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Tamamo     The destination is a bit off the beaten path, in terms of warp gate travel, but the road itself is wide and level. Having put out a call for aid, by whatever means one might use to answer it, the team put together by the inquisitive branch of the Holy Kingdom of Valcea's central church is easy to spot. It's smaller than the previous case that anyone at Onsalva may have seen, definitely not large enough for the number of people who'd shown up to that battle, but there is one face that might be familiar.

    Sir Emilian of Darie, introduced as 'paladin,' and apparently in charge of both teams, stands waiting. It's hard to tell, through all the armor, if he's any worse for wear. Most of the other faces are different. Near him is a middling-older, passively, kindly-looking man in plain traveling clothes, remarkable only for how unremarkable he appears next to all these armed-to-the-teeth agents, swordsmen, and assorted magic-users, with all their efficient use of pouch space, selective armoring, and contingency gear. The priestess Rodica, the other named Valcean from that prior event, isn't here.

    They're waiting, of course, only because someone responded to the call. They'd probably like to get moving quickly, as that call had included some urgency, if little information on their destination, outside of it being a sizeable town on a previously well-traveled route. But with no one currently aiming weapons at them, it could still be said that this is a less rushed and tense meeting than that worst case.
Xion 'By whatever means one might use to answer it.'

Xion sprawls on a white-on-white-on-white geometric suggestion of a couch in Castle Oblivion, the shadows at the corners and edges of things seem almost panel-lined in to contrast with the amount of white.

Mog, a floating bat-winged black coated mascot character, hovers up to the back of the couch. "Hey, kupohead. I've got a kupo job for you to handle, they're really blasting it out there: It means you'll get paid, absolutely."

Xion sits up. "Okay, but, what's the job?" She asks, lifting her own phone, curiously flicking through adventuring apps.

Mog somehow coated stub-arm crosses seriously, a smug feeling coming from the hood in action lines. "It's some beefy knights, which means they'll pay in gold. Or relics! Silver's great too, it's been moving really well recently. Anyway, go get paid! Do *not* forget to accept payment! Kupo?"

Xion nods dumbly. "Got it. Go help the knights."

Mog hangs in annoyance. "I'm never getting paid, kupopo..."


A portal of swirling darkness drops Xion into the meeting area with a vest-and-shorts outfit in black and silver, black shoes, and black gloves. "Hiya! Did you need help? You asked for a *lot* of help, so..." Xion waggles her phone. "I'm good at going places, and hitting things, and can do a bunch of handy stuff!" Lilian taught her to recite her what-do to new people. It was regularly helpful.
Lilian Rook     Having inroads with both the Valceans and Ceres, though Lilian currently knows almost nothing about either, has done her some good. Namely, having foiled a summoning and driven off a half-manifested demon seemed to have gotten some particular goodwill with the former --or at least their inquisitors-- as about the only thing she got to take away from that whole mess.

    Seeing as she is no longer trying to gain any favour with the very visibly futuristic (space?) military though, she's come largely without the trappings. She doesn't happen to own any kind of plate armour (and that kind of thing requires a specialist and tailoring too), it's not too hard to pull out what she'd worn for those excursions to D'tarkanan's world, slip some inserts under it, fish out a simple soft case waist harness, and 'ride out' (lacking a horse, not being that particular brand of rich white girl) to the main road, sheathed sword in hand.

    "Paladin Emilian." Proper titles, of course. "A pleasant surprise. And a busy schedule, it seems. Two urgent operations, almost back to back here. Are you typically spread so thin? I wouldn't assume 'cultists' to be such a prevalent problem; the word 'cult' sort of connotates a fringe minority, yes? What can you tell me about this one?"
Tamamo     "Dame Lilian of Rook!" Emilian executes an aristocratic bow with a level of grace that demonstrates just how much practice he's had wearing that armor. He is a loudly energetic man, enough so that it might be an unconscious resting level of 'almost shouting.' "And... a helper! You are correct, young miss. Ah! Allow me to introduce father Petre," he says it much like 'pe'tray,' "also of the inquisition."

    The older traveler nods politely. The steel ring hanging from his necklace glints in the light. "A pleasure." His look toward Xion is extra-curious, but that's probably just from her chosen mode of entrance.

    "I go as the diviners declare I must," Emilian continues, in answer to Lilian's question, "and they spoke of too great a danger for lesser men than those gathered here. If we had not encountered that storm witch, there might still be others strong enough for the task."

    Petre shakes his head. "A strange one, that."

    "Aye. Uncommon for the seers to be so off the mark. Oh, but where was I? Right! The cultists. How cults pervade other lands, I'm not well aware, yet in hunting demons, it makes for small comfort that only a few good men and women might turn toward heresy. Where it begins with two, it ends with thousands. And so should we be prepared for Ocna. The temptations of evil most often include the warping of minds, and this sweeps like a plague. And where that is not enough, even corpses fill the ranks. Are you familiar with these types, Dame Lilian -- " He turns to Xion, and pauses, "Ah, pardon, I did not catch your name, young miss...?"
Tamamo     A woman wearing an impressive number of metal stakes wrapped in wire, for how little they affect her movement, calls the others in the group to attention before getting calling out to Emilian. He responds with, "Let us continue ahorse. If you require, we have spares we may lend, though they'll be winded." That is, spare horses that must have been carrying armored people up to this point, before they'd swapped to fresh mounts.

    There is still 'time,' though perhaps not an endless amount of it. They had just spoken of the cult in terms of spreading like a plague, which justifies some quick travel.
Xion Xion bounces back and forth on her heavy shoes, hands held lightly in her pockets. "Oh! I'm Xion -- the hero of everyone's hearts, X!"

Pronounced 'Key'.

"So it's a normal knight guy mission? Go to the countryside place, zombie, zombie, skellington, ungah, necromancer, chug antidotes and echo drops afterwards and collect coins by the bag?"

She has a pretty formulaic idea of how this goes down.

Lilian's introduction gets a familiar smile. "Hey, Lilian, their Larxene dresses pretty cool."

She means the weird spike lady, and it's terrible.

"Okay! Fast travel time! This time I definitely won't forget to..." Visions of Mog dance before Xion's eyes. "... Help everyone out and try my best!"
Lilian Rook     Lilian responds to Emilian's bow with a sort of formal dip of her own, though most certainly not one ever meant to be lavish enough for courts. "Diviners, hm? So you're that kind of outfit. Interesting." she says, without elaborating, though in a positively appraising tone. "How long has your order been around, exactly? If you have that much faith in them, it must be quite professionally assembled, and then I imagine quite successful."

    "Which begs the question, to a degree, of why those Ceres people so vehemently hate your operation in their territory, even with an obvious, genuine infestation in play." She frowns, faintly, at the mention of Janine. "It's unsurprising that they didn't account for someone who likely didn't exist, to them, until very recently. But it is, also, unfortunate. Sometimes you find messy brats like that with far more power than they've earned or deserved and no idea what to do with it. Problems like that tend to result. It may have been best if she was shot on sight. Might have taught her something."

    She hardly has to think about the rest. The only real pause comes from a faint lifting of the eyebrows at the strong applicable parallels. "Indeed, I'm actually quite familiar. In many senses, at least. It's a central pillar of our training to resist those influences; to become agents capable of penetrating and curing such an infection without ourselves adding to it. It's half of the origination of the title 'Immune.'" She assumes the other half probably won't make sense to these types. "What exactly is 'Ocna' though? An entity? An event? A certain brand of magical problem?"

    She waves off the mention of horses. Don't worry. Let the poor beasts rest. We have our own means of responding swiftly to the scene." That would be standard issue flying around. Though merely sideways-natural to Lilian's thematic powerset of spooky faerie stuff, the energy use is more than minimal enough to travel cross country for a ways doable by horse. "Agreed. But I do wonder what all of that is for." she says to Xion. "I wonder if I should begin investing in some traditional heraldry at this point."
Tamamo     "Oh, dear. Pillaging payment?" Petre reacts to Xion's mention of collecting coins with the exact kind of strained smile a parent would use when reluctant to say that the family pet is already dead. "Let us hope that those who would object are well enough to do so."

    "Why, Ocna is our destination. Had I not mentioned? Your pardon, then." Emilian leaps smoothly into the saddle, and the group is away.

    The road continues straight and level, cutting straight through forests and hills. The tall retaining walls look like they've been standing here for centuries, showing more wear than the smooth road surface itself. Horseshoes make a lot of noise on it, more so at high speed, and if nothing else, the Valcean band has high-quality horses. Maybe a bit uncommonly good (a closer look revealing an alternate explanation of travel-enhancing enchantments set in regular intervals under the roadway, affecting any in direct contact with it). Valcean riding skill varies a good bit, along predictable lines of visible occupation.

    Ocna comes into view almost all at once, descending along the road out of the forest and into the cleared space around the town's edge. Its buildings spread out along both sides of a river, the water of which doesn't look like much from a distance, but will prove to be fairly deep and with significant currents on any closer inspection. In the hazy distance, and the direction of the setting sun, mountains rise above the forests on the far opposite end. With the slightly higher altitude of the road here, it's just possible to make out flames and smoke rising from pillars stuck in the river. From the positions of the roads, it's an easy guess that there used to be a bridge there, at some point.
Tamamo     "Ceres," Emilian says while riding, "is a nation of men who forsook their gods. Little wonder their beliefs are so backwards. Not that I should fault them merely for having pride in their own strength, but in overestimating themselves, aye."

    Petre continues, "As to our order, it has been more than a thousand years since the beginning, though some names have changed. They did not call this land 'Valcea' more than some four centuries back, as I recall." He stares off into space, thinking of it. "There is little respect given for expertise, I'm afraid. Neither man, nor woman, nor child can be expected to treat great dangers with full seriousness, until it is too late for them. They lack seers of their own, of course."

    "A shame priestess Rodica is still recovering. Few have the art to be as quick in locating the enemy as she." Emilian shades his eyes, looking down at the town. It would be hard to notice individual people from this distance, but it doesn't take too long to realize that nothing down there is moving. There had been running in the streets in Onsalva, but in Ocna, there's nothing. "Let us take a closer look."
Xion "Um... Oh, I guess I should've asked first! You're destined knights, right?" Xion begins, joining the party on automatic follow horseback as necessary. She has no problem traversing with or without the horse, but horses are cool and so missing an opportunity to ride a horse just to stunt is stupid, right?


"Anyway, if you're destined, and you know the future, then you should have seen in the portents that Mog really wants me to bring back, like, a bag of money or something? But I'm really getting this... wavelength." A waggle of the fingers. "Like you're the capital-P paladins? And I'm all for following along and helping! I battle evil totally regularly, I just..."

A wave of her phone seals the deal. "Thought there'd be like, adventuring money in it. It's fine. I'm still okay, just a little disappointed. It's really normal. I've got emergency chocolate if I need it for later, too."

It's really too much information, but the chatter fills text boxes as they ride along with the scening camera.

"I think a jacket with your symbol on the back would be really cool, too. Like a leather jacket, would really make your look good. You can trim it to a mantle if you're adding it over a uniform. It'd look really good!" Xion asides to Lilian animatedly, cheerfully talking about random fashion heraldry.
Lilian Rook     "Xion, if you're looking to get paid for your work --as you should, in this line of it-- please lean on negotiating with your employers first, and scraping money off the ground or out of pockets second." Lilian says near the start of the way. "Show a bit more class when first meeting people." She seems to think well of the age that the Valceans cite, however. More than well, when it gets into 'predating the current names of nations'. "I see, I see. A pedigree befitting the quality of the doctrine, then."

    At first along the trip, she spends a little while eyeing the horses, examining them for any hints she can find of some supernatural or primal breed, though once she notices the enchantments laid on the horses, she has to add to her questions "And how old these roads? This would have been an impressive amount of work, and well-maintained at that."

    Lilian sees the streets of Ocna well before the others, largely for the benefit of height once she can spot the smoke on the horizon. The utility of an aerial drop right into the city is obvious, but the burnt and smouldering bridge could be a problem for practically everyone else. Skimming back to ground (though still making sure to hover at horseback eye level), she certainly asks.

    If it is the case that the river is going to be a pain in the ass for the inquisitors themselves (and not just their horses, which Lilian feels can and should be left safely out of town), she moves to the burning bridge supports, and with a very simple rune to each, snuffs out their flaming tops. With a little further forest ogham, her mysticism encourages them to split and bend --if plaintively-- beyond their no doubt brittle and scorched capacity, the old wood arching together into a narrow, though entirely safe, up-and-down beam over the river, taking only a minute or so in total.

    With that taken care of (and presuming Xion is just going to Darkness over the river), Lilian touches down on the other side with her sword held at her side rather than attached to a belt, moving down the streets in a way that would look perfectly at home on a specops soldier with rifle to shoulder sweeping his corners, despite the lack of either. Rather than saying anything, or performing any more magic, she focuses her total concentration on her eyes and ears, and the sense for any lingering magic still out in the open.
Xion "I *am* negotiating with my employer!" Xion complains, her form of tact a sort of 'stage whisper away from Emilian' rather than not saying it. "He was the one that heard 'so what are you paying' and went 'why would you take it off people'. I'm not! That's not what I said! I'm..." Xion grumbles, holding her head. "Getting confused."

At the river crossing, Xion does, in fact, just Darkness over the river. Why wouldn't she?

"Do you think I'd just do that? Take money from random people that need it? If that's the kind of image i give off... I'll have to work harder to be everyone's hero..."

Xion nods firmly, fist against chest. Mm-mmn!
Tamamo     While the knight is clearly having trouble following what Xion is saying and/or asking, Petre nods along. "Yes, I see. Oh, though I am not a paladin, myself. Only a humble priest, here to fight against the forces of evil in whatever small way I may. Only a few hold the title of 'paladin,' you see. Ah, 'Mog' is a... comrade of yours? If it's to help our mission, I don't mind emptying handing over my own coinpurse." Though if he really is that humble, it's probably not a heavy purse, that would still literally qualify as 'a bag of money.'
Tamamo     "The work of the first kings," is the answer that Lilian gets about the road. That almost sounds like a proper noun, but it's missing the ominous capitalization.

    Some of the inquisitorial group can get across just fine, is the short of it, but while it's enough that they could carry across the rest, Emilian shows clear distaste for the possibility of having to make a tactical withdrawal with the whole squad under maximum load. He's therefore wholly appreciative of Lilian's work.

    They start across, with the few (in total, only three) in full armor accepting some variety of enchantments and blessings that would even take someone as studious as Lilian awhile to work through, and then making powered, physics-defying leaps fully across the span, landing sword-in-hand and taking up positions close enough to the opposite side of the bridge to form up a defense while the rest move more carefully over the bridge of new wood.

    Among them, a shortswordsman partially clad in chainmail (and in probable need of shaving off a sorry excuse for a beard) gives a short laugh and a "That's the spirit!" in Xion's direction. "S'hard work bein' a hero, but keep it up."
Xion Xion, on the other side of the bridge now, hangs out near Lilian, hands up behind her head as she stretches and idles while the party gets across.

"Normally I'd probably be kicking around looking for treasure chests and secrets and stuff in these sorts of Nevernever-places, but this is kind of..." She sighs. "Awful, isn't it? It makes me feel bad. All this stuff and no people."
Tamamo     There is certainly *something* lingering in the air, though there's still a total lack of people. Carefully maintained focus on this side of the river picks up the scents of old blood and death everywhere Lilian goes. Trying to find exactly where it's coming from is more difficult. It might not even be entirely, physically real, but an impression of death touching in at the edges of awareness, keeping to the periphery of her senses, as a mental manifestation. That wouldn't be out of keeping with what she'd observed in that other town, Onsalva, there in that basement. Here, it approaches and fades with only the barest regard for her own movements, possible to approach, but not to triangulate.

    There are larger buildings on this side of the river than the other, some built as if on top of each other, the mess of raised walkways showing the high prevalence of foot traffic, with only a few wider, solid paths for horses and carriages. A walled-off villa, like a provincial palace, is not directly on the most likely seeming path to the source of dread, but is close enough to it. It could be up one of the taller, four-story buildings, like the ones surrounding an open square littered with abandoned merchant stalls. Or it could be down in a sewer, though there are no obvious entrances to one, only the town's size suggesting there should still be one.
Hibiki Tachibana     Short on manpower, and muchly in need of help to defeat some abominations and villains. That's a recipe for Hibiki Tachibana, who is Helping People Extraordinaire, to render her services up. Plus, picking up connections and knowledge can only be a good thing as far as who she works for is concerned. Everybody wins.

    Not that she's here expecting any kind of reward. Saving the people of Ocna is its own--she only hopes that they're not going to be too late to do anything, given the urgency of the mission.

    What they can see of the town on the approach, or rather the /lack/ of anything shifting around, definitely isn't a good thing as far as she's concerned.

    "This reeks of bad news," Hibiki mutters quite unncessarily, breaking the silence she's more or less maintained up to this point; having opted to stay at the fringes of the traveling group, and already clad herself in her mechanical Symphogear to lessen the burdens of travel, most of her time has been spent absorbing the conversations between the others more than socializing herself.

    Like the three armored-up knights, she opts to leap the river and come down cleanly on the opposite side, joining in on the defensive formation. Just with fists more than sword. Only when it seems like everyone will be able to get across unharrowed does she start forward on Lilian and Xion's trail.

    "...I think it's worse than if it looked like something happened. It's like a ghost town." A bit of anxiety is definitely showing. "How long ago did you all get the call for help from here again...?"
Lilian Rook     "Not 'take money from people'. I meant 'scraping' quite literally." Lilian says to Xion. "I've heard that notion before, of money falling on the floor when you beat your enemies. The more degenerate sort than you think the same way, in terms of taking whatever they find off the corpses, or in their coffers. That's what people typically mean when they say 'adventuring money'." She thinks back to Galbadia. "I'm . . . aware, that your understanding of it is quite *literal(. But it's a point of professional pride not to cross-apply it. Quite possibly just not even mentioning it. It'll be easily misunderstood."
Xion Hibiki shows up! This is good, because Hibiki is strong and smart and brave, and also Xion likes them, even if Hibiki made the mistake of supporting Kamen Rider instead of the far cooler Jawline Dad, Heart.

There's a winning side here, and it's the side of Heart's chin that could cut glass.

"Actually it smells--" Xion sniff-sniffs. "Like a town? The air's a little nicer."

Lilian's explanation gets a few slow nods. "I... think I get it. I know you if you punch someone and money comes out, they're not *necessarily* a being of primordial darkness, and also that fruit gummies in most places look like Munny where I'm from. It's..." Xion jangles some change in her open hand, lifting up the twinkling gripful of gold coins that, to Lilian's trained eyes, reveal themselves to actually be the pastel sugar-crystal funny-Munny that baddies from Xion's world drop.

"... It's whatever it needs to be, because it's magic money."

A few more moments pause. "So I'm just wrong for asking if they'll pay me to risk myself for their benefit? That doesn't... seem right."
Lilian Rook     Responding to Hibiki without actually turning around, Lilian manages to speak almost conversationally, despite the palpable dread in the air, thick as smoke. "If there are signs of a disaster, no matter how disturbing, you have something to focus on and study. Mental exercise, and a feeling you're more in control of your immediate fate. If there's next to nothing, you have nothing to grip on to. You're caught inside your own head, about to encounter trouble at any moment, and keeping up your guard for that long is exhausting."

    She then changes tones rather quickly, suddenly casually dispassionate. "That's how it is at first. Before to learn master that state, and stay ready without thinking. Then you can free up that brain power for planning your next move, and it becomes easier than puzzling out a catastrophe scenario. Provided you get that experience, you'll learn to appreciate quiet and uncomplicated scenarios like this." So, assuming she's a rookie right out of the gate.

    "No no, Xion. That's a very important aspect. What you should take away is how you address it. With types like these, you might as well treat 'adventuring' as a dirty word. It's practically synonymous with 'deliberately vague extraordinary activities', so as to be exempt from scrutiny of where the wealth comes from or whether you should be doing it'. It's like an expectation of 'happening into' some reward that metaphorically 'falls off the back of a truck'. Name your services proudly and precisely, and what you expect for them efficiently and eloquently."

    Lilian categorically refuses to go searching for sewer levels until it's absolutely necessary. She moves smoothly through the abandoned streets until she reaches the gates of the closed villa, and its inevitable vantage. Taking her rest behind the wall, where she can't be suddenly attacked from anywhere but directly in her line of sight, she begins her trance-like focus on picking out the most direct path to what she wants. The thread in the weave of potential futures that connects to place she wants to go, and what lies along its route to measure it.
Tamamo     "There was no call for aid," Petre says to Hibiki, once he makes his own way across. "There were only omens, instead." He shakes his head. "And a worrying silence on the road."
    "Slow advance!" Emilian orders, once they're all together. The group marches in formation, leaving a spot for Hibiki, making their way down the larger street toward the villa. "Signs?"
    An older woman hefting a morning star shakes her head. "Still vague."

    The villa's iron gate, Lilian finds, is still in place, but the lock has been broken. It's propped up for now, but it would fall over with a solid push. Her search for potential futures shows several that might be 'progress,' either further into the villa, or back out to the surrounding buildings. To narrow it down--

    Something explodes out of a fourth-story window. Black smoke billows, and bits of wood and masonry fall to the streets. The buzzing in the air can only be heard after the initial shock passes, as clouds of insects, not smoke, spread from that single point into surrounding buildings, all along the street, disappearing back inside each one. More hang hovering high in the air, flitting back and forth, scarab-like on close inspection, but none approach the people below.

    "I sense them, on the right!"
    "The left!"
    "Inside the homes, they must have been--"
    "It's a trap!"
    "Of *course* it is, idiot."
    "East street, get to the gate! Keep formation! Ware the doors! Fire and water, choke and drown them. Move!" Emilian's order-shouting voice cuts over the noise.

    Any appropriate senses will find that a lot of human-sized things are stirring in the buildings the bugs flew into. Likewise, where there had been no reaction of magic or enemy or noticeable life signs before, now there is.
Tamamo     There's a little time to react before anything else happens, given that that initial swarming takes time to happen, and then for the things inside the buildings to get moving. The building had been one near the large, open forum, itself not far down the street from the large villa (or small palace).

    The street-facing doors don't 'open' so much as some of them explode into so many splinters and flying debris, itself a minor hazard, given how few of these streets are particularly wide. Some instead open inward, just enough for something to slip out. For anyone staying in the street, it's the first, more aggressive group that will have to be dealt with immediately, but both look largely similar.

    They were probably human, once. The form is still largely there, with a few additions. They show all the signs of having been dead for 'a while,' and though 'zombie' is a tempting label, none of their visible wounds are obviously fatal, all limbs are intact, and anything that can reliably distinguish life/undeath will mark these as the possessing the former. They have that much in common.

    To differ, there's all the expected individuality of the full populace of a bustling town. Women, men, and children, in roughly that order, none carrying weapons, dressed in whatever they may have had on that particular day, including a lot of vibrant green, red, blue, sashed, striped or checkered with darker tones. The clothes are ripped apart on some of them, to make way for the frequent additions to their forms. The most prominent (and combat-relevant) are the bone or chitin claws, some attached to their arms, others growing from wholly new, jointed appendages, for a variety of similar flavors of body horror.
Lilian Rook     Lilian makes *some* progress, which isn't surprising, and neither is it all that astonishing that it seems to line up with her gut instinct of aiming towards the seemingly empty semi-palatial estate first. Since she hadn't gotten to the part of threats yet, however, it'd be a lie to say that she was expecting swarms of *demon bugs* to erupt into the streets.

    She's well ahead of the order to the Valceans in her selection, out of three years now of constant training and practice. The subtle magics of runes are set aside for the moment, and she brings out the more dramatic power that flows through her bloodline, conjuring up a swirling point of painterly black and red flame to her fingertip, turning a full half-arc to face the swarm, and firing a split second torrent of unshaped and barely directed unseelie fire into the air. Without directing it into any particular spell, it sperads out in only a roughly forward direction, though the enormous fan should be ideal to catch as many of the insects as possible before they can get back indoors.

    The human figures are another matter. Lilian thumbs the guard of her sword, but she stays her hand for just a second, focusing mesmeric eyes on the closest 'zombie' to burst free from its domicile, and extend other powers into its mind, trying to read its thoughts, and gauge their lucidity, if any even remains.
Hibiki Tachibana     Xion is certainly a friend, as far as Hibiki is concerned. Even though she is an Honorary Kamen Rider and the other girl is aligned with Stanced Up Chaser and the Heartful Jawline, she's a good person and they've fought together against crazy robots and more, more than once. She has a funny outlook on things, but in a good way. Working alongside her again can only take some of the edge off. Maybe because of quips like that. "Is nicer the way you'd put it...?"

    Lilian addressing her comes as a surprise for a moment though, followed by her listening intently. "Ah..." Even though she's not looking back at her, Hibiki is pretty openly digesting all of that for a few long moments. "Staying ready without thinking...I think I get it. Sort of." She gives a nod, once again despite the fact Lilian isn't looking back at her, while also using the chance to appraise how well she's handling herself. "I'm just...not good with atmospheres like this, I guess. Not sure if I'll be able to manage it the same way as you...but thanks."

    The last bit is quieter than the rest, but it seems to do a decent enough job of steadying her while they move, even with the fairly worrying knowledge that word never actually got out of Ocna.

    And then the window above shatters, and she's immediately on full alert. Bugs are a problem, because fighting them is more involved than just punching them, but despite their swarming around they don't seem to actually be engaging with them. While shouts ring out in the group, she remains where she is in the formation and keeps herself prepared.

    But she soon wishes it was just them, with what shows next. "That's--" After she shields herself from the debris of a shattered door and lays eyes on them, Hibiki has to suppress an immediate urge to recoil in horror. "...the townspeople...!" This is followed by clenched teeth, and her reluctantly raising her guard back up. Fighting instinct forces itself to the forefront of her sudden mix of emotions. While she very clearly doesn't want to engage with them nor leave the side of the others, the response to any that try to draw near enough to attack is swift - palm strikes and blowback-focused kicks meant to knock the creatures into one another and force them back. Notably non-lethal. "Are those /things/ what did this...!?"
Xion "I guess that's why you have those cards that say that you're a Black Crown Cool Sworder." That's not what Lilian is, but Xion has forgotten and it's been a very long while since Lilian's extremely cool rank has been brought up. "I definitely get not wanting to give people the wrong idea, but even 'The Hero of Everyone's Hearts' is getting..."

She makes a sick face. "Complicated."

Xion feels yet weirder as she follows along with Lilian. It's the response to Hibiki that gets her. 'There wasn't any call for help.'

To Lilian, Xion whispers: "But I definitely did! Are we being gaslit? Is that what this is? I don't smell any gas."

And then the explosions of masonry begin, Xion's sentence punctuated by environmental hazards that whizz by her like exclamation points and underlines.

"Okay no that's definitely gas." She deadpans, arms extending as her stance widens, Starlight shimmering into her grip with a soft 'shwink!' and a flash of silver and blue, stepping to defend Lilian. "I don't think those parts go with those bodies..." Xion doubts softly, not quite sure this isn't a huge misunderstanding.

She's the one with a weapon out, and all.
Tamamo     Seelie fire does work on the swarm, which scatters around the flames. Where they're burned up, and none enter those closest buildings, no other enemies appear. There's a delay before another window, this one high up in the main building of the villa, bursts open, and a second swarm appears. Obviously, unnaturally directed, the second swarm only selects different targets than the first had reached. Again, none of them approach street-level.

    This time, more ready for it, spears of flame fly from the hands of two of the Valceans, chucked like javelins, exploding in the air. That won't be enough, but it might work as a delay.

    Lilian finds that nobody's home behind those eyes. The movement of the body shows human-level perception at minimum, with little wasted motion as it -- she, a 20-something woman in a long, blue dress with a stained apron over top -- rushes her. The extra limbs are hairy, insectoid, with either claws or stingers. The neck and jaw muscles are intact, neither lolling nor slack. Only the eyes aren't looking at anything. There is intelligence, enough to refocus on Xion as she gets in the way, to acknowledge Starlight as a weapon, to feint high and drop low, to try to grab Xion close enough to stab her with one of those sharp, extra limbs from an angle that'd make parrying harder than slicing all the way through her body. There is intelligence, but it's not hers.

    That single opponent can be dealt with in any of a variety of ways. That one is representative, rather than remarkable, unfortunately. The streets are filling with the former townsfolk, every one of them equally, silently, out for blood. They work together to surround their prey, but, in better news, aren't as effective in the matter as the Valceans.

    Hibiki doesn't have too much trouble just keeping them back, as they're neither as strong as she is, nor as fast. They don't have much of a reach advantage, either, but even a small wound is going to reveal some extra bad consequences, if she slips up.

    That's not too likely, so long as she sticks where she is. Led by Emilian, the group is moving down toward one of the town gates, this one paralleling the river, and providing all the choke points necessary for them to start working. Blades flash, shields bash, flames fire out, and one woman with contrastingly vibrant red hair summons orbs of water that she strikes into the faces of her opponents, where they stick. The heads are preferentially targeted in every case, with the exception of the fire magic, which they seem to be using almost entirely for creating thick clouds of smoke.

    "So they were," Petre says to Hibiki, hanging back behind her, and still unarmed. "We must assume the worst. The whole town is lost, and its people food to the Enemy." He holds one hand around the end of his iron necklace.
    "Blast! Hold them here," Emilian says, "and we'll work through them the hard way. Days earlier and we could have..." He doesn't finish that sentence, instead bisecting a heavy-set man from shoulder to hip with his longsword. His next word is probably a curse.
    Others are less articulate as they fight.
    "By the light of..."
Hibiki Tachibana     Fortunately, Hibiki has no intention of leaving Emilian or the rest of the formation, staying entirely on the defensive. Though she hasn't really given it much active thought while in the process of reigning in her emotions and staying focused, she has a fairly good idea that getting cut open by...whatever these people have become wouldn't be good. Not while the bugs that are seemingly responsible are still everywhere, too.

    "Is it really too late to do anything for them...?" She asks through clenched teeth back over her shoulder towards Petre, who she's doubly sure to protect. Maybe she knows better already, but that doesn't stop her from wanting to believe otherwise. Even while swords swing and fire singes, putting the things down (hopefully) for good, she's still opting towards clearing them out more than actually killing. It creates more work in the long run, and she knows that.

    Still... "There's even children, damnit!" With a grunt of exertion, Hibiki brings one leg high, then swings her heel down into the hard street below. It comes down hard enough for hairline cracks to rip through the stone, right behind the rippling shockwave intended to force back and destabilize a great deal of the creatures rushing in towards her, and leave them open to the others.

    In between lulls, she's checking on the conditions of the Valceans, and also keeping track of any more surprises from within the buildings. If all her focus wasn't on fighting right now, she'd probably have a mind to retch, but it'll have to wait. "Are we going to have to fight the entire town? Maybe if we took out the source of it--"
Lilian Rook     "Stop holding back." Lilian says to Hibiki, finally breaking her gaze on the charging once-woman. It feints, which is an unwelcome surprise, but Lilian's hand on her sword is simply much faster. Much stronger. She draws and bisects the creature straight through the middle, hurling the attacking top half over her head and letting the sprinting bottom half stumble and slide to a bloody stop at her feet. "They're well beyond saving. There's not even enough left of them to suffer."

    Even with that eerie blade now free of its sheath, radiating bloodlust, Lilian only falls back a short ways, taking off arms and legs whenever they extend with swift, almost weightless flicks of the terminal six inches of the sword, manipulating the hilt with just her fingers. Once she's trimmed the leading edge of the wave, she leaps back off the ground, and takes to the air again, rather than getting stuck in.

    /The annoying type. They're individually not hard for me to overpower, but taking on a lot of them at once will mean using up a lot of magic, or repeatedly relying on that ability. Both of those won't last me more than ten minutes of fighting this intense. Maybe fifteen put together. I didn't prepare any projectile weapons, but they'd likely be a few dozen kills at best, even expending all ammunition. Relying on the Valceans should lessen the burden considerably, but if this entire town is gone then--/

    /--what would a population of this size be? Two thousand, subtracting unusable bodies, would be a stretch, but between this many allies, limiting how many we fight at a time, it could be doable. But it could be much more than that, and we don't know if the insects themselves are also a combat threat. Numbers games and battles of attrition aren't my thing, I can't assume that we can outlast them. I'll need to prioritize saving enough in reserve to immediately exfiltrate everyone if need be. No, Xion can handle that, so I only need to focus on her. I don't have even close to the firepower necessary to wipe this place off the map. Burning it might work. If they scatter into the countryside, we can pick them off./

    Aiming for the height she can only assume is a safe guess at how high the possessed can jump from those buildings, Lilian remains hovering overhead, and begins acting as close fire support. Waves of that fire blast down on advancing surges of enemies, then abate when the scattered second row runs through, allowing her allies to cut them down. Precise rays of fizzling black and gold light-anomalies take the heads off of monsters that flank the group, or which are poised for an opportune strike on the outnumbered. She's clearly trying to pace herself, however, merely 'managing' the swarm and relying on the grounded muscle to carry the bulk.

    "I don't suppose any of you have a means to blow this place sky high? Failing that, what are our options vis a vis burning them out? If there's nobody left alive, I vote that leaving the buildings intact isn't important; we may need to set torch to the whole town, form a perimeter, and cut down any that leave."
Xion Normally, a high guard is perfect against against the nearly autonomous attack patterns of a mindless monster. They lunge at maximum distance, the prepared downstroke dispatches them, and with a backstep--

She waits too long. Hope springs eternal, but in this town, so does the tenacity of the changed -- cursed? -- civilians cursed by Emilian's enemy.

Dropping her blade down as the woman lunges, Xion's eyes go wide and her grip on the odd bracket-hilt of her weapon slips to one handed as an unexpected connection is made.

Stabbed at, Xion catches the jamming claw with an interposing hand, holding the tearing point just off her chest and struggling.

Then, like ink spilled over intervening frames, she moves away from weapon-and-arm uselessly bouncing off of the back of the changed woman and off-hand checking a limb-stab just a hair's breadth from a telling blow and into a different position: both hands at her blade's hilt, arm cocked back and blade close in and ready to thrust.

The expected thrust after the downstroke, specifically. The tall tooth on her key-sword pushes out with both piercing and sawing force, carrying the turned woman out and away rather than running her through, only to be caught in Lilian's close fire support.

"Uh... Big attacks? Hibiki has big attacks! She and X!" Xion supports, a black-and-white cross medallion in her left hand transforming into the twisted black-and-white keyblade Roxas favors, a saber-style blade.

"If you're up there, find the best place to fight them all in a big pile, and hope they don't turn into a tornado when they're more than half defeated!"
Tamamo     "None at all," Petre says, sadly. In the midst of all this high-powered combat, an old man in traveling clothes looks rather out of place, but he stays safely inside the formation, looking more concerned for the others than himself.
    "Kindness does little good on the battlefield," grunts one of the other knights. "Ah, youth! Hah!" He laughs, kicking a young man with pincer-hands hard enough to turn a tackle into a stumble, then finishes with a decapitating strike before his opponent can turn to face him.
    "They'll not let us reach that point without fighting every one of them," Emilian says, to the suggestion of reaching the source, "of course. Not stupid, these swarms. Not when they reach this size."
    "Between a long, safe battle, and a long, riskier battle, not much choice, really?" The shortswordsman from earlier says, narrowly avoiding being stung half a dozen times in the space of a minute. "Woah, there."

    Emilian shields the redheaded caster, while she sticks the enemies Hibiki had knocked back with more orbs of water around their faces. This doesn't immediately kill them, but they slow drastically down, then keel over within a minute, even if left alone. It at least looks cleaner than what swords and fire do. Everything smells of death, either way.

    It's a bit easier once Lilian takes the high not-ground, where it's uncertain whether she can be reached, but anything that goes for her would be clearly visible. Uncertain, that is, until some merely mostly human-shaped things climbing up walls or out of upper-story windows start firing high-velocity shards of mucous-covered bones at her. Those probably aren't sanitary.

    Around this point, Emilian calls, "Through the gate! We're withdrawing. On us! Maintain formation! Your pardon, father Petre."
    "No forgiveness necessary, sir Emilian. We will need to burn down to the roots. I'll see that proper notice is given."