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Lilian Rook     For the time being, the especially inexplicable mystery girl currently going by the pseudonym 'Sakura' shows no sign of having lied about her grave concern to those she believed she could trust to listen, nor any motivation to do so, as vague and without any proof as it was. Those who have seen any glimpses of the Muramasa 'Grave Blades' in action, or their curse, should have that reason alone to find it at least plausible.

    That the Oda clan --the modern descendants of the supposedly long gone feudal era organization, openly reestablished in Japan and propped up on heavy esoteric military power-- are about to perform some kind of 'feat' or 'test' with two of those swords that is a very, very bad idea. She claims that the family's only female samurai, Oda Nobuko, of some Multiversal familiarity, has been tasked with performing it, playing on her talent and desire for recognition to get her to wield both the Muramasa of Bonds and the Muramasa of Separations for an experimental act of abstract swordcraft, and that it has something to do with a big, freaky, ominous (possibly alive?) artifact that Elites had found and recovered much earlier, allegedly sent to Yamato, but secretly kept in the Oda domain.

    There is no earlier opportunity to interrupt it. The artifact is kept in one heavily secured place, one of the swords in another, the second with Nobuko herself, who is either on the move on private missions or in the middle of a heavily defended domain keep. They won't all be in the same place at the same time, away from the bristling heart of the Oda territory, until today. Today is also when you have the most limited amount of time to do something about it. A matter of double digit minutes. How 'Sakura' knows the time and place exactly when it is chosen is unclear, but so is how she has exact physical descriptions of two swords she's never seen, a person she's never met, and an artifact she's never heard of.

    It's just specific enough to find one conspicuous place in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by walls of the sky-high ashen grey fog that covers much of Japan, barely more than a single foothill somewhere near invisible mountains, cast into now-permanent deep shadow, harsh and rocky, run through with deep, narrow, and dangerous crevasses where underground water flows outwards, and endless, identical ranks of dead trees and bleached bamboo. The north side of the foothill has been thoroughly cleared of vegetation to a half inch of stump, exposing a clearing before a steep wall of rock and a cold waterwall to the sunless midday sky.

    This space is not natural. It is surrounded by a minimalist style of sacred boundary, demarcated with specifically blessed rope and cardinal idols, probably kept as one of many middle-of-nowheres available for the clan's convenience. Given the senses available to the Elites on call, it takes only cursory examination to determine that crossing over it will alert at least one sensory specialist monitoring the area, and so will destroying it, bringing no benefit. The tags attached to the rope are laid out in sequences to direct attention away from it, black out sensors, insulate energy signatures inside, and bar physical entry, with some being false inscriptions designed to explode if disturbed instead. Specific expertise is necessary to study the pattern and get within.
Lilian Rook     Furthermore, it seems even such an old-fashioned lineage is taking no chances. The moment a hole is opened in that boundary, intruders are subject to a wide security net of ordinary but well-placed IR cameras, and motion sensors, with an audible alarm, and explosive mines and micro-turrets buried in foliage and netting of the type that are usually banned by war crime conventions, their saving grace being that they aren't optimized for efficiently targeting humanoids. The moment the alarm is raised, pulsed short-range radio signals bounce around the area's receivers, no doubt alerting whatever security personnel are standing guard. Though the area heavily blacks out detailed scanning, there have to be at least a couple of magical specialists here for this, and probably a small number of elite bodyguards.

    The main feature is that at the center of the cleared space, beneath the waterfall under the shaded rock face, rests a pillar structure large enough to have been flown by helicopter all the way out here, sunk who knows how many meters into the ground by a spiked tip. Juxtaposed against a backdrop of nature, breaking a flowing waterfall, just the sight of it is uncomfortable. Something made of an impossibly black substance that still somehow possesses a beetle-like gloss, revealing patterns of somehow tesselated pentagonal shapes, unwinding at its tip like a double helix to ensconce a car-sized orb, fixed and floating inside its open cage, the colour of deoxygenated blood, filled with a smoky black core. A little ways ahead, facing the waterfall, Nobuko herself is knelt on a flat, level, grass-studded stony bar that rises just above the moving water. Two sheathed swords are in her lap, along with her hands. Head bowed, she appears to be meditating for the task ahead. Several cameras are focused on her, and a more miniature version of the external boundary is erected around the waterfall space, with her inside. On the creek bank is a digital tablet, discarded on the grass, and an abandoned calligraphy set, with something written on an otherwise blank page.

    The unfortunate fact is that, unless something goes absolutely beyond the pale, you're on your own here. Lilian, being a known member of the Immunes, cannot be seen intervening in this kind of deeply private affair, for the massive fallout that would result. Sakura herself is meant to be a secret from pretty much the entire world right now. You have only a single use woven charm each, which she claims can be used to send one short message to her --ideally a question-- without being traced.
Xion An impossibly complex barrier, and past it, a strange vista and a sitting swordswoman. There's no time to be sneaky - what's called for is a frontal approach at attack speed.

Flowery poetry had already been composed, and what was being raced was the clock.

Thankfully, for the whole team, the backer-organizer of the operation had an extremely precise skill for timing.

Suited in a futuristic black racing jacket with blue accents, the mysterious Racer X-

(Pronounced 'Racer Key')

- zooms across the open ground towards the barrier, a streaking blur and tire-rubber nyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrooooom.

Close to the barrier, Racer X produces an streak of silver light that resolves into a key-shaped javelin that is flung with enough force to bring the streak of Racer X to a hard stop, all the momentum transferred into a shining silver star.

The cameras are exposed to the streaking, glass-shattering arc of the ballistic key that sails all the way to ring against the second barrier, wobblingly jammed in and making a jelly like 'sproiningngngng' as it vibrates with not enough momentum to railg-unlock both barriers in sequence.

Racer X, gloved hand against motorcycle helmet, squints into the distance, and makes a disappointed 'che'.
Arthur Lowell >Arthur: Get in there

    Arthur may not have things like authorization, or things like specialized isolated-space breaching methods, or even much knowledge of the warding here. But it's a big *circle*. It's working geometrically. And it was established some long, long time ago -- but not *that* long. This is a matter of years, not centuries. So there's gotta be a way in.

>Arthur: Can you teleport past the barrier?

    No. Well, yes, maybe, but that would trip every damn alert from here to the other side of the world and probably get Arthur blown up.

>Arthur: Alright, what about reversing the barrier?

    What, like turning a circle inside-out? That would break the circuit, probably explosively too. Might work, but Arthur can't afford to try if there's any other options.

>Arthur: Warding obeys light speed. Go out into space above the area and find a gap before this ward was established. Go over the top, and into the cylindrical shape

    Is this a cylinder-shape ward at all? Instead of a dome, I mean. If it's a dome, that plan is fucked. But if it's a dome, maybe the top's a better point to breach from either way, the weakest point. Maybe he can sneak a portal into the gaps of the vertexes, like it's a giant 3D-rendered sphere. Or maybe he can just deal with whatever backlash it gives him when he goes through. Either way, it's a much easier way to get to the center of the cleared space. It's also a convenient moment to...

>Arthur: Consult the Noble Horrorterrors

    What do the cosmic beings think of the plan? At bare minimum, do they agree that it's a disaster? What kind of disaster-scale are we talking, here?
Miyamomo     Miyamomo is not part of the Immunes. But as a representative of the Ayakashi Special Interests Symposium, her official presence here at this bold attack could disrupt the delicate scales of Japan's politics. Subtlety and a delicate hand are a must. That's why she's wearing a kitsune mask bartered from a small village's festival. Why did she buy one, instead of using her shapeshifting powers to just have one? That is an excellent question.

    "Mmhm, I see, I see," she says, voice muffled by the mask as she examines the border surrounding the desolate area. She doesn't, actually, but she has the gist. This is the edge. The moment she crosses, she will be in enemy territory, and deal with everything associated with that. Martial arts doesn't really have lessons based on black ops and invasion, but if you boil it all down to 'a fight,' they have a lot to say.

    "The first strike is ours. Our foe has chosen to fight devensively. Let us put our best foot forward, shall we? I will be employing Iron Style today, so get behind me if you must.")]

    And then she just steps right over and begins running. Fast.

    Her sandals shatter into splinters on the first step. When one imagines running, one envisions a dextrous thing. The careful pistoning of leg muscles carefully wrought, not too bulky least the added weight slow you down. But if there was ever such a thing as 'strong running,' then Miyamomo is doing it. And it's fast too. Fast enough that she's already clear of any mines before they detonate. And strong enough that any turrets that manage to clip her don't even make her lose speed, let alone stumble.
Gawain As Racer X pierces the barrier, Gawain's moving to summon his sword and armor, and rush in ahead. This isn't the time for stealth. He moves to slice through turrets and detonate mines before they explode on him by blurring so fast he's out of pure blast range.

"Sir Gawain is here! Bring out your champions!"

He will be the big dumb distraction for the others as they all pursue the objective! He'll follow, too, but the more guys he can KO first, the better.
Hellwarming Duo If finding this Sakura was supposed to be easy, it certainly doesn't seem that way to the Youkai that have somehow gotten themselves involved in this matter. They're scouting the area from the skies, and the sight of the walled off place has them slowing down to take to the skies instead.

Utsuho: "Whoa. That's a weird looking place. Think this is where our swords are?"
Rin: "Definitely. But they've got some kinda barrier around it, so if we ain't careful..."
Utsuho: "Whoever's in there is gonna know. So what's the plan?"
Rin: "We could bust right in! But... Wait. We're supposed to take things the slow and boring diplomatic way now, right?"

Groaning in displeasure, the pair lower themselves back to the ground to see what Racer Key does with her key-shaped javelin thing. "Hey. Uh. Aren't they gonna notice that?" Utsuho asks, although she doesn't sound too disappointed about that possibility as she slides a long bronze rod over her arm. She pauses in mid-equip slide to watch as Miyamomo and and Gawain proceed to charge right on in, then laughs as she gestures forwards with that control rod.

Utsuho: "Alright, Rin! Guess we just have to stick with that plan, then!"
Rin: "Aw, really? What a shame. That's so disappointin', but I guess we gotta play along!"

Neither of them sound disappointed at all. They just start flying inwards from another direction to try and spread out the local defenses, Utsuho flapping her wings while Rin airsurfs on her wheelbarrow.
Muramasa Although he considered himself to be more of an expert than most on the topic of Bounded Fields he still had no doubt in his mind that others here, namely Tamamo-no-Mae, were infinitely more capable of getting them through the mystical early warning systems and other defenses put in place to waylay invaders seeking to slink into the area.

'Sakura' had been awfully specific about our window here. Time is of the essence, and we can't afford to waste a second of it. .. and besides, I'm getting the gut feeling that I'll need all of my magical energy for what's ahead.

The swordsmith is clad in samurai armor from the waist down, ending with armored tabi at his feet; though rather than going shirtless, he has instead opted to wear the Shroud of Martin as if it were a gi top, and his favorite white haori with floral decorations in its liner worn over top of it. His arms, likewise to his lower body, were protected by feudal gauntlets -- part of his karuta -- and were held loosely at his sides.

    "...oh. Huh."

Xion's high-speed attack with her keyblade leaves him blinking, but nodding in both acknowledgement and appreciation. "I -- "

And then Miyamomo takes off like a one-woman stampede. He supposed, there really wasn't any point in subtlety now, was there?

In that case, with Gawain also heading to the front in order to batter through the defenses with his sheer fortitude, Muramasa takes off and reinforces his legs, uttering "Trace on," as he bounds, kicking off of stumps, dead bamboo, and whatever rocks he can get a steady foot on to propel himself at max speed, confident in his ability to out-maneuver whatever Gawain and Miyamomo don't take care of at this point.
Tamamo     For her own part, Tamamo had shown some reluctance to attend. She'd told 'Sakura' as much, that it would need to be apparent that this was her business in which to intervene. If the Oda were only intent on a dangerous experiment that would likely result in the death of a promising samurai, well, they hadn't asked for her advice, had they? But if the omens have been correctly interpreted, it's much worse than that.

    There isn't really any hiding who she is. Oh, she can make a token attempt, but there are far too many ways for even an incompetent Japanese sorcerer to acquire a positive ID. If it's a question of swinging her authority versus token deniability, in this case, she'll choose the former. Conversely, if she's attacked, in turn, it would be difficult the other party's claims to ignorance.

    The wards are deactivated as she approaches, one after another, the dummies identified and left alone, the explosives in her path encased in solid, summoned ice. She walks more slowly than the others, but if any guns still turn to aim at her, they strike her own prepared wards, reflecting small bursts from her mirror if persistent enough, serving only to continually delay her approach. With Xion driving ahead, Tamamo is left with little enough impeding her progress that she can afford to be careful, but still catch up and study that second barrier.

    Breaking that might cause more problems, but if it's only a one-way information barrier, she can still speak into it. If not, she'll have to break it, if just a little. Then, she can speak, "Oh, though I apologize for my intrusion, there are some who wish to speak of matters that may yet be avoided, and this is an instance in which I shall join, and not divert, the flow of Fate. To avoid this meeting would do no good for any of us, of this you can be certain. Only that which follows may yet have its course bent toward another channel. If you would entreat my aid, I shall listen to your plea. The fortune that has been read, this day, is one of a disaster that I must not ignore, being so far beyond the domain of those who would, doubtless unwittingly, cause it to come to pass."
Lilian Rook     Now that Arthur is actually here, he has a chance to talk to his somewhat obnoxious outer dimensional contacts about what's happening right now, instead of a possibility in the yet unformed future.

    The answer he gets back is simple: A vision of the pylon, its end stirred from sleep to a scarlet storm, and the almost exact cognitive feeltext 'THIS IS NOT A PLACE OF HONOUR.'

    The faraway field's magical enclosures are generally formidable (and, unfortunately, dome-shaped), but mainly designed to prevent it from being discovered and sneakily intruded upon, and not at all up to the task of handling capital letter Keyblade Unlocking. An entire rope-section collapses utterly, allowing totally unimpeded high-speed passage through. The trap tags are dispelled in short order as Tamamo moves through, preventing a daisy chain of explosive inconvenience in the way of the high-speed rush inside. The perimeter is breached.

    The alarm is raised instantly when the two youkai try to approach from other direction. Not being the recipient of the benefits of teamwork, they both have to contend with the aforementioned invisible, physical barrier, pushing them out like a magnet of opposite polarity, though the explosive talismans are too low to the ground to get them.

    Both sides are menaced by the automatic defenses in short order, but the alarm being triggered by Utsuho and Rin means that the bulk of the personnel response seems to head their way. In less than a minute, they're put under heavy fire not just from nasty, low-set autoguns sprinkled around the forested perimeter, well-disguised and fed with ample ammo, but painted with multiple laser designators from some sort of special forces unit on station here, used not only to shoot them with much larger, faster, nastier bullets, but for a couple of ATG missiles to track as well. They got what they wanted, at least, in spreading the defenses out.

    On the other side, the chain of mechanical defenses don't hold up against an all out Elite blitz. The turrets aren't up-armed sufficiently to do more than pain and annoy Miyamomo and Gawain, and when they charge to the end of their firing lanes, they can barely traverse fast enough to fire at them as they pass by. The mines go off at sub-optimal distances due to the shock on the ground of their maneuvering being enough to trip their fuses. They're both quickly disabled and frozen over by Tamamo cleaning up the path in and out, allowing Muramasa to move smoothly inward.
Lilian Rook     Reaching the inner clearing, where Xion's keyblade is lodged on the internal barrier around the waterfall, the bulk of the group is just in time to see the last of the 'conventional troopers' rush off to the opposite side, called away by the boundary alarm going off as drilled. What they are left with is three men who are ostensibly the ones who can sense magic; a sorcerer in an extremely orthodox boxed hat, most likely supervising the wards themselves, and two bodyguards dressed up in fully concealing war-gear, the masks only so much a facade over the amount of tech involved despite the superficially classic look.

    They don't tell anyone to stop or freeze. They don't demand identification. They don't ask what anyone is doing here. The moment Miyamomo and Gawain plough into the clearing, the two bodyguards unlimber extremely heavy-looking gunmetal grey bullpup rifles and open fire on the pair of them with significantly more punch than the turrets, and the blue-white muzzle flash to match. Once they become a close range problem, both bodyguards toss their rifles and draw matching odachi instead, and become significantly more menacing to deal with, each clearly revealing themselves to be a mid-tier combat-trained Enlightened 'without a special gimmick'.

    The sorcerer hurries over as fast as his garb will allow him to start trying to remove the Keyblade. Up close, anyone can hear him calling out to Nobuko inside the field, telling her not to do anything until it's fully secured again, in strangely fearful tones. Despite the DEFCON kind of reception to the invasion from everything else, Nobuko breaks her meditation with a sigh that sounds more like exasperation than anything. She fastens her breastplate back on, picks up the very obviously 'unreal' swords, one in each hand, and turns to try and reply to Tamamo in the middle of it all. Just by raising her voice, she has little difficulty being heard over the sounds of live combat, drowning out even her magical aide's incredibly rushed mantras.

    "Though we hadn't met long, I'd thought us better friends than this." she says. "Should I even ask how and why you turn up here and now? Would you tell me what you know? Even then, what kind of gesture is this meant to me? I've been preparing months for this moment, and years for this chance. And now this many familiar faces all interrupt at once? I've already written my poem. What lies have you been told, and by whom?"
Gawain The bullets and the Enlightened's blade bruise and batter Gawain, but he's incredibly tough, despite the solid damage. By spinning the sword around his feet, he summons a miniature sun with runes, increasing his power even greater.

"I can't let you do something so risky!" Gawain shouts to no one in particular, as he sets his blade blazing and moves to swing into the Enlightened, chipping his guard with elemental damage!
Hellwarming Duo Rin: "Hey, hey, hey! Whatcha got over here?"
Utsuho: "Looks like it's a whole lot of bullets coming out of there there. And... Uh. Some slower flying things?"

As the autoguns start firing upon the flying youkai, the pair start flying more erratically in an effort to not get shot up too badly. Utsuho wreathes herself in flames and lets it burst outward to try and punch through some of those bullets coming her way, but the missiles right on top of her and send the raven hurtling back from the following explosion. Rin, meanwhile, fares relatively better against the bullets with her speed and the wheelbarrow soaking up the bullets, but the missiles similarly strike her ride from below and obscure both of them in the ensuing explosions.

After the smoke clears, however, the two appear to be just fine! Singed and scratched up from the shrapnel, but they're already to return fire as a cloud of multi-colored bullets linger in the air around them in a massive sphere.

Rin: "Rough crowd. But how about this for a punch line?!"
Utsuho: "We didn't say anything funny yet. Uh. Oh, what about that one with the..."

Before Utsuho can really come up with anything, the sphere full of smaller spheres bursts outwards, each bullet moving in a straight line before curving around to rain down on the automated defenses. The white ones burst into their own spray of bullets to batter whatever they come into contact with, and the red ones just set things on fire because... Fire.
Muramasa <J-IC-Scene> Muramasa says, "A sword that can slice apart the bonds that tie, and a sword that terminates seperations ... I wonder. Do you know what you're going to do?"

He can tell, she's just ahead -- the young Oda who had taken up the swords that the Muramasa of this world had made. But if he had any chance of reaching where she was, he'd have to force his way through the warriors and sorcerer who guarded the path forward, as they immediately showed that they would not be quite as trivial an opposition as what they'd faced so far.

The blitz of bullets is difficult for Muramasa to deal with immediately, as he reaches his hand out and utters, "Trace on," as magical energy coalesces in his grip to form a long, peculiar blade; though ultimately, mundane. What mattered was not the qualities of the sword, but the skills that were recorded within it.

The ever reliable Washing Pole allowed him to execute Kojirou's masterful swordsmanship to do his best to deflect the pair of Enlightened's close-range venture, "Gh..!"

-- but, even by using that legendary skill, that didn't mean that he himself was up to snuff. To begin with, his body type was different from Kojirou's as well, and that greatly affected his martial prowess. Muramasa's first attempt at breaking through is repelled, and he finds himself being buried into the bark of a stump for his trouble.

While Miyamomo and Gawain tangle with them, Muramasa digs himself back out of the him-sized hole dug into the dead wood and rolls his shoulders to try and work out the soreness. At the end of the day they are both still swordsmen. By recording their swords, their history and technique, I can probably predict what their next move is with a fair amount of accuracy. Then I'll take my chance.

Interceding moments after Gawain,he launches a lightning fast sword slash that creates a compressed blade of wind, travelling in the opposite arc of his swing, effectivelly allowing him to make two half-crescent slashes at opposing sides to force the swordsmen to defend themselves or be grievously bifurcated in the process.

With this opening, Muramasa hopes to use his reinforced legs to dash past them, and up to Tamamo.
Miyamomo     By the time Miyamomo has reached the inner clearing, she looks a bit of a mess. While she dodged the mines, the shrapnel still caught her several times, on top of all the bullets she soaked from autoturrets. She stands there, before the sorceror and the two bodyguards, her form obscured by lilac mist that issues from her. But even after that blender, she's still standing, still whole. There's no doubt that those tails are real.

    The bodyguards draw and fire. Miyamomo raises her arms and advances. Even as those punchy bullets bite through her skin and crack her bone, she advances at a steady, even pace, protecting her mask all the while. And yet, the hail of bullets do not act on her body as they should. The wounds they open are smaller than they should be, and not a one penetrates all the way through.

    This is Iron Style. The idea that any body has limits it can surpass, and by strengthening the body, you raise those limits higher and higher. Like metal in a forge, you remove impurities and shape it. So too, is the body. A thing to continually hone, to improve. And the results are clear. Bullets that should chew the kitsune to a pulp only tear open gouges.

    And when she's finally in striking distance of the bodyguard, and they go for their odachi, the offensive side of Iron Style become clear.

    She kicks. A simple side kick, the kind any child at their third karate lesson might learn. Raise the leg while leaning back to chamber it, then fully extend horizontally. But it comes out hard and fast, like she was standing one instant and already kicking him the next. She aims for the hand drawing the blade, crunching the wrist and shattering the cartilage, forcing the odachi back into the sheath. And then she's stepping forward and punching upward, into his gut. Were this a fighting game, there would be a special, massive hit flash, or zoom-in on his guts being pulped. It's a blow that lifts him off his feet and sends him flying, one that makes him throw up into his mask. A body honed to push past it's sky-high limits can destroy any other body not equally conditioned. Even if the user hurts themself in the attack, the damage dealt is far worse.

    "I am the Peach Fox," she says to Nobuko. "And I am here to free you from those blades."
Arthur Lowell >Arthur: Graze the incoming fire

    It's not that easy, but still, Arthur's broom-rocket rush evades chunks of the fire in a way that's startlingly energizing! Partially because bullet wounds induce a *lot* of adrenaline even in his superhuman form. He skids through the bullpup fire and he brings his broom into a dramatic battle-ready stance, trying to tear his way through the defensive line of the bodyguards and avoid getting into protracted battle with them. It's the Oda he's got business with.

>Arthur: Bring dire warnings, and speak ill omens

    "NOBUKOOOOOO!" He calls out, urgently. "Ya gotta keep those SWORDS AWAY FROM THAT PYLON!!" It's not angry, it's not self-righteous, it's just *urgent*, almost protective in a way. His effort to make it to her involves an extensive series of elegant broom-strikes and gravity sweeps, trying to reach the blades first... of course this fails, without question. But still, he tries to rush her. "This is *bad*!! I've run this by SPACE-TIME GODS, I've run this by SEERS, even a fuckin' *DYING ANTEGENT* told me this was gonna turn sour! I'm HERE BECAUSE of the FRIENDSHIP! I think the ODAS are RAD AS HELL, but this is BAD FOR EVERYONE, for real! YOU GOTTA GET THOSE SWORDS AWAY FROM THAT THING!"

    Amid the chaos, an open palm is jammed towards the pylon, trying to wrap it in a field of inverted gravity and shove any approaching person away from it.
Tamamo     "Why, it is because I think so well of you that I must be here, at all. Your strength and determination are admirable, and that you would either fail or give up on your pursuits, I found too unreasonable to consider. Here, I do expect, you would seek to prove yourself to others, and carry out an act at their behest, but it is the act that proves a problem."

    Tamamo isn't, specifically, being attacked. But she still clears out some space for herself, throwing down the makings of her own barrier. It'll prove difficult for the bodyguards to deal with, but is designated to provide no issue to the the party of elites who came in ahead of or around her. Whether they'll take advantage of of a field that dulls the movement and subtly confuses the senses of their opponents, or even be able to lead their fights into that space, is up to them.

    "There were those who told me of a threat, but that is not important, for I did not trust their words. I have examined your Fate, myself. It is upon my own authority, and that of no other's advisement, that I state this." Her voice carries with the weight of an oracle. "The greater your success in this endeavour, the greater the disaster that shall befall this world."

    Pointedly, Tamamo doesn't attack anyone. At least, not directly. She'd told Sakura that, too. She won't do this by force, but that doesn't mean there isn't force behind her words. "If it were only your own life, I would allow you to take it, even should I come to mourn. If it were only the destruction of the Oda, I would say, 'so it is that they wished to die, and so it is that they have done so,' though I would hope they heed my words, and seek another path. What is attempted here is beyond yourself, and beyond your clan. The greatest mercy, here, would be in your failure, but I think too much of you to hope for that."
Xion The moment is very different for Xion, pushing through the interception fire and zipping through the shattering barriers and burning seal-tags. Her Keyblade shifts from its position in the second barrier back into her hands with a streak of light, catching the chunky assault rifle fire sent her way with a too-quick twirl and slap of her blade, pah-pah-pah.

"A poem doesn't change what's happening. Our actions do. Everything Arthur said is true. That tower and those blades shouldn't meet. You being determined to go through with this--"

Drawing her keyblade back, the tip glows with a bright light that traces a line horizontally through the air in a crescent. Drawing the light to a centerline, she thrusts out to fire the power of Unlocking once more, at the inner barrier -- and the pylon beyond. If she can free it from the earth...

Then she can take an objective off the field, and render the exercise moot. That way, everyone can win-!
Lilian Rook     On the youkai partners' end, it turns out that dueling with entrenched anti-air defenses and large numbers of grounded troopers is very different from elegant aerial duels of danmaku. Or something like that. Their targets aren't moving, until suddenly they are. Chains of mines blow up immediately, and turrets struck directly are instantly destroyed, but those which aren't have no difficulty continuing to shoot for a while even while deep in brush fire, the deadwood catching light easily. The troopers are the kind with many years of combat experience, and also still alive, thus they have the good sense to run back to hard cover when their previous positions are melted away, and keep up steady waves of fire on the duo even while retreating.

    On the main end, Gawain finds that of course the two chosen to bodyguard Nobuko specifically are very competent. They're probably retainers of the house rather than technically big S Samurai, but they have the ability to ward him away for several blows in a row before being knocked ovr and rolling away, even as their armour turns red hot and causes the under layers to smoke.

    Before he can recover, Muramasa cuts him off completely, forcing him to crouch behind his planted sword and turn his profile behind it, the edge chipping badly from blocking the wind slash while still superheated. His partner turns to cover his back, using the drawn length of his great sword to parry the vacuum wave from the other end, but the action leaves him wide open to Miyamomo zipping right into his personal space, smashing his blade right back into its saya, only narrowly avoiding a shattered wrist for letting go of it just in time, and launching him from the ground so hard that she feels layers of inserts crack and fall to pieces beneath her fist. He hits the ground with no real control, rolling over and reaching for something to pull himself up by.
Lilian Rook r    Between the concerted efforts of Tamamo, Arthur, and Xion, Nobuko is taken aback sheerly for their desperate emphasis. At first, she'd merely looked exasperated, like she assumed they'd all been duped by some rival clan into interfering. Now she looks rightly disconcerted, or at least thoroughly ruffled. "What are you talking about?" she blurts back, with significantly decreased formating or forethought. "I don't understand. Why would you think that? Are you saying I'm-- Are you calling my grandfather a liar? My uncle, my mother, my brother, all the distinguished and faithful hands of the branch families? Are you trying to tell me *all* of them are wrong?"

    Her grip on the swords tightens, as she slams one into her sash. "That's-- No, they wouldn't ask something of me that would only cause harm! And they'd definitely never do anything to throw me away like that! I'm doing this because I'm the only one who can! They entrusted it to me. Everyone knew I was the only one who could handle this, and now they're all depending on me! This is ridiculous! Put down your weapons!"

    Though she is raised first only to bristling words, filled with the reflexive doubt and denial of someone who's just had a long-promised reward slapped out of their hands, she is roused to action by Arthur and Xion's attempts to remove her choice from the equation. Arthur's inverse gravity field pushes her all the way to the edge of the barrier. In the blink of an eye, she's drawn one of the Muramasas; it's not the calm royal blue one from before, so it has to be the Sword of Separations. Xion's keyblade manages to open up a gap in the barrier and then levitate the enormous pylon from the ground, shifting metric tons of god knows what--

    And then an almost invisible iaijutsu slash from Nobuko flicks through space, and the Separation between the pylon and the ground is cut away like a bamboo stalk, the Separation in the barrier closed up to an inch-wide sliver as the same.

    "Is that what this is?! You think you can take this all away?! That you can do it better than me?! Is that it?!" Nobuko shouts. "As if I'd go against all of the wishes invested in me, everyone's hopes placed on me, and stand aside and let you!"
Lilian Rook     Seeing what the situation is coming to, the sorcerer immediately bodyblocks Arthur, throwing up four talismans that form a square wall of energy between them to block his line of effect, and then with a rapid sequence of mudra, causing the water to lunge up at him and trap him, and the earth to try and trap Tamamo around the waist. The battered bodyguard pushes himself back up to his feet and accelerates past Gawain and towards Muramasa, slashing the knight at lightning speed along the way, but aiming a flurry of almost simultaneous blows that create ghostly afterimages at Muramasa, either cutting him to ribbons or throwing him back into the woods from the clearing from the compound force.

    The other one still isn't ready to fight, but manages to crawl to his rifle inconspicuously enough, then roll over and blast Miyamomo at almost point blank with a spray of autofire from his back. Xion is the current focus on Nobuko now. She draws the second sword --just well enough that nobody save Muramasa would be able to tell that a two sword style is relatively new to her-- and creating a silent, glowing blue half-moon, it rather directly attacks the Bond of Xion to her keyblade, both in the physical sense with her hand, but also a semi-sympathetic sense, diminishing her control of it as if it were a physical health bar to be damaged. That much expresses, at least, non-lethal intent.
Hellwarming Duo Utsuho: "Still shooting... Heh. They're tougher than I thought they'd be!"
Rin: "Sheesh... Hey, we're just tryin' to help ya out here!"

As the exchange of explosives and magic flaming balls continues, Utsuho and Rin seem to be getting into their groove! They weave through the denser carpets of fire aimed their way, utilizing each other's flames as cover and otherwise charging through the gunfire to try and keep their movements unpredictable.

Alas, said moves aren't necessarily unpredictable, just fast as they start swerving through each others' flight paths as colorful magic spheres and flames linger behind them in their wake. "Don't worry, we're not going to kill you! Probably!" Utsuho shouts as she slows to a stop, snapping her fingers raining fire down onto the troopers to try and flush them out of cover.

"Yeah, we're the good guys here! We just gotta beat you enough that you don't do somethin' dumb even for us!" Rin follows up Utsuho's widespread flame shots with more of those homing bullets from earlier, and she even dives in afterwards to try and engage the troopers in close combat!

Mostly by divebombing them with her wheelbarrow before swerving back up into the air. "It'd be easier for all of us if you just gave up now, got it?!"
Tamamo     "That would be most strange, would it not? For all the leaders of a clan to plot its own destruction. No, is it not more plausible that they were mistaken? It is not that they chose wrongly in whom to entrust their hope, but that the path itself was wrong. There are none who would be better, for there are none who should take this road at all. It is one that must not be trod."

    The sorcerer attempts to trap her, and... it works! Tamamo is encased in earth up past her knees before she completes a counter-incantation that won't also cause the magic (which is, importantly, surrounding her) to explode in some way. If that's all they do, keeping her in one spot, it's only a partial bother to her. She hasn't really been 'harmed,' so far, but trying to arrest her movement still justifies some kind of response.

    "Had I expected you would be easily convinced to give up the duties placed upon you, you would have seen me sooner. I knew this would occur, though one need not be a seer, to see that far ahead. I place in you a hope, that you will turn from this, and be neither beaten, nor broken. To choose another's wishes over mine is your right, but know that no denial will change what I have foreseen." In a nod to Arthur, "And as others have confirmed, as well."

    Maintaining one's dignity while being buried is inconveniently difficult, but Tamamo avoids sighing at her circumstances. She needs her full concentration to control the force of her aura and how it affects her words. Too strong, and they'll resist her pull. Too weak, and they'll escape it. Her words carry warmth, and neither beg nor demand, but simply 'are' trustworthy, as an unstated understanding. Nobuko is her primary target, as she expects the others will be even more firm in their duty. Perhaps, no one here has the authority to deny the head of the clan, but at least for a samurai of the main family, to protest is conceivable.
Gawain Gawain gets sliced head on. The blade dings against his armor. Despite a solid, crucial hit, that knocks him slightly back, it does absolutely no damage in his sunlight.

Gawain turns towards the bodyguard as they charge Muramasa. He can't block the attack, but he can charge forward, moving to slice into any armor they have. He's not trying to kill, but he's absolutely willing to set them on fire if they resist!

They can put them out again later.

His process is to then bodytackle if they're on fire, trying to smother the flames and pin the bodyguard so the others can knock them out. It's full-strength, like being mauled by a superfast, superstrong bear.
Miyamomo     Miyamomo has already turned away from the downed bodyguards and regards only Nobuku. Leaving her wide open to just have a whole magazine emptied into her back. At least, that is what the man on the ground believes. But the moment he lines up his shot, her foot has fired backwards to slam into the gun barrel, crumpling it lengthwise and crushing their finger inside the compressed trigger guard. "Lose with grace, please. As recompense for this, I'll be taking that." She bends down and rips the odachi from its sheath, holding it at her side in one hand before looking to the woman with the dual blades.

    "The others are here to stop some awful tragedy. I don't wholly understand the specifics, I leave that to them. No, I'm here to stop you, Oda Nobuko, from disgracing the art of the sword any more than you already have." She gestures with her free hand at the blades of Seperation and Bond and says, "You are 'the only one who can.' I know. Because you were raised as such. Spent your whole life, honing body and skill, to swing two blades-not even well-at one thing. I'm not surprised you're anticipating death from this. Even if you live, you may as well have died here. You would have accomplished the purpose your family had given you. What else would there be? Your sole purpose was handed to you, and you cannot dream of anything more. That you are named of one of the most ambitious men in history is farcical. You have none of your own."

    She throws the odachi, just so, that is buries itself in the ground before Nobuko. "If I am wrong, drop those cursed blades and take this one up. Face me as a true warrior. Show me what your skills are actually for. If you do, I shall unmask and face you as a peer in the art of combat. Or cling to them, like a babe their blanket. If you do, I will crush you, and break them in half in front of your broken form."

    Behind her back, she fiddles with that charm Lilian entrusted her with. 'WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF I BROKE SWORDS?' She's not entirely stupid at least.
Xion "They asked it of you because you are special. Because you can use two incredible tools at the same time." Xion returns, her tone level despite the extremity of the events. "They ask of you, 'do this'. Because they want it to happen. The rest of that... the power of those bonds -- they're one sided! Yes, you're the only one who can do it."

"That's why their love for you lost to their curiousity. Do you understand?"

She doesn't, and the power of Seperation sweeps out in a counterwave against her beam of Unlocking, shattering the silver tether and moon-crescent cleaving through a glimmering thread--

A black-golden medallion containing Shijima Go's power shatters into sparkles, accepting the damage in place of Xion's identity itself, and the 'Racer' part of Xion's transformation crumbles away leaving her in street clothes and staggered.

"I can't do it better than you. And you're right. I'm trying to choose for you."

"I don't expect you to like it."

She sets her blade. "But I came running to save you, because we all want to be the hero of your heart, Nobuko!"

Starlight falls from Xion's hands, knocked away physically by the Seperation. Spinning as she's singled out, she instead thrusts with her off-hand, the blade-summoning gloaming-dark and ominous with a brooding 'vmmmf' A twist-handled weapon that spirals identically to another landmark which had been lifted from the air, with a red-crystal tooth capped in a simple ball. Slashing with the weapon has a palpable vacuuming effect that Xion uses as a melee enhancer, air rippling into the length and ceasing at the edge. When it connects, it sticks and erodes and drains away.

"If I have to choose between you hating me and alive, and pleasantly deciding to allow you to kill yourself - I know what I'll choose, every time. No matter what!"
Muramasa "Stop being so egotistical! If you continue like this, you'll -- " Muramasa is cut off, by the charging swordsman. Forced to defend himself, he carefully but quickly applies magical energy to his body, pouring it into the muscles and bones of his arms and shoulders, as he exchanges just-as-lightning-fast blows. The ground around the two men explodes with pufts and dirt and dead grass as the pressure of their trades, neither giving ground, has nowhere else to go.

    "You're -- in the way!"

What can I say to make her stand down? No, I can't even get a word in edgewise ... I have to take this guy down right now. And if it comes down to it, I'll have to knock some sense into her, too. Is reaching a mutual understanding really impossible..?!

What little he knew of her was largely second-hand knowledge. And having met her face to face, he did not believe her to be a intrinsically bad person or anything of the sort. If anything, he blamed her elders. Or perhaps ..

In the end, this was all the result of one man's obsession, wasn't it? Would conflicts like this follow his Answer, as well?

I can't think about that right now. Those swords of hers, I only got a glimpse at them -- the other me, the Muramasa from this world, his work is difficult for even me to understand and comprehend. But I don't need to internalize them to know what will happen if she uses them.

Shifting magical energy into his washing pole, he charges it to the breaking point and upon the next meeting of blade on blade, it explodes violently in a flash of light. Needless to say, this also kicks up a cloud of dust, which --

Was a perfect smokescreen for Muramasa to rapidly project an identical washing pole into his hands and pull the hilt back and up, shifting his body into a downward swing, and then a thrust.

He was in the way, so he resolves to defeat him in a single stroke. "Hiken."

        "Tsubame Gaeshi!"

One slash becomes three to pin the swordsman. If not for Muramasa pulling back at the last moment to veer the trajectory of the three attacks surrounding the man, it would have been a certain killing blow.

    "I don't have time for you..!"

The projection fades as Muramasa turns again, affording Gawain a brief but very appreciative nod, before facing Nobuko Oda. " ... I'll admit freely that you and I are practically strangers. Most people here know you much better than I do. But ... I made a promise. I promised not to let you make this mistake."

"And even besides that, I feel responsible for the fact you're even holding those two swords right now." Even if they were made by another Muramasa.

" ... if you won't give up, I understand. But I also won't give up. I'll defeat you right here, right now, and cut through this delusion."

Holding his hand out, he breathes in and commences his projection.

As long as that barrier existed, attacking her was nearly impossible. So he'd get rid of it in the same stroke he would strike her, and to do that .. there was indeed, one weapon that came to mind. It was the same sword that a certain swordswoman had wound up taking off his hands.

The katana sheathed in a simple but finely polished wooden scabbard possesses a handguard decorated into the shape of a blooming flower, a well-made leather grip, and a royal purple tang.

Drawing it, he discards the scabbard and prepares his stance, filling it up with as much magical power as it could take, drawing out every ounce of its potential for one, single cut.

An attack that could even pierce causality, "Myoujingiri.."

        "MURAMASAAAAAAAAA!"

The katana explodes and takes the form of a crackling blade of light that vanishes moments after, its work in the world finished.
Arthur Lowell >Arthur: Don't solve mysteries!! Just focus on stopping this!

    "No!! STOP!!" Arthur screams as the water rises. "Don't do this!!" He's assaulted, grappled, held where the water wants him. Its brutal squeeze seems to subdue him for a time. He shouts as he struggles: "LISTEN! I don't know *why* or *how* they'd tell you to do some shit like this! I think the Odas are one'a the better things to be around this whole damn nation! One of the best hopes for a good goddamn outcome for this *whole Antegent thing*! And I *know* you're good. I know you! We saved all those people *together*! But-- this, just this, this one thing, these blades and this pylon! If you do this, *everything* goes bad! Please, Nobuko, every damn source I got, from humans, to gods, to the *fucking antegent*, they all say this is gonna turn bad! I can't let you do this!!"

>Arthur: Take that bastard's hands out of the fight!!

    He's had enough of this damn water. His skin is suddenly solar fire, and he suffers its searing steam while boiling it away. "Get the *fuck* off me with that!!" He roars at the sorcerer. "You're puttin' the whole damn nation at risk!! Make your fuckin' ninja-hands like *this*!" His blast of fire and gravity is aimed right for the offending arms, designed to sear and crack the flesh and bone of fingers. The blast of stellar force is far, *far* to enthused.

>Arthur: Get between Nobuko and the pylon NOW!!

    He doesn't stop to engage them further. Nor the bodyguards. Nobuko. He's got to get between Nobuko and that pylon. He doesn't attack her, the priority is to get between them. Separation-cutting or no, it's the best position he can shoot for. Is that inner barrier still open? Is there ANY way to get between? He'll take the blades on his body before he lets them touch the pylon.
Lilian Rook     Whatever the defensive forces think of Utsuho and Rin's utterly nonsense line here doesn't seem to matter very much. They're very much caught up in the very real situation of being not enough regular guys with guns stuck fighting two Elites with no backup. The best they can do is fire the entire remainder of their missile stock all at once, and remote detonate the ammo supplies of the surviving turrets, when Utsuho stops and Rin lands for close combat respectively.

    Beyond that, they clearly have no further tricks to play, and can only fall back in scattered formation, the only clusters being those carrying injured companions with two buddies to provide retreating fire. The barrier itself is still in the duo's way, but they can always just . . . go around, to where it isn't.

    The Elites currently still in the heart of the melee can just now get wind of the opposite line collapsing, hearing the gunfire and explosions and hoarse yelling drawing closer, depending on their fidelity of hearing. The troopers fleeing Utsuho and Rin stumble into the clearing at the cliffside end, arriving with the temporary benefit of height, then stalling out as they realize this place is a battlefield too. Professionally and dutifully, they put down the wounded, take prone positions on the high cover, and begin raining down fire on the Elites trying to approach Nobuko, rather than retreat to a safer place.

    Gawain is not nearly as delayed, or even distracted, as the aggressive bodyguard had hoped. The knight is already hot on his heels at the time he's still exchanging blows with Muramasa, trying to pressure the swordsmith back out of the area, then quickly return to his samurai charge before someone else can cause more trouble. Muramasa's version of the swallow-cutting technique is something he can only partially see through, using the full length of the odachi in his hands to fully block one of the three strikes at its base, and partially deflect another with its tip, which snaps off for its trouble, but the third blow strikes him true, along with Gawain's attack from the other end, and then finally the knight's body tackle buries him in the water, with a broken sword and briefly alight-then-extinguished body, left to tumble downstream and downhill. The troopers focus their fire on his armoured back, using multiple grenades and disposable launchers to try and keep him back now.

    Aside from the spray of fire falling on him, the second bodyguard is nominally still in Muramasa's way, but whilst the swordsmith rushes the barrier, Miyamomo cleans him out completely, destroying his secondary weapon, his ability to use his primary, and neatly casting him out of the fray. She then calls upon her charm, which turns warm and bright and smells of sweet spring cherry blossoms in her hand. She hears a young, gentle voice in her ear. "No! You can't! I don't know what would happen, but we would definitely never find the final sword we were supposed to! And who knows what would happen if the number of blades changed from forty-four?"
Lilian Rook     Her own words, at least, have some effect in appealing to her pride, even through the female samurai's stubborn head. "Hold your tongue, fox! I thought your kind was supposed to be *good* at guile and persuasion! Of course you wouldn't understand any concept of family, duty, or faith! But you'll have your match as soon as I'm done, don't you worry! I'll make you eat those words!" She seems, if nothing else, offended at that judgement of her very fresh nitoryu --no doubt she'd spent her life with one sword, and had suddenly been expected to learn two at once in the past six months since getting it.

    The troopers don't even bother shooting at her, because Nobuko turns back to the pylon with a shimmering flick of the prismatic sword of Bonds --Nobuko's more familiar, and thus more versatile blade-- which cuts at the Bond between Miyamomo and her relative position, and sends her hurtling at tremendous speed back into the trees, at some significant percentage of the rate of rotation of a regular Earth.

    An angry and confused mind is not one well-suited to resisting supernatural persuasion. Tamamo's efforts cause Nobuko to stall for many, precious seconds, right on the cusp of doing, where Elites are closing all around. "It's like this-- I know that-- Don't misunderstand! Whatever you think will happen, even if it does happen, is simply my responsibility to deal with! If I simply give up and turn away now, it wouldn't be wisdom; it'd be betrayal! By taking on this title, and by taking on these swords, and by taking on this task, I've taken on responsibility for everything that happens! I can't selfishly decide to do whatever I want instead! If it presents a threat to the clan, I'll deal with that threat too!" The sorcerer, at least, seems to become savvy to what Tamamo is doing, by the sudden panic in his expression, and ramps up his efforts to bind her with a sudden flurry of energy draining curses and hexes and bindings, heedless to his own health.

    It's enough for Arthur to blast his hands and send him dropped to his knees in the creek, crouched over his broken fingers and incapacitated with pain and trauma. Enough for him to get in the way. "As if I'd believe anything about talking to the Antegent! Even if they did say something, obviously it'd just be to deceive you! They don't help human beings; they only manipulate and kill us! You really are an idiot!" It's the one, convenient sentence she can stubbornly hold to, amidst all his genuine care, which the look in her eyes tells him that she can't stand to confront right now.

    "Get out of the way!" she yells, stepping into him and swinging down heavily with the blunt side of the iridescent sword, delivering a blow many times harder than even her bodyguards, and then stepping past him in the followthrough to cut away the gravitic Separation of the barrier he'd placed between her and the pylon, utilizing the increasingly apparently abusive scope of the swords to get up close. Within arm's reach of the immense, deeply unsettling pylon, Nobuko takes a deep breath, focusing all the energy she'd gathered during her meditation into both swords simultaneously, causing the waterfall to *stop falling* around her, and the ground to ripple in the same way the creek does. She lashes out with both swords in a perfectly synchronized cross-cut over the Pylon's split helix--
Lilian Rook     Muramasa makes contact with the barrier, and it's annihilated in a single stroke, even its explosive adornments vapourized in an instant, without having time to go off. All of the insulating layers disappear all at once; even the distorted arcs left by Nobuko's swordplay vanish into nothing, dispelling the current alterations to 'Bonds' and 'Separations', pushing Nobuko back again. Back into Xion, who now has a perfect and clean straight shot at Nobuko's back, even if it is through a hail of bullets and explosives. One where the tip of the summoned 'keyblade' connects just right. Just in time.

    The draining effect of Xion's keyblade drags a huge chunk of power away just as Nobuko attacks. Muramasa's canceling of the split in Arthur's gravity barrier knocks her back, disrupting her precision. Nobuko stumbles over backwards. A deep, X-shaped gouge of blue and silver is left across the pylon surface. Xion experiences. Xion sees, hears, feels, --gravity shifting around to be 'downwards' from wherever she looks, like a trick room. Massive islands of solid, ultraviolet blackness covered in growth of infrared white. Translucent shapes that swim and swirl and glide through the air. Stark shadows from the overwhelming scarlet light above, at the center of all; a burning singularity surrounded by an endless halo of vantablack land and silent, violet stormclouds. Soundlessly, she hears them 'speaking'. A sharp sound. Mechanical, or like cracking bone. A-- The gouges on the pylon ooze brightly glittering incandescent blood-- somehow it has to be blood.

    The 'jewel' at the end flares from deoxygenated red to luminous crimson, the sluggish smoke within suddenly contracting into a point, then throbbing with repeated, liquid blooms like the rapid pulsing of an overstrained heart. Soundless thumping fills the clearing, disturbing the water without making any real noise. Tendrils of red and black energy crawl from the helical tines and grope over its surroundings, charring grass and stone black. The pentagonal shapes around its exterior look like they're spinning and shifting over one another, accelerating along its length like a sequence of nonsense gear trains. The red glow rapidly expands, drowning all other colour and saturating shadow into deepest black and light into brightest white.
Miyamomo     Miyamomo doesn't really get the answer she receives from the voice. It sounds to her like they intend to change the total number no matter what, so what does it matter if she breaks one or two right now? It's moot at the moment though. Nobuko refutes her words, and just attacks her nature.

    "I'm not," she says firmly. "Because I chose not to be. It's as easy as that. Just as you could, just as easily, not do as your clan wishes of you. You control your body, your actions. I chose just now to be frank. You can choose to-"

    Miyamomo's Bond is severed, and she goes sliding back. But not all the way into the trees, no. Her toes curl and grip the earth underfoot, her stance widening to lower her centre of gravity. Grooves are dug into the soil by her feet as she goes sliding back, but ever does she remain upright. A body forged by Iron Style can resist even the turn of the planet.

    Once she becomes still, Myamamo walks right back up to Nobuko, violet smoke issuing from her feet with each stride. "You have chosen the path of the babe. I suppose it would take more than the likes of me to convince you otherwise. Very well. As you are but a child, I have only one recourse; to confiscate those dangerous things you have gotten your hands on, least you hurt yourself or anyone else."

    The kitsune moves, the ground exploding underfoot. She is before the swordswoman in a blink. Nobuko's right wrist is seized by Miyamomo's left hand. Her grip is irresistible, unbreakable. She pulls with all her strength to drag the arm out into full extension. And then drives her right fist upwards, into the elbow, with enough force to shatter the bones that connect there and drive them through the skin.

    And then she grabs Nobuko's left wrist in her right hand and repeats the procedure there.
Gawain Gawain succeeds in putting the guy down in a hold, but the others start shooting him with grenades and cannons. As most of them detonate, Gawain gets up, turns, picks up a grenade, and walks over to the people attacking him.

The grenade detonates in his gauntlet as he holds it aloft. The gauntlet cracks, but his flesh is fine, if blackened. The sheer explosive power just staggers him back, but in the sunlight, it shows that he is absolutely not putting up with their games.

"My name is Sir Gawain, Knight of the Sun, Warden of the Paladins! I understand your honor and loyalty and I respect it, as a paragon of virtue! But the path you have taken will harm, and will destroy, and will only ruin your clan! Is this truly the path you want!?"

If they don't falter...Gawain grabs his sword, turns off the fire, and moves to charge forward, using the back of the blade to bash heads and chests, give concussions, and send everyone careening to the ground unconscious if he gets a chance. Hopefully, holding off these guys allows the others to stop the horrible Antegent stuff happening with Nobuko!
Hellwarming Duo That's a whole lot of explosives coming towards the raven and the kasha. The former, eager to show off, lets loose with mighty shout of defiance as the missiles come right for her, detonating in her face with another vision-obscuring explosion that sends her hurtling higher into the sky. By the time the smoke clears, she's already holding her control rod high overhead, the previously bronze-ish colored instrument now glowing an eerily sun-like yellow.

Before she can commit to just chasing down those soldiers and smiting them with the power of her sun-boosted control rod, however, she notices that gap in the barrier that would be fairly easy to bypass to get to where Nobuko is and '''aid''' in convincing her to stand down. "Take care of 'em, Orin!" She shouts, then jets Nobuko-wards while Rin springs into action at ground level.

"You got it!" As Rin shouts upwards to Utsuho, she advances towards those remaining soldiers. It does require going right through those exploding turrets, however, screeching and cowering behind her wheelbarrow with each seemingly random explosion.

The closer she gets to those troopers, however, the more enthused she gets. By the time Rin sees them through all the exploded turrets, she's already kicking her wheelbarrow into the air. "Come on out, everyone! Time for the corpse party!" She shouts as the tarp covering it flies off, and out comes a swarm of ravenous zombie (cosplaying) fairies, groaning convincingly as they charge at the troopers and release bursts of pale blue bullets into their ranks before retreating back into the wagon they came in.

While Rin handles that, Utsuho's flight path takes her towards Nobuko and the bleeding pylon. "That fox lady should be okay there, and... Uh." She's pretty sure Xion and Muramasa mentioned something about a rope, but that just goes right over her head. She's hearing a lot about the pylon and not letting Nobuko hit it with her weird swords, and the only way she can think of to contribute to that is floating near the pylon, keeping herself right between it and Nobuko's line of sight.

"Don't even think of making this thing grosser or weirder or whatever, because you'll have to get through me for that!" She boasts with a confident laugh, still brandishing that energy-infused control rod as if challenging Nobuko to come for her anyway. It's the best Utsuho can manage, anyway, considering she's trying not to look too clueless on who else she should be blasting.
Tamamo     The sorcerer attempts everything to stop Tamamo, and this time she's hard hit, taking up time she'd like to be spending more productively with countering his curses as they come. She is, of course, extremely good at this particular type of duel. Something that wasn't empowered to the point of being instantly fatal to an undefended human is barely worth mentioning to Tamamo, when her guard is up. Wards and blessings break and burn around her, shattering into light or burning to ash, taking its toll over all she'd prepared before entering the battlefield. It might have gone much worse for her if Arthur hadn't stepped in.

    Tamamo is still stuck, for now, though the ground begins to loosen around her. She reaches into her sleeve for the item Sakura had given her, and sends her question: 'Should the swords both graze their target, what can suppress its awakening?' Without even waiting for an answer, she attempts to read the strange phenomena before her, searching for an answer of what is and is not happening, straining to glean some useful information from how the pylon interacts with its surroundings from perspective of her own magic and essential being, looking for some point of interaction.

    It must be something apart from 'swords,' as she has no such skill, there. It's not something aligned with light, nor its lack. It's burning destruction, but the only obvious nature is 'extremes.' It's not something known beneath the Sun, and that's why it confounds her.
Arthur Lowell >Arthur: Don't yield

    Impossible. Arthur is slammed away by the flat of the blade, arms out, eyes wide. "Nobuko...--" He whispers before it connects. He's slammed aside. He crashes through the dirt. And all hell breaks loose.

>Arthur: Can you put this back in? Restore the seal?

    No. He can't. This isn't a spill. It's corium dripping through the concrete. It's an open wound in the biosafety lab. It's an alarm in the no man's land and a dozen red-dot laser sights. The disaster has already happened. You can't contain, with gravity or a black hole, what has happened here, and what will keep happening.

>Arthur: You have to try

    What else can he do? There's nothing.

>Arthur: Give up, then

    Not possible either. The number of people currently occupying the island nation of Japan is greater than zero, and that means leaving them to die isn't something Arthur Lowell can do. He rolls over, slams a palm into the searing black-white-red terrain, and shove himself blearily onto his feet. He pants heavily. Behind him, a whole galaxy swirls, lights in the air at his back. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to stop you, Nobuko." He whispers. "I gotta find some way to make this right."

    Yet again. Make this right. It's nothing but mistakes so far, huh Arthur? You lose the sword. You lose the alliances. You lose the chance to stop this disaster. Maybe. Go on, then, Arthur. Go on and make this right. Didn't you want to see what was on the other side of this before, too? But sure. Surely *this* will fix it. Go on and make this right.

>Arthur: Re-contain the spatial disaster.
>Arthur: Make this right.

    Arthur is willing to try however hard he has to. He drops his broom and claps his hands together. His body turns white and bursts into stellar fire. Two solid black holes in space shimmer where his eyes were. Gravity like nothing ever seen before -- like a supermassive black hole, like the moments before the big bang -- surges. Everything tesselated, pentagonal, crimson, it needs to go back. Back to the pylon, the core. If whatever is there lives, it has to believe that this was a wall, a barrier. That it lurched and blindly missed a step in the dark, like climbing a staircase at night, but that there is nothing but solid boundary here. Whatever's coming through moves as if alive. It has to believe there is no more reason to push. It has to *believe* this opening can't be pushed through. He has to bluff whatever this is into believing that he is a wall of impenetrable space.

    He starts at the level of near-instantly draining his Aspect and digging into his Vitality. A droplet of blood traces its way out of his nose. He'll escalate from there if he has to.
Xion Xion knows the power that her blade draws in. The power of drawing together and away, of cleaving. It is familiar to her in a way that springs warmth from her wrists into her chest. She feels it like a hug, and in her mind, the strange gravity makes a wonderful sense.

"Oh. I get it. Down is 'that way'." She gasps, and her eyes reflect the stars.

She thinks of Arthur. The Mage of Space, the one whose tremendously-felt desire had drawn her to the mystery of the blades, over and over. The desire to find a middle path. A kinder path. A gentler path than the ultimate self. A path that fell short of ultimate conquering costly victory, and instead went with the one where everyone lived and was happy.

One where there was no need for final poems written by young people for the curiousity of their clan. He can make this right.

So, Xion can too.

"Muramasa! The Kingdom Key -- now, while Arthur holds it in!" She calls, teleporting closer to the leaking distortion while trusting Utsuho, Rin, and Miyamomo to hold Nobuko at bay.

In tandem with Muramasa, she readies, the cardinal crystal tooth at the tip of her pylon-based Keyblade gathering light.

With a moment to prepare, her other hand fishes in her pocket for the spell tag. She can ask Lilian one question, right? What one question matters the most, at the critical juncture? How can she spend it and save everyone?

Maybe the power she needed was for herself. Lifting her hand out of her pocket, she produces a phone and places it to her ear. It's fine. She has a moment.

"Lilian, would you hate me if I did something foolish to save lives?"
Muramasa In the wake of Myoujingiri's slash, Muramasa is left largely defenseless under the barrage of gunfire, having to rely on yanking off his haori and reinforcing it to the durability and hardness of steel to protect hiim as best it could from the gunfire pinning him down where he was. The katana's hilt, now bladeless, vanishes lifelessly at his feet, with one last gasp of light.

By the time he's recovered enough, and the gunfire had stopped focusing on him, he realizes something terrible happened. " ... !"

It's been hit..! he thinks, in a mild panic. Forcing himself back up to his feet and wobbling, he slings his tattered haori over one shoulder and steps forward, blood seeping from the accumulated damage he'd taken over the course of what was a relatively short altercation. The price of recklessness, one could suppose.

<J-IC-Scene> Muramasa tiredly, "That thing ... it's like cutting apart a rope, and in the the same move, tying the rope together where it was cut, and this process happens across the entire rope, like a cascade. At least, that's what my intuition is saying."
<J-IC-Scene> Muramasa says, "We're lucky all she did was nick it."

As the group of gathered Elites talk amongst themselves to try and brainstorm up a solution in the short term, Muramasa beats himself internally. He couldn't think of anything useful to provide in this situation. Come on, think .. in this gigantic forge which does nothing but produce arms and armaments, there has to be something that will help us stop this tragedy in the making!

But, the Hero of Everyone's Hearts puts out what was probably the best idea between the bunch so far.

<J-IC-Scene> Xion says, "Muramasa, you can help - the Kingdom Key! We can seal both cuts at the same time, maybe?"
<J-IC-Scene> Xion says, "She made two. Bonds, and Seperation."
<J-IC-Scene> Muramasa says, "--!"
<J-IC-Scene> Muramasa says, "... That .. that might work, Xion! Alright. I think I've got enough left in the tank for one more projection."

Raising his hand and taking a deep breath, "Trace on." Muramasa concentrates. Magical energy begins coalescing as he focuses on the image on his head - deeper. Not just an image. The essence. The accumulated history. Sympathizing with the experience of its growth.

    Accelerating every manufacturing process.

It wasn't like projecting other weapons. It was more like he was trying to reach a state where it would respond to him, would probably be the best way to put it -- and when he opens his eyes, in hand is a simple, but elegant keyblade with a golden guard around its finely taut, black leather grip, and an iconic charm dangling from its butt.

It practically shines in his hand.

"Muramasa! The Kingdom Key -- now, while Arthur holds it in!"

This is the last of what I have in the tank. I can feel it .. this key, and the connection it has to the scabbard inside of me, is the only thing keeping me on my feet. Alright. I only have one shot..!

Taking off like a bullet, he catches up to Xion quickly and, as their hearts and their will to save the others around them beat in tandem, they plunge their keyblades into the opposing gashes sliced into the pylon, the mystical, metal length of the Kingdom Key overlapping with her Starlight.

"Even if she would, it isn't wrong to help others." he rasps, affrimingly, with far more confidence and strength in his voice than someone on his last legs should have the audacity to use. In-tune, the keys twist to Lock away the danger.
Lilian Rook     When Utsuho gets in Nobuko's way, even she can tell that the samurai has no intention of still going. Whatever she expected to happen, it couldn't possibly have been this. Whatever little she knows about this thing, her instincts tell her that what's happening now isn't something she's equipped to deal with. Xion's words are still bouncing around in her head.

    With Gawain and Rin running around on top of the ledge, beating the crap out of the remaining troopers until they too are too stunned or panicked to put up any more of a fight, she has the choice of continuing to fight with Miyamomo over the swords, or the other thing, which she actually does; letting the Muramasa of Separations spin free, being flipped over flung against the ground by the leverage instead, rolling over, and tackling Utsuho to the ground as well, just before an immense, focused bolt of aberrant energy would have blasted them both.She doesn't know what's going on. Nobody does, but everyone can feel just how bad it is. It speaks to instincts that regular humans have never felt used before.
    Arthur had his suspicions before, when he'd first heard the radio noise that'd haunted him so. The idea that some underlying intent here was to treat this artifact exactly as 'The Riveting Spike'; something where its Bond with Earth could be hacked apart, and its Separation from wherever it came from terminated to nothing. There'd been all kinds of credible fears at the time, milling around Sakura's assurance of a disaster. Dimensional, spacetime, casual, and all kinds of higher order tears, errors, and catastrophes. Things that one would typically imagine a group of competent experts on this esoterica would check up and down.

    But it's Tamamo who asks; the right person at the right place at the same time. Because it seems they did. The fatal flaw is, actually, so simple that it's like a spelling mistake or a missed bracket. Something that, in theory, works, and does something so slightly different from what it was supposed to, that it wouldn't ever be caught until someone sees the unexpected output.

    Sakura's answer to Tamamo is both eerily clear and direct, and yet sounds as if she herself is hearing it for the first time. "That's not how the order of the swords goes. They have it backwards. The Bond between the Rivet and its chain is cut through, and then so is the Separation between Them and Here." It'd be something to laugh at, were it a coding error. But it isn't. "You can only remove a broken Rivet by pulling it out now. But if you let Them go, they'll awaken all the rest."
Lilian Rook     Arthur himself has instead shouldered the insane responsibility of trying to shove everything back into Pandora's box and sit on the lid. Escalating to his maximum powers right off that start are all that saves him; he can feel the scale of the task literally geometrically increase with every inch the aberration spreads, getting 'bigger' and 'heavier' and 'realer' by the moment. It jerks and runs forward and backwards as he fights it, gradually and laboriously 'pushed back' in a way that looks exactly like rewinding the event and absolutely nothing like wrestling with space. But he can cram it in. Painfully. Gruellingly. Burning away his aspect and grit every single second he tries to stop the leak in the dam with his fingers.

    That won't stop it. It buys time. It is, currently, enough time for Muramasa to heed Xion's urgent call and use the power of the Kingdom Key. The kachunk of something locking is audible in the ear and felt in the pit of the stomach. The pylon begins rumbling. Jerking faintly as if possessed by a poltergeist. Something locked in a trunk and busting to get out. Even that seal probably won't hold for too long. In that time, Xion consults her charm, and somehow, she gets two answers at once.
    "Save every single life that you can, always. Nobody has the right to blame you."
    "I wouldn't hate one of my own. Your lives matter and their lives don't."

    For just a few moments more, the clearing falls into relative quiet again, save for the increasingly agitated rumbling, twitching, and bleeding of the pylon. But Even as fast as the fracture is filled, as quickly as the erroneous process is terminated, narrowly defeated before the point at which it all catastrophically unravels, thanks to the coordinated efforts of the Elites of minimizing the use of the swords to a mere glancing cut by comparison to the original intent, not *everything* can be taken back. A little remains on our side. Pebbles tracked in through the door.
Lilian Rook     Where the expanding aberration retracts again, like the tide flowing back out, it leaves behind something. Three shapes that weren't there before. Charcoal grey-black lumps, at first, which then light up across patterns like luminous, dull red moss, the glow steady at first, then changing to sharp, pulsing, flickering, and irregular strobing. The lumpy shapes shift, stir, stand up. Legs. Arms. The size of huge men. Dirty graphene skin. Patterns of tiny luminous growths. No neck, no eyes, just a fused head-mass with a barrel torso. Flat spinal extrusions like exposed bone. Something like gills, which flare and contract like deep, irregular breaths. Backwards, two-toed legs. Huge, long, muscular, two-fingered arms. The pervasive smell of ozone. Clammy warmth.

    They look at each other, and their surroundings, back and forth. They make sounds, uncomfortably like vocal tones, broken into incomprehensible fragments by a lossy connection or a loud fan blade. Open mouths when they do it. Previously invisible jaws, then two-pronged fang-filled maws, then invisible again. Their lights flicker irregularly as they vocalize, along with hissing clicks from their spines.

    One of them turns to the waterfall, and without a preparatory motion, it leaps up the entire cliff face at once, landing too fast and hard to make sense under one g of gravity. It stands over the concussed and injured troopers, examining them-- and then it begins trying to systematically break them. Unmistakably, it wants to pull them apart. Stomp on them. Snap them in half. Smear them on rocks. It has the strength to do it. It has twenty times the strength to do it.

    The other two are holding something. That is, they're holding things in their hands; things which aren't part of their bodies, or a disconnected extrusion of will. Like sculptures of white porcelain and vantablack seams, shot with red lines and pentagonal fractal markings; shaped like discs or claws or climbing grips or something barely of that nature. Guessing at their purpose is pointless, because the two of them raise both towards the group, and their incandescent tips set the clearing ablaze. Volleys of white hot visual static, fired in almost random bursts, with shriek-cracks like shorting circuits and snapping bones. Radio signals cut out from the ocean of sudden electromagnetic noise being generated from every impact, each spontaneous blaze discharging lightning into its surroundings.

    And, as if in automatic response, the charms, even the spent ones, glow up one more time. A mingled profusion of bronze and cherry, lodestone and blood. They aren't strictly voices, but two 'options' permitted to each Elite.

    -The pale river runs backwards; the first breath of life.
    -Death upon those who have wronged my people.
Gawain Gawain has knocked out the soldiers. Nobuko has stopped. The day is saved.

Or not, because They still appear. They still rise from the retracting aberration. Three creatures, created. Three enemies...as they attack, and one moves to massacre the troopers on the cliff face. The ones Gawain had just spared. The ones with honor and loyalty.

Death upon those who have wronged my people.

Gawain acts in anger. Vengeance. No...justice. He takes his sword, even as the bursts kill his radio and burn through his armor, melting it awaynd scalding his skin. The miniature sun appears above his head. He puts his sword up towards it. "Excalibur..."

"GALATINE!"

The sword becomes a brilliantly long ray of sunlight. Gawain takes it, and moves to rush the cliff face. He charges the One that is murdering the soldiers.

And he moves to try and bisect it in one cleave, with energy coursing through his veins. It's a blow of wrath and justice.

"Hear me, Antegents! Once I offered you friendship, and your kind rejected! Now...now I offer you death."
Arthur Lowell >Arthur: Suffer

    Blood pours from the nose, from the ears, from the eyes, from the mouth. Arthur suffers. He collapses to both knees before he lets go of the gravity. He screams himself hoarse. It transitions, slowly, from a sound of intent to a sound of pain. By the time he's done, he's a sizzling, kneeling wreck. He doesn't stop when things are "re-sealed". He stops when he runs out of focus, and can no longer maintain his body. He falls to his hands and knees, coughing up more blood and barely keeping himself upright. He can barely keep his eyes open, much less pay any attention to the new arrivals. One of those blasts light lightning slams into his body, and sends it flying. Arcs of electricity and small flames dance over his body as it drifts, then slams directly into the dirt, rolling several times and slowly coming to a stop. His body contorts with pain. He fights to remain conscious.

>Arthur: Make this right

    Make this right. He failed, didn't he? Yes. You did, Arthur. Struggle all you like, but you failed again. The blade, the bird, and now the barrier. You saw these people and wanted to help them. Now look at you. Beaten and belittled by the people you wanted to help, entirely unable to stop them from suffering the disastrous consequences of your own decisions. A failure of a hero who has done nothing but let Clan Oda down over and over since the day you pledged yourself to help them. Are you *crying*, Arthur? You failed the tasks you were assigned, so now, what? You'll lie there and cry, struggling to stand up like a child who got tripped in some junior-league sport, hoping that some referee will step in and say you've been wronged, that you deserve some consolation prize?

    "Shut up, asshole." Arthur whispers in a shaking voice, softly, to nobody here. He struggles to clear his eyes. He struggles to get to his feet. He struggles to move.
Miyamomo     Ah.

    Miyamomo regards the three things that emerged from the slashed pillar. She's wary, but not immediately hostile. As something inhuman, something Natural, she can feel it, immediately. These are things Unreal, imposing themselves on the Real. One rushes off and starts killing men, and still she doesn't act. Gooseflesh rises on her skin. Now, more than ever, she truly believes she's still on a little cave atop a mountain, entertaining some ridiculous dream. Even as one of those distorting, staticky blasts clips her arm, she believes so.

    But just in case, just in case...

    "That's not how you do things," she tells the two who aren't ripping people apart. "When you issue a challenge, first you bow. Mutual respect is important for these things. And if you do not know respect, I will teach you. One way or another."

    The pale river runs backwards; the first breath of life.

    She bows. Whether or not they return it is on them. The challenge is issued, and so she prepares. She lowers herself into a runners starting position. Both hands on the ground, legs poised to sprint behind her. She looks ahead, gauging the distance between they and her. She breaths, and vanishes. A series of small explosions caused by her footfalls as she runs the whole distance, each step pushing her forward faster and faster with all the strength her body can muster.

    The Unreal become Real. But so too, can the Real become Unreal. Miyamomo's body, a construct of dense spiritual energy mimicking the human form, down to the bone and tendons. And all of them work in concert, in the way a human body could, to push the limits of the world itself. To do something mythic, impossible. The pale river runs both ways.

    With all the force of her running start, plus all the force of her entire upper body turning to push it, her fist impacts against one of Them, and the whole world holds its breath for a moment.
Xion As They fall on her and Xion is forced to frantically fend off an assault on her psyche and body both, ungentle and lashing-out, Xion freezes in place, in time, and spends a moment inside her own head.

In there, the girl in lilac and white frowns. "We have to save everyone, right? Always. Even if it hurts, we *have* to save them all."

There, the man in black and green groans around jagged teeth and drops his hat over his eyes. "It's absolutely death. Death to all of them. Two deaths to the swords girl."

The girl in lilac and white palms her face. "Jack, you can't... That's the one person we absolutely can't kill no matter what, here!"

Jack starts lighting a cigarette. "Best I can do is one death, X."

'X' pinches her nose and gestures into the distance at the frozen elements before the pair. "Okay, but that's not the decision we're making."

Puffing out a breath of smoke, 'Jack' shrugs and grunts. "If I don't get a vote why'd you ask me?"

'X' rolls her eyes and plants her hands on her hips, accusingly. "Because you should know, too! Between life, and death. We all chose. Everyone who's in here, they all chose the same thing."

Jack drops his cigarette and stamps it out with his black-soled black shoe with black laces. "I'm not going to say it." He snarls.

'X' beams smugly, in victory. "It's fine. Because that means you won't stop me either. So, we're decided."

Jack shrugs, and 'X' leans back, still grinning.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Xion, her eyes full of stars, with Muramasa in tandem and Arthur impossibly sitting on Pandora's box smiles serenely when given two options. "Well, it's life. Of course."

"It was why we're here. And it's why we can't be defeated."

With Nobuko's power, that oh-so familiar warmth, Xion summons the twisted black and crystal red of Twist Rivet to her left hand and the blue-silver of Starlight to her right. Crossing the empty star over the bright blood-cardinal ball comb-tooth, the swords bend and distort. She lets them go, presenting Nobuko Oda's medallion -- checkered white and black. "Entwine and link hands, link hearts. Two become One!"

From Nobuko, Xion had felt the same power her partner possessed. Just the thing for a final effort!

"The poem isn't a prophecy. We can still end this and set it right, using Nobuko's power too. If we all want it, then we can make it true."

She hears Arthur's heart cry out, and her blade shines with sympathetic need, before she heaves it through the air like a strange twisted spear.

It leaves her like a red teardrop, and lances through one of the forms, penetrates, and fires through a dark gap that redirects the extending, impossible lance through the second, and then the third, a tangible distortion to 'lock' all three in space for a moment and allow for things to be forced into a better shape.

Miyamomo seems good at that.
Muramasa     "Gh...hck....hn...!"

As soon as the motions are completed, and the Locking is established, Muramasa staggers, and slumps to his knees. The end of the Kingdom Key is planted on the moist ground in a weak attempt to keep his upper body raised. "Hah ... ah ..."

The pylon continues to rumble, like a beaten on door in the dead of the night. But ... What Has Been Done Cannot Be Undone. Things aren't so simple, while they prevented a further escalation -- true -- they could not pull back what was already roused. "W..wait. S..stop..."

His magic circuits throb painfully. He really had pushed himself to the limit, hadn't he? Even with a Master, Hibiki wasn't a mage, and the blood loss only increased the burden placed upon his human body as it was forced to fight at the level of a Servant.

One of the entities scale the waterfall in a bound, "...s..top, don't..!"

It was pitiful, and no matter how much he begged them, the beings who had come forth from their failure swiftly took out their pound of meat. Even though I've become a Servant. Even after I've lived through so many experiences and fought so many battles. Still. Still ... still still still still still still still still

        These Hands Cannot Hold Anything.

Muramasa is swallowed by the white-hot static and is not even afforded the time to process his agony as he is blown away, his armor being nearly obliterated in one shot. Even the Shroud of Martin couldn't protect him from it.

In the void of his mind, it was like he was back at the gate of Ryuudo Temple. He felt the same misery he had then. He felt the same overwhelming sense of loss and failure.

    ... Illya ... Saber ...everyone ... !!

... yet, he was unable to twitch so much as a single one of his muscles. This is the end.

     . . . . .
. . . . .          . . . . . .     . . . .

Shirou. What is it that you want?
..Master...

I ... I don't want it to end like this!    Then get th' hell up already!

    -The pale river runs backwards; the first breath of life.

The kindly ornament expends its power, and Muramasa's grip around the Kingdom Key tightens. " .. gh!"

The soothing pink afterglow soothes his wounds, before being overtaken by shining golden light shooting out of them. The bullet holes, the burns, the scrapes, the cuts, the bruises; and it coalesces. This is ... --

A scabbard gently floats in front of him, impenetrable to the next blast of malicious might fired by one of the two intruders. Muramasa, with what little energy was returned to him, picks himself back up and breathes in shakily. "I ... I ..!"

He couldn't find the words to say, and so his mouth failed him completely. After a moment, " .. thank you."

Lifting the Kingdom Key in one hand, he firmly grasps the scabbard that appeared before him in the other and sinks down into a low stance, even as his muscles ached and complained. Teeth first, the key is slide into it and -- despite that it was clearly meant for something else -- it still seemed to just /fit/.

Tightening his battou stance, "Holy Sword, Draw!"

The Kingdom Key rockets out of the scabbard floating by his side and releases a wave of light that barrels right towards one of the statue-toting fiends and explodes brilliantly, yet gently.
Arthur Lowell >Arthur: Make this right

    There is fire all around. A crunch of human bones snapping. Pain, death. Fire. Burning, everywhere. Where... where is Nobuko? Has she been thrown clear of this? Is she hurt? Are they slaughtering her, like they're busy burning and slaughtering the rest? Please. Please, no more failure. Make this right. Make this right. Arthur has to make this right. He struggles to his feet. Every nerve feels whipped raw, the pain turns into an uninformative slurry of sensation. Is it possible for pain to be blinding, the way the sun is blinding?

    One step. Left foot in front of the right. There, that's a little victory. Find Nobuko. Lift that head, swivel that vision. Blink away the blood and tears. Where is she? Find her. Find her. Make this right. Make sure at least one life doesn't end. Has she been downed by all this? She's strong, but all of *that*, that was beyond strength. Beyond anything. Arthur feels like maybe he's supposed to be dead. If she's not up and fighting, she's down and vulnerable.

>Arthur: Find her
>Arthur: Help her
>Arthur: Make this right

    He shoves the charm into her hand. God willing, with her knowledge and connection, she can use it to help her subordinates, not just herself. "Fix this." He whispers. "The pale river runs backwards. I'm sorry. For failing again." He regifts his blessing, wherever it came from, to Clan Oda, to make up for his failure. It's up to the others to be heroic, to be successful in this, to slay with great force or renewed vigor. All Arthur can do is try to make this right.

>Arthur: Strife, hero, with all your might

    A stumbling run that nearly falls is the best his body can do as he strains his muscles to their limit. He rushes for his discarded broom, and dives to plunge the sharp end deep into the nearest of the monsters, set to a vicious atom-by-atom disassembly. Screaming. Still crying. Please. No outbreak. No miniscule leak. Please, after failure, after being forced to attack a friend, after all the pain, just let this be made right.
Tamamo     ...upon those who have wronged...

    "And what has ever come of revenge, but more of the same?" It's not very loud. Tamamo could just speaking to herself.

    "Was there an end beyond that battlefield?" 'They' are quite loud, on the other hand, their unaimed attacks destroying the space around her. The last of the earth-binding is destroyed, rather than merely crumbling away. Tamamo is thrown backward, together with her mirror.

    "If I had continued, could there have been another end?" She's far from unscathed, and she's definitely thrown a fuss over less, but this time, apart from the burning away of her healing talismans, one might think she hadn't so much as recognized that she was bleeding.

    "Had I been allowed to walk further down that road, where would it have led?" There's something else at work, something more than her own healing magic. It's...

    The pale river runs backwards...

    "No. All that leads away from the Answer is without meaning. A life could be spent, ending those who did wrong, and all the wrongs under Heaven would be justified in its expenditure." She's not walking forward, but leaping, landing lightly mid-air atop her mirror. Gravity will reassert its hold upon her in a moment, but she'll let that moment stretch.

    "And so they will purchase a field of corpses, and pay in their own blood, yet not even the grass shall thank them, blocked as it is, from the light of the Sun, by a pile of armor and flesh, what once was Man now left to rot." It's the pylon. She's ignoring Them, but she has to reach the pylon. She leaps again, pulling the stacks of talismans from her sleeves.

    "Even those who pursue justice shall do wrong, and who will forgive them, when they could forgive no others?" The talismans fly, scattering in the air. Hundreds rain down, not fluttering as paper should, but dropping like rain, striking like hail, incandescent like lightning. All around the pylon they fall, destroying the earth in their passing, just so they can reach deeper into it. Lines begin to form between them, and what was not already dead does not survive this new formation.

    "No. I reject it. I reject your vengeance. I reject your hatred. I reject your world." There's more than enough to form the eight-sided figure, when the lines connect. Figures within figures, lines that are just slightly off, leaving no point on which to push and be able to move. Its geometry is perfect, and perfectly imperfect. Layers that must all be struck at once, yet cannot be moved as one.

    "For what do you wish?" What they'd done on the way down is nothing compared to after their activation. What comes near the talisman array dies, down to the smallest form of life, but it's the manner of death that's most important.

    "For myself, it is for a blessed future, in a blessed world, together with XXXXXX." Those lines mark a curse that keeps the spirit from crossing over its boundary, instead shattering on the wall, and there dispersing. Termination. Cessation. An impossible barrier. Death is merely the inevitable byproduct.

    ...the first breath of life.

    "Is it 'that' for which you wish? No, this place is one of torture as it stands, is it not? I dare not understand your feelings, and so, I say only what I know. For those who give their lives to ending life, there is no place in the world of my wish." It's done. A cage of silent nothing, against which all that is meaningful is fatally scattered. Within it, an alien thing, connected to some other place, but now isolated from the world.

    "And thus do I deny you."
Lilian Rook     Being in the line of fire now, compared to just a minute ago, is a new and harrowing experience. It has all the nerve-wracking uncertainty and sudden startling violence of 'being shot at', but without any of the comforting readability of someone aiming to kill. The polite way that explosives announce themselves with their roar, or the tactful manner in which bullets stay invisible until they land, is an etiquette this battlefield has never heard of. Not even the pain is recognizable. Being struck by a streak of light and noise is feeling everything at the site come undone, shift around randomly, and slam back together, only mercifully carbonizing the bloody grain with electrical discharge as an afterthought. The sounds lend themselves so poorly to telling where anything is or where it's going. But it still, somehow, definitely feels like being 'swept'. Being under a 'volley'. Being 'suppressed'.

    But not for long. Because in that moment where simple charms recall two different, very old dedications, there are other things to feel. The feeling of blood and lodestone that courses through the nerves and veins and coalesces into dreamlike, dissociative power at one's fingertips, bending what feels like should be rules and overflowing with a moment's fleeting, furious high, undoing everything in front. The feeling of cherry and bronze that flows through the flesh and bones and dissolves the agony of reality into a haze of mere suggestion, taking with it cruel and unreasonable outcomes like the sweat and dirt of the day, and flowing into a moment's pure, ephemeral mercy, undoing everything within. There's no way they have that power. At no point does any magic come from any of the charms at all. But the fact that monsters were there, and now they aren't, and the fact that people were dead, and now they aren't, is no illusion.

    Nobuko staggers upright, still the closest to ground zero, the royal blue sword with its too-reflective blade now clutched white-knuckled in one hand. Arthur's charm is shoved into her empty one, grasping for a weapon, finding a sentimental token instead, and grabbing tight anyways. The creatures almost completely ignore him, the closest only turning its head down when he is almost within arm's reach. Unintelligible noise. It turns and points the thing it's holding at his head. His broom slams into its chest. It's so dense. Tough. The insides look so similar to the Rivet, like that time when Strawberry had cut one in half. It bleeds like the Rivet bleeds now. The other reaches down to grip his head between two pointed fingers and an opposable thumb claw, and Nobuko leaps up and beats it back with a perfect and gleaming monk's robe cut.

    The flying blades unleashed by Xion spiral faithfully to their symbolic owner --the heart that calls to them-- and plunge through both wounds, threading their burdens together. Nobuko stands, and the tip of her sword hooks into a weapon-thing grip, and flings it loose before it can harm Xion. Whatever she's yelling is lost over all the noise. The armed one twists in Miyamomo's direction, adding its own incomprehensible chaos to the soundscape, grappling the line with one hand, aiming her way (it really is 'aiming', isn't it?), and making some kind of declarative gesture at her, for its twin, right before she steps in and pulverizes it, finding the portion of its form disassembled by Arthur, oozing and vulnerable, and taking all the light out of its skin with a single deathly crack.

    The other is blown away by Muramasa, but not before it manages to look right at him, and make a noise that some, some way, conveys a sense of 'rejection'. That he had been dead, just a second ago. Not just wounded, but really dead. There had been no magic spell, and yet he'd gotten back up just the same. Its top third disintegrates before it finds answers.
Lilian Rook     Nobuko climbs to the ridge, leaping from the pylon itself to reach it, priceless Grave Blade in one hand and worthless cloth charm in the other. The monster has one of her conscious men in its grip, lifted from the ground, screaming, kicking, fighting, while it examines him like an especially strange and unwelcome spider. It throws him at her before she reaches it. Gawain can hear the man's neck break as he goes silent. The monster turns to him. Points at him. Opens its multi-pronged mouth. Emits a hostile sound from its gills. It sprints at him. Reaches out. Its hand snaps to his face next, but Galatine has already connected with its midsection, and with a dreamlike ease he's never felt from the fairy sword, it cuts right through as if the outcome were already preordained. It severs the monster completely in half, crumpling to the ground and hissing black smoke, as if burned. Nobuko pushes her subordinate off her with her charm-squeezing hand. The man rolls over, coughs violently into the grass, then staggers upright again.

    Whether what Tamamo speaks to ever hears her in any meaningful way is a secret far beyond the scope of the moment. What is certain is that the eightfold array thoroughly encloses the entirety of the temporarily sealed singularity, forming not just a ward, or a boundary, but a cage of absolute Authority that completely drains all magic within it so quickly and so thoroughly that it reaches an equilibrium of mystical null. No energy enters, no energy even leaves, so quickly is the leakage from the cracked and bursting Rivet soaked up. And as the others before, like a fire strangled of oxygen, the vehemence of its shuddering, its burning, its straining against the lock, dies down, smoulders, and is snuffed out, dark as the day it was found.

    And so it came to pass that a samurai wrote her death poem, twelve men passed away, and no men died. There is no sense in it. It's a clear impossibility. The entire field is a wasteland. The blackened, smoking, flaking corpses of god knows what are *right there*. But they are the only corpses. In a few minutes, there won't be any evidence anything happened save the pair of weapon-tools they'd left behind, the earth scarred by the battle itself, and the deep trench left by the dead Rivet. All the dark, stagnant crimson gradually bleeds out of the 'jewel', dripping away into the creek and washing away downstream, until it leaves only a hollow shell of smoggy glass.
Arthur Lowell >==>

    The pounding drumbeat of the compulsion ceases. Make this right, make this right, make this right. For now, there is nothing left to be made right. The humanoids menace no more. The people are alive, with no more ceremony than if someone had quickly rewritten a story's final passage in response to reader outcry. Arthur's broom ceases to be held up by any form in which it is lodged, and Arthur's hands lack the strength to keep it. It falls, clattering on the ground.

    With nothing holding him up, Arthur does too. He wobbles, hits his knees, then pitches sideways onto a shoulder, and lays motionless in the dirt and blood. To fight, and hurt, someone he cares about, is unthinkably straining and exhausting. To do so with uncountable lives in the balance, more so. But worst of all is confronting the mistakes, head on, no buffer, raw and unprocessed.
Xion "Today... has been a lot." Xion gasps, leaning forward in a slow stagger and planting her entwined key into the ground for balance. She feels woozy in a way unnatural to her own body. Unsettled.

She inhales sharply as her left hand covers the side of her face. With a soft puff of a grunt, she rises - takes a stance - and pulls apart her keyblades, dismissing Starlight with a flick of the wrist away, and holding Twist Rivet for a moment longer. Both eyes run with stardusted black tears that she wipes away while sniffling. "Alright. Okay. We did it. We..."

Xion looks up at the Rivet, cracked glass empty and dull. Cracked - where Pandora herself had spilled crimson misery onto the earth and screeched in a secret voice that sound of frayed and fraying rope.

"... almost saved everyone." She sighs, and dismisses the vantablack length into a thick haze that twists into shape like a bracelet around her wrist.

Xion inspects it for a moment, works her thumb underneath it to check the give, and then closes her fist experimentally a few times.

"Okay."

She walks over to Arthur and pulls out a SNACKERS (TM) candy bar. "Would chocolate make you feel better?"
Muramasa     --- . . . . .

Water splashes wetly on rock as Muramasa falls back. The Kingdom Key smacks against the ground, and that scabbard shines above him. "Hah .... hah ..... hah ..."

Taking several deep breaths did not alleviate his exhaustion, nor did it shake him from the mortal pallor of death. The feeling of having crossed the other side and walked back again. ... this time. It was different. This time, I ... everyone, this time...! This time it was different, wasn't it?

Golden eyes dilate as the scabbard begins to dissolve, breaking apart into motes of light that fall upon him gently, like fireflies, and meld into his skin. It suffses into his bones, into his muscles, into his blood, and into his organs. It spreads throughout his whole body.

Muramasa's head lolls to the side, his vision swimming. The image he held in his hand vanishes, with the faintest feeling of a 'farewell -- until we meet again'.

    His fingers close around empty air.

The redheaded boy's body stills, exposed under the wide expanse of the sky, and he is granted respite from the waking world, if only for now.
Gawain The humanoid is cleaved in half. As it dies, and everything ends, Gawain desummons his powers. His broken armor stings. He's sore. He burns.

He returns to his nice suit, and leaps off the cliff, towards Muramasa. The boy's unconscious. The knight kneels. He picks up Muramasa, and moves to carry him off.

"Rest well, hero. I'm sorry for saying you're embarassing. That wasn't embarassing at all."
Tamamo     Tamamo rests seated on the ground, not far from the worst curse she can remember laying. Recently, at least. Even as exciting as the past year or two have been.

    She's sitting because standing is still rather difficult. Even if her wounds are closing, they still hurt. But, she has some things she has to do.

    Oda Nobuko. "I need not explain why this must be so, must I?" Two blades, forged by a Muramasa. If no one else has seen to them, then Tamamo certainly will, removing a deep, purple cloth from somewhere, so she need only carry wrapped, packed sheathes. "See, now, how what was said would be, has been. That which was foreseen is proven. The most merciful result was a failure, quickly quelled. Consider this a penance."

    And with that, she's away, feeling a need for deep sleep and comfort. She'll try not to think about the rest, until she can safely collapse.
Miyamomo     It all fades away, like it never happened.

    Their bodies, the death and carnage, the smoke in the orb. Even the injury to Miyamomo's hand upon landing that blow (though that is more expected). She looks at it as purple smoke issues from it, growing over the cuts and resetting the dislocated knuckles. And yet, the memory remains.

    Sitting upon the ground, she extracts a pipe from within her robe and lights it with a fingersnap, taking a moment to savour the taste before looking to everyone. "Why so down? We won an impossible victory against impossible beings. Savour it."

    Exhaling a cloud, she begins to draw into the soil with a finger. "A poem for life, to commemorate our survival then. I'm not terribly good, but..." Slashes and swirls into the dirt, before she reads it aloud.

From the pillar, Them
The answer to a riddle.
The world still spins on.


    "There. A poem for life to counteract the poem for death. Now smile." She says so, not unkindly.