5638/System Tower re:DIVINE

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System Tower re:DIVINE
Date of Scene: 15 January 2018
Location: The System <TS>
Synopsis: A labyrinth is created out of the connection between Artifex and the remains of the Sapphire Drive. But how can this defeat the infected DCC?
Cast of Characters: Lexicon, 1103, Yomi Isayama, 1137, Deelel, Xiaomu


Lexicon has posed:
    Chaos Labyrinthos.

    The entire interior of the System Tower has been re-arranged into an unknown maze of black, metallic walls. Surprisingly, the corridor that the party is deposited into by Asterios' Noble Phantasm is well lit by pulsing blue 'circuit lines' along the walls and floor. One or two are noticeably red, though thin and spaced far apart, leading off into the distant passages amidst the blue ones.

    There's a dull hum, however. Like an idling engine or heavy machinery in the distance. And, after a few moments, the sounds of heavy metallic footsteps begin, much closer. Accompanied by the haunting plucks of notes from a music box.

    The result of the Servant's action is plenty enough to take in. There's a possible approaching threat. A distant, unknown goal. And an immediately pressing issue.

    "So cool-!" Index bunches her hands up under her chin, staring up at Asterios with stars in her eyes, "You did that?! That's super magic, I wanna learn!" Beside her, Codex nods twice, hands tucked up in a similar, eager way. Looks like the two got pulled in during the Phantasm's effect, though they don't seem particularly upset about it.

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    Diamond Soul tenses up. That's a very familiar sound, and it still sends shivers down her spine every time she hears it. "Careful... our large friend has unleashed the residents... that sounds like Patty Cat is on the warpath. Their nature should hold true, do not engaged in combat, any damage will be, largely ineffective. They are made of the same ultradense compacted code as the Tower itself."

    The DCC hovers just above the ground, turning her eyes to look across the walls... "Our best bet is likely to follow the red lines to their source, that will be our primary goal... though someone should see if they can find where Artifex went, unless she is also at the source of the red lines."

Yomi Isayama has posed:
Having never seen Asterios' Noble Phantasm in action, Yomi... was not really prepared for the already-strange local geometry to get even stranger. She shakes her head, trying to get her bearings, and glances around... then peers down at the twins. "Right then. You two..." The exorcist reaches down to lightly tap the girls' noses with her finger, first Index, then Codex. "We'll worry about learning magic later. You both stick close to us, okay?" She pauses and glances back over her shoulder. "And if I remember that sound right, there's an enemy back there we -can't- fight."

Yomi glances over at the DCC and nods. "I think Theurgus is right. Maybe if we follow those red lines, we can get to the source of the infection and put an end to all this."

Asterios (1137) has posed:
    Chaos Labyrinthos.

The minotaur grunts as the walls of the maze coalesce around he and the rest of the party. As they're all shuffled in around him by the shifting walls of this strange, reality-altering magic, they can clearly see that he's apparently busy studying the strange circuit-lines criscrossing the walls. He seems to be tracing the red ones in particular, but...

Then...!

"Aa?" Asterios blinks at two little doppelgangers of a certain very angry, very worried DDC. The minotaur frowns, rubbing his chin. "Might... Be hard? Don't know how to teach. Labyrinth is. Part of me?" Beat. "Not important now. More important!" He... picks them up by their scruffs! "You two! Very bad. Come into dangerous place. Make sister worried. Hmn. Here."

He... places them into his fluffy, fluffy mane.

"You two. Stay there. Will protect, okay? Keep heads. Down."

He nods, then. "Aa. Red lines, probably go to red core. We go that way, then we beat up virus, then we leave maze. Good plan, yes?"

Deelel has posed:
Deelel has her Keyblade out and has charged after Asterios without too much thought. There was not much time to process on things the time had come to act and thus it was Run Time, now. She seemed ready to go and the plusing blue glow of the circuit lines. She nods to Theurgus.

"I agree we should get to Rectfying things as soon as we are able."

She'll start looking for signs of the red lines to follow.

"It's simple but it's clearly laid out."

With that she'll head off the moment she gets a lead on the red lines.

Xiaomu has posed:
Xiaomu reloads her handguns, frowning as she hears the music box and the footsteps. Yeah, she remembers those. She's NOT looking terribly pleased - particularly since, in a way, this means she was right about a mini-game rush. Except it's potentially all of them at once, not even cleanly separated or otherwise divided. "Assuming," she replies to Yomi, "it doesn't somehow contrive to put an end to us first."

She racks the slides on Silver and Platinum in turn, making sure rounds are chambered, before she holsters them inside her vest. "Index, Codex, stay up there where you're safe and help keep watch for anything approaching us. Eyes in *all* directions, blind spots could get us killed. If it looks like a featureless flat surface that nothing could get through, keep sharp watch on it anyway; anything might be a useful clue about how to get through this faster."

She grasps her staff. Following the red lines doesn't seem like a great idea to her, but it's not like she has any better suggestions about which way to go.

Lexicon has posed:
    Index, then Codex both blink when their noses are tapped, then blink up at Yomi. After a moment, Index scuffs a foot, while Codex nods, "Okay." "Maybe later." And then-- scolding bull man. With squeaks, both twins are easily lifted-- Yomi could probably do this, it's no challenge at all for Asterios. They kind of wither when scolded, though recover quickly when placed on his shoulders amidst that soft mane. Well, that's taken care of.

    Past this initial chamber, the blue lines, and their rarer red cousins, follow the walls and ceiling. Even when the corridor begins branching out into the maze proper, forking off in odd directions. The lighting grows more dim, not at all aided by the black walls in an effort to cast a gloomy atmosphere inside the labyrinth.

    At a four-way intersection, each pathway looks about the same, leading off and then turning several meters away. One key difference is those two nondescript red lines, hidden amidst the more numerous blue, turn sharply and disappear down the right-hand corridor. And are joined by a third. One might treat the red lines-- corrupted, or infected data-- as a thread already laid throughout the labyrinth.

    A labyrinth occupied by monsters that, as Theurgus warns, are not terribly dissimilar from the Minotaur. Relentless, durable, and ever-present. The metal footsteps pause, though the music box keeps playing, coming quite clearly from the left-hand corridor. After a moment, the steps resume, and a dark shape rounds the corner on that side, its only visible feature two glowing white eyes.

    "Bad thing!" Index calls out, pointing, "There!" At least she's taking to 'lookout' well.

Asterios (1137) has posed:
Tiny computer girls will be perfectly safe in the minotaur's amazingly soft mane. Provided they don't, like, accidentally pass out or something because of the irresistable fluffiness of their immediate surroundings.

It's more of a danger than you'd think.

"Hrmn," Asterios murmurs as they come to the four-way intersection. How devious. This is the worst possible kind of intersection; it's devilishly easy to get yourself lost in a place like this, even moreso when you can't tell for sure which way you came out of a moment ago. Fortunately, they have a trail to follow.

The minotaur feels a distinct sense of deja vu as he traces the crimson lines along the wall. This feels almost like a reversal of the incident with Theseus. Ariadne, are you watching from somewhere...?

But then, the sound of... something stomping from behind. A familiar noise. Clank. Clank. Clank. "Hmn," Asterios murmurs, glancing over his shoulder, down at the crimson eyes approaching slowly down the left-hand corridor. So this is how it feels? Interesting.

One problem.

Asterios' eyes narrow slightly, his own crimson eyes meeting those lurking in the darkness. It steps forward. Clank. Not yet. Clank. Not yet. Closer. Closer. The predator stalks closer. Closer. Closer. Soon it'll be too late to run away. Clank--

*Chunk*

*Chank*

*Gatchan~!*

Suddenly, the floor would open up underneath the approaching machine in the darkness. A... trap door!? Where did that come from!?!?

"Come on," Asterios says, turning back down the red-lined path. "Don't. Worry. All labyrinths have... Traps. I know them. So. No problem."

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    Diamond Soul leads the way, floating along with her staff at the ready. They can't be destroyed, but they can be slowed down. The marble at the head of the staff glows an eerie blue, a different blue to the uncorrupted energy lines in the walls. As the light dims, the DCC amps up the light emitted by her armour and weapon, becoming a beacon of light in the darkness.

    At the intersection, mismatched eyes traces from one side to the other, locking onto the red lines down the right path. Then she hears it, the implacable clanking of one of the damndable machines approaching. She lifts her staff, frost beginning to billow from it, chilling the air... but Asterios has it well in hand... or trap at least. "Come, quickly." she says after the trapdoor opens, turning to move down towards the red lines, her staff held in front of her to light the way in that eerie will'o'the'wisp glow.

Yomi Isayama has posed:
Don't worry, Yomi won't be too hard on the twins. She's sure Lexicon will lecture them enough once they're back home. "At least we have something to follow, with those red lines..." She glances back when Index calls out and nods toward the fluff-bound girls. "Good eye. Let's keep going... maybe a bit more of a run than a walk to get some lead on those things..."

And then something is closer. And closer. And.... no longer closer. Blinking, Yomi peers down at the trapdoor. "Well... that's convenient. Since you know the traps, Asterios, maybe you should lead the way." She gets her sword ready, in any case, hand grasped around the hilt. "Let's just keep an eye open for things we might have to actually fight..."

Deelel has posed:
The party moves on and she'll see the red lines she keeps follpowing them as they move ahead but soon they will try to keep with the relines, and there are indeed monsters here. She keeps alert and feels pangs of memory from the last time she snuck about an base of soldiers loyal to Tessler and Clu. She takes a deep rbeath, not that she needs to but more out of force of habit.

"Understood."

She notes to Asterios and she follows trying to keep moving and will trust the big guy knows his traps here, she does watch out for more advanced things though as she goes who knows what could be lurking in here as they tail the redlines.

Xiaomu has posed:
Xiaomu was just getting ready to chuck a grenade when the trap door snaps open underneath the approaching animatronic abomination. And when the door DOES open and the animatronic plummets out of view, the sage fox just kinda stands there for a moment, one hand in her vest.

"Glad you're with us," she remarks to Asterios, relaxing a little and following him along the path marked in red. "And good spotting, Index, keep up the good work." She might be planning to give her a cookie later. (Additional good spotting will not necessarily equate to additional cookies.)

Lexicon has posed:
    As the figure approaches, the lighting exposes the tall, cat-eared form of Patty Cat, raising her hands as she approaches-- and then drops suddenly. The arms slam heavily against the floor, then slide back until the machine can only cling to the edge of the trap door's precipace. It remains still, hanging like that for several moments, before it starts hauling itself up with the whine of servo-motors.

    The going is slow however. This will keep her occupied for a while. Advance is safe.

    After the corridor marked with red bends, it opens out into a large room, its floor and walls divided into equal squares by the blue pattern. Slumped against the wall is what can only be described as a (small) super robot, sparking and smoldering through gaps in its black armor, its sword discarded, flames dancing from the ports on either side of its chest. Super Viral Robot Galakryzer is in no condition to fight.

    A small fighter jet, its engines trailing a stream of blue exhaust, ducks out through the entrance on the far side, performing a roll as it does so. At what appears to be a T-style intersection, the Vip Vicar banks to the left, then commits to a right turn, vanishing from sight.

    From the edges of the room, more red data lines join the stream leading deeper into the labyrinth. At the T on the far end, though, the red leads left-- the opposite direction that the helpful program has gone.

    "What do you think?" a disembodied voice asks, soft and distant, but earnest, "It's nice, right?"

    "Why are you asking me?" a second responds, echoing through the very framework of the Labyrinth.

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    Theurgus comes around the corner, and comes up short with a look at the Super Viral Robot Galakryzer. She floats closer, assessing the damage. How was he brought down? She does spot the Vip Vicar banking off and away, maybe he did it. She gestures towards the way Captain Peregrine went, then comes up short as the voices echo through the labyrinth, two of them, having a discussion.

    Diamond Soul's brow knits together, who could the other one talking to Artifex be...? "Are they watching us, or... speaking in the abstract." she ponders, cupping her chin in thought.

Yomi Isayama has posed:
The giant robot and small ship aren't as familiar to Yomi, but since Theurgus doesn't seem to treat them as a threat, she'll trust the DCC's judgement. "Looks like our red lines go to the left.. But what was with that flying thing?"

The exorcist tilts her head slightly as she hears the voices. "I'm not sure, but Artifex doesn't sound as angry as she did before. Maybe it's a memory, since we're inside her drive?" There's still the decision on which fork to take, though, and Yomi approaches the T-intersection and leans in the direction of the red lines. "I wish I could tell which direction those voices were coming from."

Xiaomu has posed:
Xiaomu purses her lips. If Captain Peregrine was following the same trail of red THIS far but banked the other way THERE ... "Follow to the right for now. If we head left we might be blundering right into a trap," she advises. "Artifex *knows* she's got enemies in here and she probably doesn't want to be caught with her pants down."

Besides, if it turns out to be the wrong way, it's not going to be all that hard to retrace their steps and take the other path .... hopefully.

Deelel has posed:
Deelel will make use of the distraction, and keep moving and they seem to be on the right path as more and more of the infection makes itself visible. There's also a feeling of fear at herself being infected. She keeps moving and the two local things are a concern but it seems that it's not focused on her the Vip Vicar? Interesting name for now she goes to seek out the core and keeps moving.

"Or we're inside her, in a way."

She votes over the com to keep going after the redline she'll have to have faith in the Vip's pilot to carry the day on their own. They have no time to delay and they she keeps moving.

Asterios (1137) has posed:
Well.

This does seem to be quite a quandry, doesn't it? On the one hand, that helpful little fighter is... Going off into a totally unknown direction. On the other hand, the red lines lead off into the opposite corridor. Asterios chuffs curiously at the quandry presented to them.

Well.

Theseus did not escape by /deviating/ from Ariadne's thread, did he?

"Going to keep going. This way." Asterios grunts, moving down the crimson-lined corridor. "Need to keep focused. Find infection. Destroy."

Lexicon has posed:
    "Oi!" Another bend in the red-lined corridor brings the group to a large room. Fires burn here and there on the code-cast Tower floor, and in the center is what can only be described as a turret-mounted catapult. A pudgy blue lizard scurries away from it, then rolls a blue sphere back to it. On top, a green lizard waves, even as he takes aim up towards the ceiling.

    Which is currently occupied by an enormous two-headed dragon that possibly might be literally made out of fire. It's stuck behind a lattice of blue spheres, however, stuck together, and a fresh one is added to it.

    "You're back, Diamond?" Borb calls out, even as he's fetching another blue projectile, "Things got interestin' just now!"

    "Don't worry about this guy," Orb thumbs-ups from his seat, "It's fire, so we're keeping it tied up with ice!" That same hand is used to shield his face when a fireball drops down nearby, and he shoots a look over his shoulder, "C'mon, just a few more!"

    "Comin' up!" Borb shoves a fresh sphere in, pausing to wipe his lizardy face while glancing back, "Made some new friends? Big fella, swordy lady, couple'a kids? Who's the new program?" "BORB-!" "--Whoops! Ain't breaktime yet!" He scurries, collecting a fresh blue sphere and rolling it back, "But yeah! If you're looking for something, go straight! The red stuff disappears for a bit but it'll come outta the conduit up ahead!"

    Blocked by fire from the Sun Dragon above, the far room's entrance leads into a corridor with multiple forking paths...and no red lines to follow.

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    Diamond Soul nods to Asterios. "We must remember that the good Captain /is/ still part of the Tower, he could be being manipulated by Artifex or the Virus to lead us astray. We keep to the path laid before us, and face whatever comes together." she says, looking back to Xiaomu. "Though I do feel much the same way as you. However, expecting a trap makes the trap less effective."

    Diamond Soul's eyes light up when she rounds the corner and spots Orb and Borb. "Indeed. It is good to see you again. I would offer to aid you, but time presses." she does use a bit of magic to form a new sphere for the pair before passing, then lashes out at the flame blocking the path onward. "You heard them, straight onward." She blasts ice across the flames, a jet of supercooled ice crystals to douse the burning rage.

Asterios (1137) has posed:
Asterios stares at Theurgus for a long moment.

He shrugs. Okay, sure. Whatever.

"You guys," the minotaur says to the two turret operators, "Will be okay. Yes? Mmn. One moment. Asterios help." He glances around for a moment, looking for... something he can wrap his hands around. It just so happens to be a boulder-sized lump of burnt-out coal. With a quiet grunt, he tears loose a scrap of crimson fabric from his voluminous loincloth and forms a makeshift sling.

...With which he uses to hurl that bolt of stone /right at the dragon's head./

"Okay," Asterios nods, then, and goes after the others. "Straight ahead. Yes? Let's go!" GO ASTERIOS! STRAIGHT AHEAD!!

Yomi Isayama has posed:
The lizard things are cute and seem to be friendly, so Yomi just gives them a smile. She'd never met them before, but they seem quite occupied, so she doesn't want to interrupt them. The fact that the red line vanishes in this area is a bit disturbing, but if it reappears beyond the door... well, they can always turn back if it doesn't.

As Theurgus readies her magic, the exorcist slowly draws her katana from its sheath. A moment later, the air next to her flickers, and a nue fades into existance, its snake tails writhing a bit behind it. "Everyone stay clear for a moment. Ranguren! Houkouha!" The great beast opens its mouth and a ball of energy collects in front of it... then fires off, creating a shockwave in its wake that explodes out as it strikes the ice-crystalized flames.

Giving the beast a fond smile, Yomi sheathes her sword again, and the nue once more fades out of existance. "Well then. Teamwork can overcome even a giant flame dragon, huh?"

Deelel has posed:
More allies? She starts to suspect something about their nature, she does not vioice this for the moment she will listen to the advice they offered. 5R
"Thank you."

she notes to them. They offer a way to go she will trust them and she takes off running she does debat something for a moment, she pulls a baton off her hip holds out out while banishing her keyblade, a second later wireframes form about her, she hunches ove and she's on a light cycle, she'll take off like a shot heading on before the rest of the group.

"Xiaomu hit it!"

Calling out as she goes for she knows her friend does indeed have a light cycle of her own. She can go on ahead and bring some extra fire power to bear on whatever might be laying in wait for them.

Xiaomu has posed:
What, she's the only one to follow Vip Vicar? Xiaomu glances in the direction she was about to head, then retraces her steps to catch up with the others ...

.... and a two-headed dragon being blockaded by a couple of orb-slingers.

The sage fox's face briefly reflects a massively concentrated quantity of 'wat' - but she follows along, laying her own ice-elemental magic to reinforce the barricade further, trying to thread it inside of the established lattice. She doesn't have QUITE enough ice magic to do anything about the fiery breath weapon itself, but every little bit should help. Meanwhile, Deelel is busting out her lightcycle -

The sage fox *GRINS* and pulls her own baton out, pulling the halves apart and hunkering over the lightcycle as it takes shape underneath her. And then, with a gleeful yell of, "HIGH SPEED XIAOMU!!!" she takes off alongside Deelel, ears and hairtails flapping in the headwind, rings jingling merrily from the head of her staff where it's slung across her back.

Lexicon has posed:
    Between Theurgus' magic and Yomi's command of Ranguran, the dragonfire is frozen and then quenched, allowing access to the next corridor. Asterios hurls a lump of debris at the dragon, scoring a direct hit on one of its heads-- it snaps back, then slumps forward, crashing against the barrier of Ice-aspected orbs while the other head lets out a rumbling roar.

    "Nice shot!" Orb calls from the turret, "That's a big help!"

    Deelel shoots down the corridor, once it's cleared, and as the lizards stated, the glowing Resource lines disappear into wall conduits just a few paces in. The sudden lack of light highlights a faint purple glow at the end of the straightaway, and rounding that bend results in a transition.

    The black walls suddenly are replaced with blue walls formed out of numerous square panels, separated by brighter blue lines to create a grid pattern. In places, the blue lines are instead red, and several square panels in the gridwork of the walls and floor are also red. It's also a dead end.

    At least until a figure bursts through the wall, leaving behind a perfect outline of a flexing silhouette. He has the physique of a bodybuilder, and the head of... a Poochooze. Teardrop-shaped, ears, snout, and the tail acts as a ponytail. It's simultaneously familiar and absurd.

    Wordlessly, Poochooze Man flexes both hands down, then extends one arm out and leans back in an Archer-like pose. The universal Muscle Language. He then dashes off, right between the Light Cycles and off into the labyrinth itself. The wall he'd crashed through crumbles, revealing a long, straight corridor that steadily grows more and more red as it goes on.

    "Wow, so you're the Drive Core Controller?" the disembodied voice is undoubtedly Graphice, though the bookfairy is nowhere to be seen, her voice echoing through the maze's framework, "You're kind of an old-school program, ain'tcha?"

    "Art doesn't care how old you are," Artifex's voice resounds proudly.

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    Theurgus follows after the light cycles, then blinks a bit as she's passed by Poochooze Man. Shr rounds the corner, just in time to see the wall crumble and lead into an obvious path to some major corruption zone.

    Then the voices return, and the context provided now triggers something in her mind. "Memory fragments... we're hearing audio logs from before the Drive crashed."

    The revelation only pushes the DCC onward, floating past the threshold and continuing along the open pathway. "It's almost like... the Residents are trying to help us within the confines of their 'role' here... The Vip Vicar likely took out the Galakryzer, clearing the way through... Orb and Borb were taking care of another possible 'Boss Room'... and now Poochooze Man showed them the way through. "They want to live just as much as anyone else... they want their lives back."

Yomi Isayama has posed:
"A dead end?" Well, not for long anyway. Yomi's got her hand on her sword as the wall crashes open, but she relaxes once she sees the cause. "....this guy. Well, he was harmless, at least... if annoying." One hand comes to rest on her hip as she looks at the flex-shaped hole. "I think you're right, Theurgus. Parts of this place are fighting back the infection. They want us to help."

Giving a shrug and an amused smile, the exorcist makes her way toward the hole. No, she will not flex her way through it. There's no need anyway, given how huge the muscled poochooze man is. "Is that what we're hearing? Artifex before the infection?" It makes sense, and knowing that makes Yomi all the more determined to try to help free her. "Right, let's keep going."

Asterios (1137) has posed:
    Should they have... Not gone down this way? Asterios frowns as the blue walls, the red walls. No, this seems like the right way. The corruption is thick here. The crimson panels are as much an indication of that as anything. The minotaur hefts his axes as if to try and bust through /this/ barrier too, and then...

Something... else... breaks through...!

THE POOCHOOZE MAN!!

And he is...

Muscley!?

Asterios stares as the poochooze flexes. He stares at the rippling, glistening, robin's egg blue physique. He stares. He stares. He... stares...

Something awakens within the minotaur.

He may not speak english very well, but this... This...! The universal Muscle Language, somehow, he knows it...! The minotaur raises his arms, bending at the middle in such a way that his abdomen ripples and tenses. His biceps, his pecs, everything tightens and hardens in what can only be described as a greeting between brothers.

                              MUSCLE BROTHERS                              

But all meetings are fleeting. The Poochooze Man departs on his own journey, and Asterios knows what he must do. They must go on. The red is beginning to overtake the blue. They are getting close...!

Deelel has posed:
Deelel is soon joined by Xiaomu and they burn on ahead as she calls to her.

"Let's see how your game is Xiaomu!"

With that the two are moving ahead and she'll soon see the Lizards were right about the way they had to go. There was a good deal of red and she could follow it again she pauses for a moment as she sees the figure ahead she recalls this one to a t least having head about it and now she's got the thing ahead of them.

Wait is he moving to help? He is moving to help she wonders now are the Viri echos of all the actual natives of the drive that was compressed? She's not sure but she does move to follow.

"The big guy just cut us a path lets move!"

Lexicon has posed:
    There are no further obstacles. No side-paths. No distractions. A straight corridor of blue panels, increasingly deposed by that corrupted crimson.

    "We're enemies, you know," Artifex's voice echoes once more.

    "Look, we're the only two in the System who even stand a chance," the unknown voice responds.

    "Okay," Artifex again, after a thoughtful noise.

    As the red takes over, the pathway opens up into a large room, forming a circular shape out of straight lines-- really a multi-sided polygon in that respect, with an equally polygonal hole in the center. Motes of crimson float through the air, like embers off a fire. Suspended from the ceiling, a huge red sphere, which lowers down when the two Light Cycles break into the room.

    "We're enemies, you know," the unknown voice speaks, "Why do I keep catching you here?" One of the wall panels flickers, showing a cracked image of a brown-haired woman in white, her face stern, a hand on her hip. Looking every bit like an older Lexicon. A pair of hands, unmistakably clad in the bracers worn by Artifex before she transformed, raise and wave defensively.

    "I just needed..to research something for an art piece!" Artifex's voice shouts. Immediately, softer and with more reverb, her voice speaks again as those hands lower, "...I just wanted to understand you a little better."

    There's a figure at the edge of the pit, small like a child, raising their hands to the sphere as it descends. However, when the Lightcycles arrive, the figure whirls around to glower over their shoulder with intense crimson eyes.

    That tattered blue dress. The bridal gloves. The doll-jointed limbs. And rabbit ears.

Xiaomu has posed:
"Old school is the best school!" Xiaomu remarks pointedly as she slews around Poochooze Man. "... Just not at the expense of the new school, y'know?"

If Poochooze Man was pointing in the right direction - and this does tally with the directions that Orb and Borb provided - then they're on the right track. The sound of Graphice's and Artifex's voice seems to support that further ... and if this is the original Artifex they're hearing, before the virus mucked with her core algorithms, then the sage fox has fewer compunctions about agreeing with her.

Anyway. If they're going in the wrong direction, they WILL find out sooner or later; Xiaomu keeps hoping that it'll be soon enough to change course as necessary .... and, y'know, not in the form of a literal dead end that they slam into and go splat. Xiaomu's got games to finish and anime to watch.

And then ... they reach the 'pit' and the polygon and the sphere floating above it.

This seems like a good spot to brake to a halt. Xiaomu does so - but doesn't dismount, instead drawing Silver and Platinum and sighting in over them at the doll-jointed, rabbit-eared figure.

"So what *is* your name, really?" Xiaomu asks, rather than opening fire.

Asterios (1137) has posed:
Finally. They have come to the heart of the Labyrinth. Asterios knows it instinctively-- but how unnerving for it to be so much like his own home maze. The grand, round chamber glows with ominous light. There /is/ a way out here, but it is through Artifex. Again, an exit he cannot allow himself to take.

At least, if the memories playing across the corrupted datascreens are accurate.

The Minotaur chuffs. It stalks forward, the crimson light flickering across his vision. Everything is red. So red. This... This here is the core of the corruption. This is the beating heart.

He made a promise, didn't he?

Asterios draws in a great breath. It reverberates out of his chest, tumbling and rolling into a roar forged of primordial thunder. The air itself seems to tremble. It is time.

The Minotaur charges, his advance inexorable and terrible. Twin axes materializes in his hands, the paired crescent blades glint in the red as he brings them both down in a tremendous, crushing blow...!

No more talking.

He will carve the corruption out at the root.

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    Diamond Soul follows close on the trails of the two Light Cycles, her own wings giving off a little bit of a trail of their own, though it's completely harmless, more like the wispy 'contrail' from a high altitude aircraft than anything solid.

    She spots the crouched form of the Virus, so very familiar, and then turns her eyes up to look at the orb descending. "The Kernal..." She brandishes her staff, and shouts a challenge to the Virus. "BEGONE FROM THIS PLACE! Fragment, Junk Data, Null Sector! Begone and never return, or be destroyed in the righteous fury we bear with us!"

    The marble shifts, cycling through colours.

    Diamond Soul swings the staff like a conductor would their baton, casting bolts of flame, shards of ice, jolts of electricity and sharp gusts of wind at the true form of 'Bunnabelle'.

Yomi Isayama has posed:
So this was the virus all along. The one who had pretended to help them through the tower. Yomi narrows her eyes and draws her sword, glaring daggers at the rabbit virus. "I think that Asterios has the right idea. Ranguren!"

The great spirit beast appears at her side, growling loudly. With close combatants like Asterios here, though, there's no way to safely use Houkouha... so things will just have to be done a bit more up close and personal.

"That virus... destroy it." Ranguren lets out a roar loud enough to shake the maze around them, then leaps forward. He closes the distance in just a few bounds before leaping, one huge paw extending to slam down toward the virus.

Lexicon has posed:
    "Don't you know me?" the rabbit-eared figure asks. She turns around, eyes closing. When they open, the glow is gone and they're blue again. A sort of 'wave' effect washes down from the top of her head, altering her appearance into something a bit less like a corrupted form of something familiar, "It's me, Bunnabelle. I've helped you so much until the virus--"

    Oh, Asterios sees right through that. When the Minotaur charges, her eyes snap to him and her appearance promptly reverts. She doesn't attempt to sidestep or back away, though. Rather, the small figure crouches and then leaps straight for the Servant's face. Claws, glowing crimson, extend from the tips of her fingers, trailing motes of red light.

    And then she's swatted down by a sudden explosion, before she can reach her target. From the Minotaur's glorious mane, Index lifts her wand, "Denied! You don't get to hurt Fuzzy-sterios!"

    Bunnabelle strikes the ground on all fours, smoking, and then gets slammed down into it by those twin axes, letting out a grunt of pain and effort. Scrabbling, she digs her corrupting claws into the floor, hauling herself away as blasts of ice, lightning, flame, and wind explode around and against her. Fragments of damaged code scatter around her as she digs in, turning while skidding to a stop.

    With a series of unnatural popping sounds and jerky inhuman motions, she rises to her feet again. A hand raises, fingers flexing, corruption drooling like liquid from her talons.

    A screen flickers to life beside 'Bunnabelle', depicting a woman in a white bodysuit, surrounded by cracked Processors, her eyes crimson, her hair blue-white, reaching down with desperation on her face.

    "I won't leave you behind..!"

    "I'm done for, go..! I can't feel..anything at all... Caerbannog.. She--"

    The virus reaches out, burying her talons into the screen, shattering the image. In the same motion, her dress explodes, revealing a more form-fitting black bodysuit underneath, shot through with glowing crimson lines that feed down her arms and wrists to her fingertips. When her mouth opens, it's unnaturally wide, her teeth now like needles, eyes glowing intensely.

    "Carve it into your kernals," the virus states, "Before I rip them--" SUDDENLY, NUE. She thrusts her hands to either side, leaping for Ranguran's face as she had Asterios', only to be intercepted by the beast's enormous paw. When she slams against the ground, code ripples around her, even as she sinks her claws into the Nue's forelimb.

    And nothing beyond the expected actually happens. Pain, drawing blood, sure possibilities. But the surprise that crosses the Virus' face suggests she expected something else.

    "...You're not...a program..?!"

Xiaomu has posed:
"And at this point," Xiaomu adds, "neither are you."

She opens fire, anti-spirit rounds sailing towards Caerbannog in a hail of gunfire, aiming to cut her down and finish her off.

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    "No. They aren't." states Diamond Soul. She twirls her staff, then sweeps it in a large arc. "You're FINISHED here. Descend into the pits of Cocytus. I shall freeze even your very source code." Her eyes close, and a spell circle draws beneath her feet, a smaller copy forming beneath Caerbannog. "Northern Star, shining in the night sky. Freeze my enemy with your light. Polaris Spark!" A 'drop' of starlight falls from the ceiling, striking the spell seal beneath Caerbannog. A fraction of a second later, and a great pillar of ice erupts, seeking to encase the Virus inside. "HIT IT NOW!"

Yomi Isayama has posed:
Ranguren lets out another roar as those claws sink into his foreleg. But no, he isn't a program. There's no corruption. But there is a lot of rage. "So that is what you tried to do to my spirit beast?" Yomi's voice is cold as she steps forward, brandishing her sword. "You don't even have any remorse." The exorcist shakes her head slowly, then looks up again, eyes gleaming. "Ranguren!"

See, there are several problems with trying to grapple with Ranguren's front leg. One of them is the other leg. Several of them are those teeth. But the biggest one is the glowing ball of energy that forms in the nue's mouth, drawing in air with the whine of a vaccum.

At the exact moment the ice spell falls, Ranguren fires his attack, letting the force of the shockwave send him flying back even as it craters into the ground with enough force to shatter stone.

Xiaomu has posed:
Two empty clips hit the floor, one on either side of Xiaomu's lightcycle. Two full clips are slapped home, aided by the lightcycle's chassis. Two triggers start getting pulled again, and this time they DON'T seem like they're running empty.

When the handguns fall silent, that's when the grenade flies, pin absent (back in Xiaomu's hand) and spoon flipping away. It bounces once, and explodes in a literal fireball before it can bounce a second time (or rebound away from the frozen Caerbannog). Hopefully that much fire won't interfere with the freezing!

Asterios (1137) has posed:
There is much to be said for a predator's instincts. Was it that which allowed Asterios to see through the rabbit's deception? Or perhaps it was just the fact that he had relatively little in the way of connection to the thing that had been Bunnybelle. Asterios grunts as a burst of flame swats the viral rabbit out of the air. Data cracks and groans as the minotaur extracts his axes and the virus makes a terrible discovery.

No.

They are not programs.

But there are those here who are. There are two right here, clinging tight to Asterios'-- to FLUFFYsterios' mane. "...Heads down," the minotaur says. "As far down as. You. Can. Stay safe there. Asterios will protect."

Asterios will protect.

The Minotaur roars. Its bellow rivals that of the massive Nue. They are two of a kind in many ways. Both are beasts of myth and legend. Both, creatures feared and despised. And now, here...

But. With all this. Will it be enough? This monster survived... How long? How many years? Two goddesses, with all their might, could not put it down properly.

"Need. Final blow," Asterios murmurs, glancing up and into his fluff. He thinks for a moment. He decides. "If you... want to help. Do not attack directly. Can you... Make axes. Stronger? Forged in Age of Gods. Strong. Magical. Yes?"

They'll need to throw everything. Everything.

And if it gives the girls something to do without putting themselves in danger, then that's even better.

Deelel has posed:
Deelel learns a bit more about the past of Artifax herself as she moves on through the max soon she will find she's arrives, at what looks to be the virus. Her own light cycle comes to a halt along side Xiaomu's own. She starts to get some ideas as the bike returns to wire-frames about her she has her key-blade summoned before bike's even gone. She catches the baton puts it away and pulls her ID disc off her back in her off hand as she looks to the virus for a moment.

"So here you are. Just what do you want virus?"

She makes ready for the fight which she'll be joining in on and here goes the bull man in and whelp with that? She's going to follow him up throwing her ID disc at the virus as she attempts to close with her key-blade.

"No he's not a program."

She moves in even as she catches her dis on the fly back and will shove it back on her back as she moves in now with just the keyblad ein hand but it's edge lights up as she gets into melee.

"Your going ot be cubed virus! You have claimed your last program!"

She just breks into combo of attacks with the weapon maiving to steilke it over and over again as she moves to keep moving.

"I have seen what a viral out break did to my system, I lived through Abraxis. You will hold no more power over Artifax when this is over."

She keeps working the key-blade for it's worth even as her allies gear up for something even bigger.

Lexicon has posed:
    Despite Asterios' warnings, Codex has actually climbed up, standing on his shoulder. With all the Minotaur's movements, she steadies herself with a hand on his horn, while the other sweeps up. Her staff, shaped like a stylus, flickers into existence in her hand.

    Index peeks over Asterios' shoulder from the other side, "Huh? Stronger? Ah..! I was working on a spell like that..!" She, likewise, climbs up onto the enormous bull's shoulder, steadying with one hand while producing her wand with the other. Giving it a twirl, with a laugh, she traces lines of blue before she sweeps her wand downward, "It's a spell I made to be like Big Sis-- Ice Hammer!"

    Magic sigils appear, surrounding the heads of the Labrys of the Abyss. With a flash of blue-white light, chunks of ice, shaped like pointed hammers, appear over the axeheads. Index then quickly retreats, though only just now notices what Codex is doing, "--Hey!"

Asterios (1137) has posed:
Magic surges around the massive, crescent-moon axeheads. Lines of hoarfrost creep across the divinely wrought steel, combining, coalescing, merging into a brilliant, ice blue glow. Asterios grunts as he watches Theurgus' magic do its work. As the others do theirs. "Thank... you," he says to the twins. "Now. Get back. In there. Hold on tight. Very. Very tight. Don't worry, will not pull, will not hurt. Will be going... fast."

'Going fast' is a vast understatement.'

The Minotaur charges once the girls oblige. Each step adds speed to the next. Each footfall smashes a larger and larger crater into the nearly impervious floor.

He roars again as he strikes down at the immobilized virus. Raw force, greater than any man could ever hope to harness, superior even to that of the legendary Heracles, is channeled though a pair of weapons that are likely some of the only in the world which could withstand the stress and not bend or break. Shockwaves of pure cataclysm erupt from the point of impact, the labyrinth trembles in their wake. Index's magic rides that earth-shattering wave, covering the world in a great sheet of ice. At the point of impact, where the magic is at its strongest, it rises as a massive, glacial spike that winnows out into progressively smaller, more diffuse icicles as the effect travels along the blast of bestial force.

It's... probably a good thing he was aiming in a direction /away/ from the Kernel core.

Lexicon has posed:
    Code ripples when Ranguran lands, but it does not break or even crack beneath the beast. Caerbannog's ability as a Virus is what allowed her to break the panel beside her so easily, it's actually remarkably resiliant to conventional damage. Which is fortunate, all things considered.

    The Nue's beam attack surrounds the rabbit virus in explosive force, and hte smoke only clears when the Mad Magician's spell goes off-- forcing dust and code fragments out to reveal Caerbannog already in the process of standing up. She jerks inside the ice as bullets carve through it and her body, sending corrupted code sailing out the opposite side. Fingers flex, ice cracking. When Xiaomu's grenade detonates, the force blasts the weakened prison apart.

    Trailing flames, Caerbannog slides to a stop several meters to the side, dragging one set of talons as a brake. As a new magic circle erupts around her. With a growl, she shoots a look at Theurgus, but the second spell's source is not the Mad Magician.

    "Northern Cross, shining in the night sky..!" a soft voice utters from Asterios' shoulder. Codex lifts her staff, gleaming with the pale blue of Ice magic, "Destroy evil with your light..!" The staff is twirled, then pointed, "Northern Cross!"

    The magic circle beneath Caerbannog erupts, just as it had before. Captured in the middle of her own attempt at evasion, the rabbit-virus is once again rendered defenseless, mouth open in a furious, silent scream.

    Deelel's disc punches through, erupting out the back with a spray of code fragments. When it strikes the wall, it bounces off and comes right back, piercing the ice and the virus inside a second time. These openings give her a way to use the Keyblade without hacking Caerbannog free-- until the Minotaur's plan comes to fruition.

    Bringing the Ice-enchanted Labrys down on the immobilized virus shatters the ice encasing her, but only in the act of erupting an even nastier spike of ice directly beneath her. The virus is pierced, unleashing a terrible shriek as the ice spears her to the ceiling and then crumples, still pushing upward but crushing her weakened body against the chamber's domed ceiling.

    When the spell ends and the ice fades, the virus' mangled body drops to the floor in multiple pieces. Legs, separated completely, dissolve into fragments of red code, as does her right arm and left hand. Part of her face is missing, and large chunks of her torso. Pitifully, the virus reaches for the central sphere, dragging herself slowly in its direction.

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    "It's over, Caerbannog." states Diamond Soul as she brings her staff up. "I shall end you, by showing you the culmination of all my Scientomagical theories." Her eyes open, the mismatching swapping sides as she points the staff toward the broken Virus. "Descend into darkness, and let me hear your final words." A spell seal erupts beneath Caerbannog, the nother in front, to the sides, behind and above, catching her inside a magical cage. "Not even your Kernal shall remain." she turns in place, 'drawing' an arc around herself, that appears around the cage... then multiplies, wrapping the entire thing in a sickly black energy that begins to contract. "Thaurmaturgic Implosion!"

    The words seal it, and the bands contract down into a single point, pulling at loose fragments for a moment, before it simply, winks out of existence.

Lexicon has posed:
    Caerbannog's jawless face swings towards Theurgus when the Mad Magician winds up another spell. A gurgling hiss is released, as she hauls her remaining arm up to shield her face even as she's bombarded with magic. She can't move. She can't evade. The implosion sucks in the scattered fragments of her body into its center, and just like that-- the virus is no more.

    The entire chamber shudders, suddenly, like an earthquake. A sound like a single droplet of water landing in a still pool. The crimson core in the chamber's center ripples, the red bleeding away from the top to the bottom into a vibrant pale blue color, the red spilling into the hole in the center like a colossal drain.

    As the sphere's color changes, a disembodied voice lets out a soft noise of relief.

    Once the sphere is completely blue, the same color shoots out from the chamber's center, across the floor and up the walls, purging the scarlet code into a blizzard of glittering red fragments. The rumbling grows more intense.

    And then it stops.

    Theurgus, Asterios, Yomi, Deelel, Xiaomu, Index, and Codex all suddenly find themselves in the System Hub.

    The ominous black facade of the System Tower is gone.

Theurgus (1103) has posed:
    Diamond Soul looks to ther Kernal, seeing it draining of the corrupted code... healing itself now its tormentor is gone. The quaking doesn't seem to faze her, as she floats there, one hand covering her face as she laughs. It's unhinged, but also genuine, if that's even possible, her mirth comes from the demise of such an ancient and terrible monster, and the freeing of, for lack of a better term, one of her 'Sisters'.

    Reappearing in the Hub, Diamond Soul looks around, finding the Tower gone. She shifts from the close, to the long distance, seeking out each System Bus, to check if a new one hasn't appeared. "Lexicon, are you there...?" she asks into radio, her voice bubbling with both the remaining laughter, but also tinged with a little lingering worry.

Yomi Isayama has posed:
Despite his bulk, Ranguren is very light on his feet. He lands with barely any sound next to Yomi, and the exorcist reaches up to place a hand on his mane. There's not a lot more she can really do, though, not with all those explosions...

And then it's over, with an impressive final spell from Theurgus. Yomi blinks several times at the sudden change of lighting. Slowly, she re-sheathes her katana, and Ranguren fades out of existance. "Everyone okay? Index, Codex?"

Asterios (1137) has posed:
Motes of snow float gently down all around him as the pillar collapses. Red fades gently to blue with a relieved, happy sigh. Asterios stares at the glowing kernel as the world begins to fade away. It seems... They have reached an acceptable end.

...

Asterios opens his eyes. They're... Right back where they started. Asterios chuffs, hoisting the two little sisters up by their scruffs again. "Yes. They are OK. But... Cannot guarantee. After Lexicon."

Deelel has posed:
Deelel watches the virus meet it's end with a coldness that is something no one here would have seen before, once De-rezzed? Her look fades and she brightens up as they find themselves back in the system hub. She looks around for a moment. "End of Line to that. I'm fine, no signs of infections but I would like to see a medical program before I leave to be certain. I don't wish to take chances."

Lexicon has posed:
    Index and Codex dangle in Asterios' grip, looking every bit 'busted'. They got to have their fun, and even help in the battle! Buuuut there's going to be punishment for sneaking out and they know it. Codex pokes her fingertips together, even.

Yomi Isayama has posed:
"It's okay, you two." Yomi walks up and reaches to give both twins a hug. "I'll come with you when we go back to your sister. You know...." She leans in, lowering her voice a bit. "She only scolds you because she loves you a lot. If she didn't care about you, she wouldn't be bothered when you do dangerous things."