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|Strawberry Princess|| A few weeks ago, the director of the Reignition Project- Lucije Velt- was nearly assassinated at its headquarters in Haiti. The culprit, Elites discovered, was a magical construct projected by "Pink Coral", a mahou being held captive at the CIA complex at Langley.
At some point between then and now, you'll have received a secure message from Director Velt.
You are about to commit what the Americans will label an act of terrorism. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
I am not asking you to do this. For the sake of the Project, my hands must stay- if not clean- plausibly unstained. And yet you have recognized the moral necessity of it, as I do.
Saving a helpless child from exploitation is almost a fairytale ideal of heroism. It is also the only way to prevent Pink Coral from being forced to carry out more proxy assassinations. The CIA is a dying organization grasping for relevance in our new world, and it will abuse her to maintain that hold however it can.
Pink Coral's coven was killed by an Endling in 2019, and she was listed as dead alongside them. Her only family is her father, who I have arranged to have sent on a "business trip" outside the country for his own safety.
Go and do without hesitation.
LANGLEY, FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
|Strawberry Princess|| In mundane, 'main-line' Earths, this complex was christened the George Bush Intelligence Center in 1999. But magical children and monsters derailed everything in 1990, and so in this world it remains nameless. "The CIA Headquarters" or "Langley" serves well enough.
The nearest unguarded Warpgate is an hour's walk away, but the Elites could arrive through a variety of means: teleportation, faked credentials and a car, low-altitude flight to slip past radar, or simply taking a long hike through the rolling hills of northern Virginia.
One way or another, they come to a point where the pretty forest is interrupted by small parking lots and narrow, checkpoint-guarded roads that lead into a large complex of office buildings. These could be any white-collar cube farm; people in suits and ties or business-casual mill around, some of them heading for their cars at the end of a long day at work.
But it's intuitively obvious that the parking lots aren't a quarter of the size they'd need to be, and there are far fewer cars than people. Preliminary research has revealed that the bulk of the compound is underground; there's nowhere secure enough to hold a magical girl like Pink Coral on the surface, anyway.
Unless you can phase or teleport through solid rock, you'll need to break the ground open with some display of excessive force to get at the metaphorical hornet's nest inside. But there's a sense of tension, of gravitas, in the air.
From the moment any intruders make their presence known, the clock is ticking. The organizational immune response will become more and more ferocious over time. You'll need to get in, grab Pink Coral, deal as much collateral damage as you can, and get out in a hurry.
Case in point: mere seconds after any breaching attempt or other blatant display of power begins, two hillsides each a thousand feet away (one to the north and the other to the south) open heavy blast doors to reveal glittering arrays of hundreds of computer-aimed pulse lasers.
These are proper Department-of-Defense military lasers, not the glowy magical girl stuff; they aren't visible in the air, only audible as an electric hum that drowns out the panicked screaming of white-collar workers. Whatever they're pointed at glows a brilliant white under the focused photons, then melts, explodes, or burns away to ash a moment later.
Finding cover that shields one from both the north and south simultaneously is, deliberately, very hard. This is likely the first time anyone has ever wished that an office building had fewer windows.
Fliers are targeted preferentially, but not exclusively, allowing anyone who's tough or foolish enough to draw a majority of their fire by getting up in the air. It isn't hard to guess who these lasers are meant for: they could burn down a rogue magical girl in seconds. Barring the complete destruction of the laser batteries, the best defense is getting underground as fast as possible.
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Time to save the girl
Arthur's got a Gate on offer. He's also crafted what could be called a "gamer cave" nearby -- not a literal cave, but more a bunch of trash that's accumulated from a long stakeout -- a place from which he has often monitored and staked out the place -- having been held back from his prospective blind assault. The trust in Lilian is, if not absolute, at least enough to take her word for it when she says that following her directions will result in more heroism done. His Gate deposits those who follow him in a clearing overlooking the facility, where he's kept various seating supplies and garbage gamer food under a tarp, and set down an old Skaianet-branded wifi-and-power block to keep from getting bored.
>Arthur: What's the right way to move forward?
Arthur gets his smart-sunglasses on and checks in. Alright, Lilian Rook. What's your plan?
|Staren|| Hmm. Staren could fly low, or rent a car, or... wait a minute.
Staren steps out of Arthur's provided gate, wearing only a black bodysuit that's probably made of some superscience material and obviously meant to go under something, and with her hair awkwardly pinned in place behind her head to presumably fit in a helmet. She steps aside to let others through, giving Arthur a friendly nod and attempting the handshake if he starts it. She manipulates AR screens only she can see, "Wormhole link established. I'll summon armor when we go loud." Already, drones -- hovering on little ion jets or quadrotors or walking on spidery legs -- are warping in and moving out of peoples' way around the cave, to be left for calling in away from her own position later.
Lillian has a plan. Staren listens.
|Go Shijima|| This is unlike anything Go's ever done before. This is something that could and probably will get him put on a watchlist somewhere. This is something that will put him up against people--many of whom will have no idea why he's there.
But some of them will know exactly why I'm there.
Go will have taken the hiking trail. He's dressed for it, no stranger to the outdoors. The tennis shoes are out for hiking boots, the hoodie traded out for a lightweight travel pack slung around his shoulder, and he's gone with a plain white tee for breathability. It's all an excuse to do some thinking. To prepare himself for what he's going to do. Director Velt said the Americans would consider it an act of terrorism, but...
...the Commonwealth represents the ideal that the Multiverse should be something that exists for the benefit of people, and not the benefit of power...
...and at the end of the day, against all that Multiversal power, the only legs the Commonwealth and all its people have to stand on are us.
Go takes a breath, as he pauses atop one of those rolling hills, shading his eyes with a palm to take in the view. His camera is with him. He snaps a picture.
What he'll actually be doing, as opposed to what it will be called, is exactly the kind of thing that he thought he signed up for. It's time to see if he was right about that, or if his worst fears are true--if all he can do is punish and hurt.
If I make this about punishing, and not about saving... then I'll only hold us back.
<Q-Conversation> Lilian Rook says, "They're fortified for enemy mahou assaults. That means if your thing is flying, being tough and fast, shooting energy blasts, and one weird gimmick, they're about to push you unless you follow my instructions."
Go's about fifteen minutes away when he hears that over the broadband. He taps a finger to the earpiece he's wearing. "Lilian, that's my thing exactly. Please call the shots for me. I don't want to be dead weight." Eventually, he crosses through that forest, into the first of the parking lots. He's quick to stow the camera in his travel pack.
Everything is underground.
If Strawberry were here... no. That's not going to help Coral. We need to save her and we need to prevent something like this from ever happening again. Just stay calm and listen.
|Hellwarming Duo||Utsuho: "So are we supposed to or not supposed to kill anyone here?"
Rin: "These're supposed to be some really bad bad guys, right? So I'm pretty sure Teach wouldn't mind too much, yeah?"
Utsuho: "No, I'm pretty sure this still counts."
Rin: "Fine, fine. But if we set them on a little bit of fire, it's not our fault if they don't put it out, right?"
For better or for worse, the cat and the bird are here! Utsuho and Rin are wearing their usual clothes in white/black and green, Utsuho has her rather visible control rod and corium boot covering most of an arm and leg respectively, and Rin is perched atop her suspiciously wrapped wheelbarrow. They had initially been enthused about just coming right out of gate blasting fire and brimstone all over the place, but ever since joining the Paladins?
They've gotten weirdly good at following directions from smarter people. Still, they already look somewhat impatient to get a move on even while waiting for the battle plan to be drawn out. Utsuho takes a moment to gawk at Staren's machines while Rin does the same at Arthur's glasses, and then the former approaches Go with a raised eyebrow.
Utsuho: "Aren't you fast? that's like the opposite of dead weight unless you're just sitting still."
Rin: "Yeah, right? We've seen ya in action before. You'll be fine, bro."
|Vegeta|| Vegeta is quiet for the entire trip as he flies low after exiting the portal, choosing to play nice if it means he gets a good fight out of it. He just keeps his tail wrapped around his waist, arms crossed.
But once they're there, he decides to make himself useful, once he gets the warning of what exactly he has to expect.
Well, it's time to see what these people can actually do...
He flies into the air, suspecting that he'll draw laser fire to himself, then immediately fires multiple oval spheres of energy into the ground, which each explode with about the power of a grenade. He tries to take the lasers, trying to see just how powerful these weapons actually are...
|Lilian Rook|| Lilian taps a reminder to herself. "Send Velt something nice. Two week minimum spacing." A sigh to herself, as she puts her smart device away. "Yes, that sounds about right. Engage in military operations in a foreign country, get hit back, 'this is terrorism!'. Americans."
Fairly close to the Langley facility, out in the forest, outside of what she's already affirmed as their sensor range, Lilian begins transmitting via her encrypted radio.
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "Langley team, assemble on my count."
<Q-Conversation> Lilian Rook says, "Environment sealing, medical suite, low collateral anti materiel weaponry, energy resistant plating, fortified comms, any interception or cracking gear you have, all the sensors you have, and a sense of mortality."
<Q-Conversation> Lilian Rook says, "They're fortified for enemy mahou assaults. That means if your thing is flying, being tough and fast, shooting energy blasts, and one weird gimmick, they're about to push you unless you follow my instructions."
Gesturing towards the fake work setup (and showing some photos she's snapped with a 'nice' camera), she elaborates. "This is standard practice from what I know. Fake little suburbs, downtowns, or office buildings. They're paid personnel to keep up the illusion. Usually listed as 'training simulation areas'. Sometimes they even are. That's part of the shell game."
She points to Arthur. "We teleport in. But not straight inside the complex. They have the means to fry most of you out of the air before you can do anything. If we're spotted by the drones, they'll report it. More importantly, *anyone here* might actually be a proxy of Pink Coral; her ability is creating and controlling long range facsimiles, and we don't know how many at once, how quickly she can cycle up new ones, or the full exten of their abilities."
I4. "Disable cameras and sensors. Loop footage and spoof average noise, don't shut them down or they'll notice. Don't bother with door locks; electronic entry is going to be logged." Staren, Youkai Pair. "Bulkheads, doors, whatever, need to come off. Precision work, don't just blow the entire thing unless you're doing it shaped charge stile. Lasers, welding beams, melt them right off, whatever, doesn't matter." Go. "You and I are going to be doing high speed preemptive cleanup. The second anyone *looks at you*, never mind runs for an alarm, take them out, immediately, and stash them somewhere out of sight." Gawain. "Front and center. There are various chokepoints where defenses will kick in once we start fiddling and they'll be shielded from casual hacking outside. Any targets of opportunity you see, take them. Set off anything you can withstand, smash anything that'll give us problems. Stand in front of Go and I once entries come down. Wait for the breachers to cycle back. Staren and I4 at the rear." She looks at Ioanna almost as an afterthought. "For now, do you think you could use the Alter Gear to blend in? Find a decent spot. Wander around and break the alarms if you want. I don't know."
"Once we have forced entry, we'll immediately set up deep penetration scans and divination coverage. We have a time limit here; they *will* figure it out eventually, and once they do, they'll scramble a coven from another base, who won't have a five minute limit. If they don't report back target eliminated immediately, it'll be another, and soon we'll be up to our necks in cascading Heart Abilities. In, girl, out. I'll want you people to check the databanks for any mention of other Mahou they may be hiding. No mass destructive attacks. Am I clear?"
|I4||I4 was here, and had crashed the 'Gamer Cave' and is now sipping on an 'MTN DEW' or the equivalent in this part of the world, and waring a T-shirt somehow with a gaming message on it because it's stupid and likely shoved on after spending time near the COOLEST KID. Right now, I4 has an array of holographic pannels out in front of him.
He's also attended by a black box with arms that floats near him, it's head has an antenna on its head that is stuck out making scifi scanner sounds. He's been scanning for what he can. Mostly general layout or anything he can ID. Also trying to get a feel for the facility underneath.
However, his time is up, as Lilian makes her orders known. "Gotcha... let's see..." he starts moving his fingers along the holo screens. The orders are simple. "Yeah, I figured there. I can only fool something as complex as this for so long. I can also try and add a bug to activate once things go loud and confuse the hell out of their coms."
Right now it's trying to get access, getting in might be hard, but he can pull it off. Then it just becomes trying to make sure his presence in their systems isn't immediately discovered.
|Gawain||Gawain is finishing a bag of Doritos in one of Arthur's gamer chairs. Once it's done, he wet-naps off his fingers, stands up, and rogers to Lilian. "Let's give them hell."
He summons his armor and sword, but keeps the latter sheathed. "Arthur, on your go. Allow me to be the tank." He's deadly serious, despite having just eaten chips.
He may be mood-eating.
|Staren|| *Anyone here* could be Pink Coral! It could be you! It could be me! It could be aaaaany one of us! "Well, /I/ know I'm not her, but I'm not sure how to prove it. I'm terrible at convincing anyone of anything." When given the mission to disassemble key parts of the base she give Lilian a thumbs-up. Mentally directing the lab to have shaped charges ready to warp in.
Use the Alter Gear to blend in? "The what?" Staren looks between Lilian and Ioanna curiously.
She nods at the comment about deep scanning. "Yeah. Between me and I4 we have pretty good sensors, right? And of course, yes, no blowing up what we can't see. Could be a magical girl in a cell on the other side of the wall... or some other kind of hostage."
She stretches, and then warps on armor. May as well since they'll be teleporting in and MIGHT be teleporting into a trap. The armor is still white, and a bit slimmer than before -- it helps that the person inside is too -- and the plating itself looks a bit more angular and future-military than rounded and reploid.
Three features immediately stand out: One, there's a cloth accessory, white with Concord-orange trim, affixed to the armor stylized to look like a coat although it doesn't actually cover as much -- collar, shoulders, down the sides and back, and long flowing tails almost ankle-length. Two, there's a bubble helmet, like a cartoon's idea of a spacesuit. That has GOT to be for looks and magically reinforced or something. Third... there's an obviously holographic, glowing, Concord-orange scarf. It doesn't actually look like fabric, and the shape is abstracted somewhat, giving the impression of a ragged piece of fabric rustling in the wind.
Staren looks at her forearms, checks weapons holstered at her waist and, nodding satisfied, holds out a hand so an AK-pattern SMG can warp into it, which she slings across her back, nodding with a smirk to Arthur.
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Teleport in
"But not STRAIGHT UP IN THERE? I mean, alright." Arthur shrugs vaguely. "I got the GATES for it. YO, hey EARLY GREYING, lemme get them DATAS." Is he talking to I4? "I gotta get a PRECISE VECTOR on that GATE. Find me a LANDING SPOT that's INSIDE but not, like, STRAIGHT INSIDE. I guess we're just TELEPORTING to NEARLY THE FRONT DOOR?" He claps both hands together, and begins building shining lime-green spirograph energy between his palms in a sphere.
The minute he has both approval from Lilian and data from I4, he's going to launch that Gate, linking his awful little gamer cave to somewhere nearish the start for Lilian and Go's pre-emptive rush. That should be the ideal entry point for this plan, and he can devise more Gates to add to this network as he goes.
|Hellwarming Duo||Rin: "Bulkheads...?"
Utsuho: "Walls and stuff. Keeps big things stable."
Rin: "How the heck do you know that?"
Utsuho: "Looked it up."
Rin: "Oh. Well, if it's burnin' stuff all precise and quiet like, leave it to me!"
With the plans and roles laid out, the youkai are off once the teleportation work is done (and after Utsuho puts her freaking phone away). They actually stay on the ground initially, with Rin leading Utsuho closer to important looking walls and doors. They don't engage anyone immediately, even, although their stances are a little too exaggerated to be inconspicuous despite using actual cover and shadows to stay out of sight.
When the coast is clear (or if they just have to resort to braining someone with a wheelbarrow or a big freaking boot), they get to actual work on melting through the bulkheads and doors. Rin's considerably slower at it, so she focuses on smaller and thinner looking doors while Utsuho goes for the denser doors and whatever looks like a load-bearing wall. They actually focus on melting their targets (not burning) thoroughly before changing to another one, too.
It's actually kind of therapeutic, just listening to the sizzling noises and concentrated nuclear plasma.
|Staren||Staren gives a brief 'how does this look?' look to Arthur, Lilian, and Ioanna, and then once the new gate is open she heads on through. If she sees anyone notice them she fires a stun gun to try and drop them (and if that doesn't work, blasts them with the armor's beam cannons), but unless forced into a prolonged fight Lilian and Go can't pull for her, she gets to work slicing open doors; regular office locks can just be sliced through with the beam saber, but once they get to the SERIOUS doors, she tries to gauge the thickness by testing what kind of hole the beam saber can make in a few seconds and then either slowly cutting with it, or setting up shaped charges (unless they are, somehow, still quiet and have the time for slower cutting.) Once she sees how Rin and Utsuho go about this she tries to coordinate with them to open doors faster by combining use of her own tools on other parts of the doors while they work.|
|Lilian Rook|| "No, not 'straight up in there'. You think they haven't accounted for that? They literally *have* a Mahou who can just insert actors into wherever she wants; do you think they haven't accounted for others?" Lilian replies to Arthur. "We're not running through the whole defensive net, but we're not teleporting right into the heart either. Your particular variety of movement is also *highly* sensorgenic, isn't it? This is the country that invested the most heavily into that kind of equipment.
She herself is of course wearing her battlesuit, being more or less form-fitting charcoal and graphite hydrophobic material shot through with partitioned patterns of some matte, transparent crystal lines and non-reflective gold, over which is fixed a handful of lightweight gunmetal grey plates, mainly over the chest, shoulders, wrists, knees, ankles, lower spine, and neck. Despite a few hard carry cases fixed to magnetic waist and thigh holsters, she doesn't appear to be heavily armed, only overtly holding a locally sourced M4 and holstered M9 (for what she assures Velt is the irony value) instead of one of her more powerful homeworld weapons.
Hopping through that portal, she follows her own plan by waiting behind the slicers and hackers, letting Gawain take point when the door comes down, and then instantaneously assessing the state of visible defenses and personnel inside, popping in and out of view to anyone who could pull an alarm or shoot back, and taking them out with a machine gun sequence of rifle butts, neck strikes, diaphragm and liver blows, and joint breaks, leaving the rest for Go.
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Any parting words as Lilian takes the Gate?
"HIGHLY SENSORGENIC is just the NERD WAY of saying SUPER RAD COOL GLOWING." Arthur says, double-fingergunning. Thanks, idiot. Thank god he's let his intense fight-mood cool down, though.
|Go Shijima|| Go chuckles. "Thanks, guys," he says to Rin and Utsuho. "I appreciate it."
It's probably important not to be seen fidgeting with one's backpack nervously, this close to a government facility. So he resists the temptation, and shifts in place instead. "Okay," he says, in response to Lilian. "I can do that." There's a nod, and he sounds like he means it. "I'll transform as soon as we start." There's a sigh of relief. At least Lilian knows how to approach this.
Putting on a brave face, he gives her a thumbs-up. "Crystal clear."
I'll need Mach 555's power if speed is what we're after. That'll help us save Coral... and I've already got an idea of how we can keep this from happening again.
When things go loud, so does Go. For once, wonder of wonders, he doesn't do the whole intro. The Mach Driver is slapped around his waist, the chamber popped open. "Henshin!" A little miniature supercar flips open in his hand and becomes a bike with a sidecar. The sidecar's underside has buttons like the keypad of a phone. He slams it into the chamber on his belt, the whole thing looking like the exhaust on a motorcycle. When he clicks the chamber closed, the belt's AI announces:
SHIFT BIKE//RIDER - Mach 555!
There's a sound that hammers at the chest and rattles the ground--like a pack of performance bikes racing past the bleachers. Hard-light constructs arranged like a 3D blueprint crash into his body, covering him in white armor with red racing stripes. Two shoulder capes appear at the left side, the armor's edges finned to be more aerodynamic. A tire rests just below his right shoulder. The hubcap displays an iconic yellow _5_ in a field of red, and the sleek left shoulderplate bears an M insignia.
The wheels at his ankles rev up, and with the high-pitched, aggressive snarl of a bike engine, he rockets forward. An array of differently angled microthrusters works in tandem to add forward momentum, blurring his form to near-indistinguishable shapes of red and white.
"That guy up there... he really wants in!" Kamen Rider Mach's blue visor displays a reflection of Vegeta's blasts as he momentarily follows their flight. "Or... maybe he just wants a fight. Either way...!" The Mach Driver belches flame from its exhaust as Go mashes the button four times.
Mach is a blur of red and white, his armor revving and allowing him to cross an alarming distance before the sound of that rev dies. At first, he's moving just to keep from catching collateral--but the moment Arthur's gate is open, he darts through, mashing three buttons on the dialpad of that miniature bike-phone.
Mach mashes three numbers on the dialpad in the Mach Driver.
GEAR SHIFT//787 - STOP!
When he steps through the other side of the gate, that hubcap on his shoulder has changed from a racer's decal to a street sign, commanding STOP in angry red and white. Anyone Lilian can't get with her rapid CQC is blasted with a hard-light projection of a triangular stop sign, that races through the landing zone. Anyone caught out by it is subjected to intense gravitational distortion that makes moving extremely difficult bordering on impossible for the average human being--and Go cleans up quickly.
Darting between everyone stunned by it or those few who were quick enough to avoid it, he makes centrifugally-boosted attacks with the large wheel on his blaster, striking nerve points with expert precision to try and quickly wind and lay them out.
|Strawberry Princess|| I4's preliminary scans are somewhat muffled by the huge amount of rock involved, but he can get a rough sense for the underground complex's layout. It's got two distinct layers; the upper one sprawls out in a complex web of tunnels that hint at a logistical or transit network, and the lower one is considerably more compact, consisting of specialized and irregularly-shaped rooms clustered together.
Arthur's Gate takes the party to a cavernous area reminiscent of a DC subway station: arched ceilings thirty feet high, textured brick-red flooring, heavy doors of elevator-like clean brushed chrome. They seem to be in, specifically, a logistics supply area; there's a deserted forklift and nondescript crates piled high as the ceiling.
Cutting through the door reveals that this place looks like a subway station because it is a subway station. They're on one side of an underground rail line, evidently the utility-cargo side; the passenger station is on the other, with scattered white-collar employees staring in shock and black-clad security pointing handguns at the just-burned-through door. One of them is talking into a bulky walkie-talkie hurriedly; all of them open fire a second later, most of their bullets plinking harmlessly off Gawain.
It's a long jump, or a scrambling climb, across the sunken rail-line to the opposite platform. One of the white-collar workers screams. A few run for a wall-mounted alarm. Those few mysteriously immediately go down.
The entire area bristles with cameras in corners or on poles too, of course- it's practically a panopticon. The CIA is a firm believer in the answer to "who watches the watchmen?" being "us, duh". Those will be I4's purview. The LED display hanging from the tunnel's roof shows they have a few minutes before the next shuttle comes through.
Lilian's divinations show her the path through the subterranean labyrinth: down one particular escalator is a series of- for lack of a better term- decontamination chambers, like heavy chrome airlocks designed to enforce successively greater purity (of what, exactly? It isn't clear). Of course they demand obscenely high clearance, but keycards aren't this group's style anyway.
This is around the point when dull thumps start becoming audible from the direction of the ceiling.
Back on the surface, Vegeta is discovering the marvelous properties of realistic lasers. Being able to facetank them is not a binary "yes/no"; rather, as his body soaks up heat from the focused radiation, the thermal damage steadily ramps up. Each moment one spends in the beams, surviving their incineration is harder than the last, as one's core body temperature more and more starts to resemble a phone number.
Fortunately it isn't long before his blasts break through to the subterranean area below, caving in part of the ceiling and (much to Gawain's likely appreciation) baring it to sunlight. He's reunited, by chance, with the rest of the party, regardless of whether they'll be happy to see him.
In the distance, smoke rises and alarms blare. The group's made it this far in stealth, but this is where that approach ends.
|I4||I4 takes a few moments of thought on the surface, before pointing at a point on the map he managed to get. "I can't get hard details from here, too much rock..." he says, before pointing at a large underground area. "This will do though," he says, before giving the coordinates to Arthur. "Here you go, don't mess this up or we'll become fossils."
There is a flash? PORTAL NOISE? UNIDENTIFIED TRANSPORTAL NOISES? A box that goes bing when stuff? Who knows, but the group is now THERE. Well, about where I4 pointed, which was within Lilian's planned zone of entry. I4 takes action, seeing the camera immediately, and immediately hacking it so that the following could happen.
Somewhere else, where a man is watching cameras. There are so many screens he probably won't notice this one seems to look. It's not like anyone was in the shot when I4 started looping it. It also means I4 starts trying to worm into the network properly now, trying to get a better feel for the area he was actually about to stretch his legs in.
In the area where he would be a digital /god/.
|Strawberry Princess|| Each of the expansive airlock rooms are basically similar: heavy doors, thirty-foot-high ceilings presumably designed for the decontamination of large amounts of material, and exotic sensors. Data that I4 can pull from various devices, or workplace safety messages on the walls in fine print, talk about "NAM pico-contamination" and "terminogenic para-reflex". They must be doing some kind of fancy science with ultra-sensitive instruments down here. Real shame about that.
The first doors have to be welded or blasted open by Staren or Utsuho; the later ones, confused as to what point in the cycle they're supposed to be in, remain open. Halfway through the airlock sequence, though, the doors slam down, dividing the party into front and rear: Staren and the Hellwarming Duo in the back, Lilian and Gawain in the front. Anyone else will have to make a split-second choice about which side of the closing door they want to be on; indecision can only result in being crushed by the airlock.
With the party split, a quartet of figures materializes in a fizzle of light on each side of the dividing doors; eight in total. Even at a brief glance, there's something terribly wrong with these magical children. Each of them has sustained some grievously fatal injury, ranging from decapitation, to charring obliteration of half the torso, to being literally torn to ribbons.
Each of them has their remains bound together, and missing parts 'filled in', with orange crystal. Something about the way that crystal reflects the light makes it reminiscent of Endlings' bodies, of Strawberry's forcefields, of Coral's unmasked projection-body. This is the work of one person's Heart Ability.
Their eyes are glassy, their expressions flat, but each of them holds themselves differently; some kind of muscle memory or brainstem-reflex remains.
|Strawberry Princess|| Two gang up on Gawain immediately; one a young boy with his entire lower body missing-replaced and wearing a regal fur coat, the other an older girl with a swan motif and half her head gone. The boy swoops in to touch him and he's frozen in time for a second, only allowed a tiny window to act in stutters before the effect is reapplied; the girl flickers in and out of existence hundreds of times per second, more often 'gone' than there, and she places a hand on his neck that begins chainsawing its way through the armor, a few microns every time she phases. A premade-counter: don't let him act, chew through the durability.
Another two attack Lilian, though more indirectly. One is a girl in the remains of a purple 'punk rock' outfit, generally mangled; she fires her wand at her own teammate, who wears a faintly familiar familiar golden sailor's outfit, missing a chunk of her torso and one arm. The blast of it wraps around the golden sailor girl, binding her thoroughly in searing spiked chains of glowing energy; the sailor girl makes eye contact with Lilian, and then they're magically transposed via a trick of space, placing Lilian in the searing chains instead.
The quartet on the other side of the divider, with Staren, Rin, and Utsuho (at minimum), have a more holistic synergy. One of them- a mahou of indeterminate gender, dressed like a red knight with a hole punched through their torso- bends distance, thickening the walls and rendering the airlock room barely larger than a cubicle by some Alice-in-Wonderland effect. It's too cramped to possibly use 'splash damage' effects without harming oneself!
The other three in that quartet are predictably chosen to capitalize on the close-quarters niche. One, a girl in animal furs with an entirely missing head projects a close-ranged micro-shredding aura, turning concrete to dust and flesh to pulp within a couple of feet of her body; she lunges to try and get close to anyone she can reach. The second could only be glimpsed briefly before she encased herself in super-durable crystalline armor of her own Heart Ability's design; her wand projects an 'energy blade' from its tip instead of a beam, and she's lethally skilled with it even in death.
The fourth on Utsuho and Staren's side isn't immediately obvious; they lurk in the walls, flowing along them like a shadow and briefly materializing arms of concrete to try and grab at a distracted combatant before re-submerging. Anyone they can seize is locked in a merciless chokehold, held for one of the other close-quarter mahous to finish off.
Anyone not directly targeted by one of the tailored matchups would do well to try and intercede on behalf of their less-fortunate teammates however they can. But break and run or stand and fight, this is real trouble.
|Vegeta|| Vegeta suddenly crashes through the ceiling like the Kool-Aid Man, his body smoking from taking so much laser fire. He shakes his arms out, patting a small fire out of his armor. "I hope the CIA has bigger beam attacks than that! Hah!"
He lands down there about when Staren, Rin, and Utsuho are getting attacked is the first thing he sees. "Is this the CIA? Fine!" He suddenly flies forward and moves to kick the red knight in the side of the head as the walls start closing in.
"So it seems that CIA uses magic of some kind! Very clever!"
|I4||I4 gets the scraps of data he can...weird! He tries to translate what they might mean...Pico would be a unit of measurement...NAM is what? Then there was Terminogenic. He wonders if that means termination? However, the thought was interrupted because there was only a moment to think. He, without hesitation, jumps in behind Lilian and Gawain. He might not always agree with Gawain, but Gawain is also a solid ally. Lilian needs no introduction...he trusts her almost implicitly.
What is revealed is...disturbing. The Magical Children, all of which likely lost their lives protecting their world...
There is something about it that enrages him to his /core/. He's seen this time and again with androids, and it's always disturbed him...but these were /people/. He was a fluke, accidentally being alive...but these were /people/. People who risked their lives for the betterment of all. His vision fades for a moment.
There is a static vision he sees for a moment. A small man's face he can't quite see, arguing with a woman's face who he can only barely make out. They are arguing about something, another figure laying on a table, looking blankly at the two of them, dressed in similar garb as Androids often are. The man is angry, throwing his hands up and storming towards the door...
Until he jerks to a stop and slowly turns...his hand red with blood as he collapses. The woman holding the smoking gun, with a horrified expression, but not remorseful. A face that screams 'look what you made me do' or 'look at the mess you made.'
I4 releases a scream that is completely out of character for the meek little shit. He's so filled with rage and anger he rips the cloth off his face. For the first time probably ever people can see his eyes. They are blue, piercing blue and his face is turned into a snear. He holds his hand up towards one of the undead girls. The one who teleported, and fires a beam of light at her.
Should it succeed he works to try and find the magical field, the part of her that is being kept together. He puts enough magical energy into it to try and have it detonate, then starts trying to chain to the nearest source of necromantic energy.
|Staren|| Vegeta joins them! "Wow. I knew you'd survive!" Staren greets him cheerfully. "Ready to go punch some annoying peoples' faces in?"
As they make their way through the subway tunnels, Staren warps in drones and has them scan, and litters the place with wireless signal relays... they might be able to kind of see through some of the walls or detect hidden doors, at least, but the part she's not sure if I4 has covered is the sight of MAGIC, which should indicate something especially unusual or important here.
Such as ORANGE CRYSTAL CYBORGS. Which Staren is shut in with. Staren hesitates for only a fraction of a second -- the CIA wouldn't use anyone who could be talked down for this, right? Yeah, it's a MAGICAL GIRL WORLD. No WAY would that risk be allowed to stand. Unfortunately, her immediate attempt to dodge and/or shoot is messed up by THE ROOM SHRINKING. Fortunately, Staren's preparations may be enough to at least buy her time -- can that disintigration effect work on, let alone pierce, the forcefield Staren's armor suddenly projects? Staren tries electrifying the field too, although that aspect frequently turns off as sensors detect when allies are about to collide with it.
Staren does what she can, firing the beam cannons built into the forearm's armor to try and blast the mahous at close range. "Utsuho! I'm pretty sure WE can withstand your powers better than THEY can. Do your thing!" It's a gamble, but... desperate times, right? Worst case... well, that's why she had Arthur carry a spare body-- wait. Did she remember to actually DO that?!
~~ Meanwhile, in the Gamer Cave ~~
Among the reserve drones sits one that looks a bit different, somewhat larger than a camera drone, most of its space devoted to the psi-tech circuitry needed to hold a disembodied mind and allow it to connect to a body.
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Stealth it
Following Lilian Rook, Arthur can keep to stealth. I mean, he's not *stealthy*, but he can, at least, follow orders and he can run with some very moderate superhumanity. He can get in and he can follow Lilian's waypoints. But by the time they're going through endless airlocks with alarms blaring...
>Arthur: Kick it to the next stage
Arthur's eagerness to get in fights is going to end badly. But for now, his mad dashes keep pace with Gawain and Lilian Rook, and that's working so well. And he's cut off in the party-split, left on their side.
>Arthur: Fight through the stress
No. Mangled children are too much. Arthur has an incredibly tough time with this, immediately stumbling back, a breath catching in his throat. "This is bad. Corpses-- this-- Ghhk!" He can't strike first. He can barely even strike second. He leaps into action on the third turn, desperately. Fucking around with Lilian Rook's situation wouldn't be wise, he can't guess how to work in tandem with her against enemies with unique Heart abilities. Gawain's more straightforward. Arthur can flash a palm in his direction, and surround the space he's in with an intense outward gravitational force, hopefully knocking the time-assailant back or giving Gawain enough space from the chainsaw-palmed mahou.
Shut up. Focus. They're maimed children, but they have to be solved. Stress out later. Arthur stumbles again, pale, sick. He still was tuned into I4's datafeeds, and he was reading the signage. What did they purify? What did the airlocks keep out? Pink Coral had no range limit. Do Heart abilities really care about that sort of thing? Is this a Heart Ability? He can't focus on this, his mind races in circles around bodies and blood and dismembered parts. He focuses instead on the outside.
>Arthur: Analyze the crystal. What purified lab-conditions does it require?
What was out there, that is not in here? Terminarch-generating fundamental particles? Some kind of exotic atmospheric material they need to guard the corp--
He stumbles. Is there something the crystals are being isolated from, guarded from, that would destabilize them?
|Gawain||Gawain leads the group ahead, tanking bullets and attacks. As they break through the blast doors, he's separated from the others, alongside Lilian. He's cornered by two Mahous - a boy who's slowing him down and a girl who's easily chainsawing him apart.
He might die, if he can't get the sun up. He's too slow, to carve the sigil into the ground. He needs to do one thing, and do it fast. And then he realizes...
These are corpses. Children. Bodies being puppeted for mass warfare. By the CIA.
This is awful. Sick. Evil. Bile runs down his throat. Hate runs through his heart.
Vengeance and justice, wrath.
Each pause, he starts reaching for something underneath the cloak of his armor. Even as he's being slowly worn away, and will eventually be killed.
"I AM TIRED!" One pause goes, as a hand grasps something.
"OF YOUR DAMNED!" A shining dagger is pulled out the next pause, old and alien. He grasps it in both hands, heavy-weighted.
"CIA GAMES!" He holds the dagger up, and before they can counter.
"FEEL MY WRATH!"
Gawain plunges the dagger into his chest.
It begins to writhe. He begins to writhe, even as he's being slowed. He begins screaming. His entire body is consumed by an aura of alien energy, and he squirms. It's enough to kill a normal man, and to drive a man of his strength mad.
As his body is slowly consumed by natural armor, suddenly, his hand reaches out. It grasps something intangible. And instead, the aura changes. It's more...Gawain feeling, if still draconic.
The aura disperses. Gawain can be seen again. But it's not Gawain, exactly. His armor is natural metal, black, silver, and red, with several bright red orbs along the arms, with a large one in the chest. Spikes pulls out of his shoulders, curving backwards. A helmet with two glowing red eyes has covered his face, with two horn-like antennae poking straight up out of his head.
Galatine is gone. In its place is a completely jagged sword. It's still holy, and it's still empowered withlight. But it doesn't resemble the other blade at all.
There's also the matter of how powerful he is now. A miniature sun immediately appears above them, without even a movement of focus, by his very will. As they carve into him, he suddenly breaks free during one of his few seconds of freedom, his energy mostly restored.
"You're already dead. Goodbye."
His sword ignites and moves to smash into the boy slowing him down, with enough force to pulverize a car. If it impacts, it's enough to completely demolish any part of his body it hits, unless hardened supernaturally.
There's not even a shed of sympathy to the corpse from the helmed knight.
|Hellwarming Duo||Rin: "Heh. Doors got nothin' on us!"
Utsuho: "It wasn't that hard. They're doors."
Rin: "Well.. YEAH, but we melted it."
Utsuho: "The catgirl was doing it, too. Doors aren't that hard."
As Utsuho rains on Rin's parade, the pair look up when the blasts open up the surface to the sun. They stare for a while when they spot Vegeta, with Rin even looking between him and Itsuho a few times before snickering immaturely.
Rin: "... Are you two related?"
Utsuho: "What? No. He's got a tail."
When the doors shut, however, they find themselves split away from the front group! With Staren and Vegeta with them, though, neither of them look too worried until the quartet of disfigured mahou appear. To make things worse, they have strange, nonsensical abilities that don't make a whole lot of sense to the pair.
"Is this cave getting smaller? Could've sworn I had enough space to flap before, but this is fine, too!" Utsuho's initial reaction to the shrinking corridor is actually one of utmost confidence. Her control rod is already glowing a bright yellow as she prepares to just bathe the whole thing in nuclear fire for both offensive and path-widening purposes, but she's forced to reconsider when Vegeta charges in to kick one of them in the face.
Tomari would be mad if she melted their allies, after all. Probably.
The moment's hesitation results in her eating some rather nasty flesh carvings from Blender Aura, jerking herself back to avoid getting bloodied even more while Energy Blade gets dangerously closer by the moment. Rin, meanwhile, gets distracted rather badly by way of getting choked out pretty hard.
Instead of firing a beam into that corridor, Utsuho swings her steel-meltingly hot control rod at Wall Choker to get her off Rin first, then beelines for the dividing wall again. She starts shoving it into the wall to try and just 'draw' her own doorway in it by distintegrating the divider with that stupidly intense heat. Rin, meanwhile, doesn't take much time before starting to hurl well-aimed fireballs at Vegeta's and Staren's targets, curving the fireballs around them as though she actually has some semblance of aiming prowess!
|Go Shijima|| Go doesn't think--when that door is held open, his first thought is to put himself on the other side.
It isn't until the door closes behind him that he turns to look--and that's when the fighting starts. He beats a fist upon it uselessly, whirling around in time to see Lilian wrapped in chains and Gawain frozen in place.
Changing gears now will take too long... I've gotta use STOP. And I've gotta be quick!
The armor revs as all definition on Mach's body vanishes in an instant. A colorful blur is racing up the wall before a second passes. With the squeal of burning rubber it changes directions, and in that same span, it's running -across- the walls instead.
Mach's feet are hitting the wall in such quick succession, his form whipping the air so forcefully as he passes, the Mach Driver revving so loudly, that it sounds and feels like the room is a racetrack.
But from Mach's point of view, things are different. Moving that quickly, everything else appears just a little slower. Seconds pass just a little lazier. That dilation might not be enough for him to catch someone blinking in and out of space hundreds of times in a second. But maybe it is.
And he's willing to gamble--at least if he does, it'll split her attention. It starts when Arthur makes his move. The moment that intense gravity pushes the two on Gawain away, There's another tire squeal as, before three two seconds have passed, Mach changes direction again, now traveling up across the ceiling.
He blasts another red energy triangle, expanding wide to try and catch the rapid-teleporter with a slow moving projectile. The issue isn't its speed, however--it's size. The thing rapidly expands, and moves so slowly that one might intuit the correct placement to be 'forward.' Go is hoping the teleporter, in the thrill of combat, will make that play.
Before his feet hit the ground, he gives the wheel on the Zenrin Shooter a strength boosted spin, and a green light glares brightly. The wheel spins, faster and faster, spurred on by the weapon's internal machinery.
This butchery... I've never seen something so cruel! Even if all I can do is chase her around the room... I'm even more certain of why I'm here!
...the suit's AI cheerfully announces, as the tires on Go's ankles are used to brake. His hips shift, his body twists, and the weapon's blindingly fast wheel is swung towards the crystallized portion of the girl's head like a hammer. He might not even be able to catch her--he might not be fast enough. But what he may lack in speed, he more than makes up for in determination. Even if he can't catch her, he's going to try and monopolize her attention with his speed, via blistering and continual harassment with his blaster and his fists.
|Lilian Rook|| Bullying a group of security guards and white collar workers before they can swarm the place with waves of mundane reinforcements and layers of cold war mechanical security goes as smoothly as Lilian could hope. As for the airlocks . . .
"I won't like; that space is an ideal killzone, but it's the fastest route to where we're going. This place is Soviet era bullshit; it's all going to be built for an era of nuclear fear, so we're not tunneling through it all. Remember, we don't know if it really is just Pink Coral here, if they're hiding other Mahou off the record, or how quickly they can call on reinforcements. If you run into anything obviously supernatural, it's a Mahou."
"Don't fight more than one at a time, period; they have 'enough' tactical data on all of us from public record that they'll only commit killer combinations if they can. The more, the worse; if they're fromt he same coven, they'll have *complimentary* abilities and plenty of training on how to use them together. Apart from myself and Lowell, we don't have any further exfiltration ability if you get locked down and smothered. Running into more security: Do whatever you want."
"No, I'll be honest with you. There's at least one more Heart Ability at play here than Pink Coral. I know it already. I just don't know who it belongs to. Stay on guard. Share all the information you can. Stay in at least teams of two. They can't have more Mahou on-site than we have Elites concentrated into this strike."
And yet, she is both technically correct, and horribly, horribly wrong. She'd correctly estimated the threat presented by this world's 'Enlightened'. But, as was perhaps an inevitable act of misplaced hubris, underestimated what enough of the 'Extras' could do when put together with enough budget, access, and unethical free rein. She'd seen these orange crystals. She'd assumed a peer. What she'd gotten was . . .
|Lilian Rook||<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "*Eight* of them? That's--"
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "No wonder I didn't pick them up when I was-- Christ!"
<J-IC-Scene> Gawain says, "...children."
<J-IC-Scene> Gawain says, "Abused. Used. Corpses."
<J-IC-Scene> Gawain says, "I'm sick of this"
<J-IC-Scene> Gawain says, "Sorry, I'm veering off-script. Where's that dagger!?"
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "This is *someone's* Heart Ability right? No, maybe it isn't? If they're importing the crystals-- what is this? Endling pieces? Wand pieces? Synthetic replacements? It can't just be Pink Coral. If it were a Heart Ability it'd just 'work'. They're doing this on their own, aren't they?"
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "And that's-- Gold Carnation?!"
<J-IC-Scene>(NPC) Lucije Velt says, audibly grimacing but trying to keep her voice steady: "I assume some kind of range limitation to a source. Otherwise these... things, would already be out in the world."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell says, "Range-- range limit. Range-- No. Wait. Yes. You're right."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell says, "But maybe-- It might be it's not a range on the source, maybe it's a problem with the world."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 jumps from absolutely rageful scream to a sudden cold tone, "Velt. Does NAM pico-contamination or Terminogenic para-reflex mean anything to you?"
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell says, "Terminogenic, that's-- Terminarchs, it's got something to do with Endlings. Right?"
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "--!"
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "They'd *better not*!"
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Lucije Velt says, "'NAM pico-contamination'. The stuff costumes, wands, Endlings are made of, it isn't atomic. It has no microstructure. You can break it down smaller than atoms, smaller than anything, and it'll still be dust. Tiny amounts of it are everywhere, but we don't notice. They're trying to keep that out."
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Lucije Velt says, "'Terminogenic para-reflex'. The idea that NAM, non-atomic matter, has an inherent kind of intelligence. Sometimes parts of an Endling or Terminarch will keep moving after death, like a chicken with its head cut off. Sometimes costumes will adapt to suit their wearer better."
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "The filthy little Extras have no idea what they've done."
A moment of clarity.
<J-IC-Scene> Staren says, "...Well, Lilian said be prepared to die... I'm... preeeettty sure I'm set..."
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "Breach the wall and switch airlocks! Trade targets! Don't try to take on your own matchups; hit someone else's instead!"
|Lilian Rook|| The shock of being matched essentially body for body, not by a rival group, but by the powers that these men couldn't possibly grasp by themselves, wielded in the ideal, mindless, weaponized form they've always wanted, wears off momentarily, but Lilian is still at a temporary loss for what to do about so much so fast. She can't see into the other airlock partition, and doesn't know what's going on there except 'probably also bad'.
"Our teleporters are one to a chamber at least; we don't have both eggs in the same basket, so focus on now and don't worry about the others." she says to Gawain, trying to find something concrete and helpful to focus on. "Four in here. Two for each. Threat priority; it's the both of us. That should tell you something."
Just from the opening moments, she knows Gawain won't win out in a clash with those two. Despite his Servant physique, he isn't fast enough to beat them to anything while moving at a tenth of the rate. His legendary toughness will only help him for a short while against the telefragmentation going on. Needing more time to act is her own specialty, so she takes her own advice and attempts to trade off with him, zipping right over to him and barrel striking the (former) magical boy construct in the chest, then quickly emptying the M4 to keep it off of him. She doesn't know how well mere bullets will work, but being repeatedly blasted with the full muzzle pressure should at least juggle it for a while. Enough time for Gawain to reach a dagger, at least.
She has no idea what the other two are doing. She turns and throws the emptied rifle at the punk girl firing her ray, but it seems to only be aimed for her teammate. Lilian draws the M9 and begins firing it into her to gauge --Golden Carnation?--'s defensive reactions, only, at the very last instant, to get that it isn't the point.
There is just one bare mercy to the fact that the orange crystal is deemed 'semi-sentient'. It isn't even enough warning for Lilian to widen her eyes out of reflex, but it's just enough to grab her pendant, and--
Too late for that. Magical chains squeeze around her body from head to toe, binding her hand to her chest, her gun to her side, and even her legs together, her raised arm just enough to keep one away from her throat. She takes a hard spill against the floor, rolling over against the wall to be out of the way of an immediate followup, at least.
§Chains? A binding spell? Shit, shit, shit, I'm supposed to be able to 'teleport' out of these. Or maybe they accounted for this; yes, let's assume they're designed to follow along with teleporters. Fuck. I've got no fucking leverage. I can't just wait and rely on the others. They're relying on *me*. They're *nothing* without me. I have to solve this on my own. Think. The chains aren't *from* Carnation. I don't have to target through her; I shouldn't risk her translocating anything back either way. It should skip her as the relay. These things are being summoned by that non-atomic crystal, so they *should* be a sympathetic link.§
She grits her teeth against the intense heat building up in her battlesuit's material; the high melting point doesn't prevent the radiant bleed into her skin. Fingers clenched on the solar cross, she manages to focus enough energy to dispel the glamer and summon Night Mist in its full length, still pinned by chains against her body; but that's ideal.
She can't incant the rest, but she only needs a fraction of the Shadow-Cutting Feat's power to slash into the chain-summoner through said chains.
|Strawberry Princess|| The knight boy's ostensible armor provides little protection against Vegeta's superhuman strength; instead, a magical forcefield flares just above his skin, blunting the hit enough to not be immediately lethal. He's still slammed back against the concrete wall behind him, though.
The crystal filling in the fatal wound in his chest cracks ominously on impact. He still manages to raise his wand, firing a shotgun blast of glowy energy that saps strength nonlethally- but then the crystal snaps altogether, and he falls like a puppet with cut strings. Still, the room-shrinking effect doesn't revert.
... And after a few moments, the crystal starts flowing back together, mending itself. His limbs jerk aimlessly. He starts trying to push himself back up to standing. It's nothing Vegeta can't solve by "hitting him again", but it's distinctly alarming for the strategic implications.
The animal-themed girl without a head lunges for Staren, trying to get her inside that aura. Her forcefield protects her, at least at first: the aura isn't permeating through it, but as she grabs onto her arm, the power drain from that many continuous, tiny 'attacks' becomes cumulatively enormous, threatening to short it out!
Staren, at least, is prepared to die- but if she goes down too early, that's more firepower that'll be heaped onto her friends!
Fortunately, that might not happen. Utsuho burns down the airlock divider, finally allowing the two halves of the party to intermingle. Rin's fireballs splash along the two reanimated mahous' magical forcefields, but still burn the flesh underneath, causing them to falter- the injuries cripple their combat effectiveness until the orange crystal can flow back into the wounds, covering those injuries too. It keeps the red knight down for longer, and it forces the animal-themed girl to relinquish her hold on Staren too.
The stasis-inflicting boy in the regal cloak turns to meet Lilian's assault, raising his wand against her while keeping his hand on Gawain's chest. But that lapse in attention, and her attacks staggering him, allow Gawain to get his hands on that dragon-gifted dagger.
The blade hits him. His Shimmer Aura flares against it, bronze and angry. It doesn't do him any good. Even through the forcefield, his body is practically destroyed; he lands in a heap in the corner, an unrecognizable mixture of flesh and crystal. Even so, the crystal tries to flow and reconstruct him- but it'd take minutes, at that rate.
5r The phase-flickering swan girl isn't deterred in the slightest. It's easy to tell that, in life, she must've been fearsome- near the end of a successful career, judging by her age, when *this* happened to her. She blinks out of existence entirely to dodge Gawain's blows. When he gives her openings, she flickers back in to draw her limbs in flowing, sustained-contact blows across perceived weak points in his armor. It's slow, but as long as he can't hit her, she can wear him down.
Go comes in to solve that. His boot is aimed for the 'missing' half of her head, right at the brittle crystal sustaining her. She's caught between flickers; her one glassy, soulless eye turns towards him in mid-strike, regarding him with no discernable emotion.
No, maybe with gratitude?
That gratitude is stolen away an instant later. Gold Carnation, the swapper, switches places with her at the last millisecond and takes the blow on her own intact, fleshy head instead, dropping like a sack of potatoes. Having successfully trapped Lilian, Carnation's tactical utility is expended; whatever intelligence animates them deems the swan-girl's functionality more important. The punk girl with the searing chains fires a blast at Go in retaliation as he recovers from the strike, trying to bind him as well to restrain his greatest asset.
|Strawberry Princess|| Lilian's sympathetically-aimed strike erupts from the punk girl's body just a second later, shredding the crystalline features scattered across her form. She gives up the ghost and falls to pieces, her mangled body losing its structural integrity; the burning chains fade out of existence a moment later, giving her blessed relief.
Golden Carnation is just trying to pick herself up from the kick that Go delivered to her sacrificial head when I4's beam strikes her in the chest, right where crystal meets flesh. There's a brief moment of shock evident in her body language, if not her expressionless face. The crystal explodes from within, arcing out towards the swan-girl too- it doesn't fully destroy her own crystal, but it sends her collapsing against the nearest wall, flickering only irregularly.
The unnaturally resurrected mahous are all down, at least for the moment. All of them are trying to repair themselves, but that'll take time.
Arthur's analysis joins with the chatter on the radio to hint at an answer. This far underground, behind a series of decontamination chambers, they're being shielded from the entire world outside. More specifically, from...
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Lucije Velt says, "'NAM pico-contamination'. The stuff costumes, wands, Endlings are made of, it isn't atomic. It has no microstructure. You can break it down smaller than atoms, smaller than anything, and it'll still be dust. Tiny amounts of it are everywhere, but we don't notice. They're trying to keep that out."
Their artificial cores are carefully cultivated, carefully corrupted, to keep them 'animate' and willing to fight. Stray NAM to them would be like swiping a magnet over a hard drive. What can he do with that?
For everyone else, the route forward is clear- just a couple more airlock doors to blow through. On the other side is a laboratory, clean- until just a moment ago- of the NAM dust that permeates the rest of the world.
|Gawain||After they're freed, while they're passing by to get to the bunker doors, Gawain smashes the timeslower again, just a few times, to keep his regeneration slowed. Not dealing with him again.
And then, once they reach the airlocks, Gawain takes his flaming sword, and starts swinging. He doesn't have Utsuho's pure melting power, but he has raw strength and insane flames to just help her advance. He's taking the front again. He's confident he can handle anything they throw at him.
"Everyone, behind me. We're getting her out of here." His voice is much rougher than usual. What changed?
|Vegeta|| Vegeta moves to punch the shotgun blast, but then he finds himself slightly weaker for having touched it. He stares down at his hands, frowning.
He immediately grabs Staren by the wrist. "If that loud thing explodes and you're not near me, don't complain if you die. I'm about to try and kill two birds with one stone.
He immediately flies back to the knight, trying to be careful to dodge any incoming blasts. He presses a finger to his scouter, trying to get some readings on that thing. "That crystal thing is the power source. I wonder what'd happen if someone screwed up that power? Well, I guess I might accidentally make it stronger. But you can't make a bird without scrambling some eggs!"
He reaches out to grab the knight's crystal and //yanks//. But he doesn't try to destroy it, he instead covers himself and Staren in an incredibly thick blue-white aura. "HAAAAAAA!!!"
The aura is meant to be some mixture of protective by proxy, but he's actually trying to mass dump energy into the crystal. Not as an attack, but as an outright power transfer, trying to see if his ki will somehow have some horrific effect on whatever is flowing through the crystal.
|I4||I4 can't help but stare at what he has done for a moment, no...not what he had done, but what someone had done here. How could anyone do this to someone? What kind of cold-blooded monster would do this? Are there people...humans capable of this kind of cruelty?
No, he already knows the answer, he's /always/ known the answer. It's easier to ignore this, to pin it on people who aren't human. Other groups...other...
I4 rubs his head, it's killing him right now. He looks over to the others with him, "Everyone alright?" he says, slightly chillier than normal. Usually, he'd be complaining or something, but right now he just looks tired. Or disturbed.
I4 just starts walking after Gawain on automatic. It might look like he's gone inward for a bit. Actually, he's extending himself into the surrounding network. I4's mad...he's madder than he's ever felt before, or thinks. There is something he can take his anger out on.
Every computer system in this place. He will start destroying what he can, destroying the cameras, the network, trying to fry systems, looking for important data. He's done. These people are done. He'll do anything, like lock people in airlocks and run the air out. Seal doors and turn off lights. Turn automatic defenses on their own kind.
I4 isn't going to be happy until this place is as dangerous to the people who worked here as it was for them.
|Staren|| The power drain and the attacks. Staren didn't think it would last for long, and was really counting on something changing within literal seconds. She gave pretty decent odds that Utsuho going ham on the room wouldn't kill her through the armor, but slicing through the airlock is a better plan, clearly. For her part,she tries to fling the headless girl off of her and into a wall using the armor's power and then follow up with a dual beam cannon blast (there's one each on the left and right sides of the right forearm) aimed for the flesh part, not the crystal part, if she can get her assailant out of contact with the field for the split second she needs to drop it.
Then Vegeta yanks her into cover. She just nods. "I expected armor to take it, anyway." Hmm. Maybe she should be using magic forcefields instead? Armor of Ithan doesn't have this problem... maybe she could put small fields of Armor of Ithan around hands and weapons and tech-based fields around the rest... wait, that works because the weapons themselves are *outside* of the magic effect, right? If she'd done that here, the weapons would have been disintigrated. What kind of countermeasure could-- focus, Staren! Fight now! Engineer later!
The airlock is down. "Good job, Utsuho!" Crystal regrows. One got knocked out? And one got shattered. Why the different behavior?
Wait, KNOCKED OUT? That raises all kinds of interesting questions about how alive these things are. If the brain is intact AND ALIVE... there might be additional hostages to save here. Staren asks I4 to check, since his sensors seem better at that sort of thing. Maybe, but... prospects don't seem good, and they have someone DEFINITELY alive to save.
...But now Vegeta, of all people, is doing something INTERESTING. Staren deploys more drones to watch and scan and analyze. Pondering how to try the same thing with magic instead... Gawain(?!) is hacking at the door and Utsuho will probably finish the job, too many cooks, etc. Let's gather data on this crystal.
Besides, for all they know there are sixteen more crystal zombie girls behind that door and the info might be very immediately useful!
|Hellwarming Duo||Utsuho: "Did... Was he wearing that before?"
Rin: "Nah, pretty sure he did... Somethin'. Hair guy mentioned a weird energy before, so maybe that's what happened."
Utsuho: "Well, he's still on our side. It's probably fine."
Things seem to be going well enough, at least, now that the orange crystal-powered entities have ceased being a (present) threat. Utsuho still keeps her energy pouring into the control rod to focus it while she works with Gawain in clearing their way through the airlocked doors. She does pause every now and then to try and figure out what she's looking at as far as his armor goes, but...
It's as she said. He's an ally, so she doesn't need to worry too much. She can always ask about the armor change later.
Rin, however, has a lot to worry about when Vegeta starts dousing the crystals in energy. "Wha... D-dude! You sure you should be doin' that?! What if they get all revived and bigger and angrier and combine all their powers into some kinda... Mega magical monster?!"
She pauses briefly. "... I mean, that'd be pretty cool, too. But we gotta focus on gettin' the target girl out first! Then cool monster fight!"
Once enough holes are opened, meanwhile, Rin scurries on ahead as best she can, ready to do some scouting work and call out the more obvious threats in their way while keeping her eyes open for MYSTERIOUS CAPTIVE GIRLS.
|Go Shijima||I want to scream.
Construct chains bind him, forcing his arms to his side. She wrapped them tightly--so much that he can't get his hand over to the Mach Driver to attempt escape. Mahous crumple--one even falls to literal pieces, eliciting a pained, choked noise from him. With her, his chains disintegrate.
But that won't help us find Coral.
Go seethes quietly, his fists clenched so tightly that the bodysuit fabricated by the Mach Driver audibly protests.
"No," he says to I4. "But I'll manage. Lead on, Gawain."
I feel like he looks, right now. But if I can fight what that feeling normally makes me do... then I can keep from messing this up. We can save someone.
Go punches three different buttons on the keypad of that little supercar in the Mach Driver.
GEAR SHIFT//876 - TURN!
That tire, just below his right shoulder--the hubcap changes to road signage indicating an upcoming TURN, with a white arrow on a field of blue. Using Gawain as cover, Go rapidly feathers the trigger on the Zenrin Shooter. He only has to peek from behind the dragon-knight to make his shots.
When he does, blue darts of burning energy with white-hot cores zip out from the barrel of the blaster. They turn around corners, rise over obstacles and pass harmlessly around, under and over Gawain and Lilian, first pelting the airlock doors, then swarming around the lab to destroy any kind of information storage device he can see, that I4 doesn't expressly stop him from shooting.
|Lilian Rook|| Lilian rises from the floor, coughing twice, rolling her shoulders and shaking her wrists. The binding had not been kind of her joints. Drawing blue-black motes of light out of the air into a clenched fist, and bringing it to her chest, she allows bitterly cold ice vapour to roll over her body and cascade down to her feet for ten seconds or so, then waving it away without casting anything. "Too hot to be hot." She attempts a half-hearted crack to relieve tension. This had been more fucked up than the rest were mentally prepared for, she's sure.
"Good work, following instructions, that is." she says without any particular aim. "We'd have been in a lot more trouble if they were able to intercept us outside this. I'll admit it was a good effort, but they committed to a situation where they couldn't tag out, and could only hope we couldn't either. But they'll be back for more. Nothing new; I already said that we're on a timer before they summon reinforcements; we only didn't know that they'd be from within the facility."
Lilian glances down at the bottom, staring unreadably for a few moments, and finally saying "No, bringing back corpses in this shape won't bring anyone closure. No use reopening old wounds." An explosive sigh, and a roll of the neck, as she picks up the rest of the data from the others. "It figures that it'd be 'NAM' that is the CIA's weakness."
§I've heard from Strawberry a hundred times what usually happens to these girls, more often than not. But it still didn't sound 'real' until right now. How can so many of them, some of them with so many experience, really have turned out like this? They have all these wonderful, dedicated heroes, with these powerful abilities, and the best they can do --want to do-- is to roll dice on their lives until the mathematics work out? Are they really so expendable to them that they intend to use them up before they turn eighteen? It's just not possible that Endlings can't be managed any better than this.§
She baps Gawain on the chest(plate) on the way out. "You're a lunatic, you know that? Lucky you that the Unconquered One likes the Round Table, if only for Merlin freeing it back then. Otherwise I think you might just be a swiftly shrinking bloody puddle right now." She glances back at Staren. "Hey! Staren! Hurry up the crazy monkey man already! You heard Velt!"
On the way out, Lilian lingers behind just long enough to cover the external lock, and the blind corners fanning out from it, in floor to ceiling circles of runes, using the full vertical space to carve the longest compound verses she can. Enough redundant layers that, in the case of them regenerating too quickly, pursuit should be blown up, or heavily drained of energy to near-zero, once per circle.
Of course, she already has the glowing assist trail prompting her exactly where to go; she'd spent weeks figuring it out 'in the future', after all. She motions the heavy hitters to follow her, and says 'Someone stay by the techies in the lab', before pushing on further, breaking through the last airlock cycles, and even further beyond, to the path directly to where Pink Coral is being kept, leaving the cores and computers in the hands of others for now.
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Fall over
Stop. Stop that. "Fucking nausea." Arthur mutters, holding his eyes away from the downed bodies. They're repairing slowly. The group reunites... They don't need every teleporter on-hand now. He holds his face, muttering softly. Nobody else is as freaked out about bodies as Arthur is, it seems.
The tanks and DPS seem to be bunching up, and Arthur isn't going to be among them. Not in this state. So he makes a plaintive request for a break. "Hhhh. This. This is bad. I can't deal with these-- I can't deal with corpses, I'm sorry. I need to leave for a second. I'll be back, okay? I have an idea to deal with the corpses."
>Arthur: Get the hell out of here
A Gate takes him out. It sends him far away. It brings him so, so far away from this place that he winds up, instead, in high Earth orbit. He takes, for himself, about thirty seconds. He mutters to himself in the void. "Fuckers. I was so ready to burn your whole goddamn op down. I was gonna break *everything* for the shit you tried to pull, that assassination, that fucking hostage-taking. God dammit. Come on, idiot, focus. Do what you gotta do."
>Arthur: THEN, THE LORD RAINED UPON SODOM AND UPON GOMORRAH BRIMSTONE AND FIRE FROM THE LORD OUT OF HEAVEN
>Arthur: AND HE OVERTHREW THOSE CITIES, AND ALL THE PLAIN, AND ALL THE INHABITANTS OF THE CITIES, AND THAT WHICH GREW UPON THE GROUND
"Just one time. It's worth it just once."
High, in the orbit of this Earth, there is a corpse. It is the corpse of a space elevator once made, years ago, by an Endling. Many nights, you can see shooting stars in the sky, as Earth's atmosphere sears away yet another falling chunk of the monster's massive form. The stream of corpse-parts hangs, near-perpetually, in orbit -- or so, at least, that's what Arthur was told. The huge masses hang in the night sky, invisible, a grave for an evil thing. A huge mass of endling matter. A contaminant in orbit.
Arthur lays his hands on one. And his broom's bristles light up with powerful thrust. An orbit shifts. A trajectory is calculated. He knows it precisely. There is only one way to make sure these corpses can't be controlled, and more importantly, only one way to make sure nothing this laboratory creates will ever be useful, ever again, to this world's Letter Agency or to anyone at all. He knows the system's being changed somewhere, and he trusts that change and that change alone.
| KING BROOM SYSTEM | |
| SETTINGS AND FUNCTION | |
| | [X] POSITRON THRUST |
| | |
| ,gM00@M~' | ------------------------ |
| _g000~ | |
| p000' | [X] PURGE TO NEXT |
| p00P | ROCKET STAGE |
| _f j00F _pg00000&g_ | |
| _# 000 p000000000000&, | ------------------------ |
| 0f 008 0000@~` ~M00& | |
| j0 j00f 000~ ~M& | [ ] BLACK PROTOCOL |
| 00 J00f j0F "& | |
| 00c 00f 40 __ ^Y | ------------------------ |
| 00& #00 4f _p00000&g ^ | |
| #00 #0& 4I g0M~~~M0000g | THRUSTER MODES |
| 000 "00g # #^ "0000g | |
| "000, `~@*-|ag, "000g | [ ] DASH |
| "000&, p'l ~0&g ^000 | [ ] CRUISE |
| M000&g,_,gg0' J6 M0& 00& | [ ] CHARGE |
| ^M000000M~ 4# #0& 400 | [ ] SPRINT |
| ` `~` #0 00f 00 | [ ] ESCAPE VELOCITY |
| #, j08 00& 00 | [ ] UNSTOPPABLE FORCE |
| 0g _g00' 00& 08 | [ ] PLAID |
| M0p,_ _gM000' j00f 0 | [ ] UP A GODDAMN NOTCH |
| "00000MM000000@ #00 j' | [X] LET'S DO THIS SHIT |
| "M0000000@~ j00F ! | |
| `` p000 ' | ------------------------ |
| _g00@ | |
| ,g000' | BLENDER MODES |
| .qgM00MP^ | |
| | [ ] STIR |
| | [ ] CHOP |
| | [ ] MIX |
| | [ ] PUREE |
| | [ ] LIQUIFY |
| WARP RELEASE CODES | [ ] CRUSH ICE |
| ----------------------------------------------- | [ ] CRUSH BONES |
| ACTIVE | DANGER | CRITICAL | [ ] RIP/TEAR |
| ---------- | ------------ | ------------------- | [ ] ATOMIC DISASSEMBLY |
| | | | [ ] ANNIHILATION |
| ********** | ************ | ******************* | [ ] LET'S END THIS SHIT |
| | | | |
|Gawain||"I know." Is all Lilian gets in reply from Gawain. She immediately would get the impression he's single-focused on the task. It's very unlike the goofy Gawain they're all used to.|
|Arthur Lowell|| There is another star burning in the sky. Arthur descends, with a massive chunk of Endling mass wrapped in a gravity barrier, accelerated out of high Earth orbit. He is aiming for the hole Vegeta tore in the surface. Those lasers might be able to wound him, but they won't be able to stop him.
>Arthur: Salt the Earth. Irrepairably contaminate the whole facility.
|Strawberry Princess|| Making the red knight's crystal more powerful is an incredibly dubious idea, but somehow, Vegeta's ki finds a place in its matrix. It glows from within with the infusion of power, its translucent-orange hue overriden by the white light.
The knight shudders back to life from its incapacitated state, its body coursing with fresh energy. It looks at Vegeta, and despite the helmet covering its face, it seems shocked and amazed- the first time its body language has conveyed any emotion at all.
Staren's scans can tell that the bodies have been frozen; there's no brain activity at all, no recoverable cellular structures.
Even so... it might be wishful thinking, but for a brief moment, the red knight seems freed from the mindless violence that had possessed it.
It uses that moment of freedom to stab its own wand through its crystal again, collapsing completely once more.
|Strawberry Princess|| Dozens of feet above, all throughout the facility, I4's sabotage causes sheer havoc. It'll take those people years to recover from all of the damage, overt and subtle, localized and far-reaching.
Elsewhere in the headquarters, automated doors slam shut to crush people between them. Fire suppression systems turn on, ruining paperwork and destroying computers. Even the automated lasers up above start burning the facility down.
At this point, they almost might as well let it burn.
|Strawberry Princess|| The laboratory beyond is relatively empty of employees. A few men in sterile zip-up white outfits panic and flee from the approaching Elites; there are papers and computers no doubt worth incinerating, though almost all of the electronics have already been obliterated by Go. Two rooms stand out as particularly important.
The first is a set of three cells, visible through one-way glass. Each one is spacious, roomy, designed to imitate a house- a specific, different house for each one, lived-in, with rugs and toys and books and televisions. Each one has a magical child in it. And each of the magical children is wearing an explosive anklet.
Pink Coral is obviously one of them. She's the only one in costume; a blonde kid with freckles and a frilly pink dress. Her expression goes from shock, to unbearable glee, to anguish. "You... you can't be here. My dad, they said... after the stuff in Haiti, they said they'd hurt my dad if I messed up again..."
But Director Velt mentioned she'd already seen to getting her father out of the country. Those anklets just have to be removed, somehow.
|Strawberry Princess|| The other room of interest is an observation room where a half-dead spider-like Endling is kept wired up to dozens of instruments. It has a body of orange crystal, and there are clear surgical gouges where pieces have been carved away.
Ordinarily, Endlings are either alive and rampaging, or dead and inert. This one's core has been fragmented just enough; arcs of strange energy leap between its fractured pieces like a sparking circuit, and its limbs periodically twitch.
It'd be easy for anyone to finish it off.
|Gawain||Gawain pushes forward as the door breaks. He spots the girls. Underneath his helmet, he wants to aid them. But there's nothing he can do.
Especially not like this.
Gawain pushes his way into the observation room. He raises his sword over the fragmented Endling. It roars with massive flames.
In seconds, the sword is plunged down, and the Endling, if all goes well, is incinerated.
|Staren|| Is... is the 'Red Knight' revived? Was it that simple?!
Staren winces, inside her bubble helmet. "...Alright. We'd better listen to Lilian, this time. I advise doing what she says, or at least not starting a fight with her until we're out of here." She turns to run after the others. "We don't have much time." WHAT is about to happen in a couple of minutes?
Staren's eyes widen when Lilian leads them right to not one, but three children.
Who are wired to explode.
Staren takes a deep breath. Everything she and the drones have seen, everything the sensors picked up, any data shared by allies, has been sent back to Concord systems through the wormhole link. Now, Staren tasks the system with one job: ACTION TO MOST SAFELY REMOVE CHILDREN ALIVE? Sure, she can HOPE it's as simple as disabling the bracelets, or gating them outside a control signal's reach, but... what if there's something she's missing? Something the computer system might pick up on, hints and patterns hiding in all the data?
|Vegeta|| Vegeta scratches his head when the knight kills itself, then follows behind Staren as they head deeper inside.
He lets the others figure out the prisons, and instead places a finger on his scouter, scanning around the area, looking for life and other potentially strange energy readings.
Looking directly up, he considers. "If you want to take them out before the weakling CIA people turn them into more abominations, perhaps we should blow a hole through the ceiling and out into the open?"
He asks, first, since there's a ton of strange magic things going on. But he's already starting to charge up white-blue energy in both hands.
|I4||I4 enjoys the pure destruction for a brief moment...it's usually not in him to be like this, but this moment really wore on him to a point where he couldn't hold it back...or rather maybe it was a few events recently and this just caused him to snap. Lilian's comment brings him down a little...and while he did enjoy being the big tyrant on the system, she's right.
I4 goes for the servers, trying to breach their defenses, and starts trying to download information. Anything right now, he's not specific. The data on the servers is going to be potentially vast, and he'd need time to come over specific. So getting as much as he can and combing through it later would be the best thing.
He also tries to locate the nearest scientist to their location, hopefully, someone he hadn't had killed and just locked. He'll direct someone there if they want to get them. He's mostly focused on the data. Lilian wants to handle the children and...
That's...probably for the best. Small humans are not something he's great at. He gives Gawain a look as he walks towards the Endling. He'll also take a scan of that...it might fit into the data.
|Lilian Rook|| The Endling, butterflied out on a table, very briefly distracts Lilian, as she feels the overriding urge welling up within her, like hot bile in her throat. Not just the reflex here to exterminate the inhuman menace, but the symbol of what hurts and kills these girls, and the physical manifestation of the suffering they'd just encountered. She suppresses it for the time being. Someone else can do that. Probably Gawain.
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "I have the girls."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "I am making sure that they can't do that, but they might be detonated by releasing it without a right key or code or something."
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook repeats, "I have it."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "...So keep burning the facility down from the inside?"
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "Scrape, collect, and save as much data as you have spare memory. We need to know what they're up to as well."
<J-IC-Scene> Hellwarming Duo | Utsuho excitedly says, "Mass destruction time? Ma-aw."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "...Right."
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "If any of you feel like arresting and taking a couple of scientists with you, all the better."
"Your father is fine. I made sure of it. We're professionals here. Or at least, I am, and they listen to me." Lilian says to Pink Coral, trying to put on a reassuring smile, and getting halfway there. "I'm coming in." She doesn't explain further.
Having saved plenty of time on the way here, Lilian does exactly what it'll be best suited for here. Phasing into the holding cells with the ghastly dematerialization of her body, she appears next to Pink Coral, and with a flick of her sword, severs the anklet and throws it up into the air on the tip.
Given her extremely precise and versatile mastery of what one might even call *her* 'Heart Ability', doing this without projecting objective time onto it is trivial. Regardless of what might set it off, zero time has passed. It can't even begin to explode. She puts the broken, live anklet into one of her pouches, and moves on to the next cell, and the next, repeating the process.
When she has all three, she quickly returns back out to the lab, and throws all three of the explosive devices into a fully scraped server bank, returning to the door from which she'd just spoken to Pink Coral, as if nothing had happened.
Lilian carves straight through the door and kicks the remainders off their track. All three girls will probably notice the sudden loss of weight around one ankle. "You're coming with us." she says, moving to the other two doors as well.
"Lowell, get a portal down here. I don't want those girls to have to walk past the corpses we left on the way in."
"Back in a moment." Arthur mutters into his radio. Waves of light and fire around him. He should, as he said, be back to where they are in only a moment more.
|Hellwarming Duo||Utsuho: "Your dad? Oh, he'll be fine."
Rin: "Yeah, we got our best people on it already, kid."
Rin winks at Pink Coral and does that double clicking noises with her mouth to signify her utmost confidence in whoever these 'best people' are. She doesn't actually know who's on it outside of Velt's reassurances, but she's confident enough to repeat it!
With multiple targets still up for the grabs, they both opt to go after the employees trying to get away. Even on foot, the youkai are still (relatively) fast, and certainly not above shaking these people around to get them to settle down before prodding them into following Rin. Utsuho soon leaves Rin to focus on that task, however, as...
<J-IC-Scene> Vegeta says, "Oh, so there's a portal... so I don't get to blow the top half of the building away?"
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "Feel free, so long as you're the only one standing straight under it."
<J-IC-Scene> Hellwarming Duo | Utsuho says, "Too late, blowing stuff up time!"
<J-IC-Scene> Vegeta says, "I don't intend for there to be anything left to fall."
That's all Utsuho needs to join Vegeta, control rod pointed upwards as it starts to glow with that nuclear energy once more. "Hey. Vegeta. Heeeeey. Vegeeeeta." She waits until he either responds or looks at her before speaking up again. "Bet mine's bigger."
And then she starts shooting her massive beam upwards, apparently intent on just shooting through the ground, the facility, whatever's in the way until the sky is visible once more.
|Go Shijima||Focus. We're here to save someone. So think about that person, and their safety...
Go's gait is reserved. Forcibly controlled. Every part of him is screaming to find who's responsible for this, Now. But he can't. There's someone he's looking for. And Lilian's just saved her, plus two more besides.
It's really her. No tricks, no torture, no butchery...
"They're not going to get anyone else, ever again. Coral... I'm sorry I yelled at you. I didn't understand." It's not the same armor exactly, but the color scheme, the voice, the shoulder capes--too much is there for any mistake to be made. He was in Haiti. "Lilian... I need a moment."
I need to make sure this never, ever happens again. I've used my fists... but I need to use my feelings for this.
There's something else he needs to do.
In a flash of light, the armor disappears, and standing in the place of Kamen Rider Mach is Go Shijima. He looks utterly human--trying very hard to hide a whirlwind of emotions and looking uncomfortable for the effort. The traveling pack on his shoulder is slung around. This is dangerous. But it's absolutely necessary, to bury these people. The right picture, composed the right way, can become a cultural touchstone.
Go strides into the room with the now-empty cells. In a moment, he's got the picture in his mind. In the next, he's finding the view with his camera. Click.
The flash is suppressed, giving the picture a darker, more subdued light profile. It looks harsh. It's supposed to. The flash being off means that the observer can see into the cells in detail. Painful detail. Each one a gilded cage, furnished with toys and books as if the people stuffed inside them could be made to forget they were buried miles underground. The nature of the furnishings, in each case, leaves little doubt to who was meant to be held here. And taking it all in--the artificial warmth of the cells, the sickly lighting of the hallway outside and the sterilized walls thereof--fills one with a profound, seeting anger at the cruel hypocrisy of it all. It begs the question: why?
There is -one- flash from inside the hallway. Go Shijima took the picture, but it's Kamen Rider Mach who emerges. "I'm ready. ...thank you. For saving them."
|Strawberry Princess|| Pink Coral devolves into blubbering gratitude right away, clinging onto Lilian and refusing to let go. The two boys- one her age, one going on sixteen- look shellshocked, unable to quite grasp what's going on.
Coral flinches at the distant 'bang' of the explosive anklets going off a second later in the way that only your war vet uncle is supposed to do, then resumes blubbering.
"I... I didn't think you'd really come. Thank you. Thank you, I... he must be so worried..."
Staren's analysis systems, which had previously been working towards a convoluted disarming process involving colored wires and a magnet, abruptly switch tacks now that Lilian's cut the knot.
They resolve to recommending that she offer the kids chocolate instead. Chocolate consumption is clinically proven to slightly reduce the likelihood of traumatic memory formation!
|Strawberry Princess|| Far above, a streak lights up the sky.
Eight years ago the São Tomé Terminarch grew, within hours of its emergence, into orbit. It remains the only Endling to have ever reached space, with the possible exception of one Endling in the Arizona Desert whose shell was never recovered after having a nuclear device detonated under it in 1991.
The São Tomé Terminarch's death has been referred to as "proof that, together, we can kill anything". Its drifting emains continue to be a menace to commercial satellites. Children make wishes on its pieces as they burn up in the atmosphere.
A lot of children make wishes tonight.
Arthur pushes one of the pieces of its titanic corpse down towards Langley. As it burns, it showers NAM over the county, ensuring that nobody will ever be able to perform such experiments there again.
|Strawberry Princess|| There are a lot of natural disasters that code mandates a government building be able to withstand. Hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes.
Vegeta and Utsuho's attacks come a lot closer to resembling the phrase "act of God" than any of those do, though. That isn't in the building code at all.
Maybe someday, months or years from now, rainwater will fill in the crater they're turning this place into, and it'll become a nice peaceful lake, and they'll name it after a president or something with "Memorial" in the name.
It's nice to think about!
|Strawberry Princess|| The spider-like Endling's core crunches under Gawain's blade. Even though it's all inorganic, it feels pleasantly like breaking open a cooked crab.
Its movements go still. Monitoring equipment beeps angrily as needles fall towards zero. Its crystalline body, and the crystals of the reanimated magical girls out in the airlocks, begin to dim.
|Staren|| The computer says: Chocolate.
After Vegeta's arrival, Staren realized the state of snacks in her bag and bought new ones, which is why now she reaches into her bag and hands to Pink Coral -- trusting she'll share -- a bag of chocolate-coated mini-donuts.
Once they're out of what will shortly become Some President Memorial Crater, Staren asks Coral: "Who are they? And... is there anything else we can do for you?"
Arthur lands in the facility, crashing in from above, feet pressed against a chunk of that awful beast. His fingers alternate between white knuckles and bloody fingers. Whatever grip he had tore off at least a couple fingernails. The dust will be enough. He steps off, throws the broom to one side, and then does the coolest thing he possibly can do.
>Arthur: Try not to lose your shit
His palms slam onto his knees and he pants heavily as he holds in one of the human body's many, many wonderful inventions for, like, escaping rapidly from a jaguar in the jungle or something, which has maladapted for making it impossible for Arthur Lowell to be around corpses. With a short rub to the face, he mutters, "Hey, sorry about that. Had to take a break and deal with something. Don't worry about it. Probably doesn't matter." He's negligibly contaminated every inch of the east coast, or so goes the hope, but he's not gonna bring it up himself.
>Arthur: Make that Gate already!
He snaps his fingers, casting up a new Gate for the party to exit through. It flickers, dies. "Piece of--" He glances at Pink Coral. "...Piece of crap." He grumbles, snapping a few more times before it forms properly, like a broken lighter. "Alright, everybody get in coolhole." He mutters.
|Hellwarming Duo||"We... Uh. Darn it. Probably would've been easier to tell if we weren't standing so close." Utsuho comments after opening that hole to the sky with Vegeta. "Eh, whatever. We cleared the way, everyone! Into Arthur's..." She trails off, her cheeks puffing up with barely-contained immature snickering. Even the fact that he doesn't nearly as bombastic as before isn't enough to stop her from thinking about getting inside his coolhole.
Rin's mildly more mature, at least. She's still snickering, but she controls herself enough to watch Go doing his camerawork. She stays quiet through his procedure, even making sure to keep some distance until after he speaks up again. "You okay, bro? You haven't been as..."
She furrows her brow pensively, eventually gesturing towards the open sky and not-so-gently trying to nudge him towards the portal. "... You, ya know? Did you and Teach get into a fight? Or was it somethin' like knight bro?" She gestures at Gawain, stroking her chin after that. "Reminds me... I gotta ask where he's got all his old stuff stashed under there."
|I4||I4 collects a lot of information. Once he is sure enough of it is taken, he'll casually shift through it as the portal opens. He also has to answer a question, which causes a bit of a flush to happen. "It's because of aesthetics, my creators are sort of vain."
Through the portal and on the other side, he shoots Lilian a message.
PHONE: Phoning Lilian Rook, I4 says, "Going through some of this data, nothing is super special here. It's...in fact, highly incompetent data, but there is a lot of operations data. Want me to give it to Veldt?"
This whole process was stupid...why would they even do this, there was no way these kids would be stable out there...and...risking all of that for...it was bad enough they made children fight, but into undead and undying soldiers forever?
It was almost too much.
|Strawberry Princess|| After everyone has left...
The shooting star is getting perilously close. Far above, magical girls in dark, masked tactical costumes circle and wheel, anxiously keeping an eye out for any combatants emerging from the ruins. Nobody ever will.
Slowly, painstakingly, Cygnet West- the swan girl, the flickering phaser- picks herself back up. She raises her hand and touches it to her aching head. Her fingers meet with hard, unfeeling crystal.
The light inside of her is ebbing away. She can feel it. So she leans back against the concrete, stares up through the hole in the ceiling at the incoming asteroid, and gets comfortable.
Everything hurts. But I guess I can't complain. I remember dying. Even if I only get a few more minutes... that's more than I could ask for.
She shuts her eyes, reflecting on the memories rattling around in her head. There was... a fight, wasn't there? And two of those voices, she'd heard them before. Where? It's hard to think.
... Oh. That's where. Didn't my costume have a radio?
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Gate back
I4 and/or Staren are gonna have to sneak. By now, there's people in the rubble, mahous or hostile CIA men with guns. And corpses -- Arthur can't deal with corpses. But still, he's got enough stability in him for one last matter. As per the demands on the radio, he summons up one more Gate. "You gotta handle the body. *You* gotta. I can't. Corpses..." He works his jaw. He shifts his shoulders. He paces. "Sorry. Sorry."
|I4||I4 comes back with Arthur.
He's already scanning, they don't have time, they don't have much of a plan either. After what he heard from West...after the tears he heard in Silver...he couldn't ignore it.
Once he gets a signal, he motions to Staren, hopefully, Arthur can help enough to get them there. He'll help move the body into a portal, assuming they get around people with guns.
After a point, Staren can do the rest.
|Strawberry Princess||<J-IC-Scene> On a different, unencrypted channel...
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "I remember those voices." Her own voice is crackling with static from a half-busted radio, transmitting through a dozen feet of rock.
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "You were at Tallahassee. I was too."
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "When Onyx Witch went psycho."
<J-IC-Scene> Staren says, "That name... I remember hearing about an Onyx Witch..."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell's breath catches in his throat.
<J-IC-Scene> Staren says, "Who are... wait..."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell says, "Yeah."
<J-IC-Scene> Staren says, "You're alive?! Maybe we can save you!"
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "No. I don't think I am. It's... so strange."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell's breath flickers unsteadily. "Like a capacitor without a battery."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "...Are you...I mean...is there..."
<J-IC-Scene> Vegeta says, "I gave that other thing some of my power, what if I give this one some?"
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "Haha. Maybe. ... I don't feel like I was dead at all. It's so funny, almost."
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, ". . . Onyx Witch is taken care of."
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "No. It's okay. I remember dying the first time, you know? And between then and now... just feels like I was sleeping."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell sounds, surprisingly, focused and determined when he speaks. "Yeah. I... yeah. I helped make sure that went okay. She's gone, now. Lowered the collateral damage."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 choking back something, "Right...I'm sorry.."
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "I'm glad."
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "I was so scared, the first time. ... But now I'm okay, going back to sleep. Now that I know what it's like. Thanks, for giving me the chance to realize it."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "...Anything we can do for you?"
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell dry-swallows. "Just like sleeping, in a lot of ways."
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "No- wait, yeah. I guess there is." Her voice is getting cracklier.
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "What is it?"
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "I think they're burned out by now, but... tell the other Cygnets that it's okay? That we don't die like people think we do. And that I'm happy."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell makes a few affirming nod sounds.
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "That's all." Her voice is nearly unintelligible now.
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "...Alright."
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West says, "Thank you."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell, softly, "Good night. Sleep well."
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Cygnet West broadcasts dead air for a while longer, but doesn't respond.
|Staren|| Staren steps through and sees... damn, response got here fast. She deploys the drones from Arthur's Gamer Cave to make a distraction. If Utsuho comes too, Staren comments, "If they try anything, I don't fuckin' care what you do to them." She may be confused about which Utsuho this is. Other things have been on her mind, today.
Staren ignores guns, IF the drones' scans confirm they're just the regular lead-throwing kind. Let them plink off her armor.
Corpses. Staren's seen a lot of them. A lot of blood and death and gore much worse than this. It's... easy to push emotions about that away, another time. Golden Carnation. That was the one with the intact head. The catgirl's expression remains solemn and stony. She takes the body in a princess carry and then walks to the portal, unless where she is now is closer to the warpgate -- one way or another, she flies to the gate and makes her way to meet Silver.