ClockQuest Complete Logs (Pt. 6)

May 11th, 2017
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  5. _____Finale: Like Clockwork (3/3)_____
  6. <DrEvilKitteh> Fortunately, there were no traps. Not immediately, at least.
  7. <DrEvilKitteh> The room on the other side of the doors was fairly spacious. It had a glossy black floor, walls, and ceiling, but it wasn't particularly slippery underfoot. A few dim lights illuminated the room, but there was nothing in it save the direct center. For sure, the most eye-catching part of it was the complex series of tubes, pipes, and wires coming down from the ceiling, all of which looked like some sort of industrial take on the human brain, albeit one thirty feet in diameter. And the closer they got, the better they could see what lay below the “brain”.
  8. <DrEvilkitteh> It didn't take them long to figure out that it was a seat, positioned in a way that was like a...medical or dentist's chair, though with quite a few additions on it, particularly the back. Naturally, there was someone sitting in the seat. The equipment on the back of the chair was hooked up to the “brain”, and it was also hooked up to the someone in the seat. Overall, that part evoked the Matrix, especially with the things that plugged directly into their spine and the back of the skull. A thick mask was strapped over their mouth and nose, and tubes sticking out of the arms, legs, neck, and chest had pale yellow liquid slowly flowing into their veins, with pale orange liquid flowing out.
  9. <DrEvilKitteh> When they got closer, they could get a better look at that someone. Male. Ancient Gaunt, decrepit, shriveled, stringy white hair and a wispy beard, glassy, milky eyes, wrinkled skin too pale from lack of sunlight, long, yellowed fingernails... It was as if he hadn't moved in years, or maybe decades. The machinery on the chair apparently seemed to keep him breathing and his heart pumping at the very least, though if the flashing red lights were any indication, some of the equipment was failing or needed maintenance.
  10. <DrEvilKitteh> For his part, Walter remained quiet as he approached, and while he kept his revolver in hand, he didn't make any move to aim it at the unmoving elderly man. He seemed to be seeing the man and...not seeing him, if that made sense. “...He seems...familiar,” the android murmured, which explained his somewhat strange behavior. “I don't know why.”
  11. <DrEvilKitteh> The old man's eyes twitched a little in response to the vocalization. Whether or not he was fully conscious, well...that was something they'd have to figure out.
  12. <Jar Mimic> “Oh no!” cries Rosemary, the red finally fading from her eyes at seeing another grim sight of human suffering. Green again, they widen at the image of the man before drooping into a gaze of sorrow. “There was another prisoner this whole time! I’m glad this room didn’t get caught in the cross fire.” Covering her eyes with a hand, but looking between two parted fingers, she approaches. “How do we get him out? He’s hooked up to a lot more stuff than the…” She shivers, recalling the memory. “Th-than the others were.”
  13. <Jran-Kri> "G-G-God in H-Heaven!" Alexa exclaims at the ghastly sight. She twitches towards Amelia as if to resume clinging to her, but she has the good sense to merely huddle around her staff instead. She tentatively approaches the man behind Rose, looking him up and down. Her teeth saw at her lower lip. "I-I-I d-d-don't kn-know, I-I m-m-mean we h-h-have to, duh, b-b-but, um, oh nooooo," her attempt at speech degenerates into a little wail. "I-I-I n-n-need t-t-to kn-know. Wh-what. Th-this is. First." She nods briskly, gesturing towards the fluid going into him. Her head swivels around the room, searching for anything that could shed light on the issue.
  14. <Tangent> Amelia reaches out to Alexa, reassuringly, her frown intensifying as she gets a good look at the scene. Useless. She's useless. She can't help this man, only punish the creature that did this...but Alexa can. "Take your time, Alexa. You can do this. I believe in you." She tells her friend, reassuringly. "Hey, Mister. If you can hear us, don't worry. We'll get you out of here."
  15. <LeftHandofGod> Lin steps forward, eyeing the man lying in the chair. "...Creepy," she concludes after a moment of thought, standing back and keeping her pistol drawn, but pointed skywards. "Is this... why would he be kept like this? The other prisoners seem like they were in agony, but this one doesn't look like he's been moved in years." Confusion and curiosity are driving the normally quiet girl to speak at some length.
  16. <DrEvilKitteh> There was a small rattling from the equipment on the seat. A few moments passed before something actually happened: a voice issued forth.
  17. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Hello...?”
  18. <DrEvilKitteh> It sounded distorted and...aged. Really, there was only one person it could have come from. The old man's eyes twitched some more; he didn't quite seem blind, but neither was he able to completely see them.
  19. <DrEvilKitteh> “Hello,” Walter replied. “Who are you? Why are you here?”
  20. <DrEvilKitteh> “...” There was some warbling in the speaker, whatever it was. “...Sigmund,” finally came the rasping answer. “...It... All my fault.” His voice didn't seem to be wavering just because of 'natural' distortion or whatever. But then his brow furrowed slightly. “...Walter? I-...-at you?”
  21. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Yes.” Instinctively, the android's thumb moved to rest on the hammer of his revolver. “How do you know my name?”
  22. <DrEvilKitteh> “I-...sorry fo-...happened to Quentin.” It almost seemed like he was on the verge of tears. “...Tried...stop...couldn't.”
  23. <Tangent> "It's okay. We'll get you out of here." Amelia says, trying to sound reassuring. She looks to Walter. "Sure you don't know him? Any idea who he is?" She asks quietly.
  24. <LeftHandofGod> Lin watches in silence...then realizes that there's something better she could be doing. One eye on her map, one eye on the door behind the party.
  25. <Jar Mimic> “Is there anything you can do, Walter?” Rose asks, covering her eyes completely now, “Can you use your computer magic to fix his voice? He sounds like a phone that’s getting bad reception. Is there any way to get him more bars?”
  26. <Jran-Kri> "O-o-oooh n-n-noooo," Alexa wails under her breath, looking around as she wrings her hands. "I-i-is th-this... um.. um... I-I'm not... Wh-wh-who a-a-are you, s-s-sir?"
  27. <DrEvilKitteh> “I...maybe.” Walter holstered his revolver and stepped over to examine the speaker apparatus more closely. He began to tentatively tinker with it, which caused the old man's next words to warp from better “reception” to worse than before.
  28. <DrEvilKitteh> “Sigmund,” came the repeated name in answer to Alexa, before the Walter started altering things. Most of what he said next was incomprehensible, at least until Walter tuned the speaker to be just right.
  29. <DrEvilKitteh> “Sorry, please repeat what you just said,” the android instructed Sigmund. “We...didn't catch most of that.”
  30. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Is...this better?” Sigmund's voice did come through, significantly clearer now. It sounded vaguely familiar in a way, too. Upon receiving confirmation from Walter, he continued, though after a short pause to better marshal his thoughts. “Walter, remember me?”
  31. <DrEvilKitteh> “Not beyond a nagging feeling,” he muttered. “Why? Should I?”
  32. <DrEvilKitteh> “Quentin and I...we were colleagues once.” Sigmund's eyes slid shut. “...When I accepted the job, I didn't know what would happen. I tried to stop him, but...he outmaneuvered me. That enforcer sent by the Nine made sure of it.”
  33. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter cocked his head. “What do you mean? Who outmaneuvered you? And...that enforcer... Was that the Ironclad Man?”
  34. <DrEvilKitteh> “One of that brute's titles, yes.” Sigmund's eyes opened and attempted to focus on the android. “...It was the Alchemist. He...he is me. A homunculus, derived from myself, but...focused on certain aspects. Id, creativity, instinctual desires, stronger emotions... I created him alongside his brothers, the Erudite and the Engineer, to assist me in these excavations. But he turned on me, infiltrated the Cores, slew his brothers, and turned my automatons against me. And then...the Alchemist began to expand beyond my previous parameters. He created abominations and inflicted so much pain and horror upon this Sprawl... He killed Quentin to prevent him from attempting to stop him. All of it...because of me. All because I made the Alchemist.”
  35. <DrEvilKitteh> “...I am sorry, Walter,” Sigmund continued. It was probably only because he wasn't speaking with actual vocal chords that his voice wasn't cracking. “I tried to stop him, to stall no avail.”
  36. <Jran-Kri> Alexa listens to this account with rapt attention, her face a mask of horror. She creeps back a little from the chair as Walter approaches, huddling behind her staff as if she thought it could hide her. "O-o-ooh dear oh dear," she mumbles to herself, looking around at the others as if for guidance. "A-ah... W-w-well... O-o-our c-c-creations, um... c-can turn a-against us. E-e-even G-God had to s-s-start humanity over o-once." She giggles a little under her breath, for some reason. "C-c-can... is... C-c-can we g-g-get you o-o-out of... th-th-this?"
  37. <Jar Mimic> “Well, today’s your lucky day!” says the rather suddenly too enthusiastic energy vampire. Although the sight is still too much for her, she’s once again looking through her fingers. “I killed the Ironclad and also blew up all the cores and stuff! What’s his face is totally useless without all that. And we’re also here to rescue you. If you can’t stand up, I’m sure that I can carry all of whatever this is that you’re attached to.” A pause. “I suppose we could also go after all the rest of the what’s his faces that might still be around, too.”
  38. <LeftHandofGod> Forget the door, her pistol is trained right on this creepy, creepy man. "You...created him? Why are you kept alive then? If he has turned on you, why do you live?"
  39. <Tangent> Amelia's stony-faced. "How do we kill the Alchemist?" She says tersely, her earlier sympathy drowned out by the mix of pity and disgust writ large across her sharp features. "Everyone that's died is your fault. Help us fix it."
  40. <DrEvilKitteh> Sigmund faltered and hesitated at the veritable verbal barrage directed his way by the four girls. “...I...I'm not quite certain why the Alchemist didn't kill me. We...still have a connection, so perhaps he couldn't, or...perhaps he needed me to stay alive.”
  41. <DrEvilKitteh> “Are you saying we'd need to kill you to kill the Alchemist?” Walter kept his revolver holstered. There was no point in immediately going for it considering how Sigmund was most definitely not a threat.
  42. <DrEvilKitteh> “I don't know anymore,” Sigmund confessed. “Before, my death would have caused all three of my children to...fade, I don't know. The Alchemist has become something else. Something more. Something worse. But,” he added, “if you destroyed the Prime Core, his power must have been severely weakened. All of the automatons' Cores should be...decaying, withering; eventually, they will crumble into dust. And to my knowledge, all of his bodies were brought /here/ to defend the excavation site from you--even if he can control more than one of them, they should be easy to destroy. Since he infiltrated and linked himself with the Core 'network', the...the backlash, the burnout that the Prime Core caused, has...trapped him. He cannot escape the Cores, now.” Sigmund focused himself better for his next statement. “In short, to kill the Alchemist, you need to kill his bodies.”
  43. <DrEvilKitteh> “And we don't necessarily need to kill you to stop him,” Walter concluded.
  44. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Perhaps not.” Sigmund's eyes closed briefly. “But if you must, I will not stop you.”
  45. <DrEvilKitteh> “Would...disconnecting you from all of...this,” Walter gestured to the chair and “brain” above, “produce the same effect?”
  46. <DrEvilKitteh> “As killing me?” Sigmund opened his eyes and looked up at them. “If my mind and soul yet give the Alchemist strength, disconnecting me from this apparatus would weaken him. My death would weaken him moreso or kill him outright as well, but only if the connection is as it was in the past.”
  47. <LeftHandofGod> Lin's finger slips into the trigger guard, and rests there. She stares a long time at this sad looking old man, then asks him, "How long have you lived, and how...corrupted are you for it?" Perhaps not the right language to use, but it's the language she knows.
  48. <Jran-Kri> Alexa takes this information in remarkably soberly, however her focus has now shifted to Amelia. She scurries over to the fire knight, unabashedly leaning against her as if for guidance. She looks between Amelia and Lin, trying to keep her eyes off of the mangled old man for as long as possible. "N-n-now w-w-wait, no... m-m-murder's... w-w-wrong..." She mumbles. There is little conviction in her tone; certainly not nearly as much as when she seizes up a moment later, her eye twitching spastically as she barks at Sigmund. "NOTMURDER! J-justice! C-crafter of a-a-abominations! A-a-arrogance! P-p-pride goeth b-b-before the f-f-fall! O-o-only G-G-God c-c-can f-f-forgive th-this s-s-sin! REPENT!"
  49. <Tangent> Amelia looks like she's going to say something, but then Alexa's latest fit distracts her. "Shh, shh..." She murmurs to Alexa reassuringly, hugging her tightly. "It's okay, it's okay..." When Alexa seems calmer, she looks to the others. "We're pulling him out of this thing." She tells them, not even bothering to frame it as a suggestion. She's not a murderer.
  50. <Jar Mimic> Rose looks amongst her group. “Guys, guys, please! We have to save him. We’re Magical Girls. We save people.” Before turning to the old man. “Do you want us to save you or not? Because, if you want to be saved, we’ll definitely save you!” While what this husk was saying was fairly straightforward, this is the only information that the former sheep doll feels is really relevant. “Don’t worry about anything else in the world. If there’s a bad problem with what’s his face, we can take care of it. You have to tell us. Do you want us to save you?”
  51. <LeftHandofGod> She might not be fond of this man and what he's created, but she won't go against the party. Lin's pistol returns to the door, and her finger to a safe position outside the trigger guard.
  52. <DrEvilKitteh> “...From what it seems, I don't believe you and I share the same definition of 'corrupted',” Sigmund told Lin. “But...truthfully, I have lived almost seventy years. Maybe more--it has been difficult to tell time recently.” He fell into a contemplative silence as Rose presented that question to him. “ tired,” he admitted. “But I want help you destroy the Alchemist and bury what he has uncovered if I can.”
  53. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter nodded slowly and looked at the others. It seemed they were agreed on freeing him, so... “Very well. This will take a few minutes.” And so he began to examine and tinker with the seat's apparatuses. “...Sedative...paralyzing agent...geez, this is one potent cocktail,” he muttered under his breath as he cut off the yellow liquid's flow, and he did the same to the orange one.
  54. <DrEvilKitteh> Nothing would appear on Lin's map for the duration of the retrieval, fortunately.
  55. <DrEvilKitteh> Occasionally, Sigmund gave Walter some pointers and tips on how best to shut down the device and extract the old man from its grasp. At some points, like when Walter removed an IV line, he got Alexa to use a bit of magic to heal Sigmund where the needle had been inserted. And finally, at the end after Walter had unplugged the Matrix-esque connecters from Sigmund, Alexa purged him completely of the crippling chemical cocktail.
  56. <DrEvilKitteh> That being said, Sigmund was still extremely frail with atrophied muscles, so he wasn't in the best shape. Walter even hooked up the mind-reading speaker to his neck to continue acting as his voice.
  57. <DrEvilKitteh> “How are you feeling?,” Walter inquired then. “Better?”
  58. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Pained, completely and utterly miserable,” came Sigmund's weary voice. “So better than before.”
  59. <DrEvilKitteh> “Good. Mostly.” Walter picked Sigmund up and held the aged man carefully in his arms. “Now, you've mentioned the excavation before. What do you know about it? What has the Alchemist uncovered?” Together, he and the girls began walking, intending on leaving the almost-completely-black room. “We need to know.”
  60. <DrEvilKitteh> “...What feels like a lifetime ago, I was approached by an emissary of the Nine,” Sigmund began explaining. “They wished to hire me. I was the perfect candidate for overseeing excursions into the Sprawl. And not just excursions, but full-on excavations as well. The pay was good, I was fascinated by the potential discoveries, I accepted. It wasn't long before their Enforcer arrived, which is around the time the Alchemist turned. I doubt those two events were coincidences.” Looking quite tired, Sigmund closed his eyes before recounting more. “I was never completely sure what they were looking for, save some descriptions: specific symbols, landmarks, and the like.”
  61. <DrEvilKitteh> “Landmarks?” Walter's mechanical eyebrow rose. “In the Sprawl?”
  62. <DrEvilKitteh> “Indeed. Their target was a...building of some kind. A structure. From what I could tell during my time as the Alchemist's prisoner, it was roughly analogous to a temple. I can only guess at what the Nine of all entities want it for, let alone why it was 'buried' in the Sprawl in the first place.”
  63. <Jran-Kri> Fortunately, thanks in no small part to Amelia's ministrations, Alexa calms down enough to actually do her job and assist with the process. The worst of her episode has passed, and she listens to Sigmund's account with rapt attention, as if she hadn't just called for his head on a plate. "A t-t-tuh-temple?" She echoes, blinking owlishly. "T-t-to wh-whuh-what?"
  64. <Jar Mimic> “Then it’s your lucky day again, Mr. Sigmund.” As Walter is carrying him, Rose sort of hovers behind his shoulder, looking down at the man. “If they really were here looking for something, I could always come back and blow it sky high once I’m all recharged. It’s a good thing we came to rescue you.” A pause. “My name’s Rosemary. It seems like it’s nice to meet you.”
  65. <LeftHandofGod> Lin peeks outside, one eye on her map of course, checking for foes. Presuming she doesn't find any, she calls out that the way is clear.
  66. <DrEvilKitteh> As before, the way is indeed still clear.
  67. <Tangent> Amelia doesn't seem to agree with Rose about that...but she keeps a watchful eye out on things even as she sticks near Alexa.
  68. <DrEvilKitteh> “I don't know,” Sigmund muttered. “I searched for references and meanings behind the symbols and imagery of the temple, but I could find nothing that gave a concrete explanation as to its original purpose.” He tensed a little as he looked vaguely in Rose's direction. “No!,” he rasped. “That temple is /here/! The Alchemist has already unearthed it! It /must/ be buried again or destroyed to prevent him or the Nine from claiming it.” The aged tinkerer sounded...scared.
  69. <DrEvilKitteh> “The temple is in the digsite just outside this fortress, then?,” Walter asked, seeking confirmation.
  70. <DrEvilKitteh> “Yes.” Sigmund gave a weak nod. “The Alchemist was getting so close to opening it before you arrived, too.”
  71. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter fell into contemplative silence at that.
  72. <LeftHandofGod> "Then we find a way to sink it? Is that...umm, how do we do it?" Lin looks at her teammates, hoping one of them has an idea for sinking what's surely a rather large structure.
  73. <Jran-Kri> "Um. Um," Alexa begins, though she clearly doesn't have a clue. She blinks owlishly, adjusting her glasses. "W-w-well, um. C-c-can't we just... p-p-put all th-the d-dirt back o-on it? With... wh-whatever they used to d-d-dig it up?"
  74. <Jar Mimic> What this aged man says worries young Rosemary. Not because of the enormity of the task, but rather because of the logistics of it. She bites one of her nails. “If I only had my source. I don’t have enough power to use any more reckless ki attacks. I’m sorry, everyone. I’m just not strong enough.” Her nail is much stronger than her tooth, so it hurts to chew. So she stops.
  75. <Tangent> "...I guess we'll just have to blow it up piece by piece, then! And if that creature shows up to try and stop much the better."
  76. <DrEvilKitteh> “I...” Sigmund furrowed his brow as he thought about the method they could use to destroy or rebury the temple. But, as it turned out, he was preemptively interrupted by someone else.
  77. <DrEvilKitteh> The intercom growled to life and a grainy, static-filled voice began to speak. “It would have been /so/ much easier if you'd just killed him.” The Alchemist, it was unmistakable. “You have /no/ idea how annoying it was for Sigmund to have been subconsciously restraining me, especially after the Prime Core was destroyed. Which, by the way? Not. Cool. I'll flay you one by one just for that. Not that I wasn't going to anyway, get the picture.” The homunculus cleared his throat. Even though he had no need to do so. “But it was still nice of you to free me from his withered, stagnant grip. Now I'm able to take my vengeance on you! Won't that be /fun/.”
  78. <DrEvilKitteh> Unlike most of the other times they'd heard the Alchemist speak, he didn't sound...overly manic, so to speak. No, he sounded furious. If he had teeth, they probably would've heard them grinding. He wasn't actually shouting, but the way he bit off his words spoke volumes of his anger.
  79. <DrEvilKitteh> “By the way, I know you're planning to take away /my/ victory by getting rid of the temple, but guess what?! You're too~ la~aate~!” Well, there was the unhinged singsong bit at least. “You can't destroy or sink it 'cuz I'm already opening it!”
  80. <DrEvilKitteh> The lights throughout the fortress went out and were swiftly replaced by fierce red lighting.
  81. <DrEvilKitteh> “The self-destruct,” muttered Sigmund. “He's trying to kill us.” As if that wasn't obvious already.
  82. <DrEvilKitteh> “This is where we part ways via /massive explosion/,” the Alchemist growled. “And this time it'll stick!”
  83. <DrEvilKitteh> The intercom hissed for several seconds before cutting out entirely.
  84. <DrEvilKitteh> “I recommend running,” Sigmund remarked.
  85. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter nodded curtly and began sprinting down the hallway. “This way!,” he barked.
  86. <Jran-Kri> Alexa nearly leaps out of her skin at the sound of the Alchemist's voice, instinctively cringing behind Amelia. In so thorough a state of panic, she probably couldn't figure her way out of a paper bag, let alone what to do in the face of this minor catastrophe he'd unveiled. So it was useful that a solution was provided for her; she wastes no more time sprinting after Walter, a quiet, teeth-grinding scream leaving her.
  87. <LeftHandofGod> And without hesitation, Lin follows, running full speed down the hallway. "Do we still take down the Alchemist? Or do we just run?" Maybe she's expending magic or something, because she's not breaking a sweat as she runs alongside Walter and directs her question to him.
  88. <Jar Mimic> “He does realize that we could still blow it up with him inside, right?” That’s about all Rosemary has to say before the red lights of the self destruct go off. After that, all she has to say is, “Ah, I can’t run very fast! Don’t wait for me if I’m too slow!” before sprinting right along behind their lead lined leader.
  89. <DrEvilKitteh> “Hop onto my back,” Walter ordered Rose.
  90. <DrEvilKitteh> It took Sigmund a few moments to think about his words before speaking to the former doll. “...Perhaps the Alchemist believes that whatever rests in the temple is sufficiently strong enough to safeguard him or destroy all of us?,” he theorized.
  91. <DrEvilKitteh> Several long runs and sharp turns later, the party came screeching to a halt directly in front of a blank wall. But at Walter's command, Seo-Hyun used a rapid series of compressed and directed fireballs to blast through the wall. Air blew in from outside and they could see the Overcity through the hole, along with that weird loop that led to the now-vaporized factory above them. However, the hole was...many stories above the ground below. Maybe around twenty if one had to guess.
  92. <DrEvilKitteh> “Hang tight.” Walter shifted to hold Sigmund in one arm, drew his revolver, fiddled with it momentarily, made sure Rose was secure, and jumped out. He turned in the air and fired a grapple at the side of the fortress, which arrested their fall quite neatly. Walter had to detach and fire two more grapples after the previous ones ran out of line before they reached the ground, but they did so in quick fashion.
  93. <DrEvilKitteh> Seo used miniature thrusters of foxfire to slow her own fall when she followed them. Amelia had her own Fire magic which she could use in a similar fashion, or maybe she'd be more inclined to go down alongside Alexa on the latter's Reinforcement platforms. Either way would work fairly well, as long as they got down soon.
  94. <Jran-Kri> Alexa clearly loathes the process by which she gets down, but she doesn't have much choice in the matter; she builds a ramshackle staircase of bright red panes of hard-light, each successive step appearing a half second before she steps off of the one prior to it. As panicked as she looks, it's stable enough. "O-o-oh dear, oh d-d-dear," she mumbles, occasionally casting a furtive glance over her shoulder at the building.
  95. <Jar Mimic> Well, Rosemary has only one thing to say about these developments. “Weeee!” she cries as she’s carried along. And when her ride jumps out of the hole in the wall, she shouts “Woohoo!” It’s all probably very annoying to Walter. But since she’s being carried through this particular sequence of events, she can’t think of much to contribute. Other than asking a stupid question. “Hey, should we run clear? Or is there a way into the temple from here, do you think?”
  96. <Tangent> Amelia hops down alongside Alexa.
  97. <LeftHandofGod> And Lin does her best to follow Amelia's lead, doing her best to keep pace.
  98. <DrEvilKitteh> “The Temple is located within the excavation site,” Sigmund stated.
  99. <DrEvilKitteh> Of course, there was only one excavation site here. Glimpsed by the party at certain points prior to now, they were now almost on the edge and able to look over everything. To put it simply, the fucking thing was /huge/. Massive. Titanic. The crater was around...five miles wide from edge to edge, and three miles deep at the lowest point. Large construction and digging machines were clearly visible even from where they were, and all the way back and to the left relative to their position, there was the Temple. It had to be.
  100. <DrEvilKitteh> Of course, seeing as how they were running for their lives, they couldn't exactly stop to look closer at it. Especially since they were a few miles away. Still, they could tell that the Temple was quite large, if more or less dwarfed by the excavation site in its entirety, although the Temple was only partially uncovered.
  101. <DrEvilKitteh> “Lifts,” grunted Walter. He pointed ahead at some industrial-grade elevators sitting on the edge of the precipice. Obviously, they led down into the excavation site. “Those are our exit.”
  102. <DrEvilKitteh> Before the lot of them could get ten more steps, they heard something strange. The wind began blowing...backwards. Towards the fortress. And there was a faint humming in the air. Their footsteps became more and more laborious as time passed, as it seemed like the looming walls were pulling the group back towards their cold facade.
  103. <DrEvilKitteh> Cracks appeared in said walls, and slowly but surely, the fortress began to crumble in on itself. Weird thing was, it didn't collapse. The rubble that fell from the walls tumbled inward, not down. That followed the theme of the air, pieces of dirt, and even small stones lying on the ground nearby being pulled to the fortress.
  104. <Jar Mimic> There are just too many sights to see! Upon being presented with the sight of the excavation sight, she hops right off of Walter and peers down into it. “Woah! It’s like the Grand Canyon, except this is a thing I’ve actually seen! I wish Iris could have seen this.” A pause. “How could something so evil create something so cool looking?” Of course once the second sight is seen, she’s a bit less enthusiastic. That, of course, is the sight of the implosion. For once, she’s glad that her mother has shown her so much anime. She knows what’s about to happen. At least, she thinks so. “Ah, Alexa. Can you put one of your shields around all of us? I think it’s going to try sucking us in.”
  105. <Jran-Kri> Alexa, too, is quite awestruck by this display, or possibly terrified; they look the same on her face. Fortunately, Rose's request tears her out of her reverie. Nodding jerkily, her staff glows a bright red as a barrier shaped remarkably like a beehive settles into place and rapidly expands. Her face scrunches up from the effort of still hurrying away. "U-u-um! Um. N-not s-s-supposed to take l-lifts in a f-f-fire...!" She points out queasily.
  106. <LeftHandofGod> The little Beacon girl stares out over the expanse, eyes wide. "That's...really big. Umm, maybe we should get down? I don't wanna get hit by debris!" And so she ducks down to make herself a smaller target for flying bits of stone.
  107. <Tangent> "We'll figure it out! Come on, Alexa!"
  108. <DrEvilKitteh> “It's an implosion, not a fire,” Walter stated. “The farther away we are, the better. If it fails on the way down, being inside it is better than staying right here.” He quickly ushered the others the rest of the way to the lift, which took only a couple button presses to activate.
  109. <DrEvilKitteh> This particular elevator ride was fairly uneventful. Relatively speaking. It shook and shuddered and groaned from the stress of the implosion happening at the top of the excavation site, and eventually whatever mechanism held the car (more like a platform) safely failed, but once again Alexa and the Fire specialists were able to coordinate to ensure its safe descent.
  110. <DrEvilKitteh> Even as they fell, the group could look up and see the top of the cliff start vanishing, pulled towards the heart of the Alchemist's fortress. Apart from the wind blowing past them, the implosion was remarkably silent--then again, that could have something to do with how far they were from the heart of the self-destruction device itself.
  111. <DrEvilKitteh>All in all, about a half-mile of the edge at the lowest point had been drawn into the implosion, and it was as if the earth had been scooped up, making a neatly downward-curving section of absent ground. Part of the elevator system had been drawn in as well, of course, but it had been built to be sturdy, and so only some of it was now missing. The remainder continued stubbornly sticking to the cliff's face, which made it quite a bit easier for them to reach the bottom.
  112. <DrEvilKitteh> Speaking of, the bottom of the excavation site was, a word? Messy. A great big industrial mess. The earth (whatever constituted the “earth” of the Overcity) had been dug up frantically, with reckless abandon, and as such it wasn't...the cleanest, smoothest, or prettiest place.
  113. <DrEvilKitteh> Dirt, crushed concrete, crumpled metal, glass dust, and more made the floor of the excavation site lumpy with hills and small mountains, and in multiple places ruptured pipes spilled water out, turning it into a muddy mire. The smell wasn't too pleasant either, but fortunately none of the pipes in their location were sewer lines.
  114. <DrEvilKitteh> Aside from the water, not much moved. Any automatons that had previously been active now stood or lay inert and unmoving, whether at a sentinel post, wheelbarrow, or piece of construction equipment... Of course, the most eery ones were the bodies of the “Clockwork Flesh Golems”, although there weren't many of them near the group. Still, despite how creepy it would look to see a partly-rotten human carcass with bronze gears poking out from holes in their body lying still on the ground, it would likely come as a relief to see and hear that those constructs no longer “lived”.
  115. <DrEvilKitteh> And, naturally, off in the distance was the sight of the temple itself, indistinct but prominent in the excavation landscape.
  116. <LeftHandofGod> "Creepy...really creepy." Lin eyes the clockwork monstrosities as she makes her way along, picking careful footholds within the mess of the excavation site. Other than the brief mention of the corpses that the group is passing by, she doesn't complain about the conditions that the group is moving through.
  117. <Jar Mimic> However ugly the scene around them might be, Rosemary’s eyes were glued to the scene above. The entire time the implosion was occurring, she had been moving around, shifting about, and generally trying to get the best view possible. When finally they did arrive at the bottom, she had only one thing to say. “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Of course, once she finally lowers her head, she’s ankle deep in dirt, and only has one thing to add. “I’m glad that happened gradually instead of all at once.” A pause. “We would have died.”
  118. <Jran-Kri> Run ragged by the hasty exfiltration, Alexa already looks like she's going to be sick before she is greeted by the catastrophe of the dig site. Her gaze is locked downward, only a scant few glances up interrupting what would be moping if not for her near panic. "O-o-o-oh dear. Yes. Um. Th-that's b-b-bad. Dying. Bad," she stammers uselessly. She manages to tear her eyes from the corpses to the temple. "T-t-temple. P-p-pagan. L-l-let's, um... let's p-p-please move f-f-faster." She picks her way through the muck, keeping a brisk pace.
  119. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter didn't reply to any of the girls' comments, and instead cast his gaze all over the place, glowing-green eyes raking the environment in search of...something. What became apparent a couple minutes later when he suddenly sped up and tromped over to what looked like an enlarged skiff with a fair amount of tools and equipment strapped down in it. That and it was hovering a foot off the ground and had four inert Soldiers in it: one at the helm, one manning the turret in the back, and two just watching over the supplies.
  120. <DrEvilKitteh> The third and fourth were promptly kicked out of their seats to make way for Sigmund and at least one of the girls, and the other two followed suit as Walter threw them off the hovercraft. “Hop in,” he directed the others' way if they weren't already piling in.
  121. <DrEvilKitteh> There was enough space for all of them to fit, especially if they tossed a few power tools to increase leg room.
  122. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter figured out how to operate the vehicle after a bit of tinkering with the controls, then got the skiff moving in the temple's direction, and at a quick pace too. Being a hovercraft, it was a smooth ride. There was no rumbling engine, just a soft, semi-relaxing hum that changed pitch depending if they were going up or down on a hill.
  123. <DrEvilKitteh> What would've been a long, tedious slog through the excavation site turned into an easy little ride that lasted a few minutes across a torn-up landscape, thanks to the hovercraft. The closer they got to their destination, the more they could make out of the Temple. And boy, was it something.
  124. <DrEvilKitteh> Only the front left and most of the front side have been uncovered so far, and at least a third of it is still below the ground. The front door is enormous, and only half of it is open thus far. It's apparent that the Temple was quite colorful in its day, but time and erosion has since rendered it dull and pitted and cracked, a shadow of its former self.
  125. <DrEvilKitteh> As for its design, the Temple seems...strange. Like a hybrid, a blend of different styles--a bizarre combination of Roman, Arabian, and Gothic architecture, combined with the look of an impenetrable fortress (like they hadn't seen enough of that last one today...). At least, those are the styles they can make out. There are a few hints and influences here and there that are more difficult to figure out, assuming they're related to an Earth-based style at all; the wear and damage it had experienced most certainly didn't help matters in that regard.
  126. <DrEvilKitteh> Eventually, Walter slowed the skiff and came to a stop not far from the front door. Or maybe “doors” was more accurate, since there was a long vertical slit running down the center that they could see. Apparently it was open, even if just a bit. But then, it did look large enough to allow a human-sized entity to squeeze through.
  127. <DrEvilKitteh> “...I don't know if we have the time or means to bury or destroy this,” Walter muttered under his breath as he craned his neck to look all the way up at the Temple's top.
  128. <Jar Mimic> “Give me five good hits at a few key points,” says the energy vampire, grinding her fist into her palm, “And then my Ohoraikou Hou to finish it off.” Not really thinking about it, she approaches the doorway and gives the already open door a tug. So there’s more room for everyone to get through. “It sure is pretty, though. I mean, it sure must have been. And I don’t have the energy to destroy it anyway. Does that count as time or means? I say time.”
  129. <DrEvilKitteh> The door doesn't budge a centimeter despite Rosemary's prodigious strength. It's still open just wide enough for one person at a time to fit through, though.
  130. <Jar Mimic> Rosemary's eyes widen. "I... Can't move it!" she exclaims, drawing her hands back as though in disgust, "Not without using ki, anyway. I don't even think I could if I did!" With some hesitation, she slips on in. Who? Just who was this temple made for?
  131. <Jran-Kri> "A-a-ah, um, uh, w-w-well... Y-y-yes I-I g-g-guess th-that's b-best," Alexa doesn't seem to have a better suggestion than Rosemary's. It wasn't like they could enlist the labour used to dig the thing up, after all. She scurries after Rose, resummoning her staff. She's quite a bit more hesitant to slither in after her, conjuring yet another pair of barriers around the two of them.
  132. <LeftHandofGod> With an eye on her map, Lin darts in after them, pistol raised and pointed skywards. "This...really doesn't feel like a good idea...but we don't have a choice, do we?" Her nerves are apparent, as she begins rubbing at the stone around her neck.
  133. <Tangent> "Let's get this over with..."
  134. <DrEvilKitteh> “The doors /are/ very large and partly buried...,” Walter mumbled under his breath after Rose said that. “Be careful in there,” he called out to the others in a more audible tone. “We don't know how stable it is.”
  135. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Walter.” Sigmund cast his milky eyes in the android's direction. “I think it best if I remain here. I will do you no favors inside that Temple.”
  136. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter blinked and hesitated, but reluctantly nodded. “Stay safe.”
  137. <DrEvilKitteh> “I will do my best,” said Sigmund as drily as he could through the speaker.
  138. <DrEvilKitteh> With that, Walter followed the girls inside the Temple.
  139. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin's map, the tattoo on the back of her hand, didn't show any other contacts apart from themselves and Sigmund, who'd remained outside. Other than that, the Temple didn't seem to be one of those “fuzzy” or “blank” zones, at least not here.
  140. <DrEvilKitteh> First point of note, the inside of the Temple wasn't entirely dark. There were a few clockwork-style lights and lamps hanging from bars adhered to the walls or stands that had been set on the floor. That being said, the light they cast wasn't all that bright.
  141. <DrEvilKitteh> Second point of note was that there was a steep hill of Overcity dirt that spilled down to the Temple floor far below, evidently having poured in when the doors were opened. While a tumble would've been fast and painful, it was a simple matter for everyone to retain their footing on the hill.
  142. <DrEvilKitteh> Furthermore, in the available light, they could see several columns and pillars (furthering the Roman-style "influences" in particular), some normal-sized and others that wouldn't be out of place in the Mines of Moria, but it wasn't a wide expanse like Khazad-dûm was in the movie. A guess might be an entry hall of some kind, but without more light they wouldn't be able to tell.
  143. <LeftHandofGod> After a moment of peering into the darkness, Lin asks aloud, "Does anyone have a light? If you could even pass me a lightbulb, that would work... I could light it myself." Still, dark or not, they need to move forward, and assuming nobody else takes the lead, she will, gun at the ready.
  144. <Jar Mimic> “Giants,” Rosemary says to herself, eyes sparkling with fascination even in the dim light, “Giants must have lived here. Who else would live like this?” Feeling the loose dirt beneath her feet, she elects to slide down the hill rather than trudge. On her feet, of course. She uses one hand to hold herself upright as she scrapes down through the soil. Looks like she’s going first.
  145. <Tangent> Amelia holds up one gauntleted hand, and blue fire illuminates her and her surroundings, casting harsh shadows over the dimly lit scenes- she's between Rosemary and Alexa.
  146. <Jran-Kri> Alexa's staff glows as brightly as she can as she tries to add to their growing pool of light. The red light looks only a little sinister atop her raised black staff. She glances around, cringing a little in nervousness. "A-a-ah. Pretty," she says simply upon reaching the bottom.
  147. <DrEvilKitteh> Likewise, Seo-Hyun created several orbs of hovering foxfire that cast more blue-tinged light over the place.
  148. <DrEvilKitteh> As it turned out, this is indeed a front hall of sorts, albeit a massive one. Although it isn't very long relative to the rest of the temple, it's long enough to them. Massive degraded, tattered tapestries line the walls, whatever colors, patterns, or pictures they might have displayed having faded and covered by dust. That being said, considering that they /are/ tapestries, it's impressive that they are hardy enough to exist in a form other than crumbled dust after all this time. Either that or the interior of the Temple has been fairly good at keeping things whole, but...that doesn't seem to be the case, either, since erosion still scarred the stone inside the Temple. It wasn't as bad as the damage to the exterior, but it was enough.
  149. <DrEvilKitteh> Upon reaching the pitted, somewhat-smooth floor at the bottom of the dirt pile, naturally the group begins to move forward. They can occasionally spot a door on one of the walls beneath a tapestry as they walk, maybe...thirty to fifty feet tall? None of them are open, and they could hardly compare to the front doors' size, but even still, that size is nothing to laugh at.
  150. <DrEvilKitteh> And, almost in response to Rose's hushed words, gigantic twin figures emerged from the darkness up ahead at the end of the hall, shadows flickering over their forms. When Seo directed two balls of foxfire to illuminate them in full, the rest of the group could finally tell that the forms are simply statues. Roughly humanoid, maybe wielding weapons or tools of some kind, the statues are so heavily weathered that no real details can be made out.
  151. <DrEvilKitteh> The silent, unmoving sentinels flank a door, noticeably larger than the others. And it is open. It seemed like that was the direction the Alchemist had headed.
  152. <Jar Mimic> “Wah. So beautiful!” the energy vampire exclaims, practically dancing down the hall, looking all about at the delightful ruins all around her. The urge to explore fills her up. If they weren’t on an urgent mission at the moment, she’d go to explore everywhere. Even through the doors that're closed. No way she couldn’t open those ones up! But she is on a mission, so she doesn’t. Nope, she just bows at the two great statues, and continues onwards. “Come on, guys! There’s no way he’s very far ahead of us!”
  153. <LeftHandofGod> Lin takes a couple of seconds to gawk at the statues...then remembers that she's on the job. Strictly business, strictly business. "Not seeing anything hostile... Right behind you."
  154. <Jran-Kri> "O-o-oh my," Alexa marvels at the statues, scurrying over to put them into view. Notably, however, she does linger a bit to put herself behind Lin as well as the others. Adjusting her glasses, she peers into the darkness behind the door. "A-a-ah yes. Yes. L-let's g-g-go."
  155. <Tangent> "Yeah..." Another glance to the statues, just to confirm they're not some sort of ambush and she nudges Alexa reassuringly.
  156. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter turned on a flashlight before stepping through the doorway while Seo-Hyun continued manipulating her balls of foxfire for a lightsource.
  157. <DrEvilKitteh> Frankly, the corridor was much the same as the front hall. Granted, it was quite a bit smaller, but there were still occasional pillars with tapestries and the rare statue between them. Most of the statues were humanoid (probably), but some weren't. There weren't many actual doors that they came across, and all of them were shut with no evidence to suggest that they'd been opened and closed.
  158. <DrEvilKitteh> Nothing moved. Nothing stirred, save for the party as they steadily advanced further and further into the Temple.
  159. <DrEvilKitteh> At least, there was nothing that anyone but Lin could notice. At first, it seemed a trick of the light. Maybe...the foxfire had flickered in such a way as they turned that corner, causing her tattoo map to readjust, that had caught her eye? And when she looked harder at the map, there were no other contacts nearby or moving objects.
  160. <DrEvilKitteh> And yet...the way the map flickered when she wasn't looking at it wasn't right, either. That, and there shouldn't have been a wall there, some distance behind them, now currently shrouded in darkness. It hadn't been there before. And some of the outlying structure beyond their field of view had...changed. Not much; it was subtle, but just enough to make her realize.
  161. <LeftHandofGod> Her eyes widen as she realizes what might be going on here. A deep breath, then a second, then she whispers to the party at a volume just loud enough to be heard, "I think that the walls are moving around. It's shifting." She did her best to maintain her composure, but on the word shifting she can't help but let her voice crack, just enough to telegraph how utterly terrifying the idea of being trapped here could be.
  162. <Jar Mimic> “Does that mean we should start running?” Regardless of whether or not she should, her gait certainly does speed up. “I feel like that’s a reason for us to start running.” Now she’s at a brisk jog. “I mean, he had to have left another open door, right?” Yeah, Rose is definitely running forward now. “If we follow him wherever he’s going, that’s got to lead to a way out, right?” Of course, she’s not very fast, so she’s not going very far.
  163. <Tangent> "We're here to stop him, not to get out of here!" Amelia protests indignantly.
  164. <Jran-Kri> A little keening noise of distress leaves Alexa at this revelation. She screws her eyes shut even as she lopes along right after Rosemary. "W-w-we need to s-s-stick t-togetheeeer," she whines, not really committing to the semantic discussion. "I-I mean, um, o-o-once we s-s-stop th-the bad -- him, th-then w-w-we c-can go h-home."
  165. <DrEvilKitteh> “Wait...what?” Walter flicked his flashlight around to scan the hall they were in. “...I haven't heard or felt anything that would suggest that the Temple is changing itself.” He frowned and narrowed his eyes. “...Not through mechanical methods, at least.” He patted the air, trying to get the others to slow down. “Please, wait. We need to stay calm. If we take a wrong turn or make a bad move now, we could be separated.” Or worse. “Stick together.” That being said, he did start moving a bit faster than before.
  166. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin's tattoo map kept shifting in subtle, minute ways. So subtle, in fact, that she didn't realize what exactly was happening until she looked at it twice. The walls beyond this hallway to the right had more or less arranged together to form the letter “L”. As they moved, another 'letter' came into view: “I”. Then a third: “N”. And on the left side, four other 'letters' came into view and passed them by: an “S”, a “U”, a second “S”, and finally an “I”.
  167. <LeftHandofGod> It takes a moment for the pattern to be recognized, but when she does...Lin stops dead in her tracks and stares in disbelief, and her Beretta clatters to the ground as she stares at the shifting tattoo on the back of her hand. A soft squeak escapes her, then a slightly louder one...ooh, is she shaking? "I-it's... It's!..." She holds out her shaking hand to show whoever comes close to peek.
  168. <DrEvilKitteh> The arrangement of walls that Lin had seen no longer existed. The others would only see an apparently-random series of walls, hallways, and doors, but nothing even remotely came close to resembling a letter like it had before.
  169. <Jar Mimic> Well, Walter’s generally been right about everything else so far. That’s definitely enough to make Rosemary listen to him without thinking much about it. Of course, once everyone stops to examine Lin’s tattoo, she isn’t going anywhere anyway, as she stops to look, too. Of course, she still keeps a sense of urgency about her, jogging in place as she examines the tattoo. “Oh, I’m bad with directions. I don’t think I can help.”
  170. <Jran-Kri> Alexa scurries over to peer at the magic map; she's clearly on a hair-trigger, each motion a jolting rush of limbs in any direction. She stares at the map, seeing nothing to be terrified about, and decides to be scared anyway. "O-o-ooh n-no," she bounces a little in place. "H-h-he's gonna c-c-crush us with the w-w-walls! Crush us! L-l-like b-bugs!"
  171. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter peered at the tattoo map on Lin's hand. “...I don't see anything actively moving...,” he murmured under his breath. “What did you see?” Concern furrowed his brow, since he naturally was unable to know what had Lin so spooked.
  172. <DrEvilKitteh> Seo-Hyun likewise just shrugged after getting a good look at the map. She didn't see any weird letters, symbols, or moving walls either.
  173. <LeftHandofGod> With a flushed face, Lin reluctantly mumbles, "It was, was showing my name." After a little shake of her head, she says, "I guess we can't depend on my map then. Just...ignore it." Even as she says it, she's glancing back at it.
  174. <DrEvilKitteh> The map still remains "letter"less.
  175. <Tangent> Amelia...doesn't seem to worried about the situation so much as Alexa. She's already at her side, murmuring to her reassuringly. "Hey. Hey, Alexa, it'll be okay...We'll find him, stop him, and get you out of here...It'll all be alright..."
  176. <Jran-Kri> Alexa is clearly not ashamed of the way she clings to Amelia, wrapping an arm around her and burying her face in the crook of her neck. She sounds like she's sniffing, but surely that's just sniffling. A moment later, she draws her head back, shaking her head. "I-I-I'm f-f-fine. Fine. E-e-everything's f-f-fine. I-I j-j-just... w-want to s-s-stop this... c-c-creature. B-but I kn-know I'm s-safe. With you," she stammers haltingly.
  177. <DrEvilKitteh> “Your name?” Walter's eyebrows shot up. “How...?” He shook his head. “...It doesn't matter. The Alchemist is just trying to use psychological warfare on us. Don't let him get to you.” He gently clapped a hand onto the Beacon girl's shoulder, gave her a small, grim smile, and continued on.
  178. <DrEvilKitteh> A little while later, a sequence of odd happenings took place in relatively short order.
  179. <DrEvilKitteh> First off, Amelia and Alexa both would notice something strange happening. Well, more like two odd things happening for each of them. Regardless, it started off small, and it started off with a warning. By that I mean that the Big Damn Hero Tokens they'd given one another started pinging softly, then started acting acting up in a way they hadn't felt before. Whatever forms the warnings took, whether a niggling feeling in the back of their head that drew them where they needed to go to protect the bearer of their Token, or an actual alarm that blared inside their skull and drove them to save said the bearer, the feeling was...sporadic. At the start it was just a brief “Protect her” feeling that popped up and quickly faded away as abruptly as it had appeared. However, as time went on, it became...a bit stronger, less easy to ignore as simple worried thoughts and emotions. It was unfocused, stuttering as it flared up and died down just as quickly, and sometimes just persisted at a low annoying whine that they couldn't shake away.
  180. <DrEvilKitteh> The second thing Amelia felt, which began not too long after the warning weirdness, was a heat inside her that spread to every facet of her body. It gradually rose, spiked, then died, then began to burn and cool in weird fluctuations. It wasn't exactly her Fire magic that she felt going semi-haywire--this heat bore the familiar tang of an ability she possessed, the power to enhance her magic at the cost of burning her lifeforce. In general, that aspect of her magic acting up stung and burned and made her feel overheated, which was ironic and maybe shouldn't have been possible considering her specialty. That being said, it wasn't hurting her physically, and she could definitely contain the rest of it as it was right now; she wasn't about to lose huge chunks of her essence that she couldn't quickly recover.
  181. <DrEvilKitteh> As for the second thing Alexa felt, it was bizarre and perhaps altogether much creepier. It too started off small, just a brief, phantom sensation. However, as opposed to liquid fire racing through her veins, it felt like something was crawling under her skin, slithering and pressing up and outward. Something agitated. Something alive. Something that wanted out, to break free from its fleshy constraints. There were no visible, outward signs of it, but the sensations were likely extremely disconcerting nonetheless.
  182. <DrEvilKitteh> Last, but certainly not least of the new bizarre happenings, came the disturbing sensations that Rosemary felt. It was a known fact by now that she needed to consume part of another's soul for sustenance, similar to a vampire. This feeling didn't make her crave the souls even more or feel like her throat was gradually drying or becoming parched from lack of them. Instead, it slowly made her acutely aware of the jagged, incomplete parts of herself. The parts that she needed a sliver of another's soul to smooth over. The holes in her that could only temporarily be filled. The inhuman, artificial, abnormal nature of it all. What she was, and what she was not, begun to almost.../gnaw/ at the core of her being. It didn't make her hungry or especially hurt--arguably, the feelings it elicited within Rose would be much worse to her.
  183. <DrEvilKitteh> In addition to those things, Lin was again plagued by weird shit regarding her tattoo map. Instead of walls rearranging themselves to form into blocky letters, it started just as small with a single contact appearing and just as quickly disappearing. More contacts--maybe enemies, maybe not--eventually appeared and flitted around through the hallways near theirs at a quick rate; there weren't a lot of them, and usually only two or three at the most appeared at a time. The weird thing was, they could only be seen out of the corner of her eye, when she wasn't looking directly at the map. So either the map was malfunctioning for some reason, she was hallucinating or caught in an elaborate and powerful illusion, or there really were extremely quick, stealthy beings nearby. And if it was the last option, they wouldn't have been Clockwork Stalkers, either--their contact signature she was familiar with, but these were altogether different. That and they moved a hell of a lot faster.
  184. <DrEvilKitteh> Seo-Hyun also seemed antsy, like she was bugged by something that made her profoundly uncomfortable. Walter was the only one that kept on resolutely walking onwards as if he felt nothing weird, and maybe that was the case for him. If something was happening to the android, he was masterfully concealing it.
  185. <LeftHandofGod> Her eyes keep darting back to her map, then back to the world around her. Back and forth, back and forth...then she holsters her pistol and shoves the tattooed hand into her pocket. Her clean hand makes its way to the little piece of jet she wears around her neck, and rubs at it nervously.
  186. <Jran-Kri> It's not hard for her to dismiss what is, at first, a mere intensifying of her perpetual desire to protect and keep Amelia. She nestles herself deeper against her knight, her twitching growing just a bit more sporadic. As the feeling intensifies, however, Alexa graduates into the first stages of a fit. Her staff snaps up, her white-knuckled grip on it tightening yet further. The crystal ball at the tip glows brightly as Alexa forms a few extra panes of hard light around the pair of them. Nuts to the others -- she can feel the buzzing, bursting feeling that Amelia is in danger right now. Her teeth are already chattering when she feels the other thing. Her breath catches in her throat. She scratches herself a little, then a low, keening wail leaves her. "Nooooo no no no please," she mutters feverishly, her head whipping back and forth. She cringes inward, suddenly tearing at her hair. "No no no i'm sorry please -- 'v-v-vindicate m-me g-god, p-plead my c-c-case a-against this un-unfaithful nation,'" she hysterically recites, screwing her eyes shut.
  187. <Tangent> Amelia isn't in much better shape. At first, she just tugs at her sleeve a bit and then her high-necked collar. She can tell something isn't right. Her magic's flaring up. She's surrounded by monsters for allies, and something else that isn't even human. Why did she think bringing Alexa was a good idea? Her friend trusted her. She was supposed to keep Alexa safe, help her...and she brought her into this mess...just because Iris got hurt? What good is she if she can't even protect Alexa from herself, let alone everyone else? Alexa's not okay right now. What if she can't help her? What if she gets hurt?
  188. Ruthlessly, Amelia tries to bludgeon her rebellious magic back under her control. She's let it call the shots once already, and she can't even be sure how much of her she lost because of it. Not this time. It's going to do what SHE wants, burn when she tells it to burn. Which is keeping Alexa in one piece and getting her out of this mess.
  189. The knightly magical girl clutches Alexa to her. "It'll be okay. I'm getting you out of here. You...I'll keep you safe." The words taste like ash on her tongue as she sees the state Alexa's in. She knows she's lying. What good is she if she can't keep Alexa safe? What good is she to anyone? She should have let her magic finish what it was doing to her soul. The old, shapeless fear- of loss, of failure- minges with the urge to protect, pounding like a drumbeat at the back of her skull. "Alexa, it's okay, listen to me, I'm here, I'm here..." She holds her sword out in front of her with one hand while clinging tightly to the shorter girl with the other.
  190. <Jar Mimic> Thoughts cloud Rosemary’s mind. ‘No. Come on, Rose, come on. Don’t get down on yourself like this now. You’re a real girl. You’re a normal girl. Don’t start thinking like this again. Not now of all times. You’re doing this for Iris. Just think of Iris. Once this is over, you can be normal friends. Normal sisters. Once this is over, you’ll never have to use any of these freakish powers again. Not once. You’ll only have to… Steal from people. Using them. Once a day every day to be safe. For the rest of your life.’ “I hate you, mom.” ‘I hate you so much. Why did you have to make me like this? Because you hated my stupid dad, who’s never around? That’s so selfish! People who are that selfish should just die!’ “I hate you, mom!” ‘I hate you so much! Why did you have to make me out of a doll soul? Those stupid little dolls who are so dumb and useless. Is that what you wanted me to be? An obedient little plaything? I’d rather fizzle out. I’d rather let my stupid doll soul fade away while trying to move this big, dumb body. I’m not worthless. I’m not. Im not. Imnot. Imnotimnot. Imnotimnotimnot!’ Loud sobs and sniffles come from her as she leaves tear stains in her path.
  191. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter slowed and looked around at the girls, bewilderment and concern etched onto his metal, mechanical features. “...What in the world...?” He shone his flashlight around, trying to spot someone lurking nearby. There were none that he could see. “Hey hey hey, it's going to be alright!,” he said, desperately trying to calm five extremely disconcerted Magical Girls at once. “You can't let the Alchemist get to you. Making you break down is just what he wants. We need to-” And then he stopped and stared. Specifically, at Lin's bare arm.
  192. <DrEvilKitteh> If anyone else, including the Beacon girl in question, cared to look, they would see something. For unlike the last time, what was happening now was perfectly visible to the entire group. What was it, you may ask? The answer was simple, yet incredibly disturbing.
  193. <DrEvilKitteh> Ink, the same color as her tattoo map, was crawling up her arm. What looked like grasping claws briefly stained her skin as they writhed about, reaching up, up, up...
  194. <LeftHandofGod> She'd been doing her best not to look, but it's so hard not to glance at your own arm...and on seeing the entirety of its skin being consumed in sickly black claws reaching up for her, she practically leaps out of her skin, hand instinctively leaping out of her pocket and to her pistol. "G-g-get it off!" yells the frightened girl at the top of her lungs, leaping to the left as though she could get away from her own arm.
  195. <DrEvilKitteh> And as she attempted to flee from, well, herself, she would spot the back of her hand where the tattoo map had originally been. It was still there, sort of., the walls and corridors had shifted to form another series of letters. Big and bold and looking like they were bleeding ink, they read: RUN.
  196. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter lept forward to take Lin by the wrist and aim her pistol away from the others, and to also prevent her from taking the tattoo's advice and running as far away as she could. He quickly tried to see if he could stop the ink physically, or if it would transfer to his own body, but neither seemed to work. The claws, the tendrils, whatever you wanted to call them, seemed to completely ignore him. “Hold on, hold on...,” he muttered, fumbling around in his pockets for something, /anything/, to help.
  197. <DrEvilKitteh> Cold pain shot through Lin's arm, primarily her hand and fingers as ink began to drip from under her fingernails. The mobile claws that had been climbing up her arm now begun receding, “draining” down towards her hand and to her fingertips where the ink continued to rapidly drip from.
  198. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter stood back from the ink where it splashed onto the floor, but he still held Lin's arm and made sure to keep it stretched out and her hand as far away from the rest of her body as possible.
  199. <DrEvilKitteh> And eventually, after about a minute, the black, desperately-writhing claws had vanished from Lin's arm, returning her tattoo map to normal but leaving a puddle of foul-smelling black ink on the floor. Naturally, it too had formed crude letters that were visible to them courtesy of the floating foxfire, which assembled into a single messy word: LEAVE.
  200. <DrEvilKitteh> Additionally, the...traumatic effects that the other girls had begun experiencing had faded. Alarm bells no longer run within Amelia and Alexa's heads, and their bodies didn't burn or have something crawling inside anymore. Rose would perhaps not be able to so easily overcome what she'd felt, but /how/ she'd felt it, the /keenness/ of it, had lessened considerably and more or less returned to normal.
  201. <LeftHandofGod> At first Lin shudders, bearing the pain...then finally, she gives in and reaches for relief, only to find it isn't there. Eyes widening at the revelation that she can't get away, she desperately claws at her arm, trying to get the icy pain to leave her, and she collapses to the ground as it drains out. Bit by bit, her arm is cleansed of ink... and covered in scratches. She pushes herself back away from the letters scrawled on the earth in ink, and draws her pistol after a few moments of shaky grasping, pointing it...and somehow managing not to open fire.
  202. <Jar Mimic> Although the former sheep doll had been trying to move forward, all the screaming does make her turn back. “Hey,” she says, sounding like a child who’s friends aren’t playing nice, “C’mon, you guys. He’s up ahead. Let’s go.” Her cheeks are red, and not just because she’s been crying. “And… A-and did you hear that? I didn’t hear anything. Or say anything! Don’t think I said anything at all, or I’ll hit you!”
  203. <Jran-Kri> Alexa wraps her arms around Amelia, squeezing her tightly. Very tightly. She screws her eyes shut, biting down hard on her lip. She would have stayed like that forever if it weren't for Lin's commotion. She stares at the process with wide, panicked eyes, half running into Amelia as if to drag the pair of them away from Lin. Fortunately, Walter provided a solution to at least some of her problems. She doesn't settle down, but she stops moving. Her gaze snaps to each one of them in turn, finally settling on Rosemary. "... P-p-please. D-d-don't. H-h-hit anyone," Alexa says haltingly, taking a moment to catch her breath. "I-I mean. H-hit s-s-someone. B-b-but. The b-b-bad people." She takes a moment to giggle breathlessly.
  204. <Jar Mimic> Oh, does that ever open that girl’s eyes. Realizing what she’d just said and done, she sniffles, rubs her eye, and then turns back in the direction they were walking. “R-right. Right, the bad people. I’m… Sorry if I confused you. Of course I’d only hit the bad people.”
  205. <Tangent> Amelia holds onto Alexa. Then, finally, reluctantly, she looks up. She still has a job to do. No matter how much she wants to keep Alexa safe, to just get her out of here...this isn't over yet.
  206. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter released Lin once it was clear that the animate ink had left her for good. “Lin, are you okay? Does it still feel strange or bad?” His bewildered, worried expression only deepened as he looked around at the other girls. “...What...what happened? All of you...just...” He gesticulated weakly. “And...then Lin...” Words failed him, even as he resorted to sweeping the area with his flashlight for threats once more, even if he didn't find any. "...What on earth happened to all of you?" His mechanical brow furrowed, his bewilderment quickly replaced by resolute determination. "...And how was the Alchemist able to pull that off...," he muttered uncertainly.
  207. <Jran-Kri> "... Oh! Oh, th-th-that one h-h-happened to, um, to all of y-y-you. Too," Alexa tries to sound something other than 'relieved.' Hysteria makes its way in there nonetheless, fortunately. She looks around worriedly, a flash of fear suddenly reasserting its grip on her. "Um-um-um m-m-mind c-c-control -- w-w-w-we are i-i-in the b-b-belly of the b-b-beeast -- 'i-it d-deceived th-the i-in-inhabitants of the e-e-eath and f-f-forced all p-p-people to be m-maaaarked!'"
  208. <Jar Mimic> “I said I didn’t say anything!” Rosemary shouts, whirling around to face Walter, “Can we please just keep moving forward? It’ll all stop if there’s no that guy around, right? Well then let’s go and make him not around anymore! Please, please, let’s keep moving forward!”
  209. <LeftHandofGod> It takes a few moments for her to calm down enough to stand up, and a bit longer to form words. "I-I'm, umm...hurts... fine, I'm fine. Stopped hurting. Don't know what happened. Map was just...then..." She falls silent, staring at her arm for a long moment...then decides to just do it. Her map: Is it still there? What does it look like?
  210. <DrEvilKitteh> “Everyone, please, stay calm.” Walter patted the air, trying desperately to keep things under control. “We can't fight the Alchemist without level heads.” He looked at Lin, then the back of her hand at the tattoo map, too.
  211. <DrEvilKitteh> For all intents and purposes, the map looked normal. No rogue contacts eratically bouncing around, no walls reshaping to form frightening combinations of all seemed normal and clear. For now, anyway.
  212. <LeftHandofGod> Lin seems to take a deep breath, then another...then something about her entire demeanor shifts. The look of fear in her eyes is gone, replaced by a slightly blank expression. In a firm but quiet tone, she agrees, "Right. Let's...get this over with."
  213. <Jran-Kri> "Yes! Y-y-yes, s-sh-shove a s-s-sword r-r-right into h-h-his p-p-poisoned heart!" Alexa insists, nodding frantically. She seems to comprehend some of what she said a moment later, shaking her head. "I. I mean. Um... I-I'm r-r-right behind you."
  214. <Jar Mimic> Once more, the way ahead becomes the straight walk from one end of the temple to the other. Between the statues. Between the columns. Straight ahead. To their thing that wasn’t necessarily their goal, but just happens to be so now. And Rose is a team player. Now, anyway. Starting to tromp forward once more, she says under her breath, “I always have a level head.”
  215. <DrEvilKitteh> Despite his misgivings, Walter nodded and continued along with the others.
  216. <DrEvilKitteh> And, as it turned out, “forward” soon led them to something. While there had been the occasional door every now and then along their winding path through the temple's interior, all had been shut with zero sign that they'd been opened at any point in the last several centuries. But now, directly ahead, there was a single doorway that was wide open. It was a tad smaller than the others, perhaps only about eighteen feet tall, and whatever lay beyond, they could not see.
  217. <DrEvilKitteh> Inside was nothing but pitch black so far as they could tell, even when Walter shone his flashlight at the door and Seo-Hyun floated her foxfire closer to it.
  218. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Strange,” the android murmured, revolver held at the ready. “But it seems we have a destination at last.”
  219. <DrEvilKitteh> If Lin cared to look at her tattoo map to check if the space ahead wasn't a sphere of annihilation or something, she'd see that the entire map was, well, going haywire. There wasn't a patch of “static” like in the Prime Core housing chamber, but instead the ink of the tattoo warped and twisted in weird ways. Occasionally they solidified into something resembling the floor plan of another structure, like an apartment building, a castle, a room that would put Escher to shame, or something else, but nothing concrete could be said about what was up ahead or even behind them. But hey, at least the ink wasn't alive and trying to attack Lin, so that was a plus.
  220. <LeftHandofGod> "Can't...really see anything on the map. Be ready for anything, and be ready to fill him with holes. I know I will be." As if to punctuate the point, she racks the slide on her pistol, sending a cartridge clattering to the ground. A brief glance down, and she kicks it aside. Nothing to see here.
  221. <Jran-Kri> "Y-y-yes, um, a-a-ah, r-r-right," Alexa giggles again, her gnarled staff shining brightly. She summons yet another pair of red panes of hard light, these two settling around Amelia -- because of course it had to -- and Lin, since she was being so proactive. Alexa's nervousness plainly wars with anticipation as she clings to her staff for support.
  222. <Jar Mimic> “I’m not worried. If I found out there was another giant metal man waiting for us in there, then I’d be worried. If it’s what’s his face, I’ll flick my finger at him again, and see which part of him I can make fall off. I’m gonna aim for an arm.” A pause. “It’s whatever else is in there that I’m scared of. I mean, I’m not scared, but I’m still scared.”
  223. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter tossed a pebble through the doorway. Everyone could hear it clatter against a stone floor on the other side, so unless that sound was an illusion, there /was/ a room beyond the open door. “...Stay together. Don't split up if you can help it.” The android cocked his revolver and took a couple steps forward. “Ready?” He glanced around at the others to ensure they were, indeed, prepared. As much as they could be anyway. “On three, we go in, but don't go far. Just in case.” He began to count up to three. “One, two, three, /go/.”
  224. <DrEvilKitteh> Together, the group rushes through the doorway and come to a stop after a few meters. The darkness isn't a suffocating kind, and they can still see the open doorway behind them. But even then, their light sources won't work, at least not very well. They can illuminate one another, and vaguely some of the room's interior within a few feet, but that's it.
  225. <DrEvilKitteh> However, as the seconds pass, their eyes begin to adjust. Er, well, that's what it seems like. Except it's also more--because why wouldn't it be--as they steadily begin to see clearer than they could've in the dark.
  226. <DrEvilKitteh> What immediately becomes apparent is that this room is a wide, big dome. It's roughly spherical, though it has more of a hexagonal pattern along the inside rather than being a completely smooth sphere. Like a “beehive barrier”, more or less.
  227. <DrEvilKitteh> There's no one else in here, at least at first glance. Instead, they see a plinth in the exact center of the floor that has what looked like a fin atop it. Additionally, there were no other doorways leading inside--only the one that they'd entered through was there.
  228. <DrEvilKitteh> Once the chamber has brightened up to about how it would've looked in a noonday sun--at which point it remained at that brightness level--they can see everything in full. The floor and dome both had been painted, etched, and carved with numerous instances of colorful imagery which has since unfortunately been eroded away into an indecipherable, dull mess. The plinth and fin in the center, when they approach it, is revealed to be a large sundial, worn down and rounded by erosion.
  229. <DrEvilKitteh> “...I wonder if this is the heart of the Temple,” Walter mused, eyes scanning the sundial with interest before moving on elsewhere. “It has that kind of look about it.”
  230. <DrEvilKitteh> All in all, even assuming it /is/ the central chamber, it seems to be a completely ordinary, normal, old temple room.
  231. <DrEvilKitteh> ...Except that the entrance the party had used no longer existed.
  232. <DrEvilKitteh> There's not even a door there that had swung shut or anything, it's just an unbroken hexagonal pattern all the way to the floor.
  233. <Jar Mimic> Although she never expected it to come up while she’s on this misadventure, the former sheep doll happens to be a bit of a literature buff. And considering the material her mother had for her to read, she’s naturally a fan of stories featuring ancient temples and castles and such. So, when she looks upon the sundial, it immediately calls back many happy memories of reading. One thing comes quite clearly back to her mind. “Oh, what a cool sundial!” she squeals, scurrying right up to the thing, “It reminds me of Alice. Is this whole room supposed to be a giant wabe? But it’s indoors. I wonder if this room lights up. The dome shaped roof COULD be used to synthesize the motion of the sun if it does. I wonder if this room is supposed to be a giant clock. Or maybe a calendar. I know what my next free topic paper is going to be about for school!”
  234. <Jran-Kri> Alexa remains quite on edge, even if there is no immediately apparent threat. She looks around furtively, gaze snapping this way and that, seeming to cringe even further inward at the sight of the massive expanse they're now in. "S-s-sundial. Sun. Um... y-yes. Very... i-i-interesting, Rose. U-u-uh. Light. Something's... s-s-supposed to h-h-happen. When th-the l-light h-h-hits it. M-m-maybe?"
  235. <LeftHandofGod> Lin is less interested in whatever the structure might be, and more interested in finding the alchemist and defeating him...but he doesn't seem to be here? Looking slightly betrayed, she glances behind her... "The door is shut." This is said in an oddly matter of fact voice, with a perfectly neutral facial expression. "...We might be in trouble."
  236. <DrEvilKitteh> Something of note regarding the sundial that at least Rose would be able to see: It cast no shadow. As in, the fin cast no form of shadow onto the rest of the sundial.
  237. <DrEvilKitteh> ...Nor, for that matter, did anything else. Although the room was “lit up”, there were no shadows anywhere in sight. The sundial and plinth didn't have a shadow, and neither did Walter and the girls cast any shadows.
  238. <DrEvilKitteh> As for Walter, at least, he became more concerned with the door that had suddenly stopped existing. He whirled and aimed his revolver there. “...Trapped.” Glowing green eyes swept the chamber anew. “Cover me.” The android jogged over to where their doorway had once been and began to check the wall there, both visually and with his hands. But no matter how hard he pushed, it wouldn't budge.
  239. <DrEvilKitteh> “...I can't detect any seams or flaws in the wall that indicates the door was here,” he called over to the girls. Frowning, Walter rose to his feet and retreated back to near the sundial where the others were, revolver still up and at the ready.
  240. <Jran-Kri> Upon discovering that they were now properly trapped, Alexa cringes further into herself, her staff glowing brighter. A beehive barrier conjures itself in the immediate area, her gaze snapping this way and that. "Th-th-the walls they're g-g-going to c-c-come out of the w-w-waaaaalls," she mutters feverishly.
  241. <LeftHandofGod> Lin covers Walter with her pistol, eyes wandering the room. She remains utterly calm now, a far cry from her earlier behavior. In that same, level voice, she asks quietly, "What do we do? It feels like we walked into a do we just wait for it to spring?"
  242. <Jar Mimic> Eyes affixed firmly upon the sundial, the girl before it stares intently through closed lids. Her thoughts race. ‘Alright, Rose. You’ve played enough of mom’s video games to know how this works. Maybe you don’t have this dungeon’s key item, but you DO have your ki. A key and ki. Mom and dad. Everyone here is counting on me. Please.’ She takes a deep breath in through her nose and then out through her mouth. A hand is lifted toward the sundial, and a shot of her Oho Hou is manifested. It is not fired, however, but hovers in her palm. Its shape makes it a dead ringer for the sun, but will it cast light upon the dial? Either way, Rosemary concentrates deeply to hold it in place.
  243. <DrEvilKitteh> Seo-Hyun aimed a finger at the part of the dome where the door had been. A thin, narrow beam of foxfire lanced forth, passing straight through Alexa's ward. Blue flames splashed out and danced across the wall as she attempted to slowly trace the shape of the door in an attempt to burn a new opening into it.
  244. <DrEvilKitteh> Once the kumiho had lowered her hand, she breathed heavily from exertion. The dome remained intact, completely untouched by her foxfire. There wasn't even a smudge of soot on the hexagonal surfaces.
  245. <DrEvilKitteh> “Blast.” Walter's frown deepened, though he was altogether unsurprised by the dome's imperviousness. “...Then-” He paused and looked over at what Rose was doing.
  246. <DrEvilKitteh> Speaking of, the sundial remains unchanged despite the miniature magical sun held in Rose's hand. That is, for the first several seconds.
  247. <DrEvilKitteh> After a time, the sundial changes. Subtly, at first. The gnomon begins to cast a small shadow that steadily grows in length, as though the sun were rising. Every place the shadow touches, the sundial seems to.../rewind/. Erosion fades to make way for luster and sharp clarity, almost like the shadow acts as acid that melts the impurities away to reveal the true appearance beneath.
  248. <DrEvilKitteh> The “background” of the dial seems to be something akin to ivory, marble, or bone; it was hard to tell. Details like the lines and symbols denoting which hour it is are made from different materials varying from precious metals to colorful gems to rare minerals, which make for a really quite beautiful sight.
  249. <DrEvilKitteh> That being said, as of right now, the shadow only hits the first hour. Well, it's /probably/ the first hour. The symbol that's used to denote the hour is completely unlike any kind Rose may have seen before. Still, judging from the position of the gnomon relative to the shadow and this hour that its shadow is cast on, it's probably accurate to say that it is, indeed, the first hour on the dial.
  250. <DrEvilKitteh> Additionally, the plinth, as well as everyone else, begins to cast a shadow. Not based on Rose's mini magic sun, oh no--it's based on the direction of the gnomon's shadow, as though a real but unseen sun or other source of light is shining on everyone from the “horizon” of the dome.
  251. <DrEvilKitteh> Last, but certainly not least, Rose would be unable to move her hand from its place. Her hand, and the ki sun she'd made, remained fixed in place despite whatever she did; regardless of how she moved, her hand would stay there, as if it was pinned in the air by some unseen vice. It isn't necessarily painful, just...weird.
  252. <Jran-Kri> Alexa looks on in wonder as Rose begins the process, perking up from her tense, coiled posture to peer at the beauty of the sundial being unveiled. Her head twists thisway and that, narrowing her eyes at the material on the sundial. She adjusts her glasses, looking utterly fascinated."A-a-amazing! Um. Um. It-it m-must be s-s-some k-kind of... t-t-time w-w-window!"
  253. <LeftHandofGod> Lin watches the others take action, checking her map from force of habit if nothing else. There's not a great deal for her to contribute here, it would seem, and she waits patiently for such a time that her set of skills becomes relevant once more.
  254. <Jar Mimic> Slowly, the closed eyes open to look upon what has been wrought before them. “It worked,” Rosemary says to herself, gaping a bit at the sight, “It worked. Thank you. Everyone, are you seeing this? It’s so beautiful. It’s… Indescribably beautiful.” For a while, she just stares at it, the enormity of this thing’s unknown history bearing down on her like a great weight upon her shoulders. Of course, once she tries to move her hand to rotate the shadow’s position, her demeanor changes. Back to business. “Ah, I can’t move my hand. I have to stop.” After another breath in and out, she reabsorbs the ki into her palm. Will such a thing free her hand from the sundial’s ancient grip?
  255. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin's tattoo map is still messed up as it was before. It has neither gotten better nor worse.
  256. <DrEvilKitteh> As for Rose, she wouldn't be able to do much at first. There's resistance in every single direction, and she isn't able to reabsorb the energy into herself. Instead, the ki sun flickers violently and rejects Rose, throwing her hand back with enough force to make her stagger a few steps.
  257. <DrEvilKitteh> And then the weird shit starts happening.
  258. <DrEvilKitteh> The ki sun flares brighter, deepening the shadows. Slowly at first, the shadow of the gnomon atop the sundial stretches and elongates despite the ki sun remaining fixed. Its length becomes truly abnormal, reaching greedily beyond the sundial, off the plinth, and across the floor. As it travels, it seems to exert a magnetic pull upon the group's new shadows, causing them to stretch along after it. Alexa's red barrier cracks and tears open when the shadows touch it, though weirdly enough, it freezes like that as though it's a half-opened piece of tinfoil that's been torn asunder.
  259. <DrEvilKitteh> In short order, the gnomon's shadow touches where the dome meets the floor. Cracks appear, spiderwebbing up the dome as the shadow continues to spread and spread up and up. However, instead of pieces of the dome falling to the floor when they become detached from the wall, the chunks fall /out/, into a void beyond the dome. Only a few at first, then steadily more and more pieces of the wall are virtually sucked away until huge chunks crumble and tumble out into nothingness.
  260. <DrEvilKitteh> Finally, the cracking and crumbling stops, but only after a decent-sized bite going from bottom to the middle-top, akin to a wedge, has been taken out of the dome. It isn't all that large, relatively speaking, but to the group, it was quite big even if it wasn't all that close.
  261. <DrEvilKitteh> The void is a deep, pure blackness. Calling it inky or pitch would be an insult to its vastness. The space one could see from Earth simply can't compare to expansive it is, how all-encompassing, how...much it...felt like it wants to /pull/ you to it. There's no actual, physical pull that the Magical Girls feel from the void, but it might well give one vertigo.
  262. <Jar Mimic> There is nothing good about what’s currently happening. Not only was the life force Rosemary used to make that little ball stolen from her, things were happening out of control! “Oh no!” she wails, raising her hands as everything goes off on its own, “No, no! Stop, stop! Please, stop! I didn’t mean to! I didn’t know this would happen!” On top of panicking, her hands are getting heavier. “Ah, I didn’t know. I didn’t.” Why does she feel so tired all of a sudden? Maybe a sit down would be appropriate. Well, what she does is fall to her knees and start breathing heavily. “Help. Help. I feel weak.”
  263. <LeftHandofGod> Lin has absolutely no idea what's going on, but she still rushes over to Rosemary's side, reaching out to support her. "What happened? Are you okay?" And, almost immediately after, "What did you do? What's happening?" Probably not best to be bugging the frightened, weakened girl, but Lin's scared too damnit.
  264. <Jar Mimic> “I dunno! I dunno.” Being helped to stand gets the former sheep doll to calm down a bit, but she certainly doesn’t look it. “I think it’s… Taking my energy to make my Oho Hou brighter.”
  265. <Jran-Kri> Alexa has herself a brief, quiet little scream as the shadows deepen and her barrier is so rudely torn asunder. She bunkers down, staring in horror at the yawning void, her staff glowing brightly as she tries to maintain as much of her barrier as possible. Her gaze snaps over to Rosemary. "A-a-a-ah um o-o-oh n-noooo very bad," Alexa agrees in short order, shaking like a leaf. "Break it break it b-b-break it s-s-stop it!!"
  266. <Jar Mimic> Standing more steadily thanks to Lin, that victim of fate and her own ingenuity eyes the sundial. “I-it stopped! I don’t know why, but it stopped. So d-don’t break it! This is a relic. It belongs in a museum.”
  267. <Tangent> "...I'm with Alexa. Sorry, but...we have to focus on what really matters here."
  268. <Tangent> Amelia'd smash an entire museum's worth of relics just to end this a little faster. Get Alexa to somewhere safe, calming. Make up for her mistakes.
  269. <Tangent> Amelia raises her sword in one hand, but doesn't leave Alexa's side. She's been quiet lately.
  270. <DrEvilKitteh> Alexa's barrier remains as it ws despite her best efforts, broken outward and unable to reshape itself.
  271. <DrEvilKitteh> “I don't think it should be taken to a museum.” Walter held his revolver up, aimed at the void past the cracked dome. “There's a reason this temple was buried.” He glanced over at Amelia, but before he could so much as say “Wait-!”, her sword descended on the sundial.
  272. <DrEvilKitteh> Nothing happens. Her blade bounces off the gnomon, leaving it unharmed, similar to the part of the dome that Seo-Hyun had attempted to burn. Even if she aims for the ki sun, she would find her sword rebuffed by an unseen force just a millimeter away from the surface of the ball of energy. No matter what she does, she won't be able to so much as scrape the surface. It seems to be completely and totally indestructible.
  273. <DrEvilKitteh> (I know Amelia hadn't actually swung yet in Tangent's post, but it's totally in-character with her. Plus, helps me relay even more info about the state of things.)
  274. <DrEvilKitteh> Regardless of what they do next or decided they'd do next, the party soon hears the sound of light footsteps. Their origin isn't nearby at all, no--they seem to come from the yawning expanse beyond the dome. And, indeed, faint movement could be seen in that pure blackness, steadily moving closer and closer.
  275. <LeftHandofGod> The natural thing to do, the instinctive thing to do, is to fire shots in that direction until there's no sign of any steps. Somehow, though, Lin restrains herself and settles for merely pointing her weapon in that direction, calling out, "Who's there?"
  276. <Jar Mimic> “Oh, thank goodness. It’s swing-first-ask-questions-later-proof. Well, I’m going to try picking it up! My mom took me for a ride in a car once. I bet that this temple is like a car, and this thing here is like the keys. If I take the key out, the car will stop running! That makes sense, right?” Whether that nonsense makes any at all or not, this sweet, innocent little lady decides to go at it. Let’s give this plinth a hug! Then…! Lift with your legs, not with your back!
  277. <Jran-Kri> Alexa makes yet another little whine as the sundial staunchly refuses to shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. She quiets down at the sound of steps, her head jerking this way and that until it finally settles on the void. "Th-th-that's r-r-really i-i-interesting h-h-hurry it uuuuup," she mutters feverishly.
  278. <DrEvilKitteh> Probably unsurprisingly, the plinth budges not a centimeter.
  279. <DrEvilKitteh> “Rose...,” said Walter, a note of warning in his tone. His revolver mirrored Lin's pistol, barrel aimed at the strange movement and noise in the void.
  280. <DrEvilKitteh> And, seemingly in response to that, or maybe it's responding to Lin's query, a little laugh echoes from the void. Apart from the obvious, the laugh is even more bizarre because it sounds like one of Rose's laughs.
  281. <DrEvilKitteh> The footsteps change pace, becoming what seemed to be skipping. Another childish laugh came from the void, and this time it resonates deep within the “real” Rose. It makes her see double, like she's in the dome next to the plinth and...somewhere else at the same time.
  282. <DrEvilKitteh> The movement solidifies into a shadowy form of Rose herself, skipping along until she reaches the “edge” of where the dome and floor had crumbled away. A vague environment, a hall of some sort, also came into focus around her. It all looks like a scene from a dark, blurred movie or play of some kind.
  283. <DrEvilKitteh> As Rose went to open a door, it suddenly swings open. “Rosemary Antenora DeLaHue, what were you doing outside without supervision so late at night?!,” barks a little girl, shorter than Rose and with a bunny doll perched atop her shoulder. A few small figures, dolls as well, cluster nearby and watch from afar, not wanting to disrupt the scene and risk facing their maker's wrath. “I only said you could go out /when you're accompanied by a doll guard/, young lady!”
  284. <DrEvilKitteh> “Rosemary” sighs in exasperation, and Real!Rose /feels/ the breath exhaled from her lungs. It's like she's there as well, seeing and feeling the same things her shadowy counterpart is. Exasperation, irritation, and.../anticipation/, for some reason.
  285. <DrEvilKitteh> “Mother, I-” Rosemary begins, only to be interrupted by Natasha.
  286. <DrEvilKitteh> “No! No excuses! You're grounded.” Natasha crosses her arms, completely unconcerned with the height difference. “No leaving this apartment, no friends visiting, no-”
  287. <DrEvilKitteh> White-hot rage flared to life within Rosemary, and she seizes Natasha by the throat and slams her against the wall. When Marzipan attempted to intervene, the doll is promptly crushed underfoot without a second thought. “, mother. I'm a monster because you made me a monster. I hate you. /I hate you/.” Rosemary's fingers squeeze tighter, causing Natasha's limbs to flail wildly. “You don't understand me. But father does. She helped me. She /taught/ me.” She giggles, a decidedly creepy sound at the moment. “She loves me like you never have. With father, I can finally /be me/, not one of your dolls. Your stupid rules won't hold me back anymore.”
  288. <DrEvilKitteh> Natasha begins to shudder, but not because of the lack of oxygen going to her brain. Her eyes dim as her life force is rapidly sucked dry by Rosemary, which Real!Rose can feel so very clearly. It's a surprisingly ecstatic, blissful sensation, devouring the soul of a person; it fills that painful, jagged hole deep inside. So satisfying, especially since she's finally putting this damn dollmaker in her place. Father will be so very proud of her...
  289. <DrEvilKitteh> The dull crack-snap of bone breaking echoed as Rosemary crushed her mother's neck. She drops the tiny, drained, broken corpse to the floor and turns to stare directly into Real!Rose's eyes. Which also makes for a weird sensation for Real!Rose, since she's essentially having double-vision looking into her own eyes both ways. The shadow Rosemary winks, looks away, and waltzes back into the void, humming a cheery tune to herself. Something like “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” if what they hear is accurate.
  290. <DrEvilKitteh> The shadowy scene fades away like smoke in the night along with the sound of Rosemary's skipping. Additionally, Real!Rose's vision gradually returns to normal, and she ceases to feel what the shadow Rosemary felt.
  291. <Jar Mimic> Upon being called by name by one of her companions, that Rose did raise her head to see what was happening. The sight that does play out before her, of course, is enough to get her to drop her fruitless endeavor. That’s when something other than herself grabs her. This thing that’s other than herself, however, appears to be herself! And, at first, it’s a true to life other self that she’s sharing her eyes and ears with. Although the events themselves aren’t true to life, the FEELING is something deeply familiar to her. So, when Rosemary does feel her grip tightening on its own and feels like there’s a lump under her foot, THAT feeling gives a grave sense that something is very wrong. Very wrong, but very good. So good in the same way destroying something beautiful feels good. The same way hurting something powerless to resist feels good. It’s in that intoxicating way that this former doll wishes she could stop feeling the way she is while also hoping that this feeling never ends. And if that feeling was intoxicating, then what comes next makes her positively euphoric. Her eyes roll up into her head as she feels the rich substance of a special person’s soul flow into her. It’s so much! So much at once! Her body does twitch and shudder lightly at the sensation, as though she were finally swimming in water after never taking a drink. Oh, it hardly registers to her that she feels the sensation of snapping her mother’s already dead neck. The only thing that pierces through her ecstasy is the final wink that her other self gives before returning her senses to her. This leaves her with a jarring feeling. It’s one that makes her mouth go dry and her eyes go heavy with weariness. That little sliver of Amelia was not enough to slake her thirst. Rosemary DeLaHue does stare at that girl. She looks like she’s about to devour her.
  292. <LeftHandofGod> Lin stares, slack jawed, at the imagery being put on display for her comrade...but bit by bit, she can't help but start to grow suspicious. Is this something that this girl actually did? She's already fed off of one person, and...oh...oh no. The pistol in her hand levels itself at Rose automatically, subconsciously, as though she were hardly thinking about it at all. "Don't move!" she calls out, fear rising in her eyes. Perhaps she won't be fast enough to keep her from devouring this girl entirely!
  293. <Jran-Kri> Alexa stares, transfixed at the curious and horrendous play for them. The tiny, rational corner of her panic-stricken little mind is willing to put this down to a devious trick, nothing more. Until she turns to Rose to proclaim this certainty, and she skitters away, her fear snapping back to the fore. She holds her staff as if to ward her away, a wail of horror leaving her. "M-m-monster v-v-vampire d-d-demon I knew it knew it c-c-can't t-t-t-trust them KILL HER K-K-KILL!" She stammers, the soul of diplomacy.
  294. <Tangent> Amelia looks like she can't decide whether to either follow Alexa's advice...or to take her away from this mess. "Whatever the hell you are..." She snaps. Can't put her down. Alexa's right there and needs her. "Stay put." Or else, she doesn't need to add. The faint aura of blue fire flickering around her as she steps forward, sword raised, and puts herself between Rose and Amelia says it all.
  295. <Jar Mimic> “Don’t… Move?” Why would they say something like that? “Why shouldn’t I? Is there something on me? I don’t see anything on me!” So empty. So hard to move. Have to concentrate. “Why don’t you just forget you saw that home movie? My family’s not even like that anymore. My moms are alive. I swear!” Despite saying something like that, the look on her face is still less than friendly. In fact, she looks like the kind of person who would lie about something like that. Like a thug or a delinquent. “If I really did suck her whole soul out, I would have had plenty of energy to spare in our fights.” She takes a step forward. “Speaking of which, Amelia, could I have some more of yours? Please? I feel stretched so thin.” Another step. “Please, I need more. I HAVE to have more! You’re the one I got it from last time! You HAVE to give me more! Enough for a big, long drink. I promise you won’t die. I promise!”
  296. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter, as usual, attempted to be the peacekeeper. “Rose,” he said, trying to put his hands between Amelia and Rose so they didn't get any closer, “just because this place is messing with our heads doesn't mean you need to do what it wants. I don't think you're the kind of person to have done /that/, and you know that you shouldn't try to do it to Amelia. Please, all of you, back up, take a deep breath, and think. This place” The android trailed off and shook his head, then glanced back at the void.
  297. <DrEvilKitteh> An echo, specifically that of Rosemary's voice, had kept going on and on and on in the distance, and now it was growing louder as it “returned” to them. Except it wasn't the echo that was returning, but something else. Again.
  298. <DrEvilKitteh> “...-is, Iris!” Shadow!Rosemary has returned, though she seems...different, somehow. It's difficult for anyone to put their finger on the exact differences. She races from the darkness and skids to a stop inside a dilapidated bathroom. A figure could be seen in the corner, just barely, beneath a cocoon of black, slick ice.
  299. <DrEvilKitteh> “Iris! No, no!” Real!Rose can /feel/ Shadow!Rosemary's panic, her concern for the wounded Ice girl. “I'll, I'll get you out!” She begins to furiously pound her fist against the ice, steadily cracking and breaking it despite Iris' panicked attempts at increasing the thickness of her shell. The ice is hard and cold beneath her knuckles, but it doesn't stand a chance. Any second now...
  300. <DrEvilKitteh> “Rosemary, wait!,” calls another voice from an indistinct figure standing on the sidelines. “Stop! You're scaring her! You need to be careful or you'll hurt her!”
  301. <DrEvilKitteh> If Shadow!Rosemary hears or registers the other girl's pleas, she doesn't show any reaction at all to it. 'Need to get my sister out, need to get my sister out', echoes the mantra inside her head.
  302. <DrEvilKitteh> And then, it happens. She breaks through. With one final blow, her fist sinks through the ice completely, shattering it...and putting Iris directly in line with Rosemary's strike.
  303. <DrEvilKitteh> Unable to stop herself, Real!Rose acutely feels the sensation of her knuckles subsequently sinking into flesh and muscle and bone, breaking the latter and sending Iris sliding back into the bathtub, which she hits with a dull /thunk/. Blood leaks past the Ice girl's lips, her unseeing eyes wide and glassy.
  304. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Rosemary freezes. Metaphorically speaking. The sheer weight of what she'd just done hit her like a freight train. Or a bone-crunching blow to the heart, either one works. All thoughts flee her mind and she finds herself trembling and choking on tears. “I-Iris? N-no...I, I didn't... I didn't...”
  305. <DrEvilKitteh> Guilt, regret, self-loathing, the sharp pang of loss committed by her own hand... Real!Rose feels these things keenly. Fortunately for Rose, her shadow's grief spiral (and the sound of her ugly sobbing) fades along with the entire scene, shortly leaving just the void once more, though a few more pieces of the floor and dome had crumbled and fallen away during that time.
  306. <Jar Mimic> She takes yet another step forward. “I’m not TRYING to do that to Amelia, WALTER. Mom used to let me suck her soul all the time. I’d never take more than I needed! Right now, I have a…” Oh no. “I have, uh…” It’s happening again. “A need.” It’s another memory. Not this one. Please, not this one! This isn’t Rosemary! It isn’t! Rosemary would never do this! It isn’t her! It isn’t! It isn’t. It isn’t… It is. That’s her. That’s her, and, if she hadn’t been stopped by someone that day, she might have done exactly what happened in the memory. “N-no. Noooo! No, please, don’t make me feel that again.” When she tries to take another step, she falls to her knees. “Why? Why is everybody being so mean to me?” She begins sobbing, strands of purple hair sticking to her face. “Why does everybody want to hurt me?” Then she collapses completely and starts crying into the floor. “I’m not a m-monster. I’m not. I’m n-normal.” Then she curls up into a ball. “Please! P-please, can’t anyone be nice to me? M-mommy. Iris. I want my mommy. I want Iris. Please. Mommy! Iris! Please, make it stop! Make the bad people go away! I don’t wanna do this anymore!”
  307. <LeftHandofGod> Lin glances from one party member to another, hoping that someone, anyone will take this on, and that it won't have to be her comforting the weird 'totally not monster.' But...they need this person. They need this person to be able to fight. And so she hesitantly holsters the weapon in her hand, and takes a few slow steps closer. "Look, it's... You are going to be okay. We're going to be okay." Empty assurances, maybe, but at least she is trying.
  308. <Jran-Kri> Alexa is remarkably confused by this second image, though she barely takes her eyes off of Rose to look at it. Her confusion takes a backseat to her concern as the girl goes to pieces on her. She cowers behind her staff, whimpering under her breath. She's not sure how to deal with a monster that cries. Seeing Lin tentatively approach, she stiffens, stammering uselessly for a moment. "U-u-um um uh um I-I'm s-s-sorry," she manages. There, that's a good start. "S-s-sorry sorry sorry sh-sh-shouldn't h-h-have s-s-said th-that m-m-mean thing. Um. Um. Trick! I-i-it's a t-t-trick, I'm s-s-sorry, b-because u-um I-Iris i-is a-a-alive s-so th-that d-d-didn't h-happen s-s-so th-the o-other thing d-d-didn't happen s-so-so um, I'm sorry p-please d-d-don't c-cry."
  309. <Jar Mimic> If only to better hear someone who isn't there, the former sheep doll has stopped wailing quite so loudly as her companions attempt to console her. It doesn't stop her from sobbing while curled up into a ball on the ground, but those half-hearted reassurances weren't really so reassuring.
  310. <DrEvilKitteh> Well, hopefully Walter would be able to provide actual reassurance where the others couldn't. The android knelt beside Rose and tentatively put a hand on her shoulder. “Rose, we're sorry. Please don't worry, it's going to be okay. What you saw wasn't real. Don't believe it. Your family and friends are still alright.”
  311. <DrEvilKitteh> In the meantime, shadowy things continue to shift and move inside the void. Occasionally, the outline of a figure manifests, but it's gone a few moments later.
  312. <DrEvilKitteh> Rose herself only sees snatches and glimpses of the scenes those shadows mimic, and the transient emotions accompanying them evaporate as water on sun-baked pavement. In one vision, she's a hero, but a lonely one trekking across the wasteland alone, everyone else lost behind her. In another she's simply skipping along to class. A violent confrontation with the Wendigo touches her mind in another, but how it pans out, she cannot tell.
  313. <DrEvilKitteh> All these and many, many more flash past and fade, but none take on the almost-tangibility of those two apparitions from before.
  314. <DrEvilKitteh> The miniature sun formed from ki, still floating in the air more or less above the sundial, pulses once. Everyone present feels a sort of tug, a beckoning sensation. Like it's impatient and tensely awaiting what is to come.
  315. <Jran-Kri> Alexa staunchly ignores the sun and the pagan idol it fuels, creeping a bit closer to Rose on her wobbly legs. She's nervous of the creature, still, but she crumples a little at the sound of her crying. "I-I-I'm s-s-sorry p-please don't cry um I-I'm s-s-sorry I s-s-said those m-m-mean things," she gets close enough to pat Rose's shoulders as she repeats her herself, collapsing to her knees before the girl. "P-p-pleeeease w-w-we neeeed you i-if we're g-g-going to get out of th-this p-p-PAGAN HELLHOLE." She twists and stiffens as her brief fit wracks up and down her form.
  316. <Jar Mimic> Ah, but Rosemary is a sensitive lass. Through all of her other hurts and painful memories, she does stir from the fetal position when she feels those two hands on her shoulders. “Y-you r-really m-mean it?” she whimpers out, saying it exactly like every other child who’s trying their best not to sound like they’re crying like a baby even though they’re doing just that, “Th-thank you, W-Walter. Th-thank you, Al-lexa. I’m sorry I’m b-being so…” She sniffles loudly while wiping her cheek. “For, for b-being so sel-s-selfish. P-please d-don’t be mad…” Another sniffle. “D-don’t be mad at me.”
  317. <LeftHandofGod> Lin goes quiet, watching Walter comfort the strange soul sucker, and clasping her hands behind her back. She gives a sidelong glance to Alexa, brow knit with concern, then quietly reassures her, "I'm, umm... I'm not really mad. It's okay." For a moment, she even considers going and patting the other girl on the shoulder...but no, better to keep her distance, and she's half tempted to draw again. Something feels wrong about this.
  318. <Jran-Kri> Alexa nods tentatively, seeming as encouraged as the nervous, twitchy girl can be by the fact that Rosemary has not bit her hand. "I-i-it's o-o-okay. N-not mad. I-I'm n-not m-m-mad," she manages, smiling crookedly, the edges of her mouth jerking up her face. "I-it's o-okay. W-w-we're all s-s-scared."
  319. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter nodded along with Alexa at first, smiling a gentle smile that would hopefully offset Alexa's...whatever it was her lips had twisted into. “It's fine, Rose. We're not mad. You'll get through this, I promise. We all will.”
  320. <DrEvilKitteh> And, seemingly on-cue, the sun pulses again. Twice. The beckoning sensation is almost enough to make them look at it unless they actively resisted. Additionally, the shadows in the void are beginning to...coalesce once more, to solidify and reach for the light.
  321. <LeftHandofGod> Oh, oh dear, it's moving. That's enough to make Lin draw once again, though at least she maintains the presence of mind not to point the damned thing at anybody this time. She looks just a touch shaky, too... Is she expecting it to be her turn next?
  322. <Jar Mimic> “Alexa. Walter. I’m… I’m glad that I have such nice people here with me.” At this point, Rosemary finally manages to stand up again, encouraging the two who came to comfort her to rise as well. “I always… I always thought that I’d never fit in with cool people like all of you.” Another sniffle. And her bottom lip quivers as she tries to keep her composure. Clearly, she’s still quite broken up, despite trying to play it off like she’s not. “I’m g-glad I got the chance to know you all.” As for the sun, yes, Rose looks toward it, if only because she’s trying to look away from everyone else.
  323. <Jran-Kri> The first thing that Alexa really focuses on is the label of her, among the others, being 'cool.' She has to have herself a little laugh at that as she rises, her whole body trembling with the force of her silent, shuddering laughter. Finally, she can't help but stare at the light, her head snapping over, her mangled grin still on her face. "A-a-a-ah. I... I-I-I am v-v-very g-glad. To. M-m-meet you, too, R-R-Rose," she mumbles absentmindedly. "I-I w-w-would like to kn-know you l-l-longer, b-b-but these p-p-PAGAN CULTISTS w-w-won't have that, noooooo they w-w-won't." Her staff springs back into her hands, glowing brightly with the red glow of her magic.
  324. <Tangent> Amelia just shakes her head...but any objections she has are very much placed on the backburner by Alexa's state. Wordlessly, she steps closer to her companion, attention on her. The idea of her being nice, or cool...Whatever the monstergirl thinks, Amelia doesn't even have the energy to dispute it. Not the time. Or place. The vampire's in no state to think about what she's saying.
  325. <DrEvilKitteh> (I'm gonna get this moving properly again since y'all are slow. So, sorry not sorry, Vox.)
  326. <DrEvilKitteh> Automatically, Walter's hand found the grip of his revolver, and his gaze was at first pulled to the ki sun before he noticed the restless shadows. “...It wants us to finish,” he muttered under his breath. “It''s a ritual of some kind, and...we began it, but haven't finished it.” It was only a theory, but given everything, it seemed like a good explanation.
  327. <DrEvilKitteh> And so, naturally, after a pregnant pause, Seo-Hyun reaches out and grabs the ki sun.
  328. <DrEvilKitteh> Blue foxfire pours from her body, suffusing the sun and changing its color a bit so that it appears as a mixture between Rose's ki energy and her own foxfire. Though she could have pulled her hand away at almost any time, albeit with some effort, she does not. Instead, Seo /pushes/ the sun, moving it in an arc over/around the sundial, mimicking the path a real sun takes through the sky. Teeth gritted, ears flattened against her head, tails lashing in agitation, she pushes it until she can push it no longer. Which is, according to the sundial, around three or four hours on it.
  329. <DrEvilKitteh> Their shadows, and the shadows of the gnomon rising from the sundial, move, and the floor and dome crumble away and fall into the void at their touch. There yet remained a floor, of course, with more than enough room to stand on, though it's truly a small part of the overall size of the place; a circular section, it seems thus far, with a radius of about a hundred feet or so. Everything else beyond, even the dome beside and above, methodically crumbles and is taken by the void.
  330. <DrEvilKitteh> More of the intricate sundial's surface is turned back in time upon being graced by its gnomon's shadow, revealing more of its ornate beauty.
  331. <DrEvilKitteh> Seo's hand releases the ki-foxfire sun, and although she feels a bit woozy at how some of her magical energy had been drained, she recovers in a little bit.
  332. <DrEvilKitteh> That's when the shadows begin to solidify into figures and scenes and sounds once more.
  333. <Jar Mimic> Well, that’s embarrassing. Embarrassing because the answer was so simple, and yet Rose didn’t think of it. “Wow, Seo-Hyun. That was so smart,” she says, being more honest than she’d like, “I… I shouldn’t have done anything to it without knowing what would happen. Thank you for thinking it through more than I did.” Whatever sadness is still in her chest, she’s hiding it a bit better, now. After one more sniffle, her bottom lip stops quivering. Yes, she’s definitely hiding it better.
  334. <Jran-Kri> Alexa is also minorly embarrassed as she sees the puzzle completed. Not that she would have thought of completing what was certainly a dark, foreign ritual. She half-rises, looking around at what was left of the chambre, nervously shuffling in place as she looks around at the shadows. "Um. Um. Ah. R-r-right. Good. Thinking. Um... D-d-doesn't h-help us g-g-get out of... wh-wherever this is, th-though."
  335. <LeftHandofGod> Lin watches the puzzle be solved with a look of some confusion. The concept of a sun dial is somewhat odd to her, given her background, and...well, it's not what her focus is on. She gives the very obvious monster girl a little nod of respect.
  336. <DrEvilKitteh> It happened again.
  337. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadows, false pasts and dark futures, come to life on the edge of the void. For brevity's sake, the events and their effect upon Seo-Hyun will not be given as much detail.
  338. <DrEvilKitteh> The first vision is a point where Seo-Hyun is conversing with her friends in an empty classroom--Iris, Nico, Frederica, and even Rose. She admits to what she is, what she's done, that her monstrous appearance goes much farther than just the surface. Killing people, eating their livers and hearts. As they recoil, she adds that she only does it to the bad people! Only those that deserve it! Yet, there's something in her eye, in her stance and demeanor, that frightens them.
  339. <DrEvilKitteh> This Shadow!Seo-Hyun lost her friends that day, and her family came not long thereafter. In her frantic desire to search for and rescue her lost loved ones, they see how terrifying she truly is in a fight against their captors. How much her mind has been changed by that /hunger/. In her blood haze, she even injures one of them. Fatally. The others, filled with grief and loathing, cast her out and flee.
  340. <DrEvilKitteh> And, despite herself, Shadow!Seo finds that her dead relation's body looks and smells oh so tantalizing.
  341. <DrEvilKitteh> The liver and heart tastes even better.
  342. <DrEvilKitteh> The next couple visions are much the same, and may have even been continuations of one another and the ones before. Shadow!Seo-Hyun is a persecuted outcast, her identity known on her homeworld and the Overcity alike. All those who'd called themselves friends and family turn their back on her. Some of them, she actually attacks out of desperation, rage, and a maddening hunger. She is a monster, everyone says. She is unforgivable and irredeemable. And yet she goes on, alone, propelled by the one, final urge that drives her.
  343. <DrEvilKitteh> In her saddest, darkest dreams, she finds that she actually misses those times where someone playfully pets her tails.
  344. <DrEvilKitteh> Once the shadowy visions fade to what amounted to mere static in the void, Seo-Hyun could be found curled up in a quivering ball on the floor next to the sundial. Regardless of what is said to her, or even if someone attempts to place their hands reassuringly on her shoulder/head/tails, she wouldn't respond much, if at all.
  345. <DrEvilKitteh> The foxfire-ki sun continues to burn and minutely flicker, silent and bright in the air where it had been pushed.
  346. <DrEvilKitteh> After rising to his feet again, hand leaving Seo-Hyun's shoulder, Walter eyes the miniature sun. “I suppose that's how the 'ritual' is supposed to be finished. Unless someone wants to jump into that...nothingness,” he nodded at the void, “completing it must be the way to get out.”
  347. <LeftHandofGod> Lin isn't the type to give that particular monster much pity. After all, the two have hardly spoken. She takes just a moment to glance around the room, from one person to another, trying to figure out just who should be next...but with her quick reactions, isn't she usually the one to take the lead anyway?
  348. <LeftHandofGod> She takes a few unsteady steps forward, and, if nobody stops her, she places her bare left hand...then her tattooed right hand onto the sun, grits her teeth, and pushes against it.
  349. <Jran-Kri> After that repulsive episode, hurling herself into the void is almost preferable to Alexa. She shies away from the catatonic fox, her head pulled low over her ears. Nothing can be heard from her save the chattering of her teeth, but her eyes snap furtively between the void and Lin. She tried to reassure herself that this was all some nasty trick, and none of it was real. Probably.
  350. <Jar Mimic> For being a being other than an ideal creation of the Puchuu, Rosemary is hardly as discriminating as the Magical Girls present. Having just gone through such trauma herself, she kneels beside her fallen comrade and picks her up off the ground. In as comforting a way as she knows, she rests the fox against her body and begins to pet her between the ears. With purpose. “H-hey. It’ll be okay. You’re not that. It’ll be okay. No matter how real that felt, none of it was real. It’ll be okay. None of it was real.” After repeating that line a few times, one might question if she’s saying to her or herself.
  351. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter didn't say much to Seo, but he gave Rose an approving nod.
  352. <DrEvilKitteh> And, likewise, Seo-Hyun didn't say much of anything at all, but that may have been in part because of Lin's actions. Rather, the result of it and the ensuing noise and deafening quiet.
  353. <DrEvilKitteh> Again, the sun moves. Again, magic pours forth from the pusher--Lin, in this case. Sparks of lightning dance down the length of her arm until they reach the sun, which they then infuse and dance about.
  354. <DrEvilKitteh> More of the sundial changes as the gnomon's shadow touches it, and likewise, everyone and everything's shadow moves along with it. More of the floor crumbles in a rough circle going 'round them and tumbles into the void, more of the dome shatters and flies off into nothingness.
  355. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin pushes until she can push no more, which is, again, a few more hours on the sun-based clock that is the sundial. She feels drained by the experience, but soon recovers. Just in time, too.
  356. <DrEvilKitteh> The shadows writhe and seethe, becoming, if anything, even more active since Rose and Seo-Hyun's visions. They claw their way across the void and manifest, drawing Lin in deep, so very deep.
  357. <DrEvilKitteh> Her eyes...and yet not her eyes, for she's also witnessing this scene play out with an outside perspective. Her mind, her feelings...yet these, too, are not hers. But they all are hers nonetheless.
  358. <DrEvilKitteh> A lone girl sits on a log, staring blandly over the smoldering remains of a campfire. This Shadow!Lin is so still that she may as well be a statue. The black fog-like substance around her resolves into a scene: the dead of night, on the outskirts of a ramshackle caravan. She's evidently one of the sentries standing (figuratively speaking) watch over the noncombatants sleeping inside. The day had been long, and the night would likely be longer still.
  359. <DrEvilKitteh> However, for Real!Lin, there's another dimension to this shadowy stage play. She sees through her duplicate's eyes, feels what she feels. All she sees is a steady, quiet darkness. All she feels is...serenity. No, wait, that's wrong... It's /like/ serenity, and she's certainly felt it numerous times and may even equate it to serenity, but it's not quite the same. It's a withdrawing from herself into a place of protection, putting distance between herself and her body, disassociating with what it feels.
  360. <DrEvilKitteh> For Shadow!Lin, it's as if everything is muted. Touch, emotion, sounds, sights, it's all...dull and oh so far away. Almost like seeing through a stranger's eyes (now isn't that ironic). This bestowed peace upon her--in a sense. And yet.../and yet/ goes deep. Far, far beyond the level she usually descends (or maybe ascends is a better word) to, and quite possibly far, far beyond what she's gone to in the past. She's retreated into her safe place before, true, but this is a new level she never recalls reaching before.
  361. <DrEvilKitteh> Real!Lin, though, has no such luxury. Unable to withdraw, forced to watch and feel as herself in full...while she watches and feels as her shadow duplicate at the same time. This duality is most likely nauseating in a way, and frightening as well.
  362. <DrEvilKitteh> When the monsters come, fast and quick and lithe and deadly, Shadow!Lin is one of the first to move, thanks in part to advanced warning from her tattoo map. Dimly, she's aware of opening her mouth to alert the others, but by then she's already directing her hand to her holster, where she draws her gun, aims it, and fires. Like a video game character or marionette, she moves along to shoot the monsters at a steady pace, body directed by a distant will. She's dimly aware that she's taken a few hits, but what do they matter?
  363. <DrEvilKitteh> A civilian has been cut off, and one of the monsters is in the process of pouncing upon him. I say this because a bullet blasts straight through the civilian's throat and into the monster's eye, downing it instantly. But what does that matter? The civilian was dead anyway; her actions were merely a mercy killing.
  364. <DrEvilKitteh> The nine-year old boy and the predator collapse in a heap atop one another. Shadow!Lin moves on.
  365. <DrEvilKitteh> One of her arms tumbles to the ground. If she'd just been a little quicker, a little more attentive, a little more aware of her body, maybe that wouldn't have happened. But what does that matter? She can't even feel pain, and an arm is fixable.
  366. <DrEvilKitteh> Her closest friend among the other Magical Girl guards, a girl she's known for years, is set upon by the creatures. Like wolves stalking a moose, they circle her and manage to wound and down her. Savage limbs cut and slash and rend, spilling blood and causing the girl to cry out in pain.
  367. <DrEvilKitteh> But what does that matter? They're all soldiers, weapons and shields alike. Everyone knew what they were getting into. Everyone knows the risks, everyone's prepared for and even expects the inevitable.
  368. <DrEvilKitteh> Mentally, she marks all of the monsters. Her remaining arm and hand obey. The pistol barks and they fall around her friend, who's choking on blood and her savaged tongue. If their healer gets to her in time, she could live. Shadow!Lin calls out for the healer and moves on.
  369. <DrEvilKitteh> She limps, one of her hamstrings severed at some point. Or maybe she'd lost a's a little difficult to tell when she's not looking down. Shadow!Lin keeps firing, keeps fighting. Other defenders and civilians are injured; some of them killed, some of them dragged off screaming into the darkness.
  370. <DrEvilKitteh> But what does that matter? She feels nothing.
  371. <DrEvilKitteh> A maw closes around her throat. She can't stop it. She tried, but...oh, right, another monster had seized her hand. Dimly, more on automatic willed reflex than anything else, Shadow!Lin kicked and flailed and bit at the beasts, but she saw more than felt the cruel jaws close and dark droplets hit her eyes. Even the spinning, spinning, spinning does nothing to make her feel sick or queasy, it simply is. Abruptly, the spinning ceases, and she sees the two creatures fighting over her headless, armless, footless corpse.
  372. <DrEvilKitteh> She doesn't know if the civilians are saved, if her fellows somehow salvage the day, or if all is lost this night. Her vision slowly goes dark and monochrome, and, in time, becomes the black of the void.
  373. <DrEvilKitteh> But what does it matter? They were all going to die, one way or another. Except for her. She'd persist. A body that moves at the whim of its mind and soul, safely tucked away in an innocuous black jet lying unseen amidst a clump of weeds. She'd live, and she'd keep moving. She'd keep surviving. She'd keep fighting. She barely even remembers why anymore--it's like instinct or force of habit at this point, really. She fights because that's what she knows, because that's what she's been doing for so long. She doesn't even know why she knows or why she's been doing it for so long. It...simply is.
  374. <DrEvilKitteh> But these thoughts aren't even swirling around in Shadow!Lin's mind. There's just a single motivation that lay still and everpresent in her mind, blunt and colorless and emotionless. In a physical sense, Shadow!Lin had been killed, but she hadn't actually /died/; she continued to persist and would continue for as long as her soul remained safely tucked away. Yet, in a very real sense, Shadow!Lin is dead.
  375. <DrEvilKitteh> But what does that matter?
  376. <DrEvilKitteh> The shadows dissipate and withdraw, but they still lurk at the edge of the void. Real!Lin's eyes, senses, and mind become her own once more as the vision's influence fades from her.
  377. <LeftHandofGod> Involuntarily, she shudders at the sensation of the vision beginning. She'd known from the start it would be horrible, and she thought she was prepared. The same trick had always worked before, but now it isn't. Panic rises in her eyes as she realizes that she's stuck feeling everything...and yet, her shadow feels nothing. The floor underneath her seems to wobble back and forth, and then...with a loud thump, she falls to her knees, staring into the shadows with a look of fear on her face.
  378. <LeftHandofGod> As the monsters come, she raises her hands, mimicking the shadow's trigger pulls with her own...luckily, she hasn't had the presence of mind to reach for her real weapon. Just another fight, and she can handle that...but then the civilian falls. A faint cry rises to her throat...but she strangles the urge to cry out down.
  379. <LeftHandofGod> But when she watches her young friend, that meager white haired girl in the gown, get torn apart, she can't help it. She clenches her fists together and cries out, “Isa, I'm sorry!” Tears roll down her face as she watches, tears that she couldn't have spilled before. She watches the rest with muted horror...her own death is nothing in comparison. She can come back. She always comes back. But her friends do not.
  380. <LeftHandofGod> And yet, that emptiness...the emptiness of being nothing but a piece of stone, forgotten in the grass, the feeling of being killed without dying, the eternity of waiting within that stone...while she cannot figure out why, everything feels much colder. And so she rests on her knees, tears streaming down her face, and shivers.
  381. <Jar Mimic> None of these scenes have been pleasant. Her own were devastating. Seo’s were relatable, in their own way. They were about hunger. But Lin’s are something else. When the human carnage begins, Rose looks away, unable to handle seeing things like that, even now. Keeping her eyes closed, she clings to the fox girl until the scene is over. Once she’s sure that it is, she scoops up Seo-Hyun in a princess carry, and then makes her way over to Lin. Her cargo is gently set down so that she has hands free to place at least one on this person’s shoulder. “Hey, I c-cried, too. It’s okay to cry as much as you want. You’re not like that person up there. It’ll be okay. No matter how real that felt, none of it was real.”
  382. <Jran-Kri> Alexa manages to work up the spine to watch it all the way through, seeming transfixed by the blood and death and horror. She's trembling in place, looking like she would collapse if it weren't for her crutch, pale as a sheet the whole while. She looks like she's about to puke by the time it ends, but she's stuck in a reverie until she hears Rosemary speak again. Nodding silently, slowly, she has nothing more to say. Her eyes snap between the two huddled girls, the void, and the sun. It was her turn now, she decides. She gently sets her staff down, shuffling up the dais to grab the sun and push, straining with the effort. That ephereal shadow had kept on fighting -- in her twisted mind, that was honourable: As He died to make men holy, so we live to make men free...
  383. <DrEvilKitteh> Seo-Hyun isn't /quite/ as despondent as before, but her eyes are dull and her expression haggard. She still doesn't move or react much.
  384. <DrEvilKitteh> Alexa, curiously enough, finds it a bit difficult to get a grip on the mini magic sun at first. And when she pushes, it barely budges. It /does/ move, that's for sure, but it takes more effort for her than it seemed to have taken for the others.
  385. <DrEvilKitteh> Red magic haltingly leaks from Alexa, infusing and surrounding the sun in an evershifting polygonal dome like one of her protective bubbles. Lin's sparks of lightning now race along the bubble's edges, tracing out innumerable complex patterns in the span of a single second.
  386. <DrEvilKitteh> The reason for the intense resistance becomes readily apparent in the next few moments. The shadows beyond the void are not yet done. While “restless” may have described them before, now they're outright agitated, movements violent and bolting towards the edge of the void. One outraces them all, and the sound of footsteps are heard again as the shadow resolves into a figure that slowly approaches.
  387. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin isn't /drawn into/ a vision like last time. Instead, she's /physically drawn/ to the edge of the void. No one's quite sure how, no one's quite sure when it happened, but Lin abruptly realizes that she's sitting/kneeling there at the precipice of the abyss. And she can't move back, not yet.
  388. <DrEvilKitteh> As if by some cosmic will, Lin experiences an irresistible urge to look up into the face of the approaching figure as light finally fell upon them: a grizzled, black-haired man of stocky build with purposeful strides. He came to a stop just before reaching the edge, his eyes fixed upon Lin's.
  389. <DrEvilKitteh> And, again, Lin finds herself rising to her feet. There's only a few feet between herself and the man, perhaps a small enough distance for either of them to reach out and touch the other.
  390. <DrEvilKitteh> The man speaks after a pregnant silence. “Hello, Little Lin.” If anything, his words sound...weary. Like he'd just lost a fight or received terrible, terrible news. “...Not looking so good, are ya?” He slowly shakes his head. “Guess that comes with the territory. Being all but responsible for my death, wanting to retreat so far from the world that everything becomes meaningless...” He sighs. “...Disappointing.”
  391. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin finds her arm rising, pistol in hand. No matter how much she struggles, she can only make her hand shake and tremble, but not actually move away.
  392. <DrEvilKitteh> “...But I guess that's really I can expect from a puppet like you. A sack of useless meat animated by an even more useless soul.” The man's upper lip curled in disgust, and his form wavered as Alexa struggles to keep moving the mini-sun above the sundial. Black tar seems to leak from his mouth, then his nose and ears in short succession. “Pathetic is what that is. Thought I'd taught you to be better.” His voice is now...fuzzy, as if someone's changing the radio station or something. Which may have been apt considering Alexa's actions.
  393. <DrEvilKitteh> By this point, Lin's gun is fully raised and aimed resolutely at his head. Her finger rests on the trigger.
  394. <DrEvilKitteh> “Go on.” Black tears ooze down his cheeks and drip from his fingernails. “Do it. Do it again, /Little Doll/.” He spits those final two words out like they're a curse. “/Kill me./”
  395. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin's finger slowly, inevitably begins to depress the trigger. She fights it, she really does. Every instinct, every thought and fiber of her being /screams/ at her to stop...
  396. <DrEvilKitteh> The gun barks. The bullet travels through the man's left eye and out the back of his skull. The orb explodes into a small shower of the black goop, and chunks of bone and black ooze fly back into the void.
  397. <DrEvilKitteh> The man chuckles, a throaty, wavering sound, somewhat like he's gargling. Gargling on that black ichor, probably. And, wordlessly, his remaining eye rolls up in its socket and the man crumples, tumbling away, away, away into the void...until he's gone.
  398. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin becomes dimly aware that she's now in full control of her body, and that her face and hand had been spattered by some of that dark tar. She stands there on the edge of the void as Alexa completes her part of the ritual, pushing the miniature sun another few hours along its invisible path.
  399. <DrEvilKitteh> The shadows have done their thing, once again. The floor and dome have crumbled away, leaving just that hundred foot-radius circular section of floor in place. Once more, the shadows are active, and Alexa can /feel/ them reaching out for her, but they haven't resolved into anything just yet.
  400. <LeftHandofGod> Stunned. Stunned into silence, staring into a dead man's eyes, hearing a dead man's words. Stunned into being unable to resist the compulsion in the slightest bit, and stunned into watching herself take actions she knows she'll regret for the rest of her life...but she's already killed him once. Again? Not again?
  401. <LeftHandofGod> The realization that she has to face this, has to face killing him with no escape, no way to worm her way out of the disgust, the anger, the grief she is almost enough to drive her to cry again.
  402. <LeftHandofGod> But she isn't just watching. This time, she's taking the responsibility directly. Her body quakes, tears sneaking their way into her eyes once more...
  403. <LeftHandofGod> ...
  404. Pop.
  405. <LeftHandofGod> She stares into the void after the corpse of a dead man...then drops to her knees once again. And with that same empty, pleading, tearful stare, she allows herself to fall forward, into the maw of the gaping void.
  406. <Jran-Kri> Initially, Alexa is unsurprised by her great difficulty in moving the blasted sphere, being a noodly and weak little rat that needed Amelia to fight her battles for her. However, after a moment, she hears the sound of an unfamiliar voice, and her eyes, closed in concentration, snap open as she stares at the void. A distressed little noise leaves her, but she dares not let go of the sphere -- if anything, she redoubles her efforts. Surely she just needs to push the blasted things, and then Lin's spectres will go away, and Alexa's demons will appear! Yes, push, push, push -- but Alexa just can't get it going fast enough. Her head snaps between the sphere and Lin's weapon as the latter is raised, and she makes a high-pitched whine of fear and frustration. Push, push, p--
  407. <Jran-Kri> Pop.
  408. <Jran-Kri> Alexa stumbles off of the platform, her arms aching as she stares fearfully at Lin. She almost scurries over to her, but the shadows keep her at bay. She shies back, and realizes too late that her fear has kept her too far away from Lin to do anything as she pitches into the darkness.
  409. <Jran-Kri> Alexa screams her head off.
  410. <Jar Mimic> Guess who had a front row seat for the whole thing? That’s right. It was Rosemary. Having already gone over to comfort the poor girl, she could veritably smell the shadow figure’s breath when he manifested before them. And when he started talking? Her eyes turned red. Oh, and when he called Lin a doll? Ooh, that nearly got her to punch him herself. But she knew it wasn’t real. She knew that very well. That’s why she jumps when she hears the gun shot go off. She’s thankful that the carnage isn’t quite as graphic, but remains spooked. Until, that is, she sees Lin start to fall. “NO!” she shouts, practically diving at her. Without care for how much this is going to hurt the poor girl, Rose grabs at whatever she can. Whether it’s a shoulder before she even starts falling or a leg just in the nick of time is up to fate.
  411. <DrEvilKitteh> Rosemary briefly slips, or maybe her foot catches on something, but regardless, she falters. Still, she continues, lunging for Lin...and grabs her by the boot. At the toes, to be specific.
  412. <DrEvilKitteh> And, beside her, Walter dives for the falling Beacon girl as well; having approached Lin and the shadowy man, though not as near as Rose had, the android had been in a good position to dart forward in an attempt to save Lin. He gets a more solid hold than Rose, one mechanical hand clamping firmly around Lin's other ankle. “Pull her up!,” he bellowed, though he likely didn't need to. And, hopefully together, he and Rose attempt to haul Lin up.
  413. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin, naturally expecting to fall and fall and fall, finds herself abruptly stopped. She stares into the infinite expanse all around, deafened by its overwhelming silence. And yet, the shadows dance closer to this one who seems about to join them. They beckon wordlessly, whispering things simultaneously enticing and vile in an attempt to coax and coerce her into joining them...
  414. <DrEvilKitteh> ...And then Lin feels herself being pulled /up/ and back into /light/ and that which /exists/. Even if she struggles, even if she reaches for the void and the shadows with all her might, she's virtually helpless to stop Rose and Walter, two people stronger than her by a large margin, from pulling her up. That being said, even they feel some resistance, a pull on Lin--the void only reluctantly relinquishes that within its grasp.
  415. <DrEvilKitteh> Once the resistance fades, once the void's grip is broken, a scene straight out of a slapstick comedy happens: Rose and Walter and Lin go tumbling back several yards and end up in one jumbled pile of limbs and confusion. But hey, Lin didn't go tumbling into the highly dangerous unknown where who-knows-what would happen to her, so that's a plus at least.
  416. <Jran-Kri> Alexa's screaming subsides once she realizes that her cowardice has not resulted in Lin being dragged into Hell. Once the Beacon girl is 'safely' on solid land, she scurries over, staring fearfully into the void as she closes the distance. "Oh Lin a-a-are y-y-you a-a-alright I-I-I'm s-s-sorry are you h-h-hurt I can f-f-fix that," Alexa nods briskly, coming to a wobbly halt. Still, she can't help but keep looking between Lin and the void, her examination of any adverse effects of coming so close seeming a bit distracted.
  417. <LeftHandofGod> Struggle she does, desperately flailing and finding no purchase. When she tumbles back from the void, she's shocked into being still. Utterly, totally still...and clutching her weapon to her chest in a tight hug. A mere M9 is not terribly large, but neither is she. It takes her a few moments to realize she's even been addressed, then after a few moments more, she mumbles, “Fine...I'm fine. Should have just let me fall. It's fine, I'll, umm...I'll be fine.” Nervous eyes glance towards the moving shadows...her turn is over, but the ordeal might not be.
  418. <Jar Mimic> Once successfully saved from the void, Lin has Rosemary to deal with. Eyes still glowing red, the former sheep doll crawls on top of her. The same powerful hands that rescued her now pin her harshly to the floor. “Why would you do that?!” she shouts, rage and confusion both obvious in her voice, “You could have died! How could you do something so stupid?!” Her eyes are closed tightly. “That was scary. That was so scary! Please, be more careful, miss Lin. I kn-know we can rely on each other for help, but you can’t go making mistakes like that!” When her eyes open, they’re green again. “Please don’t scare me like that again. Try to keep a better lookout. Who knows if I’ll be able to catch you next time?”
  419. <DrEvilKitteh> “Rose...,” Walter begins, struggling up from where he'd been sprawled on the floor. He reaches a hand out for the former dollgirl...but he needn't have bothered. She doesn't do anything truly violent or untoward to Lin, so he lets his arm drop. “Lin, it''s alright. That...wasn't real. It doesn't matter that...that you shot him, it's a figment of this place. It's all shadows and illusions. /That wasn't real/.” Even still, there's a quiet note of doubt in him, and it's reflected by the smallest hesitation in his words.
  420. <DrEvilKitteh> The reason? Lin had been spattered by the black tar that had apparently been the shadow man's blood...or something else within him. And, after everything, after the shadow had faded, that tacky goop /remained/ on Lin. Some on her face, some on her gun hand and arm.
  421. <DrEvilKitteh> Once more, the shadows writhe and coil amongst themselves and reach for /what exists/.
  422. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Back, back, everyone back,” said Walter hurriedly, backstepping towards the sundial. If any of the girls were lagging behind, like Alexa or Lin, he'd pull them along too, just in case. Assuming Rose didn't get to them before he did, that is.
  423. <DrEvilKitteh> Alexa's vision and mind swims, and the shadows begin to rapidly resolve into another “standard” scene...
  424. <LeftHandofGod> Too much focus on her, but then again, she probably earned it with that stupid stunt. She does her best to just nod along with the others fussing over her, but her gaze follows Walter's...she's covered in it. Once more, the little Beacon tenses up...
  425. <LeftHandofGod> But no time for that. After a few tugs, she comes of her own will, feet moving on their own.
  426. <Jar Mimic> As awkward of a position as she had put herself in, Rose doesn’t take very long to pick herself up after hearing Walt’s warning. Lin gets helped to her feet, and Seo once again gets carried off. “Alexa, if you’re next, don’t let the same thing happen,” she says once they’ve put sufficient distance between themselves and the darkness, “Whatever this place shows you, it’s not real. I won’t believe a thing I see up there!”
  427. <Jran-Kri> Alexa is startled by the sound of her own name, tearing her gaze from the void. Screwing her eyes shut for a moment, she shakes her head as if to clear it before smiling crookedly at Rosemary. "Th-thank y-y-you. R-r-right. N-not real," she mumbles, half to herself.
  428. <DrEvilKitteh> The shadows weave and wave and solidify into a scene near the edge of the void. There are two personages, one lying down, one standing beside the other's bed. Alexa experiences that double-vision the others had, which is naturally accompanied by feeling everything her shadowy doppelganger feels.
  429. <DrEvilKitteh> And, through this double-vision, Alexa finds herself staring into Iris' eyes. The Ice girl is lying in a hospital bed--Rose knew it to be in Harmony Academy's medical wing. She's still heavily injured from the Ironclad Man's attack, though not enough that she can't speak.
  430. <DrEvilKitteh> “...I...see.” Shadow!Iris nods vaguely, but even that seems to cause her a bit of pain. “Then...take care. Stay safe.”
  431. <DrEvilKitteh> “O-oh, w-w-we s-sure w-will.” Shadow!Alexa nods jerkily. “T-taking down th-this HE-HEATHEN w-w-will b-be a p-pleasure.” Stony-faced, she turns sharply and takes a few twitchy steps to the door.
  432. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Wait. go.” Shadow!Iris' breathing is labored, but her brow's knitted and her lips are twisted in a frown. “I...wanted about something...important.”
  433. <DrEvilKitteh> Abruptly, Shadow!Alexa whirled. “W-what i-i-is th-this, then?” Her face splits in an unpleasant rictus. She /really/ doesn't like conversing with this hussy. She never actually /said/ that out loud about Iris, but it's patently obvious! Everyone knew it, so of course she didn't need to say it.
  434. <DrEvilKitteh> “About...Amelia,” said Iris.
  435. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Alexa immediately stiffened like an even straighter rod had been shoved up her spine. She marches back to the bed and stares down at Shadow!Iris, smile twitching unpleasantly. “W-w-what a-about Amelia?,” she asks, perhaps too quickly.
  436. <DrEvilKitteh> “...I am sorry. I know you...are close to Amelia, and...were her friend before we met...” Shadow!Iris apparently has some difficulty putting the words together. “I did /Taru/ at first, because...I felt she was...taking my best friend away. I...hated that.” She smiles slightly at the memories despite herself. “” She coughed weakly and looked back up at Alexa. “I do not take Amelia away...from you.”
  437. <DrEvilKitteh> What did she mean? What does she think about herself and Amelia? And is she actually telling the truth? Or is this cow of a slut just cruelly messing with her? Suspicion and no small amount of disbelief settles over Shadow!Alexa's mind, and her hands, out of Shadow!Iris line of sight, are clenched so hard into fists that the knuckles are white.
  438. <DrEvilKitteh> “I love her. And, um...I do want be happy together.” Shadow!Iris seems more or less blissfully aware of her conversation partner's growing distrust, but then Alexa's generally nutty behavior in general could explain why she's overlooking a couple things.
  439. <DrEvilKitteh> “W-w-what d-do y-you m-m-mean?,” Shadow!Alexa bites off, finally asking that question aloud. Her grin's more of a definite grimace by this point. “I-I d-don't l-love her, th-that's s-s-SINful! Sh-she's j-j-just m-my b-b-best f-friend, s-so /of c-c-course/ we-we're happy!” No, she /certainly/ didn't love Amelia! Not that fiery passion, not those gorgeous eyes, not that perfect form... They're just friends, is all. Best friends! If only this tease didn't keep trying to steal Amelia away from her...
  440. <DrEvilKitteh> “You are best...friends. So you love...each other.” Shadow!Iris said that like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I love Maya, my bestie. She, too. and Amelia love...each other.” She shook her head slightly. “I...still want to be...Amelia's friend, and...yours, but...” She paused again, thinking of how best to put this. “...But I do not...want to, um...hurt your relationship. So...I will, uh, back away...for now.”
  441. <DrEvilKitteh> No, no, she's lying. This slut is /lying/, Alexa can feel it in her /bones/. She's trying to get her to let down her guard so she can swoop in and grab /her/ Amelia, luring her astray with her big, beautiful tits and pretty skin...
  442. <DrEvilKitteh> “...So you do...not have to worry,” Shadow!Iris continues. “ should do more...for Amelia. Like...holding her...hands more often. And cuddling night. Um...e-express for her-”
  443. <DrEvilKitteh> Something in Shadow!Alexa just snapped. She didn't know what exactly did it, but she didn't care. She had to act, now, decisively!
  444. <DrEvilKitteh> And, before she knew it, Shadow!Alexa had grabbed a pillow and slammed it over Shadow!Iris' face. She presses down on it as hard as she can, smothering Iris. She feels goosebumps running down her spine as that /presence/ within crawls forth. She itches all over, and in some places there's searing pain as /something/ bursts through skin, but it's a /good/ feeling, a /righteous/ feeling! She's ending this, now, before Iris can enact her final plot to snatch Amelia away!
  445. <DrEvilKitteh> “I-I-I w-w-will n-never l-let y-y-you h-have h-h-her, /w-whore/!,” Shadow!Alexa growls, spittle flying pasts her lips that were curled up in a snarl. “I-I kn-know /what/ y-you're d-doing, b-b-but i-it w-won't work! I w-won't /l-let/ y-y-you d-do it! Y-you w-will n-n-not s-s-steal /m-m-m-my/ p-p-pure A-Amelia!”
  446. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Iris thrashes and bucks and cries out, but all of her movements are weak, pained, and her voice is muffled beneath the pillow. She can't fight off Alexa with her monstrous strength. She can't do anything. Which is just how Shadow!Alexa likes it.
  447. <DrEvilKitteh> Righteous fury surges through Shadow!Alexa, burning viciously in her. She keeps pressing, reveling in the sight of Shadow!Iris' struggles slowly becoming slower and weaker...and weaker...until she moved no more. She holds the pillow firmly against the whore's face for several more moments, just to be sure.
  448. <DrEvilKitteh> There's no more movements from the Ice girl.
  449. <DrEvilKitteh> Gradually, Shadow!Alexa's breathing returns to something resembling steady once more, and that /thing/ retreats once more now that the threat has been eliminated. She lifts the pillow and peers down at Shadow!Iris' still face below. Glassy eyes, mouth wide open, an expression of fear...
  450. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Alexa closes her eyes, shuts her mouth, and puts things back neatly together to make sure Shadow!Iris looks like she's sleeping peacefully. She felt a morbid sense of pleasure in doing so.
  451. <DrEvilKitteh> “Y-yes, w-well, I-I /rr-r-really/ sh-should be g-going, n-n-now,” she said to the corpse. “A-Alchemists t-to /smite/ a-and A-A-Amelia's t-to k-k-keep fr-from falling t-to pieces wi-without a healer. S-s-sleep w-w-well!” Shadow!Alexa turns on her heel and hurries to the door. She slows, reminds herself to walk /normally/ or the staff might /suspect/ something, and exits the room.
  452. <DrEvilKitteh> The door gently clicking shut seems to be the signal for the scene to end, and end it does. The figures and room dissolve into indistinct silhouettes of nothing in particular, and Alexa feels the connection to her shadowy self fade away. There's still a faint, lingering presence in the back of her mind that seems to indicate more to come, but she at least has a short breather in the interim before the next scene plays out.
  453. <Jran-Kri> Alexa had braced herself in preparation of this shadowy apparition that would reveal itself. She was quite certain, beforehand, that she could stand up to whatever foul illusion this disgusting Pagan hellhole would conjure up. But at the sight of this particular vision, she does white as a sheet. If, for some astoundingly optimistic reason, the people around her thought her incapable of what had just been witnessed, their doubts would be dispelled by the way she staggers back like a guilty woman, holding up her hands as if to ward off an assault. Her face is split in half with a grimace of horror, but her eyes are alight with a strange fire..
  454. <Jran-Kri> "I-I-I D-D-D-DIDN'T D-D-D-O IT," she cries, shaking her head emphatically. "I-I s-s-s-swear p-p-p-please y-y-you h-h-h-HAVE t-t-to b-b-b-belIEVE m-me, I-I d-d-d-didn't kill her." Alexa cringes, continuing to back away from the lip of the platform, and her "friends" with it. "Sh-sh-she's a-a-a-alive! Y-y-yes. P-p-p-perfectly a-a-alive! L-l-last I s-s-saw h-h-her! I-I-I... P-p-p-please! I-I could n-n-n-never k-k-kill a-a-anyone!"
  455. <Jran-Kri> Alexa tries to believe herself. Yet those old sermons ring in her mind: "I came not to bring peace, but the sword."
  456. <Jran-Kri. She looks aghast at the mere prospect of the cardinal sin of murder. But she takes her sweet time really registering the gravity of it.
  457. <Jar Mimic> Although she certainly could have reacted in a LESS overtly hostile way, the would-be sister of the person who just died in that vision reaches for the real version of the one who killed her. Whether her hand, with its razor sharp nails, grabs a hold of a piece of clothing that tears or one that doesn’t, she certainly grabs her hard enough to pull her toward herself until they’re right face to face. And Rosemary’s face certainly isn’t a happy one. “Alexa… I swear, if you keep backing up and fall off the edge, I’m going to be even madder at you than I already am. Now stay still. Please.” When she lets go, her hand is shaking, as is the rest of her.
  458. <Tangent> "Alexa?" Amelia's voice is quiet. Choked. She looks superficially calm- if pale- even after the parade of horrors that's just gotten to Alexa's turn...but as she unfolds her arms and lowers them to her side, there are darkly stained tears in her fabric where her fingers dug in deep. "I believe you. That wasn't you." She forces the lie out, even as her voice shakes. Alexa's...not well. She knows that. She's not stupid, even if she tries to make herself be- to pretend that her friend...her Alexa's okay. That she hasn't failed her over and over again. But for her to hate Iris so much...even if it's an illusion, seeing that happen to Iris, to see Alexa like that and doing such a thing... Seeing Alexa in such a state felt like acid being poured in her eyes. All the more because in her heart of hearts...she knows Alexa's hurt enough to maybe do it. And it happened on her watch. "This thing's lying. To mess with our heads. You''re not...That wasn't you." She stumbles forward, then rushes towards Alexa as Rosemary lets go. "I'm here...It's okay." She tries to reassure Alexa, reaching out towards her.
  459. <Tangent> She doesn't feel up to even thinking about the rest of that conversation. She just wants this to be over and for Alexa to be okay. If Amelia can't even keep her safe from herself, what good is she to anyone? That's another reason the words she heard didn't quite register. Love? She doesn't deserve it.
  460. <LeftHandofGod> Lin has no context for this argument. She has no idea why the stuttering girl would murder the quiet girl, and no clue as to what she should do in this situation. But that's not even at the forefront of her mind anyway. Memories of what she'd just done, and what she'd done in the past, that was where her focus was. Not on the argument in front of her, not on the monster grabbing at the little healer with intense force, not on the swordsgirl with her internal conflict. Perhaps she can't shut out the world in her usual way, but her focus remains far, far away from the present reality.
  461. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter nods along with what Amelia said. “She's right, it's not real. Nothing here is real. Just words and shadows. Don't let it get to you. We...we're not going to judge you for something that didn't happen.”
  462. <DrEvilKitteh> And yet there's still that tiny, niggling shred of doubt that gnaws at him. He'd noticed how Alexa had reacted to it, for sure, which...didn't help matters. But he shook it away, or tried very hard to. Even if she had done it, even if she'd killed Iris, this is not the time to confront her about it. Being divided now would undoubtedly spell their doom, or /someone's/ doom.
  463. <DrEvilKitteh> “Just...calm yourself. Don't worry about us. You need to be prepared for the next scene, whatever it is.”
  464. <DrEvilKitteh> And, indeed, Alexa feels that lingering presence in the back of her mind start to tug at her as the shadows become restless once again.
  465. <Jran-Kri> Alexa instinctively resists being hauled over by Rosemary, wriggling in the former sheep girl's grasp as he bright red mantle stretches with the force of the yank. She grins back at the sheep, her twisted, crooked grin winding up her face. The fear shines in her eyes, even after Rosemary offers such a wonderful, reasonable explanation for dragging her over. Her head nearly snaps off with the force of her nod. She seems to choke up, unable to say anything as she looks to Amelia. Surely she understands, even if no one else does.
  466. <Jran-Kri> Amelia does not disappoint. Alexa looks palpably relieved by Amelia's generous faith. Leaping into her arms, Alexa wraps Amelia into what would be a tight hug if Alexa weren't as solid as a bowl of noodles. Finally, she recalls her voice.
  467. <Jran-Kri> "O-o-of c-c-course c-c-couldn't k-k-kill a-a-anyone n-n-no n-n-not m-m-me n-n-never m-m-me c-c-couldn't d-d-do it," she mumbles feverishly. "B-b-blessed are the p-p-peacemakers f-f-for th-they w-w-will b-b-be c-c-called c-children of G-G-God."
  468. <Tangent> Amelia returns the hug, desperately clinging to Alexa. As much as she tries to hide it, murmuring words of comfort into Alexa's ear..the other girl can feel the way she cringes at Alexa's state. "There, there...I'm here, okay? I'm not going anywhere..."
  469. <Jar Mimic> “Say, Alexa,” says that former sheep doll, recalling a thought she’d had upon first meeting the stuttering girl, “I don’t know why I thought of this, but I used to have a really bad speech impediment, too. It took me all day to say only a few words.” Of course, she doesn’t really look like she wants to keep talking. She does anyway. “I only mention it ‘cause I want you to know that I still think you’re a cool person, and that I’m not mad about Iris anymore.” No matter how weirdly it might be getting done, it’s hard to stay mad at someone when they’re hugging.
  470. <DrEvilKitteh> Even as she embraces Amelia, Alexa /feels/ something reaching out--the beginnings of another vision.
  471. <DrEvilKitteh> The shadows waver and flicker and begin to solidify into two personages near the edge of the void. Alexa's perception begins to double as both the scene and her /other/ self manifests.
  472. <DrEvilKitteh> There's a moment where the umbral figures shudder, their forms appearing jittery, almost like static. In that moment, there is a voice, and Alexa feels her /other/ self speaking: “...Amelia,” she gasps. “Oh God, what have they done to you?”
  473. <DrEvilKitteh> Alexa's double-vision resolves once the moment has passed, as does the scene. But, during that time, there's another voice. “How'd you know my name?” A flat, dead tone. No curiosity present at all. “Oh well. Doesn't matter. Because I have to stop you. It's what I'm supposed to do.” It takes a moment to click, but they quickly recognize that voice as belonging to /Amelia/.
  474. <DrEvilKitteh> The figures finally come into sharp focus, just as one lunges with a /whoosh/ of scorched air.
  475. <DrEvilKitteh> The one who'd lunged is also the most eye-catching of the two. She seems to be more armor than girl, clad in plate the color of lapis lazuli with ornate silver inlay. Flames dance around her, pulsing in impossibly regular patterns. Her stare's unblinking and emotionless save for a dire certainty and commitment burning deep within those orbs. The hilt of her sword, which is less silver and appears more ivory and stone, seems to blur together with its wielder's fingers, and the way it's angled suggests less a weapon and more an extension of her body. And as for the flames dancing along the's difficult to tell whether they originate from the blade or her body.
  476. <DrEvilKitteh> This personage is evidently Amelia, although very different than how she is now.
  477. <DrEvilKitteh> The second figure is much smaller and scrawnier. She wears a wide-brimmed crimson hat, and a black-and-red striped cloak flutters over her dark grey robes. Her black staff is twisted and arched, topped with a crystal ball that oozes blood down the burnt bone conduit. But perhaps the most shocking thing of all is the yellow fur that her attire fails to hide, plus her green eyes that are slitted like a cat's (which are currently drawn back in shock and horror). And, whenever she speaks, large, yellow fangs can be seen past her lips.
  478. <DrEvilKitteh> This personage is almost unrecognizable, but when they see and hear her speak, there can be no doubt that she's a version of Alexa.
  479. <DrEvilKitteh> “A-Amelia, don't you r-recognize me?” Shadow!Alexa desperately backpedals while waving her staff. Blood pours forth from the crystal ball and solidifies into a barrier of solid sanguine between herself and Shadow!Amelia. “I mean, it's been s-so long, and I look awfully different, b-but it's still me! Alexa!” She bares her fangs in a gaunt, monstrous not-smile, revealing canines as big as knives (how she fits them in her mouth, I have no idea).
  480. <DrEvilKitteh> Despite her better judgment--rather, the instincts that had been with her since she'd taken Kreimhild up on her offer--screaming at her to /fight/ and /kill/ and /devour/, or /flee/ to /hunt/ another day, Shadow!Alexa merely attempts to hold off her opponent for the moment. But even then, she feels this heavy, sinking dread in her gut that makes her doubt whether her words will have any effect.
  481. <DrEvilKitteh> Once the bloody barrier had been chopped to burning pieces, Shadow!Amelia's head tilts ever so slightly. “No. I don't recognize you.” Her sword flicks out, and the tip lands a glancing hit on Shadow!Alexa's waist, but doesn't penetrate her Outfit. “You used a Black Coin. You're dangerous. I need to stop you.”
  482. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Alexa winces at the holy flame's burn, but she keeps fending the fiery warrior off through a combination of speed, sanguine barriers and armor, and the occasional blast of black flame from the head of her staff. “N-not to you, never to you!” She dodges another slash. “When you left, I-I was so worried, and scared, and... W-what else was I to do, while you were off doing.../this/?”
  483. <DrEvilKitteh> “I don't remember any of that.” This doesn't seem to bother Shadow!Amelia. “You're dangerous. /This/ is what I'm supposed to do. I remember that.” She actually smiles at this part.
  484. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Alexa hisses when tongues of flame reach for her, singing the fingers on the hand holding her staff. They reach out greedily for her, eager to devour her and leave naught but ash. “W-what?” She cringes away from another gout of holy fire; it makes her skin crawl, and the large cat ears atop her head had long since flattened, as evidenced by how her hat is at a bit of an odd angle. “N-no! Surely you r-/remember/ me. I'm harmless! I-I could never be a danger to /you/!,” she babbles. “I'm your friend! I-I love you!”
  485. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Amelia's thrust is batted aside by a sanguine arm, which she proceeds to messily but efficiently hack apart. “I don't remember anything. And we could never be friends. You're one of /them/.” Flames cascading ferociously about her armor and blade, she continuously advances. “Your fate is sealed, monster.”
  486. <DrEvilKitteh> Perhaps the most painful thing about that is how she doesn't react or respond in any way to Shadow!Amelia's declaration of love. And just like that, she knows there's no more reasoning with her old friend; it'd be like trying to reason with a Terminator. Hurt is plain in Shadow!Amelia's eyes, and sorrow clutches at her guts with its icy fingers.
  487. <DrEvilKitteh> But even still, she has to try. She /needs/ to try. Maybe...maybe if she could just /stop/ Shadow!Amelia, knock her out or immobilize her for a while, then...then maybe there's something she can do to help her...?
  488. <DrEvilKitteh> “For God's sake, Amelia, just listen to be! I-I'm not your enemy! I don't know who or what's done this to you, but I can help you! I promise! I-I'm better than I was!” Dodge, /slice/. There goes part of Shadow!Alexa's cloak, the strike missing her body by inches. She makes Shadow!Amelia's next blow rebound off a sanguine shield. “I /m-might/ be what you'd call a monster, yes, but that doesn't make me bad! Remember Kreimhild? You could stand her, she was nice, she never meant any harm...”
  489. <DrEvilKitteh> Sword clashes against staff or blood armor, over and over. Barriers are raised, and burned and sliced apart, black witchfire darts across the battlefield alongside destructive blasts of sanctified flame. They trade blows and injuries, Shadow!Alexa's healing magics and Shadow!Amelia's regeneration keeping them both in the fight far longer than normal.
  490. <DrEvilKitteh> “I don't need help from you. I know what I'm doing is right.” Shadow!Amelia bats aside a ball of witchfire and sweeps her sword in a wide arc, sending a focused semicircle of flame at her opponent.
  491. <DrEvilKitteh> “No it isn't! It's wrong! You're attacking me, your /friend/!”
  492. <DrEvilKitteh> “Then surrender.”
  493. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Alexa lets loose a strangled laugh. “If I do surrender, what will you do? Chop my head off cleanly instead of messily hacking me to bits?”
  494. <DrEvilKitteh> “Turn you back if I can. Otherwise, yes.” Shadow!Amelia's tone is matter-of-fact.
  495. <DrEvilKitteh> Anger, rage, resentment, all those ugly emotions surge to life within Shadow!Alexa. A fierce scowl splits her face and she quickly but violently shakes her head once. “Who says I need to be turned back?,” she snarls scornfully. “I'm /better/ like this! Faster, stronger, smarter... I can do more good like this!” She sneers. “Maybe /I/ should be the one turning /you/ back--at least I still have my head screwed on straight!”
  496. <DrEvilKitteh> “No. You don't.” The sanctified flames flare brightly. Wordlessly, Shadow!Amelia closes the gap and once more lets her blade do the talking.
  497. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Amelia, I'm warning you!” Black witchfire burns at the end of Shadow!Alexa's staff as she dodges, blocks, and parries. “I don't want to hurt you!”
  498. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Amelia says nothing. Shadow!Amelia had had her chance at conversation. And now she /must/ hurt her, again and again as they clash over and over.
  499. <DrEvilKitteh> It's not long before both combatants are on their last legs. Shadow!Amelia's armor is crumpled and melted, exposing her vulnerable body within. Part of her face had been burned, rendering an eye a gory mess. And yet she keeps moving on, inexorable, unflinching. As for Shadow!Alexa, her entire body is a web of pain. Burns and cuts line her form, her hat and a cat ear had long since been sliced off (and then incinerated by Shadow!Amelia's flames), and she can barely keep herself standing upright.
  500. <DrEvilKitteh> “A-Amelia...,” rasps Shadow!Alexa, trying to plead with her lost friend. “Please...”
  501. <DrEvilKitteh> The sanctified paladin says nothing. She moves her sword up, then steps forward and swings. But she leaves herself open.
  502. <DrEvilKitteh> The predator within Shadow!Alexa senses the opportunity and takes it. She attempts to, in the same motion, dodge out of the way of the horizontal slash and deliver a retaliatory strike. She's too slow. Not /too/ slow, but enough. The burning blade cuts deep, almost bisecting Shadow!Alexa at the waist. Excruciating agony shoots through her body, and she can /feel/ the holy fire greedily consuming her flesh and blood. She shrieks, mouth opened so very wide.
  503. <DrEvilKitteh> Despite her pain-blinded state, Shadow!Alexa's swings her staff and smites her foe. The crystal ball atop her staff crashes against Shadow!Amelia's now-unarmored chest, blasting witchfire into her heart.
  504. <DrEvilKitteh> Shadow!Alexa falls to her knees, so very desperately trying to keep herself together, keep her guts from spilling out, keep that fire from consuming her... She flinches when something bangs against the floor. She looks the body of her armored friend lying spread-eagled just a few feet before her.
  505. <DrEvilKitteh> “A-Amelia!” Shadow!Alexa crawls over to her, doing her best to ignore the grievous injury that even now threatens to make her black out from sheer pain. “Oh G-God, oh God I-I'm s-so sorry, are you okay?” She sees the blackened patch of skin on Amelia's chest. A small part of her ribcage is exposed. “I-I didn't w-want to hurt you...” She cradles Shadow!Amelia, barely managing not to flinch at the holy flames that yet flicker across her body and lazily lick at her body.
  506. <DrEvilKitteh> The paladin's armor--what's left of it--melts around her, the color of it dulling and then turning to charcoal black. Her eyes are wide and glassy, and stare up in blind confusion. Her mouth opens to say something, but no sound comes out. She mouths something that may have been a “Why?”, and then the fire burns brightly before dying just as quickly.
  507. <DrEvilKitteh> “Nonono please, p-please, I-I'm sorry... I'm s-sorry...” Tears blur Shadow!Alexa's vision, and not just from the pain of her wounds. She desperately pulls Shadow!Amelia in for a hug, but...she's gone. Vanished. All Shadow!Alexa feels is hot ash crumbling under her arms, which folds inward as the corpse dissolves. She gasps, body trembling even more now as she stares at what used to be Shadow!Amelia. Her claws shake as she futilely sifts through the ash, shoulders wracked with choked, wet sobs.
  508. <DrEvilKitteh> This...this shouldn't have happened. They were friends, or...or they /had/ been, and they'd /loved/ one another as such. They should've been able to get through this like they always used to. It just /can't/ be real. It can't...
  509. <DrEvilKitteh> Regret, bitter and heart-wrenching, wells up in her chest like bile. She wants to take it all back. She wants to do everything over again. Why can't they have a happy ending? Why...?
  510. <DrEvilKitteh> “Amelia... I...I didn't mean... It wasn't supposed to...” Shadow!Alexa breaks down, weeping over the ashes.
  511. <DrEvilKitteh> The scene blurs and fades into nonexistence, though not without another one of those jittery-static moments. Alexa's double-vision ends as she feels the connection to her shadowy self dissipate along with the scene.
  512. <Jran-Kri> Alexa continues stroking Amelia's back, squeezing her, pressing into her as her eyes slides away from the void to peer at Rosemary. She blinks owlishly, her jaw working as she struggles to form a response to this reversal of Rosemary's disposition. A gaunt, sickly smile winds its way up her face, looking more like a grimace. She was almost certain that that was the end of her vision, until her vision swims and her gaze is yanked over to the void once again. A gasp of horror sticks in her craw as she clings all the tighter to Amelia, trying to bury her face in her chest. And yet, somehow the vision -- the other Alexa's sight, lays over her own.
  513. <Jran-Kri> By the end of it, Alexa is crying. Softly, almost silently, shaking her head as she tries to disappear against Amelia. It takes her some time to refind her voice, her stammer rendering her completely unintelligible.
  514. <Jran-Kri> Perhaps she's not really saying anything at all, as her soft sobbing gradually escalates into full-fledged weeping. She all but collapses against Amelia, unable to stand. Finally, a concrete thought breaks through her crying.
  515. <Jran-Kri> "N-n-n-never I-I-I'd n-n-n-nuh-nuh-never h-uh-hurt y-o-o-o-u, I-I n-nuh-ne-neeeed yooou, y-y-yuh y-you'd n-never huh-hurt m-m-me, r-r-right?! N-never! P-p-pleeeease..."
  516. <Jran-Kri> She trails off into more sobbing.
  517. <LeftHandofGod> The two are...lovers, aren't they? Friends? Somewhere in between? Whatever is going on, Lin isn't interested in getting into the middle of what is clearly between them, and the name Iris? She hardly knows it. She was brought in as someone with a desire to help. No more, no less, just doing good like she is supposed to do.
  518. <Tangent>Amelia clings to Alexa. She doesn't say anything, but Alexa can feel her shaking uncontrollably. A soft choking noise, and something warm drips onto Alexa's shoulder. Amelia's crying too. The others can see the way her face's screwed up into a mask of conflicting emotions- guilt, horror, and self-loathing.
  519. <Tangent> She can't say she never would, because that thing was what she almost turned herself into, with some help from the Puuchu. It's part of what her magic is..and even without it, she just keeps hurting Alexa.
  520. <Tangent >She just keeps hugging Alexa.
  521. <Jar Mimic> She knows exactly what to do. That vision. The emotions that must have been behind it. What response it draws from the two being portrayed in it. This is exactly what Rosemary went through when she had her vision about Iris. And she knows exactly what to do. But since those two are already hugging and comforting eachother as much as they can, there’s nothing left for her to do. So, she entertains herself with an idle thought. Where’s the bathroom? She’s had to go for a while now.
  522. <Jran-Kri> Alexa doesn't seem to need Amelia to say anything; she just needs a shoulder -- or in this case a whole body -- to cry on for a little while. Just long enough to begin to seem a little unseemly. At great length, Alexa begins to pull herself together, or perhaps she just runs out of tears to shed. Her shoulders still tremble with a few silent sobs as she pulls back from the partially-drenched front of Amelia's outfit.
  523. <Jran-Kri> She looks around at the others with a hang-dog look on her face, shaking her head. "S-s-suh-saw-saw-sorry," she mumbles, sniffling. She doesn't let go of her vice-like grip on Amelia. "I-I-I'm o-o-okay. I'm... I-i-it's j-j-juh-just an i-i-illusion. N-n-not r-r-real. A-a-auh-at-uh-at all," she looks over at the glowing sun. "A-A-A-Amelia. Y-y-y-you n-n-need t-t-to g-g-go. D-d-do. It." Despite saying so, Alexa seems in no hurry to let go of her.
  524. <Tangent> Amelia doesn't. Not for another, long moment anyway. Alexa can feel the way she's faintly, barely perceptibly shaking.
  525. <Tangent> "Sorry." She says quietly, and lets go.
  526. <Jar Mimic> Finally. They’ve stopped hugging. And Alexa has re-engaged with the group. Now’s the time to do… Something? With an immensely uncomfortable grin on her face, Rose approaches the couple. A firm hand is placed on Alexa’s back. She rubs lightly, like she’s petting a cat. Maybe Rose took that vision too seriously. “We saw almost the same vision, I think. Just with the people switched around. So you don’t have to say sorry. We’re all having the same bad time."
  527. <DrEvilKitteh> “Quite. There's nothing to be sorry for. These shades keep preying on our weaknesses.” Walter sighed softly and eyed the sundial; most of it had been changed, reverted to its former beauty. There were only a few more hours left, it looked like. Hopefully Amelia would bring them home with hers. Then again...what if he had to go after her? Everyone else had gone, so logically he might also need to push the sun and experience a shadowy vision as well.
  528. <DrEvilKitteh> The android shook his head slightly. “...All the same, we shouldn't tarry.” He then nodded at the sundial and the bizarre miniature sun hanging in a tiny orbit above it. “Whenever you're ready, Amelia.”
  529. <LeftHandofGod> Lin nods her agreement at the sentiment that the group shouldn't tarry for terribly long...a slow nod. At least she's paying attention, but with the look on her face, the nervous glancing back and forth...maybe she'd rather not be?
  530. <Tangent> "I...Yeah. I'm ready. Let's just get this...done."
  531. <Tangent> A long moment. "I should probably, um, actually... Yeah. Right. Doing it." Amelia shakes her head. She seems really out of it. A glance to Alexa, a deep breath, and she pushes it.
  532. <DrEvilKitteh> The sun feels heavy, floating there above the sundial. Yet it's so close to the end. As Amelia pushes it along its path, she feels something pulling at her in turn, drawing her righteous blue flames forth from her body. A different shade from Seo-Hyun's foxfire, Amelia's magic infuses the sun itself, the surface of which now fluctuates between silver-white, foxfire-blue, and justice-blue all over. All together with the reddish protective energy encircling it and the sparks that raced along its evershifting lines and angles, the miniature magic sun makes for quite the sight.
  533. <DrEvilKitteh> When Amelia finishes pushing the glowing orb, everyone can see that there's still a tiny sliver left untouched by shadow. Both on the sundial itself and the dome that has been steadily crumbling away, the latter of which is now a shadow (Hah!) of its former self: the part of the dome/wall/ceiling that remains standing is now a slightly uneven wedge that rises from the part of the floor that still remains, reaching up and terminating almost directly above their heads, hanging in the air seemingly unsupported.
  534. <DrEvilKitteh> As for those writhing shadows...
  535. <DrEvilKitteh> ...They don't coagulate into a scene. At least, not as quickly as for the others. Instead, they look...jittery. Like that odd static effect that had occurred during Alexa's final vision. If anything, the tendrils of darkness are now moving in an...unsure way. There's no doubling of Amelia's vision, other senses, and mind--instead, there's this...terribly feeling that seizes her. Dread? Fear? Impending oblivion? (If such a thing could be quantified as a feeling in that way.) Either way, whether or not she could put it into words, it was definitely something that felt /wrong/ somehow.
  536. <DrEvilKitteh> Whatever it is, Amelia notices that she cannot help but tremble at the feeling. Her hands are shaking, perhaps noticeably, perhaps almost imperceptibly, and her breaths are quick and sharp, getting close to hyperventilation.
  537. <DrEvilKitteh> And, all of a sudden, the void blacker-than-black with coils of pure night weaving around in it is illuminated for a split-second. A flash of light in the distance, small, like a star in the heavens.
  538. <DrEvilKitteh> It happens again. Another brief pulse of light. Closer, now. Then a third, and this time it doesn't fade away again.
  539. <DrEvilKitteh> It becomes readily apparent to the group that this is no star, but a comet. A blazing, fiery comet. Coming closer and closer, faster and faster. A sound accompanies it, steadily rising in volume: a shriek, a scream, a roar... The vocalization conveys rage, fury, denial, and a determination of sorts. It has both human and...birdlike?...qualities to it, and even sounds vaguely familiar.
  540. <DrEvilKitteh> Before the scream could become too unbearably loud, the comet arrives. It impacts, er, /something/ not too far beyond the edge of the floor; the shadows may have solidified to form a floor of sorts beneath it. It explodes in a rush of multicolored fire, which rings the impact spot: it's hot enough to be blue-white near the base, and it steadily transitions to a gold-red as it goes up.
  541. <DrEvilKitteh> A single tall figure rises within the fire. Tongues of flame still cling to its form, licking at its skin and the air around it, causing the latter to shimmer and dance, further obscuring what exactly the figure looks like.
  542. <DrEvilKitteh> Slowly, they take a step forward. The party can hear a dull footstep below the crackling of the fire. Then another as the figure takes a second step forward.
  543. <DrEvilKitteh> The figure seems to have gotten its feet under it, so it walks more quickly, shortly ending up right at the edge of the void. She-- for they can now see that the figure appears more feminine--paces along the edge for a few seconds, head twitching as she scrutinized the very spot where reality and nothing met.
  544. <DrEvilKitteh> At last, her head lifts, and the flames dancing over her form brighten in response.
  545. <DrEvilKitteh> The abnormally tall girl is not one-hundred percent human, that much is immediately apparent. Flaming birdlike wings, somewhat crooked and bent, extend to either side of her. Her blue-white armor and attire goes quite nicely with the red and gold monstrous parts of her body: her legs are more of a bird of prey's than humans, with sharp talons poking beyond her oddly-shaped boots that dig into the floor, and ruffled gold-red plumage that runs down her legs, part of her arms, and her back. Even her long, messy hair that transitions from midnight-black to gold has feathers in it.
  546. <DrEvilKitteh> Another thing that quickly becomes clear is that she's missing an arm from right above the elbow, for whatever reason.
  547. <DrEvilKitteh> The girl's features are wild and intense beyond measure. And, after further scrutiny, a dead ringer for /Amelia/. Eyes colored bright blue nearer the pupil and burning red-gold nearer the edges of the irises stare at the real Amelia, boring into her very soul.
  548. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia bares her sharp, pointy teeth in a snarl. The fire around her curls inward and lashes at the air violently in response to her anger.
  549. <Jar Mimic> This vision sure is taking a while. It starts out so tiny, too. Oh, but what a sight it is to see when it actually fully unfolds before them! Being, of course, the young girl that she is, Rose looks upon this phoenix girl with a big smile upon her face. Why? “So pretty,” she begins, eyes wide with admiration, “I wonder if Amelia knows her. Maybe her sister? Her mom? Or is that supposed to be her? She’s really beautiful. Such pretty eyes.”
  550. <Tangent> Amelia doesn't seem quite as appreciative by the way that she's tensed even before she sees the creature, her fires flickering with her- and twitches jerkly at the scream. A quiet hiss of breath as she sees it- something impossibly, horribly familiar- from the way it inflames her magical senses to those impossibly, almost entrancingly familiar hints of blue fire around the emerging figure...
  551. <Tangent> No. No. It's not her it isn't that thing can't be. She isn't a failure, she wouldn't be. She'd never fall like that. Never fail, let everyone down like that. This place is just trying to get to her- she won't let it, she can't let it. It's lying. It has to be.
  552. <Tangent> Amelia's breathing is coming sharp and ragged now, and she's openly clutching her sword in front of her like it's some sort of religious icon as the vision stalks closer. She doesn't want to- doesn't dare- take her eyes off it, but at the same time, the blade gives her something to focus on other than...herself.
  553. <Tangent> "You''re not real." Amelia snarls at it. "You're just something this place made up. You hear me? I'd never be a failure like you!"
  554. <Tangent> Despite the heat in her words, she hasn't met the creature's eyes, instead staring at her own sword's blade- she can dimly see her warped reflection in the silvery blue steel, like through a funhouse mirror. For once, her courage seems to have failed her.
  555. <Tangent> Not that she was ever really brave at all. She just did what she was told. Believed what she was supposed to, because that was what a good magical girl did, to fight corruption and that was what she'd agreed to before she could even remember doing so, wasn't it? Like a parrot.
  556. <Tangent> She's visibly about to snap- her fires have dimmed from their earlier intensity but are visibly smoldering, like embers eating through the heart of a rotten log. All she needs is something to set her off.
  557. <Jran-Kri> Alexa was already quite put-off by the sound and fury preceding the main event, cringing back away from the void. She huddles behind her staff, pre-emptively conjuring a wavering little red barrier in front of herself. Once the -- she has to admit, strangely pretty -- creature makes its appearance, Alexa freezes. Perhaps she thinks its vision is based on movement.
  558. <Jran-Kri> Her eyes follow Amelia, watching her reaction with a mix of fear and curiosity. She winces at her raised voice, cringing back. She supposes she should be there for her, hold her -- but no, no, not now.
  559. <Jran-Kri> She's a little afraid that Amelia might just start swinging. And she doesn't dare approach that hideous blackness.
  560. <LeftHandofGod> There's any number of reactions that a frightened Beacon girl might have to a monster appearing from the abyss and screaming...but the typical reaction is most assuredly to point a weapon at it. Of course, the typical response wouldn't involve that weapon shaking, or a difficulty staying on target from said shaking. All the same, Lin is ready to back her allies up as best as she is able: Not very well, but at least she's trying?
  561. <DrEvilKitteh> The shadows attempt to roll in towards Phoenix!Amelia, but the fire flares brighter, chasing them back, causing the darkness to bend away from her, save for what she's standing on. Her lips curl back even further at Real!Amelia's words. She doesn't say anything yet, though. Instead, she lifts a foot and takes a single step...
  562. <DrEvilKitteh> ...Her foot settles firmly on the floor. Phoenix!Amelia glances down to double-check it, apparently a little surprised. Her snarl turns into a vicious, victorious smile. She takes another step forward, so that she's now standing fully on the floor, not on solidified darkness.
  563. <DrEvilKitteh> None of the apparitions, none of the visions, not even the man that had confronted Lin, had ever stepped out of the void like this. Maybe that was because they couldn't, or hadn't for some reason. Whatever the case may have been, Phoenix!Amelia doesn't look like she was formed from shadows. She seems more /solid/, more /bright/, more /real/. Somehow.
  564. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia's hand curls into a claw. A blackened ivory sword materializes in her grip in a quick flash of fire, and she brandishes it at Real!Amelia.
  565. <DrEvilKitteh> “I'm going to take back what's /mine/!,” she growls. Her voice is hoarse and dry, as though she hasn't spoken in ages, ages spent traveling through a desert with a baking-hot sun hanging high overhead.
  566. <DrEvilKitteh> Eyes dancing madly, Phoenix!Amelia lets out a shrill raptor-like shriek as she bolts for Real!Amelia, wings beating frantically and flames trailing behind her.
  567. <DrEvilKitteh> It was about this time that the rest of the party, AKA People Who Aren't Real!Amelia, realize that, at least for the moment, they can't help but just /watch/. Like a deer in the headlights, this spectacle freezes them in place, practically enthralling them, rendering them unable to intercept the Phoenix Girl or aid Real!Amelia in some way.
  568. <DrEvilKitteh> So, for now, Real!Amelia is forced to face this new, very tangible threat on her own.
  569. <DrEvilKitteh> It's as if reality itself has taken a deep breath of anticipation as it waits to see how this scene plays out...
  570. <Tangent>The sight of her....mirror self with a sword snaps Amelia out of it- something about the almost-mocking mimicry of that simple, familiar gesture- even as her mirror lunges towards her and she lunges right back at it, blue flames flaring up as she bats the ivory sword aside with an equally shrill scream. "Hyah! Yours? YOURS?" She yells at it, her sharp features warped into an angry snarl. "You HAVE nothing! You're nothing, just another monster!" Amelia brings her sword back around, and presses her counterattack. "What. Good. Are. You." Slash after slash, each impact sending a shower of blue-white sparks towards the one-armed phoenix's face, even as the air around the duo ripples with sudden, searing heat. "-to anyone? You're NOTHING! You're not a magical girl!" She screams up at it. "You're not even REAL!"
  571. <Jran-Kri> Alexa instinctively withdraws a little further when the monster suddenly gains physical form. Nonetheless, her trembling hands raise her staff, which begins to glow brightly in preparation to form her magic. Yet when it charges, she finds herself suddenly stilled, her breath sticking in her throat, helpless to do anything more than stare.
  572. <Jran-Kri> She's never seen Amelia this angry. It's terrifying, and perhaps just a little exciting. If she could move, she would shy away, cringing with each strike and bark, startled and awed by the ferocity of her friend. But she supposed it shouldn't surprise her; Amelia had always been most comfortable in a fight.
  573. <Jar Mimic> Come on, Rosemary. Move your arm. She’s right there. A big, flaming target. One shot from one of your ki attacks should be enough to knock that feather head into the darkness again. That’s why you need to move your arm. Even just a finger. The Hoshi Hou may not be so powerful, but it’s enough to help. Just point at her. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Just move your arm! You can do it! More effort! Try harder! You can’t let Amelia down! Not after what she did for you! Your arm! Move it! HAAAA- “-AAAAAAAA!” That’ll probably get annoying pretty fast.
  574. <LeftHandofGod> Rosemary isn't the only one struggling to take a shot. Lin's hand wants, needs to pull the trigger on this monster attacking a member of her team. Her pistol's even pointed in the right direction! But the weapon isn't shaking. It hasn't moved at all since she was frozen, and no matter how much she wills her finger to just move back a quarter of an inch she can't seem to make it happen. So she instead grits her teeth and waits.
  575. <DrEvilKitteh> “I /AM/!!,” the Phoenix Girl screams back as a flaming wing collides with Real!Amelia's face, knocking her back several meters. The wing had left a couple feathers on the spot where it had touched Real!Amelia's skin; they adhere to her and begian to hiss, blackening as Real!Amelia's veins around the feathers bulge with what looks like red-gold flame. Her regeneration fights it back, but it stings like hell and diverts it away from any of the other wounds she has.
  576. <DrEvilKitteh> “I /am/ real! I /am/ a Magical Girl!!!” Phoenix!Amelia sticks out her stump to the side, and a blazing whip of fire extends from it. The multicolored flames dance and ripple before reconstituting into a large, clawed arm. Again, she bolts for her smaller counterpart and engages her in a vicious melee. “You TOOK it from me, you STOLE it! My /life/, my /purpose/, /my Alexa/!” She lets out an angry sob at the final two words. “YOU MADE ME LIKE THIS!”
  577. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia has better reach and strength, not to mention the fiery arm, so she begins to steadily gain ground against Real!Amelia. However, the sheer.../desperation/ that shows itself in almost every single aspect of her fighting... While it makes her ferocious, it does leave several gaps in the larger girl's defenses for Real!Amelia to exploit.
  578. <DrEvilKitteh> But as the seconds tick on, and Phoenix!Amelia gains more and more wounds, she merely keeps on fighting all the harder, even as her wounds seal back together. The manic glint in her eyes becomes a veritable inferno of raging madness...
  579. <DrEvilKitteh> “I'll WIN where you LOSE!” Phoenix!Amelia opens her fanged mouth, and a stream of blue-white and red-gold flames issues forth, singing Real!Amelia and driving her back a couple steps.
  580. <DrEvilKitteh> “I'll SUCCEED where you FAILED!” Her eyes flare, glowing brighter than the sun for an instant--Real!Amelia feels...strange, all of a sudden. Like her sword is just the slightest bit unbalanced, like her legs aren't quite the same length, except it wasn't quite like that at all. Perhaps the worst part of all was the way she felt like everything's more...dreamy. Just the slightest bit less substantial, the slightest bit less real. Like it doesn't matter if she loses, because it's unreal. It's of no consequence, surely...
  581. <DrEvilKitteh> “I WILL BE BETTER THAN YOU!” A blow from Phoenix!Amelia's fiery arm to Real!Amelia's stomach, making her double up and knocking the wind out of her. Phoenix!Amelia then seizes her by the hair, spins, and pulls Real!Amelia over her shoulder to slam her into the floor. She then delivers a swift, vicious kick to Real!Amelia's face, sending her flying back several meters...
  582. <DrEvilKitteh> ...And crashing right into the sundial's plinth. The flat of Real!Amelia's sword swung out and smacked against Alexa's shin from the momentum.
  583. <DrEvilKitteh> Just like that, the fascination ends. Whatever force or sight had enthralled the others so, they now find that they've been released of its sway.
  584. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia marches closer, disheveled hair swaying behind her, seemingly-damaged wings flapping eagerly. However, now she faces not only Real!Amelia, but the rest of the group as well.
  585. <Jran-Kri> /Her/ Alexa?! She nearly spits her bit when the monstrous creature makes that claim. She was the real Amelia's Alexa, obviously -- or, no one's Alexa, obviously! Shaking her head emphatically, she still can't seem to tear her eyes away from the clash long enough to weave a spell together. She's almost starting to panic.
  586. <Jran-Kri> She definitely starts panicking when her Amelia gets thrown all the way back to the dais. Alexa cries out in pain, staggering away as the flat of the blade smacks into her leg, her white leggings tearing. Half-limping as she stares at the wound, she suddenly realizes that whatever haze was clouding her thoughts has been dispelled.
  587. <Jran-Kri> Her staff glows brightly, absolutely no concern being paid to her wound -- she supplements Amelia's natural regeneration with her own magic, knitting her wounds back together and giving her a revitalizing magic shot in the arm. [Miracle Worker]
  588. <Tangent> "Alexa!" Amelia's head snaps around in alarm at Alexa's cry, eye widening at the realization she's been caught in the crossfire. She actually takes her eyes off her opponent for a brief moment, heedless of the consequences, as she frantically tries to wave her partner away from the fight even as her lingering burns suddenly seem to fade. "No, stay back! I'll handle this!"
  589. <Tangent> She's not going to let fighting this THING means Alexa gets hurt. The fake thinks she's better than her? That almost makes Amelia want to laugh. Neither of them deserve a friend like Alexa--let alone when she's let her down so badly before.
  590. <Tangent> Alexa's been hurt enough on her watch already.
  591. <Tangent> "Stay away from her!" Amelia yells at the creature.
  592. <Jar Mimic> An arm with a fully extended finger suddenly shoots up. In fact, it shoots up so fast that Rose wasn’t even ready for it, and she ends up pointing straight upwards. Until the force of her sudden snap tilts her back and spills her on the floor like a plank of wood. “I’m okay,” she swiftly and silently states as she picks up her marbles and herself. Once she’s on her feet, of course, she wastes no time getting to what she wanted to raise her hand to do in the first place. That is to say, she draws back a fist and throws herself at the monstrous mirror of the fire fighter. Her weary body struggles to push onward, her everything lacking in the energy she would need to truly be herself in a battle. But it matters not. She charges still, and shouts, “I’ll turn you into fried chicken if you don’t keep your hand off of Amelia!”
  593. <LeftHandofGod> Lin's first clue that she can move is the fact that her hands can tremble again, and the second is that Rosemary charges forward. She doesn't need a third, and the pistol in her hands barks twice before holding fire to avoid hitting her ally. One shot high, one shot wide into the void beyond the platform...but her hands are steady now. Instinct and adrenaline seem to be doing their job, and Lin looks ready to fight.
  594. <DrEvilKitteh> On instinct, Walter whips out his revolver and fan-fires it at Phoenix!Amelia. A couple go wild thanks to the fiery monster girl positioning herself so Rose is partly in the way, but a few strike home, albeit only dealing minimal damage. Still, that's enough.
  595. <DrEvilKitteh> Even in her maddened rage, Phoenix!Amelia isn't stupid. She's desperate, but she wants to /win/, and she knows that fighting against several other people at the same time would probably go poorly for her. She retreats a little, sword flashing around masterfully as she deflects Rose's attack and a couple more bullets from Walter. The former sheep doll then gets a flaming claw to the face for her trouble, scorching at her and sending her stumbling.
  596. <DrEvilKitteh> Before Phoenix!Amelia could swoop in to take advantage of the opportunity, Real!Amelia pounces upon her. Another rapid series of clashes ensues, leaving Real!Amelia with slightly more new slashes and cuts that her regeneration works on swiftly mending.
  597. <DrEvilKitteh> Then the others join the fray: Lin, opening fire on the monster girl with more precise aim than Walter. Alexa, healing the others (mostly Real!Amelia) and empowering them with magical red armor. Rose, doing the best she can in melee range, which at least helps Real!Amelia better exploit some openings in their foe's defenses. Walter, charging in as well to alternate between using crushing blows from his metal fists and point-blank shots from his revolver.
  598. <DrEvilKitteh> Despite all that, Phoenix!Amelia just keeps fighting harder and more viciously. She even seems to have the advantage at one point...until her strikes start missing their marks, sometimes just by a hair's width, and her dodges and parries are a split-second too slow or off just so. Seo-Hyun, cleverly hidden behind an illusion, covertly manipulates Phoenix!Amelia's perception of reality to give her teammates an edge.
  599. <DrEvilKitteh> And it works. They gain ground against Phoenix!Amelia, now matching her much more effectively.
  600. <DrEvilKitteh> But as the fight wears on, there are casualties. The first is Rose, already weary and drained of energy. Burned and cut and bruised, she's tossed away by a particularly ruthless heel-kick to the stomach, removing her from the fight for the moment at least.
  601. <DrEvilKitteh> The second is Walter, who accumulates several nasty-looking gashes and dents in his chassis, and is finally defeated by a one-two combo consisting of Phoenix!Amelia slamming her pommel into his chest, then rending him in half at the waist with her flame arm. Each half goes tumbling opposite ways, the top quickly grinding to a halt not too far from Rose.
  602. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia loses some things in return, however. A wing, which now lay smoldering on the floor thanks to Real!Amelia, and an eye, now a bloody hole in her face, courtesy of Lin. She compensates by swiftly creating replacements composed of fire, just like she had for her arm, but it's obvious that she's hampered by their loss.
  603. <DrEvilKitteh> And so, Real!Amelia is the only one remaining against Phoenix!Amelia in the melee. The latter isn't as strong or fierce, but with Alexa's aid, she can tank the worst of Phoenix!Amelia's blows, and Lin's sharpshooting doesn't hurt either.
  604. <DrEvilKitteh> Unfortunately, it's not to last. Phoenix!Amelia, still with some vestiges of tactical thought left, acts swiftly. A rapid series of strikes and a quick grapple allow her to wrench Real!Amelia's sword from her grasp (which did that thing where it spun through the air end-over-end before hitting the floor tip-first and sinking a couple inches into it), and a followup consisting of twin crushing blows stuns Real!Amelia. Not for long, but it was long enough.
  605. <DrEvilKitteh> Alexa doesn't have time to flee or erect a hasty barrier. Her gnarled staff is slapped out of her hand, and a foot planted on her chest drives her onto her back. Phoenix!Amelia looms over her, sword raised...and hesitates. In that one remaining eye, there's a flicker of recognition.
  606. <DrEvilKitteh> That flicker is driven out by a righteous fury when a bullet whacks into the back of her kneecap, making her stagger. Phoenix!Amelia whirls, fangs bared, and lifts her wing of fire to shield herself from Lin's barrage of shots.
  607. <DrEvilKitteh> “Rose,” Walter rasps, voice distorted and static-y. “Take the sword and throw it to Alexa!”
  608. <DrEvilKitteh> Rose, still weak and wounded, looks over at Real!Amelia's sword. It lay only a couple meters from her, but it seemed a mile in her state...
  609. <DrEvilKitteh> “To see Iris again!” Although Walter's voice crackles, his words remain audible.
  610. <DrEvilKitteh> Before she knew it, Rose felt her body screaming in protest as she shuffles over to the sword, yanks it out of the floor without much effort, turns on her rump, and flings it to Alexa.
  611. <DrEvilKitteh> Alexa spots a glint of steel out of the corner of her eye and turns to look up at the sword soaring towards her. She reacts quickly, raising a hand and creating a clamp that catches the sword and swiftly brings it to her hand. The clamp morphs and becomes a reddish glow that overlaps the blade, enhancing its capabilities. She looks up at the one-winged monster girl...
  612. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia had been blocking most of Lin's barrage just fine, and she'd even begun to focus her magic into forming a roiling collection of flame in her “off-hand” in order to retaliate. It was not to be.
  613. <DrEvilKitteh> When Phoenix!Amelia drew her fire arm back, a sword is plunged into her torso from behind. Its tip pierces through her chest, slicing through her sternum. Needless to say, the fiery retaliation dies less than ten feet from Phoenix!Amelia, rendering Lin safe from its hungry tongues.
  614. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia whirls on Alexa, sizzling blood dribbling from her lips. Any trace of recognition is gone, replaced by incoherent rage.
  615. <DrEvilKitteh> It's extremely fortunate, then, that Real!Amelia is able to get there in time. She tears her sword out of Phoenix!Amelia's body and immediately uses it to hack at the monster girl's leg, which winds up severing her hamstring and crippling her.
  616. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia does an about-face, only for Lin to capitalize on her distraction. The Beacon takes aim, waits for just the right instant, and squeezes the trigger. The magical bullet scrapes along Phoenix!Amelia's skull from just above the eyebrow to her temple, snapping her head back and leaving a flap of skin dangling from the side of her head. Phoenix!Amelia's thrust at Real!Amelia goes wide as a result, which gives Real!Amelia the perfect opportunity.
  617. <DrEvilKitteh> Mind entirely subsumed in the battle, Real!Amelia moves more than thinks. She delivers a slice upwards with her sword and severs Phoenix!Amelia's sword arm just below the elbow. Real!Amelia continues up, as her strike had been propelled by her legs as well, rotates in mid-air, and descends back to the floor with a diagonal slash that goes from shoulder to hip.
  618. <DrEvilKitteh> Now missing her sword arm as well, and with a deep slice in her torso that had almost cut her in half, Phoenix!Amelia buckles and collapses to the floor in a heap. Her peculiarly-colored flames falter and die down over the course of the next several seconds, leaving just a feathered girl lying in a growing puddle of her own blood on the floor.
  619. <DrEvilKitteh> Despite that, despite /everything/, Pheonix!Amelia is still alive and conscious. Defeated and helpless, yes, but still alive. Though...not for much longer, if her unhealing wounds are any indication.
  620. <DrEvilKitteh> Real!Amelia now stands over the body of her monstrous reflection, bloody sword in hand. As she catches her breath and lets some of her own injuries knit back together, she sees Phoenix!Amelia's lips weakly moving, and hears some of what she mumbles.
  621. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Happy...'n'ing...” It's no real surprise that Phoenix!Amelai's words are slurred. “Jus'...wan'ed...m' happy ending...” A tear, glistening in the light, slips free from her remaining eye. An eye that, previously unfocused, now twitches up and focuses on Real!Amelia. “...M''ll ge' it...righ', this...time 'round... Maybe...we'll...have...happy...en'...” She trails off into incoherent mumbling, and her eye becomes unfocused and drifts away from Real!Amelia's face.
  622. <Tangent> Bruised, torn, and scorched, Amelia stands over the defeated...over her alternate self. Amelia's uniform's a charred, blackened mess, and the magical girl herself looks like she's just gone three rounds with a flamethrower. She stares down at the girl- expression somewhere between tiredness, determination, and...confusion, especially at the phoenix's last words. Whatever's going on here- whatever messed up thing this is, it really doesn't seem to be an illusion. That girl- whoever it is, it isn't her- she's real. She's a monstergirl...but she's beaten. Helpless.
  623. <Tangent> Dying.
  624. <Tangent> And she was desperate. So desperate, in a way that Amelia would like to pretend she doesn't understand. Something about that makes this win feel sour in Amelia's mouth. It doesn't feel good at all.
  625. <Tangent> Even so, some things still come first.
  626. <Tangent> She looks around, uncertainty replaced with worry. Alexa. This girl'd gone after her, but...she's okay. Looks okay.
  627. <Tangent> "Ah-" Amelia breaks off into a cough, then shakes her head irritably, flakes of ash flying from out of her coal-black hair. "Alexa! Are you okay? She didn't...didn't hurt you, right? Is everyone else okay? Walter..."
  628. <Jran-Kri> Alexa stands stiffly once the creature -- once Amelia -- once that thing that looked like Amelia finally fell. Her hands tremble, deprived of the soothing staff she could use to steady them. In the chaos of the fight, she had let instinct guide her all the way to stabbing it through the back, but after that she was truly lost. She didn't seem cognizant of anything once the phoenix fell, not even her own, albeit minor, injuries.
  629. <Jran-Kri> Amelia's voice, however, yanks her back into the present. Shaking her head, she looks between the Amelias, settling on the friendly one. "I-I-I'm f-f-fine, j-j-just..." She takes a moment to inspect herself – a minor gash on her shin, perhaps some scorch-marks on her chest, probably a bruise beneath them -- and nods decisively. "Y-y-yes, um.... O-o-oh dear, ah..." Her head snaps to and fro, and you can see the moment she remembers there are other, much more injured people in the room as panic lights up behind her eyes.
  630. <Jran-Kri> Not even bothering with her staff, she hastily lurches around the room. "R-R-R-Rose! W-W-Walter! O-o-oh G-G-God I'm n-n-not s-s-sure I can p-p-put that t-t-together..." She quivers at the sight of the bisected robot, her hands glowing brightly with her red magic. Rosemary is salvageable! She'll start with Rosemary. Start with what you know you can save.
  631. <Tangent> Amelia still hasn't left the fallen phoenixgirl—though her expression lights up with relief once Alexa replies. It's almost like she can't seem to decide what do about the other her...Then she sees that the other her's seems like she's gone or about to be.
  632. "NO, GODDAMNIT." She snarls, kneeling by her and shaking her. "Oh no, you don't! You don't pull that crap and then just DIE on us! Not after what you pulled!" Amelia's head snaps up. "Alexa! If Rose's okay, I need you! This...whoever she is, she's going to die!" Whoever this dopplganger is, Amelia's not letting her die just yet—partially because killing someone in a fight's very different from letting someone helpless die, because the phoenix's frenzied attack didn't actually KILL anyone- Walter's...kinda a unique case--or maybe it was something she said that struck a chord... Whatever the reason, Amelia's not letting her dopplganger die if she can help it. "You're not going anywhere, damnit!" Amelia snaps at the unconscious phoenix, shaking her roughly. "I'm not done yelling at you for what you did yet!"
  633. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia's head lolls limply, and blood trickles more freely from her wounds with every shake. Which...probably isn't the best thing to do for someone who's been mortally wounded and is bleeding out. Her eye is open but glassy, and her lips had ceased moving. Not to mention her skin is terribly pale, which shouldn't be a surprise considering the amount of blood she'd lost.
  634. <Tangent> Oops. Amelia stops shaking her...herself. What...what even IS this girl and how did...she fall so far?
  635. <Tangent> "...Alexa? Really could use a hand here..."
  636. <Jran-Kri> Alexa's efforts are rather stymied by Amelia's shouting, but she's in no position to complain about it. This really was terribly inconvenient -- Rose would definitely live, but Walter... She cringes as she turns around to stare at Amelia and the phoenix, her lip curling unpleasantly. She hesitates for a bit longer than she probably should, given the circumstances.
  637. <Jran-Kri> "... Coming!" She says at last, shuffling over to Amelia. She still can't find her staff, but that's no matter -- the healing glow suffuses her hands and, soon after, the most severe of the creature's wounds. Knitting them up first, and then trying to make up some of that lost blood, Alexa clearly looks uncomfortable.
  638. <Jran-Kri> "M-m-must we?" She has to ask.
  639. <Tangent> Amelia genuinely seems unsure how to answer Alexa's question, hesitating. "She...she's real. And corrupted. Maybe if I...purify her so she's not so...twisted, she'd have answers. But...she did attack you...and the rest of us...and I... Why does she look like me... How... What the hell just happened?" She shakes her head. "I...I can't do anything about her myself other than... So, if...if you don't want to...I...I won't ask you to. It''s your choice, Alexa. I trust you, Alexa. If you decide not to...I...I'll just leave her here.'ve already healed her a bit anyway."
  640. <Tangent> She wishes there wasn't that little voice--that voice she can't quite get rid of that's been there since she saw her friend beating a harpy to death with her staff—in her head whispering that Alexa wouldn't make the right decision and she should just try and talk her into doing the right thing...but no. This girl...whoever she is—she can't think of the phoenix as her, not really...she's already signed her death warrant several times over and she's clearly deranged and violent. For all that, Amelia...can't quite bring herself to finish her while she's down...but it's not her choice to make.
  641. <Tangent> Alexa...needs her help, but she's a good person. Amelia knows it. All Amelia can do now is wait for her to choose.
  642. <Jran-Kri> Alexa wrings her hands for some time, her jaw working, teeth grinding audibly. She really seems to be giving it some thought, looking between Amelia and the creature before her. She closes her eyes, taking a few deep, calming breaths. Throughout the process, the healing glow of her magic lingers on her hands. "... I-I-I m-m-mean, w-w-well, um... I-I s-s-suppose we can, um, try," she says eventually, nodding briskly. She resumes healing the phoenix, but at a positively glacial pace.
  643. <Jran-Kri> "A-a-ah. I-I-If y-y-you w-w-want to, um, p-p-purify her... Sh-sh-should d-do it b-b-before she... w-w-wakes up."
  644. <Tangent> Amelia nods. "Yeah... And Alexa?" She smiles at her closest friend, then gives her a tight, surprisingly bone-crushing hug. "I'm proud of you." She whispers. "Yeah. I'll take over from here... Just needed her to not, you know...die. I think the others need you too."
  645. <Tangent> She frowns down at the girl who'd nearly wiped out their party. Who'd screamed about how much she wanted to ruin her life.The girl who'd tried to hurt Alexa. She's...hoping she made the right call. It...feels like the right thing to do? She thinks? She really hopes she doesn't regret this.
  646. <Tangent> Amelia's eyes narrow as she looks at the human feather duster she's kneeling next to. "If you can hear me, this is probably going to hurt." She says, sounding none too apologetic about it, then summons her magic--intense blue-white heat flaring up around her small palm before she pushes her hand against her doppleganger's forehead.
  647. <Jar Mimic> Yes, Rose is quite fine. Her borrowed clothing has now been burned on top of being ripped, her face has a distinctly hand shaped mark that’s been seared onto it, and she’s struggling to move, but she’s quite fine. Despite having trouble moving, that fight gave her very little in the way of real wounds. No, most of her problems are still her fault for using so much ki when she didn’t need to. And also using more than a lot when she did need to. All the same. When she pushes herself onto her knees, her eyes fall upon their fallen foe. This is a potential food source. Although a hungry gaze lingers in that direction, the group comes first. “Hey, uh, Walter. You don’t, um…” She licks her lips. “You don’t look well. Do you want me to, like, carry you, or, ah, sumthin’?”
  648. <LeftHandofGod> Lin is still out of it. Totally out of it. The exertion of the day, the mental fatigue, the physical fatigue, the emotional fatigue, it is all building up much too quickly for her. But the sight of a comrade collapsing after being sliced in twain is more than enough to keep her alert and present. And so, when the fighting stops, she goes to Walter's side, eyes panicked...and she turns her head to watch her healer and the mad swordswoman have their exchange. The idea of healing that monster first is disgusting to her, moreso when one considers that there is someone actually worth saving in need of aid right here...but she doesn't say so. Instead, she remains at Walter's side and simply says, "It will be okay. Just keep it...together." Too late she realizes the irony.
  649. <DrEvilKitteh> “I...will be...fine.” Walter's voice grumbles and hisses, and his crooked jaw twitches spasmodically up and down. He's still alive, though. His one semi-good hand is also pressed against where his abdomen would've been in order to keep some more crucial components inside his torso. “...All the...same.” Two flickering emerald eyes slide to the Beacon girl. “Lin. Don't...yOU have a...ww-way to hh-h-heal? With...a b-...-llet? ...special one?”
  650. <DrEvilKitteh> Phoenix!Amelia, at first, doesn't react to Real!Amelia's touch. After a minute, however, when the cleansing blue fire had enveloped the plumage over her form for a short time, her entire body spasmed. Muscles tense and untense rapidly, causing jerky convulsions that run through Phoenix!Amelia's body.
  651. <DrEvilKitteh> Even as her body bucks and thrashes, the purifying flame steadily burns away all traces of the monstrous phoenix. The red and gold crackles and blackens, turning to ash that crumbles into nothing.
  652. <DrEvilKitteh> Eventually, The Girl Formerly Known As Phoenix!Amelia lay still and unmoving, free of corruption's grip. Her skin is pink and raw, her hair is singed, and there's a couple blisters on her forehead where Real!Amelia's hand had touched her, but that's easily fixed via healing magic.
  653. <DrEvilKitteh> Shallow breaths soon develop into deep, ragged breaths. Other!Amelia's eyelids flutter open and look around hazily for a few seconds before settling on Real!Amelia and Alexa. “,” she whispers, still in that hoarse, parched voice.
  654. <DrEvilKitteh> Real!Amelia and Alexa realize something very quickly: Other!Amelia sounds like she's at the end of a short chamber, in that her words seem farther away than they should be, and perhaps just the faintest bit echo-y. And her skin, previously cleansed and rendered pink and raw, now looks so terribly fragile...almost translucent... Wait. No. That isn't just her skin, but her /entire body/.
  655. <DrEvilKitteh> Really, it looks like the purifying process had...burned away something crucial to her existence, something critical that kept her body held together like a keystone. Somehow.
  656. <DrEvilKitteh> And, despite that, Other!Amelia is crying. Not only sadness, but mostly from joy. Unbridled happiness. Perhaps as a result of the purification. Maybe she just /wants/ fade away, or whatever it is that she's doing.
  657. <DrEvilKitteh> Still, whatever's happening hasn't finished yet. Other!Amelia is still there, still present. For the moment.
  658. <Jar Mimic> The folly of Rosemary’s actions becomes apparent once she sees that monster’s body start to vanish. Her gaze falls in defeat, brows creased under the pressure of her body’s own weight. Of course, looking down upon Walt’s sorry state does make her feel like she’s a bit sorry, herself. So, damning the consequences, she scoops him up and returns to her feet. One hand holds him from the bottom while the other holds him across the back. He might be heavy, everything in her little world might feel heavy right now, but that’s not enough to deter her. How could she be so selfish after coming so far? The weight must be borne.
  659. <Tangent> Amelia reaches out for her, still holding her sword in one hand...though she's not pointing it at her dopplganger at least. "Alexa saved you." She corrects, tersely. She doesn't want to think too hard about the state the...the other her's in. "Hey! We're not done here. attacked us. Hurt Alexa and the others. Nearly broke Walter. Why? What was the point? How did that? You...nothing else there was real." Her last words sound more like an order--a very suspiciously insistent statement of fact--than speculation.
  660. <Jran-Kri> Alexa would be inclined to say, given that this other Amelia was now in the process of vanishing, that she wasn't real either, but she bites her tongue. She adjusts her glasses, shuffling her feet at the sound of her name and looking mildly embarrassed whenever the other Amelia's eyes occasionally drift over her. She blinks slowly, surprised by how...little she cares. She makes no effort to hide this, looking down at the illusion with little more than a sad, crooked smile and dead, listless eyes.
  661. <Jran-Kri> Still, she has nothing to say. This was just some illusion. Her Amelia was fine and dandy. That was all that mattered.
  662. <LeftHandofGod> Lin, of course, looks seriously embarrassed. She's forgotten something very simple in the heat of the moment, and promptly goes about rectifying it! She rushes to Rosemary's side, stammering, “Wait, umm, set him down. I can try to piece him...together.” Assuming Rosemary is cooperative, Lin starts the slow process of trying to heal the robot (Android, damnit!). At some point she spares a glance towards where the monster is disappearing after being purified...good. All is right over there, and so she can focus on piecing Walter back together.
  663. <Jar Mimic> Naturally, the former sheep doll does her best to help, taking Lin's lead and following her directions.
  664. <DrEvilKitteh> It takes a while and a fair bit of mana, but Lin (and Rose) do successfully heal Walter back up. Fortunately, it's easier--and far less gruesome--to do so than it would be for a normal person in that same situation. Walter even helps ensure that they put everything back together right as they mend his artificial body.
  665. <DrEvilKitteh> Other!Amelia still looks unfocused and scattered, but she manages to gather her attention a few seconds after Real!Amelia's barrage of questions. “...I /am/...real,” she mumbles. Her words only come after great effort, and she has to take a quick breather every few seconds because of it. “Wanted...t'...exist again. Wanted...t' have...'nother chance, 'nother...go around again. To make...up for my...mistakes.”
  666. <DrEvilKitteh> Sorrow's bleeding into Other!Amelia's tears and expression as her form continues to slowly, slowly fade. Even now, she still peace. Maybe even accepting. Or maybe that's just resignation.
  667. <Jar Mimic> “There you go, Walter,” says the living doll, “Good as new. Or… I think you might be a couple inches shorter. Did we get all of the pieces in?” She looks around her feet like bugs are crawling up her legs. “Well, you’re standing again, and that’s the important thing. Sorry we couldn’t smooth out all the dents. But I think you still strike a h-handsome figure.”
  668. <Tangent> "...Sorry." Amelia says quietly. And...she is, somehow. Not for stopping her, not even for hurting her...but Amelia knows what it's like to want to undo her screw-ups. And she supposes the...other her does to. Part of her wants to yell at her for what she did...but what good would that do. "I don't know if you're..." Dying. "What's going to happen to you now,'s going to be okay. If you really are me...I won't make your mistakes. I'll keep her safe. I dunno if that helps, but... You don't need to worry about what happened anymore."
  669. <Tangent> Amelia kneels, putting her hand on her...own shoulder. It somehow feels even smaller, lighter than she knows it is. Maybe it's her armor. Maybe not.
  670. <Jran-Kri> Alexa visibly winces, staring down at the other Amelia. She really did sound just like her Amelia -- fighting right to the bitter end, against any odds, all to right wrongs. Her smile wavers and dies, and she looks truly mournful now. She blinks a few tears out of her eyes, nodding slowly at the proper Amelia.
  671. <Jran-Kri> "I-I-It's o-o-okay," she mumbles, trying to smile down at the other Amelia once again. "Y-Y-Yuh-You've... d-d-done e-e-everything you can."
  672. <LeftHandofGod> Walter's...pieced back together. Good. Lin gives the android a pat on the shoulder, then turns her attention to the drama on the other side of the room. Purified and dying at peace... That's a suitable end for a monstergirl, in her mind. And so, rather than focus on that, her eyes look at the tattooed map on the back of her hand. She doesn't wish for a foe to sneak up on her again.
  673. <DrEvilKitteh> Well, that isn't going to happen anytime soon. Lin's map isn't /quite/ as messed up as before, but there's no way she'll be able to spot potential foes at the moment. The part of the floor that yet remained intact is the most stable part of the map, but directly where the sundial stands is a completely blank spot. Like it doesn't exist or register as an environment. The outside, the void where the shadows lie, is the complete opposite. There is where the tattoo goes haywire, churning and warping and twisting. Contacts appear and are smothered instantly, semi-familiar structures appear and warp into something eldritch and weird before crumbling apart, and such.
  674. <DrEvilKitteh> However, one thing that Lin can determine after watching the pattern and flow of shadows in the void for long enough is that they seem to be circling this area. Like predators, sweeping around the area, looking for /just/ the right opportunity to pounce.
  675. <DrEvilKitteh> And the ink of the tattoo still isn't trying to come alive and attack Lin, so that's nice.
  676. <DrEvilKitteh> “Whatever you missed was restored thanks to Lin's healing,” Walter mutters as he brushes some dirt and particles off his clothes. Simply put, he looks...weary. Tired. He offers Rose a mostly-humorless smile when she called him handsome. “Thanks.” His head slowly turns to look at the scene between the two Amelias and Alexa, which he watches in silence.
  677. <DrEvilKitteh> Other!Amelia smiles at her other self and Alexa's words. It's a sad, pained smile, but a smile nonetheless. One that conveyed sincere gratitude and hope. Her tears glint and shine like jewels as they continue to wet her face. “ can,” she mumbled, looking mostly at Real!Amelia. “Bu' I...wou'n't min'...'nother chance. Migh'...b' able t'...find...better have...'nother try.”
  678. <DrEvilKitteh> Surprisingly, despite the incredible effort that they can /feel/ it takes her to speak, Other!Amelia lifts her hand and takes hold of Real!Amelia's. She feels terribly frail, practically insubstantial, like solidified gossamer. Now, as she continues to fade, instead of being somewhat see-through, Other!Amelia just looks like light, transparent colors splashed over the air and floor in the form of a girl. She could pass for a ghost if she really tried.
  679. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Hope...this c'n...get it. Finally.” Other!Amelia's hand trembles as she squeezes as tightly as she can...which isn't very much, and she stares intently at Real!Amelia. “' happy...ending. Make this...last...go...'round. Finish it.”
  680. <DrEvilKitteh> Other!Amelia's bright blue eyes, and the diamond tears that fall from them, remain the most visible part of her even as the others can barely make out the rest of her form. Her grip on Real!Amelia's hand slackens. “...See you...after...,” comes her final, whispered words.
  681. <DrEvilKitteh> Other!Amelia closes her eyes. And like that, she's gone. There's a momentary impression of beautiful sapphire embers dancing in the air where she used to lay, now drifting along and heading away, heading elsewhere, but...that impression fades as soon as they blink.
  682. <DrEvilKitteh> Amelia, the assuredly-real, solid Amelia, notices something after a few moments. Something cool and solid, yet soft and supple. A look down at her hand, the very hand that Other!Amelia had been clinging to just a few moments prior, reveals that she's holding a feather in her palm.
  683. <DrEvilKitteh> Made of what looks like silver, pearl, and perhaps lapis lazuli, the feather is a thing of slender beauty. A few inches long, it seems about the same length as one of Other!Amelia's Phoenix feathers. And its feel... The feather feels soft and delicate, somehow almost like a real feather, but the materials composing it give it some weight, some hardness. And yet it isn't as heavy as one would think, nor as coldly hard. It seems the perfect blend between true feather, and metal and mineral.
  684. <Jran-Kri> A shudder runs through Alexa's form as the other Amelia finally shuffles off her 'mortal' coil, the red mage belatedly bothering to concern herself with what exactly she was saying. Her teeth grind silently as she looks back up to the real Amelia, her brow furrowing. In her newest nightmare, she could certainly conceive of the possibility that they were, in fact, trapped in this Hell for all eternity. What a horrible fate it would be, to be stuck in some kind of loop...
  685. <Jran-Kri> Shaking her head, she clears her throat as she peers down at the feather.
  686. <Jran-Kri> "V-v-very p-p-pretty," she says, cocking her head this way and that. "A-a-ah, b-b-but, um, l-let's not, ah, g-g-get any more, shall we?" She grins haggardly, her stiff legs sending her shambling back over to the sundial.
  687. <Jran-Kri> "Y-y-yes, ah... l-l-let's f-f-focus on g-g-getting o-o-out of here. W-W-Walter! I-I s-s-see y-y-you live. Of course. N-n-now, ah... wh-what else i-i-is there...?"
  688. <Jar Mimic> “Yes, Walter, please turn the clock ahead. I’m tired of this place. I’m tired, dirty, ragged, and slowly dying. I just want to go home.” Although Rosemary attempts to sound like she’s complaining from a place purely of frustration, anyone around her might observe that her face bears a grimace of quiet desperation.
  689. <Tangent> Amelia doesn't say anything for a while after that- Alexa can tell how shaken she is by effectively seeing herself vanish--but her grip on Alexa's hand tightens--the feather heavy in her other hand. She doesn't feel comfortable looking at it just yet. Is this her future? Is she going to fail, let Alexa down, fade away to nothing? The idea of an ending...a happy one... She's been looking for a cause as far back as she can still remember. A happy ending for her and Alexa... There are worse things she could fight for. Then Rose gets her attention as she walks back to the dial with Alexa.
  690. <Tangent> "Dying?" Amelia's eyes widen. She'd thought Walter was the only casualty...but he's a robot. They can fix them later. They (probably) have the technology. "Are you still hurt?" She asks Rose.
  691. <LeftHandofGod> "U-umm...m-maybe, we, umm, should consider...our options..." Ah! The Beacon girl speaks! "There's...weird contacts all around the area...umm...we'll have to fight them all, won't we?" Lin offers up the back of her hand to anyone who cares to look, trying to show them the mess that could very well be waiting for them outside of this void.
  692. <Jar Mimic> Amelia is... Acknowledging her? After nibbling upon the spirits of her and Alexa the first time, the energy vampire fully expected not to hear from her again. Thus, hearing her voice does open her up again. To be honest with her. "No, I'm not hurt, thank you." Although she says this, she still has a lightly blistered hand print on her face from the battle. "I... The sundial. It took what you gave me before. I have to get to my source. I have to! I'm scared of what'll happen if I don't. I have to make it back. I have to!"
  693. <Tangent> Amelia looks at the vampire. Properly looks at her. Maybe it's what just happened--what she just did--but...
  694. <Tangent> "It's your magic, isn't it? Your corruption. If I...purified you, would that mean you didn't need to?"
  695. <Jar Mimic> Rosemary talks and acts like the early teenager she actually isn't, but is now slouching and breathing like someone lost in a desert. With her messy hair and clothes in shambles, she looks to be the very exhausted mess that she is. "Oh, if you could purify me, I'd like that," she states, looking uplifted from this companion's sudden kindness, "But it won't change anything. My mom made me this way because I'll die if I can't... You know. I was purified once before. It felt nice. But I started growing corruption again the next time I had to feed." Little tears form in the corners of her eyes as she begins her next sentence. "I'm not like everyone else. I'm going to be a monster forever."
  696. <DrEvilKitteh> There is still a small sliver on the sundial that's still weathered and dull, a sliver that hasn't been turned back to how it was before. Accordingly, there's a similarly small sliver of the dome that reaches from a thin strip of the floor extending outward, and extends all the way back overhead in a gravity-defying way.
  697. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter carefully listens to, examines, and contemplates everything he can before replying. “...I...think it /is/ my turn to progress the sundial.” He braces himself and steps up to the altar. A metal hand is raised and cautiously placed against the miniature sun. Walter grimaces, teeth bared, and /pushes/. The effort seems immense, and the others can hear the frantic whirring of gears and creaks of protest from the android's body.
  698. <DrEvilKitteh> Slowly, but surely, the magic sphere of light is pushed back to where it originated. A calm white light suffuses the mini sun, giving it a gentle aura and truly binding all the disparate magics together into one harmonious whole.
  699. <DrEvilKitteh> The gnomon's shadow restores the last of the sundial, and the final segment of the dome crumbles and falls away into the void. A thrumming fills their ears, a sound that appears to come as much from within their own heads as the air around them.
  700. <DrEvilKitteh> And then a voice speaks. Unfamiliar, to all except Walter. “My son.” Startled, the android whirls to face an apparition standing at the edge of the void. A middle-aged man, with impressive mutton chops, messy hair, and a sharp gaze, and who's wearing robes that seem suited to a workshop of some kind, the sleeves of which are stained and singed.
  701. <DrEvilKitteh> “I am sorry I could not truly protect you,” the apparition of Quentin Heinrich continues. “Sigmund's mistake has cost us so much. Not only us, but many have been harmed because of it. I regret not stopping him sooner--I was...too preoccupied by my own work. By...ultimately, you. And yet /you/ were nearly destroyed because of my failure. You have few memories left from before, Walter, but I think, and hope, that you will be much the same man. I did not save all of you, only some. I only hope that it will be enough.”
  702. <DrEvilKitteh> Blood trickles down Quentin's face, and orange flames begin to lick all around his form. Despite this, he smiles, a sincere and heartfelt expression if ever there was one. “Do not weep for me, Walter. Surely there have been better men who have had such fates as mine, and I am not wholly undeserving of it. As I watched you grow, I saw a far better person than I in the making.” A now-gnarled, withered fist was placed over Quentin's heart. “I have hope, and trust, that it will still be so. Goodbye, my son.”
  703. <DrEvilKitteh> The transparent fire finishes consuming Quentin, and the apparition quickly fades away moments later.
  704. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter looks stricken. Were he flesh and blood, he'd likely be pale as a sheet. As it stands, it's difficult to tell if the slight shake in his extremities are leftovers of his dismemberment, or a genuine expression of shock. Or both.
  705. <Jar Mimic> Still looking as tired as ever, the withered Rose does stand next to her companion and place a hand on his shoulder. "Parents are hard," she says, completely miserable.
  706. <Jran-Kri> Alexa seems vaguely interested by Rosemary's account of her condition, but otherwise not nearly as perturbed as she was earlier. More than anything, she just looks tired; now that the other Amelia has vanished, she's let herself fall into a bit of a slump, almost completely leaning on her staff. She blinks slowly, and, after some thought, nods with Rose. "M-m-miss. M-mine. T-t-too."
  707. <LeftHandofGod> Lin makes her way to Walter's side as well...but remains silent. She'd just dealt with her own father figure of sorts disappearing, and so she there. But there was little more she could manage.
  708. <Tangent> Amelia's....not sure how to take it. It clearly means a lot to Walter, but at the same time...he's still a machine. A machine that thinks it's a person. That thinks it's hurt and seen a message from its father.
  709. <Tangent> Is Walter more than just a robot after all? Does it matter if even he's right or not?
  710. <Tangent> "Hey." She says, voice purposefully kept calm and reassuring. "Walter. We have to go."
  711. <DrEvilKitteh> (Wow, Amelia being casually racist over here. Androids and gingers have souls too, y'know!)
  712. <DrEvilKitteh> Rose and Alexa's words, and Lin's presence, help Walter calm down and stop trembling. Amelia...doesn't, really, but at least it doesn't make things worse. “Go where?” he mutters, looking around the place. “I don't see any doors-” The android winces, and the girls feel why.
  713. <DrEvilKitteh> That thrumming from earlier grows in volume until its almost painful. It has a steady tempo and rhythm to it like a god's drumbeats, or maybe a massive heartbeat of some kind.
  714. <DrEvilKitteh> The miniature magic sun, still hanging in the air by the sundial, now rises several feet into the air. The light it gives off intensifies, becoming brighter until it's harder to look at than even the noonday sun. Then it expands, though not in the way they might expect.
  715. <DrEvilKitteh> Instead of swelling into a red giant equivalent, the mini sun flattens and elongates into a rough disc shape, and several strands stretch out, shooting off into the void. The strands of light and existence seize hold of numerous oily shadows that yet lurk in the corner of one's eye. A sound like rending glass and grinding stones fills the air when the shadows are dragged towards the sundial, causing a heatwave-like effect that makes the air shake and quaver.
  716. <DrEvilKitteh> The sun-disk spins, pulling the shadows in a circle around the edge of the void. Parts of the shadows are left behind, hovering in the air and slowly morphing into weathered stone surfaces. Faster and faster and faster it spins, until the shadows have all blurred together into a facsimile of a wide, hexagonal room. A room in that old Temple, to be precise, if they went by its design and look.
  717. <DrEvilKitteh> However, there are still cracks amidst the scene, gaps through which one can still catch a glimpse of that yawning nothing. The former sun apparently accounts for this, as it contracts into a sphere once again, only this time nearly infinitesimally small and bright, and with one final glorious burst of sound, light, and /reality/, it explodes.
  718. <DrEvilKitteh> The light pierces each of them as a wave flows over and engulfs them, but they are not destroyed, no. Their borrowed magic and strength returns to them at last, a reinvigorating feeling if ever there is one. The wave of light rushes outward in all directions, though, not just at the group. It floods over the shadowy-forged room, filling the gaps and cracks and binding all the separate parts into one cohesive whole. And with a harmonious ring that pulses throughout the area, everything solidifies into what is distinctly /real/.
  719. <DrEvilKitteh> Dazed by the experience, it takes Walter a while to finally get up onto his knees. His feet came shortly thereafter. “We're...back?” he said hoarsely, looking around at the walls and ceiling of the hexagonal room.
  720. <DrEvilKitteh> Indeed, it seems they are back in the Temple--just not where they'd last been. Additionally, the sundial is there, too. Its...not the same, though. The plinth it now hovers a couple inches above is the same as before, but the sundial itself has shrunk, to where an adult could hold it in their hand without stretching their fingers too much.
  721. <Tangent> (Don't worry, good chance Amelia's going to be a ginger in her next life.)
  722. <DrEvilKitteh> (kek)
  723. <Jar Mimic> At first, it doesn’t particularly register that the dial’s sun is reacting. Rosemary is just too tired. Too heavy with exhaustion. Then its glow intensifies. This gets her to turn toward it. Of course, the glow continues intensifying, so she turns right back away from it, covering her eyes as it becomes blinding. “Tell me when it’s over!” she shouts, practically ducking away from the sight. As the show of light and shadow spins and coalesces around them all, she just casually cowers from it all. Until, that is, the explosion happens. Of anyone there, Rose might perhaps feel it the most intimately. She’s knocked off her feet by it, ending up on her hands and knees. Once all is said and done, she opens her eyes again, feeling energized by no mean amount. In fact, once she sits up on her knees and has a look around, the little teen jumps right back up, two fists raised into the air! “Yeeeeaaaaah!” she cries out, pumping her fists enthusiastically, “We made it out! We made it out! I knew we could do it! Yeah! You guys are the best! The! Best! Mommy! I mean, um, mom! Iris! You just wait! I’ll be back soon!” As loud as she’s laughing, she does start crying a bit, too. “We have to hurry up and finish so we can get out of here!”
  724. <LeftHandofGod> Lin does the first thing that one would naturally do when one is finished with one ordeal. She heaves a heavy sigh, as though a weight had been taken off of her shoulders...then quietly checks her map. Naturally, this quiet check becomes quite loud if there is anything suspicious or hostile about.
  725. <Jran-Kri> Alexa looks distinctly distrustful of this return to reality and sanity, still shying inward and clinging to her staff. As she looks around, however, she seems to accept that things are as they seem, though she immediately sets about peering over Lin's shoulder. "I-i-is th-th-that it th-then? A-a-are we b-b-b-back?"
  726. <DrEvilKitteh> Weirdly enough, Lin's map is...normal. It shows this room as-is, and a little beyond its walls--only there's no distortion or shifting, even when she's not looking at it. As for contacts...there don't /seem/ to be any nearby, save for the party themselves. So for now it appears safe.
  727. <DrEvilKitteh> “I...I think we are,” mutters Walter to Alexa. “It...feels different. Like it was before...everything bizarre happened.” His glowing emerald eyes fall upon the plinth a moment later, and he instinctively grips the handle of his revolver. Slowly, warily, he approaches it, metal brow furrowed as he scrutinizes the shrunken sundial.
  728. <DrEvilKitteh> A tentative hand reaches out and gently grabs the sundial. It does nothing, so Walter is free to remove it from the spot above the plinth where it had been floating.
  729. <DrEvilKitteh> Fortunately, removing the sundial doesn't seem to spring a trap. There's no storm of arrows shooting from the walls, or spiked ceiling descending, or a boulder falling and rolling after them... None of that.
  730. <DrEvilKitteh> ...Although...was that door directly ahead always there?
  731. <DrEvilKitteh> No matter. Walter wraps up the sundial in a piece of cloth and ties it to his belt; with the pointy gnomon, it won't exactly fit neatly into someone's pocket. “Girls, it appears we have our exit,” he calls to the others, indicating the door with a hand. “We should get out of here. And...hopefully find the Alchemist.” Hand still resting on his revolver, the android looks specifically at Lin. “Is there anyone else nearby?”
  732. <DrEvilKitteh> According to the Beacon's tattoo map, there are still no other obvious contacts.
  733. <Jar Mimic> With the abandon of the very person with little forethought that she is, Rosemary immediately begins to stride toward the door. “Oh, he better watch out when we do find him! I’m gonna hit ‘im so hard they’ll have to clean him up with a broom! They’ll have to use tweezers and a magnifying glass to glue him back together!” Stepping with purpose, she walks all the way up to the door. She places her hands upon it to open it up, but waits for the others to catch up. “Right? That’s what we definitely want to do, right? With this Malcom Ist guy?”
  734. <LeftHandofGod> Lin can hardly believe the rotten luck. "...No, umm, there's no sign of...anything. Or anyone. I hope he didn't get away while we dealt with...that." It takes a moment for the fact that the group is back to sink in, but when it does, Lin lets out a slow sigh of relief. "At least we're...out of there."
  735. <Jran-Kri> Alexa scurries after Rosesmary, having as much fear as Rose has bravado. She practically curls around her staff as her head snaps to and fro, fearful of traps springing out of the walls or some such. She nods briskly. "Y-y-y-es! Yes! V-v-vengeance! Justice! F-f-fire and b-b-blood!" She confirms eagerly, her eyes lighting up. "L-l-lead o-on!"
  736. <Tangent> For once, Amelia seems less keen on bloody vengeance and smiting and more on making sure Alexa's okay. "He's not going to get away with this." She says simply, but then her attention's on making sure she stays in front of Alexa--and close enough to be a reassuring presence.
  737. <DrEvilKitteh> “Mm.” Walter grunts and walks along with the others to the door, hand still on his revolver.
  738. <DrEvilKitteh> The door Rosemary's hands currently rest against is surprisingly easy to push open. It silently swings open, despite looking like it weighs a good ton or so. Outside the door is...somewhere familiar. If memory serves, this corridor going straight forward connects directly with one near the entrance, one that would itself lead to the antechamber/front hall and the outer doors of the Temple. Simply speaking, it's a straight shot out of the Temple from this position.
  739. <DrEvilKitteh> Additionally, several large braziers have been lit along the walls leading back to the entrance. They cast a warm orange glow over the hallway, with its tattered tapestries and weathered statues. No other light comes from the hallways branching out, either, so either the Alchemist lit the braziers to draw them to him, or it was the Temple's doing. Somehow.
  740. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Let's keep moving,” mutters Walter. “Lin, keep an eye on that map.” He draws his revolver and thumbs the hammer back.
  741. <DrEvilKitteh> And yet no other contacts are revealed on Lin's tattoo map as they move forward. Fortunately, it seems like the walls and architecture out of sight is staying nice and still, unlike when they'd first entered the Temple.
  742. <DrEvilKitteh> Except...except...oh no.
  743. <DrEvilKitteh> The flickering firelight catches the back of Lin's hand at /just/ the right angle as she takes a step. The tattoo map /shifts/, almost imperceptibly, but it /does/--it lingers a little behind her hand when it moves, then quickly slides into place where it normally should be an instant later. A list of possibilities runs through her mind regarding the cause, and the best and most immediate answer that comes to mind is: Illusion.
  744. <DrEvilKitteh> Even as she shouts a warning out to the others, a lightning bolt thunders into existence from the blue, cruel violet branches first hitting Walter, then arching to each of the girls in turn. Fortunately, it's not /too/ damaging, but it stings like hell.
  745. <DrEvilKitteh> “SURPRISE~!!” crows a familiar voice from on high. A voice they'd been dreading and anticipating to hear in equal measure. “And that's just a /warm-up/!”
  746. <DrEvilKitteh> The Alchemist is perched atop the head of an eroded statue, robes fluttering and mask gleaming in the firelight. He quickly mutters an incarnation, then smacks his hand against the stone head beneath his feet.
  747. <DrEvilKitteh> Naturally, several bullets slam into him a second later, courtesy of Lin and Walter. Whether any actually hit the Alchemist or not, they can't tell, since the illusory image of the clockwork bastard jerks and fades away after a few seconds.
  748. <DrEvilKitteh> “Evening the playing field sounds /fun/, riiight?! So let's DO IT!” The Alchemist cackles from several different places, and the ones that the party hits at are mere mirages. However, his words apparently act as the catalyst for...something new to happen.
  749. <DrEvilKitteh> The statue he'd been standing on shifts. The near-deafening noise of grinding stone fills the air as it lifts a foot and takes a step out into the hallway, landing with a huge /boom/! Its expressionless face turns and looks down at the girls and the android. It lifts its right hand, which holds a weapon of some kind; whatever it was originally, after heavy erosion it now merely looks like a huge stone club.
  750. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter fires multiple shots up at the stone giant, but the bullets do nothing. They off its rocky torso and face. He barely has time to scramble out of the impact zone when the animate statue brings its club down with a tremendous /crak-coom!/ that shakes the hall. Dust springs into the air, carried along by wind moved in the club's wake, and already the giant is moving to ready another strike.
  751. <Jar Mimic> Getting shocked is bad enough. Rose already got shocked once on this little outing, and that wasn’t pleasant. Now there’s another giant, too! “For being such a smart guy, this Malcom Ist sure doesn’t know very many tricks,” she comments to whoever is listening. Even if no one does, it’s time to get back to action. Red overtakes the green in her eyes, and her muscles visibly begin to inflate beneath her clothes. While she’s still too weak to use any ki, she’s certainly not too weak to waltz right up to this second giant’s leg and try to punch its ankle out from under it.
  752. <DrEvilKitteh> [GM Note: This "giant" is /much/ bigger than the Ironclad Man.]
  753. <Tangent> "This is PATHETIC! YOU are pathetic! Stop hiding, come out, and get what you deserve, you freak!" Amelia's singed, her blood is up...and she's already dashing ahead of Alexa, sword flashing as she follows Rose in hacking away at one of their enemies's feet.
  754. <Jran-Kri> Alexa, naturally, panics; she leaps in shock as spells and bullets start flying, and promptly cringes behind her staff, which instantly forms a bright red, semi-spherical shield that she might crouch behind. She trembles like a leaf behind it as the Alchemist summons his monstrous golem, but this doesn't prevent her from forming smaller pieces of hard-light armour around, firstly, Rose as a reward for her valour in charging, and then the rest of them in turn.
  755. <LeftHandofGod> If they're focusing on the feet, the natural place to focus fire would be...maybe the knee? But Lin abandons that train of though quickly, instead focusing her energy into barraging the stone giant with volume of fire, aimed high enough to keep from endangering her teammates. Shot after shot impacts the giant's torso, head, and arms, though should she notice a point that is taking more damage from the bullets she's firing, she'll focus them there instead.
  756. <DrEvilKitteh> “How cute~,” the Alchemist mockingly croons. The source of his voice bounces around, so it's impossible for them to pin him down just yet.
  757. <DrEvilKitteh> Interestingly enough, the animate statue is quick enough to move its feet so that Amelia and Rosemary miss most of their strikes. Of the blows that do hit, their sword and fists, respectively, glance off, skipping across its stony surface. Which is rather odd in itself.
  758. <DrEvilKitteh> As the frontline fighters are confronting the stone giant, naturally the Alchemist takes the opportunity to pull something devious. In this case, a fireball centered on Alexa. Lin and Walter are scorched and staggered by the edge of the blast, while Alexa has decent enough reflexes to shield herself before /all/ of her hair is melted.
  759. <DrEvilKitteh> A mere moment thereafter, Walter senses an incoming presence and whirls, raising his revolver, but an invisible hand grasps his shoulder and sends a debilitating electric shock coursing through his body. Walter seizes up, body twitching and spasming, but he does manage to curl his off-hand into a fist and punch out at the invisible attacker. He feels his knuckles make contact, but the presence immediately flees. Walter shoots after it, but his bullets don't seem to hit anything.
  760. <DrEvilKitteh> Suddenly, the corridor turns blue. A great pillar of swirling, dancing foxfire envelops the animate statue. It doesn't react in the slightest to the blue flames, but its form warps and twists and turns transparent. “It's an illusion,” states Seo-Hyun. Her voice comes from multiple locations around the hall, so they can't pinpoint its true origin.
  761. <DrEvilKitteh> As for the statue, it swiftly fades away into nothing, and the /true/ statue, not animated in the slightest, reappears in its little niche in the corridor wall.
  762. <DrEvilKitteh> It's a little too soon to celebrate, however.
  763. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter's patting his waist and looking around wildly at the floor: the tied piece of cloth that held the small sundial is gone. That had been the true goal of the invisible attacker, he realizes. “The Alchemist stole the sundial!” he warns the others.
  764. <DrEvilKitteh> The Alchemist snickers deviously from everywhere and nowhere. “Yes, /thank/ you /so very much/ for saving me the effort!” There's the sound of a clockwork contraption loudly clicking and whirring. “It was /really/ quite /kind/ of you!” His snickers rise into a mad cackle. “Why, I'm so grateful that I might just carve each of your names into the monument that announces my godhood! 'These five exemplars of a brainless dolt of a girl, and their imbecilic android pimp, were generous enough to retrieve that which completed my path to Omnipotence'.” Another maniacal laugh. “Yesss, I think that will do juuust /fine/~!”
  765. <Tangent> "I don't *care* what you want with it. You won't LIVE long enough to use it!" Amelia looks to her companions, but, as ever, her first worry is for Alexa.
  766. <Jar Mimic> Well, once the statue that wasn’t actually a statue goes away, Rosemary shrinks right back down to normal size, though her eyes stay red. A hand runs through her lilac colored hair. “Oh my god, what’s even going on? Can we go now? I hate it here! Whoever this guy is, his voice is annoying. Why are we trying to kill him again? Can’t we just leave and close the doors behind us? That sundial was stupid anyway.”
  767. <LeftHandofGod> “So it was...a key?” surmises Lin...before realizing that there are far, far better things she could be doing. Hurriedly, she checks the map on the back of her hand, though she doesn't expect to see anything of great use. All the same, should there be hostiles apparent on it, whether there be one point or one dozen. And, if it's safe to fire at them, she'll take the shot, of course...but if there's nothing apparent, she'll settle for seeking out the Alchemist with eyesight alone. Not that she expects that to succeed.
  768. <Jran-Kri> Alexa, naturally, is quite put out by being set on fire, and there is quite a yelping and howling from her as she hurries to put out the flames and mend her own singed flesh. Fortunately, by the end of the brief confrontation, all is restored save for her now much shorter hair. She quivers behind a bright red shield, shaking her head. "O-o-oh. Oh dear. Um. A-a-ah, wh-wh-whatever i-i-it is, w-w-we n-need t-t-to get it b-b-back," she mumbles, her head snapping this way and that. The glow of her magic intensifies as she reassembles her miniature barriers around the others.
  769. <DrEvilKitteh> A couple contacts appear on Lin's map, one stationary and one moving. The next instant, however, there appear numerous contacts. Just as multiple images of the Alchemist step into view for the entire party to see.
  770. <DrEvilKitteh> The robed automaton--all of the illusory images of him--hold a large, torso-sized device. Relatively flat, it has a large handle at the top that allows him to hold it out like an oversized lantern. The front of the device, facing towards the party, is...some sort of clock. Except it's strange, with arcane symbols on its unusual face--face/s/, rather, as there are a few smaller ones located around the primary face. Apart from that, its appearance is...shoddy, like it had been hastily cobbled together. So it basically looks like a ghetto astronomical clock.
  771. <DrEvilKitteh> Most importantly, however, is the sundial: it's been set in the very center of the clock's face, right where the arms turn around. Without a whole lot of fanfare, the Alchemist grips the mini-gnomon and turns it, cranking the sundial like one of those small timers. The clock's arms steadily turn as he winds it, an audible action that makes a rising noise that becomes a steady whirring and clicking. Like a rusty clock in bad need of oil.
  772. <DrEvilKitteh> Which is more or less accurate.
  773. <DrEvilKitteh> “Now, witness my FIRST ACT!” Terribly melodramatically, the Alchemist hefts the clock up and thrusts it forward, off-hand pushing a few things on the back of the clock.
  774. <DrEvilKitteh> The hands spin faster...and faster...and /faster/...
  775. <DrEvilKitteh> The arcane symbols light up, sputtering at first, then glowing with a steady intensity.
  776. <DrEvilKitteh> The Alchemist cackles insanely, even as his illusory doubles are inevitably cut down by the party, and more spring to life to replace those lost.
  777. <DrEvilKitteh> The cackling comes to an abrupt halt when three things happen: a horrific grinding fills the air, the clock starts shaking uncontrollably, and the symbols on it start flashing and dimming in random patterns.
  778. <DrEvilKitteh> And then it explodes.
  779. <DrEvilKitteh> Well, more like the hands are spinning so fast that when they're knocked just the slightest bit askew, they tear through the rest of the clock, completely shredding it and one of the Alchemist's hands. Shrapnel flies, gears and shards of metal raining across the area, albeit not enough to be more than a nuisance.
  780. <DrEvilKitteh> Howling more in rage than pain, the Alchemist's illusory duplicates flicker away, and the true automaton madman is revealed as his cloak of invisibility falls. He's standing just over there, off to the side in plain view. Er, not exactly standing anymore, as he's fallen to his knees and is now frantically searching through the scattered debris, trying to find something--probably the sundial.
  781. <DrEvilKitteh> However, /that/ particular item seems to have sedately rolled back over to the six after the clock's destruction, where it now lay placidly in their midst.
  782. <DrEvilKitteh> But the more pressing concern is the Alchemist himself. Needless to say, right now he makes a /really/ good target for the group of magically-superpowered girls and their android friend, seeing as how he doesn't quite seem to have the presence of mind to defend himself against their wrath.
  783. <DrEvilKitteh> At the very least, Walter looks very much inclined to blasting the Alchemist to pieces.
  784. <LeftHandofGod> Her finger was already on the trigger. Lin takes careful aim, then fires as many times as she can before her more “punchy” or “slashy” party members get to him. Of course, once they do...her priority is to pick up that apparently valuable little bauble that's found its way to the feet of the group, and hold onto it for dear life. After all, if the Alchemist wants it, it should definitely be kept out of his hands!
  785. <Jar Mimic> As someone who tries to be as helpful as possible… Well, has tried to be as helpful as possible since learning what a treasure teamwork can be. Rosemary did not engage with the duplicates. This is another trick he’s done before. Who falls for the same trick that many times? Rather unsuccessfully, she tried to pick out the real one from the bunch. Of course, once all of that guy’s efforts go up in smoke, causing him to fall to his knees, she can’t even help then. Why? Because she’s too busy laughing. Seeing him howling with rage like that only makes the flesh doll clutch her stomach and nearly double over with laughter as the points at him derisively. “Hahaha! What an idiot!” she stammers out between giggles, “Man, Malcom, you’re too funny!” Naturally, her laughter begins to subside after a while, and she makes a gesture toward Lin. “Hoo. This guy’s too much. Hey, Lin, gimmie here. I’ll crush that thing for us. It’s stupid, anyway.”
  786. <LeftHandofGod> And Lin glances from Rosemary to the rest of the party. “ that such a good idea? I don't know what'll happen if you do.” Still, she's not making this decision herself: Her eyes turn pleadingly to Walter, since he seems to know what the hell is going on better than anybody else here.
  787. <Jar Mimic> After wiping away some tears of laughter, she stands herself back up. "Oh, okay. You can keep it. It's probably a piece of history that deserves to be preserved, anyway. Take good care of it, okay."
  788. <Tangent> "How any people did you kill?" Amelia demands. Her sword catches fire as she strides towards him with murder in her eyes. "How many people did you hurt? You hurt Alexa. You nearly killed Iris. You did all THIS, for WHAT. You're pathetic." She raises her sword. "You don't deserve to live." The blade comes down, again and again and again. "Just /burn/ and /die/, you worthless piece of /filth/!"
  789. <Jran-Kri> Even in such a state as the Alchemist is in, Alexa lingers with the rest of the group, shying away from the creature. Or perhaps she just doesn't want to screw up Lin's line of fire during her initial volley. She winces with each noise, a red glow momentarily suffusing around her ears even as she stands on her toes to peer down at the bauble in Lin's hands. Her gaze flits between it and what was left of the Alchemist. "E-e-er. Um... I-I-It, uh, s-s-surely it b-b-belongs in a m-m-museum."
  790. <DrEvilKitteh> Lin's barrage is swiftly joined by Walter's. Both guns boom out bullets that tear into the exposed Alchemist, rendering him an even better target for Amelia to slag. Righteously-burning blue flame melts the Alchemist wherever she chops into him. In a few moments flat, the impotently-shrieking clockwork homunculus is reduced to a pile of scorched robes and sizzling brass.
  791. <DrEvilKitteh> He didn't get back up.
  792. <DrEvilKitteh> “Assuming you can destroy it,” says Walter as he calmly reloads, “I'm not sure if it's a good idea /to/ destroy it. For now, we'll keep the sundial safe until we can figure out what to do with-”
  793. <DrEvilKitteh> Footsteps, running down the hall in the direction of the Temple entrance. A flickering contact appears on Lin's tattoo map--a hostile, poorly camouflaged by illusion magic. Another Alchemist body? The one they'd destroyed hadn't been an illusion, that's for damn sure.
  794. <DrEvilKitteh> There's an abrupt, blindingly-bright flash of foxfire. With a /whoosh-crunch/, the Alchemist materializes. Seo-Hyun stands before him, hand outstretched. Claws of foxfire shroud the appendage, which explains why she was able to punch straight through the Alchemist's chest and seize his Core. The spherical device is already damaged and wrought with nasty red scars, which is likely a symptom of his inability to transfer to other bodies and Cores. Only three frayed wires yet connect the Core to the interior of the villain's chest, but most have been severed already.
  795. <DrEvilKitteh> The second, and final, Alchemist body twitches and spasmodically raises a hand. He tries to say something, but his voice is warped and distorted beyond recognition.
  796. <DrEvilKitteh> Naturally, his clockwork body freezes as soon as Seo-Hyun squeezes, destroying his Core in a small explosion of sparks and tongues of foxfire. She yanks her arm out of the Alchemist's chest, leaving his now-lifeless husk of a body to collapse ungracefully onto the floor.
  797. <DrEvilKitteh> “I think that's the last of him,” the gumiho states, teeth bared in an evil grin and tails swaying about.
  798. <DrEvilKitteh> “Lin, any more contacts?” inquires Walter of the Beacon.
  799. <DrEvilKitteh> Apart from the party, there were no other contacts. No weirdness in the area around them, no distortions, no creepy ink attacks, /nothing/.
  800. <DrEvilKitteh> This stays true all the way to the Temple's front doors.
  801. <DrEvilKitteh> For once, everything really is clear.
  802. <Tangent> "...Good riddance." Amelia mutters. She stays close to Alexa- shooting her friend anxious looks...when she's not on the look-out for any other nasty surprises, anyway. She just wants this to be over.
  803. <Jran-Kri> With the brief, final fright resolved without ceremony, Alexa seems in a considerably better mood. She sticks close to Amelia -- /very/ close, brushing up against her quite often. "W-w-well. Um. Th-that's, ah... Yes, th-th-that's a-a-all w-w-we c-c-came h-h-here to d-d-do, r-r-right?"
  804. <Jar Mimic> “Oh, was that the last of him? Shoot. I wanted to see if he had a soul to eat. I still feel a bit weak. Maybe I should have gone and crushed him with Amelia instead of just laughing. Oh well! I’ll go check anyway!” As though nothing is wrong, and everything around them is currently normal, Rosemary walks--skips, really--on over to see. If he has one. A soul, that is. If it’s still hanging about anywhere and hasn’t just decided to go STRAIGHT to hell instead. And if she doesn’t find anything while sniffing around his first body, she continues to skip on over to the second. When she gets far enough away from the group, she looks back at them. These are really nice and cool people, these friends who have suffered beside her. Even if it means remembering all of the horrible things that have happened here, maybe thinking about these friends of hers won’t be so bad.
  805. <LeftHandofGod> "...Clear...clear. We're done, everything's...everything will be okay." Lin is saying it as much for her own benefit as for the benefit of everyone else present...then she sinks to her knees and heaves a relieved breath. "We're all...okay."
  806. <DrEvilKitteh> (Un)Fortunately for Rosemary (depending on your point of view), there is no lingering soul for her to gobble up. There's a couple whispers of...some kind of weird soulstuff that lingers on the fragments of the Alchemist's Core, but she's unable to consume it. And it feels.../wrong/, somehow. Like an unidentifiable scent on the wind that puts one on alert despite not knowing why.
  807. <DrEvilKitteh> Once everyone's ready, the party continues on, going through the corridors to the main entrance of the Temple. The pile of dirt and crumbled debris that had fallen through the small opening between the doors is still piled high, but it's not too difficult to clamber up. At the top, it's a simple matter to slip through the opening and exit the Temple.
  808. <DrEvilKitteh> For just a second, after she exits the Temple, Lin thinks she sees a standing shadow out of the corner of her eye. When she blinks, it's gone. There's nothing else on her tattoo map, either. Probably just a trick of the light, or the result of a lingering sunspot from looking at something bright.
  809. <DrEvilKitteh> On the outside, the skiff they'd taken to the Temple is immediately visible, still resting where Walter had parked it. Sigmund is there too, a thin, hunched form that's either sleeping or dead. It's the former, they find out, as Sigmund stirs slightly when he hears them approach.
  810. <DrEvilKitteh> The old man's voice issues forth through the speaker, crackling out a question: “Is it done?”
  811. <DrEvilKitteh> “The Alchemist is completely dead,” Walter answers. “...And we have a souvenir.” Emerald eyes slide over to Lin and the sundial which she bore. “The Alchemist wanted it very badly. Thought it was his key for ascending to godhood.” He shakes his head. “I still have no idea what it is.”
  812. <DrEvilKitteh> Sigmund nods gravely, milky eyes blearily drifting from one person to the other. “I cannot say what it is, only that it must be kept safe. Above all else, the Nine must /never/ get their hands on it. If the Alchemist was willing to cross them in order to take the...'souvenir' for himself, it is dangerous indeed.”
  813. <DrEvilKitteh> “...Right.” Walter sighs and flips a few switches to activate the skiff again. “Everyone buckle in, I'm taking us out of this place.” He cranes his neck to look around the excavation crater, and upon finding the best path out, starts piloting the skiff across the lumpy, uneven ground in that direction.
  814. <LeftHandofGod> Lin nods slowly, eyeing the little sundial in her hand. Her eyes travel over her vest briefly, then she plucks a spare magazine from one of the pouches on the front, and tucks it in by the gnomon. The dial pushes the pouch out at an angle, but it doesn't appear as though the dial is in any danger of falling out.
  815. <LeftHandofGod> “Then I will keep it safe from any who come for it.” Sharp eyes glance from one group member to another, daring them to challenge her over it.
  816. <Jran-Kri> Alexa's attention, too, is on the sundial, and she leers over Lin's shoulder to consider it. She cringes back when Lin's gaze falls upon her, and she merely nods once, grimacing.
  817. <Jran-Kri> "A-a-ah, I-I-I'm s-s-sure y-y-you'll t-ta-take good c-c-care o-o-of it," she agrees, her head swivelling to watch the scenery blow past. "I-i-it's n-no b-buh-business o-o-of m-mine. W-w-wash m-m-my h-ha-hands of the wh-wh-whole thing."
  818. <Jar Mimic> After realizing that neither of her Malcom Ists were even fit to eat, the flesh doll decides to give each one an extra stomp for good measure. Right on the parts that didn’t taste good. “Blech! Too gross.” Of course, after that, she follows her group right out, boarding the skiff right along with them. And when the topic of the sundial comes up again… “If it’s that dangerous, I’ll make sure that I crush it into a million pieces once I get back to full strength! No one will ever have to worry about this obviously evil and dangerous sun dial again. I’ll make sure it never hurts anyone else the way it hurt us.” If she thinks much of that assertion, she doesn’t show it. Once she’s all buckled in, Rose just lays her head back and enjoys being in the sunlight. Her eyes close peacefully.
  819. <Tangent> "Could just melt it... Not like it'd be missed." Amelia grumbles, meeting Lin's gaze unflinchingly. But at the same time, Amelia doesn't seem too inclined to push the matter. Her fire's died down a bit, and after a long moment she shrugs and leans into Alexa instead, hugging her partner. "Hey, Alexa... You want a break after this?"
  820. <Jran-Kri> Alexa returns the hug eagerly, her staff disappearing in a flash of red light to let her wrap her arms around Amelia's stomach. She presses up against the other girl, resting her chin on her shoulder. "Th-th-that, um, y-y-yes. Th-that'd. B-b-be. N-n-nice. J-just th-the t-t-two o-of us."
  821. <DrEvilKitteh> “That's a bad idea,” Sigmund and Walter say in unison. The latter continues with “We don't know what it is or what could happen if it's destroyed. If it /can/ be destroyed. So for now we keep it secure and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.”
  822. <DrEvilKitteh> The journey out of the excavation site is quiet and uneventful. The automatons and machinery around them are still dead, the factory above is still a smoking crater, and the stronghold overlooking the excavation site is still an inert piece of imploded mass. Nothing else moves, save for the occasional flicker of a building or street or sign as it shifts into something slightly different, as is the norm in the Overcity.
  823. <DrEvilKitteh> As no one is prepared to take one of the trains heading back in the direction of the Wand and Circlet, and Walter's other pattern buffers had been damaged beyond easy repair, the group has to content themselves with simply driving there in the skiff.
  824. <DrEvilKitteh> Although it takes several hours to even get close to the pub, there's not a hint of trouble on the way. No monsters, no aggressive city geometry, nothing like that. Everything goes smoothly for them. A welcome change in pace, all in all.
  825. <DrEvilKitteh> ...Eventually, they spot something on the road in front of them, and Lin's tattoo map registers two friendly contacts. The contacts remain where they are, waiting for the skiff to draw near.
  826. <DrEvilKitteh> Walter slows and draws his revolver in preparation.
  827. <DrEvilKitteh> In short order, the party are able to see the two unknown contacts quite clearly.
  828. <DrEvilKitteh> One is a pale girl with wavy snow-white hair, sky-blue eyes, and a pleasant smile on her face. She's also wearing a maid outfit, recognizable as being the uniform of a Wand and Circlet waitress.
  829. <DrEvilKitteh> The second is a rotund man that towers over the girl. A shock of white hair tops his head that matches his beard. He has several utility pouches on a wide belt and bandolier, goggles with many additional lenses of varying color and magnification over his eyes, a rucksack full to bursting slung over a shoulder, heavy-duty boots, and thick gloves on his bear paw-like hands. All in all, the man looks like a Mad Scientist version of Santa Claus.
  830. <DrEvilKitteh> “Hello~,” the pale girl greets the party once they get within earshot. “We've been expecting you. For quite a while, now.” Mirabelle's smile turns a little warmer, especially once she spots Rosemary.
  831. <DrEvilKitteh> “'bout time ya got out o' there,” grunts Ezerbe, sounding as gruff as he looks. “Tho' ya migh'a perished fer a moment 'ere.”
  832. <DrEvilKitteh> “We will escort you to the Wand. 'Tis not far!” Mirabelle takes to the air. “Come, I shall bring you up to date en route.” In the meanwhile, Ezerbe pulls out a dingy, cobbled-together looking moped from his rucksack (somehow) and drives it alongside the skiff.
  833. <DrEvilKitteh> They had been absent for a while, Mirabelle tells them. It wasn't long ago that Morgan and the other survivors of the Alchemist's experiments had materialized in the Wand, bringing with them a story of their rescue at the party's hands. Rather, the story had come about a week after they'd arrived, once someone had resynchronized their personal timelines. A weird situation, that. The six girls had then been brought to Valentina Botticelli's clinic at the Lair for further healing and recovery, where they are still located.
  834. <DrEvilKitteh> That took place roughly a month ago, and they'd set out on this quest about a month-and-a-half before then, relative to the Wand's stable zone chronology. Talk about lost time...
  835. <DrEvilKitteh> But at least they haven't been gone for a lot longer, like a year or more.
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