4753/P:WTWM - The Most Dangerous Game

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P:WTWM - The Most Dangerous Game
Date of Scene: 05 November 2016
Location: Alberichstadt <P:WTWM>
Synopsis: A fateful encounter. End of Act One. The sun shines in the rain, as Die Reisende faces off with The Huntsman for the final time.
Cast of Characters: August Kohler, Janine Liberi, 915, 999, 1031, William Pauwel, 151, 1039, 908

August Kohler has posed:

The night is calm, cool wind blowing through Alberichstadt. But for Die Reisende, they likely don't even care about the weather. In just a matter of moments, their duel against the Huntsman will begin. They'll fight for August Kohler's life, and likely their own, as well. They've likely had a matter of moments to plan, prep, and talk about whatever they need to get off their chest, but now, it's time.

As Die Reisende steps through the looking glass, they'll find that the Mirror Forest seems active. Shadows lurk through the trees, watching, chittering, as the Pig lies inside his log, hiding. It knows what's going to happen, soon, and it wants no part of it.

The group will also notice, sitting on a tree branch directly across from the clearing pool, a familiar cat. Panzercat is not donning his signature armor today, minus the tank cannon he wields lazily in one hand. Instead, the mangy malnourished cat has his elegantly made boots out for show, as he frontflips off the branch, flying several feet before he nails the landing right in front of the group. Thrusting a hand into the air as if to say 'huzzah!', the Panzercat beams a smile. "Weakarm, I have gotten your letter! Consider this a favor renegotiated! Until the end of this adventure, I, the Panzercat, will be your trusty ally! I was sort of hoping you'd hire me, gotta save that Firehair and all!" The cat's yellow eyes gleam as he searches for a shoulder to rest on. "None of you have shoulders as good as Firehair, but one of you will have to do!" No matter who he ends up on, Panzercat will make grabby hands towards Janine. "Weakarm! I need one of those communication devices! You cannot leave Panzercat out of the discussions! Tonight is our date with destiny!"

The road to the Huntsman is clear. Why? Because a small trail of red liquid seeps from the clearing in a path through the trees. It doesn't all belong to one person, but it's easy to suspect who some of it belongs to. At the end of the trail is a massive, empty plain, with no other exits. What the hell is going on here?

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Janine is here, and as per the letter's request, she's swapped out her usually gray attire for a white dress. Her sword hangs at her side, recently sharpened. Her bandages freshly changed to be as clean as possible. Despite all that though, she still looks as tired and irritable as usual.

    Something that is not helped by Panzercat's nickname for her. She grinds her teeth, already regretting her decision but swallows any rebuttals. Reaching into her pocket, she grabs a spare radio she had intended for August and puts it in the cat's paw carefully. She's had experience with touching possibly dangerous cats now.

    "Okay, here's the deal," she says as she strides along the path marked in crimson. "The Huntsman is tricky bastard. Second guess everything you see, and then second guess the second guess. He'll probably be shooting at us from a distance, but there'll be traps all over, so watch where you step."

    And finally, they arrive... at an open field. No cover, and no Huntsman in sight. "Eyes peeled, he could be anywhere," she snarls, drawing her sabre.

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
"Ah, I remember you." Ira leers at Panzercat. "Well far be it from us to refuse some good help. Here, you come with me, then. It should be interesting." Neatly, Ira grabs the cat by the nape of the neck and lifts him up, dropping him neatly on her broad shoulder.

    Ira's come prepared. She wears an /interesting/ looking armored longcoat, clearly picked up off-world form some other mysterious (Zaibatsu) contact that she has. It looks pretty /heavy/ and hints of belts can be seen at her waist. Once again she's chosen to come in with the double sledgehammers that she brought along when the little group challenged the Woodsman. Her hair's been pulled back into a tight bun and two dabs of blue paint have been smeared beneath her eyes. It gives her a good sort of 'William Wallace' look.

    "Alright. I'm going ahead like we decided." Ira states plainly, shouldering both of her hammers over one shoulder. She's the first to enter the clearing, of course, fully expecting it to be some kind of trap. She's expecting /lots/ of traps.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Emily is here.

    Emily is clad in all white.

    But Emily is not clad in her usual uniform style.

    Well, she sort of is, in that there's a fancy white butler suit in there somewhere. But it's under a thick layer of combat webbing, and somewhat marred by the black automatic shotgun she carries. It's kind of a wonder how she got all this to the cabin without being seen, but she managed it.

    (It involved midnight trips, one at a time, abusing her speed in the process, and having some of the items stocked there already.)

    But nevertheless, here Emily stands, armed to the teeth, with her usual glasses gone. She still walks steadily along with Janine, but her expression is more cold and stern than she's shown at just about any other time - except perhaps the silent mission to the church. "Remember. If it looks like an easy route to where we're going, it's probably trapped. If it looks like a /difficult/ route to where we're going, it's less likely to be trapped but still possible. Check as you move. And don't just look at your feet. Eyes in the trees as well."

Ashurel Cloudbank (1031) has posed:
    Ashurel looks like she came for war today! Or at least, came expecting some very tough enemies. She's wearing her Robes of the Archmagi for once. They're very nice. They give her +5 Armor Bones, SR 18, and a whole bunch of extra resistances. They're also as white as the driven snow and resist all forms of dirt and grime as she goes. With someone wearing robes that ooze that much magic aura, she must not be holding back and must be completely expecting a war. And with Robes of the Archmagi that white, she must be some sort of Good Alligned Wizard, because no spellcaster would willingly take negative levels. It'd be borderline insanity.

    Tucked under one arm is a thick magic tome that is equally as magical as the robes she is wearing. Over her shoulder is a messenger bag that is probably some sort of bag of holding. She calmly walks through the forest along with everyone else, looking around a bit and hmming as she occasionally scratches some notes in a book with her quill and sighing a bit.

    "Alrighty-righty. I've got all my best spells loaded up for today and I'm ready to do this thing." She slaps her book with her palm a couple times to emphasize this.

William Pauwel has posed:
Something is here.

    Anyone even passingly familiar with weapons systems would notice the fact that the something is strapped to two enormous rotary machine guns. And a pair of mortar artillery cannons. And a whole bunch of cylinders that are probably grenades. And more armor than is even passingly reasonable.

And under all of that, beneath a dozen mechanical clamps, steel bolts and what looks like entire canisters full of ammunition is... A familiar T-45 Power Armor.

The whole thing is painted a stark white.

Well. It's TECHNICALLY following instructions.

    It sinks into the ground a couple of inches with every step, its weight distributed across what look like foot-mounted tank treads. "Howdy y'all," a tinny, modulated voice calls from the armor's hollow interior. "We all ready to go?"

Yeah. That's Will in there.

    "Hey, it's that tank-cat!" Will says to the Panzerkatze. An ally for today. An enemy for tomorrow. But at least they share similar taste in military hardware. "Good to have you with us. All the better to kick this varmint off his high horse, hey?"

    Will nods at Janine and turns down towards the bloodtrail. The T-45's visor flickers through the color spectrum before settling on a pale blue. Scan mode. "Alright. Let's get a move on. I don't like this blood; if it's August's, we're on a pretty bad time limit."

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley arrived in all white. She also arrived with some manner of heating coat that she left at the shack when they entered the Forest.

    The lizard woman has her neutral affect on. The gravity of this mission is clearly seen in her eyes, the lizard lady sparing little words toward the others for their gathering. Her black suit has been replaced with a white suit, and she even put a white cover on her book (with a mirrored surface on one side) so that it doesn't stand out too much on her outfit. Her longsword was readily strapped to her hip, her daggers behind the small of her back.

    Their journey to the empty field draws no conversation out of her. Her eyes remain fixated on the trail of red, until they reach the open area. She activates her Sight when they get there, and gazes over the battlefield in search for anything that might be out of the ordinary. Shadows hiding in plain sight, for instance.

    Silent as a ghost. She's afraid of someone getting hurt, and so she's focused on their task.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    Hikaru is dressed in white, as directed, slacks and a t-shirt - he doesn't want to endanger August's life with his fashion sense. He's brought his telescoping staff with him, rather than a gun, because he knows what his role is in this operation; a deadly weapon on his person might be as much of a hindrance as a help. His face is set with quiet determination as he steps through the mirror, and he breathes a sigh of relief as he sees the Panzercat waiting as they'd planned.

    "Thanks for your help," he says, to the Shadow. He doesn't comment on his inflammatory nickname for Janine, because he knows a live grenade when he sees one.

    He doesn't go all the way out to the clearing; instead, he branches off from the group a short while before hitting it, taking position behind one of the glass trees. He lifts his bracelet to eye-level, and intones: "Persona!" The Fox Sister materialises, a Korean peasant-girl with a fox's tail and ears, and she meets his eyes for a moment before covering his clasped hands with hers. Her ears twitch and rotate as she takes in the information, feeds it to him as the physical world fades away.

    The path ahead is shards and shards, layers of things which are which turn out to be things which must /not/ be - smells like blood, but it's not a smell, it's shaped like substance but the edges are too dull. Metaphor, metaphor, what is metaphor! Hikaru takes a moment to try and process the information, to turn it into words he can use. There's so much /here/, so many layers, it's almost overwhelming.

    <There are illusions everywhere. That field isn't empty. The trees aren't empty. The air isn't empty.> The mental link sounds somewhat strained. <Towers. Bombardment? They're everywhere. Tripwires on the ground. Run up against them and they explode. Woven into it all. The shapes are jagged. West of the path - to the left - step three paces to the side, northwest, an opening. A trap? I can't see it all yet. I'll keep trying.>

Gudako Ordria (908) has posed:
    Gudako is wearing the same outfit she always wears. Just with every black piece replaced by a white one. They're normal people clothes, it's not hard to mix and match! Long-sleeved shirt, skirt, boots. Nothing unusual there.

    Since Berserker and Caster are currently incorporeal, one can't tell that they just used magic to make their usual outfits look white, which is going to make telling the two apart a problem unless people have gotten good at noticing their hairstyles.

    Fort once her face isn't glued to her phone, although she doesn't look any different from usual either. The same 8D face, creepy, wide dead eyes, and happy-go-lucky attitude that makes her able to ignore the fact they're about to engage someone supposedly very dangerous. She has other things on her mind, maybe. She's coordinating things in her head, though it'd be hard to say what.

August Kohler has posed:
As soon as Ira wanders into that field, she'll find herself face first with a wall. And then, she'll find her outfit starting to get wet, and her head, and her hair, as rain begins to pour. In fact, everything begins to change, as the weave of illusions that Hikaru can detect suddenly are pulled. (Meanwhile, Panzercat figures out how to use a radio, almost destroying it in the process).

Dark clouds roll into the sky, pouring down rain. The field reveals that it is far from empty, as an entire battlefield opens up. Trees and stone towers litter it, as does underbrush and grass. Hikaru detects tripwires in some of the underbrush, but that can't be the only traps here.

To the right of the battlefield, a bit forward, lies a cage. Inside is a bloodied August Kohler, tied to a chair. In FRONT of the cage is a large, long checkboard pattern of grass and dirt, alternating tiles. Also a beartrap immediately in front of the cage door. The hell is going on here?

At the far end of the field, standing in a tree, the Huntsman makes himself known. Wearing a hunter's cap, turned over his bright yellow eyes, he smiles sharply, preparing his rifle. His entire body is a predator's: legs for running, arms for maiming, a body built for speed.

The Huntsman begins firing rapidly, at every member of the group, before disappearing into the trees, projecting his voice near them. "Ah, you've shown up! Right on time. The hunt has begun. Ira MacNally, you have FAILED to wear white! Red, really? It'll blend in with the blood. A shame, a shame, but let's see how this hunt plays out. Aren't you just DYING to see this dance?"

And then, more shots, from different ends of the battlefield. Two come from different angles flying at Ira, while a third slams towards Janine. "Save him, if you dare!"

BATTLE MUSIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaWSzqONfbI

August Kohler has posed:
Panzercat, who was sitting on Ira's shoulders, immediately dismounts. He then begins wandering around with no clear aim towards the west, slowly. The heck?

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Unsurprisingly, they are marching into a killing field. Hikaru's warning allows Emily to be ready for it before it happens; by the time the illusion drops, the glove on her right hand has mysteriously been replaced with a black one.

    As soon as the shooting starts, her whip is in her hand, and snaps out to snag hold of the nearest stoneglass tower. By reeling it in and using her own body strength, she can haul herself up into the top; naturally, before she climbs in, she /checks it for traps/. But assuming she can get in safely, she does so, and pulls out two things.

    One is a small breakaway bag. She dips into her speed enough to tear it open while also throwing it - and this sends a scattering of CALTROPS out... behind them. She's peppering the area behind the group with caltrops. Just in case the Huntsman decides to come at them from behind with his speed.

    The other? No more and no less than a grenade. This, too, she pitches with the help of her speed. But she pitches it forward. Out into the field ahead of the group. Where its detonation can set off any traps in range before they can actually hurt someone.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    The moment the Huntsman shows himself, off in the distance, Ainsley does her thing. She pulls her mirrored tome off her shoulder and holds it up with one hand, and shouts a single word.


    An enormous turtle man manifests behind her from blue light, dressed in a fisherman's garb from the modern age. He adjusts his brown cap with one hand and his smile deepens, the strangely warm '^_^' face showing a distinct lack of malice. Urashima Taro pulls the massive bundled fishing net off of his back and lobs it into the air, where it vanishes, moving extra quickly as Ainsley casts a spell.

    A shield of mirror-like energy appears like the panels in a turtle's shell, trying to reflect the shots from the Huntsman away from the party. Ideally, the spell will ricochet the shots back at the Huntsman, but it is hardly a foolproof spell and the panels can be shattered for a variety of reasons... she's just trying her best! It also isn't a full barrier, as she was working off of the very brief glimpse of violent intent from spotting the Huntsman right after he appeared. In fact, one shot actually grazes one of her arms, blood running soaking into her sleeve.

    "Reflect on your decisions!" she barks out, as if it were a spell incantation, pointing at the Huntsman.

Ashurel Cloudbank (1031) has posed:
    Ashurel Sighs, "Miss Ordria. How are you?" She asks a bit warily, never sure just how to read the strange girl. Still, Ashurel seems patient with Gudako. Her servants are interesting to study, at the least, and Gudako can supply good company. Another brief wave is given to Ira, "Miss MacNally." She says briefly before releasing her book from her grip.

    Said tome continues to float to the side of her in tandem as she walks. Ashurel's blue eyes alight as she begins loading up her divination magic before she casts any other wizard spells. She gains multiple new forms of sight, most of which won't even be remotely applicable here, but a few that may. Mostly magic sight and true sight. However, these are merely her start-up litany of abilities for a fight.

    She swipes her hand across the tome and seems to literally pull a spell out of its pages with a flourish. While one hand holds the dormant and glowing spell. Twirling it in her hand, she incants in a strange tongue, "Gm few oviwsq va rpbju, J jropsf p qnbbwqfjvc ncfv mvn. Iewc fewm uvrw fv swqunw mvn, mvn ijhh swqjqf fewr pf phh uvqfq."

    Then she clenches her hand and there's a bright flash as the spells goes off. What it does is not certain.

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
"Hey there." Ira winks to Ashurel.

    Ira smacks right into a wall. She grunts, and pats her nose, then waves her hand out in front of her to ascertain where exactly this wall is. Rain pours over her, soaking her hair, slicking off her coat, which apparently has some measure of waterproofing. Unsurprising, actually, given that it's from the Zaibatsu and it is headquatered in an ever-raining city.

    "HEY! NOT SO FAST!" Ira calls out before she reaches down and pulls up some of the thick jeans she's wearing over her tree-trunk legs. "I'm wearing /white socks/, you shithead! So /there/."

tJust as she straightens, two shots slam into her, making deep indents on her coat, but not penetrating the red, leather-like at her, only to be deflected by Ainsley's spell. The redhead hardly flinches. Ira merely grins, showing plenty of teeth, her eyes flickering with malice.

    "Sorry, you'll need to do better than that."

    Ira takes a moment to reflect upon the checkerboard before them. It probably had some kind of pattern, some kind of /correct order/ to go through that they can determine through cunning and problem soliv-

    "Hey Huntsman, why don't you come down from that tree and chat." Ira says as she strides onto the checkerboard-like field with little regard, "I've got a Beast I think you'd love to hunt, heh heh."

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    The shapes come into sharper relief as they reveal themselves, no longer hidden behind a veil. Towers, trees, stone - shaped like themselves, at first glance - and presences, malevolence and pain. It's not difficult to tell which is which. One is familiar. One is not.

    There's the sound of a bullet being narrowly deflected, whizzing past his arm and burning a thin line through his shirt sleeve before embedding itself in a nearby tree. The glass shatters, splinters up the trunk; a delicately-leaved branch, a marvel of unintentional human artwork, comes crashing down beside him. The pain prompts him out of his reverie for a moment, the Fox Sister's ears tilting back, but he stubbornly forces himself back into his trance.

    He saw August. He saw what was around him. He just has to focus, feel the edges and the form, find the weak points and the places where reality bends unnaturally.

    Somewhat pained, the mental link echoes out: <I feel August's presence. There are illusions around him, there's danger, but the details-! Give me a moment to focus.>

    Even after he feels Ira's signature stepping in, all bravado and strength and force, he persists.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    As the illusions fall, Janine starts to sweat nervously. This is a huge field, no doubt packed to the gills with traps. And there's August in a cage in front of a chessboarded stretch of land. It seems pretty straightforward...

    Which is why Janine is worried. It's never this straightforward.

    As the gunshots ring out, she ducks behind Urashima Taro and Ira. If they want to deal with the incoming attacks, let 'em. She gazes deep into her sword and shouts "PERSONA!" Biancabella arises, swirling in the air before generating what looks like a small tornado right in front of where the Huntsman fired from! Her intent? To kick up as much soil and dirt as she can in his line of sight to throw off his aim!

    "You're clear to move! Ira's got August, Emily's got the high ground... scatter so he can't pick us off so easily, and try to blast the ground in front of you to set off traps!"

William Pauwel has posed:
Bullets? BULLETS!? He's trying to use BULLETS to stop William Pauwel!?

Will is basically BULLET ELEMENTAL. Or at least Gun Elemental. He's got Resist: Gun is what we're trying to say. But that being said, there's still a whole host of traps in between them and August. That said, if there's anyone equipped to properly run through a minefield, it's the guy wearing several hundred pounds of armor.

He hears the strain in Hikaru's voice. Between August and the rest of the group is enough in the way of traps, trip-wires and mines that trying to find a safe way through is basically crazy.

So. Rule one: When there's a complicated problem, look for the simplest solution.

"Loading high explosive," Will says, choosing the simplest solution of them all. The mortar cannons mounted to his back swivel slightly on jury-rigged servo mounts. He reaches up and shoves a couple canisters right into their muzzles. The turrets swivel again, aim, and then fire.

Two grenades shoot into the air with a 'thunk' of compressed air before tumbling back out of the sky and into the clearing. Both of them tranform upon impact, blossoming into clouds of fire and smoke and concussive force. Will braces his legs, the motors whirr to life down there too as he wheels forward into the breach.

He's still firing. But from the sound- and look- of it, it seems he's switched to the miniguns, because that's a LOT of lead hammering into the ground right now.

Gudako Ordria (908) has posed:
    The Huntsman makes the first move. It's now self-defense! The best kind of legal argument. Gudako remains still, smiling, but the air in front of her lights up with magic as her two Servants materialize. Caster and Berserker, wearing white-- differentiated only by the style of their hair, the fact Berserker has big cat paws and boots, and crazy eyes. In retrospect, kind of easy to tell them apart, huh?

    Caster's mirror appears, acting as a shield to protect Gudako. She remains by her master's side to shield her, while Berserker intentionally takes a round to the arm to charge in, fast, and strong.

    She reaches for one of the trees the Huntsman was on-- uproot it, and swing it like a club with a not-so-graceful "NYAAAAA!". Is Berserker, won't fix.

    The tree-club isn't swung directly for the Huntsman though. It's a wide arc-- dangerous for everyone trying to be in melee-- aiming to break and shatter every other tree in a 360 reach of Berserker. Or until her own tree breaks first.

August Kohler has posed:
The Panzercat continues to wander through the trees, doing 'cat things'. Like sniffing. A lot of sniffing. Meanwhile, the group fights! The Huntsman just laughs at Ira's reply. "Oh, fine, I'll give you a pass, ogre. Atleast you talk back. That's what I want to hear from you! Talk to me! Tell me why you don't like me! Or do you not have a reason? You took my challenge, so tell me, why are you playing my game? Regale me with your stories! Or am I a monster, is that it? Because if I am...so are you."

Ainsley's reflection works on the bullets, just barely. They fire like lightning, and only her rapid fire reflexes manages to send them away from Ira and towards...a reflective mirror that suddenly pops up in the battlefield, sending them towards Hikaru! Wait. Where the hell did that mirror come from?

That tower is not trapped, besides a beartrap in one corner of it that Emily can easily predict and dodge. It's built as a sniping perch, and has good battlefield coverage. And from it, Emily can see the top of the tallest tower, in the middle of the battlefield: it has a massive birds nest on it, and a giant clockwork bird perched from inside, awaiting orders. Her frag grenade sets off several tripmines and grenade wires, as they explode in a cacophony. If she keeps an eye on the place they exploded, she'll notice that they slowly repopulate, in different locations.

Ashurel casts her spell! Who knows what's going to happen? A bullet flies at her hand as she unleashes the bright flash, but the spell's already fired.

Ira runs into the checkerboard pattern, as the Huntsman replies to her taunt. "Oh, I'm not a fan of claw to claw. It's so much better when you have a bird's eye view of everything. But please, enjoy the explosions." The first tile Ira hits does not explode. Every other tile Ira hits explodes horribly, as a flash of bright energy rises, firing into her from below. If she hits all the tiles, that's a LOT of explosions! But, August lies at the other side!

Hikaru gets a bunch of bullets! He also gets a troubling warning, right before that happens. What could it mean?

Janine's dirt cloud is created, and there's no more shots from that area. Instead, a shot comes from the trees /behind/ her, aimed for her back. Another comes from the diagonal right, shooting once at Ira and twice at Ainsley. A moment later, a third shot from the left at Will!

Speaking of Will, all the traps he shoots at explode horribly. For a minute, the battlefield is blinded and deafened by smoke and fire. And when it fades, the traps are slowly starting to come back, one by one, in different locations. Not all at once, so they can be surpassed while they regenerate, but they're still coming!

Berserker uproots a tree! As it swings, trees begin to shatter all around them, while the sounds of many fleeting footsteps flee out of range. And then, as they shatter, one by one, the trees slowly start to grow up again. The battlefield is healing itself. This is probably a frustration...but may also be of some use.

"Come on, focusing on the traps, really? The prize is up here! Am I not your foe tonight? Because I'll tell you, you're playing a futile game there."

Ashurel Cloudbank (1031) has posed:
    There's a cry of pain from Ashurel as a bullet rips through her hand. She tilts it at the last moment, but there's still a quarter-sized hole through her palm where the huntsman's bullet manages to pierce through it and the dripping of blood onto the grass beneath her. She's not a cleric, so she can't heal it. The most she can do is wrap a cloth around it to try to stymie the bleeding a bit.

    "Nnn. I'm growing incredibly tired of this already, and we've only been at this for a few moments," She mutters to herself as she carefully makes sure not to step onto the actual trap-filled battlefield. Most good wizards can do their dirty work from a battlefield away anyway. Speaking of which, she flicks her bandaged hand across the pages of her book and they rapidly flip and turn.

    "There it is..." She murmurs to herself again. She reaches towards the surface of the book and pulls the spell out of it, gripping it in her hands. She chants aloud, "Men become legends, legends become heroes, and heroes grow to surpass all expectations. I call upon thee, Greater Heroism!"

    She crushes the spell in her bandaged hand and then points her palm towards Ira MacNally. Almost immediately, Ira feels an incredible push within her as if she is immediately better in all ways. She attacks more accurately, faster, more powerfully. Everything about her skills and her natural abilities is enhanced. She feels powerful and fearless.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Emily has her eyes on the battlefield, watching carefully. With her perch secured for a moment, the butler settles in, brings her shotgun up as if prepared to fire, but rather than opening up, she starts sweeping visually. Watching the field, the towers, making mental note of that damned robird, and... oh dear. Those traps are starting to pull themselves together in different places. That will be interesting.

    But most of all, Branford is keeping track. Minding where the Huntsman fires from. Making a mental map of how he moves, of how far he typically goes with his speed before firing again, of the procession of angles... she's getting a feel for his movement pattern. So that she can predict it. And once she's got a fair idea, she puts her plan into motion.

    First, she brings her autoshotgun up and holds down the trigger. The weapon roars, unloading several shells in rapid succession, releasing a barrage of buckshot towards where she judges he'll appear next - and despite what video games would have the average person believe, shotguns aren't useless past ten feet.

    But the barrage is only a decoy. It's meant to stop him in his tracks, flush him out. She knows he can dodge it. She WANTS him to dodge it, to change directions. Because she plans to use her own speed and her whip to fling herself out, across the field, right into his path. The landing will /hurt/. But it will put her right within reach to unload a vicious barrage of whip strikes.

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
"What, nobody else talks to you?" Ira calls out as she strides across the checkerboard. She seems to be just interested in setting off traps in her wake. "Why am I here? Because I'm one of Die Reisende, of course! And you've captured our defactor leader. /We/ want him back. I'm also a little pissed at the situation this stunt of yours has created in our school now! You do know he's a scholarship student, right?" With a sledgehammer, she gestures at the caged August.

    "Low income. Long story short, the /poors/ are having a shitty time at school right now." she grits her teeth. "But enough about me, let's talk about you, Huntsman! This place loves making tragic stories, doesn't it? And what more tragic a story than a hunter that's killed by a beast he's trying to slay! Hahahaha!"

    She's laughing, even as explosions bloom around her, burning her skin, singing her flesh, though not nearly as badly thanks to Ainsley's magic. But even though she certainly takes damage and is probably in quite a lot of pain from her injuries, she keeps going. Her skin gradually starts to creep back into place, though, as she moves. Not even the shot to the back slows her, but this shot is primarily absorbed by the longcoat she wears.

    Ashurel's power surges through her. Ira thought having a persona felt good. She thought having that special power pumped into her by Gudako felt good. This feels /wonderful/. Ira lets out a cry of joy and summons the Beast, her persona letting out a tree-shaking roar of triumph. His immaculate white prince garb seems even brighter in light of Ashurels fantastic buff.

    "COME TO ME, HUNTSMAN!" Ira howls, turning towards him and his perch in the trees. "Don't make me HUNT you myself!!! Are you some kind of COWARD!?" The redheaded teenager charges for the Shadow.

Gudako Ordria (908) has posed:
    Since no pressure is put on Gudako and her Servants, the magus vaguely gestures for Caster to get to work. With a firm nod, her arms and hands outstretched fully, a full ring of ofuda is produced around Caster, before half of them shoot off towards Ira, and the other half towards Berserker.

    The rainbow hue of the included blessings is pretty bright for a moment, but the paper slips and light vanish once they've reached their targets. The blessing increases most parameters by one. Speed, strength, endurance, etc. Can you really ever have TOO MANY buffs?

    Berserker, for her part, moves with Ira. The cat is still qielding the chunk of tree she has left, broken and shattered into a dangerous, glassy point. The makeshift club is swung for the Huntsman, in response to his taunts, pincering the Shadow between herself and Ira.

    Berserker has just enough sanity while fighting to angle the swing so it doesn't risk brutally maiming Ira on a miss or anything like that, but it's going to be a close shave if it happens.

William Pauwel has posed:
Da-da-da-da-dan, the bullets go flying! Ba-ba-ba-ba-bang, EVERYTHING EXPLODES.

    By the end of the cataclysm of bullets, shrapnel and explosions, Will is left standing amidst a blasted hellscape of tripped traps and burning grass. His own armor is pockmarked with dents from the Huntsman's overpowered rifle, leftover fragments of detonated bombs and raw concussive force. "Integrity's down thirty percent," Will mutters under his breath. "Left leg's taking a pounding. But..."

    But the path ahead is... August. Right? Probably? Will growls. One way to find out. If magic can't get a proper read, then what about something with a few less brains to fool! Will's visor begins to cycle through the colors again, flashing between a spectrum of different modes as the Man In Armor continues his inexorable trek through the minefield. Is that even August in there? Does he even /have/ a heat signature to detect!?

Will's still firing at the ground, mind. This time supplementing his machineguns with bolts of plasma. The better to save ammunition with!

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Janine feels quite proud of herself, at least until she's shot in the back. The sound of the shot from behind makes her twist away on instinct, but it still tears open a bloody gash on her side. "FUCK!" she yells, falling to her side.

    As she lays there, pulling herself together, she overhears Emily talking over the radio, that the battlefield is regrowing traps and trees. It's like... the whole battlefield is an extension of the Huntsman.

    This makes her wonder...

    Biancabella begins to dance under Janine's command. Slivers of precious jewels cascade from her hair as wilted rose petals fall from her bloody stumps, all of it gathering into a small vortex of wind. More and more, until there's a shimmering whirlwind of red in front of the prone girl.

    And then finally, it explodes.

    The whole battlefield becomes awash with the scent of rotting roses, broken jewels and bruised roses filling the air. Debuff the Huntsman? Well, here's hoping. But Janine is being a bit more ambitious than that.

    She's going to debuff the whole area.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    The bullets fly FAR too quickly, with Ainsley unable to manage the vast majority of them. She grimaces at the feeling of them impacting the shields of mirrored light she throws in the way of the Shadow's attacks, the shields cracking and humming before the barrage. And then her attempt to reflect it makes the shots hit Hikaru instead--! She turns her head, her eyes widened, her breath catching in her throat. Her distraction reaches an absolute peak with that damn Cat talking over the radio, and the people talking at him before she can answer because she just has no way to articulate an answer for him at this moment. So she skips the trouble of speaking it entirely, and flips open her book to cast a spell toward him. Her hand reaches out and closes toward Panzer Cat, and a blue fire emits from the book.

    And she transmits the full combo package of what she is feeling: Horror, because her friends and allies could get killed today, and she would never see a continuation to their story. The pain of seeing pain in others. The terror when thinking someone could die if they make a mistake. It's such a quick mental transmission, but he'd likely know it came from her.

    "DARK INTROSPECT!!" she howls after this, swiping her hand toward the Huntsman!! Urashima Taro follows her up into the air as she floats up above the battlefield, finding a spot of relative cover near a tower in the air. The Turtle Man that floats behind her opens both of his eyes -- o_o -- and emits a horrible light toward the Huntsman. Because of the sheer complexity of this Shadow, she is trying to weigh him down with things he would view as negative; failure, or boredom, or other things that a sadistic creature would prefer to avoid. She's just trying to slow him down so it isn't just an absolute hailstorm of bullets at all times.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    Hikaru focuses his attention on the traps. There's a mismatched pattern, one square of safety surrounded by a field of landmines. The safe place shifts, at Ira's feet when she steps first, then disappearing - back into the miasma. A potential, unexpressed, replaced by pain and pain and pain. The smell of blood comes up, again.

    But they all lead to August. And August's edges are where they should be, what-he-is and what-he-isn't left in their proper places, but there are things in the gaps as Hikaru turns his attention fully to the boy. Places papered over, made to look normal, but there's lifeblood underneath. It stains, leaves marks. It's as if he's wrapped about with red string, so thoroughly that it's impossible to tell where one strand ends and another begins. The memory of grenades exploding comes to mind, sickens Hikaru as he realises just how dark the forecast is.

    <He's done something to August! He's all warped - there's - illusions, wrapped around him. Hostile. Dangerous. I can't see where the strands begin. Please be careful! The mismatched patterns, checkers, they'll all blow up after the first. No sense to it--> and then the mental link descends into a wordless mental expression of pain. His world becomes pain: first experienced overwhelmingly, the sensations rerouted to psychic processes, a wet blanket covering him and sticking to his skin and a keening scream which echoes through the edges of the world.

    No. The wetness is the blood, his blood, sticking to his clothes as it spreads from the wounds.
    And the screaming is his, feral and pained and automatic.

    He's been shot in three places. The shoulder, the thigh, the side. More bullets have impacted with the tree behind him; it shatters and falls, exposing him in the clearing. He falls to a knee, gasping for breath, struggling to contain his cries. He won't give the Huntsman the satisfaction.

August Kohler has posed:
"What would I care? It's part of life! But this, this is what I'm talking about!" The Huntsman gestures at the angry Ira, laughing. "A monster! An apex predator! That's what you all are! Human! Bloodthirsty killers, hiding behind a shell of peace! I would know; I'm a part of all of you. Humanity are the most prolific murderers, you know." The Huntsman grins before disappearing, firing three more shots from various directions, two go wild, one moves to hit Will.

Ashurel also gets another shot at her, this time her torso, as she begins applying buffs.

Emily will notice something odd. The Huntsman is firing from multiple places /simultaneously/. There's more than one Huntsman moving through those trees. Her gun trap does indeed lure one to weave out and into her trick. The duplicate gambit is proven when she flies forward; the Huntsman she strikes shatters after a few good blows, into glass shards, as if a mirror was just shattered. As she does so, the massive clockwork bird caws, before flying out and above her. It doesn't attack...it's a scout!

"Oh, you think that's cowardice? It's strategy! I know my skills, and I know yours. You want me to come out because you can't fight me at range. Slay me, then!" As Ira and Berserker charge the Huntsman, he fires a bullet at each of them, before shattering into glass as their attacks collide at him. The glass shards begin to float off, starting to reform. The same happens to Emily's.

His voice is projected, once again. "Did you know that humans are the only species to drive others to extinction, solely to make trophies out of them? And it's not just lesser animals. The amount of violent crimes, committed merely for 'fun'! Humanity is bloodthirsty! Savages, just waiting to kill. You can feel it, can't you? That's why you're really here. Not for the boy. You want to kill me, you want to crush me, you want to feel the endorphins coursing through you. I am the perfect representation of that...a killer made from killers! But you see yourselves as heroes, don't you? How ironic."

The giant clockwork bird begins to circle the battlefield, cawing as it spots each person. "Do you like my bird? The Blacksmith, who has made many wondrous things, created it. He could create weapons that could crush your opposition IMMEDIATELY, but no, her majesty is not done yet."

August's heat circle is all 'wobbly'. It begins fluctuating from hot and cold, and is unlike anything Will's probably ever seen. There's something weird going on in there.

And then, the debuffs hit! First, a slowdown. The Huntsman's still fast, but not nearly as before, and his duplicates are reforming themselves slower. Additionally, negative feelings pour over him, causing him to momentarily stop. "Little worms...I know what you're doing here. You think you have a chance, don't you? Against me? Against the Queen? Your efforts are useless! This grand game has been going on for countless millennia, before your feeble country even existed! Her Majesty is only one move away from checkmate! Struggle all you want, you'll never win!"

Panzercat continues to sniff, and also freaks the FUCK out for a moment as Ainsley mindfucks him. It seems to have inspired /something/ in him, though, as he begins searching, sniffing faster, for whatever he's looking for. He also gets a bullet to the foot from the Huntsman, who then ignores him and goes back to the others, firing off a rain of bullets from the location he's been stopped in, at all angles. "Come on! Let's dance!"

August Kohler has posed:
Near the end of the battlefield, opposite the party and their cage, there's two large blank spots. What could they possibly be? Only one way to find out.

Ashurel Cloudbank (1031) has posed:
    Shooting Ashurel in the Torso is much less effective than shooting her in the hand! Her robes are, after all, a +5. They confer the same bonuses as a good set of platemail! Sorta! It makes for an awkward moment as the shot impacts her robes and instead of piercing her, it bounces off. It also transfers most of its force right into Ashurel because cloth is much more yielding than steel armor would be. She lets out a pained cry, but at least she's not bleeding out from a gutshot.

    With Ira off and running after the Huntsman with about 170 minutes of Greater Heroism on her, Ashurel has other things to worry about. Ira is buffed into the stratosphere and unless Ashurel wants to start putting other stat buffs on her, there are more pressing matters. Like, for instance, the young man bleeding out on the ground not too far away. She dusts her robes off and starts to shuffle towards him. There's a faint flicker of magic and abruptly, she seems to cover the entire distance between herself and him. That was, almost certainly, a spell.

    She kneels down next to Hikaru and smiles a bit, "You're very lucky about two things. One is that I'm a Good wizard." She points to her white robes to emphasize this, "And two is that I'm a very well-prepared wizard. I can only do this once, then you're on your own, though. Okay, friend?" She smiles down at him cheerily, "I'm so nice I won't even charge you for the spell component."

    She fishes into a component pouch on her belt and pulls out a diamond. And it's not a small diamond, either. If you took it to any appraiser, they would tell you it was worth 25,000 GP, in fact. It's a very nice diamond. She clutches it in her hand and magic suffuses her. Incredibly old and powerful magic that could warp reality itself. She smiles, "I wish... that you were healed~."

    She clenches her hand one last time and crushes the diamond, sprinkling the magical dust that results from it over Hikaru before snapping her fingers. This trick, which she only has the materials for this once, will completely revert all of his injuries and restore him to full HP. Hopefully, he won't get hurt again.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Emily skids to a stop as her whip shatters one of the duplicates. There's a quiet cluck of irritation under her breath, and she immediately begins sweeping the area around her - and catches sight of the bird at about the time the Huntsman starts talking about it. Oh. That would make sense, wouldn't it? Well then.

    Smoothly, the butler palms a flashbang. She watches the bird's course, pops the pin, waits a moment - and then hurls the grenade as hard as she can, such that it will fly itself right up into the hawk's path. Right up into its vision, in fact, perilously close when it goes off. That's when she yells out, "MARK!"

    She looks away for the moment it takes the flashbang to detonate, and then she slings up the autoshotgun and squeezes the trigger until it empties. She plans to shred the thing while it's disoriented from the flash and concussion.

    Then, the butler pitches something into the treeline, along the path the Huntsman was following, accompanied shortly by a second something. The first something makes a little pop as it lands. The second something carries the characteristic jangle of lots of tiny metal objects on glass.

    Finally, she blurs into motion. WIth her speed, she's pitching things into the forest left and right. Slowly making the Huntsman's own choice in path a more treacherous one, though she doesn't exhaust her supply. No, she's saving that for the fact she's working her way towards the Huntsman himself. Now that he's been slowed down, her own speed should be able to exceed his. The scales are tipped, and she intends to do some hunting herself.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    The ranting of the Huntsman hits her. Ainsley's mouth wilts into a frown at the words being spewed at them, and she cannot consciously argue against it. She knows that humans can derive happiness from the darkest of things. She keeps herself suspended in the air, trying to avoid the shots from the Huntsman but grimacing when another one wings her, hitting her in the leg. She sucks in a breath and prevents herself from screaming through a bit of magic, her face twisted instead into a hateful snarl. That's right... she hates the Huntsman. She hates this side of humanity.

    "I will find no joy in seeing you ended," she replies, her voice carrying over the field, "I will find no catharsis in your pain. You are a threat to the people I care about and nothing more; a tragic fact that must be confronted not because it is a necessary part of humanity but because it is a flaw that cannot be ignored. Just as it is in humanity's nature to draw from the dark pit you came from, it is in our nature to fight you, to struggle against our impulses, to become something more."

    "I fight because you must be defeated to save August, to save others. You give yourself far too much credit, you flawed fragment, you who will never know true happiness."

    She then points toward Janine, and Urashima Taro's eyes open once more. A flash of blue light emits from his eyes, and a wash of positive emotion tries to empower Janine and make her more effective in general; strength? Speed? Pain tolerance? It could help her in a number of ways, but it will almost definitely help her feel better about their chances.

    "Killing you would be a mercy for all of humanity, Huntsman," she concludes, meaning 'Sadism' in general, embodying what she thinks of his concept as a whole.

William Pauwel has posed:
    That... Is not what a human should look like. Or rather, it IS what a human should look like, but it's weird. Funky. Like someone put a kaleidoscope over it and was rolling the cylinder around really fast. It was cycling between hot and cold in ways that humans SHOULDN'T. Which meant the thing was probably a trap. But.

But still.

What if it wasn't?

    "Is that all this is to you? A game?" Will growls as he makes his way towards the cage. "You. Playin' with people's lives, talking like you know us. Like you're the only thing that matters. I didn't even care about you until you took August. And I ain't going to be leaving until we get him back! This ain't about you, this ain't about us, this is about him!"

    "So what if your boss lady's close to her big win? Don't matter one whit! The only hand that's worth a damn is the last one, and we haven't folded yet." Will snarls, finally reaching the iron cage. The T-45 reaches for the bars and begins trying to /bend them apart./ "So come on, pardner. Let's see you do your worst!"

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
Ira crushes through the glass, smashing into the hunter simulacrum with full force. Between her, Berserk, and the Beast, there may as well be dust left of that one. "Oh look at you getting all high and mighty. Yes, I am such a magnificent killer and you know, I never did say I was a hero. I love being an apex predator! I love being on the top of the food chain!" Ira raves with zeal, whirling as she looks around for the new source of the Huntsman's voice.

    "Do you think you can actually kill me at range? Look at me! I am healing with each second. None of your bullets have penetrated."

    She discards her sledgehammers, letting them drop down to the ground beside her with heavy thumps. The Beast is sent elsewhere, running from the checkerboard clearing, into the woods where he slips between the trees, stalking around like the terrifying animal that he is.

    "You think you got the advantage because you're at range? Hah!" Ira pulls her coat open. She's wearing holsters at her waist containing some very familiar-looking guns. Guns that came from William, in fact. Looks like she's managed to keep them this whole time. She pulls the two out, one of which was probably taken from Janine at some point. The others, of course, is 'hers' from Will. Grinning, she fires at the Huntsman.

    Surprisingly, she's a pretty good shot. As if someone's taken her to a range a few times.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Janine grunts as she gets back on her feet, blood staining her white dress. "Geh... this guy talks too much. Who could use a hand, I got one to spare." Looking around, she spots the robot bird flying overhead, having horrible flashbacks to the first encounter with the Huntsman.

    Fuck robot birds, she decides.

    But, her trusty butler seems to have it handled, Janine raising an arm to cover her eyes from the flash. The ache in her side seems to fade as Ainsley flings a buff her way. Looking to the lizardwoman, she smirks and nods, bouncing on the spot to test how it's improved her speed. She hasn't done this since Lordran, and she can't afford to fuck up here.

    "Worms are we? Well, watch out fucker, because this worm is gonna fly."

    Biancabella emerges again, conjuring wind. But not to spread ailment or kick up dust cover. No, this time it's conjured directly under Janine, launching her airborne! She kicks off the tower Emily was using, and follows up with another wind-assisted jump! Essentially, she's taking a page from the Huntsman's own book; get a birds-eye view on things!

Gudako Ordria (908) has posed:
    Bloodthirsty human. Predator. Killer. Yeah, Gudako can't speak. The Huntsman certainly has HER nailed down pat, whether he has the others down too. It doesn't bother her in the slightest to be called such, really. Mostly this serves to show them who the Huntsman really is. What he's like. What he wants, thinks. It could be useful, later.

    A round impacts Berserker, piercing through her chest. Gudako extends her hand towards her Servant, and a basic healing spell closes the hole in the cat. Fox. Girl. Berserker. It's no Wish, but it helps close wounds.

    Gudako, smiling, addresses the group boredly. "He's not wrong, you know? I mean, you can argue all you want but human history is war and bloodshed. Everyone knows that. People just hate admitting it."

    Caster frowns, but doesn't get into an argument with her master over it. Not right NOW, anyway. It's obvious she disagrees.

    Now, how do you kill something made of glass that can shatter and reform? It's beyond problematic. Is physical damage not going to add up? Will it drain his energy until he can't reform?

    Why risk it.

    "Berserker, step back. Caster. Handle it."

    Berserker is now also frowning, but pulling back to Gudako's side. Caster produces another set of ofuda, which start circling her mirror rapidly, infusing it with black and blue light. Numerous characters are scribbled on the paper slips; DRAIN, PRISON, CONTAIN, PURIFY, a number of other curses and blessings alike, all in the same vein.

    The large mirror begins pulsing like a black hole. The ofuda fire, with thunderous noise like thunder, straight for the Huntsman. If they hit, they won't hurt-- but for each one that connects, a strand appears, linking the Huntsman (and the glass he shatters into, if relevant) to the mirror. It begins eating at his energy-- his mana, his life force, anything that relates-- like a black hole eats away at a star. Slowly, but visibly.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    Hikaru's wounds are not immediately fatal, but they are evidently grave. Blood pours from his leg - it's hit an artery, something serious, and his lifeblood flows over the glass of the ground. He clutches his side with his one good hand, the pain knotting up inside his body.

    If he had been able to see this coming, he might have been able to get away.

    "... those things," Hikaru coughs, responding weakly to the Huntsman's taunts, "have no value to me. I'm not... that kind of person." He falls to the ground, unable to even keep himself straight.

    That's when a Good Wizard closes the space between herself and him, kneeling beside him. He lifts his eyes, focusing on her with difficulty. "Okay," he says, his voice labored. He knows he's in trouble, he knows he needs help - Ashurel could have offered him any conditions she could possibly want, and he'd still agree, because Hikaru Kurosawa wants to live. Even in his current state, he has the good sense to be shocked by the size of that diamond, and the skill in which she crushes it.

    The dust scatters over his body, and instantly, his wounds knit. The bullets are expelled, the blood regenerates inside his body, the holes are healed. In a moment, Hikaru is healed, as good as he was when he stepped through the mirror -- perhaps even better. He pushes himself up, into a sitting position. "... thank you," he says, his voice still a little shakey from the experience. "You saved my life."

    The Fox Sister places a hand delicately on her shoulder, tilting her head as she smiles down at her. How strange, to see honest emotion on her inscrutable face!

    After a moment to recover, Hikaru pushes himself upwards, onto his feet again. Something on the radio makes him frown. "I'm sorry, but I have to go back there," he says. "There's still things I can do." This is how he can help, this is what he can do - he's terrified, of course he's terrified, but he doesn't flinch away. He trusts the people around him. And he's not going to run away.

    Well, he is going to run away, after a fashion, but he's not going to /run away/.

    He disappears, into the treeline. This time, once he rounds a tree, he springs up, grabbing a branch and hoisting himself upwards. He arranges himself carefully, to avoid being cut too deeply by the lines of the leaves - a few scratches are inevitable - and the Fox Sister sits next to him, perching herself on the bough. This time, when he descends into the psychic realm, he does so sparingly, searching out the shadowy shape of the Panzercat and the edges of what's around him. He surfaces, checks his surroundings for danger, goes under again. It takes him a few tries, before he catches onto the sheet of the real, and pulls it away.

    <Those trees aren't real, Panzercat,> he says, through the mental link. <They're overlaying something. A cage, I think.>

    He surfaces again, tense as he looks around himself.

August Kohler has posed:
The Gods accept Ashurel's Wish. It's sort of a waste of a Wish, wizard hubris at its finest! Emily, meanwhile, tosses a flashbang. The minute it's in the air, however, a thundering gunshot roars out from the trees, detonating it midair. The Huntsman fired immediately when Ashurel released light, too...the shots do hit the bird, though without the flashbang, it begins to weave out of the way, charging towards Emily, as electricity erupts from a tesla coil inside its beak. It's going to defend itself! And when she charges for the Huntsman, it'll charge to intercept, lightning coiling at her. Luckily, there is a sound of a pop in the trees, as the Huntsman momentarily shrieks from pain, having stepped on something painful. He takes a moment to stop and dispel the debuffs on him, providing the party some time to attack at him, as he projects his voice. "Oh, please. You're not even human, you're vermin. What would you know? No, I'm talking to /them/." He creates applaud near Gudako as she responds. "See? She gets what I'm saying! Bloodshed and violence are INGRAINED in humanity! Everyone of you humans is a sadist inside, relishing this hunt! This game! Because that's what life is, a game! And you think I don't know you? Please." The Huntsman disappears back into the treeline, but not before a rain of bullets from Ira spray at him. "Not bad. Is that a 5.56 in there? A .45? That's a lot of good stuff you have. Two can play at that game." For every shot Ira fires, an exact replica in caliber is returned, shooting straight for her. "I have the advantage because I've been doing this /longer/ than you."

Caster curses the Huntsman, who immediately begins to claw at the strings that wrap around him. His energy is draining, and for a few moments, Caster will feel a sizable well of mana pour in, before the Huntsman /shoots/ them off with his own gun. Luckily, he's going to have a distraction, because...

William Pauwel breaks open the cage! He rushes inside to save August...who begins ticking. August wakes up, and looks up at him with yellow eyes and a devilish smile. And then, the entire cage detonates in a radiant burst of energy, flying sky high.

The Huntsman appears at the far end of the woods, as another cage reveals itself. August is chained to a pole inside, and the Huntsman drops forward, before kicking him straight in the back. The boy yelps in pain, as the Huntsman points his gun at August. "I know /all of you/ humans! Why?"

"Because I am a Shadow, the True Self. I'm you, and you're me!" Those yellow eyes glimmer as he speaks. "I exist inside every one of you, even if you kill me! I am your bloodthirst! Your anger! Your rage on this battlefield! You're all killers, every one of you! Show me! SHOW ME YOUR FURY!"

August Kohler has posed:
But, sadly, Hikaru Kurosawa and Panzercat have figured out the gambit. They've found a hidden cage, under an overlay of trees. All it would take is a full inspection of the August on a pole to tell he's not real. The invisible cage to the right is also not real. And so, Panzercat pulls up his sword, points at the trees, and shouts. "Finally, lemme show you...SAVOIRE-FAIRE!"

A gleam of light bursts out of his tank-cannon, piercing the trees, and all the illusions underneath. All that lies is a small cage. August Kohler sits inside, tied to a chair. He's bloodied, beaten, and hasn't eaten in days. He's conscious, though, fighting. He's still fighting. The mere sight of it gives the Panzercat some thoughts. But, he has little time to react, though he can sense what's about to happen. He knows full well how this Huntsman will respond.

And he's right on the money. As soon as the trees fade, the Huntsman's smile does as well, as he disappears. "I guess the game's over. Atleast, this part. Well. Time to clean up loose ends." The fun, excited snark is gone from the Huntsman, as he appears inside the cage. And a bullet fires.

What is pain? For all he's known, it was being injured, feeling scrapes, guns, fire. It was being bloodied and beaten. But he's realized something today. That's not the only pain. Loss. Loss is a greater pain. A pain to struggle with. And for someone whose entire existence is 'the fear of pain', there's only one choice he can make. He'll lose himself over someone else, to avoid that longlasting hurt. It's not even about August. It's Panzercat's selfish, selfless decision. And so, he moves, sword first, into the cage.

And he takes that bullet to the chest, firing off a piercing burst of light from his cannonsword.

====================================THE SUN=====================================

----------------------------------ARCANA TRICK----------------------------------

                                ONE SHADOW TRUMP                                
                                  HOPE'S LIGHT                                  


The radio communicator is tossed into the trees as Panzercat flies backwards from the shot, slamming onto August, collapsing his chair and sending them both into a pile on the floor of the cage. Meanwhile, the burst of light flies forward, piercing the Huntsman in the heart, where the light remains. He staggers back, snarling, as he leaves the cage, moving towards the center of the arena. "You...all of you...why wouldn't you just lie down and die? Now...now, I'm getting serious. Let's play for keeps." And then, the Huntsman pauses. He's waiting for someone, anyone to approach.

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
".45s. On special delivery!" Ira would turn and wink at Will for this but even she knows this is obviously not the time for that sort of showboating. Not when she's in the middle of a gunfight and taking fire herself. Her bulletproof coat and apparently /vest/ beneath that, owing to some of her bulk tonight, continue to protect her from bullets getting beneath her skin. Her continued buffs make it so that she just stands there to take each shot, not even trying to find cover or anything. It's pretty crazy from a gunfight standpoint but it eliminates one less thing that has to distract her. "I dunno, there's only so many bullets you can take...and only so much damage you can take from everyone else-!"

    Well her distraction had been working. They find the real August. The Huntsman immediately realizes that the illusion has been blown and then...

    Everything moves so fast. Panzercat lunging in. Tossing away his radio. Taking the shot and shooting the Huntsman in return.

    Ira grins. That counted as a death, didn't it? And none of the persona-users died. Good. Those were leagues more valuable than shadows, despite what the Woodsman might say about their own worth.

    "...alright then." The teasing, jovialness from Ira's voice is gone. "Let's play for keeps." She snaps her fingers. Ira doesn't move, but the Beast comes charging out of the trees where he had been lurking the whole time, waiting to sneak around to ambush the Hunter while he was preoccupied with everyone else. That didn't /quite/ get to happen, though. But for now, it will gladly take the chance to rush in, get close, and /bite/ down on the Shadow's head with its massive jaws.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    "You have the advantage because you've been doing it /longer/?" For the first time, true and open disdain slips into Emily Branford's voice. "Don't make me laugh. I've killed beings ten, a hundred times my own age. The only thing your age lends you is /hubris/."

    Emily doesn't even /look/ when she snaps her whip out at the bird. It fires off dozens of times in a heartbeat, a sudden and unannounced attack intended to simply shred the thing's face before it can so much as taser her. And now, Emily's no longer speeding. The Huntsman steps out and declares his challenge, and the butler... approaches. Calm and casual. She tosses aside the street sweeper entirely, leaving the only weapon in her hands the Strands of Fate. She looks as if she's about to open her mouth- but things happen very quickly. So quickly that even the blonde can't react in time. A cat gives its life to preserve August's. A final attack strikes the Huntsman, weakening him.

    Proof that there is a such thing as humanity among the Shadows... but even now, /this/ one doesn't understand it. And that cements things in Emily's mind.

    "...No. No, you aren't human. You wouldn't be asking that question if you weren't. Do you know what you are? You're a fragment of us. You're a small part. But you aren't us. You can only comprehend the tiny little part of us that comprises you, and the rest of us is an enigma that you will never pierce. You're a mockery. A /joke/. You're naught but a bloody parasite, feeding off the dregs of humanity to exist. You are less than human. And I make it a personal point of pride to remove miserable wretches like you from their bleak mockery of existence."

    Strands of Fate snaps once. "You haven't realized it, haven't you? From the moment you issued this challenge, you stopped being the hunter."

    And Emily is in sudden motion.

    The Huntsman can see it. It's uncertain if anyone else can. She's suddenly moving straight at him, a human capable of moving in his world. Leading the way in front of her is the whip, coming straight at his face - but it snaps before reaching him, a distracting nose with the report of a gunshot to cover the vial of acid she's pitched straight at his head. But while that's in the air, she suddenly veers to the side, coming around to flank him; and THEN she swings that whip around and unloads a whipcrack directly at the Huntsman's already-wounded feet. It's a two-pronged assault.

William Pauwel has posed:
'Waiting for anyone to approach' is he?

    Will is flying high. He was sent there after the most obvious trap in the world blew up in his face. But he had to go for it. He had to try. Of course, the moment it was obvious, he'd braced himself as best as he could have managed, but with all the gear he was carrying, there's no way he would ever be able to run out of the blast radius. So instead, he was shot into the air. He, and his several hundred pounds of metal, ammunition and firepower.

    But, for all that it's been getting in the way tonight, that gear is precisely why he's even still alive right now. "Twenty... Percent," Will hisses through the bruises blossoming across his chest and neck. The T-45's not perfect; it can't protect him from everything. He's dozens of feet in the air. High enough that a fall would probably break every bone in his body. But right now, he's not dead. He's not dead...

But Panzercat might be.

And the Huntsman. The Huntsman. The one responsible. He's right /there./

    Right when they got through to him. Through to that stubborn, hopeful, idealistic, bloodthirsty little shadow. And now he might be dead. Dead, because of them.

    "Damnit, you plumb fool," Will wheezes, servo motors contorting his body in the right direction. Moisture beads in his eyes. Pain. Anguish. A deeper hurt. "Now... You're gonna make us all feel that loss? Damnit--" as the microprocessor built into his visor begins spitting out ballistic trajectories. Machinegun shots. Plasma rounds. Mortar arcs... And something else entirely. Something much more important.


    "You want me in the air so badly, you dodgy bastard," Will growls. He suddenly grabs for a handful of grenades strapped to his hips... And hurls them. Downward. They explode in mid-air, blossoming into incendiary clouds immediately under him. They carry the T-45 through the air, even as its armor integrity ticks down further and further, but... But soon.

Soon he's right over that thing.

    A heavy wire, an inch and a half thick, shoots out of Will's left arm, grabbing tight around one of the trees below. The motor anchored to it SCREAMS at it retracts. Physics takes hold. Will's lateral flight turns into a swing of pure, angular momentum. He becomes a wrecking ball. A literal wrecking ball.

One that's just torn a shattered autocannon off its shoulder.

To use as a club.

Ashurel Cloudbank (1031) has posed:
    "You're very welcome. I try to be a good Wizard. You go help your friends now." Ashurel says to Hikaru as she stands up and brushes off her robes, looking around slowly to take assessment of the battlefield. She has the cool look of a tactician as she surveys the situation and makes assessments. It's a testament to her calm and collected nature that she can do such a thing, even in the face of all this tragic loss. Whatever she feels about it, she'll push that aside for later. For now, a lot of things are happening at once, and when there's confusion, things get lost in confusion.

    Ashurel may never trust cats, but many others do. And she knows a lot of people will want that cat saved. A lot of people will be incredibly happy if they're able to save Panzercat. She wants these people to see her as someone trying to help, and so that means she has to act decisively and immediately, whatever she may do. She flicks her hand through her book and grabs something from her component pouch.

    Holding the magic in her hand, she swipes and then crushes the spell. There's no somatic or verbal component to this one, so she casts it in silence, so focused on the spell she is using. Once again, and with a look of dismay on her face, there seems to be no visible and apparent effect to it. Whatever she did to try to save Panzercat appears to have failed and left Ashurel looking very vexed.

Gudako Ordria (908) has posed:
    So much happens all at once.

    Only one thing matters though. Panzercat sacrifices himself. Gudako had not accounted for that happening. It solves a lot of problems. Unfortunately, the Huntsman was clever enough to sever the drain. Gudako, with both Servants by her side, decides not to pursue the Huntsman. She walks back towards Ashurel and the fallen Panzercat to inspect the dying Shadow. She's curious, that's all. To see what happens next, and how it happens.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    'I am a Shadow, the True Self,' says the Huntsman. Hikaru shakes his head. Spite? Perhaps. But wrath, purposefully hurting others, grinding them to dust...?

    No. He's denied that world. He's an honest man, from the light side of society, now.
    He won't destroy another person just to pull himself up.

    Panzercat lights up the trees - Hikaru can see, from his perch, through the glass leaves. He's close enough to see August, revealed to the world, in truth this time. He's close enough to see the Huntsman appear inside the cage. He's close enough to Panzercat moving to defend his friend, sword first.

    "Panzercat!" Hikaru screams, giving away his position, as the bullet slams into the Shadow's chest. He was so proud of him, and now he's-!! He catches the radio, deftly, hardly even thinking about it, and latches it to his belt. He slips off of the branch, landing in a crouch, and runs - not towards the Huntsman and his challenge, but towards the cage, where Panzercat and August are hurt. He opens the cage, and grabs a pocketknife from his belt, making quick work of the bindings which keep August tied to the chair. That's the first problem. Get August free.

    Then, there's a second problem.

    Hikaru isn't a physical healer. That's always been Ran's specialty. But he's learned a few things from her - the absolute basics. And when he hears Panzercat's rattling breath, he can tell he's suffocating.

    So Hikaru kneels down, and starts blowing air into his lungs, because hopefully, /hopefully/ cats aren't that much different to people when it comes to mouth-to-mouth.

August Kohler has posed:
Panzercat breathes roughly as he collapses on August. "You...you'll live. I won't feel that pain...friend." He just lies there, bleeding out, as August, beaten, battered, /awake/, ponders everything that just happened. That someone just took a bullet for him. And it's all he can do, because he's not moving any time soon. And then, with one final purr, he begins to choke, suffocating, as blood spews out of his mouth. He can't breath. He's in agony. And even when Hikaru gives his support, gives him air, it does nothing for him. Nothing at all. As the blood leaves his mouth, suddenly, he unleashes one final purr. And then, he's dead. August can't even move, but he can cry. And cry he does.

Three people rush for the Huntsman, all attacking. Emily's acid batters at him, as whipcracks strike. He takes them. Ira's Persona charges and bites the Huntsman. He takes that too. He begins to smile. And then William comes catapulting in, autocannon first. Now, the Huntsman acts. He tears off that hat, and tosses it upwards, where it explodes.

And gravity goes haywire.

Emily and The Beast are both sent catapulting to the ground, gravity deciding that it's /far/ more heavier. Will, on the other hand, finds his trajectory shifted right as he's about to impact the Huntsman, who certainly did /not/ want that hit. Instead, Will's flying, with the same velocity, towards /Janine/ across the battlefield. And as this happens, the Huntsman shifts, yellow light shining around him.

His torso bulks, as his limbs stretch, growing longer. He's now far more muscular, with a long reach. His claws begin to become his fingers, and then they become knives, daggers, swords. On his left hand, atleast. His right hand, the one holding the gun, begins to fuse with the rifle, becoming a mixture of flesh and metal. Fur, feathers, scales of all types grow across his body, ripping through his outfit and revealing the beast. The claws of his sharp toes become daggers.

Now that his hat is gone, you can see the full of the Huntsman's head. His sharp yellow eyes, like those of a snake, or a cat. His many fangs, which are snarling. His wild, unruly hair, which falls upon his face as he moves his head. And then his shoulders. Two familiar heads grow out of them. Cur and Rhodes, the two hounds who were slain by Die Reisende the last time they encountered the Huntsman. They snarl and bark, as the Huntsman speaks. "Cur, Rhodes. It's so good to be reunited with you. Let's wrap things up, shall we?"

==========================THE HANGED MAN REVERSED==========================

------------------------MANIFESTATION OF PREDATION-------------------------

                            THE ROYAL HUNTSMAN                            
                            THE GREATEST KILLER                            

----------------------------PREPARE FOR BATTLE-----------------------------


The Huntsman suddenly leaps into the sky, gravity negating itself around him, as his gunarm points forward. The rain pours down heavily, wetting his entire body and hair, as he fires. An entire storm of bullets fly at all directions, skewering EVERYTHING; the robobird that is whirring on the side of the ground from many whips is skewered into nonexistence, and the trees are turned into swiss cheese. "All you damned brats do is make a MESS OF THINGS! Everyone keeps messing things up for me! But no matter! I'm unleashing the truth of my power now. No more 'games'. It's time to get serious, and now, you'll never win."

Battle Music 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwutuJZmFjs

August Kohler has posed:
The Huntsman also has a glowing shard in his chest. Isn't that from when Panzercat struck him...?

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Flying over the battlefield, Janine sees it all. The Huntsman seemingly holding August at gunpoint, Panzercat and Hikaru finding the real August, only for the Huntsman to fire...

    And for the cat to take the shot.

    Now, Janine did not like Panzercat, mainly for calling her 'weakarm.' But he just threw away his life, for August. Shit, she doesn't know how to feel about this.

    But things are happening. The Huntsman is bugging out, getting bigger and launching an asshole with guns at her really fast. "Biancabella!" she calls, blasting William with wind to slow him down! And when those gunshots ring out, she ducks behind him so his heavy armor can protect her fleshy form. Peeking around him, she spies his disgusting, tri-headed form..

    "Nice mutts asshole. This time, you can die along with them! EMILY! Let's do this!" Biancabella gestures again, creating a massive typhoon aimed at the Huntsman. It's incredibly violent, buffeting the Shadow. Clearly a Garudyne...

    But then it explodes outwards. For a brief instant, the dog exists in a hard vacuum. What is the plan here?

August Kohler has posed:
Also, as a note: when Emily's whip cracked against the Huntsman's legs, they /bleached/. She'd know what's going on: he's reacting to the holy property of her whip.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley had a lot to say to the Huntsman. She screwed up her face in pained skepticism when called 'not even human,' and she almost told him that he was missing the whole point if he was going to just discard what she said so simply... She's about as human as he is, she would've argued. But things go badly. She turns her head when she hears Panzercat's words over the radio. She instantly knows what he's going to do, and her heart sinks. Her eyes water. Her jaw clenches. Her hands shake, as she draws her longsword from its scabbard, prepared to lunge into the midst of it before the Shadow can have a chance, to be a shield for the Shadow... but would that be worth doing?

    No, she decides, and she flinches at the gunshots exchanged between the Huntsman and Panzercat.

    She turns toward the Huntsman just after that and watches the others lunge toward the Huntsman. She can't bring herself to do it. She wants to attack him, but her heart doesn't allow for it. She has felt what he embodies, but now... she only hates herself for convincing another to sacrifice themselves, because it fills her cloudy heart with more sorrow. She didn't need that. She didn't need to be responsible for another death. She didn't want that. So this hesitance is enough to witness what the Huntsman does. The evolution makes her mouth crack open in horrified awe, as if the danger was not already enough--

    He leaps up into the air, her Sight turning on as she focuses on him. This is the 'real' form, his truest shape. The Greatest Killer shines in her gaze, with a backdrop of the mindscape of the Forest's sky. She can commit his details to memory... and the shard of light. She realizes what that is, and what it represents. So she does something inadvisable. She points up at the shard of light lodged in the Huntsman's chest, and she casts her 'buffing' spell... she tries to amplify the positive emotions likely permeating that physical manifestation of hope... even as a bullet slams through the middle of her Persona and knocks a hole into the middle of it.

    "Begone from the heart, you empty thing!" she barks out in south-american Spanish, snarling through the anguish of her Persona nearly getting shattered, "Begone, begone, begone!!

A corona of blue light manifests around the shard of light, emitted from Urashima Taro's momentarily opened, blue eyes.

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
The Beast faceplants into the ground, the massive creature struggling to push itself back up again. Similarly, Ira falls to one knee, one hand pressed against the ground, "Heh, so he was just a dog the whole time. Hahahaha." The redhead grins fiercely, feeling the wonderful power rippling through the Huntsman. Ira gazes at him greedily and wills the Beast to struggle back up onto his feet.

t"Go, get him. I want to know what it tastes like." Ira hisses, glowering at the Beast's back.

    Ira herself doesn't approach. She keeps her distance, trying to exhaust her ammo as much as possible against the shadow.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Crushing weight smashes down on Emily. She lets out a violent breath of air as the wind is knocked from her, and likely some ribs crack. But even with that, when the rain of bullets comes, she's somehow able to /move/ - to shove herself up through sheer brute strength, to snap out the Strands of Fate and pull herself into shelter. And when it ends, she does not hobble out; she /strides/ out, calm and steady, staring upward with eyes that could freeze a volcano over. "And there it is. You're nothing but a monster pretending at being a man, a fragment of us exaggerated to grotesquery. And when you don't get your way, when your 'obvious superiority' doesn't have us lie down and die, you just throw a tantrum. Honestly. I had hoped you'd at least have a /little/ more dignity than a common child. It would have been more interesting." Though her words carry almost casual barbs, her tone is just as cold as her gaze.

    "And you don't much care for my whip, either, do you? It's just more proof. You were my prey from the start."

    Janine's call is what finally puts a smile, faint and unkind, on Emily's face. The whirling torrent of wind happens as Emily herself is beginning to whirl and coil that whip, slinging it around herself in elaborate trails to pick up speed and momentum. "Janine, the Huntsman thinks it's time to get serious. I thoroughly disagree. At times like this, there is but one question to ask." There is a sudden, complete vacuum surrounding the Huntsman. And it comes just as Emily's weapon has reached a crescendo of speed and complexity.

    "Shall we dance?"

    The Strands of Fate lashes out. It moves too fast for the eye to see. Dipping fully into her speed, Emily strikes, again and again. It's the same technique she used to shatter the glass cage from before, a stream of superhumanly-fast whips that should sound like a machine gun firing... except that it doesn't. There's no sound, whatsoever. No atmosphere for the whip to crack in. And no atmosphere to slow it down in that vacuum, allowing her strikes to flow and snap even faster. No part of the Huntsman's body is safe. No pause in the barrage exists. She chains bursts of superspeed so seamlessly that it looks as if she's continuously maintaining it. An attack only possible by combining Biancabella's wind and the speed of Strands.

==============================HIGH PRIESTESS/DEATH==============================

----------------------------------ARCANA TRICK----------------------------------

                                 TWO FATE TRUMP                                
                             DANCE OF THE EMPTY SKY                            


William Pauwel has posed:
    Will swings... For a STRIKE! Because gravity somehow no longer points in the direction that it should be pointing. Because the Huntsman is somehow even more bullshit than he first appeared. Because he is taking 'Hanged Man' to its absolute, logical conclusion. WHY IS THAT MAN HANGING UPSIDE DOWN, YOU ASK? HE'S NOT. YOU'RE THE ONE UPSIDE DOWN.


    Fortunately, Janine is skilled in the arts of wind manipulation. Will is buffeted by her power and anchored by the grapnel still attached to one of the nearby trees. Unfortunately, all that doesn't do jack for the storm of bullets being unleashed by the ASSHOLE IN THE SKY. Will yells, full of rage and terror and vitriol as that armor gauge ticks down further and further. Sheets of steel are torn, twisting away as the T-45 is ground down. His guns fall away as their anchors are shot to ribbons. But he can still serve as a shield, even for a moment. And...

And they're not what makes him dangerous.

They're not what makes him a /Pauwel./

    Ingenuity. Bravery in the face of danger. A gut full of grit! Will winces as he draws his favorite sidearm from his hip. Against the crushing gravity and wailing winds, against the sound of his anchoring arm losing its grip on the deteriorating trees, Will draws his Gun. The Solano's barrel splits down the middle, hinging open around a tiny spark of light. Deep within, its ancient machinery comes alive. Components older than living memory spark and surge with baleful brilliance. They draw thirstily all the power they can find.

The only power they can find.

    Will watches as his armor's battery drains. He hadn't spent much of it today; no, the T-45 is beaten to shit, but it still has plenty of energy to give. And give it does. The Fusion Core is drained, power gauge falling by a full half as the Solano suddenly ERUPTS. Will roars around the glow. A nightmarish sensation shoots through his brain at the sight.

He'd seen this before.

But this power...

    "Come on you jackass. You can bend gravity. You can fill us full of holes. But you can't stop this! You can't stop US! SOLANO!" He takes aim, iron sights aligning with the glowing shard at the shadow's heart-- Panzercat's last(??) gift and... pulls the trigger. The gun's barrel glows white hot, its jury-rigged construction barely able to tolerate the heat. "DEAD-END--"

The world turns white.


A column of purifying light-- as if the light of Judgment itself-- cuts the sky in half.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    It's useless. Black ichor gets into Hikaru's mouth as he struggles to help Panzercat, but he's been shot through a lung, he's hurting too deep - there's nothing he can /do/. He's not Ran. He can't do this. He can't -

    Panzercat is dead.

    For a moment, he just kneels over him, watching his dead face. Then, Hikaru straightens up, wiping his mouth, taking a shuddering breath. "... August," he says, "I'm so glad you're okay." Behind them, the Huntsman roils, forming into some monstrous form; but for a moment, Hikaru ignores all that, putting a hand on August's shoulder. "We're gonna get you out of here."

    Then, Hikaru hears gunfire. He reacts without looking behind him, tackling August to the ground and covering him with his body. Bullets graze over his back, cut through some stray strands of his hair, but his quick reaction saves either of them from being riddled with holes.

    "Sorry," he apologises, getting up once the hail of gunfire has passed. Now, he looks back, towards the fight, and frowns, looking back down at August. He needs to help them, but he needs to get August to safety--

    But there's someone here he can rely on, isn't there? Someone who can close space in an instant, who can surely get him back in time to save him! Hikaru turns to Ashurel, his face full of honest concern. "Please, help August get back to the Shack. There are healers there. They can help him." He steps out of the cage, turning towards the fight. "... I have to help them."

    With that, he moves towards the fight, Fox Sister trailing after him. Once he's close enough, she comes to a stop, gesturing fox-fire into existence around the Huntsman. It curls around his eyes, the eyes of the dogs which have fused with him - coiling closer, and closer, and closer, until they burn.

August Kohler has posed:
It's a cold, rainy time in the Forest. Rain keeps dropping, dripping on everyone, even as they fight. It mixes in with blood and dirt. This rain is important.

As the Huntsman fires his hail of rain, Ainsley acts first. Blue light hits that fragment in the Huntsman's chest, but he disregards it. "/Vermin/. That's all you can do? In this tango of blood and flesh, where I'm unstoppable, /that's/ all you can do?" He's becoming angrier, his grip on reality fading. Bullets fly at the Huntsman, who snarls at them, clawing them up with daggers and knives to prevent them from grieviously injuring him. "And YOU, nothing but a Beast! You think you're tough? Because you survived /him/? Please. You'll die eventually. You all will. Preferably now."

But then, Janine acts. A vacuum whips around the Cerberus of a monster. It's a good thing he can hold his breath. But that wasn't what he had to fear. Suddenly, the whip slams forward. Over, and over, and over. No one can hear his screams in there, as the pain soaks through him. When the Huntsman is released from the Dance of the Empty Sky, he's bleached white, skin brightened from strike after strike after strike. His hounds are in pain. He's in pain. But he struggles.

August looks up at Hikaru, and nods. He's not in a good place. He's crying. But he's alive. And he wishes he wasn't.

Fire strikes at the eyes of the Huntsman and his dogs. And the fire burns, charring them. The white turns to ash black, as he begins to smoke. It seems they've found his other weakness: fire. Fire and light, worst enemies of one who tries to hide. "You...you do nothing but hide, you coward! You didn't even fight until now! What use are you, huh?"

And before the Huntsman can hurl more abuse, the heaven rains down on him. And as that light strikes down on that shard, it erupts. And the tide turns.

========================THE SUN/THE STAR/THE HIEROPHANT=========================

----------------------------------ARCANA TRICK----------------------------------

                                THREE HOPE TRUMP                                
                                HOPE'S JUDGEMENT                                


And for the first time that anyone has seen, a miracle occurs. Light explodes upwards from the shard, piercing through those rain clouds. For the first time, the sun shines in the Mirror Forest, as its rays burn at the Huntsman's very soul. Due to being buffed, every person in the party feels their power grow. They feel energy coursing through them. They feel /unbeatable/. The sun is shining in the rain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZdI0qU7WOo

August Kohler has posed:
And the Huntsman screams. Every part of him is bleached white. He's dying. But he'll fight...because whenever there's a crossroads, he takes his own path. He has always acted for himself, ignoring the warnings, ignoring the signs. He does what HE wants, as he screams. "DAMN ALL OF YOU! Damn the Majordomo, if he hadn't fucked up with that kid, you'd all be dead! Damn the Blacksmith, for creating such a terrible, incompetent machine! And damn the Black Queen! DAMN HER MOST OF ALL! She has so much power, yet she gave me none! She keeps it all for herself, envious of the world! If only they weren't such MISTAKES, I would have won! I SHOULD HAVE WON!" The hounds on his shoulders barely live, while the Huntsman has degraded. He's nothing but a beast shaped like a humanoid, struggling to survive when the world tells him it's time to die. And he unleashes his last resort.

Walls begin appearing, smashing forward into people; they're illusions, but they're still real. Bullets rain /everywhere/, hoping to blanket the entire field. The Huntsman charges forward, moving so fast it looks like he's teleporting, as his claws tear into everyone around him. Gravity goes haywire, tossing people in all directions, mainly to the walls. The Huntsman must live...he will live, he tells himself. He's Number One. And he can't lose to anything. And in a few moments, he'll be thinking that, even when they finish him off.

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
"...impressive." Ira murmurs with no small amount of jealousy. She didn't really have the bonds with the others that they had between each other, she realizes. Despite everything, she was still an outsider. Very well. It's how she always felt while at Drachenblatt, why would here be any different?

    Ira recalls her persona for a few seconds as the Hunter goes crazy, throwing walls and gravity everywhere. It didn't help to keep her persona out to be hit by these things after all and it made it easier to execute the plan, the flight of fancy that hit her a while ago when they embarked upon this mission.

    "Beast. Finish him off." she says calmly, directing the newly resummoned persona ahead of her while she remains crouched on the ground, pressed against by walls. The black-furred, gorilla-looking monster looms high above the dying Huntsman and drops, jaws gnashing as it tries to devour the Shadow.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Even through the pain of getting shot AGAIN, the light of Panzercat's last act washes over Ainsley. She does something that probably won't be terribly effective as it carries no practical damaging power behind it. She draws on the light as it hits her eyes, and she channels the feeling of Hope to the sword as much as she can, and she takes full advantage of the brief window of the Beast's drop on top of the Huntsman...!

    And she lunges with both hands with the longsword glowing with a vague magical light, and tries to stab it right through his chest, where his heart is, where the bolt of light is shining.

    "Humanity doesn't need you," she murmurs, with the finality of an action movie one-liner, when she's close enough to do so.

William Pauwel has posed:
A miracle has occured.

    Fire and Light. The stuff the sun is made of, the stuff that cat was made of. Will watches as it pierces the veil enshrouding the sky-- and finally, for the first time he's ever seen, fills the Mirror World with the sun's own light. It's beautiful-- not just because it's burning a monster to death, but also in the way it plays across the crystal trees, turning each one into a glimmering prism.

The light strikes Will.

Hope surges through his veins.

    "Blamin' others for your own mistakes, huh? You're just a sore loser. If you couldn't stand the heat, you should have just stayed out of the kitchen. But now look at you. Screwed up and you can't even accept it." Illusionary walls and piercing bullets blast through the air. But Will is a Chaser. In many ways, he's kin to that lionhearted cat.

A Chaser pursues his dreams. A Chaser seeks out the truth.

    A wall smashes into him-- and shatters. His armor cracks under the hail of bullets. But as Ira unleashes her beast's terrible wrath, Will lines up one more shot. His battery is wasted. The Solano's barrel is close to melting, but it can handle one more shot.

Only one.

    He lines it up. Need to make it count. Aim right for the bastard's head, pin it in the iron sights. "You might be The Hanged Man," Will says with some finality as he pulls the trigger. "But it's by your own damn rope."

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    On the tail end of their double technique, Emily is visibly winded. No, exhausted. That dipped into everything she had, like a flat-out hundred meter sprint. Panting, sweating, she's almost completely defenselss. She can't manage the speed to properly dodge all those bullets; it comes out halfhearted, and her clothes still shred as cuts are opened all over her body. No direct bullet wounds, but plenty of deep 'grazes'. And then the Huntsman is in her face.

    In that instant, her speed suddenly comes back to her in one last burst. A combat knife turns aside his claws. And with one vicious strike, she shoves something into his mouth - hard enough to wound, perhaps even to break his jaw if his mouth is still too small in this form - before rolling out of the way and pulling the pin in the process.

    It's not a frag grenade. It's not a flashbang. It's a single, special 'party favor' Emily brought with her. A very dear friend of hers named William Peters.

    Everyone loves good ol' Willy-Pete.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    August is in a terrible place, and Hikaru wishes he could go with him, and help him. But he can't. He can't hide from what's happening right in front of him. He has to fight.

    That's exactly what the Huntsman calls him on, as the Fox Sister's illusionary fire sparks real and true and burns at his flesh. "There are more ways to fight than one," he answers, evenly.

    Perhaps he is a coward. But that's what he can do. He doesn't have overwhelming physical power, or great magical might. He can see things. And in the shining sun, the miracle brought forth by Panzercat, seeing things doesn't seem so bad.

    The Huntsman goes wild, striking at the field. Hikaru is impacted by one of the crushing illusionary walls, slammed up against it by gravity. He struggles to draw breath into his lungs despite the pressure, and the Fox Sister steps forward, pointing a slender finger at the Huntsman's feral form. Motes of fox-fire light up around him, and spiral into him, tens of little sparks which flare up into fierce flames as they hit his skin. Individually, perhaps they're not so bad, but they just keep coming, maddening little things which stick and burn...

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Janine, like her butler, is exhausted. Even in this twisted Forest, nature abhors a vacuum, and generating one even for that brief moment took a lot out of her. On top of everything else today, she can't muster the strength for that one last follow-up that everyone else is.

    So she just stabs her sabre into the ground and holds on as the rain pours, as walls fly about and as gravity twists in on itself.

August Kohler has posed:
Everyone moves at once, fighting against that which stops them. Hope shines over them. It does not ride alone. The Beast attempts to devour the Huntsman, who struggles, moving out of the way and losing his arm, which is torn straight off, swallowed by the Persona. It tastes pretty terrible.

Ainsley plunges her blade through his heart, causing him to stop in his tracks. This is followed by Will's final shot, and Emily's 'party favor'. By Hikaru's burning. And Will's light and the WP detonate simultaneously, creating a horrible burst of fire right as Ainsley gets out of range, as the Huntsman burns. And when the fire stops, he collapses, fading. He only musters these last few words.

"The ravens...I can hear them coming for me..." And then, he faded into Nothing.

August Kohler has posed:
And when he dies, the illusions disappear. The walls are gone, the traps, the rain. The damage they caused is not, and will still need to be healed. But the Sun lingers, until everyone has left, when it finally sets. Hope wins, once again. The Panzercat's body remains for a while, long enough if anyone chooses to bury him (after which, it will eventually fade into nothing).

August Kohler is alive, though injured, having had nothing but the barest amount of water required to live for the days he's been gone. He's a fugitive. And someone just died for him. He was a burden to someone in the worst way. August is alive. And he wishes he wasn't.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley slowly descends for a landing after the battle. She huffs and she puffs, and steadies herself by stabbing her sword into the dirt. She closes her eyes and just stands there, silently, water dripping off her scales and feathers. She wasn't lying about how she felt about this.

    At the very least, she can ...

    She sniffs in a breath, and stows the scabbard away as she resigns herself to one last task instead of resting. Then she hobbles her way over to where August and Panzercat are, and she assists Hikaru in burying the deceased Shadow. If she's going to be responsible for his decision, she's going to help with the makeshift funeral.

    She's never cried this much, so silently, in her life. Forcing herself to look at what she views as the consequences of her decision. She refuses to look away from it, because that would be a disrespect to what this Shadow did for them.

    "... Thank you," is all she says by the time they get done.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    August is safe - the good wizard has surely seen him off to the Shack. Hikaru stays behind, with Ainsley, and whomever else attends, to bury Panzercat. It's not the best hole, and they don't have a proper marker, but...

    "In the end, he acted selflessly," Hikaru says, over his grave. "I don't know what he was thinking. I don't know if anyone could. But... when he was dying... he was purring. I think he was satisfied with what he did." His voice shakes, slightly, but he keeps himself together. "And, in the end... the sun came out. The sun was shining. Panzercat, we're all thankful for what you did."

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    How the Huntsman can even talk after all that - particularly white phosphorous in the mouth - Emily isn't inclined to question. He's a being of darkness.

    But she stands, and watches sternly, until the moment the wretched thing finally disintegrates.

    Then she collapses to one knee. Then both knees. Then she's on all fours. Breathing hard, bleeding, and barely conscious.

William Pauwel has posed:
The armor is fucked.

That's an understatement. The armor's sitting at 1% integrity, and will need a week's worth of repair and a fresh set of metamaterial at LEAST. Will grunts as he hinges himself out of the back of T-45's back. He's still in the forest, but he's not going to leave it there. That would be bad.

If Panzercat was still around, he might have taken it.

But he's not. He's gone. And he deserves to be buried properly.

    Will makes his way over to the makeshift service, having fished his hat out of its compartment. It's not on his head, it's held over his chest. "...He didn't want to feel Loss. But I think it's only because he'd felt it before. He knew that losing August would have been the end of it. Maybe the end of us. But... I think at the end, it was a lot simpler than that."

"Thanks, friend," Will says, wobbling on his feet. "You gave us everything you had. We won't forget." He looks upward, at the sunshowering sky.

Moisture glistens in his eyes, "It's still raining, huh?"

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Janine really wants to mirror Emily. But one of them has to be tough, so it may as well be the one in charge. She walks herself over to Emily's prone form and drops to a knee to offer her a hand. "Get up," she orders. "And when we get back, you're going straight to bed. I can handle terrible take-out for one night." That Janine, a paragon of selflessness.

    Janine is very very tired. But she sticks around for the funeral anyway. But she doesn't say anything. Now is not a time for harsh words, and she doesn't trust her own mouth not to ruin things.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    "Gh..." It's a wonder Emily's still conscious at this point. With all those wounds and already utterly exhausted, she pulled out one last burst of speed. At this point she probably needs hospital treatment. But she forces herself onto her feet, carefully balancing for a moment with Janine's help - somehow, some way, she manages to keep herself conscious, a marvel of willpower.

    And she insists on staying as well.

    Only when they reach the shack does she slump into a chair. By this point her clothes are more red than white. "Go on... go on home, ma'am," she'll insist. "I'll need to see to myself here. I'll be back by tomorrow at the latest. Food should be taken care of."

August Kohler has posed:
And so, the curtain closes on Act One for the Travellers. They have both made and lost friends, and made and lost enemies. For now, they have some time to rest. Cue up the intermission, before things truly get well and underway.