7087/LI0: Black Swan, Yellow Hands (Red Shrine)

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LI0: Black Swan, Yellow Hands (Red Shrine)
Date of Scene: 14 February 2020
Location: Last Illusion
Synopsis: A desperate group of heroes rush to the Red Birds Shrine in order to empower the Relic. There shouldn't be any defenses, but there are complications...
Cast of Characters: 7141, Staren, 7201, Arthur Lowell
Tinyplot: Loop Zero
Tinyplot2: Last Illusion

Linehart (7141) has posed:
     The Red Birds Shrine is unlike all the others. While around the White, the Black, the Blue, even the ruined Yellow, cities have sprung up in full blossom, the Red Birds Shrine is an empty and solitary place. It is an ominous graveyard hanging in the sky, past the touch of the land, and probably never part of it. It was a city unto itself, once, but that was long ago, in a time that never existed in this world, a past that never was. The spires are tall and unpleasant metal, broken things that once were buildings and are now no more than ruins. Machines scuttle about across the grass in the sky, odd nonsense machines that don't look quite right, machines that aren't *really* machines but simply monsters in their shape. Arkae and Staren have to fight through quite a lot of them on their way down into the shrine.

     The music here is not the cheerful town music of the rest of the world. It is a low, ominous, building terror, a music that may at any moment burst into fast-paced, bloody combat. Staren has heard it before. Arkae has not.

     A bloodstain poisons the green grass next to the door to the Shrine itself. A bird's emblem sits atop the doorway. Lights lead into it, guiding them onwards. The door swings open with a BEEP when they approach.

     The shrine itself is full of these twisted machine-monsters. They fire missiles. They shoot lasers. They launch mines. They fluffy machine-gun bullets through the air. They're goofy-looking and strange but no less lethal for it. Four at a time. Six at a time. Eight at a time. Twelve at a time. The swarms are big, and aggressive. They don't let up until the bottom. The lights guide them on all the time. Broken screens flicker and light their way when the lights go out, or become confusing.

     At the bottom, a bird.

     A great, red phoenix. Once upon a time it was a beautiful guardian god. It once bristled with glorious flames. It was designed to be beautiful and terrible as the sun.

     It is also hilariously, exceptionally dead, with seven black spears driven into its body. Two in the wings. Two in the eyes. Two in the flanks. One through the chest.

     The offering bowl is full of its flaming blood.

     The lights start flickering furiously. They go dim. But nothing happens.

     The pair make their way out of the dungeon.

     The music kicks up into that ominous beat.

     It's not a man, exactly, that steps out of a nearby, broken building's glass. It's a figure - seven feet tall or more, a swirling cape, a cross-scar visor, a massive spear. But there's no *color* to it, no glow, no...shimmer. The figure is monochromatic. It's a shadow, a shadow of the real thing, an error conjured by the lack of the real thing in the world.

     There aren't any words exchanged. The figure just goes walking forward, bringing its hand shut, crushing fire out of the air. The flames strain against its grip as the sunlight-without-a-sun flares.

     From on high, pillars of flame rake down upon Arkae and Staren, smashing into the ground with all the force on might expect from a JRPG Boss attack.

     Because this is not Linehart.

     It is what he was, with all the benefits intact.

     The one that killed Jorin the Brawler.

Staren has posed:
    Staren steps off the airship with various minions in toe -- humanoid robots in SWAT gear, metal men with kanobos, and the reanimated corpses of Garleans still wielding their swords and armor. He leads Arkae through the Red Bird Shrine. Machine-monsters are killed from as far away as possible using missiles that superheat the air and inferno rounds -- those that get close are dealt with with physical force and fire-aspected beam swords. Minions are lost, ablating away against the waves of monsters. This is fine. That is their job.

    Staren gasps when he opens the door and sees the familiar but unexpected sight of the dead spirit, looking exactly like he saw it last time. <"Oh COME ON! You killed the Red Bird AGAIN?"> Staren assumes Linehart is listening to the radio.





    Staren hangs his head. <"...I'm an idiot. You did in the original story. Why would the Red Bird even EXIST in an un-killed state? But, the relic..."> Staren turns to Arkae. "Maybe... try touching the relic to its corpse, or the blood or something? I don't know..."

    He takes another sample of the blood and looks around for any changes, but finding none, leads the way back out. "I... guess we head back out, maybe we can help one of the other groups."

    Fighting out is the same as fighting in. More minions ablate away. Stepping outside, the music changes. Staren looks around, alarmed... and spies... Linehart? Only it clearly isn't him.

    And then he realizes what he's walked into. This is where one of the heroes dies. And the others had kept joking about using him for this, too...

    Staren moves a split-second too late. The fire rapidly melts through multiple layers of forcefield, the translucent amber sphere of force glowing white-hot and shattering to reveal a smaller sphere twice. Staren returns fire immediately, blasting at the Knight's shade with beams of high-energy particles; a reliable and highly destructive weapon of science. "So this is what you do if Mordred doesn't show up, huh? Things just have to happen your way, even though we've already changed the story..."

Arkae Zellar (7201) has posed:
Oh shit, traps and dungeon trash. Lots and lots of dungeon trash.

Arkae holds the Red Bird Relic, but she wasn't here for the first trip, due to a conflict with another adventuring group. Staren was, though, so he's depending on him for tips and taking the right path through the dungeon. In return, he gets potions.

And then they reach the end. And... there's a dead bird.

"This is disappointing..." says Arkae, clutching her relic tightly to herself.

There's nothing else for it. They head up... and...

"This is... Linehart? If he was-" Arkae says, trying to theorycraft about the person walking towards them. She doesn't have time to finish the thought.


She probably doesn't mean that Linehart was fire. She's referring to the column of fire that she suddenly finds herself enveloped in and desperately trying to get clear of. She looks more than a little singed once she stumbles out of the column, coughing as she draws her sword with one hand and pulls a potion vial from her bag with the other.

"Alright, if you - *cough* - like fire..."

She pours the vial over her curved sword, tosses the empty container aside, and charges. There's no elegance to her attack, she just needs to make enough contact with her blade.

After all, it's not her sword that's doing the most of the damage... it's the nerve-burning poison that it's practically been doused in.

Linehart (7141) has posed:
     The flag was flipped. The boss fight has to happen. It's inexorability at its finest. You can't *stop* the fight if the flag was switched, and that's what Shyra did to even make this plan possible. The story's changed, alright, but the event still has to happen, somehow, even if it goes off the rails.

     And boy is it off the rails.

     Staren's shot punches right into it. The shadow of Linehart staggers, stopping in its unceasing tracks as the particles scatter in a laser-light beauty. The shade sizzles as it walks forward.


     The number pops up above its head, just like the real Linehart. And just like the real Linehart, the moment the stagger's worn off, the moment it starts moving again. So it has HP. It has *health*. It can be harmed.

     Arkae comes slashing in with nerve-burning poison. Whatever it is, it doesn't have nerve poison, and it can't *be* poisoned, but...well, it's a JRPG Boss. The poison falls off as soon as it's hit with it. Still, that's a staggering amount of damage - a health 416 pops up above it, and again, the shadow staggers, the duplication stumbling backwards.

     The shadow moves to strike, raising its hand into the sky, dark power gathering-

     -and splits in half.

     The two halves of the shadow collapse, flickering out of existence. A Red Bird pendant falls down - only to be caught in a strange hand.

     A black chariot, drawn by a pair of massive cobras. A tall figure with a bow slung over its back, a chakram in one hand, reins in the other. A green-brass mask over a black robe.

     The Yaksha holds the pendant thoughtfully, then looks up at the pair of them.

     Merely an imitation. Disappointing. The world hasn't provided me what I seek after all.

     And yet here I am.

     The Yaksha opens its hand. The pendant vanishes. Here I am. With this Relic I ought not have. In this place called a Shrine that grants power to its victors. Power that I ought not have.

     I wonder if, should I kill you two here, I will receive that power myself? And if it will be enough to kill the true Mirror Knight.

     The Yaksha holds up its chakram. Undead begin clawing themselves out of nowhere, rising from the ground like weeds - the strange backwards undead of this world, unrecognizable, odd ghosts with faces covered by white masks, miscolored flesh, hook-blades in one hand and shields in others. Why don't we find out? I'll give you the test you desire. And in turn when you fail I will rip the power from your corpse.

     Behind it, a massive shadow emerges from nowhere, as if phasing in. It's identical to the Red Birds Spirit, but it's *alive* - and it's also *reversed* palette, a rippling blue-and-white instead of a burning red-and-yellow, its eyes a malicious yellow. The reversed creature lets out a massive cry as it pulses its wings, the chill of the world falling down upon them as the Bhuta undead begin to line up.

     The Yaksha's eyeholes glow an ominous blue flame. Yes. I think these are the rules of this shrine. We fight. To the strongest goes the spoils.

Arthur Lowell has posed:
    Arthur is, abruptly, here. "Duplicate effect! Purging redundant flags!" He dives through a Gate that has suddenly appeared, locking onto the signal of his allies. Surrounding him, floating, are a number of duplicated door segments: he's alchemized DUPLICATE FLAG TERMINATORS as best he can, to prevent a rather dangerous situation where enemies might double-up. With a single graceful magically-empowered motion, he slams them through the chamber and locks them around the entryway of the Shrine to turn it into a double-entryway retroactively, trying to clear duplicate flags.

    Is this why Shadow Linehart so easily falls? Because someone else had entered? No, presumably not -- rather, it's likely the other way around entirely. Arthur turns from his work to see the fresh enemy and his eyes go wide. "Shit!" He shouts. "We got worse than duplicate flags! Holy shit, a second boss broke in!" He knows better than to get involved -- and tangle himself in the many flag -- and rocket-blasts his way to the the door of the shrine, where foes are unlikely.

Arkae Zellar (7201) has posed:

"Oh that is just not fair... chaining final bosses together like that."

Arkae can protest all she likes. "You can try- ugh," The tengu alchemist cuts off as she suffers from one of the many attacks and effects going on throughout the battlefield. The dark phoenix's chill beats her down, and then the masses of amassing undead beat her up.

"Okay, don't try, I mean- screw it."

Arkae reaches into her bag of tricks, drawing forth another vial of glowing liquid. Instead of spreading this one on her blade she chugs it, tosses the empty glass aside-

- and she's moving much faster. "To the victor go the spoils? Well, do you really think you can kill-"

Her deadly curved blade flashes out at one of the undead as she runs past it.

"- What you can't catch?"

The strategy here is a simple one, taken out of any RPG playbook: clear out the adds, and until they're thinned out enough, stall like crazy and hope you survive.

Staren has posed:
    A shade of Linehart. Troublesome, but manageable. But then things get worse; So, this is the source of the red textboxes from before. The one hunting Linehart. "Oh COME ON!" he exclaims. "This is nonsense! You HAVE the relic's power now; use it against Discordia and Ayuda Raksha and take your share of the spoils!"

    But the army of undead arises and shadow Phoenix freezes them with cold. The handful of constructs still at Staren's call charge forward, or stay back and fire at the enemy horde... but the coldness freezes all. Even Staren is frozen in place, metal growing brittle, internal spaces between parts icing up. There's the electric whine of straining motors, and the ice breaks, falling away from Staren -- along with a fair bit of metal unseated by the growing ice, or shattered from cold brittleness.

    Arkae suggests clearing the field. Staren can oblige. More ice shatters as the various missile launchers built into his body fire -- some of them rain down on the zombies, exploding in the same fireballs used to clear the Dvarpala earlier; others go for the Yaksha, armor-piercing kinetic penetrator warheads that act more like explosive-tipped gyrojets than conventional missiles.

    Behind the visor, Staren's expression is tense. He wonders if one of them really will fall here. And more importantly, if it will be in a way they can fix...

Linehart (7141) has posed:
     The Bhuta drop, bam bam, straight to the ground. They go down with little numbers popping up over their heads - rapidly, quickly, one by one. And yet, as they die, the Yaksha seems painfully unconcerned. Missiles rain down around it. Arkae's blades flash through them, carving them away. Some of the missiles come heading for the Yaksha itself, but the blue bird god's wings cover the rider, and the missiles simply punch into the bird, dealing popups of white damage all across its body. It apparently has three parts, wings, head, and body. That's interesting trivia.

     It's also utterly meaningless, because, just like Discordia, it's a real-ass god with real-ass god-powers. It's a weird, reverse god, maybe some kind of shadow that was dummied out, maybe something the Yaksha figured out how to do because of its elementally undead nature, or maybe something that's not supposed to exist but does because when the world was made real the Red Bird had to go *somewhere*.

     Unlike Discordia, though, it takes damage, so it's clearly beatable.

     It's just, when the wings unfold, the Yaksha seems almost amused. It snaps its fingers twice.

     A yellow bird unfolds out of the ground. Then a green one.

     Two more snaps.

     A white bird. Then a black one.

     *Palette swapping*. What a cheater.

     Now. Unless I miss my guess very much...one of you dies here.

     And it's a man. So I think I'll kill you.

     As one, the five birds let out a scream that shakes the world. The false divinities rear up, their wings rising, their maws opening.

     Earth. Ice (Water). Metal. Tree. Fire. The five elements of this world come colliding down from those wings, flechettes of steel, meteor rocks, a blaze of murder, swirling thorns and vines, and freezing winds with icicle spears. This is a hell pointed directly at Staren, a hell of the Yaksha's making, testing its power to the utmost. It's not just here to steal the blessing - and whether it even has the blessing at this point is impossible to tell, because, as it said, the Shrine demands a test - but to enjoy itself and find out what it can do.

     And what it can do is apparently tap into the spawn tables and *fuck with them furiously*.

Arthur Lowell has posed:
    "Bird gal! ID'd a defense bug on you -- I've got it! I've got it!" Arthur identifies a second bug -- something about Yaksha's attacks that's phasing where Arkae's defenses should be defending, some kind of collision problem. He moves fast, and this is one he knows how to deal with. A shock of radiation realigns electrical fields in atoms, hopefully rearranging them into less dangerously-ordered formations, making collision work properly. It's not about calculations. It's about /real physicality/.

    Unfortunately, perhaps Arthur was looking too closely at the wrong one. Arthur takes cover inside the Shrine, staying well out of the fight as much as he can. But he can see, on the other side, the threat to Staren. He can do little more than shout in panicked support. "STAREN!!"

Staren has posed:
    Damn, the bird is tough!

    And he can summon more of them. One of each element. Staren stares, wide-eyed. "You don't need the relics. You could defeat Ayuda Raksha all by yourself..."

    And then he raises his arms defensively as everything hits him. Three more layers of forcefield shatter in an instant and Staren's forced against the outer wall of the shrine. Metal tears, rocks crush, ice freezes, fire burns, vines wrap and squeeze. It would be a grisly sight indeed were Staren still organic, as the body is broken and pulled apart, armor shattered, sparking wires snapped, motors broken, metal bones separated from eachother. Oil and hydraulic fluid leak out like blood. Staren's eyes look to Arkae, worried... but not as worried as someone should be about dying. Concerned for /her/? And then he stops moving, looking like a broken puppet that's being battered repeatedly by the five elements. Its strings cut, it collapses to the ground once the assault is over.

Arkae Zellar (7201) has posed:

The Yaksha focuses... directly on Staren.

Arkae forces herself not to watch.

If Staren can pull through, he'll pull through. If not...

... Don't think about *not*. Don't focus on *not*. Don't believe in *not*.

The tengu spares herself half a hasted second in order to draw a steadying breath, and uses the moment of relative respite that's been afforded to her.

She uses it to start drinking.

Potions by the double-handfull are pulled out, the tengu trusting on the enchanted bag of holding to give her the good stuff. Cat's Grace. Stoneskin. Air Walk, Bull's Strength, Blood Armor, Expeditious Retreat... all those and more get uncorked and poured into the tengu's beak, as if she was a frat pledge undergoing some hazing ritual.

Mixing all of these effects at once is probably not healthy. Arkae doesn't particularly care right now.

And then finally, the last extract in her bag, the one she's saved for last... a vial that glows all the colors of the rainbow...


The double-armful of vials is dropped. Arkae Zellar's sword is re-drawn and swinging before the glass shatters on the ground.

The tengu is a blur of motion, swinging and swinging again. She runs and dodges across the air itself, as if it were solid ground, advancing and retreating all around the Yaksha like a pesky mosquito, darting in for a strike and then dashing back out.

As she fights, she glances over at Staren, and then regrets it. Arkae puts him out of her mind, she has to... Right now she has a fight to win.

Staren has posed:

    He knew it was coming, but something primal inside him can't help but feel fear and distress at the body it's inhabiting being beaten and broken. He is honestly not sure if the next moment of his awareness will be waking up in the resleever or...

    ...This. His sight is damaged, so there is only blackness behind his HUD. Lots of damage readings and an indicator that the reactor is disconnected and he's on battery.

    The battery is at 100%. It will last at /least/ four days, even at 100% CPU usage. He can still hear the radio. Arkae and Arthur calling out his name.

    Now begins a dangerous waiting game -- if the Yaksha knew the truth, it would no doubt devote effort to finishing him permanently. Arkae doesn't know about his 'immortality', and he didn't have time to brief her before coming here because he wasn't expecting the cutscene.

    If he TELLS her, the difference in behavior might tip the Yaksha off and doom him.

    If he DOESN'T tell her, she might not intervene if another attack knocks him off the island and into the sea. That would be bad. That's pretty unlikely, though, and Arthur knows, so he wouldn't let that happen, right?


Linehart (7141) has posed:
     Heroism's always been the thing that kills monsters.

     Arkae goes shooting forward. She swings, and she swings, and she swings, and she swings. She cuts into the Yaksha again and again, more of those white numbers popping up with every strike, as it recoils, as it reflexively twists back, as it takes hit after hit after hit. Its HP pool must be enormous. The mosquito-bite strikes add up, just like they should, as it tries to twist around, as it tries to summon Bhuta in her way, as it tries to have the birds intercede. They're too slow. She's much too fast, much too swift. She strikes over and over and over and over and over, and the Yaksha eventually pulls back, back into the safety of the birds.

     There's a moment of tense silence.

     Then, a red pendant comes swinging out from the wings, as the birds fade and vanish.

     Here. The Shrine's been satisfied with that sacrifice. I can't die - I have no ability to die. So this isn't a fair fight anyhow.

     The pendant pulses with a glowing light. It'd be no trouble to take it and merge it into her own - it looks like it was made for it, like it's a piece of the relic that holds the blessing.

     The chariot turns around. The cobras start pulling it away. That's all the help I can give you. Discordia can poison minds like mine with no trouble.

     I hope your friend isn't dead for long.

Arkae Zellar (7201) has posed:

There's some things there that Arkae doesn't quite understand. "Um..."

She'll try to figure it out later.


The fight-borne adrenaline leaves her (even if the basically-fantasy-combat-drugs pumping through her system will take a few minutes to subside). Right now she needs to see to Staren before anything else. The alchemist runs over, grabbing another vial and imbuing it on the fly...



"There's... not really enough here to, um... digest a potion, is there..."

Wordlessly, she tries anyway, finding his head and pouring the liquid between his lips.

Staren has posed:
    Four days of bodilessness. Maybe four weeks. Would it drive a man mad? After several moments, Staren's had enough.

    He is sitting outside the shrine, but it looks wrong. Flat. Subtleties in shadow and texture lost; He's not sure how much he can afford to simulate. He wonders if Septette has to make a similar decision about sensory processing.

    Staren stands and begins to pace. Around him, the outside of the shrine -- or rather, the representation constructed by his automap software -- is still and silent. There aren't even footsteps. He taps his fingers on the wall in irritation, also silently. Note to self, take some time and think about nice features to add to simulation if he has to wait in a disabled body again. Well, he could play videogames, but he doesn't want to take his attention away from the radio right now.

    I hope your friend isn't dead for long.

    Staren frowns. Well, the simulated body inside his head frowns. He can see his reflection in his playermodel's visor. That jerk KNEW, and let him stew here anyway. He takes a deep, simulated breath, and sighs.

    <"Yeah, I'm fine."> For a given value of fine. <"Just get my body offworld, and we'll fix this. I'm glad you didn't have to die.">

Arkae Zellar (7201) has posed:

"... Oh, you're alive."

Arkae drops the head she was cradling. "Jerk."

Utterly ignoring Staren for the moment, she goes over to hold up the red bird relic she has to the one that was left behind, figuring that that's the way to do this to empower it.

Staren has posed:
    Some say the best cure is laughter, but really, it's magic: Shut up reality, /I/ tell you what to do. I don't care if he's metal, he's better now!

    Wires knit together. Motors uncrush. Metal bones reconnect. His movement is halting and jittery, but he starts to sit up... just as he's dropped. He can see and hear again. "Hey, I didn't know he knew! I thought he'd finish me off if he did, and if I told YOU and you acted on it your behavior would give it away."

    He brushes himself off, shards of frozen armor falling to the floor with a tinkle. More quietly, he adds, "Also, 'fine' is probably overstating it."

    He stands up and follows her. "Thank you for your concern, though. It really is nice to know people care, after recent events."

Arthur Lowell has posed:
    Arthur rushes to check. "Is his neck okay? Is his head okay?" He sees movement. "Oh fuck, oh christ. Jesus Staren, I thought you bought the server for a second." He then, suddenly, winces. An error. A BIG one. "Fuck. Fuck, fuck. Big glitch elsewhere, I gotta run." Another gate. He rushes back to the ship..."

Staren has posed:
    Staren shakes his head at Arthur's question and taps the spot at the back of his neck where his stack is. And then it's time for Arthur to rush off. "Good luck!" Staren waves.

    And then his arm falls off. "Whoop. I'll get that." He bends over to pick it up and carry it as they make their way back to... as they make their way out of here.

Arkae Zellar (7201) has posed:
Arkae gets the powered-up relic.

"Yeah, all this is familiar. Collecting a set of things, defeating an ancient evil, getting a gigantic sack of gold and blowing it all on new gear, alcohol, and various dubious entertainments..."

She examines the relic. "Well, we're not at step three yet, but I'm hopeful. For step four, I'm torn between buying a racing chocobo at the Gold Saucer or new parts for Lightspeed Dash. Maybe some for each? What do you think, Staren?"