2019-03-02 - TIMELINE 3: The Searrs Ultimatum

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Title: TIMELINE 3: The Searrs Ultimatum>

A demand is made, as is a demonstration.


Ye-jin Song, Kasagami Araki, Niramo Umokeshi, Steven Universe, Eri Shimanouchi, Homura Akemi, Fuu Hououji, Mikoto Minagi, Mai Tokiha, Shizuru Fujino


Ohtori Academy

OOC - IC Date:

2019-03-02 - 2014-09-15

.******************** Yamanote High City - Ohtori Academy *********************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Ohtori Academy +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 The ivory crown on the brow of Southern Cross Island, Ohtori Academy is
 separated from the world by more than just water. Outside, education can be
 a luxury. Within this white-walled compound, education is luxurious.
 Marble colonnades spring up like fountain spouts, scarlet flowers drench
 every free surface. The architecture is at once daringly art deco and
 austerely Classical, white marble lending an angelic weightlessness to
 pillars and fences that can seem more woven than carved.

 At the center of campus is the Chairman's Tower, a dizzyingly tall spire in
 the center of a manicured grassy field. Radiating around this field are the
 lecture halls, dormitories, art buildings, and other facilities by which the
 chosen few receive education, with small class sizes in large buildings.
 It's common for students to refer to a building's location as if the hour
 hand of a great clock extended from the central tower. At twelve o'clock,
 for instance, the Duel Arena looms like a jade stormcloud, a great forest
 forming a living pagoda of leaves that reminds even longtime students that
 their school keeps many secrets.

 The rose is the emblem of Ohtori, and campus is decorated with a profusion
 of them, both living and frozen in frieze. Poppies are favored as well, and
 thick carpets of either flower can be found wherever the loosest excuse is
 available. Only the most bitter of winters seems able to fully erase the
 faint fragrance from the air, and students who leave the island via quick,
 convenient bridge or ferry can often find a memory of it on their clothing.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The occupation of Ohtori continues into its second night. Golden Age soldiers stalk through the marbled halls, escorting students between their classrooms and the small sickbays set up throughout the ornamented campus. Classmates and friends are being separated and sequestered. Blood is being drawn from the girls of each student body without explanation. Several students have attempted to escape. Some have gone missing altogether.

Through all of this there has been silence from the great white spire of the Chariman's Tower. Since the occupation began, no one has gone into or out of it but soldiers -- and the Student Councils of the Sister Schools, presumed to be still alive within the tower's walls after they were hustled in following the events at the ball. Ohtori's leaders have been cut off from their peers, and they have offered no commands, no information, no communication.

Until tonight.

The broadcast cuts through wild forests and deep caverns, comes through on gigantic monitors and booming loudspeakers. Ohtori and Southern Cross Island are vast, buts nowhere on the island is truly out of reach. Even cellphones, largely dead since the occupation began, begin to blip to life to receive the message to come:

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

Kasagami Araki sits at a singular white table looking out onto the balcony where many a Student Council meeting has taken place. This time though, it's just the Disciplinary Executive alone in this place that so few of the Ohtori Student body has seen. There's a single standing microphone in front of her, and she looks almost completely untouched aside from a tear or two along her coat and the front of her uniform.

Her smile is calm, confident, and she hopes reassuring. There's a set of papers in front of her, though she hardly seems to glance at them.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the Sister Schools, good evening. I know you've all had a very difficult time since the Ball, but we of the Student Council wish you to know that this horrible situation is being brought to heel!" Her voice rises with flair.

"Terrorists are among us, dear friends, some of your fellow classmates have coordinated with them to destroy the bridge linking our beloved school from the mainland. These fools, these evil persons who dare tarnish our Academy's good name with violence, are to be tracked down by our defenders, the Golden Age defense company!" Praises the young woman.

"So please, cooperate while our shining defenders work to track down these rogues. They're currently tracking suspected accomplices across the island to ensure your safety. Do not, I repeat do NOT attempt to leave the island or disobey the soldiers, or you may be mistaken for one of the terrorists. They are here to help, and you have my personal promise that they will do everything in their power to keep you safe! Their very lives for yours, so please don't make things any more difficult than they already are."

She folds her hands in front of her and gives a nod. "Stay strong, students of the Sister Schools. Let our new companions test your blood for the contaminants that the terrors have unleashed. The following students are known to be working with the terrorists: Mai Tokiha, Ohtori Class 11-B. Mikoto Minagi, Ohtori Class 10-A. Yukino Kikukawa, Ohtori Class 11-A. Kozue Kaoru, Ohtori Class 8-C!" The Councilor openly snarls, anyone who has been in front of her for disciplinary reasons knowing she's about to launch into a rant.

<Pose Tracker> Sourisi [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

Slipping out of the classroom and outside with what little food Sourisi could collect beforehand was hard enough for the young Miraculous User without being caught, especially with her unknowing escape from White Queen. Due to an escape attempt being called out during her own, Sourisi could finally find a safe place to transform and escape into the woods beyond to figure out her next move.

Generally, her next move has been to keep moving and try to find some place that could be considered safe within the forests on Southern Cross Island, but without luck. Being by herself is keeping Sourisi trying her best to be stealthy, which has led to her being able to evade a patrol of Golden Age PMC soldiers before she stumbled upon them.

Say what you will, a tan-colored ninja mouse is still a visible ninja in the forest.

Now, as the hours pass, Sourisi is squating on a thick branch and sipping from a water bottle. Her bookbag is turned inside out to help differentiate it from her civilian guise, but it's not uncommon for the Miraculous Ninja to be seen without some bag or satchel. Guriella warfare is exhausting when you're only used to straight battles, and Sourisi is facing the realization it's difficult to do much of anything on her own at the moment.

Even if she can't even trust the other Miraculous Users, at least everyone usually tries to work together against a common threat. Generally.

Eyeing the sky for a moment, Sourisi lets out a long sigh through her nose. "I need a lucky break...maybe I can wait shortly for the guard shift change before trying to slip into the school again? I need proof of what really going on if I want to convince Ye-jin-senpai..."

Things were just easier when you could beat up a Dark General or Akuma Villain.

Her half-baked thoughts are shoved to the side as the broadcast from one of the Ohtori Student Council echoes across what must be the entire island, and Sourisi winces from the sudden increase of volume. That was...right, her name was Kasagami Araki, was it not? Before her escape, she had seen Kasagami enter her classroom to try to keep tensions low, but she must be being used by the Golden Age PMC as a public face and propganda speaker. Though the fact that several Ohtori students were named off is something to be gleamed from all of that...

Maybe it has something to do with the blood testing?

But this is exactly what she's waiting for. With the public annoucement being made, Kasagami's voice would make it hard for her to be overheard. Screwing the cap back on her bottle of water, the lone mouse stands upright and places it back into her bookbag.

Without another word spoken out loud, Sourisi leaps off towards the next branch and does her best to make as little noise as possible. Better to observe first before leaping for the school right away...and with some luck, she might be able to find other magical escapees.

Sourisi barely trusts anyone these days, but you don't have to trust to uncover the truth on a plot that threatens everyone.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

It has been a miserable pair of days since the Gala at Ohtori. Concussions and damage taken from the Cybody fight has been treated in triage, and ever since, the little Steven Universe has been shuffled from room to room in an uncouth and confusing manner. It was as if he didn't quite... fit into however they are grouping people?

It caused nothing but stress to the boy.

But that isn't the only source of troubles. Cellphone contact is impossible, even if he had his, which was still in his backpack presumably at the ballroom check-in. He only just got a different outfit to change into, being stuck in a suit for over a day was awful. A thrown together gym outfit that didn't quite fit well.

On top of these discomforts, Steven had a further fear from the outside. Unlike everyone else's parents, his can fight. His can weild incredible power. What if they try something risky? What if worry bleeds into recklessness? And of course his future i nschool now...

It was all too much.

Steven is in one of the holding rooms, thinking of the tiny pinpricks of not-so-stressing times here, such as playing cards with Fuu. He sits against a well, with his head down. Not much of his face can be seen from his disheveled hair.

That is when the sound cuts on. His head slowly lifts. The voice was familiar. Has he met this young lady before? He is certain he has, at quite a few Ohtori events. No one else has that kind of passion to speaking.

Kasagami announces those that may have conspired with the enemy the military organization is after. Some of the names are familiar. "Uh... Are they sure?" he asks aloud. "I think they got the wrong young ladies."

Though two of them that he knows are unique in their abilities. Can't be a coincidence. The boy raises a hand to his mouth, but stops, looking at it. He has already bitton the edges of his fingernails off. Theres nothing left there unless he wants to bite into the quick and hurt himself. An staggered sigh escapes him.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Don't worry about her. She'll be back." Eri answers Homura. It is a truth of the world that cats always find their way home for supper. Mikoto had made that more clear than ever the last few times she came back. Even after tussling with those in charge of the Golden Age. "If she got into trouble - it just means she's taking a longer route."

She was rationalizing perhaps, trying to assuage her own anxiety. The fact of the matter is, even with Mikoto having gotten Mai out...

... she was still worried that any trip one of them took out would be the last time she'd seen them. All the same, she tried to smother that. She had to remain calm, for the sake of their little band...

... and because Madoka and Mami would be counting on her.


"Hmm?" Eri Shimanouchi was in the middle of eating a bland stolen MRE, so her mouth was full when her cell phone, starts to vibrate. Picking it up between two fingers suspiciously, she scans the forest around them. The orphans has come a little too close for comfort to their tiny camp on the fringes not too long ago. So why shouldn't soldiers be next? Why shouldn't this be some technologic trick to track them?

There's Kasagami Araki's face though. Seated at the table, as if it were any other school day. Ohtori was not one for making simple announcements over the loudspeaker. One's face had to be broadcast to all.

"I was so sure my battery was dead..." The girl mentions to Homura, as she cradles her hands around it, sharing the screen but trying to muffle the volume some. Watching the speech in real time... "Oh come on. Even Araki-senpai should know better than that. The only way Mai-chan would terrorize anyone is if they forgot to tip at the end of a double shift."

She rolls her eyes, "Or Mikoto-chan got fed something spicy. And Kikukawa-senpai? Really?" There's even a light snort at that. As if she's imagining the meek Student Council secretary blowing up a bridge. However, then her expression becomes more thoughtful.

"... I don't get it."

She eyes Homura to the side, turning over her phone in her hands, "This has to be... magical or something. Why go to all this effort to get this message everywhere though? Those of us already out know this is all a lie... so they're not about to scare us..."

The question just hangs in the air, like a looming dread. 'What's the point?'

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Hidden within the surrounding forests of Ohtori, Georgia grits her teeth as she listens to the broadcast. Of course Araki would be gullible enough to go along with this farce. How could she think any of this wasn't the fault of those armed jerks? Part of her thought maybe Araki could be working with them but...

Shaking her head she tried not to dwell on the what-if's at the moment. What she does know is that she did the right thing by slipping away when she saw them doing blood testing. And it's not just because she absolutely hates needles. This was wrong. All arong.

Putting her stealth-skills to good use meant she'd managed to sneak by several of the armed guards, though the entire time she kept her chrome escrima sticks gripped tight... just in case. And now here she was, hiding amongst the foilage, eyes trained straight ahead as her mind tries to come up with some sort of plan. There has to be others out there trying to do something, right? She just has to reach them...

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

Though she's made occasional forays into the school for precious supplies -- boots for Mikoto, any possible scroungeable food, and extra guns are all on her stealing list -- Homura always boomerangs back to her friends out in the deep forests of Southern Cross. Every time, she looks for Madoka; every time, she fails; every time, she comes back.

Her eyes have that too-wide, strained look that comes with adrenaline-fueled insomnia. Fine strands of black escape her left braid, dislodged by their guerilla existence and left unfixed. Occasionally they blow across Homura's face, and she brushes them away with the back of her hand.

"Minagi-san's been gone a while," she frets to Eri, though quietly. They've found a decent spot this time, shielded from direct sight by thickets of low-growing evergreens and a single looming boulder. It wouldn't do to lose it to indiscreet conversation -- they've had to move so often, already.

She's sitting next to Eri on the quilt of fallen brown pine needles that makes up the forest floor there, so is right there when the other girl's phone goes off. "W-what?" She looks around, braids flapping, also suspecting a trick. But -- she leans into Eri's shoulder to see, recognizing that voice. It's...

"Araki-senpai?" She falls quiet after that, but at several points she blinks in confusion and looks to Eri to see her friend's reaction. When all's done: "Maybe... they're telling her what to say." But Kasagami hadn't seemed under any particular duress. "Or just lying to her."

The accusations don't make much sense to Homura. She doesn't know the other girls named very well, but Mikoto... how could she be a terrorist? Homura remembers the way the soldier in the classroom had wanted to see Mikoto's face, and shivers.

What is the point of that message?

"The other students, maybe? If they see us, they could turn us in, or raise an alarm..." Homura trails off, then shakes her head. "I don't know," she admits, a bit miserable. "None of it makes any sense to me. Why are they after Minagi-san and Tokiha-san and the others?"

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

The thought of 'escape' has not been all that far from Fuu's mind since her blood was drawn for the alleged screening, but she's refrained from trying to escape, even as she's heard rumors about other disappearances. Better, she thinks, to gather information where she is and to analyze the variables in play, *then* to act.

Not that this always serves her as well as simply *acting* sometimes would.

When cell phones start playing back that message, she's in the middle of what could be a game of solitaire - a game which she leaves spread out on her desk while she pulls out her own phone, as much so she can see the video for herself as anything. And she recognizes Kasagami's face, of course - occasional visits to the Falconry Club, and even a dance at the ill-fated sports festival ball, among other crossings of paths.

But it's the words of Kasagami's speech which cause Fuu's brow to furrow, first in thought, then in displeasure. She hadn't caught the soldiers' organization before, except to rule out that they were part of any military. 'Defense company' sounds decidedly *un*like what she's seen of their behavior - and they've certainly shown little enough care for the well-being of the students. She still has the bruises on her arm, after all: a testimony, not to rough handling, but to haste prioritized over good care or caution.

The speech continues, and as Kasagami begins listing names, Fuu shakes her head in a mix of disbelief and disagreement. Mai is too busy to be in league with terrorists, Fuu is sure of that. And Mikoto - a 'conspirator'? Fuu can hardly imagine Mikoto being a part of anything truly secret. Not that the destruction of the bridge was remotely subtle ...

Fuu's attention shifts towards Steven, then flicks around the classroom they're in - looking to see how other students are reacting to the announcement. And to see how closely any of the Golden Age personnel who might be present in the room are watching their charges ... plus how closely they're holding their weapons.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Mikoto is a solo agent. It is difficult to appreciate her perspective, in daily magical life; in such a team-focused environment, it is easy to malign an island. She does not work well with casual allies. It is too easy for her to do a little too much damage, or hit more than her target, and she does not explain herself well in battle.

But here, now, it is Mikoto's point of view which helps them all. Because Mikoto knows how to manage herself against populous threats - for some reason - and Mikoto knows how to be predator and prey all at once. She has learned well... from her cat friends, surely. And she shares her wisdom with her party: Mai, and Eri, and Homura.

'Don't move in large groups' is the most important thing she has emphasised. It's so much easier to evade detection alone.

She looks sharp in the manner of jagged edges rather than fashion; worn like a well-used blade. She has not slept much. It hasn't been safe. She has, at least, kept on top of eating. Homura has been of great service in that respect, even if MREs aren't always tasty. Mikoto has tried, at least, to keep the spirits of her friends up, tried to get them to smile. She reassures Mai that she is searching for Takumi. She reassures Homura that she is searching for Madoka. She reassures Eri that she is searching for Mami. (She even doesn't mention the way Mami may not wish to be found by Mikoto, after all.)

Her dress is marred by old dirt, poorly-washed and torn at the hem; she has shed her tulle stole, though her sash is still wrapped about her waist, tied in a hurried practical knot at her hip rather than an intricate bow at her back. She wears a stolen pair of boots, rather than the heels which ought to go with the outfit. Her HiME birthmark is clearly visible on her bare arm, just under her shoulder.

She often operates alone; it's comfortable for her. She has retrieved Mai, but the others are still unaccounted for. Now that she has secured the most important girl, Mikoto has been shadowing patrols for clues as to the others' whereabouts. Unfortunately for her, the squad she was following had thermal goggles, and the boughs of her tree did little to disguise the furnace of her body.

It was a little messy, but she managed to get back to the forest.

Here she has found her Puella Magi friends again, and three is a sizable number, but still manageable enough. She springs from tree to tree and she is about to drop down when there's a little buzz.

It's not from her phone. Madoka's nice little gift is still sitting on the bed in their dorm - as far as Mikoto knows. She hasn't gone back to see the damage done, after all.

Eri's is loud enough for her to hear.

And those sharp eyes narrow as the Disciplinary Executive talks - names them. She hisses in a breath through her teeth.

She has a way of slipping in which is surprising; this time she drops in from the bough of an evergreen, dropping to the ground, one hand on her blade and the other against the earth. She draws herself up and forgets to say hello, because the niceities of Tokyo have slipped from her under the strain of operating under fire. "Makes sense," she says, instead, and the words are bitter on her tongue.

"She already told me," Mikoto says, with a grunt as she glances away. "How... precarious my position was. How I could lose what I got." It's an inexact quote. "Makes sense it'd work normal, too. None of us got many friends. Mai's busy working. I'm busy searching. Kozue don't care. Yukino..." She shrugs a shoulder. Mikoto is not sure why she is on that list.

They are trying to destroy the ties which bind them.

Too bad.

Mikoto's used to being a solo agent.

<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Crack. Pop. Screens and amplifiers down in the sound of static. The face of Kasagami Araki disappears, replaced by another.


BGM Change: The Goddess https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8PMGbU7uNo

A pair of mocha eyes leer into the camera now, pulling back to reveal a horned and golden domino mask. The girl attached to it is familiar to some as the White Queen, one of Searrs enforcers encountered during the battle at the refinery. Others know her from more personal encounters. Some may have even glimpsed her stalking the rooftops and halls of Ohtori during the occupation, searching for her prey.

They may also recognize the girls behind her. The broadcast is coming from a lavish room somewhere in the Chairman's Tower, and in the corner stand two others: The golden-haired elementary school student Alyssa Searrs and her stone-faced guardian, Miyu Greer.

It is the White Queen, however, that speaks. Once she's determined that the signal is live she sinks back into the lavish chair behind her, crossing legs and leaning back as if she were perched on a throne. "That was boring, right?" The girl asks of the previous broadcast. "I'm going to get to the point."

Those magical girls still in classrooms or within sight of more mundane students notice no sign of surprise from the other children, no comments or gasps of surprise. They can likely summarize that this broadcast is for their ears alone.

"You're probably wondering what's going on, right?" She pauses, to let the question linger. "Searrs has come here to stop a disaster. The girls that were just listed are called HiME, wielders of an ancient power, inheritors of an ancient contract. Searrs needs their presence and cooperation to avert a disaster of planetary scope. If they surrender now, they won't be harmed."

The girl taps one long, white fingernail to her cheek. "I've been told you probably won't believe that, right? Well, without their help, the actions we can take to avert this disaster are very limited."

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjSgJs5h3XM

"We are hoping this will clarify everyone's value judgements swiftly and decisively."

Behind, the angelic face of Alyssa Searrs looks skyward. Her blonde hair begins to glow, suffused with vibrant yellow light.

As it is below, so it is above: The sky is suffused with a golden light that comes from a higher place, a higher authority, than even the ivory Chairman's Tower. It is a massive, burning pillar that comes from on high, scaring the eyes and blinding the senses.

The pillar of golden energy punches through the sky with all the force of an atomic bomb, power that was made, not born. It rends the evening clouds with its passage, and it's easy, so easy, to see how it destroyed the bridge last night.

But it isn't aiming for that piece of slagged metal and concrete anymore.

It impacts the forests around Ohtori Academy (specifically the forest to its east, which encroaches greenly up a nearby hill that is generously called a mountain by some), sending up a blinding white flash, then spreading outwards in all directions, gaining color rapidly, the reds and oranges of total annihilation. The forest -- and a solid chunk of that little mountain -- are just... gone. All that's left is blackened earth, and fire.

Everything is on fire. The earth is blackened, the sky has fallen. Flames rage across what remains, threatening soon to spread across the whole width of the vast sea of green.

The White Queen gives an appropriate amount of silence for the viewers to appreciate this devastation. It is here that Alyssa takes over, stepping forward to speak quietly and somberly: "Witness the power of my Child, Artemis. I'm a humanitarian -- I would prefer the HiME alive, and everyone unharmed. But, I can accomplish my goals with them dead -- and with the entire world at stake, I will see my task done."

"If the HiME are not surrendered to me within thirty-six hours, Artemis' next shot will vaporize Ohtori Academy... and the entire population of the Sister Schools."

She bows politely, while sick gray smoke rises up from the forest to blot out the moon.

Static again, and the transmission cuts back to the original broadcast.

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

The broadcast cuts back in, the Disciplinary Executive keenly in the middle of a rant. "...should be shamed to their very core! That our very own bright stars would lower themselves to working with terrorist dogs! Turn yourselves in, scum, for the wrath that the Student Council will bring upon you will be far less kind! I will personally make sure you end up cleaning every inch of the gym with a broken toothbrush!"

Kasagami is on her feet by now, having long since kicked away the chair she was sitting in. Her hand squeezes hard enough on the mic that is cracks a bit.

She takes a deep breath, visibly calming herself down. "Regardless, if you see any of these rogue and deviant threats to the safety of the student body, turn them in to the nearest soldier and do not try to apprehend them yourself. Keep an eye on each other, encourage your fellow students to stick together, and let your protectors know where any lost students might be. Keep the Ohtori and Sister Schools spirit alive, act as an example to your fellows!"

Kasagami gives a winning smile and a nod. "Remember to help anyone sick or wounded, the Golden Age personelle have supplies for anyone who might be hurt. Your beloved Student Council believes in you, and we will all get through this trial together!" Ends the young woman, hair and coat swaying in her trademark over-drama. It's only dashed by that brilliant crashing light, and the resulting destruction. The young woman actually drops the mic.

With a scramble, she only a few moments before her voice doubles it's volume, yelled slightly off camera as the transmission cuts. "Those terrorists, how can they do that!?" With pure rage and disgust.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

A small glance is cast toward Fuu for a moment as the broadcast ends-- but is rather abruptly replaced instead by a familiar face. One seen at the fight with those weird Orphan things. Steven's attention is actually drawn to the communique this time rather than just listening.

And then there is the callout. He knew it wasn't a coincidence! Someone is after them, specifically. And he doesn't believe the need to prevent a disaster. As if that were true, they would have committed help already.

And then the organization flexes their might. A little girl, in an instant destroys a flank of the forest. Steven turns pale as another flash of golden light overtakes all other color. And leaves nothing but gray where it vanishes. Ashen gray. "That's bull!" he says "That plan makes no sense! If they need those people to stop a planetary crisis, how does vaporising them in 36 hours help stop that?!"

A look around the room, panicked. The boy stands up quickly and mvoes over toward Fuu. "We gotta do something!" he says. "We need to...! We gotta... Wait, when did the guards leave?" he asks quietly.

The guards at the door were gone. But they were just there! Did the sudden event cause them to leave? "Wh... Where do we go though?!" he asks in a hushed but quick tone. He doesn't know this island! And that forest over there is... "Oh that forest area is on fire...!"

Mayhap stopping the fire should be the priority.

The escape outside would be difficult, but perhaps with this chaos, it was possible.

<Pose Tracker> Cowstian Dior [Admin (S)] has posed.


Steven isn't the only one in the room to panic--other students who didn't receive the message from Alyssa stand up and start to talk in obvious worry. The noise, the chaos--already the soldiers who stepped away are returning to the classroom, moving immediately to quell the disturbance with shouted orders.

...But there is a distraction. Two soldiers cover the door; the windows are closed. If someone here is going to act, it will have to be now.

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

As if things couldn't get any worse, the broadcast is abruptly cut short, Kasagami being replaced by-

"Ye-jin!" Georgia shouts in alarm, thankful she's not within earshot of any of the guards. She grits her teeth as the girl talks, obviously basking in her role in this forced occupation. The fact that she confirms knowledge of HiME only puts the blonde teenager further on edge. Idly, she's thankful for the fact that she's not on that list of wanted "terrorists". Her status as a HiME isn't something she's actively advertised given the current climate within the magical community. Last thing she needed was to get jumped for it.

"Alright Georgia. Get moving. There's-"

The world comes to a standstill as a beam of light shines on down from above and causes utter devestation -- just like with the bridge. Georgia yelps and falls to the ground from the shockwave, blinking rapidly. She scrambles to her feet a beat later, panting heavily as sweat beads all over her body. A look of determination is on her face, however...

After taking off through the forest, jumping over obstacles and the like, Georgia comes to a skidding halt when she happens upon a group of girls. A quick scan of them leads to her locking her gaze on Mikoto in particular. There's a pause, and then finally...

"I'm here to help."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Could be." Is her answer to Homura, on Kasagami's role in this - on the reasons for alerting the normal students. "I don't get it either why they're after them." However Mikoto's return catches her attention. "So they're banking on most of us being social outcasts and... fear..." That causes her to close her eyes in a sort of pained way for a moment before...


And Eri's eyes flare open wide as she watches the change of the message, her expression taut. "A disaster?" That catches her attention, as she looks sidelong at the other two briefly. Like their question on why they need the HiME are being answered. There's uncertainty there. Like perhaps she was thinking of this the wrong way. Doubt.

"... why did they have to invade then? And kill Sugiura-sensei? Why not just... try to sign them on peacefully?"

She mumbles - that is until the Golden Angel catches her attention with the glow of her blonde hair. And then it's like the golden light is far above them. A celestial power bringing Divine Judgement. Someone yells 'Down' - "No - no - they woul - !"

There's a blinding white flash, a roar that drowns out even the girl's piercing shriek. The blast wave roars and covers them with branches and bark. Dirt and the splinters of distant trees.

The next thing Eri knows she's face down on the ground, her ears ringing terribly.

Her phone screen is cracked, and not too far is the heat haze of an inferno. The girl shakes her head in a daze, and shakily uses a hand to correct her askew glasses, looking dumbfounded by the horror that is suddenly in resolution. Ever since she'd transferred to Ohtori - she'd been enamored with the forest. A place of wonder, right next to her school. As she became a Mahou Shoujo - she learned of the existence of other things - real things that she once thought were myth. Flower Fairies. Forest Guardians.

Most people wouldn't be thinking about those things. The scale of the devastation sinks in through her skin, like a miasma of despair as the smoke rises and she starts to cough.

Her eyes sting and it's not just from the smoke. As the girl hiccups, a single question - she asks - mutely.


The answer is obvious. To send a message. That's not the 'why' she's asking though.

It's more like she's asking a question about the cruelty of the world. Why something like this could happen.

For a moment, she just shakes, trembling in terror. Wishing Madoka - Mami... anyone was here, to take over, so she could just lay down and cry. Instead though, she wipes her hand, underneath her glasses, and slowly starts to stand up - perhaps with the help of someone else. The detritus falling off of her as she does - her eyes empty of anything other than saline running out of the bottom of them as she assesses around herself.

"... someone ..."

There's something plaintive in the sound of her voice. The crackling of fires is catching - spreading from tree to tree. She can see the forest isn't wholly gone yet. It will be though soon if nothing is done. She knew how quickly a forest fire could destroy the work of centuries - millenia even. Someone else - another girl runs up to Mikoto, and she simply gives the pair a hollow look.

"... tell me what to do..."

She does not trust the thoughts she's thinking right now. She cannot allow herself to.

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

("... here to usher in the Golden Age!")

It's one of those fragments that just floats up from memory by dint of free association - Speed Kid's declaration from the Cybody battle, the name of the private military company occupying Southern Cross Island. It could just be a coincidence.

But in Fuu's experience, pure coincidences are for people who *aren't* magical girls. But she doesn't have time to think about the possible connection before the White Queen intrudes on the mundane broadcast - whether by a technological hack or the working of supernatural forces, there isn't enough information to gauge.

At least not until she starts talking.

Then Fuu is certain it must have been at least partly magical - because these *are* matters of magic, of the twilight between human society and the battle which rages between forces of good and evil. And to speak of such things while keeping mundane students out of the loop ... that would take, if not outright magic, then at least a level of technology sufficiently advanced to invoke Clarke's Third Law.

The threat and the deadline - thirty-six hours for the HiME to surrender willingly, or the entire school will be destroyed - and then the "terrorists" strike anew, a repeat of what obliterated the bridge between island and mainland, this time in the heart of the forest.

Fuu slowly lowers her arms from shielding her face against the flash and detonation outside, and glances between Steven, the panicking students, and the guards. She can't simply sit here any longer; she may not have enough information to know the 'right' course of action, but she's certain by now that she can't sit and wait. Even if her wind magic can't help stop the fire, she's not going to accomplish anything from inside a guarded classroom.

"You're past due for an insulin shot, aren't you, Steven-san?" she asks the boy, checking her phone one more time before slipping it into her pocket, and looking up at a guard. "I'm sorry to bring this up *now*, I know you must be worried about all of us, but I promised Steven's guardians that I'd make sure he takes his insulin, and he hasn't had a chance. We need to get to the infirmary before he starts going into shock. We'll need to get some juice for him as well."

She doesn't have to fake the worry on her face or in her voice; she's cautious about getting up from her chair. The only part that's fake is about Steven being diabetic.

That's the part she's worried about somebody being smart enough to call her out on. But the guards probably have too much to deal with to keep track of who has which medical conditions ... and once they're in the hall, with fewer witnesses, Fuu can see about more active steps to escape.

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

An accused collaborator returns to camp, and the hellos go by unspoken on both sides. Homura just looks up to Mikoto from her spot next to Eri on the dry pine needles, and listens. "Someone threatened you?" She remembers, of a sudden, a discussion beneath an empty-boughed fruit tree, and how badly her friend wanted to be believed. "Sugiura-sensei..."

Static breaks in, and then the White Queen commands these strange airwaves and Homura's attention. "Wow, she's... are they trying to get us to turn you in, Minagi-san? If there was a real threat... we'd all help stop it! That's what we do." Her small mouth is just firming into a frown when Alyssa Sears looks up and the demonstration begins. "Wh-what is she..."

Eri's phone screen glows gold.

As does the sky above.

Homura jerks to her feet, grabbing blindly for Eri and Mikoto because she can't see for the white, can't hear for the roar of igniting flames all around them. She shrieks in a moment of pure base fear, but the sound might get lost in the tumult. All she hears above that is Mikoto screaming 'DOWN' and so she drops, obedient to a shouted command from her treetop senpai still.

Everything is on fire.

Even though they were outside the main blast, being caught in the fringes of something like that is still a hellish experience. Trees go up like matches around them. The heat is intense, a force all its own.

Eri's phone still works despite the cracked screen, still transmits, and Alyssa's words project into the inferno. Dread rounds Homura's eyes. She very carefully does not look at Mikoto for long awful seconds.

Madoka's still somewhere on this island -- her heart seizes with fear.

If it gets destroyed...

"No!!" Homura shouts, and it sounds like it's in defiance of Alyssa, but it's really aimed at her own thoughts. "No..."

She pulls herself up and sees a shaking Eri. "Shimanouchi-san! It's..." It's not okay. The trees... And to think, Homura felt guilty not too long ago just for using those trunks to perfect her aim. Instead she shouts, "It's awful! How could they..." and trails off because she's never seen Eri so lost before, not like this. It shakes Homura, too.

Georgia bursts in, then, a stranger of a student -- less alarming than a guard, but not entirely comforting either, considering. She says she's here to help, and the girl with the half-undone braids gives her an uncertain nod -- "Okay!" -- but does not turn her back to Georgia, either. It seems like the newcomer knows Mikoto, at least, so Homura will see what she thinks.

"We need to do-" and she breaks into a hacking cough thanks to a lungful of burning smoke. Reactive tears cut through the soot that's layering on her pale cheeks. "-do something about the fire! And- and what if someone else got caught in it?! Kaname-san and Tomoe-senpai could be out here!"

Homura has no idea how to fight a fire, but she doesn't have any water, and she's pretty sure that's where you start. Can a handful of kids, even magical ones, fight a fire like this? Flame reflects in her glasses lenses as Homura looks around them, somewhat wildly.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

"Huh?" goes the boy, who misses the mark for a split second before beginning to act it up. "I-I am feeling woozy and its gettng a smidge blurry, yeah... Can you help me?" he asks, just glazing on the sweet little boy routine.

Moving a bit, he begins to act like hes stumbling, possibly even having trouble walking. His bandages from the Cybody fight may mend aid to these beliefs. Depends if the guards are perceptive enough to recall this small boy amongst all the girls they are supposed to be keeping track off.

"Thank you for the help...!" he tries to act-squeak out.

<Pose Tracker> Sourisi [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

The open grounds surrounding Ohtori Academy was only a few leaps away now when Kasagami is cut off mid-rant by a new voice, and Sourisi finds herself listening now that the propaganda is finally muted. Besides, now was the time for caution. Being close enough to the school is enough for the Miraculous Ninja to see the speaker on a nearby monitor, and a frown develops.

Going over the video from her few surviving spy cameras at the refinery had shown her this golden-masked speaker, White Queen. So the Golden Age PMC did have magic as well...this makes things even more concerning.

Not quite the same amount flair for the dramatic as Kasagami, but there's more substance in the Queen's words. The fact that she just flat out tells the truth (or a version of it) on a live broadcast has to be for only those in the know. But...a global disaster that can only be halted by the 'HiME'? And the Golden Age PMC is willing to hold prisoner the students of three major Tokyo schools to find these people out? Surely there is another way-

The PMC doesn't seem to believe that, by what occurs next.

A pillar of cold yet searing light turns the horrible night into day, and Sourisi instinctively closes her eyes and braces herself on her perch. She can't see what happens next, but she can -feel- it. The air rumbles and wind tears at her face with searing heat. Gloved fingers barely manage to keep their grip as the tree nearly topples over, but somehow Sourisi still hangs on.

The ringing in her ears isn't enough to erase her dawning horror upon seeing the growing inferno brought about by divine judgement.

Scrambling upright, it doesn't take long for Sourisi to decide what to do next. Fighting the fire by herself is barely even considered before being tossed out. She just doesn't have the ability to do something like that. That leaves running or using this as the distraction she needs to enter the school. Not what she would have wanted, but...

The world starts to be heard as Sourisi continues her advance towards Ohtori Academy, her eyes set even as the crackling of distant flames is added to the White Queen's address.

Running as silently as she can towards the nearest classroom building at Ohtori, Sourisi sneaks peaks through several windows until she comes across a room that she makes sure is unoccupied. Fingers grasp the bottom of a window before pulling upwards smoothly before the Miraculous User pulls herself through and inside. She quickly pulls the window back down until just a smidge of a crack remains. This might be the best and only chance she has of finding something physical for evidence...

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Lacuna Coil - In Visible Light https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RlRKBAtCSw

The White Queen appears, and makes her accusations. Mikoto's free hand goes to her arm, covering her birthmark in a tight grasp as her jaw sets in a line. There is truth enough to her words; Mikoto has spoken to Homura about it herself, after all.

A promise, a contract...

And an old, old blade, grasped tightly in her dominant hand.

Alyssa looks to the sky and Mikoto's harried expression shifts to horror as the pieces fall to place in her mind. The light in the refinery, the light from the... all a sudden her gaze snaps to the sky and her breath lodges in her throat. Because it is gold, gold, gold, the world painted in it, and everything is chiaroscuro as it falls.

"Down!" Mikoto yells as her breath catches up, and she drops to the floor as the shockwave rolls over them. The boulder shudders, but they are far enough away from the epicentre that it is not thrown off whole; they are still showered with evergreen leaves, branches which could not hold firm to their trunks.

Their trees are still whole enough, for now. But there is smoke pouring from the sky, and it comes from below, not above. The mountain has been carved. The wind is angled in their direction.

Alyssa issues her ultimatum, and even through the rising smoke Mikoto feels her blood run cold.

She does not know who - only where.

"No," Mikoto says, and the word is hoarse as she stumbles standing. "No!" And this time there is feeling and volume behind it, angry and disbelieving. She looks to Eri, and her expression is drawn. Her eyes track to Homura and she hears the same sorrow in her denials. She is putting him in danger. They are all putting him in danger.

There are so many of them here to incite Alyssa's anger. Georgia is just one of many; they are not unknown to each other. Mikoto cares little for her classmates, or her reputation amongst the Tuners. But they are HiME, and they were both born for the same purpose, and they have come across each other now and then.

'I'm here to help.'

Mikoto has said those words to her, now and then. A simply-worded olive branch to abjure any confusion over her presence. Whether she always helps is another story - but certainly, she has said the words to her. She has tried to communicate when they are on the same side.

And certainly, she knows what they mean now.

Georgia's presence is not enemy action.

"Georgia," she greets her, with a nod as she accepts it.

There is little time to think about that, because Homura is horrified and Eri is lost and Mai is not here to ask for help. Mikoto was designed to act as an independent agent, capable of making her own assessments on the field. It is uncomfortable, taking the lead amongst others; it doesn't feel right. It is uncomfortable, but Mikoto is not thinking of her comfort as Eri's voice rings hollow.

She's thinking - of how Eri needs someone.

(It is not all she is thinking. Mai, Mai, Mai, run the throughfare of her thoughts; the practical consequences of the fire list through her mind in shape and concept. Along the back thrums a question: from whence cloud does she launch that light? Her mind is a hive of activity, reflected little in the curl of her lip and the steel-trap clench of her teeth.)

Mikoto takes a breath, and tries to remember how words work. Homura helpfully reminds her.

"Right," she says, after that moment of hanging silence. "Forest burns down, we got no cover, gotta rely on Homura, Homura's already tired." She is not referring to the shadow under her eyes. "We gotta stop it!"

Saying that much is simple, she thinks. But Eri commands plants, and Homura bombs. Georgia's sparks will only set more ablaze. Obsidian is shaped in fire, and does little to quench it. How, then, are they to stop it? Their skillsets are not designed for this.

But Eri can flense a Witch at nine paces, and Homura can blast through entire walls, and Georgia can create her own sparks, and Mikoto is exceptional at cutting things down.

Is this what they have to do - all the time?

It's exhausting.

For once she stops to explain herself, and wishes she did not have to worry about her words. "Cut it off. Clear path. Destroy the trees. Fire - needs stuff to burn. Give it nothing." She shakes her head as she tries to think of how to describe a fire break. She does not remember the word for it. "If it can't spread, it'll burn out. Understand?"

A brief pause as she looks over them, and then she nods, and tears off towards the fire.

They will take its fuel and starve it out. One good turn deserves another, after all.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Judgement falls, and the lush forests of Ohtori are forever scarred.

Crimson and gold rage amid ancient wood, destruction spreading into an endless inferno. Unnatural in origin, but otherwise a natural disaster sure to devastate this piece of sprawling nature for generations to come. Maybe forever, if not stopped.

Trees crackle and shatter, one after another, as blazing heat washes over them - and then a copse in the midst of burning immolates in an instant. A towering pillar of flame rises up, terrific in how thoroughly it burns that which lies within - and yet, it burns absolutely. No cinders drift from its fringes to continue to spread, no branches topple to pass on the gift of flame - it burns, and then it fades.

A blackened circle of ground, as if forming some strange sigil, remains below. Above, there is the illusion of flame - or perhaps its embodiment. The chaotic figure of Kagutsuchi spreads its wings, rising on the heat of the surrounding inferno, as if to evaluate the blazing destruction for its professional opinion.

The dragon breathes in deeply, and the flames nearby begin to wind their way towards it - but there's too much of a conflagration for even Kagutsuchi to simply devour. Eight eyes gaze back and forth, considering the situation, looking for where the fire spreads most rapidly.

Atop the Child's head, a HiME slowly rises with a series of coughs. Mai Tokiha, wanted fugitive, has seen better days. She's dressed in what used to be a nice ballgown, now stained with soot and sporting a much shorter skirt ending in a blackened fringe. Bare arms and legs are an angry shade of red in patches, and her hair is a shade darker than usual.

With another cough, she straightens up, defiantly glaring at those distant screens. When she speaks, it's a furious shout - and somehow, maybe through some power of the Child below her, it manages to sound above the inferno for a moment. "I might trust that you people want us unharmed if you didn't keep trying to BURN ME ALIVE."

With that, Kagutsuchi lets out its own cry - like some warbound whale - and lunges towards the most rapidly burning part of the forest. The Child of fire fears not its element, it seems - and with great claws, it starts ripping up burning trees to hurl toward the already condemned blackened earth. One bit, and another, a desperate attempt to stop at least some of the raging flames.

<Pose Tracker> Cowstian Dior [Admin (S)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pbRDPI2qcE


It's hard to be heard in here--other students have already moved to hide under their desks, though some have stood up, and others are locked into their seats, afraid of standing and suffering the wrath of the soldiers who don't seem to value anyone's safety at all. One soldier's eyes swivel to Fuu when she speaks--and so does the soldier's guns. Dressed in tactical black gear, she lifts her chin, expression stony. "And you think now is this time to mention that?" she says in a clipped voice, tilting her head sharply towards the man beside her. "When we pacify the classroom he'll go get the medicine. Now--"

"Everyone SIT DOWN and calm yourselves!" the Golden Age soldier barks out. "You have ten seconds!"

Elsewhere in the building, Sourisi is able to sneak in to an unoccupied room--but with the sheer number of soldiers here, there's no way that she'll go undetected for long.



The fire is vast, horrific, and unyielding. It might be comforting if it were a monster made of heat, had a face to look into, ears to hear argument... But it does not. Its sheer destruction stings eyes and nostrils, singes hair, immediately invades the lungs; at one moment it is a line of marching terror, and at the next it is jumping, flanking from the other side, catching more treees ablaze. Danger is present all over--and the choking smoke smells of more than just wood. There is an awful meaty scent to it, too, and metallic undertones. It is not the fresh flame of camp; clouds of embers, flame-flickers... it is dangerous.

Ordinary girls in a small group could not hope to counter such a blaze. ...But that is not who is here. Fastest to the draw, the mighty Kagutsuchi surges into the flames, moving quickly, using its strength to rip trees from their roots and deny the fire fuel.

On its own, this would not be comprehensive enough to work. But when the group in the forest, magical girls all, surge into the trees--their power may not be the best-suited to extinguishing flames, but Mikoto's ruthless direction guides that power. The power to move before the flames--the power to control the very plants of the earth--electricity, raw destruction--These begin to clear the space that is there.

The flames are spreading fast, hungry, consuming. ...But this space near the edge, the one that they have moved to guard--this space is not completely engulfed yet.

But the sounds of shouting soldiers are getting louder.

COMBAT: Cowstian Dior transforms into Youma Form Golden Age Soldiers!
COMBAT: Cowstian Dior has fully healed herself. She is now ready to take on 7 opponents!
<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The forest is alive. Not just with the sound of cracking bark, distant sound of soldiers, and a cacophony of raging fire, but with things even worse than that.

They come out of the smoke and the flames, black and vicious shadows that are nearly invisible at night even with the flames and the starlight to betray them. Dozens of them flicker through the smoking trees, swirling and churning in a violent wave that washes over the magical girls making desperate attempt to create a barrier of empty space around the inferno.

They tear into each of them, swarming and crashing and biting. An angry nest of monsters dropped right in the middle of an already volatile situation.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki transforms into Youma Form Golden Age Orphans!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Suffocating Shadow on Georgia Jenks.
COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Suffocating Shadow on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Suffocating Shadow on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Endo Naoki has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi dodges 4 Fatigue damage from Endo Naoki's Suffocating Shadow, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!  Cripple, Tangle, and Trap applied to Eri Shimanouchi!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi counters 5 Fatigue damage from Endo Naoki's Suffocating Shadow, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!  Tangle applied to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Obsidian Blade: Dynamo, partially gets through, doing 25 Fatigue damage to Endo Naoki!
COMBAT: Georgia Jenks fails to dodge Endo Naoki's Suffocating Shadow, taking 14 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi transforms into Puella Magi Homura!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Suffocating Shadow on Homura Akemi.

<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"I thought Ohtori was supposed to be clean-but someone let a rat in."

The voice comes from behind Sourisi, and she already knows who it belongs to before she turns. It's the same voice that played over intercoms and monitors just a few minutes prior. It belongs to the White Queen.

The girl stands imperiously behind Sourisi, a couple dozen feet separating the two. The girl holds in her hand her Element, the pristine white whip always coiled in a perfect circle. The Miraculous has only a second to consider it before the long line of white is streaking toward her. It seeks to coil and bind, attempting to trap her where she stands.

COMBAT: Ye-jin Song has used Focus Flense on Sourisi.
COMBAT: Ye-jin Song has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Sourisi braces 8 Fatigue damage from Ye-jin Song's Focus Flense, taking 12 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Sourisi [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

Sneaking through the hallways is even harder now than earlier this day, especially without having the advantage of Takk acting as a forward scout for her. Sourisi's clawed boots make soft 'clak' sounds and all she can do is hope that it might be mistaken for an guard patrol. There's a lot riding on the situation right now, and she can't hope to be seen yet.

The search is fruitless, however. There's no luckily empty office with papers broadcasting any sort of evil plans, and the number of soldiers inside the building is terrifying. Just how did she manage to escape herself?! Did they raise an alarm for her, or were there others escaping as well?

Hopefully it was just a general alert.

Peaking through a classroom window and trying to squish the feeling of panic in her voice, she's stopped short upon seeing Steven and Fuu. Truth be told, at first it was mainly Steven that drew her short, but...Fuu has guns pointed at her?!

If there's evidence to be found, it's not going to be here in these makeshift prisons. And silence is bound to be useless soon enough.

Even after a full year of peril, Sourisi's reason to fight evil is still clear. To protect the innocent from those that would harm them. The PMC is willing to essentially erase Ohtori Academy from the face of the Earth, casually blows up a bridge and set fire to her only hiding spot just to make an example, and the common grunts rule with fear and an iron fist. This has gone on long enough!

But before she can act, a voice can be heard clearly behind her. A shiver goes down her spine even as the Miraculous Ninja twists around, and a tonfa manages to bat aside the whip before Sourisi flings her weapons at the White Queen. She's caught now, but if she raises enough of a ruckus for Steven to take advantage..."I'm no rat, but i'm sure eating holes in your security!"

This is someone who is actively helping the invasion, all to capture some HiME?! But she's not going to be a joke. Sourisi is going have to plan this carefully...

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi fails to brace Endo Naoki's Suffocating Shadow, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Cripple and Tangle applied to Homura Akemi!
COMBAT: Sourisi has used Crashing Tooth on Ye-jin Song.
COMBAT: Sourisi has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Back to Zero - Fate Zero - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mK_0up-LMc

For a while, it's like Eri heard neither of them. Homura's declaration of how awful it is. Her instructions on needing to do something about the fire. Perhaps the first sign is - something in her eyes as Homura mentions Kaname and Tomoe. Then there's Mikoto... giving more instructions.


The girl takes three steps forward, gaze tilting up towards the inferno in the distance. And then there's a flash of a green gem in her hand. The smoke is thick, but there's still the faint smell like rain. And she's covered in satin - and lace so sharp that it looks like it could cut, given the thorn ornamentation.

"... kill some to save the whole." The girl echoes her paraphrase in this distant, sort of abstracted way. And then she follows Mikoto's lead. Putting each hand to the gem in her hair, she pulls out two scourges, one for each hand.

And then she dashes forward, following the others, but when they reach a distance from the blaze, her lashes fly out, a length each wrapping around six different trees. There's only a moment's hesitation before she fells six of them, pulling them down in her role as some macabre lumberjack.

When that is done, she leaps overhead in a somersault, the lashes carving out in a vertical line - as each slices along the forest floor, trying to carve a gouge as a make shift fire control line a short ways in front of the trees she toppled. She lashes again, and again in a back and forth rhythm smashing through down to topsoil - her lips becoming taut, every motion becoming more frenzied. Then panting breathlessly, she stomps down a foot. And a green sigil of her magic spreads throughout her trench like fluorescent veins. Roots - already deep and existing throughout the ground break through, and begin to push in two directions, widening it further. Combine that with the efforts of the others and... perhaps some of the forest might be saved after all.

And it's at that moment when the angry Orphans come. One slides at her - a sleek and silent shadow. And tries to enfold about her like a Holocaust cloak. The girl drops down to her knees in that moment, then launches herself out - only for an arm to get caught - and her whole body to be yanked back with a yelp. Point blank she stares at the monster with saline stained eyes, as it tries to slither over more of her.

And raises her opposite hand overhead, snapping it down hard on her own arm. It careens downward, trying to coil around the monster attached to her, and she levers it backwards.

Balancing on one leg, the girl snaps up her other - planting it dead in the middle of the orphan's face. Trying to grind it off of her between that heel and the leverage of the lash like a particularly stubborn weed attached to her arm.

If she succeeds in detaching it, she pivots viciously, sending it around in a circle like some terrible carousel, raking it along the forest floor, before the angle of her pivot tries to send it bowling into other Orphans with a fearsome impact.

"... How convenient."

The girl whispers to herself as she tests the extremity the orphan attached to, lashing its own whip in hand with a crack upon the ground.

"Something that doesn't even need thinking about."

Orphans were nice like that. Like witches. No thought needs to be given to anything other than destroying them.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Moidon's Grasp on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Ye-jin Song counters 9 Fatigue damage from Sourisi's Crashing Tooth, taking 27 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Ye-jin Song's counterattack, Bind Counter, partially gets through, doing 9 Fatigue damage to Sourisi!  Critical Counterhit!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki braces 19 Fatigue damage from Eri Shimanouchi's Moidon's Grasp, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Endo Naoki's Block ability activates!  Tangle applied to Endo Naoki!
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Mikoto knows what to do, and Homura has plenty of pipe bombs ready to contribute. Blowing up what's left of the forest is a strange way to fight fire, but she throws them -- and it does seem to help, some. She hacks and wheezes and lobs explosives, and at one point simply... stops and watches with dropped jaw and stomach as Eri fells an entire grove at once.

Hunting shadows come for them, slicing through the forest's smoking corpus to the attack. "Hey!" She doesn't know the newcomer's name, so waves to get Georgia's attention. "Watch out--"

The swarm is on them, then, and an Orphan collides with Homura and knocks the rest of her warning right out of her, along with all the air in her lungs. She makes a choking wheeze and goes flying, only to hit an uprooted tree and fall to her knees.

Homura reaches into her shield. Metal rattles against metal as she draws a shotgun free with a shaking hand. It's more than half as long as she is tall, and her arms seem even more spindly as she heaves its length up and braces herself against the smoldering bark behind her. Her hair begins to catch; she ignores the awful smell and takes careful aim at one of the Orphans through the confusion of fire and fighting.

Her hands look far too small and young to pull the trigger of such a weapon... but they are not.

A shotgun slug wallops the air with a percussive KRAKOOM and Homura grits her teeth as the recoil presses her into the fire at her back. Her eyes well and she staggers away from the fallen tree and the flame. She blinks furiously and tries to see -- did she hit?

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Mossberg 590 on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Endo Naoki fails to dodge Homura Akemi's Mossberg 590, taking 19 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

When her declaration isn't met with opposition, Georgia breathes a sigh of relief. She knows all about Mikoto's antics in the community. But neither of them can afford to get into an argument over it at the moment. Not when the forest is burning down and Ohtori itself is at stake. All of their trapped classmates are relying on them. Briefly, the smiling faces of the members of the Music Club flash through her mind. And then, the image of that golden light. Bright and white hot and engulfing them completely until there is nothing left.

Hell no. She's not gonna let that happen. Her gaze snaps to the other girls present, who receive a confident nod. Together they could make a difference. She turns back to Mikoto as the HiME lays out the gameplan. Of course it makes perfect sense. Destroy what could be consumed by fire so that said fire does not spread. In this case, it was the trees, and Georgia cringes momentarily. The poor forest...

Well, there wouldn't be a forest at all if the fire has its way, she tells herself. "Alright. Let's od this." She claps her hands together once, and with a flash of light two chrome escrima sticks appear with her grasp, and then she's off, following behind the others. She begins destroying trees with a vengeance, beating them to a pulp with explosive sparks that funnily enough do not ignite -- just destroy.

Georgia is too preoccupied when the Orphans come. It's not until one of them wraps itself about her in a suffocating embrace that she realizes, everything going dark. And silent.

"Argggggh!" Comes a roar of anger, slightly muffled but still audible. The Orphan begins to shift and bulge, squirming as it is very likely being pummeled by it's victim from the inside-out. Sparks of light are visible through it's form, highlighting the silhouette of the captive Georgia who is doing a furious, deadly "dance" in an attempt to free herself.

COMBAT: Georgia Jenks has used Pummel 'Em! on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Georgia Jenks has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Endo Naoki braces 6 Fatigue damage from Georgia Jenks's Pummel 'Em!, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Georgia Jenks is Psyched!  Endo Naoki's Block ability activates!

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The first thing Mikoto thinks as she rushes into fire, as smoke floods her lungs again like a new friend, is that she can hear Mai's voice. Mai is angry - Mai is resisting - and Mai is alive.

But she does not call out to her because all is heat and fire and Mikoto has been going for so, so long. She cannot dismiss her Element like Georgia can, and her case is deep in the school's clutches. She has not asked Homura to retrieve it. She does not know where they have moved it to, and she knows Homura is tired.

She slams Miroku against a trunk and it topples; she sweeps her blade in wide arc and carves a zone of exclusion. She is one girl against an inferno. This close to the blaze, her skin pricks with the heat, the hairs on her arms singing to nothing. She is doing everything she can with the energy she has.

Perhaps most unsettling is the silence. Mikoto does not speak often in battle, but she is loud; she screams, she bellows, she roars. Here, now, there is little more than an angry rasping hiss which escapes from smoke-filled lungs. She does not speak to direct them but instead carves a path, going forward with confidence to show them the trough they ought to dig.

She's more comfortable leading by example.

It's how she tries to make her friends smile, after all. It's not so strange to stretch the definition a little further.

But like definitions, shadows stretch, and the soldiers are a distant threat but suddenly there is one so much more present. Flames illuminate, but smoke obscures; Mikoto can see little, and worse, smell little. Her eyes tear from the heat and all she can smell is burning flesh and wood and hope.

And everything in her ears is a roaring inferno, all voices secondary.

Her instincts are screaming danger, danger, danger, and at first the little alarm in the back of her mind feels just the same as all the others. It is only as a shadow passes over the smoke that she realises the new trouble she is in. She does not miss a beat: she moves in her twirl, bringing her blade up to bisect the Orphan as it means to flow over her.

It would be fine if it were alone.

It is not.

Two more replace the first, and Mikoto stomps on the tail-end of one as she drives her blade into the other, plants Miroku in through its fellow. Four more replace those two, and Mikoto cannot carve through the lot of them; one bites at her arm, opposite her birthmark, and the other bites at her belly. It is only her quick turn aside which sees its teeth impacting the more solid flesh at her hip, instead.

And always, always they are wrapping, coiling like the smoke, and whenever she destroys one more flood its place. Mikoto turns in revolution and carves them whole, and she is not cutting down trees any more. She can't. There are enemies to fight.

Through the smoke -- it's a bare thing but she hears Eri's voice, and she does not sound wounded. She can hear the retort of a gun and the soldiers are not here yet, so that must be Homura, with her new weaponry. Mai is in the middle of the inferno; there is no possible way to worry for her. The other HiME...

The blaze crackles and rages, but the sound of human frustration is difficult to miss, when it's being searched for. Mikoto can hear Georgia, but she cannot see her. Until she moves closer in the smoke and - ah.

Georgia is being suffocated.

That is what these Orphans tend to do.

(Here Mikoto whirls to cut another which tries to wrap about her from behind.)

Mikoto is not one given to deliberation or thought. She does not think of the implications of what she moves to do, shifting her weight as she whirls back towards Georgia, stepping towards her. "Stay -- still!" She chokes on the words as she snaps them out. She sweeps her blade up - and it brushes long against the cloak smothering her, and if she has miscalculated at all she will catch Georgia in the same blow.

It's better than suffocating.


On the other hand, perhaps it's unsettling to know that Mikoto can target her allies on purpose, instead of just -- well -- were they accidents?

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Desolation on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Desolation on Georgia Jenks.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Georgia Jenks fails to brace Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Desolation, taking 14 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki braces 12 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Desolation, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Endo Naoki's Block ability activates!

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

If the soldiers were genuinely trying to calm Fuu down, the words 'pacify the classroom' in connection with real live military-grade firearms, one of them being pointed *at Fuu herself*, were very, very poorly chosen. Especially given Fuu's current state of mind, which is a mix of 'paranoid' and 'utterly terrified' ... she really doesn't have to *pretend* to be a mortally frightened teenaged girl, especially right now, and the sight of the gun pointing at her is enough to paralyze her into immobility.

Or at least, it looks like she's in deer-in-the-headlights mode, too frightened to move.

Her mind is racing. She caught a glimpse of Sourisi in the hall outside, then heard what sounded like the start of a fight.

The odds are *terrible* - the smart thing to do is to back down, and take the *next* chance to escape - but when would that be? And what else would happen between now and then?

Fuu sways on her feet, then collapses, her body pitching towards one of the guards - and her attempt to 'catch herself' pushes one of those rifles away, before her legs revive and she bolts for the classroom door, leading with her right shoulder. She fully expects to hear gunfire, and maybe not just "hear" it; she may have to cast a healing spell on herself just as soon as she transforms. But if she can get out the door and into the hall, out of the guards' line of fire -

Of course, this desperate leap from the frying pan may just land her directly in the fire, too. But staying still was no longer an option, and she's already digging for her glove-jewel with her left hand; survival pre-empts secrecy at this point. She's not a HiME; that might make her less important as a target.

Or it might just mean it's less important for them to take her alive.

But she knows above all else that the soldiers are *NOT* a friendly force, just as she'd suspected from the first meeting with them. She can heal bullet wounds (although getting them in the first place will be exceedingly unpleasant). She *can't* heal massed incineration from orbit. And whatever the true agenda of the "Golden Age" is, their best chance is to stop it before it gets any closer to fruition.

For now, though? Whichever god watches over fools and children, Fuu is just hoping for a little bit of protection.

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

Despite its best attempts the Orphan on Eri isn't able to keep ahold of the girl in green, it's grotesque mass coming free with a screech of dissatisfaction. It only seems more dissatisfied as it's hurling into another mass of the swarming monsters, a ugly shapes scattering amidst the nearby flames.

Another explodes outward as shotgun shells tear through it, sinking into the ground in an oily heap after it's hit by Homura's discharged shotgun.

The Orphan around Georgia expands and bloats, filling out like a balloon as each of her impacts resounds against its inside. It becomes, therefore, a very large target for Mikoto's blade. Miroku cleaves its way through the swirl of monsters, hewing and slicing-and it cleaves through the Orphan around Georgia, with all the consequences that follow.

There are still more, though. Dozens of Orphans, twisting and darting between the trees.

Until they aren't. The whole mass begins to move, to slide silently backward. Away from blades, sticks, guns, whips. The storm begins to fade, sinking into the earth and retreating in perfect, flat lines.

<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Splashdown - The Archer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sailp3-UJ9o

Stumbling through the blazing forest, a boy stops to hold his sleeve over his mouth. His tanned face is brown with ash and dirt, and he coughs roughly as he tries to draw a clean breath through the smoke. Lifting his watering eyes, he sees a girl standing with her hands at her sides, long brown hair wafting in the heat, her face tilted towards the sky. Even as a tree next to her buckles and sags from the flames at its base, she does not so much as shift a muscle.

"Hey!" he calls, not recognizing her in the haze. "Hey! You'll die from the smoke! We have to get out of here!"

The young woman keeps looking up, for the moment, quiet... But he sees the black jacket she wears as he gets closer, the crisp white collar of her dress shirt, and the edge of a golden mask. "Uh--"

"Do we...?" the Black Bishop asks, turning towards him, her distinctive mask worked with a snake's neck and head above one eye, her suit immaculate despite the soot everywhere. "It's not safe for you to be out here," she says, gently, kindly, with venom that only sinks in as her words finish.

Wide-eyed, Masashi reaches up to his back for his weapon, such as it is--and the Black Bishop whirls into motion, a red polearm suddenly in hand whose blade extends, segments, grips hold of him, and in the span of a blink she is staring straight into his eyes, her own obscured behind the mask.

"...Dry air is bad for the nose, Captain."

She swings, launching him away and into the ground between inferno and desperately battling magical girls--if they can even see him, against the blaze beyond. He rolls, hitting a ruined clump of earth with a thud. he does not move; unconsciousness claims him on impact... and probably the hit claims a couple of his ribs, too.

The woman in the black suit turns, then--not to the flames rushing around her, but to the trench that has been made--to the space that still holds Kagutsuchi in flames. She tilts her head, and then pulls up a small mask that she puts over her nose and mouth, breathing in once. Then there's her voice, over the radio, unknown to others--"Yes, it's as we thought. No, it isn't a problem."

There's a whisper, then, as the woman in black looks to the blaze. "...Kiyohime."

There is the deafening sound of earth shattering amidst the flames, a great explosion. But there is no time to investigate, because there is a silhouette suddenly, when those in the forest look up to the retreating Orphans; behind their surging forms is the outline of a young woman in a suit; crisp, both in how it is worn and, one can see at the outlines, from where flame has already singed away small pieces, embers touched her. But she does not react to the heat at all. In her hand is the outline of a naginata.

"...Good work, Minagi-san," comes a voice from the darkness. There is only an instant's peace before there is the sound of something slicing--and a trunk slames down towards Mikoto. It is followed in a heartbeat by the form of a masked woman emerging at a run from behind the treeline. Sweep from the bottom, slash at the top--she advances, practically through Georgia if the blonde does not move quickly. There are signs of obvious burns on her person from walking through the fire--but they do not slow her.

She spins away from there to swing her weapon at Eri Shimanouchi's center mass in passing, before throwing both arms forward, polearm parallel with the ground--as the blade segments, snaking outward like a chain to grip Homura Akemi and if it can, slam her into a tree.

The Black Bishop--the Woman in Black who has shown so many times, with her strange mask and its snakelike affectations--lets out something halfway between a laugh and a purr. "It was kind of you to make yourselves so obvious to us. I should thank you."

COMBAT: Shizuru Fujino transforms into HiME Shizuru!
COMBAT: Shizuru Fujino has fully healed herself. She is now ready to take on 4 opponents!
COMBAT: Black Bishop has used But That's Not My Concern on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Black Bishop has used Unfettered Advance on Georgia Jenks.
COMBAT: Black Bishop has used Passing Fancy on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Black Bishop has used Love's Chains on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Black Bishop has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi decisively counters 9 Fatigue damage from Black Bishop's Passing Fancy, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi's counterattack, Yamabiko's Answer, partially gets through, doing 25 Fatigue damage to Black Bishop!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi partially dodges 2 Fatigue damage from Black Bishop's But That's Not My Concern, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Black Bishop is Psyched!  Mikoto Minagi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> White Queen [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

One might think that someone who uses a whip would avoid close combat. In the case of the White Queen this is not exactly correct.

When the lash of her whip is deflected she frowns, and does so even more when Sourisi hurls her tonfa. The girl in the mask hurtles forward, her own arm raised to fend off the incoming projectile. Her tenth clench them the tonfa smashes into her arm, but the force of the blow doesn't stop her. She's in the mouse ninja's face in an instant, whip flashing.

White cord loops around the hand that threw the tonfa, constricting tight. Sourisi is abruptly made partner in the White Queen's dance, the masked girl's hips tilting and her body making a sharp pivot. She already has momentum from her charge, and she uses it to hurl the magical mouse off her feet and crashing through a nearby window and into the marbled hall beyond.

"You idiots just won't listen," Says the White Queen with a heave of breath. "So I'll just have to teach you a lesson."

COMBAT: White Queen has used Brutal Dance on Sourisi.
COMBAT: White Queen has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Georgia Jenks decisively counters 21 Fatigue damage from Black Bishop's Unfettered Advance, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Georgia Jenks is Quipped!
COMBAT: Georgia Jenks's counterattack, Spark Shield, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Black Bishop!
COMBAT: Sourisi perfectly dodges 21 Fatigue damage from White Queen's Brutal Dance, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!  Sourisi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!

<Pose Tracker> Cowstian Dior [Admin (S)] has posed.

Raw intimidation works fine on most students--but they are prepared for force if necessary. The soldier, trained and deadly, can be fooled only briefly--if Fuu takes more than a couple of heartbeats to act, her deception will be pierced. ....But it is good enough; the clever Knight sways, shifts--and her boldness in moving towards the soldier is rewarded; she buys a precious instant with the gun knocked away from her in which to transform. Green light billows outward--

"Get her--Move!"

Bullets rocket out in an instant, and only a sudden pulse of ansi+deeppink,pink light) defends the closest students who happen to be nearby. Most, luckily, are in the opposite direction of Fuu very quickly. She makes it into the hall, girded in armor. Following her--

A spray of live, terrible bullets from one, then two assault rifles crashes out into the hall.

"Activity nearby! Move, move--!"

Sourisi has instants before she is stuck between the White Queen and more soldiers. Fuu, meanwhile, had best move quickly--she is faster than even trained men... But there isn't much time.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji transforms into Wind Knight!
COMBAT: Cowstian Dior has used Real Guns on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Cowstian Dior has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji dodges 9 Fatigue damage from Cowstian Dior's Real Guns, taking 13 Fatigue damage!  Fuu Hououji is Quipped!  Fuu Hououji's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi braces 5 Fatigue damage from Black Bishop's Love's Chains, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Homura Akemi is Quipped!  Trap applied to Homura Akemi!

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

She hit! A part of Homura wants to reflexively look around for Madoka, to see if she saw too, but... the rest of her knows Madoka isn't here, and she looks up instead, at the sky which dropped fire not so long ago.

Nearby Mikoto cleaves through Orphan and into Georgia, too, and Homura covers her mouth in horror. In 36 hours, the sky will drop more fire... if they don't turn in their friends.

The tide of Orphans goes out but somehow, it is not a relief.

A masked tsunami strikes through smoke and flames, with all the unexpected speed of a cobra.

Homura tries for her shield, but the naginata snaps round her first and pins her arms to her side -- she can feel the brutal cinching of metal and shrieks, high and pained.

The shriek cuts off as she's literally whipped through the air. A nasty crunch punctuates it like an exclamation mark, and ash explodes into the air as she hits a charred tree trunk. She slides down the trunk and crumples to the smoldering ground, limp and senseless.

COMBAT: Black Bishop has adjusted her boss levels. She is now ready to take on 3 opponents!
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

With the glove-jewel on her hand *barely* in time, Fuu's transformation isn't called so much as *willed*, and bullets which would have pierced the frail body of a human girl instead encounter the mystical resistance and magical armor of the Magic Knight of Wind. The flash of pink behind her hints that Steven was quick enough to protect others; that's the most Fuu could have asked of him.

She is going to owe him *massive* apologies later, though. And some of the best hot dogs in Tokyo. Maybe even a sundae or something similarly sumptuous for dessert.

Before that, though? She has to make sure they *have* a later - and it starts with stymieing pursuit. "Winds of Admonishment!" she calls out, conjuring up a whirlwind to keep the soldiers from pursuing her out the door, or firing further. She *could* have done something more damaging, but in the first place, she's more interested in getting out of the building; in the second, they *are* just doing their jobs.

They have utterly terrible taste in which jobs they're doing, but she'll take that up with their bosses in due course.

"Sourisi-san, we'd best be on our way before our popularity goes up!" the Wind Knight suggests. "If your entry route's been cut off, maybe we need to leave by the roof?"

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Admonishment on Cowstian Dior.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Cowstian Dior partially dodges 3 Fatigue damage from Fuu Hououji's Winds of Admonishment, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Fuu Hououji is Psyched!  Cowstian Dior's Flash ability activates!  Trap applied to Cowstian Dior!
<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The Orphan doesn't give. Georgia grits her teeth and batters away at it some more. "Let. Me. OUT!" She screams in rage. It can't end like this. It can't. Thankfully, Mikoto is on the same wavelength. In the next instant there's a flash, and suddenly Georgia is free. And also hurt.

"Hey hey watch where you swing that thing!" She yells at Mikoto, yet still gives her a thumbs up and a crooked smile in thanks. Her cheeks are flushed, perhaps from a mixture of exertion and embarassment from having to be saved. She was a Tuner! She was supposed to save herself!

But there's no time to nurse her somewhat bruised ego. Not when the Orphans are still- WAIT. "Where are they going?!" Georgia shouts, blinking in disbelief, and also slightly upset that the monsters she was going to beat to a pulp are retreating. She relaxes for the briefest of moments, hands dropping to her sides, still gripping her sticks.


Something's fishy about this.

Something very fishy.

And that something becomes quite apparent when a body comes flying out of nowhere, impacting with the ground with a sickening crunch before it goes rolling off to the side. "Crap!" A civilian?! Before she can rush on over, however, the ground quakes along with a deafening shatter that gets -- no, commands -- all of her attention. A figure is standing in front of the flames, masked and clothered in an outfit that just screams villainous interloper. It addreses Mikoto in a voice that is definitely feminine, before swiping at a tree to send it crashing down upon the sword-wielding HiME.

"MINAGI-SAN!!!" Georgia screams, and in the time it takes her to even consider taking a frantic step forward, the masked villainess is upon her. Georgia's widened eyes grow even wider if possible, and in the next instant she's brought her escrima sticks upward in front of her to form an X. As they knock together, a shower of sparks erupts from them, and as quickly as she can muster she throws herself to the side, using the sparks as a hasty smokescreen. Unfortunately she doesn't get away completely unscatched, the blade of the villainess naginata cutting into her side. Still, it would have been much more worse had Georgia not reacted as hastily as she did.

She falls to one knee, jaw clenched and teeth having clacked together. Her side is on fire, school uniform torn and blood seaping from the gash. Wincing, she whips her head in the direction of their attacker, who continued onward to engage both Eri and Homura in rapid succession. And then, she has the nerve to laugh. Georgia watches, starting to quake from adrenaline. And, as Homura is brutalized.... anger.

"GET THE HELL AWAY FROM HER!" Georgia tears off in their direction, and then jumps, going into a dizzying spin, arms held out, escrima sticks sparking erratically -- viciously -- as the distance between her and the masked psyhopath closes. "ARRRRRRGH!"

COMBAT: Georgia Jenks has used Helix Battery on Black Bishop.
COMBAT: Georgia Jenks has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Black Bishop braces 28 Fatigue damage from Georgia Jenks's Helix Battery, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Black Bishop's Block and Parry abilities activate!

<Pose Tracker> Sourisi [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

Experience has taught Sourisi many things throughout her career as a magical girl. Will and determination can lead the way to a future thought denied. Magical arrows can make pincushions out of giant robots. Alien women can fuse together to make a giant woman. Tonfa have an odd way of behaving like boomerang when thrown.

That last one will be important in a little bit.

Right now, however, Sourisi is adding that whip users are not always ranged fighters onto that list as her hand is ensnared. Disarmed, the White Queen is quick to step into attacking Sourisi unexpectedly in this vulnerable moment...but this isn't the fresh-faced magical girl of a year ago.

Surprise turns to instinct as she moves inside and with the dance of brutality, gracefully leaning with the pivot and limiting the power the White Queen has with the unexpected attack. Instead of being throw through the window as expected, Sourisi spirals through the air and lands on her feet just before it, facing her masked dancer. She even takes the moment to bow gratefully, a mocking smile on her lips.

Whoever Sourisi is behind her own mask, it's clear she's a skilled dancer herself.

Straightening upright, the Miraculous Ninja locks eyes with the White Queen, defiance against royalty and determination sparkling in those forest depths. "Oh, we're listening, but you just have nothing worthwhile to say right now. Besides, there's no time for remedial lessons at the moment." As she finishes, a corner of her lips raises upwards.

The sound of whirling wood could be heard over the sound of soldiers shouting and gunfire.

Rosewood weapons head back towards their owner, and they fly harmlessly around the White Queen and towards Sourisi. She doesn't snatch them in midair as she reaches them, however. It's clear that she's overstaying her welcome already, and she can only hope that Steven and Fuu are safe for the moment. Leaping backwards and covering her face with her hands, she protects her skin as her tonfa break the window for her.

No, the real threat at the moment is the golden chain her tail had created during the dance, to slow and hinder the royal lead.

Landing into the hallway beyond and snatching her weaponry from flight, Sourisi takes notice of the Wind Knight now there as well. She must have taken the chance her chaos created to escape...and while Sourisi is afraid to open up to another, the Wind Knight has proven herself an ally of justice before.

"I think it is. Follow me Knight-san, I know another way!" Motioning with a tonfa, Sourisi takes the lead and runs away from the soldiers, her footsteps sure in these darkened halls.

COMBAT: Sourisi has used Tail Snag on White Queen.
COMBAT: Sourisi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: White Queen partially dodges 0 Fatigue damage from Sourisi's Tail Snag, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  White Queen's Fade ability activates!  Trap applied to White Queen!

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> This Day and Never Again - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Btt82DpW9Zs

It's chaos. A shotgun crack causes Eri to whirl around - thinking a soldier had snuck up on them. Imagine her surprise when she sees its Homura Akemi. Any other time she might say something. Like she's proud of her solution. Tonight though, she does not trust her mouth. Much less her feelings. They work in tandem, their efforts ruining the forest more around them in an effort to save it. Mikoto Minagi slicing through an orphan to free the other one she called Georgia.

And then there's an explosion - the earth shattering - the orphans retreating. And a figure in a mask with a Naginata.

She comes at them with an unstoppable elegance and brutality. Such that sweeping aside Eri Shimanouchi mid-advance would be a simple matter. The girl backsteps quickly, bringing an arm overhead in a whirl. Just as the Naginata is aimed to pass through cloth and flesh, the lash descends into a sharp concussive crack that tries to spoil the blow.

Instead of flesh, it nicks lace, a hair's breadth off from causing more significant damage. And she knows the woman could have struck her far harder. As she demonstrates by casting Homura at a tree, "AKEMI!"

The girl shouts, even as Shizuru focuses on Mikoto. It feels like it was all falling apart tonight. Everything. The world perhaps. "Why?" She rasps. There's something in the Bishop's words that cause her to focus on her, like she's the one responsible for this. Rather than the many. In truth it's only because she's the only person nearby right now that she can lash out at.

"Why do all of this... just to draw her out?" She perhaps can understand it clinically. Yet is at the same time is horrified by her understanding. She's Mikoto's friend, yet she feels cosmically small in this world of people that destroys places like this so casually.

"Is it really to create a Golden Age?"

Taking lessons from Mami Tomoe, she takes a hop sideways towards an unburning tree. Then steps off of it to get herself aerial. To try to get, and keep her distance, while in mid-air, she sends her lash down to various places at the ground which seem like random feints - save for the faint magical sigil that sparkles for a moment each time it lands.

"... or are you just trying to burn what beauty is left in this world to ash?"

There's a certain simmering anger in that. As Georgia does that vicious, erratic dance, trying to drive the Black Bishop back. Eri Shimanouchi lands on a tree branch that bends beneath her weight as she raises two finger tips in the air.

"Either way..."

The girl snaps two fingers. And there's a subtle shifting of the Earth, a telltale sign of what's to come, which may give the elegant Juggernaut ample time to prevent what's coming. Gnarled roots erupting to converge on her spot from below - some causing blunt impacts. Yet others sharp enough perhaps - to pierce.

"... you're not taking anything else from me tonight."

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Jubokko's Sanguine Roots on Black Bishop.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> 2 Mello - WINTERMUTE.LIP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g54xFtv8g3I


Mikoto manages to cut through the Orphan, at least.

But her eyes ache from the smoke and she cannot rely on her other senses, either; her blow glances off of Georgia, and given she told Georgia not to struggle, it is worse for her. Mikoto does feel bad about it. She can't stop to apologise.

Still, she makes an effort. "I, was trying --" whatever she was trying is cut off by a hacking cough, and she is too strong to be felled by smoke but it does not mean it does not flood her lungs, strangle her words. An Orphan advances on her in her moment of weakness, and this one does, indeed, manage to wrap about her shoulders, binding her arms to her sides, coiling around her head.

And this is why she was so worried about Georgia's suffocation.

There is so little oxygen in the air already, even when she can breathe under her own power.

But before it can bind tightly it flows around her, flees her presence, and there are others brushing against her as they leave. Mikoto scowls as her eyes track them - and then flick to the direction they are moving away from. If Orphans are running --

-- she distantly hears someone impacting with the ground.

The earth shatters behind her.

She stands in front.

Mikoto takes a half-step back as she sees her, her face paling under the flush of heat, and perhaps it seems like a concession. "Wait - no - I --" in fear she stumbles over her words, and under strain she cannot think to explain that she is the Woman in Black's enemy, as the Black Bishop or otherwise.

And then she cannot think of anything, because she slowed in her deforesting efforts, and the Black Bishop is making her pay for it. She dives aside and a branch catches her in her roll, the leaves sizzling. Perhaps Georgia is right to be alarmed. She handled the Orphans with such ease, compared to this rough landing.

Homura, she thinks, distantly. Homura is hurt. Homura can't run away. Mikoto told her to come. Mikoto told them all to come here and now they are burning. It does sound like her fault - it does.

Perhaps the Black Bishop is right to praise her, as if she has done her work for her.

But she didn't mean to. She didn't mean to. It was an accident. She didn't...

Mikoto cries in frustration as she pushes herself up, a wordless noise which rasps at the edges. In desperation she can think of only one way to demonstrate her loyalties, despite the effortless power the Black Bishop commands.

Despite the way she can so effortlessly frame Mikoto however she pleases.

She swings wildly, diagonal, and there is a desperation to it entirely apart from the encroaching flame.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Demolition on Black Bishop.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Black Bishop dodges 26 Fatigue damage from Eri Shimanouchi's Jubokko's Sanguine Roots, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Black Bishop's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Black Bishop fails to brace Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Demolition, taking 49 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Cripple applied to Black Bishop!
COMBAT: White Queen has adjusted her boss levels. She is now ready to take on 2 opponents!
<Pose Tracker> White Queen [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Sourisi proves harder to keep a hold of than the White Queen anticipated, and the flippancy with which she's regarded after does not sit well. The girl in the golden mask snarls, dark eyes following the mouse miraculous as she dives into the hall proper.

The White Queen follows, delayed by the impeding tangle of golden chain. It slows her as she purses, leaping into the hall after her quarry. They're faster than her for the moment--but not faster than sound. Her Element is in her hand again, the white line blurring into the air in front of her with impossible speed. The sound it makes ruptures the air around it, a thunderous crack splitting the marble hall.

The wave of noise that comes after is not just deafening-it's agonizing. The distortion is visible to the naked eye, warping the hall as it speeds after the fleeing magical girls. The sound chases them down the hall, speeding after as they make their retreat.

COMBAT: White Queen has used Whirl Reaver on Sourisi.
COMBAT: White Queen has used Whirl Reaver on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: White Queen has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji braces 40 Fatigue damage from White Queen's Whirl Reaver, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Fuu Hououji's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Sourisi braces 26 Fatigue damage from White Queen's Whirl Reaver, taking 11 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Black Bishop [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

It is Homura Akemi, first. Is it because of the fearsome weapon she held? Is it because they had some intelligence that informed them as to her capabilities, knowing that she could turn the tide of a battle herself if she acted decisively? Was it happenstance?

...Or was it because the most retiring, the shyest, the one hiding behind glasses and braids and stammering--that that is the one whose cry would hurt them all the most?

Who can say? The Black Bishop's face is hidden, and what little can be seen is placidly blank, betraying neither mercy nor malice. For now.

Georgia's scream rings out--and the Bishop's weapon slams against those twin sticks with brutal force--but the defense largely holds. The sparks that it throws fall onto the other girl's arms.

But she has indeed struck Homura--and she shouts her command. The spinning sparks that come flash down her metal weapon, coiling onto her hands, burning flesh--but the strikes, those she parries, one and one and one and one, with deft movements as she steps back like a dancer being lead. "My," she answers, "Americans are so pushy."

And then--'Why?' Eri asks. She continues, offers an alternative, now that Shizuru's weapon has not struck home and she has moved out of immediate melee range. The earth shifts, the foilage moves--

And all moves too quickly to see in the next moment. Her reaction is missed in a blink as Mikoto cries her frustration in one blow, demonstrates what loyalties she can... but in a wide, desperate strike.

First, Eri will see blood on the roots when they pull back before fading; she will see the marks of human injury, caused at her will. Next, they may notice the spray of blood that hits the ground from Mikoto's swing.

...Only then are they likely to see the Bishop rising from one knee, genteel as she wipes the side of her mouth with the back of her hand, getting a spot of red. Her suit is pierced, in places; her tie is missing a half. There are wounds.

...But she doesn't stand any differently.

"Would it make you feel better if I said yes?" she says first to Eri, as she steps forward and hacks through the debris that had fallen in her path, lets her muscles coil and forces her way through the injury that was placed upon her to move forward. She slides up to Georgia once again her, ducking down to slash at her arm at the last moment. ...And she keeps talking.

"Would it undo your friend's pain?" she asks, and swings the other end of her polearm for the back of Georgia's knee to buy herself a moment's movement.

"Would it bring back a single flower? Would it warm your heart, to know that these forests died for a reason, that there is some grand plan at work that will, in the end, result in a better future?"

The questions ring out, as next she slides towards Mikoto, takes advantage of her broad, terrifying strokes to get close and then slam with the haft of her polearm in both hands--straight for the other girl's face.

"Maybe," she allows, and her shirt is red, now, starting from a thin ripped line.

"...But it isn't so."

"You put on a brave face; you talk of what I will take from you. But I don't have to. The world itself will see to that--the world that will always take what you hold dear, now or later, peaceably or by force, grinding down, and down, and down...For all your days."

The Black Bishop is suddenly looking up at the tree in which Eri has landed. "Miss Searrs truly believes in her principles," she says. Then, she hacks out sideways, straight through the tree, and follows through in a spin that sees her leap--step upward, step-step-step as it falls, and then thrust upward--

And hack down through the branches, riding the tree down and bringing the weight of leaves that do not yet know they are dead onto the Puella Magi still standing.

"I don't. I would feel nothing if I watched all of you die right now; no satisfaction of a job well done; no pity, for your unfortunate fates."

"But if it makes you feel better, you're welcome to try to hurt me more."

COMBAT: Black Bishop has used Gordian Knot Solution on Georgia Jenks.
COMBAT: Black Bishop has used Unfettered Advance on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Black Bishop has used Bloody Waltz on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Black Bishop has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi fails to brace Black Bishop's Bloody Waltz, taking 62 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!

<Pose Tracker> Cowstian Dior [Admin (S)] has posed.

The agonizing wave of noise--the White Queen and all her power--pursue quickly. ....But already as she steps out, there are soldiers marching down the hall, preparing their weapons. They will reach the White Queen to support her in moments. One can be assured that there are others who have heard the noise and are on their way.

...Except for the pair that were at Fuu and Steven's classroom. They burst back in, and what happens there, well---

The noise is too much to hear it.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi counters 11 Fatigue damage from Black Bishop's Unfettered Advance, taking 11 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi is Quipped!  Mikoto Minagi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!  Stun applied to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Obsidian Blade: Dynamo, partially gets through, doing 24 Fatigue damage to Black Bishop!
COMBAT: Georgia Jenks partially dodges 3 Fatigue damage from Black Bishop's Gordian Knot Solution, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Georgia Jenks's Fade ability activates!  Bind Break! All of Black Bishop's debuffs are cleared!
<Pose Tracker> Sourisi [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

Sourisi can't take the time to see if the Wind Knight is following her or not. Despite how flippant she was acting towards the White Queen, Sourisi is trying not to let the stress and panic overwhelm her. Puns, bad jokes and insulting the enemy are just a few ways she can handle the usual stress of battle. It was just a little more so than usual.

The sound of a whip cracking the air becomes so much more. It turns into a rumble of a thunderstorm, the roar of a jet engine...and getting louder still! Ears already ringing once this evening is a good enough reason not to have a repeat, and Sourisi holsters her tonfa in their clasp before covering her ears and opening her jaw slightly. Sound like this hurts so much more if she clenches her teeth together, she learns long ago, but it doesn't stop her eyes from watering.

Pushing past the pain, Sourisi waves at the Wind Knight once before bolting towards a window in the hallway and yanking it open. There's no time to be subtle now, they had to get out of here! As soon as it was open, the Miraculous Ninja is throwing herself through the window. Feet pound against stone and dirt as she rushes for the trees yet set ablaze by the inferno. Finding proof is a bust, but...the more of them out here and free, the better chances everyone will have in thirty-six hours.

But...first, they need to escape the soldiers and the White Queen...then find someplace safe.

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

There is an *awful lot* of noise chasing the Wind Knight and Sourisi, and it takes the green-clad Magic Knight a moment to get her bearings in relation to anything other than 'away from everyone who's trying to kill andor capture us'. On the plus side, as long as all of that's coming from BEHIND them, they just have to be faster than anyone who's chasing them.

Sourisi is moving to take the lead, which helps a little more - but the sonic shockwave from the White Queen's magically-enhanced whipcrack slams into the Wind Knight's back, pushing her forward and throwing her off-balance, as well as adding a broad new category of aches (mostly bruises, plus her ears complaining a lot) to the damage which those bullets managed to do. She's not leaving a trail of blood, or at least she doesn't *think* she is, so she silently gives thanks for small favors and keeps going.

The sound of boots on the hallway floors, and of guns being cocked for firing, is a truly astoundingly inspirational noise by comparison. Where the whipcrack simply gave the Wind Knight a rough shove forward, the sounds of soldiers makes her genuinely WANT to get out of there in the biggest hurry possible.

She expected to head for the roof, but when Sourisi simply throws open a window and bails out of it? The Wind Knight follows without any questions whatsoever. "Go limp, Sourisi-san!" she calls out as she pushes off - and conjures the wind behind and beneath them, to boost their leaps to freedom. The further they get from the school, the harder it'll be for the soldiers to shoot them ... and the less distance they'll need to cover on foot after they land.

<Pose Tracker> Cowstian Dior [Admin (S)] has posed.

Noise is right--noise, and panic, and pain. There are shouts as soldiers thunder down the halls past the Queen as her attack fades, and the two magical girls are followed. The soldiers are hot on their heels, and the journey to the roof may well have been a journey into the waiting arms of more of the soldiers of the Golden Age.

...The choice to drop out through a window instead means there's a window of vulnerability in turn, and the soldiers fire--and when Fuu conjures the wind as they leap, soldiers skid to a halt and start shooting out windows for them. There are simply too many to evade them all, even with the power of the wind--they must be endured.

...But they cannot hope to follow as quickly as Fuu and Sourisi can move. Rushing into the still-burning forest will be dangerous--awful, painful, dizzying--but it is the path towards the caves... and to what freedom they can find.

...One can hope.

COMBAT: Cowstian Dior has used Real Guns on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Cowstian Dior has used Real Guns on Sourisi.

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Spin. Spin. Spin. That's what Georgia does in midair, grunting in frustration when her masked opponent effortlessly pairies each and every strike. Still, the sparks her sticks give off cannot be completely mitigated, which does give her a surge of hope. When the momentum of her whirling dervish-like attack subsides, she lands on the ground and slides backward, expecting steadfast retaliation for her efforts. Not long after her allies who are still standing strike-- first Eri with her whiplike roots, and then Mikoto with her ever-hungry blade of obsidian. They're good hits.

The aforementioned retaliation Georgia has been bracing for comes, though it's while the Bishop is addressing Eri as if they aren't currently engaged in a tumultuous conflict with one another. Georgia sees the first blow coming her way and twists out of the way. But the Bishop, fast as ever, catches her behind the knees with her weapon, eliciting a hiss of pain out of the HiME as she goes down onto her hands and said knees. "Damnit!" She coughs out, the smoke from the burning forest starting to get to her. Her muscles are screaming in agony but she ignores it all and jumps back up onto her feet, sticks at the ready. She is not going to be bested here. Not with everything there is at stake.

"I'll take you up on that!" Georgia snarls, absolutely incensed at the audacity of this... monster. Calling her anything other than that would be an insult to totally normal, non-murderous human beings. The still devestatingly fast Bishop goes for Mikoto, and Georgia begins to rush forward in that instant, hoping her fellow HiME can weather the storm for now. Then the Bishop focuses on Eri again, deciding that dropping yet another tree on someone is a perfectly valid move in the scheme of things. "STOP DOING THAT!" Georgia bellows, and begins a vicious assault with her sticks once she's within pummeling distance.

COMBAT: Georgia Jenks has used Pummel 'Em! on Black Bishop.
COMBAT: Georgia Jenks has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Cowstian Dior has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji fails to dodge Cowstian Dior's Real Guns, taking 21 Fatigue damage!  Fuu Hououji is Quipped!
COMBAT: Sourisi dodges 16 Fatigue damage from Cowstian Dior's Real Guns, taking 11 Fatigue damage!  Sourisi is Quipped!  Sourisi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Would it make you feel better...


Would it undo your friend's pain?


Would it bring back a single flower?


Would it warm your heart to know these forests died for a reason-

No No NonONOno

It's an internal sense of hopelessness that she instills, as she cuts through all obstacles. Through Georgia-

Through Mikoto-

Eri had tried to jump off her perch, when the Bishop hacks through her perch. That unbalancing moment causes her to fall instead.

-as the Bishop leaps in the air, slicing brutally.

And the tree falls apart, segment by segment burying her in pieces of a corpse that's only starting to learn it's dead. The girl finds the air knocked out of her by the first - and the second. Feels bones bruise, feels a few sickening cracks and pops.

In just a few moments, it's like the Bishop reduced the meaning of this battle to nothing. Not even cruelty. Just consigning everything to a void of meaningless nihilism.

She's not even a true believer. She does not care. She feels nothing. The girl chokes back gasp, as her eyes squeeze out more tears in her burial plot.

The world feels nothing. It cares not for her tears. There is no meaning in death. The world just takes and takes and grinds her hopes and dreams into a fine stardust with a clinical sort of cosmic nihilism.

For a while it's like she doesn't want to get up. And then suddenly there's a glimmer of green, as a sapling springs to life to simply act like a jack to a car, simply levering rubble off of her as it shifts every which way.

It's unclear what caused her to have the motivation to get up after that. As the girl crawls out from underneath it, and the sapling vanishes. Existing, then not in just a few moments.

And gets back up to her wobbly feet, looking a little concussed. "You want to though..."

The girl whispers. And perhaps it's the insight of someone who spends far too much time in the most secluded corners of the Ohtori gardens. "...feel something. Other than pain."

The girl's arm suddenly cuts across, the lash extending in a hard lash that's meant to simply unbalance the girl who decimated her for the rest.

"And even if you don't..." There's something as stubborn as ivy, as a weed in that, "...I'll make you."

Maybe it doesn't matter if the world grinds her down to nothing. Maybe she doesn't matter. ... Just because she doesn't though, doesn't mean there she can't champion things that do.

"Mikoto..." The girl's comment comes out, pained, even as she watches Georgia charge in wildly in a furious assault on Shizuru. "...you're too important. They want you and Georgia." Eri tries to be clearheaded for the first time tonight as she states with the kind of spite of a child denying someone else a toy, "Don't let them get what they want."

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Natural Backlash on Black Bishop.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> New Model Army - Breathing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6agWagSHmLI

This is the horrible truth Mikoto brings to bear. She does not strike with magic and she does not strike to discourage; hers is a blade and she carves with its edge. Her nostrils flare as blood sneaks in through the smell of smoke, and in that moment she does not show remorse.

She looks satisfied with the damage she has done, eyes narrowing against the hot gloom, lips a thin line.

The Black Bishop is talking. She is holding two conversations at once.

Firstly, with her words. They are mild against the background roar. How does she speak so effortlessly in the smoke, Mikoto gives herself the luxury of wondering, as if it could stop her from plunging into the depths of her anger. She does not realise how sensitive her own body is - how finely-tuned its senses, how much it runs past the ragged edge of human performance. She does not realise this is why the smoke has damaged her so much more quickly than the others.

More importantly - the Black Bishop speaks with her blade.

Mikoto springs back as the Black Bishop carves through the debris, and it means she is not there, as their enemy advances on Georgia. Again - and again - and Mikoto swings her blade to interrupt her but the Black Bishop has already turned her attentions on them, Mikoto and Miroku both, and she steps in past its arc to strike at her face. Mikoto does not flinch away, doesn't even blink as the weapon impacts her face, and she does not try and escape because she is doing something else. At this range, she cannot stab or slash. But she grasps Miroku's hilt in her hands and brings it up in a sharp motion from below - to jab into the Black Bishop's side, below the ribs, where her body provides no protection but muscle.

She knows where she is aiming. She has been trained well.

But then, the Black Bishop must have some idea of that by this point, too.

Each blunt force impacts where it may, and Mikoto jerks her face to the side at the last moment to spare her nose from being crushed. (The Black Bishop, too, must have some idea by now of how important her sense of smell is to her.) It slams into her cheek instead, cheekbone and brow, and perhaps it is satisfying in turn to see that her eye does close with the impact, to hear the hiss of pain through clenched teeth.

For a moment she is dazed with the blow to her head, and by the time she shakes it to dispel the stars the Black Bishop is gone.

Gone, and for a moment Mikoto cannot find her, and has to hear her words instead.

'The world itself will see to that--the world that will always take what you hold dear, now or later, peaceably or by force, grinding down, and down, and down...For all your days.'

There, she realises, as she looks to the trees. To the tree, crashing down on -

"Eri!" Mikoto cries, not her too, not Eri too, they are all falling, they trusted her and they are hurting. The tree does not move; Eri does not move; Mikoto cries out, again, voice cracking through the strain. "E-ri--!!"

The tree is not moving and for a moment Mikoto isn't, either.

And then it shifts - pushed up by a sapling - and Mikoto draws a ragged breath through the smoke. And Eri keeps talking, and she hears her name and her gaze snaps to her immediately. "Eri's important," Mikoto insists, the words trembling. "Homura's important!" And Eri can scarcely stand and Homura cannot even do that.

Mikoto does not realise the error she makes in naming their value. Instead she shakes her head, she forces bad air in her lungs and she yells: "Take Homura! Run! Don't - worry about me!" Cats always find their way home for supper - right..?

Give her a little credit. She definitely realises the Black Bishop will not like that.

"You!" She barks, as she launches herself at the Black Bishop - tearing forward, and her blade turns in revolution. Once, twice, three times -- "You, worry!"

She plants her feet and slams the edge of her blade up towards the Black Bishop, and perhaps she will feel this.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Destruction on Black Bishop.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Black Bishop perfectly counters 10 Fatigue damage from Georgia Jenks's Pummel 'Em!, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Counter!
COMBAT: Black Bishop's counterattack, Love's Chains, bursts all the way through, doing 12 Fatigue damage to Georgia Jenks!  Georgia Jenks is Quipped!
COMBAT: Black Bishop cleanly braces 11 Fatigue damage from Eri Shimanouchi's Natural Backlash, taking 2 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi is Psyched!  Black Bishop's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Black Bishop fails to dodge Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Destruction, taking 64 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Black Bishop [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

It is Georgia, first. Georgia, who coughs as the smoke wafts towards her and snarls at the 'monster' before them. What might she say, if Georgia called her that aloud? What might she say, if those feelings were given to her openly?

Mikoto in passing does not score the deadly, debilitating blow that she wishes, but she hears a crack as she impacts bone. The woman before her breathes in sharply, apparently as if savoring the brisk cold air of a resort--

How does she do so well, in the smoke? She does not reveal that secret. The dazed moment is what she takes, and take it she does.

Her mouth opens, gently--her lips part, and become a sickle-smooth smile, a cruel thing that has nothing in common with joy or happiness at all. She watches, as Eri stands again, wobbling; the sapling springs to life, and disappears. Eri makes her answer.

"Do you think so?" the Bishop asks her, as she whispers, and that lash slams out. It all happens quickly, then. Georgia will take her up on it, yes--Georgia wants her to stop. So first, the Bishop swings her weapon, and again it becomes a chain, its blade gleaming in firelight as it coils brutally about the other HiME. The woman in the suit flings her towards another tree, just like she did Homura not so long ago.

Eri gives her direction. "Heh," the woman answers, even as the lash comes. Her weapon swings back and she catches the lash on the blade, her wrists jarring with the force of Eri's strike but otherwise dissipating it in an instant. "Will you?" she asks Eri, staring into her eyes for one long instant. "Will you make me?"

She continues staring until Mikoto comes close--Mikoto swings, and tells her to worry.

She begins to step to the side--but she is not quite fast enough, this time. She evades most of the edge, but the sheer size, the sheer weight of the Element in Mikoto's hands impacts her with terrific force, sending her crashing back into a tree herself, ugly noises for an ugly situation--and for a few moments, sliding down the trunk, she is still. ...A few moments, before...

"Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh..."

"Worry, hm? ...Should I, as you do? Should I fear the way you nobly give of yourselves, each encouraging the other to leave them behind, that their life is worth the cost of your own?"

Her head lifts, and she doesn't stand, yet--but neither has she let go her weapon, glinting at her side. There is a slight tilt to her head nevertheless.

"You're so eager to die for one another. None of you understand what it is to live for someone."

"So you're going to amuse me, if you can. Here's the game..."

"...Are you going to press the offensive? Press the advantage you surely see? Or..."

"Are you more concerned with your wounded friends?"


<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nine Inch Nails - The Four Of Us Are Dying https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_tsfCpYKdU

Georgia is not the only one who sees red in a battle. Mikoto hears her impact, sees it happen again, just like before. She meets Eri's strike with her own. Her naginata is a lash and it seems so unfair that a weapon can be two things at once.

Then again, she is used to hefting a blade.

A sword only has one purpose.

The Black Bishop saves herself from bisection but cannot escape the weight of the blade, and it is not a precision instrument. Miroku is so, so heavy. Eri knows it well. Mikoto hears the crack and advances, quickly - she no longer has the luxury not to press her advantage. She has to end it so they can get away.

She hefts her blade - and the Black Bishop starts to chuckle.

It is such an unnerving reaction to violence that Mikoto pauses, muscles tense, before her.

It is a mistake.

The Black Bishop starts talking to Mikoto, and Mikoto is so, so good at listening. This close, her face is clear even through the smoke, red mark across one side where the naginata impacted. The way her eyes narrow in suspicion as the Black Bishop talks like they are the ones dying instead of her - the way her lips part as she sucks in a breath, when she bids her for amusement.

Of course.

She's always known.

The Woman in Black plays games.

She is playing a game with her.

And there's this little shift - as her blade lowers into more of a defensive position, as she shifts back on a heel, as she tracks the Black Bishop with eyes which do not blink against the smoke.

Her teeth grit and her lips curl over them, nostrils flaring, as she demands she make a choice. The strain is evident. Mikoto defeats her enemies. She could be rid of the Black Bishop in a moment, if only she skewered her here. She is supposed to fight.

She glances aside but there is no one else beside her, no one she can look to for help, to share the blame. They are all wounded. They are all hurting.

Miroku is not the only heavy thing in her hands, in her white-knuckled grip.

"I..." She halts over the mora. "Enemies - must be defeated," she says, and the words are hopeless and lost. "I should defeat you." And surely the Black Bishop can guess what it is a euphemism for.

And she steps back, and she lowers her blade and her gaze. "But not here," she says, as if she is doing something wrong. "... they're important." To her, or to SEARRS. Does it matter which?

"We're going," she says, repeats it more firmly: "Georgia, we're going!" Eri will take her advice, she knows, but Georgia is tasting blood, and Mikoto has to be sure.

She will knock her out and drag her away if she has to.

She sincerely hopes she won't have to. Carrying a body and a greatsword is very much a logistical challenge.

Mikoto blinks through the smoke and she makes sure Eri has Homura, and she makes sure Georgia is not still fighting, and she turns, and she runs.

She could have killed the Black Bishop.

The Black Bishop was never in any real danger from someone like her, operating as an independent agent.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"I will." The girl says willfully. With a familiar stubbornness. "Because sometimes that's just what needs to be done."

"You're more important right now!" Eri protests. However she's already limping towards Homura, with that gait, holding her side as if her ribs were torturing her chest cavity. It's... not easy in this state to heft Homura up, she does so with a wince, putting one arm under her legs, the other behind her shoulders. "Proud of you." The girl whispers the words she couldn't earlier. On Homura firing her first gun. Finding a way to fight other than bombs.

She grimaces, and has to hold Homura a little closer though as Shizuru starts chuckling, giving Mikoto a wary look. Shizuru looks wounded right now - if not down. But there's something in that voice that raises hackles in her neck. "Is that what you're doing right now? Living for someone?" Eri asks, as if prickled by that comment of the rest of them 'dying' for someone.

The decision goes to Mikoto though, and Eri starts stepping backwards, a little scared as she says enemies must be defeated. "Mikoto-chan..." However, there's relief in the way she breathes next as Mikoto declares they're leaving.

She doesn't second guess this turn of events. "Let's go. Hurry."

The sights of the burning forest will stay with her for the rest of her life.

She'll definitely be mourning it's passage for some time to come.

She does know without a doubt at least, that some things just matter more to her.

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Perhaps recklessly throwing oneself at an opponent who seems ceaseless in their savagery isn't the best ideas in hindsight... but Georgia is past the point of using her head. It's always been her weakness. Several high-ranking Tuners have pointed it out time and time again. And each time she's promised to work on it -- to get better.

Oh if they could see her now. Hacking away uselessly at this particular opponent. So it should come as no surprise when she's wrapped up in that impossible weapon of the Bishop's and flung aside into a tree like nothing more than a silly little insect. She impacts with the hard surface with a deafening crack, then slides down to the ground, going worryingly still.

But she endures. Though she doesn't hop right up, she does get up, and that's what counts. Her vision is blurred and it's hard to focus on what's ahead of her, stiffling heat and smoke of the fire notwithstanding. She grips her sticks, though she feels as though they could slip from her grasp at any moment.

And then Mikoto, smart girl she is, states that they're leaving. Georgia remains tense, however, stepping forward slowly, half-expecting the Black Bishop to try something despite their declaration of retreat. Eri grabs Homura, and Georgia holds still, deciding to be the last one to flee. Her eyes narrow at Black Bishop before she too turns tail and runs.

<Pose Tracker> Black Bishop [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

It would be perhaps worse, if it were easy to see the Bishop's eyes. But it's already bad. It's already terrible; the fire alone, the invasion alone, any one of these events would be a scar to bear for the rest of their lives. And yet...

They all keep coming.

The Bishop's lips quirk as she regards Eri. "My," she answers first. "But since you ask... Yes. This is what that looks like." And then she returns her attention, casually, to Mikoto.

"Yes," she answers. "You should."

But she won't.

Shizuru takes that moment instead to regard Georgia, whose vision is blurred and who steps forward slowly. Maybe the Black Bishop would have done something untoward in their retreat. But she doesn't, this time. She doesn't do anything, actually. Indeed, when only Georgia is looking at her--when Eri has gathered up Homura, and Mikoto is running, in that instant--

Georgia has a glimpse of a young woman who watches her with all the kindness of the dead--just for that moment with narrowed eyes. There is something deeply, deeply dark there.

"Remember," the Bishop's voice calls after them. "You have a deadline. And so does this island."

That's all. In the space after her words fade, the men in their black gear swarm into the tree line again, guns drawn, looking. "That way," the Bishop gestures, almost vaguely, past where the trees end on the other side from the fire. "You go on ahead. I'm rather comfortable, thank you."

The four escape, but it is a close thing. The caverns are the only safety that is on offer right now, and even they will have danger. It's dark now, and awful here, as before.

...A small part of Ohtori's forests have been saved, as the fire continues to rage all over the rest of it. But it's small enough that it is easily patrolled and secured. The route to and from the school is more perilous than ever.