5731/Coal-Raker

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Coal-Raker
Date of Scene: 04 March 2018
Location: The Mirror Forest
Synopsis: Die Reisende draws ever closer to the Black Queen, so the rest of the Court bands together to deal with them.
Cast of Characters: Janine Liberi, Rebecca Chambers, Sanary Rondel, Yuna Kagurazaka, 999, August Kohler, Kotone Yamakawa


Janine Liberi has posed:
    The Black Queen's Castle has gone from nebulously dreadful and ominous, like a dark cave, to callously malicious, like a cancerous tumor. Navigating from the entrance, to the forge, to the hall in which the Piper fell is much more treacherous, given the dense amount of Shadows that wander them, establishing guard positions around the entrances and exits.

    But minor Shadows such as these are little threat to Die Reisdende now. All their tricks have been seen before, and advancing with any amount of caution would allow them to regain their progress with no damage.

    "Stay frosty. We clearly got them mad," Janine says. She looks her usual apathetic self, but there's a slight lift to the corners of her mouth. The death of the Piper has granted her a slight amount of peace and resolution to what happened to her family. She hasn't lashed out at someone verbally even once today!

    But from here, the resistance becomes even denser. The smoked glass that makes up the structure has become darker, and coated in a thin layer of frost, drawing foggy breath from everyone as they battle their way through. Concerning, the forces have now been augmented with machines. The Blacksmith is still around, and still contributing to the efforts.

    But even worse, Die Reisende cannot shake the sense that they are being watched. Like something is always just out of sight, watching. Waiting. It's almost a relief when they reach a new locale, no longer surrounded by so much glass. A bridge that stretches above a pit of glass spikes far below. The emptiness on both sides and above stretched beyond sight, making it unclear if this is actually outside or enclosed.

    It's a single path, with no enemies. It reeks of a trap, but nothing immediately makes itself evident. Now what?

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
Sometimes, things really tend to go from bad to worse. Especially in the case of the Black Queen's Castle, where things have really taken a turn for the worst in Rebecca's opinion. But she's not deterred in the least bit from going in, especially since she now has an above-average grasp of how things work here and how to deal with them. After a while, you get used to it all and it becomes second nature to you.

Even the Shadows no longer bother Rebecca. They're nothing more than annoying little bugs in her opinion. Not even worth swatting or trying to shoo away. Rebecca just ignores them entirely, albeit ensuring none are getting in her way or trying to stop her.

"That's my main rule when I'm out in the field," Rebecca replies to Janine understandingly. Unlike Janine, Rebecca has no signs of a smile on her face. In fact, her lips are curved into a slight frown instead, with her eyebrows slightly curled into a scowl.

Indeed, there is a sense that Rebecca is being watched, or at least feels like it. She doesn't glance around trying to see who might be watching her, but instead focuses on the task at hand. "It's no use getting paranoid right now, Becky," Rebecca whispers to herself. "You've got to keep your mind steady!" When the bridge comes into view, Rebecca stops almost immediately. A straight path with no enemies isn't just an easy path forward in her opinion. It definitely reeks of a trap or possibly an ambush.

"Be careful!" Rebecca says to the others. "I don't like this one bit! Whoever put this here must be planning something sinister..."

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     "Good. Madder they are, easier it'll be for us to get 'em to come to us." Sanary grins confidently as she marches along, giant axe slung over one shoulder and staff held loosely under the other. The healer's been a bit of a lazy lump lately (again), but news of the assault on the Black Queen's Castle has drawn her out of her safe haven once more.

     Does she know what these Shadows are? Not really. She's got some inklings from what she's been told, sure, but the more nuanced psychological aspects still haven't gotten quite through to her even after fighting for so long. All she knws is that her friends need some extra muscle and healing, and she's more than willing to oblige. "It'll be fine. We just stick to the plan, and..." She glances over at Janine, then at Rebecca before turning back to the big nothing surrounding the bridge and the spike pit.

     Ominous. "... Do we have a plan? Anyway... Uh. I'll take point. If anything comes, I can take the hit. Just watch my back, alright?" After laughing confidently and making sure her anklets are secured, Sanary begins marching forward again to start crossing the bridge, come what may.

Yuna Kagurazaka has posed:
While Yuna wasn't able to get away from other obligations for the battle with the Piper, she's here today, and seems determined to make up for her absence. She's in Powered Form, supplementing the Matrix Divider with the larger battlesuit's beam cannons if they should be needed; Elner flits along next to her, the robo-faerie's sensors working to sift out useful bits of data from the environment around Die Reisende. Erina and Marina are present as well, ready in case Yuna needs to shift to Flight Form or Marine Form in a pinch.

And at the sight of the bridge over the pit of spikes, Yuna finds herself wondering if Flight Form might be a better idea for the next stretch. Admittedly, it's not like she needs to trust her armored weight to that expanse - she could revert to the basic Light Suit, if nothing else, and even Jiina can fly about on her own - but it's a definite choke point, if not an outright trap.

"Elner, Marina, scout ahead," Yuna stage-whispers to the two constructs. "Erina, stay here for now - if I have to shift modes, you're up." And with that, the little robo-faerie flits ahead, practically flying underneath the bridge rather than along it and running a full scan of the area: above, below, to the sides, everything Elner's sensors can pick up on. Marina is slower and more subdued, walking along with Sanary while remaining attentive to the surface beneath her feet ... even if her feet aren't quite actually touching it.

If either of them run into anything unexpected, or if contact with Yuna is interrupted by any kind of interference, they'll be returning to Yuna's position as quickly as they can - ideally, teleporting, if Elner can do so.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Such cautious, tactical movement is, of course, second-nature to Emily Branford. With a sidearm in her left hand, and Strands in her right, the butler is definitely taking things seriously; and whichever hand she wields, the resultant sound is a gunshot-loud crack that will prove deadly to whatever Shadow is on the other end. "Couldn't imagine why," she replies to Janine, amused. But her expression quickly grows serious again as they proceed, especially with the greater resistance. Not to mention... "I can't shake the feeling we've eyes on us," she observes. "On your guards for ambush." Better to say such things aloud and focus everyone's thoughts on them; leaving it unspoken and ambiguous could make the difference in reaction times.

    She's also watching Yuna's scouts like a hawk; if there's any danger here beyond the obvious, they've got a solid chance of spotting it... or at least stumbling into it.

August Kohler has posed:
Every incursion was one more than August Kohler wish they had to go, but last time, the rest of the group had taken out the Pied Piper. One more Shadow dead was always a good thing. The redhead had a pistol and knife at his side, a reflective bracelet on his wrist, and was also pretty quiet as they cut through the Shadows in their path. But the resistance becomes denser. The pieces of machine that crumble as the Shadows fall lead to August gritting his teeth. How much stronger were they? How much more do they have?

"Something's wrong. Watch yourselves." August finally speaks up, as he stops only for several seconds at the bridge. "They're absolutely waiting for us. Let's get this over with. Either it crumbles under our feet, they surround it, or they come from above. Let's go." He moved behind Sanary, sticking close as his hand fell to his gun.

August hoped it was a trap, because the sooner they showed themselves, the sooner he could shoot them.

Kotone Yamakawa has posed:
Once more they have to press into the black castle, this is not over yet, it's far form it even with finding the queen's lair. Kotone is ready and forming up as Janine gives very wise advice and isn't even being snarky about it. That shows how serious it today too, Kotone. She's suited up ready for trouble and is armed fairly heavily today too, given what's in the MM unit on her hip.

She cradle her SMG and moves on ahead cloaking, it's a trap she's certain and she better go spring it, as she's easier to put back together than most of the other people here, in her own world view.

<<Kotone here I'm scouting ahead now>>

Hopefully she can take the brunt of whatever is awaiting them down the path.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    The bridge stands before them like unspoken bad news. Sanary, August and Kotone's initial steps onto it trip no traps. As Yuna's two fairies fly beneath the bridge to scout the area, they may notice that the underside is far far darker than it should be. But that does not hold true for long. A pair of yellow lights appear from the gloom. Then three more pairs. Then eight more. Ten of those lights suddenly erupt in lasers, aiming to cut the two down!

    The attacker giggles, a sound that is echoed tinnily from multiple sources, before they all clamber atop the bridge to face Die Reisende. Those ten laser sources are all machine Shadows with squat forms, small legs, and large arms, built like disproportionate gorillas. However, that eleventh pair of eyes is a familiar sight. With her curly hair, big warty cheeks, and large flag bearing the emblem of the Black Queen's Court. It's the Standard-Bearer, and it seems she's found a new group to attach to with those umbilical cords, which now attach to these machines, the flesh partly mechanized.

    "I told you I'd be baa~ck," she says, her tone slightly dazed, her eyes looking in two directions. "The Blacksmith gave me these darlings. Unlike normal Shadows, they'll never let me down. He promised they wouldn't, said that nothing was more reliable than something he~e built." In spite of all of that, her bloodied state and torn clothes suggest this might not have been entirely voluntary.

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

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

                  THE STANDARD-BEARER WHO STANDS ABOVE OTHERS                  
                SHE WHOSE STANDALONE STRENGTH IS THAT OF OTHERS                

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

======================================XII=======================================

    One of the robo-gorillas picks her up as the others all rush in on Die Reisdende, swinging hard with their big iron arms, pounding at the bridge with all their strength! A couple leap, and come down from above to cut off their exit also, as well as grab at anyone who stayed back and try to launch them at their own comrades.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
There was something wrong with that bridge right from the start. Rebecca could sense it within her gut. Hence the reason she chose to stay back and draw her Magnum (her Beretta holds more bullets, yes, but it's less powerful,) while loading a clip into it. While Sanary, August, and Kotone are stepping onto it, Rebecca approaches cautiously from behind, her Magnum at the ready in case an enemy ambushes them. At first it seems to be OK...

Then someone turns on the lights, and unfortunately Rebecca's not happy about that! She knows it's a sign of trouble in a situation like this. When the lasers appear, Rebecca jumps backwards, gasping a little.

"I knew it!!" Rebecca yells out. "It was a trap!" Then there's the sound of giggling and Rebecca's face contorts into a deep scowl. "So, it looks like someone was truly waiting for us after all!" The Shadows appearing don't faze Rebecca in the least bit, but the Standard-Bearer does make Rebecca's eyes go wide. Especially the freaky way she's attached those umbilical cords.

Once the shock passes, Rebecca shakes her head and scowls again. "You made a mistake returning to us!" The medic snaps. "We've battled other strange things here, so don't think you're gonna stop us at all!" Of course, saying it and doing it are two different things, as Rebecca finds out the hard way. Before she can even react, one of the robo-gorillas grabs her, causing her to cry out rather loudly.

"Put me down!" Rebecca yells, and unfortunately, she finds herself being launched in the direction of the others. Who she'll hit is anyone's guess, although hopefully they will get out of the way in time. Rebecca doesn't want to use one of her allies as a cushion!

Yuna Kagurazaka has posed:
As soon as the lasers fly, Elner simply *stops being there* - disappearing in a blink of light, reappearing at Yuna's side. Marina disappears as well, but just a split-second slower, vanishing and rematerializing ...

Right in time for Yuna and Erina to be grabbed and flung at their allies who forged on ahead. Elner is, thankfully, too tiny to be easily grabbed; Marina isn't so lucky, and while she's still getting her bearings, the second of Yuna's android doubles follows after the first. As for the third? Yuna's tumbling too much to try and brake her flight with Powered Form's hover-thrusters ... so rather than plowing into anyone with Powered Form's mass and bulk, she disengages the combination while in mid-air, trusting - however ironically - that the mechanical gorillas actually aimed her *at* her allies and that she's not going to go plummeting into the spikes. Or whatever had those eyes.

And as luck would have it, Yuna bowls right into August - whether his back, or his side, or whatever. (It's only the second most-embarassing moment she's ever had in August's presence, although the first most embarassing will never be spoken of.) "Sorry," the battlesuited blonde groans in apology as she scrambles back to her feet - and if August got knocked down, she offers him a hand back up as well. "Okay, so ... um. Erina, I could use wings and mobility. Jiina, Marina, support fire. Let's work on her 'darlings,' shall we?"

"Assuming we don't get tossed around again or lasered out of the air," Jiina quips as she produces her beam cannon, and starts flying around erratically, taking pot shots at the laser-eyed Shadowbots. Marina actually stays above the bridge, using it for cover, and lets her mini-torpedoes arc around the sides of the walkway before rocketing at the Blacksmith-built minions. And once Yuna's transformation to Flight Form is complete, she folows Jiina's lead - focusing on evasive maneuvers first and foremost, and assailing the minions with barrages from her pulse blasters. If she gets a chance to focus fire on one of those 'umbilical cords,' linking the Standard-Bearer to her laser-eyed minions, Yuna will see what happens when one gets detached .. but she'd rather disable the minions themselves.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    And there it is. Without so much as skipping a beat, Emily lifts up her pistol and straight-up empties the magazine at the Standard-Bearer. She drops the magazine immediately, but doesn't bother to reload; she and the others are very shortly going to be dealing with a simian problem from right up-close. "Good heavens. By the look of you, I'd say you didn't quite come back all the way," she quips, already spinning around to deal with the approaching Shadows.

    One of them greets her with a huge, grabbing hand; and her response is to simply hop out of the way, almost dancelike. The hand closes on a space full of almost nothing but empty air... almost. It's also full of a snapping whip, fully capable of inflicting a vicious cut, or perhaps even severing fingers entirely - and that's just the first crack. Two more quickly follow, these aimed at a shoulder and the Shadow's face.

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     Glancing from side to side at each of her companions, Sanary finds herself reinvigorated for the battle ahead! She's not too concerned about the possibility of getting hit with the brunt of whatever comes, although she does brace occasionally just on the off-chance one of those bracing attempts actually keeps her protected.

     In retrospect, bringing a shield would have been a good idea. At least her axe is big.

     With the sound of giggling coming from up ahead and the sight of way too many lasers, Sanary readies her axe in front of her and channels energy into her staff while staring down the path at the giant robot...

     What are those, anyway? The axe wielder isn't all that familiar with gorillas, but judging from their size? They're probably meant to be the muscle.

     After directing some healing magic towards Yuna, August, and Rebecca to try and take some of the edge off being thrown, she opts to meet the challenge head on! Axe meets fist, and...

     ... Sanary gets knocked back a far way from the force of the blow. "Ggh...! Oh, these hit /hard/!" Soundng a bit too forced in pretending to be excited, she nearly tumbles over from getting launched backwards. Before she can fall, however, Sanary stomps once to right herself before charging forward again. Once she's back in range, she starts shouting and swining her axe at the gorillas like a madwoman!

Kotone Yamakawa has posed:
Kotone Yamakawa does not trigger any traps, nothing at first she keeps moving but she's cautious she notices the lights, more and more and then comes the freaking lasers. Kotone is fast, she can only respond so fast though, given she's dealing with something going at the speed of light. She's caught by pure volume of fire and she's goes skidding across the floor as her cloak flickers form the damage. She hears the voice as she rises in a fair bit of pain.

"YOU!!"

is the first thing out of Kotone's mouth. She's back on her feet and she's already opening fire on one of the big primate like shadows with her weapon.

"Here we go!"

She's taken a hit early on, this is bad, very bad she thinks she's already been hit thus the next hit will come far easier and so forth...

August Kohler has posed:
August knew something would happen, and he can't wait. As the lasers slam out, the mirrored bracelet is moving up to eye level, with a shout. "Tin Soldier, to me!" Though it's not the best timing - while the robotic soldier is summoned, August is sent flying back, catching himself and stumbling on his feet as he breaks the throw, when Yuna comes slamming into his side, toppling him fully off balance. "Nngh. No problem."

Taking Yuna's hand to rise back up to his feet, August taking a breath, aided by Sanary's healing in getting back up to speed. That was awkward, but for right now, he needs to fight. The Tin Soldier's rifle is levelled at one of the gorilla robots, moving to fire a heavy rain of bullets into it, spinning around to hit another and another if at all possible.

"And here I was hoping we'd never see you again." The Standard-Bearer gets in response. "What happened to you? You look all sorts of fucked up, and not in the normal Shadow way. Been drinking away your sorrows or something?"

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Janine had rushed in the moment the Standard-Bearer appeared, and so is bowled over by Rebecca. "Get the hell off me!" she screams, her whole body tensing from the pain of landing on her arm. The girl thrashes, attempting to dislodge Rebecca from her.

    Yuna assails the robots with her lasers, taking every chance to snipe at the umbilical cords. It makes sense, during the last battle it resulted in the Shadows losing cohesion. Her aim is true, and one is severed. The gorilla it was attached to immediately powers down. Before exploding violently, sending out a massive shockwave and making the bridge crack and tremble.

NINE REMAINING

    Emily empties a clip at the Standard-Bearer, who just giggles absently and deflects them with her flag. The butler then squares up against one of the gorillas, dodging its grab and slicing at it with sharp whip cracks. The Blacksmith has some good wares, but everything loses a little something when it's mass-produced. She cleaves through the metal exterior and severs something important, making the arm go limp and carving the blank face open. It stares down at her before its yellow eyes flash, attempting to laser her point-blank!

    Sanary takes some swings at one of them, her heavy weapon carving great gouges in the opponent. Internals are wrecked, but in getting so close, she leaves herself open. Her opponent then attempts to grab her up in a bear hug, squeezing as hard as it can to start breaking things!

    Kotone's shots drum against the gorilla's back, causing it to turn about and glower at her. It then reaches out, and pulls a handful of the bridge's railings free, causing cracks to spider-web from it. It then lobs the chunk at the wounded Kotone!

    The Standard-Bearer coos at August. "Are you worried about me~? Don't worry, I'm fine. The Blacksmith is so nice, he didn't even yell at me when I failed~ Not even when I screamed and begged that he stop this. So nice..." The gorillas that the Tin Soldier fires at stagger back from the impacts. One of them tips and begins to fall from the bridge, but in an instant, it grabs its own umbilical cord to whip it, trying to loop it around the German's leg and pull him down with it!

    Concerningly, the door is starting to close now. If it finished, the group will be fully stranded on the now-damaged bridge!

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
Unfortunately, Rebecca had no idea that she was going to be landing on Janine. To be honest, Rebecca does hurt quite a bit, since being thrown like that can be done with quite a bit of force, and that force leads to some great pain. Of course, Janine's the one who suffers even more, and when she hears Janine crying out for Rebecca to get off of her, the medic wastes no time in rolling forwards and getting onto her feet... then realizing that she bruised her right hip when she landed.

Fortunately, that seems to be going away as Sanary's magical spell seems to ease the pain a bit. "Thanks, I needed that," Rebecca says sincerely to Sanary, before she turns to focus on the Shadows. "You guys remind me of the Hunters I've had to deal with, but at least you're not as ugly as them." She shakes her head. "Nevertheless, I gotta take you out!"

With the pain starting to go away, Rebecca strafes sideways, keeping her eyes focused on the Shadows as she aims her Magnum and fires at one of them. "You picked the wrong medic to mess with!" At the same time, she's noticing the door starting to close. "Someone, do something about that door," Rebecca blurts out, hoping someone can actually do something.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    It's a careful dance one must dance, fighting an opponent much bigger and stronger than oneself. A dance that tends to go poorly with any sort of distraction... like, say, explosions.

    Emily's eyes dart over her shoulder. "New rule, lure the Shadows /off/ the bridge before you cut the cor-"

    Zap.

    Emily moves as fast as she's able. It's a blur of motion. She comes to a stop meters away; but it turns out that even with her superhuman speed, she wasn't fast enough. Or perhaps it's more apt to say that her speed is the only reason she's alive right now. There's one broad, seared burn along her left side, and though her face is as neutral as she can make it, there's hints of pain there even now. But when she stands, she moves as if nothing's wrong, whirling her whip around her before-

    Suddenly not being there.

    Her whip snaps at the gorilla's umbilical chain from behind, a rapid-fire KRAKKRAKKRAK like a three-round burst. It's all she can spare - the door is now starting to close.

    "The door! Someone shove that lobotomized /thing/ off the bridge so we can get through!"

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     Cut, cut, cut. Sanary's starting to get a bit of tunnel vision as all she sees is the gorilla in front of her and the axe slightly more in front of her. Despite what looks like aimless flailing, however, she's actually using something resembling strategy today! She needs room to swing that axe, and the gorilla needs there to be less room so it can bear hug the hell out of her. As long as she can keep out of its arm range, she'll be fine!

     Unfortunately, knowing what to do and being able to do it are two different things. The mecha-gorilla proves to be faster than expected, and it catches the healer in that crushing bear hug! She screams out in pain, then anger as she draws her legs up and thrashes about to try and get her feet up against its torso.

     "Stupid... Big... Thing! You don't get a... Screw you!" Witty retorts aren't quite her specialty, but at least she's got enough sense to listen to Yuna's and Emily's instructions. Instead of trying to just blow up the gorilla, she fires an explosive laser from her eye right at the construct's shoulder to try and loosen its hold or blow it off outright. Should that be enough for the healer to get free, she'll kick forward with all her crazy pig farmer might in attempt to force it backwards (and hopefully off the bridge).

     Otherwise, she'll focus on firing even more explosive lasers at the shoulders. Sanary's persistent if nothing else!

Kotone Yamakawa has posed:
So she got it's attention, awesome, it's not on her allies, wait she's got it's attention, mistakes may have been made on her part. She moves and is force to stop firing for the moment as she just barely avoids the chucked bit of bridge it also comes to her mind, they might just wreck the bridge to stop them getting across or just as a result of how they are fighting.

She will start moving again and trying to fire more shots going for the beasts head trying to make it harder for it to see and do things like rip up bits of the bridge and throw them at anyone who is facing them. She is not going to be using the explosives she has on her, that would be such a bad idea in this situation maybe she cna lure them off the bridge? A plan forms but she has to keep their attention and she is wounded on top of that...

August Kohler has posed:
"Ugh, screw you! The Blacksmith..." So that's what he's capable of, whatever happened to her. August tsks, keeping focus on firing at the gorillas...when one of them whips their cord around his leg, tripping him. August rapidly begins getting pulled off the bridge, desummoning the Tin Soldier partway through to avoid it being left open as he deals with this. One of his hands moves to grab a hold, searching for one, while the other moves to grab his knife. That explosion...if there's too many, the bridge will crack and take everyone down. It needs to be timed just right.

Close to the edge, August begins slicing into the cord, over and over and over. He's trying to cut it off while the gorilla is far away enough to not damage the bridge, but this might lead him to falling off with it if he can't get through fast enough!

Yuna Kagurazaka has posed:
The explosion from one of the de-umbilical'd mecharillas is big enough to make Yuna wince - and when she sees how much that damaged the bridge, she winces again. It *definitely* won't withstand nine more of the minions going boom like that ... they'll have to make sure to knock the mooks off the bridge before they try severing the cords. At best.

And Sanary's in something of a pinch now, to boot. Yuna focuses on helping the healer get free, firing a couple of bolts from the Matrix Divider - and if she has to risk getting in close to try and chop through the arms, she will. But once Sanary's loose, Yuna puts all her (admittedly modest) weight and force into trying to kick the thing off-balance and letting it fall ... THEN, once the roborangutan* is actually falling off the bridge (without Sanary), she charges, trying to chop through the cable with the Matrix Divider.

Meanwhile, Jiina and Marina are shifting their focus to harrying the Standard-Bearer herself. They're not trying to do damage outright - although any hit they score, they're not going to complain about. They're more focused on trying to force the Shadow to split her attention among many threats ... and if they can draw her far enough away from the door for the group to make a break for it? All the better.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    BANG BANG BANG! Rebecca shoots at the Standard-Bearer, her large gun making her stagger as she flag-twirls to deflect the shots. "Gosh, you're so rude. And it seems your teammate doesn't like you very much. It's so painful, being unsupported~ I could be a friend to you, if you like~" she says, marching right up to the medic before swinging at her with her flagpole. It cuts a vicious scythe through the air, aimed right at her head!

    Emily dodges, but not fast enough to avoid her side being seared by the beam. She zips behind the gorilla, just as it it aims a swipe with its good arm, and cracks at its umbilical cord with her whip. On the third strike, she severs it entirely, causing the robot to power down before exploding. Another tremor through the bridge, followed by a concealingly loud 'crack' from one of the struts. It can't take more of this.

EIGHT REMAIN

    Sanary's eye lashes out with its own beam, blasting through the shoulder of the gorilla squeezing her. This immediately slackens its grip, and Yuna's assist bangs up the other arm, allowing the healer to get a foot free and kick it hard, sending it stumbling off the rail! It plummets, the cord rapidly running out of slack, but the Standard-Bearer just pulls it free from herself without a second thought. Considering how personal she took the defeat of her last crew, this is a little shocking. It powers down and explodes, far enough from the bridge to do any damage.

SEVEN REMAIN

    Kotone lines up some headshots on the gorilla aiming at her, ripping away at its armor and damaging its eyes. Rendered blind, it stumbles for a moment before just barrelling towards her, arms outstretched. It's torso begins to rotate, creating a whirling barrier that limits her ability to avoid getting struck!

    August is grabbed, and dragged towards the edge! He tries to time it just right, so that he severs the cord before he goes over. The knife saws, and severs the cord... but he's already hit the railing and gone over! He sees the gorilla explode far below, keeping the bridge safe, but the spikes loom... only for something to impact him, knocking him back onto the bridge. It's Janine! "You could have just had the Tin Soldier shoot the cord, you dumb shit!" she barks, still sore from Rebecca's impact.

SIX REMAIN

    Yuna and her crew try to harry the Standard-Bearer now, drawing her attention away from Rebecca. "Gosh, I was trying to be civil. So~ rude." She whirls her flag again, looking at some of the scrap left by the exploding gorillas. She then begins to swat at it, knocking them at the aerial magical girl!

    The doors finally close, and something falls from above. A great metal orb, bristiling with spikes and flames. It's spinning fast, and the spikes give it immediate traction on the bridge, allowing it to barrel along the length. Flames spew from its form, filling the empty air around the bridge also to limit any evasion! The Standard-Bearer is shocked. "Blacksmith?... you said I should handle this..."

================================HERMIT REVERSED=================================

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

                      THE BLACKSMITH WHO TOILS IN SOLITUDE                      
                    HE WHOSE BRILLIANCE IS OBSCURED BY SPITE                    

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

=======================================IX=======================================

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     Sanary lands on her back with a painful impact on the ground, laying there for a few moments as she gets her bearings back. With more of those gorillas defeated and the most immediate threat punted away from the bridge, she raises a hand in a thumbs up towards the flying idol.

     "Thanks, Yuna! Agh... Stupid dumb thing. Now, what's next...?" After channeling some magic through her body to stave off the worst of the pain and fix her bones just enough to keep fighting, the healer picks herself and her gear back up before scanning the area. Raising her staff, Sanary grunts each time she sends off healing waves towards her allies. Thankfully, she's not getting attacked again just yet, so she can really focus on helping her allies out! Emily gets a hit of energy to compensate for that zap from before. Janine also gets a shot of healjuice, and August would even get a bit of that by proximity. Don't worry, Sanary hasn't forgotten about that arm! Rebecca gets a shot of healing, too, just in case the Standard-Bearer's swing makes contact, and Yuna gets some healing because...

     Well, because favoritism. Also, Yuna /did/ help her out with that gorilla.

August Kohler has posed:
August is about to fall to his death. The knife slips out of his hand, falling into the spikes below. August shuts his eyes close, when suddenly, something happens, and he's back on the bridge. The adrenaline rushes through him as he wipes his hand over his face, glancing at Janine briefly. "He was too close to the bridge." August replies, a bit sore about getting cursed at. He doesn't even realize he wasn't considering his own safety, but at the same time he seems...grateful, as he moves to try and get a handle on the situation again.

Right as the Blacksmith arrives. August is moving to grip the mirrored bracelet up to his eyes when the flames start spilling out, forcing him to duck to the side so that he's as far away from the edge as possible. "Persona!" In a flash of blue energy, the Tin Soldier manifests, and charges forward, moving to pour its own fire on the Blacksmith. "The hell did you do to the Standard-Bearer? Did you make her more 'efficient' or something?"

Yuna Kagurazaka has posed:
More healing, yay. Yuna gives Sanary a quick and appreciative grin, helping Sanary back to her feet while she has the chance.

... not that it's much of a chance, because now there are TWO big bad Shadow courtiers, one at either end of the bridge, and one of them decidedly not inclined to STAY at that end. "THAT's the Blacksmith?!" she squawks briefly - already trying to think of ways to deal with the doubled-up threat. Preferably, she thinks, by launching the Blacksmith over the group at the Standard-Bearer.

Only problem with that is, how?

August's already taking on the Blacksmith, literally fighting fire with fire. Yuna's own first thought on the subject is 'shift back to Powered Form' (which comes with its own complications) 'and try using the beam cannons' (which might not do enough) ... and then she has her second thought.

"Everyone besides August," Yuna yells, "get as close to the Standard-Bearer's end as you can without getting blown away! Jiina, Marina, get one of those drones over here WITHOUT unplugging it! August, you're gonna need to move fast when this happens; I'll make sure you live through it!"

Jiina and Marina trade looks, then dive at one of the Standard-Bearer's minions, coming in from opposite directions - so that at most, only one of them should be getting lasered at a time by their target (and both are ready to dodge at the drop of an electron; they don't WANT to get blown up!) If they can close the pincer and grab the drone from opposite sides, then they shift course in tandem, trying to fly that drone over to where the Blacksmith is rapidly reducing how much bridge Die Reisende has to fight on ...

And even as Yuna moves to back August up - firing off blasts with the Matrix Divider, hovering over Die Reisende's approximate leader like a literal guardian angel, the Savior of Light is keenly aware of how many ways her spur-of-the-moment plan could possibly go wrong. She doesn't even have the spare attention to pray that they *don't*.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
"Just who are you calling rude?" Rebecca asks with a scowl. But she doesn't get the answer she's looking for, since she was expecting Standard-Bearer to say, "You are!" Instead, though, the flagpole is being swung right at Rebecca's head, and she only has a few seconds to react. Fortunately, she manages to pull her neck back and then drop to the ground just as the flagpole goes by where her head once was. She barely feels the whoosh from the flagpole as she lands in a somewhat bent-over-backwards position, before rolling backwards onto her feet.

"Uh, thanks," Rebecca says with a slightly forced smile as the healing magic comes over her again. She really didn't need that, but it was nice to have, possibly. Namely since Rebecca can now save her First-Aid Spray for those who need it more. She glares briefly at the Standard-Bearer... then turns to see the Blacksmith, and her eyes turn into saucers for a moment.

"Oh, hell no!" Rebecca exclaims. "TWO of them? Oh this just gets better and better!" She aims at one of the remaining smaller Shadows and says, "Let's take care of these small fries before we take out the big ones!" She then fires, hoping to take out another robo-ape.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Down comes the Blacksmith. Unlike the gorilla, Emily's not going to be taking that down with a few well-placed whips. She starts moving instead, keeping well ahead of the flames; when Yuna calls for them to push closer to the Standard-Bearer, she outright blurs, a sudden streak taking her a good ways closer. Of course, this might put her in range of the Bearer herself... but then, that also puts the mangled cyber-Shadow in /her/ reach as well.

Kotone Yamakawa has posed:
the party is not dead yet so it's good news she manages to blind it the thing's coming after her and she knows it's trying to come after her in some strange tornado of death. She is force to lay off her attack as it keeps coming after her, she doesn't end up grabbed and she's going to be forced back but she's rapidly thinking on a plan here. She has to try and lure it to the edge to get it to fall off but that will require some good timing.

Also her making use of several of her multiversal upgrades or this idea would be no good at all.

"Hey come get me!"

She's near the edge if it charge she'll leap up at the last second and use her double jump system to allow her to hopefully make to safety while gravity does the rest for her with the shadow.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Healing! Janine finally gets over the impact she suffers and bounces on her feet. The timing is good, as August rushes in once again to push back the Blacksmith with his own flames. "Idiot! You're weak to fire!" she yells, conjuring Biancabella to back him with a strong gust of wind, both augmenting his own flames and pushing the Blacksmith's away. "More efficient. Less useless," the Blacksmith concurs with August, the Standard-Bearer flinching at the word 'useless.'

    Meanwhile, Yuna getsa plan together, and sends her friends to carry it out. They swoop down and snag one of the remaining gorillas by the arms, lifting it into the air. It's damn heavy, but the downside of focussing too much on the arms is that it doesn't have much else if those are diabled. It can't even laser them, because it might fall into the spikes. Seems the Blacksmith gave them too strong of a self-preservation instinct.

    Rebecca focusses more on the gorillas, sinking shots into them. It seems that the Standard-Bearer's shock has extended to them, causing them to stop attacking. As such, she quite handily incapacitates the arms of two of them, rendering them less able to attack!

    Emily blurs away from the Blacksmith at Yuna's command, immediately getting right up to the Standard-Bearer's face. She flinches, and lashes out with the flag on instinct, aiming to swat at the butler. But there's no fury behind it, it's more defensive than anything.

    Kotone succeeds at luring the blinded gorilla to the edge and leaping over it as it topples. It begins to fall, and the Standard-Bearer can't detach this one. She is yanked by her cord, and set slipping towards the edge. "Ahhh! H-Heeelp!" she shouts, managing to use her flag to snag the railings. "Pull me up!" she yells at the gorillas, but those still standing ignore her, choosing to instead form a barrier to keep Die Reisende from fleeing along the bridge.

    "Blacksmith! What have you done?!" she cries out, her fat cheeks becoming wet with tears. "Carrying out the Black Queen's will. She wants these pests dead. I used you to get them into an easily squashed position. You are a formality in the Court, and reliant on lesser Shadows. You were the most expendable, the bait most able to last long enough to trap them. It was the most efficient plan," the spikes ball rumbles as he pushes against August, Janine, and Yuna's efforts.

    She's actually crying now.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    The swift movement of the butler takes her right in reach of the Standard-Bearer, a move she was well aware would be putting her right in harm's way. She's already got her whip coiled and in-hand, letting go of it just as she returns to normal speed - but her attack is cut short when the Standard-Bearer takes a swing at her. On reflex, the blonde turns, shifts, and leaps out of the way-

    -right over the rail and off the side of the bridge.

    It's about the moment the lobotomized Shadow is snagging herself on the side of the bridge, that Emily comes swinging right back up the other side, and it immediately becomes obvious what happened. Strands of Fate is coiled right around the railing, almost exactly where the Standard-Bearer has fallen; its dark color blends all too well with the glass of the bridge, but it gives her a perfect moment of surprise.

    Not to mention a perfect way to swing herself right up and over the opposite-side railing, coming right back over with a hefty dose of momentum. Without skipping a beat, the butler snaps up her leg and drives it forward, putting all that momentum into a kick meant to dislodge the standard and send its bearer into the depths.

Yuna Kagurazaka has posed:
It's an incredibly risky plan, and Yuna is all too keenly aware of how many things can go wrong with it - but it's the only idea she's got at the moment. And for now, it seems to be working out.

Between the two of them, Jiina and Marina manage to get their 'captured' gorillabot over to a spot not that far ahead of the rolling spike-ball of the Blacksmith. This is also the tricky part - because the drone needs to get set down between the Blacksmith and *all* of Die Reisende ... including August, and by extension, the Tin Soldier.

"August, start pulling back!" Yuna calls out to her ally. "Might need Tin Soldier to help with this!" Hopefully that's all the cue August will need - and that it won't give the Blacksmith *too* much time to react to what's about to happen. Because as soon as August and his Persona provide the necessary clearance, Yuna's two android 'doubles' set their burden down -

And Yuna only gives the rest of them about three seconds (which is two more than she wanted to cut it) before firing off a crackling bolt of coherent, concussive radiance. aimed directly at the spot where the umbilical connects to the drone's head. And by the time she's pulling the Matrix Divider's trigger to do that, Yuna is also flying away from the drone - which is probably just about to explode ...

Hopefully? That'll remove the Blacksmith's threat from the situation.

The question is what ELSE it's going to remove in the process ... and whether they can make sure Die Reisende is *not* removed from existence along the way.

August Kohler has posed:
August doesn't reply to Janine, but does give her a thumbs-up as her wind backs him up. Instead, he focuses on the Blacksmith. "You're making me feel bad for that Shadow." The flamethrower holds up, as August gets an idea...and Yuna tells him to move. With what's up with the drones, August has an idea of what it's going to do, and he's going to do something at the same time. The Tin Soldier pulls out of range suddenly, moving up close to August, and aiming its gun again. Instead of spraying out...the fire clusters?

"I hate that. Burn in hell!"

When Yuna detonates the drone, the burst of fire explodes out of the Tin Soldier's gun, a massive fireball flying forward to impact with the explosive drones and the Blacksmith. Hopefully, that's what Yuna wanted, a massive chain-reaction, because that's what August has in mind.

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     Just as Sanary finishes sending out waves of healing magic to her allies, the staff abruptly crumbles into splinters and dust! At least she's got another hand free now to help with Yuna's plan.

     If only the healer actually knew what was going on with the plan. Making a beeline for the end of the bridge where everyone except August and the Standard-Bearer are, the healer starts channeling her energy outwards once more.

     This time, the magic is directed towards the group around the Standard-Bearer. Buffs for everyone! Sanary takes on a more offensive role this time around as well, bringing up her axe and lunging towards gorillas blocking their path. Considering the Blacksmith's words, she almost feels bad for the Standard-Bearer.

     Almost. "If you're gonna curse anyone, then curse the Blacksmith for screwing you over." Once again, the healer starts lashing out with her axe again with her blows aimed right at the creatures' shoulders and arms.

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
It's amazing what one can do with such great focus. With the Standard-Bearer's shock extending to the gorillas, she's able to incapacitate two of them... or at least their arms anyway. Still, that doesn't mean they're completely defenseless. They could still use their legs, among other things perhaps. Rebecca fires another shot at each of them, making sure that they're truly incapacitated.

After she fires at the gorillas that she was taking on, Rebecca ejects the empty clip from her Magnum and loads a new one. Then she's slightly caught off-guard by the explosion, which she jumps away from instinctively, even though it's nowhere near where she is at the moment. She then spots the gorillas blocking their escape and she scowls.

"Too bad I don't have any explosive bananas," Rebecca says with a slight smirk. "I'll just have to deal with you myself if we're gonna get out of here!" It's Rebecca versus the remaining gorillas. Who will come out on top?

Kotone Yamakawa has posed:
Well now this was not expected t work this well, Kotone had bene thinking to get one shadow out of the way and now she's got the standard bearer all set up for her downfall. She comes in for a landing and looks to her, as the truth is laid out she was canon fodder.

"So you were a pawn and nothing more. I almost feel bad for you but if we let you contiune on. You'll bring ruin to the world."

She's stalking over now with a plan in mind to deal with the Shadow but Emily then does something ballsy, something insane, something epic as she goes to basically take out the Standard Bearer and hopefully any remaining shadows connected to her.

"In the end your all pawns of the queen."

She notes and redies her weapon in the event someone makes a go for Emily.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    The Blacksmith pushes forward, blind to anything but his own objectives. He doesn't even conceive his own weapons being turned against him until the gorilla is deployed right in front of him. "What are you-" he begins, before it becomes clear from the blasts that Yuna and August strike it with. "NO!"

    BOOM!

    The explolsion sends him skidding back, just as the bridge begins to collapse. He tries to speed up, to catch up with Die Reisdende, but the breaking glass claims him, sending him plummeting to the spikes below. His form shifts and distorts, deploying as much propulsions as he can mustre. "I-I can fix this! It all comes down to me, as usual! Gorillas are too far away, Standard-Bearer is useless, it's always the same. Always comes down to me to fix things. I'll fix it, I always fix it, I-"

    His words are cut off by the impact with the spikes. Metal shrieks against glass as each point glides through him, severing every important bit inside him. He goes silent, and the gorillas all shut down entirely. No explosions, nothing. Rebecca and Sanary can remove them from their path easily, creating a path for everyone to flee from the collapse.

    Emily, meanwhile, deals with the Standard-Bearer. The Shadow was too shocked to realize that she apparently managed to knock someone from the bridge. But as she comes up, her warty face is all smiles. "Oh gosh, you came for me~! I knew you were a good sort, truly! I'll-" A vicious kick hits her flag, knocking it loose! "Oh... w-well, the robots will still hold me up..." Said robots have been knocked apart, meaning they just slide along after her as she falls.

    "Oh... I guess I was useless after all."

    She hits the spikes, but she was silent long before. Now Die Reisende has a collapsing bridge to outrun, something done easily with a combination of of buffs from Sanary and Janine. Once they reach the other side, they actually get to bear witness to the castle shifting. The whole bridge room shrinks, the other door racing to meet the one they escaped through before they meld together, eliminating the broken path.

    They now seem to be in a waiting room of some kind, with comfy chairs and high windows, one of which has a raven pecking at the glass with it's beak. At the fat end is a grand pair of black glass doors. The chill emanating from them is palpable, enough to frost the tips of one's eyelashes.

    The Black Queen is beyond that door. But they're in no shape to deal with her.

Emily Branford (999) has posed:
    Down goes the bridge in a cascade of ebon glass, and Emily pauses at the end to watch it, doing her level best to ignore the painful burn on her side. And with the downfall of that bridge, the room decides to just... stitch itself together, as if the whole obstacle were never there. What was a panicked run and a desperate fight over certain death, is now just a casual step across a single threshold.

    In a rare moment, Emily lets her facade slip, just a little. A hint of Estuary slips into her otherwise-impeccable Received accent. "Well that's just bloody insulting."

Rebecca Chambers has posed:
A waiting room... how welcoming.

Especially after outrunning a collapsing bridge. Rebecca is bent over with her hands on her knees, having pushed herself a little harder than she intended to, but it was either that or become a swiss cheese imitation! But fortunately they've arrived and the room looks safe enough to rest for a few minutes in.

Taking a seat in one of the chairs, Rebecca takes a moment to catch her breath before sipping from her canteen (never leave without it!) Then she looks towards the door where the Queen is. "The calm before the storm." Rebecca narrows her eyes. "She'd better be ready for us! We've come this far, and this is what it all comes down to..." A pause as she realizes everyone's all worn out just like she is. "When the time is right, of course."

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     Running sucks. Why did they have to run?

     Sanary hates running. It makes her feel slow because of how slow she is! On the plus side, the closed door means that she can afford to take a breather, and take a breather she does!

     "Everyone still alive? Aah... Shit. Good work, everyone. Good work!" She laughs once, then starts spreading healing magic through the waiting area to help take the edge off again.

     "... Just the Queen left now, huh? Anyone remember to bring snacks?"

Yuna Kagurazaka has posed:
It worked. Yuna will consider the implications of that later; for now, she has to make sure the group SURVIVES the fact that her plan actually played out more or less the way she expected it to - because yes, the bridge is in fact collapsing thanks to her blowing that drone up in the Blacksmith's face.

Yuna has it lucky: she's flying under her own power. Jiina and Marina are similarly airborne and self-supporting. But as far as Yuna can tell, nobody else in Die Reisende has the gift of flight; maybe Sanary's got that covered somehow, and *maybe* the Tin Soldier could carry August in a pinch - but Yuna is not comfortable making any assumptions when it comes to her allies' survival.

So as Yuna flies back towards the end of the bridge where the Standard-Bearer had been positioned, she's watching out to see if anyone needs rescuing from gravity and spikes and other aspects of the collapsing bridge. August is the nearest and highest priority on that front - and if he shows any sign of not being able to make the mad dash for safety, Yuna's ready to scoop him up and carry him along. If anyone else seems to be in similar danger, Jiina and Marina can each carry somebody.

(If August can actually make it under his own power, though, Yuna's *not* going to complain.)

It's only along the way that Yuna realizes that the rest of the fight has been handled, literally while her back was turned. She didn't get to see Emily kicking the Standard-Bearer in the face; she didn't get to see Rebecca and Kotone dealing with the rest of the drones, or Sanary mixing up support with offense - although Yuna did feel the surge from that buffing spell coursing through her, armor and body alike. Still, the coast is clear, they make it to the destination end of the bridge ...

And with a solid floor underneath her that doesn't seem likely to collapse or open up to reveal a perilous and precipitous descent? Yuna actually collapses on hands and knees, even her flight thrusters cutting out as she slumps and focuses on catching her breath.

"That was actually very well done, everybody," Elner observes, hovering nonchalantly over where Yuna flopped to the floor. "It seems like returning will be much easier than getting this far was."

Yuna manages to twist around, rolling onto her back, and just gives the robo-faerie a supremely baleful look. "Thanks, Sanary ... thanks everyone. Sorry about making our lives *that* interesting, but I didn't have better ideas for the Blacksmith ..."