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a Hailey goes to school in Erebonia
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She pokes her noes experimentally, then smiles gratefully at Alisa. "Thank you. That block was sloppy," she finishes, shaking her head at her mistake.

She glances at the piles of sepith, then around the room at the girls. "Pile it up then an even split, y'figure? Anyone's ARCUS need a particular element for an early connection?"


Emma takes charge of portioning out the sepith.

She gathers it up into a four-by-seven grid of equal piles, then has them all compare slots. Hailey ends up with a double share of Time for herself.


After that, there are more of the same eerie corridors and chambers, until they come to one where their path is blocked by some kind of giant gold-plated beetle.

It rustles and buzzes aggressively if they approach, but it's less aggressive than the cat-bats and waits for them to come to it.


She glances over at Laura. "Flank an' kettle it for the others, y'think?"


"Yes, I believe that w- " Laura pauses and gives Hailey a peculiar look. "What exactly would it entail to 'kettle' the monster?"

    "Oh, um, that usually means to close in around someone, block them in so they're trapped and at your mercy?" Emma offers, slightly uncertain.

"Ah. Yes, I see."

Laura peers into the chamber.

"We may be able to make our way around it if we hug the walls to either side, but there isn't sufficient clearance to get behind it. Hailey, I think it best you remain on point and attempt to evert our formation while Alisa and Emma attack at range from the flanks. The only way to get behind it appears to be going over it, and you are best suited to that role."


Hailey nods and grins. "I like it. Yeah, a good dash an' jab could tease it out a bit, an' whether it budges or not I can hammer it with an alley-oop as I vault over it to take either the back wall or a corner. Then you hit it from this side while it's still pissed at me, an' the ranged duo uses the distraction to spread out and lay into it."


Emma and Alisa share a nod and start creeping along the walls.

While Alisa takes the left, Emma goes right and sidles toward the monster with her back pressed to the smooth stone brick.

The two of them reach the rear corners of the chamber, on either side of the giant beetle. From this angle, though, Emma can see a potential problem. If they can't budge the beetle from its spot, then the passageway behind it will block line of sight from them to Hailey.

Emma catches Alisa's eye, then scooches a few steps back toward the front of the chamber, until she has a clear sightline. After a moment, Alisa gets it and follows suit.

Emma grips her staff.

    "Ready!" Alisa calls toward Laura and Hailey.

"Ready!" Emma agrees.


Laura springs forward, sword rising as she crosses the chamber. Rather than use any of her more sophisticated techniques, she slams her sword into the beetle monster straight on, ringing the beetle's carapace like a bell as she drops to one knee and offers her back as a springboard for Hailey.


Hailey darts forward just as Laura starts to drop, leaps just as she stabilizes her crouch, and handsprings off the blue-haired girl's back. She soars just above the enormous beetle, one baton out like a rudder, twisting her in mid-air to face down at the monster, the other hammering down onto it to simultaneously daze it further and guide her flight between its back and the ceiling of the far passageway.


The beetle rattles in anger and hisses loudly. It swipes at Laura with a foreleg, and completely misses Hailey going over its head.

It's legs stab down into the floor, piercing stone to anchor it in place, and flares its jagged, razor sharp elytra, slamming them back down against its golden shell once, twice, with a sound like metal striking metal, then flares them again in a threat display.

    Alisa fires a phantasmal arrow.

The beetle monster twitches one elytron and the arrow splashes harmlessly against the rigid blade-like limb, not even leaving a mark.


Durable beastie, is it? Hailey lands gracefully behind the beetle in an air-cushioned crouch, then darts up to slam two wind-blades into it, one after the other into the same spot, before springing back out of reach. What will it take to crack this thing's shell?


Far more than that. Hailey's attacks don't even scuff the thing's shell. It twitches in place as tho shaking off an irritant, then swings one elytron up to intercept Laura's sword. Steel meets monster carapace in a shower of sparks and Laura leaps back, frowning.

Then a bolt of silver-white light stabs into the beetle's left side. It rocks away from the impact, hiss-shrieking as a spiderweb of glowing lines sizzles on its shell. It spins itself in place to face Emma, bringing both elytra up and forward, rattling them against each other as it guards against her in particular.

    Alisa's eyes go wide, and she shoulders her bow to whip out her ARCUS. "It's shell is permeable to orbal energy! Use Arts!"

    "Got it!" Laura pulls out her own ARCUS and hops backward to give herself room to look down and fiddle with it.

The magical impact scar from Emma's first attack is now facing Hailey.

    Emma doesn't pull out her ARCUS, she just twitches her staff slightly, eyes intent with concentration, and silver-white light forms up into a crude blade-shape that shoots into the monster and chips a chunk out of one of its elytron.


Well, she was looking for a good excuse to try this thing. She touches a fingertip to the selection ring on her ARCUS at her hip and selects her first Art, Soul Blur, getting a mental sense of a single "slot" that feels almost like a blank nametag — so it takes a single entity as a target, maybe. Well, she conveniently has exactly one enemy right now. She slides her finger to the inner ring, and finds only one target, with mental feedback of a very exoskeletal and metallic life force. She pulses a tiny burst of energy through her finger.

A purple-black bolt of time energy arcs out from her, crashing into the beetle's shell and exploding.


The beetle rocks up on its slide, screeching in pain as golden shards break off of its shell and it starts bleeding something that'd be a lot like blood if it actually acted like a liquid.

    Laura's ARCUS goes off a moment later, and a ball of fire crashes into the monster's opposite side. It doesn't do half as much damage, only blackening the shell rather than shattering it, but the beetle does not like it and collapses, its legs scrabbling uselessly.

    And then the whirring clockwork in Alisa's ARCUS rises in pitch as it winds up for something bigger. Alisa herself holds her ARCUS out her hands poised. Chshing! The silence of her ARCUS is lost a bit in the noise the giant beetle is making, but the way the floor under the beetle starts glowing with an unearthly golden light isn't. Orbs of golden light breach upward from the glowing circle, spiraling around the monster for a moment before arcing inward and slamming down on it in an explosive hammering.

The giant beetle can't even get one last screech out. It is instantly crushed against the floor and burst apart like, well, like a squashed bug. Bits of vaporous innards and golden shell fragments go clattering across the chamber.


"Good call, Alisa."

    "No problem. It was obvious once I saw Emma's attack land," Alisa replies.

"Well done, everyone."


Hailey skips back across the beetle wreckage as it dissolves into sepith, grinning. "Seconding the props, Alisa. And all of us. Go us, we just smashed a giant beetle monster."

She starts sweeping some of the widely-scattered bits of sepith into a central pile with little gusts.


Emma once again takes on the task of sorting and dividing the spoils. This time she takes a double-share of Mirage for herself and Hailey gets a double-share of Air.

    "You know, you're pretty good with that thing," Alisa comments, gesturing at Emma's orbal staff. "You did as much damage as the rest of us but you didn't even use your ARCUS."

"Oh, well, that is the advantage of this kind of weapon. I'm just glad I'm able to live up to the promise that its makers envisioned for it."

Emma is pleased to be able to say that and mean it. She's used the orbal staff in practice of course, but using it in real combat for the first time has really driven home how useful a tool it is, even for someone like her.


Through the corridor formerly guarded by the beetle monster, there is an odd round pedestal, shaped somewhat like a chess rook, with slowly rotating crenellations and a glowing top.

It is fairly recognizable as a standard orbment charging station, though how it got down here is anybody's guess.


"Huh. Any doubts I had about this being a deliberate practice labyrinth are pretty much gone now. Also, if I were designing this thing, I'd consider ambushing people at the chargers."

She scans the surroundings carefully. "Take turns charging, starting with whoever spent the most?"


"Works for me. I want to get a look at it anyway. I don't recognize the brand."

Alisa goes up and puts her ARCUS on the glowing top, then crouches down and starts peering around the metal body. It... doesn't actually look like any of the Epstein Foundation's models, to her eye.

"Did someone from Thors build their own orbment charger in-house?" Alisa wonders incredulously. "And then abandon it down here? Or was this actually meant for us?"

There are no tool-marks that Alisa can see either. Or welding seams. It's definitely not hand-made. With more questions than answers, Alisa plucks her ARCUS off the charger and steps back.


Hailey shrugs, still on guard. "Wouldn't put it past them. There are a lot of unexpected skills clustered in an academy like this."

She's deliberately waiting until last, until the other girls have all had a turn. She's had opportunities for rest turn out to be traps before.


Then Laura will go next. She keeps her hand on her ARCUS for the few seconds it takes to fully charge.

Emma doesn't need a turn, since her ARCUS is still fully charged, and there continues to be no sign of ambush or any kind of trap concerning the charging station.


What there is, however, is the faint sound of voices coming from up ahead, Laura notices.


Hailey notices as well, and almost imperceptibly tenses for a moment, before nodding. "I wonder if that's the boys, or if there are other people down here," she comments as she charges her ARCUS quickly.


As they move on, the come to an intersection next to a balcony, and as they round the corner, it is indeed the boys, coming up from the other direction, that they run into.

Or at least four of the boys. The black-haired bishonen. The cute ginger. The tall rugged guy. Joined by Machias, who they seem to have picked up along the way.

     "We meet again," Laura calls out in greeting.

     Alisa sucks in a sharp breath when she lays eyes on the bishonen boy, but doesn't say anything.


"Glad to see you guys are hanging in there."

    "I'm glad the four of your are unharmed as well," Emma says earnestly, clasping her hands in front of herself.

The cute ginger smiles in agreement.

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