5472/P:WtWM - The Wheels of Fate

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P:WtWM - The Wheels of Fate
Date of Scene: 07 September 2017
Location: Alberichstadt <P:WTWM>
Synopsis: Janine's family is kidnapped by The Constable, who challenges them to a race of life and death to save them.
Cast of Characters: Janine Liberi, William Pauwel, 1040, August Kohler, 1132, Rebecca Chambers, 385

Janine Liberi has posed:
    The air in the Forest is electric today. As if even the glass trees are holding their breath in anticipation. Janine's whole body is tense, and the look in her eyes is... well, 'feral' is the only word for it. Furious, possessive, unthinking, unapproachable. Any words to her, she ignores. Any attempt at physical consolation is immediately shrugged away or shoved off.

    Their destination is a bit unusual. Most of the time, the Mirror Forest is a level plane with very little deviation. But when they arrive at the designated place, a massive hill towers over them, spiny with glass trees. High above, hanging cages can be seen suspended from some of the trees, set out far enough that there's nothing between them and the bottom of the hill. Any such fall would be fatal.

    The Constable awaits them, besides two chariots. The classical Roman kind, all wheels and standing room only. They're hitched up to mechanical horses, akin to the one the Constable was riding on when they first met. "Oh~! You all came!" it says gleefully. "I was so hoping you would! I'll be honest Little Miss Liberi, you have a lot more fire in you than your family!" The Italian snarls, and very likely has to be held back by someone. "Where are they?!"

    The Constable titters, and gestures up at the cages. "Just hanging out~ They have friends though, don't worry! I'm sure they're chatting happily with their Shadows. They're such bosom buddies, you can't tell 'em apart!" It walks over to pat the chariots. "I'm sure you're in a rush to see them, so I set this up for you! It'll get you to the top lickity-split, as long as you keep it under control! It'll be a race, between you and me! The cages are checkpoints, as marked by two rope. The first person to reach each checkpoint has to cut one to proceed~"

    Janine's face begins to pale, and the Constable just gets giddier. "Oh, she figured it out~ One of the ropes secures the cage with your real family! The other holds up the Shadow. Of course, I know exactly what one I'll cut~ But you? You have to guess. It's 50-50 right? You're sure to save at least one before you reach the top!"

    The motorcycle knight is bouncing on its heels now, pure delight dripping from every word. "The finish line is the top of the hill! And guess what? There will be two more ropes there! One of them, when cut, will drop all the cages, every single one! The other? That will set off a flare of light to reveal the location of one of the bricks of the Black Queen's Court! With that, you'll be able to track her down, even if the place moves! See, aren't I just such a fair host?"

William Pauwel has posed:
Motorcycle knight, meet scifi cowboy.

    Will rushed to Alberichstadt the moment he heard the news. There was no way in any multiversal hell that he was about to let Janine and August deal with this on their own; family is important. More important than anything. And so he has come.

The Mistral's roaring engine belts a heart-crumbling roar as Will turns the throttle over. The cowboy himself has pulled a certain visor down over his eyes. The Solano is already at the ready in a handy compartment built into the side of his favorite motorcycle, and on the other...

There's a sidecar.

Because someone /probably/ needs a ride here.

"What kind've despicable... August, y'all ready? I'm gonna be ridin' hot today."

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    Ran could say 'I told you so' a million times, but it wouldn't help (plus it would be a dick move). She /knew/ it couldn't be Janine's family that had kicked her out. ...She'd just hoped that the Liberis had actually been /safe/ this whole time, if potentially brainslugged or possessed or... whatever.

    If they've been held captive by the Black Court this whole time...

    Earlier her mouth had thinned as she tucked a couple of spare knives into their hiding spots, grabbed her medical kit, and dashed through the front door of their apartment. The Shack isn't too far to run for.

    Her attempt to comfort Janine is ignored, and Ran is still too timid around the younger girl to try to muscle through that barbed wall, so she steps back. ...Janine's kind of scary most of the time, but right now she's almost terrifying. Ran can't blame her, though...

    "Are we going to do this?" she asks the assembled rescue party, twisting the ends of her long hair in her fingers, but she's already climbing into Will's sidecar when she speaks.

August Kohler has posed:
Last time August met the Constable, he already hated him. Now going to the point of kidnapping his friend's family? August wants him dead and buried. The redhead has a pistol holstered, a mirrored bracelet on his wrist, and several extra ammo magazines more than he normally carries, as he listens to the Constable's explanation and frowns heavily. "Fuck you." Is all he can reply to the Shadow, as he moves over to Will, and leaps onto the back of the Mistral, a nod to both Will and Ran. "You drive and shoot, I'll buff and shoot, Itoh will heal and shoot." There's no joking to his tone, that's actually the battle plan, as he places one arm over Will's shoulder, and the other, with the mirrored bracelet, on his holster.

"Janine's already said how this ends. Fucker dies."

Kyoko Takada (1132) has posed:
    Kyoko Takada arrives, even if that's not a name she's given to anyone here. Screen names should do, and 'Hibiki' is the one she uses on the broadcast channels. She's an ordinary Japanese office worker, wearing ordinary clothing, riding an ordinary 250cc Yamaha. The engine size is important, if not so much for anyone else as for her own peace of mind. She's fairly envious of those with secret identities that let them avoid vehicle inspection paperwork.
    And she arrives to find... actually, what the hell is this? Who is this? People in cages? Racing to cut them down? What is even the point? She immediately recognizes August (despite them having never met in person), and gives a wave while she extends a foot to the ground to keep her bike mostly upright.
    "Haha... hah." Shooting, already? Not really the kind of Jungian trip she had in mind. Well, she's already here. Maybe she can just avoid becoming a target. Not trying to hard to stay at the front of the race should help.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
Riding in a chariot? Only Ben-Hur does something like that, right?

Well not in this case.

In this case, it's Rebecca, riding inside a chariot in a rather bizarre world (albeit one she's accustomed to after all this time.) And she's not alone, as she's sharing the chariot with others. Despite how bizarre this must seem to some people, Rebecca looks rather neutral as she waits in the chariot for things to begin.

"I have to wonder," Rebecca says to herself, "If Ben-Hur would be useful here?" She chuckles a little at that.

Yuna Kagurazaka (385) has posed:
If Yuna had known what was going on, she would have been here far faster - but as it is, when she hears Janine's family were captured, that's all she really needs to know to make the best time she can to the Shack, and through the mirror to the Forest. This time - forewarned, to an extent - she brings the Matrix of Light, so she'll have whatever backup she needs ...

And it turns out that, rather than a stand-up fight, they're doing a chariot race.

"Erina, Marina, stay on standby in case something happens," Yuna says quietly. "Jiina? It looks like Powered Form would save the Constable the trouble of conjuring up another chariot or something."

One transformation sequence later - or rather, a combination sequence - Yuna is outfitted in Powered Form, ready to race alongside her friends. As for Elner, though ... the little robo-faerie is staying with the two androids, because if Yuna were to try and cheat with Elner's sensors to guide her - or anyone else from Die Reisende - in picking who's the Shadow and who's the human, the Constable would *probably* call foul. The fewer excuses he has to do that, the better their chances are ...

Not that their odds are all that good to begin with.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    "Despicable? How could you say that? I put in all this effort just for you! It's all for you!" the Constabe says, throwing it's arms out to gesture at... well, everything. It's hard to tell, but it might be frowning behind that helmets as people bring their own vehicles. "Ooohhh, so it is to be a bigger race than expected? That's fine! I'll win anyway, and I'll get to see your faces fall even further as all your clever tricks fall apart~!"

    They mount their own chariot, looking to August and running a hand down their helmet. "Ooohhhh, if only I were so lucky~" it croons as it takes the reins. Janine hops into the second, fixing Rebecca with a harsh glare. "You better know what you're doing."

    A Shadow that can only be described as a motorcycle squire comes out as everyone lines up for the race to begin. They produce a handkerchief and wave it in lieu of a flag and wave it. Immediately, the Constable blasts off, urging those iron horses with incredible skill.

    The marked track is narrow and surrounded with thick glass trees. No smashing through these, a crash will bring your whole race to a stop. The Constable takes an early lead and looks over its shoulder at everyone. "A gift, from me to you!" And then suddenly, their chariot begins to issue oil from the bottom, coating the track.

    And yet, the first checkpoint is in sight! Two cages, bearing mirror images of Felix Liberi, stand before them. If they're going to make a move, it has to be now!

William Pauwel has posed:
    "Ain't it obvious? Y'all treatin' these people's lives like they were prizes in a game. That just ain't right!" Will spits an answer in reply as the motorcycle squire hobbles his way up to the starting line. He counts down in his head- three, two, one.

The handkerchief drops.

Will is off like a shot.

The Mistral's engines scream as he blasts downrange. The Ancient motors are more than capable of keeping up with the shadow's iron horses. His lips draw into a tight line as oil begins to pour and--

There, up ahead. Two cages...!

"August, light that varmint up! Leave the track to me...!" Will guns the engine one more time and kicks his leg back into pedal close to the rear wheel. Suddenly, ports underneath the bike begin vomiting neon-blue flame, launching the Mistral and its passengers up and over the oil slick, at a perfect vantage to maybe get a better look at the people in the cage... And to allow August the opportunity to set the Constable on fire.

Kyoko Takada (1132) has posed:
    Kyoko's not a racer. Bikes are just more practical vehicles than full-sized cars in her near-future, densely-populated iteration of Japan. As such, she doesn't mind anyone else getting in front of her, which is likely to happen in any case, as she takes off just quickly enough to not be fully left behind, focusing more on controlling her vehicle safely, knowing there's only so much her helmet will protect her from. Did someone mention "healing?" It'd be nice if that applied to her in an emergency, too, but she's not the sort to bank on someone else taking care of things.
    It costs her some more time to get off to the side and drive around that oil spill, and she's lagging well behind the Constable when she's got her vehicle under control well enough to focus her attention forward, not on the road, but above it. From the moment the rules were explained, this is what she expected she'd have to apply her talents to. The aetheric interface constructs itself around her.
    This is the first time she's done this while personally off-world, and thus the first time anyone is likely to have seen it, though her race position makes it uncertain whether anyone will this time, either. Glowing shapes carve through the air like more incandescent holographic displays, tell-tales and read-outs streaming information while a pulse like a sonar ping radiates out from her, fading out of the visible spectrum at a short distance, but still strong enough to capture and send back information that is processed through the arcane (in several senses) transformation matrices in front of her eyes.
    Machinery is easiest to understand, and there's sadly little of that here, since she isn't going to focus on the horses. Living creatures are hard to get a better read off of apart from "there are some there," but in the mid-range of effectiveness in regards to her scanning magic is the detection and analysis of extant magic. If it's just a matter of determining whether one figure or another is "more magical," if August is right, that should be simple enough to light up one side of her display in under half a second.

August Kohler has posed:
August just tsks at the Constable, and normally would blink twice at Kyoko recognizing him, but he's a bit stressed right now - it'll have to be in retrospect. As the Mistral goes roaring, August hangs tight, trusting Will's ability to drive as one that is incredibly dangerous and risky but also effective. It's when the oil starts to spill that August gets an idea on how to get at the Constable...even if it's dangerous to everyone. "Alright, brace. Unless we land ahead of the oil, we're burning up too!" Instead of grabbing his pistol, August brings the mirrored bracelet up to his eyes.

"Light them up, Tin Soldier!"

In a flash of blue energy, the Tin Soldier appears in mid air, right as the Constable makes a turn. The underside of the chariot is where the oil is coming from, meaning that it takes one good shot to send him burning up. A blast of fire explodes from the Tin Soldier's gun, a fireball moving to impact right underneath the Constable's chariot and send his oil spilling backfiring, literally. There's one problem with this, that August has warned of: fire spreads to oil super damn easily, so the entire track behind him is likely going up in flames.

The Tin Soldier disappears after the shot is fired, August not having much use in sustained summoning, as he glances to Ran. "Itoh, if everyone gets set on fire, heal, but for now, focus fire on the knight bastard! Cut the rope only if you get a shot when we figure out which one it is!"

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
Returning the glare to Janine, albeit with a little unease, Rebecca simply says, "I'm going to do the best I can. I'm not a professional at this, but... well, I'll be careful!" Rebecca starts to sweat a little, but then faces forward again as she realizes the race is about to begin.

When the race does begin, all Rebecca can do is hold on for dear life at first. She struggles to try to maintain control and finally does so with some effort. "OK, just stay focused, Rebecca..."

Then she spots the oil. "Oh no!" Rebecca gasps and, in desparation, struggles to steer around it as best as she can. Then she sees August send the flames towards the oil, and with some effort, Rebecca speeds up the chariot. "I'm not going to let them burn us down!"

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    It's enough to make Ran wish she drove a badass motorcycle too. God knows the Lemon would never make it ten feet under these conditions.

    She was expecting the burst of speed, the roar of an engine. What she /wasn't/ expecting was the sheer force of how the Mistral accelerates - it's like a punch in the chest. Ran digs her fingernails into the rim of the sidecar's opening and leans forward, bracing herself.

    Just in time, too, because, "Wait, did you say jump j--" The rest of the question is lost to a strangled half-screech as they take off, soaring over the oil and flames below. ohgodohgodohgodohgod why is this her life now

    She looks over at August as he directs her, wind whipping her long hair behind her like a banner. "Got it - at the very least I'm going to try to slow him down! Tsuki-no-Usagi!" The alien bunnygirl descends from the dark sky like a comet, mallet-first, aiming for the Constable's horses.

Yuna Kagurazaka (385) has posed:
The handkerchief falls - and Yuna accelerates smoothly from a standing start, Powered Form's hover-thrusters lifting her up off the ground and pushing her forward at a steadily increasing speed. She's content to keep pace with Janine, August, and the others at this point, rather than to forge ahead - she could easily outstrip the rest of the group, maybe even outrace the Constable himself, but she's keeping her speed in reserve for one simple reason:

'Whoever gets to each checkpoint first has to cut one of the ropes.'

Because of that rule, Yuna is in no hurry to get there ahead of anyone *except* the Constable himself. If she's the first person to a checkpoint, she'll be obligated to cut one cage loose - and while she has few issues with letting a Shadow plummet, if she were to choose wrong and kill one of Janine's family, never mind whether or not Janine could forgive Yuna; she wouldn't be able to forgive *herself*.

So until they can tell which cage holds the real person and which holds their Shadowy counterpart, Yuna's content to, in effect, play tank for the rest of Die Reisende. Not that she's sure *how* to - if the Constable sends any actual attacks their way, she can maneuver to take the shots herself, but indirect attacks like that oil slick? Even before August lights it up, the best Yuna can do is to pull some extra vertical boost and skim over it. When the oil is lit on fire ... she has to jump higher to clear the flames.

And it's at the peak of her leap that the Matrix Divider forms in Yuna's hands, and she squeezes off a shot at the Constable - or rather, at the raceway ahead of him, to try and blast a divot into the road just ahead of his motorcycle. It probably won't slow him down much ... but if it DOES - if he hits the hole directly - then it'll give Die Reisende that much more of an advantage.

Worst-case scenario, the Constable just weaves around it and maybe somebody else has a bad time of it .... well, no. Actual worst-case scenario is that the Constable disqualifies her, or something, for interference outside the stated 'legal' bounds of the race ... but in Yuna's defense, she's following Agusut's lead.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    The Contable giggles wildly as it deploys oil, looking back in the hopes of seeing a massive pile-up. But one racer seems to be missing?... it looks up, and spot William, August, and the Mistral soaring above. The tongue of flame licks out, impacting the oil and drawing a "No!" from the knight as it ignites. The flames spread across the surface quickly, following the slick to its source. The Constable cuts it off, but the flames have already set the wheels on fire, forcing them to slow down and beat them out. This allows everyone to drive past it!

    Onto the important matter; which one is Felix? Kyoko opens up her magical HUD and begins scanning for the 'more magical' of the two in the cage. Right away, it becomes clear which is which. The one suspended by the /left rope/ is more magical. That makes them the Shadow, and thus, safe to drop.

    Meanwhile, everyone else is just content to try and hamper the Constable. Ran sends her Persona to hammer at the horses, putting a massive dent in one and sending it stumbling. On top of the harsh braking they undertook to extinguish the flames, they also have to fight to keep the injured horse on-track. The pothole Yuna blasts into the ground is plowed through, and based on the nasty creaking sound, something critical on the wheel axel is damaged. "How utterly forward! But it's okay, I still love you all~!" the Constable shouts before whipping the reins.

    They reach the ropes, Janine and Rebecca included. Thanks to her driving, they avoided the worst of the oil and fire and get to the front. Based on Kyoko's advice, Janine slashes her sabre, cutting the left rope, sending a cage plummeting. The occupant is silent through the whole fall... hopefully that's a good sign? "Ooohhh, did you get it right~?" the Constable croons from behind. "Even if you did, don't forget that you might fail at the end!"

    The race continues, their opponent pulling up the rear now. They whip their reins again, and the mouths on their horses open. Inside each one is a Gatling gun. "Let me show you my love~!" it croons, before opening fire! Avoiding it becomes the main chore for this second leg. They seem to be content to hang back and spew bullets for now. As the second set of cages, holding Penelope Liberi and hew Shadow, come into view, something is different. These cages are not wrought metal, but Shadows in and of themselves. That... may throw off any sensory magic a little.

Yuna Kagurazaka (385) has posed:
At the sight of the horses' mouth-mounted Gatlings, Yuna has only one word to start with: "SHUGOSEIHEKI!!" The left exo-arm comes up as she calls out the name of her kite shield, and with a flare of light, the Wall of the Guardian Star materializes on that raised manipulator.

With a quick advisory to her allies, Yuna slews around to interpose herself - and more importantly, her shield - between her friends and the Constable's horses. Depending on distances and angles, there's a really good chance she can't block all of the bullets; some may get past before she can interpose herself, or the horses may be positioned so that she physically *can't* block more than one of them, with her shield or even with her battlesuit, large as it is.

And of course, there's the eternal disadvantage that even if every bullet Yuna catches is on her kite shield, that's *still* going to chip away at her Light Suit's defensive reserves - and with that many bullets coming at her, it's going to be a lot of chipping in a fairly short time.

She tries to take the hits anyway, despite that, even knowing it's going to hurt and may leave her vulnerable - because nobody in Die Reisende is going to be able to take bullet wounds nearly as well as Yuna can in her battlesuit.

Kyoko Takada (1132) has posed:
    An oil spill is bad enough on its own for someone without great off-road experience, but lighting it on fire? "Um," you won't catch on fire if you move through it fast enough, right? Kyoko's sure she's heard that before, not that she made a hobby of waving fingers over candles. "Uh..." Does that still apply to burning oil, or to flames that big? "Ahhh!"
    She'll just have to hope so. At least she'd already maneuvered around to the edge of the spill.
    Moments later, and Kyoko chances raising her visor back up, looking down and thanking the abstract concept of goodness that any sparks caught on her were extinguished by her speed. On the other hand, she's now going pretty fast, and barely keeps control as she leans into the next turn, tires kicking dirt. She comes out of it fine, but shaken. This isn't exactly like her day job.
    Oh, but she still manages to pass the Constable. Lucky! Or... dangerous! Now she's ahead of the only one here motivated to attack her. Maybe if, a second time... but there's no such luck, clearly, as the gatlings open up.
    There aren't any good choices. Even a stray bullet could effectively take her or her vehicle out of the race. Fortunately, Yuna interposes, and Kyoko immediately focuses on getting to the other wise of that shield of hers. The OL is a bit more frazzled than before, but there's still a job to do. Harder, maybe, but everything becomes easier with experience. This time, she focuses her magic on the right cage, which happens to be closer, and its occupant. Instead of doing a comparison between two figures, she's doing a more directed analysis and contrast against the data from her prior scan, still there on her HUD, the bits of information continuing to exist as a complex aetheric construct even as it slowly does an auto-backup through her phone. If it were possessing a human body, this would be pretty hard for her, but it doesn't look like that's the general case.

William Pauwel has posed:
Will doesn't land in the fire. What kind of sci-fi cowboy do you take him for? The kind that dies in fire!? Well, he might, if he ever threw himself into some, but that day is not today.

The Mistral touches down with a final burst of smoke and flame well ahead of the monstrous charioteer. "Hah! Look't that, you bastard! You might have actual iron horses, but there ain't an iron horse faster than the Mistr- those are gatling guns."

Those sure are gatling guns.

"Shoot! August, Ran, heads down!" Bullets scream past. Will cusses softly under his breath, a sound so quiet that it's all but certainly lost in the roar of gunfire. He weaves the Mistral left and right, accelerating and decelerating erratically to shake off the assault and convey August and Ran further ahead.

And then Yuna goes to take one for the team.

Suddenly free of a neverending stream of bullets, Will wastes no time. He snatches his handcannon from its holster. Judgment ignites, its light filtering out into the crystalline tree trunks. Will checks ahead until he reaches a straightaway, grabs a tight hold of the handlebars, and then... Turns and aims over his shoulder.

A little targeting reticle lights up /just/ as Yuna slides out of the way of his shot.

Will pulls the trigger. A bolt of screaming hot plasma surges back towards one of the Constable's gatling cannons.

Melting the barrel would be one thing, but Will's aiming for something else.

Cooking off an entire gatling gun's supply of ammunition would probably play merry hell with whatever it's bolted to, after all.

August Kohler has posed:
August's fire worked, even if it was dangerous as hell. At Will's call, he's ducking his head down, though a bullet goes errant and hits him in the shoulder, as the gatling guns begin firing. There's loud cursing and a tsk as he grasps onto Will tighter, looking back at the bracelet. "Time for a boost! Tin Soldier!"

The Persona reappears, and lands on the track, shooting its gun at Will once right before he fires. There's a sound of a click, and then a feeling of power washing over the cowboy, before another click and a wash over Ran. The Tin Soldier moves to glance at the checkpoint behind for a brief second to see if the person still in the cage isn't suddenly dead, and then disappears again, because August is drawing his pistol with one steady hand...

And taking potshots at the Constable's chariot. "Die, you bastard!"

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    "YOUR LOVE IS CREEPY AND SO ARE YOU!" Ran yells over her shoulder, and then has to duck down when bullets come uncomfortably close to the motorcycle. She thinks she hears the sound of a bullet hitting someone - she never expected to to learn, once upon a time - and peeks up far enough to see August's bleeding shoulder. "Shi--"

    She calls on the Rabbit again, the Persona floating in place next to the motorcycle just like the Tin Soldier. Power washes over her, and the Rabbit responds in kind, gently pouring a fistful of dark motes onto the blood on August's shoulder. "Everybody else, speak up if you get hurt!"

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
Gatling guns?

Now they're in big trouble.

Rebecca ducks underneath the chariot and fishes out her Beretta (she's crouched down, she can't draw it very easily!) She disables the safety then pops out to open fire upon the enemy. "You shoot at us? I shoot at you!" Rebecca says sarcastically.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    The spray of bullets hammers against Yuna's shield. "Hey! Don't bogart my love, it's for everyone!" the Constable shouts at the idol. They begin to weave about the track, guns bellowing to try and slip some shots past her. Honestly, it just makes a lot of it go wide, which kind of lightens her burden a little. The Constable may be fast, but they're not much of a combatant. And yet, each bullet that slams against Yuna's shield is a heavy one, and they just keep coming! Her defence matrix is likely running low once the next checkpoint is in sight.

    But lucily, Will slips a shot past her, blasting one of the horses in the mouth. The power of the Solano, along with August's buff reduces the Gatling gun to slag, and the bullets that were being loaded into it all pop and explode, ripping it apart from within. The Constable cries out, before producing their tire iron lance and severing the machine from the chariot. They only have one now, and that has impacted their speed severely!

    Kyoko adjusts her analysis to cope with the new problem. By contrasting the two children in the cages with the Shadows at the prior checkpoint, she achieves a more detailed analysis that bypasses the interference generated by the Shadow-cages. Once again, the Shadow is in the cage suspended by the /left rope/.

    Based on this analysis, Janine cuts the left rope again. "Keep it up!" she shouts, both to Rebecca and Kyoko. Her tone is still on-edge, but it's infused with hope now. Hope that the Constable seems eager to quash. "Not so fast, my little chickadees!" it shouts, before August and Rebecca's bullets bullet slam into its helmet. The visor breaks open, revealing a single, swirling eye that fixates on him. "No... DON'T LOOK AT ME!" it screams, before leaping from the chariot and mounting the remaining horse. That lance swings, smashing the axel entirely before the horse breaks into a gallop, rapidly closing the gap!

    Hanging in back like Kyoko is seems a bad idea now, because the Constable is barrelling down on them, swiping with that thing. Unhindered by the chariot, the horse is capable of incredible speeds, easily akin to the Mistral, and much faster that Janine and Rebecca's chariot. The final checkpoint comes into sight, bearing Bella Liberi... oh dear. These cages are also Shadows, and there are several dummy ropes that makes identifying the real ones difficult!

Kyoko Takada (1132) has posed:
    If Kyoko could get BEHIND the monstrous whatever-the-hell-that-is coming her way in an apparently murderous rush for first place, she'd do that. She'd definitely take oil spills over this. Maybe even flaming oil slicks, though not by much. She's an office worker, how did she end up here? She's never following weird schoolkids into dark forests again. She might even be the only person here NOT carrying a gun.
    A steady stream of relatively unimaginative cursing under her breath accompanies the disappearance of her glowing HUD as she focuses on the road, speeding up and trying to stay out of reach of that lance, but it's no good. Maybe she should have just dealt with the extra paperwork and gotten a bike with two or four times the engine, but that's one of those useless retrospectives one voices after the specific trouble has already past. It's "being here" that is proving to likely have been a mistake, even if she did, by probability expectation, save 1.00 humans over the past few minutes. She's not selfless enough to take great consolation in the fact, especially given that the finish line has a 50/50 chance of killing them.
    The lance comes from her. Goodbye, cruel world...
    Kyoko hits a bump in the track at high speed, her bike flipping her over and throwing her forward, then getting knocked to the side by the Constable's swing. Goddammit, that thing was still expensive!
    Momentum carries her further forward, presently glad that she always obeys helmet laws.

William Pauwel has posed:
Two down, one more to go, and then the final stretch to the finish line. Will feels his heartbeat hammer out a desperate rhythm against the hollow of his chest. He feels it surging against his eardrums. Just a little more...!

"Ahahahahaha! That's the way it goes!" Will cheers when he hears the telltale sound of something going /boom/ behind him. He grins and slings his handcannon back into its holster to focus his attention back on the more pertinent task of driving really damn fast.

Which is about when the mad charioteer transforms into a mad horseman.

"What--" Will glances back, then snaps his head forward again. "Dangit. You two slow him up as best you can! If he passes us, I'm not sure we can beat him to the finish!"

Not unless Will does something /really/ reckless, anyway...!

But for now, he focuses on the race.

...And dearly hopes that someone can tell which cage to shoot down.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    Is that a-- Ran yelps, wincing as she realizes just /what/ the Constable actually looks like. "Gross!" She calls out her Persona again, clutching her bunny pendant in a white-knuckled fist. "Get rid of it, Tsuki-no-Usagi!"

    Ran calls on the Rabbit, and the Rabbit calls down spear after spear of light onto the Constable and his last horse. It's hard to aim when the whole kit and caboodle is barreling down on the last cage and the finish line. Ran, meanwhile, turns to look forward again - they're so close to the end, but all those ropes... Someone who can fly might be their last, best hope. She calls out to Yuna over the radio with a last-ditch hope, and starts to ask 'Hibiki' if she knows which is the real Bella--

    And there's a spill, and a wreck. "Shit. Shit shit shit shit." Ran at least has the grace to say it softly. Summoning over and over in such a short time is taxing, but she's got to hold it together. They can't screw this up!

    They're going to get Janine's family back. They're going to fix it this time.

    Ran /promised/.

    Kyoko will get a ground's-eye-view of a masked, alien rabbit creature leaning over her quizzically, as if to check her for injuries.

Kyoko Takada (1132) has posed:
    Kyoko lands, in the sense that she reaches the ground. It is not very comfortable. In fact, she is reasonably certain that she's broken several things. The pain is tremendous. There's a rabbit creature looking at her. Does the rabbit creature have painkillers? "It hurts..." That means 'Give me the drugs,' rabbit creature.
    Oh, the finish line is in sight. Using magic while in this much pain is kind of difficult, but at least her head is alright, and she landed facing the right way, so she doesn't have to move. The HUD gets pulled back up instantly, oriented against her helmet as a fixed point in space, and that sonar ping is sent out again, this one quite spread out to encompass all the supposed dummy ropes. 50/50? Looks like the Constable wasn't even going to give them that much chance.
    She's not conscious enough to finesse the data like she usually would. She can only force it through her phone's aetherport, and from there, back home. Not too much data, there's no time. Just a brief, wide-area scan. But even from that, you can get a lot of work done, when you've already gotten four training examples for your AI to crunch over, and you're beaming the data to a massive parallel computing cluster you left back home and ready for any odd job you ran into in the field. Even the smallest patterns will become stark contrasts when you go over everything with a fine-toothed comb.
    Whatever the answer is, Kyoko croaks it over the radio.

Yuna Kagurazaka (385) has posed:
Well, that changes the dynamics of the race, thinks Yuna as the Constable goes from chariot to direct horseback pursuit. She can't really tank any more than she already is, and Ran is asking her to take the lead - to try and be ready to save the cage if it falls.

The only problem is that Yuna in her Powered Form may be strong enough to catch a falling cage ... but her hover-thrusters *aren't*, not for sustained flight. The best-case scenario would be a thruster-boosted leap to safety, and out of the race entirely.

But there really isn't much else Yuna can think of to do, so she goes ahead and takes the lead - while signalling Elner as she does so. If they have to completely break the rules to save lives ... well, it won't be Yuna's first time putting the saving of lives above other concerns. Just ask August.

If Elner and Erina can't make it in time, then at least Yuna can do her best where she is. So she picks up speed - and with Kyoko reporting which cage is correct, Yuna breathes a little easier.

August Kohler has posed:
August's wound begins to close, the gentle comfort of night and darkness overcoming him. He nods his thanks to Ran, before saying one thing. "Hey, I'm being reckless. Here's my apology in advance." Because as the Constable leaps on the horse angrily, August glares straight at that eye, before bringing up the bracelet for a third and final time.

"Get fucked...TIN SOLDIER!" The Tin Soldier appears one last time on the road...and then leaps upwards, moving to land straight on top of the Constable, fist first. Strength backs it, as it moves to start wrestling the Shadow, tanking the damage it deals as well as trying to distract and harm him. August just tries and keeps him arm as tightly around Will as possible so the impending sudden shock from damage doesn't send him hurtling to his death.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
The moment that Rebecca hits, she smiles a little, but then notices that Kyoko's been knocked down. She scowls a little, knowing she's a medic but she can't do anything. "No, stay focused, Rebecca!" She looks forward again, and does a double-take at the sight of the swirling eye. Don't look at it is right!

Rebecca lowers her eyes but keeps her gaze forwards. "Just a little more, we can do this!" Rebecca mutters as she steadies the chariot.

At the same time, she fires upon the enemy once again. She tries two shots this time, but her aim is a little unsteady.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    The Constble ploughs past Kyoko on its mad ride towards the front. "Not this time!" it screams, now catching up to Janine and Rebecca. That is, until the Tin Soldier throws itself at it, wrestling and pounding on it. "Oh~! You're finally returning my love!" it cries savagely, before adjusting its grip on its lance. Holding it closer to the tip so it can use it to stab the Solider in the side, over and over!

    This slows it just enough that Janine and Rebecca get to the ropes first. Janine aims and thrusts! But... at this speed, coupled with the curve of a sabre, stabs are not entirely precise. She cuts the rope she intended, but also slices one adjacent, weakening it enough to snap. "NO!" she screams, watching as both cages plummet, watching the ropes intently. The correct one, the centre-right one... is attached to the leftmost cage. "Yuna, save her!" she yells.

    They're in the last leg now, the Constable catching up in spite of blows and bullets. But they reach the summit, a wide, mostly flat area. There in the middle is the 'finish line.' Two ropes, extending off to the side of the hill. One makes all cages fall, the other gives Die Reisende a valuable clue. There's no Kyoko to analyze, and no hints. It's a pure 50/50 shot. And the Constable is coming up behind, cackling with glee. "Which one? WHICH ONE?! Only I know!" it shouts.

Yuna Kagurazaka (385) has posed:
Technically, the rules don't cover a situation where *both* cages fall - but more importantly, Janine's mother is going to die if somebody doesn't do something. And Yuna's the only one who can do that 'something'.

So Yuna deliberately veers left and off the edge of the 'road,' cutting her lift thrusters long enough to catch up (or catch down?) with the falling cage. As soon as she can grab hold of it - the rope or the cage itself, probably using the manipulator arms rather than her own hands - Yuna brings the thrusters back up to full power, trying to bank towards some kind of safe ground, however far below it may be.

"It's okay, you're going to be all right," Yuna tries to reassure the woman inside the cage. She may not have noticed whether Bella Liberi is actually *conscious* at the moment, but the reassurances are uttered anyway - as much so the woman won't notice the breathtaking drop below them as to simply state the truth. She *won't* let anything happen to Janine's mother.

She just wishes she could still help the rest of the Liberi family - but other hands than hers have to do that now.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    The Rabbit tilts her head the other way, eyes hidden behind a crescent-moon mask but crouches down, long handled mallet at her side, to rest a fingertip on Kyoko's forehead. It feels like a week's worth of 'a good night's sleep', all at once. Warm and dark and comforting, like snuggling up in your favorite blanket. And then she flickers and vanishes, leaving Kyoko in much better shape but alone on the road.

    Ran is calling her back, sweat dripping down her temples as she and the Rabbit both reach out this time - Ran to help steady August through the pain of the Tin Soldier being speared over and over, and Tsuki-no-Usagi to pour out more comforting darkness.

    Up ahead is the summit, and a decision she doesn't feel qualified to make. She ignores it to stare out after Yuna, her other hand gripping the edge of the sidecar. With Bella safe, there's still the ropes. And coming up behind them is the Constable.

    They've got to end it before he can get here. It won't be over until Bella, Felix, and Penelope are out of the Mirror Forest, and Ran can't bring herself to feel bad over the death of a homicidal, creepy eye-guy.

August Kohler has posed:
August (and the Tin Soldier) shudder a bit as the Constable continues his creepy stalker dialogue, but the Shadow is distracted - even as the Tin Soldier is stabbed over and over, August coughing up blood as the Tin Soldier is impaled, one arm moving to clutch their respective sides. Despite this, the Tin Soldier holds on, willing itself through the pain. The others are about to fire on him, and Ran's healing, using up her energy, gives August enough power to have the Tin Soldier do one thing to guarantee this guy gets killed by the incoming blasts.

The Tin Soldier suddenly reaches one arm to grab the reins of the horse, and moves to pull as tightly as it can, trying to buck it, as August shouts, despite being right next to him. "WILL, NOW!" The Tin Soldier is probably eating part of this shot.

August has accepted this.

William Pauwel has posed:
Which one, which one? Two ropes, one leads to the certain death of Janine's entire family. The other might just lead them to finally, FINALLY getting a leg up in this stupid war for the collective souls of all mankind.


Doesn't buy it.

He cusses as a familiar, damp, red splotch begins seeping into his shirt. "August, hey, are you alright? You--"

The Tin Soldier hangs on.

Will's eyes go wide as his handcannon is slung out of its holster. "August, you damn moron!"

He is a damn moron.

A tremendous, goddamn fool.

But it gives him the shot he needs.

Judgment's light burns white, doubling, then tripling, becoming almost blinding as Will takes aim. He pulls the trigger and the result is less a gunshot than a thunderclap. A lance of raw kinetic energy erupts from the barrel- no mere bullet, no crackle of plasma, just raw physical impulse forged into a deadly weapon by the wisdom and the power of the Tellurian Ancients. His aim is steady, one shot to simultaneously break both horse and rider.

Will it be enough?

It needs to be.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Yuna snatches the rope and keeps it from falling. Miss Liberi bounces pretty severely in there, but a bruise is better than a fatal impact. She is, mercifully, unconscious, as were her two younger children. She's also breathing fine, and looks mostly okay. She has some bags under her eyes and looks a little malnourished though.

    Up on the summit, everyone comes to a stop as the Constable arrives. That one visible eye is literally burning with fury now as it tries to push the Tin Soldier off of it. "Get away! I need to show you all how much I love you! I love you all so much! I love your hearts that I'll make stop! I love your necks that I'll make bleed! I love your eyes so much I'll gouge them out and keep them! I love you so so much, that I'll decorate my rides with your bodies! I LOVE YOU!"

    With one mighty shove, it gets the Tin Soldier off of it. Getting it away... but not fast enough to dodge Will's charged shot. It bores through its jacket and armour, erupting out the other side in a brilliant display of light and gore. Its hands slip from the reins as it croaks, "I love you..." one last time before sliding off of it.

    It has dissolved before it even hits the ground. Die Reisende is victorious.

William Pauwel has posed:
Will releases a breath he was only barely aware he was holding. Every marksman knows to hold their breath when trying to make a critical shot. His arm trembles as he slides his weapon back into its holster. Even if that thing was a monster...

...No, no need to think about that now. It was a monster, undeniably. Inhuman.

"Ran," Will says, "You mind making sure August doesn't die? Yuna, I uh. I think it'd be a good idea to get the Liberis down before we play with these ropes. I can stay here and stand guard while we figure things out, then... We can probably fiddle with these at our leisure."

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    She can barely stand to watch. Not because of what's happening to August or the Constable. It's because even as he's dragged down by the Tin Soldier, the Constable is still screaming about how much he loves them. It makes her feel a little sick...

    It's actually a relief, despite whatever internal qualms she may have left about killing the Black Court members, because /that/ -- more than anything else, the raving of LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE and its attendant psychotic impulses -- frightened her more than she'll let on.

    "I'm here, Will. ...Good shot." She just concentrates on pouring more energy into August, extending her senses to track his health as best she's able. Blood pressure is acceptable, the wound's knitting. Coughing up blood isn't great, but as long as he's still conscious... "August, hold still for me, okay," she murmurs to him, just loud enough to carry past the Mistral's engine. "You're gonna get killed one of these days, and then what're we gonna do?" It's rhetorical. Ran knows the August probably has a laundry list of 'things Die Reisende can do when he's dead'. She doesn't want to hear them.

    When the motorcycle pulls to a stop, she scrambles out of the sidecar. "Yuna-san, you did it! Can you bring her over here, please?" She's already unslinging the medical bag from across her shoulder.

Yuna Kagurazaka (385) has posed:
Meanwhile, assuming there's some kind of safe ground far below, Yuna has touched down long enough to get Bella out of her cage, and then head back to rendezvous with the rest of Die Reisende.

Probably at the foot of the mountain, where the race started.

August Kohler has posed:
August is saved from the full force of the blast when the Constable pushes him off. However, he's still hit by the energy, and the Tin Soldier finds itself pretty damn charred, August basically slumped against Will's back. He's conscious, and cognizant, but he doesn't reply to Ran. He just allows her to heal him, as he watches the Constable fade from existence. Another one down. How many left?

Janine Liberi has posed:
    With the Constable dead, everyone can take their time. Checking the ropes reveals that the Constable wasn't lying; one of them loops around the whole mountain, going through every cage setup, set to send them al plummeting if cut. The other is connected to a flare that will be detonated if the rope is cut. It's set in a tree at the base of the mountain, and investigating the foot of it unveils a wrapped package. Inside is a pitch black hunk of stone that radiates all manner of bad voodoo. Something like that can only come from the Black Queen's Court...

    And soon, there's nothing left of interest at the hill. The party leaves to take care of business, leaving it to the ravens that swirl above.