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[BR-F26] Paving the Way to Floor 27 [Gabrandr-The Broken King]

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This is the Magus fight in Chrono Trigger all over again... complete with blue flame motif. I don't know if that was an intentional choice  by the designer or if this is just art echoing art, but I remember the correct choice from back then...

"Why are we even talking about what's right and wrong?" Shield asked, his dark eyes scanning those around him. "What's right and what's wrong is irrelevant. There's no point in blaming an NPC for doing what it was programmed to do. He's ones and zeroes - a construct. Trying to decide based on worth or motive or the morality of what it has done will yield us no benefit other than to satisfy our own feelings on his character, which is likely entirely artificial. He wasn't wasting our time. He was an intended game obstacle. Now he may be more than that."

Shield was playing the cynic. He knew that wouldn't gain him any brownie points with those who were hell-bent on punishing him, but there was much to discuss and no time in which to do it. Manticore Mask lowered as he relaxed out of his combat stance, revealing the rest of the stern, impassive features that took up permanent residence on his face.

"We need to weigh this based on potential outcomes,"  he said, holding up both sword and shield like the arms of a scale. "What would Kayaba intend as a reward for killing him?" He raised his sword an inch or two. "Perhaps better loot? Likely not any extra game content or quest lines, at least not anything unique. Killing a boss is the expected route, so the rewards will likely be standard. More likely it will close as many doors as it opens, if not more." His sword returned to its neutral position.

Next, his shield lifted a few inches, to present the proverbial 'on the other hand.' "If we were to spare him, however, that is the less expected route. Games will often allow spared NPCs to remain as a quest giver or a bestower of special rewards. In some cases, they can even become new allies. There are endless possibilities. Though each of those possibilities is perhaps unlikely on its own, the likelihood of this being a unique opportunity is just as great as is being a farce. Who knows? It may even lend us information on Kayaba and his motivations that may someday prove invaluable."

His shield returned to his side. "Let's not kid ourselves in thinking that Cardinal is going to offer us an easy way out of a fight. We've had countless fights, and on boss battles, there has never been any indication that choices that we've made have significantly lengthened or shortened any of them. We should go into this assuming that this will be the same. There is almost certainly another phase of the fight awaiting us, no matter the choice we make. I believe we're merely picking our poison here.

"There are risks either way, and I would reckon that this battle is meant to have a set difficulty regardless. The likelihood of one path or the other punishing us more is minimal given what we have seen. Considering how well we survived the milestone of the last boss battle, the risks of new information and opportunities seem well worth the reward for me."

"I say, take the road less traveled." With an upward thrust, he raised his shield into the air.  "Spare him."


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The room was small and dimly lit as only a handful of torches lined the walls in the area that rested in front of the Boss room's door. A pungent odor filled the air, the same that had filled the long

General Notes: Please ensure that the following are included in your stats: - Shifts (or note as ‘none’ if you don’t have one) - Combat masteries  - Source IDs for all consumables* (ID roll

( @Raidou ) His eyes closed, a familiar voice would be the first to speak to him. It was the voice of the one that had been willing to promise the well-being of his people and to raze the Grand Impe

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So many voices, Gabrandr talked too much. Everyone reasoned with him, every single one attacked including Crozeph and now they're down to decision making all of a sudden?

"Well ain't that crazy writing?"

He jumped back as soon as his black liquid burned away with the touch of of the king's flames. He was fast enough and he dodged that one attack that literally wounded most of his party members. He held the hilt of his katana firm enough and remained silent. There was a window that appeared in front of them, some kind of visual novel shit where they'll chose a path to take and this one is...

Kill or be killed?

It was the impression on him, Gabrandr even did the last stand drama with his last scather. Crozeph kept one foot slightly forward, on guard as to what might happen.

and their words flooded, enough to rock Noah's ark off the ground

Gabrandr stood, a man almost out of the picture. They did great amounts of damage just to stop him...

Did they do it too just to kill him?

His shoulder relaxed as he heard the ping of everyone making their decision. Should he make one too? it's going to be a hard one, it may not require for him to tap into his strongest will but Crozeph understood one thing, Gabrandr must be stopped. The next question is "is this enough to stop him? or should they..."

Firm Anima has decided
His guild members have decided

"Should I decide?" he thought. 

"I have lost a great friend and leader to a floor boss, I have also forgiven that one person who killed my brother" he looked at Gabrandr "an NPC, made by Cardinal who is also made by the madman who trapped us here" Crozeph hated those who aren't human and Gabrandr was one yet he is also a floor boss, the same entity who is lined-up with that one floor boss who killed Azide.

I guess those I met unknowingly taught me things for this moment so far...

He lowered his katana gave one last look at Gabrandr and sat down, cross-legged, Baldur and the other members of Jacob's Ladder behind him, his katana resting on his shoulder "I'll let my guild leaders decide your fate, I will hold back but..." his eyes stared at the king, cold yet longs to remain reasonable "...I will not think twice of raising my blade should they decide to finish this in a rather tragic way."


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Baldur mostly ignored the others debating one way or another. He heard their arguments, but only passively absorbed them. Instead, he stared at Schrödinger's Box. This prompt was new, the recent surge of humanoid enemies they bantered with was a rising trend, rather than an intermittent distraction. The previous floor had been unprecedented. Something was different.

"You know Cal," @Calrex He responded to his kouhai who had said he would leave the decision up to his guild leaders. "There was an old game I played. Knights of the Old Republic. One of the great oldie classics made forever ago. I beat the game playing as a pure Light Side Jedi, but I loved the game so much I decided to see what the other path was." He smiled at the memory in spite of himself.

"I got maybe 5 minutes into the game when it came time to shake down an NPC. The game gave you multiple chances to correct your action and do the 'right' thing. I couldn't bring myself to do it. I stopped playing the game, because I already knew how the lightside choices would go. In pretty much every game I play, I pick the light side, I pick the way of the Paladin, I pick the paragon option."

He turned to face the rest of party one, speaking to them and not to the entire raid, though they could hear him if they wished.

"But that's because I was role-playing. I was in it for the story, but there were also mechanical reasons to pick one option and stick with it. To not go back and forth. While we are in a game, role-playing at a time like this, with these stakes, are dangerous."

The gaijin samurai, aware of his hypocrisy, looked over his shoulder at the arguments and frowned softly. It seems many were still having issues separating fantasy from reality. From separating role-playing from real lives.

Baldur walked over and put a hand on @Hirru's shoulder, knowing that his old friend would be struggling with this more than most, particularly due to the baggage he carried.

"Raidou, Freyd, Oscar and Shield are right." He spoke louder now, to everyone gathered, "the floor boss here does not have intent. He doesn't have morality. He doesn't have will. He is a program. A script. Unlike us, with some keystrokes, he can be brought back to life even if we kill him. We don't know what will happen regardless of what button we press. The path before us is known only to Kayaba."

Baldur turned to look, his mind still wasn't made up, but @Shield stirred something within him. A point he was trying to make. He squeezed Hirru's shoulder firmly, but comfortingly.

"I'm not going to tell people how to vote. I'm not going to demean anyone for getting caught up in the narrative and voting with their heart. We will move forward to the next floor regardless of how the sword falls. I will say one thing though...

"Something is changing. The last several floors, this floor, they're different. And if we do not adapt, if we do not recognize that the system may be evolving and adjust to keep up with it, then we may be left behind, or the cost may hit us too late..." Baldur let the word hang in the air.

"If we're going to make it out of this death trap, and save as many lives as we can, then there are certain calculated risks we need to take, but we also need to understand the game we're playing. We need to understand what the rules are going forward."

Baldur's hand hovered over the kill button. It was an academic choice at this point in time. Should he chose kill, simply to balance Shield's voice and maintain some sort of neutrality to the guild? Several people seemed to be waiting on him to make his choice, but he saw the look in Hirru's eyes, the faith his guild had in him. They already knew what Baldur's choice would be, even when he didn't. But the votes were cast, neither Baldur's words, nor his vote would alter the course forward.

He looked down at the two options, and voted.

"We need to look at the bigger picture. This isn't about this boss. It's about this tower. And in order to navigate it, we need knowledge. We are all putting our lives on the line, regardless of motivation or belief. So please, everyone, vote however you decide to vote, but remember this.

He looked at Hirru, at Night, and at all the members of his party, as well as meeting the eyes of Raidou, Freyd, and Oscar.

"We voted as a group. And we proceed, as a group. And we will respect the verdict of the group. Everyone put their life on the line, everyone deserves a vote."


Baldur presses spare.


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It was a good description of what was happening before them. It was painful to see how similar it had been to the twenty-third floor. Of course, she wasn't going to act out. She had learned from her previous experience. Also, it didn't seem that this decision was paramount to continuing or not. Things seemed the same here, but they were so much different than before. There wasn't a choice before. Hirru had made the choice available while this one had been thrown in front of them. With either result unknown to them, was either answer correct? To her, she didn't care too much for the boss or whatever story he could provide. Killing him was the quickest and cleanest way to proceeding. 

Angry voices bickered for a moment, insults spat in other's faces. Honestly, she could relate with it all. Maybe, for once she could relate with the people themselves. Those on opposing sides couldn't understand what was on the other. Perhaps... she should get involved? Try and help get things under control? The white-haired player opened her mouth to speak but not a sound was heard. 

'Have you forgotten what happened last time? Speak now and they will simply eat you alive. Stick to yourself, you have no allies here. Why try and help them?' You know if you try, it'll just be you getting hurt. Best keep your mouth shut.' 

The words of her own voice were cold as they hissed throughout her mind. Frozen, she stood in place in the rear of the pack. All she could do was onlook as the bickering continued. That was until the man in a blue haori spoke up. Baldur, was typically not one she could appreciate. They had worked together briefly before and the only feeling she could surmise from him was scorn. However, it was him that would begin sewing the rift in the chaos again. He sought to allow people have their opinions and whatever remained the majority was what they would stick with. An agreeable statement to say in the least. 

Finally, Hidden's voice became heard as it gently spread to those surrounding her. The words were hushed and quiet and the voice was monotone, "I don't think this really matters that much. Wasn't the point to be fast about it anyway? Thought the dude was being urgent or whatnot" The words were probably heard by few but they were the only ones she had to offer. Now, where the hell was the door? If the fight was over she could leave right?

'dude? I obviously was around Shiina too long.' 

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Too much was being said to keep proper track of it all, but it was clear who favored violence over mercy. At least there were some present who Koga knew what to expect from. The Wolf could, at the very least, understand where each player was coming from to some degree. To them, Gabrandr wasn't real. He was at worst, lines of code, programmed to kill them, and at best, a pawn in a grander game, with no agency, no will, and no soul.

Once upon a time, Koga had felt the same way. The mobs of other floors were singular in their purpose, straight forward, and objective. But NIGHT's little companion had thrown a wrench in that entire preconception. Ever since Koga had met DAY, he'd had to reassess what he knew about the game's inhabitants. Sure, some NPCs and mobs proved to be little more than programmed entities, images, 3D models, and sound files, and that was it. But some, some were entirely different. Some were real. Or at least something close to real. They were more than just the sum of their parts. Desires, thoughts, feelings all their own. Even if they had started as a nearly endless stream of ones and zeros, they'd evolved into something more. Perhaps, by some great deus ex machina, they had even come to develop a semblance of soul. It was this unknown that gave Koga pause.

How do you quantify and qualify life?

Koga almost breathed a sigh of relief when he heard his party's decisions. Even if their reasons were more objective and impersonal than Koga's own, the end was the same.

Satisfied, the man pressed a button on the prompt, the screen disappearing into the virtual void, before walking towards NIGHT. With his back turned to the others he whispered something to her.


"I blame you for this."

Koga then turned towards the others, eyes drifting over each of their faces. Each more experienced, better fighters, and ultimately, people he had always respected and held in high regard. Grimly, he drew his blade and held it loosely at his side. "Can't say this is how I thought my first boss fight would go, but here we are."

OnPress(self.ButtonSpare, OnPressSpare)

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Baldur whirled on @Koga, and to a lesser extent @NIGHT as the man draw his sword against the raid. He walked right up to the blade, and made Koga's sword tip threaten to stab the gaijin samurai. Fury was in his voice, and rage was in the normally placid blue eyes. The controlled steel blue was gone.

"PUT. YOUR. BLADES. DOWN. NOW!" He roared. A normally gentle man turned to wrath.

He did not know Night well, but he had been beginning to feel a kinship with Koga, and was considering inviting him to join their guild as well. That kinship made the betrayal hurt more. But then, Baldur knew he had a habit of assuming he spoke for others more often than he did.

"THIS IS NOT YOUR CHOICE TO MAKE. NEITHER OF YOU." He included Night in his glare this time.

"You do not get to choose how others risk their lives, or choose to walk them. You do not get to use violence to mandate your will if things don't GO YOUR WAY."

He took a breath, bringing some of the heat out of his voice, and the steel returns to his eyes.

"If you raise your blade against the frontline, then the first person you will have to strike is me."

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Clattering feet as tensions rose, she picks up a scather piece and lifts it over her head. It shines for a moment like a magic wand. "So we came to kill the bad guy, and now we aren't killin' the bad guy. Weird..." The girl clambers over to one of the inactive devices and claps it with the metal rod. It reverberates in her hands, and she smiles. She was half expecting the thing to fire or light back up, but the magic was lost.

"Lemme get this straight, though, so burning man wanted to blow up a city. That would be bad, he wanted to shank us, which was also bad. Now he's laying there like a dork and is just popping out crocodile tears because he got his booty clapped, and now we are buddies?" Shiina looks toward Oscar, dude knew what was what. All this 'diplomacy' wasn't really her forté, and it was making her head spin.

Eyeballing book boi curiously, she'd seen that expression a couple of times. But it wasn't for quite some time. Not since school, when he was trying to make buddies and zooming over their noggins with his learnt speak. "We got like a billion people waiting for us to pop that door open and walk up the stairs, we got like a billion people that will die if we don't gank this shmo and be done with it. I aint no vidja game kid but isn't 'kill the dragon' like something we have to do?" The soft sway in her tone alludes to something else influcing her decision as she charades air quotes, and yet she wouldn't be one to show it.

Her hair shifts in an elegant platinum blonde, concentrating and trying to put thoughts to words. A buzzing in her ears, moving closer to, @Gabrandr without a lick of concern. The posture didn't seem at all hostile, on the contrary, it was almost playful and disarming. A murmur into his ear, as a soft musical tone seemed to follow with it: "So Gabrandr, you have failed in your attempt at dethroning Razwell, and your people continue to suffer. Is that fate yours to control? Or are you simply a puppet, that my messenger will gladly erase? If we were to balance the guillotine over your head, and the choice is yours to command. What will become of it, what would you do, king to a shattered people?"

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A roar of outrage shook Koga to his core as he felt a weight press against the tip of his blade. Although the two had only recently met, the anger behind those cool blue eyes stung.

As evenly as he could manage, Koga spoke slowly, carefully. "I'm not about to attack you, Oji-san." Crimson eyes stared back, a degree of remorse in them. "But I can't let anyone touch Gabrandr. Not until a decision is made." The man's gaze drifted past the samurai to the others, still arguing over the fate of the boss. "I made mine, but if it's decided that Gabrandr's life is forfeit, then so be it. I can't stop it anymore. But whether that takes five seconds, five minutes, or five hours, I'm standing right where I am." Koga nodded towards the rest of the Frontlines. "You've heard them. They don't wanna spend another second talking about this. They'd rather kill him without a second thought and move on." The red eyes returned to stare into the blue. "I don't care how long it takes, we've already been in this game for five years, what's five minutes more. But this shouldn't be something we rush through...not if we want to hold onto our humanity. Otherwise, we're no better than mobs, are we?"

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As Shield and Baldur voiced their opinions and made their choice, Calrex tilted his head downwards, a small smirk crossing his face, hidden beneath his armor's helmet. From what I knew and understood of his guild leaders, it made sense both as a player, and as a person in the game. There was a time long ago when he was faced with similar moral quandries, namely at the hands of Opal and Laughing Coffin. To her, seeing him as one of the strongest players in the game, that meant the Ultramarine Knight was in a position to be judge, jury, and executioner, something that could be a rivaling force against those who wished to take life as they saw fit, the notorious player-killers of time.

The result of that reinforced the same conclusion he came to that night: No matter what level of power one wielded, it didn't give them the right to be the arbiter of one's life. The strength he had gained was to be wielded solely for the sake of getting everyone out of this death game. That remains true to this day.


Calrex selected Spare

It was the choice his guild masters made, but thinking about it more, it was also the choice he hoped they would make.

The brief relief was promptly dispersed as he saw what he could only deem as a "precautionary escalation" in the tension. It was already enough to feel like a string being pulled as taut as it could possibly go, but once he saw weapons being drawn, it was almost like he could see things reaching their limit. When he was still still a more plucky up and coming player, he might have acted similarly. But now things were different.

Giving a small sigh the blue armored player walked forward towards the trio, hands clear away from the sword strapped to the back of his hip, a sign he had no intention of fighting. Reaching his hands up, he firmly grasped the sides of his helmet and pulled, removing it from his head to reveal his facial features beneath.

With that he addressed @NIGHT and @Koga first:

"...I've got no good way to start this...but the two of you, I commend you for wanting to prevent anyone from forcing their hand in this decision. However, as Baldur said, this isn't the time to be raising our blades as a deterrent. I've witnessed many of these conflicts, and I can tell you that presenting a threat is only going to make others answer in kind. So, I implore you to keep your weapons in their sheaths until time, and have at least a little faith that the other people here will also honor that."

Briefly pausing he in turn addressed them all, including @Baldur

"If it'll satisfy the group for now, I'll stand guard over the Fallen King here. Should the majority decide to take or spare his life, that choice will be honored. If anyone does decide to take matters into their own hands, well, things will have to proceed from there. However, I tend to think one grizzled veteran should suffice in this situation, wouldn't you agree?"

He glanced back at Gabrandr for a moment before looking forward again.

"In addition, should the king decide to pull a sneaky move on me, I've already got a Safeguard active. I'm sure you're all aware how those old things work."

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This was not as Hirru had wanted this to be.  He had got a chance to actually talk about it, to give reasoning to the madness that his actions portrayed.  Those words seemed to only fall to deaf ears, he feared.  The eyes.. just like that day.  He couldn't understand these people.  Why should he?  They lived and breathed 'their world', so why should this one matter.  He could barely hear Shield, but heard him all the same.  Hirru grit his teeth and looked about ready to go into another rant

When a hand was placed upon his shoulders.  The eyes fell away to a familiar face.  His eyes seemed to be telling the healer that this was enough.  There was no more reason to continue with this.  It was reflected more in his speech.  People will do as they please, it was not within their rights to try and dissuade each other from their thoughts.  They could speculate and bring evidence, but nothing could change ones mind, especially when it was made up.

Looking back, he had noticed that Freyd and Shiina had both talked to Gabrandr, without him really noticing.  Was he too into his thoughts that he didn't notice everything?  NIGHT had her weapon drawn, and Koga had too taken his out.  There was a conflict, and he was the one that instigated it.  Even as Baldur shouted and berated Koga and NIGHT, it would only send the healer further down his rabbit hole.  Koga's words, would push him further down.  

"Bal.. am I.."

His eyes seemed to lose their light, as he once again felt like falling to the floor once more.  It took everything he had to hold himself up, that he lost grip of his helm, as it clattered to the floor with a loud CLANG.

"Did I.. do this... again?"

It had happened again.  He had instigated a schism within the front lines again, which could be much worse than he had heard about from the events of the 24th floor boss.  He wanted to get back in to prove that he was worth something, but now...


Hirru would find himself moving closer to the three and placed his hand along the blade of Koga's katana.  As he did so, he would grip it to where it was now cutting into him, and slide the blade along his hand, cutting further and further, all the while pushing the blade up from the pivot.  Warnings would suddenly erupt within the healer's sight, but they were ignored.  Koga's and Hirru's crystals would flicker between green and orange as Hirru's actions would be causing the system to have issues, as Hirru's thorns would be reacting to the damage too.

"It's... over, Koga."

He said in a soft, nearly cracking voice.  His eyes, nearly dead, with the build up of tears in his eyes.

"I didn't... want to instigate another issue... between us all.  Not like last time.."

Hirru's grip would finally come to the tsuba of his katana, which meant that the blade was now vertical in the air.  With that, Hirru exhausted what little energy he had left into his AOE skills art, Field Medic.  The health of Baldur, Shield, Koga, Crozeph, Calrex and himself shot up, although not to full.  It would outdo any damage that was caused, plus any that had been residual from the boss fight itself.

"I'm.. sorry."

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Clicking of a pair of heels as Hirru seemed utterly defeated, and a precarious glance toward the man. "There, there, dear, we knew what to expect." The woman steals a glance toward the pair playing the part of guardian, as if anyone in the chamber was about to just shoot the boss at moment's notice. "Curious, that some would be so transposed to position themselves between the others and what was once the enemy. Even still, that the boss has yet to move since." A hint of silver on her tongue as her attentions shift to Baldur. "I do not believe any of us planned to make this decision on our own?" Glancing back toward the rest of those wearing her banner, as tensions reached a burning point.

"Drawing a blade against your comrades? That doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Our vote was cast based on our beliefs, our methods. They may not be similar to yours, and that simply is what it is." Watching on as Shiina seemed to have slipped her way to the boss and was doing something back there. "The choice is ours, all of ours." Eyes advance to Freyd and to Eruda, keeping her aloof sense of impartiality as they shift to the rest of the frontliners in here. "Put the weapons away, you will get your say as much as the rest of us. After all, that is what our guild is founded on, as the girl spoke to. Albeit with a temper that does not belong here."

"Keep an eye on him would you, Aquamarine Knight. Best keep him fully aware that any betrayal will not be tolerated after all." A coy grin as she shuffles toward one of the scathers and her eyes flash gold. "Some believe you have a soul, others do not. Fickle and irrelevant. Some believe you hold the answers to some secret gift, reward or knowledge. Perhaps, but under what pray tell would you part with them? Your life? Ours?" The woman seemed to be scanning the device, picking up on a minute detail along its surface with <<Appraisal>> on full blast.

"All these wishes, desires, tempts of fate. A trade or a bargain. I would ask of you, those that have chosen to exchange words with an entity that not a moment before was trying to kill you. What are you willing to pay, everything has a cost after all?"

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Watching tempers flare and weapons bristle, Freyd felt the slow sizzle of oblivion gnawing on his hands.  The arguments were sound.  The logic was clear.  The peril was real and ominously looming.   If Gabrandr’s threat of Razwell’s looming scather activation was true then they really might not have time left to argue over this.  

Looking into the faces of his gathered peers, he saw passions roiled to their boiling points.  Baldur, who had so righteously proclaimed that he fought to save lives simultaneously scolded those who raised their blades in defence, yet claimed the right to suffer their first blows, if it came to that.  

‘You can’t have it both ways, old man,’ he thought sadly to himself.

A drift of orange sparks fell from fractured mesh, floating down from failing hands and disappearing as they touched the slick and cobbled sewer floor.  They reminded him of Morgenstern and Hidden’s blighted souls, and the toll each player gathered here had paid to Aincrad for survival - and were paying, still.  He’d lost nearly half his hands to this waiting.  Any more and he might not manage to make the necessary blow.  Samael’s Pride demanded too much.  The Frontlines demanded too much, but of them all.

A furrowed brow signalled both confusion and epiphany.  A turned hand revealed a self-inflicted injury, glaring in light cast in the colour of murder .  The same that those gathered here might wreak upon each other, at any moment.

Calrex took position and vigil over Gabrandr, making the stakes all the more real, risking a further raising of the stakes by imposing himself as sentinel.

"Bal.. am I… Did I... do this... again?"

A hand peeled off the sliver of void with a sickly slurping sound, Hoovering a few stray strands of self into the nothing he’d been holding.  Montjoy’s piercing gaze drilled holes into his soul through absent eyes.  How far was he prepared to go?  What limits would he breach or trust betray, if it was necessary?  His answer had always been the same: any, whatsoever, so long as the job got done.

“Samael’s Pride, indeed,” he muttered aloud.

Clenching that wrecked hand into a fist should have been agony, but he could barely feel it through the system’s interference.  Part of him wished he could, if only to remember what it was truly like. Some of that awareness had been reclaimed, thanks to the deeds and very nature of those gathered at his side and scattered elsewhere in the castle.

“Goddamn it.  I am a fool,” he whispered accusingly under his breath. “I must be, if I have to learn this lesson twice, or at the cost of the very thing I seek to save.”  Lips twitched into a sneer at the prospect of a pending and potentially permanent regret before giving way to inexplicable serenity.

“Shield. Baldur. Calrex. Crozeph. Koga. Hirru. Raidou. Eruda. Freya. Mina. Shiina. Oscar. Lessa. Night. Ariel. Zandra. Hidden. Morgenstern. Macradon. Sam. Simmoné.”  Pausing only long enough, Freyd looked each of them in the eye as he spoke the names aloud.  Each one lightened the load, and that was the entire point.

“I know you well enough to count those names as twenty-one good reasons to counter my own reasoning.”  The arch and furrow of his brow actually eased.

“No, Hirru.  You didn’t do it again.”  Freyd’s harsh, decisive voice had actually lost its edge, and almost sounded like that of a stranger one might have met on a street or in a park, surrounded by all manner of normalcy denied them in this shitty nightmare.  “This time, Jade Hunter, you did it right, and we should all be thanking you for it.”


<<Freyd changes his vote to spare>>

“I won’t cede victory to the enemy by fighting with those I should be calling friends.  Doing so would make less sense than any amount of logic or pragmatism we could ever pour out to fan the flames of this debate.  It isn’t worth it.  We need hope,” his eyes caught Raidou’s, recalling a distant but never-forgotten promise, “more than we need gutting ourselves over clearing a floor.”  

Turning to those who had sided with him, he asked with uncharacteristic humility.

“Please, reconsider.  This is not how we will find the way out.”

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Macradon growled lightly by all the fuss going around. A mere choice in a game, a non-dilemma, going up in flames around the frontlines. He wasn’t a person to argue, he was a good soldier and followed orders, he was a battling machine, so interactions weren’t part of his fine repertoire of murderhobo-ing through everything and everywhere. He sighed heavily and struck his sword into the ground, leaned up against it, and began to massage his temples “Are you guys really sure about this. Are we really playing Pokémon now? Going all out until it’s in the red, then we ‘capture’ the poor little thing and possibly gain more benefits? Is this what boss raids had come to?” he would just stand there, dumbfounded by what was going on.

The desperate king not so desperate anymore. The aggressor pleading for forgiveness. “People risk their lives to go and free the rest of Aincrad’s inhabitants, and this is what we’re doing now? Haggling with the floor boss instead of just hastening to our, and everyone else’s, freedom? … I don’t really care what happens to our collective figment of our imagination that is GabbyWabby over there, if the majority is to spare, so be it. I still just want to get it over with.” He said and sat down and ignored all the instigations from everyone else, it flew over his head, it didn’t concern him, there was nothing he wanted to influence in everyone else … except one person in particular.

“No, @Hirru. You didn’t mess up. You followed your instinct and your morality, you will have to keep that up now that you’re actively given the chance to make a choice. I wasn’t a big fan of how it went down last time, but since I’m barred from just mauling this fallen king gut, I have to await the gates for me to act upon. You did good.” He said, assuring the Jade Hunter that he didn’t exactly make a big fucky wucky like last time, even though Macradon were to think of it like that, it wasn’t because of Hirru that the boss just went down on its knees and pleaded the end to come one way or the other.

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His attention shifts to Jon almost abruptly, knowing full well that the conversation between them had yet to happen. This was what was to come of it. "I will not justify my actions, I did what had to be done. As we all have in one way or another, it's easy to convince yourself that it was right or that there could be another way. Survivors guilt, I've heard it referred, but I will not find myself in that pitfall. It is done, and I do not take pleasure in it. Trust is an interesting notion, choices another. I do what I have to make sure of our success. Your success, take heed to remember that. White king. That is what is important to me."

Two steps into the newly formed barrier between himself and two he'd met or seen before, purely coincidence. But there wasn't such a thing, was there. Gabrandr lay dormant, winded and damaged almost to the point of weakness. He'd seen that flavor, he'd worn it in a sleet of frost. To be defeated, to be useless. "Our entire lives are a story, history itself nothing more than a recount of the victors. It is common to forget the names between, the lives between that were lost along the way. NPC's are but numbers in an algorithm, but when you view the world as I do, they appear just like people. A villager aiming to protect his home, a guard who dies the same. Time and time again I have seen the same flavor of humanity in them, I will not make a brash decision if they are 'real' and whatever that might mean. Life is a life is a life, it exists in all things, in all shapes and sizes, and those with the ability to choose and choose to protect life besides their own will see the same returned favor."

Lifting his blade, a slight sheen of blackened silver, dull as the day it was forged. A blade that had stood with him through everything, even still it held his hand. "But no, I will not be giving Gabrandr or anyone like him the benefit of the doubt. The keys to our victory here, to escape this madness, is to handle this only on fact. Feeling holds no place here, chance holds no place. Every exchange relies on numbers, every encounter expects specifics. Normally, we are used to seeing a number on a status screen. Some measure of our durability, our output, our loss. But what of chance? What of the actions we take that slightly tip the scales in our favor? This goes unseen, and it's impossible to quantify. When we go left instead of right, where the sun is rising instead of falling. Gabrandr made his choice and he will feel its consequence. As will, I, some day."

The edge stirs for a moment, a bit of light building upon its edge. Raidou fighting against some urge. "But the truth is it isn't my choice to make, I make them so often alone that when I am allowed I prefer to defer them and seek council. If it were up to me, Gabrandr would be dead. Simply because I cannot trust him, his actions speak against everything he had hoped to attain. But unlike him, my actions will reflect my words. I will protect the Galtean People, because unlike you, they have not made this mistake. They have found themselves in the same as us, trapped in a world outside their design. Although their prison, a facsimile and their bodies of numbers. If they hold life or not, I will protect it. If not for a given 'soul' then for the land they live upon."

That blade pulsates like a heartbeat, a reddened light billowing off its edge like a jaw opening up. Raidou rolls his shoulder for a moment, as if preparing for something drastic. It seems there was some hesitation, as he was working through it. "Scathers need destroyed, they are too harmful an object to be allowed to exist." His eyes advance to Freyd linking to them for but a brief moment. There was a semblance of pause, a shared moment that seemed like eternity to them. A mental audience, as if a debate or agreement was held beneath the words. Simple to miss, and had existed for the longest time.

"These people can feel Eruda, these people can breathe. Although it is fake to us, it is real to them. I would warn you to know who your enemies are." Glancing around the room, feeling the exact same he had in the Shadow's Raid meeting. It was as if his words fell on deaf ears, an ode to his life before this. It was what he was all too familiar. When he spoke, no one seemed to hear him, the voice of reason was easy to be squelched to one of emotion. The heart and mind hardly shared the same sentiment. The heart, usually won. "We stand in this room with a task to complete." Eyes to Shiina and to Sam. Raidou broke down everything to a sea of digits, analysis and optimization. Enemies to attack patterns and weaknesses. Quantifiable and understandable.

"Right and wrong." He looks to Jon, to Mina, and to Shield. "What is it? Who decides the definition? What reward suffices if we are 'wrong'? What..." His attentions shift to Simmone "Price are we willing to pay to be right? It is a fallacy to assume we are just, are virtuous or noble. To our companions and our friends we are the hero, to our enemies the villains. Every story has a side, and perception is in the eye of the beholder." A couple more steps without a sway in concern, making a move toward NIGHT, Koga and Calrex on defense. Weapon charged to a crimson letter. "I am not willing to pay anything to be right, I cannot allow you all to put your lives in jeopardy simply because it makes you feel better. Because you assume it is right, because you assume that it is the 'right' thing to do. You don't want to be a murder, fine. Someone can take that burden from you, do what must be done, so your hands can remain clean."

*Tap, Tap* across the misshapen and disheveled stonework, a massive spear still looming out of it like a sprouting tree. "No more victims of 'our' people, this game has claimed far too many of them." Everyone in here had experienced their share of loss, if not of life, than of circumstance. When would it end? When would it finally click that the change was, allowing one to remove their humanity to save the others. To do what must be done, at any cost to themselves. "Every second wasted, is another life lost. Even now, there are players just like us, grinding or fighting. Dying for breadcrumbs, alone." His thoughts advance to that 'corpse' he'd found in the shape of a smattering clump of items in Black Iron Dungeon. Forgotten in a black prison until finally stumbled upon. Right beneath the noses of all the Town of Beginning's frequent fliers. No one even knew their name.


The blade returns to its scabbard as the power dissipates, as Raidou grits his teeth with enough pressure to cut his gums. "It isn't my decision to make, and if this ends up getting you all in over your heads, it will be my blood on your hands. That is the price we are willing to pay. If it does not mean anything then so be it, but all you exchange is one life" Gesturing to Gabrandr with an index finger "For another. There is no best option, there is no rose-tinted world where everything just works how you wish it to. Unless you make it, through force. I refuse to allow anyone else to die, while I still breathe." Eyes flare with some easy to palette fury. "Know this, Gabrandr, if you betray their trust. I do not trust you, and no matter where you go or what you do. I have faced impossible before, I have fought the largest foes this game has ever offered. I will find you, and you will get no second chance. I stay my blade not for you but for them." His gaze moves to Freyd and then follows to Eruda. "Hope that, for your sake, I will not draw it again."


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Shield sheathed his sword and set a heavy hand on Hirru's shoulder, giving a squeeze of reassurance to add to the words of his comrades. He did not blame Hirru for any of the discourse that had occurred. More voices on the matter of sparing or killing would not be helpful at this point, so he held his tongue. The vote would fall where it would fall.

In the mean time, swords were still bared and anger still flared. Silently taking a post beside Calrex, he sat, closing his eyes and crossing his arms. Until the vote was in and settled, no action was to be taken. "A house divided cannot stand," he said. He knew those words from some history course he had taken once upon a time, but the speaker's name escaped him. Still, it was a sentiment that he felt needed echoing. "Whatever our decision, I will stand by it. Until it is decided, we wait. Yes, Aincrad is waiting on us, but haste makes waste, and a few valuable moments to choose wisely will make up the losses we would take by acting too rashly.

"We have gotten this far by acting together, and the better we become at doing so, the stronger we are. I do not agree with many of you, but I will not defy the vote." Under his elbow, his hand rested on the pommel of his sword. His fingers were relaxed, not poised to act, but the statement was clear. If someone took up arms against the will of their fellow frontliners, Shield would take up a position against them.

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The steel blue eyes of the gaijin samurai softened to the calm blue of an ocean at rest. A sad, empathetic smile slowly spread on his face as he watched Hirru and Koga's actions. His heart broke for Hirru. What was the odds that his trauma would come to bear at his first return, but this wasn't his fault. Not unless Kayaba was sitting back somewhere with a sick, sadistic bag of popcorn.

"Just put your blade away, Koga. You too, Night. It isn't necessary. Drawing your blades escalates, and is counter productive. Put them away." His voice was soft, pleading.

"However this vote goes." Baldur said, raising his voice, "No one should ever draw a blade against another Frontliner." His blue eyes finally left Kogas, turned to Hirru's where he gave his old friend a compassionate smile.

"We've been here before, though thankfully better this time than last." He specifically didn't look at Hidden, in spite of Simmone's sentiment, that had happened in the past. "But the Frontline lives and dies by our unity." He was legitimately surprised to see Freyd and Raidou change their votes. They were, perhaps, the last two he would have expected that from.

"Not by our unity of motives, but by our unity of sacrifice. We are all here to clear the tower, but we're also all here risking our lives. We must have trust and faith in one another to defend each other's lives, and to have our backs, or we will never make it forward." He turned back to Night and Koga, "So please put the blades away, because the first step of faith is always the most difficult."

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In Koga's hands, Tsuki no Hikari moved almost on its own. It took Koga a moment to realize that Hirru had gripped his blade, tight enough to bite into his flesh. The rapid flickering of their indicators, sent sounds of static cracks through the air between them. Hirru's thorns fought back, lacerations appearing and disappearing across Koga's body, as both their health bars drained slowly.

Koga's eyes were wide with shock as he looked back into Hirru's own emerald greens. In them were a void he was all too familiar with.

At Baldur's request, Koga's weapon disappeared entirely, gone in a cloud of blue fragments. Empty hands fell to his side as he looked away from his two compatriots, as if to hide from them.

On Calrex's approach, Koga eyes drifted to the man's face for the first time. The Ultramarine Knight, a man with a kind face. Koga stepped to the side. Yes, he should be the one at this post, not Koga.

At hearing Freyd say his name, Koga looked instead to Gabrandr, the beaten down man still awaiting his sentence. Koga was certain his doppel was about to reprimand him, some strange, dream-like instance of another self inflicting harm. But instead, what the man said surprised him. He was...sparing Gabrandr? Koga's eyes shot over to Freyd, then to Hirru.

And the red-clad man too?

How many votes did that make? Koga didn't know, but surely...He didn't want to get his hopes up quite yet, but still...the swordsman reached out and gripped Hirru's shoulder firmly, squeezing gently. He didn't need to agonize over his actions. Not this time.

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There was noise all around him, but it felt like static.  There was so much going on, but the healer had had enough.  His mistakes kept on piling up and causing everything and everyone to fall apart.  His ideals were nothing more than a fallacy that none would really care about.  He was flawed and it was more than just his memories, as no one except two would know the truth.

The one known as Simmone had seemed to speak to him and then to everyone, but all he took out of it was.. 'What would he pay for this kind of trade..'  What was he willing to give?  His friends, his memories,..

..his life?

There was no need to fight over all of this, and Hirru's mind was starting to darken with his mind.  There was no need to gamble on his friends lives, nor did he have the right to gamble on the one that slept out there, the Hirru of 'their world.'  He had still not selected a proper choice yet, and he was sure of his choice now.  His finger fell ever so close to the only option that seemed viable, as everyone else was so adamant on.  Their evidence was sound.  It was.. the only.. choice.




The hand that was about to press the button was held a near inch away from the selection menu.  The thing that was keeping it at bay was a slender hand, gloved in an odd leather.  The hand seemed feminine as the grip seemed firm, but faint, almost like it didn't exist.  He looked to the hand's owner, thinking that it was NIGHT's, but instead there was that blue haired girl, but her attire wasn't NIGHT's, at least not from the look of it.  It was hard to distinguish features, as it was like they were a ghost.

"You're not thinking straight..  You're choosing to end something, just because your hurt?"

He was about to open his mouth to speak, but.. nothing came out.  He didn't know why, but it wasn't like he wasn't trying.  He couldn't force anything out.  He wanted to question who or what this person was, but..

..they were familiar.

"That's not how you should choose the life of another!  You should let your heart decide, and it's got a lot of weight to it."

His thoughts began to wander before leading him to the conclusion.  'It all wasn't worth it, in the end.  Everyone is fighting again.  Why should I follow my heart, when it causes so much conflict.. so much pain?'

A hand reached out to him, placing it upon his shoulder, this time.  Heavily armored gauntlet, though this one too was heavy, but non-existent.  The owner was a heavily armored man with brown hair, nearly like Shield himself, but the face was oddly more stoic and fatherly.  This one too was unknown to Hirru, but so god damn familiar.

"Then why do you have so many people that see your side of things."

The man gestured on to those in the front lines, whom were seemingly shrouded in fog, until shown.  Freyd was the first to be unshrouded, and his words came clearly to the healer.  That he did it right this time.  Hirru didn't understand.. did he change his decision?  Was he trying to talk Raidou out of it?

The next to be unshrouded was Macradon.  He was still on his thoughts to end this boss rightly, but it was his words to Hirru.  He told Hirru what he thought about the whole situation, and that Hirru was right to follow his ideals.  Mac didn't like how he had forced the issue last time, but this time was not of his accord.  The healer understood that, and it felt like a small weight was pulled from his heart.  Maybe, someday..

Raidou's visage was next.  The red cloaked one was heavily adamant on the threat at hand, but talked about his views on the beings of this world.  His views were nearly like Hirru's, if not on separate spectrums.  Though, if looked into by a good investigation, maybe they were the same?  Though, the man had pulled out his blade and was ready to end it all.. it seemed that the word of Freyd may have gotten to him.  Hirru didn't know, as he could not read minds, but his talking to towards the boss.. it seemed like he was trusting them.

"Of course, there are your friends that you have confided in, too.  Are they not worthy of your thoughts, as they see your light too?"

His hand fell away, but it was replaced by a very familiar one.  Shield had placed a hand of reassurance upon his shoulder, right where the other once was, before walking over to the boss, alongside Calrex, whom had chosen to spare as Baldur had chosen too.  Hirru was so sure that he was going down the wrong path once more, that he felt that he was wronging them again.

Another  ghostly hand placed itself upon his other hand, as the blade that Koga held disappeared.  Hirru didn't want the guy to have such an overwhelming experience on his first day on the front lines.  He didn't want him to react so rashly.

"And there is nothing you can do about that."

The hand that took his other was another woman, much taller than the last.  She had pink hair and wore spectacles of her own.  She seemed caring and motherly.  Her touch seemed gentle as it probed his arms.

"That is okay though.  Everyone is different, and so are you.  You can try to talk things out, but everyone has their own opinions.  You can't change them, even if you try so hard."

Another hand would reach out to grab his other shoulder.  This was Koga's, and although he didn't say a word, Hirru could understand.  He didn't have to be in pain due to all of this.

"Though, if you do, try to be less speculative, and don't bargain using someone elses life."

Everyone would vote as they would, and everything will happen as it should.

"It's time to decide.."

"..but with a clear mind."

His hand was moved towards the choice that was correct.  Not for anyone else..

..but for him.

Hirru blinked as the light in his eyes seemed to slowly come back to him.  He was still in front of Koga, with Baldur next to them.  Where did those three come from?  Who.. were they, and why were they so.. familiar.  As he looked around, he figured that it may have just been his mind playing tricks on him.  It had happened plenty of times before, and no one else seemed to have noticed anyone that shouldn't have been there.  Though that was.. surreal.

He gave a weak smile to the newest member of the front lines.

"Sorry, for this being.. your first raid experience.  This doesn't happen."

He would turn to see those that had spoken to him and would nod to each.

"Thank you.. all."

He would notice that his finger was atop the selection window from before.  The prompt said:


Edited by Hirru
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Wrapped in silence, Lessa simply observed from the outer edge of the group. Though she did not known the Frontliners well, their answers largely fell along lines she would expect. Logical, by-the-book Raidou opted for the kill, as did the equally matter-of-fact Freyd. The latter went so-far as to remind the Fallen King that he was merely a work of fiction, and strangely, it bothered Lessa that he would do so. As if he somehow meant to kick the man while he was down. But he is just data, the tiniest voice reminded her, affirming Freyd's entire argument. Saying nothing in reply, Lessa drew in a deep breath.

She held the air in her lungs as Oscar ranted, closing her eyes and focusing on the pent breath to keep from snapping out a retort. For some reason, it annoyed her that he might use the orphans as ammunition against the Frontliners, even in some vague, metaphorical sense. She had seen those children, and how he'd acted with them. She knew what they meant to him, and for that reason, found enough sympathy to remain quiet. But her jaw worked as she slowly exhaled through her nose. It was inappropriate to claim that the spare route, or even the discussion, somehow punished those Players who waited in the safe zones. 

The accusations and insults flew like spiders silk, sticking to Players, and weaving a tangled web that Lessa found both suffocating and nearly impossible to follow. Part of this, she knew, came from her years spent away from the Frontlines. But there was also an intensity that sparked through the air, a tension that she had never experienced within Aincrad. Was this what it meant to be a Frontliner? To find yourself more intimidated by your comrades than your enemy? A jolt spiked through her as weapons were drawn, but Baldur's quick response saved her from reacting. That booming voice of a General, she thought for what was perhaps the dozenth time. He did have a commanding way about him, but she knew him well enough to recognize the plea in his words. He was angry, of course, but concern lingered there as well. A concern she shared with him.

Surprise overshadowed that concern as Freyd began to speak, delivering a performance she would never have expected from him. The vote change, too, caught her entirely off-guard. As "spare" votes continued to fall like toppled dominoes, the woman studied her own prompt. Kill or spare? Like some spectator in Ancient Rome, she was asked to decide the Gladiator's fate. And it made her sick to her stomach.

She likely would have chosen "spare" regardless. Though merely an NPC, when she looked at Gabrandr, she saw Alexander - a line of code with as much life as the Players themselves. How could she condemn a man to death if given the choice to spare him? Looking at it objectively, one might wonder why Cardinal would give them a spare option at all, if not to make it a valid and perhaps rewarding option. But neither of those arguments mattered in that moment. Lessa felt the air shift, and knew the discussion was drawing to a close. If she had time for one final act, she might as well make it one of unity.

"If we fight together, we decide together, too. I respect whatever verdict is reached, and I hope that this experience will make us a stronger, more united front."


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Watching and listening to everyone speak and decide, she looks to Raidou. That couldn't have been easy for him, and Freyd... She remembered right then a group of NPC kids, they couldn't have been more that 8 years of age. They were running around and laughing in the town of beginnings. They seemed so real, at that moment all Eruda could of thought was that this was their reality now. There was that very slim thought in the back of her mind that told her that they were not getting out of here and that THIS is what real life had to hold now. Her flames die to nothing as her sword and shield return to her back. "This is all just a sick joke, but I will not go against everything I have been taught about kindness alone in this game. Make any other move, but the right one though, this will not end in your favor @Gabrandr." Eruda stands there now with her arms folded across her chest, staring at the large man to figure out what his next move was.


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