2019-11-10 - The Shadow Over Uminari

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Title: The Shadow Over Uminari

Mikoto can't outsmart the Obsidian Lord forever. This was never a contest: she's already lost. But she's not the only one fighting, and when she's forced to attack an Obon celebration, the thing controlling her meets the anger of her friends.


Mikoto Minagi, Fuu Hououji, Mai Tokiha, Nori Ankou, Eri Shimanouchi, Yumi Ohzora


Shitamachi Low City - Uminari Seaside Park

OOC - IC Date:

2019-11-10 - 2015-07-15

.**************************** Shitamachi Low City *****************************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Uminari Seaside Park +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+
 Brisk breezes with a salty-sharp tang dance over crisply trimmed grass,
 blowing frisbees off their course, tugging playfully at ribbons, and
 generally being an omnipresent reminder of the nearby ocean. The lawns are a
 popular place to think and read, but especially to picnic and play,
 populated with various curious statues and objects d'art, and even a clean,
 bright playground that features a gigantic penguin-shaped slide well-beloved
 by all children in walking distance. A paved boardwalk follows the rocky
 shoreline unobtrusively, except where it rises into a red brick bridge to
 cross a nearby river gradually injecting itself into the sea.

 Following the sparkling, sedately flowing river inland a ways along any of
 several winding, shaded paths, clever leeves transform it into a clear lake
 perfect for rickety rowboats. The sunny lawns give way to larger and larger
 trees, filled with birdsong and the soft chirps of furry wildlife, and the
 understory is replete with flowers, tended in both raised beds and lovely
 meadows. Reasonably comfortable wooden benches dot the landscape, and
 occasionally the path emerges partway over the water, railings enclosing as
 cozy a place with as romantic a view as anyone could hope for.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Next to Normal - I'm Alive https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjUYw102IK0

"... and is there anything interesting?" The Obsidian Lord speaks and his attendants listen, gathered at his side, to the way he trails into an amused digression. He glances to the white-haired boy perched at the other end of his long throne, sitting on the armrest in precisely the way a chair is not designed to hold someone.

He's asking Nagi, of course. This black-stone cavern does not always echo in conversation, but it peals more often with words between the men of the court.

Mikoto stands at his right side, and listens quietly. She is seen and not heard, perhaps a shade paler than she ought to be in the darkness of the Palace.

Nagi taps a finger to his chin, looking up in an overblown gesture of thought. "Well, boss, the girls have this shindig going on for Obon. You know, letting their hair down for festival season." How precisely Nagi would hear about such a thing, when the girls he talks to tend to take a dim view of his company, is left unstated.

(Sometimes, the court needs a sledgehammer; that's Mikoto. And sometimes...)

"How sweet." The Obsidian Lord smiles, and now his gaze turns to his little sister, their gold eyes a mirror of each other. "... Mikoto, why don't you pay them a visit?" He asks, but it's a question which only has one answer.

"Yes, Lord Brother," Mikoto's reply is automatic, and in her grim devotion she is the only one here who does not seem enthused with proceedings. It's not unusual. She's always the only one who isn't smiling, in these gatherings between the three of them. If he notices the muted dread which shades the edges of her expression, he calls no attention to it.

"Good," he approves, before he looks forward again, as he shifts from what she's sure is a momentary distraction. "Now..."


BGM Change: Dai Tokyo Ondo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWhXQ42DWG0

At the coast of Uminari is the park, of course, King Penguin standing proud and tall over them. But move a little further in, and you'll come to the wooded park around the lake, one of Tokyo's best open secrets.

It's here, this afternoon, that a group is staging their Obon youth party. In an effort to get young people engaged with the celebration, they've created a fun gathering, with traditional foods and dancing. Streamers have been strung about the branches, lanterns hung, and a broad wooden stage has been set up in the clearing of the lake. At the centre of this is the wooden scaffold called yagura, a bandstand evoking a castle tower; atop it is the band, playing the familiar ondo beat.

Invitations were sent out throughout the Sister Schools; everyone's invited to have some fun this afternoon, on the first day of Obon. Celebrations last for three days, and the organisers of this event hope to get the kids of Tokyo involved in all of them.

The professional dancers on the stage right now are showing off the traditional Bon dance: it's a demonstration, so everyone can learn how to do it. "Our ancestors made many sacrifices for us," explains the announcer. "We remember the dead so that they can rest in peace. Why don't you try?"

It's important to pass these traditions to the next generation, after all.

"Come on!" The announcer encourages the crowd, waving a hand. "So long as you put your heart into it, your feelings will surely reach the ones who have passed!"

For anyone who isn't brave enough for the dance floor, of course, there's a table with snacks too. There are lots of tasty traditional treats here this afternoon - sweetfish ayu on sticks and taiyaki for those who prefer their fish to be conceptual, takoyaki in little battered balls, baby castella sponge cakes all arranged artfully in a circle...

But everyone dances in Obon.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

For all that Fuu doesn't usually think herself as a dancer ... well, let's go down the list:

1. Ballroom dancing at the occasional Sister Schools event, particularly when Ohtori hosts them. 2. Other student events when she can't excuse herself from going through the motions. 3. Traditional festivals.

Obon counts as #3, even when the Sister Schools aren't involved, and Fuu has been getting a refresher course on the traditional Obon dance basically every year since she was old enough to stand on her own and carry through the steps. She's not *quite* comfortable enough to teach them to others, so the refresher from the on-stage professionals is appreciated - and there are enough beginners that she doesn't feel like she stands out.

She's also in her yukata again, which may or may not contribute to her Traditional Social Camouflage Factor, but traditional vs. contemporary clothing isn't really on her mind today; she's more focused on getting the steps and gestures of the dance right at this point, and sparing a couple of thoughts for what snacks she might try when there's a break in the dancing.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

It's been set up as a fun gathering, but Mai is feeling a bit more solemn about the affair. For once, she could be free to enjoy herself - no work, no looming magical threat, no extra meals to make - and in an effort to mend some bridges, Takumi invited her to join him and his friends. It's a chance to enjoy a nice outing, and she was a little tempted to try to put some of her worries aside.

It even went well at first - she didn't talk a lot with her brother, but she tagged along with his group for a little while. The announcer for the Bon dance lessons, though, interrupted their travels - and after catching Takumi's eye for a meaningful moment, Mai slipped into the crowd.

She should be brave enough - the dance floor is right there, and she could probably manage even with her green-and-yellow yukata. There's a joy for those learning, those feelings of happiness everyone's passing to those who came before, an energy among the dancers -

"...I should have done this sooner." She mutters to no one present enough to listen, and just watches the dancers for the moment - hesitant, trying to study the steps. At least she can avoid bringing down Takumi's mood if she avoids him. "Or maybe I should have waited for the final night."

She would have been more comfortable with candles and flames than cheer and festivities.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A bush near the snack tables rustles slightly. An animal -- a stray chipmunk? -- runs to another one.

Batiste is planning his approach...

But Nori Ankou is here in traditional attire. Her own yukata is a charcoal black with a woven pattern on it -- a lighter gray in a diamond grid around the shoulders, and a dangling suggestion of flower buds. Her hair is also pinned up and she did not put on consequential amounts of makeup.

This yukata is actually totally not an AkaMira design, either! It's the one she brought with her from Hokkaido when she came to Ohtori! (She is wishing it was a skoche longer but that is because it is Nori who is a skoche longer -- it is not indecent.)

She is focused too on the dance, and learning it. She is a bit towards the back of the group, and this too is more a matter of emergent height than shyness.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The Yukata Eri Shimanouchi is wearing is borrowed for the night. It's white with shades of velvety pink flowers, and darker ones in the background, while her feet have on casual zori. Her hands hold her purse in front of her with an easy grip. And her face is wearing a smile as she watches Mai out there. A smile not reflected in her eyes.

Her eyes focus in on the dance. As more - and more - and more join in.

"You're going out there right?"

It's a casual comment from a high school boy who'd noticed her on the fringes of the party, Eri turns to glance at the orange haired boy, and then dips her head, eyes closing.


This seems to take him aback - which causes her to speculate that his motive for approaching her was to break the ice.

"Eh - why not!? You came out here dressed for the occasion..."

"... maybe my heart isn't in it." She says simply, before giving him a mirth-filled look. "I'm the kind of girl that doesn't have much respect for my ancestors."

Her near scandalous irreverence causes him to awkwardly clear his throat.

"That's no good." "Says you." She replies back icily, before stepping away.

He scratches his neck as he watches her leave. "Why is she even here then?"


"Takumi-kun." Eri stands behind the familiar young man with a smile on her expression "You look taller..." And the young man turns around to give her a startled look. "Oh - Eri-san... it's been a while." "Would you mind helping me out at the buffet table? I don't want to get my Yukata dirty..." The young man gives Mai a glance in the distance, before following the departing girl."Sure?"


Takumi hesitantly drops a sponge cake wrapped in a napkin into a purse that's now full primarily of napkin wrapped food, looking around nervously. "This is... should we really be doing this?" Eri seems to ignore the question, simply asking him, "Let's make another round."

Takumi looks scandalized, "Eh!? Why? This isn't enough?" The other girl simply smiles at him, "Look at how much food is still there." "That doesn't mean you should take this much of it..." "Now now - my senpai would really hate it if this much went to waste..."

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

For the Ohzora family, Obon has always been important, it's said. So Yumi, as the heiress, has preparations to have made, and she has been diligently applying herself at them--to the point of ignoring some people at school, in the past few days. But it is not an entirely solemn day, after all. There are streamers, lanterns...

It's meant to be fun; Yumi is going to get involved. The demonstration was here....

But Yumi doesn't need it. The dance floor, naturally, is a fraught place for Yumi. But... It's necessary. It's important. So, for this dance--

Yumi Ohzora, naturally, wears a yukata to this event. It is a lovely one; a lighter, almost tealike shade of green, with pink lotus patterning, appropriate to the blooms of the moment. People rarely see Yumi in traditional garb--but today, with pink obi, so she is.

There is a joy for those learning...

But Yumi steps into the circle, despite the fact that she looks pale, and has to step carefully--

But she dances. The gray-haired girl appears to know the steps perfectly.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Fall Out Boy - Miss Missing You https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVOBh7ItPFI

This party is open to everyone, so of course there are some stragglers, filing in late after long club events. It's not so unusual, for a girl to be moving through the trees towards them.

Perhaps a little strange that she's not on the path like the others - but most of these people are teenagers, after all. They take the path less travelled.

She's dressed a little oddly - what looks like rather convincing armour on her shoulder and at her wrist, red cape fluttering behind her as she stalks forward, black clothes which don't match any of the schools around here - but maybe all that could be dismissed as cosplay, too. Even what's in her hands...

But approaching through the shade of the trees, Mikoto doesn't call attention to herself. It's easy to miss such an alarming visitor, as she settles behind a broad trunk and looks out at the celebrants.

She's looking for her enemies. That's the dance Mikoto has come here to perform - and it's not timed 2-2 with an ondo beat.

She does not like what she finds.

First - first of all things there is Mai, Mai, Mai, and Mikoto's heart leaps to her throat as she realises she has not had the opportunity to ward her away this time. Mai will see what she has to do, and Mai - no - no Mai could not be... it's a dread which only deepens as she catches sight of brown hair, and realises who she has come with. Takumi is here, too --

Mikoto shakes her head and tears her gaze away from him and who he's with, to the others. There is Nori, and her dismal gaze cannot appreciate her Hokkaido apparel. She remembers the night prior, how tired she was, and apprehension sinks into her stomach like a pit.

Fuu, too, and she is too distracted to notice any errors in her dance. Perhaps she's a girl who doesn't stand out, but Mikoto's gaze doesn't pass over her; she affords her the importance of any enemy, even as she recognises her from the time she's spent with her as a friend.

The sight of grey hair sends shards of ice through her heart. Mikoto remembers her tears as she left behind any shred of politeness, and she knows she is a problem. But even so - even though she can exert the sort of pressure to get Mikoto to back away - perhaps what she has said is equitable to the others. She'd like to think that, even if she knows it isn't true.

But she cannot avoid her any more, and - "Eri," Mikoto murmurs, all the despair she could not show before flooding her eyes now. Here is someone she cannot save, not even with the most charitable reading of his words. She remembers his instructions and she can see no alternative path; she cannot even avoid her, right there in the middle of the gathering. If she just failed to find Eri, she wouldn't need to fix anything, but...

... she had to come here... it was an order.

And her orders...

... her orders are to...

Of course. She was given those instructions, and told to come here, where everyone would be. It was no digression at all.

She can't escape it.

An anguished yell from the treeline gives away her position, as Mikoto shakes her head and tightens her grip on her blade all at once.

It's a meaningless conflict. She won't hesitate, one way or the other. But she lingers a second too long, and it's the hard way, then: there's a momentary widening of her eyes, and all a sudden...

BGM Change: Motoi Sakuraba - The Severe Morning Star and the Full Moon Child https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKw4REZI8Qw

A dark shadow descends.

And Mikoto's reluctance is no longer a factor, because Mikoto has gone someplace else. Shrouded in darkness, what remains is hardly recognisable: simultaneously girl-shaped and inhuman, eyes a solid blinding yellow, it hoists its great blade and leaps.

An instant later, and the dancefloor splinters, wood yielding under the impact of a meteor on two legs. Pieces of the stage jut out at odd, obscuring angles; the tarp they laid beneath stretches taut as it is brought vertical in a method never intended. The Shadow rises from its bestial crouch, and with it --

-- with it rise the spires.

Black as pitch and shining smooth, the obsidian carves up from the earth without care for what is around it. In so many cases - what's there are the students who came to the party. Several fall right over, in the wake of its explosive entrance.

People are screaming. Someone is crying. There is at least one prim voice instead demanding an explanation.


Meaningless noise.

The command --

'As for these... disruptive factors... I trust you'll send the right message, Mikoto.'

-- is known.

The command is understood.

Disruptive factors.

It scans over its terror; they are identified. Kagutsuchi's HiME. The betrayer Puella Magi. Lost Ivy's Witch. Their sins are quantifiable. They will not go unanswered.

Whether they are ready or not: that wood crunches under Ohtori heel, the pistons of its legs bringing it up onto the tortured stage from the crater it has made. It is deliberate. Of these factors...

First, the HiME. Its charge is swift and direct: it barrels forward and swings its great blade up over its shoulder, and the path of that edge promises to carve her from shoulder to hip.

Then a Dark Shadow launches in towards the Puella Magi, blade dragging a furrow through the wood as it plants its feet, spins and spins again, that wicked edge coming up in diagonal slash.

Certainly it has not regarded any of the things the enemy has said.

The Witch, now, and it leaps, blade arcing abovehead and down in an executioner's swing. Any familiarity is purely coincidental. Don't make the association.

Perhaps the ghosts truly are hungry, because the Shadow rises after it springs away and there is a gape to its jaws, white teeth in the abyss of its maw.

Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi transforms into A Dark Shadow!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has fully healed herself. She is now ready to take on 5 opponents!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji transforms into Wind Knight!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi transforms into Puella Magi Eri!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha transforms into Mai-HiME!
COMBAT: Nori Ankou transforms into La Sirene de Diamant!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora transforms into Witch Ivy!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malice on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malice on La Sirene de Diamant.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Mutilate on Mai Tokiha.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Maidenslayer on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Manoeuvre on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji perfectly dodges 41 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malice, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!  Fuu Hououji's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi partially dodges 11 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Maidenslayer, taking 45 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha perfectly dodges 45 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Mutilate, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant partially dodges 8 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malice, taking 33 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi is Psyched!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora cleanly braces 17 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Manoeuvre, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Yumi Ohzora's Block and Parry abilities activate!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

That scream is not part of the music.

The way Fuu's head snaps to the side at it is not part of the dance.

And then the dance is all but over, as a shadow descends onto the dance floor, shortly after which there virtually *is* no more dance floor. Fuu barely has time to pull on her glove-jewel and skitter away from the attacker's main point of impact; the spires erupting thereafter, breaking up the smooth wood with devastatingly sharp obsidian, provide more than enough of a distraction as the Magic Knight of Wind summons her powers, her armor, and her sword.

The scream was Mikoto's. The sword which cuts for her (and would have connected, if not for a barely-swift-enough leap) appears to be Mikoto's. The figure which now wields that sword, while recognizable, may contain Mikoto - but the Wind Knight remembers this shadow, and there's a distressed resolve on her face as she turns to face it, her gaze tracking the dark figure's movements. A gesture and a quick utterance raise a wind barrier, just enough force to keep a couple of screaming civilians from blundering into harm's way ...

And then the green-clad Magic Knight attacks. No entreaties, no chiding, no banter; just the determination to halt another monster on a rampage. The fact that this 'monster' should by rights be another magical girl only fuels her resolve to end the fight quickly, with as little blood spilled as possible.

Even from their enemy.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Sword Strike on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi perfectly counters 9 Fatigue damage from Fuu Hououji's Sword Strike, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Counter!  Mikoto Minagi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Demonic Blade: Manoeuvre, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Fuu Hououji!

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Mmm." Eri Shimanouchi checks the now overfull - and quite old purse she's holding. "I think that's enough. Any more and I won't be able to close it." She then smiles at her conscripted assistant. "Thank you so much for your help. Takumi-kun."

The middle schooler in turn just gives her a look that looks equal parts nervous and awkward. "You're... welcome?"

And then there's an ear piercing shout near the treeline. Eri places her hand on his forearm, and he's suddenly looking at her hand, then at her. "Eri-san..." Perhaps he's wondering if she's scared. And yet her eyes are distant, upon the trees. Her expression serious.

And he realizes perhaps that she's not gripping his arm because she's frightened.

"Mai once asked me to keep you safe-"

She almost says 'if she were ever gone.' but instead changes it to...

"-no matter what." "I don't under-... what is that supposed to mean?"

He can see the gem enter into her hand. "It means-"

And that is the moment she sees the shadow, as she wrenches Takumi's arm sidelong, tearing him towards the ground. "-GET DOWN!"

There's a shimmer - and a smell like rain.

And perhaps he misses the moment where she becomes someone else.

And yet in that instinctive moment of understanding, the first moment her eyes can truly follow the shadow's movements, she realizes that Mikoto's blade arc won't just carve through her - but it'll carve through him too.

She twists before Takumi can hit the ground, her arms curling around him to scoop him up, leaping just as that blade twists at her.

And that Obsidian blade shreds the fabric across her back, sending her sprawling into the buffet tables the two had pilfered snack after snack from, showering them in food stuff as it collapses beneath the two of them. Shaking from the pain, as she forces herself back up to a knee, using an arm to haul him back up halfway, "You okay? Nothing broken?"

He looks dazed, "Was... that the demon cat!?" Not because he actually recognizes the demon cat - but the rumors... they seem so similar.

"I'll take that as a yes..." The girl says, after sucking in a breath that hurts the ribs of her back that causes her to hiss through her teeth, "Nnf... start running. Is Okuzaki-san here? Go find him. Because..."

The girl suddenly materializes a whip out of seemingly nothing other than her clothes. Like she grabbed a strand of cloth and it became several lengths of thorned vine. Takumi doesn't seem to obey just at her say so though - it takes Mai's shout to get him to put it into action as he gets up on wobbly legs and starts to stagger off.

Upending the whip, she shoves it through broken pieces into the floor. The tendrils look like they're digging, burrowing with a magical sparkle. The ground breaks near the demonic shadow not long after, vined strand after strand moving serpent quick to try to wrap around her again and again and again.

"I think she's really mad today."

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Dryad's Interdict on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

There's better people than Mai, here.

Braver on the dance floor, like Yumi. More thoughtful to others, like Fuu. Better at getting along with Takumi, like Eri.

That last catches Mai's attention for a moment, the familiar voice nearby giving her pause - but then there's an all too resonant yell from the treeline, startling everyone nearby. Mai's gaze snaps to those trees, a name whispered on her lips. "...Mikoto?..."

But it isn't. Not any more.

She'd heard, in the aftermath of a certain attack, or Mikoto becoming some kind of demonic shadow. Such a difference there was, in the end, between knowing and -knowing- what Mikoto could become, the nature of the shadow. A question rises up, and Mai starts to speak -

- and the shadow is lunging straight for her, blade raised up to cut her down where she stands -

- and Mai hurls herself to one side with an explosive desperation. Flames erupt in her wake, coalescing into rings of gold and jade - her Element matching her attire for once, carrying her away and up away from that treacherous earth.

Once upon a time, she might have tried to get out of sight, but at this point she doesn't care any more. It doesn't matter if she's recognized, even if the one to see her is...

"Takumi!" Her gaze casts around in a panic, searching for that precious person, seeking out familiarity so she can yell at it. She finally spots him near a hurt Eri, a pang of painful regret in that moment - but she has to put it aside. "Get out of here now - no arguing!" Until he's out of the way, until he's safe...

Flames blossom, flurrying outward from her rings, arcing around to encircle and ensnare the living shadow before her. To bind and burn, to attract and ensnare, to keep it from pursuing -

- because this is a festival of remembrance -

- and Mai Tokiha remembers making a promise.

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has used Infernal Embrace on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi perfectly dodges 12 Fatigue damage from Eri Shimanouchi's Dryad's Interdict, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!  Mikoto Minagi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi dodges 10 Fatigue damage from Mai Tokiha's Infernal Embrace, taking 15 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!  Diversion and Exhausted applied to Mikoto Minagi!

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Bravery is one thing to look at; but family traditions are hard to escape. They remain...

Yumi doesn't notice the others for the moment; not Mikoto, not her friends... She seems strangely focused. Surprisingly so; but then, maybe not that surprising, because she has to be to keep up the steps with her body the way it is, with as tired as she is.

So Mikoto can see her; gray hair, shifting with music, as Yumi raises her hands, partway turns, moves forward again. She doesn't say anything. She is concentrating.

But suddenly the dancefloor splinters--Yumi is knocked from her feet in an instant, hitting the ground hard with a cry, a painful impact that will surely bruise at least. But the spires come--and then... then she understands. People scream--

Yumi's eyes flash, and she pulls something from her obi. An instant later, she is holding the Staff.

...She has a new ancestor to care for, now. One more...

Yumi shows the shadow--and those gathered--something she rarely shows anyone. She does not look up in fear, at this terrible thing approaching. She does not waver, faint like part of her wants to--neither does she look sad, and kind. No...

...This isn't her friend. And what Yumi shows in her pale eyes is anger, a furious holy thing that burns in her eyes and, importantly--on her hand.

"STAFF OF LOST IVY!" she calls out, voice cracking under the strain, before she is enveloped in a blast of green power, a column that extends for an instant far. The Dark Shadow comes--

And the Witch lifts her hand, extending her palm as a green shield of magic bursts into being, straight on the sword--and takes the impact outright. She grits her teeth, focusing, and with all the power she invests in that shield, it does not break.

The Shadow rises.... and it's gaping.

"How DARE HE!?" the Witch of Lost Ivy shouts, her voice suddenly commanding. "I will not allow it!"

"I'll tear her out of you with my hands if I have to!" she calls, levelling her weapon. Despite her anger the white Staff of Lost Ivy radiates peace, calm... and above all, right now, a deep, incredible sadness, a grief of ages past.

...Things do not always become Lost. Sometimes, they are Lost because they were taken.

BGM: Curve - Doppelganger https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT0dGTNtODc

"To attack while we honor our ancestors--your master has found a new low! He isn't worthy of the girl you're controlling!"

She doesn't address the Dark Shadow as a person. It isn't. It is a disease. It is an infestation. And for the forest to grow... Sometimes they must be burned out.

"Wrath..." Yumi starts tracing patterns in the air with her hand that gleam and glow; runes, intricate, each one burned into vision as it hangs, "Wrath of forgotten spirits--"

Yumi's palm opens, the green leather lit by the virulent shade of her magic.

"ERUPT! Dark Radiance!"

Each of the runes burns hotly, too brightly to see--and then bursts into the beginnings of multiple pulses of green light, beams that surge forward from the witch to the Dark Shadow. There is something holy in rage, but...

...This magic is not it; it is the magic of curses, and decay, and destruction.


COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Dark Radiance on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi braces 15 Fatigue damage from Yumi Ohzora's Dark Radiance, taking 12 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The spires come.

Well, that was quite the surprise, wasn't it? In chaos like this, you can't expect anything other than a certain amount of confusion, chaos, and hopefully the bare minimum of harm.

(In the chaos, Nori Ankou flees into the bushes. So does, of course, Batiste, who focuses on his duty. He brings her the Pharos. She raises it aloft. She speaks the words.)

And from behind one of those great pillars staggers, for a moment, before straightening into a righteous pillar in her own right - la Sirene de Diamant.

Whose right hand comes up - and at least it isn't the left - in order to call forth and release a coruscant beam of light, not too distantly akin from what the Witch has called, perhaps hoping to pincer the swift form of their enemy.

For la Sirene is pretty darn sure she knows what is going on here.

COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant has used Carbonado Kaleidoscope on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi braces 19 Fatigue damage from La Sirene de Diamant's Carbonado Kaleidoscope, taking 8 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> NieR - Emil (Karma) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5ZQYURYaAs

The others around the enemies are meaningless.

There is no recognition of the Puella Magi's bravery, as she puts herself between blade and boy. It means nothing to a Dark Shadow if she chooses to place herself in harm's way. Nothing, as the Magic Knight uses her magic to ward away the rabble. Nothing, as the Witch stands firm with magical wards.

Nothing, as the HiME yells warning.

A blade. The Magic Knight comes for the Shadow and it twists to meet her, edge to edge, and escudo screams against obsidian as they halt each other in their strikes. The black claymore is immovable: but so, in that moment, is the Magic Knight. It breaks their matched blades with a wrench and a spin, and if she is not careful that arc will catch her, too.

Before it can press its assault the ground shudders beneath the wrecked stage, and it springs away before the vines can reach and grasp. Memory enough, at least, for this: and it remembers whence they came. Spires crack from the ground in turn, wicked spikes which promise to lance through the Puella Magi and her ill-gotten goods --

But here there is fire, wrapping unnaturally, and it cuts that assault short as the Shadow is forced to leap again. The flames catch at its edges, and it looks back to the HiME with narrowed solid-gold eyes. Here, too, there are spires, cracking the earth to lance up at an enemy who is not bound to the ground.

It lands and brings its blade up to catch light: unlight rocks it from one side, while from the other accursed decay slams into an indistinct shoulder. There are words, from one of them.

A Dark Shadow turns, looks to the Witch.

Do not think it has heard.

... Yumi?...

It charges her and brings its blade down, now, a second time: a shattering blow, made all the worse by its razor-sharp edge. Above the shoulder and down.

It does not linger; it courses towards the Siren, now, and there is something the girl failed to do, and it is something the Shadow will not flounder. Its blade lashes out, and it will carve through, a horizontal twirl which threatens to split her stomach to open air.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Marauder on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Mangle on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malice on Mai Tokiha.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Maul on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Mutilate on La Sirene de Diamant.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi counters 6 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Mangle, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi is Psyched!  Eri Shimanouchi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi's counterattack, Gardener's Trick, partially gets through, doing 9 Fatigue damage to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha braces 24 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malice, taking 20 Fatigue damage!  Mai Tokiha's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora neatly dodges 36 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Maul, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Stun applied to Yumi Ohzora!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji cleanly braces 28 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Marauder, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Fuu Hououji's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant neatly dodges 36 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Mutilate, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Cripple applied to La Sirene de Diamant!

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

She's mad, now, is she? Eri's words filter up to Mai, and the HiME can't help but answer. "Well, so am I. To attack on a night like this - Mikoto, this..."

She trails off, because the shadow doesn't hear, and the shadow doesn't answer. The flames found purchase for a moment, and Mai hauls on them while focusing on that point of familiarity - the fact that Mikoto seldom seemed to make space for words in battle. There were often only enemies, and now...

The demon-cat escapes, and Mai has to bring up her rings in a guard. She succeeds - that strange metal born of fire holding against the blade of obsidian - but the sheer force of the overhead blow sends her hurtling back down to crash into the now-ruined floor. There she lies for a long moment, fear and regret on her mind.

Right now, they're the enemies. Whatever of Mikoto in there doesn't care about loved ones - they're just foes to be cut down. A realization to break a heart.

"...I don't know if there's enough of you in there to understand me, Mikoto - but I want you to listen. You want to hurt me, fine - that's nothing new. But tonight? This night, of all nights?"

Some things, when they break, shatter into sharpened shards.

"I might not have wanted to dwell on this when we were living together, but you were there at the tree. You helped me say that goodbye. You know that this night matters."

Her rings are burning, now, orange shifting to yellow brightening to magenta and white - and Mai lunges towards the shadow, a brilliant flare of light before her as she recklessly tackles it.

"How dare you."

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has used Devoted Scintillation on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Eri pulls back her whip out of the ground like she's deracinating a stubborn flower, with a flick of her wrist, she sends it out lateral - just as spires break out of the ground. Abruptly she runs her hand up from the handle of the whip up its length as if to guide it. It swings back around just in time to shatter the tips of Obsidian spires with a sharp crack, sending volcanic rock every which way.

A blunt instrument though only takes the edge off the deadly nature of the spires - and there's a sickening blunt force crack against her collarbone to match the earlier crack, as it sends her stumbling back with a gasp

The Puella Magi holds a hand against the area just below her neck. The other arm...

Well she doesn't want to move it right now given the wrenching shock it sends through her every time she tries.

And yet she's forced to cough, and it hurts anyway, despite her best efforts.

She wishes she could feel Yumi's anger this time. She ought to - truly she ought to - to see Mikoto in this state again, controlled by her Lord Brother.

Tonight though, for some reason, it seems she can't muster the same amount of anger. Her anger seems restrained...

"You're not Mikoto."

... or perhaps more resigned.

"So you don't get to punish me."

It is perhaps a reflection of how similar Mai and Eri can be... sometimes - while still being so different.

"You don't have the right."

The other arm she pumps up, and the whip follows off the ground. A sweeping motion sends it reaching out to lash the shadow. A twitch of her arm brings it back, before she sends it out again, faster - and faster. Each length committing to a back and forth dance to try and knock the shadow down - or overwhelm it with a constant onslaught of pain.

"I'm just fine with punishing you though." She says coldly, as she tries to make her whip strike home, again, and again - and again, harder and harder each time.

"Whatever you are - I don't care - get out of her now!"

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Ephemeral Dance on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi cleanly braces 6 Fatigue damage from Mai Tokiha's Devoted Scintillation, taking 1 Fatigue damage!  Cripple applied to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi perfectly dodges 21 Fatigue damage from Eri Shimanouchi's Ephemeral Dance, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!  Mikoto Minagi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

The Witch of Lost Ivy spots La Sirene de Diamant by her magic; she recognizes it well, that strange beam of light, and she quietly appreciates--behind the shell of her anger--the fact that they can work together on this, that they can move each from one side. Distantly, she is aware that she might not be up for this, but...

Yumi watches the Dark Shadow turn its head, and look. She narrows her eyes. All that worry, all that fear--it fades.

"Come on!"

Yumi steps quickly to the side, not even trying this time to escape melee; those who know her might realize that she has not summoned her broom; she stands on the ground, like any of them might.

It works to a point--but not well enough. Though it does not slash her shoulder, her arm comes out as she inexpertly dodges, and her elbow is slammed by the blade, the leather protecting her from the cut but not the raw impact. "Ah--"

Yumi stumbles, supports herself on her staff as the Shadow moves away from her...

"Get back here!" Eri says it's not her--but Mai... Mai says it. This night... This night.

"She must've had orders," Yumi says, and the words are tight in her throat. "I won't forgive him!"

She stands up straight again, and extends her hand, channeling the magic of the ground around her--the plants that were beneath that floor, once.

"...That which sleeps beneath the earth eternal, heed my call--"

"Phantoms of life once verdant--rise! Ivy Binding!"

Yumi brings up her hand with the words, and abrubtly spectral ivy surges at the Shadow's feet, seeking to bind it, slow it, bring it to the ground as surely as any snare.

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Ivy Binding on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to dodge Yumi Ohzora's Ivy Binding, taking 10 Fatigue damage!  Stun and Trap applied to Mikoto Minagi!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Rather than meet the counterslash head-on, the Wind Knight angles and braces her sword, aiming to catch and deflect much of the force behind the shadow's blade, letting herself be pushed back but controlling the way she's pushed. And as the Shadow turns its attention elsewhere, the green-clad Magic Knight takes the moment that she needs to catch her breath, get her bearings, and take stock of her allies.

Some of them are better off than others, even going by a quick glimpse. Eri seems in particularly bad shape, and even though Puella Magi can heal themselves, the Wind Knight starts gathering magic. La Sirene seems to have taken a rather brutally nasty shot as well, and with the familiar call of, "Winds of Healing!," the green-clad Magic Knight casts her restorative spell.

She focuses on defense again as soon as she's able; she doesn't recall whether the Shadow is intelligent enough to focus attacks on a healer ... but no point in taking chances.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on La Sirene de Diamant.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Cleanse! All of La Sirene de Diamant's debuffs are cleared!

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A blade strikes to do what was long delayed. La Sirene lowers her right arm and turns away from it and then there is a sudden and shivering realization - the feeling of deja vu, the time repeating itself - and she thinks to herself:

Why does this keep happening?


How can I break the chain?

What chains? The chains that bind a cat, perhaps, the chains of the soul and the chains of the heart, but the thing she is thinking of in particular is the chain of repetition. For this is not the first time that Mikoto Minagi has taken a shot at la Sirene's midsection with her great sword.

What has she done in the past? Relied on fate itself. Used her magic.

But in this moment now la Sirene slides out one leg and tilts backwards, and the blade swirls through the aura of inverted light that surrounds her, raising ink swirls in the air that swiftly evaporate as she falls back - back - and lands on the jagged, damaged stone. From here she grunts through her teeth and her eyes turn towards Mikoto.

"She isn't saying anything, is she," she observes. "I hope that's not bad."

Her eyes turn towards Eri. She can, just, hear some of what Eri is saying. Her eyes turn to Mai. Her shoulders sag. Her lips turn down. Yes. It is bad.

La Sirene breathes out - but when she breathes in, the Winds of Healing buoy her. She finds herself renewed, soreness fading, the sense of futility going at bay. She pushes herself up to one elbow and says, "Thank you - as always - you know, it is funny how we have been comrades like this so often, is it not? I am sorry, Magic Knight, for when I have spoken harshly." In memory if not in the new history.

She reaches her feet... and la Sirene raises her hands up, fingers veiling her eyes. The index fingers cross, the middle fingers come together, as if to bare her third eye. Her normal two are hidden, and the light around her...

Rises. In this moment it is clearer what this 'unlight' is. It is something alien, yes, but it is fabulous, almost living. You could compare it profitably to the black light that you can see in some establishments, but this one does not have the intense thermal activity of such "black lights." Nevertheless it reaches out, making things rise in strange and eerie colors, casting odd reflections and new secondary shadows.

The Pharos at her hip seems to shift slightly, as if turning in the brass-and-ammolite cage. "You!" she speaks. "If Minagi ye be then I call truce, and if Minagi ye are not I abjur thee!" In a somewhat less commanding tone, she says, "Shimanouchi, do you understand what has happened? I saw her just the other night."

COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant has used Abyssal Vision on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi cleanly braces 23 Fatigue damage from La Sirene de Diamant's Abyssal Vision, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Tangle applied to Mikoto Minagi!

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

... is... is Mai angry..? Mai's angry at me...

The HiME launches forward, all fire and fury, and a Dark Shadow's blade comes up to catch her in her assault. Its heels grind into the ground as the force pushes them both back.

She speaks offence; noise.

Obsidian knows heat, and there is no registration of pain in those gold eyes as it straightens against the HiME's assault. No hint of flinching - or regret.

... Mai's angry because... because I... I'm attacking?!

There's nothing there.

But before it can continue its assault, there is the punishing exclusion zone of the whip, and a Dark Shadow does not listen to its enemies but it has felt the consequences of the Puella Magi's binding before. It will not happen again. It leaps away from the HiME, with preternatural swiftness.

She makes demands and they fall on deaf ears.

Eri... sounds so sad... Eri, I...

Light travels faster than any other thing and a Dark Shadow does not try to outrun the unlight, now: it turns to catch it on its blade, and it floods around it, gives another shadow to the Shadow.

Am I... I'm me, right? I... I don't know...

Plants are something which may be fled. The vines grasp, though, and bring the Shadow to earth, faster than the bullet of darkness - perhaps that extra shadow has something to do with it, or the lingering burns. Regardless it is grounded, and it bares its teeth, wordlessly, as it looks to the Witch again. A moment as it twists in its bonds - a moment's peace - before it carves right through.

It is time to end this.

The message sent is destruction.

The ground trembles as it plunges its blade into it and perhaps it is terror, in those moments before the spires burst from the earth. They tear through buffet-table and stage and tree and lantern and they will tear through girls, too, as they fan out from the Shadow's epicentre to bring everyone to their oblivion.

Enemies must be defeated.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Massacre on Mai Tokiha.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Massacre on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Massacre on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Mayhem on La Sirene de Diamant.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Mayhem on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha braces 60 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Finisher, Demonic Spire: Massacre, taking 40 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Mai Tokiha's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant counters 17 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Mayhem, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  La Sirene de Diamant's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant's counterattack, Les Mysteres, partially gets through, doing 24 Fatigue damage to Mikoto Minagi!  Critical Counterhit!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi braces 40 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Finisher, Demonic Spire: Massacre, taking 27 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora fails to dodge Mikoto Minagi's Finisher, Demonic Spire: Massacre, taking 79 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji decisively counters 27 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Mayhem, taking 9 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji's counterattack, Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Mikoto Minagi!

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

La Sirene's question...

Did I... do that?


... guess I... went somewhere else.

"... somewhere else. This isn't her. I think it's her Lord Brother controlling her."

The Magic Knight of Wind's healing magic pours over her, and it knits broken bone and her henshin, making it look like it was put on for the first time. The girl breathes easier. "I guess I should be grateful..." She mentions to her... and yet, she's still so tired already.

The Shadow is so fast, it leaps away from her attack, and she quickly back peddles, making an up and down motion to bring it back to her hand - coiling it up.

For a moment it looks like Yumi has her, "Keep her still Ivy!" And Eri advances in that moment to try to strike a more telling blow...

... but then Miroku - sends out its message before she can.

"Ah... hell..."

Eri suddenly lets go of the loop of her whip, keeping a firm hold on the handle, as she sends out her whip every which way. One lash after another, carving a three hundred and sixty degree territory around her - snapping so furiously that it's difficult to tell when one crack ends and the next begins - motions, thought - sound, it all blurs together in her attempt to preserve herself from any of the deadly spires that can pop up anywhere.

Obsidian shatters - sending a painful shower of glass down upon her. What Fuu has healed before in the amount of bones, this defense exacts a nigh equal amount of cuts from her - as her whip pulverizes the shards smaller and smaller, into thin slivers that shave and jab into the skin.

When it's over it's like she's standing in a pile of glass from an explosion of an office building, foreshortened spires all around her. And then she falls to a knee, wheezing audibly.

"... brought her back... before... just... just have to... do it again..."

Upending her whip, she jams the handle into the ground - hard enough to crack the flooring through the obsidian glass pile, at the point where it connects to the vines. The tendrils are still for a moment, then begin to move - slipping underground at the point where she drove in the hole.

There's a sparkle of green magic that reflects off every obsidian shard, painting the world in a sinister emerald reflection that radiates throughout the room like a wave.

"... and again..."

There's a strange stillness after - for just a moment - or two - or three... while the Puella Magi just seems to focus on her attention on the Shadow.

"... and again."

And then perhaps a dozen blindingly fast shapes burst out of the ground around Eri - scattering those shards - so fast that it's difficult to follow what they are, simply that there is something moving towards the Shadow. These shapes rip - and rend - and tear - but most of all... they try to grab - grip - only then becoming clear that they're thorned vines. When one finally manages to seize one of the Shadow's limbs, the others follow, trying to wholly encompass, to cocoon each of them. "Luckily for Mikoto... we're... really stubborn..."

She's not so much smug, as exhausted, that invoked stubbornness all that's keeping her going right now.

"Mai... Yumi..."

She doesn't even need to say the rest. It is simply implied. 'Get it out of her.'

The girl raises the fingers of a hand that isn't holding the handle into the ground. Because as soon as the fireworks start, she snaps her fingers...

And each of those thorns on the whip latching down on the Shadow's limbs grow in size.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Eri Shimanouchi has started a combo targeting Mikoto Minagi!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

That isn't exactly 'focusing on the healer,' but it's still a good thing the Wind Knight's attention was turned defensively. Spires of obsidian lance out of the ground - too far and fast to parry with her sword, and too many of them; still, she manages to invoke another spell: "Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi!!" - and the conjured tornado blunts the onslaught, wind shearing through the spikes and snapping off the most dangerous that were pointed at her. Only the most dangerous, though - and those wind-wrenched shards pose their own hazard, as she quickly finds out.

It still beats getting impaled outright.

"You're welcome, Eri-san, La Sirene-san," the green-clad Magic Knight takes a moment to reply to her allies. "And as for our differences ... I forgive your past harsh words, although I'm sure I earned them. What matters most is that we can keep working together. And with that in mind -" She raises her left arm again, this time straight above herself, knuckles facing forward before she sweeps her arm down and out to the side. "Winds of Admonishment!!"

This time, her conjured whirlwind is meant to bind rather than to rend; it's a separate effort from that spearheaded by Eri, but hopefully it'll create an easier opening for the joint effort to work most effectively.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Admonishment on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

There was no answer to Mai's words, though truthfully she expected none. No flinch of regret, no hint of remorse; if the shadow received those words, it devoured them untasted.

It leaps away, and Mai clenches her fist down on the ground. Plants pursue, and she glances at Eri and Yumi, wondering silently how they'rre holding up.

Maybe this will be enough. If they drive off the shadow, if the thing that wears Mikoto's shape retreats, then that's okay.

Then they won't have to-

There isn't even a sound before destruction awakens. A blade of obsidian pierces the earth, stilling the world's heart for a single beat before obsidian erupts again and again and again-

One spire emerges at Mai's feet, seeking to impale her outright, and there's a brief cry of fear at its arrival. Light breaks before stone, and she can only hope Takumi is safe - and then there's a crack.

Flames - always flames with Mai. Stone born of flame remembers it well, and that spire splinters in the end - ferocious fire fanning out from her feet to scorch an expanding spiral pattern, consuming what remained of the dance floor near her.

"This...isn't you, is it." Mai's eyes are closed, as if she can't even bear to look at the shadow before her - but the flames seem to be gazing for her, burning higher around her, flickering crimson and gold with flecks of jade. "I can't bring myself to believe you've changed this much - I have to hope that we can just beat whatever this is and save you."

Something in her voice doesn't ring with hope or determination. Resignation, perhaps, about how much of the girl is left beneath that living shadow. But Eri calls her name, and Mai just solemnly nods "...I want to free you of this, Mikoto. But whatever else...there's people I can't let you hurt. So, if I have to take responsibility..."

The flames invert, that outward spiral gathering once more before Mai. Inward and closer, brighter and brighter, until it's more like the light of day than a bonfire in the dark - so bright it eclipses whatever expression is on Mai's face, roaring loud enough to drown out any whispered apology.

It's not just her fire, for Kagutsuchi has a voice against those who would attack his HiME. It shines, and it surges out - burning along the vines that Eri left as a helpful guide to the rampaging shadow, blazing forth to sear away the darkness.

...and hopefully leave something afterward.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Mai Tokiha has joined the combo started by Eri Shimanouchi!

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

This isn't her, Eri says.

La Sirene's eyebrows lift.

I think it's her Lord Brother controlling her, says Eri.

La Sirene says, "Oh, is that so," and a moment later the blade is coming down and la Sirene is already turning into it. In the chaos and shattering horror of that burst, the rippling cracks, la Sirene's usual charm is a small sound-- comparatively speaking.

"Les Mysteres," la Sirene breathes -

Her hand pitches downwards towards the ground as the crack rises.


The burst of light smashes forwards. The crack continues, smashing against la Sirene's booted leg, but the silver-black material carves its way into the crack, FILLING it and bursting outwards. Staggered momentarily, la Sirene breathes out, and then she runs along that opening.

She can see fire gathering at Mai. Fire that Mai controls.

"Turn her loose," la Sirene says.

"DO YOU HEAR ME?"" she shouts as she gets close enough and she stabs out with one hand, not to call on another charm but to bull her way through the spikes and clasp onto the Dark Shadow's bicep with one cold, diamond-gloved hand, clinging with desperate force! Another spike carves into la Sirene's arm as she does this but she does not care right now. That is a problem for Future Sirene, who is not yet come.

"Do you understand what I am saying to you?? This sad and tender girl with her love of cats and her fear of chili is not yours to command! Get out of her head, go back to Chiba or whatever cursed hell you crawled out of! The rest of them, they fought alongside her in the dreams, they speak to her, but I want to speak to YOU, miscreant!"

She is really shouting now. She does not do this a lot except for key words. "Because this is sad -- too damned sad for words - and I won't let you make this world a more miserable place for her or for anyone else! If you're trying to teach a lesson, the only one we're learning is that you must be stopped, cost though it might!"


Please, les invisibles, la Sirene prays to herself, let this devil curse me and speak its cruelties long enough for the flame to come!

COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant has used Hold On Tight (To Your Kets) on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Yumi remembers what she saw--like a film, like a shadow made solid wrapped around her friend, something else that dares to borrow the shape and form of someone who was never so heartless even when she was cruel. "It's because she's not herself," Yumi says to Nori. "She can't... talk now. It's like Eri-chan says--she isn't here. This thing is doing it."

Yumi focuses her curse as best she can--she stares at the shadow, narrowing her eyes--and then her eyes widen. "What--"

It carves through her magic. The ground itself, Yumi thinks, cries out in the instant before the attack lands. Yumi can't get out of the way at all--already trying to recover her energy for a barrier, she makes a mistake--she tries to move to the side, and instead is nailed hard by a spire, stumbling backward when it goes back down, protected from lethal injury thanks to the magic of the Staff--but it hurt, dizzingly hurt. "Er.. i..." she stumbles back, and hits a knee, breathing with difficulty, as if it's painful to make herself do it. All around her there are holes in the ground. Eri says it... Again... and again...

And Yumi feels a pang in her heart for Eri worse even than the pain of the spires. But she sees it--she's called...

"That's right--" Yumi breathes, and forces herself to at least straighten her back, "It doesn't matter how hard it is! We won't give up!"

Fuu's Wind--she feels it.

Mai can see--Yumi isn't holding up well. She may recognize, in later moments, the particular tenor of that dizziness, that wavering, as familiar.

Mai speaks... of taking responsibility. And Yumi knows what she has to do.

"You don't," Yumi says softly, lifting the Staff of Lost Ivy and starting to push herself to her feet with it as its orb glows, radiating viridian light in time with the pulse of Yumi's heart. ...It is not just rage, that powers her here.

"Not alone, at least. Mikoto-chan..."

The brilliance at Yumi's staff goes further, and further, and further--and soon it is not dark. In the space around her, as her braid floats upward, as she floats an inch off of the ground, it is as bright as noon on a cloudless day around Yumi, as well as around Mai.

"...Spirits of hope," she intones, "What remains even after the flame... Heed me!"

Both hands on her staff, Yumi abrubtly hits the ground again, and points it at Mikoto in time with the brilliant, shining flame and the terrible blooms--

Pure light, in a torrent. To look at it it is utterly gentle, affects nothing with harm in its path as instead it repairs the ground where it lands, as flowers spring from the earth--

But from the way Yumi hangs on, it is fierce. From the way it slams in with the flame towards the Dark Shadow--and seeks to add green, purifying flame to the mix.

Not a single speck of its power harms La Sirene de Diamant, instead enwrapping her in soft light.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Yumi Ohzora has joined the combo started by Eri Shimanouchi!

COMBAT: COMBO! FINISHER! Eri Shimanouchi, Mai Tokiha, and Yumi Ohzora have used Combo: Sleeping Beauty, composed of Child of Thorns, Ardent Splendour, and Blessed Shine, on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi braces 12 Fatigue damage from Fuu Hououji's Winds of Admonishment, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Fuu Hououji is Psyched!  Cripple and Trap applied to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to brace La Sirene de Diamant's Hold On Tight (To Your Kets), taking 27 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Tangle applied to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to brace Eri Shimanouchi, Mai Tokiha, and Yumi Ohzora's Finisher, Combo: Sleeping Beauty, taking 409 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi is unable to keep fighting!

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

... no... no, am I... what am I doing to everyone..?

At the centre of that destruction is a Dark Shadow, and don't look too closely. Glittering jewels fall from the abysm of its cheek, easily-missed in the chaos.

It doesn't mean anything.

This isn't Mikoto.

... everyone sounds so tired... if I keep going, I'll really... I'll really..!

They do not fall in its onslaught, and golden eyes narrow in the aftermath as it assesses them. They have not fallen: they will, soon. They are wearied. A Shadow does not tire - does not falter - does not stop.

The wind rises and a Dark Shadow stands firm, digging into the earth as the gale whips at it. It is a whirlwind's arena, now, glass shards picked up by the tempest to create an exclusion zone.

Then - there is a girl, bullying through the spikes around it. The Shadow looks to the Siren as she lays a hand on it, and she will feel the tax of sacrificial flesh: the darkness obscures her fingers as she grasps, and as she does not move away she will find it is despairing and it is painful and it is cold, a presence which abjures prolonged contact.

And beneath the darkness is the unyielding muscle of Mikoto's arm.

She speaks, but it's not her impassioned demands which make the Shadow's eyes narrow, teeth shown as its lips must pull back in some soundless snarl.

The Siren is a gangly thing still growing, and a Shadow has no need of age - but there is power to her feelings, power enough at least that it cannot pull away in that critical moment.

That critical moment - where the Puella Magi's vines burst through.

The Shadow lifts a hand from its blade to grasp the Siren in cruel grip, and it would thrust her into the briar in its place, but there are so many vines. Before it can react to the ones before it, here are the ones behind: thorns lance into its back as the greenery curls around it, and it is pulled back, back into the brambly mire.

The fire which comes is informed by light, spirits of hope, and the conflagration which consumes the Shadow is not just orange in its intensity. Orange and green - and the flames plume out, wash over the clearing...

A tree regains its lanterns, and a thousand new blossoms, opening to the afternoon air.

A stage repairs itself, and the grass below grows vivid green.

A buffet table regains its legs, and the flowers on the table suddenly grow roots in the water of the vase.

A girl...

There was a girl, there, at the epicentre of the spines, at the epicentre of wind and vine and flame and human contact.

There was a girl underneath the darkness, and when the light of the flames chases the darkness away what is left is a girl, fallen on the now-smooth wood of the stage, trembling in the wake of it.

Mikoto's face scrunches; she pushes a hand under herself, with some difficulty, pushes herself sitting. "... what... what happened..? Did I..."

This is the moment where her gaze passes over the girls here - and she sees them.

Her eyes widen in despair, lips parting for a sharp breath in, and new tears join the tracks down her cheeks. "... I..."

She hurt Eri. She hurt Yumi. She hurt Nori and Fuu.

She hurt Mai.

"It was an order," she whispers hoarse, as she tears her gaze away: "from my Lord Brother." Her eyes blink shut, and she will not waste their time apologising when she has hurt them like this.

She pushes herself standing; she looks to them, looks to, "Mai..."

There was something there, in that thing which went by too fast, and she cannot quite grasp it.

There's nothing she could ask for here, in any case.

Her Lord Brother is the only one who can help her.

"... I have to go," she says, and she turns and she runs with every shred of power left to her.


Down, down, down, and Mikoto's Lord Brother smiles welcome to her as she returns home, returns to his side.

The way it was always meant to be.

Maybe it was always meant to be this way, Mikoto forced into action so she would never hesitate to carry out his will. This is the third time: it is not an accident or a fluke. Even if she doesn't want to, she still...

Distantly their protests come to mind, anger hot and cold, and she tries not to think of the girls who were her friends - who might have become her friends - as she looks up to him.

She tries, but there's one girl who protested before she heard anyone else complain so openly.

It was Mikoto, back in the Book of Darkness.

She remembers feeling so very small; it's easy, because she feels small now, too. He is tall and broad and strong, and she is dwarfed by him in every aspect. She is the younger of them; there are rules, in any family. There are rules...

... but, that dark place she goes to when her body isn't hers any more...

Mikoto swallows at the lump in her throat, and the pain and uncertainty are writ plain on her face.

Maybe it's not normal, but it's how their life is, and she shouldn't complain to the man who has given her everything. She shouldn't... worry him with something like this. She can't.

But she looks up to him and he seems so attentive, so concerned...

"I..." Mikoto breaks his silence without prompting or permission, haltingly, uncertain. She has imagined this, fake fantasies where perhaps she could just make things better if only she could say the right thing, if only she could find the right way to say it. But looking into those gold eyes, all her illicit daydreaming flees her consciousness, and she is left with breathless trepidation.

She tries to keep hold of something, anything she was thinking of, some reason why she's upset when it all keeps slipping through her fingers like sand. "... I don't... feel good, after that..." She doesn't like it, she wants to say, means to say; it shouldn't be this way. She doesn't feel good about harvesting their suffering, even if it's for a better world, and she doesn't feel good about not having a choice. But her words are stolen from her with a breath hissed in though her teeth, cringing back into herself --

-- because she's seen his expression shift, as she struggles to express herself.

If she were a butterfly he would assuredly pin her to the board with his gaze, sharp and analytical. It pierces straight through her, carving back every layer of her torment. Strip them away and what is left is abject contrition, terrified she has displeased him, ice clutched around her obsidian heart.

His hand comes up, to close the space between them, and she does not shy away. She cannot deny him.

But that broad hand comes to press against her forehead, a familiar gesture to check her temperature, and in an instant Mikoto realises she has made a terrible mistake; he was not assessing her in anger, but in worry. She cannot keep the relief from flooding her eyes - the gratitude.

"You're warm," he notes, his hand dropping down to her shoulder to guide her to his throne. "My poor little sister... come, sit."

Was she not feeling well? It must be; her Lord Brother knows best. There's this little gnawing sense of dread recognition, at the pit of her stomach, but maybe that's just another sign she's unwell. Maybe it was something in those attacks she can't quite remember enduring. Those attacks she can't remember well, because he -- no, it's fine. He'll take care of her.

"You'll stay right here until you're all better." Down here, in this cold, dark Palace, with no one but the Obsidian Lord and those screens which play out the miseries she has wrought...

In this place she doesn't like, which brings her no comfort...

She knows she should think he is kind. Part of her still does.

... part of her...