2023-09-01 - MGLN SeekerS: Road Trip 3

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MGLN SeekerS: Road Trip 3

Fallen Stern takes Endo and his friends back into the past yet again. At the threshold of the Pericosmic Array there is another betrayal. And another reveal: the first appearance of Souverain Heraut.


Setsuna Higashi, Endo Naoki, Kyouka Okazaki, Ashen Knight, Argent Knight, Umbral Knight, Souverain Heraut


Infinite Corridor

OOC - IC Date:

9/1/2023 - 4/6/16

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.


Study night at Ren's house was rudely interrupted by the three Dark Devices, who, with help from their leader Jail Scaglietti, were able to take Ren's big brother hostage in order to get Ren to surrender Souverain Heraut to his clone long enough to temporarily merge, much as Black Sky and Shadow Stern had done to their respective partners.

One small problem: Dark Heraut refused to go through with it. 'Not like this,' they said, through the feedback and static of their incomplete voice.

Then a second issue arose: In the chaos of evacuating after Ren's brother was rescued, Dark Heraut's carrier, one of the black-clad Fate clones, was left behind. She's been asleep in a bed at the Harlaown residence ever since, and has, as of yet, shown no sign of regaining consciousness.

However, the group is not entirely without leads. Their trips to the dreamworld Belka have rendered four runes suspected to be part of a coordinate system. Four is enough, too, to get both place and time; but it's not quite enough when there are multiple dimensions. There's still a missing piece. Maybe even more than one.

After finals but before the results have come out...

<< I AM READY, >> Fallen Stern tells Endo. << TO GO AGAIN. >>

It transpires that he means to go to Yagami House; or, rather, to another home. With another Dark Device attack potentially happening at any time it behooves everyone to keep moving the site of where a large portion of the group becomes helplessly dreaming.

Tonight's party is being hosted by Setsuna Higashi -- at the Momozono house, for that is where she lives, because they are her family, and even more conveniently, the rest of her family is out of town today. She's actually not far from the Yagamis, as they're both in the Clover Town neighborhood.

Hayate and Zafira brought the golden skein and laid it out on the back lawn.

It is falling into night quickly.

But not so quickly that there isn't time to hang out a little bit first...

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Setsuna Higashi is hosting, and her family trusts her more than enough to look after things and host something like this alone. This is good, because it's important to keep the group moving...

They'll celebrate with her for finals, too, but today, Setsuna Higashi has prepared snacks! There are cookies that she made and chips that she bought, tea and soda and other things for her friends, and Setsuna herself greets everyone at the door with a smile.

But now it's past arrivals, and while nighttime approaches...

"Oi, Setsuna!" Tarte says, coming down the stairs, because no one unmagical is here. "Chiffon's finally sleeping... now where's the ice cream!?"

"You know exactly where the ice cream is," Setsuna says archly to Tarte, who puts up his paws. "I didn't steal it!"

"Not this time..."

It's a nice evening so far.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Endo arrived with some extra snacks, just to be a nice guest. Setsuna's home-made cookies are better though, so he leaves his store bought stuff for the Momozono household to enjoy later. And he makes sure to load up with treats and drinks before it comes time to go on another expedition.

"Thanks, Setsuna-chan." He offers to their host, settling on to the lawn. "I guess this is the good part of moving around so much." He beams, clearly happy to enjoy the hospitality of friends.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouka Okazaki [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Kyouka's first official finals as a real high school turned out... rather more hectic than she would have imagined. At least as far as the study session itself went.

Finals went mostly okay. Kyouka's still not quite sure how she's doing.

Regardless, there are still things at play, and as long as her friends are willing to include her, she'll show up to offer what aid she can. Or, in this case, snacks! She made some healthy peanut butter thins, and presented them in a box when she arrived. "Hey, Setsuna-chan. I brought these to share, though your cookies look delicious too. And hey, Endo-kun. Good to see you both." She's a bit lower energy than normal, but she's had a lot on her mind.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

As has become usual, once everyone has arranged themselves in a circle at the edge of the golden web, Fallen Stern begins to flash, on and off, with data overload. As Soaring Sky is not present, he does the strange, obscure countdown on his own.

<< The crystal is morganite. >>

<< The flower is dahlia. >>

<< The word is... >>

<< ...betrayal. >>


The Umbral and Argent Knights have tracked their former ally the Ashen Knight across time, space, and dimensions... a matter of enormous difficulty, both physically and emotionally. They have sought her on worlds large and small; in places familiar and strange. If she has managed to elude them for an extraordinarily long time it might have less to do with her being some kind of masterful escapee, which she is not, and more to do with the fact that she obviously has found allies. Not the Vermillion Knight, of course. She's quite dead, and at Umbral's hands. But Belka's 'liberation' of other magical worlds from the threat of the Outsider menace may in fact not be as popular as the now-lost Queen had wanted to believe.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

"You're welcome," Setsuna says placidly to Enba, and just as calmly and quietly happily, "Thank you!" to Kyouka. She makes sure to enjoy snacks before it's time to find the circle...

She notices Kyouka's lower energy, but isn't sure what to do about it. So she keeps an eye on her.

"Yes," Setsuna agrees anyway with Endo. "It is nice."


The Argent Knight has been on a long journey, now. Through worlds familiar and strange, over mountain and under cavern...

Yes, she has seen the 'allies' that the knight she hunts has found. And her countenance is grim for it. She has cut though those she must, so far. And for a while, that was enough; grim necessity helped her to forge onward.

But on one world...

A world grown colder... A city-world that stretches in all directions, once noted for its beautiful parks and fanciful architecture--these things are now being dismantled and put into the forges, to warm the people. In lieu of magic, they seek other fuel--anything they can burn, to stave off the coming freeze.

The Argent Knight walked through its streets, bootfalls heavy against the cobblestones. Here, she had tracked the Ashen Knight. She was not alone, of course--but she walked, through alleys and over thoroughfares... She walked, and walked, and walked. She stalked through inns and libraries and forums and sought always information--even when it was not wanted. And she saw...

She saw the death of beauty.

She saw the turn from optimism to pessimism, to the certainty of decline, and it was not simply diminishment but existential.

This is the world that weighed heaviest on the Argent Knight, that might yet tarnish her silver spirit. By the end, the Ashen Knight's escape saw her left alone in a blasted city square...

Looking to a sky with so few sunrises left.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouka Okazaki [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Kyouka closes her eyes as the skein is activated, feeling herself taken back...

Against all of her fellow knights, Ashen surely would not have fallen eventually. To be sure, she would have made them pay for every drop of blood they wished to take, but eventually she would have fallen. There would be no escaping, not against all of her fellow knights, not when Umbral had so readily killed one of their number in cold blood.

But in that slaughter... an opening--the Queen's ring was damaged, the magic leaking dangerously, and the Queen sacrificed herself to stem the tide, and in the bedlam that ensued...

Ashen had made her escape. Auric was guarding the door, but with her warhammer flung through the air, there was just enough of an opening to barge past her into...

Into what. Freedom? Was it truly freedom to turn your back on those you had allied yourself with, who had taken you in, cared for you, and were now their most hated enemy? If that was all Freedom was, it was a meager thing.

And yet... There was a certain sense of liberation to it all. She was no longer constrained to the course of action her Queen ordered. She could act of her own accord, follow her own beliefs. It was a blessing and a curse both. The freedom to act, but not the surety of following orders.

But while her Queen's examples may not have been one she could countenance, in the end... Her Princess' example, to unite rather than dominate, that she had pleaded with her Queen so urgently to remember and to follow, had become her guiding light instead. She lacked her Princess' charm, and her strength of convictions, but she could still call upon her example for support as she sought out allies.

It was tough going, at first--everyone knew who she was, what she had done, and it took many hard acts of sacrifice and bravery to convince those of her intent. But slowly she found allies, which begat more allies. She made it clear to all it would be dangerous, and indeed, each time she received word that one of her newfound friends had fallen, the loss was another shackle on her heart.

How much more loss must there be? Could she continue her cause, if it meant more harm befell others, even if she was, in fact, trying to save them, and genuinely so? She couldn't help but wonder what the others must think, to dedicate themselves to hunting her down rather than continuing their work--but then again, without the ring, what was the point in collecting Pillars?

And while there were some successes, there were failures plenty. One world she had visited was teeming with magic, so much so that rather than build their cities upon the ground (for there was no ground, only a gas giant), they instead built great, elaborate city islands in the sky. One could walk, or fly, for days on end between the edges of even the smallest island and still only traverse only half the width. Large spires and towers rose above the skyline wherever one looked, and their monuments were displays of magic-as-wealth, full of dazzling displays of light and color that defied logic and understanding, twisting upon themselves in endlessly fascinating fractal patterns far above the normal three dimensions most were used to preceiving.

Ashen had spoken out there, sought their aid to her cause, for their armies were indeed mighty, their scholars learned, their warriors, in some measure, possibly equal to Belka's own. But they had denied her at every turn--no one had heard of these Outsiders, and when Ashen professed to Belka's fall, they seemed to regard Belka as inferior stock, the victim of flawed leadership and inferior magic. (An assertion Ashen would have vociferously denied before, but now could only accept with somewhat grating humility.) There would be no aid here, and Ashen left that world grieving their future loss.

Ashen could not fully blame them. Where once she would have trumpeted Belka's greatness, now she had come, metaphorical helm in had, to profess its weakness and fragility. To have had her doubts for so long, but failed to act upon them, so now be decried...

It was days like those that made her wonder if her quest was futile.

And yet... Her princess' smile would inevitably come to mind, her words would stir her spirit one more time (and hopefully would lift it again the next, and the next...), and her feet would start to trudge forward.

And so she kept running, trying to find allies who could hide her, point her to safety, provide refuge and information. She continued spreading the word of her fallen princess, and sought out what she could about the Outsiders and the Pericosmic array both, praying that she could someday make her fellow Knights see the rightousness of her cause... even as she knew they never would.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Those cold nights were almost unbearable, but purpose kept the Umbral Knight warm.

It had been so for a long time now since the death of Belkas Crown Princess. That was a wound that cut across the heart, but it was far from the only one. There were a dozen scars heaped upon there now; the loss of his Queen, the betrayal of a dear friend, the execution of a dearer pupil, and more besides. How could such lesions not harden and callous?

So it was loyalty that had brought him to the Wandering City alongside the Argent Knight. Because to give up his faith would leave him with nothing at all.

The storm had broken before they arrived, frigid hail pouring from the darkness overheard and making the bronze parapets and roofing of the castle in front of them rattle as if shaken by the boots of an approaching army.

On their way through the streets the people had run. Doors were shut and barred, and fearful eyes watched from slanted windows. Muttered breaths and curses followed.

And now arrayed in front of them were a dozen men and women in gleaming armor, their weapons drawn. Once they would have met with open arms, but now Belka was no longer a friend. Belka was something to be feared--the end of men, and the end of worlds.

"You are not welcome, tyrants."

The words lingered, even after the blades and their wielders fell. Even after they'd left the city empty handed again

One more scar.

But they couldn't stop yet.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

Worlds without magic. Without trust. Without hope.

Belka saved them from total annihilation. If the Queen were here she'd hold up every shivering child, skeptical scholar, and defiantly dying warrior as the victory of her daughter's sacrifice. As her own victory, and that of her Knights', who did what had to be done to keep the Outsiders at bay.

"But is such a life really worth living" is cheap, cheap currency at a table dealing in the ultimate stakes. And yet...

...is it really worth it...?

...who gets to decide who should pay and how...?

And here, now, at the end of that long journey--

Here, at the last of a dozen dozen dimensional transfers, each hop taking them one step closer to the Pericosmic Array, and to the Queen, and to the vault filled with stolen hearts, and to stopping the Outsiders from returning, and to answers--

Here, in a valley between two waterfalls, with mist above, and below, a mirrorlike, shimmering surface, with just a hand's depth of water upon it, the rest of it falling to either end of an infinity pool--

Here, the Umbral and Argent Knights arrive at one end of infinity--

And the Ashen Knight, at the other.

Between them is the final door. Final triangle; a Belkan spell triangle, undoubtedly drawn by the Queen herself or one of her forebearers, lies just beneath the surface of the water. It will not be a race; to activate it would take time that no one could possibly win by speed alone.

No, the path forward will need to be won by force.

The time for running is over.

<SoundTracker> Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Santa Esmeralda - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTR5AT1QwXw

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

No, escape would seem to be the only way that day could have ended. Argent was not fast enough, for all that she moved in defense. And ever since, she has wondered.

She has wondered over what she has lost. But for a time, necessity was all.

But day after day, night after night, of seeing these ruined worlds, without hope, it weighed. So now, here, the valley between the waterfalls--

Argent, too, has gained scars from those worlds. They were not welcome. They are welcome nowhere, now, it would seem. But still...

"It is over," the Ashen Knight says as she steps forward. "...One way or another."

She hefts her great axe, lifts it to her shoulder, and looks to the Ashen Knight. "It's..."

For so long, they have fought. For so long.

"Come." The mist stretches out between them. "...It is too late, now."

"Too late to look back. Too late, to change."

"...Too late, for everything but this."

It is not with passion that she hefts her weapon next, but with grim necessity. There is no joy in it, no pride for home.

But it is not to be underestimated, all the same.

<Dread Breaker!>

"This is all that remains."

As her magic whirls into the cold, she is right behind it, swinging her axe with a powerful downward swing as only the opening of her assault.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouka Okazaki [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

So many worlds, so many dimensional transfers, so much running from those she once called friend, new allies left dead in the wake of her new (yet still old) quest by those who hound her every movement. Two faces she had hoped, vainly, never to see again, yet also feared she never would.

A thousand thousand steps, and halfway from infinity is her goal.

And all the way across from infinity are the two who have hounded her since the day she made her escape, the reason she has not slept soundly. (In truth, she has not slept soundly for quite some time, and it was only in defying her queen that she finally understood why, what the monks surely knew but could not tell her, as she had to find that particular answer herself.)

All that running, and yet... here they all are, at the same time.

Is this destiny? Fate? Some sort of strange justice finally come to take her for her past deeds?

Unlike Argent, there is conviction in the way Ashen stands tall and defiant, holding her head up high. Her rapier makes nary a sound as she draws it from its scabbard and holds it upright in front of her.

"It is not too late to change, Argent. You should well know this by now. How many of my allies have you slaughtered in your relentless pursuit of me? I am trying to fulfill our princess' vision--" the princess, not the Queen's, "--and have found those who would stand with me."

Then, softer, she adds, "I would stand with you again, if you would join my cause."

But it seems that Argent is intent on letting actions speak. Very well.

<Diamond Blade.>

Ice rushes up the length of the rapier's blade and then shatters, sharpening its edge. She darts to the side, dragging the edge of her rapier through the water to cause a spray, one that freezes as it hangs in midair, trying to trap her friend.

It may be folly not to strike, but if words may still reach...

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

"Its over." The Umbral Knight agrees, looking toward his companion. A nod for the Argent Knight, even as the Umbral unshoulders his own weapon.

"At last." The words are born of both relief and weariness. There is no eagerness, save perhaps to see the task finally done.

Water ripples as his stance shifts, the mist churning around the hulking figure of the Belkan as he prepares to meet his former comrade in battle.

"How could you come this far and still learn nothing." Says the Umbral Knight. "After all this--there is no other way.

Purple-black energy ripples across the blade as the Umbral Knight swings it in a vicious cut, a gleaming arc of water scattering in its wake.


Fist-sized spheres of energy bleed out from the Device in his hand, scattering into the air and spiraling toward the Ashen knight. They detonate as they draw near, erupting and sending mist and water scattering.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Destiny or fate or happenstance, it is what it is. The Argent Knight stands, holding her weapon, as the Ashen Knight argues. The Umbral Knight agrees with her, at least. In relief, and in weariness. But Argent feels no relief in this. She is smaller, her weapon dwarfing her, a beautiful long axe of silver might. And she swings.

The first salvo is not enough. Argent shatters the ice as it comes, because she was expecting such a trick, this time. But as their battle continues, she does not take the decisive strike she could next. How many...?

"Many," Argent says of slaughtered allies. "You would stand with me? You would, knowing the things I have done to keep these worlds safe?"

The Umbral Knight must be correct. And yet...

Stroke after stroke, the Argent Knight swings, her magic and her miht both clearing paths through infinity. She continues. But...

As the Ashen Knight fights, continues, the Argent can see it.


She finally moves back, hefting her Device again and looking warily upon the Ashen Knight. "How am I to know a thing that cannot be?" she asks, softly. "...I fight to save. I fight that the other worlds need not know the loss my home did. For this, I acted even against..."

"...But they are dying all the same, aren't they? A slow death instead of a fast. Is it any better?"

In the midst of the battle, she turns--to face the Umbral Knight.

"...it is too late for you and I. But perhaps it is not so for one who held to the Princess's vision."

"It is we who have learned nothing."

<Pose Tracker> Kyouka Okazaki [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

The Umbral Knight chides her for not having learned anything, and attacks. Ashen attempts to fall back, but is just a moment too slow, caught up in the swirling of ice and mist.

And yet, it is this ice and mist that she uses to her advantage--she is outnumbered, to be certain, but she summons ice to her cause, and upon a field of water, she can turn the field itself to her cause. Waves and walls of ice, chilling winds, every trick she can think of to slow but not harm her fallen comrades.

"I have learned much in my travels-- I have seen the worlds that we 'saved' grow cold and wither, I have seen seen those who once hailed us as saviors deem us tyrants, and worlds that I could not convince by word or deed of the threat that would befall them because instead of reaching out with an open hand, we clutched for all with a tight fist! Tell me, what did you learn in your travels?"

But while one former friend may find relief, another is uncertain-- and Ashen blings desparately to this chance.

Argent questions if Ashen would stand with her, after the deeds she has committed to save worlds--and Ashen softly replies, "None of our hands are clean, Argent. Mine as well as yours. It is a burden I shall carry all my life."

But eventually, it seems, her words reach through to argent s she withdraws, and Ashen draws back too, instead of pressing the assault.

"They are. I... I know not if they can yet be restored, but I must try."

She turns to Umbral when Argent does. Her weapon is held at the ready, but she does not attack. "I say it is not too late. Please, we have already lost so many. Let us not add more to our scales. What say you? What good does pursuing me gain, when worlds continue to suffer? When there are worlds yet to save?"

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Weapons flash between the three combatants. Each stroke of the Umbral Knight's blade is a tidal wave of force that throws long ripples across the endless water.

His movements are slower than the Ashen Knight's by far, but each is more brutal than the last. Where the sword goes it scours the ground, leaving scars beneath the surface of the water at their feet.

And, when they part and the battle lulls long enough for the Argent Knight to speak again...

He remembers the fear in the eyes of the people they'd visited, and the flicker flames of life that linger. He remembers what they've done, and the heavy toll it's taken.

But he remembers the tower, and every cost they paid. The valiant sacrifice against an impossible enemy, and every sacrifice after.

He refutes her.

BGM: Still in the Dark Piano Arrangement - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dILd4K1HKec>

"Through Belka, they'll all be saved." He refutes her. "Our Princess, our Queen, they both died to protect our world. And you...if you'd throw that away...you don't deserve to speak their names."

Anger flares, fueled by pain and denial. Hot enough to burn through the scars. "What good will your restoration do, when our enemy returns? How can you give up all we've worked for, so that someone else can die?"

The Umbral Knight's shoulders sag, as if the weight upon them had doubled. "If this is your choice...then I'll stand alone."

The weapon in his hand pulses once, dark starlight running across its wide blade. Dark eyes turn down toward it.

"No, not alone. You've been at my side all along." Slowly, with a heavy hand, he raises his weapon once more. "Then, just one last time."

And one more time, he goes to do his duty.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

The water beneath their feet ceased to be a mirror the moment the first step was taken, but gradually it is ceasing to be clear. At first it was predominantly Ashen, facing opposition two on one, who had to contend with blood drawn -- and with wounds lingering without proper care. She's been on the run for so long, and with little support most of the time.

Even then, though, she did get in a few hits -- more on Argent, truthfully, than on Umbral; that heavy axe is particularly ill-suited to defense, and while no one would mistake his partner for a Device prone to turtling up, the man who wields it also wears heavier armor than his counterpart. There is simply more to get through.

But now, facing the two of them alone, a third source of blood mingles with the others. Crimson swirls and whorls; each drop a universe of pollution of a crystal of previously infinite clarity; each drop a death of something that had been pure and still and good.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

"I have learned death and misery, cold and darkness," Argent answers the Ashen Knight only at length, only after she turns to the Umbral Knight. Amidst the chill and the red blood, the Argent Knight looks to the Umbral Knight. "Even Belka has not been saved. It is a shell of what it was. Without the Princess..." The Argent Knight shakes her head.

Her axe rises once again. "...I think I will not see her again," she reflects solemnly, and perhaps they will know to whom she refers.

"So be it."

With all her power, the Argent Knight comes at her friend the Umbral Knight, whirling again as her axe swings into a set of triangular runes that burst into a powerful spell.

"Perhaps it will do no good," she will say, in the dance of weaponry, in the swing and counterswing of spell and blade.

"Perhaps all is doomed, because we could not finish in the first place."

Another slash, standing in her own blood.

"...But I will remember her hope. And it will have an answer."

<Pose Tracker> Kyouka Okazaki [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

There are wounds, both physical and not, have not had a chance to scar over. Their fight bloodies the pool, and it is a reminder that even her cause, one that she feels is now righteous, will inevitably be stained by the past.

One more thing of beauty destroyed by Belka's legacy.

Umbral refutes her, and Ashen warily shakes her head. "I would not destroy their work, merely see it completed. Why must Belka shoulder the burden alone? Why must we alone be responsible? Why not rally others to our cause? To add the strength of others to our own, rather than to steal it away where it will aid naught?"

"You do not have to stand alone, Umbral. Together we have done much and more. Would that we could do so once again..." There is a certain amount of despair that leaks into her voice. She knows what must come next, and she hopes that she and Argent are up to the task.

Her strength is faltering, but yet she tightens her grip on her blade. Her muscles ache, her wounds bleed, but she draws herself tall. She feels, deep down, that pervasive dread: that all this will be for naught and she will be slain, that she must slay a friend this day, that she may yet fail in her quest...

... and she clings to hope. Argent has received her message, stands at her side, and maybe, just maybe, that will be enough.

Before she was attempting to stall, to fight defensively to give herself time to reason with her fellow comrades in arms. Now she goes on the offensive, trying to use her speed to maneuver around the Umbral Knight's magic, to score any blow she can against that heavy armor. Her blade flashes, and and belkan triangles summon sharp icicle after sharp icicle to probe at those mighty defenses.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

"I remember too." The Umbral Knight says. "The burden has always been ours. Belka is the only one strong enough. I will be the only one, if I have to be."

There's not much more time for speakingand the Umbral Knight has no more words.

The power behind the spells that the Argent Knight unleashes can't be blunted, biting deep into the Umbral Knight's armor.

As the battle goes on that dark armor fractures and dents.The Umbral Knight is like a mountain, but even such things can crack and crumble under enough pressure.

And the Ashen Knight, with speed and skill, applies that pressure in tandem with the Argent. It's enough to put the larger knight in a more defense position, a switch-up from the brutal offense a moment prior.

Those great, sweeping strikes still come regardless, but slowed from aching frost and deep wounds. But the determination is still there, unfaltering even as wounds run red and stain the water below.

The air blurs with purple-black light, contrails and spells burning into the air as this last battle nears its end.

<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Snow Rain (Piano) - Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's OST - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rzKZ6cxqf8

Umbral is extraordinary.

Said by many to be the greatest of Her Majesty's knights, rivaled only by Radiant; and even there, an argument could be made that he is the greater among equals (though it would be an argument, and one that could be won by either party). Umbral was a father figure to some, a mentor figure to others. He commanded respect. And even back during the first war, he commanded a certain amount of healthy fear. No one crossed Umbral. There was just too much to lose in doing so, even if, among friends, it was mainly his esteem at stake.

All this to say that as the battle rages on, it is titanic; where Ashen, in facing two at once, knew her death sentence to be assured, here the outcome is still in question. It doesn't help that his dark visage barely even shows wounds. Umbral is inexorable; inevitable. As long as he can keep going, he is a deadly threat.

Make no mistake, this is not a battle that Argent and Ashen could ever win with mercy. And they know it -- they know that their only chance to stop Umbral is with a fatal blow -- that to stay their hand is to lose their life in turn.

And despite Umbral's advantages -- in strength, in experience, in being the least wounded of the three when the battle turned against him -- the advantage of numbers remains exceedingly real. Argent and Ashen are both legendary warriors themselves; to duel one of them would require a full tithe of Umbral's attention, even if he, unlike they, might be able to afford to hold back in single combat.

But it's not single.

And he and his old friend -- just one last time -- must also strike to kill.

There is a moment when it really seems like he might win it (for whatever definition of winning remains), and that is when he takes Argent's arm.

Argent, his close companion long before this dimensional chase. Argent, who minutes ago was on the same side. He could have chosen a less destructive option; he couldn't have, at the same time. He didn't; he doesn't.

Her left arm crashes into the drink, and any lingering tides of innocent clarity are drowned by all the blood.

She lives, yet, but surely not for long.

Ashen and Umbral lock eyes.

And it is in this moment that they surprise one another. Umbral is not the FASTEST knight, but he moves faster than she expects, and in a moment his Device will have separated her top half from her bottom. And Ashen is not the strongest, but this time, when her rapier strikes his armor, it strikes impossibly true, he can feel the thrust gliding into his chest.

But then--

--underneath all of them, the Belkan triangle pulses with energy, with light. Whatever color it really is, on the far side of all that blood, it assuredly shines red, and--

"No!" cries a fourth voice. An unexpected voice.

Though the fifth voice is perhaps even more so.


Spears of white light sprout like a bamboo forest amid the battle. One separates the tip of Ashen's rapier from Umbral's aorta. One blocks Umbral's greatsword from Ashen's waist.

One cauterizes Argent's arm.

And another dozen appear too. They pin Umbral, Argent and Ashen in place.

"Not like this," says the Pillar of Cephiro.

She has been Ashen's sometimes companion in this journey, though they rarely took the risk of being in the same place at the same time. She is utterly different from the Belkan Princess; soft where she was hard; loud where she was quiet; nervous where she was certain.

Most of all, the Belkan Princess would have laughed herself sick if someone had suggested she wield a bejeweled scepter as a Device. Her Aegis was a symbol of her soul, of her determination to protect everyone. This gemstone was certainly not robbed from her grave -- there was no body anyway, nothing left of her or her Device to bury, after what she did to end the Outsider threat.

But there is something reminiscent of her in the young woman's kindness.

"Not like this," repeats this Princess. "You must come, now, to the Pericosmic Array." Where she has already been -- because the Ashen Knight was stalling for more than just the time to talk the others down. "All of you. Every hand is needed. Before it's too late--"

<< CEASE AND DESIST, KNAVE!! >> Souverain Heraut adds helpfully.

This was CLEARLY directed at Stern.

The Princess blinks at her Device -- taken from the Vault she just left, no doubt -- with awe and wonder.

"Please," she implores Umbral, more gently still. "Come and see what I have seen. If, after that, you still demand my blood, you shall have it. One on one. But I think it more likely that you shall wake up--"


How the Pillar of Cephiro finished that sentence remains a mystery, because Kyouka, Setsuna and Endo find themselves back on the early spring lawn, under the stars.

Bright blue eyes, bright red eyes, and dark brown eyes each open.


Elsewhere, a fourth pair opens, too...

"Not like this!!" is shrieked through a throat too long closed, a tongue too long stilled.


The moment of relative relief of the Tokyo evening -- the softness of the grass, the darkness of the sky, the coolness of the night, relative to the world of brightness and crashing waters and stinking blood that they've just woken up from, is interrupted almost immediately.

Endo's phone goes off.

It's Lindy.