Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Emeth
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Mission 1 - A Unique Opportunity

Its wings are an deathly omen; the sky is its dominion, the earth its macabre canvas.
With claws dipped in bloody slaughter, it paints the future of man most hopeless.
Learned leaders strong and proud beat their breast and are given over to madness.
Widowed women wail as children are snatched away, and warriors left headless.
—Chronicles of Degrasse, Volume VIII: The Three Kings




Frederica Simonova: Juggernaut, First Class. Star pupil of Brionac Academy, and darling of the people of Agartha. Serves hero sandwiches in the cafeteria, and knuckle sandwiches in the field. The weight of these expectations did not slow the young woman down as she ran down the cobblestone streets of the middle-class district she lived in, a long blue ponytail and droplets of sweat trailing behind her. As she rounded a corner and passed a group of children waiting to take the cable car to school, she held out her right hand—and without fail, the supervising adults and taller children held out their hands and high-fived her all in a line. A row of smiles, and a few "good mornings," the same as every day—but something was just a little off. The mood was just that small bit dampened by something. Must be the news, she figured.

"Please be advised: if you see any unusual shapes in the sky, report to your local authorities. If at any time you feel unsafe, please remain indoors," was the only message playing publicly. Privately, on the medium-exclusive communication network, there was a message about a unique training opportunity at Brionac Academy, and that any interested parties (and Frederica Simonova, who was mentioned by name) should (and in Frederica's case, will) please report to Executive Elpidio's office at 6 AM. She couldn't help but feel that these two announcements would be related somehow.

As Rika entered the upper-class part of Agartha where only mediums and their families lived, uneven cobblestone gave way to level ground and smooth bricks, rows of tightly-packed apartments became modest mansions, and lines of cheerful schoolchildren offering high-fives were replaced with solemn uniformed guards giving salutes. These were the things that made the city's expectations on Frederica feel weighty. It all just screamed "work," and she would be eternally grateful to her mother for insisting her daughter not be made to grow up surrounded by it all. She tried not to look at any of it, instead locking her eyes on the biggest building in the district, visible even from the gates, and making a beeline down the straight-shot road to it. You couldn't miss it. It was an awfully pompous-looking building, at least on the outside, with the look of a temple straight out of ancient Athens.

She would be finished with her morning run the moment she walked onto the property. Such inelegant behavior from a graduate of the Academy would not be tolerated outside of the designated areas. Now, her body language had to match the uniform. Quickly checking her pockets to ensure she had everything in order, Frederica walked up the too-big marble steps to the sliding glass doors and entered the sterile white halls, trying her best to look the part of a dignified warrior as she entered the nearest elevator and waited for it to take her four levels below the ground floor to a very small hallway leading to the large room with all of the armchair soldiers doing Daemon simulations instead of killing real demons in the field—such was the way Frederica thought.

Rika walked past all of the motionless, laid-back bodies with faces covered in VR visors, leaving them blissfully unaware of her presence as she again checked all of her pockets before entering the large office space dominated by a single feature: Elpidio's desk, and upon it, small-scale models of the city of Agartha, and the mountain range Agartha was built into, hand-made using data collected by Pioneers who had thoroughly explored the surrounding area. The mountains in particular were a valuable teaching tool, never failing to inspire awe in impressionable young students. Large cabinets also lined the room, filled with 3D-printed models of all kinds of monsters—some small, some quite large.

"Ah, Rika," Elpidio greeted pleasantly, peeking his blonde, bespectacled head from behind the mountain on his desk. "Twenty minutes early, as usual I see."

"You know I had plans today," Rika responded, trying not to sound too annoyed. Whatever this was, it wasn't his fault. "What's this about?"

"Oh, you're gonna love this story, trust me. Best if we wait for others to come first, though," he said as he again busied himself with his toys.

No one's coming, Rika thought to herself, slumping back in a chair with her boots on a nearby table, all of her manners flying out the window along with her patience. Why risk life and limb when you can play Elpidio's video games? she thought—and indeed, she was right. Anyone following her through that door would be a uniquely dedicated and talented character. Well... they would certainly at least be unique.
Hidden 5 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Ryik
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Ink
Mornings suck.

Were it Ink's prerogative, this would be his cue to go back to sleep. The eye-piercing blues of the fake sky above Agartha are just starting to roll in through the overdramatic orange-purple sunrise, bleeding against it from the opposite end of the fake sun peeking over a horizon that doesn't exist. It's pure artifice, and it makes him feel grumpy, if not downright angry, every damn time. He's not one to tout the supposed inherent value of that which is au naturel, but if the sun is supposed to be either aesthetic or utilitarian in nature, why did they choose to replicate the fact that it's a blinding ball of fiery hate?

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if Ink wasn't trapped in a vicious cycle of inconsistent sleep schedules. His circadian rhythm was like a sundial on a cloudy day that grew limbs and started breakdancing. At this point he doesn't question what woke him up or why he's tired anymore, he just accepts that waking up at times determined by roulette wheel is his new normal. Today he had the misfortune for it to land on the tender hour of 3 am, which called for extra coffee in his morning mug full of milk and sugar. He considered a shot of vodka while he's at it, but wouldn't you know it, he's all out. "i'Ll BuY mOrE lAtEr" he muttered, mocking his past self. Truly, that guy is an asshole.

After burning a couple of hours starting his day, lazily consuming literally cursed sour candies and rewriting the hastily scribbled notes he made yesterday, he got up and out, ready to begin the herculean task of existing in a public space.

Ink wasn't famous per se. Among mediums, sure, his abilities and position were unique enough that they stood out if nothing else, but for most of the middle and upper class, he was more infamous than anything. In some ways it was nice. He seemed to inspire dead silence as he walked by others, a simple glance more than enough to kill the gossip on their lips, though that might be because his resting bitch face is worse than he thought. Either way, it was some much-needed peace and quiet. He gets more than enough judgmental word vomit from the many enemies he's made and/or spontaneously acquired. Really hard to remember which is which at this point.

Brionac Academy is an ostentatious beast of a building. Ink was once told it felt like sacrilege for him to even step foot on the premises ever since his so-called 'fall from grace', which to some is just when he left the Lysander family and abandoned the Paladin tradition, and to others was when he decided to become a Sorcerer even though he's incapable of casting a single spell. Maybe it's just his habit of summoning a bag made from the fossils of dead angels in order to eat candy in such a professional setting that ticks people off. It's still better than a smoking problem, in his opinion. At the end of the day, Elpidio needs his unique 'talents' for the daemon program, so all the petty bullshittery and empty legal threats tend to slide off him like water off a duck's back.

Ink walks through the front doors with his usual nonchalance, through the elevators, down towards Elpidio's office. He's taken the same route many times already, never interacting with much of the rest of the Academy and its facilities. It's routine at this point, just like the way that one medium's bag of gummies mysteriously vanishes while he's in VR, no matter how bad of a curse he places on them to catch the thief. It's his own damn fault at this point, really, he doesn't even try to hide them.

As he tosses the rest of the bag into his angel fossil hammerspace, he opens the double doors to Elpidio's office and is met with a bunch of familiar and unfamiliar faces. Frederica Simonova, former vanguard, first class juggernaut and darling protector of Agartha, a reoccurring name when his father compares him to other mediums, though he's never met her personally. Fire girl, first class valkyrie, someone he's almost certainly worked with before but probably not someone he's actually ever spoken to. Finally, there's some girl he doesn't recognize who was wearing not one but two articles of sleeveless upper body clothing, just to show off the tattoo on her arm. He begins to think he's intruded on either Elpidio's harem or a collective sexual harassment complaint when Elpidio says, "Ah, Ink. You're just in time. Lock the doors, will you?"

Ink didn't exactly like where this was going, but in his moment of hesitation, the three girls didn't seem interested in stopping him, so he did as he was told before walking across the room, producing the notes he was asked to take and presenting it to Elpidio. "As you requested."

"Ah, thank you, this will help greatly. Say, why don't you stick around, Ink? I've got quite the story to tell you."

Blissfully unaware of the message sent on the Maji-nEXT he keeps breaking, Ink walks ass-backwards into Elpidio's trap as he comes to lean against one of the cabinets full of plastic monsters lining the wall. "Sure, I'll bite. What's going on?"
Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by DracoLunaris
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Angela Degrasse


Angela rolled over in bed, smacked her alarm clock to cease its impertinent ringing and then, upon hearing some groaning coming from the rest of the bed, flicked a hand and made it so that last night’s company had never even heard the alarm in the first place.

She could deal with them later.

Instead, as she slipped out from under the covers of her queen sized bed, out of the room and headed down stairs where she encountered the other half of last night’s consequences. No, not the half tidied remains of the party she’d hosted, which consisted mostly of cocktail glasses and various lovely little things on sticks (and if she was being honest, there ha been far more consumption of cocktails than there had been of things on sticks, as delightful as those where), strewn across the main room of her lovely mansion. Nor was it the disheveled pair of young gentlemen currently being ushered out the door. It was instead the person who had done the tidying and the ushering who was going to be full of consequences.

“Ah, I see you're awake. Good. I was about to come up and stab you with a broom handle, but I am glad I wont have to deal with any more of your company quite yet” the woman, who shared Angela’s fiery red hair that on her contrasted marvelously with her black and white uniform, said as she used said broom to eject the last of last night’s party attendants who hadn’t headed home last on their own accord (or found their way to her room).

“And a good morning to you, Celia” Angela greeted her maid and (second)cousin and then asked “To what do I owe the pleasure of your ire?” the answer to which she received via an eye roll before the maid returned to the task of tidying up after her medium.

Angela had the good graces to look a little guilty for all of half a second. But only half a second. Tidying up was her maid's job after all, so the only ‘help’ she provided was picking up and nibbling on a nearby cheese on a stick, cringing a little at how it tasted after being out all night, and then asking “So where is breakfast”

“Went cold half an hour ago” Celia replied, before glancing over and seeing the confusion/dismay on Angela’s face and reminding her “Grandma wanted you to look into Executive Elpidio’s call, remember?”

“Urrrgh. That weirdo?” she groaned

“That important weirdo” Celia replied pointedly, not looking away from her cleaning duties as she spoke with her.

“Yes yes. I know.” Angela sighed, and then took a deep breath in the last of the dreariness from just having woken up finally cleared itself. She had quite forgotten the note she’d covertly received from grandma via Celia about this very thing last night during her party up right up until this very moment. Or more accurately she had shoved it aside in her mind and indulged herself as much as possible yesterday after finding out about it. Enjoying the finer things in life as much as she could in the limited opportunity that she could.

Theoretically she could have ignored the call and gone back to bed, the consequences of which would be getting an earful from grandma at some point down the line (which was by no means a minor thing, but still) however her maid had very straightforwardly already struck at the heart of the matter.

The Executive was important. He was changing things. Making history.

She couldn't not be there for whatever secretive request he had.

She let out the breath she’d taken and then clapped her hands “Right then. Let’s get to work” (to which Celia reliped by pointing she’d already been at it for an hour thank you very much.)




What followed was the fastest and most efficient morning routine the pair of Degrasses could muster (assisted by micro rewinds of time reversing any mistakes) as they transformed the bed head and slightly hungover Angela into the prim and presentable Lady Firestarter. A light, quick but nutritious breakfast was served up after she apologized for squandering the first. Then every inch scrubbed and moisturized, makeup was carefully applied, hair and eyelashes lightly trimmed just so, nails painted, lipstick applied.

15 minutes before 6, the young woman stepped out the door of her lovely abode, adorned in a lovely flowing orange and pink highlighted dress, which covered the form fitting fire retardant combat gear and the angel bone corset that Celia had tightly secured (perhaps just a little tighter than was necessary today) around her waist. Leaving her stately home in the ever capable hands of her maid (whom she had promised she would return as she always did, because there was a close bond there, even if today they had grated a bit on each other. Last night's company got no such farewell) the Medium set off through the beautiful styled streets of the upper district, heels clacking against the smooth brick road, trading nods or sometimes even brief warm words with the ever present soldiery.

She was in her element up here. The same could not be said of any of the others she found had also answered the call. Outsiders each and every one of them. Not that was necessarily a bad thing.

The Frederica Simonova, was someone she knew. Of course, who did not know of the people’s hero these days, she was a rising star after all, but Angela remembered the reserved and quiet girl she’d shared a year group with before the cave. She’d been among those who she had assumed wouldn't go anywhere, but my, what a transformation she’d undergone. It wasn't exactly hard to guess what she’d wished for, but Angela was still impressed by the will it must have taken to enact the change that had overcome her. Also a touch of jealousy/disdainful for her effortlessly acquiring what Angela had worked for, all the while snubbing the lifestyle of most Mediums by living in the lower city, as if she was morally superior to them.

She didn't recognized the tattooed punk who came next, and that, coming from someone who made it her mission to know everyone who was anyone, was saying something. A pioneer perhaps, or maybe even that secret class she’d heard whispers about through her information network (and by information network, she meant her family. But “information network” sounded more suave so that’s what she thought of it as). Someone to keep an eye on. She didn't particularly care for her fashion sense however.

Finally, arriving after her, was Incurro II Lysander who she recalled for two reasons. First, because her extended family had experienced a great deal of schadenfreude from the fall of one of the other great Medium lines their last hair being a black sheep had/would inevitably cause, and second, because his arrival brought up a memory of seeing the man simply stride through one of her burning battlefields as if it was nothing.

A very mixed bag over all. She let none of her thoughts get out however, simply greeting them with “I am Angela Degrasse, it is delightful to meet you all” before turning her attention to the toy collecting executive and saying “and yourself as well Executive Elpidio. To what event do I owe the pleasure of this meeting?”

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Rika had to try not to look visibly relieved that Angela had introduced herself, as she was obviously someone whose name was worth knowing, and she hadn't memorized. Things like names, dates, history in general, and anything deemed culturally "important" by the general public seemingly refused to stick in her mind, but thankfully, she came across as more air-headed than insensitive or rude. She also tried not to look happy or surprised that not just her but two others had joined the briefing. Four people wasn't much, but it was better than going alone—which, given the nature of the message, she'd had to assume.

"You know me," she said casually and tried to end it there, but in the tone she said it, it sounded like there should be more. Instead of continuing, though, she just grinned sheepishly. She hated introducing herself, not just because of how unnecessary it was most of the time, but during the few times it did turn out to be necessary, it proved difficult to jog their memory without making it sound like she was bragging—so instead, she tried to change the subject. "Uh, yeah! What are we doing here, Doc?"

Elpidio clapped his hands twice, dimming the lights. "Our story begins... with cattle mutilations!" he began dramatically.

"I knew it!" Rika interrupted, instantly at the edge of her seat and unable to restrain herself from pointing at her former professor. "It WAS aliens!"

"No," Elpidio replied, bursting her bubble immediately. "Though it does involve mysterious shapes in the sky, cattle mutilations, and monster folklore, so I can see how you'd come to that conclusion," he added to soften the blow. "I'm sure you all know Ern and Darrel, the brothers who oversee what little livestock we have down here in Agartha. Well, you may have heard through the rumor mill about their cows being mysteriously killed, and in a few cases, poisoned," he said as he looked at Angela, who seemed the most likely to have heard a rumor. "That is, at best, destruction of property, and at worst, a poor attempt at getting poisoned meat onto the plates of mediums and their families. So, naturally, there was an investigation, and some suspects caught and arrested. They plead guilty to trespassing, but not guilty to all other charges, and they would have the court believe that they saw a monster, which hasn't been seen for hundreds of years, feasting on the poor bovines."

Rika didn't seem all that fazed by the potential political intrigue, or the monster of the week. It seemed more like she was wracking her brain over something unrelated.

"The plot thickens!" Elpidio said as he dramatically opened one of his cabinets. "I have here..." he said, turning around and presenting it. "A model of the beast. Rex Caelestis." He withdrew a gray gemstone from his pocket and held it to the model, causing an Artifice magic circle to appear. The model dragon came to life, and as Elpidio lifted it up in his hand, it took off and began soaring around the room, before landing on the table in front of Rika. It had a long, smooth, snake-like body and head, no visible eyes, and two large, vampire-like fangs sticking out of its mouth. Its back was green, its belly was black, and its scales were so tightly packed together that they couldn't be seen except from extremely close up. "Beautiful, isn't he? Now watch this," he said as he clapped again, bringing the lights back on. As the lighting changed, the color of the dragon also changed, with the green scales on its back becoming a brighter green, and its belly turning to a sky blue. "Its scales change color based on the time of day. Isn't it incredible?"

"So you want us to kill one of these and bring you its remains for data, right?" Rika asked, skipping ahead.

"Right you are, Rika!" Elpidio replied with the voice of a proud father—which, one could suppose, he was the closest thing Rika had to one. "Oh, right, the story!" he realized, taking his hands off the table and standing up straight. "Er, I mean, the briefing! Right, yes," he said, suddenly putting on more of a professional teacher's voice. "Rex Caelestis is one of the Three Kings—the three most powerful monsters to have ever been slain by man. Nobody believed their story until the brothers themselves corroborated it after they saw it too... and tracked it into the crystal mines, found its nest, and torched it," Elpidio added as though it were the punchline to a joke.

"They did what?!" Rika blurted out, eyes wide with disbelief.

"Crazy rednecks, right?" Elpidio said with a smile. "Thankfully, nobody has been hurt, yet—but with its nest torched, it has nowhere to settle. So, we have a potentially dangerous beast flying around, camouflaged against the skies of Agartha—but we have the upper hand, because it's only a juvenile, and its been badly burned. It'll be no match for first-rate mediums such as yourself. It's truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said excitedly.

Rika rubbed her temple with her non-armored hand in annoyance. It was becoming increasingly clear that this was more or less a personal favor being dressed as an official mission—but, as the model dragon flew at her and landed on the back of her hand, she looked at it, and found herself thinking that she'd like to do this. It wasn't a bigshot demon or anything; killing it in its weakened state wouldn't prove much, either to herself or to anyone else, and she wasn't terribly interested in adding a new boss to Elpidio's game—but, she did owe him a lot, and it was a danger to the public that had to be taken care of by somebody. If her mother knew that she was letting that thing fly around so that they could spend her day off together, she would probably shoo her out the door. Well, that settled it.

"Alright, I'll finish off your legendary monster for you," Rika agreed coolly, standing up and kicking her chair into its place beneath the table in one smooth motion.

"Excellent! Any other takers?" Elpidio asked as the model beast began belching a harmless black smoke at Rika's face.
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Angela Degrasse


”Yes, I suppose I do” she replied to Rika’s ‘introduction’, scrunching her nose for just a tick at the use of her fame in place of exchanging names as would be polite.

While her response was entirely accurate, because obviously anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention to the movers and shakers in the city knew who she was, it came off as bragging just as much as Rika thought the redundant act of actually giving her name would. More perhaps, in Angela’s opinion.

Said opinion of Rika had certainly gotten dropped by her first impression, but it then got rapidly confused by the rest of her behavior during the briefing, which reflects a lot more on her vague understanding/memory of an awkward pre-void Rika than it did the mental picture she had of the person who had come out and claimed glory and fame in spades.

The immediate leaps from her introduction to looking awkward right after saying it and then finally shouting about aliens in the span of a few moments threw the noble posturing lady for an absolute loop, that was for sure. Several loops. An entire roller-coaster of loops. She could not make heads or tails of it.

She quickly resolved that she had to figure this woman out, and if doing so hadn’t sold her on going along on a monster hunt with her, then the target certainly did.

”A Rex Caelestis?” she echoed upon hearing its name, before clicking her fingers a few times, which sparked like a flint and tinder as she tried to call up a memory and then with a final snap that ignited a brief and tiny flame on the end of her finger when she recalled that ”I remember that one! I think it was Reed Shelley and his Arch Wardens that slew the last one to be seen, yes? That was quite the deed.”

It had been a rather riveting the tale when she found records of it while doing her 'historical research', or a story of it (likely highly embellished but that was in some ways part of the fun) to be more accurate. You had to be a real legend to take one of the three kings on.

Or, apparently, a pair of rednecks.

”Good grief, how... Stupidly brave of them” she commented upon hearing about them burning out it’s nest with a mix of horror, amusement and genuine approval of their absurd deed. How that all went down was a story she’d want to hear from the mouths of the actors if she ever found the time, that was for sure.

Still despite their daring, the evicted dragon was still out there somewhere, hiding against the sky, and Elpidio wanted it hunted down. She only put together Rika’s words and the man’s attitude together into seeing this mission was being done/requested like this (rather than by, say, an actual member of the military chain of command) so Elpidio had first dibs on the corpse and combat data later down the line for his vr training, but that wasn't particularly important/detrimental to her desire to go even when she eventually got it.

Right now she had the script of a tale featuring a legendary beast (young and wounded yes, but you could embellish these things a little) at the side of a very important Medium that she could try and get her hooks into, or at least an understanding of, laid out in front of her.

There was little question as to whether she’d play a part in it or not.

”Well I certainly can't let Agartha’s darling risk her neck on her lonesome can I? So of course I will come and help finish the job” she added a few moments after Rika had stood up, elegantly rising to join her, a wisp of fire flashing around flourished fingers when she mentioned finishing the job, silently promising that if the dragon thought the farmer’s fire had hurt, then it was in no way prepared for the Lady Firestarter.
Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Ryik
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Ink
'One of the Three Kings' he says. 'Most powerful monsters to have ever been slain by man', he says.

Elpidio is a practiced con artist. Intentional or not, he has a tendency to overstate his own excitement when it comes to monsters. To begin with, his description of the Three Kings has 2 qualifiers, along with a level of uncertainty. His own words of praise imply that stronger demons have been slain, and that not only are there stronger monsters out there, but the monster he's asking them to take care of is already well-trodden ground. Furthermore, with abilities like Ink's own out there, the phrase 'most powerful' becomes a lot more subjective, and to top it all off, there's no guarantee that the statement in question is correct at all. Plenty of mediums don't have the luxury of having the circumstances of their death verified. All in all, there's zero reason to buy into Elpidio's 'for glory' pitch, which is just as well since Ink doesn't give a rat's ass about fame or recognition.

What kind of name is Rex Caelistis anyway? It's true that most monsters don't get popular names, and thus end up with whatever latin mess Elpidio or other cryptozoologists slap on them, but Ink knows enough about the names of dinosaurs and RPG characters/settings that never stop getting sequels to know that it means 'King of the Heavens'. It's the kind of name that screams 'exaggerated myth', or alternatively, 'Elpidio wants to market the latest addition to the daemon program in the most over-the-top manner possible.' Either way, it's stupid, and Ink decides he's calling it the flying chameleon from now on.

Setting aside Ink's motive to participate, it's hard to tell if this is even a job for him to begin with. A lot of monsters use magic to avoid the issues inherent in biological systems. Snakes have to control the amount of venom they inject because if they don't, they'll run out of it and can take quite a while to replenish their supply. Dragons are especially suspect because some of them use specialized organs instead of magic. Magic is almost universally a more logistically sound option, but since they're conceived through completely mundane animals, it's impossible to know until a magic circle forms... or doesn't.

"This doesn't seem like my kind of job."

Elpidio immediately interjects. "Au contraire, I think it's the perfect job to add to your resume, if only to flaunt it in the face of your detractors."

Ink responds in a monotone voice, completely expressionless. "My 'detractors' can go suck a dick."

"How about doing it for your career?"

"I'm fine where I am, thanks."

"Then, for the good of Agartha?"

"Elpidio, you're acting like this is the first time we've met."

"I'm just messing with you. I'll have a box of the usual delivered."

It's about what Ink was expecting. "Throw in a bottle of Vodka while you're at it."

Elpidio gives him a wry smile. "Not enough on hand to go day-drinking with?"

Ink puts one hand over his chest in an exaggerated manner, feigning offense. "Why, I'd never! Alcohol upon a Paladin's lips? Obviously it's a necessity for watering my houseplants."

"Do you even own any houseplants?"

"One. It's imaginary, and made of plastic."

"Marvelous."
Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by King Cosmos
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This had been a mistake.

That was Candice’s primary thought as she sat there, one of apparently only a few Mediums in the whole city who had bothered to answer the message about some kind of training opportunity. Either they knew something she didn’t or the message hadn’t been as widely spread as she had thought. She didn’t know much about Executive Elpidio it had to be said, one of the downsides of staying as far away from the city as she could as often as she could was not knowing much of what went on when she was away, so she hadn’t known what to expect upon arriving. Even so a quiet, closed door meeting in the executive’s office with only a handful of people was not high on her list; especially not when one of those people was the Blue bloody Bombadier.

That was a name even she knew and though the other two mediums in the room were unknown to her, they had the aura of people that had names that people cared to know.

For this mystery assignment to attract so small yet so illustrious a crowd, it was looking more and more like the kind of thing that might attract a lot of attention to those involved. The good kind of attention, the ‘job well done, we expect good things from you in the future’ kind of attention, the ‘hey I know you, you did that thing’ attention; that was to say the kind of attention that Candice usually tried to avoid.

The details didn’t make it any better. A dragon, a monster of such renown that it had a reputation and a name; killing one was apparently such a big deal that the last people to do so were remembered for their deed.

This had really been a mistake. Just end her now and be done with it.

One by one the other mediums in the room accepted the missions; some eager, one reluctantly. The executive had pushed the latter for an answer so hard that it didn’t seem like she would be able to turn this offer down so easily. Great. The eccentric bastard wasn’t going to take no for an answer it seemed.

Well, she wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

“If I do this, what’s in it for me?”
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"Excellent, most excellent," Elpidio praised in response to Angela's enthusiasm and background knowledge. Rika also smiled, glad that at least one of her comrades was genuinely glad to go. "If you know the history of the beast, I'm sure you're aware of its poisonous breath, which is why each of you will be receiving one of these," Elpidio said as he produced what looked like a pack of gum from the pocket of his lab coat. "Chewable antidote. It cursed both poison, and bad breath!" he japed, tossing the pack of five at Rika for her to catch. Rika was too slow to react, though, and the dragon caught it in his mouth instead. "Hey! Give it here," Rika demanded, grabbing the box and struggling to retrieve it without hurting Elpidio's animated plastic pet. The doctor whistled, calling it over, and it let go and flew onto his shoulder.

"What's in it for me?" the tattooed girl suddenly asked.

"I'll admit, when pitching this to the brass, I may have made it sound more dangerous than it really ought to be—so, naturally, those exceptional few Brionac graduates who still show the, how do you say, initiative, to take on an optional mission of this caliber, advertised as a humble little training opportunity... Well, that shows strength of character, doesn't it? Great opportunity for a raise, or perhaps a promotion," he said as he gave Rika a sideways glance while putting his now-immobile dragon back in the glass cabinet. "—and if gold doesn't appeal to you, Ern and Darrel will surely have some gratitude to show as well, even if a dinner party is not up your alley. Have you ever had their marbled steak? Oh, I'm sure you have, Miss Degrasse—the rest of you ought to give it a go; it's to die for." He smiled at the group, bowing as though to excuse himself. "Oh, I almost forgot. I've arranged it so that in about half an hour, the city's photosphere will switch to night mode. That should make the beast easier to spot, as its camouflage is based on its circadian rhythm. It will probably be flying above the Reese brothers' ranch, looking for another easy meal. I'm not sure what it will do once the sun disappears. If it's found a new nest, it may go into hiding." He bowed again, this time excusing himself for real. "You may use this room to get acquainted with one another and discuss battle plans; I'll be in the second floor library. Ciao!" he waved as he left the office, leaving the door locked behind him.

Rika looked around the room, eyeing her impromptu teammates. In typical Frederica fashion, she'd wanted to get moving as soon as the briefing was over, but Elpidio was right: they should at least have a plan for a mission like this, and having access to his office for that purpose was a luxury too good to pass up. They had a 3D model of the city right on his desk. Though, unfortunately, any cracks or ledges along the walls of the cave that their target could use for a den were not included—only the city itself.

"Well," Rika began, running her fingers through the hair on the back of her head as she tried to think of something to say. "My name is too long and fancy, so everyone calls me 'Rika," she explained, grinning. "Juggernaut, First Class, formerly a Vanguard... but I can still do the whole Vanguard thing, so you can count on me to protect everyone. Magic is spacey, y'know, asteroids, gravity, anti-gravity... people say I'm a bit spacey too," she said with a snicker. "—but reliable, y'know, like the sun, I guess. That's what people say," she added, clearly embarrassed.

"You're a Warlock, I guess? The fiery kind," Rika prompted, making finger-guns as she turned to Angela, eager to change the subject.
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Someone in her family had to have known what the deal with this little mission was, Angela assessed as she listened to the others being offered incentives to come onboard, as if protecting the city (and being able to brag about killing a rex) wasn't enough of a reward in and of itself. The fallen paladin being won over by booze was a touch appalling to Angela’s sensibilities (a somewhat hypocritical assessment given last night’s exessess, yes, but she did at least have the decency to keep the drinking to night time) but the fact that he too was on good terms with the director was very interesting.

As was the fact that Elpidio was capable of manipulating the brass to get more acclimation for the participants of the mission, something he used to try and convince the final member of this little meeting. Gold, accolades, dinner with important people. All fine, and apparently slightly undeserved, rewards.

Angela found herself nodding along to his comments about how good marbled steak was, and then briefly wondered how he knew that she knew what i was like. It could have been a guess made by him based on her demeanor, but Elpidio was showing himself to be quite a bit more cunning than her skin deep impressions/analysis of him would have given him credit. She had to wonder if the fame Frederica (or Rika as she mentioned preferring to be called) had acquired was built upon this man’s machinations, at least in part. She felt a brief moment of sourness and jealousy at that, before recognizing that she was being hypocritical. She had her ins after all, one that had gotten her here to this very opportunity.

Before she could start thinking about how to use this to her advantage however, there was the small matter of taking down a legendary beast standing in the way of the rewards and so once Elpidio had left them to their planning she focused her mind on that. It would be useful to at the very least know the parts the others could play, lest they run the risk of fatally tripping over one-another’s acts, so she was all for going over at least that rather than rushing in.

Rika began, and immediately gave them another dose of her personality and a basic rundown of her talents, before being cutely embarrassed by her own words and/or the memory of others praise and passing the torch to Angela while mistakenly (though understandably) identifying her as a Warlock.

”Valkyrie actually, though unlike many of my profession, I am more than capable of handling myself, so there will be no need to nanny me like the more conflict adverse among my kind’s ranks” she’d had to do a fair amount of babysitting herself so she knew exactly how much of a pain it was to keep a medium who’s wish had been entirely supportive alive in the heat of battle. It was imperative to her that they did not worry about such a thing when it came to her. Rika especially. It wouldn’t do to have the city’s leading lady leap to her defense when she was fully capable of handling a situation and for the former Vanguard to get hurt as a consequence. That would not be a good look.

Not that there wasn't some charm in having a shining knight leap to your aid but, as sad as it was, sometimes practicality had to trump style.

Sometimes.

”Indeed, being first class, I can give even the best warlocks a run for their money when it comes to magical destruction, though my talents lay a tad more in the desolation of hordes than singular targets I’ll admit. Show me a legion of goblins and I’ll show you a burning desert full of naught but magic stones” she said as she cocked her head to one side as she thought over what exactly in her somewhat die toolkit could help out in this specific encounter.

”As for how I can help, I can fix you all up on the fly, though it will burn a little more than the usual brand of magical resuscitation, and I can't keep stitching you back together forever like some of the more specialized Valkyries. Fortunately I also have a few tricks to help make sure we don't get hit in the first place, either by giving our foes a lightshow they won't forget or giving you a second chance through a little time manipulation.” Something she’d need to give them a chance to try out before using it in a life or death situation. The first (and sometimes second, third, fourth or more) reshoot could be rather disorientating, or so she had found.

”I also have an attention getting little number that might come in handy for baiting this dragon down into a confrontation, if we can spot him and then make him spot me in turn” she offered, giving them the beginnings of a possible plan before glancing over at Ink and passing the baton to him by asking ”How about yourself, Mr Lysander? You are, if I recall correctly, a sorcerer, yes? What can you bring to the table?”
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After watching Rika trip over her own fame and flounder for an introduction, she passed the baton off to Angela, who spent most of it tooting her own horn, explaining why she was better than other Valkyries. Although her opinion of herself seemed to be sky-high, she hadn't began openly berating Rika for her awkward brand of arrogance, nor himself for casually admitting that the protection of Agartha meant little to him, as opposed to a box of otherwise unobtainable candy, augmented by magic, and a bottle of Vodka. Maybe she was just being amicable and quietly hated their guts, but it was always nice to be around magic specialists.

"Mr. Lysander is my father," he said with ambiguously insincere demureness. "Call me Ink. I don't know if you've heard any of the rumors about me, but I'm not exactly a model Sorcerer." As if to prove his point, he whips out his bag and pulls out a magic stone. "It's blessing magic, so don't freak out." He holds it out in front of him as if trying to use it against the others in the room, and a magic circle appears. For a brief moment, everything seems to be going as usual, but then the magic circle cracks. It begins to violently vibrate as magic power begins to leak out, and the magic stone seems to start emitting smoke. Finally, the magic circle begins to glow, as if getting ready to explode. Then, all it once, it's gone, as Ink lowers the magic stone and stares at it in his hands. "No matter what, even with magic stones, I am completely incapable of magic. All magic. Even attempting it will literally blow up in my face. That's my curse." Ink brings the magic stone closer to his face. "However..." Ink tosses the magic stone into his mouth and begins eating it with a disturbing crunch. "Tastes like rock candy."

After he finishes eating the magic stone, he continues. "I eat magic, literally and figuratively. Healing magic, blasts of fire, disfiguring curses, I absorb it all. None of them have an effect on me, and I regenerate a bit based on magic I've absorbed. Basically, it's better to include me in your spells as collateral damage, if you can. The job description of a Sorcerer is a medium who counters magic used by the demon army, so I became one on a bit of a technicality. I used to be a Pioneer, but I don't like the taste of elixirs, so it wasn't a good fit..."

Subconsciously, his hand ended up on the back of his neck, a nervous tick he was consciously aware of but helpless to stop. He's had to give the basic rundown of his abilities many times before, but it always makes him feel awkward to explain himself like this. "Anyway, I prefer close combat. My weapon of choice is a cursed dagger that absorbs magic and uses it to curse enemies, so if you're wondering why an enemy is acting strange, it's probably because I stabbed them. A couple of the curses are broken if they get attacked, so use your judgement."

He tilts his head toward Angela. "Besides all that, I don't have anything to add. If you have a way to lure it into a trap, that seems as good a plan as any." He then turns to tattoo girl. "How 'bout you? Why don't you introduce yourself to the class?"
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So that was their offer? This mission had been reported as being more dangerous than it actually was, so the reward she would receive from up above was worth more than it should have been? The brass had their eyes on this mission so anyone who was involved in it was sure to rise up in their estimations.

Great.

There was leverage there to be sure. Leverage she could use to ask for anything she wanted, as long as she was willing to try and negotiate with the brass for it. A raise, a promotion; those were just the suggestions, there were sure to be other things she could ask for. Wealth, fame, status, luxury goods, attention, attention, attention; her family would love all of that. She could even use this situation to get an in with the higher-ups, get her name out there and introduce herself to some of Agartha’s major players. Maybe even earn herself a title to go along with all those other famous Mediums. She’d be famous.

After all, if she was responsible for killing one of these legendary three kings or whatever, wouldn’t her name be just as well-known as those others red had mentioned?

Fuck, this was terrible.

While she had been thinking the executive had gotten up and left the room with a bow and a wave, leaving Candice with no opportunity to respond to his ‘deal’ before he did. It didn’t escape her notice that the reward for slaying this monster was nothing more than some goodwill and the promise that maybe someone else would give her something in return.

Nothing, in other words.

What would happen if she just walked out the door right now? Nothing good, surely? She’d just had a face-to-face meeting with a fairly important man, been offered what he probably thought was an exceptionally good deal to accept a mission he clearly had a lot of personal investment in. If she walked out now, what would his response be?

Candice let out a sigh before mumbling under her breath. “Tsk. Didn’t even give me the chance to turn this down.”

She was in then; against her will, but what was new about that? She was going to fight a dragon. If Candice made if back alive, the first thing she was going to negotiate was making sure her name didn’t end up anywhere near an official report. There was no changing the fact that the executive and the three Mediums in this room knew she was doing this but if she had her way then that was where the spread of information would end.

One of those Mediums was talking to her now, asking her to introduce herself after they had all done the same. “Pioneer. I use earth and water. I hit things, I kill things and I take care of myself. Don’t use any of your spells on me.”
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As Rika listened to Angela explain her abilities, she couldn't help but feel that her second crack at an introduction had been just as much a failure as the first. Ink, too, was more verbose with his explanations, and even took a moment to introduce them to his curse. Although the effect was quite shocking, Rika couldn't help but admire his courage; most people weren't so forthcoming about their curse. Finally, the tattooed Pioneer provided no name, and a simple "I hit things." For a moment, Rika didn't feel so bad about her own lackluster introduction, but then she reiterated the point that Angela had introduced to the conversation. "I can take care of myself" was the tagline of the group so far; one of them even wanted to be included as "collateral damage." How was she supposed to make friends like this? Wait a minute, don't famous people usually get introduced by someone else, anyway?! she suddenly realized. Throw me a bone, Elpidio!

She smiled awkwardly. "Well, it seems like half the planning has been done for us. We go to the Reese brothers' ranch and wait for the brass to turn off the sun—Angela can get its attention and I can bring it down," she explained, as though the whole thing weren't absurd enough to say, let alone do. Well, at least she seemed confident, sliding the sticks of antidote down the table like drinks at a bar. Then, apparently deciding that any further discussion would just be a waste of time, she exited Elpidio's office, walking swiftly through the Daemon training room like she had a report to file on Monday. Her heart sank a little when she saw the elevator. Oh, God. This silence is so awkward. You're my only hope! Rika thought as she glanced across the elevator at Angela, who seemed to her like the only one who could carry a conversation that wasn't weird. "So, that dinner party is totally your scene, right? You're going? What else do you do for fun?"

With Angela's help, Rika was able to pass the time as they traveled on foot. The ranch, still in the high-class district of the city, was surrounded by brick walls. The armed guards on either side of the iron gate saluted as the group approached. "We're expecting you, Miss Simonova. Are they with you?" one asked. "Yep, these are my friends," Rika replied without missing a beat. As the gate opened, the group was met with a large grassy field, only made somewhat believable by the artificial sun overhead. Notably, there were no livestock present; they had presumably been moved indoors for the occasion. "A field from the surface, down here in the cave! This is so cool!" Rika exclaimed as she ran to the top of a nearby hill.

Looking down from the top of the hill, the scenery was suddenly marred by deep gouges in the earth, stained red with blood—a grim reminder of why they were there. Just as suddenly as the scene of the crime met their eyes, the artificial sun above them blinked out. "Routine maintenance of the photosphere system is underway. Please do not be alarmed. Service will resume shortly," echoed a message from the distant speaker system in the city. "Yeah, routine," Rika mocked, as with a flash of blue flame she summoned the by-now iconic Rising Star on her arm, and plopped down onto the slight incline of the hill. "And now we play Where's Waldo with the ceiling fungus," she remarked casually, arms tucked behind her head as if this were something she did every day. "I want to see the day that everyone can go stargazing on the surface like this," she said, without so much as a hint of added drama or flair as her eyes scanned the twinkling blue ceiling of the cave. "Not just mediums, but regular people—lots of them."

There were rumors that young Miss Simonova had her sights on the Demon Mother. What she said could carry serious weight, if indeed she was serious; it would mean the rumors were true. As far as anyone knew, nobody had ever seen the Demon Mother, let alone knew what she'd be capable of, aside from bringing all other evil beings into existence—and that, too, was hearsay. The enemy did not often speak of her; after all, if all of humanity's most dangerous enemy were effectively birthed from a single source, that might give them hope of eventually exterminating them all. "Anyone else got a cheesy wish like that? Or just me?" Rika grinned as she looked around at the other three.
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Ink
As the group made their way to the ranch, Ink remained in complete silence as Rika and Angela filled the aural void. He didn't really have anything to add anyway. He loved meat, sure, but he didn't have the refined palette needed to care about the difference between lab-grown versions and the 'real deal'. Meat is meat.

When they finally arrived, Rika lied, introducing them as her friends, and they had just enough time to admire the bloody gouges left in the field before the lights cut out and Rika decided that now was a good time to go stargazing. Fuck it, he wasn't going to let someone else claim his role as the team's biggest flippant underachiever, so he joined her, a ways away, on the grass, in the dark, staring up at the fake sky. He summoned the Inkwell and span it around idly in one hand as Rika waxed poetic about the genocide of all devils. Certainly, it would be nice to wipe out the only other intelligent race on the planet once and for all. Lord knows they're itching to do the same.

Rika then asked if the others had a wish like that. A bit personal to be asking when they're all mediums, and maybe she wasn't referring to the wish, but she just told them some version of her wish, so it only felt fair to reciprocate. "Honestly, I fucked up my wish. I asked for too many things at once and was too vague about all of them. In the end, the Jinns offered to cover different parts of my wish, and I ended up going with the one who was the most openly vindictive. I don't regret that choice though, since they're the only one who offered the part I cared about most." He paused for a bit, gathering his thoughts before deciding that he didn't want to mention more. Telling them that a part of his wish involved dealing with the demons implied that he didn't choose that as his priority. To this day, he's not sure, with certainty, what exactly the other Jinns would offer, but he can't say that combat ability was foremost in his choice. He went with a truthful yet vague statement instead. "It would be nice to live on the surface. The stars are harder to memorize out there."



As conversation died down, Ink decided he should make it clearer he was ready to fight. He prompted his teammate without getting up. "Whenever you're ready, Angela."
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Angela Degrasse


”Ink it is then darling” Angela replied/conceded effortlessly when her formal address was rejected with faux politeness. Then she rested her chin on her fist and leaned in just a little as the man explained his power with great detail, complete with a visual demonstration.

”That is indeed quite the unorthodox ability,” she commented once he had completed his ”and your thoroughness in explaining is very much appreciated. I think you and I might work very well together, even if I can't support you in a conventional manner. Plus I can get you a little chili and thyme to spice up your diet if you let me get the final blows” she joked with a pun.

The last member of their group was even more curt than Rika, and not out of awkwardness either. That said, the whole ‘dont use spells on me’ part was still informative, though Angela did have to ask ”How bad is blessing you exactly? Asking so I know whether healing you when you're in trouble is a justifiable inconvenience or a death sentence. I will, of course, leave you to your own devices otherwise if that is what you wish” as much as that complicated things for her.

Hit Ink with attacks, don't hit the nameless girl with support abilities. A lot of extra things to keep track of. At least Rika was’t going to be a problem in that regard, she incorrectly assessed.

Still, after the skill-set rundown it seemed that no-one else had much to add tactically, so it would be down to her to draw the beast’s attention, or so it seemed, while Rika casually spoke of bringing it down herself. She raised an eyebrow at that, but decided she’d simply let actions speak louder than words when it came time to do the deed.

Either way, the city's hero and their self appointed leader had decided it was time to go, so off they went, walking in an awkward silence that lasted all of the length of the corridor before Rika decided to strike up a conversation with Angela, something that she was more than happy to engage in to pass the time, and get to know the rising star a little better.

”Naturally. I can never pass up a dinner party, especially one with such prestigious hosts. How about yourself? I happen to host my own little sojourns from time to time if those are your thing?” she asked calculatingly conversationally at first, but as they made their way towards the farm the pair slipped into casual air filling about this and that. The shared words made Rika introducing the group as her friends to the guards a touch less presumptive/disingenuous for Angela at least, but only a touch.

She followed the excited woman up the hill with effortless grace despite wearing high heels in a field and joined her at the top as the artificial sun was forcibly set and the ‘stargazing’ began. The lady declined to sit on the grass like some of the others, as that would involve getting her dress dirty, and instead stood tall a little ways apart (so as not to loom over anyone) as she listened to the others speak of wishes.

She was… fairly certain that Rika had just been speaking about a wish (though one that was certainly telling about her ambition, and added credence to certain rumors Angel had heard about her) where as Ink took the opportunity to launch right into talking about his wish. Which was, frankly, a rather surprisingly intimate thing to share, or would have been if he hadn’t had most of the juicy stuff left out. Still, she noted it all to memory nonetheless and then spoke her own piece.

”To retake part of humanity's birthright would be a fine thing indeed” she said, agreeing to the desire to live beyond the dome before adding ”To play a part in its our reascension is all I could ever wish for”

The truth, in a humbled form.




Once things went silent Ink decided to ask her to do her thing to get the beast’s attention, a plan which had one minor flaw.

”I said I’d draw it in, not find it for you, so be a dear and keep those eyes peeled Ink” Angela replied, not taking her gaze of the darkened false sky, her tone faintly mocking rather than harshly admonishing as it could have been ”or have you been just admiring the stars this whole time, hmmm?”

There was a moment of silence before she had a thought changed her tune

”That said, I may have something that can help that part too. If we get a touch creative with one of my spells,” she said, before strolling up to the top of the hill and taking her place at its summit.

”The lights are dimmed, the stage is set, so now only one thing remains. Sinclair, if you could be a dear, turn on the spotlights so I can start the show?” she asked her Jinn, causing a magic circle to rapidly draw itself around her feet, and then flash to life and cause a bright beam of light to appear, illuminating her atop the hill.

Then another, and another and another, spiraling around and lighting up the lady like an actress on stage.

”Now, while I do so love being the center of attention, may I kindly ask you all to cast your eyes back to the skies?” she said down to the other three, who’s attention she had no doubt captured, while pointing up in the direction of the beams shining down on her. While one end as they spun around acting as spotlights that illuminating her as intended the beams also continued up and up and up, eventually striking the ceiling of the cavern where they roamed too and fro, acting as improvised searchlights.

”Come out, come out wherever you are, dragon prince! Aren't your kind supposed to be fond of kidnapping princesses and fair maidens?” she called out to the skies as she sought out the monster with her inverted limelights, the beams projecting her taunts to the heavens. She was, of course, neither princess (sadly) nor maiden, but she could play the part for the sake of the drama of it all ”Well I am right here, helpless and alllll alone, so why don’t come and get me? I assure you, I taste far better than the mere bovine you’ve been feasting on so far! But come quick, come quick, before they turn the lights back on! Surely you can snatch me up in the blink of an eye, hidden by the black of night? Or are you scared of a frail damsel like myself, hmmm?”
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Candice had hoped that her explanation was cut and dry enough that it wouldn’t prompt anymore questions, but that wasn’t the case. She was loathe to give these people any more details about herself than she had to and while ‘no spells’ was admittedly not much to work with, it pretty much covered how her curse worked. As much as she wanted to just stay quiet however, it was better to make sure Red here at least understood some of the particulars so she didn’t try to help only to make things worse.

“It depends on the kind of blessing.” Candice raised a fist, before extending her index finger. “Healing weakens me.” Her middle finger. “Strengthening me hurts.” And her ring finger. “And curing me of a condition just replaces it with something else.”

She closed her fist again, leaning her elbow on the arm of her chair before resting her cheek atop of her hand. “Just let me deal with healing myself. If it looks like I need help, just get whatever’s bothering me off of me so I can recover.”

----

The walk to the farmlands was quiet, at least on her part; the others engaged in some small talk, but while Candice kept an ear open to what they were saying she didn’t participate. Instead she focused on her own preparations for the fight to come, which for her mostly consisted of making sure her body was limber and her mind was alert; she had no equipment to prepare, no weapons or armour to check, just her. There were fewer things that could go wrong that way.

Once they were all prepared, Red used some kind of ability to light up herself and the night sky with huge spotlights. Candice’s eyes were drawn to the Medium almost against her will and she scowled when she was reminded to pay attention to the sky instead. She directed her eyes above, scanning the ceiling of the cavern for this dragon-thing so she could kill it and be done with this already.
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Rika turned to look at Ink in surprise—not that her face could be made out well in the darkness. Once again he had proven the most forthcoming, in spite of his attitude. She considered backpedaling, if it would be considered as such, and clarifying that she hadn't been asking about the wish of each medium present—but, she decided that it was fine if they thought that her wish had been about stargazing. It explained the comet-shaped shield on her arm equally as well as her actual wish, was much more straightforward, and apparently not as lame as she thought it might sound. "Thanks, you two," she replied with a grin. "Sometimes, it seems like everyone is content with their life down here, and nobody has any ambition. I know that's probably not true, but it's nice to actually hear it."

Then, their moment to indulge in the calm before the storm had passed. Angela wasted no time in making herself the center of attention, and Rika couldn't help but admire the boldness of the spectacle. As she stood up, she readied her shield and smiled. "No maidens will be kidnapped on my watch, fair lady!" she chimed in heroically, getting swept up into the act. Using the Rising Star to shield her eyes, she gazed up into the air and scanned the ceiling some more. Suddenly, she pointed back in the direction of the city with her free hand. "I think I see something!" she shouted excitedly, standing up on her toes.




Rika groaned as ringing filled her ears. As her head rolled limply on her left shoulder, her eyes slowly opened, unveiling the scene that was unfolding beneath her. Oddly, the first thought that occurred to her was that the friends she'd just made were now arguing, and she'd have to put a stop to that. It was only a moment later that she realized that the ground was now over a hundred feet below her, and as the ringing in her ears subsided, it became replaced by the thunderous sound of massive, flapping wings. Looking up, she saw the huge claws of the Rex Caelestis gripped tightly around the Rising Star, which may have just saved her head from being removed from her body. It became clear what her comrades were arguing about: if they tried to attack the dragon, they might hit her. She gazed at the creature with wonder and awe for a brief moment—until her close encounter with death fully sank in and the moment began to lose its magic a little. Studying it closer, she noticed that it was badly burned, which all but confirmed that this was their mark.

She also noticed that it seemed to be struggling to continue its ascent. "Oh, I'm heavy, am I?!" she scolded, igniting the thrusters of the Rising Star and causing the creature to shriek and let go in response to being burned. Rika rolled in the air a couple times before stabilizing herself and beginning to gain height faster than the pained and struggling dragon. "Thanks for the lift, snake-head!" she shouted as she redirected downward toward her target, slamming into it and dragging it all the way into the ground with a bright blue explosion that destroyed a section of the back wall of the ranch, sending bricks flying across the field some distance from her allies. As they approached the hole in the wall, they were greeted with the sight of Frederica standing atop the stunned beast, wiping sweat from her brow. Waving to her allies, she grinned from ear to ear. "I said I'd bring it down, yeah?!" she shouted proudly.

And bring it down she did. As motionless as the creature now was, one could be forgiven for thinking it was already dead—but as it began to stir and squirm beneath Rika's feet, the group had to face the reality that this beast was made of sterner stuff. Rika began slipping on the dragon's slick body and was forced to dismount, jumping behind the creature and out of view. As her allies rushed out the hole in the wall and ran out onto the brick road, the creature whirled its snake-like head to look at them—or at least, it turned to face them, but it had no visible eyes—something that was much easier to notice on the life-sized creature. "Hey! Fight something in your own weight class!" Rika taunted, causing it to whip back around and bear down on her.
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Ink and Angela

”I said I’d draw it in, not find it for you, so be a dear and keep those eyes peeled Ink” Angela replied, not taking her gaze of the darkened false sky, her tone faintly mocking rather than harshly admonishing as it could have been ”or have you been just admiring the stars this whole time, hmmm?”

There's a certain saying; 'better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.' It was very tempting to confirm that, yes, he was just admiring the stars, because you didn't specify a range, miss Angela. Just staring up at the sky covered most of the airspace above Agartha, technically, and if she needed the dragon to look back at her, all she needed was to create bright lights in the dark, which should be no problem for a fire mage. Well, either way, he didn't feel like getting into it at the moment. Not because he didn't want to start an argument with Angela right before taking on a dragon, but because not being omniscient unironically made him feel foolish. Such is human perception.

In any case, Angela went on to create a series of spotlights on herself, lighting up the cavernous sky like a search helicopter in reverse. So Angela doesn't mind finding it for everyone anyway, huh.

As Angela goes on to taunt the dragon, Rika assures her, in trite heroic fashion:
"No maidens will be kidnapped on my watch, fair lady!"

Rika then says she sees something and stands up before she is unceremoniously swooped off the ground in an instant by a fast-moving shadowy figure.

"...So, is Rika not a maiden, or...?"

"It's hardly polite to speculate darling" Angela Replied disdainfully, before hypocritically adding "though I can't imagine someone of her fame lacks for suitors."

Ink didn't miss the way she casually implied she was speaking from experience. He got up off the grass, dusting himself off. "Takes a celebrity to know a celebrity, huh, miss high society?"

"That it would", she replied shamelessly while pointing a glowing finger up towards the might or might not be maiden, trying and failing to line up a shot that wasn't at risk of blasting the subject of their conversation in the butt, before adding "why? Interested?" somewhere between tauntingly and teasingly

Ink obtusely feigns obliviousness. "In being a celebrity? No thanks. I already get too much attention doing jack shit." Seeing her try to aim at the flying Chameleon while Rika is still on board, Ink shakes his head. "Speaking from experience, I don't think you're gonna be able to avoid collateral damage."

Angela gave a truncated snort of a laugh at his artful dodging of her trap of a question, before listening to his advice on her aiming and then replying, "we can't simply lose the cities darling, now can we? I will have to try something if she doesn't get out herself soon." At which point, as if on cue, the rising star broke free from her captor's grip, which earned her an "ah, never mind, there she goes" from Angela as Rika and the dragon both fell from the sky.

Rika proudly announces that she brought the dragon down before getting its attention, seemingly granting the rest of them an easy opportunity to attack it from behind. Ink rushes forward, brandishing the Inkwell and attacking the dragon repeatedly, testing the durability of its scales.
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Despite claiming to be prepared, it seemed no body was ready for when the dragon actually attacked. Or maybe it was just that none of them were expecting the creature to swoop down as suddenly as it did and snatch the celebrity from amongst their number like a piece of cattle; one moment they were catching a glimpse of movement high up above, the next they were chasing after their prey while the blue armoured Medium dangled from its claws.

Candice lingered behind the others for a moment, taking the time before the battle truly began to cast a spell and get herself into shape. She held out a hand in front of herself with her palm facing the ground and a small magic circle appeared in the dirt beneath it; there was no incantation or fancy speech like Red had uttered, she simply stepped on the sigils and felt the effect wash over her. Instantly Candice could feel her body grow heavier, a little slower, but also stronger. She felt a connection to the ground beneath her feet, nourishing her and vitalising her.

She started running after the others, charging after the dragon that was even now crashing to the ground after Rika had managed to free herself.

Due to her late start she arrived to the fight after Ink, but before Angela, and rushed towards the downed creature to strike at it before it had a chance to take off again. She threw herself at the dragon’s flank with a shout, launching a fist at its tough hide alongside Ink’s own attacks.
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