So high a pedestal has she placed the pinkette, a pure and sinless Prince to her wrathful Tyrant of a King. That's the narrative this young woman spins in her head, and clings to desperately.

Better to be the evil one, than let Utena suffer such. If she's even still worthy of being called a Prince. Anthy comes at her call, sheathed sword to her side. When Anthy is at her side and reclining into her arms? Kasagami slides down with the young woman, a dancer's elegant and intimate dip. Her raven-and-crimson locks fly in an elegant, floating dance as the mystical light of the Sword of Dios emerges. She lowers Anthy like a lover, a dance partner with the crook of an arm about her hips, but her eye has not a single amount of affection in it. She grips the hilt of the Sword of Dios as it emerges, and roughly pulls it out. It's a commanding, almost violent motion. That blade is held to the sky, and a single shine of light glows along its length to the tip. The Rose Signet Ring on Kasagami Araki, The One Engaged's finger, shines.

Her voice is a whisper, yet it radiates out to the Bride and her fellow Duelist Utena alone. But most of all, to herself. "Grant me the power to bring World Revolution!" Her words are full of ambition, and equally desperation.

No words, just a look of challenge to Utena. A hand lightly pushes Anthy up and away. Kasagami holds the Sword of Dios in both hands, facing what she hopes is her long-dead Prince without flinching.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki transforms into The One Engaged!
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Space, that's what Endo needed. Just a moments reprieve from Mikoto's assault to rebalance and shift the weight of his weapon to his more functional side. His left arm burns, and the right fares little better. Each exchange with his opponent, though they be mere seconds in length, is utterly exhausting. Like before, it's only a matter of time until one of them breaks. Like before, he's not sure how long he can last under Mikoto's oppressive strikes.

Not much longer.

Both the knight and his weapon recognize the threat that Mikoto's next attack poses. Endo's naked eye can see its ferocity, and Fallen Stern's pulsing gaze can trace out its line of devastation is an instant.

It would be better to move. Better to summon his magic in a barrier, a desperate shell to ward off the devastating blow coming. Fallen Stern was made to do neither.

Fallen Stern was made to cut through armies.

BGM: Bully - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwN9ORmEI-A

A triangular sigil whirls into existence under Endo's feet, vivid lines of energy that light up the space around him. The magic behind it may be calculated and complex, but the significance is simple: Mikoto Minagi's opponent will foolishly challenge. Endo can't last much longer-but one last time may be enough.


The symbols pulse once, and then he launches. Faster than his legs would allow and far faster than he's moved before. His weapon glows, burns bright enough to envelop him in a cocoon of light. Tonight, below Tokyo's Metropolitan Building, unbound by the cosmos, a star streaks toward fatal collision.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki counters Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Death with Kosmisch Kollidieren, initiating a BEAMWAR! Please see
+help beamwar for further information.
BEAMWAR! Endo Naoki and Mikoto Minagi's attacks collide. Mikoto Minagi has the advantage!
BEAMWAR! Now accepting mana bids for the first of three rounds! Now accepting new BEAMWAR entrants in this round only!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Transcend Beat - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24h2BhC9k2Y

At this speed Fate can feel the air friction rippling across her all too thin barriers. Skimming along the Shinjuku skyline, she banks downward, weaving around the buildings of the outer courtyard and the Sakura trees of the inner. A black-green beam crashes against the pavement - pulverizing the concrete with anti-light and sending up a cloud of rippling pink petals. Another slams right into a pillar, and Fate has to weave suddenly as she's showered with rock and dust. Plowing through the courtyard like a small supersonic jet - there's a lot she sees in the space of a few split seconds.

Lera trying to drive a point home to Masked Tuxedo and Sailor Neptune. Neptune's quenching reply.

Light shining from Anthy's breast as blade is drawn by the Engaged.

Mikoto's Obsidian blade drawn upon Endo's blade amidst a piercing scream of rage as Device spell meats it.

A dozen pinpricks careening into Garnet fistfighter.

There's so much she feels like she should be doing for her fellow Chevaliers.

Instead another pulsing wave of dark radiance proves that she cannot right now - leaving perhaps more of a hollow feeling in the grip of that curse. She only jukes upwards at the last moment golden blur rocketing upwards into the sky. Her advance momentarily stopped by the assault, she hovers across from Yumi in the sky, dust showering off of her.

With a shake of her blonde twintails she sends more dust flying off of her, "I understand you feel that way - that they mean well. But are good intentions really enough? We started this is what you say - but why did we start this? What did they do? What are they still doing every day?"

With a flourish of her hook-like device, she puts it into readiness behind her, "And if that's not a good enough reason for you. Then you should know if I stop - then your friends will be coming after..." What were they? Friends? She never got to hear her answer. "... someone precious to me next. They say she's dangerous, and I don't deny what's inside her is. I just believe her smile is worth the risk. But when you say that you're protecting your friends - you're ignoring that protecting yours-"

It all happens all of a sudden. The girl becomes a flickering blur, not even just gold, but violet of flickering and swiftly disappearing after images. It has the appearance of driving straight at Yumi in a blinding whorl of a barrel roll. But then all of a sudden she vanishes.

The girl is instead darting all over the sky. This way and that way. A flickering golden aureole. As she does so magical rings appear in the air.

One here. One there. Two more in the blink of an eye.

Fate Testarossa abruptly stops behind Yumi, as if trying to draw her attention her way instead of at the arrays. An open hand held above her head, the hooked scythe at rest, "-is killing mine!"

In the heat of the moment - in her anger and frustration, she forgets what made her stumble just moments before. That the answer was never given. But some things can be simple - that's what she was taught. As simple as calling a name and the feelings behind it.

Four runic rings are blocking Yumi's retreat in four different directions as Bardiche makes a baritone chime. <Plasma Lancer.> Fate closes that hand into a fist, "Sonic Shift." All four rings sprout arrowheads of crackling lightning, as she sends her arm chopping down at Yumi's direction, "FIRE!"

They move in synch, all pointed the way of the witch on her broomstick quicker than any arrowhead. And should they miss her, she chops her arm in the direction of Yumi, "TURN!" ... and they do.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Plasma Lancer: Sonic Shift on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora braces 9 Fatigue damage from Fate Testarossa's Plasma Lancer: Sonic Shift, taking 14 Fatigue damage!  Yumi
Ohzora's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: You aren't currently in a BEAMWAR. To see the BEAMWARs in your location, please type +beamwar/here.
BEAMWAR! Endo Naoki has placed his bid! Mikoto Minagi still needs to bid!
BEAMWAR! Mikoto Minagi has placed her bid!
BEAMWAR! Endo Naoki rallies, overwhelmingly driving back Mikoto Minagi! Endo Naoki has the advantage!
BEAMWAR! Mikoto Minagi takes 19 damage! Endo Naoki takes 0 Fatigue damage!
BEAMWAR! Now accepting mana bids for the second of three rounds! No longer accepting any more BEAMWAR entrants!
BEAMWAR! Mikoto Minagi has placed her bid! Endo Naoki still needs to bid!
BEAMWAR! Endo Naoki has placed his bid!
BEAMWAR! Endo Naoki presses his advantage, his Kosmisch Kollidieren exploding through Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Death for a
total of 91 Fatigue damage! Endo Naoki is victorious!
BEAMWAR! Mikoto Minagi is unable to keep fighting!
<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet braces for impact from Kyouko's unusual attack. Like a grenade in reverse, the shrapnel converging inward to the single point that is Garnet.

Kyouko's strategy pays off: such an unorthodox means of assualt does indeed take even the veteran Gem by surprise, and left with no opportunity for great movement, she instead attempts to move just enough to minimize the extent of the damage, and failing that, hunkers down into herself to try and deny opportunities for injury.

But to no avail. The flechettes strike Garnet all over, and though they don't pierce through her hard light body, the pain is very real, and lingers beyond their strike to aching distraction, leaving scratches visible across along her form.

Garnet uncoils in irritation and anger from her defensive huddle and redoubles her attack at Kyouko with a tiger's leap, allowing an armored fist gleaming with reddish-purple magical light to attempt to speak her anger and determination over her pain (and background worries) that her voice does not.

<Pose Tracker> Masked Tuxedo [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Masked Tuxedo appears less moved than Sailor Neptune, leaving her arms crossed. Her fingers do not flex. Her eyes only harden. But it does take her longer to answer.

When Sailor Neptune's attack fails to land, Masked Tuxedo is in motion like a bolt, ripping past her partner and kicking off the ground to send a boot at Lera, in an effort to take advantage of this brief pause in aggression. When it does not land, she lets her momentum carry her far past, skidding to a halt in a manner that keeps Lera penned in on both sides by Outers.

"It sounds like you were happier back then," she observes. "When you didn't think too much about what we did, or who we were. Never get too close to someone you idolize, Lera Camry. All gods have feet of clay."

Taking the brim of her top hat, Masked Tuxedo flips it down. With two fingers, she removes her mask and drops it in. With a casual flick of her wrist, she sends it across the courtyard like a frisbee, until the spinning hat scrapes the ground and swivels to a stop against the bottom step leading up to the Metropolitan Building. Rolling her wrist, she stretches her neck once on each side.

"Go home," she orders. "You face the last true warriors of a dead queen and a fallen kingdom. The heartbeat your lover listens to when she lays her head across your chest is fragile, and we will not hesitate to stop it forever. Perhaps then you will think, 'perhaps this was enough, after all.'"

Sailor Uranus lets her middle and ring fingers sink low as she shifts an elbow back, an arcane-seeming gesture that is well-practiced. "But if this ugly, evil world is not worth living in, then choke on it and die."

COMBAT: Sailor Uranus has used Acts with Elegance on Sailor Uranus.
COMBAT: Sailor Uranus accepts Sailor Uranus's Acts with Elegance, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Empower and Surge applied to Sailor
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Fast--too fast. Yumi fires as best she can, aiming straight for the rush of golden light skimming the skyline, trying to find where she's going to be. She's stiff as she watches pavement explode, pillars burst, Fate finally stopping from another as Yumi tries to catch her breath. ...More importantly...

As Yumi scrambles back onto her broom in the time Fate is rushing around.

Yumi hovers in the air, on her broom again, staring back at Fate warily. ...and doesn't say anything at first What are they doing, every day? There's a pained expression on the witch's face for a moment as she shakes her head.

Fate gets ready, and Yumi prepares her staff, holding it out before her as she looks right into Fate's eyes again. There's nothing hard in her expression, none of the ruthlessness of some others of the Shepherds.

But there's no time for her to answer before Fate is moving, driving straight for her. Yumi foruses there immediately; Yumi strats to conjure a barrier right before her as Fate charges, and then she--disappears. The rings turn, and Yumi turns her head, side to side, to see them--and abrubtly there is Fate behind her. "No--"

Yumi's broom takes off with a thought, before Yumi even finishes the thought, darting out of the way of the first lances, spinning mid-air hard enough that she has to hang on to avoid flying off. The beams turn, cascading, crashing towards her as she sails up, up, up towards the sky--

"--Verdant shield!" Yumi stops abrubtly and throws up her hand, green light stopping the largest beam right in front of her--as the other two snake around and hit her hard in the sides, sending her twirling down until she gains control again with a huffing breath. "That's--"

"...I-It's not like I like it," Yumi answers. "But it's not like she's lkilling them--we can't... expect her to kill herself to save those people, can we? Maybe you would, or I would, but..."

Huffing for breath again she shakes her head, "She saved me. I have to help her. That's what matters, isn't it? I want to see her smile!" She stops, and just, shakes her head again, intent, "And that other girl--I didn't want to do it either, but--"

Are those girls in the building okay?

"Why isn't there a better answer!?"

Black light cuts the air as Yumi traces a sigil of ruin, one that bleeds green power into the air--and shoves her whole leather-gloved hand through it fingers-first, sending it launching towards Fate to sap strength. This one she knows, this one she has known for so long--

"Just stop it already!!"

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Weakness Hex on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa decisively counters 9 Fatigue damage from Yumi Ohzora's Weakness Hex, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Yumi
Ohzora is Psyched!  Fate Testarossa's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!  Exhausted and Stagger applied to Fate Testarossa!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa's counterattack, Blitz Rush, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Yumi Ohzora!
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Lera sees Endo crashing towards Mikoto. She sees Fate summon her magic and cry out. She sees Kasagami mock Utena, in no uncertain tone. She sees all of it, and she wants to cry out, but Lera can't be everywhere at once. It is a hard lesson learned.

Her words, though, were saved for the women in front of.

Three separate kicks come screaming in for Lera -- and she throws a hand out. Each of them meets one of those flashes of cross-shaped lights, which prove shockingly solid. They catch the kicks one after anohter and hold them at bay from the girl. Her eyes are wide, not quite believing that she managed to fend off such an attack. She doesn't have time to be proud of her skill or luck, though.

Her head snaps towards Uranus. Her eyes narrow, slowly. 'The last true warriors,' the Sailor Senshi says. Her jaw grits at that. But the threat comes, then. Delivered with cold, brutal precision that cuts to one of her greatest fears. It comes back in a flash: vines as sharp as blades, piercing through Setsuna Higashi's back, then ripping out of her sternum. A fear that she sees, when she closes her eyes and forgets herself, and a memory too.

Her face feels as hot as the jungles of Okinawa, that day, as she watches the hat and mask fall away from Uranus.

"You're wrong," she answers. "The world isn't evil and ugly. It's wonderful even when people try to make it anything but. Don't tell me to go home. I've bled for this place as much as you. I am home."

She soars forward. She moves so fast that she becomes a blur of red-orange and green, which ends abruptly in front of Sailor Neptune, as Lera delivers a boot-clad kick for the side of her face. She turns, then, and then launches in a straight line to stab her blade right at the midsection of Sailor Uranus.

"STRIKE!" she cries.

A half-dozen shimmering, spectral blades of light that copy the long sword appearance of Soaring Sky appear -- and then arch out, and drive down in graceful, elegant arcs that all end at Sailor Uranus. <Regenschauer!>

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Sonic Kick on Sailor Neptune.
COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Regenschauer on Sailor Uranus.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Miroku was made to cut through HiME.

That is the difference between them. It is a small, utterly vital thing. A sword designed to slice through battalions and a sword designed to cleave the living metal monstrosities called 'Children' may have similarities, but each is designed to their own cruel end. In the end, it is a matter of scale.

The Minagis were never meant to fight open war. Mikoto is an assassin, not a soldier.

And she is crying.

The void beyond space meets the shooting star, in a terrible clash of blades. The power behind Mikoto's ultimate attack is obvious - and given, entirely, to the first strike. As Endo pushes back, Mikoto finds herself struggling to push Miroku forward any further.

There is dawning horror, on her face, as their strengths are reversed, and Fallen Stern begins to press forward.

Her lips move. 'Lo', 'rd', 'bro', 'th', 'er'. No sound comes out.

I won't forgive you if you can't keep up! You need to be strong, Mikoto. I know you can do this! After all, you're my adorable little sister!

There is a terrible pain, in the back of her head, as the flat of Miroku's blade is pressed to her chest. 'I,' shape her lips, 'can't.' In that moment, she is not looking at Endo, with tears in her eyes. She is looking through him, as if she is seeing someone else entirely.

Someone who is disappointed.

And she is terrified, for it is not her place to fail, not her place to fall.

The sigils on Miroku's blade flare, but Mikoto's heart falters. Endo can feel it in her blade, see it on her face - and the effect is instant. Heart betrays body, and Mikoto's injured arm falters, Miroku dipping downwards. In that moment, Fallen Stern finds purchase, and Mikoto is slammed away, past concrete pillars lit with electric light.

There is the sound of an impact, and then, silence.

COMBAT: Sailor Uranus fails to brace Lera Camry's Regenschauer, taking 55 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Sailor Neptune braces 9 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Sonic Kick, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry is Psyched!
Sailor Neptune's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

It's good that Anthy let herself down, because Utena's legs go to jelly at that smile, brief, ephemeral glimpse that it is into something that, even when they shared a bedroom, she was rarely privileged to see.

The Rose Bride's stammering is contagious, not that Utena had, at any point since she entered the courtyard, been eloquent. Her euphoria is beginning to shift to confusion. The dream is ending, breaking up into bubbles, and the more she tries to grasp at them, the more they pop in her hands.

Spells zap around them. Pop. Swords clash. Spears streak. Statues splinter. An animalistic scream. Popopopopop...

"You're here," she repeats, her voice on the edge of an awakening slur, dizzy with relief -- and then worry. "I -- why? You, you shouldn't, it's not..."

The look in Anthy's eyes silences her. The acid. The reproach. Utena chokes on the heart which has abandoned her sleeve for her throat, and the last thing the Rose Bride sees in her is, not quite tears, but a glassy-eyed splintering. Her eyelids drop halfway, like shutters, and her eyes don't look like the empyrean heights anymore.

They look like bruises.

Play it cool. She deserves better. Play it cool, play it cool, play it cool, remember...

...I deserve this.

Kasagami's howl shatters the remnants of dream-turned-nightmare entirely, and Utena -- as unprepared for this reunion as she was for the first -- stares. Again the whole world freezes with her. In fact, it freezes over her, and she finds herself at the bottom of an icy lake.

She experiences the older girl's words like a strobe light -- brilliant flashes, which then slowly sink through the water and into her.





Utena surfaces with a gasp of outrage, her hair flying all around her in a thousand separate roseate ropes, just in time to see the look in the Rose Bride's eyes again. And the rest of it pours over her very quickly, catches up to her all at once. Her lips make dumb fish shapes as she repeats after Kasagami silently, she has to, just to process it.

'hood ornament'

'isn't even a...'

She can't finish the sentence, even in repetition, just watches in horror and despair as Anthy submits to it willingly, eagerly. Her second smile is haunting, and Utena's own feels so far away right now that it might as well be another universe. When Kasagami yanks the sword out violently, Utena emits a tiny little groan that's more like a kitten's mew, as though she is the one who's been The Opposite Of Stabbed.

But that's not true, is it?

Play it cool. Remember.

"I didn't come here to fight you," she says finally, not realizing as the truth escapes her lips that she's damning herself further. "And I sure as hell didn't come here to prove anything to you." 'Play it cool' is not going super well in practice. "It doesn't matter whether I win or lose -- it won't change what happened!"

Her voice has risen into a shout, desperate and raw.

"But this isn't about me," she pants afterwards. Remembering. She lifts her chin. She squares her shoulders.

"I think she's East of here! Can anyone get to her?"

She pops her jaw.

BGM Swap! Vienna Teng - Hope On Fire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3Ua5DBj6Hw

"I'm gonna go get Kozue out now," she grunts at the woman who stands directly eastward, "And you're in my way."

Knuckles pop too as she makes a fist, and the muscles of her fingers bulge on either side of her signet ring. Her eyes widen, finally brightening a little as she realizes -- at last, belatedly, the very last one to know, and isn't it always that way with Utena Tenjou? -- that she has muscles. That her clothes are princely. That her hair is splendid.

She wanted it so badly, for so long, and now that she finally has it, she knows all at once that she'd give it all back and be a totally normal girl forever, in an instant, if it meant she could undo the damage done to all her friends in the last few months.

But, well, she's got to work with the life she's got, and Utena discovering her own recovered strength is not a moment that can be entirely morose. She may be grim and sad and angry as she closes with Kasagami but there's a lightness and grace and speed to her steps that is anything but. Moving her body has always been her very favorite therapy.

Her hair pours after her in a torrent.

"Also," she spits furiously, as she appears directly in Kasagami's face, from zero to blur in an instant, "Exactly what part of me being a total failure--"

She's no martial artist, though she's subbed into karate and judo club occasionally -- her knowledge of how bodies work is all instinct.

"--Gives you license--"

Utena grunts. Her shoulder drops as she throws her whole body mass (even restored by the power of love^H^H^H^Hfriendship, it's less than Kasagami's by a mile) into the punch, her arm propelling her fist, ring-first, directly towards the middle of the jawline of The One Engaged. She attempts to impress the would-be king with their shared insignia, that of the school, stamping the sign of the rose into the skin and tissue that protect Kasagami's teeth.

"--to treat other people like THINGS?"

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has used Smashing Lies Apart on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki braces 10 Fatigue damage from Utena Tenjou's Smashing Lies Apart, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Utena Tenjou is
Psyched!  Kasagami Araki's Parry ability activates!  Stun applied to Kasagami Araki!
<Pose Tracker> Sailor Neptune [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Sailor Neptune does not glance to Uranus as she speaks. She hears the words of the soldier of wind, of course, but they're familiar. A glove on a hand, a shoe on a foot. The grip may not be perfect, but it's near enough.

Neptune's focus is for better or worse not far-ranging. She can sense the tension that fills the air, but there is a single large problem before her - well, more of a medium, she thinks in that silent inner voice that is perhaps the string where the violin of her soul never quite stops quivering.

Her weirded gaze never turns from Lera as she closes the gap between them. Neptune's left arm comes up without looking and blocks the kick, but it has the force of passion behind it as well as magic of a more explicit kind; Neptune rocks to the side, letting out a "tch" of breath and not looking aside as Lera begins her spell.

"It's so easy to love a perfect thing, isn't it?" Neptune muses, and then she raises her hand again. She draws in a breath, feeling that stitch in her side from that telling blow - oh! she thinks, how terrible her strength; is this passion driving her on? her Device? Is she truly from another world, by heritage if not adoption? -

No matter.

"Love is such a paradoxical thing."

Sailor Neptune's hands raise upwards. Her entire body does, even as the blades fall down for Sailor Uranus. "Vivace!" she says aloud - it does not have the freight of an incantation. Perhaps it means something else.

There are two other words with clearer meaning. "DEEP..." The water forms again, the sea seeming to rise as she breathes in, extending that sound into a ringing, clear cry that could be heard across a bay if the wind was just right. The air itself seems to grow darker, the blooming cherry blossoms fluttering in winds not too distant from a storm.

COMBAT: Sailor Neptune has started a combo targeting Lera Camry!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Yumi's reply is a shield. But Fate imagines the greater barrier is her love for someone else. It's a strong will that so many girls she's known wrap themselves in - herself included.

Why isn't there a better answer?

It's one of those questions she doesn't have an answer to. Not a real one.

Why did my mother have to die?

Why didn't she love me?

The innate unfairness of the universe is something well known to the girl born in magical test tubes.

The curse splatters against the space where Fate was. A blitzing blur of light- but the damage is done. The sigil of ruin leeches away strength. She's been fighting for minutes, and something in her sages in her new position like she's been fighting for hours. The yellow light surrounding her dims - the reflection of her faint in a hundred windows of the Metropolitian like bug eyes.

Shaking her head- like a child fighting off sleep. After a moment she finds her voice again, "Because there isn't one. That they've had hard lives - I can feel sympathy for that. More than you know..."

Her breath shudders as she inhales. Upright in the air she starts moving in a circle. Hovering around her witch opponent, trying to work herself up to this, small shoulders rising and falling in a rhythm with her chest. "...but I don't apologize for asking that they work harder - or not at all. We won't let them die. We'll find a way to protect their smiles, and ease their burden..."

Her flanking circle becomes faster and faster, fast enough that it feels like a vortex of air is forming from the displacement by her movements. That her image distorts into feels like a hundred Fate Testarossa's that strobe brighter and dim like twinkling stars.

At what angle she initially comes from is irrelevant. In the worst parts of a hurricane, does it matter what angle the wind buffets or the rain pounds or the lightning slashes. "... that aren't built on the sacrifices of others!"

She is everywhere at once.

The slashes of her assault feel like they're simultaneous and devastating as she slashes faster than the eye can see. She is a golden blitz of color and motion, sound and fury - utterly and totally relentless for a few seconds.

She has to be. There is need for her elsewhere.

When she finally stops in mid-air- her chest is hungry for oxygen, her limbs are trembling and shaking. And if she has it her way, her opponent is unable to impede her any longer. Afterwards she says quietly, mostly to herself. "That's what it... means... to be a... Chevalier."

But those questions will haunt her for far longer.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Fate Testarossa has used Golden Blitz on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora counters Fate Testarossa's Golden Blitz with Climbing Ivy Curse, initiating a BEAMWAR! Please see +help
beamwar for further information.
BEAMWAR! Yumi Ohzora and Fate Testarossa's attacks collide. Fate Testarossa has the advantage!
BEAMWAR! Now accepting mana bids for the first of three rounds! Now accepting new BEAMWAR entrants in this round only!

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

Dark blades meet as Endo and Mikoto clash again. One last time, at least for tonight.

The end comes in a burst of light, the cocoon of energy around Fallen Stern and it's wielder bursting apart from the sheer force applied from both sides. It ripples outward, expanding, sending sakura petals rushing away from the point of impact.

Endo, too, rebounds. Not as fiercely, but not with grace. He bounces, falls, reaches to balance himself with his injured arm-and it gives. He goes down, face pressed against the harsh stone of the courtyard. He breathes heavy, wounded and exhausted.

He should get back up, he knows. His weapon buzzes in his mind, tells him much the same. That he's not done. That he should destroy his enemy.

He doesn't think about that. He thinks about the space in-between, the instant before he and his opponent. He thinks about the flash of Mikoto's face in lurid purple light, and the tears streaming down her face.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Tap tap tap tap. All as Utena begins to finally find her voice, Kasagami taps the Sword of Dios against her own shoulder. That last one is a bit too hard, this power-hungry young woman, and rends a slight cut to her uniform. Tch. She looks back in annoyance to Utena.

With a flowery slash or three in the air, she points the blade at the pink haired young woman vaguely. Her brow twitches again. Her fury rises once again. She can't help but lash out.

A shake of her head. "Utena-chan, I swear to GOD you know how to make me angry! Walking out onto a warzone, and acting like you're not here to fight!? Listen to me, girl, but I have about a thousand different reasons to yell at out. Too bad for you that I don't have time to sort them out today!" Kassie snarls aloud. Especially as Kozue is meantioned. She feels her own words cut inside, but her gaze never leaves the pink haired beauty she's latched onto so many months ago. Teeth grit. Something about Utena both attracts her, and yet grates like sandpaper against the grain of wood.

Still, she smirks. Kassie manages a low laugh, and one hand frees. It goes to her hip. "Well, finally we agree on something! That's right! I am in your way! Prove to me that you're my Utena! The person that helped me save those kids. The person that helped me up when I was lost in my own head." Her voice is lower. A private thing, for the two alone. She almost looks hopeful.

Grin. Her eye narrows. No more need for words, as pink tresses flare out, and suddenly Utena is a blurr of motion. Her sword raises high, ready for a swift strike of an improvised sword, such that she's seen a time or two with the young woman.

Thus she expects a slight pause. It's what she'd do, after all, to lash out with a hand and grab something to be used as club and sword at once. That is why her defensive technique ends about half way down where an expert would strike. Utena Tenjou is no expert in martial arts or swordplay. A novice, by some standards. And that's why that fist comes crashing for her without hesitation.

The Sword of Dios shines in Kasagami's hand. She spies that shared insignia coming for her jaw, and then? She turns her face as realization hits her even harder than Utena's punch. Kasagami Araki isn't blind, not entirely. A single tear falls down her cheek, and then she leans straight into the hook.

'Total failure'.

'What gives you license'


Right on the jaw, that single punch sends her skidding back. A bruise blossoms on the good side of her face, imprinted with a rose. Even Kasagami with her mighty pain tolerance can't help but tense at such a strike. Spittle is blown away, and she finally arrests herself with a single foot back. A sucked breath.

Kassie's the straightforward type. Her jaw stings. And she cries, only barely able to hide her joy as she wipes off her cheek and banishes that moment of weakness. A sucked breath again. And then her now bruised face is smiling.

"That...really is you, Utena-chan! YOU IDIOT, HOW DARE YOU ABANDON ME LIKE THAT!?" Her roar is half happy and half enraged. Kasagami's heart beats furiously, and she flourishes her sword. A laugh, one of nervous relief escapes her. No, she can't let that challenge go unrewarded.

"Allow me to let you in on two things Utena-chan! First of all, you being a failure or not isn't the point today. The point is, 'Can You Get Through Me'? Like I said, what are you thinking? Not even bringing a sword? Hey. I have one on my belt." She taps the katana of her daisho. "Come take it from me, and maybe you will stand a chance. You have such a wonderful look in your eyes right now, Utena!"

Point. "And the second thing is, as much as it makes me angry, I am not the one that makes the rules. Anthy is my servant because I beat you. Power is what matters here, that's it! If you really are strong enough to save Kozue, then come and break me, Utena! I am your opponent, and you are mine! Let me show you the strength I have been granted, my dear Prince, this is the power of a KING!"

She revels in her next act. To finally, truly, have some measure of a fight with Utena Tenjou. She's yearned for this violent dance. Where she has little need to think about the past. Her form is not just a mere blurr, but afterimages trail Kasagami. All around Utena, stained-glass-etched traces of Kasagami's body flare around. As frail as a fleeting memory, but thrice as quick. The rose signet and the gleam of the Sword of Dios is in her hand. And then in a single flying motion past Utena, four multicolored, glowing slashes lash for her sides in an attempt to wound and push her away. Kasagami, for all her strength, is equally accurate in her attacks. She aims to wound and defeat, not truly harm her most precious Prince.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Forward To My Dreams! on Utena Tenjou.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou perfectly braces 49 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's Forward To My Dreams!, taking 0 Fatigue damage!
Critical Hit!  Critical Brace!  Utena Tenjou's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

That barrier is as Fate thinks.

Yumi has no answer, either; Yumi has no answer for the question she asks, for the things that are happening here, for this, for being here, for--

It's not fair to either of them. Yumi knows that, but still she's throwing that hex, doing what she can to slow the too-fast opponent before her. Yumi's able to see that Fate is getting tired--Yumi knows better than most people what that feels like, what these curses can do, what weakness can feel like. So when Fate answers, starting to work herself up--

"By keeping them prisoner!? By not believing them when they tell you what they need!?"

The witch's voice rises, as she start to try to look around, notice the circle. Ease their burden. Burden, Fate said, as she spins, as the vortext comes around. A hundred Fates hurt Yumi's eyes as she looks. The angles don't matter to Yumi that much either because she can't tell them apart. "You're--"

Everywhere. Fate starts cything in, and Yumi almost starts to panic--sound, fury, relentlessness, and Yumi's breath catches. It catches before--

"I--" This rune. ...This rune is one she does not use. One that is too much. But her finger stretches out before her and she traces it, green light erupting in a circle from her feet. The rune is simple. Easy. It blazes to life as the first assault comes, and the light is blinding.

It is the rune of the Magician, the number one.

"Invoke--" Fate is attacking from all around her, but the light turns solid, becoming spectral vines erupting from everywhere around Yumi, twining about Yumi and growing, snaking outward, rushing even as they're cut by the attacks coming ruthlessly towards her. They stretch out from her open palm...

And they feed on the magic they can find. "The climbing vine curse!"

Yumi stares forward, trying to narrow down one, but her attack moves in all directions "You don't GET IT!" Yumi calls. "...My whole life is built on the sacrifices of others! Everything I have I have because my parents put up with me! Because they have me instead of someone stronger, who can do what they expect! Who can--"

Her voice catches, and she strains with the magic, trying to defend. "...I'll be good enough. I won't fail. Mother..."

But can she stand against the sheer power of a girl who once helped to threaten all that is?

BEAMWAR! Yumi Ohzora has placed her bid! Fate Testarossa still needs to bid!
<Pose Tracker> Sailor Uranus [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Sailor Uranus skips backward to slow Lera's relative velocity, in order to catch and deflect her sword. Her eyes widen, however, at the first shimmer of light. Too late, she casts her eyes quickly about her, everywhere finding a new blade aimed right at her.

Making eye contact with Lera, she gives her a rueful grin.

The collapsing blades find their center. A Sailor Senshi's skin and uniform have a resilience to them that saves Sailor Uranus, not for the first time and not for the last. But she's always a bit too slow to block the next, and there is nowhere to dodge to. Across her apollonic body, Midchildan magic reaps a brutal toll, lashing Sailor Uranus back and forth until she drops to one knee and endures the last few blows right on the back.

Her head feels heavy as she lifts it, but Sailor Uranus's eyes blaze. They soften only at the sound of Sailor Neptune's voice.

"It's so easy to love a perfect thing, isn't it?" Sailor Neptune mused.

Uranus's lip quirked. "As if you'd know," she says, right across Lera on the way to her partner. "The only perfect thing is you."

Rising, Uranus spreads her fingers and passes them slowly, ritually across her face. "So you will not bend," she allows. "Well." Seen between the gaps of her fingers, Uranus's eyes briefly flash gold, as globes of churning air begin to form all around her, like the thousand eyes of an angel of revelation. "It is just such things as you, that the wind was made to end."

Her hands spread wide, having passed her face, and she drags them together violently, hurling the spinning, drill-like spheres of wind at Lera, boxing her in from above and about. "Gaze... Turbulent!"

COMBAT: Sailor Uranus has joined the combo started by Sailor Neptune!
<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The Sword of Dios slides out easily, so easily. The mystical wound left behind bleeds light before sealing itself, even as the heart of the Bride bleeds bitter without end. Anthy gives a little jerk and a gasp as the razor tip swings free of her chest, torn loose by Kasagami Araki's muscle-hewn sword arm.

So it is that the One Engaged seizes power. Is it the power to bring World Revolution? Maybe... It is power enough for this battlefield.

Discarded with a nudge from Kasagami, the Rose Bride twirls aside, red hem fluttering to reveal white petticoats beneath. After that spin she looks to the pink-haired hero she's left behind. It's a coy glance full of cruel curiosity. The bruises she left in pure cerulean haven't left Anthy yet. How is Utena Tenjou reacting now...?

And beneath that, perhaps, just perhaps, there is a part of Anthy Himemiya that simply needs to lay eyes on that princely adolescence once again. To make sure she is still there, still real. If so, it is certain that the fistful of white rose petals tucked into a pocket seam of her skirt was saved by that same buried impulse.

The Rose Bride certainly reaps what she has sown, a full season's crop of wounded doubt and shattered joy from the stricken look. She hears Utena's retort, that she is not here to fight Kasagami -- that she is not, in fact, here for Anthy -- and it robs even that faithful little spark of some of its secret joy.

It satisfies the Bride to vent venom at this girl who has hurt her so badly, who has stirred up these awful roiling feelings. All of the long nights these past terrible weeks when she could not bear to dream, when she clutched her hands together above the covers for fear they'd betray her somehow... Anthy feasts on spite and finds it good, if not filling.

She wants more.

Even as Utena delivers a titanic blow to her Engaged, Anthy is winding up her own strike. There's a lilt to her voice. It is musical, but it is not pleasant.

"You and Shinjuku, Tenjou-san. I should have known you came back to roll in the gutters some more."

I should have known you did not come for me, the curl of perfect lips says. Nothing has changed, it says.

"Don't worry, I'm sure Araki-sama will see you there soon enough. She is very strong."

Stronger than you.

COMBAT: Anthy Himemiya has used Stepford Smile on Utena Tenjou.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou accepts Anthy Himemiya's Stepford Smile, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Utena Tenjou is Quipped!
<Pose Tracker> Sailor Neptune [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

And the last word of Sailor Neptune's attack...

Never comes.

The spell is gathered partway yes, and Lera may well have seen it in action, from afar or up close. It is not full formed, and so it does not keep its spherical character, but the surging tide of glittering sea-light, redolent in an elegant graphic assortment of colors, strikes from below in a sine-wave rise.

Can she dodge in all directions? Some part of Sailor Neptune would not be surprised...

"Flatterer," she says, over the shining ecstacy that rises like a glissando from her magic. Behind her, to her left, there is betrayal, of course, but perhaps that's part of the nature of love.

COMBAT: COMBO! Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus have used Combo: The Possibility That Love Is Not Enough, composed of Dolphin Wave
and Gaze Turbulent, on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Lera Camry perfectly dodges 143 Fatigue damage from Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus's Combo: The Possibility That Love Is
Not Enough, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Critical Dodge!  Lera Camry's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Garnet has used Adamantine Smash on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura dodges 9 Fatigue damage from Garnet's Adamantine Smash, taking 14 Fatigue damage!  Garnet is Psyched!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

The Rune glows, and the Vines of the curse grow. They protect. They feed.

She tries to speed up. To strike harder, faster. She can't. She's already been struck by the weight of a thousand curses. By one that brings a spiritual hollowness. Another which has sapped her strength. And now another which is feeding off her magic.

<CAUTION!> Bardiche recommends caution. She throws it to the wind.

She's a golden blur slashing at the vines, slashing and slashing. Cleaving and hacking against their infinite needy growth.

Her voice is like a whisper on the wind, "And what if you can't be?"

She's growing weaker by the second and she knows it.

"... I was a failure from the moment I was born."

Bardiche's warning chimes are growing more urgent and shrill.

"My mother never loved me. Not once. I could never make her smile... no matter how much I wanted to."

Her assault relentless, her image a strobe blur hitting the vines from all angles.

"She was my mother... but I was never her daughter. It wasn't fair. It was never fair! What she needed is something noone could give - noone should give! Least of all me! If I'd let a whole dimension die for the sake of her smile - I'd have still been a failure to her! "... what are you making yourself do to make your mother proud!? How many are going to die for your friend's smile? "

For just one moment, her movement stops in a vicious slash containing that is more raw frustration than actual magical power.


BEAMWAR! Fate Testarossa has placed her bid!
BEAMWAR! Yumi Ohzora rallies, fiercely pushing back Fate Testarossa! Yumi Ohzora has the advantage!
BEAMWAR! Fate Testarossa takes 12 damage! Yumi Ohzora takes 5 Fatigue damage!
BEAMWAR! Now accepting mana bids for the second of three rounds! No longer accepting any more BEAMWAR entrants!
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

<< Yo, Endo, >> Utena's thoughts flit desperately across the battlefield, practically before she's done moving -- an acknowledgement that she won't be getting past Kassie so easily, << I'm tied up here -- please, can you go get Kozue? >>

Then she sighs.

"I didn't say I'm not here to fight," Utena corrects, grimly. "I just didn't know you were... one of them." (True: these two had never connected during the war, not least because Utena wound up benched for most of it.)

She shakes her head, disgusted, but softens with Kasagami as the older girl muses upon better times.

"You weren't the one who helped me up when I was lost in my own head, Kasagami," she both empathizes and regrets. There isn't an apology there, but there is a sort of consolation, an understanding... "I know you wanted to be. But you also wanted something else, I guess. And you kinda made your choice."

Reclaiming her fist, the bile rises back inside of her; she can't understand, has never understood, Kasagami's joy at times like these, and it reminds her of the darker truth she flinched from a moment ago, a new surprise.

A stabbingly sharp disappointment flares in her eyes as she stares down the Duelist tapping her daisho.

"You, you... this is why she's here, huh? Four swords weren't enough, you had to have five, and that was worth her safety?"

She grits her teeth at the scintillating edges coming to claim her, and forces them to chase her a little as she lunges for the first thing available at hand. It's the arm from the statue Mikoto dismembered earlier, gracefully bent. It is bronze and beautiful, and then it is nothing, transformed into five cleanly sliced hockey pucks as Utena frantically blocked each slice with a progressively shorter weapon.

She chucks the last one at Kasagami in a brutal fastball special, panting, and takes the risk of looking away from her opponent for a moment to make sure none of the other flying chunks hit Anthy.

They didn't. But Anthy's words hit her. She tastes concrete again, and sweat, and blood, and for a moment she bows her head, accepting it, acknowledging it, willing to endure. Everything is true. She has failed her friend on every conceivable level.

But even so, that singular truth doesn't make what's going on okay. Utena responds with actions, rather than words, returning her attention to the One Engaged.

"You always have a choice, Kasagami," she concludes, her eyes stabbed and stabbing, wounds and daggers. "And you... you let nothing stop you from winning the duels, and now you're choosing to use it -- to use her -- to, what? Kidnap people? Feed other people to Witches? Murder children? BLOW UP THE MAYOR'S OFFICE?"

Utena gestures angrily at the smoke coming out of the building above them.

"You people, you Shepherds, you're just fighting for the status quo. You said you wanted to rule the world to make it better," she accuses. "But it looks like you just wanted to be on top of what's already there. 'I don't make the rules', my ass. Are you a King or not?"

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has used I Want To Be Hated By Lies on Kasagami Araki.
<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmIsNpDimQ0

Kyouko's grin grows a little greater with each little needle she shoves into this great voodoo doll. Not the most scientific study but a success is a success and the peer review can wait..who's to say what further testing might reveal?

It's clear enough that the sangfroid soldier is more than a mite miffed and the smirking spearfighter's visible self satisfaction isn't likely to dampen that spirit. Bending at her left knee but maintaining her right leg's ramrod posture, she attempts a controlled fall, down and to her side to dodge the attack.

A mixed success..the full freight train thunders by but not without a mark. A fine spray of blood squirts out from Kyouko's lips like an ornery horny toad fending off an interloper, but that smile still clings to the railings of her lips.

"Hey, nice. You got any blood in you?"

Effective as her claymore-maneuver might have been it won't do to go with the same trick twice, but the principles should remain. Speed to overwhelm defenses, and area control to constrain safe ground.

Slashing a wide sweep up towards Garnet's goggled eyes, she hopes the maneuver is distracting enough to draw attention away from her legs. Sprinting close, her thighs tense, and she hops to Garnet's side. Whirling her spear around in a full circle, she tosses it up like a baton in the air, wide tipped steel catching the shifts and ripples of the burning building's flames as she leaps forward, rolling into a somersault to find her way behind the Crystal Gem. Finishing out her roll by shoving herself off of the ground with her hands, she is carried skyward from the force of her strength..and as she falls back to the earth a spear is between her hands, angled for that perfectly coiffed crown of hair.

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has used Masterstroke on Garnet.
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

It is a cruel spell, in its way, a cruel set of them--rather than to sling raw force like many, Yumi drains, and saps, and weakens, all waiting for the right moment. It's different, on a person. ...But for right now...

The blur keeps shining, and Yumi focuses; she can't target Fate directly, but if she can pour out enough magic all around herself, she can hit her anyway. And she needs to; that raw emotion in her voice has taken this beyond something separate, impersonal, to be handled from afar, to be taken as something she can only play at.

What if she can't be? That whisper reaches Yumi's ear, and her breathing grows more ragged in turn. "That's--"

Fate was a failure. Bardiche is chiming in warning, and warning, and Yumi focuses on that feeling fueling her curse. What is she meant to say, to these awful things, to the horror of Fate's history, of her life? What she almost did?

The frustration in Fate's voice is enough that /that/ feeling/ gets through her shield of vines, that even as magic rushes to try to overwhelm Fate in her swing Yumi's arm takes the score of her blade. "Ah--" Pain. ...Pain, but a curse...

"That sucks!" Yumi shouts back, shouldrs shaking, "But it has nothing to do with me! I'm--I'm--"

How many? What is she going to do?

"WHATEVER I HAVE TO!" Yumi screams back out at Fate, and a pulse goes through the vines snaking all around her. It's obvious from the ground, visible now, as vine after vine is cut and falls, fading in black-and-green sparkles before it touches the ground, ringed by golden light. It is a conflagration of magic.

"I'm all Mother has!" Yumi shouts back. "With dad dead--with him--I--I have to be there! I have to be good enough! You don't know what it's like--she hated you, but you're whole, you're amazing, even at your age, and I'm--I'm--!"

She's not even talking about her friend anymore. But she hasn't forgotten her. How sad she looks. How awful--

"Failure's not an option! If I don't have ambition like they do I'll just have to fight anyway!"

BEAMWAR! Yumi Ohzora has placed her bid! Fate Testarossa still needs to bid!
COMBAT: Garnet perfectly dodges 44 Fatigue damage from Kyouko Sakura's Masterstroke, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!
Garnet's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki fails to dodge Utena Tenjou's I Want To Be Hated By Lies, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Kasagami Araki is Quipped!
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

'Love is such a paradoxical thing.'

Those words resonate deeply with Lera. Love has always been a paradoxical thing to her; loving someone who should have been an enemy, a love for her mother that grew complicated but more wonderful for it, and a love for her friends that struggled with being from different worlds. None of them felt perfect to Lera. Once, that worried her. She thought it was something wrong with her. But, there was something that changed for her.

She isn't that girl anymore. The imperfections in the reality are what made the emotion perfect.

Water swirls, rises, and rages as Sailor Neptune cries out. Her voice is like a clarion call over it, and then Sailor Uranus joins in. She sees wind twist and turn at Uranus's command, with a control that is frightening. Her amber eyes widen, and she grits her teeth, leaning forward ever-so-slightly as she looks at the spheres of wind at Uranus's command.

'It is just such things as you, that the wind was made to end.'

'Fire burns out.'

What comes in for Lera should not be dodged. It is a tide, a massive wave and blast that sweeps across this stretch of plaza, and rips at the very ground. It rises high, and it comes in so fast that Lera can only look up at it and stare for a moment. She seems to diminish beneath its weight, a silhouette against the storm. But, she thinks to the one person that has been with her since the beginning; the one friend that has given her strength, against this sotrm and every storm to come.

"Sky," she whispers.

<I know. We'll do something new.> His chime is soft, and then forceful: <ARC DIVIDE!>

Before, Lera blurred. Here, she does so much more. She becomes light, and there are suddenly two spectral images of her -- alight and aglow with golden light, that shoot out to each side of the tidal wave. Impossibly, they crest just past it, as the water and wind slams into the ground and leaves a smashed in crater.

Which is when the two phantasmal forms of light slam back together in the air, and flesh and blood is there again -- breathing heavily, sweat running down her face, and golden eyes wide with amazement and pride and disbelief. Then, she looks down at the two of them. Soaring Sky glimmers in the air. "I'm not a fire that the wind is going to blow out," she says, voice calm but furious; steely but full of flame. It rises in a fever pitch to a shout. "I'm a fire that's going to burn when there isn't any wind left! I'm the fire that's been here since the very beginning! I'M--"

She lets Sky do the targeting. She goes on instinct and drive alone, and then drops down from the sky. She goes screaming down towards Sailor Neptune first, stabbing down with Sky. Her coat flutters out past her -- a Belkan triangle swirls, forms, and spins, runes afire with magical power -- and a half-dozen ghostly images of the long sword-shaped Device appear. They strike down as one, with Lera's stab from above.

But there is additional control there, because a seventh spectral blade of light forms. It spins away, just as she gets in close to Neptune. But she doesn't stay close, as she becomes a blur of golden light again, that soars through the air -- as the seventh sword spins away, arching high.

She watches. She sees her comrades and her friends fight. Maybe she can't be there, but she can do one thing. That seventh sword comes down hilt first, towards--

<<Utena! Catch!>]

The telepathic message comes just as Lera reaches the zenith of her climb. She appears in the air above Sailor Uranus -- above the girl she idolized, the girl she looked at from afar, and wished she was like. An idolization that has to be has to discard. It isn't that she has to become her own person. She has been, for a long time, now. But, she thinks of the way that Setsuna looks at her; the way that Fate looks at her; the way that Ren, Endo, Usagi, and Yukimi look at her.

She started her defiance as a shout, but it ends calmly spoken, soft and smiling: "...I'm a star, y'know?"

Soaring Sky splits in two, the blade dividing down the middle. Arcs of red-orange plasma whip, crack, and leap between the two halves of the sword, as a brilliant glow gathers in the blink of an eye. A trio of spinning rings of light, filled with Belkan runes, appear in front of the sword-made-cannon. Then, a beam of light explodes through the three rings, and then goes hurtling down towards Sailor Uranus with a white-hot glow.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Regenschauer on Sailor Neptune.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Lera Camry has used Aurora Burst Ray on Sailor Uranus.
COMBAT: Sailor Uranus dodges 67 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Finisher, Aurora Burst Ray, taking 100 Fatigue damage!  Critical
Hit!  Sailor Uranus is unable to keep fighting!  Sailor Uranus's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Sailor Neptune partially dodges 10 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Regenschauer, taking 38 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

"Amazing!? I'm just a failure - and a fake! A copy that's not even real!"

But the magic bites back. Infinite and endless. It eats, and eats, and eats. It drives her back further and further. Fate can't make any headway against it and it becomes more thick, more dense.

"The only reason I'm whole is because a lot of girls took a risk that I was worth - something! Anything! And that's... why... I won't... fail them- NOW!"

All of a sudden, she bursts forward, in a rush, driving in, slashing more and more. Her hooked blade scything so quickly that if she were being showered by raindrops rather than vines, every single raindrop would be smote down before they could even touch her.

"You say you have to be there for her! You have to be good enough! Do you think you have to do this for your friend too!? You're not choosing anything - you think you don't have a choice! If you just keep going as you are - then all that awaits you is a sad destiny!"

The blurring crescent comes closer and closer, as she's fed off of in turn by the thick vines meeting Yumi's gaze nearly eye to eye as she shouts at her, for just one moment in equilibrium with her vines, "Tell me what you want instead! If there's not a better answer - then fight for one with us! Cut through sadness rather than submitting to it!"

BEAMWAR! Fate Testarossa has placed her bid!
BEAMWAR! Fate Testarossa rallies, fiercely pushing back Yumi Ohzora! Fate Testarossa has the advantage!
BEAMWAR! Yumi Ohzora takes 12 damage! Fate Testarossa takes 5 Fatigue damage!
BEAMWAR! Now accepting mana bids for the third of three rounds! No longer accepting any more BEAMWAR entrants!
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

-Yo, Endo -

He's shaken back into action by a new voice. Utena's words cut through his hazy thoughts, through the aching pain that makes him want to keep pressed to the comforting ground. He stirs again, makes effort to push himself to his feet with the side of him that still works the best. It's a stumbling effort, but he rises once more.

< I'll get her. >

He'd like to stay, and to help. There's not much he can do though, he knows that. There's not much left in him after that last titanic crash, and they need to save every ally they can get. Even Kozue Kaoru, contentious as their brief relationship has been. This is something he can still do.

< Be careful, okay? >

There's more he'd like to say, but no time. Only time to go.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"That really does hurt, Anthy! 'Rolling around in the gutters'!? Does this look like a gutter exactly, Anthy!? I say no! This seems like a perfect battlefield for a long awaited reunion between warriors!" She laughs again, and even as Anthy digs in the thorn, she glares back at her Bride.

She's not like Saionji. Kassie wouldn't abuse her physically. For all her rage, her mother taught her too much pride and proper manners to do such a thing. A swordswoman cuts her opponent, never an ally. Whether she likes them or not doesn't matter. It's one part etiquette and one part self indulgence in her family's name. She's not a Kiryuu. But she's still an Araki.

Her disdane is naked, before Utena pulls her attention fully.

Smile. A shrug. Her good eye is full of regret. "We both did, yes. You have always been so blind. Never really seeing me, or what I wanted. Maybe that means that I'm the one at fault here. Or maybe you are. Who can tell, on a battlefield!?" She ends, hair and clothes whipping with the wind as she holds her sword more tightly. A one handed stance. The Sword of Dios is slightly longer than usual. Not in the blade, but the hilt. The Araki family swordsmanship is known for brutal two handed strikes, if one is a scholar of the blade.

A chuckle. "My mother gave me some advice. 'Always carry a backup'. Anthy is that last blade! Safety!? What are you talking about? A sheath for a sword is always carried into battle. This is where she belongs!"

Sword and bronze arm clash, beautiful metal rendered to almost nothing in their swift clash. Kassie pauses in her stained-glass movement, only to find the hunk of bronze left flying for her. Kasagami brings up her fist, and aims a hard punch into in response. WHAM! Metal shatters. One stray shard flies, and cuts her along the chest. At the curious silver strip where a rose might have been. She eyes her own mistake. And her stance lowers, just a bit.

"...Still not good enough. Still not strong enough." She mutters to herself, though both Utena and Rose Bride can hear her self admonishment. Crimson flares lightly on her chest, and then she eyes back to her opponent.

Teeth grit, and Utena lays into her with words that cut keenly. Choice. Those stabbing eyes. Utena bluntly lays out her sins before her, and it takes everything in her strong legs to stay upright. Were her mother here?

Kasagami briefly ponders if she woudn't be dissappointed in her wayward daughter. Her breath grows hot, heavy, and long. Her brow twitches again and again. Finally, she looks right to Utena, fire burning her her gaze and heart.

"And that is where we agree! You're right that I haven't, won't ever let anything stop me! That is the price I pay for someone sacrificing themselves for me! I don't like the status quo, Utena! But sometimes you have to fight for that first, and then ascend higher! If you Chevaliers have their way, then there will not be anyone left to fight true evil! Offering some kind of purity test in this sick, sadistic, merciless world is just cutting the throats of potential allies!"

Both hands clench hard enough that they bleed, even around the Sword of Dios. She looks to Utena.

"Am I a King? Or am I not? How about you prove to me that you're worthy of the title 'Prince' before you start to be so ARROGANT as to ask a member of the Student Council such a question! UTENA!"

She leaps backwards, and then Kasagami bends down over Anthy. The Sword of Dios is flourished, rotating in a single finger, tossed up, caught and then rotated around her arm in a skillfull display of her technique and the swordsmanship she's sweated, bled, and worked for all her life. Kasagami pauses her blade, and looks to Anthy.

"Bride of the rose. Abandon your body, and protect the sword!" She entreats, and offers the tip of the blade to the Rose Bride. She lays the shining blade upon Anthy like a sacred altar, as sacred as the Duels she so clings to. No matter her feelings, Kasagami's ambition and desire rages in her heart. And so she lays claim to that power, and as one who seeks a Tyrant's unyielding strength, calls out to such right towards Anthy.

A boot kicks her into the air, upon taking such power as is her right, as the Engaged. She leaps high. And then her hand raises high, the length of the blade glowing the deep, dark crimson of her roses. Somehow even deeper still. She calls upon the power welling up within the Rose Bride recklessly. Enough that it hurts. The Sword of Dios in her left hand, shimmering such a shade of crimson, she lashes downwards.

She wants the pink haired girl at her side. She wants to crush the pink haired girl utterly. That duality of desire in the One Engaged has the eruption of crimson, overwhelming magic slamming down upon Utena.

An eye of steel meets twins of blue. Even as she lashes out angrily in the air, aiming to rend the earth and blow back Utena, she takes a second to really admire Utena right now.

Her hand trembles, just slightly. "I won't forgive you, if you fail to be a Prince in front of my eye, Utena." A quiet, hopeful plea to the wind. Her hair alone might devour her words. But her heart is into it.

And her crimson rage falling down towards the pink haired magical hero!

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Falling Blade of Light on Utena Tenjou.
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

"But think of everything you can DO!"

Yumi's magic is a living thing all its own now, well past her. It grows as it drives Fate back, and from the ground Yumi can only be seen at the eye of this storm, hovering on her broom, a vision of black against a deep blue sky. But Fate speaks--Fate speaks her resolve, her love, and rushes forward, vines falling and crashing apart and Yumi freezing for an instant in fatigue and fear as she gets so, so close.

Closer, closer, closer, the vines try to wrap around Fate, to drain away her magic as Yumi stares at her, nearly eye to eye. Nearly. Fate is so, so close now--

And there is a sadness idn Yumi's eyes, suddenly, shouting back. "You think--"

Fate is there. "You think I don't know what awaits me!?" she cries back, and her voice breaks as it does. "What my destiny probably is!? What's going to happen!?"

She shakes her head, and the vines pulse, responding to her emotions, to her self, tied so deeply in as this curse and this magic is.

"I want her to not have to do this! I want it to get BETTER! I want to be able to take her to nice places and spend time with her and for her not to have to HURT people just to live!"

Yumi lifts her hand again, the crystal at the top of her staff starting a blinding green glow.

"I want to LIVE, instead of not knowing, and I want to bring her with me!"

"...And I..." Her voice quiets, and the vines stop for a moment, a mass silent in the sky. "I want Mother to be proud of me."

"...Which means I have to do this."

Yumi's hand closes into a fist abrubtly, and in one last moment, every plant in the sky converges to try to take hold of Fate and throw her to the ground with a rush of leaves and crackling wood.

BEAMWAR! Yumi Ohzora has placed her bid! Fate Testarossa still needs to bid!
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou braces 21 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's Falling Blade of Light, taking 31 Fatigue damage!  Utena
Tenjou's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.
  • KER-CHINK!* is not usually the sound that hair makes when it is stabbed by a giant red spear, riding high on the momentum of methodically executed superhuman acrobatics. Gem physiology is something of a mystery recently enquired upon, so it may be that in Garnet's case, it is?

But that and other questions remain unanswered for now, since it is instead the sound of Kyouko's spear cutting into the concrete below where the Gem stood not a moment before. The Shepherd's target however, had not gone far, and an inhumanly large shadow casts over Kyouko for a long, tense moment, until the distance and silence between them closes with a blurring barrage of shimmering red armored punches, perhaps taking a cue from the Puella's "More Is More" exhibition of battle philosophy.

COMBAT: Garnet has used Adamantine Barrage on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura fails to brace Garnet's Adamantine Barrage, taking 19 Fatigue damage!  Stagger applied to Kyouko Sakura!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

She can feel the vines leeching more and more. Their magic taking hold. And she knows. She knows.

If she loses, she's dead.

Her barrier jacket is too thin. The armoring won't hold up...

Bardiche's frantic whir because more urgent, until finally, <SIR!> He calls out of desperate desire for her to survive.

Fate gritting her teeth shouts, "DO IT!" Bardiche's sounds off in a triple ka-chunk as pistons pound cartridges in, before calling, <JACKET PURGE.>

Fate's entire form is swarmed by vines, as mana gathers, a thunderclap of coruscating lightning that explodes outwards in a titanic detonation, filling the air full with smoke. <Restoration.>

And then the girl is falling. Before her cape rematerializes. Her armored gauntlets and boots. She sacrifices progress for survival. She sacrifices speed and power. But the trade is a good one - because it's for the will to live.

And then she swoops back upwards, cape flying into the embrace of the driving vines. "AND I WANT YOU TO HAVE THOSE THINGS-"

She raises Bardiche overhead with both hands. "-BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF EVERYONE ELSE! WHICH... IS... WHY-"

She slams her Device down in a terrible two handed swing. "-THIS- ENDS- NOW!"

Upon striking, the air is filled with gold light clashing against the power of that ivy curse. A thunderous shockwave that ripples across the Shinjuku skyline.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa transforms into Barrier Jacket Assault!
BEAMWAR! Fate Testarossa has placed her bid!
BEAMWAR! Fate Testarossa presses her advantage, her Golden Blitz exploding through Yumi Ohzora's Climbing Ivy Curse for a total of
128 Fatigue damage! Fate Testarossa is victorious!
BEAMWAR! Yumi Ohzora is unable to keep fighting!
<Pose Tracker> Sailor Uranus [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

It seems for a moment that the small figure has been crushed by the wind and tide. When instead she reforms above it, the message is clear. Lera Camry is no novice anymore. Power can grow without a matching cynicism.

Sailor Uranus slides her bootheel along the ground cautiously as she glares up at the forming storm of plasma. Her physical strength will be no match for what is coming--her mystic strength has not yet recovered. Flight is her only recourse, and her taut stance is flight's prelude. Her fists relax and seem to rest atop the air, as though it had tension like water, as she measures which direction to sprint.

"You lost," she tells this fire, "when you chose to change the world instead of save it."

The blast rips down into the ground and Sailor Uranus is no longer there, impossibly quick. But what is impossible for a human is not so difficult for a beam of light, and Soaring Sky need only shift by inches to follow Uranus across a hundred yards. Raw speed must be matched by raw precision--Uranus will be safe beneath cover soon and the beam must find her first. It does. Lera does.

The blast cuts into Uranus at the heel and flattens her from there, scalding and endless, reducing her to a dark silhouette within. Through a silent scream she labors through it, crawling into a lunge and then battered down into a crawl again. The pavement cracks.

When the beam is gone it is all at once, and without its resistance Uranus surges to her feet again, as she'd been straining to do. But she has no strength left, none but to fix eyes on Sailor Neptune for a moment, and apologize with them before they roll back behind singed lashes. That forward momentum carries her another two steps before it topples her right over, hard onto her face and chest, arms numbly at her sides.

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

It's not that Yumi means to kill Fate--she means to fight her. ...But she doesn't have the long experience some have in fighting other people, in knowing the limit, and she is using very, very dangerous magic indeed. Bardiche calls out, and Yumi can hear it as she throws her magic into the curse, tries to send more and more of it to ablate Fate's energy, to force the fight to an end.

The explosion comes next, and Yumi grits her teeth, her hand shaking as she channels mana through it. Fate is falling, and suddenly rushes upwards. "I know you--"

Fate shouts, and Yumi raises her hand higher, aglow with power so much that it feels like she can't contain it. Fate swings down, two-handed, awful, filled with power, and in that strike, in that shockwave, the light is blinding. Gold against green, enough to hurt eyes, to show for a long, long way like fireworks in the night, rippling, crackling.

Yumi pants, trying to catch her breath, as the light fades, still staring at Fate. "I'm... I'monly... trying..."

There's a light glow suddenly, an instinctive barrier where Fate's weapon slashed across her--but what barrier there is is a thin green line. Yumi wavers, in mid-air, suddenly, and slips back. Her legs tumble as she falls off of her broom, looking up dazedly, half-conscious.

"I... couldn't... after all..."

She slumps, sinking like a stone, hand loosening on her staff. ...It glows once again, forming a green sphere around the tall witch as she hits the ground, cracks concrete, throwing up a huge cloud of dust.

She remains there, barely moving, her broom coming to hover over her, gently lowering itself beside her other hand.

Her eyelids flutter, and she says no more for now.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Kasagami presses a vicious multiplicative offense, and the Rose Bride watches with clasped hands and still feet, the bell of her skirt rippling to the winds of battle all around her. The Sword of Dios slips through bronze, frictionless, vicious, and as the tip flashes near to Utena Tenjou, Anthy Himemiya cannot even be seen to blink.

Does it matter, to Anthy, that Utena seems so focused on her safety? No, says the bitter twist in her throat at the long abandonment. (Never mind that some would say Anthy left Utena, not the other way around. The Rose Bride surely has no such volition.)

Does it matter that Utena objects to Kasagami's callous use of the girl she's won? Certainly not. Anthy knows she exists to be used. She makes of this a perverse shelter of known pain, far better than the fearful uncertainty of choice and agency.

"It is as you say, Araki-sama." Anthy's reply comes after a delay that leaves its attribution ambiguous; is she conceding the nature of Shinjuku, or agreeing that Kasagami is neither good nor strong enough? It must be the former. She is obedient, after all.

And she is as composed, now, as if she stood attendant at the edge of a dueling arena. As unapproachable.

Except to the One Engaged.

That imperious claim is undeniable and absolute, bestowed by the title Kasagami Araki beat out of the girl with pink hair and blue, blue eyes. Ambition brought her here, and ambition drives her further yet. Her hunger for power once again finds its answer in the body of Rose Bride.

Commandeered by that tyrannical hand, the Rose Bride twirls to face away from her Engaged. She bends like the greenest sapling, supple to the limits of ligaments and beyond. The drawn bow of her back, smooth and unquivering, betrays not a whisper of her muscles' screams.

Her body, nothing more than an altar for this sacrament of blade and ambition.

Which is then discarded like an empty sheath as Kasagami roars to the attack, tearing a streak of crimson energy away from the Bride's torso like a spray of arterial blood. That swan-neck droops and her whole body sags for an unbalanced moment, unsupported, then a stumbling pirouette saves her.

With a flourish of seafoam-limned red she spins to a neat stoppage once more and resumes her attendant pose. The vicious fireworks of the attack she has empowered to flash off of glasses lenses.

COMBAT: Anthy Himemiya has used The Rose Bride's Protection on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki accepts Anthy Himemiya's The Rose Bride's Protection, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Accelerate,
Empower, Surge, and Withstand applied to Kasagami Araki!
<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go6po2Za_18&list=PLeogPTA03KQ_vl0v9G04dexcCkBxfed_3&index=15

Her blade scatters with a clink, dancing off of the ground as ineffectually as if she'd tossed a rock at it. All for not. For such a large woman, Garnet is blessed with remarkable speed. Apparently she can teleport, or close enough that it makes little difference.

And then she's there again, looming over her, right out of some over the top fighting game animation, punching the ever loving hell out of the smaller girl. She attempts to steel herself, and it comes to nothing. She can only absorb all that force, a punching bag to this teleporting tower of a woman.

But still, she's made of hardier stock than that..and this isn't the time to get bogged down. She knows better than to gorge herself on the appetizers when the main course is around the corner. Tossing her hair and flashing a wink, she ostentatiously shrugs. "You're pretty good. Guess I'll have to find out about that blood another time. I'm lookin' forward, what with you playin' all hard to get with it. Anyhow, smell ya later."

Turning abruptly on her heel, multi-faceted lengths of spear and chain explode into the air with a deafening clap, a sonic boom of localized aural energy, the air shimmering as wood and metal bursts into a thrumming crimson burn. Pleased enough with her trick, she leaps up and away before indulging in an encore...sealing away, for a precious few moments, the front door of the disintegrating Metropolitan Building, just after she vanishes within its immolating dark.

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

In the aftermath of it all, Fate Testarossa sinks to the ground like a balloon that's lost too much helium and can no longer fight the force of gravity. Her tiny chest is working over and over so rapidly. The only sound her breath sawing off so rapidly. She lands near the small crack in the concrete where Yumi lands. The dust still settling when she reaches it. Her feet take hold on the ground. And she points Bardiche in her direction as if she's worried that she's still a threat - evn now.

The only movement from the Witch is her eyelids. Fate Testarossa lowers Bardiche and lifts a single foot fractionally off the ground to take a step. She doesn't make it.

She topples over, Bardiche's pole end is driven down as her support.

And then there's still just the sound of her breathing... the battle fading off into white noise. She wants to get up. She wants to go up to the Metropolitian Building - to make sure they're alive. To fight longer and harder for all of their sakes.

Alas - reality isn't so kind. The reality that brings sad destinies for girls like her, Hotaru, and Yumi. The kind where decisions such as those that the Puella Magi and the Outer Senshi make are simple pragmatic calculus. A world she wishes she could make anew. Something of smiles and laughter - without these cruel sacrifices.

And she knows Yumi would want the same thing - she just doesn't think it's possible.

Her lips part after a moment - "... I wish... your mother was... proud of you." She gulps down air, "I wish... mine... that she... she could have... been proud... of me... too."

Her eyes sting at a sudden thought, tears swimming within her fast blurring vision, "If she were... still around... to hear... that..." She inhales once more sharply, "... she'd probably laugh."

Her hand slides down from Bardiche as he hits the ground with a clatter, and a moment later she falls insensate too. Her cape and hair gently waving in the wind.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Neptune [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera Camry blooms into light, a new dawn in the cityscape pastel darkness of Shinjuku. Sailor Neptune lowers her hand, her upper lip curling just a micron or two as if in dismay. Or pique. Lera blurs - shines - radiates -

Lera does NOT fall, or wince, or recover, or -- many other things. She does speak; Sailor Neptune does not have time to speak in reply when her blade bifuricates - no! More! The thrusting slashes come towards her and Sailor Neptune raises her arms in a crossing block, guarding her face even as she leaps straight up, with the atrocious strength and grace so common to her occasional allies, more-frequent antagonists.

The twisting leap puts her in the middle branches of another cherry tree, the blooms and petals falling loose in a sea of innocence and leaving that portion rather bare. The branch does not suffer further, the soldier of the deep sea staying in a crouch with her eyes narrowed for an instant. Before she can summon words or magic in reply--

Her eyes widen.

Still she says nothing. In her heart, though, there is the creeping sense of a shuddering void, the edge of what she sees in her dreams all too often, a vision of something so close to the emergence of reality. The future is not yet written, but it slides down the skein, eternally weaving, and the thread, once woven, can never become the plant that once grew...

Sailor Neptune pursues. Behind her, the branch on which she stood sheds all but a few forlorn and stubborn points of pink.

Sailor Neptune closes the ground like a gazelle, but it is not fast enough. It is not likely that anyone is looking at quite the right angle, but there is a tight look of agony and fear on her face. A hundred yards. Ninety. Seventy. Fifty-eight. Forty-five. Thirty-two. At nineteen yards, she sees Sailor Uranus rise and look towards her.

At nine yards, she's regained her composure. In the point between then her eyes told Sailor Uranus a secret and warm thing. Three yards and she walks the rest - and when Uranus's strength fails her, Neptune is there, and she does not fall far. Clasping her to her chest, Sailor Neptune must look over her taller ally's shoulder towards Lera.

Only one of her eyes is clearly seen.

"Kings," she says. "Stars. Witches. Were these your dreams?"

Her lips are veiled by the soft blond hair of the taller woman, but her eye seems to suggest a smile. As she slides an arm down, gathering Uranus against her front and supporting her back while the other moves to brace the hold, Neptune tells Lera a secret, perhaps: "Mine were never like this."

Uranus's body veils precursor motions, and so when Sailor Neptune abruptly leaps again, raising up to the fourth story of a nearby building, it may be a surprise. Neptune's head turns to look over her shoulder, wary of pursuit, perhaps, or some horrid spell coming to doom the world and them at once.

She makes light of it to Uranus, of course, for what else would she do? "Well, perhaps a little like this." Her tone is more solemn afterwards: "Shimanouchi... I hope you come through this."

Then another vault, into the night. The sky, in the city lights, is a strange sea, indeed.

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

Lera looks down at Uranus, tense, as she stands back up. She starts to low, with a practiced motion. The way she descends, almost as if she levitates downward, has an unearthly and slightly inhuman quality to it. Her cloak billows out behind her during her descent. Uranus staggers forward, and Lera begins to raise her sword in preparation for the expected counter attack.

But then she collapses forward, in the blast of her own making. Lera lets out a soft sigh, and she turns to watch Neptune move -- on guard, but she makes no move to stop her from going to Uranus's side and clutch her. She meets Neptune's one-eyed gaze, her jaw setting.

Her dreams, she thinks.

"No, but... expecting the world to match a dream is expecting the impossible--and throwing a dream away because it doesn't match reality is wasting all of the good parts! She said that I decided to change the world instead of save it, but... you're not saving something if you can't change it," Lera answers.

She looks up, watching as she leaps away. Her eyes narrow, before she turns -- looking after Endo. <<Endo-san. I'm on my way. We'll find them!>>

She lifts up, then soars forward -- towards the building. Towards where Kozue should be.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> The Delgados - Never Look At The Sun https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLYAWayNX9w"

Utena glances wildy around the battlefield for another weapon, clenching and unclenching her sweaty palms, while Kasagami and Anthy have a brief back-and-forth about whether or not this is like the gutters that Utena hurled herself into over and over prior to their last duel. Nobody's asked for her opinion, but it would come down on Anthy's side, and then some. She hasn't stopped tasting concrete, and sweat, and blood, since the moment she set foot back in the district -- except for the moment that she shielded her former roommate from the flames.

But she sees nothing handy, so by the time she's being addressed again by the One Engaged, she is as unarmed as she was before. Her eyes narrow to slits at Kasagami's description of Anthy as a sheath, the heat rolling off of her in obvoius contradiction to the assertion that this is 'where she should be'.

She's so angry that she stammers, her tongue betraying her heart. "Th-that's -- that's not --"

And then, at a barked command, Utena is stunned back into silence. She has to cover her hand with her mouth when she sees what Anthy does. It's the only possible response, and for a moment she looks away, the tears that have been threatening all this time finally welling up visibly at the corners of her eyes.

This isn't a moment of intimacy -- indeed, the lack thereof is almost as offensive as the act itself -- but Utena struggles to breathe through the pain in her chest. Not looking provides no respite. She can't stop hearing the screaming of the Rose Bride's muscles. Because she knows -- she knows.


It's summer, and they've just had mandatory swim class, and now they're dripping next to one another on the tile, the sun beating down mercilessly overhead. Utena looks over at Anthy. Worry pollutes her expression, from smile to frown.

It's been a grueling late fall P.E. class; the wind blows furiously, flattening shirts against sticky-weary bodies, pulling hair to and fro, but that's not enough to get the teacher to stop them from doing sprints, then hurdles, then more sprints. They're on the grass, after, one panting and one not, and Utena reaches into her gym bag and pulls out an ointment.

It's winter, and Anthy's stocking includes a book on stretches for people who aren't very athetic, and three different sticks of roll-on muscle-relaxant gel. Utena shakes her head when asked, and claims Chu-Chu must have bought them.


Anthy bends, and bends, and bends. Bends past where Utena herself could bend without pain. Utena wants to throw up. She wants to scream. She wants to cry.

"Himemiya," she whispers behind the shocked hand covering her mouth. She chokes the word out around her gag reflex.

And so it is that the horrors still to come -- Kasagami ripping bloodlike energy out of the Rose Bride and concentrating it into her sword, then leaping up to aim it all at Utena herself -- are viewed through a veil of saltwater.

She blinks it away just in time to see Anthy stagger, and on the same instinct that led her here in the first place, reaches out to help her.

But she's too far away.

All she's done is left herself open, so, so open, there in the middle of the courtyard.

The crimson energy slashes towards her at the speed of Kasagami Araki's determination.

<< Utena! Catch! >>

Obedient to her ally's demand, Utena's hair pours back from her face like a waterfall as she leaps into the air herself. The spectral blade's hilt settles into her palm with exactly enough time to interpose the flat of the blade against the oncoming tide of power.

Everything goes white.

Afterwards, something light and fluffy tumbles through the air; the blizzard of rose petals still hadn't had time to stop, not fully, and now the last of them conclude their descent as ash instead.

There's a skid mark across the buckled flagstones of the courtyard, and it is roughly the size of Utena's feet. Then a crater -- three, in series, separated by a few meters each -- with crack lines made by palms -- by backside -- by feet.

Shattered glass indicates the storefront-like atrium window that Utena crashed through. Deeper within the building, the magnitude of her inability to defend herself having provided her with a sad sort of privacy, she lays there, her struggle for breath transformed from a vicarious pain to one all too real, all too personal.

And it's then that Endo reaches her telepathically, and tells her it will be all right, that he'll take care of Kozue.

One great weight lifts from her, one of several but still one fewer, and she rises. The sword in her hand, Lera's sword, which she didn't even have time to see, much less appreciate, is less than it was, much less. It was always ghostly but now it is a ghost of itself, just a thin plasmic outline of a weapon and a few weak sparks.

The rest of its power was spent in the not-unworthy cause of saving Utena's life.

She feels a coolness pouring over her, despite the pain, centered by the knowledge that Kozue's being taken care of, that now she can finally focus, she can be here entirely. One foot before the next she forces herself to march out of the building to face her opponent -- her opponents -- again.

Her legs are blackened with scratches and scuffs, her sleeves are tattered ribbons. One of her epaulettes is gone entirely; the other is at an off angle now, like an admiral's ship limping back into port.

And her expression is so, so sad.

"I've been so weak," she says quietly, and there's a note of self-disgust there, 'weak' not an excuse, only an explanation, "That I couldn't even leave my bed. Today is the first day I've left my room in months. But if I'd heard about this... you're right. I have been blind."

She settles the remnants of the sword in front of her, held in both hands, and it casts flickering, intermittent light across her face, like a portable campfire.

"I thought you were so strong. And kind. I admired you for your fierceness, and when you won the duel, my first thought was -- at least it was Kasagami. At least Himemiya will be okay."

She takes a step forward. The motion jars a tear from her eye.

"This," she grits out, "Is not okay."

Another step. The first tear tracks down her cheek, then is joined by a second. Combined, they take the plunge to the ground.

"And YOU are not okay. Either I never saw you at all or you've changed, senpai, to be like this." Step. "To hurt the ones who need your protection the most." Step. "To call 'not killing people' a purity test." Step. "To not wear your achievements, your titles, with pride... now you hide behind them instead."

Another. The tip of the sword wavers, drawing a little oval in the air, but Utena grits her teeth and forces it to steady, finds some more strength to keep it, and herself, upright. Just a little longer.

"I may not have come here to fight you..." she concludes, her sadness again making that shift towards fury even as she winds herself up like a clockwork soldier.

Then she shifts all of that potential energy into actual, giving everything she can dredge up to launch across the space between them and smash the remnants of Lera's sword into Kasagami until it is gone in a shower of sparkles and endings. They mingle with her tears, dragged off her face by the velocity of her reckless charge, her need to get as close to the One Engaged as possible and hit her as hard as she can as fast as she can, right now, right now, right now.

"...BUT I WOULD HAVE IF I'D KNOWN!" Smash, this one weaker than the first, both the sword and it's wielder, heedless of what it's taking out of them both. "AND NOW I KNOW YOU!" Smash, the last of the sword spent, the girl going through with the motion anyway to try to shoulder block the taller, stronger girl with all she has. "AND NOW --" She's gasping, she's weeping, "--I AM!"

She tastes blood, and sweat, and concrete. Nevertheless, she persists.

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has used Recklessly Oncoming Reality on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki braces 26 Fatigue damage from Utena Tenjou's Recklessly Oncoming Reality, taking 11 Fatigue damage!
Critical Hit!  Utena Tenjou is Psyched!  Kasagami Araki's Parry ability activates!
<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

At the zenith of her torturous inversion upon the arm of Kasagami Araki -- with every overextension of muscle and sinew and bone etched in fire by nerves that transmit dear familiar pain most readily of all -- the Rose Bride's eyelashes flutter. Her eyes are half-lidded, glazed.

Through the pulse of crimson that blurs and colors everything she sees, the Anthy Himemiya receives an impression of an upside-down world: the tall, thin spires of skyscrapers, shining structures that reach down down down from the sparkling, glass-strewn ground above to the pitch night sky below. White swirls, out of focus now, so the petals floating downward become doves that strive for the ground-that-is-above like it is heaven.

Through the swirling white, through a crimson haze of agony, she sees a smudge of pink. Anthy Himemiya's heart gives a breath-stopping squeeze, and it almost feels like this is familiar, this redness and this pain and this girl with pink hair who...

...who did not come for Anthy.

The Rose Bride closes her eyes before she is drawn up and cast aside by her Engaged, and the dream of a memory slips away beneath the resentment and a hurt she will not admit to herself.

As she regains her feet and retakes that perfectly attendant stance, though, she listens closely to the two duelists, their declarations and their challenges, and their increasingly personal accusations. The defiant force of Utena's charge does not elicit a blink from the Bride; perhaps she is unsurprised. Perhaps she cannot look away.

If Utena Tenjou and Kasagami Araki are storms breaking on each other, the Rose Bride embodies all of the still menace of a thousand calms before them, in her unmoving and apparently unmoved observation. She watches her Engaged spend power like water in that smashing, slashing offensive, feels the pull of it upon her own soul.

It is clear that Kasagami Araki needs more, if she wants to thoroughly defeat this freshly-reimpowered adolescent. And in this goal, the Rose Bride and her Engaged find they are -- for once -- in perfect alignment.

So the Rose Bride bleeds. She bleeds vivid red streamers of power like veins that stretch through the air. They reach for Kasagami Araki as if hungry for her, but the feeding goes the other way. Soon Anthy is leaning one palm into the metal pole of the street light beside her, cheeks grey beneath the brown.

COMBAT: Anthy Himemiya has used Sanguinary Empowerment on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki accepts Anthy Himemiya's Sanguinary Empowerment, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Kasagami Araki is
Reinforced by Anthy Himemiya!
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The look of adoration of the power she has as she sends Utena crashing into that window is massive. At finally feeling strong, of not having pain in her body. At being able to really change things, even if it's just in a fight like this. It feels incredible.

But as Utena makes her way out from the rubble, tears in her eyes and those long pink tresses there? Something itches. In her heart. Her mind can't feel what it's buried, forgotten in the rush of victory, her new adulation, her rise to status and the restoration of her home.

It's the tears that see Kasagami's grin and satisfaction die a little. Utena speaks, the expression, it tears at her inside. She looks beautiful as she finally gets to see Utena really, scuffed and sleeves tattered. Part of her is joyous at finally getting to look upon her fully. But, it sparks a realization in her.

'This is not okay'.

'You are not okay.'

Kasagami's smile fades. A headache forms as she listens. Her sword, just a little, trembles. Even the fury that she'd otherwise dance with happiness at hearing in Utena can't bring it back. She can't admit it, but even as the girl rebounds and rushes in with the remnants of that sparking sword?

It hurts. Just a little. In her arm. And in her heart. The accusations that she'd wipe away from any other Duelist stings more than any attack she's ever received from a monster.

But the Sword of Dios' healing effects and her own hugely inflated pride as of late is one heck of a drug. It sparks her anger again. As Utena comes in and they clash? Kassie smashes the Sword of Dios right into that first swing and sparks fly while crimson tipped raven locks flutter from the force of two Duelists in a pain filled fight of the heart.

"Me!? Hiding!? What are you talking about? Please, if you want to talk about hiding, look in the mirror! Who kept on refusing to open up when I wanted to HELP you!? You've been locking yourself alone for a lot longer than just after our fight! Grrr, this is all because of that blonde haired delinquent and her little psychopath bluenette on a crusader kick! I have no idea what lies they've filled your pretty hair with!"

Teeth grit. More blows, and she leans into them harshly. Her armguard comes up, deftly parrying. She spins around, blocks one behind the back, only for the next to cut her sleeve. A lucky one gets a small hint of crimson tips from her flowing bangs.

Utena Tenjou is one of the first people she met that treated her like a friend. She never had any real ones since her parents died and she was burned. Not until Ohtori. She was the first best friend, not some mere hanger-on. It's not the physical pain that moves Kasagami to this realization. The tone. The look in Utena's face. Her prince is in pain from the King that's supposed to protect her. To fight beside each other for the sake of making a better world.

In her heart, Kasagami knows she's failed and betrayed her friend. Her arm hurts. Her chest hurts. The Sword of Dios can't stop that pain. It's pain in her soul.

She tries to summon up fearsome fury in her voice. Can't see the tears she cries from both eyes. Then she speaks.

"I fight this war not because I want to, but because I HAVE to Utena! This whole situation with the Puella Magi is SICK and TWISTED! Do you think I want people to die!? Huh? More parents in coffins for their children to have nightmares about night after night!? People getting hurt by those THINGS? In a good world, in a better world, you would be perfectly right little Prince! But that's the thing you refuse to see."

Her voice cracks. "No. No I am not okay, Utena! I don't want to hurt my best friend in a war that shouldn't be happening! But if the Shepherds don't win this war, then Eri-chan and Kyouko-chan don't get to eat! The Shepherds took me in and treated me like family! All because Mami Tomoe wanted to come after me! I know I deserve it. Don't think I don't!"

"I will not lose my family twice! The Chevaliers will make it so that those two can't get enough to survive and live! This noble cause you have is going to kill people! Maybe it makes me a monster, but I'd rather be sent straight to hell than see anything happen to them! And you know what? That is just going to be the start. Something far worse is going to get free. I have lost the hand of a girl I love over this war. She will not die to it!"

Kasagami curses and is flung back by the shoulder check. She leans into it with all of her strength and superior height and body mass. Kassie's always been taller and a little bit broader than many girls her age. Muscles and rigorous training makes her far more sturdy than her acrobatics at times might imply. She leans into it even as a sleeve is rent and she's skidding back with her boots clawing up rents of concrete. One piece of debris slashes across her chest.

That crimson energy that Anthy offers is sucked into the Sword of Dios. Into Kasagami's hand. It even ruins her sleeve further as she takes everything that Anthy has to offer without any hesitation. Power makes her feel strong. That's how it is in this dirty world she lies to herself again. Only power can change it.

Power to Revolutionize the World.

Then, amidst the tears, she smiles. It too is sad, but proud. Not of herself. But of Utena.

"But that's okay Utena-chan. It is okay for you to hate me for who I am, what I have done. It's necessary. We can only change things with power. I am a King. You are a Prince. I am the one who needs to dirty her hands so that you can shine. That is why I'm glad to see you again."

She centers herself, and takes up a stance that Utena's seen before. It was with a far different weapon, a much larger one, but it's unmistakable. Knees set, and with her last intelligible words, she nods to Utena. Pluto's eyes, the eyes of Eri and Kyouko and all of her messed up little Shepherd family flash in her mind.

"But I have no choice but to win here!"

And then she's gone. The Sword of Dios is reflected in beautiful stained-glass like magic. It is everywhere and nowhere, refracted and traced by constantly in a single moment. Those thousands upon thousands of reflections of different actions and stances are as one with Kasagami's powerful and brilliant swordsmanship, dialed down even more skillfully just enough so that she won't kill Utena with something so overwhelming. A brutal battlefield art passed down by those bold enough to wield such massive weapons as her family is known for.

Empowered by the Sword and Anthy, Kasagami reappears behind Utena as gently as a wind, as light falling down from the moon. There's a stillness in the air.

Stained glass shatters away. Kasagami doesn't turn around for fear gazing upon Utena will make her break down sobbing and begging the pink haired woman for forgiveness.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Kasagami Araki has used The Once And Future King on Utena Tenjou.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou braces 74 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's Finisher, The Once And Future King, taking 111 Fatigue damage!
Utena Tenjou is unable to keep fighting!  Utena Tenjou's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Kasagami vents fury and frustration and despair, and Utena -- already exhausted and bedraggled -- listens to her friend, her enemy, but does not look at her.

No; her eyes already heavy-lidded with weariness and dulled by the simple pain of remaining upright, what energy she has to focus on anything goes to the Rose Bride, standing off to the side but very present, as she sacrifices herself to the Sword of Dios.

She stares silently and a deeper hurt wells within her, the blue of her eyes darkening from bruises to bottom of the ocean, where there is nothing but freezing cold and crushing pressure left to feel, as she receives the message Anthy is sending so clearly: she wants Utena to fall. If anything, she wants it more than Kasagami, who seems to not really want it at all.

It is a rare and precious thing, for Utena to get to see Anthy to really want anything, and her heart skips a weary beat as she realizes she is, once again, in the presence of the girl behind the mask.

But this is not without context, as it was before. Anthy hates her, clearly.

Agony seizes her from her crown to her toes. Play it cool, she remembers, and a tiny flicker of something almost like amusement pieres her almost as sharply as the pain. Gallows humor. Play it cool. Hah. Once again, she's failed her dearest ones so, so badly.

"There's always -- a choice," she pants, reeling on her feet, still looking past Kasagami, her declaration of necessity, of pride. She doesn't seem proud, in this moment; there's a humility in her that seems born from a tiny seed of wonder, blossoming insight. Cruel innocence. "And you chose -- to gain power -- but it didn't help you... change."

She doesn't try to lose. The sword, the stained glass, it encircles her like an iron maiden, slashing at her from all directions at once. Even if she were fresh as the maiden spring at dawn and having the best day of her life, she wouldn't be able to match the legendary swordsmanship of Kasagami Araki. Destroyed inside already and half-dead on the outside, a stiff breeze could probably lay her out.

But she defies it until the very end -- emptyhanded again, she brings her arms up like a boxer's, and suffers innumerable tiny defensive wounds. She deepens her stance, and ducks her head, and endures.

BGM: Rinbu Revolution - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBN0X-wD_Dw

It wears away at her like a thousand years of sand. A thousand moons of tide. Force, force -- Kasagami may be deliberately nonlethal but Utena does not allow her to be as gentle as she'd like, there at the heart of the storm, because although she starts shaking like a leaf, as more scraps of her princely armor flutter to the ground alongside droplets of her blood, she remains on her feet.

Soft sounds of pain -- first hisses, then cries -- are unwillingly torn from her mouth as it becomes too much to bear, bruises flowering across abrasions inflicted milliseconds before. Kasagami doesn't have to kill her to get her out of the way -- but she does have to come far too close.

Down to one knee, then, as one of her legs gives out, and still she looks at Kasagami -- and past her, at Anthy. She can't really see through all the glass, but she looks anyway. Sometimes you don't have to see someone to know where they are.

"It's okay," she gasps, her vow somehow for both of them at once, as swords trace her chest from five directions and her back from nine. "It's okay," she promises, as tender as the convulsions of her body allow. She coughs wetly, trying to clear her throat of liquid concrete. Of sweat. Of...

"I swear --" Her eyes are so blue, and impossibly the essence of their skysea heavenliness is returning to them, even as she loses feeling in her other leg and kneels beneath the storm, "--that I--"

Utena falls backwards slowly. Her vision is darkening, the last of the strikes to her temple. She clings to consciousness without bitterness -- whatever engine incites her lips to motion beats with something other than that. Kasagami recognizes it from the girl who, on her first night of powerlessness, leapt between her and her personal demon, as heedless of the flames then as she was for Anthy tonight. "--will change--"

Anthy recognizes it from something older.

"--the world," she whispers, almost sleepily, as her collapse is complete, all her petals torn away once more. The bell has struck midnight, the carriage a pumpkin, and there's nothing left but an almost skeletally-thin teenage girl crumpled on the Shinjuku pavement. Her long pink hair is the only proof that the prince was ever here -- the hair, and the bits of white rose tumbled within it.

They were perfect when they fell, but not one of them is untouched now. Some are crumbling to ash, still. Some were bi- and trisected by the tip of a blade. Some are simply crushed beneath her own scant weight.

It's a familiar place to be, a familiar surroundings, for Utena Tenjou. Perhaps it is kinder that she is not awake to know she has returned.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kasagami's technique crashes into Utena, and Utena does not flinch away. The fact that Utena isn't looking at her doesn't reach Kasagami. That Utena peers at the Rose Bride that wills her to fall. To Kassie, the purple haired girl is still a worthless doll, a hood ornament, a sheath whose only purpose is to contain a sword for her victory. For her own Revolution like any Duelist.

She doesn't dare properly look at Utena. Doesn't care to look at Anthy. Pink and Raven-Crimson are equally as blind in some ways, perhaps. Or simply refuse to see.

Her heart plummets at Utena not rising again to face her, to crash and joyfully fight with her as a Prince should in her mind. It sings as Utena resists, even pushes her to the limits of her own legendary skills in order to preserve a Prince she cares for while still pounding her into dust. It's a delicate balance that puts a single, raging dissonance through her pumping veins.

Utena gasps, and again, Kasagami doesn't turn. Her hand shakes and then it's her body that joins it. Utena falls with that promise given.

Silence from the 'victor'. Kasagami Araki walks over to the remains of the fountain where her coat caught in the battle, and peers at it. The Sword of Dios is dismissed as Utena is on the ground. Hard boots walk over to her fallen enemy.

Her first real friend, and then the remnants of her coat are flicked behind her. A twist of wind and roses shreds the material and Utena would find them clinging to those wounds as light as a feather. Kasagami can't do any more than that. She's too busy sobbing as she walks past without another glance at the pink one.

"Will you? If that is really what you want, then you will have to cut through me first. Do not die, Utena Tenjou. Meet me in that holy place where we last clashed, understand!?" A sacred place, the Dueling Arena. The place to wash away all problems in strength.

Kassie walks towards Anthy, and claims her arm to walk away. Then she howls to the air.

"Chevaliers! Claim this girl, a Prince among you! Do not abandon her, or I will claim every last one of you even if it costs me my very soul!" Her words are not wrathful to her enemies.

That is a desperate cry for salvation as she aims to haul Anthy further into this horrible battlefield. Arm held tightly beside her. She limps, not from the physical damage, but from the pain in her heart.

There's an audible crunch as she forces herself into a straight walk. No matter how heavy her heart, she is going to help win this war, to drive it to a proper end. At least, that is what Kasagami Araki's wounded heart believes right now.

"...Pluto!" Teeth grit. A vain attempt to not weep.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

So Kasagami feels abandoned by Utena. Feels shut out by the pink haired girl in her time of clear and evident need, even as she tried to help and reach out. It is odd, thinks Anthy Himemiya, to find herself in this sudden and secretive accord with her Engaged. The thorns lie thick and growing between them, but here upon this battlefield...

Anthy remembers getting up extra early each school morning to prepare artful, if sometimes rich, bentos for a dwindling Utena with a fading appetite. She knows the date, the exact lunch period, when the girl who was then her Engaged went from taking only a single bite of them to taking none at all.

She remembers a challenge in the rose garden, and the look of /relief/ on Utena's face when Kasagami tossed Anthy a gift of jewelry right in front of her. The bruises of Utena's abandonment of her peeked from beneath the collar of a winter uniform, then.

Remembers asking what was wrong and getting 'Nothing' in return, nothing at all but the slamming of a window and a flash of red in its pane. It was a lie of a nothing and a nothing of a lie that lies between them now. Nothing, Himemiya, it's nothing...

Shinjuku. They're back, in this /place/, and it takes her back to that night and those men with their ugly words and their ugly fists and their ugly souls, the men Utena-sama chose night after night over a warm cooked dinner and a warm shared dorm room. Over Anthy.

Had she less self control, the Rose Bride might be caught nodding along to some of the things Kasagami shouts over the clash of borrowed blades.

Instead she remains utterly still aside from her eyes. Freed of her pain-fog -- what the Bride suffers now is not physical, and it sharpens rather than dulls her awareness -- her gaze flits between the vying teenagers.

There is the resplendent and terrible One Engaged, her streaming hair and screaming emotion a conquering firestorm. And there, there is the battered Utena Tenjou, reimpowered but not quite powerful enough, that beautifully transformed winter uniform bearing every last mark of her passage through glass and concrete.

Utena's eyes, though... they are still that incredible shade of blue, even though they are more like bruises in this moment than a midsummer sky. That they swim with tears only emphasizes the crystalline nature of their beauty. Even as she freely bleeds intoxicating power into Kasagami Araki and her light-splintering prowess, the Rose Bride suffers a crimson pang.

Why does it feel like the blade she just twisted lies within her own breast?

Just one of the many, Anthy Himemiya tells herself. It is as anonymous as the bright sharp sounds of colliding swords, another piece of hatred the world holds for her.

Certainly it is nothing she is doing to herself.

The Rose Bride attends to every last detail of the end of the fight, allowing neither Utena nor herself the mercy of averted gaze. She tells herself it is her duty to witness the thousand cuts Kasagami inflicts upon both uniform and girl with the blade sprung from Anthy's own breast... not compelled by a flagellate emotional masochism.

In the night the reflections of fading stained-glass diffraction around them glow bright and round upon glasses lenses, fireworks dripping into darkness. This attendant of more duels and ends of duels than many mortals might imagine possible, in her resplendent ball gown and her golden crown and her deceptive projected placidity, is only seen to move when One Engaged moves to reclaim her.

Her upper arm does not fit into Kasagami's strong hand so much as disappear into it, and the Rose Bride comes along with a light quick step, as obedient and ornamental as she has even been. She does not keep up perfectly to strides so much longer and bolder than her own, tripping along just behind the One Engaged.

Perhaps that helps conceal that Anthy Himemiya sneaks one last look over the golden ball atop one shoulder, a risk she finds she cannot help but take.

The bloody heap that is Utena burns bright and painful into her mind's eye. But she sees the persistent length of those pink locks as clearly as she sees the hatchwork of welling wounds on too-thin limbs. She sees the white shreds of petals as well as the white-and-black shreds of uniform.

Long after Utena is out of sight, her last words remain with Anthy. It's like some of them were with the purple-haired girl all along.

'It's okay,' she'd said, she'd promised. 'It's okay.' She'd seen straight to Anthy somehow, through the stained glass of Kasagami's victory. Did she know the Rose Bride had returned that seeking gaze, piercing the mirage of refracted light as perhaps only Ohtori's preeminent illusionist could?

Then she'd said 'I swear,' and Anthy will never forget how blue Utena's eyes were in that utterance. She wishes she could forget them, from moment to moment, with a vehemence as searing as a nerve toxin.

But that wish is just another lie she tells herself, and the hand opposite Kasagami Araki curls around a single intact, white rose petal.