1626/His Haunt of Old

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His Haunt of Old
Date of Scene: 20 February 2015
Location: Earth - 11000 AD
Synopsis: D leads a party of friends on a grand adventure into one of those horrible old castles so common on his world.
Cast of Characters: 151, 232, 238, 255, 481, 518, Zero Kiryu, 593, 601

D (232) has posed:
    The ground is soft and damp, the air chilly in an unpleasant way. Insects and birds create a muted and timid symphony for the evening, as if they are uncertain their noise is welcome in these parts.

    Coordinates given in advance lead all comers belong to a certain place at the edge of the region's fog bank where D is found waiting. He stands beside his cyborg horse, one hand on its reins, his figure as impassive as the mists he is prepared to enter. Out to the west, the sun is a deep red glimmer on the horizon; to the east, the sky is already blue enough to approach black, though all color is soon snatched away by the mist's gray, grasping fingers.

    Once all are gathered, the Hunter provides a brief introduction only, setting the scene in his usual circumspect way. "Greetings. We're about to enter a dangerous area you have no reason to fear, should you stay close to me. I don't think it's likely you'll get lost in the fog for long if you get separated -- you have the technology to escape the labyrinth -- but as ever, I can't guarantee your safety if you are out of sight and reach. Mist monsters are said to make a home here, and there may be the odd dragon or two; however, a large party like ours will likely go unbothered. If you go off on your own..."

    The implications are obvious.

    D turns his head to set his inscrutable gaze on the fog. "After we get to the causeway, it isn't far to the bridge, where I'll leave you to proceed ahead without me." For a moment, his voice and expression are far away and strained. Though he knows his way through the fog, he doesn't relish what's on the other side.

    Any troubled thoughts are soon discarded. "Do any of you have any questions before we set out?"

Teresa (601) has posed:

Teresa, like D, has never much been one for extended conversation. She arrives on foot, dressed as she usually is, in her silver-gray uniform and armor. The sword on her back, worn at an angle because of the length, is nearly as long from pommel to the tip of the blade as the woman carrying it. She gazes out into the mist, silver eyes almost attempting to peer into it.. through it. Whatever she's doing, her focus is back on D, shortly.

"An unpleasant sort of place." She remarks, offhand.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    If D is in need of help, Setsuko is almost certain to be there, and so this evening she is. The swordswoman comes to a stop just in front of the fog, perhaps a few feet from the hunter himself, and looks directly in for a moment. She turns to give the dhampir a brief nod, and then focuses her attention on the mist before them again... and closes her eyes.

    It helps to focus her attention away from her eyes, and onto other senses that she suspects she'll need - although two in specific receive more than others. Her hearing is the first; she's 'reaching out' with her ears, focusing on what the sound around her can tell her. Her hearing is ordinarily sharp enough that she could fight completely blind without losing any effectiveness, so it's worthwhile to see if that fog has any way to interfere with her sense of hearing at all.

    The other sense is her much dimmer magical sense. Her sense for battle she can use without effort, but more general magic is more difficult for the demigod; she has to focus to get anything more than 'dim impressions', and she wants to see if the fog has any magical component she can detect. Wariness never goes awry.

Ainsley (151) has posed:

    Ainsley's chocobo has a question... which seems to be directed at D's horse. The lizard woman fusses with the reins, muttering at the puffed-up yellow bird as it tries to peck at the horse, ignorant of the many people surrounding it. "Heeeey," she whines at the chocobo, "Stop that!" She tugs at the reins, and frowns with obvious exasperation. Once the bird finally gets the message, she lets out a heavy sigh.

    Then she pulls a crystalline flower from her pocket somewhere, and reaches over to tuck it somewhere in D's clothing, should he allow for it. "Good luck charm," she tells him, in a friendly tone of voice. "If you believe in that sort of thing."

    The fog and talk of mist monsters and dragons doesn't bother Ainsley. For her, this is a natural environment to work in.

Kirika (481) has posed:

    Seems Kirika is equally anti-social today, as she stands there with a heavy cloak over her armor, ears poking out through the hood as she rests a hand on her belt, the other clutching a mithril shield sturdy enough to serve her well in a brawl. This seems as good as any excuse to go in to test the skills she's been honing at Amalthea's instructions, as she's brought a broadsword as well as her usual katana for good measure.

    Her crimson gaze stares towards the mist warily. The vixen may have a better chance than others to sense what's ahead, via sight, smell, and sound of course. While alert, she doesn't seem too terribly worried herself. A gloomy atmosphere suits such gloomy warriors, it seems.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Beli doesn't look great, but she's here. Her wings and halos are already out, mostly because some of her wings still have splints and casts helping to mend broken bones and dislocated joints. A few bandages are around her arms, as well, to cover whatever remains of burns; no doubt there are more under her clothes, but with her covering outfit, those stay out of sight.

    While she likely needed help getting here without the immediate use of flight, she's still present, standing close to D with her arms at her sides and her attention lifted to the Hunter. Seems she's refusing to miss this, even if she's still working on recovery.

    Mention of the mist monsters draws a light frown over her features. She /should/ be able to protect herself, she believes, but...why take that risk? She'll just have to make sure to stay near D, and make use of her powers if it comes to that. At his question, she simply shakes her head, before turning to look off at the fog they'll be approaching, staring at it thoughtfully and with a hint of lingering concern.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    "What are YOU expecting?"

    Zero arrived a short while ago in a rather old-looking car, most likely accompanied by his usual passenger. His presence here is, as always, significantly withdrawn. He speaks as little as he can get away with, and has a generally annoyed aired about him. A couple of objects on his person most likely show up as a significant blip on any magic radar trying to feel out the nearby fog, and it probably hinders attempts to feel out what is going on. Both blips have qualities that are most easily described as being similar to D himself, though they're not quite identical either.

    He is dressed for cold weather, with a heavy overcoat worn closed for once, the collar drawn up around his neck. The weather doesn't really bother him all that much, but even he can be a little more comfortable in heavier clothes. Though alert, Zero makes no special attempt to directly determine what might be ahead of them in the fog. He's fairly confident that, even if non-trivial, it will be able to be addressed without an excess of trauma or casualties.

    Still, he is far more interested in what sort of resistance D specifically anticipates than what his senses might otherwise tell him. He is, after all, the Hunter most familiar with where they are going.

Evette (593) has posed:
    By the time Evette pops into view, she's... not looking so great. She's quivering, and her hands are linked over her chest, one nervously and repeatedly squeezing the other as her eyes dart to and fro in the obscuring mists. Still, the group would not see the worst of this because its members would practically serve as her salvation, and she would certainly react to them as such. Those nervous tendencies would dissipate just long enough for her to dart over to the lot of them, likely coming in earshot of D's preamble just in time. Still hugging her smaller robot companion - Monoceros, a spherical construct with conic, silver appendages - to her chest, she would begin to shake her head with gradually increasing ferocity. This culminates in a very clear announcement when she's regained her faculties:

    "I am not going -anywhere-. N-No way. No."

    ... you almost have to feel bad for her. Or just annoyed that someone so timid decided to come along in the first place, maybe, but the residents of the Multiverse are often surprising, so. She may redeem herself that in due time.

    She doesn't respond when D allows people to ask any lingering inquiries, instead starting to gravitate toward a few of the others present for some modicum of comfort. She would inch toward Beli before becoming shy and switching to an orbit around Setsuko, and even D himself, before she settles for a position a bit further from each of them but still well within range of her sight. She might softly whisper things to the robot in her arms who would quite literally beep consolingly (yes, it would likely come off as such to any listening too), wiggling its small, metallic appendages to solidify its nonverbal statements. This would eventually have the intended effect, eventually calling forth a smile on Evette's face and a small series of pats on the little droid's head.

    She's... probably as ready as she's going to be.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    For just a moment, Setsuko's eyes open again, and she turns her head just far enough to look behind herself at Evette.

    "Don't worry. If it comes down to it, I'll protect you."

D (232) has posed:
    Setsuko's sense of hearing is likely vulnerable to the tricks sound can play in any foggy setting. Unless she's good at listening past this natural distortion, she might face the occasional challenge, like perceiving the scrape of driftwood being pushed onto the lake's sandy shore as coming from behind her rather than ahead. The same goes for anyone else with keen hearing; sharp ears can only do so much to overcome the way the soundwaves bounce between water molecules.

    There does not seem to be anything stinking of magic in the area except Ainsley.

    D remains stoic as Ainsley slips the flower into a broach loop near his cape's collar. The crystal petals refract the sun's weak shafts, casting a few red-tinted motes across the dhampir's pale cheek. He lifts his hand to secure the flower where it is, but otherwise does not acknowledge the gift.

    D looks to Zero. His response is given in an odd tone; he almost sounds like he didn't expect to have to explain anything, though of course he'd have to at some point. "We will cross the mists, and you will cross the bridge without me. On the bridge's other side, there is a castle you will enter, and within it, you will find an object I'll guide you toward."

    He adds, in an obvious and reluctant afterthought: "The place is abhorrent to me. If I am forced, I will enter to aid you, but the mission will be lost."

    "I will explain more as we go."

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
    Antisocial club. This is, actually, what Kuran Yuuki was expecting. If there was one thing, one crystalline fact that she simply accepts about D, and the people he trucks with.

    Almost every single one of them is a giant grumpus. In fact, most of the people she knows are aloof, grumpy, distant types who have long since lost their wonderment at life, the warmth of personage, or, honestly, just stopped caring about living.

    NOT INDICATING ANYONE IN SPECIFIC THOUGH. Especially not the person that arrives in the old-style car with her. Well, more specifically, not her glorified grump chaffeur.

    "I'm glad everyone is here to help D!" Yuuki offers, with a bright tone, though the surroundings have her on edge. She too is wearing heavier winter clothes, a big fluffy hood hanging around her shoulders. "And... why can't you enter? Should we leave Zero, too? Is the /intense force of your grumpiness/ going to sour things?" She wonders innocently, elbowing Zero lightly. "See, see, if you've got your usual 'death aura' going, you'll ruin things." She teases, before smiling at Evette. "Don't worry! I'm sure you'll be fine."

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Evette's arrival quickly draws Beli's attention away from the fog to look back at the girl with a glint of curiosity and surprise. Soon, though, the frown she'd gained on looking at the fog shifts to a warm, gentle smile, and she steps back to stand beside Evette, herself. Her wings spread a little, only as far as their bindings might allow, before she brings a warm hand down to rest on the girl's shoulder. It's supportive, gentle; maybe not as straightforward as Setsuko's statement, but if Evette allows, Beli will remain nearby to reinforce that gesture.

    Her smile fades slightly again as D speaks, drawing her attention back to him. "Understood," she replies, her soft tone always containing that strange ringing of small bells and the dull rumbling of an active volcano. "We will do what we can without you, at least."

Kirika (481) has posed:
    There is a pause as Kirika turns back to spy Evette, and she nods reassuringly towards the girl, her tail swishing back and forth for a moment. Her gaze then returns to D for a moment, "We will not fail you, D." She says calmly, and she looks the part with her sword and shield giving her such a gallant, exotic air. The kitsune's hand reaches down to grasp the hilt of her broadsword, as if expecting the worst to come soon as she alertly spies ahead some more, training her ears towards the mist.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    If D insists that he can't enter; if doing so would mean failure of the mission; then Setsuko will trust him at his word, and finish the mission on his behalf.

    The fog seems cloying, difficult, but not supernatural. 'Seeing' through it will tax her to the limit. Even sound alone won't help. Touch, smell, she'll need all of it. Perhaps even her eyes to spot small movements in the mist itself. At the very least, she can sense anything that might try to sneak up on them, even if she can't get a good mental map of the area.

    But that's fine. If it comes down to it, she has a trick or two to try.

    Nevertheless, for now, she's resolved to protect Evette, and she will. So if and when they begin to march forward, she won't stray far from her and Beli. And before she passes into the fog, she turns to give Yuuki a faint nod, coming somewhere close to the vicinity of a smile. She's not entirely mired in the depths of the grump! Honest gratitude is always pleasant to receive.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    "Understood. Hold the bridge and we'll take care of the rest." Zero replies to D, and that seems to be all he has to say or ask of his fellow Hunter. It doesn't occur to him that whatever might hold D out will also hold him out. Possibly because he's a stubborn bastard who would just Deal With It, the way he always does. If need be though, he doesn't have too much of a problem with holding the bridge with D. It all comes down to whether or not his presence in the interior will spoil their task like D's presence would. He doubts it, though. Of the two, D is more outwardly vampiric by far.

    Zero, at least, can pass.

    Naturally, Yuuki will be Yuuki and immediately points out that maybe Zero's presence will be a problem too... but for completely differen reasons. He casts a look at her that could generate a tiny little cloud of doom over her head, had he the power to make such a thing at all. "Don't be stupid." He says to her after a moment of glaring and contemplation.

    Naturally though, if there WERE some kind of wards against incredibly grumpy people, they'd work very well against Zero. He can't help but think that's rather unlikely, though.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley turns a mellow smile to the others, taking in the presence of those she is familiar with, and those she has no idea about. Evette, in particular, gets more of a look because the lizard scholar just isn't familiar with the timid creature whatsoever. With that mask-like gentle smile on the lizard woman's face maintained, she directs the chocobo so that it isn't constantly tempted to harass D's steed, finding somewhere along the edge of the group.

    She silently stares into the mists, becoming lost in her thoughts while she waits for the group to progress onward. The only sound from her is a little song she hums to herself, giving her a dreamy air, like she's just going travelling with a bunch of friends.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Evette would conveniently be looking Setsuko's head when she turns to face her. She quickly scrambles back as though she had been intruding upon her personal space, but when she says her piece the little girl's body freezes in place. Her grip on Monoceros would ease for the first time since she'd arrived, and her eyes would glisten faintly in the dim light of this forbidding sepulcher. All too eager to accept the 'offer', her head would rapidly bob up and down again... before she would bound over to her, finally setting in a position a few steps away from Setsuko. Hey, she would've given you space if you had let her be, but that was like an -invitation-! So she'll be sticking by you for the time being.

    With a radiant smile and one more, calmer nod, she would thank the older woman. "Th-That's really nice of you!" She -wants- to ask her name, but... well! She doesn't want to demand anything of people that they don't volunteer. So instead, she'll just share her own in case: "I'm Evette Elegy! O-Oh, and thank you for being willing to help me!" Likewise, the bot in her hands would flail its metallic 'wings' again, the blue dot on its monitor transforming briefly into a fuchsia heart of appreciation.

    Well, that went over well.

    D's words somehow knock her right back into nervous territory, though, and her grip on Mono becomes tighter than ever. Her lips would purse and she would look to Setsuko before responding somewhat idly, quietly, "I-I've... studied enough folklore to know that 'crossing the mists' is a pretty ominous way to describe what we're doing... b-but, uh, okay." Yep, let's forge on ahead in spite of the possibly unintentional death allusions. Just don't tell her that D himself is a dhampir -- it would probably send her hurtling over the gentle emotional precipice she's currently situated on.

    Thankfully, though, her position within that metaphor would become slightly less percarious as yet -another- noble soul comes to her aid: Beli. Her touch is so gentle that it doesn't even elicit a nervous jump from her, though her head would softly, gradually rise so that she may appraise the rephaite's features. She would ultimately give a silent, understanding smile in reply. At her subsequent approach, Kirika would get a similar - if even wider - grin before, with rosy cheeks, Evette would duck her head down to face Monoceros.

    "I... think we're going to be okay, Mono. I really think we're going to be okay."

    Likewise, she would follow along in Setsuko's path, likely glancing to her, Beli, and Kirika at intervals to assure herself they're all still there.

D (232) has posed:
    Yuuki Kuran is a sunflower among skunkweed.

    D tips his hat to the girl, and dons a fleeting attempt at a smile. Even he, whose heart is shriveled and cold, can't fail to feel a warm thump of vivid life whenever Yuuki should exert her unique charm. No wonder he never turns away her insistent company.

    Too bad it's business bringing them together again. D's faint smile disappears behind his stoic mask, and he returns his focus to the task ahead. "There is no ward to repel me, if that's your concern, Miss Kuran. My entering will complicate matters; that's all. I do not believe either you or Zero will have much to be concerned about..." His eyes narrow a touch. "Perhaps at the end."

    He addresses the rest. "If you're going to leave, now's the time. Miss Klum, as injured as you are, I will ask you to reconsider your presence." The question isn't spoken in an inquiring tone; D does not expect Beli to leave, and so only raises his concern as a formality he quickly casts aside. Beli's response isn't even finished before he takes his first steps toward the fog. "Very well. Let us be off."

    Stepping into the mist is like stepping through the soft folds of a very heavy velvet curtain. The damp air starts to cling the moment it's entered.

    It's doubtful anyone is reckless enough to become separated amid the mists. Smothering and confusing, and cold and wet enough to soon dampen anyone's clothing, the mists rising from the Lake of Lost Souls are not sufficient on their own to hamper an outworlder who possesses any degree of common sense. Unless fear should overcome someone, the party will make a circuitous journey across the mostly-featureless terrain without incident.

    Or almost, anyway.

    As described, the fog does strange things to the senses. One moment, water seems to lap at the ground only inches from where the party treads; the next, the same water is distant, its constant ebb and flow too far away to reach. Something passes by as a murky churn accompanied by a rattling hiss. A fetid odor creeps up from the yellow bones sticking out of the ground, and the skeleton's picked-clean hand appears to twitch after Evette's ankles.

    D continues forward, unerring and confident, but his tall shadow is sometimes hard to follow for those in the rear of the group. The eddies and currents in the mist are almost blinding at times.

    Something whispers against the edges of Beli's wings. Something else howls a blood-curdling cry, pricking at Setsuko's battle-sense. After only a few minutes in the mist, unease can quickly escalate into apprehension, and apprehension into fear.

Teresa (601) has posed:
    Teresa follows along, after D, and well.. for a woman who has seen some terrible stuff, a foggy and creepy environment isn't quite enough to rattle her, on its own. "What object are we looking for, specifically? I doubt you would assemble such a party if it weren't either one of two things. Important or dangerous. Perhaps both?" She can't help but inquire, given the fact that D mentioned he can't accompany, nor the environment it's to be found in.

Like Setsuko, Teresa's own sense attempts to reach out into the mist, though what she may or may not find is unknown. It would have to be something living, or with some sort of aura. Lacking these, she'd be unable to feel anything of import.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Kirika seems to not really go anywhere further than a few paces from Evette, that fox tail brushing against her calf gently to reassure her once again while she continues into the mist. Her ears twitch a little as she frowns gently, focusing and sensing.

    The kitsune blinks for a moment as she begins to hear something in the distance, whispers of the wind...angered whispers no less. Her frown grows ever more, and she torques her jaw with unease.

    "The wind..."

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Cool and stoic though Setsuko may be, she isn't without humanity or human warmth, and there is enough of that in the look she gives Evette to show there's genuine concern for the girl there. "Major Setsuko Kaminagi. I'm with the Union. It's good to meet you, Evette." Both Beli and Kirika receive grateful looks; between the three of them, the girl's fear seems much less severe than before, and that's worthwhile in her book.

    But the fog is not kind to those stepping in, and while she is long past the point of letting nerves take hold of her, even she has to acknowledge the tense atmosphere it fosters. Her hand remains on Zanjintou's grip the entire time, the swordswoman occasionally closing her eyes for just a second, or turning her head this way and that as if to double- or triple-check the source of a sound. She's tracking everything her senses can give her; the minute differences in the way air moves against her skin, vibration in the ground, any scents she can pick up under the dampness of the mist, and of course that which her ears can offer...

    "...I'm hearing whispers. It's too faint to make out what they're saying, but they sound afraid." The possibility that she's being treated to a subtle illusion enters her mind immediately. Better to speak aloud what she's hearing, and see if anyone else in the group with superhuman ears picks up the same thing.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Beli gives a shake of her head in response to D's request, even if it's a formality. "I appreciate your concern, but I will not be going anywhere. I will be fine; do not worry." Even if that last part is said to his back. Gotta get the requisite assurances of everything being perfectly fine out of the way, right?

    Even if it's definitely not going to be perfectly fine, as they start stepping into the thick mist. Beli follows, keeping close to the charge she's taken on that is Evette, and ensuring that everyone stays close to D, as well.

    While she's used to the twisted torments and disturbing terrors of Inferno, the strange air of /threat/ that lingers as thick as the moisture in the air doesn't fail to clutch at her. Her eyes remain narrowed, flitting here and there in the fog as she hears, sees, and /feels/ things that are all too wrong to be safe. Something brushes just past her black feathers; the rephaite's wing snaps out briefly in reflex before she turns to face the source, but there doesn't seem to be anything actually there. Is that what this fog is all about? All made to settle a creeping blanket of fear over those who come into it?

    ...well. It's starting to work.

    A cyan sheen comes over Beli's black feathers, matched by the blue flames that burn to life at the centers of all three halos behind her head. Her attention quickly turns forward again, though her hand shifts to keep hold of Evette's shoulder, just in case the girl proves more easily disturbed than herself.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley's bird steps at a matching pace with the rest of the party, constantly checking the fog with bird-like tilts of its head. The mount is on edge, but many creatures would be when they lack visibility like this. The rider is not immediately wary, though one could not call it confidence. Her smile has faded for a gentle look in her eyes. Her head turns to observe the way the mist curls and dances around them, as if searching for shapes that are not natural along their path.

    "It reminds me of Solomon Island," she thinks aloud.

    Around the time others beginning hearing whispers, her head turns gentle to face the direction of where she can hear it coming from, if only for a moment. She squints into the fog, frowning at the invisibility of the sound's source. She does not let it impede her, instead she becomes more wary, as if she anticipates it coming from a beast that threatens to harm the party.

    A hand rests on the hilt of a dagger, within her coat.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Never has Evette been quite so thankful for her own naturally dulled senses -- they serve as her only ward against the feeling of damp, creeping dread that her current environment presents. Still, as much as some of that uncomfortable wetness may be lost on her, and as much as the odors of decay and rot may be purged of their sheer pungency, her vision is as acute as anyone's. She gradually creeps closer and closer to Setsuko, the one who had outright promised to keep her safe, as they get deeper and deeper inside. Eventually, though, she commits that old taboo: she looks down.

    She stops dead. Her hand gradually raises to follow after Setsuko, but she says nothing, her eyes fixing with mounting horror at those gruesome, faded fingers of hell. She can't conjure a scream, and her expression locks into place. Her skin grows more and more pale, until...

    ... something touches her.

    She leaps, stumbling. She barely keeps herself from falling backward, likely on sheer force of will to not find herself in the same position as those ghoulish things she'd just been made to see. "O-Oh, God! N-No! Get them away! -Get them away-!!" She would briefly lose any control of her faculties, rushing Setsuko again. She releases Monoceros so that she can wrap her arms around the larger girl instead. The smaller bot would begin to hover around the pair, glancing to the group almost... apologetically? It anticipates some degree of annoyance at her reacting so loudly in a place where stealth is a prevalent element, and is likely trying to apologize preemptively on her behalf. Probably won't stop her from doing the same when she calms down again, though.

    Slowly, she would emerge from her impromptu hiding place. She would immediately lock a hand around her wrist, squeezing. She would bow her head to the ground briefly, her whole body again broken into a tempest of quivers. "S-Sorry. Th-There was something... it..." Her voice is barely loud enough to be audible, and she never does manage to complete her statement.

    Still, through the exertion of some unseen will she would keep on, this time lingering a bit closer to Beli. Probably her way of apologizing to Setsuko for the invasion of privacy.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley squeaks in surprise when Evette begins shouting, turning bodily and slowing her chocobo at the sound, bright blue eyes widened. The dagger was pulled partly from its scabbard, and electricity crackled over the lizard woman's shoulders, prepared for a fight. Despite giving an outwardly mellow appearance, she is easily startled. The fog is getting to her. She only eases up when she sees there is nothing actually attacking Evette.

D (232) has posed:
    Evette's fearful reaction prompts D to halt, and to bring his hand to the sweeping sword hilt at his shoulder; only her quick, stammered apology prevents the weapon's draw. D lowers his hand again, and continues ahead.

Teresa (601) has posed:
    Likewise, Teresa acts on instinct, her hand already on the handle of her blade, before she turns and notices that there's no immedeate threat. Though, with nothing around, she stays her hand.

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
    Dum Dum De Dum, Nothing To See Here!!!

    Yuuki returns Setsuko's smile that was given to her for a smile, which may cause a Smile Cycle or even a Smilegularity as one smiles at the other into infinity. Thankfully, visiting the same smile, even with a mischevious air, does nothing to create a smilegularity. This is because Zero is an Avatar of Grump, and if he was any stronger as a TOTALLY NORMAL VAMPIRE HUNTER he would probably BE ABLE to shoot Happiness Oppression Anti-Fun-Anti-Smile clouds out of his head and use them to zap Yu-

    Okay, dumb train of thought. Refocus! Mission! Misty forest! Fog so soupy it needs a pinch of salt and a big spoon! SPOOKY VOICES!

    Yuuki's eyes seem to try and track the noise, the 2spooky4evette things, but when things calm down, she lets the tension bleed out from her shoulders and exhale the breath she didn't know she was holding. She moves up closer to the front of the pack, looking to D.

    "Um... Do you mind me asking, D? Why can't you go in? What part of this situation makes your prize lost if you enter? Will..." She looks back. "Any of us sour things for you?" She questions, before looking out into the mists and breathing a quiet request.

    "Please stop." She murmurs. Maybe it'll help. Maybe not. Her heart's in it, but her brand of 'request' almost certainly doesn't work here.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    As he walks, Zero reminisces about the last time that he entered this world to assist D. The locale was the castle of some old fool of a vampire. Exactly who it had been slips his mind entirely, and in truth the identity of the old beast hardly mattered. The effects of his halls upon the people within it, however, were very similar to what they are experiencing now... albeit in more subtle fashion. The question is, is there an illusion to overturn here, or is there some grounding in the distant whispers they're speaking of? He frowns, and simply resolves to ignore any stimuli that doesn't seem immediately relevant to their path.

    His gaze shifts towards Yuuki, to see how /she's/ reacting to all of this, and then towards Evette... precisely in time to see her lose her shit. It's not really unsurprising for somebody that young to be unable to cope with circumstances such as these. It's easy to advise her not to be afraid, and not at all helpful either. Instead he decides to give her some more helpful advice.

    "Don't say you're sorry. Everyone here is afraid."

    It's an uncharacteristic thing for Zero to say, but not at all unusual for somebody who knows him well enough. He's better at handling young people than his own peers. He continues to speak to Evette as they walk, "The beasts that live in this world don't offer a reprieve to those who pass near them. You said to get it away, but you have the power to do that yourself, and you acted on that power just now to reach the only safety you can here."

    "Focus on your breathing and steady yourself. You'll do better next time." Unfortunately, because Zero was trying to give advice to Evette, he manages to overlook Yuuki's signs of seeing or hearing things.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    The moment Evette's arms wrap around Setsuko, the Demigod turns, her blade clears its sheath, and she interposes herself between the synthetic girl and whatever might have prompted her to shriek in fright. It is a split-second movement, all done without breaking Evette's grip in the least. Only once she's sure that there's nothing there posing a direct threat, does the swordswoman relax, return Zanjintou to its scabbard, and...

    ...rest a hand encouragingly on the girl's head. "It's alright." Setsuko's blue eyes look, if anything, concerned for the girl. It's not a kind place to be, for someone this timid.

    When Evette shifts closer to Beli, Setsuko does the same. She did pledge her protection, after all.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    A gasp, and Kirika almost draws her sword as she whirls about to find Evette on the ground. She pauses as the girl practically glomps Setsuko in fear, and she breathes a sigh of relief as she eases up again, releasing her sword's grip.

    A flash of light is given off as Kirika illuminates the area around herself and anybody closest to her, and the vixen keeps going. "Fear is natural here, child." She says quietly before she only stops and turns back, kneeling down to help her up to her feet until returning to handle point-man duties as she lights the way.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Beli, at least, doesn't quite have the same reflexes as others here might. When Evette jumps and runs, her first impulse is to look to the source of the girl's fear before doing anything else. The hand she finds gets a long, wary look, but when she's confident it's not going to be an issue, she turns her attention right back to Evette again, just in time for the girl to come back nearby.

    It's a bit of a strain for her, but Beli tries to bring her wings on that side around to form a sort of half-shield behind Evette, the angelic power seeping through her feathers providing a soothing warmth to the air around them. Hopefully it's comforting enough for the situation to be a little less frightening; for Beli, it's not much different. Now she's just a little more on edge as she considers the fog around them. Was that a conveniently placed remnant of someone else, or part of the fog's nature?

    Either way, she nods gratefully to Setsuko when the swordswoman comes nearby. She's doubtful about her ability to properly protect herself here, let alone the others. Someone who's clearly capable nearby is a comfort in this situation, if slight.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Though wordless, Evette's reply to the group would be no less appreciative than when she had thanked Setsuko outright. Once she regains the courage to raise her head and look toward Setsuko again, she would give a nod, allowing herself a more natural distance between her and Beli. Monoceros, as if relieved, would lower its metallic arms and emit a soft sound that could almost be the equivalent of a human sigh. After Evette has the opportunity for a deep, calming breath, she would look to Kirika too, giving her a deep nod intended equally as thanks and acknowledgment.

    The one who really gets her interest once all's said and done, though, is Zero. His words garner her full attention, and it seems her entire manner regresses to a point when she was seated in her father's study, learning the secrets of her world so that she might keep them alive as its inhabitants passed on unto the aether of the afterlife. In fact, for a fleeting moment she might mistake him for her father himself -- each man had a similarly even, matter-of-fact tone in addressing her; something she interprets as warmth, of a kind, given her upbringing.

    Of course, the only evidence of all this detail that would show on the surface is a series of small nods that come in sequence with the ends of his sentences. Almost as soon as he mentions 'breathing', she responds obediently, slowly but surely halting the noticeable tremble in the back of her throat. He may get many different impressions from this -- that she's impressionable, that she's a quick learner, that she's eager to please... and any of them would be true. At the least, though, his advice seems to have helped, and when next she looks to him from within the bulwark of Beli's wing, she would be wearing a smile.

    A mumbled "thank you" to Beli is the only verbal reply she gives as of now, but it's clear to all onlookers that she's grateful. And for now, at least, her fear seems to have been sated once more.

D (232) has posed:
    Yuuki's concern is addressed in an uncomforting monotone. The more tense a situation becomes, the less D reveals of his limited emotional capacity, until he is closer to marble than man. Terse in word and unforgiving in action, conflict alone gives him life and passion, or so it seems. If he ever behaves otherwise, it's not under these circumstances.

    Then again, Ainsley's flower is tucked into his cape collar, and Yuuki had elicited a smile.

    Maybe he's just getting better at faking it.

    "There is nothing for you to sour. Nothing I know about." Amid the shadows veiling his coutenance, D's eyes adopt a hard glint. "Several protections on the castle are keyed to me in particular. I find it unpleasant. The results of my presence would shift the course of our mission. I should not say it would be impossible to succeed on all fronts, however; I know better than to underestimate anyone here."

    Something crunches under D's boot.


    The mist abruptly lightens. Like curtains pulling back to reveal a set stage, the mist recoils from the banks of a narrow pebbled causeway. No more than three feet at its widest, the causeway shows the signs of having eroded over centuries into its present ragged condition. At one time, it must have been a grand road leading to the bridge ahead; now, it is fragile, slippery, and bereft of any life.

    The shattered trunks of splintered trees grown at even intervals rise up from the lake's surface on either side of the causeway. The lake must not have always been this vast.

    At least the lengthy bridge is still in good condition, even if its supporting pylons are no longer visible. It's so long that to ride across it would take some time, giving any visitor to the island plenty of opportunity to behold the castle beyond.

    On the other side of the bridge, built up from and within an immense boulder of an island, the castle waits, as stooped and lonely as an old man broken by heartache. Though ancient in design and age, it appears from afar to be in decent shape, if a neglected one. No lights shine in the windows. The gate at the bridge's end is corroded. It 'feels' like a chill and repugnant place not meant for the living era.

    But against the odds, against however much time has passed since its construction, the castle stands.

    D stops at the spot where the causeway meets the bridge. He lifts the blue pendant from his neck, and holds it by its chain to Yuuki. "Take this. It may be useful."

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    And so they come to the edge of the mist, and the danger it represents is behind them. But Setsuko is not so foolish as to relax yet. That was just passive - the simple, unthinking hostility of the land. The danger ahead is deliberate, focused, and very active. A danger large enough to keep D himself out if it's directed right at him.

    The swordswoman turns to look briefly at D and Yuuki, and then steps onto the bridge, putting herself in the lead. She knows she can take surprise hits; she knows she can regenerate quickly enough that even a painful wound won't hinder her for long. Better she put herself on the line. "Everyone walk carefully. For all we know, the traps could start on the bridge itself."

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Kirika emerges from the mist calmly, metal boots treading upon gravel as she looks to D, then Setsuko. Both get nods, and the vixen switches her light off for the moment before she flanks Setsuko. Her shield and natural strengh may help in tanking as well, provided that the situation calls for it.

    Now, she draws the broadsword, the blade well honed but otherwise unremarkable compared to Kinugiri. It is however an easier sword to use in tandem with a shield, compared to the other blade's longer hilt. Her advance is slow and methodical, her shield kept close so that she may bring it up to defend herself within the blink of an eye.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    The mists boil around them, until the mists are no longer impeding their sight... and that's when Ainsley's mellow demeanor fades completely for a stoicism that is similar to that of their leader here. She is looking upon the den of a monster once more, and that has forced her to draw back anything approaching emotion just to ease up on the stress that builds up on her from all of these adventures. Her eyes follow the bridge, squinting at the structure suspiciously, and the area below the bridge is given a similar scrutiny.

    Ainsley floats up off her chocobo's back, and ties the bird's reins to one of the dead pieces of plant life. She nods to Setsuko gently, understanding her decision. The lizard woman decides to completely forgo walking on the bridge, however, floating out to the right side in the air. Even with the presence of her allies, she remains as far from danger as she can. She keeps a look out for mechanisms along the outside edge of the bridge, in case she can provide a quick warning to others.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Still carefully concealed behind Beli's wing, Evette peeks out as they near the castle. She looks on with more curiosity than fear, here, her head tilting slightly as she studies the corrugated edges at its peak and the sheer cliffs upon which it rests. For a moment, she would appear absent -- her eyes would mist over in appreciation of its almost fairy tale-esque beauty. Really, it is like the keep of some dark sorcerer, like Maleficent, and as apprehensive as she might be some of that is measured now by her own, innate, creative impulse. She proceeds with a bit more surety in each step than before, the breathing tactic shown her by Zero finally losing its necessity for the time being.

    She casts her gaze to Setsuko next, though, and she would perk up. She would peek over Beli's feathers, finally speaking in full volume again. "Um! I can check, actually! Here, let me do something really quick." She would gently tap at her soft aegis to request permission to leave. Afterward, she would briefly walk over to lay a hand upon a guardrail or, failing that, a stone or plank of which the bridge is constructed. Then her eyes would beam a light, digital cyan hue, enclosing a small section of that service in a rectangle projected from her irises.

    Here, if there was anything relevant to see, Evette might receive a brief glimpse into the past. If this bridge is indeed trapped, she might see the person who laid them, or where. She might also catch a glimpse of some unfortunate soul who had fallen victim to a trap that could serve as evidence of what the group might be made to face or, if not of the above, then she might just learn something about those who had once called this place home. There's the possibility that she could learn nothing at all, of course, but she's hoping to be helpful here. Even if she had been forgiven, she has little to contribute in the way of combative capability -- her station is firmly in that of data acquisition. So here she stakes her claim, or at the least attempts to.

Teresa (601) has posed:
    Teresa just looks out at the ruin of the castle, and the causeway leading towards it. Their route, along with the bridge. "How.. charming." The tone of sarcasm is obvious, if nothing else. A bit of displeasure, perhaps, as she draws her sword and hangs back a bit, with it in hand. She's fine bringing up the rear, given that she has simliar regenerative abilities to Setsuko, in terms of a surprise attack.

"Lead on, then." She says, content with her role.

The blonde woman nods to D, and follows after the others.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    "Good." Zero offers to Evette, evidently noticing the quickness with which she adapts to his advice. If he notices any of those things about her, it's hard to tell. He isn't somebody who opens up his thoughts or feelings casually, after all. Soon after they arrive at the entrance to their destination, and as D offers his pendant to Yuuki, Zero looks towards the castle in the distance. He folders his arms over his chest, regarding the structure in a manner that can only be described as judgemental. Though he does not often offer up his feelings, it's clear what he thinks about /this/. It may as well be a pit in the ground filled with poisonous snakes.

    "Hey. Useless." He calls out to Yuuki, turning his head to look at her. "Why didn't you tell me your family had a house out here?"

    Having expressed his piece as thoroughly as he might think to, Zero begins his advance along the bridge. He thinks it relatively unlikely that it is excessively trapped, since it seems to be the only land route in. More likely, he would expect to find some kind of guardians lurking along it someplace. Then again, as long as you knew where to avoid going, he supposes that it would be perfectly plausible to have traps all over as well. Either way, it's a long enough bridge that he's not willing to stand around and probe it out too carefully.

    So, while he's not going to advance too far ahead of the rest of the group, Zero does make a point of trying to force a reasonably quick pace on the group by acting as a point man.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    It's not exactly the most pleasant sight to be greeted with, but Beli finds herself very comforted by the fact that they're no longer dealing with that fog. That alone is reason to let out a slow sigh of relief, even with the looming shadow of the castle now in front of them. Hopefully, this time, it's actually a danger she can fight, rather than one she must endure.

    The rephaite is ready to move on, but Evette's offer draws her attention first. She pulls back her wings enough to give the girl space to work, whatever that work /is/, but otherwise she opts to stay still for the moment until everyone is ready to go. Only then does she start forward near the middle of the group, keeping close to Evette and Setsuko along the way as she keeps alert for any potential risks. Who knows what they might run into here?

D (232) has posed:
    Traps exist aplenty wherever any Noble makes his lair; the question is, what form will these traps take? And who will find them the most perilous?

    Evette's ability to view the past will at least provide a few answers.

    In whatever ephemeral form her vision takes, she will see the past overlaid with the present, the older image so clear as to suggest it was imprinted quite recently on history's pages. A single, tall figure walks across the bridge without fear, his cloak billowing behind him, his face unseen. To behold him incites a confusion of urges: would it be better to run from him in fear, or to surrender and beg for a quick death? Or is it a different longing enflaming the senses -- a form of desire so potent, it becomes destructive?

    The figure vanishes beyond the courtyard gate. No traps erupt around him. He must have been a welcome visitor...or the lord of this place.

    Ainsley's perspective isn't quite as eventful, but it still yields some interesting findings. Placed at a set interval along the decorative rails lining the bridge is what looks to be a series of identical electronic sensors. Though somewhat camouflaged, the sensors are still obvious, thanks in part to what decay the bridge has suffered. Unlike the sensors encountered at the other castle -- which had taken the form of lifelike eyeballs -- these sensors are obviously mechanical or electronic in nature. The technology represents a harsh juxtaposition between the castle's medieval design and the modern era, but this isn't unusual for any Noble stronghold.

    By now, the strange mix of old and new should be an expected discovery.

    The sensors do not seem to serve any active, malevolent purpose; nothing reacts to those who are crossing the bridge. As the party advances, the blue pendant carried by Yuuki glows a brighter and brighter shade of blue, until halfway across the bridge, it's as radiant as a star.

    D's voice comes across the radio in a low murmur.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Setsuko is content to walk steadily alongside Kirika, having intended to put herself on the front line so that others wouldn't be at risk; but Zero pushes on ahead, and for just a moment, the swordswoman's habitual calm gives way to the faintest hint of irritation. Just pressing on like that is risky. But other than a brief warning over radio, she doesn't push it any further. He's a big boy, after all.

    But once again, her senses bring her something that seems worth note. Her eyes focus sharply on the gates ahead, and she stares for just long enough to confirm what she's seeing before speaking into her radio. "Someone is going through the courtyard gate. A woman, I think."

Evette (593) has posed:
    Evette's vision... wasn't as scary as it could have been, admittedly, but it's still enough to set her on edge. By the time the images of the have-been dissipate she would look back to Beli in time to hear her over the radio. With a frown, she resumes her breathing exercises as she quickly creeps back into the safety of the rephaite's wings. She would slowly begin to make her way across the bridge in her company, though she might perhaps share a few words as they proceed. Those few words would take the form of a question -- something so wholly innocent and innocuous that it might seem an element of foreshadowing itself:

    "Is... is this place haunted?"

    And if so, by what? Eluci-dating is going to need its good time to recharge, but she suspects there will be no shortage of artifacts to analyze once they breach that dark bastion's doors. With what she's already seen she's developed a sort of niggling curiosity toward that figure she saw, be he the lord of this place or one of his guests, and she's somewhat determined to learn whatever she can before they leave. It's simply in her nature to want to know. It's how she was born, and how she was raised.

    She hears the mention of another woman, but she makes no response. For now she just keeps close to Beli, trying her best to catch what helpful hints she can for her companions.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley doesn't pause to get a closer look at the sensors, though she does note them to the rest of the party, "Sensors are built into the bridge." As they progress across the large span, she frowns at the sensors, watching the inert technology the entire way across to the gate at the end. "They are not doing anything that I can sense." She puffs a little sigh of relief that nothing is leaping out to destroy the group or shooting blood-boiling lasers at them like in the castle.

    "Where do they get the resources to maintain this...? How? The Multiverse?" she wonders to herself. "Maybe I'm overthinking it."

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    The group proceeds without incident, but something causes Beli to stop in her tracks on the way over the bridge. Her hands curl into fists at her sides. Her gaze remains fixed on the castle across the way. She seems unsettled; deeply so, in a way that goes past the surface-level fear the fog created. A shudder runs up her spine and ruffles her feathers, and she finally looks down to Evette, forcing a soft calm into her own voice. That seems like enough of an effort in itself.

    "I need to step away from you," she says softly to the girl, mismatched eyes focused on the temporary charge she's taken on. "I will be nearby, do not worry. I just...do not think you will like being so close to me in a moment."

    With a faintly apologetic smile, the rephaite brings her wings in against her back and steps a couple of feet away from Evette. The cyan sheen in her wings abruptly flickers into a blood-red hue, matching the crimson flames that are now in her halos. Her angelic nature is put to the side, allowing her demonic half to come to the forefront. Slowly, she feels an easing of her tension, one that continues to flow out from her with her next gradual sigh. The warmth she gives off is no longer comforting, should anyone come close to her. An infernal nature never is.

    Still, Beli keeps relatively close to Evette as they continue ahead toward the castle, hoping that her own nerves settle as she hoped they might.

Evette (593) has posed:
    She bids Beli a brief sort of farewell as she transforms, and though she does squirm uncomfortably at the visual of her softer features giving themselves over to something so... harsh, she doesn't falter. She would actually make and effort to come closer to Beli afterward -- not as close as before, but enough that the rephaite would get the impression she isn't afraid of her. Again, her past has returned to her here; the aura her demonic form projects reminds her vaguely of the one her father would when he became angry. At those times, it only seemed to distress him further when she acted as though she were afraid of him, so she had adopted a policy of hugging his anger away instead. She won't do that here, but the sentiment is very much the same.

    Still, she would give herself the liberty of a slightly closer proximity to Setsuko. For now, though, she seems surprisingly calm standing on her own.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    Is it real, or is it fake? Zero decides once more that until he has seen something up close, it's best not to think much of it. He pauses his advancement on the bridge when Setsuko grouses at him over the radio, though in truth he had been careful not to stray too far to begin with, so the warning was hardly necessary. He resumes his push once Yuuki has caught up, taking note of the effect occurring with the pendant and deciding to stick with her until they've crossed the bridge. Either she's setting something off, or she's stopping something from being set off. Whichever it is he'd prefer to be close at hand to deal with it.

    "Vampires. Animals that take on human shape and drink blood." He answers Evette, giving no thought to whether or not haunting is the correct term. Some might argue that it is, but the fact of the matter is that here, there be monsters. That's all that really matters to either of them at the moment. "If we encounter anyone, remain near one of us until their nature is determined. Do you have any way to fight?"

    The Vampire Hunter draws his weapon, a handgun that by appearances is quite normal. The words BLOODY ROSE are inscribed on it, though it does no justice to how truly bizarre the weapon is when it is actually used in combat. He advances more cautiously now, feeling out the castle as best he can at this distance. Surely there are vampires here somewhere.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Metal boots continue to walk across the drawbridge as Kirika glances back at Ainsley, raising an eyebrow as she herself spies sensors after a moment. "Odd..." The juxtoposition between past and future is noted, especially considering how old this castle must be. One has to wonderj ust what went on to reduce this world from motor vehicles and electricity to having to scavenge just for the smallest amount of resources.

    She thinks back to what D had shown her about his world, before carrying on. She pauses as she spots a figure up ahead when prompted, then she goes back to advancing, cautious and on the defensive as her shield raises slowly and carefully.

D (232) has posed:
    The end of the bridge gives way to a bare courtyard overgrown by an orchard's tangled remains. Low, gnarled shrubbery sprouts up between cracked and crooked flagstones. The courtyard is dark. There is no sign of any woman --

    No; there. Anyone with sharp eyes will glimpse the woman again. Her white sleeve flashes into the castle's shadowed doorway. Her pale, delicate hand touches the door's lintel, then slips away, vanishing beyond sight.

    The island remains bereft of any real 'magic' feeling, but the spiritual powers here are stirred. There is something at work, something D has not defined.

    Assuming he can define it.

    The castle awaits.

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
    Yuuki looks to the huge castle, as the mists part. Then, she's ambushed by PRECIOUS PENDANT of MACGUFFIN-NESS, which she, after a short conversation (which amounts to 'are you sure' 'yes' 'are you sure you're sure becuase I've got Zero' 'no it's a key' 'oh it's a key, ok'), accepts.

    Joining Zero on the bridge, his cheap shot at the Kuran family, and her hugeass mountain mansion gets her look to sour.

    "No. It's not one of my family's We don't have creepy mist, and the grounds are kept better." She mumbles. But she can't actually... Deny it kind of looks like one. Because it would be a lie. MUCH AS SHE WOULD LIKE TO.

    She takes a quick moment to settle the pendant around her neck before glancing towards Evette and the Evette Defense Crew - which just so happens to include herself, as well! She draws forth a metal baton that seems to have no real purpose beyond being 'a fancy cylinder' and holds it tightly, nodding to Zero.

    "Well, Vampires are probably what would be here. But don't worry. Everyone else is very strong, and I'm sure this will be a simple in-and-out with the combined strength of everyone." She offers cheerily to the group, before moving along. Unfortunately, she feels compelled to be near the front of the group, with the 'key' given to her by D.

    ... "Wait."
    "... What are we looking for? Did D ever tell us?"

Kirika (481) has posed:
    SNiff, sniff sniiiiiiiifff.

    Kirika's glad she didn't bring a helmet for this, as she smells something along the lines of a floral scent as shecontinues down the bridge's path, noting an orchard. She narrows her eyes, spotting the woman again before she keeps going, trying to get a fix on what kind of scent this is on the way through.

    "Stay vigilant." She warns, still wondering just who is shadowing them.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Setsuko looks to her side at Beli, concern marring her features again. This time, it's over the fact that the rephaite felt the need to switch over to her infernal power. It speaks volumes about the kind of place they're going into, the effect it has on them. She glances backwards long enough to be sure Evette is alright, and then keeps moving; when they come to the courtyard, she is utterly still, sweeping it with her eyes and ears alike - just in time to catch a glimpse of the woman.

    She doesn't bother to call out. The woman knows they're here; probably watching them. Either she's going to report to the castle's masters, or she /is/ one of the castle's masters. Either way, calling out to her would be pointless now. So the swordwsoman simply takes a step forward, then pauses to survey the courtyard herself. "The last Noble's castle we visited, this is where the traps started. The entrance."

Evette (593) has posed:
    Zero would get a bit of a shocked look from her. "V-Vampires?" Her eyes go wide, but again they seem just as filled with interest as they might be with fear. "... those really exist? I always thought they were just a fairy tale. Or..." In a brief moment of clarity, she reminds herself aloud, "... or maybe they are in -my- world. I forget sometimes what being in a Multiverse means. But." She would give him a pair of solid nods. "I'll be careful. Promise." And, finally, another smile. "Thanks for watching out for me, too. Reallyreally." She notices the... vehemence inherent in calling vampires 'animals in human form', but she's not going to pursue that at the moment. It would probably be better to ask once this venture is over if she does at all.

    Ah, but there was one other thing, wasn't there? "Oh! Um..." She would tap a finger to her chin in thought. "Well... I can usually speak to technology and take control of robots and computer systems and stuff, if that counts. It's... pretty rare, but I can use some magic, too, so sometimes I can treat magical constructs the same way. Like, maaaybe I could take control of a golem or something if the rules of the world work the right way." Her hands would return to her sides, swaying a bit as she goes on. "... oh, and it's not -fighting-, but I can actually put up a shield around myself. So I could probably keep myself safe until one of you could help me, at least." Her expression would droop faintly when she finally concludes, "S-Sorry. I'm not much of a fighter, but I'll do my best."

    But, then, a sound. She cups a hand around her ear to try to focus on the sound she believes she hears, even if a part of her wants to run and hide because of it. She'd like to be able to fashion words out of what she's hearing -- it would probably be more helpful if she could, but she can't make sense of it yet. Still, she would mention it to the others. "I'm... I'm hearing voices too, now. I can't understand them, but it sounds like a lady?" She would tilt her head slightly. "... maybe it's coming from that lady we saw earlier? We should probably be careful if we run into her..." Especially in light of what Zero had just told her. Yikes.

    Otherwise, she would just keep following along, likely drifting to and from Setsuko and Beli on their walk. The latter becomes gradually less unnerving to her again as time passes.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Evette is given a soft nod and smile of gratitude when she seems to show that she isn't afraid of the rephaite's shift to the aspect of Wrath. There is no comfort to be found in that nature, but the fact that the girl is enduring regardless gives Beli a little peace of mind as to her ability to care for herself. That smile shifts to a light frown once she meets Setsuko's gaze; a silent confirmation that, yes, things /are/ that severe in this place. This is no land for the holy and good to walk.

    Soon, Beli notices the woman just moments before she slips into hiding again. Concern still mars her soft features, but the demonic angel doesn't slow down until Setsuko comes to a halt herself. Probably a good idea to be wary of this courtyard, considering the last location; Beli stops as well, looking around for any further sign of danger.

    And the people talking about hearing things only concerns her even more, deepening the frown over her features. "...I do not hear anything," she mutters, looking up to the castle again as if accusing it of being the cause of all this.

Teresa (601) has posed:
    Teresa gives Zero a wordless acknowledgement, as D instructs them to split up. "After you." She adds, hefting her sword a bit in her hand, ready to follow once more. Even so, she glances around the area, making sure there really is nothing there.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    "Instructions are forthcoming, but it seems like we're looking for a specific vampire who needs to die." Zero answers Yuuki, reaching up to tap at the ear-mounted radio he's using. His eyes flit towards the woman in the distance, and her movements into the castle proper. The courtyard probably is trapped, but how? He doesn't feel much like loitering about and finding out the slow way, and issues a silent command to Bloody Rose. Metallic thorn-vines snake out from the firearm in growing quantities, spilling out and into the courtyard experimentally. They're bait, deliberately meant to determine whether or not there's anything to set off. Quick and dirty, but it should get the job done.

    To Evette he says, "Vampires do exist. Treat them as you would a tiger, or a bear. If you can kill it, do it. If not, avoid it. Heart or head are ideal targets, but that's true of anything humanoid." Zero looks away towards Bloody Rose's probing tendrils while Evette describes her abilities to him, looking back only once she seems to be done. "Find a golem that can go with and protect you indefinitely. You can't count on others being present to fight your battles for you. If you can, find a weapon that suits you and learn to use it. If you need something that won't raise any alarms, try a staff."

    Zero makes a mental note of D's statement concerning vampires in this world. Are they biologically dead, or did he merely mean they do not have abnormally high temperatures? He hasn't been entirely clear on how D functions as a being, either, though he has been instructed on the means by which to kill him for good. It certainly isn't something that would be required for an... ordinary... being.

    If the courtyard proves to be clear, Zero withdraws Bloody Rose's tendrils and leads the way into the castle, and along the path his team was instructed to follow once inside. No sense in beating around the bush.

D (232) has posed:
    The courtyard is still, except for a sense of urgency and paranoia increasing the longer anyone lingers within it. As Setsuko takes her time to survey the courtyard, for example, she becomes subject to the strange feeling she is being watched. Something itches at her /like/ her battle sense, but not /quite/ -- her own expectations of the island and castle playing tricks, perhaps? There are also the strange shadows to behold, and the flickering hints of movement taking sharp form on the edges of everyone's vision. On being told the sound of it exists, too, everyone present -- including those who did not hear it before -- begin to hear the muffled murmur of a woman's voice in conversation.

    The cadence to the murmur is natural, and includes lengthy breaks for another speaker as yet unheard. Once or twice, the woman clearly laughs. The sound is inviting. Her laughter is kind.

    Somehow, her kindness is ill-suited to the castle.

    No traps spring out to physically assault anyone. Not yet...

Teresa (601) has posed:
    Teresa seems visibly startled, whatever was whispered to her. She seems to have heard something quite clearly, amongst that murmur. It definitely puts her on edge, her silvery eyes narrowing and her grip tightening on her sword. "T-That.. How doe she know about.." Her teeth clench briefly, but she tries to take a breath, to calm herself. It's not real.. illusion or a trap, right? Right? That's basically what the others have said, so far.

She just glares at the entryway of the castle, now, her eyes glinting like polished steel.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    Zero does not react the way most everyone else does to the vast array of troubles that gnaw at their minds. A vocal protest here, a threatening noise there, and bewilderment still yet elsewhere. His reaction is subtle and easily missed, but if Yuuki were not distracted with her own worries, she would catch it quite easily. It's a habit that she had mostly managed to banish many, many years ago, after much trial and error. The hunter's left hand rises, tugging down the collar of his coat, and he begins to scratch aggressively at the tattoo there.

    The sensation that provoked this reaction doesn't even register as an illusion. His neck has always had phantom sensations in that spot.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Kirika's nose twitches once, then she blinks in confusion as she joins up with Setsuko, Beli, and Ainsley when D gives instructions over radio. Nodding to the other women, Kirika makes a curious sound, "That smell is getting stronger." After musing for a bit, eyeing the shadows warily. The illusions are irritating at most, but it's clear that whoever is watching them isn't in any hurry to start setting off traps...not until he bores of his guests, anyways.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    There is a moment or two where Setsuko stands in silence, while that sensation begins to press down around her. The feeling of something itching at her divine battlesense is not one that she likes; especially as she can feel the strange 'falseness' about it. Rather than begin to press on immediately, however, the swordswoman closes her eyes...

    ...and responds in kind.

    It's been a while since anyone's seen the swordswoman's aura well and truly flow. But flow it does, springing to life around her in a slow, rolling billow, as if she's suddenly been engulfed in a glowing, flowing blue thundercloud, complete with tiny and silent arcs of 'lightning'. It comes with a marked increase in her presence, a flexing of her divinity; far beyond the constant 'broadcast' of her usual presence, this is an outright declaration, a forceful raising of a nonexistent voice to announce herself.

    She speaks in utter calm, but with a tone entirely cooler than the one she'd used to offer her protection to Evette; and not to any of those present, but rather to others who may be listening. "I do not take kindly to infringement like this. The battlefield is, in its own way, a sacred place. Imitating it in order to dissuade me is only going to make things more difficult for you."

    Forcing herself to steady against the pressing paranoia of the battlefield, the silver-haired woman simply begins to walk, calmly, towards the entrance of the castle. Her aura has alreaday died out again, but the statement is made.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Evette would nod along with Zero's advice once more, eventually being convinced that it would behoove her to pick up a weapon of some kind. She had considered this in the past, especially after exploring a certain abandoned space station with the Starbound Flotilla -- she's going to end up being a burden to others if she can't learn to defend herself, so she will. She doesn't care for violence, but she's not entirely opposed, either, and her body is somewhat naturally adapted to combat as it is. With that in mind, she asks, "Um... hey. Some time before we leave, may I have your name? Or maybe a radio frequency to contact you through? O-Only if you feel comfortable, but it would really help to be able to ask you more questions if I need to. You seem to know a -really- lot about this fighting stuff."

    A few possibilities run through her mind. In the past, she had considered chakrams, or even guns; not things he had recommended, but definitely things she feels she might enjoy learning about. She could also see about restarting some of the defense robots hidden away on the space station she calls home and have one of those follow her around like a golem would. Her powers hinge more on capitalizing on what the environment gives her right now, and the simple fact of the matter is that the environment won't always give her something she can work with, so Zero's words carry a lot of weight.

    ... ah, but then. Then comes the laughing. As good-natured as it tries to be, it still scares her. She emits a small gasp, instinctively moving in the direction of safety, but that safety takes a different form this time: Zero. Rather than retreating to Beli or Setsuko she would boldly rush after him and the entrance to the castle. On her way, though, she would evade every shade - those left by any vegetation, the walls of the castle, anything - as though they were minefields. Even she's unsure why, but looking into them gives her a very, very bad feeling.

    And if nothing else, she's learning to trust those instincts.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Beli stands warily at the edge of the courtyard, silent for the moment...until that soft, calm, laughing voice rings out to her ears. The feeling it inspires, however, is not calming or inviting. Beli's eyes widen. Her lips pull back before she can stifle the strained, rumbling growl that rolls up from her throat. Her hands ball into tight fists, forcing her fingernails to dig into her palms as her hands clench with enough force to make her arms start to shake.

    That woman sounds so kind. So gentle. So calm and affectionate. And Beli, for whatever reason, feels an intense /hatred/ for it. It burns in her chest, flowing out through her body as if her blood had been set to boil. The thoughts that flow through her mind unchecked hardly bear speaking, but they find themselves echoed in her lowered head, her bared teeth, the black blood trickling from her wrists where her fingernails are starting to bury themselves-

    With a determined, tense whine pushed through her teeth, the crimson sheen over her wings and the flames in her halos both flicker out of existence. The rephaite staggers slightly, but keeps her footing, even despite her heavy breaths that leave her slightly hunched where she stands. Her fists loosen; she doesn't pay much attention to the black blood smeared on her hands, but that's probably because she's still forcing down that sudden rush of unchecked wrath. It lingers, smoldering in her veins and gnawing at her thoughts, but at least it's not quite so strong for the moment.

    Evette suddenly runs in; Beli tries to stumble after her with a shouted "Wait-", but her head abruptly swims, forcing her to pause again to regain her senses. It'll take her a few moments to fully push away those spiteful clouds. When wrath comes so naturally to her, it's hard to shove it aside for something else.

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
    The sensations of the room hit Yuuki differently then other people. There is a lightness in her steps, an ease of her breath, and her sunny disposition is uplifted by the surroundings. Something about this, a deep part of her, feels right and fine. It takes her moments, long moments, as she basks in the place like a great cat, closing her eyes and slowly breathing. It was important to take moments to appreciate what you had and what was around you an-...

    She snaps out of her own little world, as the others in the party are hackles-raised and teeth-bared. Metaphorically or literally.

    The most telling part, for her, is Zero's hands scratching against his neck and tattoo, causing her to stifle a shocked gasp. That is what this place is. That is what is going on.

    She has to really figure out how she's going to approach this one, though...

    Oh wait, no she isn't. She lets her baton-holding hand fall to her side, as she calls out into the Creepy Room.

    "I'm Kuran Yuuki. Please, show yourself! We've come to treat with the master of this place." She announces. Maybe it'll work! Being polite and direct tended to work out for her.

D (232) has posed:
    LAST TIME --

    D met the party outside a region flooded by thick mists. After a quick summary of the mission ahead, he led everyone through the mists to a bridge he refused to cross. The bridge spanned the Lake of Lost Souls to a castle on an island (SESoijO.jpg). Zero and Setsuko took point and were the first to cross the bridge. Yuuki, carrying a pendant D lent to her, followed close behind those two. Teresa and Evette went next, with Beli at the rear, and Ainsley flew alongside the bridge, alert for traps.

    Evette's ability to gaze into the past revealed an unnamed figure crossing the same bridge in recent history. She described him as 'intimidating.'

    Though Ainsley spotted several electronic sensors lining the ancient bridge, no traps were triggered; however, as the party approached the island, a woman was glimpsed disappearing through the castle's rusted gate. D stated she was no threat yet, but as everyone mustered their nerves and entered the courtyard, it became obvious that the empty castle would offer more than mere physical traps to a group this capable.

    During the night's progression, D began to relate a story about a Noble named the Baron of Blood. This Noble -- at the heights of his power over three millennia ago -- sought to incite civil war among the Nobility. His reign of terror came to an end whenever he was sealed inside his own castle's tomb. Beli Klum unsealed that tomb over a year ago...but why the story and those events are important to the current mission is not yet clear.

    The courtyard is empty except for illusory voices, and the glimpse of a long-haired woman vanishing into the castle's interior. While paranoia brews in the hearts and minds of almost everyone present, Ainsley faces a different sort of temptation, too, and Beli must suppress her demon's rage. Setsuko feels something play with her battle-sense. Zero's old wound starts to itch. Kirika smells a persistent floral scent which shouldn't be possible in this decayed place. It's Yuuki who seems most at home here, but even this comfort doesn't come naturally to her...

    The story resumes with Zero and Setsuko entering the castle foyer. Evette rushes after them, and Beli stumbles with weakness. Kirika and Teresa shake off their own unease to proceed, and Ainsley considers what her eyes and ears are telling her.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    The group had gone up ahead, eager to complete the mission before them. With such a vague goal in mind, the lizard woman was easily distracted by something that none of the others noticed. Ainsley is not stupid, just curious, when tempted to come over to a mysterious sight near an orchard tree. A dagger is drawn from its scabbard and her eyes squint at the figure. She'd step slowly, having landed when they got to the courtyard.

    She tries to get a proper look at the features of the woman that's beckoning her. Knowing this is a den of vampires, she is prepared to stab whoever or whatever leaps out at her.

    "Illusions," she curses, softly, her own uncertainty making it difficult for her to tell whether she should ignore it or not.

D (232) has posed:
    The foyer is not too small to accommodate the entire group, but, true to its function, it is not meant to be occupied for long. It ends after only a few shallow feet in a pair of heavy wooden doors as decorated by dust and mold as they are carvings. The doors were once a warm red color, like cherry; time has tarnished their finish to an unappealing black and splotchy ruin. Amid the decay, calla lilies twist their stems together in beautiful, ornate whorls, and spread their leaves and tip their delicate petals toward a heroic figure framed by their glory.

    The face of this figure is no longer discernable, but the shape of his armor and his curved sword can still be made out.

    Two heavy brass handles are fitted to the doors. Their surface is long oxidized to a blue-green shade.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Solid, heavy wooden doors. The traps have already begun, after a fashion, so it's not unreasonable in the least to assume that the handle will be trapped. That the door itself will be trapped, even. When dealing with a suspected trap, there are two ways one can deal with it. One is to spring it regardless, armored with the knowledge of its existence to increase your odds of surviving it.

    The other is to obliterate the trap, the object it protects, and whatever might be unfortunate enough to stand just on the other side.

    Zanjintou makes only a whisper of noise as it is drawn, the sound of steel against wood. The swordswoman rests both hands on the grip, standing a pace or two back from the door, takes a slow, deep breath to center her focus, and then begins to cut. Again and again, rapid-fire slashes, vertical and horizontal and all the diagonal angles she can manage, over and over and over.

    The sword itself never touches the door. But the arcs of blue energy it unleashes, thinner than paper and impossibly sharp, most certainly do. Ordinarily she would be content to simply carve a broad 'X' in the door and make them an opening. But when she's assuming the door is trapped? Better to reduce it and the frame around it to dozens of tiny fragments. Just in case.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Evette would likely creep inside shortly after zero, hands clinging to the door a moment as she gives a quick glance in either direction. Only after she has had this opportunity to assure herself would she step into the foyer, keeping as close to the rest of them as they would be comfortable with. That is, until Setsuko recommends she keep her distance. She might give a tilt of her head in protest, but no more than that before she retreats, quickly losing herself in the portrait of the faceless figure and the flowers that flank it. So much would she like to know what their face looks like -- so much, so that she might be able to compare it to that of the man she had seen in her vision. Ah, but had she even seen his face? Come to think of it, he likely had his back facing her the entire time. Still, if he is indeed the owner of this place, she would like to know.

    Though her reverie can't progress very far before there's a very loud ~CRASHING~ noise. The door would likely fly out of its frame, hinges and splinters hurtling through to whatever chamber it opens into. Evette would spin around to see the source of this noise, her eyes barely dodging only splinters or dust that comes her way, to see... Setsuko. She stares at the woman blankly a few moments, takes a deep breath, and swallows.

    "... w-wow." If that's what she can do to a -door-... well.


    Assuming nothing horrific or lethal comes flying out of the debris, she would creep up to Setsuko afterwards in attempt to get a sneak peek at the next room. Yes, this place is scary, but she really can't deny her appreciation for this sort of medieval architecture. Her own bedroom was themed after a princess's bedroom, after all!

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Calla Lilies. So that's what's been bugging her scent of smell since the beginning of this trek. Kirika notes the figure on the door, assuming it to be whoever this castle belonged to, past or present.

    Kirika's advance towards the door stops just as Kaminagi calmly announces her intentions in that vaguely veiled manner of the Major's. She calmly takes a few steps back before she braces for the mess to come. Surely enough, she gets a front row seat to the Kaminagi-Door-Opening Technique passed through the line for generations untold.

    It's not hard to imagine she's wary, and she brings out the light again as she advances to the next room with her shield ready.

Zero Kiryu has posed:

    Whether a trap appears from the door leading out of the foyer, or nothing at all happens, Zero reacts the same way to Evette's curious advance. He lowers his hand from the tattoo at his neck, forcing himself to stop scratching at it before it goes from red and sore to actually bloody. He's more invested in keeping his own vampirism a secret than he is in getting the feeling of filth off of his neck. He approaches the side of the door, shaking his head at Evette. "In situations like this, you have somebody tough take point and advance behind them."

    "That's one of us." He points to Setsuko, and then back to himself. "If nothing kills us, then have a look around. But not before."

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    It takes some time for Beli to push past the rush of infernal will she experienced a moment ago, but, soon enough, she manages to straighten up with a tense frown and keep her gaze forward. It seems both her aspects are going to have a difficult time here; that could have gone very, very badly.

    The rephaite sighs, taking a moment to wipe the black blood on her palms off in the grass at her feet before she carefully moves up to the foyer with the others. One hand curls into a fist that she presses against her forehead, but aside from that and the clear discomfort on her expression, she seems to have moved past the worst of her brief episode.

    "...thank you for the warning," she remarks softly to Setsuko once the doorway is cleared. Beli isn't willing to move on ahead just yet, however; she doesn't want to end up being a liability here, and while she may have talents that would prove to be useful in this situation, there are others who are clearly more suited to at-ready positions in this arrangement. So the rephaite hangs back for the most part, keeping near Evette (who Zero is speaking to, thankfully) and Setsuko until people are prepared to press forward.

D (232) has posed:
    Time had besmirched the beautiful door, but hadn't ruined it. It takes the blade of angry deity to do that. Setsuko's sword makes quick work of the door. Shredded almost like paper, the door submits without resistance, and the way ahead is opened.

    The foyer opens onto a grand hall.

    As the tombs at Castle Rosa had been bedecked with riches and temptations, the hall is occupied by countless unlit candles. Tall candelabra line the walls in thick number. Some support only two or three slender ivory candles; others are burdened by a bristling array of up to a dozen candles. Long, gilded chains descend from the vaulted ceiling, heavy with chandeliers bearing yet more dark candles, and crystals lacking any dust. These cast dull, spidery shadows down on the lush red carpet forming a narrow scarlet channel between the host of candles. The carpet leads to the hall's opposite end, and another set of immense doors.

    The hall is not empty.

    On the door's other side -- the long white train of her flawless gown beginning mere inches from the door's remains -- the woman stands with her back to the group. As she walks forward across the red carpet at a slow pace, she lifts her own candelabra in her hand, casting a warm, radiant glow across the otherwise darkened hall. Her dress seems to shine among so many shadows. Her hair is lustrous and long and black, nearly reaching the floor in a wavy, untamed spill.

    Lifting her candelabra seems to waken the other candles in the room. One by one, their own wicks ignite, until the hall is flooded by welcoming, comforting light. The woman turns her head to look over her shoulder. She is smiling.

    Her smile is kind.

    "Welcome to my home."

    The woman resumes to walk across the hall at a sedate, easy pace. About halfway to the next door, she fades from sight.

    The candles remain lit.

    D had asked the party to leave the foyer to the right and left, but it's hard not to wonder what might be beyond the next door.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    "Your hospitality is lacking. Goodbye." Zero answers the woman, heading off to the left immediately and without hesitation. He's more likely to trust D's judgement than to follow strange, probably vampiric women in completely different directions. If the opportunity arises he'll investigate and kill her later, but for now she's just not a priority. He waves his free hand and calls out to several people, "Useless, Evette, Teresa, this way. The rest of you go with Kaminagi the other way. Try not to lose your minds." The hunter offers his 'team' a few moments pause to head to the left with him, and then takes point once again.

    Assuming, of course, that he doesn't have to go hit somebody upside the head to get them to take the correct direction. That would be both completely expected and incredibly inconvenient. It'll really be a wonder if somebody doesn't take the obvious bait and follow after the woman in the gown.

    Her antics are enough to make Zero want to go put her down, but he assumes they'll get another opportunity eventually. If she's going to keep meddling, she'll have to follow after both groups somehow. Assuming she isn't just a hologram put there to throw people off, like everything else about this place.

D (232) has posed:
    Ainsley is tempted away from the group by a beckoning vision she alone seems to experience. As she squints at the crouched woman, attempting to discern details, the woman slips behind the tree's gnarled trunk and disappears from view.

    The woman is beautiful. Dark hair, light-colored eyes, perfect skin kissed by a faint but vivacious blush, and lips meant for smiling, if Ainsley was human, she would find much to admire. Even as someone inhuman, she might appreciate the woman as a living work of art.

    A mischievous laugh brushes Ainsley's ears.

    There doesn't seem to be anything through the trees worth investigating, at least not from the vantage offered by the courtyard, but it's so overgrown where the woman was that it's possible there could be /something/...

Teresa (601) has posed:
    "You, there. Don't dawdle."

    Teresa addresses Ainsley, and will grab her by the arm or shoulder and give her a pull, if she fails to respond to the vocal urging. She moves into the castle, following after the others, with Ainsley in tow. Once there, she watches Setsuko 'open' the door.. at least, the one leading into the other room. She follows her lead, and if she needs to tug Ainsley along, some more, she continues to do so. She does the same to the other door, hacking it to splinters with her blade, ahead of Zero.

"After you."

Evette (593) has posed:
    ... buuut before she can quite make her way to the door, she would be stopped again by Zero. She would jolt upwards at the utterance of the word 'Stop', her slightly hunched posture shifting all of a sudden into something much more rigid and straight. Monoceros would react similarly, the pair would turn together to face the man who, at least for this evening, had taken up the role of their mentor. She would react to him accordingly, then, giving him a quick series of nods as though she were a small child who had been caught doing something illicit and then been given merciful reprieve. "R-Right! I'm sorry, I just... I wanted to see what was in the next room, and I wasn't thinking..." Her gaze would shift downwards, her hands linking at her waist. "... I'll be more careful." Still, that wouldn't keep her from at least /one/ more cheeky remark: "... but I wouldn't just stay back if something tried to kill you, you know." No matter how stupid it would probably be to throw herself in-between a trained fighter and their quarry.

    Eventually, though, the girl is given a glimpse into the hallway she had been so interested in before. Quickly, it validates her every fantasy -- the ceilings are high and proud, and the floor is likewise adorned by a carpet that, though worn now, must have been brilliantly lavish many lifetimes ago. Her curiosity would beckon her just beyond the shattered doorframe so that she may have an opportunity to see just how high that roof extends, count just how many candles there are... before, right in front of her, one lights. Then another. And another. She spins around again with a start in time to notice the woman, stalking the hall and welcoming them as her 'guests'. Much as she had before with the ghostly appendages, she freezes, but this time it doesn't last long before she rushes back over to the group. She would settle behind Zero for a moment, peeking out at her only a few seconds more until she hides her gaze behind him.

    As could be expected of him, though, he moves on without any hesitation whatsoever. She follows up his remark with a small, stick-out-my-tongue gesture in stark defiance of the atmosphere before she follows him off to the left.

    At the mention of her name, she would call back, "Coming!". Though, 'Useless'? There's probably something to that, but again, prroobably not the time or the place to ask. I mean, she might still ask -anyway-, but not right this second. For now she's back to focusing on those breathing exercises.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Setsuko spends a long moment staring at the woman, intense blue eyes focused like a laser. Watching the way she moves, feeling her out with supernatural senses; appraising her with the battlefield eyes of a demideity and senses that can pick up finer details of movement than any human eye can match. It's a plain and simple appraisal, of both threat and body language, of intention and movement. A danger assessment.

    In the moment before the woman disappears, Setsuko declares in a simple, even tone, "Defend yourself and your home as you wish. But if you or your traps pay us insult, it will be repaid."

    She has not forgotten the illusion's attempt to infringe on 'her territory'.

    And as the home's mistress disappears, the demigod turns to the right and moves to lead the way for Beli, Kirika and Ainsley... the latter of whom seems to have stalled out. But Teresa is bringing her along, apparently.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    A work of art, and also infuriatingly cheerful and quite obviously avoiding scrutiny. Ainsley hesitates, leaning so her gaze can follow the hiding woman. She clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth and discards the idea of pursuing the strange creature, realizing that the group has hurried on ahead without her-- just in time for Teresa to grab her and tug her along. She makes the most harmless bird-like squawk noise that a living creature can make when grabbed, apparently highly uncomfortable with being grabbed. A personal space kind of creature!

    She only protests that much, making an intensely embarrassed face, because this reminds her of being a little girl again, having wandered off like that without thinking. She meets up with Setsuko's half of the party, tagging along behind and fussing with the bottom edge of her shirt.

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
    Yuuki reaches out a hand to the woman, looking confused, and surprised, and... "U-um, t-thank you. No, wait!" She calls, as the woman turns to leave and disappears, taking a few steps towards following her into the unknown, even as Zero calls for her to follow him to the left. She doesn't hear, allured by more than just the mental command, but the pure desire to simply /talk/ to this Noble.

    She's whapped in the back of the head for her trouble. Her hands go to the thwapped part of her head out of reflex, before looking disappointed back at the left door. "... Sorry. ANd hey! Stop calling me useless! I'm not useless, you're just a jerk! Jerrrrrk!" She complains, before falling in with everyone else.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Beli's frown seems to grow more severe when the woman is seen again, and addresses them all directly. Some lingering feelings from her earlier rush, it seems, which are slow to completely fade away. Once the woman vanishes again, Beli allows a slow, quiet sigh to pass between her lips. Eyes closed, she tries to take another moment to keep herself composed while everyone else is addressing the strange woman in white and preparing to continue...until Zero chimes in with 'Useless.'

    Something about that shifts Beli's tense frown to a snarl as her fist tightens against her forehead again. The angelic demon is quick to open her eyes and glance aside at Zero, and, fortunately before she says anything, she's able to tell that the term isn't meant to address /her/.

    It's been a long time since that was the case, she reminds herself, pushing down the spark of anger that briefly inspired. Her hand falls to her side, and she gives a weary but firm look to Setsuko. Her nod is brief and silent before she follows, arms folded across her faintly bristling body.

    It's going to be wonderful when they can walk out of this place.

D (232) has posed:
    TO THE RIGHT -- Setsuko, Beli, Kirika, and Ainsley --

    An even more narrow route than the one taken by the woman skirts the main hall to the right. It's a tight fit between the castle's plastered walls, and the nearest candelabra, forcing the group to proceed in single file unless they get clever. After a short distance, the group finds the first door. It, like the foyer door, is a carved beauty depicting calla lilies and what looks to be the wings and twisted tails of dragons flying among the petals. This door, unlike the exterior door, is in perfect condition. It is still warm and red in the candlelight, not a single smudge on its polished surface.

    Its handle is black. Testing it reveals the door is locked.

    Not much further along, another door stands half-open. It looks like it might lead to the antechambers beyond the main hall. Whatever is through it is unseen; the way is too dark.

    TO THE LEFT -- Zero, Yuuki, Evette, and Teresa --

    A narrow channel between the candelabras and the plastered walls leads to a delicate staircase. Each wrought iron step is built into the wall so that the staircase seems to float. Calla lilies form the central body of the steps, and other intricate designs create unique frames around them. After a distance which feels short but is in truth quite long -- looking down, the candles below are very far away -- there is a wooden door with iron slats.

    Teresa's sword crashes through it.

    Yuuki's pendant briefly flares.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Drawing close to Kaminagi, Kirika raises an eyebrow in silent irritation at the illusory specter before carrying on alongside the Major. The rightward path is where D bid she, Kaminagi, Beli, and Ainsley to head towards. At least she isn't going with Zero, given how that guy seems about as much a delight to work with as a pack of badgers. 'Useless' is a term she's getting sick of being thrown about.

    The group makes their way to two doors, and Kirika wastes no time in picking a door. "We should split up, two per door." She suggests, before she nudges the door handle open with the point of her sword, shield raised.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    "If your shield is strong enough, that's fine. Otherwise, let me deal with any hazards. I don't die easily." Zero says to Evette, far more patiently than he is with anybody else. The difference between his tone when talking to her, and his tone when talking to literally anyone else here, is night and day. He seems almost like a normal person when he's talking to young people, even if the content of what he's saying isn't all that different. It may be better to say that he doesn't embrace his grumpiness as easily as he does with any other category of people.

    To Yuuki's protests and desire to go see the mysterious woman, the Vampire Hunter asides, "If you were a fish, you'd have been hooked already. She's not our objective. If she wants to stop us from doing what we came to do, she'll have to follow us eventually. You'll get to talk to her then, assuming I don't shoot her before you have the chance. I don't like this place, or her."

    "The sooner she's dust, the better." There he goes again, showing his incredibly murderous attitude towards vampires.

    A glance is cast back towards Beli, questioning and uncertain. The hell is her problem? Evidently Zero hadn't been talking to her, and doesn't really understand where the animosity came from. Maybe it was thumping Yuuki on the head? It wasn't nearly hard enough to actually hurt her, even if she /was/ really just an ordinary human girl.

    "I'll stop calling you useless when you stop being useless." Zero argues childishly with Yuuki. It doesn't seem especially serious, but it's hard to tell with guys like this.

    Teresa busts the door down for them, and the pendant Yuuki got from D flares. Zero hesitates, looking ahead towards the doorway. He waves Yuuki through, "Take point for a moment. I'll come back up ahead of you in a minute." If that thing is a key, it won't do them any good if it isn't put to use. Zero suspects that if he stepped through first there would be Problems.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley is quick to catch up with the rest of the party, apparently finding a place among the group of... mostly combat-oriented people that are well above her level of ability. She smiles bashfully, mostly just doing so out of reflex because of having to be herded back to the party, her tail constantly wiggling from her nervous energy. When Kirika speaks up, a squeak is given in replace, a bit like a chirping songbird, as if partly startled.

    Ainsley goes to touch at Kirika's arm, and gently urges her, "We mustn't split up the group more than it already has been," with an urgent look in her colorful eyes. "Beli will take care of the locked door, we can worry about this other door after."

    She looks at the door Kirika was checking, frowning at it uneasily, her feathers puffing up. "Ahh... Damnedable temptations," she murmurs, barely audible.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    The tight cooridors are a little difficult for Beli to work with in her current state, but she does her best to keep her wings close to her body so as to avoid shoving them against the walls or blocking her allies too much. When they come across the first door, however, she's given pause; a moment to test the handle reveals it to be locked, and while Kirika and Ainsley move off toward the second door, Beli and Setsuko remain to speak with D over the radio for a few moments.

    So, they're to try this door and see if two staircases lead down. Of course, there's still the issue of getting through the door, and Setsuko doesn't have enough room to repeat her earlier tactic. Fortunately, Beli seems to have something.

    "This may be a little messy," she remarks to Setsuko, letting her arms fall to her sides as infernal power courses through her and reignites the crimson flames in her halos and the bloody sheen over her wings. "I would suggest standing back, if you would. It should only be a few moments."

    With that, Beli's attention turns to the door, as darkness starts to swirl around her arms and hands. Soon it solidifies into a pair of muscular, fleshy claws of a glaring red color, quite a bit larger than her own hands. The rephaite's expression doesn't change as they start to gruesomely shift: the right suddenly snaps at the wrist, fusing into place at a right angle while the fingers spread out and lock in position, webbing spreading between them and solidifying until the whole hand resembles a bizarre axe; the left curls into a fist before the bones snap and break out of the skin in jagged spikes, forming a grotesque mace once the glaring red muscles solidify and lock in place.

    After the hall is filled with the ugly sound of bones snapping and popping and flesh twisting and stretching, it starts to experience something not unlike what its fellow dealt with a few moments ago. Beli's assault is nowhere near as graceful and precise as Setsuko's: the axe hacks and twists and cleaves; the mace smashes, crushes, splinters. But Beli, though silent in her destruction, is blessed with a greatly increased strength thanks to Hatred's arms, and while it's not exactly quick, she can put it to excellent use even in these narrow corridors.

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Setsuko, Beli, Ainsley, and Kirika --

    Kirika nudges open the unlocked door, and she and Ainsley are both struck by a musty odor Ainsley will at once find comforting and familiar: books. Though there is no sign of any library beyond the door until the door is open wide, its opening seems to disperse all shadows, revealing long rows of shelves laden with scrolls, parchments, books, tomes, and other physical media seemingly collected from an historical era. In a world where computer terminals are common, this kind of archive seems almost eclectic, but if this is the home of a vampire, then it's probably not too unusual, all told.

    The woman is seated in a leather chair. An open book is in her lap. As she turns the pages, she reads aloud, but her voice isn't clear anymore like it was whenever she gave her welcome. She pauses at odd intervals as if to consider every other sentence or so, and commit it to memory. After a time, her head comes up, she notices Kirika and Ainsley, and she offers another warm smile -- this one tinged by sadness. There is a puffy quality to her eyes, and her sockets are darkened by exhaustion.

    "Have you come to study with me? It is good to see you here; I didn't think you'd come back today."

    The woman opens her arm to beckon Kirika and Ainsley closer, but a moment later, she fades from sight.

    The book in her lap thumps to the floor, covered now in a thick layer of dust.

D (232) has posed:
    LEFT GROUP -- Teresa, Yuuki, Zero, and Evette --

    The door beyond reveals a long straight hallway. Its left wall is a series of windows through which the pale gray starlight shines through to provide weak illumination of the way ahead. Multiple doors line the right side wall, probably sealing bedrooms or other similar chambers.

    Somewhere toward the end of the hall, the shadows seem to shudder, and there comes a flapping of frantic wings.

    The woman rushes toward Yuuki, her face distorted by confusion and wet with tears. Both her hands clutch at the front of her white gown.

    "I don't understand! Why are you here at all? If you do not want me, why do you not stay away?"

    Just before she reaches Yuuki, she crumples over herself in grief, and makes for the first chamber on the right. She vanishes before she hits the door, but the door itself shudders, and then creaks open.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Evette just nods to that final pair of statements from Zero, satisfied that they've probably said all that needs to be said. Still, though, she's begun to pick up on the difference between the way he speaks to her and the way she speaks to others at this point -- it's more interesting than anything else, but recalling Yuuki's protest from when he called her 'Useless', it's pretty obvious that this isn't just some general cultural difference in communication. He just... legitimately acts more crabby when he's talking to other people. But, why? She hasn't connected it with the age thing yet, but it's something she'll watch out for. And, maybe, bother him over. She doesn't want him to be mean to others, even if he is being pretty nice to her! ... though she -does- get the impression this is a bit more complex than him just being 'mean'. Maybe it's some weird in-between, like play-meanness? God, social interactions are confusing.

    Evette would glance to Yuuki as Zero tells her to go ahead, perhaps flashing her a brief, sympathetic sort of look. Why? It may be because Zero had been so grump with her, or it may be because he, a very qualified guardian, told her to go through first. She doesn't know Yuuki that well, but it would definitely scare her! Regardless, though, she would be one of the last to follow down the staircase. Against her better judgment she might briefly dip a finger into the opening of one of the calla lily's petals, pinching two of her fingers together before removing it to get a feel for the texture. Even if they're sorta scary, they're still alluringly pretty!

    Ah, but something... something catches her attention. She might delay a brief moment on her step to glance back toward the other hall. Did she... hear something? No, it wasn't something she heard. Maybe something she felt? It's a funny thing to say it 'feels' like you're being watched, but that is exactly what it feels like. Sorta what it felt like when she would look at her dolls when her room was totally empty, but not quite that hollow either -- this stare has feeling. A feeling of... lamentation? Or maybe disappointment? It's something she struggles to make out, but by the time she's done trying she's likely an uncomfortable number of steps behind the nearest member of her group, so she takes off without any further hesitation.

    Man, when that tall guy had said this place was filled with things that mess with your head he reeeaalllyyy wasn't kidding. At least she was right about the 'haunted' part. And speaking of, here comes the ghost again. She's... crying? and somewhat incoherently spouting something about being left alone. Well... honestly, that's a little harder for her to ignore. Evette -hates- to see other people cry. Regardless of what the others do, she would look to her and softly intone, "H-Hey... it's alright. Don't cry. If you're lonely, you could... come with us, I guess. I-If the others say it's okay, I mean." After which she would look to them expectantly. Just as soon as she looks back, though, she's gone.

    She wants to go after her so bad, but with just another, tiny glance at Zero, she affirms for herself that would be a very, very bad idea.

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Beli and Setsuko --

    As Beli's warped fists pound and tear at the door, the wood begins to feel hot to the touch. It grows hotter and hotter, until faint wisps of smoke rise up from every 'wound' Beli's fingers open in the door's surface. As the door at last collapses -- revealing a smoke-filled pantry beyond -- the woman's voice echoes out in an angry shout:

    "No! You can't do this! I won't let you!"

    ...but as the smoke clears, there is nothing on the other side at all except a fast-fading blur of white, and a dull sound of beating wings.

    The pantry offers two staircases. Cold light shines up from the right in an artificial hue, and looking down the staircase offers a glimpse at something out of a mad scientist's imagination. The staircase to the left is black with shadows, and is very cold to the touch.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Though the hallway is too cramped for the use of Zanjintou's full size, Setsuko can at least draw the weapon in its base form, and when it looks as if the door itself will retaliate against Beli, Setsuko does just that. But once it's open, her worry fades, and she returns the weapon to its sheath. A brief glance into the room beyond tells her all she needs to know; D's directions are correct. "Kirika. Ainsley. This way," she calls out towards the other room. With only that in the way of direction, the swordswoman moves again to take the fore, headed for the staircase on the left.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley makes a fussy noise at Kirika when pushed away from the sight of books. The room seems harmless enough! Right? But she realizes the others are preparing to progress through the other door, and frowns at herself. She floats away from the tempting room full of tomes, catching up with Setsuko and Beli... She looks over at Kirika distractedly, hoping her ally isn't getting tempted by the books as well.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Kirika smells a musty, pleasant scent as she shrugs at Ainsley, then gently nudges the door further open as she begins to make her way into the room. The scent seems familiar to her for some reason, not like old parchment...

    And then shes greeted with a mysterious woman reading in a library. Red eyes blink quietly as she stares in confusion for a moment. The kitsune must look rather fearsome despite her fluffy ears and tail, armored out to the gils and toting a sword and shield. She's about to profusely apologize on reflex, before she realizes the figure is an apparition.

    "Err...well, that happened." Kirika says with a shrug, before she nudges Ainsley onwards when she hears Setusko giving orders. "Right," The vixen makes her way towards the major and captain, guiding the lizard along. "We'd better not get sidetracked further here." She says, subconsciously filing away that lesson for herself as well.

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Kirika, Ainsley --

    As Kirika and Ainsley turn their backs on the archive to return to Beli and Setsuko, they'll find their way barred by the same door they'd just walked through. It's not just shut -- the door is sealed on all sides as if it's just an indented part of the archive wall.

    Something behind one of the shelves begins to uncoil with a rasp of scales sliding over scales.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    It's just as well that Zero isn't the point man this time around, because if he had been he'd have started shooting at the ghost woman just as quick as she appeared. Knowing this place it wouldn't actually do jack shit, but it would've at least satisfied his curiosity a little. As is, he's not willing to risk shooting over Yuuki with Bloody Rose, and he doesn't have time to get around her before the mysterious woman has disappeared into the first door. He pushes his way past if need be, making a point of SHUTTING the door that the woman entered on his way past. It's either the second or third door, or the last... and if one of them is broken, re-count them after passing the broken door. He grunts irritably, coming to a halt at the second door and trying to get a read on how many doors there are.

    The first is the only one that seemed broken to him, though there's an awful lot of room for error. Three possible exits, and a variable number of possible doors. Assuming that he sees nothing amiss with the number of doors, and does indeed stand at the second, he opens it up to see where it might lead. Since they lead different places at different times, it doesn't make much sense to step through blindly if it can be avoided.

    As he pulls the door open though, Zero is brought to pause by something in his peripheral vision. He looks towards Evetta and shakes his head. "Not all plants are benign, and I doubt anything in here is harmless. Wash it off if you can. I didn't bring anything to help with that, so if it's poisonous you'll just have to cope unless somebody else can help."

    Privately, Zero wishes he hadn't said that. Yuuki is right there, after all.

    Unfortunately, the second door was locked. It rattles lightly when Zero tugs on it. He moves on to the next and tries it, and that too is locked. He pauses again to try and assess the number that remain, and then begins to advance again, counting the doors as he goes. He's not going to take chances on those noises, though. He fires a couple of shots down the hallway with Bloody Rose, aiming rather oddly.

    Looks like he's angling the shots so they'll eventually collide with the wall. On the off chance that this hallway loops, he doesn't want to shoot himself or his allies in the back. Bloody Rose's projectiles are pink bursts of energy, taking on the general shape of a cross -- though they move so quickly it's hard to make that out.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    The door splinters further and further with every strike Beli sends down on it, but more than that, it...seems to /burn/. The heat and smoke rush around Beli, and every time she hits it and draws out more splinters and burning, she grows a little more tense. Still she continues, striking and breaking until the door crumbles and Beli is left panting for breath, her heart pounding like a drum in her chest and head. She immediately stumbles back, pressing her back against the opposite wall and dispelling her infernal power. Only her normal hands curl against the old wall after a moment, as her almost frightened gaze is kept on the room the doorway opens into.

    It's a few moments before Beli settles again, but she does eventually. She swallows, pursing her lips together against her heavy breathing, wrapping her arms around her torso again. She shivers, but is quick to press onward just behind Setsuko, her entire attention focused on keeping herself in control. Something about that door struck her deeply, and after the episode at the front of the castle, she can't help but wonder how much more this is going to prod at her. Reminding herself that it's all from outside doesn't make it much easier when it feels so internal.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley runs right into a wall. Thump. She touches at the indentation with both hands and blinks a few times, looking along the edges of the frame. She would become more afraid of being separated if she didn't clearly hear some sort of creature inside the library with them. Instead she moves more meticulously, trying to see if this is, indeed, a wall. Using her Visual Field, she tries to see if the other side of the wall is still the hallway they were just in, her second perspective moving like a clipping third-person camera to seek out a clear view of the other side.

    "Kirika, traps like this are meant to seal us inside a room with a threat. Be on guard, whatever that sound is likely comes from something that is meant to harm or kill us." She says this in a gentle tone of voice while she tries to find a foundation of sense in the confusion of a wall having stealthily blocked her path.

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Setsuko and Beli --

    The staircase to the left is made of wrought iron twisted into indescribable shapes. A terrible cold radiates up from each step, penetrating whatever footwear protects Setsuko's feet. As she descends, the cold becomes a surrounding, smothering presence, and the shadows press in on all sides in an embrace sure to leave anyone feeling claustrophobic. If there are walls, they become lost to the void. Any ceiling vanishes, too. Soon, Setsuko is left alone with only the stairs, the shadows, and a skittering, barely-audible whisper lashing against her senses in a woman's hateful hiss. The tone shifts into a pleading cry as Setsuko considers returning to help Kirika and Ainsley.

    "You're mad. You can't do this. Release me. Release me. Be done with me. Be done with me! I beg you, release me! Can't you see what you're doing to me?!"

    If Beli tries the staircase, she'll hear the whispers, too, though she won't see Setsuko ahead of her, or feel Setsuko behind her if she also turns back.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Kirika yelps in surprise just as the door seems to seal off right in front of her, and she then hears something slithering faintly in the room. "You may be right with that." she murmurs grimly, before she whirls about as Ainsley begins to figure out a way to escape this trap. If the lizard-girl is the brains, Kirika is the brawn here...the fluffy, somewhat naive and derpy brawn.

    Hoo boy.

Evette (593) has posed:
    "P-Poisonous?" The girl would nervously glance to her hand, as would Monoceros. "B-But it was so..." Pretty! How could something so pretty be poisonous? She knows saying that would be awfully juvenile, though, so she doesn't. Rather, she just nods again, but not without adding one more thing in referendum: "... well, even if it was, I'll probably be okay. A lot of my body is composed of inorganic material, and -something- in one of my organs might even filter it out naturally, so I wouldn't worry. Too much." Even if she goes on to mutter, 'Having poison in me sounds scary, though.' Be it the flower, the woman, or Zero, -something- in this place is going to end up giving her a complex. Seriously.

    When she remembers to, she would give a glance in the direction of the door Zero had so unceremoniously slammed shut. In earnest, she really has no idea what to make of the guy. He's a jerk, but then he's so helpful! He's the most helpful jerk she's ever known, and her inability to judge his character in accordance with some established moral binary is sorta driving her up the wall. But, whatever. That's a quandary that can resolve itself later when she's not relying on him to potentially save her life. It would probably be better to open up the possibility of not listening to him when he's not consistently feeding her advice that will make her not die.


    Speaking of, she would probably keep following at his heels for now. She had heard D's instructions over the radio but hadn't really kept track of them, so she's sorta treating the footsteps of others as her map for the time being.

Teresa (601) has posed:
    Teresa is right behind Zero, sword still drawn, her eyes looking out at the windows and what's beyond them. She lets Zero do his thing, all while keeping a closer eye on Evette, as well. "Poison does not affect me greatly, either. But even the best defenses have their weaknesses. You should do as he says, regardless." The blonde mumurs, as she passes the doors and windows, letting Zero take the lead.

D (232) has posed:
    LEFT GROUP -- Zero, Evette, Yuuki, Teresa --

    Zero's bullets disappear into the shadows swallowing the hallway's end. Only a brief, pink luminescence tells the group that the hallway continues at all, and that the shadows are penetrable. Following the trajectory taken by the bullets pushes back the shadows. Zero passes a window broken by his ammunition. On the right, he finds more doors. Two, three, four, five...

    The next bullet impacts something.

    A woman's voice begins a shrill, frightened scream. As the scream goes on and on and on -- overwhelming all ears in the hall -- it becomes a raspy howling shriek. Somehow, words are formed amid the deafening noise.


    The shadows fragment and shift, taking on the form of soft, dark feathers massed together in a solid barrier.

    The shriek continues as the feathers shudder. A single wound oozes blood. Feathers fragmented by Zero's bullet fall to the carpeted floor, followed by spattered bloody droplets.

    The feathered wall heaves apart. Long, pale, and naked, a neck of flawless human-like skin unbends and stretches out from the mass, bearing at its end the face of the beautiful woman.

    She is tormented by agony. Tortured by fear. Stricken by grief and more, she calls out again, begging for her life.


    Softer hearts might be moved by her voice, but Zero's not the type to care, especially whenever the monstrous wings fill the hall with a storm of razor-edged feathers. Sharp, ebon claws tear at the carpets, and the beast heaves itself forward, still sounding afraid.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    The swordswoman has long since resolved not to trust any voices or sights that seem either out-of-place or too good to be true; stepping onto a cold and forbidding staircase doesn't slow her, not even when the shadows press in around her and wash away all but the steps beneath her feet. The vengeful whispers of an old ghost do nothing to sway her resolve, and the sudden shriek for mercy only stops her for a moment. Just long enough for a brief swell of pity towards whoever owned that voice when this apparent torture actually happened.

    "Your torment is long since over," Setsuko says to the darkness in a soft, sad voice. "To revisit it hurts only you."

    And without further word, without a hint of hesitation, she turns and begins running back up the stairs at her full inhuman speed. Her intent is to charge right back up to the top, out into the hall, and begin carving open Ainsley and Kirika's prison with the sealed, katana-sized form of Zanjintou.

Evette (593) has posed:
    "Well, I don't have any water, but..." Evette would hold out her potentially blighted hand, concentrating on its digits. A gradual, soft green light would begin to waft out of her palm. It might float on some unseen wind to touch either Zero's flesh, or Teresa's, and even if it does not being merely falling within a certain proximity of it would make one feel as though they were being embraced by something soft, and warm. It's a pleasant sensation, and one would easily be able to tell that this is some form of healing technique. Likely healing magic from the look of it.

    Satisfied, Evette would nod to herself. "... there. If anything bad got into me, that should have made it go away. I think." Then, more quietly, 'I-I hope.' Was there any poison on her to begin with, though? The world may never know.

    After her gaze has risen, though, she would be taken in by yet another fantastic sight: the sequence of lights drawn out as Zero's bullets collide with the darkness. It's beautiful, to her; not unlike an indoor fireworks performance played out especially for her. She would study each new fuchsia glow as it appears, until... until...

    ... until something -screams-.

    Evette would cover her ears. Instinctively, each of her hands would glow a soft cyan hue that would soon extrapolate itself around her entire being. In time it would fashion itself into a solid barrier of the same hue that forms a sphere around Evette, traveling with her as she stumbles back from the noise. She's far too startled to echo that concern she held for the woman before, and she only grows more frightened as those feathers recede to reveal something... human. Something terrible. What was a simple hall filled with enthralling, whimsical visuals moments ago has become a living nightmare and, silently, Evette begins to cry. She would retreat to Beli regardless of her shape, doing everything within her power to avert her eyes.

    Only many moments later would she finally find the strength to face the woman again. Terrified but concerned, she would silently look into her eyes in futile attempt to communicate some degree of sympathy, of worry. She looks to Zero afterward to silently plead him not to shoot anymore, not to hurt her, even knowing that her messages would not be heeded regardless of their volume.

    She doesn't want anyone to be hurt, but then she doesn't want to be hurt either.

    Even more, though, she just wants to know what on Earth is going on.

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Ainsley, Kirika --

    Ainsley's special eyes have no trouble penetrating the walls to view the main hall beyond. The candles are still lit. The chandeliers still sparkle. The red carpet is still waiting to be tread across. The archive's door is just a door, from the outside -- not sealed around its frame as it is on the archive's side.

    The woman runs her fingertips across the door's outer surface.

    "Is this for me?"

    She smiles in a girlish, bashful manner before vanishing again.

    Inside the archive, something lets out a guttural hiss. A heavy thump rattles the nearest shelving, and a pair of amber, slit-pupiled eyes appears from behind it, accompanied by a flicking tongue, flaring nostrils, and a reptilian snout. Something else still in the shadows gives an uncertain snort, and something else emits a low growl.

    Claws scrape the floor.

    The shelf topples toward Kirika and Ainsley with a crash.

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Ainsley, Kirika, Setsuko --

    Ainsley's vision no doubt catches a glimpse of Setsuko charging toward the door before her attention is fully claimed by the chimaera. A moment later, Setsuko's sword tears through the door, beginning the process of opening it wide. It won't take long; Zanjintou's plenty sharp enough for this task.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Kirika's ears pick up the scratching of claws and taunts of something horrific, whirling in a 180 as she raises her shield and broadsword with intent to defend herself and Ainsley. The beast topples over the shelf, and Kirika makes an immediate decision as she grabs Ainsley and leaps to the side as far as she can, out of the way of the tumbling shelf before they are smooshed flat.

    Assuming she gets herself and her ally clear, Kirika tries to get herself back up to her feet, and she challenges the beast with her weapons raised again, lunging forth with shield protecting her as she thrusts with the sword towards this chimaera.

    Best she can do is buy time for Setsuko to open the door, but the major better hurry it up.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    It's cold. Beli is soon not shivering just from her jarring experiences, but from the all-consuming chill piercing through her and smothering her like the embrace of some giant, frozen corpse. The whispers assault her at every turn, joining forces with the shadows that smother even her own natural light. The cold and dark become not those of death, but of fear, abandonment, and suffering, emotions that half of her is designed to revel in causing and half of her feels all too deeply thanks to a kind-hearted sympathy.

    What can she possibly do? She looks ahead, but sees no one, nor does she when she looks back. Not even walls or a ceiling guide her to figure out where she is in relation to anything else. She finally comes to a halt on the stairway, her slender form shivering and her heart throbbing, uncertain of what to do or where to go while this suffering woman's voice still grates at her every sense. Doubt lingers in her mind; only the discussion on the radio gives her any sense of certainty as to what might be going on in the rest of the world, wherever she is /now/.

    It's an illusion, she attempts to tell herself in her efforts to give herself some strength. It's just an illusion, like at the front of the castle, or the door only a few moments before. All meant to gnaw at her inner conflict and push her demonic nature to the surface unwanted. But...if they were so sudden, and without her control, maybe...

    It's a brief moment of clarity through the doubt and fear starting to settle in aroudn her, but it's one Beli doesn't question. She acts without thinking any further, bringing her infernal nature to the forefront one more time with a sheen of crimson and flames of blood. Sympathy is pushed down, as the nature of one who hates and resents settles in. This is a place that her infernal aspect is much more fitted to, and so, despite any prior concerns, she allows it to come to the surface.

    Her eyes squeeze shut, but she starts ahead again, pushing onward down the staircase and letting the air of the place simply flow around her.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley wisely backs away from the door when she sees Setsuko get within slicing range of it, the sight having startled her. The sheer speed of the swordswoman set off combat instincts in the scholar lizard, forcing her to move much faster than she normally does just in case a blade comes slicing through the wall there. With that handled, she only has one concern:

    The chimaera. Her eyes fixate on the creature as it sticks a head around the shelves. The gaze of the reptilian face meets a similar look, of wide-eyed and unhindered murderous intent. Despite the frantic scrabbling that Ainsley was doing, and the way she freaked out a second ago when she realized a sword would be sticking through the wall that shut behind her earlier. She most pointedly does not let Kirika grab her for too long, having had QUITE enough of that for one evening, handling avoiding being crushed mostly under her own power. "Hmmf!" She seems a little upset with Kirika... And herself. Mostly just upset with being lured in with her favorite thing ever.

    Without thinking about it, she draws both of her daggers out, and remains defensive against the creature, waiting for it to make a move. By the look in her eyes, she just wants an opening so she can flay it.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Again and again the blade of a katana carves through the wall as if it were made of foam, until the owner can simply slam her way through shoulder-first. Her reaction times are such that she doesn't need more than a fraction of a second to spot the chimaera, decide her course of action, and move.

    Her leap takes her up to one wall and back down, a riccochet that hurls her right into range while neatly circumventing both Ainsley and Kirika. At the same time, divine energy floods through and around Zanjintou, wrapping it in a bright corona of blue, and she holds the weapon in a one-handed grip by the time her feet touch ground again. The stab is simple and quicker than a major-league fastball, aimed not for the head with the serpentine eyes but rather for the center of mass.

    And once it's driven in as far as it will go, that divine power explodes outwards in a burst of concussive force.

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
    As Yuuki continues through the area, and the Pendant clears away the weird presence before her, one thing is made very clear.

    This place is a fucked up vampire mansion.

    But she is resolute at the front of the party, and it is both good thing and a bad thing. She's rushed by the Vampire Lady, and as the ghost vampire rushes towards her, her eyes are a little sad. The weeping, the wailing, the collapsing in a heap. Yuuki's own giant pile of hair sweeps back into a huge billow behind her as she just stands there, unmoving.

    "What torments you so?" She asks, before the woman... Well, lots of stuff happens. Mostly, though, Yuuki just stands there dumbly. Finally snapping out of her reverie, Zero rips off a number of shots that start to reveal the true nature of this place.

    "Zero, don't us-...!" She begins, but the changing nature of the place cuts her short. It seems that his intuition on things having to do with horrible monsters and vampires and such, even if it's not directly one of the vampires from their world. With an electric flash, the small baton she had held extends into a long, metallo-organic scythe that she crosses in front her, looking to Evette and Zero, before sighing. "What are we supposed to do? Keep attacking? Continue on? Tear the place down and put a bullet in the corpse? We're not here to tear down this place, or we'd just sit outside and throw... bombs at it! So..."

    She idly hands Evette a handkerchief. It is the fanciest, frilliest handkerchief. "Here, wipe your hands off with that." She murmurs, before just pressing the top of her scythe (the blunt end) against her forehead.

    "Look. Maybe we can save this. Maybe we can save her! In... in some way." She murmurs, but she's totally out of her depth. Her standard mentality, 'SMILE AT IT' and 'CHARGE AT IT' didn't work. It was just so sad. "We should... stay focused." She finally offers, a platitude everyone else had already taken to heart. She had so much power, and she wasn't afriad, but she was... confused.

    Why was /she/ here? Why did D give /her/ the pendant???

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    As it happens, Zero doesn't actually stop firing his gun when he actually hits something down the hallway. He starts firing faster, in fact, putting as many bursts of light down the hallway as possible without endangering anybody else around him. He is, as it happens, a pretty ridiculous shot and can cope with most any unexpected movements from his allies. Most of them are close range specialists at this point. The screech itself gets a bit of an aggravated wince out of him, but the fact that he hit a living thing barely seems to register to him. If there's something that big in the hallway, it probably needs to die.

    "Shut up." Zero says, maintaining his composure even among the racket and flying projectiles.

    The vines begin to appear then, establishing a defense against the incoming projectiles. They cut into him here and there, but the most potentially lethal of them -- those that might have struck his heart or head if allowed to continue -- are swatted aside strategically. Quite a lot of blood is drawn, some of which is visible spattered about the hunter, but most of which soaks into his clothing and never comes visible. Fortunate, because the wounds will seal themselves up in fairly short order. Not something he'd like people to see, and not something they're likely to see if they're not paying close attention.

    In answer to the beast's continued begging, Zero seems poised to escalate the situation and simply shoot it in the face. But in answer to Yuuki's protests and the beast's begging, he lowers his weapon -- slightly, not enough that he couldn't resume shooting quite quickly, and the tendril-like vines growing from the gun do not cease -- and asks a question:


    It is aimed both at Yuuki, and the creature. Why not keep shooting? Why spare it at all? It is a thing that -can- be spared?

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Beli --

    Unseen through Beli's closed eyes, shafts of light soon pierce the darkness. The whispers become less frantic and pleading, until their sound diminishes to a fragile, wordless sobbing.

    Opening her eyes, Beli will find the staircase has at last ended in a room of carved stone walls, windows of stained glass depicting various nameless figures, and a single dusty podium. Mist hangs in the air, and the light through the windows is almost colorless. Lit candelabras on either side of the podium provide weak illumination to the room, each candle's flame too frail to produce much color or warmth. The room isn't cold -- in fact, it is a strangely pleasant, neutral temperature compared to the cold of the twisting staircase -- but it is abhorrent to the powers currently possessing Beli.

    The woman is on the floor. She is frail. Skin and bones, her skin sallow and papery, her hair lacking any lustre, her gown torn, she is no longer the radiant, beautiful woman, she is a creature barely clinging to life. She sobs into her hands, heartbroken. She shivers.

    "Do not leave me..."

    Her pleading is a bare whisper.

    "You are my heart and my soul. Do not leave me here alone to die..."

    On the podium is a tome in perfect condition. It alone seems to have any color or life. There is no dust on the cover. There is no wear around the pages. Clear Latin words are stamped into its surface, perfectly readable should Beli come closer.

    As soon as Beli steps onto the stone floor, the woman curls into herself, and fades away weeping.

Teresa (601) has posed:
    Teresa is quick to just shove Yuuki and Evette out of the way, so she can take the brunt of the creature's attack, along with Zero. She's fast, but more than that.. it's precision. She seems to sync her melee attacks in such a way that Zero will have an easy time finding openings in her movements, to shoot at the beast without any fear of hitting her. Her sword, likewise, is a blur of silver, striking out against that inky blackness, swiping and stabbing at the giant, raven-like creature.

"The only thing that ends the pain of living is death, beast. Accept that you are, and it will end."

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Kirika, Ainsley, Setsuko --

    The shelf crashes to the floor, revealing a creature straight out of legend: the chimaera. An ugly amalgamation of serpent, lion, goat, and eagle, it walks on four taloned feet, lashes a tail with the body and head of a venomous snake, and strikes at its prey with lion's fangs and goat's horns together. Its body is misshapen, but powerful, and its hate for these intruders is just as strong.

    The chimaera lunges after Ainsley and Kirika. Clearing the toppled shelf in a single leap, its serpentine tail arching up like a scorpion's stinger, it seems more than capable of managing two opponents at once. Its foreclaws swipe toward Kirika in a wicked rake, as its serpent strikes at Ainsley like a cobra trying to sink its fangs into a mouse.

    Setsuko's heroic entry is all which buys Kirika and Ainsley enough time to properly react. As the door splinters apart in a wave of concussive force, the chimaera is struck in the side. It stumbles sideways, and its rear feet get tangled among the shelves, scrolls, and books scattered across the floor. The lion's head lets out a furious roar. The furry hide is left lacerated by the forceful impact.

    The chimaera attempts to spin around to bite at Setsuko.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Snake tail, goat head, lion body, this isn't much different than the Nue that Setsuko and others had helped Kirika slay months ago. The vixen grunts as the chimaera swipes towards her, her shield blocking the strike only to suffer several deep gashes along the front. She then notices Setsuko's dramatic entry, speak of the devil.

    Narrowing her red eyes, the vixen begins to flank the chimaera, charging the beast and slashing at its side with her broadsword where she determines the beast's hide is soft. She can't channel magic through this blade, but a sword's still a sword.

D (232) has posed:
    LEFT GROUP -- Zero, Yuuki, Evette, Teresa --

    The razor sharp feathers remain a lacerating cloud as Zero and Teresa return fire. Yet more feathers fill the air as Zero's bullets find the enormous beast to make an easy mark, but these feathers fall without doing any harm to anyone; it seems the monster must make a conscious effort to use its plumage as projectiles, and that any feathers shed in any other way will be harmless and soft.

    The feathered mass shudders in revulsion as Zero's rounds impact again and again and again. The beast's wounds ooze and spurt, but any flesh beneath is otherwise invisible, as if feathers alone comprise its form. Even Teresa's sword -- cleaving as it is -- does not seem to find any real purchase against either meat or bone, though the gashes she tears into the beast are satisfying enough.

    The woman's voice howls as the monster stretches its wings into two long limbs capable of reaching the opposite end of the hall where Evette is crouching in fear. These limbs explode against either side of the doorway leading back to the staircase down, and break apart like streams of water, breaking windows, tearing carpets, and threatening Evette with more of those razor-edged feathers.

    Strangely, these do not seem to touch Yuuki, at least not as much as the feathers do harm to the others in the group.

    Another long limb extends from the writhing, shuddering mass, ending in a massive raven's claw. This aims to stretch past Zero, as if trying to grab at Yuuki. The pendant around Yuuki's neck glows like a bright blue star. The woman's eyes roll back and turn milky and blind, and the corners of her mouth begin to split from the ferocity of her continued shouting. Her clawed foot stops short of grasping Yuuki even if Zero doesn't make the expected intervention.


    The woman-beast gasps, and her face contorts. The perfect skin and flesh forming her long, naked vulture's neck splits horizontally down the sides, and more black feathers emergy through it, as a jagged black beak pokes through her open mouth, further widening it into a bloody ruin.

    The woman's voice lowers into a deep, bestial expression of sorrow.

    "Come back to me..."

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Only when the crushing chill finally ebbs away does Beli open her eyes. It comes with a repeat of the sensation she felt upon first approaching the castle, but this time, of course, it's her other half experiencing that feeling. That infernal hue flickers away one last time, carrying with it Beli's slow, shivering sigh of relief. That peace only lasts a few frail moments, though, for her attention quickly turns to the woman on the floor.

    Another storm of emotions settles in Beli's heart, though this time it's...gentler. More sympathetic. She's uncertain about how safe it is to approach the woman, considering they were told to avoid her, but at the same time...how can she not feel for her? Beli, for all her latent anger and wrath, is still more empathic than most; the sight of the woman's faded beauty as she lies sobbing and withered, clearly abandoned by someone she pleads for even now, is more than enough to send a sharp spike digging into the hybrid's chest. It's even more potent for her, as well, for hasn't she feared this happening to her some day?

    She doesn't approach, however. Weary and uncertain, reminding herself that this is the ghost of a woman who must have faded away long ago, she leans her side against the doorway and waits. The woman vanishes like mist in the wind, and Beli can only offer a soft whisper. "...I am sorry..."

    A respectful, melancholy silence falls over the chapel for a few long moments as if it were a tomb, until, finally, Beli pushes herself off the wall and walks across to the podium, where the pristine book sits against all odds. Whatever black blood Beli still has on her hands is quickly wiped off on her skirt to be cleaned later before she handles the tome. She takes a second to read the cover before carefully, gently opening its pages, as if she were afraid all time would suddenly catch up to it and make it crumble away. Unless it's not nearly as old as the rest of the castle...

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    For a fleeting instant, Setsuko allows herself to be impressed that the creature's hide was able to resist Zanjintou being driven right into it. Exploding it from the inside is not, apparently, on the menu.

    But that's fine. She has other methods - and they won't require the weapon's full size.

    In the next instant, the swordswoman hops back a good ten feet or so, and swings Zanjintou down and to the side. The handle gives the telltale snap-clack of transformation, but rather than the massive zweihander she typically uses, the weapon instead grows in length to a relatively short five feet, the blade widening as well until it's taken on what almost appears to be the shape of a giant cleaver.


    And then, as Kirika circles, the demigod charges forward again, sweeping the huge weapon around her and then above, coming just inches shy of touching the ceiling; at the last possible moment, the demigod heaves downward, bringing the sword down in a tremendously powerful swing that only grows moreso when flares of bright blue explode from the back of it, like thrusters coming to life to lend more strength to the attack.


Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley has eyes of murder and terror, and that killing instinct is tested when the chimaera proves more than capable of lunging at both her and Kirika and attacking them like some sort of war-based multitasker, the multiple heads taking advantage of their ability to think independently and making it very difficult for Ainsley to avoid getting chomped. In fact...

    She doesn't avoid getting chomped very much. She tries to ascend with her flight, and the snake mouth grabs her leg on the way up, prompting a shout of pain and a blurring of her vision from painful tears. The snake head quickly finds daggers swinging down in quick succession for vicious stabs for the eyes, one after another, as the lizard woman desperately tries to avoid being lunch.

    She howls angrily while she does this. This is quite a contrast from her earlier guise of calm and mellow emotion and gifts of flowers.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Then things become even more chaotic, and Evette... well, Evette keeps low. Mounds of flesh contorts and squeeze their way through the passage, and at once she sees their method of escape ruined by their onslaught. What's more, next she peeks her head out, she would see her companions having their own flesh ravaged by feathers. She could never be thankful enough for the guard of her shield as those same primal spines begin to lash at her, but that barrier is frail -- it will only last her so long. She jolts up with a start, her eyes quickly scanning the area as her cyan sphere begins to flicker in and out of being, buckling under the pressure of protection. Eventually, though, her eyes would lock on Yuuki. And then she contributes some strangeness of her own.

    Her expression would lock into place. Her flushed cheeks would cleanse themselves so that, for a moment, she might look perfectly stoic. Her irises flicker with a distinctly inhuman light as their blue color is overtaken by a sequence of numbers and, suddenly, she would lunge at the girl she had been focused on. Why? Well, that might elude her for a moment, but when her hand grasps her necklace, things might become a bit clearer. She's not sure if her assumptions were correct but, acting off a pure instinct of self-preservation, the Hyperprocessor in her brain would have identified this object as the thing that was preventing the feathered wall's attacks from reaching her. She advances with the hope that its effects will extrapolate themselves to her so long as she maintains contact with it.

    If not, though, she'll be in dire straights indeed. Her shield would have dissipated shortly before this desperate move, and her usual state of quivering fear would have returned as well. The trembling of her hand would likely transfer through the threads of the necklace so that Yuuki could not only see, but also feel her fear. Still, she would at least stand firm, refusing to curl into a ball as she had before. She allows a certain form of pride act as her emotional shield; she had done precisely as Zero had told her. She retreated, and found safety so that they could keep fighting. And even if she was wrong about the necklace, she needs to believe she had done well to stave off the terror of it all.

    So she does, and she will continue to do so until her eyelids force themselves open again.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    "I've had enough of you." Zero's restraint ends as abruptly and unexpectedly as it came. The vines protruding from Bloody Rose fill the hallway like a flood, spilling before and behind him in a great mass that one suspects could swallow a building if it was allowed to rage out of control. The greater mass of them snake around Yuuki and Evette, lashing out at any limbs or feathers unwise enough to remain near. The rest of the mass slithers down the hallway towards the hulking figure of the harpy-ghost, each thorn the pinprick of a needle that pulls blood away and into Bloody Rose. The sensation of it is icy cold, and none too gentle or patient.

    "She's not who you're looking for. You can't even tell the difference between the person you want to see again and somebody wearing one of his old trinkets. Your time is done, and so is his." The mass of Bloody Rose shifts and winds, attempting to curl around the great beast like a constrictor snake. "Disappear. You'll meet the person you want to faster that way." Zero lies without hesitation. It isn't as if it's difficult to believe that D might have died, or even taken his own life, even in a roundabout way.

    It seems to be a perpetual danger for the beings of this world. Even those who have nothing to do with this business of ancient nobles and haunted castles.

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Ainsley, Kirika, Setsuko --

    Kirika stripes the chimaera's flank opposite Setsuko. The flesh sags and parts around the gushing wound in a way that is unnatural, baring the monster's ribs and quivering musculature. Is the flesh rotted? The fetid stink emanating from the wound almost suggests it so, but the chimaera doesn't look like anything undead. The goat's head bleats, and Kirika finds herself targeted by a sudden sideways lurch, the creature's entire mass trying to crush her against the far wall.

    Ainsley, stung by the serpent's fangs, is susceptible only to their sharpness. Whatever venom enters her system is felt as a hot flush spreading from the wound, but it does not seem to have any potency her natural resistances cannot overcome. Still, the deeply-embedded fangs threaten her vital circulatory system -- they're plenty long enough to tear open an artery -- and do nothing to release her even as she tries to writhe away. It's a good thing she's got those daggers.

    Each sharp dagger pierces the snake's eyes, blinding it for good. Though nictitating membranes somehow as hard as iron attempt to shield the eyes from harm, the damage is done, and as Ainsley withdraws her weapons, the serpent withdraws its fangs. It tosses its head in a violent response, though, and this might send Ainsley flying out-of-control at the wall Kirika's about to be smushed against.

    The chimaera was lucky Setsuko couldn't put her full force behind the first strike! It has no supernatural resistances beyond that luck, and some protection against magical forces -- maybe that's what deflected some of Setsuko's divine wrath? Well, whatever had spared the beast the first time is no match against a directed attack the likes of which Setsuko unleashes next. As Setsuko swings her Zanjintou toward the heavens, filling the archive with the weapon's unbound glory, the chimaera shifts to the side to try and crush Kirika.

    This move unwittingly puts the chimaera in perfect position.

    The lion's head is no longer in biting range. No talons can deflect Zanjintou's keen edge.

    Shippu Doutou cleaves the lion's head from the chimaera's body in a single, searing cut.

    The chimaera writhes. Its goat head bleats in horror.

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Beli --

    The title of the book is clear.


    Of course. Would it be anything else, in a place like this?

    She is free to take it, to touch it, to read it. The pages are in no danger of crumbling away to ruin. Something keeps this book intact, and if her innate senses are telling her the truth, it's the book's familiar holy power lending it an immortality beyond all expectations.

    The Christian faith had been eradicated in D's world. As the antithesis of the Nobility, any knowledge of Christian rituals, symbology, or texts had been genetically erased from human understanding. No books remained in human hands that could be read and remembered, and nobody really knew what the cross or anything related actually meant. The very concept of 'holy' was foreign.

    But somebody, somewhere did. And from what D's been saying...

Teresa (601) has posed:
    "He's not wrong. An end to your misery leads to the same place." Teresa adds, still swinging her blade in wide arcs, cutting down as many of those razors as she can, to stop them from getting to Evette. Her outfit is cut into, along with the skin and flesh beneath, but the blood just seeps out a bit here and there, her wounds healing too quickly for any of these fine cuts to do any lasting damage.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Hmm. Perhaps less resistant than Setsuko had believed. Perhaps she won't need the force of the Shippu Doutou to split its hide open. She leaps back, giving a brief look of concern to Ainsley - but they're not out of danger until this thing stops moving. Best to stop it moving as quickly as possible, so that they can tend to her injuries and get her out of here.

    With a soft rush of air, Zanjintou snaps back to its base katana configuration, and the demigod brings it up in a ready stance so simple and iconic that anyone who has ever practiced or even watched kendo will recognize it in a heartbeat. And her next move forward isn't a desperate, aggressive lunge, but a simple and precise advance, taking full advantage of the chimera's wounded state to put her right in close and deliver a simple, downward slice towards the thing's body.

    No flashy moves, no push of divine power. A plain overhead slash.


Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
    Pushed clear, the feathers don't come near Yuuki, even as Evette lunges for her. Her expression, her face, makes her more afraid than anything else. Something primal inside of her understands that it is more scary for something to lunge at you in cold logic and need than flail in fear. She's afraid, because the last dispassionate sort that had lunged at her had desired nothing but to devour her entirety.

    But as Evette lunges for the pendant, Yuuki simply reaches back and pulls the chain free, pressing the glowing pendant into Evette's clutching hands. "Take care of it." She breathes, a small smile on her face, before she slips free of Zero's vines, to stand besides him, leaving the glowing pendant in Evette's care.

    "She's enslaved here. Trapped in an eternity that she cannot end. A cycle of pain and grief." She murmurs, holding Artemis, her scythe, tight. Lacking the protection of the pendant, perhaps a few feathers come close to her, but now Yuuki has the right of this place now.

    She understands why the woman cries, and she feels a deep pity for the castle's shade. "Zero."

    She turns her head to her 'brother' and offers him a sad smile. "You're right. But not for your reasons. If you can, please release her. I don't know if Artemis will reach her, but Bloody Rose might." She offers, before heading back to Evette and placing a hand on the girl's shoulder. "It's okay. Nothing will hurt you with all of us around. It's okay. You can come back." She urges, as there is a sort of... Pressure that seeps from her. Something that pushes outwards from her, that causes the inner ear get that 'plugged up' pressure imbalance feeling. It's subtle! But she's uninterested in seeing Evette hurt now that they've gotten what they had come for.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Seeing the cover of the book is enough of a shock to Beli. She's heard plenty from D about his world. About the conquest of the Nobles, and their removal of whatever could be called religious from the hands of humanity. This...this doesn't belong here, but there it is. Confusion flits over Beli's features as she flips through the pages, careful to avoid marring its pristine quality, and as she listens to D over the radio, she comes to an understanding. So this is what needed to be so carefully guarded.

    And Beli can only guess what sort of wrath might fall on them for getting past these defenses to find it. The order is given to take it and leave the castle as quickly as possible, and Beli does not need to be told twice. The book is lifted off the podium and held fast against her chest, bound and shielded by her arms wrapping around her torso.

    The others say they can get out on their own, and so Beli simply starts to run. As weary as she may be, as much as she may feel her body and mind ache from the trials this castle has caused, she runs up the stairs and back down the hall to the entrance with the book held firmly close to her as if her life depended on it.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    Kirika blinks as the chimaera falls apart so easily, but she isn't stopped so easily as she braces herself to try and resist the beast's attempt of smashing into her. Her shield is used to help press the thing back, before she shoves away at the chimaera once it's decapitated by Setsuko. Her sword stabs into the beast's side, and she digs it deeper and deeper before ripping it free once she supposes she's hit something vital.

    "I am sorry..." Grunt, "For getting us in this situation, Major." She says, trying to keep herself from being crushed by the beast still. As she notes the goat, she climbs further up before slashing at the goat's head in order to finally finish this here and now, but she's going to need some serious luck to reach that far given her position.

D (232) has posed:
    LEFT GROUP -- Zero, Teresa, Evette, Yuuki --

    Bloody Rose swarms the hallway. The windows swell outward and shatter one by one as the weapon's thorny vines fight to occupy all open spaces not already claimed by Zero and his allies. When there is no more open space to claim, the vines ensnare and crush the woman-beast's feathered limbs like a bristling-sharp constrictor. Whatever bones form those limbs snap into unnatural angles. The feathers break. Blood and feathers burst from the beast's crushed limbs like popping blisters, spewing filth in all directions. What vitae is not consumed soon paints the floor, ceiling, and walls, except where Bloody Rose deflects it, leaving clean silhouettes amid so much gooey red.

    The woman-beast's now bird-like head no longer shrieks with a woman's voice. It caws and cackles like a sickly crow, its throat bobbing, its head swaying in the broken manner of something diseased, its glistening eyes swelling as its body begins to fail.

    Teresa's sword cleaves pure, beautiful arcs through all the disaster and chaos swirling around her form. As the beast's blood bathes the hallway, and as Zero's loathsome weapon drinks in the monster's vitality, Teresa lets none of the horror dissuade her from taking righteous, wrathful action. The yoki coursing through her body gives her the strength and skill she needs to shrug off all injury, until she is face to face with the monster, and her sword is buried deep inside its breast.

    Another rattling cry shakes the castle to its foundations. Within it, a woman sobs her mourning, her rage, all her torment crashing against the senses of /anyone/ within the castle -- even Kirika, Ainsley, Beli, and Setsuko, who are far away from this battle.

    Evette shares the safety and sanctuary offered by the pendant, though the pendant can't keep the beast's blood from raining down on her. Fortunately, Bloody Rose provides even more security, protecting her from anything horrible -- save the woman's sobs.

    The beast's head sags. Another weak sound chitters out between its beak. Its dark eyes find Zero, and in them Zero will see acceptance.


Ainsley (151) has posed:

    Ainsley is whipped through the air and into a nearby wall, which hurts A LOT, but doesn't shatter bone quite as easily as it would any other creature. Still, she is significantly dazed and lets out a growl as she tries to right herself and make sure it doesn't beat her to death like a rag doll against the wall. She stabs a dagger into its forehead, and using this, she directs a current of electricity directly into the beast...

    A lot of electricity. She's very good at controlling it, able to avoid shocking Kirika and Setsuko in the process, while providing a nasty shock directly into the chimaera's body!

D (232) has posed:
    RIGHT GROUP -- Setsuko, Ainsley, Kirika, Beli --

    'Something vital,' indeed.

    Kirika's stab penetrates the chimaera between its exposed ribs, and tears a gasping, ragged hole through its unprotected lung. The lung is immediately flooded by blood, and the chimaera lets out a choking, guttural sound as red foam boils up from the goat's open mouth. Staggered, the chimaera's claws scrape for purchase on the floor, but its own body begins to fail at serving its intentions, and it falls onto its front knees as its legs begin to collapse.

    As Kirika's blade is ripped away, Setsuko's returns. The overhand strike descends, precise and clean, and chops into the chimaera's torso like an executioner's axe finding someone's neck. Zanjintou is sharp and blessed; even without Setsuko's divine strength putting force behind the blade, it would have little trouble delivering a mortal wound. In the hands of the embodiment of war, Zanjintou is nigh unstoppable.

    Another spray of bright red blood mists the air. The chimaera's heart is severed from its potent circulatory system, and its beating stopped. As Zanjintou emerges from the chimaera's flesh, the body rattles, and the goat's head repeatedly gapes and gasps.

    At the next moment, Kirika's sword returns, ending the goat's flailing attempts at continued life. The goat's head goes bouncing across the floor to roll to a stop beside the lion's.

    Then, Ainsley's reflexive storm assures nothing survives of the chimaera's flopping remains. The serpent's writhing, hissing body is paralyzed as soon as the lightning skitters across the chimaera's body. A few final twitches are all it can offer once the lightning clears -- that, and a revolting stink. Cooked, beheaded, blinded, and most of its vitals ruined, the chimaera collapses, and goes very, very still.

    Most mythical beasts have to be killed in a very particular fashion, and it's possible this thing will still find a way of getting up again, but for now, it's clearly out of the fight.

    As for Beli...well. Rushing up the staircase isn't as bad as going down it. She'll find nothing in the main hall to deter her exit. Nothing in the courtyard. Nothing on the bridge. D will be waiting for her there, if she doesn't stop to wait for the others before completing her escape.

Evette (593) has posed:
    Crimson rains around Evette, pooling between the vines trailed by Bloody Rose. So much death. So much pain. So much sadness. Evette had only really known sadness once before in her life, and she had never - never - known pain. She had had the good fortune of having a whole universe's worth of historical knowledge placed inside her head, but even that can only do so much to dull her reactions when she's not consciously aware of it. Still, there is one thing she is aware of, and vividly: this woman's anguish. She would look to the protruding beak, but somehow, her gaze manages not to be miserable. Rather, she's smiling. It's a soft sort of smile, though -- the sort a child might give their mother as they've been rocked to sleep or, perhaps, even the complementary grin of the mother herself. Either way, though, it would mean to communicate warmth. Understanding.

    "It's going to be okay. You're going to get to rest now. Just let Mister Zero and his friend say goodbye, and then you don't have to hurt anymore. Really, I promise. All you have to do is trust us." Only when she finishes speaking does her look droop back into a frown. Did... did any of that get through? She really hopes so, but that's about all she can do: hope. She doesn't know what Zero and Yuuki are going to do, if anything, but... she'll keep her fingers crossed that this will be an end to things. She wants to believe that this lady... spirit... whatever will get to move on to a place that isn't so empty, lonely, or scary. If being here was as horrifying as it was for her, she can only imagine how it must have been to stay here as long as she suspects this lady has been made to.

    Eventually, she just shuts her eyes. She's tired -- mentally and physically exhausted. The only thing she can really focus on to take her out of the present situation is imagining practicing weapons with Zero or Setsuko later, but even that is almost glossed over by another overwhelming desire: one for a bed. The soft comforters and warmth of her bedroom.

    ... it'd be nice if the bird lady could have that, too.

Zero Kiryu has posed:
    The vines that sprout from Bloody Rose part as Zero drags himself forward. He's a bloody mess, though not nearly so much of one as he should be by rights. Like everyone present, he is possessed of power enough to endure an ordeal such as this, however much he might try to hide it. With the heat of combat gone, and the circumstances that lead to this beast being here at all brought clearly into the light, he can't help but find his own bloodlust to be extinguished. He thinks back, not so long ago now, to dispatching feral vampires preying on the city adjacent to his school. At the time his own degeneration was in full swing, and when he came near to those wretched beasts they had recognized him as an ally.

    One of them had his wits about him still. Not enough to stop himself from murdering rampantly, but enough to be lucid. To communicate like a person, instead of an animal of some kind. That one couldn't have been that much younger than Zero himself was at the time, and he was so...

    Relieved, that he didn't have to kill anymore, even though it meant his own end.

    Bloody Rose's vines loosen their grip on the creature's broken body, and gradually begin to withdraw into the gun. The danger has mostly passed, and a part of Zero regrets having used Bloody Rose quite so cruelly just now.

    "No more." He echoes, firing Bloody Rose into the base of the beast's head.

    Zero holsters his weapon beneath his winter coat and leaves without another word, descending the long wrought iron staircase, through the entrance hall, and in time crossing the mists to return to the car he arrived in. He pauses only to be certain that every piece of their team is still together (particularly Yuuki and Evette, because Teresa seems like she can care for herself) and to get a headcount when the two branching teams reunite.

    Only Evette receives some direct face-to-face communication (and even then not verbal), when Zero hands her a business card that has been punctured by a feather. It offers contact information, which is fortunately unspoiled by the feather, but is otherwise plain and cheap.

Ainsley (151) has posed:
    Ainsley pulls the snake jaws off of her, and growls from the pain of the sensation of teeth coming out of her leg. She frowns at the blood that dribbles down, and comes in for a landing. With a bit of concentration, she staunches the bleeding just by swapping from storm to life mana affinity, but that means she can't really do her flying thing anymore. It also dulls the pain, which is considerable because she still grimaces just from putting weight on her leg.

    She sticks the daggers back in their scabbards and looks between Kirika and Setsuko a little pleadingly, frowning sadly at the desire to rely on them for help. "It will be a slow walk back over that bridge. Can I get some help?" she asks, the pain obvious in her voice. At the very least, she's not fatally bleeding out. It came pretty close to it. That is a very nasty bite wound on her leg, her whole leg is soaked red.

Teresa (601) has posed:
    As Zero delivers the coup de grace, Teresa, likewise withdraws. Nothing spoken, she simply sheaths her sword on her back, and makes for the exit. There is nothing more to do or say, with the job done.

D (232) has posed:
    LEFT GROUP -- Zero, Yuuki, Teresa, Evette --

    A final shot.

    A final cry.

    The beast's form recedes in a smooth, fluid fashion. Feathers -- once razor-edged and flung in an attempt to destroy everything and everyone -- melt like snowflakes on warm pavement. The blood, all that blood, begins to evaporate into fast-dispersing steam. The beast's broken limbs grow slender and pale as they shrink back into the graceful limbs of a woman raised to be beautiful, compassionate, and gentle. Its claws vanish. The beast's plumage again becomes a fluid and lustrous spill of black hair.

    The woman folds her hands together over her bleeding breast, where Teresa's sword has left a remaining injury. Her head bows, the clean wound left by Zero's bullet also spilling bloody tears to the floor below.

    A sense of peace washes through the castle...for now, Evette has things her way. For now, Yuuki's assurances have made their mark.

    For these four, the way out is just as clear as it was for Beli.

    The candles in the main hall are no longer lit.

Kirika (481) has posed:
    As Kirika frees herself from the chimaera's carcass pinning her, she gives a grateful nod to Setsuko and sheathes her blade. Her shield is tucked over her back, and the vixen fishes through her pack to retrieve healing gel, a handy gift from Colonel Irving the earlier holiday. Approaching Ainsley, she offers a poultice of the gel to Ainsley before applying it to her wounds best she can.

    "Please remain still, Ainsley." She says softly, stroking Ainsley's head-feather things gently.

    And then she princess carries the bookish sword-lizard like a hero of legend with a princess freshly rescued, her strength aiding her greatly as she hoists Ainsley up. "We should find Beli, then meet with the others." Kirika says to Setsuko, before she carefully lifts Ainsley through the opening Setsuko opened.

Beli Klum (238) has posed:
    Perhaps Beli might be a little too confident in her allies, or perhaps she may be overestimating the importance of that book in her mind. Whatever the case, however, she doesn't wait after that confirmation that the others can take care of themselves; the angelic demon leaves the castle and runs across the bridge to ensure the book's safe return to D, who she comes to panting with a mixture of mental and physical exhaustion and relief.

    If he lets her, she takes a moment to give D a hug, as firm as he might allow and as long as he might permit. Whether it's for his sake or hers isn't entirely clear.

D (232) has posed:
    D, for once, seems to understand Beli's need. He may not return her embrace with as much fervor as she gives it, but he does permit her to cling to him as she desires, and he does draw his arm around her shoulders to offer some stoic form of support. He doesn't look down at her, or speak to her; his eyes are ahead, on the castle, from which the others are making a steady (if somewhat shaky) emergence.

Setsuko Kaminagi (255) has posed:
    Kirika, likewise, receives a nod of acknowledgement as they depart. If Kirika has Ainsley, the demigod isn't going to worry about it too much. Better if she simply covers their escape.

    Once they are outside, however, she'll turn her attention to Evette; first, checking to see that the girl is at least 'going to be alright', if not alright this particular moment. Once she's satisfied of the girl's condition, she'll promise to see her back to her own place of dwelling - a prime opportunity to speak to her on the way back, even if only briefly.