Difference between revisions of "2020-02-08 - MGLN SeekerS: The Big Beginning 2"

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(Created page with "{|class="toccolours" cellspacing="2" |- ! style="background:#CC6699; border: 2px #CC0033 solid; font-size: 110%;" align="center" colspan="2" | '''Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha S...")
 
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Latest revision as of 17:55, 9 February 2020

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha SeekerS: The Big Beginning 2
Summary:

More magical girls arrive to support the group being assaulted by Dark Heraut, but they aren't the only ones with allies. Shadow Stern and Black Sky decimate the opposition, and take something from Endo and Lera by force.

Who:

Endo Naoki, Lera Camry, Setsuna Higashi, Kasagami Araki, Fate Testarossa, Fuu Hououji, Signum Yagami, Mikoto Minagi, Steven Universe, Niramo Umokeshi, Vita Yagami, Shamal Yagami

NPCs: Dark Heraut, Shadow Stern, Black Sky

GM: Pink Moon Stick

Where:

Easter Department Store

OOC - IC Date:

2/8/2020 - 08-05-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Easter Department Store +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
  Japanese department stores ('depaato') have only a slight resemblance to      
  their Western counterparts. Resembling classy vertical shopping malls, they   
  are committed to imparting a feeling of prestige to their customers. Easter   
  Depaato is a classic example of this type, with all the traditional touches.  
  Customers are greeted frequently and personally by formally dressed           
  salespeople, and 'elevator girls' ensure customers don't need to exhaust      
  themselves pressing buttons. Most purchases are placed into packaging         
  prominently displaying the carved lettering and orbiting star of the Easter   
  Corporation, so everyone knows they came from a fine department store.        
                                                                                
  The stores available in this ten-story, silver-ribbed black building are      
  diverse. The basement is home to a full grocery store, the ground floor       
  hosts accessories. Three stories of women's wear, two of men's, and a kimono  
  store follow in succession, then the stores diversify, with toy, book, and    
  ceramics shops sharing floors. Finally, the top floor and roof boast upscale  
  restaurants, with the latter surrounding an open-air terrace garden.          
<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

PREVIOUSLY ON BATTLE FANTASIA

<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yZGwvBKTCg Innocent Starter ~Instrumental~

From high, high above, it's an ocean of lights. The sun rises, and it becomes an ocean of people instead.

Tokyo.

Almost forty million people. Every single one of them is an answer to a question someone else doesn't yet know to ask.

What am I missing?

Who do I love?

Why am I alone?

How do I decide what to believe?

Where is my home?

Forty million answers.

Sometimes you can't just wait for them.

Sometimes, answers must be sought.

After a long wait, the new season, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha SeekerS, begins!

---

IF YOU WEREN'T HERE LAST NIGHT:

It's a beautiful summer afternoon in early August, and you were doing something other than shopping at the ten-story omnimall Easter Depaato.

BUT THEN

<SoundTracker> Dark Hour Transition https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkcmsXEtoKI

There's a sudden whisper in the air, and then a lasting tension.

Sweeping from above to below, a MAGICAL BARRIER falls -- which is to say, something causes everyone to shift a half-dimension to the right.

Everyone magical, that is. The general population simply vanishes as they're left behind on Actual, Real Earth, like a giant dry-eraser hit Tokyo and then slid downwards. Don't worry. They're quite safe. That's the whole point of these things, after all.

Within the barrier, the air quickly becomes one breath too stale because it's one hair too still. Everything is very, very faintly tinged with green; not enough to spoil every other color, but enough to make things gloomy, to make things just a bit dark.

The barrier was cast from above.

It radiated outwards from Yamanote.

It seems to have centered on the Easter Department Store. Even if one isn't particularly attuned to the geography of these things, the way its roof just collapsed, creating a plume of concrete dust visible for miles around: pretty good clue.

NOW

Floors ten and nine explode consecutively, with perhaps thirty or forty seconds between each one. Obviously a battle of considerable intensity is taking place inside.

The slagged remains of a deep fryer crash into the sidewalk out front, creating an impressive little crater. For better or for worse, that's the 'nice' thing about barriers: as long as the battle remains within it, all this collateral damage will just go away once it lifts, because this isn't really Earth, not anymore, not quite.

But it's not so nice, too. The kind of wonton destruction that can be achieved in a place with no lasting consequences on the scenery... is as ugly as it can be beautiful (such as the ultraviolet light that just poured out of floors eight and seven, shattering every single window in the building).

Glass shards fall like rain.

IF YOU WERE HERE LAST NIGHT:

<YOU ARE FAULTY,> Fallen Stern accuses Souverain Heraut -- a pretty reasonable thing to say to an Intelligent Device who is attacking all his friends, his family, most of whom were just imprisoned by phantasmal spears of light and shadow. He claims to be going it alone; there is technically a shadowy figure, all black cowl and cloak, touching the ornate spear, but Heraut seems to be taking them along for the ride, rather than -- as is usual -- the other way around. This violates a lot of things people know about how magic works. It's also just creepy as heck.

<< I AM N*T AT FAULT!! >>

Oh, Heraut's pissed. Especially because he was unable to prevent the impact of Endo's Meteor Absturz. It dug deep into the layers of cloak. It may have even hit something underneath, though it comes away bloodlessly. (Which doesn't mean much, there's a lot of plasma and whatnot flying around.)

There's a moment where this could be it, could have been it. Endo could have detonated some mana off of Fallen Stern, perhaps, following up with a massive explosion. The others could have closed in around the stunned figure once more.

But it isn't.

Don't blame Endo.

It's not his fault.

<YOU ARE FAULTY.> agrees Stern... but this time, his voice came from another direction.

It came from below.

A second shadowy figure rises up from the exposed seventh floor (kimonos). Apparently they can fly, which is, all things considered, exceptionally unfair.

Because they're holding a second, identical Fallen Stern.

One which is glowing with an intensely powerful version of the attack that was just unleashed. The violet flares coming off the sword are edging into the spectrum invisible to human eyes, but everyone can feel the heat behind them.

<METEOR ABSTURZ> plows into Endo from behind.

TO BE CONTINUED...

...NOW.

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

Endo was prepared to press, to strike against once his first blow lands.

He was not prepared for a second Fallen Stern. The appearance of a second version of his device beings with it flashbacks to the last time this had happened, high above the earth in an old Belkan spaceship. On the one hand is confirms his suspicion--but on the other, isn't good news at all.

He doesn't have time to turn and meet the assault, only to hear the mirrored voice of his device and crane his head backward.

The barrier that his own device forms is faster.

It's also useless.

The dark blade of the other Fallen Stern cleaves into the protective dome, sheering through it in an instant. The mirrored Stern bites deep into the armor of Endo's barrier jacket after. The explosion of the impact doesn't just send Endo reeling, it removes him from the area altogether. It lifts him from his feet, sending him tumbling across the department store, through the cracked remains of a glass pane, and into one of the nearby shops.

His Fallen Stern goes with him, impacting the ground with a solid and final clang.


<Pose Tracker> Cure Passion [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

The figure's hand waves, and these spears of light crash towards Cure Passion, too. The ceiling is gone; the floor is impaled. Cure Passion swings back, whirling in place and delivering a blow that hits with a shockwave of red light--

Around one bar. The shockwave may continue, but Passion is stuck behind these bars as surely as any of them, even if they didn't have to touch her to do it. She blinks, looking back to Lera for an instant and then forward--

"Look out--"

Her eyes widen when she hears Stern's second voice, and sees Endo crash onward. "!" She can't quite get out a word for her alarm in the next moment, not even a name, as their troubles multiply clearly. "...This is..."

The tension in Passion's arms is clear--subtle signs of dismay color her features, her defensive stance even while imprisoned, a nervous look to and from Lera and the others, and towards where Endo is far away...

"..." Lera transforms again, and pushes outward--so, "I won't leave you to go alone!"

Cure Passion does not have the magic to leave as Lera did, so instead she pulls back her fist, and starts the first of a flurry of moves, battering away at the barrier with the sheer force of her strikes in an effort to batter forward to join those up ahead.

COMBAT: Cure Passion has used Breaking Through on Dark Heraut.
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Bars of light slam down into the ground all about Lera Camry. Bars of energy that form a cage -- and she still flies forward, smashing into it. It bounces her backward, the bars crackling with static and power. Her Barrier Jacket crackles, too, and her feet slam into the ground. Her feet skid across it, as she looks up. Her eyes widen -- she sees the impact of Fallen Stern into the darkened Souverain Heraut.

But before she can smile, part of the building explodes. Another shadowy figure, and a familiar blade, which cleaves into--

"ENDO-SAN!" Lera screams, lips curled back and teeth bared in a rictus of fear. He slams through a window, glass shattering outward, and she feels a fresh rush of fear. And regret. And panic.

Her fingers tense, and curl, at her side. She stares at the shadowy figure holding that copy of Fallen Stern. "I--I need to get up there. Fast."

<Sky. Take over.> Ground's voice crackles. <You're the faster of us.>

There is a moment's hesitation, then: <Get set!>

The shield vanishes, in a burst of light; a bracelet dangles from Lera's wrist, and the two-toned golden and silver sword of Soaring Sky is revealed inside. The blade gleams, though not as bright as before. Plasma explodes off Lera, from under her feet, as a Belkan triangle forms -- spinning, interior circles and runes moving at slightly different speeds -- and blows back the spears.

They bend, but do not break. They bend outward though -- and Lera surges up, concentric rings of light exploding underneath her feet. The spears of light from Heraut bend -- and then snap back to a single point just as she clears them, and swings her blade backward.

"What are you!?" she yells at the newly appeared Fallen Stern, before swinging Soaring Sky. The blade gleams; then there is a white-gold flash, and a blast of light shoots off its edge mid-slash.

<Aura Smite!>

COMBAT: Lera Camry transforms into Barrier Jacket Perihelion!
COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Aura Smite on Shadow Stern.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut braces 11 Fatigue damage from Cure Passion's Breaking Through, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  
COMBAT: Shadow Stern braces 13 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Aura Smite, taking 11 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry is Psyched!
Shadow Stern's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

~Summer Vacation, The Bootshoppening~

Kasagami Araki is quite annoyed as she slowly comes to terms with the fact that it's hard to find decent boot polish. Decent being relative of course; she still very much struggles with not having money to throw around, and so her exacting standards for footwear as well as near-total lack of funds have the Duelist hoofing it as she picks through every relevent shop. Were she a wiser person, more open to trying that one low dollar boot polish that might work?

Pride goeth before the bootdulling. There is a lot of pride here. Kassie walks straight out of one of the shops, door barely hitting her on the side as she stomps off. She needs to cool her head. One hand runs through her hair as she sticks some spare change into a vending machine. Ker-thunk. Crack.

Siiiippp.

"Is this what it's like to be a pauper? To not have money? A wretched experience! The absolute worst!" Grouses the young woman before crunching the can and tossing it in the bin. Bounce. Bounce right on the rim. It rolls roun-and-round then...

Tension enters, and falls right into place. The can is gone, or more accurately, shifted aside. Kasagami's monetary melancholy ends as her entire body coils like a spring. Magic! The magic of a Device user. Snapped to alert, her gaze rises. Some instinct tells her where to go. She reaches into her coat, and images reflected by metal shine while her pair gains crimson red. She's off at once, blade across her shoulders and a bad feeling on her mind.

~Now~

Kasagami arrives at the massive department store, jaw set and that unease not exactly lessened by the fact she's pretty sure that th site of the battle is right in front of her. No matter how much she might chomp at the bit to swing her blade and show her skills, the feeling of the Barrier itself adds an edge of concern to it all. The bad feeling isn't going away. There's also an entire frier going out the window in an explosion that's as beautiful as it is dangerous. Kasagami steps aside from the gigantic hunk of metal that wizzes past her to crunch into sidewalk, leaving her coat and hair fluttering.

Hardly worried about damage at this point, she kicks down the door of an emergency exit leading to flights of stairs upwards, the Duelist ready to begin taking it a floor at a time amidst the magical explosions occuring there. She wonders if she'll get there in time to make a difference...

"Who's causing all of this!?" Wonders Kasagami, gripping her family's blade tightly with both hands, gaze already focused and ready.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.


Fate's blow finds itself stopped by the false Heraut suddenly extending, just an inch from the cowl. And yet the girl herself keeps going for the tick of a second. Like it was meant to be a drive-by attack and suddenly it isn't.

Hooked around Heraut, the girl tries to yank him free - in the same moment that Mikoto descends. Unhooking Bardiche, she starts to back up at high speed.

The glitchy call suddenly sends an array of spikes to skewer the girl. And Bardiche chimes to announce.

<Blitz Rush.>

The spikes pass through the girl only for the girl's image to fade to a haze of yellow and violet that streaks off to the side - leaving behind the spikes that should have impaled her.

When she reappears a distance away, the girl pants, putting a hand up to her far too thin barrier jacket.

There's tiny punctures present that didn't quite penetrate in far enough to hit anything vital before her spell took her away. So close that it was unnerving.

"That was close." The girl casts a grateful glance towards Mikoto from where she hovers, Bardiche in hand. Before sending a message back to Signum. <<I think that just proved your point. What do you recommend?>>

Stern under Endo's hand sends a spell she's seen far too often.

A second Stern warbles, from a different direction.

The girl pivots - but only in time to see the spell she knows all too well plowing into Endo.

It takes her a second to fully process the horror. Like that day she saw a hand through his chest.

"En... do?"

And as he falls...

"ENDO!"

With that unnerving crash the girl truly finally processes this turn of events.

Suddenly every wing on her ankles and wrists twitch, and the girl takes off in a flash. There's a sensation of where she she is on one side - then another - in a dizzying disorientation. Her voice seeming to be on the move all the time. "What are you here to do!? If you're that similar to Stern - then it wouldn't make sense for you to help Heraut take down Endo!"

Even as she questions, there's a subtle note of fear in her words. A fear of the unknown. Another enemy she knows nothing about taking them all down.

<Plasma Lancer>

Suddenly the telltale chime of the spell announces the attack.

Then Fate seems to stop - appearing in front of the Second Stern's line of sight a good distance away, cutting Bardiche's Haken form down in its direction

"FIRE!"

Yet the projectiles aren't there.

On the opposite end of Shadow Stern, are four arrowheads of lightning, contained in runic rings. They all try to lance the wielder's back with thunderous force.

And should they miss, she simply commands for them to 'Turn'.


COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Plasma Lancer on Shadow Stern.
<Pose Tracker> Signum Yagami [None] has posed.

The building is abrading. Abrading!

Signum thinks such thoughts. Her mind is potent in its ratiocinations: she is not a General merely by courtesy or from engineering. The skill is rarely applied here in a realm where her master's ambitions tend to be the kind that involved puffed cheeks, a slapped bicep, and p0wning someone on the online leaderboards, rather than (for instance) the strife at the end of the Kamakura period.

But forces erode against each other, and against static objects. The Easter Department Store is one of the latter, now. The barrier is a grace, if a terrifying one.

All of this is woolgathering. The spears fence Signum is as she recovers from the full-bore assault that she had just released. And the Device, Heraut - or whatever it may be - is damnably fast. The spears snap outwards and Signum's guard protects her core, but she is flung back, fenced in by the spears. Her legs snap up into a half-crouch -- just a moment before she would have been pinned.

And then a moment later, Endo Naoki is pinned instead.

Signum feels a grim frisson of terror. It then settles into a grave and focused solemnity.

"Bogenform," Signum says, within her cage. The Device ripples - contracting, spreading like wings, turning into a curved and splendid form as Signum raises it upwards. She straightens within her cage and sets the edge of her hand against one of the embedded spears, sighting down an invisible line and drawing back the bow as she states:

"You gan ya ji ru shi," in swift succession. Six syllables; a sharp spell, the arrow neon-blue with a gray-cloud sphere. It fires forwards, not towards Heraut directly, but at the ground just before Heraut - whereupon it bursts, with a scream like festival fireworks, to send 77 subsidiary spell-sparks upwards, largely in a scattering barrage but with several flying back to impact on Signum's cage. Two of them hit; it is enough to free her.

She replies to Fate. <<Unknown. This is a new circumstance. Try to support Naoki. If we can breach the barrier I will contact Shamal...>>

COMBAT: Shadow Stern perfectly braces 27 Fatigue damage from Fate Testarossa's Plasma Lancer, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical
Brace!  Shadow Stern's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Heraut's Majestic Crasher hits hard enough to knock the Magic Knight of Wind away, although she manages to land more or less on her feet and relatively unharmed ...

Right before the spears erupt underneath and around her, along with her closest-at-the-moment neighbors - all three of them fairly well known to Fuu by now, evem if she still wants to know them better when time permits. Which, at the moment, it doesn't - particularly when those spears bite deep enough into her legs and arms, where her armor doesn't cover, to inflict some extremely painful injuries.

On the bright side, even though she's been unable to get another word in edgeways, the pieces *are* starting to fall into place. Rather than try to call the rebel Devices out, the Wind Knight focuses her will, whispering, "Winds of Healing," and casting a restorative spell centered on herself. It won't necessarily help *much* - as usual, mid-battle healing is little more than a patch job - but it should at least let herself, Mikoto, and Steven move and fight more freely again. Fate seems unimpaired, at least - or if she is, it's not *stopping* her.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Cleanse! All of Fuu Hououji's
debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Signum Yagami has used Youganyajirushi on Dark Heraut.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

There's someone in there.

There's someone in there, under black and black and black.

But Mikoto doesn't have much time to think about it. Heraut reclaims his personal space - goes further; her eyes widen, as the scepter lengthens, becomes a lance. Suddenly he doesn't need to activate any force field, because she's shifted a half-step back of her own volition, ba-ba-bum beats the staccato alarm of her heart.

She remembers - she remembers --

And that step back is a motion which settles her weight on her back foot; her knee sinks, her ankle flexes. That phantasmal lance carves up through the ground - not, she thinks distantly, unlike her own magic. Up they come. She carves through. The cage batters at her, for one sheer unpleasant moment, before she bursts in past the magic. She leaps up and forward, to bring the flat of her blade down against the shoulder of Heraut's host.

Her breath falls quick over her lips - her pupils are penstroke-narrow like a cat at noon - and that's when she catches herself, a sharp breath through the nose now, as Mikoto springs away and separates herself from Heraut-plus-one.

She has to clear some space - clear her head - she's not there, as blade meets lance, though her eyes find Fate in that moment, to make sure she's okay. Her attention is torn back by Fallen Stern's voice --

"Endo!" Mikoto cries - she has felt the power in Meteor Absturz, knows precisely what hits his back like a freight train. And that - and that - it looks even more powerful than that attack which easily halved her will to fight.

Danger strums through her mind, midst black blades and ornate lances, this is not the first time --

But Mikoto is not so enmeshed, now, and Miroku's feelings are cast a different shade. She takes a breath, centres herself. It's okay, she thinks, deliberately. It's different now.

Even though she's wearied, even though her breath comes in through panting gasps and she's aching from all those lances...

None of them are doing this alone, just like Cure Passion says.

Mikoto isn't doing this alone, and she doesn't have to sublimate to the violence of her instincts.

"Fate!" Mikoto yells, turning to that girl and her wings. "Lera, too-!!" She does not know the intricacies of Belkans and Midchildan conflict: what she knows is the venom the - false? - Heraut threw at Soaring Sky and Fallen Stern. And there's Soaring Sky, setting up, going very, very fast --

Fate is one of the fastest people Mikoto knows.

As for Mikoto, she'll be able to move faster - now the Winds of Healing settle over her bones. "Thanks," she calls, in sighing relief, to the Wind Knight, "for everything." Updrafts to catch her when she fell, a soothing breeze...

She makes her way to follow Lera, too.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Cleanse! All of Mikoto Minagi's debuffs
are cleared!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used We're Not Alone on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa accepts Mikoto Minagi's We're Not Alone, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Fate Testarossa is
Reinforced by Mikoto Minagi!
<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Steven is impacting something with his attacks. There is substance there, under the ensorcelling curtain. But who is to say what it is? A person? Or something best left unseen?

A glancing blow and a slide to the left. Steven lets his palm graze the debris covered floor to help him stop. Felt like sandpaper. No time to care about that. "Why destroy? Seriously, try talking things out with them! I bet you would get to like them. THe yare very helpful!" shouts Steven, in some vain hope that that would stop the fight.

Always have to give it a shot. Doesn't feel like hes really fighting if he tries to resolve it without violence. May be a dumb prospect, but compassion is a strong suit.

He is also twelve, as another point.

Speaking of small children, Steven suddenly finds himself propelled in a direction that wasn't running toward Dark Heraut. Impaling THUNK noises accompany it. And a painful scratching feeling on his back. "Ouch! Hey what--"

The boy has been impaled to a partially destroyed floor wall by several spears! The two that may have been fatal deflected by a mother's gift. The other three have lanced through clothing and no have him against it. One going through the shirt scruff has loosed blood, though not much, thankfully.

"Gotta be kidding me...!" The boy complains, reaching over and struggling to pry them free. This odd position also gives a clean view of Endo getting jumped by... "Wait WHAAAAT?" His voice becoming higher pitched as the moment plays out. That's totally Endo's sword hitting Endo who is holding his sword?! Okay, so mad clone or diabolical copy or evil future twin stuff is playing out here. In the moment, Steven finds strength in the tension, loosing two spears, his pant leg not enough to support keeping him aloft alone. His fall is accompanied by a lower pantleg ripping.

"Okay, they gotta go!" he chokes out as he leaps from a cloud of dust where he fell. Fuu's winds are noted, which help clear his lungs and help his back wound.

It was time to bring the pain to a jerk. Well, which one though??? Heraut was dangerous, but the new guy with the Stern-alike took out Endo in one hit. Maybe him. Might be best to keep the pressure on the first guy! If they can deal with him, then they can turn to the new enemy!

The boy waits for a solid moment, then will try to wail into the mysterious figure with several swings, trying to clip them with the shield's edge and follow with a mighty shield-bared uppercut! "Both of you should just go away!" A look to his allies. "Passion, Miss Signum, I'm not the hard hitter here, looking for ideas!"

COMBAT: Steven Universe has used Shield Bash on Dark Heraut.
<Pose Tracker> Niramo Umokeshi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.


Starbooks isn't a location that Niramo would think to be busy at all hours of the day, especially during the odd hours of the afternoon. Being around others and not having to listen to the stir of the air conditioning unit droning on is the whole reason she left her home in the first place. Bring a good book, maybe people watch while taking a slight break from her book and letting the humdrum of conversations flood around her is what she pictured her afternoon to be like

Unfortunately for her, the pull of overpriced caffinated drinks and pastries is strong enough to keep Starbooks packed constantly.

The constant loud babble in the congested coffee chain store makes her iced hot chocolate (or is it just cold chocolate?) taste slightly bitter and difficult to become mentally lost in her novel. Niramo lets out a soft sigh and mumbles to herself out of fustration. "Ugh, is this place ever empty?"

As the Barrier falls, the only thing that Niramo notices at first is a tingling sensation that goes down her skin, hair standing up.

The second thing she notices is the sudden silence that fills the entire room, the void of noise echoing almost painfully in the shop.

There wasn't even the sound of air flowing through the building anymore.

Tensing up from the sudden change in atmosphere, Niramo looks around her at the empty chain store in confusion at first, then apprehension. A few moments later, the head of Niramo's mouse fairy friend peeks out from her bookbag, analyzing the bristo and the sudden lack of occupants.

The ravenette and Kwami look at each other for a second before the young girl is rushing out of the store, Takk flying after her. Niramo's been around long enough that when she's suddendly the only person visibally in sight, magic is always to blame.


It doesn't take a genius to figure out where the source of the magical disturbance is, with the cloud of concrete dust rising from a well known department store acting like a signal fire. Sourisi reaches a neighboring building and eyes the Easter building. "Right...uh, stairs or try climbing the outside?"

The colorful and actually impressive explosion sending a hunk of machinery flying out a window gives a perfect entryway, as long as she tries to avoid the remaining flames.

A moment to blink at the exterior violence is all Sourisi gives herself before she reaches for her tonfa. "Right, outside it is!" Walking back a few steps to give herself a running start, the Miraculous User takes a powerful leap towards the side of the department store.

The leap ends up being a little short, but a tonfa stabbing into the building is enough for a handhold. "Right...stairs are still superior."

COMBAT: Niramo Umokeshi transforms into Sourisi!
COMBAT: Dark Heraut partially dodges 2 Fatigue damage from Steven Universe's Shield Bash, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Steven Universe is Psyched!  Dark Heraut's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Dark Heraut cleanly braces 23 Fatigue damage from Signum Yagami's Youganyajirushi, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  
<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

Something like 20 minutes ago, in a city park far, far away:

Vita Yagami sits happily on a park bench, exerting tremendous psychic and digestive pressure against a two-stack of strawberry ice cream. She wanted four. She wanted four so badly. But Hayate, the best and greatest master anywhere ever, says four is too many, and Vita accepts such truths to her very marrow.

Regardless, contemplating the power of ice cream cones leaves Vita unaware of the low buzzing in the back of her head that usually tells her something terrible is about to happen. She has a scoop 2/3 in her mouth when her skin crawls with the unpleasant, sick feeling of dimension shifting without a clutch. She looks up with alarm, the familiar turn in the color of the sky. She's /done/ this to people...but other people dropping /her/ into barriers is something she's not felt much in this icnarnation. She chews off the entire mouthful, and immediately squeezes her eyes shut, making a horrible, whining noise.

Their nearby family Guardian Beast dutifully lets her whine her way through the early pains of an ice cream headache. "Gah, dangit! Zafira, we'll keep an eye on Hayate! I'll..."

She blinks, in the direction Zafira is pointing with his snout.

"...Signum," she mutters. "She was shopping today, wasn't she...?"

She hands the cone over to Zafira, who tilts his head and takes it in his teeth, upright. "I'm going to check on her! Keep an eye on Hayate! AND that!"

Vita charges off down the now-depopulated street, is surmounted by shining red light, and then leaps into the sky, skirts flapping in the wind.

VERY SOON:

The crimson comet of the Crimson Rider pulls quite suddenly to a halt, magic dispersing her momentum as Easter Department Store erupts with power right in front of her. "What is it this time," she mutters. "Eisen! Guards up."

Her boisterous, if not particularly vocal, Device tones a low agreement, while Vita reaches out across the Wolkenritter telepathic link. <<Signum! I'm at Easter, what's going on down there?>>

COMBAT: Vita Yagami transforms into Crimson Iron Rider!
<Pose Tracker> Shamal Yagami [None] has posed.

A blonde woman in a tasteful mint cardigan and ankle-length skirt had been browsing a small streetside grocer when the barrier went up. She was self-evidently a foreigner, even her distracted humming possessing a certain exotic timbre. A cloth shopping bag hung from the crook of one elbow as she gently thumbed through leeks as though they were pages of a book. Browsing, this librarian of vegetables had spent some time already selecting the brightest and most taut-skinned peppers for her plastic hand cart. Several small glass bottles of sauce rested carefully in the corner.

"I think... this one." Shamal rests a forefinger on her selection. But before she can make to lift it, the emerald rings on that finger and her ring give a tiny pulse. Hoop earrings ripple as the foreign woman turns her head towards the open storefront. Gentle eyes sharpening, she makes for the exit hastily.

"Madam?" the clerk asks, surprised, but the only answer he receives is the plastic hand cart dropped in front of him on the checkout counter, and all he can do is watch the blonde abscond.

In the street before the storefront, Shamal looks down a few blocks to the department store. "Signum?" she realizes aloud, blinking. Slinging the plastic bag down to her hand, Shamal abandons it decisively, and sets off at a run.

By the time she reaches the barrier, Shamal is quite out of breath, but her composure remains intact. "Klarwind," she pants. "Guide me."

Some seconds later, Vita's first response to her request for information is a firm cuff from a soft palm, right on the back of the head. <<I see that ice cream on your mouth, Vita. It's almost dinner, you know.>> With her prim, nurse-style cap and her broad skirts, Shamal settles her feet into the empty air, gazing down. <<Signum. We will be with you shortly. Do you need a cartridge?>>

COMBAT: Shamal Yagami transforms into Knight of the Lake!
<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

"What are you?!"

<I AM MYSELF.>

The conversation with the newly arrived Fallen Stern is sure familiar; he provides the same answer given minutes prior by Souverain Heraut (as of just now presumed to be a copy of some kind of the real deal, given the arrival of a second Stern). But it isn't exactly the same. For one thing, Stern's voice is, for lack of a better way of putting it, more complete than Heraut's; it still glitches occasionally, like a skipped CD, but it's much less often, and there's more resonance to his tones, more presence.

Also similar to Heraut, this Stern, and his shadowy carrier, are extraordinarily capable. As established by their entry, they can fly, for one thing, which Endo has yet to do. And they deflect Lera's Aura Smite and Fate's Plasma Lancers with alarming ease; the white-gold bolts, and lightning missiless, gather on Stern's broader, darker blade, then are dispersed off the tip with a heavy shake.

"What are you here to do!?"

<W*AT I MUST.>

The visual of an Intelligent Device dragging along its handler was disturbing with Heraut, like bad puppetry, but it descends far more deeply into that uncanny valley with Stern, just because he's so huge. It could be funny but it isn't, not at all. No amount of volume and assumed mass borrowed by the width of layers and layers of shadowy robes can offset the strange juxtaposition of the greatsword yanking himself -- and the gloved hands upon him, and arms, and body, inevitably attached -- high into the air, then forward, with terrible speed. Speed plus mass equals force, straight towards Lera.

There isn't so much a 'Stern' part of the battlefield and a 'Heraut' part of the battlefield as there is the decessitated wreckage of the seventh floor kimono store, which is going to crumble into the menswear of the sixth at ANY moment -- ah, there go Signum's energy blasts, a couple of which free her from the spears and the rest of which impact the building, seventh floor is done. Cure Passion wields the Power Of Fists just in time to escape, while Steven winds up uppercutting at exactly that wrong moment; the floor going out beneath him causes his shield to graze the chin-zone of the cowl at an angle, rather than dead on. It was close, though!

"Both of you should just go away!"

<< W* ARE N*T TOG*THE*, >> Heraut static-choppily replies, heat creeping into his otherwise too-emotionless tones again; it seems that Stern, or the topic of Stern, or even the COPY of Stern, is the only thing that gets a rise out of the Device.

He and his cloaked carrier land on a golden Midchildan circle of their own summoning about two thirds of the way down to the sixth floor, which is to say, as it inscribes itself into existence it neatly beheads a suit-wearing manniquin in its path.

Heraut is still a lance instead of a scepter, but now he's gathering superheated mana at his tip. It grows and grows, brilliantly illuminating the many elegant (and elegantly priced) outfits on display, without, somehow, casting a mote of light inside the figure's cowl.

<IT'S *RUE,> Stern agrees, gathering mana to himself from above in much the same way his -- non-teammate -- is from below. It is ultraviolet instead of golden, barely visible, but its heat can be felt from the street.

<< TURBULENT BLAZER. >>

<METEOR STRUM.>

When they launch their respective beams, the two of them don't try particularly hard not to also hit each other. In fact, it might be said that they specifically do try to hit each other, because Heraut's resolve into still more of those spears, a singular, supercharged entity speeding towards each of his targets, and there's a spear for Stern.

The spears threatening to impale Steven and Signum are longer than any of them are tall, and only barely less wide. Their points, however, could thread a needle's eye.

(Stern's beam detonates within itself and showers the field indiscriminately with violet meteors. He has marginally more plausible deniability. But there are areas of the sixth floor that are targeted more densely than others, where there's nothing to be seen but a galaxy of stars, falling like bullets, areas that include Fate, Mikoto, and, yes, Heraut.)

COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Asteroid Eilen on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Meteor Strum on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Meteor Strum on Cure Passion.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Galaxy Strum on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Galaxy Strum on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Galaxy Strum on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut fails to counter Shadow Stern's Galaxy Strum, taking 51 Fatigue damage!  
COMBAT: Dark Heraut's counterattack, Majestic Crasher, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Shadow Stern!  
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Turbulent Blazer on Steven Universe.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Turbulent Blazer on Signum Yagami.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Turbulent Blazer on Shadow Stern.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern partially dodges 10 Fatigue damage from Dark Heraut's Turbulent Blazer, taking 41 Fatigue damage!  Dark
Heraut is Psyched!
COMBAT: Sourisi covers Steven Universe for Dark Heraut's attack, Turbulent Blazer, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji fails to brace Shadow Stern's Meteor Strum, taking 35 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  
COMBAT: Shamal Yagami covers Signum Yagami for Dark Heraut's attack, Turbulent Blazer, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki covers Mikoto Minagi for Shadow Stern's attack, Galaxy Strum, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki partially dodges 10 Fatigue damage from Shadow Stern's Galaxy Strum, taking 41 Fatigue damage!  Kasagami
Araki's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Sourisi fails to dodge Dark Heraut's Turbulent Blazer, taking 51 Fatigue damage!  
COMBAT: Cure Passion braces 19 Fatigue damage from Shadow Stern's Meteor Strum, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Cure Passion's Block and
Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Lera Camry perfectly dodges 59 Fatigue damage from Shadow Stern's Asteroid Eilen, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Critical Dodge!  Lera Camry's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Shamal Yagami counters 17 Fatigue damage from Dark Heraut's Turbulent Blazer, taking 52 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Shamal Yagami's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Shamal Yagami's counterattack, Mirror of Travels, partially gets through, doing 8 Mana damage to Dark Heraut!  
COMBAT: Vita Yagami covers Fate Testarossa for Shadow Stern's attack, Galaxy Strum, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Vita Yagami cleanly braces 40 Fatigue damage from Shadow Stern's Galaxy Strum, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  Vita Yagami's
Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.


After one boot kicks the door down, Kasagami Araki leaps into the air with all the magical might her legs can give her. She's a blurr as she threads the needle of the stairs leading upwards from floor to floor, half a story with each flickering kick from place to place like some sort of samurai-ninja with glorious hair. With the raucous explosions guiding her even as her heart tugs her onwards, Kassie is working on instinct as much as any level of tactical planning. An unknown enemy, with unknown talents.

What is there to plan, other than to act? She lands and vaults over the railing of the emergency stairs before the men's department. Her good eye takes stock of the situation, gaze going wide as she takes it in for a microsecond.

The robed figures draw blanks, but the Devices don't. Endo's blade in particular gets her notice, and more importantly, how the young man's Device (????) seems to be attacking Kassie's friends! And one friend in particular clad in shorts and a cat-print t-shirt looking more than worse-for-wear has the Duelist's heart skipping a beat in sheer terror.

She'd just gotten her fellow Shepherd back. It's fear that pushes Kasagami into an intercepting charge that sends designer suits and men's slacks alike aside as boots smash concrete in a blurred, after-image filled race for the swift swordswoman's efforts to reach Mikoto.

"You have no right to turn your treachery onto those already suffering so much! I, Kasagami Araki, She Who Shall Become King, won't allow you the satisfaction!" Shouts Kassie self-righteously, even as her overlong sword's blade becomes a whirlwind in front of her. Flickering to a stop, both of her legs take a wide horse stance as she uses her height to help cover Mikoto from the falling magical meteors! That long blade is a swirling vortex of metal meeting the magic aimed at Mikoto. Kassie dodges, weaves, ducks and leans impossibly quickly, nimbly, and flexibly as she contorts, dances, and slashes to keep Mikoto safe from harm!

But it's to little avail as the meteors and the power of that magic from the Copy-Stern still finds it's mark! Her blade smokes from the impact, her coat is riven with slashes and magical blowouts. Her sides and pants are slashed from those she couldn't avoid, the bloodless wounds no less painful. Hair fanned out beautifully, teeth grit in absurd concentration, she has to focus on the defensive just to keep herself from being driven down deeper into the floor!

"Mikoto-chan! How dare they try to ruin your nice clothes! Much better than what you were wearing before. Come on, let's work together and drive them off, whoever they are!" Encourages the young woman, before she turns towards the Device and wielder floating just above the ground. She twists herself, leaps forward with one foot, and brings down her eastern longblade with the entire force and speed of her body sending her now tattered coat dramatically flaring out behind her as she bellows a warcry!

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Rose on the Wind on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut dodges 5 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's Rose on the Wind, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  Kasagami Araki is
Psyched!  Dark Heraut's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

Vita yelps, startled at the not too light cuff across the back of her head. She makes a low whine and wipes her mouth on the bare part of her arm, a little shamefully.

That appears to be about all the information she's getting before she has to act, though. <<Who is THAT?>> she prompts, spotting the two masked figures. "They're moving weird," she says, aloud this time.

And then both release scattering, blasting assaults of their respective kinds, and Vita's eyes bug out. "Can't wait!" she yells, and then: <<I'm going!>> she barks across the link, and then crashes downward like a plummeting meteor of her own, contrasting crimson against the violet of Stern's meteors.

She crashes down directly in front of Fate, whipping Eisen back, but rather than strike, she thrusts her other hand forth. "Eisen!" she calls out. <<Panzerschild!>> the Device replies, and a Belkan magic triangle whirls itself into being, a rotating triangle form, its vertices marked by larger circles, with its internal components rotating contrawise, and at the center, the Belkan Cross, touching Vita's fingertips. The circle is huge, the footprint of a small home, and Vita holds it up against the descending hell, teeth grit with each strike that slams against her. It's like being a lightning rod, as the ground cracks slowly below her; unharmed, but feeling the forces transit through her and ground out into the structure.

"Fate!" she barks. "Who are these!? Those devices!" They belong to...! Those....folks! Yeah!

There's a reason Vita called Nanoha 'Nantucket' like five times in the same day once.

Once the shower ends, she sweeps her hand, the shield fading and, like sleight of hand, filling the spaces between her fingers with iron spheres. Vita's a firecracker through and through; seeing Fate and Signum engaged is enough for her to feel fine doing the same. She hurls the spheres in the air, and magic makes them grow; then she hits them with Eisen, and physics and magic makes them corkscrew through the air, pursuing the other Stern, and the attacker holding it.

COMBAT: Vita Yagami has used Schwalbefliegen on Shadow Stern.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern fails to counter Vita Yagami's Schwalbefliegen, taking 32 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Vita Yagami is
Psyched!
COMBAT: Shadow Stern's counterattack, Asteroid Eilen, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Vita Yagami!  
<Pose Tracker> Sourisi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Sourisi's climb up the exterior of the Easter Department Store is dissimilar from a rock climbing wall, as she has to make her own hand and footholds to get up to the window where the hunk of scrap metal left the building. With a final thrust of enchanted rosewood, Sourisi scrambles through the remains of the window and takes her first look at the battle brewing inside with a frown, trying to get an idea on what's going on before jumping in the melee.

A mismash of Tokyo's magical defenders is here, and the two perpetrators were...well, not someone she's actually seen before. Darkness seems to crawl along their bodies, making it almost impossible to tell anything about the attackers, not even their hair color or any distinguishing features. The weapons each the two were using lack this 'protection', though, and the one being suspended in the air without any support is one that vagually looks familiar. Where has Sourisi seen that before...?

Before the Miraculous User can jar her memory to recall just where she's seen it before, the surge of energy being gathered by the two almost has a physical pull on Sourisi. Forest green eyes widen in shock as numberous spears form out of the air at the sigil-standing figure's command, but the landing zone of one of those spears is cause for panic.

A spear of glowing radiant energy pointing directly at a bruised and battered Steven Universe.

There's too much distance to move to try to get him out of the way in time, and a warning shout wouldn't be heard in time to act upon.

And the spear was already flying forward. Instinct takes over, even as Sourisi tries to mentally brace herself for the result.

"Shift Flip!"

Reality twists and bends on itself. Where one moment Steven is on the ground, about to be impaled by the energy construct, Sourisi is suddendly there in his place, without any movement leading to shifting of positions. Then the masked heroine is sent flying backwards, cleanly impaled by the spear and crashing into several manikins, mens' clothing flying from her impact.

In that same instant, Steven finds himself just inside the building, up on the ruins of the seventh floor.

A few seconds past by without any visible signs of movement from the impact site before Sourisi leaps out of the ruins of the shop display, tonfa still in hand and swinging wildly at the figure upon the hovering seal. A pained grimace replaces her usually cheerful smile and a large splotch of crimson covers most of her torso and bodysuit, but the Miraculous Ninja isn't going to be put out of the fight that easily. "Okay, you're clearly on the 'very evil' list!"

The tip of a mouse's tail on a silver anklet shrinks downwards slowly.

COMBAT: Sourisi has used Mouse Flurry on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut braces 19 Fatigue damage from Sourisi's Mouse Flurry, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Sourisi is Psyched!  
<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Still, little damage comes from the impacts. It is hitting something in there though! If the people using these weapon copies have Barrier Jackets or shield projection too, it would explain why they are so resilient!

The final uppercut swing is tilted, the floor gives way underneath due to extreme damage to the building. It barely clips. "Uwah!" the boy squeaks out has he begins to fall to the next floor below. It is a rough landing. A knee takes a hard hit on the tiled floor. "Nngh..." groans of pain escape him as he stands.

The interesting response from Heraut and Stern is noted. The heat of combat unfortunately leaves little time to dwell on possibilities. There is even less time to think about it when a spear the size of siege weapon ammunition is leveled at your face. There isn't enough time to conjure an implement or bubble to save him, either, it is already flying...!

THUD.

Steven was mid-shield summon, trying to lean into a blow he couldn't have possibly taken well, but instead finda falls flat on his face, a magical metallic clang sounds from a tap on a different floor. "Wh... Where am I?" Eyes quickly dart around. A nearby impact and darting mouse figure is the only nearby explanation. "Souri... How did you do that?! That was awesome!" he shouts to her, overjoyed that he isn't hurt, or worse. "Okay, lets beat them into next week!"

THe boy uses this odd height advantage to try and find a spot to drop down on Heraut, though he has to wait for an opening...

COMBAT: Steven Universe has used Love Like You on Sourisi.
COMBAT: Sourisi accepts Steven Universe's Love Like You, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Surge applied to Sourisi!  
<Pose Tracker> Shamal Yagami [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Shamal's Theme - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpy8Nqh8eoY

Lifting her palm, Shamal wipes across the air as though clearing a fogged mirror. Where her palm passes, a vision of chaos and violence appears, with crouched shadowy enemies and crumbling rubble. The scrying fades away gradually, as though the fog were returning; Shamal had only wanted a glance.

"Go," Shamal assents to Vita, the way a lady might permit a knight to depart. She is not so fast as Vita, and the small girl's hammer will be able to intervene more quickly--but she will not be far behind. "Klarwind," Shamal calls sharply.

<<PENDULUM FORM.>>

That massive spear is hurtling through the air already when Shamal sails into the building. She's blasting through headfirst, but she hooks the corner of a staircase with the twin gemstone pitons of her Device, and when its wires go taut, she lets it flip her feet into the lead; such are the ploys of the least agile Wolkenritter. When the heels of her ornate boots hit the ground, a Belkan circle blossoms, and Shamal plants herself in front of Signum, her soft face frozen hard.

"Mirror," Shamal commands, extending her hand with a twist. Klarwind's two gemstones carve out a circle in the air, which instantly fills with a celadon shadow. "Of Travels!"

The spear does not impact this shield in the slightest, but simply slips inside of it. Concentrating on keeping the portal open, Shamal might not seem from the outside to be the reason that another massive spear suddenly erupts through a lower floor and starts smashing its way down into the basement. Yet of course... it is the same spear.

But as she concentrates on directing the huge weapon safely away from her allies and the world outside this building, the gentle Shamal of Hayate Yagami is expending power and attention that she would never have wasted when she was simply Shamal. She has only a few instants to realize that the spear is even larger than her portal, and she expends them on this caution instead. A sudden screech of metal and a blinding spray of sparks suddenly bursts from the rim of the portal as the spear grows wider than the hole it is entering, and begins to shear off in red-hot splinters.

"Aah!" Shamal gives a dovelike cry, and instantly she tries to to expand the Mirror, but the radius of the spear increases yet faster. She need not endure it for long, as the tail of the spear is close now, but the glowing-hot shards being ripped off by the edge of her portal are pelting Shamal like a fierce hailstone, plinking into the powerful shielding of her barrier jacket most of the time, and punching right through it every now and then.

With a determined whine, Shamal forces herself to stand straight and keep the Mirror active, lest it suddenly drop and punch the remaining spear (albeit jaggedly blunt) right into her and Signum. That brief few moments of endurance batters the edges of her body a few hundred tiny times, and when the spear finally goes entirely through the Mirror and down into the earth many stories below, Shamal expels a breath and drops to one knee, holding a gash in her side with her palm.

"Surely," she pants wryly, "you will buy me some sandals to go with my new sundress."

Closing her long-lashed eyes, Shamal spreads her fingers and holds them palm down, maintaining her kneeling position. That celadon light rises from the ground in motes. "Healing Wind," she exhales. But her own cuts and scratches do not change. Instead, the motes begin to gather around Signum. Shamal's eyes wander back over her shoulder.

"Go," she says placidly, the same way she had said that word to Vita.

COMBAT: Shamal Yagami has used Healing Wind on Signum Yagami.
COMBAT: Signum Yagami accepts Shamal Yagami's Healing Wind, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Surge applied to Signum Yagami!  Cleanse!
All of Signum Yagami's debuffs are cleared!
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"Passion! F-Fate!" Lera calls out. And it's not for some tactical reason; it's a mounting fear, at seeing one friend fall, and not being sure that Endo will get up. Her lips don't quite work right, then. She hears Signum, staying calm, and somehow it doesn't prove as contagious as it might.

It isn't the strong, resolute Lera that Mikoto sees as she catches up. It is a panicked, on-the-edge Lera Camry. One with wide eyes, a terrified heart, and a franticness to her sword swing. She knows, now, that this Stern and this Heraut are both copies.

But there is much she doesn't know, and it is less a comfort and more a change of that panic. Stern turns her blade aside, Soaring Sky bouncing backward as he hits -- and is repelled by -- that familiar slab of steel.

The way that the wielder of this Device just seems to move after, body dragged by Stern's movement, unnerves Lera. For one moment, as Mikoto catches up, it seems like she might stand there while Stern slashes her in two.

And then, like a clarion call, Soaring Sky rings out: <MOVE!>

And she moves. Lera soars high up into the sky, and the slash of the blade cleaves through trails of orange-red light. They whisk away, the edge of the large, copied Belkan Device cutting through them.

Lera flies high as she breaks away from the strike, somersaulting herself upward.

It is in the air that Lera sees their rescuers. Kasagami and Sourisi. Her eyes start to widen; a sense of relief begins to trickle. It is, though, when she sees that fiery, red descent Vita and rush of verdant light from Shamal that the trickle becomes a flood. She smiles for the first time in both minutes and an eternity, since this battle began.

"Vita! Shamal! E-everyone! They copied Ren's and Endo's Devices, and--and the Devices... they're just moving their partners, like they're puppets!" Panic is clear in her voice; relief is not all-encompassing.

Then she looks down. Wind whips at her hair, blowing it backward. Her sidebraid moves upward, as she brings Soaring Sky back over her head, gripped in two hands. Light dances up the blade.

"Buddy," she says. "I know this is hard, but--"

<I know. We have to stop them, before anyone else is hurt.>)]

Lera nods, fiercely. And then she comes crashing down to land next to Mikoto and Cure Passion. She comes like a comet. Flame dances up her blade, waves of plasma peeling and warping in the air, and then she slams the weapon down for the top of the head of the figure being born by this Fallen Stern.

<Inferno Slasher!>

Fire explodes upward -- an explosion that hurtles down off Soaring Sky, then bursts high into the sky and past Lera.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Inferno Slasher on Shadow Stern.
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.


It feels like the battle is going more and more against them with every passing moment. And with every answer comes more questions. They're not together? Why are they fighting them then? Where did they come from?!

The girl doesn't announce any of these questions. She simply tries to focus on surviving the battle. Spinning Bardiche in a flourish she watches the new Stern defeat her projectiles with ease.

What helps her focus though is perhaps the knowledge that there are more of them than before. These girls have survived the most impossible of situations. They added her to their number, then Cure Passion, and the Wolkenritter... Hayate. And now Mikoto.

It is Mikoto's call that causes her to hone in on that fact once again. It is a grounding one.

"I know."

The girl says quietly of Mikoto's call.

In any other situation, she might have smiled.

The thought that she almost might have is wiped away by the twin devices announcing attacks so indiscriminate that each other will be caught in the wake.

Fate tries to back up in mid-air, eyes trying to plot a safe course through a galaxy of violet meteors.

There isn't one. Not with how dense it is.

Just as she's about to try to fly through nearly certain doom - Vita crashes into the way. Shields up. "Vita!" And then - yet another appearance just in time - for Signum. "Shamal!"

The other girl has questions - but first her fingertips lightly touch the Crimson Iron Rider's shoulder, as she says to her, voice full of relief, "You really saved me. Thanks."

Taking a deep breath, she answers quickly, and to the best of her ability. Trying to follow up on Lera's description of events. "We don't know. They took down Endo. And we don't know where Ren is. That... Heraut says that he's here to destroy all Belkans. And that Stern says they're not with each other - but they're attacking us and each other."

Gliding forward she says, "They're really strong, but now that you're all here... maybe..."

And with that thought in hand... she looks at Bardiche and asks. "Can you still go on?"

The device's yellow central orb blinks for a moment, before answering with a chime. <Yes Sir.>

"Then... let's give this everything we have." Admittedly - everything she has right now isn't as much as she'd like.

Bardiche though answers all the same. <Full Drive Mode - Zanber Form.> The energy hook sputters out, as the dark length turns upwards and splits into a trifork, as he pounds in one - two cartridges. A blade of coruscating lightning erupts, one internal layer of violent, crackling energy, and an outer, brighter blade of energy. Twice as long as she is tall, and nearly as wide as her.

Her barrier jacket's armor shimmers back into place, and a white cloak fall onto her shoulders.

Lightning begins to strike the blade - over and over, as she raises it up with two hands. The arcs of electricity become more and more violent with every passing moment. "Since you won't tell us what's going on - then... we'll do what we must too."

And then as Lera attacks, she finishes charging - and follows suit...

<Sprite Zanber.>

"SHIPPU - JINRAI!"

The girl shouts as she launches herself closer and swings Bardiche back behind her - then as she gets within the reach of the elongated blade slashes it down hard enough that a shockwave erupts out merely from the force of the swing at the Second Stern.

On the point of contact - even if it is with nothing, there is a bright flash akin to that of a newborn star and an explosion that resounds with the sound of a thunderclap and the force of a hurricane.


COMBAT: Fate Testarossa transforms into Barrier Jacket Blaze - Full Drive Mode!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Sprite Zanber on Shadow Stern.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern counters 20 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Inferno Slasher, taking 20 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry is
Psyched!  Shadow Stern's Reverse ability activates!
COMBAT: Shadow Stern's counterattack, Asteroid Eilen, partially gets through, doing 24 Fatigue damage to Lera Camry!  
COMBAT: Shadow Stern partially dodges 12 Fatigue damage from Fate Testarossa's Sprite Zanber, taking 50 Fatigue damage!  
<Pose Tracker> Cure Passion [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

The shadowy figures continue to disturb Passion as she watches them, though she has little time to reflect on that. The situation, after all, is dire. She punches through the obstacles blocking her in just in time, and dives out of the way of the next blast, rolling through the air until she hits the sixth floor, which for now at least is here. Not... together...

"But if you're not together..." She frowns, looking up to Stern above, where Lera fights, and to Heraut closer down. Stern is where she has to focus first--with the detonated energy crashing towards her, she doesn't try to move--instead she crosses her arms before herself, adopting a steady stance even as the blast thunders her back. The floor itself buckles under her steps slightly, making trails for her boots before the barrage is finished, and she lowers her arms with a sharp exhalation. But as she looks up...

...There's more of them here, and seeing the group of them is at least helpful for the moment--but moreso is Lera, even a Lera on the edge, because Passion isn't feeling any better. As LEra crashes down among them, Passion starts to the side. "I'm here!" she calls to Lera, and shifts to try to flank their opponent with all the allies near her--but especially the one. "Haah--"

She pulls back and leaps, swinging one small fist with a force well outsized for the figure 'holding' Fallen Stern, right up into Fate's shockwave.

COMBAT: Cure Passion has used Passion Punch on Shadow Stern.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern cleanly braces 23 Fatigue damage from Cure Passion's Passion Punch, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Shadow Stern's
Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

The Wind Knight was sufficiently focused on Heraut that the dark copy of Fallen Stern, although she was *aware* of it, still catches her off-guard when its bombardment rakes the battlefield. What she does notice is too late to do more than try to shield herself against - and really, 'trying' is as far as she gets; the beams lash across her body, and a scream of pain rises out of the fusillade; when the barrage subsides, the Wind Knight has been brought down to her knees, her armor battered and seared and much the worse for wear.

But she's still conscious - and no matter how much pain she's in, the Magic Knight of Wind has never been one to quit as long as she can still fight. Sometimes, even when she *can't*.

"Heraut-san," rasps the Wind Knight, "you say 'Belka' almost destroyed this world. That's still wrong ... it was *one artifact*, one relic that wasn't working right." She starts getting back to her feet, using her sword for support, even as the tip digs a fresh crack in the already-abused floor beneath her.

"And that artifact - the Tome of the Night Sky - was set right, helping us stave off destruction. So many of our allies - our *friends* - use Belkan magic ... how many battles would we have lost, if we didn't have them?"

Her questions end with a grunt of exertion as the Magic Knight of Wind regains a standing position, wobbling precariously as she lets her sword vanish. But she manages to stay on her feet, those sways subsiding again as she concentrates on standing - a very recognizable stance, in fact, even before her bow and quiver appear.

"So we're not letting you hurt them, Heraut-san ... and the way you're acting, I'm afraid it's you - who isn't working right. If you're the Heraut we know, Ren-san's partner ..."

She reaches over her shoulder, pulling an arrow from her quiver, then nocks it to her bowstring, lowering her bow into alignment and drawing the arrow back, letting it settle just beneath her eyeline as a breeze kicks up around her, tousling her hair, ruffling her skirts and tattered sleeves.

"... then I apologize. But if you *aren't* - then please ... do us a favor ... *AND VANISH!!!*"

The breeze becomes a tempest as Fuu ends her entreaty in a scream of atypical rage. That fury imbues her next two words as well:

"GALE ARROW!!!!"

And the wind's howl overwhelms her cry, as her magic channels into the loosed shaft, speeding and steadying it on a laser-straight course for the hostile Heraut.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Gale Arrow on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut neatly dodges 16 Fatigue damage from Fuu Hououji's Gale Arrow, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Fuu Hououji is
Psyched!  Dark Heraut's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

It hurts Mikoto - to see whoever's under all that black tugged around like a puppet on loose strings. Getting dragged around by that weight must be hurting them. If that false Stern lets them go, later...

It's not very nice, having to live in a body something else is borrowing, especially when that borrowing is so rough.

She gets to the sixth floor - after Fate, but there is no shame in being slower than Fate Testarossa on wings - and horror grasps her, as she realises that Lera almost didn't move. "Lera!" She could tell her to focus, to keep moving, but what her mind catches through her discordant thoughts -- "We're here!"

Her grip tightens, too, as she turns to demand of the Device: "What did you do to Fallen Stern?!" The other old black blade, which hers can at least respect...

But all that time she spends processing her words is time she's not attacking.

Certainly it means Mikoto is thinking, the way it's so hard to for her in the middle of a tough battle. It also means she doesn't make it up to that false Stern - before the ultraviolet light builds to a fever pitch.

A hundred-hundred meteors, like shooting stars, crashing down to earth, down to...

"Help," whispers a girl who knows with certainty there is no path she can take through that starfield, the way she is now. Her eyes squeeze shut - her chin ducks down - she finds her volume as she cries: "Help me!"

Those words which were so difficult for her to say --

Mikoto flinches. No blow comes. Instead she hears Kasagami, and relief floods her eyes as they open to see that coat fluttering. "Kasagami..!" This is a starfield but that nodachi carves her a safe haven, empty space for her to breathe.

It costs Kasagami - visibly it costs her - but she pays that cost for Mikoto's sake, to answer Mikoto's plea, and gratitude warms her heart. "Right!" She nods, firmly, smiling to her for a moment. "We can keep them both busy!"

Determination casts her face a more serious shade, as she turns her attention back to their foes. Kasagami leaps for the false Heraut, with her eastern blade; Mikoto, with her western claymore, won't let the false Stern cause more trouble for her. An agile nodachi for an ornate lance, and one solid greatsword for another --

Mikoto does not leap as much as she charges, blade carving sparks through the debris of the floor, and the weight of her own blade sends her spinning in a wild arc as her momentum builds. Around and around, and Lera is coming in from above and Miroku is slamming in from the side, and she is not trying to cut its host in twain but regardless there is force enough in it to rattle bones.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Destruction on Shadow Stern.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern perfectly dodges 72 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Destruction, taking 0 Fatigue damage!
Critical Dodge!
<Pose Tracker> Signum Yagami [None] has posed.

Hope comes, in the skies.

<<What appears to be Souverain Heraut operating independently is attacking the shops,>> Signum answers. <<A similar form of Fallen Stern has appeared as well. They are very strong.>>

A beat passes as Signum hears another voice. <<Several. I am glad you are here...>>

And a moment later Shamal proves her courage beyond doubt and reproof. Signum would have not questioned it, of course, although there is a verbal call of "Shamal--!" when the shards begin to ripple outwards. Signum's Device changes its form again and she steps forwards, shaking flechettes out of her hair and breathing out as the light rises, celadon and gracious.

"Gladly," Signum states. The stirring of the air - the touch of life, vigor - that moment of doubt, that grim determination, fade away, or transmute into something with greater strength. The resolve of a devotion to protect, rather than a duty to discharge.

Of course this does little about the screaming barrage of purple meteorites coming in. Signum tilts her head forwards, eyes narrowing. "Yes," she says. "This will not be resolved by striving for an opening." She takes a step forwards - another, to place herself a pace ahead of Shamal. <<Vita: Suppress them. I will strive to defeat them with a single blow.>>

And how? "Laevatein," Signum states: "Load Cartridge."

JAWOHL replies Laevatein. There is a hissing of force, stored energy pouring into the blade as Signum slides it back, momentarily, into its sheath, and leaves her hand upon the hilt. Her gaze raises, focused on Heraut, and her stance relaxes even as explosions and glittering black blades carve ahead.

COMBAT: Signum Yagami has used Cartridge Load on Signum Yagami.
COMBAT: Signum Yagami accepts Signum Yagami's Cartridge Load, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Empower and Surge applied to Signum
Yagami!
<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nanjo/Night Studio, T13: Heavyarms Stage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDYHPWBWBhE

Those who have been fighting the two rogue Devices for a while are aware that there are really definitely physical bodies underneath all that cowl and cloak, but it becomes a somewhat more urgent matter after Heraut's spear pierces Stern's carrier DIRECTLY. It gets stuck halfway through, javelin point protruding out the back of the cloak while its haft remains stuck out the front.

<D* NOT *NTERFERE,> Stern scolds Heraut. Its carrier presses the still-steaming blade to the end of the javelin in front, and it incinerates with a sizzle. An effective solution, but one that speaks of total indifference to the body in there.

Heraut, who tried to summon a bunch of mana-crafted gems to counter-detonate that galaxy's worth of falling stars and failed very badly, emerges from the aftermath with a bunch of tiny holes in his carrier's cloak. It is ONLY because of the multitude of layers of shadow -- and probably some cheating with magic -- that nobody is visible beneath.

Smoke is rising off of Device and carrier alike.

<< * WAS HER* *IRST. >>

<YES.> Stern agrees. <BU* I ACHIEVED F*RST BLOOD.>

Heraut is silent for a moment.

<< GO THE*. >>

Relationships are complicated, apparently.

What happens next is not, terribly. The newcomers save their friends, but the Devices were too preoccupied with each other to care all that much. They start caring a lot more, in a hurry, when the numbers arrayed against them have almost doubled. Still, that sense of sheer power rolling off of them... the cavalry's arrival almost makes things feel LESS safe, rather than more, because now the Devices will have to fight more seriously.

Almost. Certainly, in the moment, they made things much more safe, indeed.

And now the new arrivals discover that strength for themselves. Heraut comfortably side-steps (well... the spear kind of side-yanks its carrier) Kassie's mighty, full-body leap-strike, her nodachi carving away a bit of shadowcloth but little else. While the Duelist is overextended, in midair, Heraut repositions a second time, spinning the spear into the broad curve of Kasagami's parabolic trajectory.

<< P*RAGON *OLLID*. >>

Sourisi comes in from the other side; a second spear, this one phantasmal light, sprouts out of the floor to intercept her tonfa. Then a third sprouts to try to intercept the rest of her.

<< BAN* SPI*E. >>

Fuu launches her mighty arrow, and again Heraut demonstrates frustrating speed. The winds following the arrowhead briefly blow the carrier's robes against their form, tracing limbs and head like a ghost animating sheets from underneath. But it didn't manage to make contact, and now the Barrier Jacket softly ruffles itself back into proper arrangement.

Heraut is trailing mana in his wake, though, little golden motes. More of them than he should be... Shamal's work. He announces his awareness blandly.

<< ADDIT*ONAL BELKANS DE*EC*ED. *OMMENCI*G EX*ERMINATIO*. >>

Leaning into the problem, he accelerates his disgorge of mana even faster, from motes to globules. They resolve into gems, glittering fractals, hard and sharp and complex enough to be diamonds.

<< M*JESTI* CR*SHER-- >>

Above, Stern is... very Stern-like in his decision to just accelerate straight into Vita's schwablefliegen.

<*S*ERO*D *ILE*.>

But it doesn't go as planned (perhaps a consequence of his carrier having just been stabbed, then internally cauterized??), unless he planned to be ejected from the resultant explosion at a wild angle.

Lera and Mikoto meet him before he can land, but second time is less lucky for his opponents; it is also very Stern-like to refuse to surrender at such times, to try again.

<AS*EROID EILEN!!>

He accelerates away from Miroku and into Lera's sword and its fiery explosion, too (is it because Lera's Midchildan? because of his past with Mikoto? or is it just the expedient calculation of a goal-oriented machine?), bursting through it with greater control even as the resultant shockwave drives the Midchildan immigrant away.

But Fate is up next, and he can neither slow nor turn nor stop, he's going much too fast. The best he can do is make himself a smaller target -- the blade presents its edge instead of its flat -- and so it is that, narrowly, Bardiche's Zanber form passes over him instead of through him. It's his turn, however, to be launched by the subsequent explosion, and propelled further and harder by the addition of Cure Passion's fist.

He does not emerge from the corner of the eighth floor that he smashed into and through (the eighth floor, honestly, only has corners left, and now only three).

Any would-be pursuers, however, discover that they have other problems. Down on floor six, there's now little room for anything BUT mana-made gems.

Heraut's voice rings out with momentary, terrible clarity.

<< --UNLIMITED SHIFT. >>

As they cascade into a chain-reaction detonation, it is again to Heraut's tastes to control who gets the worst of it: the Belkans, of course, and also their apparently traitorous Midchildan allies. Each individually guided lance of burning golden energy thrusts forth with such terrible power that it splits into a cross upon impact.

COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Paragon Collide on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Bane Spike on Sourisi.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Majestic Crasher on Shamal Yagami.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Majestic Crasher on Vita Yagami.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Majestic Crasher on Signum Yagami.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Majestic Crasher on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut has used Majestic Crasher on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki braces 20 Fatigue damage from Dark Heraut's Paragon Collide, taking 16 Fatigue damage!  Exhausted and
Stagger applied to Kasagami Araki!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi covers Lera Camry for Dark Heraut's attack, Majestic Crasher, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji covers Fate Testarossa for Dark Heraut's attack, Majestic Crasher, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji fails to brace Dark Heraut's Majestic Crasher, taking 60 Fatigue damage!  Fuu Hououji is unable to keep
fighting!
COMBAT: Sourisi fails to dodge Dark Heraut's Bane Spike, taking 48 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Stagger and Stun applied to
Sourisi!
COMBAT: Signum Yagami cleanly braces 51 Fatigue damage from Dark Heraut's Majestic Crasher, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Signum
Yagami's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to counter Dark Heraut's Majestic Crasher, taking 68 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Mikoto Minagi is
unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Obsidian Blade: Dynamo, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Dark Heraut!  
COMBAT: Niramo Umokeshi transforms into Sourisi!
COMBAT: Signum Yagami covers Shamal Yagami for Dark Heraut's attack, Majestic Crasher, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Vita Yagami cleanly braces 51 Fatigue damage from Dark Heraut's Majestic Crasher, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Vita Yagami's
Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Signum Yagami fails to brace Dark Heraut's Majestic Crasher, taking 59 Fatigue damage!  Signum Yagami is unable to keep
fighting!
<Pose Tracker> Shamal Yagami [None] has posed.

<<Fate-chan. I am glad you are well,>> Shamal greets in her gentle inner voice. <<Lera-chan.>> Listening to Lera's explanation, Shamal nods faintly, though as on a phone call, it is not a gesture anyone can see. <<Thank you for the warning. I will support you from here out. Please continue to do your best, Lera-chan.>> Shamal is too formal to call friends '-chan', but she regards not only Fate, but also Lera as so young compared to her that she uses it to denote their youth.

Shamal watches Cure Passion for a moment. 'If you're not together'... oh, that reminds her.

<<Oh, Lera-chan. Your friend is here too.>> Shamal smiles with the benevolence of an aunt. <<How nice.>>

Pushing down on her knee, Shamal wobbles briefly before catching her balance. No matter. She is not a front-line fighter; it's less important for her to be mobile. Standing, she smiles as the tall, broad-shouldered Signum bars the path between the mysterious enemies and Shamal. Stepping forward, she touches Signum's upper arm to prompt her, and when Signum makes a palm available, Shamal presses three cartridges into it, their brass casings tinkling. She holds them into Shamal's palm for a few moments, her rose-colored eyes scarcely visible over Shamal's shoulder as she glares at the enemy.

<<Your arm be true,>> she prays. Then she steps back, leaving the cartridges in Signum's glove.

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

However frustrating it is to see one of her best attacks miss - dodged that casually, she thinks - the Wind Knight doesn't have time to nurse her wounded pride; there's too much magical firepower being distributed over the battlefield. FAR too much. Too much for a hundred magical girls to fend off - and even with the welcomed reinforcements, there are fewer than a dozen 'good guys.'

And one, in particular, who can't afford to take even a single hit.

"FATE-SAN!!" It's desperation rather than rage in the Magic Knight's voice, now, as she gathers the winds about herself once more and flings herself bodily across the fray, to act as a shield for the twin-tailed blonde who - as fast as Fate is - still might not be fast enough to evade all of *that* magical firepower.

Fortunately, they don't have to find out the hard way if Fate could indeed have dodged. Unfortunately, the act of shielding Fate blasts the Magic Knight of Wind hard enough to knock her out of the fight, her unconscious form coming to rest amongst the shattered remains of another merchandise display.

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

"Don't hurt them!" Mikoto can't help but yell, as Stern takes care of the wound so callously. She might have been talking to him, or she might have been talking to Heraut...

... probably, she was talking to both the false Devices.

Fallen Stern abjures Miroku - in a way, Mikoto knows from long experience, Endo never would - but the weight of their combined might means he and his host are still flung away.

And maybe they'd go after him - except --

Now the starfield is made of glittering gems.

Ah.

Of course Mikoto is afraid. Of course Mikoto is afraid, but she is not only afraid, and she looks to someone else who is afraid, and - Mikoto told Lera they were here, and it means she's not alone.

"Lera!" Mikoto makes her decision and closes in the space between her and a girl who once defended her when she knew nothing but pain, a girl who is scared and angry and being targetted in a terrible way.

There are lances.

Mikoto has never fared terribly well against those lances.

Each one comes and she meets it, thrust-tip to blade, before it reaches Lera; each one lances through, whether using its narrow point to slip past her guard or overwhelming her blows with grand crosses of golden energy. She does not best one of them --

Or perhaps she does.

Because every time one threatens to slip past her guard into Lera's space - she manages to attack it, regardless.

And she's breathing so heavily, and finally at the last one she sinks down, blade planting, to her knees. "I'm at my limit," she huffs out, apologetically. "But it's okay... Lera... we're h..."

She doesn't quite manage to get that last mora out before she collapses all the way, breathing - but very much too exhausted to fight.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.


Luckily Lera and Fate are more than helpful on catching everyone up. One of Kassie's brows twitches. "Who would possibly gain from that? What's the point?" The questions aren't so much aimed at her allies, and only slightly at her enemies. The Duelist doesn't expect a helpful answer from the Copy Devices, but she's simply too angry at the thought of the magical Devices going after their own so murderously.

With Mikoto now slightly more safe, the Duelist turns her attention to Heraut with her full focus. And good thing she does! The Device hauls it's user out of the way and Kassie's long blade nearly touches the ground as her mighty blow cuts naught but air and a bit of cloth. The spear changes its course, and seeks to bite into her.

Kassie is far too skilled, and far too aware of the greater weight of her blade than to completely tip over though. Her legs tighten enough that the muscles all but creak, one foot slides in front of the other, and her entire face becomes one of intense concentration and physical effort. The agile, annoyingly agile spear comes for her, and Kasagami twists herself towards the oncoming spear with it's superior positioning. It's a blurr, she nearly sprains an ankle in the whirling motion, and she meets the attack spear-on-blade. Sparks fly, there's the smell of smoke in the air from the sheer impact! But even Kasagami's skill, speed, and ability to put her whole self into a blow is less than useful against the sheer power of Heraut. Even that minor clash has her skidding back several feet, bootheels burnt, and sweat pouring down her neck. Her arms ache as if she'd gone on a whole day upper body training regime.

Kassie's right leg gives out, and she falls to it. She lets out a lung's full of air. Explosions again rock the floor as she once more takes in a breath. With a shuddering heart, she pushes herself up to her feet.

"If you want to destroy each other, go for it! But leave innocent Devices...innocent people out of it! Try fighting someone who wants it!" Growls out Kasagami to the false pair, before her gaze again turns to Mikoto as she collapses.

Her friend, rescued, falls. Just when she'd gotten her back. Her eyes go wide.

"MIKOTO!" Comes her howl, and then she's just gone.

Her blade might look to wrap in on itself as she slashes, carves, and turns rapidly, a flickering whirlwind of beautiful violence. Her hair flares out behind her, fury and fear in equal mixes rage in her eye, as she engages in a breathless dance of rotating nodachi as she aims to slash again and again and again into Heraut with every ounce of strength she has.

"No matter what these Belkans did, you don't get to hurt the people I love! You'll pay heavily for this crime!" She shouts. But can her blade truly reach this horrifically monstrous Heraut!?

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Crimson Flurry on Dark Heraut.
<Pose Tracker> Signum Yagami [None] has posed.

Signum hears Shamal's words, she lets them into her heart; she does not reply, but they are focused forwards, elsewhere. She grasps Laevatein's hilt. The enemy comes --

A moment ahead of time, Signum senses disaster. She can smell it, taste it even. She does not see a motion - perhaps it is a subtle sense of the passage of magic, an observation. Laevatein blares a single sharp sound and Signum's blade snaps forwards, drawn out in a tremendous swing.

The vacuum sword... If you could observe air pressure, Signum would have decisively executed this technique. There was no time to assail the enemy even closer, Stern and Heraut alike too far away. The Cartridge's power is spent in this enormous swing, for even without a magical enhancement of a direct sort, *the blade's path can be seen*. The air suck-pops beneath Laevatein even as the overthrown tumble smashes into the gems.

Many of them are blown forwards - away from Shamal.

Some of them are drawn nearer. Signum braces her legs a moment before the lances strike, their due from earlier now collected as Signum makes a sound of her own - "Ngh!" and forces herself into a single step forwards, away from Shamal, a second before the coruscant crosses light up and smash into her with the force of iron-hammers smashing great plates asunder. She judders and trembles, in midair, and when the bursts fade, she lands on her knees, sagging forwards. A last effort puts Laevatein's point into the ground. She sags forwards further.

The palm that Shamal could slip those cartridges into is limp, and stained.

"... this.. power... who could be..." Signum manages to choke out.

COMBAT: Dark Heraut counters 8 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's Crimson Flurry, taking 25 Fatigue damage!  Dark Heraut's
Reverse ability activates!
COMBAT: Dark Heraut's counterattack, Sterling Guard, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Kasagami Araki!  
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

The shockwave of Stern's acceleration blows Lera backward. She hits the concrete, rolling a few times. Her green jacket has tears and scratches in it. In places, a little light leaks up, like a radiant smoke -- a protest, perhaps, of all the damage that it has taken. Lera makes herself stand, but the muscles in her leg screech a protest. She falters, leg wobbling, and then she pushes herself up further.

Standing on the sixth floor, and where she has left another divot torn into the ground, she is briefly slow to get her bearings back. Lera's eyes turn, briefly, towards Shamal. She is still younger. She has experience, but sometimes, she forgets herself.

Like now. <<Thanks, Shamal. I won't let you down, I promise.>>

And then those eyes widen when she hears Heraut's familiar voice. That voice spells not hope, but fright.

The lances of light come crashing towards her.

'Lera!'

Mikoto flies in, and Miroku cleaves through the lances, one after another. Her black blade is a blur before Lera's eyes -- and every last spear is brought down. Lera darts forward; she goes to a knee, looking down at Mikoto, and then she rests a hand on her shoulder. "Mikoto," she says. "Y-You did great, y'know? Just hang in there. Just a little more, and... and we'll get through this."

She swallows, and her hair lights up -- her outfit does. Golden-orange mana ignites about her, as her flight spell lifts her off the ground, hair and collar lifting a little before she does, as she flies into the air. She glances to Kasagami, as she shouts.

Then, she looks at Signum. Lera sees her fall, and her eyes widen. She trembles, at that. "S-Signum, no...""

She looks at Passion, then, and the hesitation is clear in her face. Lera finds what little courage is left. "Passion... we've gotta try to take this down. Before... before things get worse!"

Finally, she looks back at Heraut. Her jaw sets; her eyes narrow. She feels her face burning, and fights it back. Then, she darts forward, in a fast blur of light. "Heraut..."

<Heraut! If you're the real Heraut... then you're wiser than this!> Soaring Sky chimes, as he and his wielder speed up. Lera swings the sword backward. Light dances up the blade, but this time locks into it. A brilliant aura -- and a Belkan triangle explodes into existence, a rain of mana leaking from it. Lera's feet hit the triangle.

She runs across it, and then leaps again. Soaring Sky is swung behind her. The blade gleams, light flashing along the silvered edge, and then she chops the weapon in an upward, diagonal arc. She aims it for Heraut, rather than the wielder, this time.

<Lanzebrecher!>

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Lanzebrecher on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut perfectly dodges 33 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Lanzebrecher, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!
Dark Heraut's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Sourisi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Sourisi's leap towards the shadowy figure with its' copied weapon is timed by accident with Kasagami's own assault, but one that works out wonderfully. A pincer attack should be what's needed to put this evildoer on the defensive!

Apparently evil didn't get the memo.

The sigil-rider almost casually evades the Duelist's strike, using Kasagami's movement against her to catch her with his spear. But this leaves him defenseless from Sourisi's position! Her right tonfa swings in for a strike...!

Only to be caught by a spear of light erupting from the floor like a golden barrier.

Momentary confusion at how the shadow-wielder did that so effortally isn't a good mental state to be in when a third spear is coming from the floor as well, catching Sourisi neatly on the other side of her already impaled torso.

A rasping scream bursts out of the masked heroine's mouth, as she realizes that things are going wrong really quickly. Might also explain why Sourisi's vision is starting to go red.

Dimly, Sourisi notices the Wind Knight taking a blow meant for Fate...and not getting up. Of Signum trying to shield against the bluring figure for another, and becoming yet another crumbled form in the ruined department store. Of Mikoto standing in the way for Kasagami, returning the favor. 'We're losing...'

Lera's cry, of how these two figures were just shadow puppets, is terrifying. If two puppets is doing this much damage to everyone, just how dangerous is the puppeteer?

With a grunt of effort, Sourisi smashes both of her tonfa against the construct of light pinning her up like a sixth year's science project, and barely catches herself from collapsing onto the ground with bones that felt like they were made out of jelly. It takes an effort of will that Sourisi didn't realize she has, but she manages to stand back upright and trying to tell her body that it wasn't actually been impaled twice in as many minutes.

It wasn't listening.

Eyes narrowing in both pain and determination, the Miraculous Ninja throws both of her trusty tonfa flying through the air, aiming for the shadowy Heraut where she thinks he's going to be. "Stop...hurting my friends!"

Sure, thye may be losing, but they haven't lost just yet.

COMBAT: Sourisi has used Crashing Tooth on Dark Heraut.
<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

"Maybe we'll be even someday," Vita says, back, quietly. "What's the situation?"

This report she receives, her eyes narrowing. "Ren and Endo's Devices..." she mutters, echoing Lera's summary.

She blinks, suddenly, running back what she's now been told, watching Stern and its....pal, charge directly into her swallow flier and lose the clash. Seeing the chaos these two can wreak, she can't feel too smug even about that. "If they're after Belkans..."

She glances, wary-eyed, to the other Wolkenritter. "Hayate's in danger," she breathes, low.

Eisen tones at her, low and bassy, but her fingers are white on her hammer for several seconds before she mutters, "Sure, us too," as if it were the furthest of her concerns.

<<Roger!>> she calls to Signum's recommendation. Scrapping, sweeping? Well within Vita's wheelhouse. "Eisen, we're going!" she barks. She briefly takes stock, as she sweeps her eyes across the field. Stern's down. That leaves--

She bites out something Hayate would give her a solid bap from the newspaper for saying, then screams, "EISEN!" just before the chain reaction of magic spears blast upward and straight at her. A shield of red light crawls up the air around her before she disappears in a shower of horrid light.

...

...

... <<Shamal.>>

<<I'm gonna need cartridges in a minute.>>

The light of Heraut's attack fades, shattered speartips pointing out of every direction from a crystalline magic coccoon surrounding Vita on every front. "Signum," she whispers, seeing her General fallen so. "...Mikoto," she breathes, seeing her...friend? They don't even know each other so well yet. "And that's why," she says, picking up the thought without voicing it. "I can't lose here. EISEN! CARTRIDGE!" <<Explosion!>>

Eisen's tip rises high, and then crashes down with the release of the Cartridge, pumping Vita's magic to the brim. She sweeps her hammer, shattering her shell and sending broken spears clattering. She throws a Swallow Flier into the air, and magic fires between Eisen and the sphere, a transfer of powers which leads to the sphere growing, more massive by the second, as Vita charges up behind it. "Stern's not the only one who does falling stars!" Vita cries out, and Eisen catches flame as she spins it, igniting like a spark struck from the air itself had caught, and then SLAMS it into the side of the massive flyer.

<<KOMET-->>

Then the giant iron sphere also catches fire.

<<--FLIEGEN!!>>

With magic and might, the massive car-sized Comet Flyer launches, releasing rippling shockwaves as it tears through the air on crash course direct with Dark Heraut, smashing whatever it must to get there, and whatever it can on the way to the ground.

COMBAT: Vita Yagami has used Kometfliegen on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut braces 11 Fatigue damage from Sourisi's Crashing Tooth, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  
COMBAT: Dark Heraut dodges 13 Fatigue damage from Vita Yagami's Kometfliegen, taking 20 Fatigue damage!  Vita Yagami is Psyched!
Dark Heraut's Fade and Flash abilities activate!  Stun applied to Dark Heraut!
<Pose Tracker> Cure Passion [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

There is a strange feeling one can have, in the midst of a battlefield, when weaving through attacks. With Heraut's power focused in detonations on the mages, it is not difficult for Cure Passion to slip through the cracks, given that the foe she just engaged is out of sight now. She sails towards the ground, landing with deft footing on the ruined floor after the detonations finish, and looks up.

It affords her the chance to see--or rather, not see--what should have been horrible wounds on the 'wielders' of the two Devices, enshrouded in darkness and cloth both as they are. And it gives her the chance, too, to see desperate movement, attempts at protection. Her expression tightens. "Mikoto--"

She rushes to her but Mikoto has fallen by Lera even before the quick Passion can reach her, leaving the Cure to look up at Lera instead. "We..." She nods, sharply, as Lera lifts from the ground, and speaks to her. The hesitation is clear in Passion's, too. But when Lera gives the direction, Passion nods again. "I'll go!"

After Lera's blade arcs, Cure Passion shoots back up into the air, whirling through the air into a spinning roundhouse directed straight up at Heraut. "Haaah--!"

It is not a good feeling at all.

COMBAT: Cure Passion has used Breaking Wave on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut braces 9 Fatigue damage from Cure Passion's Breaking Wave, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Scared - Defences - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8Qya_x4U0Q


<<Thank you for your support Shamal. Please watch over me.>> Fate answers telepathically, as formally as she can manage.

Hearing the devices bicker is a surreal experience. Familiar enough that Fate doubts her own perceptions that these couldn't be Heraut and Stern.

Fortunately her attack at least seems to propel the wielder of Stern away to that corner of the department store. "You won't get away!" She pronounces.

Unfortunately for her - Heraut makes it painfully clear that the two devices are not acting in tandem. As she suddenly finds herself blind-sided by an attack while en route to the second Stern's position.

It's so familiar feeling. Like her Phalanx Shift, she should have expected it.

Sweeping Bardiche up, she simply intends to parry it head on.

It is not to be. The Magic Knight of the Wind flings herself in the way. "Fuu!? I don't - why would you...!" Seeming in disbelief, as suddenly she dives in order to try to catch the girl.

As fast as she is though - she can't get to her before the Magic Knight, propelled by the explosion lands in the debris. Landing beside her, her hand gently shifts some of the rubble out of her hair. From her knelt down position, she looks up.

After Fuu falls Mikoto... then Signum...

She witnesses this in silence, but 'unaffected' is hardly an accurate descripter.

She never thought she would witness Signum falling in a fight. It shifts her mental calculus of this battle considerably. Her hand clenching down on Bardiche's haft.

"I don't know if we can win anymore..." The girl whispers to herself, shaken by seeing the implacable leader of the Wolkenritter fall. Finding herself frightened by the unknown of all of them falling here.

What if it ends up like Shinjuku? Or Haneda?

That thought is what drives her back into the fight, Fate suddenly flies up on the opposite end of Heraut - and as Vita smashes into the cowled wielder of the Device. The girl whips backs Bardiche's Zanber form, the oversized blade causing the air to shudder.

And as if trying to anticipate where Heraut would end up - whether struck or not, she suddenly adjusts her position in flight and slashes Bardiche forward as quick as lightning. Intending to drive the lightning infused blade forcefully into their opponent's side.

"... but I don't intend to lose either-!"


COMBAT: Fate Testarossa has used Golden Flash on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut partially dodges 8 Fatigue damage from Fate Testarossa's Golden Flash, taking 32 Fatigue damage!  Dark
Heraut's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Shamal Yagami [None] has posed.

Shamal has been Wolkenritter for a long time, and she does not buck her role. She is much frailer than Signum, and this broad-spectrum attack would have defeated any Mirror of Travel she might have summoned so swiftly after the last. Shrinking back, she lifts a arm, focusing magic into her Barrier Jacket itself to resist any collateral damage. Her eyes are wide as she watches the mighty knight face this attack head-on, driving her sword into the mouth of hell. She is aware, guiltily aware, that Signum need only set her feet and face this because Shamal stands behind her.

That pop tugs Shamal off her feet in a frontward direction, not even enough to make her toes leave the ground. But then the ripping chain of explosions that follows blasts her fully off her feet and backwards. Her eyes don't leave Signum as she cries her name in horror.

As Signum plants her sword, several lilliputian strings of celadon energy toss up from the ground to the hilt, lassoing it from five directions. They grow taut all together, locking the sword upright, so that Signum can lean AGAINST the weapon if she needs, not just down atop it. The next moment, Shamal herself wraps her arms around Signum from the side.

"Signum!" She carefully pries at Signum's charred glove, peeling her fingers off the hilt so that she can slump against Shamal's shoulder. Shamal's other hand is already glowing with motes of healing magic, but even as she spreads her palm in front of Signum's chest, she begins to let the magic fade.

"Our champion," she says softly. "Do not rise. Your duties today are..." She covers the cartridges again with her palm, and briefly bows her head towards Signum's. "...so bravely fulfilled."

Furuki Kishi - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4_zV3gWA1M

More of those fairy cords rise up, binding Signum by her shoulders. They will tear away as easily as tissue paper if she tries to rise, but until then they hold her upright, erecting the fallen knight like a hero's statue.

Rising, her Barrier Jacket scratched and torn at its voluminous edges, Shamal twirls her wrist and lets the three cartridges suspend in midair. <<Expend them freely, Vita,>> she replies. Quite a statement; Shamal historically tends to deride their waste. Spreading her fingers, she lifts herself gently off the ground, hovering as she takes in the battlefield. One enemy device is missing. Surely it seeks to ambush, to bring down another ally in one blow.

<<You name me Belkan,>> she projects in all directions, as her eyes close. Three mystic circles in the Belkan language project beneath her, and link together into a triangle, its glow staining her pale hair emerald. Exhaling to steady her hands as much as possible, she sweeps them slowly through the air, feeling her mental way through the space of the building. Her eyelids twitch in concentration.

<<But little you know,>> she sends the thought with angry contempt. She memorizes the angles, she sets a mathematical mind to them. Crossing her wrists, she flexes her fingers halfway to a fist for an instant, then slashing both hands downward and out to her sides.

<<If you seek to HIDE from ME!>>

With a sizzle of magic, shard-like triangles erupt all around Shamal. Like evenly shattered fragments of a mirror, they rotate almost imperceptibly, drifting around her as they surround her, like frozen debris from a tornado. There are a good eighteen of them, each showing a green-tinted viewpoint of some part of the building. An empty hallway, a downward view into a shattered hole, a birdseye from where Shamal entered, and over a dozen other carefully selected viewpoints. Single walls appear translucent at times, then fade back into view as Shamal shifts her focus. A faint glow of mana swaps around seemingly randomly between the different mirrors.

Balefully, Shamal extends an arm fully to the side, and twirls her finger to open a portal. <<MIRROR OF TRAVELS>>, her ring obeys, and a tiny trianglular hole opens. Calling the cartridges over, Shamal catches them in the three gaps between her fingers. The exit of the portal opens about a yard above Vita's head.

<<Vita.>> Shamal flicks one finger hard, shooting the cartridge through the portal forcefully. The second and third follow in turn, thwip, thwip. <<Tear them apart.>>

COMBAT: Shamal Yagami has used Mirror of Prospection on Dark Heraut.
COMBAT: Dark Heraut braces 0 Fatigue damage from Shamal Yagami's Mirror of Prospection, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Shamal Yagami is Psyched!  Analysis performed by Shamal Yagami!
<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Thunder Force IV - Staff Roll REMIX https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkSPOXHGgEM

Action begets reaction.

Heraut launches a murderous manablast; Heraut has less mana.

Heraut takes out several friends saving friends.

<< *NE BELKAN NE*TRA*IZED, >> he announces gravely. << AN* TW* AL*IES. A GOO* S*ART. >>

The surviving friends descend, en masse, to answer.

He is quickly surrounded by fury, by rage. His options are limited; against Kasagami he elects to spend yet more mana directly, << S*ER*ING *UAR*. >> but the force field flickers and cracks against her barrage, then fades.

Speed is next, but this, too, is powered by magic, not muscle, and choices have to be made. It saves him from Lera; he jerks sharply out of the way of Sky's diagonal arc, leaving his carrier's back open -- Sourisi's tonfa thud into it, WHAM WHAM; Cure Passion roundhouses his side, WHAM. Shadow shudders and shakes on impact.

Sky addressed Heraut directly: "If you're the real Heraut..."

<< * *M M*SEL*, >> Heraut insists, and who can gainsay that?

In the 2015 campaign of Vita-Propelled Flaming Croquet Meteor For President, she, too, wins the honor of inducing a few more tired golden motes to float out of the lance -- it sheds them by shifting back into its lower-powered form, the scepter form -- but it just isn't enough, the engorged ball is too big and too fast and too on fire, and then Heraut's carrier is too, at least for a moment.

With the last(?) of his mana, Heraut jerks limply out of Bardiche's path, tiny vacuums created by this last burst of speed putting out the flames Vita set. The shadowy figure grows and shrinks... breathing hard. Breathing with all their might, in the way that one does when they're at their limit.

But they're bought a few seconds by the Easter Depaato giving way. That meteor wasn't stopped, and it kept going at that shallow, downwards angle, all but bisecting the building. It creaks and strains as the side BEHIND Vita, the one part that didn't take a direct hit, endures more and more of the weight...

...then gives way.

Momentarily it's an all hands on deck effort to get everyone out of harm's way.

---

MOMENTS EARLIER

The viewing angle's a bit tricky, when Shamal finally spots Stern. There's debris everywhere, great chunks of concrete and exposed rebar. He's above, then, not below. He must have simply exited through the hole of his involuntary creation, and returned through another. There were enough.

He -- well, the cloaked figure -- stands over himself. Fallen Stern fallen, alone on the crumbled bit of floor. Endo's limp hand frozen, reaching, fingers splayed some feet away.

Then: a moment of terrible violence. Shadow Stern rising -- both black-gloved hands rising with it, until it is fully overhead -- and then descending, straight at the copy, the tip of the hand-held Stern about to shatter the hilt-gem core of the handless one.

But it doesn't.

Instead Shadow Stern sinks into Fallen Stern, as fluidly as a lady enters a lake. In a way, this gentle violence is the greater violation. Ignoring the dimensional impossibility, he sinks and sinks into his counterpart, the cowled figure taking a knee to enable this.

Violet runes trace along Fallen Stern's blade backwards, sucked up into Shadow Stern's, perpendicularly.

Then the building shudders, and she has to make a choice: to keep watching, or to take action, as the only one who knows where Endo lies. (In all fairness to Fallen Stern, he can probably survive a building being dropped on him.)

---

NOW

Clouds of concrete.

Boulders the size of small apartments.

Bits of retail in the rubble.

What a calamity.

Still... the barrier is holding. Everyone's hearts are still beating. This is recoverable.

Heraut levers a rock off of his own cowled face, an undignified use for a scepter but an effective one. His whole golden body is flashing on and off, a sign of depletion, of damage.

<< *-- I MUS*-- >>

<ENOUGH.>

Stern's voice, loud and crystal clear now, without a hint of its prior lesser distortion, let alone Heraut's greater one, rings out across the crater.

<ALL ENEMIES MUST DIE,> he tells the group, his cowled figure landing practically astride Heraut's, a clearly defensive position.

But then, Stern only knows how to play one kind of defense.

The length of his blade chimes with power, the only warning before it ignites, as Bardiche has, into a massive pillar of violet violence.

<VERNICHTUNG BRECHER.>

Normally Endo has to leap high into the air to pull this off, but this figure seems capable of doing the move without leaving the ground. Shadow Stern plunges towards a nearby group, but even those who aren't in its direct path will feel the shockwave.

<< W-*HY? >> whispers Heraut, voice tiny in the aftermath.

Stern does not reply.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Shadow Stern has used Vernichtung Brecher on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Shadow Stern has used Vernichtung Brecher on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Shadow Stern has used Vernichtung Brecher on Vita Yagami.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Vernichtung Shockwave on Shamal Yagami.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Vernichtung Shockwave on Fate Testarossa.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern has used Vernichtung Shockwave on Cure Passion.
COMBAT: Cure Passion dodges 21 Fatigue damage from Shadow Stern's Vernichtung Shockwave, taking 14 Fatigue damage!  Cure Passion's
Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Sourisi covers Kasagami Araki for Shadow Stern's attack, Vernichtung Brecher, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Fate Testarossa dodges 21 Fatigue damage from Shadow Stern's Vernichtung Shockwave, taking 32 Fatigue damage!  Critical
Hit!  Fate Testarossa is unable to keep fighting!  Fate Testarossa's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Sourisi fails to brace Shadow Stern's Finisher, Vernichtung Brecher, taking 172 Fatigue damage!  Sourisi is unable to keep
fighting!
COMBAT: Cure Passion covers Lera Camry for Shadow Stern's attack, Vernichtung Brecher, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Cure Passion partially dodges 35 Fatigue damage from Shadow Stern's Finisher, Vernichtung Brecher, taking 139 Fatigue
damage!  Cure Passion is unable to keep fighting!  Cure Passion's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Shamal Yagami cleanly braces 34 Fatigue damage from Shadow Stern's Vernichtung Shockwave, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Shamal
Yagami's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Shamal Yagami covers Vita Yagami for Shadow Stern's attack, Vernichtung Brecher, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Shamal Yagami fails to dodge Shadow Stern's Finisher, Vernichtung Brecher, taking 148 Fatigue damage!  Shamal Yagami is
unable to keep fighting!
<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.


"If that's true. If you're the real Heraut... then stop fighting."

The mage snaps her blade into a wary downward position. It is arguably easier to carry Bardiche in Zanber form this way due to his great weight. She can see that Heraut is finally depleted. And with Shamal giving Vita that order... she can guess at how this might end.

"Stop fighting and talk to us. This doesn't have to go any further. You're Ren's partner. You've fought countless battles with her - alongside us."

She says as evenly as she can.

"Don't do this."

With that being said though, the mage raises up Bardiche in a two handed grip, overhead. Words alone don't always work. She knows that lesson very well.

She once taught it to someone special... before learning the same lesson in turn.

And she's ready to press that assault until Heraut can speak words no more if necessary.

As its wielder flashes on and off - the girl launches herself forward, deciding that she's going to try to finish this before it's too late with the last of her power.

And then - Stern's voice.

Mid-advance, she stops in mid-air, whirling around to view the figure, "No! Not now-!"

Just to see that Violet Pillar forming.

The Mage instinctively flies downward. Not towards the attack, but towards cover. There's a large pile of rubble nearby. If she can just get to it!

The girl pushes herself, flying as fast and as hard as she can. And her small form makes it behind it.

Just as the shockwave strikes it. Like a bomb going off - it plows into the debris pile. Through it.

Even with the shockwave dulled, Fate Testarossa is smacked out of the air like a fly by a swatter. Hitting the wall with a sickening crack - upside down. Bardiche leaves her hand in that moment, burning a gouge in the concrete as the Devices handle clangs down under its great weight and skitters away, the gigantic blade of mana sputtering - then dying.

Tumbling to the ground and falling into a disordered heap, the girl's eyes stay open as mere blurred slits, like she's struggling to hold onto this image of what's going on for as long as she can, to try to track what happens to her friends.

That struggle is vain. Over in ticks of a second.

How awful is it that valuing your life that much more would suddenly make that last moment before losing consciousness all the more terrifying?


<Pose Tracker> Cure Passion [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Passion can't help but wonder the same that Fate does. But maybe worse: what if again, she instead just watches the others fall? She's already seen some friends fail to rise after these terrible attacks. What if, next, it's Lera?

Passion shakes off the intrusive thought with a tension through her body, lets herself try to channel the worry out through her foot. Action, reaction; shadow shudders, and Passion sails backward by the force of momentum, spinning through the air towards what could be a landing. ...But it isn't a landing. The entire building creaks and strains and gives way--

Cure Passion is tired, and low on energy, but the girl from Labyrinth has never listened to the limits of her body when it comes to being tired. There is too much here she cares about to stop, and so she hits the ground, rolls, and sprints across the falling floor, keeping her movement even as the ground slides beneath her, even as the floor is almost vertical--before she shoots out a broken window, tucking in her arms and legs to make a smaller ball that pierces through, unfolding as she sails towards the ground and lands, sharp, clack-clack boots against the concrete.

She looks up, and voices ring across the crater. Stern ignites with purple flame, and Passion's eyes widen as she looks at his aim. In the span of an instant, she is gone, into the shockwave in a blur of red. In her mind's eye, she sees all of them fallen, and herself, left...

She sees Lera with her eyes, her jump heedless at first. She grabs Lera's arm and starts to pull her away, but she can't quite make it--her foot hits rubble and twists before she can make good her escape. So, she does the only thing she can think to do.

"GO!"

Cure Passion throws Lera and whatever burden she carries clear, and disappears under the full force of Vernichtung Brecher.

<Pose Tracker> Sourisi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Sourisi is cheering mentally as her tonfa slam into Heraut, her first clear blow since the battle started. With only one of these 'puppets' currently fighting everyone, there was only so much he could protect himself from, and Cure Passion. And Vita unleashes...a flaming iron spiked ball?!

Body protesting with every twist of her muscles, Sourisi leaps upwards towards the remains of the seventh floor, where Steven was still waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He could always use a shield bubble to survive, but he had been fighting the two puppets for longer. "Steven, hold on, please!"

Without giving the exchange student a chance to respond, the Miraculous Ninja grabs Steven with one arm, a tonfa with the other, and jumps back out of the building.

It's easier to get back to the neighboring rooftop from here, at least.

Clouds of building dust mix with the light green tint of the Barrier's light and becomes cloying mists seemingly as solid as stone. Sourisi may have helped the half-Gem get to safety, but she's not just about to get to safety. It's the logical thing to do, with two wounds through her body made by spears and her henshin only a few minutes away from fading, but...helping those in need isn't always logical.

The Easter Department Store is nothing but complete ruins now, only sections of walls somehow still standing despite the massive assault it just took. With the gray-green clouds fogging up the area, it would be hard to find anyone just using her sight, but...

The surge of mana gathering is a beacon during this, a tingling in Souisi's bones letting her know that she was going the...well, wrong way, but it's the way she had to go.

Violet light and waves of power splits the dust enough for Sourisi to see clearly, the second 'puppet' has returned to...defend the first one? But they were fighting each other? Nevertheless, Souris can see the first puppet with the memory-tugging weapon about to unleash a massive magical assault towards Lera, Vita...

And Kasagami.

Just like with Steven, Sourisi's instincts takes over. Kasagami doesn't see her, but if she can get her out of the way...! The Miraculous User of Substitution rushes towards the Duelist's back, grabs her clothing roughly and tosses her roughly away from the incoming surge of raw power. It was close, but...Kasagami should be safe.

"Kasagami-senpai..."

And then that omnious violet light engulfs Sourisi completely.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.


The building is a wreck, thanks to the battle amidst the department store. Vita is a falling star, and when all of the intense magic fades momentarily, Kasagami Araki finds herself standing upon one of those massive boulders that was once a bit of store. Crushed manikins are strewn about, many sliced in twin as neatly as much of the rubble around her. It had been a mad fall, a downwards dash and desperate lashing of her polished blade to cut her way out of the destruction wrought by so many Device Users clashing...especially such powerful ones at that. Kassie flicks her blade free of debris that plagues it, the perfect sword unblemished.

Not so with the Duelist herself. Her gaze follows up, still locked on the darkened Stern. Mind playing that terrible violence, how one Stern seemed to melt into the other. It felt wrong, wrong on an intensely uncomfortable level. She wasn't one to use such words, but all Kasagami could think of was 'blasphemy' as her mind refused to let her turn itself away.

No matter how her stomach felt sick. Her arms and legs felt weak, her heart hammering in her chest a thousand times more than was healthy. The world tilted just a bit. Only through sheer grit and a desire to stop more being lost here kept her up.

Devices were people, that much was sure. How could a King allow people to be destroyed? To be melded with so horribly and adding to this hateful lust for violence? Pride and love in equal measure urged Kasagami to act even as her allies and friends fall around her. But as Fallen Stern descends, Kassie looks up! She tries to move, but she's too slow, too exhausted by the bracing fight! Luckily, Sourisi rushes her!

"Sourisi!!!" Calls Kasagami as she's tossed to the side! She flutters through the air, landing in a roll. Light takes her dear friend. Eyes go wide.

Another. Gone. Another gone!

She doesn't have words to express her terror. That she could once again stand over the grave of someone she cares for. The thought of losing Sourisi, of losing Mikoto, even of those she's fought here finally has her moving once again.

Kassie, the would-be King, is a fighter. Rather than retreat, her numb legs press her forward in a blurr towards that Device! She raises her blade as she streaks past!

"STOP TAKING MY FRIENDS!"

That sword of hers strikes thrice, in such perfect, swift, immaculate lines that they may as well happen at once. A perfect expression of skill, dedication, and her heart's longing for love as well as it's dire fear of loss amidst the fires of her ambitions. She cuts without recourse, swinging once yet thrice with every ounce of her person even as white spots appear in her vision.

She prays that it will make a difference for all the brave souls here sacrificing themselves against these not-Devices.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Kasagami Araki has used Crimson Rose Cage on Shadow Stern.
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

<What manner of copy...> Sky wonders. He wonders, but finds no answer -- and then falls quiet. There is much they do not know. There is much that they should be concerned about.

Lera's feet hit the pavement after her leaping strike, and she turns to see Sourisi and Passion slamming into Heraut. She takes a deep, shaking breath. She sees the way that Heraut's shadowy figure seems to breathe, too. Lera wipes at her brow with her sleeve, sweat smeared on it, and then she realizes.

"The building!"

Mikoto is down. Lera turns -- she does a tight spin, light trailing after. She drops down, low, and one arm grabs Mikoto Minagi. It isn't gentle; she throws her over a shoulder, and a piece of structural steel bends, tears through the concrete, and smashes down just behind her.

When Lera lands with Mikoto, she is covered in a layer of grey dust. She spits and her face is cut with a few little slashes. It's monochrome, with sweat and blood giving it color -- and then her amber eyes, when they open. She meets Mikoto's.

"Stay put, okay?" she says, her voice a little hoarse. She turns, looking up at the desolate sky, and the shifting barrier. Her eyes move, from Heraut to Stern. One crackling; one, somehow, more whole than before. She sees that familiar roaring purple energy along Stern's weapon, and she knows what that means.

She raises Soaring Sky, and he is dwarfed compared to it. She could use a shield right now -- but she needs a sword, too. Difficult decisions, and no time to make them.

She starts to move -- and then she freezes. She sees the blast slam Fate to the ground, the earth crunching underneath her without ceremony. Her breath catches and her legs lock into place. When bare fingers grab her sleeved arm, Lera comes out of it, even as she feels the heat in her eyes. "Passion, what are you--"

'GO!'

Lera is thrown. The column of purple light slams into the ground behind her, the shockwave blasting into her back and pushing her forward. So she walks, legs carrying her with a bone-tired effort. How long ago was it that she, so often, fell first? She feels envious of that younger girl, for a second.

It feels terribly lonely, on that blasted battlefield. Lera swallows, keeping her tears in check, as she looks up. "Fate... Passion," she says. "I'm not... I'm not going to let you down, y'know?"

She lifts Soaring Sky up, towards the dust-filled sky -- and the strange figuring, bearing what looks like Fallen Stern. A mage, she reminds herself, is never alone. "You ready, buddy?"

<Made ready.> Soaring Sky's bravado brings a small smile to her face. <Do be careful, Lera. These copies... they're something else. Something more...>

"I know. We'll get our answers. And we'll help them, and make sure everyone comes back, same way... same way we've always tried," Lera answers him, softly. "We'll try, as hard as we can. Even if we fail, the trying matters, y'know?"

<I know. Initiating control rings.>

Soaring Sky's blade splits down the middle. A hinge makes it slide open -- and then little arcs of lightning gather, and grow, until they're hopping back and forth across the split halves of the blade. Before it, a ring filled with rotating runes appears.

<Aurora...>

A second ring appears. A few cracks shoot up the length of Sky's blade. Lera's flight spell is drained. She stops half-hovering off the ground, boots landing. Then, patches of her coat flicker -- and vanish, leaving little, jagged holes rimmed in golden light. Her Barrier Jacket seems to shudder.

The third ring begins to appear -- and then it flickers. The runes flash, then vanish, and the two rings of light rotate slowly, unevenly. The light gathering inside of Sky's blade, blinding like the Sun, refuses to grow brighter. Broken Ground chimes: <Connecting to Sky. We'll do this.>

"One shot," Lera answers. "Let's make it count, guys."

The ring flashes. Runes appear again -- a brighter, plainer yellow gold, from Ground's magic. The barrier jacket begins to dissolve -- the coat vanishing as pieces of golden light fall away, one by one. The shirt and pants flicker -- showing the button-up shirt and jeans that Lera wore today, underneath.

<Burst...>

Lera's Barrier Jacket explodes away from her in a burst of golden light, save for the stubborn feather ornament pinned to her hair. A crack runs up Sky's twin blades, as the light grows brighter and brighter -- brighter than the core of a star, until a second daylight is visible. Lera squints. The bracelet on her wrist, with Ground's gem, gets its own sizeable crack.

And then she looses the spell. The beam shoots through the three control rings, threading the needle, and turning into a column of white-hot plasma, burning gold at the edges, and washing out everything, before coming at Stern.

Three voices scream over it: "RAY!"

COMBAT: FINISHER! Lera Camry has used Aurora Burst Ray on Shadow Stern.
<Pose Tracker> Shamal Yagami [None] has posed.

Shamal doesn't need to look at her projections to see them, it seems. She lifts her chin up towards the ceiling, to where she now knows Shadow Stern is hiding. She cannot see through concrete, but the image of what is there is in her mind. The true Stern and his master, right below the false. A newer magical girl might be horrified. Veteran that she is, Shamal can't believe her luck.

<<MIRROR OF TRAVELS>>

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ5fcsGLv90

A celadon portal opens to the right of Endo. This is strategic; it would have been faster and thus safer to just open it right under Endo and let his body fall through, but then the attack would have just followed him down, destroying him and Shamal both. So she slings her Commandment Rope through the mirror on her end, and yanks the unconscious Endo from all the way upstairs to right next to Shamal's feet.

Now there's a mirror in front of Shamal. She leaves it, because she can see Dark Stern proceeding on and ignoring it, and she doesn't have the time to spare to dispel it; too much is afoot. As the building falls and concrete rains boulders, Shamal's thoughts instantly go to Signum.

<<MIRROR OF TRAVELS>>

The twin pitons of her Device swivel. Fatigued from repeated casting, Shamal opens a mirror on her right this time, and puts the exit next to Signum. She has a moment longer than she did with Endo, so she lashes Signum's limbs up with Commandment Rope to avoid banging her around, then drag her, too, back through the portal, resting her next to Endo.

Now, with Signum and Endo gathered and two Mirrors set up, Shamal decides to put an end to the danger they are in. "Klarwind," she orders. <<Ja.>> With a gasp of effort, Shamal carves opens a third simultaneous Mirror of Travel, and places the exit upside-down along the path her allies are fleeing. Picking up Endo's body by her glowing Ropes, she hurls him through hastily, so that he will drop right into an unsuspecting Kasagami. As she reaches down to grab Ropes around Signum, she holds her by the collar for a moment. "Right behind you," she promises, and tosses her through as well, right into a passing Lera Camry.

Not a moment too soon, either, as battle has begun. Dark Stern engages with a clink, and Shamal, Device Engineer, understands the arithmetic quickly.

One side of the Mirror of Travel must be in front of Shamal, because of how she 'draws' them. She has the physical space for only one more (behind her), and she'll be lucky to have the mana for it. She can open it, grab Vita, and toss her through one of the other exits... but which? The upside-down one is now in the path of the attack. The Endo Mirror and the Signum mirror have a whole building actively collapsing through their area. Standing where she is, she'll get hit by the attack too. She'd have to make a FIFTH Mirror to find a safe exit and there's no room and no mana.

She needs to solve this with just one Mirror, and there's only one answer to that logic puzzle. Closing her eyes, Shamal grits her teeth before she does it. "Klarwind," she whimpers. "I apologize, but please."

<<MIRROR OF TRAVELS!>>

As the screaming, gigantic pillar of violet light grinds apart everything between it and Vita, the largest celadon triangle yet opens right in front of her. But Vita is facing the dull, useless side.

A huge center cylinder of the beam passes through the Mirror of Travel, carving an open hole around Vita's small body, leaving her unharmed inside an open tunnel of death and violence. And that cylinder reappears across the room, driving full-on into Shamal's back, enveloping her whole body. It blasts her through the Mirror in front of her, and she disappears through that, reappearing up in the air above where Endo had once lain. Her Barrier Jacket fizzes and fights against the impacts of rubble as Shamal's ragdoll body is smacked against chunks of department store.

She gets very lucky. As her Barrier Jacket fails and she's moments from being torn to shreds, an immense block of concrete drops right into her square of Mirrors, and blocks the beam passing through there. The violet energy hammering Shamal winks out instantly, and all that's left is the fall.

Shamal chose this on purpose. She'd rather fall and land atop the rubble, than not fall and have it land atop her.

As the demolished building shudders into its own footprint, Shamal's motionless body strikes hard atop a pile of it. Face-down, her lovely dress ragged and smoking from damage, she lies strewn, a hint of pink stain in her cream-colored bangs where they cover her eyes. Her hat is gone somewhere, and Klarwind, cracked, hangs like wind-chimes from her dirty fingers, her cracked gemstones clinking together softly.

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

The cool thing about knowing how barriers work is you sometimes feel ok idly reducing a building to its component rooms.

The building starts to rip itself apart. Vita takes a quick breath among the mayhem, trying to remember where everyone is - where at least the people she personally cares about are. Lera jumps for fallen Mikoto, Shamal has Signum covered; Vita opts to jet skyward, clearing the rubble completely. She's still reasonably fresh. She has to keep her eyes on the fight. Once she clears out a bit, she thrusts her Device forward, flipping it about. The portal from Shamal opens and Vita holds Eisen steady. "Ready," she declares, with something approximating calm. She'll need her usual tea later to sooth her throat after the screaming she's about to do. No sense making it worse yet.

The cartridges fall in, slotting into Eisen's open chamber. One, CHUNKuh, the hammer slams and rises again, two, three, the hammer drives down and up, accepting each of Shamal's offered Cartridges and bursting Vita full of light. "Ready up," she mutters. "Raketenform." <<Ja.>>

Eisen's head starts to reconfigure itself, magic boiling off of it as the forward head twirls around itself extruding a chisel-pointed tip. The back head transforms completely, flaring out into a three-engine rocket booster. Heraut is down, but she hasn't confirmed the other one in a whi--

'ALL ENEMIES MUST DIE'

"Above!" she cries out, whipping around, her skirts whirling around her ankles. But she's a smart one; she knows the numbers immediately. She's not fast enough. Not even with Raketenform out - she'd waste all the accumulated energy getting clear, if she even did. She's about to mount up, when--

The Mirror of Travels opens in front of her. Facing the wrong way. "SHAMAL!!" Vita shrieks, just before her voice is entirely lost to the din of calamitous power.

When the light fades - and the mirror does, too, Vita is floating there. Shaking.

Her eyes turn up on Stern and its bearer, clear blue eyes streaked below with the tracks of tears. "Yeah," she whispers. "I think I agree, actually," she says, and thrusts Eisen forward. "EISEN!" she shrieks, and the engines flare.

Raketenform's engine sends her careening directly for the Shadow Stern and its bearer. No fancy tricks, no whirling flourishes. No quips or sass.

"HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"

Just screams, as Eisen blasts up into Stern's presence in seconds. The first sweep passes her above, but she whirls it around, redirecting all that momentum in a heartbeat to swirl back and drive the chisel into the mage's unprotected back, try to force its barrier off-balance. The follow-through sends either the bearer or the girl pinwheeling, but Vita redirects it soon, spinning it around--

To drive the chisel-tip flush into the side of Stern.

She snarls, looking for the figure's eyes but not particularly caring if she gets them. No challenge, other than: "EISEN!! DESTROY!!"

<<RAKETENHAMMER.>>

And then the thrusters bloom with a pure-white light that shines like a shuttle launch, plumes of fire that would melt through any walls with the poor sense to still be standing as Vita tries to do what she does best:

Destroy Devices.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Vita Yagami has used Raketenhammer on Shadow Stern.
COMBAT: Shadow Stern fails to brace Kasagami Araki's Finisher, Crimson Rose Cage, taking 148 Fatigue damage!  
COMBAT: Shadow Stern braces 108 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Finisher, Aurora Burst Ray, taking 88 Fatigue damage!  Critical
Hit!  Shadow Stern's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Lera Camry is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Shadow Stern braces 60 Fatigue damage from Vita Yagami's Finisher, Raketenhammer, taking 40 Fatigue damage!  Shadow
Stern's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

The aftermath of Brecher is bodies, but not corpses.

Henshins shatter on impact, into flowing energy ribbons or flickering motes or other, stranger effects. The paths they take vary, but they all end the same, detransforming into street clothes.

The unconscious inverse of what Lera just chose to do, voluntarily.

A final defense few know about until the first time it's happened to them.

Girls are left behind, but not magical ones.

Not until tomorrow comes, at least.

---

Their sacrifices were not in vain.

Kasagami slices thrice, inside no time at all. Divide by zero and you attain infinity. Shadows fly, shadows fall. Black-clad limbs are clearly visible, afterwards; she's almost run out of cloak to shred. Some of that spandex has been split, too, revealing pale skin and red red blood beneath, scratches seeping.

Lera has one shot left, and she takes it the moment the Duelist is clear. Power pours over the two figures. Stern's crouches over Heraut's, enduring the worst of it. Afterwards, the mighty greatsword is pulsing in time with an implied heartbeat, same as the scepter.

And then Vita comes in. IMPACT. Sparks fly, cracks spread. Stern's figure takes a knee. Chips flake. The ground shakes beneath them.

This is it.

It's almost over.

Finally.

Black Sky arrives from Yamanote High City.
<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.

---

Three simple words, though the most unintelligible yet, crackling harshly, broken, recognizable only because of the immediacy of their echo.

They're the last thing anyone hears.

<<A*R*R*!>>

Blazing light, gathering, it takes time to get to full brightness, pure whiteness, but it has the time it needs.

It's the last thing anyone sees.

<<*U*S*!>>

Crashing power, burning, plasmic and terrible.

It's the last thing anyone feels, as they're lifted off their feet, blown away.

<<R*Y!>>

---

The human soul is a miraculous thing, in ways that have nothing to do with magic, but everything to do with destiny.

It is possible, just possible, to hear and see and feel what happens after, through ordinary ears and blurred eyes.

<SOARING SKY.>

<<F*LLE* ST***. *OUV**AI* HE**UT.>>

The third cloaked figure kneels beside Lera Camry for a moment, inserting their Soaring Sky into hers in the same way Shamal witnessed Fallen Stern do, through a mirror brightly.

Bright orange runes pass between the two Devices, and then the figure straightens; is straightened, by the lovely sword they hold.

Sky's voice rings out in beautiful, high-definition clarity, same as Stern's.

<<MISSION COMPLETE. REN AIZAWA IS NOT PRESENT. WE WILL COME FOR HER ANOTHER DAY.>>

A black-gloved hand clasps another... Sky helps Stern up from his -- their -- crouch. Stern turns, bends, and draws Heraut to their feet.

A vast orange Belkan triangle spreads out beneath the three.

The barrier falls, as it must.

<<DIMENSIONAL TRANSFER.>>

Tokyo, the living city, fades back in, even as they fade out.

Population: Almost forty million.

Answers: Almost forty million.

Questions: At least forty million and one.