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Lilian Rook     Bercilak claims to have a plan. One that will get to the bottom of all of this all at once, worthy of the Watch putting faith in it. It leads straight to . . .

    A shopping and delivery centre. One mercifully outside of Lilian's homeworld for what an awful idea that would be, but as far as Warpgate connections go, not far. A busy main street runs between a major collection of junction gates, peppering the area like stops at a competent city rail system, lined with competing malls and boutiques, mail and holding depots, restaurants and pop-up stands, and slightly less dystopian than usual fulfillment warehouses.

    Foot traffic is heavy, cobbled roads are broad, few cars bother to attempt to drive through. Drones fly overhead carrying parcels to priority arrivals over the clamour of street vendors and the smell of food trying to lure in those who have to spend more time here. Music occasionally pumps from downstairs accessways into out of the way lounges, or blares from indoor arcades near the lots and courtyards of endlessly rebranded mini-malls.

    Lilian is accompanied by two other girls, ostensibly her age but slightly shorter, and isn't paying attention to either: one with blonde curls, a heap of bags, and a flustered step, the other a mid-length brunette struggling with a couple of boxes and a worried mien. They work hard to try and keep three feet behind Lilian, who is instead walking far too fast, mashing away at her smart device's projected screen.

    "Lilian slow down!"
    "Or at least carry your own--"
    "You two were the ones pissing and moaning that I hadn't taken you anywhere in weeks, right?"
    "Y-yeah, well, you hadn't--"
    "So what's the fucking problem? You wanted to follow along and see where I shop now; here it is."
    "Hey, there's no need to get angry."
    "Yeah all we've done is pick up packages too! What did you even order?"
    "None of your fucking business Eleanor."
    "Don't talk to her that way!"
    "You want to go home Sabrina? You can take her. I'm not dealing with this today."
    "Lilian what's gotten *into* you lately?!"
    "There's nothing--! Are you two going to be a *problem* too? Are you here just to make things difficult? Are you against me now too?!"
    "No I . . ."
    "It's my fault. I thought it'd be a good idea to try to catch up, after all the time you spent working lately."
    "Well! Clearly not. You made this bed so lie in it and shut up. You can go do whatever bollocks you feel like once I have everything I need; I didn't ask you to come."

    Lilian herself looks --for the first time it could be genuinely said-- a little shitty. Either she hasn't bothered to use, or cannot use enough, makeup to hide the sleepless shadows under her eyes, nor the dark bruise on her cheek that never seems to get better. Her fingers are covered in barely healed cuts, and her wrists disappearing into her sleeves are wrapped in bandages. A slice of red swelling is visible between her neck and her right shoulder, clearly not treated any better than painkillers.

    But the way she looks at the other girls with her eyes sliding right over their faces --the ice cold and sun bright, hollow and obsessive mania in her look, is probably worse.
Bercilak      "Hark," says Bercilak, on the end of the street opposite the shopping center. "Whanne-so ifirst we encontre her, I shalt threu honds." He's armored up already, the only thing missing from his ensemble being that enormous axe. "What-sum-ever thou lest to ifinde, oth that, ilern, inseke it owhils we ifighte."

     "Come." A large, plated hand able to grasp fully the faces of most people passing by this street beckons for you to follow. He turns and heads for the center, cloak of helenium and feather reeds billowing out behind him.

THE MALL

     Bercilak is a man on a mission. Even above piped in music, above throngs of people conversing, above orders called from shitty food kiosks, it can be heard. Clank. Clank. Clank. Clank. Arms pumping with each purposeful stride, he bears down on the three girls. With one sweep of a broad arm big enough to wrap 'round two of them, he slaps the packages out of Sabrina and Eleanor's hands.

     "Ileve. Nau."

     The axe appears in his opposite hand, the one which just slapped the boxes askew pointing accusingly at Lilian. "If thou holden chid with Xion, thou may bisaie swich to her fucking face, instede ofsending som bicche-ass guard to inseke her. Todai I shalt bete thy asse--and thou shalt bithank me that I didst not quell thy dullish guarde in place of thy asse-betinge."

     "Quarre up." His axe lifts a decorative potted plant by the lip, flinging it towards her hard enough that the slipstream from the flung planter ruffles clothes and sends food flying from food court tables even a few feet away, dragging Lilian's scattered boxes across the floor.
Rita Ma      Rita's heart is pounding in her ears. Nervous electricity prickles her skin from the inside. It's a little like being carsick, a little like impending doom; your gut telling you that a decision is going to be catastrophic, and your brain determined to make it anyway.

     All the color is drained from her face behind the wrappings of an ordinary girl. Her tentacle-woven disguise unthinkingly imitates the pale, clammy skin beneath, giving the game away.

     "I hate this," she says quietly. "I hate doing this." It's redundant. Just by looking at her, little hands balled up and eyes boring a hole in the floor, you could tell. Only when her gaze meets Hibiki's does she try to put on a brave face: back straightened, eyes bittersweetly resolute, lips slightly wobbly but formed into a forced smile.

     Rita ceases to exist at the door of the shopping center. Lilian takes her place, that cold dead look in her eyes replicated perfectly. As the two Lilians approach each other, the impostor's features update: the clothes, the new scratches, the haggardness, the cut between shoulder and neck.

     Lilian... you're even further gone than I thought. I can see you wearing thin, almost translucent. I can see something bad shining through from beneath. Do you know how bad it is? If you saw that look in someone else's eyes, wouldn't you recognize something was awfully wrong?

     The imitation-Lilian doesn't speak, of course, but it tilts its head to motion her friends to leave, and then fixes the genuine article with That Look from behind Bercilak. Its chin is raised a few degrees, subtly looking down its nose.
Hibiki Tachibana     Bercilak has a plan. Hibiki knows Bercilak, and she knows what it'll almost definitely involve. She sometimes has her misgivings, like the start of the whole Bugster thing, but she also understands his methods enough to know there won't actually be any lasting damage or anyone getting hurt. So really, the whole 'doing this in a crowded shopping center' thing doesn't particularly bother her as much as it otherwise would. They're here for Lilian. And...

    That's the thing. They're here for Lilian. There's been the odd encounter where they're tentatively on the same side and working for the same goal...and then what happened on Afterus. Hibiki didn't need to think for a second about rushing back to try and stop her in the moment, or throwing herself at her solo back then. But approaching her now, she has all the time in the world to go over the endless thoughts in her head and the knots in her chest and stomach.

    There's no small part of her that's, quite frankly, terrified out of her mind.

    But even more than that, there are things she needs to know, and things she has to do. And she'd just never be satisfied sitting back restlessly while everyone else goes ahead. And she not alone, either. Rita gets a silent nod.

    ---

    "Lilian..." The Green Knight comes from behind, but Hibiki steps around a corner in front, the same way Rita!Lilian is. So she can look the genuine article straight on herself, her expression briefly shifting to one of surprise before slowly tensing back up, despite the storm of emotions roiling beneath the surface.

    "...You're a mess. Xion, the station..." Her hands clench and her voice, trying very hard to keep measured, falls into a mix of deep anger and...pity? Empathy? Something else?

    "Whatever's behind what you're doing--that look in your eye, do you even realize it yourself? ...I'm going to get to the bottom of it if it's the last thing I do. I'm sick of not knowing what to do, but I think I'm even more sick of not understanding a thing."
Chase      Bercilak, outside of the mall, explains the game plan. Between his accent and the term 'throwing hands' however, Chase is completely lost, nor does he want to slow the group down by asking for an explanation. So he just silently nods and goes along with it.

     It'll be fine, as far as he figures. Bercilak is trustworthy, and they're all here with the same goal of confronting Lilian about Xion...

     Once at the mall, it doesn't take Chase that long to figure out what 'throwing hands' meant, and everything that Berc had said finally clicks as he throws down his axe.

     That realization finally made, he still isn't here to fight, at the very least, not yet, instead opting to stay to the side and next to a display window.

     "Why aren't you helping Xion?"

     As everyone is asking their question, Chase figures he might as well ask his, as odd as it feels to be asking something from the side.
Lilian Rook     Lilian glimpses Hibiki first, coming around in front of her and all.

    No, that's not quite right. Lilian was already looking at where Hibiki's head was going to round the corner a split second earlier. It's like she smelled all that worry and angst and anger on her before seeing her.

    It somehow feels worse than when she looked at Hibiki with eyes full of seething hate. She looks through her like a large and filthy puddle in the way of where she's walking; the only comprehension Lilian shows is the mental process of deciding how to best get past it, and cursing the disgusting weather for it even being there.

    "What the fuck are you doing here?"
    "Lilian? You know her?"
    "Is she a Paladins friend?"
    "No she's one of the people I get paid to put in the ground?"
    "What?"
    "You don't mean literally, right?"
    ". . ."

    Lilian waves for the sub-heathers to stay where they are, and begins approaching at the exact pace of walking menace. "Was last time not convincing enough for you? Did you listen to your motivational study playlist too hard and now you think you can beat me? Do I have to take both hands this time? Maybe your legs too? Or maybe fuck up your face so badly that Miku never lets you outside again. How's that?"

    A weird, awful beat. What Hibiki had actually said fifteen seconds ago finally processes. Lilian's expression changes from 'impending thoughtless violence' to disgusted confusion.

    "What the hell are you talking about? Are you simping for Staren too now? Or--" Her fingers tense up into white-knuckled fists "*Her*. I get it. Of course. She'd find people that already hate me and collect them too; they're free bodies, already weak-minded and willing to do anything. She's been *busy*. But a heap of maggots are still maggots in the end."

    She glances sideward at Chase, only just noticing him now. "What? Who the hell are you? Am I supposed to know you?" A brief, irritable pause. "Wait, no, I know you. You're that freak who beat up Muramasa and Shijima in the street. Oh I see. *That's* how it is. How many other friends did you bring you nasty little cowardly slut?!" The actual content goes unaddressed. Now Lilian is busy scanning around the crowd in a frenzy, angry paranoia writ large. Eleanor and Sabrina both stumble back when she pans over them, reflexively avoiding being in the splash zone.

    Bercilak claps the packages out of their hands. They clatter to the ground with *weighty* thumps. Smaller boxes tumble out of larger bags, marked with various hazard labels. Eleanor shrieks. Sabrina grabs and drags her back. "Oh, and *you'd* be thirsty for some of your asinine fairy tale 'prove your mettle' huh? Of course you want some too. Is the whole Watch here? Are they all going to jump out of the shadows like flash mob?" Lilian raises her voice to a public-disruption level scream. "GO ON! COME OUT! I DARE YOU! COME AT ME ALL AT ONCE! I CAN KILL YOU ALL AT ONCE! MAYBE THEY'LL MAKE ME *GRANDMASTER* FOR SINGLEHANDEDLY WIPING OUT THE WATCH!"

    The number of people who weren't already scurrying away from Bercilak's sheer terrifying girth are now doing so sheerly for feeling the amount of violent charge in the air, just enough hanging around where they can watch to make a thin wall at either end. "Xion Xion Xion-- what the fuck is wrong with Xion? She was fine last time I-- Oh is *that* it? The false pretense? The brainwashing of the hour? That's what motivated you imbeciles isn't it?! That bitch is going to pay extra for lying about Xion and--"

    And the worst, frantic cutoff happens when Rita strides in. Even though she doesn't know it's Rita, Lilian's balled fists tremble just looking at her. The grinding of her teeth is audible. "YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY, KORE?! IS THAT WHAT I LOOK LIKE TO YOU?! YOU THINK *THIS* PATHETIC LEVEL OF HARASSMENT IS GOING TO GET TO *ME?!*"
Lilian Rook     Eleanor calls out in a panic, seeing the squad form up around her. "Lilian! Hold on! I'm going to get help!" She quickly pulls up her phone, and then Lilian snaps her fingers and the phone is in her hand, shortly crushed to pieces in her grip. "No. You're not." she replies, having underflowed into an ice cold tone. "Listen to the big boy and leave." The two begin scurrying for the hills immediately. Lilian cracks her knuckles.

    The planter goes flying by her head and explodes on the opposite wall, causing the first round of screams from the crowd. Lilian didn't actually duck out of the way, but simply wasn't there to begin with, not even showing a human flinch instinct. The very next *instant*, she comes right at him with a vicious flying punch straight to his face, kicking off the ground and leaping into the air, twisting her body full around to add extra torque to it. The abrasions on her fingers split and bleed immediately; unsurprising, considering the thunderclap it makes. And then, before she even *lands*, she's right in front of Hibiki again, fingers inches away from grabbing her hair, yanking her head back, and pivoting her hips into slamming her elbow right into her throat before she can sing to transform. And then into what she must presume is an illusion, and yet-- there's a mall chair in her hand, yanked right out of its steel screws, which she smashes over its head for catharsis sake.
Bercilak      "Who in the fuck is--"

    Bercilak is so legitimately perplexed by Lilian's outburst that he doesn't bother trying to evade or even block the attack. Lilian's fist smashes into his helmet, cracking the visor and sending fragments grinding into his face. As the helmet repairs itself, blood trickles down his face, and his red eyes gleam with recognition.

    "*Persephone* Kore? I hath not bisaied a word to her in a half-yere." He spits a bloodied visor fragment out just as the last crack mends itself.

Bercilak executes nanoprogram Punisher of the Wicked...
Modify AddAllOff 'Hibiki Tachibana' 30u
Modify AddAllOff 'Rita Ma' 30u


    A golden static-aura briefly glimmers around Hibiki and Rita, before fading into nothingness. Bercilak's nanite cloud heightens their reflexes, hand(and tentacle)-eye coordination, and strength, quickening the rate at which neurons transmit electrical impulses, strengthening bones and muscles.

    As Lilian leaps over to Hibiki, Bercilak makes a deft one-handed swing of the axe, grip all the way down nearly to the butt of the haft to massively increase its reach. The space between the beard and the haft is large enough for a human neck to fit--and this is exactly what he tries to do, hooking Lilian in an effort to drag her backwards into a rocket-powered knee to the back.

    He doesn't give up no matter the agility or craftiness she brings to bear against him--when he isn't fighting 'for fun' he is alarmingly fast for his size. The microthrusters on his armor, his own dead sprint, long leap and the ridiculous reach of the axe are used to oppress her. The perfect example of such is immediately after this hook and drag attempt.

    Returning his hands to mid-haft with a startlingly quick tug on the weapon, he makes three swings: one, the hips and shoulders working in tandem to make a corraling down-up cut. Two, hands shifting, axe twirled to bring the blunt heel crashing down into her shoulder. Three, an enormous overhead 360--she seems the 'teleport behind you' type, after what he just witnessed.

    For good measure, he snags a bench with the gap of the axe, extending its reach, and flicks it towards her. "This is her-upon 'Ben Horne.' Wherefore thy ofsent thy liti guard ayenst Xion for his quelling. By Him that made me, thou shalt withbreid thy guard and bitell me who quelled this man."
Rita Ma      When she abruptly materializes right in front of it, mall chair in hand, Lilian gets just a moment to stare into her copy's eyes. No, just the one eye- the left is still staring at where she was a millisecond ago; the right is already tracking her, flicking in an eerie blur from her face to the chair in her hand.

     The copy kicks off backwards. Just as it seems the chair is about to hit its head anyway, it unmorphs, revealing the considerably smaller form of Rita Ma. Her expression is frozen in shock, fear, maybe a little touch of grief. Her height shrinking by a few inches allows her to just clear the chair's downward arc.

     So it really is that bad. Lilian...

     Before Rita's even touched the ground again, she raises her right hand. The disguise-tentacles unweave down to the elbow, adopting a pale-to-ruddy coloration. Pulsing, they fire a halo of golden light that's aimed to catch Lilian in its center. As it washes over her, for a brief moment,

             time
                 almost
                       stops.

     Rita is already appallingly fast. From the perspective of someone temporally slowed, and further boosted by Bercilak, she's virtually instantaneous. In a subjective eyeblink, a spiderweb of blue tentacles weave themselves between a nearby column and a storefront behind Lilian. A half-dozen blows strike the front of her body as swift as raindrops. When the slow expires, Lilian is- hopefully- flung backwards by the cumulative momentum and into the waiting tentacle-net, which snap-curl around her as bindings and smolder with ominous energy as they begin to drain her magic.

     "What happened to you," she says in the aftermath, her voice rough and pleading. "I looked up to you. But I can't ignore that look in your eyes, Ms. Rook! Whatever monster's in your heart, you've given in to it. And I need to know... if you're still in there, if you can still take my hand. If you're still fighting it! ... Because this only stops if you want it to stop. If you're strong enough to not lie to yourself that this is okay."

     Please. Someone else gave me that chance, once. I want to give it to you... but I'm not as brave as he is. I don't know how.
Hibiki Tachibana     Hibiki's tense, tight expression twitches--it really is so much worse than even the taunts, the all but open rage, the directed emotion. That was something she could get. This...is like she's not even being looked at like a human. But even when she starts getting approached, something that in and of itself worsens the knot in her chest, she doesn't move.

    It's a contrast to the rage bubbling up beneath all her other emotions, and her fingernails threatening to draw blood from her palms. She should say, 'I didn't come here thinking I could beat you'. Instead, "Keep Miku's name...out of your mouth." Though some of that raw emotion makes way for confusion when Lilian reaches her conclusion. "What? You think I'm--?" *Her*...? Does she mean...

    Whatever she thought was wrong with Lilian goes far deeper than she ever could have imagined without seeing it firsthand. The Lilian Rook she both liked as a senior as much as disliking for her haughtiness, the Lilian Rook that hated her and she hated back in turn - neither of them are here right now. The raw, manic violence in front of her is more terrible than anything else. This goes beyond just whatever dark impulses she's been holding back in her heart...it's like she can't even see what's right in front of her anymore.

    "Kore? Persephone--"

    Whatever she was going to say next never gets out. It dies in her throat as Lilian moves and then moves again, in front of her faster than a normal teenage girl could ever react to. There's a terrible choking noise as her eyes go wide and spittle flies with a direct smash into her neck, flooring her on the spot. If it wasn't for Bercilak's nanomachines and Hiromi's wolfsblood, she'd probably be staying down.

    Instead, Hibiki heaves out raspy breaths and clutches at the floor as their opponent's attention turns away. "Balwisyall...nescell...Gungnir TRON!" Light explodes out, and a Symphogear-clad Hibiki flings herself off of all fours in a sudden lunge up at Lilian. She's angry. It's just more focused than last time.

    "Are you so obsessed that you can't even tell what we're really here for!? We came because of the /crap/ that Xion is getting blamed for...!" All her momentum is put into a simple, charging knee strike meant to crash into Lilian from the side. "And because I want to know what the HELL is wrong with you!"

    She twists it around into a spinning kick before she even gets the chance to hit the floor after, and then--just keeps throwing blows. Over and over, an endless barrage that's meant to keep her in her face where she can hold eye contact, until she does something to stop it. "I even thought, back then, that plenty of the things you said about me weren't even wrong...! I've been agonizing over the fact I don't know what to do about you!"

    "Nobody put me or anyone else here up to it! I'm doing it of my own free will, because I had to accept I can't do anything for you if I don't understand you! And if you're anything like me--somewhere in there, YOU should want to help yourself and *BE* helped! Even more than just Xion, you know how much of all of this is wrong, don't you!?"
Chase      "I confronted Shijima Go and Tomari Shinnosuke at the police station, not a street."

     Chase raises his voice to clarify one detail as the fighting starts, slowly following the group as he pushes through the crowd of fleeing people. He bumps into several civilians along the way, but it doesn't seem to slow him down in the slightest

"But this is not about Kamen Riders or Muramasa. Nor is it about whoever Kore is, or Staren. I am talking about Xion..."

     Chase pauses for a moment as he thinks. Is this the right thing? He could have simply asked these questions on radio rather than adding more fuel to the fire that is Lilian's anger by being here... No, she'd have simply dodged the question, like she's done before. This is the best possible way to get the answer he wants,  face to face and heart(?) to heart.  Perhaps the only thing that could potentially make it better is if he added his fists, but...

     "Again. Why have you not helped Xion? Do you think she is guilty? If not, why are you here instead of clearing things up?"
Lilian Rook     Bercilak's savvy axe thrust pops ahead of Lilian's charge for Hibiki, precisely angled to clothesline her by the throat and take her out before she can gain that immediate decisive advantage. The instant before it touches skin is when Lilian disappears into thin air and blinks out ahead of it to land that horrifying windpipe blow.

    Rocket powering into her from behind, Lilian spins and weightlessly leaps back from the flying knee, then preemptively lashes out with a sideways kick to the haft of the axe before it can pick up speed into her hip. When it whirls around into her head, she blink-ducks like an extra low boxer's weave bringing up her hands, lunging into the inside of Bercilak's haft-range, and then teleporting right behind him to fake him out, only for the massive overhead to incidentally crash down right there by random guesswork. She breaks off on sheer danger instinct, kicking hard off the floor and breaking tiles one way to zigzag the other way. He feels the haft clip her shoulder, and then a sudden absence of sensation completely as she's gone again before the impact fully translates. He'd gotten one good guess, but it appears that ability is insane for completely opting out of disadvantage.

    "What the fuck are you blithering about you brain-damaged LARPer?!" Lilian (now a good five meters away) hisses. She rolls her shoulder to determine that it's fine, then settles one hand low and one hand high, hips turned and feet a shoulder width apart. "Who the fuck is-- wait, the fucking kaijin supremacist murderer? Who gives a *shit* about him! I'm glad he's dead! Tomari was an imbecile for thinking he could just slap him in cuffs and throw him into a cell like a good little jackboot rent-a-cop! Too stubborn and stupid and small-minded to listen! And then when the Blue Rose picked him off anyways to keep him quiet, that stupid bastard *still* wouldn't listen to me! Cooking up insane conspiracy shit to keep his fragile little police boy ego intact! What the fuck does that have to do with you?!"

    Hibiki staggering upright and transforming anyways gets Lilian to pause. What should be shock looks like sizing her up. A jaguar dispassionately aiming for the jugular after its first attempt to snap a wildebeest's spine let it limp bloodily away. "So she's been handing out her devil's contracts to you too? Preying on your weak little mind. That explains why you feel so *confident*. You should have lost your voice for good just now. But it's not going to make a difference you little *shit*."

    Hibiki's spinning kick comes straight at Lilian, but unlike the first time they fought, she doesn't effortlessly weave out of the way. Lilian's upper arm flashes out and strikes the inside of Hibiki's leg, then her lower arm shoots up to cross counter right between her legs as a target of opportunity. Black static flickers off Lilian's heels, and her grip twists on the symphogear-users leg, which she uses as leverage to suddenly vault into the air, and stomping kick Hibiki down, then blink off of her already knowing how she responds to the straddling pin.
Lilian Rook     And she stands in the way of the incoming storm of savage blows too. The air briefly vibrates in a wave down her arms and legs, and Lilian receives Hibiki with an equal flurry of violence. She weaves and duck between punches, catching and deflecting rapid jabs and bobbing through powerful straights. Her lower hand snaps down to crash on Hibiki's wrist at the start of an uppercut, then she spins weightlessly on her toe and torques in a side knee strike to the head. She palm thrusts one punch out of the way then ducks under the other and launches a hook into Hibiki's diaphragm and a flurry of straights at her head. When Hibiki's foot rises to kick, Lilian's shoots out to intercept and block it, kicking her legs out from under. Another kick has her jump completely over it, handstand on Hibiki's leg, and spinkick into her neck.

    Though she rapidly flickers between movements, simply cheating wherever Hibiki's speed and skill should catch her to render the speed irrelevant, she's not prioritizing flashy and committed evasion this time. Trading blows with Hibiki's raw strength, with the condition her own limbs are in, causes the bandages to stain red again, droplets of blood and sweat flying from her fingers in the process, even swinging to hit Hibiki so hard that it hurts herself too.

    "You! Can't! Do! *Shit! I don't need your help *Tachibana*! You don't even *know* what's wrong! You're incapable! You're all fucking *incapable* of being right! All you ever *do* is make it harder and harder and harder on purpose, until I finally have to just *give up* and put you fucking people *in line*!" Though Lilian's eyes are absolutely focused on Hibiki, her pupils aren't actually tracking her motions. They twitch back and forth, but don't closely follow any individual limb beyond peripheral vision. And furthermore, Lilian is absolutely able to tell what Hibiki will do before she does it, though she hadn't been able to do so for Bercilak's almost random attack.

    She also doesn't anticipate the illusion unravelling like that. The way she'd swung that chair; it was vindictive, but not 'combat grade'; she'd expected it to pass through, and hadn't braced for a counterattack at all. Worse still, when Rita reveals herself inside, Lilian briefly seems to forget about everything, and choke.

    "Rita . . . ?"

    Again, she seems to know Rita's attack is coming before it actually does, but in that state of shock, she resorts to blasting it with a point blank detonation of unseelie fire from a slightly panicked palm snap. It passes right through the non-attack energy. The time slow sets in, and all of Lilian's immense pre-reactive speed disappears with it. The net is woven behind her. Rita can see Lilian's horrified expression change at 1/100th pace. There couldn't be an easier target. Her own blows come at Lilian, and--

    Lilian cuts out all those frames and decides she is down the hall again now. Furthermore, she no longer seems to be slowed. She'd activated that ability at the speed of thought, and furthermore, it had canceled or expired the hostile effect. However, for the moment, all she does is back away slowly in stunned disbelief, shaking her head and holding that unblinking stare.

    "No . . . No no no no no, not you too . . . Rita . . . even you hate me now? Even you're going to betray me? After everything else?" Though her eyes burn with ice cold manic rage, one of them --and only one, opposite the bruise-- tears up. "That's it? Nobody is safe? I can't trust *anyone*? She's not going to stop until she can turn them *all* against me, is she? She's trying to take everything away. To make things like they were before. Rita . . . I have to . . . I have to before she gets to Xion, or Strawberry, or Tamamo."
Lilian Rook     She backs up right into the threads. They snap and curl around her, not exactly as planned, but exactly as they are designed to function. She'd either never seen them, or forgotten they were there, ruling out an automatic reflex. Lilian cries out and drops to her knees as the bindings dig in, that drop of moisture falling free of her eye, her face flushing red in anger. Her arms twist inside the organic bindings. Baleful magic sparks appear in her hand, then gutter out. It's working. "No no no! I can fix this! I can make this like it never happened! I can fix Rita too! I can make it like it was!" Lilian howls, and then the bindings collapse limply to the ground without her in them. Whatever she did, it used either a trivial amount of magic, or somehow no magic at all.

    A dozen coruscating infragold-vantablack blasts suddenly explode right in Rita's face, where Lilian was timeslowed before, spraying her with 'shrapnel' that feels like it chainsaws through with a million tiny white-hot teeth, leaving static-textured molten holes in everything around them. Lilian stops just long enough to pry a mall bollard out of the ground and offhandedly wing it flying at Chase for talking. "Shut the fuck up! Xion is fine! I talked to her the other day! She said I had to-- No I'm not telling you *anything*! If she's in danger *now* then you *fucking tell me*! You tell me you stupid bastard! I'm not letting her get to Xion too! Get out of my way!"

    She reappears in front of Bercilak this time. Night Mist is in her hand. The escalation is clear. Malice *explodes* from the blade, synchronizing with Lilian's own turbulent and burning need for retribution, and roiling with inky black smoke. She extends her arm and primes back a thrust along its axis, aiming with her fingers, blinks behind Bercilak to attack his blind spot, and then double fakes and blinks right back to his front to plunge it under his ribs from her shorter vantage, up through his chest cavity, and out through the back of his spine. Where his blood touches the blade, it hardens and erupts into spearing thorns, which branch their own thorns, and those their own, sevenfold times.

    "Cleasa o'Skye ~ Dealga Croíbhriste! Drop dead you sack of shit and let me through!"
Bercilak [Vicinity] Lilian: What the fuck are you blathering about you brain-damaged LARPer?!
[Vicinity] Lilian: Who the fuck is-- wait, the fucking kaijin supramacist murderer?
[Vicinity] Lilian: Who gives a shit about him! I'm glad he's dead!
[Vicinity] Lilian: Tomari was an imbecile for thinking he could just slap him in cuffs and throw him into a cell like a good little jackboot rent-a-cop!
[Vicinity] Lilian: Too stubborn and stupid and small-minded to listen!
[Vicinity] Lilian: And then when the Blue Rose picked him off anyways to keep him quiet, that stupid bastard *still* wouldn't listen to me!


    "A wald-scathe tiraunt?"

Note Accessed: Lilian's Mettle

"He insekes one of *mine,* that is what, thou wodli womanne," says Bercilak incredulously. If *he's* calling someone crazy then shit has gotten bad.

Bercilak executes nanoprogram Watch Ward...
Fortify 'Hibiki Tachibana'
Fortify 'Rita Ma'
Fortify 'Chase'


    Lilian seems able to read his every move--but fighting on the defensive is something he's inherently familiar with. A green, shimmering aura surrounds himself and his allies. When Lilian's sword plunges into his back, he rockets forward--

[Vicinity] Lilian: Drop dead you sack of shit and let me through!
Bercilak      Right into her thrust. "Thus... spake... thee..." The barrier saps momentum from the strike, but ultimately, she drives it home, scarlet ribbons bursting from below that massive green harness as thorns multiply from the inside out. He goes limp, momentarily, axe lowering. Perhaps she did it.

     His helmet surges forward to smash into her face, as his axe plants into the ground.

    "'Thou shalt trete thy fellow man with worthfulhed and with precioushed, what-so-ever thire stacioun." The thorns inside him multiply even more. They writhe and whip of their own volition, sightless things reacting to stimuli provided by the axe. "Onli whanne iman inesekes tolime the stacioun of an othere is he thanne without worthfulhed.'" The vines begin to spread across the ground. Rapidly.

    "Thou shalt ofhere not the words of that which dies not." Bercilak snaps free of the teeming mass, watering the tightly knotted growths with alarming amounts of blood as they tear free from spaces in his slowly reknitting bodysuit. The haft of the axe darts forward, attempting to slam into Lilian's stomach.

    It's a fake. Bercilak makes a wild, rocket-assisted swing, the move of a complete amateur, just to see if she can evade something even -he's- not sure will land. The axe embeds itself into a new hatchback on display, bright yellow chassis crumpling from the impact. "Thou shalt ofhere not the words of that which spekes not. Thou shalt ofhere not the words of that which ibledes not." He wrenches the axe free. Towering, prehensile flytrap plants sprout from the ruined car, undulating and snapping wildly, blindly. "Thou shalt ofhere not the words of that which cannst not entre thy hom." Leveraging the flat of the massive blade beneath the car and onto the display pedestal, he leaps onto the haft and catapults it into the air with his bulk. "Thou shalt ofhere not the words of that which hath ieten flesh of man. Thou shalt ofhere not the words of that which beggen thee to loke upon hit." The car hurtles back town in a wild arc, thanks to the snapping of the flytraps atop it.

    The thrusters on his armor fire up again, bloodstained plates gleaming beneath sunlight filtering in from a skylight above. The axe, tightly gripped, digs a furrow into the ground, from which a vibrant spread of chaotic plantlife sprouts in his wake. "Thou shalt quell withoute vacillacioun. If thou ifele dout, remorse, oth non-certainte in so doing, thou art not fit to toll lif." He leaps into a large planter beneath the skylight, filled with enough dirt to support the small tree which grows there. Thrusters at maximum, he spins rapidly in place, spewing up clods of dirt in all directions.

    "Chese thy next words -over-cautiousli. Art thou bitellinge me thou folwed not thy code, whanne-so thou espied a wald-scathe overworthi of deth? Art thou bitelling me thou did not quell him thyself, as thy code demaunds?" He waits--one second, two, a split second more...

    And kicks without thought. His leg strikes the tree so hard that it splits the trunk, sending the upper portion of it hurtling backwards. If -he- doesn't know what the fuck he's doing, he reasons, perhaps Lilian won't either.
Rita Ma      Rita seems almost relieved when her blows don't connect. When Lilian stumbles into her bindings and starts to squirm, she watches passively, her face torn between a half-dozen emotions. None of them are happy. "I've been like this before," she says softly. She can't bear to meet Lilian's gaze. "The way you are now. I hurt a lot of people, back then. ... Some of them didn't deserve it. But I got a second chance, anyway. I want-"

     She straightens up, eyes going wide with a little "!" vocalization, as Lilian disappears.

     Again. Where...?

     Magic sparks blossom to tear Rita apart. The explosions spill blood, but she simply is not there. The decoy dissolves into squirming tentacles. Only a little puff of dust on the ground hints at the direction Rita pre-emptively dashed off in.

     What I know:
     1 - Lilian can anticipate attacks, but only if the person throwing them knows where they'll land.
     2 - Her 'instantly doing things' counts as time passing, and is nonmagical.
     3 - But she ruptured the bindings, and didn't just phase out of them. At least if her magic's drained, she can't just get from A to C and skip B.


     Okay. I can deal with that.

     For a good few moments, the battle rages on without Rita. When she re-emerges from around a corner, it's with both hands glowing from within with a terrible white light. She shouts, dispelling any doubt it's the original: "Why did *I* leave you?! Why did YOU leave ME?! What happened to having rules? What happened to codes? What happened to *knowing better than your feelings*?"

     A visible tentacle whips out of Rita to try and wrap around Lilian's ankle, applying itself as a hard magic-draining anklet- it won't survive long, but it should narrow her options.

     Rita solemnly raises both of her hands. The devoured bio-energy of dozens of monsters crackles at her fingertips. Her hair floats, then flutters out behind her as if blown by the breeze. Her features are washed out by the light as it radiates from beneath her skin. Reading her mind indicates the attack is wide-angle, area-of-effect, and brutally destructive; with her enhanced reaction time, it's nearly impossible to juke. There is just enough time for a speed of thought defense; for getting the hell out of dodge at maximum speed.

     But there isn't enough room for one.

     A second real, authentic Rita crouches on a rooftop nearby, thoroughly concealed. Her disguise unravels, dozens of invisible tentacles unfurling to snake down and fill the area around Lilian with a dense thicket of cloaked razor-ribbons. Each one internally brims with a Leviathan's seething acid.

     The Rita firing the beam has no idea of her rooftop clone's plan, or her role in it. She shuts her eyes tearfully, exhales, and fires a fraction of her stolen essence as pure streaks of light that shatters concrete and burns paint.
Hibiki Tachibana     "You're wrong! Weak of mind...it's the opposite!" There's no satisfaction in actually landing a strike on Lilian this time. She braces herself against that kick stomping her down into the floor with a deafening crack, only to rise back up to keep throwing herself at her. "Hiromi helped me...learn so much! And to keep getting up instead of staying down! That's her real gift to me more than any power! What about you!?"

    Things have changed since last time. For the both of them. Hibiki leans away from that brutal knee smash, bringing her Symphogear's gauntlet up to block it with a resounding thud of metal. "I *don't* know what's wrong!" She slips up and takes the chest blow head-on. "And I *am* wrong, all the time...!" She only stumbles under the kick that otherwise should have risked breaking her neck, only to brace her leg against the ground and whirl her body into a return hook at the gut. "But even if *you* give up, I'M not! Even if I don't know anything--I'll keep going until I DO!"

    She minimizes the damage from every attack she can, and for each one she takes cleanly, she swings back twice as hard, despite the foresight when it comes to her every move. The difference in the way Lilian is fighting now and how she did then is like night and day. Like a reflection of the other girl's state. "And I'll find a way to help you! For Rita, and Strawberry--and for *you*!"

    Her fist pauses, however. When Rita makes her true self known, and Lilian stops. When she breaks down, and the tears coming from only one eye don't escape her. Hibiki simply stops, right in place, mouth caught open an indescribable look on her face. Even now, she's still thinking Persephone is responsible for everything...? That it's everybody else who's compromised?

    And then the moment is over, and she tenses back up with every muscle in her body, clenching her teeth. "Rita's not the one who changed things! It's all been you! You still don't see it!?" Her armored boots digs down, and she throws herself high, only to come down with a blast of her thrusters after she hits the apex of her leap.

    Lilian knows what she's going to do before she does it. Just throwing out attacks at random might work, but she's so emotionally focused on Lilian right now, she's not sure she could even do that. Instead...she wants to see her just try to stop all of them at once.

    Trees sprout and split, tentacles and blasts all come for her--and so does Hibiki Tachibana, on the tail end of it all with the machinery of her right hand splitting up and pulling backwards.

    "I'm not going to let you turn everyone away from you AND blame it on someone else! STOP CLOSING YOUR EYES TO THE TRUTH! PERSEPHONE ISN'T THE ONE IN FRONT OF YOU RIGHT NOW! WE ARE!"

    Her fist comes down aimed squarely at the unbruised side of Lilian's face, with the piston slamming back in at the moment of attempted impact. She's going to - unintentionally - blow her right through the field of razor tentacles and then far beyond with the force behind it, until something stops her. Whether it's herself or a hard wall.
Chase      Lilian's rudeness is lost on Chase as he blinks, or perhaps he simply doesn't fully understand it, but whatever the case is, he reaches into his jacket, pulling out a blue and chrome colored driver along with a purple and black signal bike.

     "It is not about her safety, she's strong enough to defend herself, this is about miscommunication. One should work towards clearing them up rather than letting it fester... That said, whatever Xion told you, I do not think you've listened to her properly. But I understand now though. This 'she' you keep bringing up has taken root in your head in a dangerous way..."

     The roidmude places the driver against his waist, straps shooting out from both sides of it to fasten itself against him.

     "So allow me to remove it for you. I do not wish to see a friend of Xion's like this anymore."

     Opening up a slot on the Mach Driver, Chase calmly utters the words "Henshin" as he slides in the toy motorcycle inside and hammers the slot back shut.

     SIGNAL BIKE//VIRAL CORE!

     REAPER CHASER!

     The driver vomits the words out in an obnoxiously chipper voice, before a series of hardlight tires appear and crash into Chase, bathing them in a suit of armor that blends the aesthetics of his old suit with that of Mach's.

     Not skipping a beat, the newly transformed Chaser presses a button on top of the Mach Driver, time grinding to a temporary halt as he slowly walks his way over to Lilian. Pressing the button again, he lets time resume, having now seemingly appeared in front of the Paladin and into the fray out of nowhere as he reaches out to grab Lilian firmly by the head in an attempt to throw both her and the entirety of his body weight into the ground below.
Lilian Rook     Lilian presses her body right up against Bercilak's armour, grinding the sword in, something at least like magic surging through it to multiply his agony exponentially. Thorns spread through his veins, pierce into his muscles, rupture organs, split bones. And then Bercilak goes and headbutts her. It might be that she is simply too angry to focus that Lilian doesn't react to it with that unnatural, prescient ease, nor her special ability.

    The sword is wrenched out of Bercilak with an awful tearing squelch, as Lilian's grip on it proves even more severe than its anchorage in his flesh. Her head snaps back, and she claps her hand over her forehead with a sharp gasp of pain. A trickle of blood oozes between her fingers and stains the back of her hand from where the skin broke on her forehead. The bruise on her cheek has turned dark purple and split open again, but that's not where Bercilak, or anyone, even hit her.

    If that didn't rattle any sense back into her, it at least pounded back in the reflexive desire to actually avoid danger and pain. From then on, his onslaught is far less successful. It's markedly evident, if he pays close attention, that she has less ease avoiding his randomly thrown blows, and even less from the gnashing plants and tumbling tree, but if she too is actually focusing, Lilian declines 50/50s to simply not be there, endlessly willing to give up space and allow him to use up his energy and scenery; she doesn't seem to treat ground or space or positioning as a logical commodity.

    "Don't try to talk to me about the *code*! Your principles are just *fucking around* with whoever you think is your friend and causing trouble for *fun*! You don't have any idea what kind of responsibilities I have! What I have to take care of! What I have to take on and take on and *take on* from *everyone else* because they're *too weak*!" Again, it takes a really long time for what he's actually asking to penetrate, and even then, it does so only hazily.

    "I tried to at the time! I'm not at all shy about saying I would! But not while he was already sitting in jail you dumb *fuck*! Tomari fucked it up all on his own, and instead of *him* eating shit for it, he just spins it around and I have to take the consequences again! I always do! Every single time! Everyone else is weak, they fail, they make terrible decisions, they fall to pieces and lash out, and it's only ever me who is the collateral! Me me me me *me* every single time! Over and over and over and *over* again!" She's convinced herself this is true. Her vehement ranting, slowly rising in volume with each repetition, is timed to the rapid fire blasts of magic that are shot towards Bercilak non-stop as she walks, quickly circle strafing around him while catching him at the center of repeated, explosions of something silvery and vaguely prismatic, which boils away its own mass to trade away an equal amount sloughed right off of him.

    She's definitely crying out of one eye while Rita is talking, unable to withdraw her other hand, but still clapping its twin over one ear as if she can shut her up like that. "I've never done *anything* to you Rita! I've never done a single bad thing to you even *once*! I thought I could *trust* you! Even now, I'm not angry with you! I know she's just gotten to you! This all started when *she* ruined *everything*! When she *changed* things and made them like they *used* to be, and I didn't *fix it* because of those *fucking RULES!*" she screams.

    "I CAN'T DO THAT AND CARRY EVERYONE ELSE AT THE SAME TIME! I CAN'T FIX THINGS AND KEEP PEOPLE SAFE AND DEAL WITH EVERYONE BETRAYING ON ME WITHOUT LEANING ON IT JUST A LITTLE BIT! WHAT I'M DOING ISN'T BAD! IT'S NOT MY FAULT! I *HAVE* TO! YOU ALL-- SHE FORCED ME TO DO THIS!"
Lilian Rook     The blasting stops as Rita starts revving up to fire, then Lilian's silhouette briefly flickers as black smoke, and resolves solidly again. Her teeth grit. The beam fires. The bracelet falls to the ground in front of it. Rita's tentacles feel another burst of unnatural force, where the razor wire net snaps all at the same time, transmitting the sensation pain after the trauma. However, turning around to where the clone had placed the trap sees Lilian with her clothes completely eviscerated, torn to shreds and burnt off to the point of being left in tatters. It was clearly a direct and total success, however, no more than superficial contact has been made with the skin itself. Unfortunately at the same time, in a way that Rita should be familiar with, scores of metaphysically transposed wounds slash through the clone, sufficient to tear it half to ribbons, and then spill over into her.

    Hibiki chases the fray, leaping back in to add to the pressure. However, now that Bercilak has forced her back just below the threshold of fighting somewhat more cautiously, the download is back, and more importantly, with a sword in her hand, it is now *exponentially* more difficult to connect. Lilian had thrown hands the first time to make a point, but it's clear she has far more experience with the longblade. Its reach is oppressive, its speed makes throwing attacks frequently suicidal unless they're aborted or pulled, and its hardness and leverage make it possible for Lilian to deflect and counter without damaging her body that was already strained and exhausted before the Watch got here. It seems as if she's about to say something, but then the name Hiromi muddles its way through her mental processing, and Lilian hisses it back at Hibiki in sharp, hateful disbelief.

    "Hiromi. Her too. Vergil. Kore. Everyone that the others are too weak to fight. That they just leave me to handle. All at once. Why is it me? Why are the heroes so weak? Why do they always lose? Why am I the only strong one with them? Everyone else with power all of them choose to be evil instead. Why? Is it just a matter of time? And they're all after me now because they know. And you *worms* are playing right into their hands! As always! I can't trust you! Can't rely on you! Can't let you alone! What are you good for?! Any and all of you?! Why is everything *my* problem?! Why does everything have to be *my* responsibility?! Why do I take the blame for *everything* and why do I *never* get anything to go my way when I do *everything right*?!"

    Chase joins the fray. And time stops. Lilian is frozen there. All that frenetic, unhinged violence building up doesn't have any relevance to him. He can take all the time in the world. He gets right up to her, gets to reach out, and Lilian crackles before his eyes. Numberless translucent ghosts blink in and out of existence in superposition around her. He briefly sees a colour that isn't supposed to be light, bending around red and becoming white and black at the same time.,Chase is subjected to what feels like thirty odd heavy blows all intersecting his front while time is still stopped. Even though Lilian remains motionless.
Lilian Rook     A split second later, the Candy Treatment befalls Hibiki and Bercilak as well. Only Rita appears to be spared. She isn't the furthest from Lilian. She is within the effective range, so Lilian couldn't spread it to a fourth, or very possibly, couldn't bring herself to use it on Rita. However, from every external perspective, Lilian didn't even blink anywhere. Three people just kind of explode without her moving or approaching, meaning that she has had this capacity to use the ability offensively the whole time.

    What's apparent to Rita, not being in the target list, is that Lilian gasps deeply and raggedly shortly thereafter, spitting blood out of her mouth as her shoulders slouch and she wobbles slightly on her feet. Wrong-coloured star-pulsing smoke burns off of her for several seconds. Damage points glow white hot and give off cherenkov-style red glows for equally as long. Lilian's bloody bandages appear scoured rather than scorched, though what at least *appear* to be first degree burns can be seen here and there through her shredded clothes. Using it while already originally bloodied and exhausted seems to have caused considerable backlash.
Bercilak      Lilian declines 50/50s and refuses to be in disadvantage.

     "'Not owhils he was in gaiole.'"

     This, despite everything else that's been said to him, or about his friends, seems to be what throws Bercilak over the edge. The axe ceases to be visually distinguishable from the vast field of green and red that is his bulky, pitted, bloodstained armor.

     "THOU AWENE ME FUCKINGE AROUNDE?" His hands, too, lose definition, as they shift as quickly as their cybernetic implants allow. Lilian's blasts are deflected from the flat of the weapon's blade--the only indication that this is happening is the strobe-light effect illuminating it.

     Lights dance across his armor as he dashes erratically through the now-verdant shopping center. Trees, bushes, bizarre alien plant life--even Lilian's own thorns, turned traitor by the axe, whip up and sprout rapidly to sacrifice themselves for his sake. Something she said has made him furious--there is even a familiar, concerning roar growing steadily louder.

     As one of those explosions strips the massive breastplate from his body, the plates on his suit lose their reactive capabilities and become merely 'tough'--Bercilak's regenerative factor can't work on the metal as fast as his own flesh, and he's losing protection by the moment.

     He doesn't care. All seven-and-a-half feet of him are barreling towards Lilian full sprint, rockets powering the strides of his legs and setting foliage and cracked tiles to flying every which way with every heavy footfall. He stops short, a false swipe made. He knows she's going to decline to be there. After the fake, another, real swipe made in the exact same spot. It's "NE'ER AYEN SHALT I OFHERE -THEE- SPEKE OF DUTY!! THEE, WHO SPEKES OF CODES AK INCURVES THEIM TO SHAPES MO CONVENIENT AT THY WILL!"

     The massive knight makes a sudden, nimble backflip as

     The Candy treatment pummels him midair. Lilian would certainly have felt the strikes connect. She would certainly have felt reinforced bones creak from the pressure, would certainly know that she had struck along points in the bodysuit where her magic had sloughed the machined plates off, or otherwise where no such plates were affixed. And yet, when time resumes,

     The roar of the Wraith is now deafening. The massive hoverbike's entry through the skylight rains broken glass all around, pulse detonation engine shattering storefront windows as the armored vehicle swoops to catch Bercilak, who is not deterred by this beating in the slightest.

     His voice chimes through on the radio--so that it can be heard over the bike's deafening, throat-pounding engine. "What-sum-ever plots thou may devyse, where-sum-ever thou shalt journei, whanne-so thy plots infolde theim *I* hath demed just and god, thou SHALT accounte for *me.* Thou awene me fucking arounde? Thou lest to espy me ernest?" Bercilak is flying like a lunatic--weaving in and out of his allies, masterfully avoiding them by inches, all so that he can catch Lilian out in the middle of attacking one of them.

     "Thanne gaze upon this." He is just as masterful in his application of the axe at top-speed, on a hoverbike in an inverted roll, his skull inches from the ground, as he is with bot feet planted firmly upon it. It almost looks like a mistake. The weapon flung out at an awkward angle, to keep from hitting Hibiki. It is not. It is aimed directly for Lilian's throat--and immediately after, there is a nauseating series of barrel rolls intended to fling her into the nearest wall.
Rita Ma      The Rita on the rooftop collapses bloodlessly- no, with sap instead of blood. Its insides are green and brown rather than red, full of still-squirming vines and fruit-like organs. A plant-matter simulacrum, if an outwardly convincing one. The "realest" Rita lets out a yelp of pain, bending at the waist and clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle it. By the time she's straightened back up, a little paler than before and with mysterious scratches on her body, Lilian's offensive blitz has already ended.

     She looks queasy while staring at Lilian's burns and unearthly red re-entry glow. An arm is held over her stomach, even though she hasn't been hit there. Tears are gleaming between the seams of her disguise.

     "I've never done *anything* to you Rita! I've never done a single bad thing to you even *once*! I thought I could *trust* you!" Those words swim through Rita's head, playing on loop. She turns her head to look at Hibiki, savaged by Lilian's timestopped offensive. Her little hands ball back up into fists. No. That isn't true.

     "I'm sorry, Ms. Rook," Rita says. Again, she can't bear to make eye contact. "When you cut off Hibiki's hand, I thought... if I just ignored it, it'd go away. I thought you'd made a mistake, and you'd gotten ahold of yourself again. And I wouldn't have to choose between you. I just wanted to be loved by everybody."

     "I didn't want to see what you were turning into. What I was letting you become. I understood, but I wasn't brave enough to help. ... Maybe it's too late now. Maybe I ruined everything already. But I want to make it right."

     Rita unwinds her human disguise, becoming the girl in the blue 'dress'. Beneath the disguise, her face is wet with tears. Her tentacles trail behind her, nonthreatening; several of them are bleeding, despite the relative lack of injury to her main body. Moving slowly, if permitted, she takes the blade of Lilian's longsword with two fingers and places the tip at her throat- just offcenter, below the jaw- exactly at that tiny scar that still hasn't quite gone away.

     "If 'Lilian Rook' is still in there, I trust her." Her voice cracks a little. "Please come back. I'm sorry."
Chase      Sadly for Kamen Reaper Chaser, timestop to command grab is actually not a true combo. The wave of pure killing intent radiating off of Lilian causes him to stagger back a few steps, his vision temporarily blurred and his arms covering his midsection as he feels the might of several dozen blows.

     The follow up explosion seems to engulf him briefly, but time briefly stops, and by the time it resumes, he's standing outside of it as he catches his breath.

     Regaining his composure, Chaser finally mulls over Lilian's words to find something to say. He can't. Or rather, he feels like he shouldn't. As far as the Paladin is concerned, he's just a 'weirdo'. Another kaijin who's probably on the chopping block if he steps out of line, from what he's gathered. Neither can he really chime in on the weight of responsibility, as someone who never questions his. Someone who just stacks more and more on top of one another without even flinching.

     "... I have nothing to say, except that I hope that I can one day meet the Lilian Rook I spoke to on radio many moons ago, and that I'm sorry I had to see you like this. I will do my best to forget."

     Chaser's voice sounds oddly defeated as he says this, though he still prepares his finisher by opening the hatch on the Mach Driver before slamming it shut again.

     HISSATSU! FULL THROTTLE!!!

     The belt chimes in it's cheery tune once more as Chase gets a running start, a stream of purple energy trailing off his feet with every step. Once he reaches maximum velocity, he jumps, extending one leg forward while tucking the other one underneath it as he aims to deliver a full powered kick to Lilian's abdomen.
Hibiki Tachibana     There's no chance to say anything. Time is stopped, frozen in the moment where Hibiki is still physically recovering from the deflection and resulting loss of balance, and mentally whirling back on Lilian with a shocked-still look at her outburst, mouth stuck halfway open in what might have been a reply. Then time resumes again.

    The only thing that escapes from her mouth is red, first merely down her lips as she's blown back from all the force hitting her at once, barely stops herself only to double over, and clutches her hands to her mouth to try to stop the fatal-looking amount that explodes out from around her fingers right after. Wide-eyed, she falls forward and barely catches herself with her hands before she falls facefirst into a pool of her own blood.

    Broken bones, torn ligaments, rends in her skin, bruised inside and outside in more places she can even register--this is what happened to Candy? It hurts so, so much. All the more for having no chance to brace against it, no chance to prepare. Being made of sterner stuff than him and having two different forces stopping her from getting herself killed is the only reason she's not instantly reduced to being sent back to the hospital herself.

    "Lili...an...you've had it...so hard, haven't you..." She barely gets that out between wheezing breaths and coughing up a little more blood as her wounds slowly work towards 'not life-threatening'.

    'I have to take the consequences again! I always do! Every single time!' 'When she *changed* things and made them like they *used* to be!' 'Why is everything *my* problem?! Why do I take the blame for *everything* and why do I *never* get anything to go my way when I do *everything right*?!'

    Those words ripple through her head on repeat, giving her the slightest glimpse of understanding that she's been looking for so badly. Not at Lilian Rook the Paladin, or Lilian Rook the absolute bitch she should hate with everything she is but can't, but Lilian. Just Lilian. The girl.

    Hibiki hauls herself up with more normal breathing, hand digging into her side and eyes narrowing. She starts walking forward, and then kicks it up into a steadily faster run. Forward and forward, even when it /does/ look like Bercilak tearing up the pavement might catch her up in it, directly towards Lilian. Where she--

    Goes to slug her in the face. Not like last time, it's just a completely ordinary punch that'll probably rattle her skull and maybe leave a mark if it connects at all, only for Hibiki's overswing to carry her a few unbalanced steps past where she comes to a panting stop.

    "Stop taking all that responsibility on yourself, damnit...I know how hard it is to be able to trust people! I seriously do! But you can't live like that! You'll--" She bites back her words, only to whirl around with an expression between irrationally angry and tearing up. "You'll die doing it! You'll tear yourself apart! Look at yourself right now! You've hurt yourself more than any of us! What the hell do you think is going to happen if you keep doing that!?"

    "Do you really think Rita betrayed you!? Can you look her in the eye and say it's because of Persephone, and not you!? Do you think she doesn't want to share your responsibilities and your burdens--or that a lot of people wouldn't!? You think you're the *only* person who gets caught in the collateral!? Well, you're not!"

    She's close to hyperventilating at this point. "Do you know why I was so fed up with you back then!? Because you couldn't trust me! And maybe you shouldn't have! But--" After a few more heavy pants, her face falls.

    "...A lot of people are trying so hard to be people you can lean on, even if they're not perfect. So...please..."
Lilian Rook     "Fuck you!" Lilian gasp to Chase. Standing at the center of battle zone, the alien smoke clearing, she focuses and catches her breath, wiping the trickle of blood from her lips with the back of her hand and flicking it from her bruised and bleeding fingers. "You don't get to say that! I do! I'm going to be the one doing my best to forgive *you* shits when this is all over! When I've fixed it yet again! Just remember, you made me do this. I warned you over and over and you wouldn't listen. If nobody will listen to me, if violence is the only language anyone uses, anyone understands, then I'll use it too."

    The full-powered Hissatsu flies at Lilian, and this time she doesn't even flicker. She blinks, but this time it's a matter of mere feet, seeming to skip right through the ridger kick. Where she passes, the air coruscates with fuzzy, screeching distortion, and Chase lights up with crisscrossing molten slashes that Lilian wills into existence. Her sword doesn't twitch and isn't bloody, though the world around her hisses and glows like metal overheated on a lathe.

    "Shut *up* Tachibana!" Lilian yells, now advancing on the youngest girl. The quiet glitches sparking behind her might as well be visibly rendered menace. "You don't get to *pity* me, and you don't get to *tell me what to do*! You think you can threaten me? *Scare* me? You think I won't call your bluff, just because I'm a little tired?!" Worse than the fact that Lilian is interpreting Hibiki's concern for her wellbeing as gloating about taking damage is the fact that she isn't scorched and hacking blood this time. The feedback she'd suffered from altering time while time wasn't even moving as an emergency measure doesn't reappear this time. With focus and warning, the escalated version of the ability the Watch wants to knows about appears to have exponentially less cost. The only rational conclusion to draw is that she had voluntarily declined to use it.

    However, if she can keep using it --if the Watch's opportunity to finish her really did just slip by-- they are now in deep, deep shit. And this is no more evident when Hibiki actually gets Lilian to flinch at her words for just a moment, a mere instant, at 'do you really think Rita betrayed you', pausing her menacing stride, but then the very instant she uses Persephone's name, Lilian *explodes* with rage, magically tangible anguish erupting from her like a blast wave; a psychic bomb filled paralyzing grief and blistering hate.

    "STOP DEFENDING HER!" Lilian screams at the top of her lungs. "I'm SICK OF THIS! I can't TAKE IT anymore! EVERY TIME! EVERY SINGLE TIME! WHENEVER ANYTHING GOES WRONG, IT'S *MY FAULT*! WHENEVER *FUCKS UP*, it's *MY* RESPONSIBILITY! WHENEVER ANYONE DOES SOMETHING BAD, SOMEHOW *I'M* TO BLAME! WHENEVER I WIN, *EVERYONE HATES ME*! AND WHENEVER I THINK IT'S OKAY TO LOSE, EVERYONE *TURNS THEIR BACK ON ME*! WHY IS EVERY BAD THING THAT HAPPENS TO ANYONE MY FAULT?! WHY IS IT THAT EVERY TIME SOMEONE ELSE IS AWFUL, I'M THE ONE WHO GETS PUNISHED FOR IT?! HER LIFE IS THE TOTAL OPPOSITE! SHE DOES EVERYTHING WRONG, NEVER WORKS HARD, EXPLOITS EVERYONE AROUND HER, AND NOTHING BAD EVER HAPPENS TO HER! NOBODY BLAMES HER FOR ANYTHING! NOBODY HAS EVER PUNISHED HER IN HER LIFE! I'M GOING TO KILL HER! I'M GOING TO FUCKING KILL HER!"
Lilian Rook     Hibiki runs head on at Lilian, expecting to throw the punch that fixes *something*, and instead she is viciously savaged for her efforts. Last time it'd felt like violent blunt torture; someone beating information out of her for ten minutes. This time she can feel that sword; the one that took her hand, cutting through her flesh. Once again, the sword doesn't even move, there is no blood; it's as if Lilian wishing she had slit Hibiki to pieces simply became reality.

    She wheels on Bercilak. His sheer volume and fury penetrates to at least some degree, because she automatically snaps back. "I SAID STOP TALKING RULES TO ME! UNLIKE YOU, I HAVE TO *DEAL* WITH THEM! ALL THE TIME!" Bercilak's catastrophic charge is interrupted midway through by the fervent wish he'd be cut into pieces.

    YOU'RE *LOOKING DOWN ON ME* FOR A *LACK* OF FRIVOLOUS MURDER?! HOW ABOUT "THOU SHALT TREAT WITH THE LAWS--"" But then she suddenly cuts off. Her teeth grit, blood runs from her cheek where nobody hit her. But some kind of thought is wrestling its way through the gears, swimming upstream --up a waterfall-- to complete itself. That's not the reason she knew that defying the Paladins was bad in some way. That rule ends with 'the laws of the Thirteen supersede all other laws'. What was it? It must have been . . . number one? Right, that was it. "Thou art responsible to thy blood first above all else, both the blood of thy line, and the blood shed for thee! I'm not *betraying the Paladins* for your approval! I'm not a *traitor* like you are!" And then she freezes up again, as if invisibly hit by a mild punch to the chest.

    Because Rita isn't even fighting her anymore. And it'd been Rita that the others were making her think about. The air --space --reality-- crackles dangerously around her at Rita's approach, but won't lash out just yet. And when Rita puts the sword to her throat, Lilian stops breathing. Tears flow freely from the one eye that seems to work, even though the other isn't damaged, mixing with the dried blood trickling from her forehead and landing on the flat of the blade. In blind panic, Lilian reels back her free hand and smacks Rita across the face with raw adrenaline-fuelled force, but then she gags, twice, partway to throwing up from sheer stress. "No no don't-- don't apologize it's not-- It's not your fault. Muramasa betrayed me, not you. Hurting Tachibana-- I just needed to make him stop. I needed to make it stop hurting me. You didn't do anything wrong Rita. You never-- You never did . . . . Rita I didn't want to hurt you, I just . . ."

    Lilian slams her sword into the ground in frustration instead, balling her bloodied fist into her eye. "What's the point?! What's the point of trying and trying and everyone makes it harder and harder, and even though they made it so hard, when I'm not perfect, they don't care! All they have to say is 'not good enough!' and make it even *harder* by trying to get back at me! Why am I doing this if nothing good ever happens?! What's so good about being good, Rita?! If people are just going to make it so hard, and hate me and blame me no matter how hard I try, then why am I trying to be good to them at all?!"

    "I'm sorry Rita, I don't know what to tell you; I really don't! I don't know what the perfect thing to do is! I don't know how to fix everything and make everyone happy! I only know the second best way to fix this! And everyone's going to hate me for it! But they all hate me anyways; they all betrayed me already, so I don't even know *why* I'm trying! Maybe I was stupid for thinking I could do things right! Maybe I was just living in a stupid little dream world and it was inevitable it'd go wrong! I can't be a role model for you Rita! I don't even know if it's possible! I just know it isn't your fault! So please! Please . . ."
Lilian Rook     Lilian stops her tirade for sheer hyperventilation, having run out of breath to keep going, heaving as if she's drowning. She picks up the sword again, stepping back. "Please just wait. All I can do is what I know I have to do, and hope that things will go back to the way they were before they went wrong." Mercifully, she finally blinks out, leaving the stray boxes behind.
Bercilak      Bercilak is indeed cut into pieces--Lilian's wish comes true, vibrant red streaks flying through the air for a few gruesome seconds, as pieces separate due to the sheer speed of the hoverbike. Armor plates slip from severed pieces.

     In one unnerving moment, all of him comes back together again, sans any of his armor, clothes in tattered shreds and bloodied to unsalvageable levels besides, the Green Knight banks. His red eyes are afire with indignance, his mouth open to hurl a vehement rebuttal her way, axe arm lifted high as tendons reknit themselves, but--

     She's gone.

File "Lilian's Mettle" updated.

     It wouldn't have mattered anyway. He said what he came here to say, did what he came here to do. "Hopinge that she wouldst emend this was one hop too mani," he intones as the hoverbike is consumed in a wave of blue light. His shirt falls off of him in tatters, red seams closing up all over his broad upper body.

     "Chase is irighte. This Persephone biliven overmuch in her iminde." The Green Knight looks like some sort of deranged slasher villain, hair matted to his head with his own blood, red eyes peering from a stained visage with unnerving intensity.

     "Let us be gone from this place. Thire is nothing here but sorwenesse and angwish."
Rita Ma      The blow to the face makes Rita wince and turn her head away, but she doesn't step back; her tentacles twitch restlessly, but don't intercede. A little symmetry: up close, one can see that Rita's alien right eye isn't crying. It's the left one doing all the work.

     She doesn't meet Lilian's eyes again until a moment later.

     "What's so good about being good, Rita?! If people are just going to make it so hard, and hate me and blame me no matter how hard I try, then why am I trying to be good to them at all?!"

     Rita opens her mouth to answer but it catches in her throat. A sense of deja vu jams the gears, cutting off whatever she was about to say.

     "A butterfly can't turn back into a caterpillar. Embrace it. Why would you live as a human... when you can become the apex predator and live freely in the ocean?!"

     She wipes her face on the back of her sleeve, sniffling; her tentacles curl back around herself, not as a disguise but as a self-soothing hug. There's a knot in her throat and it's the one thing in the world she can't swallow. When she finally manages to find her words again, it's only just before Lilian leaves.

     "Ms. Rook, isn't there anyone... you want to keep being human for?"

     If she was heard, she doesn't get an answer. Rita falls to her hands and knees and lets out a long, shaky breath. Her fingers carve furrows into the concrete.

     I couldn't do it. I'm sorry, Ms. Rook. I couldn't do it...
Hibiki Tachibana     Blunt trauma, she can cope with. That's nothing special. But not that sensation, from before. "Ah--" For a split second she's back there, skidding across quarry stone and realizing what had been taken away all too late.

    Then Hibiki is back in the now, hitting the ground hard and rolling across it in a crumpled heap until she comes to an uncerimonious stop. This time, when she hits the floor facedown and marred by brutal slashes across her entire body, she doesn't get back up.

    Blearily holding onto consciousness past the pain wracking everything, her eyes instinctively drift to her hand and register it's still there. Then her mind finally catches up the words she had heard and the words still being said, and she slowly blinks some of the tears away.

    She really took everything she said like that. And that awful, awful power of hers...it's not until Lilian is gone that she forces herself to roll over onto her side, to glance at the spot she was just standing.

    "Like the whole world is against her...and someone is right there...who gets everything she never did...that's..."

    The knot in her heart she started with is still there. She keeps on pushing until she's on her back and able to stare straight up. "Even knowing that...what can I do to reach her...? What can anyone..." Bercilak says it's time to go, but she can't make herself move. After catching Rita falling over in the corner of her vision, she closes her eyes.

    "Persephone...please don't..."

    Because if that line is crossed, she's not sure if they'll ever be able to bring Lilian back.