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Subterranean Courtyard

     The Defender of the Three is dead, a shriveled husk. All around, the bodies of slain cultists and their destroyed, formerly animate skeletons lie scattered. There is a brief moment of reprieve, but it is certainly brief. From the doorway behind the dais at the north, and from the doorways at the east and west as well, the sounds of prayer have stopped, allowing an eerie silence to mingle with the dry, oppressive heat of this underground temple. Without that constant susurrus, it feels more like a crypt.

     Flux has nevertheless taken this opportunity to light up a smoke. "See that shit?" He gestures with that blue-and-black mottled crook staff, towards each of the doorways. Specifically, towards the glyphs above them. "Xan written language. That's pre-human Rubi-ka. Tens of thousands of years ago."

     "What imenes hit?" asks Bercilak.

     "Well, not much is left for us to compare it to. But best guess--" He points to the WEST door, from which there wafts a faint scent of embalming fluid, which does nothing to dissuade comparison with a crypt. "The Wind that Was. That one," he says, pointing at the NORTH door, behind a dais, "The Wind that Is. And the last one," he says, sweeping the staff to the EAST door, where MEDEA's beacon may lead, "The Wind Yet to Be."

     "And dost thou perceive lifsom mines bihind theim thresh-woldes thri?"

     "'mines...' oh, shit. Minds. A handful through 'the Wind that Was.' One through 'the Wind Yet to Be.' Another handful through 'the Wind that Is.'"

     The Green Knight is silent and still. "Hath Connor ben oversliped?"

     Flux shakes his head, taking a pull off his cigarette. "I don't think so. I didn't see any cultists that looked like him. If he's here, then he's gonna be through one of those doorways. I dunno which one--don't have a clear picture of his mind. But I think we cleared out most of the rank and file."

     "Swich imenes that theim that lasten thurgh shalt be mo strengthi."

     Flux nods. "Probably, yeah. We shouldn't split up. Where we going first?"
Hibiki Tachibana     Hibiki has come out of their current progress forward with a few pages bearing ancient texts of an old fighting style, and a new--appreciation is totally incorrect, grudge isn't quite the right word either, but so maybe acknowledgement mixed with fear is what she has for the cult and to the lengths they'll go. The special case that the Defender of the Three was, she can't help but feel for all the others who are too far gone.

    Which brings them back to Connor. A little bit of rest is all she needs to get ready to go again, standing up off the piece of rubble she was using as a seat to listen to Flux. "That Was, That Is, and Yet To Be...even I can tell what they're getting at with names like those."

    Hibiki glances between all of them in turn, noting how many people Flux can sense in each. After a moment, she half-turns towards the EAST door, and looks between the others.

    "The obvious thing would be to start at 'the past' and go the whole way from there, but I want to see whatever their idea of 'the future' is. And if there's only one person there, I want to know who it is. It just might be him."
Karlan Nobles Pramanix: "Races before humans? I'm amazed you're able to recognize their writing at all."
SilverAsh: "And references to the past, present, and future. How romantic in an utterly morbid way."

The siblings take a moment to clean up their injuries from the last fight, wiping off blood and straightening themselves out before listening to Flux's assessment of what they might face behind each door (vague as it is). Hibiki's plan gets a nod from Pramanix, the Saint even grinning confidently as she clutches her bell close to her chest.

"That's a good plan. If he was going to be lured here by whatever powers are here, then it might even be something like... Um. Him being future potential or something literary along those lines! And if it's not..." She pantomimes taking a few overhead swings with her bell. "It'll be easier to sneak up on a single person than a group."

"Unless they're aware that we might attempt such a strategy." SilverAsh rains on that parade, sheathing his sword after a moment. "That said, it's not a bad idea to neutralize anyone that might be isolated or otherwise separated from the larger group. I concur."
Rita Ma      Rita needs a little rest too, more from exertion and mental strain than physical injury. Once she's finished fussily tending over everyone else, she finds a comfy spot to sit- not too far away from her friends, but far enough to not be able to see the Defender's dusty remains- and stares off into space, knees pulled against her chest and hands restlessly fidgeting.

     "'The Wind that Was' smells like dead things," she volunteers, though she hasn't gotten anywhere near enough to it to realistically smell that. "Not rotting dead things, but dead things kept in jars. I don't think we want to find him there."

     She makes a little 'hup' noise of strain as she pushes herself back up to standing, re-ties the cute little hair ribbon that'd come halfway loose during the fight, and walks over to rejoin her friends, though still conspicuously not looking at her leftovers. Her face is set in a brave little smile that she doesn't completely feel.

     "So, I vote 'yet to be' too! Let's go."
Bercilak oIf there's only one person there, I want to know who it is. It just might be him.
     "So hop I," says Bercilak, his expressionless helmet dipping as he nods. "Al be that thire couldst be devyses fonginge mannish biside him."
    "Robots," Flux pre-emptively answers for anyone wondering what the fuck Bercilak just said. "He means robots. I guess it's not impossible."

oRaces before humans? I'm amazed you're able to recognize their writing at all.
    "Oh, I'm standing on the shoulders of giants, fam," admits Flux with a shrug. "Almost all of what we know about the Xan we owe to either the researchers who discovered the Shadowlands, or the handful of Yuttos that survived falling through the metawater into our dimension. Those pages Hibiki found might be the most substantial collection of Xan writing discovered to date. It's incredible that it's being taught here... He shakes his head and ashes his cigarette. "Just fucked up that it's for indoctrination into a death cult."

oThe 'Wind that Was' smells like dead things. Not rotting dead things, but dead things in jars. I don't think we want to find him there. So I vote 'yet to be' too!
    "So be hit," the Green Knight intones, nodding a second time. He has stood here in the midst of discussion like a statue--very much more serious than his usual exuberant demeanor. He turns slowly, and his armored form clanks towards the EAST doorway.

     Most of the rank and file have been dealt with, but there is some token resistance along the way. Past the doorway, there is another long hallway with regularly spaced nooks meant for prayer, with another of those unnerving, human-like faces carved from stone that watch with glowering eyes set at the opposite end of the hallway. Bercilak mows the cultists down by using the eye of his axe as a blunt thrusting weapon, shattering bones and driving the resistance to the ground, or else hooking painfully by the shoulder blades with the beard, to slam them into walls or his allies' attacks. Flux, meanwhile, has his aggression manifestation on cleanup duty, its lacerating tendrils tearing the unarmored cultists to shreds when they refuse to surrender.

     The face at the end of the hallway intones scripture of some sort to you as you pass.

...his voice inspired them with hope. His words inflamed their passions. The Heavens themselves were cowed by his Righteousness...
Bercilak Objective Complete: Discover who infiltrated the Temple

    As you pass beneath the unnerving gaze of that stony face, you arrive in a wide, octagonal room with a vaulted ceiling. In four of the eight corners, there idly hums a robot not unlike those russet brown cargo models encountered in BIOMARE. These, however, appear to have been built for maintenance and repairs rather than hauling. They have also been retrofitted with retractible claw weapons, and hand-painted with scripture from the Temple along their cylindrical engines, with glyphs been carved across their chassis.

     At the command of a solitary martial artist in the middle, the bots come to life and extend their claws, engaging him in combat. There, in a sand-stained black changshan, is Connor, his head shaved and his forehead branded with a half-circle inside a full one. He holds in his hand a helmet from an Omni-AF armored suit, tossing it aside.

     "I could swear you infidels can sense my approaching communion with the Immortal One. We've scarcely rid ourselves of Omni-Tek's dogs before a pack of Clan hounds comes barking." Connor deflects a swipe of one of the Temple robots, making an overly aggressive strike exactly like the one depicted in Hibiki's Ape Fist pages--a surge of energy travels from his elbow to his fist, stunning the robot. Before the others can attack, he holds up a palm.

     "If you're hoping to steal the Guardian of Tomorrow as they were, I will crush your hopes with the might of Three Winds Palm."

     "Bruh," says Flux, stepping out from behind Bercilak, "I hate to break it to you, but whatever beacon is inside that thing is still going. One of ours led us right to it--but I don't really give a shit if OT carpet bombs this place. We're here for you. You coming, or nah?"

     "Nah," says Connor with a little smirk, leaping half the distance of the room in a single bound. His fist is wreathed in acrid green light, but it's his leg that connects with the haft of Bercilak's axe. He pivots at the waist and makes a lateral flip, smashing a hole in the Green Knight's helmet. When he lands, both fists are bathed in that light, and he makes a flurry of punches at the open air. Sickly, corrosive bolts are hurled at the party in a rapid flurry, melting away what they strike as if Connor had hurled splashing acid.
Karlan Nobles Pramanix: "I'm not a fan of dead things, either. If there's time, though..."
SilverAsh: "Your rites?"
Pramanix: "My rites."
SilverAsh: "Do remember to ask our friends before you do that to ensure you won't get you cursed by some other vengeful deity."

The knowledge of dimensional travelers being a thing in this world and just how recent breakthroughs in language might be even in a place like this gives Pramanix and SilverAsh some pretty good reasons not to resort to widescale property destruction, although the temptation is strong as they head eastwards with the group.

On their way, SilverAsh joins Bercilak in the frontlines, slicing apart cultists and sometimes trying to take them out at the knees instead of just going for killstabs. Pramanix, meanwhile, handles cleanup duty, pelting still-conscious but downed cultists with ice bricks and the occasional pipe-bash to the face to make sure they don't follow the group to the end of the hallway.

Pramanix: "What an ominous writing..."
SilverAsh: "Be on guard. Anything written like that means whoever's here will prove to be more troublesome than we'd like."

SilverAsh's prediction, unfortunately, might just be on the money as they enter that giant octagon and see the very person that they had come to find in the first place. "I suppose this is unavoidable... Let us slake your thirst for battle, then!" SilverAsh charges right in as Connor fires off those bolts of acidic energy, shifting sideways just enough that it only burns some of his sleeve and arm during the approach while diverting it just enough that Pramanix has time to call up a wall of ice to stop it from striking her head on.

Pramanix rings her bell, and the top of the ice wall breaks off with pieces that launch up and over in the general direction of Connor's head before exploding into smaller fragments that threaten to get right in his eyes. SilverAsh remains lower to the ground, meanwhile, unsheathing his blade and letting loose with a few measured strikes at Connor's legs to try and stop him from flipping around so much.
Hibiki Tachibana     "...Mm. Then if everyone's for it..." Hibiki offers a nod and a small but genuine smile to the others before her expression settles back into seriousness, and they begin their march east. After what they've experienced already, the cultists blocking their way now are little more than footnotes on the way - though as ever, she doesn't go for fatal strikes on them herself. It's all blunt force and knockouts, even when it makes it a little inconvenient, throwing them aside or very painfully flooring them.

    She doesn't like the passage that's recited as they go on through. Not one bit.

    She likes what she sees inside even less. It takes a moment, with his forehead shaved and the costume, but there's no way she'd forget the face of the person they're here for. "Connor!" She snaps to attention, but the way he speaks, and that attack still fresh in her mind after having seen the page...

    So it was Omni-Tek that made their way in no success. She'd personally welcome a carpet bombing of the whole place herself after what she's seen, but it's not going to be as simple as just leaving with him. "What do you mean, 'nah'!?" She just barely manages to get out before he moves.

    And he's fast. Her arms only just barely come up in time against the barrage of corrosive attacks, but several splash past her guard and burn against her skin and armor. Gritting her teeth, Hibiki swings both limbs out to scatter the next shot and all the energy still stuck to her, creating an opening for her to leap in herself. It's a movement every bit as fast as his that'll put her in his face in a moment.

    "Your grandpa's worried about you! He sent us to bring you back--" As soon as she does, her knee comes up in a rising strike for his gut. Right behind it is her fist, aimed for his chest for a heavy one-two that'll send him flying back towards one of the room's corners.

    "--Whatever you think they're teaching you here, they're just screwing with your head!"
Rita Ma      Rita gives the remaining Hallway Mooks a simple but thorough drubbing: she doesn't know kung fu, but with blinding speed and horrifying strength, she really doesn't need to. One is grabbed by the head and slammed into a wall hard enough to crack the stone. Another is kicked hard enough to vigorously impact the ceiling. Attacks that ought to strike her are knocked aside by invisible forces.

     Conserving her energy (and letting Bercilak do a lot of the heavy lifting) means she's barely breathing hard by the time they emerge into the octagonal chamber. All the better to gasp loudly: both of her hands rise to cover her open mouth, and her eyes shoot open trembly and wide, when she realizes just who they're looking at.

<J-IC-Scene> Rita Ma !
% <J-IC-Scene> Rita Ma says, "We're too late...!"
<J-IC-Scene> Hibiki Tachibana says, "Damnit...!"
<J-IC-Scene> Rita Ma says, "Mr. Flux, is there anything we can do?!"
<J-IC-Scene> (NPC) Flux says, "Wear him down. Martial Artists are tough, but he can't outlast us with both me and Berc here."
<J-IC-Scene> Hibiki Tachibana says, "Tiring him out so we can get a chance to get through to him? ...Alright!"

     That mental pressure I felt... that's what got to him, isn't it? He looks like he's beyond reaching with words now. But if other people had given up on me, when I'd lost myself...

     She's still in that horrified, hapless-imouto pose when a bolt of green energy... doesn't strike her. "Rita" unravels into strips that fade into invisibility, having swapped herself with a decoy when things started to look ugly.

     The real Rita is nowhere to be seen, until iron chains materialize out of thin air and wrap themselves firmly around Connor's arms and legs. That consumes enough camouflaging biomass that she's forced to temporarily shimmer back into visibility, albeit a comfortable distance behind him.

     "Please don't move, Mr. Connor. We don't want to hurt you more than we have to."
Bercilak      Everyone is indeed for it.

     At first, Connor is keeping pace with Hibiki, but she requires all of his attention. Three Winds Palm is apparently a highly aggressive style, and since Hibiki's is also quite aggressive, their brief exchange is, in a word, explosive. Quite literally--the force of his blows and hers meeting displaces the air so violently as to cause audible bursts. The corrosive energy around his hands dissipates in favor of some sort of shimmering aura around him--he must be uncertain as to whether he can withstand a direct hit. He is proven right when Rita's chains wrap around his limbs.

     Bercilak and Flux break off early on to handle the repairbots, who are annoyingly repairing each other as often as they take swings--the Green Knight intercedes to prevent one from snapping off Rita's chains before Hibiki and Pramanix's attacks can connect. "Fool," says Connor to Rita. "Your paltry attacks are but--" Hibiki's fist sends him flying through the air, only for Rita's chains to snap taut, painfully yanking him back down. Yet... he remains standing. "...perhaps not so paltry as I imagined. Behold, then, the Tree of Enlightenment." The aura around him seems to blunt the force of Hibiki's fists, SilverAsh's blows, Pramanix's ice. What cuts and bruises there are vanish, as for a moment, attacks against him seem to paradoxically heal his wounds, his whole body tensing. While it is mostly a hard style, this is evidently a more esoteric, internal technique--if one that appears to have fatigued Connor.

     The aura around his body disappears, and he relaxes visibly... onlu for his palms to now crackle with lightning. Not realizing what the chains truly are, he grasps them in a blindingly quick motion and sends thousands of volts of electricity down their length.

     The repair bots, for the moment, appear to have been handled--each of the four is wrapped in an amber hued forcefield. Motionless, they are powerless to stop Bercilak's rocket-assisted shoulder-check, which knocks him to the ground. Flux's peace manifestation hurriedly floats over and begins assaulting Connor's will to fight. Bercilak pins one arm to the ground with the flat of his axe, while Flux approaches with his crook staff. One foot on his other arm, the Meta-Physicist taps the staff to Connor's forehead and utters a mystic command.

    "Shut the fuck up, kid."

     Connor's struggling results in a bolt of lightning hurled across the room into one of the repair bots. Broken from its stasis field, red alarm lights blink across its inhuman faceplate. The door leading to the rest of the temple slams shut with a pneumatic hiss. One of the walls of the octagon begins grinding open slowly, and Connor makes an agile kip-up, striking both Flux and Bercilak away with a spinning kick. Lightning arcs in the path of his kicks, blue-white lashes striking out at the party!
Karlan Nobles SilverAsh: "So you can regenerate from your wounds, too... Hm. So a drawn out battle is what you seek, then."
Pramanix: "Do we really have time for that?"
SilverAsh: "... Well, if there ever was a time and place for it, this would be it."

Hard style notwithstanding, the siblings both seem to recognize that there's a cost to Connor's attack-negating abilities. Instead of overcommitting themselves and their abilities to powerful strikes again, they reel it back a bit as they take up defensive positions, Pramanix behind her ice wall and SilverAsh with his sword pointed diagonally in front of him. He sends out that flashy kick-lightning, and the snow leopard pair use different methods of trying to survive it.

Pramanix just hides. No sense leaving cover, even if the lightning jumps past her wall and draws a painful yelp as she gets electrocuted in her hiding place. SilverAsh has far less cover to work with, and he buckles with a sharp inhale as the arcs impact against him head on. They're both smoking faintly from their clothes, but still on their feet as they press the attack once more.

Pramanix: "If you think regenerating from your wounds is enough, then-"
SilverAsh: "You're only prolonging this needlessly, Connor."
Pramanix: "... Never mind."

Pramanix keeps ringing that bell and continuing her ritual from behind that wall of ice, causing ice to swirl in a strange powdery (but not quite) snow form around the octagonal battlefield. Brief gusts of wind signal when waves of that snow center in on Connor and the repairbots, slicing into exposed skin, sticking to wounds, and gunking up mechanical parts incessantly while adding a distinctly unpleasant sapping sensation.

SilverAsh, meanwhile, sticks to his strategy of trying to wear Connor down, resorting to quick fencer-like thrusts and swipes. Instead of trying to actually slash him apart, he's going for quick cuts and pierces, as if trying to build up more bleeding wounds or even force that healing reaction.
Rita Ma      The chains, more like polished coral than metal despite their immaculate illusory appearance, don't conduct electricity in the slightest- instead they smoke and heat up, burning Connor on contact if he insists on trying to push through their electrical resistance.

     Serves you absolutely right.

     Rita takes one look at the rising door and immediately makes a cheeky play. Raising her hand, she weaves together a wall of tentacles camouflaged perfectly as one of the octagon's walls. Its top fits seamlessly with the bottom of the rising wall, and it grows upwards as the rising wall retracts, giving the impression that nothing is moving at all.

     Hopefully whatever's behind that rising wall will be given pause by the illusion that it hasn't been released at all. But even if it smashes through, horrific corrosive venom honeycombs compartments in Rita's false wall, ready to gruesomely melt anything that breaks it.

     That's a lot of mass for me to be expending. But I just ate, and once we're out of here, I'll be able to eat those giant spiders at the entrance too. As long as I don't have to push myself again...

     Connor hurls electricity at the party while her back is turned. Running on feral instinct, Rita leaps fifty feet up into the air- lightning looks for a path to ground- and fires a blast of skin-burning acid down at his legs, designed to specifically counteract regenerative gimmicks.

     "No," she says firmly. It's unclear to which thing.
Hibiki Tachibana     That violent clash of strike-to-strike, cracking through the air, is enough to tell Hibiki that what Connor has learned is no joke. He's right to work to protect himself, though she's not sure how she'd handle a full-on hit with everything he has herself. All things considered, that aura is tough - though that just means she has to wind up for another blow as soon as Rita's bindings bring him back from the impact of her last hit.

    Only to stop halfway. "The Tree of--" Enlightenment? She throws it anyway, only to find the force she puts into it being used for the opposite purpose. Again and again--until she catches on, and resorts to doing a short hop backwards while grimacing.

    "...So we can't hurt you while you're pulling that trick. But it doesn't look like you can keep it up forever, huh?"

    No sooner does the observation come than lightning goes wild, Bercilak and Flux are sent away, and she's very glad she idly got some distance a moment ago. "Lightning now...!" Fortunately, she had some experience with that against the Defender of the Three not that long ago, and her reaction is quick; the magical girl's gauntlet has its internal piston slam back and then back forward with a deafening smash of metal, a visible shockwave produced entirely from the sheer force bursting against the lash of electricity and scattering it.

    Her eyes only briefly regard the shifting of the room before they settle back on Connor, and Hibiki sprints back in only to throw her leg up at his mid-kick in order to stop it in its tracks, despite the shock she'll likely receive. But it's only a momentary lock, enough to give SilverAsh a good opening for his precision barrage, before she pulls it back and unleashes another.

    He's going to have to worry about Hibiki battering his body with her own series of kicks if he doesn't defend himself! And she'd wager she can push through some shocks a lot better than he can her absurd strength without the Tree of Enlightenment.
Bercilak [Vicinity] Pramanix: Pramanix: If you think regenerating from your wounds is enough, then-
[Vicinity] SilverAsh: You're only prolonging this needlessly, Connor.

    "What? I..." Connor halts mid-fight, holding his palm to his head. Flux hadn't completely erased his aggression--but something about the calming technique he'd used appears to have shaken something loose. "How do you... know my name?"

     His confusion compounds with the physical draining effect imposed by Pramanix's snow-in, causing him to nearly drop to a knee as if suddenly struck by intense vertigo. Bercilak strikes the ground with his axe, hewing a fissure into the earth that buries one of the repair bots in packed-in snow.

     A glance towards the claws of that robot, sticking from the snow frozen in their search for purchase. A glance towards the sacred inscriptions carved into them. It shakes Connor from his stupor--but not before Rita's acid completely neutralizes his regenerative ability. The burns on his hands from her chains stop in their tracks. "DON'T JUST STAND THERE," he bellows at the malfunctioning repair bots. "OPEN THE DOOR!" They are fooled, to the last, by Rita's illusion, and melted to scrap when they attempt to 'open' the door.

     He's beginning to get irritated. His body is suddenly ablaze, shrugging off the sluggishness imposed by the ice. He makes another leap, attempting to bring his leg like an axe upon Rita's shoulder--not that he'd be fast enough with an attack so obvious, but Hibiki's first kick snatches him out of the air, striking him in the stomach with force enough to send him crashing into the ground.

     The young man has practiced his ground fighting--always, there's a burning palm or blazing elbow to meet her kicks, until, with an agile kip-up, he's returning the favor. The two of them vie for advantageous spacing, legs and shins locking and crashing against one other.

     "O, shit, thei art doing the thing!" Calls Bercilak excitedly, jerking a thumb behind him at Hibiki and Connor as he rockets over to the door to cement it over with a thick wall of gnarled roots.

     Connor makes a surprise punch--not just any. The Ape Fist of Khalum causes his already flaming fist to burn like a star. As opposed to the Tree of Enlightenment, which inverts harm done to the user, the Ape Fist seems almost to invite it, putting the user in harm's way deliberately. That's what makes it so dangerous--it capitalizes on the body's pain response to deliver stunning psychic feedback through the nanite field. If Hibiki takes the bait and hits him, she risks not only being hit, but suffering dizzying, disorienting vertigo.

     It's an attack you can't hesitate for a second after throwing, and the user needs to decide immediately whether to disengage or press the advantage. He chooses the former, and ends up leaping away just as SilverAsh's first two strikes connect, leaving a trail of blood from the swordsman's precise, exacting cuts. "I see your weakness now," raggedly pants Connor as his flames flicker.

     "Where the Omni-Tek dogs were slaves to the shadows, you are slaves to mercy. You're fighting to exhaust me," he says. His voice is shaking--casting doubt on his next boast. "Because you think I'll give up."

     Rita's illusory wall triggers a second time. It is massive. Metallic. It plows through Bercilak's wall of trees, dripping with corrosive that can only slowly eat through its metal. The Green Knight is crushed beneath a tread longer than he is tall, as wide as his full armspan.

     Gleaming white, dulled by acid pits. Four sets of treads, resembling the feet of some alien creature, articulated on massive legs. A central chassis with vents resembling the ribs of a starving beast, with a curving faceplate and pitiless black scanner.

     It advances over a mangled red spot currently re-knitting itself into Bercilak, and Flux has time to shout.


     " their jealousy they Abandoned us! Only He returned from Exile to lead us to Paradise and reclaim what we lost!" Its 'ribs' aren't vents. They're the compact profile of integrated munitions systems. Each one butterflies outwards into a rack of menacing black missiles just as Connor leaps backwards to land on its head. "On the Day we shall be risen up... and the Wind Yet to Be will flense the skin from the bones of the infidels!"

     Angry red squares light up across the Guardian of Tomorrow's scanner. The room is suddenly awash in the hissing of guided explosives, each one of easily a dozen tracking its target independently.
Karlan Nobles Pramanix: "Oh...! How flashy!"
SilverAsh: "Impressive techniques all around... But don't try to imitate them."
Pramanix: "Wha... Why not?!"
SilverAsh: "Why not indeed."

Connor's will falters, and they notice. Between being shaken by simply being addressed by name, the robots failing to act properly and getting destroyed, and even his boast, the siblings certainly seem to know where to focus next. Annoyance at SilverAsh notwithstanding, Pramanix still maintains her focus even when he correctly assesses their strategy.

"It'd certainly be nice if you gave up, but..." She still looks a little excitable after that display of martial prowess from Connor and Hibiki alike. SilverAsh, meanwhile, seems more focused on the tank itself along with that massive vertical leap from Rita and her sudden acid-attack.

"Fantastic... Ah, yes. We wouldn't object if you needed to be subdued prior to returning, anyway. It's up to you if you want to get hurt beforehand." SilverAsh announces as he brandishes his sword again when those missiles come flying in. He slashes the first one as it draws near, quickly realizing that trying to cut up a missile accomplishes nothing but making it explode on him anyway. Pramanix, seeing her brother's folly, swings her bell upwards and rings it, causing it to launch itself at another cluster of missiles to intercept them before they can blast SilverAsh apart.

Once the smoke clears, they split their attention between Connor and the Guardian of Tomorrow itself. Pramanix, ever equipped to face larger targets than smaller ones, concentrates her now on the tank itself, barraging it with magical hail that inexplicably sticks to the tank on impact rather than bouncing off, as though it was all made of sharpened, yet sludgy snow to sap its defenses.

SilverAsh, of course, has his attention firmly on Connor. As he leaps onto the Guardian of Tomorrow, he raises his sword and slams it into its scabbard, then swings it outwards almost immediately outwards to launch a wave of cutting force at Connor's center mass. SilverAsh is pretty sure Connor will survive this even on a direct hit, anyway, so he makes little effort to actually try and move him sideways.
Rita Ma      Rita is untouchable. Her body unravels splits into triple decoys, which shimmer and fade in and out of visibility in turn, manipulating the missiles' homing between them. Splitting up, they sprint along the high walls in different directions and at different heights, each one pursued by a quartet of homing munitions.

     "I'm sorry, mister," says a voice right behind him atop the Juggernaut. "But you're not Connor right now. You don't get to decide he dies."

     Once everyone else has performed their attacks, all three of Rita's decoys leap towards the Juggernaut, converging on it- with those missiles in tow, kiting them right back towards the robot that fired them. The real, invisible Rita grabs Connor by the arm and leaps off, flinging him against the opposite wall in midair- safe from the explosion, but liable to get a nasty concussion. Invisible tentacles fling her allies to safety, too, if they're too close to the Juggernaut themselves.

     Her three decoys stand together atop its chassis. They don't dissolve into strips until the last fractions of a second before the missiles impact.
Hibiki Tachibana     Hibiki does not actually know what 'the thing' is. She's seen it a thousand times in movies, she just has no idea when she's doing it herself. It's a very dramatic clash though, which is probably why she's caught by surprise at the sudden punch thrown into the mix - she can immediately tell it's an all-in strike. A burning attack that doesn't leave any room for defense on the user's end. It probably says a lot about her how she instinctually responds.

    Because she whirls her body into a return hook, one that'll impact Connor in the torso at the same time he connects with her. He'll feel her fist, and she'll feel his...a lot harder than she ever could have anticipated, as the physical force and the mental feedback hit her together. "Gh--!?" It ruins her balance, sends her toppling backwards, and leaves her floored.

    And struggling to get back up as the overwhelming dizziness stops her body from acting the way she wants it to. It's good for her that Connor backed off, because she's left blearily glancing in the direction of the Guardian of Tomorrow as it makes its Bercilak-crushing entrance. He'll be okay. "Damnit...! Connor...!"

    Hibiki briefly disappears under the debris of explosions rocking the room. A few seconds later, she's throwing herself out of the smoke and past more.

    Straight back towards Connor. She's gotten enough of her senses back to do that, and she's coming in fast. "Don't gimme whatever junk this place filled your head with...! Your life's more important than that, idiot!" If they got through to him, that one moment, maybe words might again. Though chances are she'd be saying what's on her mind either way. "So even if you're only saying it because you're being made to--"

    Right on the heels of SilverAsh's slash wave, Hibiki puts all her momentum into a leap off the ground and twisting her body to aim feet-first at Connor. It's nothing more than a full force dropkick meant to belt him clean in the face.

    "--Don't say stupid crap like that so lightly!"
Bercilak      Connor brings his forearms up to block Silverash's strike. With his ribs already bruised from Hibiki's return strike, there's not much strength left in him to withstand it. The wave of force strikes him, hard enough to extinguish the flames and knock him backwards into the chassis of the tank. The wind is knocked from him, and he's barely able to get his hands up. Weak as he is from exertion, Hibiki ends up kicking Connor's hands into his face, bloodying his nose. Now it's his chance to be dazed.

     The invisible Rita is easily able to grab him, moments before the other, illusory Ritas guide the rockets back towards the tank. Her insistence that he isn't the real Connor is the last thing that he hears before he passes out--but Rita may be heartened to know that the spark of zealous defiance in his golden eyes finally appears to be fizzling out.

     That just leaves the Guardian of Tomorrow. Pramanix's ice is well timed, and slows its movement so greatly that evading the missiles is completely out of the question. Great sections of its white plating are shorn off in chunks, but this success may be discouraging for what it reveals. There's a reason Flux shouted--why he felt the word 'juggernaut' would be sufficient warning for his fellow Rubi-kan. The Guardian is armed to the maximum extent that its construction will allow.

     With no armor plating to conceal its extensive armaments, they are all laid bare. First, bouncing metal spheres aligned like markings on a butterfly down the length of its legs. They fire outwards, and fly erratic paths through the room, leaving trails of stinging, acrid chemical irritants that burn the lungs and eyes.

     Its head folds upwards and backwards, and from the mechanical clavicle there sprout two articulated energy cannons, barrels half-mooned to squeeze them into the space necessary. Ice falls off in sloughing chunks as they spool up and begin pelting the room in blisteringly fast white lasers. From the side of the Guardian's folded-back head, a swarm of point-defense drones with low-caliber guns integrated into their tiny frames fly out, swarming Bercilak and Flux, their combined healing fields only just managing to keep the drones at bay. It isn't just overarmed, it's smart--tying up the two healers with keeping themselves alive while it tries to pound the rest of you into submission with its armaments.
Hibiki Tachibana     "Ngh...nice combo, guys! He's down...!" Hibiki gives both SilverAsh and Rita a still-slightly groggy nod as she picks herself up from her self-flooring kick, shaking off the residual vertigo from the Ape Fist of Khalum in the process. She casts one glance back to the fallen Connor, her serious expression de-tensing, and lets out a silent sigh of relief into her scarf.

    And she turns towards the Guardian of Tomorrow just in time for it to unveil its full, scarily impressive load of armaments. She re-enters her stances and braces herself as the room is quickly filled up with irritants, tugging the cloth around her lower face up higher in the process. "...Finally, something I don't have to hold back against. The 'tomorrow' you're guarding isn't ever gonna happen."

    Rather than concerned, she's gung-ho about putting a close to this chapter of their dungeon diving. So despite the exhaustion and injuries the bout with Connor left, those massive cannons not deterring her from bracing a foot down against the ground and kicking off - if Bercilak and Flux are pinned down, they'll just have to take it out before they need healing.

    A thruster burst mid-jump takes her out of the way of one series of lasers, and a second repeats the motion in the opposite direction with an acrobatic flip. Hibiki spins and aims her boots up at the ceiling of the octagonal arena--

    And launches off of it with stone-cracking force, back down towards the Juggernaut. She just barely skirts one last laser shot, skirting along her side as it burns skin and blasts off fragments of her Symphogear, before she reaches it. Her fist cocks back, piston slotting back, and she focuses her fall towards one of the iced-over parts on its top.

    "Got you!" The falling punch alone will be enough to threaten to make it lose its footing and buckle down. But she plans to embed her her entire arm into its Pramanix-brittled framework before the machinery pummels itself back into place, transfering an absurd amount of pure force into its internals to blow clean through it from the inside.
Karlan Nobles Seeing the Guardian of Tomorrow's interior isn't quite as reassuring as Pramanix or SilverAsh would like. While seeing all those parts so easily means they have another target to aim for, it also means they can see exactly what it's going to be firing at everyone in mere moments.

At least Connor appears to be out of the count finally thanks to Hibiki's two-legged and Rita's multi-appendaged efforts. "Well done. That's one adversary out of our way, so... Ah. Take cover!" SilverAsh shouts in warning as he's already scrambling to find some actual cover while Pramanix starts calling up more ice walls around the arena to try and give the group something to work with. Unfortunately, the fact that so many of those metal spheres are bouncing around rather than just being projectile spewers from the juggernaut itself means that avoiding those things with that cover is still necessary!

In the siblings' case, neither of them react quickly enough to evade the chemicals sprayed in their vicinity. They cough and hack as the irritants find their way inside their mouths, and that distraction means its easy enough to get hit directly by those spheres with how erratically they're moving. Without Bercilak and Flux able to direct those healing fields around, meanwhile, they're quickly put on the back foot when it comes to defending against such an attack.

They eventually realize, then, that defending against those attacks just won't cut it, and abandoning defense entirely is their best shot at survival. "Ugh... Ignore the pain... Just destroy it as quickly as you can!" Pramanix chokes out with another cough as she gets that bell ringing again, adding some dangerously wild winds to the mix as the snowfall turns into a miniature blizzard, zeroing it all on the interior of the Guardian of Tomorrow. The whipping ice shards and hail alike threatens to tear its innards to pieces while simultaneously packing it full of gunk, as if trying to strain its durability further in the face of Hibiki's high-powered smashes and Rita's attack redirection in addition to...

Pramanix isn't entirely sure how her tentacles work, actually. She adjusts her blizzard just a bit so she can try to see what she's going to do next.

SilverAsh, faring slightly better with his own regenerative abilities, makes for the metal spheres instead. Although his sword is a regular ass sword in every sense of the word, he's still all too ready to take some swings. He's not swinging it directly at the spheres, however, but instead just swinging it in measured left and right motions to send intense cutting waves right at them, complete with sick schwinging noises with each pass of his blade.
Rita Ma      Chemical weapons- at least, the aerosolized kind- are a new one by Rita. She stays invisible, but her outline becomes visible in flickers and ripples of involuntary color as she coughs and wheezes. That distraction allows a couple of the lasers to strike her, leaving visible scorch-marks on her tentacle-wrappings.

     What is this stuff? It feels like my body's on fire. I can barely breathe...

     ... Oh, right.

     Rita creates a "metal" barrier to hide behind and then fills her own lungs with seawater, diluting the gas's effects after a few messy seconds of residually coughing up water and foam. That's better. But I still don't want to be in this any longer than I have to!

     Rita emerges from behind her cover, and is immediately shot-

     -no, that's not right. The decoy unravels into scorched tentacles when it's struck, fading away. She circles around from the other side in full stealth, leaps up onto its back, and places her palm on a central-looking bit as she decloaks. She's irritated in an abstract and long-term way.

     "Here's what I've learned about lightning today, idiot."

     Her tentacle-wrapping disguise normally hides her monstrous features. It can't, or doesn't adapt fast enough, to hide these: her arms glow from within with a yellowish energy. Bony black plates like a kaiju's erupt from her back, drawing her face into a grimace. A tingly, hair-raising feeling fills the air as electricity crackles between the fins, like you've unloaded the dryer and can just tell that doorknob is about to zap you good.

     Gilderganon's power... I hope it's as bad for you as it was for me.

     If this were a cartoon, you'd be able to see the Guardian's nonexistent skeleton. With a noise like a thundercrack, hideous amounts of energy flow out of Rita's body to limn every inch of it in coruscating lightning. Rather than a one-time discharge, the bioelectric dynamo inside her body just keeps going until the Guardian collapses.

     And then she staggers away and collapses herself, slumping back against a wall (until the fins remind her of their presence), coughing up an entire gallon of seawater, and breathing heavily. She's largely unhurt, but decidedly fatigued.

     "Can we... can we leave now? I'd like that."
Bercilak      Hibiki's impact is hard enough to crack the floor beneath the Guardian. Its heavy frame is forcibly knelt, sparks blowing from its joints as servos and motors are pushed beyond their ability to correct and then some. Its frame is dented, and a split second later, completely shot through by an invisible but irresistible torus of force. Whatever she struck must have included the guidance systems for those drones, which are now evidently unable to shoot, instead flying uselessly around in attack patterns.

     Flux's aggression manifestation tears them to shreds now that Mortificant doesn't need to split healing between the two of them, and Bercilak's axe cuts wide swaths through the rest, cleaving them easily in twos and threes without being bogged down by the storm of small arms fire.

     Mortificant flies hurriedly over to Pramanix and SilverAsh, a tendril for each of them spraying a neutralizing agent in the air and gently dabbing at their eyes with a liquid form of the same. It makes their work much easier, especially since SilverAsh had a bit of an edge to begin with thanks to his own regeneration. The bouncing grenades are split open by his slashes, clattering against the ground and splashing the remainder of their payloads uselessly away from the party.

     Bercilak, meanwhile, wades away from the Guardian, gesturing to Hibiki with a sweep of his axe arm as if to say 'c'mon,' following Rita's warning to get clear. His bloodstained armor holds those orbs and the chemical attack away--and his healing field will offer the same benefit for the still-standing martial artist.

     He tromps his way over to Rita as she deep fries the Guardian, its carapace beginning to melt. The energy cannons fire blindly, until they can't fire at all--until they're melted, too. Slag turns to smoldering scrap, and motors give one last creaking groan. The Guardian of Tomorrow is no more, and Connor is safe.

    "Hey, yo, Bikki." Flux produces a few more sections of the manual from his pocket. "Scooped these up on the way in. Think it's almost finished."

Hibiki looted Tattered book - Ape Fist of Khalum - 4 of 5 from remains of Cultist.

    "Thei wert fore-dightening to breke Tir," says Bercilak warily, gesturing with a tilt of his axe towards the destroyed Guardian of Tomorrow.

    "With this many people and a Juggernaut, yeah, I bet they liked their chances. No wonder they called it the Guardian of Tomorrow." Flux extends his hand, and provides Rita with a strange, egg-shaped metal object with a black screen "Phreak hooked us up with a Personal Grid Beacon. Clip it to Connor and press your thumb on the signature spot there," he says. "He'll get Connor to a Vanguard safehouse, and Stitches knows a really good deprogrammer." Running a hand through his hair, he leans on his staff as Mortificant begins fretting over Rita.

    "Anau the questioun--art we toleve, or fuck this temple up?"

    "Shit," Flux breathlessly laughs. "You know which one I'm gonna say. I'm gonna ring up Stitches and see if she can give us any pointers."