5372/P:WtWM - The Intendent of Shallow Desires

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P:WtWM - The Intendent of Shallow Desires
Date of Scene: 12 July 2017
Location: Alberichstadt <P:WTWM>
Synopsis: Die Reisende set out to stop a member of the Queen's Court from harrassing some peaceful Shadows at the request of Spriggins Jack. And... well, they do succeed at that...
Cast of Characters: Janine Liberi, Rebecca Chambers, August Kohler, 571, 151, 999, 1040

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Spriggins Jack announced his need for help in the only way he knew how; by showing up in people's mirrors, pressing his face against it, and then breathing against the glass and writing on the condensation. It takes him a few tries each time because he forgets to write backwards.

    Eventually, everyone gathers at the cabin. Yes, even Janine is here, and she looks /miserable./ She looks unwashed, the bags under her eyes have intensified, and she refuses to make eye contact with anyone. After staying at a hotel for a few days, she and Emily lifted roots back to the cabin. Her cards had all been cut off, and it was at her insistence, so Emily would not have to spend her own funds.

    "Let's go," she mutters once everyone assembles, pushing her way into the mirror. There, Spriggins Jack sits, with the White Pig on his lap. He is presently playing its belly like a bongo, only looking up as everyone steps into the glade. "Ah, you're all hee-re! Ho-w very good! Let's be-hee on our way!"

    He hops up, dislodging the Pig, and starts leading the party off. "So-ho! There's this nice little village of Shadows that I like to visit! They helped me after I got some scrapes after an epic adventure, so I make sure they stay protected. But now, some ho from the Black Queen's Court is pushing them around! I'm off to deal with t-hee-m, but you can watch if you want!"

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
It's a rather bizarre way to call for help, but sometimes you have no other choice than to make do with what you've got. Even if that means using condensation to write out calls for help. Fortunately, Spriggins Jack will be glad to know that Rebecca got the message and, upon receiving it and realizing what was happening, quickly made her way to the cabin.

Upon arriving, Rebecca could instantly tell that Janine was not in the best of shape, and that caused Rebecca to wince a little as she realized the situation was far worse than she initially anticipated. Nevertheless, she keeps a cool demeanor and a calm face in spite of what is going on. Once everyone has joined, Rebecca feels a sense of relief since they can move out.

After going through the mirror, Rebecca is totally unsurprised by the way Spriggins Jack is playing the pig's belly like a bongo. In fact, she can't help but smirk a little at it. Still, she keeps her face looking neutral, knowing that this is a serious issue.

August Kohler has posed:
The weird-ass mirror writing got August's attention when he saw it written wrong, moved over to get a camera, and then saw it written right and the shape of a little white Jack running away. Immediately, he's picking up his radio and transmitting the information, before heading over to the Shack, gearing up in a battle hoodie (a regular hoodie with knee and armpads), and grabbing himself a reflective knife.

Once they're actually in the glade through the mirror, August just squints briefly at what he's seeing, before approaching. "Spriggins Jack. I got your...interesting message." Part of him almost wants to laugh, especially as he sees how Jack is amusing himself while waiting, but they're on the move.

As Jack explains, August muses it over in his head. "A village of Shadows. I guess that's...possible, seeing what we've seen. While I'm not sure what the hell they want with a village, pushing the Black Queen's Court over is always worth the tim-" And then he pauses when he hears the last sentence. "Wait. You called us to /watch/? I thought you wanted us to take care of it." The redhead looks absolutely puzzled. Especially since he's seen Jack 'fight'.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka didn't quite get a surprise from some spirit, but she is pretty quick to respond to August's request for backup. Some time later, she's at the cabin, stepping out of her car and adjusting her heavy coat as she nods to Rebecca on the way in.

    "August, Liberi." She greets with a curt nod, until her golden, cybernetic eyes just glance over toward Spriggins Jack. "...huh." is all she can manage, dealing with spooky wooky shit is not her bag, best she can do is just let the more versed handle the talking for now.

    She does have some questions. "What exactly do you mean by watch? Like August said, I was expecting more of a thing to solve."

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley has not been on the ball with what has been happening in the world where the Black Forest is a major issue. She's had a lot of minor paperwork to deal with that wizards have to deal with, especially in the Paladins, especially with all that's happened to her recently. Thankfully, it is much easier for her to just show up short notice when called upon because it's currently Summer in the northern hemisphere.

    She assembles with at least one odd individual tagging along with her. It's a Golem, and it is dressed in a heavy set of robes that conceals its body from view. It appears to be made of quartz and sandstone, and as it moves there's a sense of weight and an intelligent presence to it. There's a Paladin seal on its robes to mark it clearly as affiliated with Ainsley, with the smaller mark for the Curse Breakers.

    The golem seems... uncomfortable in the Black Forest. It keeps whispering things to Ainsley and she keeps having to try to comfort it, but the language they exchange is a little strange if anyone tries to listen in. Not incomprehensible, but foreign and ancient.

    August might recognize the language from his trips into Ainsley's mind to deal with the psychohazard that plagued her for a brief period not too long ago.

    "It will be a good chance to try to get information about the Black Court without the source being..." Ainsley speaks up, but trails off, because she can't think of a polite way to say it. "Extremely hazardous," she decides. "If Jack can keep it distracted or we can get it talking..."

    The golem digs in its pockets and produces a small snack of jerky for the White Pig while Ainsley focuses on the others, eyes scanning over those present to see how ready they seem to be for a conflict and who she might have to focus on protecting. Besides Jack here. While she does note Janine's poorer state, she does not think to ask about it while they're preparing to go deal with a Shadow... the reptile creases her brow.

    Even if she isn't saying anything, just that... look feels like a question.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Oh jack. Ohhhh Jack. Bless you and your distractions.

    Of course, it may come as a surprise that Emily is, in fact, still here, and still as smartly-dressed as ever... well, for the most part. She seems to be sans that usual tailcoat, but her vest, cravat, the whole rest of the outfit, are all there and tidy, and the cabin itself is as neat as ever. The surprise lies in the fact that, strictly speaking, Emily Branford was hired by Janine's parents. And yet, with no one paying her salary... here she is.

    If anything, she seems to be fussing over Janine a little more than normal, though at the same time she's giving the girl at least /some/ space. Nevertheless, she's already all set to go as soon as people arrive, armed with her usual assault rifle and probably more besides.

    "So it's squire training today, is it?" she asks of Jack, curious. "I look forward to seeing such a gallant defender in action."

Janine Liberi has posed:
    As everyone arrives, the only one who gets a direct look from Janine is actually Maaka. Seems she's not acknowledging anyone who doesn't acknowledge her directly right now. She just walks with the group, muttering sooftly in a croaky voice to herself. The Pig accepts the jerky from Ainsley gladly and goes to chew on it while everyone else heads off towards their possible deaths.

    "Deal with it? Oho nonono. I would never ask someone else to do somethee-ing I wouldn't! But hey, if you want to jump in, feel free! I don't mind sharing the glory!" He seems genuine, but it also comes across as dodging the question... he's an odd fellow, this one. Either way, soon a break in the trees swims into view, and beyond it... the Shadow Village.

    It's a quaint little place, all made of frosted glass taken from the trees and expertly put together to create little huts, walls, lanes. It would be eerily lovely, were a lot of it not currently in pieces. The one responsible emerges from one of the huts, kicking a small Shadow before planting a thin blade into it, making it disperse into nothing.

    The perpetrator is a weaselly thing, in the sense that it actually has the face and sinewy body of a weasel that stands upright. It dresses in officious finery, all red jacket with gold buttons with a comically large white ruff around the neck like you might see in some cartoon. He's got the puffy black pantaloons, the little tophat and even a monacle! From a distance, he's almost adorable, like some mascot.

    But then you get closer, and things become more apparent. Like the many coin purses attacked to his belt, each one dripping blood from within. The pattern in that ruff around his neck, every fold and ruffle having a feminine silhouette that reaches towards his face in an almost sensual way. The hungry leer in his eyes, and the grime and stains upon his teeth. His breath, heavy with meals going back years, hits the nose from ten paces.

    "There's the ho-oligan! YOU! I, Spriggins Jack, won't forgive what you've done hee-re! Prepare for a sound thee-rashing!" The small companion rushes the figure, who turns and smirks before pointing his blade at the party. "Oh, what a delight! I simply came down here to kick in door and claim this land, but now I shall have your heads! Oh, the Queen will reward me most fabulously for this! Your blood will be the sauce on my steaks, your skulls the richest jewels in my coffers!"

=================================THE DEVIL=================================

------------------------MANIFESTATION OF REFLECTION------------------------

                     THE INTENDENT OF SHALLOW DESIRES                      
               HE WHO MANAGES THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE QUEENDOM                

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


Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    "Come now," Emily replies to the weasel. "We all know you'll not like the taste of me. After all, I'm British."

    It's not what she was expecting, for certain. Either the cartoonish first impression (this is, after all, the Forest), or the far more intimidating close-up view (since, after all, that distant first impression did set the tone). So it's managed to surprise her twice simply by existing. But as experienced as she is, unsettlement never manages to set in, and instead she's got her rifle at the ready for the entire approach. But it looks like the Intendent isn't content to simply do battle with Jack; it's got its sights set on all of them as well.

    So, she calmly retorts, then lifts her rifle, and adds, "Good Sir Jack, I do apologize, but it looks as if he'll be targeting us as well. I'm afraid I have to answer that."

    Then she opens fire. Full auto.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
Rebecca doesn't seem to pay much heed to how unusual Spriggins Jack is acting right now. She's more intent on solving the problem at hand, which she hopes will happen soon enough. The general area seems to go on for awhile until there's a break in the trees and Shadow Village appears. It's rather unique in how the buildings are designed, that's for sure, but Rebecca sees nothing unusual about it as she's now become accustomed to the way things work in this place, for better or for worse. Even the sight of the shadow being defeated (as Rebecca would put it) doesn't seem to faze her at all.

It's not until the perpetrator makes itself known that Rebecca starts to show a little emotion on her face. Some might be tempted to chuckle at the sight of the outfit the creature is wearing, but Rebecca's not the least bit amused. She knows that in this place, there are many forms that can happen that one would never see in the real world. The blood dripping from the coin purses makes Rebecca reel a little as well. But it's when she gets a whiff of its breath that Rebecca starts to gag a little, before shaking it off.

"Stay with it, Becky," Rebecca says to herself. "You can do this!" She looks at Spriggins Jack and lowers an eyebrow at how he's acting. Then she looks up at the creature Spriggins Jack is talking to and glares with a full scowl. "I guess we'll have to do this the hard way!" Rebecca comments as she draws her Beretta and fires two shots.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley lets out a defeated sigh at what Spriggans Jack says to them. His confidence is refreshing, but it's immediately clear that she won't get the chance to talk to the being before the situation devolves to violence. So she travels along with the currently unnamed golem as it marvels at the dark majesty around them from within the darkness of its hood.

    Ainsley draws her blade when she spots the Shadow they're here to fight. The sword comes from its scabbard smoothly but remains down at her side, her posture loose. She focuses on it while the others are distracted by it, and so she considers what would be the best ... possible... counter...

    Ainsley turns her head to regard the White Pig for only a second, a frown on her face.

    "I see there is no value in speaking to you," she begins, as she lifts her blade to point it toward the Intendent, the weasel-like creature, "You will come to regret your actions, if you live long enough to know the meaning." The word she uses for 'regret' isn't the same language as the rest, and is accompanied with a flash of magical light. Ainsley tries to counteract the visceral, empty rush of conquering the weak and gaining wealth and women... with the immediate regret found in any glimmer of conscience. It's a spell she casts with a point of the sword at the Intendent.

    Her Golem flinches visibly, the robed figure stepping back from the sound of fully-automatic gunfire. It sticks close to Ainsley, the stone, heavily clothed figure staying out of harm's way for now.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka seems a bit suspicious of this SPriggins Jack. Also she has a brief stare-off with Janine. She has no idea why Janine looks at her that way, but she isn't sure if she should back down. "I got something on my face?" She asks dryly, before reaching into her coat as she notices Emily's pretty well armed, when the butler arrives.

    Her matter manipulator produces an AK-105 carbine, giving the illusion she just pulled an assault rifle out of her coat, as she loads a thick looking magazine and chambers a round. She seems calm as they enter the forrest, glancing about before suddenly A THING ARRIVES. "Still want us just to watch?" She asks Jack dryly, before she follows Emily's example and opens up with fire, the muzzle brake giving her rifle an x-shaped flash with every shot she fires on semi-auto, but given Maaka's intense trigger finger she's practically blazing away.

August Kohler has posed:
"Wait, doesn't that mean you wouldn't deal with it? What are you planning on doing, then?" August counters Spriggins Jack, refusing to let him get away with that, but they end up at the town. Huh. It's...quaint? And also being destroyed, 'innocent' Shadows massacred by some manner of weasel. August instantly pulls up the reflective knife to his eyes, not allowing appearance to even slightly keep him off-guard. The Black Queen's Court is absolutely dangerous. "This is not going to be a trivial fight. Keep your wits about you." He grimaces visibly when he notices all of the disgusting little features on the weasel Shadow, and turns to it. "So what's your rank in the court, then? Janitor? Because you're a mess."

Trying to move around the wreckage, August attempts to close in to the side of the Intendent, as he speaks those magic words. "Persona." In the spark of blue, the burn-scarred soldier with the gun-leg appears, and charges forward for the weasel, bullets spewing forth from that gun leg in an attempt to fill him with holes. "You'll end up just like him."

Janine Liberi has posed:
    "No skin off my nose! Give him hee-ll!" Jack shouts as he rushes the Intendent. The creature goes on all fours and barrels towards the Jack, giving him a mighty headbutt! The fellow goes flying, literally flying over the tree line to land behind the party. "I'm okay!" he shouts.

    Meanwhile, their foe regards the gunfire and smirks. That thin blade twirls, sparks flying as the bullets are deflected. A few find their way through, one of Becky's and a few from August, Emily and Maaka. They all draw blood, but the creature only laughs. "Cease throwing this worthless metal at me! Gold for your lives only!"

    And then Ainsley intones 'regret' in that strange language of hers. It tunnels into the Shadow, looking for the barest scrap of morality to pry loose and make it feel over the atrocity it has committed... but this is a Shadow, and a member of the Court on top of that. This one likely reached the position it did BECAUSE it has no regrets at all. "My only regret is letting you drivel on this long, fool! Now die!" He barrels towards the party, sword pulled back to thrust!

Janine Liberi has posed:
    During all of this, Janine stands there, hugging herself with her one good arm. She's muttering to herself, ceaselessly, endlessly. The sounds of battle are starting to get to her, gunshots and smoke agitating her. "I'm going to die. If not now, then to the next one, or to the disease. And it will be fine because I deserve it. All of it. I'm wicked and spiteful and everyone hates me, rightly so, because I'm so awful. I was thrown out because they finally realized what a bitch I am. Even everyone else barely acknowledges me now because they've caught on too. I just make everything worse, and I should just die, I should just hurry up and /die/...!"

    She slumps to her knees, and the shimmer of blue that foretells the summoning of a Persona arises about her. Biancabella swims into view, facing the Intendent. And them immediately, spears erupt from her dress, stabbing into the Shadow at multiple points.

    No, not spears. Proboscises.

    The Intendent withers away almost immediately, its essences drained by the Persona, who is twitching and contorting in gruesome ways. It ascends, facing upwards as translucent, vein-laced wings erupt from its front, the bloody spears withdrawing back into its dress. Many twitching legs of many lengths and shapes, some insectoid, others human erupt from her back. Her mouth opens violently, causing the cheeks to rip apart as a long, slimy stinger grows from it and sways, the sharpened tip already beady with venom. The dress is already in tatters, but something under the skirts begins to lash, cutting them to pieces, to reveal a hideous face between the legs that swiftly mutate into bladed feelers akin to a praying mantis. It looks akin to a human's halfway between a transformation, it's entire upper half overtaken by a large, single compound eye. The mouth and nose have been crushed together and extended to form a long proboscis shaped like a blade, and evidentially able to cut like one based on how it exposed itself. Those wings flicker and hum loudly, keeping the monstrosity aloft as Janine sobs beneath it.

=================================DEATH REVERSED=================================

----------------------------MANIFESTATION OF DESPAIR----------------------------

                               THE LOATHESOME ONE                              

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


August Kohler has posed:
Jack's alright. August expected that. But the Intendent is tough. He's deflecting gunfire, and is able to just soak those bullets. He's about to reposition, change his battle strategy...

When Janine snaps, and 'Biancabella' appears, ripping the Shadow apart as it transforms into something...Wrong. Janine's speech is heard perfectly by the boy, and he just freezes as he watches her, watches her Persona. And something inside him...clicks. Why is she saying that? Why is she saying that /now/ of all times? Why-

The Tin Soldier abruptly lurches forward, almost spasming. Blue energy begins to crackle around it and out of it, as if it's short-circuiting, and it 'fizzles' briefly. August's face is warped (naturally, not unnaturally) into anger and anguish, as he clutches his hand. As he thinks. As he /listens/. August Kohler has no words to say.

Fire pours from the Persona's gun, in a huge flurry. It moves to try and engulf Shtriga, though it doesn't explicitly move to avoid Janine underneath. August's eyes are full of a determined fury, as words finally leave his lips, choked out. "Why?!"

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Emily's automatic fire stops when it becomes clear the Intendent is deflecting the majority of their gunfire. There's a faint frown. "Goodness, you're a fair hand with that sword of yours." She's already dropping the magazine out of her rifle and moving to clear the chamber. "I suppose I'll just have to set this aside and take out my real-"

    Something is wrong.

    Something is Wrong.

    Every instinct of Emily's screams at her. She turns just in time to see Biancabella rise up. Consume the Intendent. And become something... Else. For a brief moment, Emily Branford is shocked into complete immobility and silence. Shocked enough that the facade slips, that the woman behind the mask is on display.

    A moment later, the HK417 hits the ground. It's followed by her P320, shoulder holster and all. "Should have known. Should have bloody known." She quietly reaches up, unbuttoning her vest, button by button, until she can shrug out of it, drop it onto her weapons. Then the cravat, untied, and dropped down as well. "You were always so stubborn. Thought I'd give you your space, you'd be right as rain." She's even cast off the accent, so to speak; her received pronunciation is gone, replaced by a somewhat rougher estuary accent. "My fault. I'll cop to that. Have to make it right."

    Up comes Emily's right hand, her left occupied in pulling her signature black glove over it. The next heartbeat, her whip is in hand. Her next words are to August. "We're going to have to play rough. She bloody hates herself, and we're going to fix it, but we'll have to give her both goddamn barrels. Sorry, Janine," she adds. "If there's medical bills, I'll spot you. You're worth that much, love."

    Then, she is in motion - her whip unleashed in a flurry of inhumanly fast strikes, faster than her rifle was unloading bullets.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
The bullets do nothing, and Rebecca scowls even more. "Damn it, I should've brought out the heavy artillery with you first!" She says through gritted teeth. Of course, heavy artillery refers to her Magnum and her Grenade Launcher. She could also toss a bottle of flammable chemicals if necessary, but now is not the time for debating what she could be doing instead. Because there's something far worse rising up. Even though Rebecca doesn't know that its name is Biancabella, she nonetheless sees it appear and consume the Intendent. Rebecca's eyes widen like saucers and her jaw hangs open for a moment.

"Oh my... what is that? What is it doing?" She semi-babbles out.

The final result is far worse than anything Rebecca could've anticipated, but by that time, Rebecca's switched to her stun baton. She knows that she has to consider Janine in this as well, and so she decides to use a non-lethal method of attacking. The shock is noticeable, but it's designed to only stun the person receiving it, not kill them.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley lifts her blade and readies herself for a strike. She knows she can hear Janine nearby, and her head momentarily turns. The words she starts to hear... She turns her head, her eyes wide. Her sword lowers, and her mouth opens up, the shock on her face...

    No, that's not how she sees Janine at all. She sees Janine as something else.

    And then she audibly GASPs when Janine's Persona devolves into a Shadow, killing and devouring the Intendent in an instant. She wheels about on the Persona with her blade held up with both hands, and she stares, unable to blink, as it undergoes a horrific transformation. Truly horrific... because Ainsley can feel it represents how Janine sees herself, and how it represents a distorted view built on despair.


    She bellows it as loud as she can, "That isn't how I see you at all!"

    And Ainsley shows Janine what she really feels. A single hand lifts and she projects what she feels wholesale with a single word spoken. Even with what everyone else is saying and doing, fighting and attacking the Shadow that represents a raw reflection of despair, she still doesn't attack directly until she has to.

    What could I say?

    What could any of us say?

    Let me suffer with you. I can see it. I saw it before. I see it in every moment of anger and bile. I do not see evil or hate. I see a girl struggling with more than anyone should ever have to.

    I want to know your story. Please. I want to be there with you. That is why I keep coming to this world to help.

    "Please!" Ainsley bellows.

    The Golem has fled for one of the glass houses and is hiding in the fetal position. Yep.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka watches Jack get his shit ruined, and when she, Rebecca, and Emily open fire, they notice all they're doing is pissing off the Intendent. She has no illusions about this, that's for sure. The cyborg begins to dodge as it thrusts its sword, before she notices it disappear, and then glances to Janine.

    And things get fucked up. "JANINE!" She calls out in reflex, horrified as Janine's Persona falls apart and turns into...something, some kind of horrible preying mantis monstrosity. "Uhhhh, uhhhhh..." She watches Emily ditch her guns, only for the butler to pull out a goddamn whip.

    "Okay, guess we're doing this!" She says, before she dismisses her AK, in favor of a Benelli M4 shotgun. Her weapon is loaded with beanbag rounds swiftly, and by the time others begin to use less-lethal methods, Maaka's opening fire with a few shots of her own.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    Something's wrong. Something is wrong, something has /been/ wrong for a while now. Ran and Hikaru know the shape of part of it, know the way its mouth spills poison straight into the ear where it can drip down into the heart. Ran knows because Hikaru knows.

    And because Ran knows, she can't trust Janine.

    It'd be better, she'd decided, if she were to hang back a bit. Because she remembers what Hikaru did. The kind of things he'd been willing to do, convinced he was worthless.

    They can't solve this, Hikaru had said, because they're too close to it.

    But Ran just can't let it go...

    As Biancabella twitches and deforms, a series of grotesqueries each worse than the last, Ran bursts into a sprint, long dancer's legs eating the ground. She's too far, she's too far, FUCK, she should've been braver--!

    ((don't look. just leap.))

    A shape charges forth - one that /isn't- supposed to be there - and shoulderchecks Janine, throwing them both to the ground.

    Ran, unfortunately, takes the stun baton for the other girl. Oops.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Janine sobs, dropping like a sack of potatoes as Ran tackles her to the ground. Her crying becomes one of pain as the impact jolts her enslinged arm, sending pain crashing through her. After a delay, Shtriga starts twitching and flailing wildly, akin to a fly that has been blasted with insect spray. The flames of the Tin Soldier burn it, searing its face and turning what remains of Biancabella's dress to ash, properly revealing its hideous abdomen. It's covered in segmented chitin, with those extendable proboscises poking out between the gaps. Without the cloth to hamper it, the wings beat faster, both to bat the flames back and take it higher.

    Emily's whip and Maaka's beanbags impact against it. Each blow draws out a wet, crunchy noise, like when you stomp on a cockroach. Vile ichors spill from its cracked body, causing more convulsions. Again, after a minor delay, Janine's own blood would start to seep through her clothes, wounds reflecting the Shadow-Persona's own. Her face has a pinkish burn also from August's fire.

    When Ainsley's words hit Janine's ears, Shtriga convulses again, but this time, something is different. A single wilted rose petal slips from one of its wounds, drifting down and carrying that faint, rotten scent that is so indicative of Biancabella. Underneath Ran, the girl groans, "No story... just awful."

    But the Shadow-Persona has had enough. Time to counterattack.

    Its proboscis beads at the tip with blood before suddenly gushing it. The spray tightens, narrows, and then it swivels its head in a way that does now align with human vertebra. The blood sprays, cutting through glass trees and cutting a deep groove into the ground as it swipes, aiming to slice up everyone! Even Janine and Ran are potentially unsafe.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    "Janine, you bloody twit."

    It's by far the harshest thing Emily's ever said to her. And it's coming out specifically because she's sure now that Janine's actually listening; wallowing in her own misery, but listening. "I thought you were shaper than this. You /are/ sharper than this." A pressure cutter of blood doesn't seem to deter Emily - with that inhuman movement speed of hers, she hurls herself sidelong, evading anything worse than a glancing blow that tears a hole in one pant leg and scrapes at the skin beneath. Not nearly enough to slow her down. "If we'd any desire to get away from you, we could've done it long ago! Could've buggered off any time, avoided dealing with you outside the Forest. Not a one of those folks at your birthday party /had/ to be there."

    She starts making for Janine at a steady walk; for the time being, her whip stays still, but she'll absolutely use her speed to evade any blows thrown her way when she moves under Shtriga... no, Biancabella. Biancabella's still in there. "Heaven's sake, Janine, you know your parents stopped /paying/ me, right? Had I any desire to be gone, that was the finest excuse I could ask for! But I'm still here! We're all still here. Your Persona's gone mental and it's trying to kill us all, and we're /still bloody here/, because you're not /nearly/ as bad a person as you want to believe you are! And we're not going anywhere, no matter how many good excuses you give us. So quit your moping and stand up, because if you sod off to a pit of despair and get us all killed, I'm never going to let you hear the end of it in the afterlife."

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka can't help but wince internally at the crying. It's hard sometimes, blinding yourself to other's suffering. Empathy can be both a great asset and a terrible weakness. Maaka is not immune to it, even now. She fires again and again before she feels the Shadow-Persona slashes at her, cutting through body armor and drawing blood deep as Maaka lets out a yelp of pain. "GHHHK! Oh, oh that ain't good..." She mutters under her breath, clutching at her side as she fires off a last shot before she's forced to reload her shotgun one-handed. THis might keep her out of the fight for a while.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
Rebecca finds she can't stop in time to avoid shocking Ran. "No!" She cries out as Ran Itoh gets electrocuted. "Dammit, why?" She screams, feeling frustrated and annoyed at this development. "This wasn't supposed to--" Rebecca is focusing too much on Ran to notice the crying, which is bad, because she also doesn't notice the slash coming at her. Unfortunately, the Shadow-Persona's slash is more powerful than her body armor, and it cuts deeply into her flesh, causing her to cry out loudly as she stumbles backwards and falls onto the ground.

"Unngh... why?" Rebecca grunts as she reaches for a First-Aid Spray in her belt. She sprays her wound, wincing at the stinging sensation as the healing aerosol begins to stop the bleeding and work at dulling the pain. She's out for a moment herself.

August Kohler has posed:
Emily's fighting too. August hears her words. But part of him can't acknowledge them. Part of him is requesting a different ending. Maybe Janine's right. Maybe it's her fault that this didn't happen sooner, maybe he should just end it. Because it's wrong, wrong wrong wrong, and it's making things difficult for /him/. His mind battles over this thought, which causes his attacks to actually be delayed, stopping on and off as he decides whether or not he'll fight. But then the dress burns. Then the creature sprays that blood, cutting through everything, showing its insectoid horror. Showing that it's wrong.

Showing that the only way for August Kohler to continue is for it to burn. That's right, isn't it, August? You need it to burn. It needs to stop being a burden.

The Tin Soldier 'statics' that blue energy again, briefly, right as the blood cuts into it, slicing a chunk of its torso straight through. August clutches his stomach, coughing up blood, but his only response is a muttering of words, a muttering of 'wrong'. The Tin Soldier's gun leg begins to whirl up fire, an inferno spinning into the shape of a spiral. Janine and Ran are there. Emily's up close. But that doesn't matter. It's the Tin Soldier and Shtriga. The blast goes flying, moving to try and engulf the area around Shtriga, and the fire also latches around onto the things around the Tin Soldier, moving to spread to it as well. It doesn't move to dodge.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    And so Ainsley sees the wounds form on Janine in the midst of this. She has only a moment to process what is happening, how this is hurting the girl, how this is still her /Persona/. The reptile woman gasps when her distraction results in blood slicing across her scales as she narrowly deflects getting bisected by the pressurized blood that sprays from the creature's mouth.

    Ainsley doesn't let up.

    Stories exist to show the darkness in our hearts and remind each other we are not alone!

    She is actually shouting the words while projecting her inner emotions at this point.

    We don't want you to be left behind. We want you to live!

    She sprints over to where Janine and Ran are and she slides to a stop. She lifts her hands and she lays them on Janine, and she speaks a few soft words to her.


    And now the lizard is crying. That hit has shattered anything left of her composure.

    "Even if you hadn't saved me, hadn't fought alongside me, I would care. I don't want you to die. Please."

    Ainsley fears feeling helpless. She fears being isolated. It projects through her hands.

    Hands wet with the blood from that Persona and from the wound that dribbles through her uniform, that aches with agony even through the fear of seeing someone lost to an end like this... again.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    Intellectually, Ran knows what happens when a human is exposed to the effects of a stun gun. The outside supply of electricity interrupts the body's own electrical impulses, inserting itself roughly as noise into the signal. The muscles' primary source of energy, glucose, is converted into lactic acid. The muscles are forced to do a large amount of work in a very short time, leaving them overused and weakened.

    Of course, when used responsibly they don't incapacitate over the long term. They're only meant to subdue.

    Of course, it still hurts like a bitch. She's /so/ going to whine about this later!!

    The cutting blades of blood split glass leaves and fell mirror trees. Dazed, Ran lies heavily atop Janine, twitching a little bit. Something licks fire across the backs of her thighs and the high-pitched pain-squeal inside her brain does a bit to bring her around. "Nnnn..."

    Sobbing. A familiar, curt voice. Shouting. Ran opens her eyes and pushes herself up onto her elbows. "Tsu," she murmurs, long hair cascading over her back and shoulders, and hopefully shielding Janine from having to see what's happened to Biancabella.

    She screams for her Persona, the Rabbit landing between her and August, blocking as much of the firespray as it can by spinning its long-handled mallet.

    She can be a shield.

    She too can throw herself into fire to feed a stranger...

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Fire. Fire from the /Tin Soldier/. Oh bloody hell, Kohler's losing it.

    Emily has only a moment to react. For her, though, that's all she needs. The plume of fire meets a sudden whirl in the air. A coil of something-that-might-be-leather, whirling into a supersonic swirl that creates a vortex of rushing air - a vortex that will scatter the fire, dampen it, blunt the worst of it. But that's all she can manage. She can't stop that much fire outright. Not in the least.

    She's going to be badly regretting this for a while.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka may be regretting being close to this. She feels her thermal sensors go overboard, and she suffers some serious burning sensations as August goes pyromanical. (If that isn't a word it should be, dammit.)

    The cyborg feels her everything overheat, and she frantically tries to roll and smother the flames as she drops her shotgun, blood pooling around in the ground, and she screams her lungs out in unending pain. She is really regretting being this close for some easy shotgun blasts now.

    If she gets out of this, August is going to really get it.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley, having ended up right near Janine, is also in the way of the fire. She hears it coming and, lacking any way to defend against it on short notice, she decides to do her best to emphasize what she's trying to tell Janine.

    She acts as a fire blanket and probably smolders and smokes and BURNs, and her face scrunches and buries into the arm of her coat as she tries not to scream out right there next to the girl.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    "Don't YELL AT ME!" Janine shouts, words muffled by the ground. The classical teenaged response of rejecting someone else's words, no matter how well-meaning, simply due to the tone it was delivered it. But again, Shtriga oozes rose petals in response to them, more than one this time.

    However, it is still in action, and it has its own goals. Two people are wounded enough to keep them from doing much, and Shtriga homes in on them. Immediately, it swoops and kicks one of its human legs at Rebecca, aiming to launch her closer to Maaka. And then, it deploys those extendable proboscises, aiming to spear them both. Should the appendages find home, it begins draining like the mosquito it is.

    It also displays why fire is not best used against flying enemies. Its buzzing wings generate gusts that push it all away, getting it to spread more along the ground. It's getting really hot, the village is starting to melt and crack some more from the heat.

    Janine is safe though, thanks to everyone's efforts. Even if she thinks she shouldn't be. "Even if it's true... why bother? There are better people to care about... and I'll be dead soon, no matter what. Wasted effort..."

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
No sooner has Rebecca recovered than she finds that she's under attack again. Unfortunately, being in a position of recovery means she's in no position to evade... or even defend herself. She gets kicked hard, and goes flying. She doesn't go flying too far, but she does go flying... right into poor Alexis Maaka!

"Ahhhh!" Rebecca cries out as she goes through the air, landing with an oof. At first she doesn't realize what happened until she looks underneath her and realizes Alexis is underneath her. "Oh no!" She cries out as she tries to get up, but her previous injury coupled with this new one make it next to impossible to get up easily. She struggles some more, then ends up rolling off of Alexis onto the ground. "This is so humiliating!"

Ainsley (151) has posed:

    Ainsley calls into her reflection, and a turtle man appears, wearing a modern rubber fisherman outfit, with an old-timey hat. He removes the pipe from his mouth as she looks over her shoulder and she casts the temporary, magic, reflective shield that Urashima Taro can manifest around Janine and herself and anyone else in immediate range. It seems to get generated from light that flashes from a fishing net he throws over the both of them that promptly vanishes.

    Now she speaks down to Janine even more as the Persona fades away again.

    "You could be dead tomorrow and I would still try to save you right now," Ainsley tells Janine, her voice only loud enough to hear over the chaos, pausing to fight the urge to cry out from her own pain, "I would regret letting you fall away like this, struggling and suffering, for the rest of my life. Even if I fail, even if this doesn't save you, I cannot fathom a world where I didn't try."

    A pause, a gasp, a squeaky, pathetic noise. "You have to try, too. Live your life, tell the world 'Fuck you, I'm Janine Liberi, and I will be worth what I say I'm worth.' Because we're here to help you do that."


    She forces out every single word. The pain from the fire and the jet of blood screams in her every nerve. It's a wheeze, and it's obviously the most strained whisper ever, but she shoves the air out and forms words through the choking sobs and agony.

    Plaintive, agonized, trying so hard, because it so rarely works.

August Kohler has posed:
The fire burns hot, but fast for anyone it hits. As it blazes, August stares at those getting burned. He argues over the radio, about how she's become an obstacle now, about how she needs to be burned, but they're in the way...they need to be burned too, don't they? Obstacles, burdens in his path. Another statick-y glitch of blue, and the fire begins to pour out of the flamethrower again, ready for another inferno...No. No, no, no. /This/ is wrong. That's Janine, August's...friend. For once, he admits it, and suddenly, he takes a breath. The fire still begins to start to pour out of the Tin Soldier. It's about to ignite...

And the Tin Soldier gets whammied as August moves up, bodychecking his own persona and pushing the gun out of the way with his hand, at the cost of /igniting it/, covering it in flame. The robot soldier falls to the ground, as August sees Emily, making that shield of wind, Ainsley, helping block, Ran, hammering the fire. Step, after step, after step, August approaches Janine's location, trying to force his way forward, as the Tin Soldier just lies there, motionless. This means he can be hit twice, should Shtriga realize that.

"...Janine. Shut the fuck up. /Shut the fuck up/! What's the goddamn point? What do you gain by doing this? What do you gain by doing nothing? All you're doing is making things /worse/ by being like this, not better!" There's sharp hypocrisy in there, and part of August might realize that. But right now, he's fighting that thought inside his head, the one that said that things would be better if all these people just died, and he's fighting the pain of his hand burning away, as he tries to lug forward.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    "Janine. It's going to be okay."

    She said this before, didn't she? Ran wishes Hikaru were here. He would know what to do. He went to school for it, because he'd...

    The girl underneath her yells at Emily, and though Ran can't see the rose petals drifting from the ruins of Biancabella, she can feel something happening. "Janine, you don't understand," Ran says to her. "Hikky used to say the same things you do." This wasn't hers to tell - she wanted, she /wanted to wait for Hikaru to say it first/. But they're out of time.

    "We were kids together. We went to school together. And one day he stopped showing up. I looked and looked for him, but his mother said he'd gone to live with relatives." He'd just vanished, her best friend, just like that, without even saying goodbye...

    She sniffles and calls back the Rabbit, Tsuki-no-Usagi descending from above to shower the herself and Janine with warm, comforting darkness. The gashes across the backs of her thighs seal most of the way, and she pours more energy into Janine because the younger girl needs it more. "And when I found him again he said the exact same things that you did. That he deserved it because he was so awful. That his m-mother wouldn't have kicked out a good child, that he was just a waste and that he was sorry, he was so goddamn sorry."

    "I dragged him back to my house with me and I never, ever let him go again. Listen to everybody else," Ran pants, tears running hot down her cheeks. Janine, you have to hear her, please... "Listen to them. We're not going to let you go. /I'm/ not going to let you go! I won't--"

    She chokes, and forces the words out. "I WON'T EVER LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN!"

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    "It's our effort to waste, and we bloody well choose to waste it on you," Emily hisses out. Not due to any sort of anger, but rather from the sheer pain of her burns. "And we're going to keep wasting it on you, and you can't make us stop, because we think you're /worth/ it, Janine. We're not letting you die any time soon!" But even as burned as she is, Emily is the kind of person to just grit her teeth and ignore her pain, keep fighting full tilt even when her body is telling her it's a bad idea. And that's what she does, shifting her grip on the whip slightly and squinting into the fire.

    "Going to have to stop Kohler. Cover Ja-" Whatever she might have been planning, it's all thrown out the window. August tackles his own Persona. Gets himself burned. Gets himself /burning/, in fact. His words put a deep scowl on her face. But he's trying. He's doing something, fighting his own impulses to do something. Even if she thinks he's taking the wrong tack, she has to answer that.

    "Kohler, hold your hand /very still/. I swear I'm not attacking you."

    Her whip lashes out. Again and again. At his hand. ...no. Not at his hand. /Around/ his hand. Again and again. The same trick she pulled before, but narrower, more focused. She's trying to snuff out the fire by blowing it out, depriving it of the oxygen to burn. And desperately hoping that the conceptual weight behind Strands of Fate will make it effective enough to put out magical fire.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:

    Maaka is hit full on the chest by Becky, as she catches the medic in her arms. "Oh godddammit-!" She grunts, before rolling to protect herself and BEcky from being stabbed by the Persona's arm. Maaka reaches for a knife, just in case, but she's in little condition to keep fighting given she was gutted before, and roasted just now.

    "Fuckin'- You okay?" She wheezes, hacking up blood as she tries to stand up, and helps Becky to her feet as well if the medic needs it.

    "Janine..." She wheezes again, "Janine...please, you can still live to the fullest. You can still tell adversity to go suck it..." She begins, storming towards her, fire be damned, injuries be damned. "I wouldn't blame you one bit if you just gave up here, but...we need you, your friends need you." She says, staggering weakly.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    A lot of words are being yelled at Janine, and it's taking her a lot of time to sort through them. August's words don't really help her one bit. It only confirms her worries, that she is making things worse, that she is hurting people.

    But Ran's story gets her, a little. A lot of horror stories of parents abandoning children... but he seems fine. Or maybe he just got better as he got older. Maybe he did deserve it... but if so, why did Ran stick with him?

    Emily goes next. "Because it's our effort to waste," she says. She can't stop people from caring about who they're going to care about. Even if that someone is her, they're still going to give a shit, as misguided as it is. But the question remains; does she care in return?

    Maaka speaks up, and the words she uses... 'friends.' Are these her friends? She would insist 'no' if she were level-headed. But... she went out of her way for Ainsley, for August. She didn't want Emily spending money when she knew her own pay had stopped. Ran and Hikaru went to appeal to her mother for her, and even though she was upset, just knowing that gave her strength to talk.

    So yes, they are her friends, and she's hurting them right now, when she doesn't want to be.

    She screams again, but this one is more raw and angry than it is sad. Shtriga flails and wriggles, acually screaming also as the blue haze envelops both of them. It's a long pregnant pause before eventually, the Shadow-Persona fades away. It doesn't change back, but Janine has reeled it in.

    And then, she slumps again. Falling into a deep sleep.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka stares for a long time, as Janine slumps over, and Shtriga fades away. Eventually, the cyborg just slumps down, and tries to keep herself from bleeding out for the time being. She is gonna need some serious tequila after this.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
Rebecca tries to get up and check on Janine, but her body is still in a great deal of pain and she can't move very well. Sighing, she applies another First-Aid Spray and uses that to get up. Even then, she still has trouble moving as she limps over to check on Janine. Before she gets there, though, she collapses again. "Ugh... I hope... you're OK..." Rebecca sputters, trying to catch her breath and waiting for the First-Aid Spray to take full effect.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley slowly straightens, gasps, wheezes and shudders. She lifts her head to look up at the Shtriga as it gets sucked back in by a blue light.

    "... oh hells...!" And she tears her coat off and she pats at her exposed scales because it felt like she was still on fire and she shivers and her eyes weep because she's in so much pain. She smells like burned feathers and scorched flesh and her scales are caked with scorched blood and she looks very unhappy.

    "... hnn... don't want to move..." Not just because of pain but she is mentally and emotionally exhausted.

    And her Golem walks right up, and picks her up in a bridal carry, and grabs the coat, too. Yeah, looks like that's covered.

August Kohler has posed:
August is fighting himself to even move this far, so when Emily approaches and begins to try and snuff the fire on his hand, he can't really resist. The winds put out the flame, stopping it from spreading to the rest of his clothing, but his right hand has a nasty burn, and is probably going to have scars. He can't even realize that the advice he's giving Janine is terrible, because he doesn't even have the energy to do much. In the endwhen Shtriga, begins to fade, as August continues to approach, he collapses to his knees next to her. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, all of you. I...fuck. I'm not a very good friend." It's the first time August ever verbalizes it, and it's also the last thing he says today. He doesn't speak again, even when addressed. The Tin Soldier demanifests on its own.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    More and more, stronger and stronger, all the words spill out. Ran doesn't know if any of them are reaching her, but surely /something/ must be, right...?

    In the aftermath, with Janine deeply asleep and Shtrigabella gone, the blonde pushes herself over to one side, lying sprawled out on her back beside the girl she'd tried to protect. A long, deep sigh is the only noise she makes for a long time. Eventually, though, Ran pushes herself up into a sit and starts taking stock of everything. Good thing Yuna and Sanary should be waiting for them all... Quietly, she watches August fall to his knees. "Everybody, let's get out of here. If you have deep wound or trouble walking, I'll treat you first. Lighter injuries will need to wait until we return, but I promise everybody will be treated, okay...?"

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    August's out. That's seen to, then.

    For once, though, Emily doesn't take the higher path, doesn't adopt the stiff upper lip mindset. She just shoots him a brief look, and then steps past.

    Ainsley's golem has Janine herself. All she can do for the moment is gather her gear and discarded excess clothing, grit her teeth, and march on beside it through the pain of her burns.