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Undivided Queens     The Concord's mildly asinine gambit has paid off. In all fairness, both Ilenjeh the Elites had spoken to had vouched for it being technically plausible with the groundwork already laid, and so it apparently was.

    The incident at the gates had such catastrophically bad optics for the guild that an appreciable fraction of the citizenry, already stirred up by repeated inside operationsy, had resorted to open rioting in sheer fury and mistrust (and also no small amount of stress and boredom and fear). Seilatiya had at least certainly predicted one thing: the people know perfectly well who feed them, and the handful of socioeconomic elites who already largely don't feel the siege endangering that for everyone else has caused a week of non-stop frenzy.

    It also hasn't been all that difficult for Isahane's scouts (as far as best immediately translates) to nab a couple of tired, harried, and staunchly anti-war minor functionaries within the senate, revealing themselves to just the right pair of opportunists under the cover of night, to report back that the secondary part of the planning is underway; their sympathizers are attempting to gather signatures for hefty petitions as they speak, urging the senate to exercise emergency powers and to dissolve the guild and repossess thier assets for the good of the people and as a gesture of firm sovereign rule over the 'rogue nation within their borders' throwing hands at the super-invaders. Trying, being the operative word.

    As utterly ridiculous as the whole 'duel of champions' page right out of the Trojan War is, the Pharseian people seem to have just sort of bought that 'well this is how the western barbarians do things' and are split between simply wanting to throw the guild under a bus and genuinely rooting for the home team. To prevent any sort of bullshit going on, the space is to be chosen only thirty minutes before the scheduled time, before which (now) each side's intent to field what number of champions and their given names is required; obviously, outside interference will not be permitted.

    So, probably, the guild is going to do it again.
Chains Knight As the duel was (sort of) his idea, Chains is certainly up for repping the side.

"Chains Knight, of Reshuffled," he says, to whoever he needs to.

He spends the intervening time carefully editing his deck - pulling out or replacing cards from a series of binders, agonizing over each choice as much as any warrior would carefully pick the weapons they go into battle with.

Albeit - not typically using the words that he's heard to mutter to himself as he arranges cards.

"... Don't want to get mana-screwed, but the ramping is important..."
"... We'll know the field in advance, but only by thirty minutes - so better prep my side deck too..."
"It'll screw my curve but... Well, maybe I should fishbowl test anyway..."
"... Need to tutor in that card, if I can..."
"No, this one is only good in singleton... or against tribal..."

He's intently messing with cards right up until the moment that the group needs to assemble.
Kukuru Kukuru's not familiar with the political situation here, but she tries her best to comprehend as much as she can going into this. She reads over some documents, takes note of the familiar names, and manages to put together just enough to realize that all the political maneuvers involving the guild are going way over her head.

Instead, she focuses on what she can understand: There's a duel of champions involved, names are to be provided (she does so with a hearty and too cheery "Kukuru!"), and preparations need to made for the coming battle. Like any good murder machine, she gets her things together in the best way she knows how:

Food. Nothing heavy (for once), but she does bring along plenty of light snacks that won't scratch up someone's throat or get them all mucusy if something needs to be called out with absolute clarity. She's also brought plenty of caffeinated drinks, although those aren't quite so homemade.

Naturally, Kukuru's also leaning right over Chains' shoulder to watch his deck-building work. "What about that.. Um... That one? That one looks cute." It's probably the ugliest looking one.
Darren      If mildly asinine is the play that puts you in the red zone, you run the mildly asinine play. The Guild makes mistakes when it's forced to act, and Darren intends to force it. For his part, he's not participating in the duel, but rather, running the route he'd earlier discussed.

     Keep pressure on the Guild from multiple angles--the duel is one, and this is another, the threat of dissolution by the Senate. If they fight each other, it's a win win--there's much less chance the people will tolerate any perceived Guild victory, as agitated as they already are. And the Senate actually managing to dissolve the Guild removes a major obstacle in successful integration.

     Darren has requested to meet with one of the functionaries Isahane's scouts reached, to determine how he might best assist the ongoing effort.

     In the mean time, Roswell, the little alien, has split off from the others, alongside Slabb, the animated, walking stone archway. The two of them are *also* peering curiously over Chains' shoulder, opposite Kukuru. Slabb more 'looms' than peers, owing to his height.

Staren     Staren is prepping with the fighters. Her plan, going into all this, was to find a sympathetic, underdog champion on the Ilenjeh side and support them, to spin the narrative so it couldn't be used against them by the other factions later. Look at that hero/ine, you can't say they're the representative of a mean, conquering opressor, right?

    And then she didn't find one and so stepped up herself as best she could. Today, she is at least initially wearing 'normal' clothing -- glasses, scarf, a red T-shirt with a white stripe around the middle, black cargo pants, sneakers. Normal, see? Under the armor she's just a normal catgirl like you or me. Albeit a foreigner, but the clothing is clearly foreign casual rather than a uniform or something. (She considered also going for local clothing and then decided that would look like Trying Too Hard.)

    A variant of the suits of powered body armor used against Ishirou and Forte recently is standing nearby though, white with Concord-Orange glowy bits.

    She's standing near Chains, trying to understand how his deal works, sipping from a soda very lightly to balance keeping her mouth wet with not filling her bladder right before a fight.

    "I hate getting mana screwed. I thought the ramping was to prevent that? Or do you mean mana flooded?"
    "Singleton, tribal... what 'deck type' does a champion coming to fight us even *have*, in this system?"
Undivided Queens     All three names entered, it isn't long before the reply comes from the capital (well, really, two messengers dispatched simultaneously to meet halfway down the road). Given the purpose is to match numbers, they've apparently picked a fortuitous one.

    Three versus three at the edge of the clearcut, between the army camp, the capital walls, and the coast. A field of mixed sandy and semiforested tropical terrain littered in smooth rocks, and in range of both the capital's wall-mounted weapons, and the navy's artillery, to prevent any one-sided fuckery, while being far enough away from any mass of people that dispatching a runner or hider won't really be possible. An outline is demarcated by the Imperial side, using tiny glowing markers that shoot thin, harmless beams up into the sky, crisscrossing to form a very low ceiling that bars anyone from flying high enough to see or shoot over the walls. It's 'enough' space to work with, but not enough to comfortably lame anyone out.

    The opponents who arrive are two obviously professional hires from the guild (not local soldiers), and a (slightly) familiar face. A tall, wiry, slightly greying brown-haired man wearing a strangely smartly fitted jacket over what looks like a blackened mail coat, and an ungodly strange companion that one could assume is an even taller person wearing oddly sharply angular bone-white platemail were it not for barely visible ball joints in their slightly too long arms and legs and the ghostly blue glow in the visor slit. The third is the cowled blonde woman who had attempted to shoot the traitor Paladins before, and gotten bullied for her effort, back with her crystal rifle and a glowering grudge.

    "Kahitani." the stranger introduces himself as, then gestures to the . . . person, next to him. "Matsu. Sorry, but I'm going to have to take this seriously. I don't really care what happens to this country, but I can't afford to lose out on this contract." He shrugs, stuffing gloved hands into his coat pockets, but his eyes are way too intense. The woman keeps her mouth shut, and especially stares at Staren. Somehow it feels like she's gauging how many millimeters thick her skull is.

    Darren is not able to casually enter the city a third time. He can be flattered that his handsome mug is on wanted posters at this point. It's his contacts that sneak out (well, they're helped out by a pair of cloaked Ilenjeh scouts who apparently have been having no trouble whatsoever repeatedly scaling the sheer wall facing the harbour in the shadow of a collapsed tower). Cutting through the densely forested area, he's lead just out of the war camp to a cozy little clearing with a freshwater pool to sit with the ambitious young Committee Officer Hendra and her bitter dead-ended coworker Petty Secretary Ohan, under the watchful (if laid back) gaze of their escort.

    After the two of them greet him, they're first to Simply Ask the most relevant question: if the Senate successfully cannibalizes the guild's resources and abolishes its authority, what is actually in it for them? It's a great PR move, but ultimately, it'll only be prolonging the current state of affairs with a little more dignity; they know they can't mount a counteroffensive likely to actually succeed at this point.

    After just the one duelist greets the trio near the shore, Kahitani scopes the trio, asks rhetorically, "Ready? We're overdue to start. So. On the count of ten?" He glances sideways to doublecheck his companions. "Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven." At six, he removes his hands from his pockets, and a hiss of compressed gas launches something into the sandy dirt at the Concord line, which explodes wide and tall and forward like a claymore mine. The cowled woman immediately fires three shots of that invisible tearing magical force from her rifle through the wall of sand at them, and then dives into the brush.
Chains Knight Back at the camp, Chains looks uncertain at the card Kukuru points out, but includes it in his deck anyway.

At the fight: "I certainly wouldn't ask you to take this casually," says Chains. He places his deck in its belt-holster, and draws seven cards as Kahitani counts down. "I opt not to mulligan-" he says as six is reached, and then the rest is lost to the explosions and the smoke.

The chain-mail knight emerges, char marks all over the armor, and a bit of smoke leaking out of the vents in the helmet. He coughs. "... That is what, in professional gamer parlance, is colloquially termed as a 'dick move'," he informs him.

"So I will not hold back. For Kukuru, I play Paragon of Apples, he announces, throwing out a card at her - causing a shiny, red apple to appear in her hand. "Increasing her defense and her maximum mana points. For Staren, Uncle Timboo's Furtive Sauce," he proclaims, throwing a card out at her. A corked mason jar appears at her feet. "Which I would recommend putting towards a purpose other than drinking."

"And - for myself, I discard Machinations of Daedalus to pay the cost to cast The Fifth Vizier's Blade, which I add to my equipped weapon slot as part of my cast," he says, as a long thin blade appears in his off-hand.

"And by fast-equipping it, I activate its first effect - I tutor Virtuous Fireball from my deck into my hand-" A card magically flies into his hand from his belt holster, "- cast it, and then echo-cast it immediately without paying the echo-cast cost!"

He swings the thin blade, and a pair of fireballs blast out towards Kahitani!
"Are pylons good?" Kukuru asks Roswell and Chains. Clearly, she is not privy to such facts.

"Kahi, Matsu, and..." Kukuru waits to see if there's going to be an answer from the third before just going right along. "Nice to meet you all. Let's have a good, clean fight. And don't worry about getting too messed up, because I'll take care of it later." She calls out with a cheery smile followed by a muffled yawn, putting her snacks away shortly before it's time to get to work.

A count to ten is announced, and then there's projectiles flying at six. This catches her off guard, and the shrapnel punches right into her with little opportunity to dodge. She lurches back at the impact, but the bleeding stops almost as quickly as it started as Kukuru steps forward with a shiny apple suddenly in hand courtesy of Chains.

Well, she's not going to waste perfectly good food. After cramming that apple into her mouth whole, Kukuru falls into a portal that appears right in front of her within an ominous purple cloud. Another one appears slightly behind where she had last seen Kahitani, and Kukuru comes barreling right out of it with the addition of giant metal claws on each hand. The first of the trio that she catches a glimpse of will end up being Kukuru's first target as she launches herself at them, one claw grasping for the nearest torso while the other starts carving up the ground beside her to make even the mere act of movement more dangerous.
Staren     After the introductions, Staren gives her own, not seeming to have any objection to a mercenary champion. She bows. "Staren Wiremu."

    When Kahitani starts the countdown, Staren gives a friendly nod and turns to walk over to her armor -- it's open so that she can just sort of step into it, but before she does that,


    Staren is flung against the armor and tumbles over it into the dirt as it falls behind her. Her clothes are shredded, revealing a much more resilient dark greyish bodystocking underneath, but that too has an awful lot of bleeding cuts in it, and one of Kahitani's bullets hit her too, though not in the head. The IRMSS is working overtime holding her together and dumping drugs into her system. She's stunned for most of a second.

    They attacked early?! Cheaters! Sections of metal wall warp in between the attackers and her and her armor, as well as drones which fly up and spread out. ...No, there's probably no rule against it. And if I do something that's perceived as 'cheating' too, it defeats the point. She crawls into the fallen armor and it closes around her. She grabs the mason jar and stands up.

    The shoulder missile launcher, in retracted position, is aimed up, and fires all six launch tubes. Minimissiles arc down around where the drones' sensors indicate enemies are, airbursting and releasing such intense heat that air is turned to plasma, patches of wilderness are instantly burned to ash, and the dirt beneath them is glassed.

    Then Staren grunts as she hobbles behind one of those large rocks, the armor amplifying her motion to something like an awkward jog.
Darren      One of the wanted posters is tugged free, flying fancifully over, rolling itself up, and slipping into Darren's drawstring backpack. The artists did a pretty good job.

     At the clearing proper, he is shortly joined by Roswell and Slabb, who both settle down by the pool. Darren gives one of his trademark handshakes to both Hendra and Ohan, of course, and after the greetings are over with, he listens.

     Darren gestures with both hands as his backpack lowers to the ground. "Dignity is important," he offers. "But there are other advantages to running this play besides PR. Lemme run you through it."

     "First, let's assume y'all are right--that there's absolutely no way to get off the track you're on. When there's not a Senate anymore, and everybody's going around with Runeciphers--when you're just somebody's neighbor, what do you want your actions now to say about that you in the future? How do you want your neighbors to think of you? Warmly, or with resentment? As someone who put them first, or as somebody only after that paper? If people remember the Senate well, there's a chance it could come back one day."

     He first lets his gaze rest upon Hendra, the more idealistic of the two, before addressing the more embittered Ohan.

     "But you *do* have options today, even this late in the game, even if they're limited 'cause of the blockade." He jerks a thumb towards the coastline. "They've got the military advantage, but you've got a home field advantage. Those are your people in that city," he says. "Maybe the Senate hasn't always done right by them, maybe it has, but you're the face they know."

     "Do the unexpected," he says. "Use that money, however you can with that blockade, to make life better for people in the city. Even if it's only for a little while, give 'em something to think about other than that invading force. How many times can either of you say the Senate has showed up for those people?" He glances in the direction of the city, hands in the pockets of his grey hoodie, smiling.

     "You do that now, when it counts, and they might show up for you. Don't deny how effective that can be, either," he says, as the wanted poster slides from his backpack. He points at it when it rises over his shoulder. "I'm the one they got on the poster. But I did it as part of a team."
Undivided Queens     Even if the nameless female mercenary seems to have nothing to do with Kahitani and Matsu, those two seem to know each other well, or at least have ample prior experience. The bulky white-clad individual leaps forward with a flash of blue-white light from its heels, swerving sharply into the way of the fireballs cast by Chains Knight and using its own body as a shield. Kahitani sprints off in the opposite direction, crossing up parallel and spacing himself so that the two can't be in the same view cone.

    Something smooth and sharp-edged and silver-white pops out of his sleeve and into his hand, halfway between brass knuckles and a snub-nosed handgun made of white metal. Pointing it at Chains, he certainly takes a stance more like the latter, elbows in and forearm braced under the other to stay compact and mobile while showering him with a rapid salvo of crackling blue-white micrometeors; ostensibly white hot magic(?) that curves slightly through the air to correct aim drift.

    Kukuru breaks the formation by ambushing from the side via portals. Kahitani switches to using it like brass knuckles instead, parrying the claws reaching for his torso and stopping them at scraping into his black breastplate. For the second set of claws coming up from the ground, he kicks an apparently steel-shod (now-punctured) boot into it and barrel flips back from her, lashing out backhand to smash her in the side of the head with the blunt metal object, then kick out her knee, turn the weapon close in and sideways, and shoot her several times while she's down.

    The guerilla responds to the drones immediatley this time. Already seen. Those that go up into the air anywhere near around her are shot down repeatedly with those invisible blasts from the crystal rifle bore, torn to shreds to prevent adequate sensor coverage. The shower of micromissiles is forced to rely on pure saturation to find her, and it's difficult to tell how well it even worked, until the missile launcher itself is shot from some of the remaining brush, followed by another to both knees and one to the back thrusters. 'Matsu' sticks to Kahitani like glue once they lauch, blazing over to him and throwing up a glittering blue dome-shaped magic barrier, hunkering down behind it to endure the missile shower (there's a sound like a stressed flywheel, and a smell like burnt ozone, for some reason).
Undivided Queens     Hendra is already clearly hanging on Darren's every word for their own sake; for being the exciting foreigner who'd repeatedly stirred up change and hope and been a huge menace. Ohan isn't negatively disposed towards him (or he wouldn't have been scouted), but he's watching him with the look of someone smart enough to be picking out opportunities to exploit, but not sneaky enough to get far in politics.

    "Come back? Do you really think so?" Hendra asks him wide-eyed, clearly having not considered that far-flung possibility. "If the Imperials would allow that, why would they take issue with it now? Isn't it the entire basis of the model of governance that compels them to replace them where they go? How do you think they could even be convinced to return to democratic self-determination? I've never heard of another vassal state maintaining its own government."

    Ohan makes a bit of a sour expression. "So you agree too that there's not a chance." He laughs bitterly. "Well, of course. If there was, you wouldn't tell us. You're working for the other side. But that's your . . . Use it all up on one last blaze of glory? A reelection campaign for however many years from now? Granted, I'm still pretty young." He isn't really. "But aren't they going to see through bread and circuses at this kind of time? And as much as I hate admitting it, it's tough to outdo what the Imperials brought with them."
Chains Knight GUN

"I block with-"

Ah, not fast enough. Chains gets peppered with micrometeors. The char marks intensify, and he abandons his position to try to find some cover behind some trees.

"Usually when someone pulls a gun on you mid-round, it's only because you're playing in the wrong part of town... or the Catholic school's on spring break," he mutters. "Alright then -"

"I chain-cast Battler's Battle Battalion, and Twin Brothers All Along," he calls from his hiding spot, and a small army of sword-and-shield gumbies appear - and then their identical twin brothers appear as well, doubling their ranks. It's a solid line of meat-shieldry, advancing on Kahitani with swords at the ready!
Kukuru Kahitani's quick reactions keep Kukuru from getting a good hold of him, and his followup strikes are fast enough that she most certainly doesn't have enough time to deflect or avoid them. Since she's expecting attacks now, though, there's a considerable shift in both her demeanor even if she doesn't physically appear to be blocking anything.

Instead of that kindly, sporting demeanor from moments ago, her gaze is focused squarely on Kahitani. Even as his backhand strike smashes right into her head with a solid impact of what should be metal on bone, her eyes stay locked onto him, as though she's trying to look through him. She's looking for traces of past injuries, weak points in his limbs, pretty much anything that'll make it easier to really lay into him.

Healing nanites, meanwhile, cycle through her body at an accelerated rate, focused around her head at first to leave little more than a slight welt where his knuckle-enhancer struck, and the kick too barely slows her down despite knocking her down long enough for him to get those shots into her.

"That wasn't nice, you know. You didn't count all the way down." Kukuru scolds Kahitani and then raises her arms off the ground, slamming them and the claws down with enough force to launch her right off the ground. Taking to the skies now, she takes aim at Kahitani again before flinging her claws right at him like a pair of spiked boulders. She lands shortly afterwards with her hands going right into the ground, then proceeds to fling herself at Kahitani to try and catch him in mid-slide with something almost resembling a strategic maneuver: Bone-crushing leg grabbing!
Staren     Behind her?! They're fast... The missile launcher doesn't EXPLODE like one might hope, but it doesn't look like that's working anytime soon... The other hits make Staren cry out and collapse against the rock, bracing with her non-jar hand.

    Meanwhile, more drones keep appearing around her and flying in random directions. Having to constantly shoot them down is distracting SOMEONE, after all.

<Tac-Concord> 4 Staren says, "What does this stuff DO, exactly?"
<Tac-Concord> 4 Chains Knight says, "The flavor chest suggests it will put hair on your chest, and quote unquote other places as well."

    Staren feels a twinge of discomfort at that, but this really isn't the time for introspection. With a grunt, she turns and hurls Chains's jar back the way the shots came, and there's suddenly a shotgun in her hand which blasts it, splattering the area in Furtive Sauce. Hopefully it does something bad to whoever it gets on!

    She follows this up with firing the other barrel, and then firing both barrels magically, which produces a spray of sparklike lights that explode into fireballs where they hit!

    Local plantlife is just going to be having a really bad day.

    Now that the others get a clear look at her from the front in the armor, it's clear this was modified a bit for the show -- There's sort of a protective ring of armor from around her neck, up the sides of her head, and over her ears and the top of her head, but the front of the 'helmet' is open to show her whole face, and there's a little hole in the back of it to let her hair out in a ponytail. Given the state she was in a moment ago, it's clear the suit she has on underneath must extend magical protection to the head -- it's likely that the armor supplies more.

    "You think you're so much better because you lie and deceive. Is this what represents Pharsei's way of life? I suppose it does; the people *you're* fighting for lie to all the rest, after all."
Undivided Queens     "We're not playing, buddy." the tall man finds time to shoot back at Chains Knight before also pivoting at the him and shooting him back literally. "It's not person. I've just got a score to settle with someone, and I have to get through you to get to her. You can always quit. It's not like I'm getting paid to kill you." The wall of gumbies that pops up causes him to to stop firing. He seems to assess immediately that he's not going to blast through them all, and probably has a limited supply of shots. "Matsu." he simply calls out, and turns his back, coat swirling.

    The white clad crouches, then explodes forward, sprinting at maximum jankyclank towards the mob, and then ploughing right in. A few seconds later, a much larger, faintly iridescent dome of energy shimmers into existence over most of the pack, locking the mooks in with it. The sound like several toasters being rolled down a metal staircase is what follows the armoured figure, head and shoulders taller than the mooks, thrashing around with huge folding armblades and arcs of blue fire, trading masses of blows from the mob of mooks, pitting and gouging its burnt exterior, for blows that cut down five of their number at a time. A life point trade. Taking some guaranteed damage to prevent a numerical advantage from spreading out, swarming and combing the field.

    "It's a fight. Fights aren't nice." Kahitani says to Kukuru. "If you really fell for a countdown with a total stranger, you're still too green." He leaps back and dodges Kukuru's dive easily, spreading his feet and straightening his arms into a long stance where he slides back and dumping ten more searing magic bullets into her while she's absorbing the shock. When she surprise dives at him though, she catches him around the legs, feeling her claws scissoring through solid greaves concealed under canvas pants.

    "New girl!" he calls out with a pained grunt, rolling over as he falls, planting his hands against the ground, and halfway rolling forward to swing Kukuru up above him. He flexes his legs and then unfolds his body into spring kicking her in the misection, trying to launch her upwards, where she is then sniped midair by the impromptu coordination of the third merc. Kahitani action rolls out, but starts limping away.

    "And the little girl is even greener. Nobody here's from Pharsei. I'm guessing the new girl's from the islands if she's got a hand-carved runestone. Matsu and I are from-- well, that doesn't matter. None of us call this place home and none of us care about representing it. They'll figure it out or they won't. Like I said, we've gotta get through you to settle something."

    The 'new girl' tumbles out of the brush with her cowl on fire, barely escaping Staren's direct bombardment with little shriek that is terminated by coughing up brush smoke. She has to tear it off and dive into the wet sand, now visible by a long blonde braid and a dark sweater and knee boots, despite the semitropical weather, suddenly looking four inches shorter for the loss of mass. Laying her hand on the carved crystal rod forming the bolt of her rifle, she chants something under her breath, and the translucent bore heats up like blown glass. The discharge becomes very visible now; a bright, powerful laser beam, instantly scything through the grove she was just in, clipping the top off a sea boulder, and sweeping through Staren and her powersuit, continuing on to brush Chains Knight and Kukuru at the edge.
Darren      "Even if it was -just- that army against yours, I wouldn't feel great about the chances," agrees Darren with Ohan. The poster floats back into his backpack. Slabb, evidently done with the pool, returns to his pokeball, disappearing in a white flash and leaving Roswell alone.

     "With other Concord actors involved, there's no chance. At this particular point, in these particular circumstances," he explains, gesticulating with both hands, "A hail mary pass is two things at once. One, it's the only chance you have of proving to these people that democratic self rule can compete with the Empire's model." Enumerating with his fingers, "And two, it also dissolves what's, being real with y'all, been an aggressive, disruptive influence and a danger to public safety for pretty much this entire thing."

     "As for whether the Imperials would allow it..." Darren smiles at the scouts, thinking of Seilatiya. "I can't say they'd let you have the wheel, no... but there's a certain amount of resistance they expect. Why not surprise them with the shape that resistance takes? They came to your house. So show 'em how you ball."

     "Maybe the people don't buy it, maybe they do," he concedes to Ohan with a shrug of his shoulders. "But I think the scale tips more one way than the other. What they're looking for right now is a system of government that doesn't leave them disenfranchised, tired and broke. Now, Ohan, you're not wrong--the Empire built a team for that exact gameplan, and it's hard to do it better with the talent and resources you got now."

     "It's still worth the effort," he says, firmly, fist planted into a palm. "The blaze of glory sticks with people. There are movements that last two weeks, but live on in history for centuries after. It's not bread and circuses--you're not distracting them, you're doing everything in your power to take care of them, despite the blockade and without endangering them."

     With his emerald eyes burning, he focuses then on Hendra. "The Guild represents the worst of what democracy can allow, so the Senate's resistance should show they're willing to be the best, even if it's just a flash in the pan."
Staren     > Like I said, we've gotta get through you to settle something.
    "Tell ya what." Staren offers, with a smile. "However this fight goes, I'll *help* you, long as you're not hounding some innocent or something. So just fight normally and don't worry about that!"

    And then, as usual, she doesn't dodge quick enough. Damaged armor glows white-hot and Staren lets out an 'owowowowow' that turns into a scream as she collapses, and then a feline yowl. The armor doesn't move, Staren apparently not in it anymore unless someone looks in real close and sees the cat with a burn across its midsection huddling away from the still-glowing edges around where armor melted away.

    She seriously considered just peaceing out on this body, but as long as she's here she can at least monitor the armor's sensor feeds and that of any remaining drones in case there's something useful to learn. Although it's hard to focus while hurting this badly...

    Called the greenest here and crushed with ease yet again. It's just a shaggy underdog story if she doesn't win at the end... ^u_u^
Kukuru "They really aren't. It's a shame, you know? Things would be a lot easier if we didn't have to do all this kind of stuff..." Kukuru replies to Kahitani with a slow nod, frowning after a moment. It takes her a bit longer to keep thinking up further responses, though, what with those bullets continuing to slam into her and barely breaking her stride. It's especially hard to think when she's busy clamping her claws into his legs, her almost sad outer expression not matching one bit with how much it looks and feels like she's trying to tear his legs off at that point.

To be fair, she kind of is.

"It's not always bad trusting strangers to be good people, though, is it? I mean... You've all got your reasons for being here, too. But... Um." Before she can finish that thought, she hears that shriek from behind and 'new girl' coming at her and Chains right after Staren. Swinging one of her claws around, she just outright shoves it right at the gir, letting it get melted in places so she doesn't get herself shredded up by that terrible burning thing. That, in turn, gives Kahitani an opening to get out from Kukuru's hold.

With her attention diverted, she turns her efforts towards trying to subdue the laser sword wielder. "So... Hey. What's your name, then? I'm Kukuru. Ku-ku-ru." She greets the new girl , finding at least that much easy enough to do while rushing her down with an outstretched claw that might very well obscure vision of the rest of Kukuru. That first claw goes up and then down in a highly telegraphed slam, but it's a feint so she can swing herself around to try and catch her target with the other claw swinging in from the other side. Her momentum doesn't stop until she's completed a full spin, intending to just smash or hurl her into the opposite wall somewhere way off over there.

"Ah.. But if you really wanted to to get stuff done, why not sign on with us and the Concord after all this? We help out all sorts of people, and... We've got lots of good people here. How's that sound?" And then Kukuru goes right back to beaming, as if trying to appeal to the duelists right there with definitely not mind-altering weirdness*.

*There is definitely some mind-altering weirdness going on there.
Chains Knight "That's where you're wrong!" calls Chains, still in his hiding spot. "You may not be playing - but I am!"

"And that's only a problem if you aren't taking games deadly seriously!" The gumbies fall amidst the incandescent dome violence, draining the morale stat of those that weren't hit by it and causing them to scatter.

"I'm playing to win! And you're fighting for, what, some petty vengeance against Staren and a paycheck, right? So - while you might be fighting and I'm 'only' playing - I'm going to play harder than you fight!"

He steps out from his spot, and throws out a card. "For example! If you *were* playing, you'd know that the The Fifth Vizier's Blade has a second effect - any units that get killed the turn after I equip it have their costs added back into my mana pool!"

Some blue sparklies float up from each of the murderized gumbies, and fly quickly into the thin blade.

"And I can store that mana - not to cast right away, but for next turn," he says. "And that means-"

He holds up two fingers. "Mate. In. Two."

"This is your chance to surrender - take whatever paychecks you have and run. I've gamed out the rest of this match, and you've already lost."

"For *this* turn, though, I'll let you deal with the Fire Mage Quartet," he says dismissively, tossing a card out at them - from which emerge a set of four robed figures, which start rapidly casting fire spells!
Undivided Queens     "No. You won't." Kahitani calls at Staren with all the enthusiasm of an artillery spotter, all clear and cool precisely enunciated consonants deivered with maximum clarity from a man who hasn't slept in two days. "We can figure that out just fine."

    The salvo of fire magic is once again intercepted by the tall armourclad as the gumbies scatter and free it up. At this point though, it's looking exceedingly battered and banged up, bleeding vivid blue fluid through geometric seams in its outside. Matsu's visor paints a streaky blue glow as it accelerates towards the mages, and begins chasing them down and carving them up with the mook-stained armblades too, motions jerky and stuttering. Kahitani advances on Chains knight, firing rapidly from a mobile view stance until he gets dangerously close.

    The girl Kukuru corners mostly just stops in her tracks, blue eyes going bug wide, surprised and confused even without Kukuru laying on the mind whammy. She pays for it once her weapon is grabbed and she's yeeted across the field with another hapless shriek, bashing into an ocean boulder and keeping her rifle, cradled against her body, more intact than her head, staggering up woozy and bloody-faced. "Not a chance." she spits, finally using her words, with all the bass gravitas of a thirteen year old. "Those people are the reason you're helping them!" She points and fires at Kukuru's center of mass.

    Then just as Kukuru defends herself, there's another compressed gas noise, and a small sharp object flies into her back at immense speed, exploding violently inside the first thing it stabs into. The gas hiss trails off into a quieter 'fwip' as a long-bladed cyan glow-tinged knife pops out of Kahitani's other jacket vambrace and into his hand. He slashes it back-grip at Chains, then butterfly criss-crosses it over him back and forth. The faint blue glow of the weapon grows brighter as it siphons mana, the edge becoming longer and hotter; the gun-weapon is simultaneously recharged, then overcharged, too.

    "Paycheque? Who fights a live-steel duel for a paycheque?" He grunts. "Don't remember a Staren. The only one I've got business with is Dragon-Eater. I just need you here for a little longer."
Kukuru "Those people and them... Um. Wait. Which...?" That's enough to confuse Kukuru as to who the new girl is talking about. "Are you still talking about the Concord, or someone else?"

Things start piecing together. Is this girl angry at Seilatiya and Isahane? She'll have to ask them later. Whatever the case is, though, thinking that long about it means she's actually caught unaware by the the shot blasting her square in the chest. It's not enough to knock her down, though she might want it to by the time she feels something stabbing into her back next.

And then that's another explosion. That actually gets a pained cry from Kukuru, and she's left lurching forward at the gaping wound in her back. The flesh is knitting itself back together visibly, but it's a messy affair and enough to force her to hold herself up with one of her claws pressing into the ground for several moments while trying to keep her cool all the while.

"That's what I mean, though. Working here means you can get paid a lot to fight for who you love, not just... Owie... Not just for money and nobody else." Kukuru wheezes out, clutching her chest briefly as she gets that energy within her flowing, but not for healing. "That's the kind of love that we have here... Chains and his love for his card games, Staren and her love for her friends here, and..." Wait. Darren's doing his own investigations, and she's pretty sure she saw posters of him somewhere.

Best not to bring that up. "... And that's what Seila and Isa believe in, too. I know it! And if you can find it in your hearts to feel it, toon..."

Kukuru starts trying a completely different strategy: She gets big. Very big. How she does it isn't clear, and how her outfit doesn't explode also isn't clear, but she does become large enough to have distinct grappling and jumping-off points while still being small enough to risk bashing her head against the ceiling even with a high jump.

"Then we'll be waiting for you later when this is all done. Don't be afraid!" And with that, she starts swinging her giant-sized arms and claws all around the place, smashing them into the ground near the trio (while making sure to avoid Chains' minions and Staren's armor) and even she sweeping them around when she gets the chance. It's less about hitting anyone directly and more about creating generally annoying hazard areas just by virtue of being LARGE. When she's finally done swinging...

She throws herself forward again, twisting at the last moment to try and simply roll over the trio entirely. There's no finesse here, just raw power and size and trying to tire them out so much that there's nowhere else to go but down.
Undivided Queens     Even Hendra manages to not look all that disappointed when Darren just admits what they were both thinking, though her face does fall a little. "Yeah, I thought not . . ." she sighs. "Well, there's no point in obsessing over 'how we win anyways' righ? If that were possible then someone in the army or the high chamber would have figured it out. Getting caught up in 'no there must be a way' is how you just squander all the opportunities you have!" She decides.

    "Honestly, I've been hoping the guild would finally be abolished like it always should have. Even if it doesn't matter in the end, it's the good thing to do." Ohan chuckles sourly. "Somehow, I've got to agree. This is the last chance we have to take down that festering eyesore ourselves, before the Imperials get rid of it, take all the credit, and history remembers us as spineless bootlickers suckling on the colonialists for money."

    "People want to preserve their culture when they remember it fondly." Hendra nods. "And right now, they've had nothing but bad memories for so long. I'd like it if they could forget all of those things and remember something good instead, so the children being raised now will agitate for the return of democracy!" she crows. Ohan points to Darren, not so quick to act purely on emotional consensus. "You're with the Concord though. I'm calling you out on this. There's no guarantee we can seize enough to make a difference from our position. If you want our cooperation, you meet us halfway. I want to see a matched contribution from your side, one for four-- no, one for three on what we pool up." Hendra gasps, offended, but quiets down with fast-cementing suspicion when he continues. "Otherwise, I'm assuming you're just waiting to disappear all the material, grin big and shrug saying 'see? democracy doesn't work'. We have a deal?"
Chains Knight The mages are no match for Matsu. They scatter, of course, and prolong the chase as long as they can - not long at all - but one by one they fall to her blade. Perhaps disappointingly, they dissolve into EXP particles instead of graphically violent shreds, once they take enough hits.

Chains gets shot several times - the shotgun meteors blast through his armor, and he's suffering for it, but he's suffering in the manner of someone who only needs to hold on for another moment-

"And - there!" he declares, as he finally draws the card he needs. "Mate in one! Mate in right now!"

"First - you've overlooked another key aspect of The Fifth Vizier's Blade - and it's true potential for brokenness. Easy tutor-chain-cast and mana refunds? Those are nice, but if that's all that that card did, it'd be mid-tier at best for the slot, beaten out by Guardsman's Best Friend and other sorts... no, no."

"You see," says Chains as he brandishes the thin blade. "The The Fifth Vizier's Blade is equippable by martial hero classes - but it's not a blade. It's a wand."

"That means! That per the rules as written - magic-user equipment can only be equipped by classes that wield wands, and while I'm wielding a wand I am de facto a wand wielder. Which means that I can equip this card-"

He tosses out another card. "Mage Trainee Robes!" A set of billowing, but basic looking robes adorn him. "It's primary benefit is to grant me the Mage class - a paltry benefit to the other magic wielding classes, but now I am simultaneously a knight AND a mage!" says Chains Knight-Mage. "With the benefits and drawbacks of both - the latter of which won't matter, since you won't get a turn to use to exploit them!"
Chains Knight "Which means that I can use cards like this one - Mana Draught," he says, a large mug of mana beer appearing in his hands, precariously triple-wielded amidst the blade and the cards he's already holding. He quickly chugs it, and tosses the empty mug aside carelessly.

"And the effects of Mana Draught include a refresh of my equipment's effects, which mean I can tutor and then cast and chain-cast Virtuous Fireball all over again-"

Two fireballs appear - but they remain hanging in mid-air, instead of speeding towards their destinations.

"- but I don't just chain-cast them, I chain-delay-cast them, using Groknarr's Last Feint - a Knight exclusive card! And since I'm a knight, all of my delay-cast cards gain advantage and double in power!"

The hovering fireballs swell larger.

"And - then I can use all of the stored mana in The Fifth Vizier's Blade to pay for the costs and then power-pay past the penalty of Wish of a Dark Heart, another knight-exclusive card, which with the penalty cost paid quadruples any magic spell on the stack!"

The fireballs multiply.

"And I'm not done!" declares Chains. "With the mana I have remaining, I play Rescue Maildog!"

Behind Chains, a small fluffy dog appears, wearing a mail pouch on its body and a small beer barrel on its collar. It barks, a cute little soundbite issuing forth. "Yip yip!"

"This doesn't actually do anything, but Kukuru liked it, and I wanted to rub it in how much you've been outplayed," says Chains, smugly. "Now... LOSE!"

He swings the thin blade, and the eight massive fireballs split off, landing and simply saturating the area with one explosion after the other...
Darren      Darren crosses his arms and grins big, But there's no shrug. "Deal. I'll make it happen." The eventual acceptance won't be sincere if there's no resistance, after all. He offers his hand to each, in turn. "Yo," he says afterwards, to Isahane's scouts, approaching them both to offer his signature handshake to each. "Make sure they get back safe. I'mma get on that deal." With that, Roswell returns to Darren's extended pokeball, which then levitates into the drawstring backpack. He knows just how he'll pitch it, too--'terms of engagement.'
Undivided Queens     "I don't need your money, and I most definitely don't need your pity!" yells a tiny girl to the large sloth creature that keeps throwing her around. Without the cowl to muffle it, an elated little gasp of triumph goes up when she shoots Kukuru directly in the chest and she also explodes from behind. Then it turns into silent horror at the gruesome spectacle of her regenerating from it anyways. "I don't care what that witch has to say! She ruined--!" Sadly, the tiny merc doesn't get far when forced to boss battle around giant Kukuru's ankle, and a single, powerful, back-claw swat is all it takes to send her sailing out of the duel zone with a little doppler effect yell and plunk pathetically into the surf.

    Most of the way through Chains' monologue, Kahitani pauses at trying to hack through him, and even he has to utter a baffled "What the hell is he talking about?", either unfamiliar with the concept of children's card games or not really paying attention. Must be the latter. Everyone knows how TCGs are. It's right when the gigantic shitshow of fireballs is ready that Matsu, twitching and steaming and leaking bright blue blood, suddenly speaks a line, loud and garbled about twice as fast as a human is supposed to enunciate. "OteliaHasConfirmedRecoveryOfThePayloadAndIsExfiltratingAsWeSpeak.RecommendThatWeImmediatelyMoveToTheRendesvouzPoint."

    Kahitani isn't dumb enough to elaborate on any details out loud, unfortunately (or even gloat about some secret machination; how boring and crass). He is also too busy trying not to get blown to bits by an incredibly long and convoluted mana ramping fireball combo. There's that compressed gas noise again. The knife shoots out of his hand with an angular strike of white vapour, and slams deep into the brush outside the duel borders. Firelight glints off an otherwise invisible wire still connecting it, wrapped or anchored in some way to his forearm. Winding it back, he sprints, lunges, and then goes flying.

    Even then, it's not quite fast enough; the big boy in white intercedes a third time, throwing up another barrier, which holds the fire back only briefly, then shatters inward, the explosive rush hurling Matsu into Kahitani and sending the scorched pair crashing and tumbling into the jungle. With two still in the ring, it leaves the Concord the definitive winners of the engagement; definitively enough that the mercs don't bother coming back, even. It feels pretty good. And also a little bit lame because the audience is a literal half-mile away and isn't cheering for them. There'll probably be a sick rager all night back at camp though.

    The two on Darren's end are a little shocked when he outright agrees to it so easily. After a few seconds of looking at one another and furtively whispering though, he can tell that they seem quite confident in him. He gets an enthusiastic shake on each hand. "About going back . . . do we really have to . . . over the wall?" One of the scouts just says "Yes." a little tiredly. "Can you carry me in a less embarrassing way this time?" "No."
Staren     Staren pads out of the armor's neck hole and returns to catgirl form. Muttering, "The sniper was doing it even better than me... and she probably hasn't been beaten up as much..."

    She takes a breath and speaks up. "Well, looks like you got 'em. Sorry I wasn't more help. That combo was pretty impressive." She leans back against the rock, which has a scar cut into it from that beam earlier. Muttering, she adds, "I hope I wasn't holding you back."
Kukuru With the battle done, Kukuru is free to return to her normal size! She breathes a heavy sigh of relief when it looks like the mercenary trio isn't coming back for more, leaving her time to check on Chains and Staren to tend to their injuries (and Darren and co. if any of them show up looking any worse for wear). "Good job, everyone~ You all did great out there, so let's get back home. We can get you all fixed up, fed, and Seila and Isa can hear the good news! Then they can... Do..."

She pauses for an inordinately long time, then just moves right along when it's probably obvious that she's still struggling with the situation. "That magic boy said some weird stuff, though... Something about someone picking up a payload?" She tries her best to repeat it word for word, but even having enhanced hearing has its limits when it comes to someone with a limited vocabulary.

If nothing else, she actually gets the first half completely correct despite that.

"Oh! Before we go, I'll.. Um. I'm gonna go check on something." Kukuru's going to make a quick detour to teleport herself right over to where she last saw the angry unnamed mercenary sailing towards. After that telltale warping noise and darkness cloud, she does a cursory search for the girl in case she's still around and injured or something. If she is, Kukuru will provide some healing to get her on her way. If she's unconscious, meanwhile, Kukuru's going to be coming back with an extra guest/captive (or three, depending on if anyone else happens to be knocked out over there).