Kasumi - Hunted - Revenge and Determination

Description: As evening falls over Southtown, the shadow wars of bygone days erupt anew. Time has not lessoned their intensity, nor their cost in sweat and blood.

It had been seven months since she had known the peace of the rural village of the Mugen Tenshin clan. Seven months since her execution order had been signed by the man who had once coined the moniker of 'The Kunoichi of Destiny' for the girl; Kasumi, his own daughter. Some decisions in life there is no going back on. The law of the Shinobi was absolute. She would never see her home again and the only solace she had was that the devil of a man who had crippled her brother and stolen the Rekkuu Jinpuu Satsu was now dead.

Until recently, it had been a life of deprivation that she had lived. Her public fight appearances were a matter of survival as the young Exile earned just enough scratch to survive while living out of a crumbling temple ruin north of Southtown. Attempting to start a new, second life, apart from her life of secrecy, she had enrolled at Taiyo High and for all intents and purposes was content to retire from the endless wars always transpiring in the shadows. Maybe she would get some academic credentials, maybe she would find a mundane job and begin supporting herself... it was her life to live, her consequences to shoulder for here on out.

Then came the offer too good to refuse. The pay was phenomenal. All she had to do was exercise her elite ninja skills when called upon and she would continue to be extraordinarily compensated. She had a nice little apartment within ninja-sprinting distance of Taiyo High. She was doing acceptable in her classes. She was getting to know students at school, though always maintaining a certain distance that only seemed to pique more curiosity. And... it was all still just a cover.

From privileged princess of the Mugen Tenshin to Illuminati mercenary was an interesting transition to make, but she found it not all that unfamiliar. Dangerous operations, expectations of loyalty, severe rules and requirements... Only now she plied her skills for filthy lucre instead of the comfort and safety of her clan, a quiet shame she kept close to her heart. There was one aspect of her new line of work she was not ashamed of, however. Her new overlord's primary interest was the infection that had spread throughout the school district...

With her real family beyond reconciliation, the student body of Taiyo High had come to feeling like the closest thing the girl had to a clan now. At first her assignment had been investigation.

But the slighted Emperor of Steel had a new job for the Exile now: Assassinate the man acting as principal of Taiyo High.

To date, she had only killed one other man; fitting punishment for assaulting her clan. The files she was shown on NESTS's appalling experiments with living human beings made Raidou look like a saint in comparison. She had come to know one such living weapon herself - the pitiful thing known only as The Hound. Killing Principle Brown... no, Igniz, would be only the second time the trained assassin's teeth were truly bared.

But to attack a man such as this, she needed a plan, she needed intel, and she needed tools. The shinobi was already in the process of gathering all those. Poisons, darts, kunai, maps, needles, sharpening stones, and new outfits better suited to infiltration and stealth. But she needed to know more about him. Where did he go at night? Where was he most alone? Where did he let his guard down?

She knew the routine now, she had been watching from a distance. Dropped off and picked up daily by a sleek black Rolls Royce Ghost Series II, valued at over half a million dollars. The next day she was in position to trail it from the rooftops of Southtown. Not so different from the forests of her youthful training, the girl was able to navigate the city from above with grace and speed. She had donned her blue shinobi outfit - a wrap blouse, a side-tied skirt, long stockings, blue shin and wrist guards. Strawberry-blonde hair is tied off into a ponytail worn high by a blue ribbon. It isn't her most stealthy outfit, but it affords a freedom of movement she enjoys, and the car below will never see the speeding assassin above.

With the advantage of no traffic, bird like grace and speed, and the ability to teleport over short distances to cover even more ground, keeping the distinct Rolls Royce in view is a trivial undertaking. Tonight will not be the night she kills him. No. But she intends to know where he goes.

The plan comes to an end as the car turns onto an overpass that takes it above one of the last neighborhoods on the north side of Southtown. The Shinobi in Blue leaps down onto a low, two floor shop adjacent to the highway bridge, copper brown eyes watching silently as the car speeds into the distance.

Not discouraged, she shakes her head slightly before turning around. The jaunt through the city worked up a bit of a sweat but she has plenty of energy left. Time to return to her flat and sort through her latest acquisitions again.

Principal Brown's days were numbered.

He had no knowledge nor interest of the Illuminati.

It wasn't that it had no relevance to him--the shinobi clans were as warlike as they had ever been, to his knowledge, and their activities were of obvious utility to him and his aims, enough so that following their movements became something of a mild obsession for him. But as far as the contractors--those who the shinobi would ply their trades to--were of as little interest to the young Ryouhara firebrand as a cat's to the ocean. Along with the forms and secrets of their hidden jutsu, contractors were some of the most highly guarded secrets of a shinobi clan. Ultimate discretion was the trade by which a clan marketed their strengths, and their ability to maintain that reputation was their blood. An incisive outing of a clan's contractors could mean their death--both figuratively and literally. As a result, it was typically next to impossible to recover that kind of information, and not worth his time. The Illuminati and NESTS were names that were meaningless to him.

Even more, Ryouhara had no interest in them.
EVerything he has ever done, he has done with all-consuming fervor. His goal is not to destroy entire clans through information warfare--not yet, anyway. Ryouhara's keen interest lay solely in the chain of command of each group. Somewhere, someone has the information that he requires. He will find that person, and he will make them talk, by any means necessary. These means will be the spear by which he holds fate itself accountable for its crime. But all great spears require a spearhead. That's why he's out tonight.

It took him some time to actually track down the kunoichi that has been making moves on the Neo League circuit. 'Kaede,' or so she calls herself. Typically, finding the ninja that are still young enough to compete in the professional circuits were simpler--they left more of a trail, and in so doing, they made themselves available to the extensive intelligence network that that Ainu woman, Miko Kobayashi, had toiled to build. Ryouhara has no illusions that the rabbit hole ends there--but the winnings from professional league participation make a tempting offer for some to bask in wealth and luxury. If even a single ray of sunlight falls on their home or their excesses, he's resolved to find it.

Kaede only appeared recently, to his surprise, with a home not too far from the schools whichshe appeared to have business with. Potentially some plot by a contractor eager to gain the strength of the local youth fighters for their uses, or something to that respect. The details of the schools escaped him. The schools didn't matter at all to him. Only the mission.

Only fate, laying so far in the distance.

Though the kunoichi is agile beyond his expectations, she still has a predetermined path. Her agility and her teleportation skills--a signature of her fights, he's noticed--would make her a very difficult target to track. He cannot perform such feats. But he is a creature of fire and silk, and the wings of his resolve spread wide in the evening sky. Such a creature does not--cannot burn. No. Instead, he flies.

The sleeves of his great haori, the Byakuren Hagoromo, spread in the air as he stirs the bitter cold air with his heat and power, generating the thermal that fills his coat with the wind's favor. The edges of his coat are stimulated by his chi, hardening them as if against attack, but in reality making subtle changes to the fabric's shape so as to force it into the disposition of an airfoil. He keeps far enough away from Kaede to be mistaken for a bird as she continues her pursuit, lazily pursuing her on high. And who would think any different of it? After all, a person can only fall. But Ryouhara--the ghost that he is never had to touch the ground at all if he doesn't will it.

The car she is chasing escapes, and though it may be within him to follow further, the ninkougakusha ends his pursuit as his kunoichi target does, banking slowly away before she spends too much time looking at the skyline above her as opposed to her target below. Further up the highway, he tucks his so-called wings, and dives. Slamming into the container being towed of a tractor trailer, his fingers splay across the steel. And then he makes his move, creating a single handseal. He will need to be fast to do this, and also make sure the driver doesn't die.

A series of arcing chains rip into the sky as that kunoichi watches the highway that allowed the expensive coupe to elude her. With the endless rattle of molten steel, they slam into the suicide fencing, white hot links bonding with the metal instantly. Kaede only has seconds to follow the chain to its source--a tractor-trailer moving at a full clip. The chains glow with reinforcement as the tractor wings past the anchor point, a low rumble filling the air from the rush of tires across the highway. There is one sick moment where everything makes sense.

And then it happens.

There is a cataclysmic shriek of steel and concrete, a loud gunshot crack of rebar being snapped inside the concrete shell as the road almost pulls itself apart when the fully loaded trailer's weight hits it. The entire thing flips over, going into a swinging roll, and spraying pallets of boxes of fruit across the entire highway and raining from the sky. Kaede will see the whole thing as if rendered in agonizing slow motion. She will see a faceless shinobi standing atop the trailer as it swings wildly, keeping perfect balance, even as it begins to tumble and smash through the fences.

Wearing a haori that ripples in the hot and chaotic winds cutting through the winter chill, he takes only a step back, calculating the angles precisely. He has a ridiculous calm about him, even as the tractor slams through the concrete barriers, shredding the fence like ruined thread and ripping it from its moorings. In that single twisting moment, he pulls the person he's dragging with him back a few inches. The tractor twists violently, spinning in mis-air as it seperates from the trailer through pure torsional force. Kaede will be able to see this clearly, as the entire mess is heading right towards her.

"I will introduce you to your fate," Ryouhara whispers.

...A split second later, 16 tons of steel and goods collide with the storefront, windows, brick and mortar, and crushing the sidewalk to dust. Lampposts become toothpicks in the din, and for at least a minute thereafter, all anyone can hear is the ringing of steel in their ears, from the horrific shriek of twisted metal. Smoke curls into the air.

Seishirou says, "oho, but it was not a tractor trailer"

Throughout the pursuit, she had been confident that her quary had no idea she was chasing from above. What she had never suspected was that she was equally oblivious to another. Checking high angles when moving through an interior or along the streets is certainly a habit of any who have grown up in the shadows and either learned that it is the angles above that often prove the most dangerous... or perished.

But the skies above as she runs along roof tops, skipping, leaping, teleporting up the taller buildings in her way... well, the skies are still studied. The Exile is the consummate ninja, the youngest in the powerful family at the head of the Mugen Tenshin Shinobi, no effort was spared in preparing her for the potential of leadership and into her, as her brother, went all the collective knowledge and legacy of the proud clan. Occasionally the sky is scanned. Weather double checked, angle of the sun confirmed for maximum use of shadows with each leap, and the wind tasted.

Even on the run, sneaking up and surprising the young operative would be a feat that only the most clever and experienced could accomplish. The Ghost of the Ryouhara maintained the right distance. Even when her eyes traced over the horizon, it was the silhouette of a bird she saw before returning her focus to the next ledge ahead.

Her step as she turned away from the northern horizon, the open road that the expensive sedan would vanish along, was deliberate and not particularly fast. Her race was over for now. She could take her time getting back. Her mind was looking forward to other matters to solve. Harnesses to make and fit, weapons to sort. She might be able to get a tracking device from Frederick, she thinks to herself...

That slower, contemplative turn into what she anticipated being a leisurely jaunt back home comes to an end in an instant. Normal human reflex to sudden noise that loud is to freeze and look. Instead, Kasumi executes the practiced response to ambush:

- Secure higher ground. Such elevation shifts tend to buy time.
In an instant, she alights atop a power pole adjacent to the building.

- An instant of reconnaissance. Identify the attacker and their means of assault.
Copper brown eyes glare at the origin of the noise, tracing the chains back to the wreck in progress, identifying in an flash the field of debris raining down from the airborn trailer. And the unknown shinobi caught up in the middle of the catastrophe - no, not caught up - he is the architect and shaper of it, the wreckage is his symphony. Of that, she has no doubt.

- Disappear. The surest way to defeat and ambush is to survive.
She is gone from her perch before the building becomes nothing but smoke and ruin. In the haze that follows, it is unclear where she has gone. The plume rising out of the crash site is more than enough to conceal one lone ninja.

Car alarms blare out as far as three blocks away. Some shouts echo along the street. They seem so distant to the girl hiding in the rubble. The desire to flee is strong. But she must know who has attacked her. It would not be like the Mugen Tenshin to enlist another clan to hunt her down... clan matters were invariably settled by the elite Hajinmon sect. Was this a byproduct of her investigations into NESTS? The Hound likely reported on her presence at Seijyun and she had always wondered what the ramifications would be.... She needs information. Then the choice can be made - deter the threat from further hostility. Or escape.

Her left azure wrist guard is held over her mouth, allowing her to breath filtered air through its exceedingly fine fabric - that it could serve this purpose was no accident in its design. She stands now atop a pile of shattered brick alongside the metal wreckage of the trailer now embedded through not one building but two. The smoke might conceal her for a moment, but it also blinds her. And there is that disconcerting thought that perhaps the man who put this plan in motion had already accounted for the possibility that she would disappear into the obscurring veil and has brought means to find her anyway.

At no moment will her guard be relaxed, her senses down. There is no doubt in her mind that this is a matter of blood and bone, life and death.

The truck has cleaved the building almost in half.

Embedded roughly eight feet up in the building, there is an ominous groan of steel as the sagging trailer crumples, metal that used to withstand axeblows now as supple as silk rope. It folds like a crushed soda can until the sides of its wheels meet the street, settling there. As the weight in the cab rolls from the back to the font of the trailer, the distant alarms are drwoned out by the rumble of the trailer's remaining produce supplies rolling out onto the street, sounding for all intents and purposes like a horse stampede, as the boxes fall flat to the ground and then are pounded flat by the loose items, sending melons and cabbages and bushels of carrots rolling through the desolate scene. Gallons upon gallons of diesel fuel spill out of the tractor's tanks, causing a small and localized flood.

The remaining chain shudders in the air, holding up against tremendous stress. It's the only chain that didn't snap in the cataclysm, leaving the chain and trailer to fold at odd angles to resolve the pressures. In truth, the insane tension seems to be planned--on close inspection, the shinobi treats it as not a potential hazard, but a feature of a complex battlefield. The chains themselves kept the building from being cut all the way in half by absorbing some more of the shock between the highway above and the tractor-trailer. This probably kept the building from collapsing immediately, and the trailer's impact point props up the entire mess, as most of the stop floor sof the building have slid off and over the top of the tractor itself, but most are eerily intact.

The entire affair is devastation, but in a bizarre way.. structurally sound.
It almost seems as if it were planned that way.

The young man seems like nothing but white silk. A shinobi, to be sure, judging from his shozoku, but his vestments seem like a priest's, an onmyou or a Shinto, or perhaps some combination. He stands passively on the trailer as it sinks, the middle-aged man who was driving it a moment ago held slack in his grip, long since rendered unconscious by a chop to the back of the neck. As the weight of the trailer and its contents settle, he slides down the newly-made slope to the ground below, kicking over a pallet jack that slipped loose of its moorings in the back of the trailer to right it, before putting the body on top of it and then pushing the entire affair across (what's left) of the street to a distance.

He then turns to face the direction of the destruction zone. A respirator clicks as he breathes through it, venting through cylinders on either side of a battle helmet he wears. In the dust and mayhem, the respirator displaces the haze of dust around it. The helmet itself completely obscures his face with a jet black visor that dominates most of the frontal portion that the respirator unit or crest does not. The first thing to remember while watching him is that he seems to be in no particular hurry, looking for all intents and purposes like a explorer in an unfamiliar terrain, slowly sweeping his view in a semicircle from the north to the south. He notes the produce and debris from the back of the trailer that's pretty much all over the place now.

The second is that he seems to have no particular battle readiness stance--he stands not like a predator, but like a listless ghost, arms slack at his sides, and hands concealed beneath the sweep of voluminous sleeves. No inch of skin can be seen around him except for the vaguest glimpses of his fingertips from beyond the fringes of that coat, and in truth with his slender build, wide robes and equipment, it's hard to even make out a gender for him. The only defining characteristic of him is that symbol on his back.

Wasn't that clan destroyed some time ago..?

He knows she's still here. But instead of trying to goad her out with idle conversation--a useless endeavor--the shinobi takes a moment to raise his hands. Slender, artifice-worn hands slip loose of the edges of silk to knit together in gestural handseals, the somatic components of mystical ninjutsu. The first is a bird seal over the front of his helmet. It releases the stored hunter's technique in his helmet to react to chakra and its unique aura in the air, and the edges of the visor spark briefly and vividly to signify the scanning change. Breaking the seal, he kneels down and draws twin circles around him in the settled concrete and drywall dust with his fingers, before producing a pair of knives, tied with strips of paper on them. These he plants in the centers of the circles.

And then he kneels between the two, muttering something inaudible and mechanically distended from beyond the respirator, knitting out more seals between his hands. He's preparing a technique--even now you can feel the amount of chakra he's beginning to bring to fore. It occurs that the chakra itself might be the technique--it becomes warmer. He seems to be raising the ambient temperature of the battlefield slowly, by degrees. A Katon technique of some sort. It won't be long before it becomes uncomfortable to stand.

Little by little, the blinded kunoichi is able to make out certain details of the wreckage. The trailer hanging down at her side is listing slightly, as if it wasn't already completely settled. Delicate fingers rest against one of the twisted metal beams that once formed it. It is the only way to fully picture how it currently rests, extending a visual picture outward in her mind based on the most subtle of fluctuations. The thought comes to mind - it could fall at any moment. And that moment would undoubtledy come no sooner or later than the one who crafted this battlezone intended.

Her own breaths come calmly, hushed by the fabric over her mouth. The white powder of pulverized drywall sticks to her in places where a slight sheen of perspiration had existed before. Her blue clothing has become closer to white as the thick dust settles over the immobilized young woman.

No stranger to ambushes, she nonetheless has seen nothing like this. Never seen, but heard of? Perhaps. She needs to find her assailant. Her own movements are silent, the soles of her shoes flexing quietly with the movement of her feet as the dusted kunoichi kicks off the ground floor, springs from the side of the creaking trailer, and lands on the largely bisected second floor. It would afford her a vantage, she believes, able to spy from the shadows. The smoke will be thickest at the ground level. Waiting somewhere higher should afford an earlier view. She positions herself so that there is no opening above her. The only way she can be approached would be by also navigating the gaping crevice through the middle of the structure.

If her assailant is alone, she will show him why it is that she has been able to live on the run for so long in spite the efforts of the dangerously talented Hajinmon. It isn't a matter of pride but practicality and survival.

The first glances of him moving into the warzone leave her questioning whether she saw anything. His garb of holy white makes him every bit a part of the smokescreen as the dust particles themselves. But the dust isn't making noise. The one moving through the wreckage mostly certainly is. The unconscious driver is ejected from the battle he has no part of with a loud scraping noise against the shattered asphalt and Kasumi holds her breath. Now she definitely has a position on her attacker.

Her foot slips forward, her torso moving into position that affords her a better view below, eyes focusing toward the click of the respirator. His approach is unlike what she had expected. No attempt at stealth, no ambush now that the stage he desired has been set. He does not have the hunter's stance, or the predator's presence. Finally she sees movement amid the field of white - the symbol on his back stands out where the rest of his haori does not.

The Ryouhara?

She would doubt her eyes, but she knew her clan symbols well. Knowledge of the factions, their dealings, and politics between them were vital subjects for a future leader of the secluded Mugen Tenshin. She would also question as to whether someone had deceptively taken up the mantel of one of their fallen, to pass oneself off as something other than he was... except as she sweeps her eyes over the intricately suspended big rig, she knows full well she is looking at the signature of the Ryouhara. Every clan had their style, their reputation, their strengths and foci.

Only one clan fit this exact manner of attack.
And THAT clan no longer exists.

Simply by being a nukenin, none of the clans throughout the nation should have anything to do with her. But only those with either a vested interest, or a reputation for hunting down the dishonored exiles would actually /target/ her for that.

In the slowly settling dust of the precariously upright structure, he begins his work. Whether he knows he is being watched is hard to tell - the way he carries himself, he doesn't particularly care, as if it would have no impact on his methodical ritual. She can't make out the symbols shaped by his impossibly deft fingers but she's more than plenty familiar with such techniques. The longer they take to complete, the more chakra they are allowed to manipulate, the worse it is likely to get.

She has her choice to make - to run or attack. Waiting has been eliminated from the menu.

Kasumi moves forward. She will drop from the floor above, her target the crown of the head belonging to that Ghost of the Lost Clan with the heel of her right foot. Just how prepared is HE for attacks from above - wait, is that a helmet??

The kunoichi twists in mid air, spinning instead of kicking, landing two and a half meters away from him so great is her ability to change trajectory mid-fall. She would land already prepared in a low crouch, arms out at her sides, holding her breath now that she no longer had her guard to breathe through, smoke forced away from her by currents generated by her swift movements as the dust covered girl faces him head on.

She knows now the nature of his ambush was to engineer the environment of his choosing. But she can't help whisper across the space between them. The response might give her a sense of who it is she is dealing with.

"You missed."

The four piece symbol of the leaves swirling around the wind. If simple mnemonics assisted in memorizing the glut of information, one might recall that it's actually a metaphor. 'The wind that stirs the leaves.' Though details are rough, especially concerning an insular clan like the Ryouhara, it has something to do with influencing the world subtly--the idea that a gentle breeze can cause a leaf to fly, something to that respect.

Looking at the wreckage in the aftermath of that binding chain technique, it is very clear that the Ryouhara didn't get to the part about 'subtle' in his training.

He seems unaware of the approach of 'Kaede.' His target is his absolute focus, but in the field of shinobi iri, she currently has the advantage. Though his step is silent, the rolling of the pallet jack is audible, and the ambient click of his respirator is a telltale giveaway for his position. He simply doesn't seem to be taking many great pains to hide his position or even really form a ready stance. Like a young dog digging holes in the yard, he continues with his work. At least, he does until the kunoichi finally makes her move.

The kick was one that could have knocked out a fully grown man twice her size, but the helmet he wears is specifically inured against sudden attack, and could presumably take a sword thrust to the back of the head with no ill effects. To her merit, she realizes this just before she over-commits, the ninkougakusha pausing in his incantations as he hears the tell-tale crack of limbs redirecting themselves in the air as she leaps out of the way and hits the ground in front of him. The pause is not one of interruption--no, expectation.

There is a whole new set of variables to assess now that Kaede stands in front of the nameless, faceless ghost. One of the main elements of consideration to think on as the shinobi slowly stands with all due deliberation before her is exactly how much worse it is up close to him than it is from further off. Getting this close to the Ryouhara ghost is like testing to see how close one can get to the fire before you get burned. Heat bales openly at the center of him, like a corona. It's not actually damaging, nor is it an effect of any massive presence or internal store of chakra. It is deliberate. The azure nukenin can ascertain at least one of the practical effects of the technique--the closer one gets to him, the hotter it gets, and the harder it becomes to actually think or to breathe. It's a defensive effect, distorting images of his body with the heat haze as well as distorting an opponent's mind. In the wet, cold winter, the gradient is even more intense, and faint steam will trail from the street around him. Even now, certain leading edges of his robes appear to shift as they are refracted through the moisture in the air.

Reaching his full height, the shinobi inclines his head, regarding the arrival imperiously, as if he expected her to show up this whole time. His efforts are, at least in part, revealing. He didn't look for her because he didn't have to--by beginning his preparations early, he presents a situation in which she has to respond or face an unknown level of danger later. That probably means the kunai at either side of his feet are part of some sort of pursuit technique--they are clearly delineated with the markings of sealed chakra arrays, etched into the street with a burning touch. He was probably intending on triggering the technique to root her out if she chose to run.

She whispers to him, and again the shinobi's arms go slack at his sides and the tension drains from his shoulders, as if the concept of physical fighting was something completely alien to him, despite the blades at his back. He is eerily relaxed. It would make sense for the Ryouhara clan. Truthfully, it's impossible to tell exactly what or how he feels, or even what he sees. The only signposts of his mood from beyond that impassive black visor is the slight tilt of the helmet.

...and that voice.

"So you seem to think."
The shinobi's voice defines enmity. Even behind layers of mechanical distortion from the tell-tale click of that respirator--which seems to occur roughly every eight seconds--there is an icy heat to every word, a fire that has burned for so long it has become cold.

Slowly, the anonymized gaze sweeps across the scattered debris carefully, methodically, before attention finally returns to Kaede. She won't be able to see it, but her body in full readiness shimmers a faint hue through the dust. The chakra flooding the battlefield is interfering with it, but save actual active stealth, he'll be able to see her much more easily through the haze of smoke. He is very plain in his intentions, sizing her up.
The shinobi takes one step forward.
Given the situation, it is the most hostile movement imaginable.
"Surrender, or be crushed beneath the will of history."

Facing each other now, the experienced kunoichi is convinced that this will be the last moment they pause until this is settled. Every opportunity must be taken to learn all she can. When one hurls a truck at you to get your attention, it is not with the intention of opening peaceful dialoge.

His lack of stance stirs a familiar, dark memory in the girl - of a snow blanketed forest and a shrouded ninja with telekinetic powers that could tear a man asunder. Was this too one such wraith? Perhaps this ghost bearing the markings of the Ryouhara was just that - a spector of vengeance from beyond this world. The bitter hostility to his voice, that antipathy backed by a mind driven to action, certainly doesn't rule out such conclusions.

The next one to move from their spot will break this brief accord, this chance to size each other up. She sees a young figure that seems not given to brute force tactics. Already, his ninpo skills have proven to be beyond doubt. The still suspended, creaking multi-ton vehicle to her left is evidence enough of that. He is armed... she suspects with far more than what she can see on the surface. The masking headgear is a curiosity - it is for more than just the respirator, of that she is certain. It afforded him defense from her descending strike, forcing her to reconsider her approach vector in an instant. But it is the black visor that she is most interested in. It hides his face, his identity. Is it simply because he does not want to be known? Or does its intent go deeper than that?

In the same manner, her pause gives him time to observe the princess-born Kasumi of the Mugen Tenshin. Word of her beauty among the students of Taiyo is fast becoming a distracting subject regarding the new 'Airi'. In peak physical condition, what little is visible of her forearms and legs reveals firm muscle tone belonging to one who has not lived a relaxing life from the time she could walk. Her face possesses an elegent, gentle beauty, narrowing toward the chin and unmarred but for the white dust that has settled on her. Azure, floral imprinted shin and wrist guards are each held in place with golden bands on legs and arms.

Along her back, secured by the sash forming the belt around her waist, is a sheathed short blade - a wakizashi bearing a gold and red corded grip and a pair of long crimson tassles that are still swinging listlessly after her acrobatic descent. The Tenjinmon prodigy has been gifted with curves in all the right places and it would be easy for her to ply her appearance alone as a means to manipulate men who are easily distracted.

Fortunately for her, she has relied on no such attributes in her life. All that she counts on is her skills, talents, and instincts. What do spectres care for beauty?

Time is almost up. This chance to scrutinze each other will pass in a moment. Her heart races with the anticipation of a fight. She has already witnessed the destrutive potential of his ninkou and can feel the scalding heat of his presence. Fire then, is it? No. It's more than that. The heat emanating from the white-clad engima is the fierceness of the forge, a furnace of intent for which the term 'fire' is not enough. Slowly, she moves her left hand over her mouth as she takes in another filtered breath, copper eyes fixated on every move, every cant of his head.

He takes a step forward. It is the signal she has waited for. His demand is made unmistakeably clear.


She does not flee.
She will not surrender.

"Can indeed be-"

She is charging him now. Direct, frontal engagements at incredible speeds are one of her greatest strengths in combat. Normally such reckless tactics would be eschewed by practitioners of ninjitsu, but being straight forward seems to go deeper than just her personality.

"-a heavy burden."

His stance speaks of a certain distaste for conventional melee combat but that is the threat the skilled shinobi intends to deliver. Into the corona of suppressive heat she bolts, blue lightning on a direct course that seems to know no fear. She will test the intensity of his aura with her own. One of his hidden arms would be her target, both hands snapping out to secure purchase through the durable yet diaphanous fabric.

"Yet it has not broken me."

A grip would be all that is required, her forward momentum converted into pulling his arm out of place, denying him a conventional defense from the storm of leg strikes that would follow, her right knee rising up to deliver a potentially stunning blow, followed by a snap kick with the same leg targeting the base of that curious headgear.

"You too know the yoke of destiny. I can tell."

Even if his skull was protected, the amount of kinetic force the powerful striker can deliver to even the exterior of his helmet could be a painfully jarring blow all the same.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi has started a fight here.

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Kasumi           0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Seishirou has joined the fight here.

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Kasumi           0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0        Seishirou

COMBATSYS: Seishirou endures Kasumi's Tenro Kyaku.

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Kasumi           0/-------/------=|======-\-------\0        Seishirou

A weaker will might have lost sight of the goal.

Women like 'Kaede' -- the name he is familiar with from her event participations -- have the classical sort of attractiveness that can stop a man's heart in his chest. Such fitness is distressingly common for the kunoichi, whose wiles have doomed many a lonely mark in their time. That beauty--even a single moment of coveting is enough to render all the power in the world useless. Even when descended from the kami, an emperor is still a man, and as so long as the sword is warmed in the sheath, there is always a way to render him edgeless and soft.

She has the bearing of royalty, he knows. Even as she stands face to face with him, he makes no great efforts to hide the slow escalation of his gaze, slipping past all of the firm and toned lines of the artful beauty, as if cataloguing every contour of the slender youth. But when he reaches her eyes, he passes the critical point--the point at which a man might stop and reconsider his choices, the point at which a man might think better of treading flat a natural bloom in the forest path.

No words break the silence.

Though up close it may be clear the slender young man is just that--he evinces no particular empathy scythed from his slow appraisal. The only part of her that even seemed to trip his interest for a second is the sword at her back. That held his mind. The truth of it is, there can be no solace for those born in fire. There was no part of his mind that thought of anything like that, and the only ache he felt was the urge to know what laid beyond the black. It is the simple truth, and the only truth that he knows--

If he had once known the respite of a warm hand on his, the memory of it was long since lost in the cold and unforgiving black. There is nothing left for those such as him.
"Aa," he acknowledges.

"Destiny has made us what we are."

He inclines his head slightly as she moves quickly into his crushing heat range. Her wakizashi is a good signifier of her ability to fight up close, as was her initial fighting stance, reading through it to the dashing blows that follow. But as she comes in close to him, she will not see him actually move--or even attempt to move outside of her range. She can find his arm quickly in the swath of fabric, ripping open his guard powerfully as she slams her knee into his middle. He folds like a chair. His body, slender with only the slight toned muscle of a dancer or a laborer as opposed to a trained martial artist, goes limp, limbs cascading around her like a ragdoll. She feels the blows land--she can even feel the hits stress bone to the breaking point. And when she brings one single knife kick to the base of his helmet, she can even hear his vertebrae crack audibly with the impact, fluid cavitation snapping loud down the length of his spine with the force of the blow.

It all doesn't seem right. He moves along with the blows too easily, absorbs the damage too readily, and puts up no attempt at a defense. All truth told, it is rather hard to break the bones of the boneless.

His helmet doesn't split. It holds against her attack, and the shinobi doesn't go to the ground. No, instead he tilts in by degrees, getting ever slightly underneath her. Though it is not enough to disrupt her form, it is not the intended angle he is meant to fall in the technique--possibly because he offers no resistance against it in the first place.For one split second, he remains low, as if waiting for her momentum to bleed out against him, even as he feels the slick of blood inside his helmet.
In that one second, he breathes slowly, as if to measure the pain.

His stance strengthens, and then he leans back, dropping his knee onto her one grounded ankle--hard, as if the weight of her attack finally hit him. He's trying to limit her ability to move by pinning her to the ground by her one planted leg in a painful dropping knee--a trademark of some classic Iga schools of ninjutsu. He shifts his weight against her long leg by thrusting his shoulder forward. Though one arm is currently powerless in her position, he moves not into but underneath her guard entirely. Then, and only then, does he draw his longsword.

The chokuto sheathed at his back is part of a low slung pack at his hip underneath his haori. The blade hisses free with a rasp and a reverberating song of steel, as the shinobi cuts a crescent moon into the air over him, rising out of his low crouching pin stance into a full stand, appearing all the while like a whirling, blooming lotus from the rush of white silk that accompanies the motion, a ghostly blue vapor trail following the arc of the crescent in its wake. It's a simple thing, really. If the kunoichi finders herself pinned by his knee, an instant later she will find herself in the air, cut open by his blade. But it's not the point of his attack. He flips his wrist over once, releasing a hidden catch inside his coat with a twist of the shoulder. A device triggers, letting countless senbon roll down his arm, onto and across the flat of the blade. The entire process takes only the space of an eyeblink, but it seems to go across in slow motion.

Because when the Ryouhara ghost makes his second stroke, saturating the air with a wave of chakra-reinforced senbon that pierce everything within a hundred foot radius of his position, the eyeblink seems woefully slow in comparison.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou successfully hits Kasumi with Tsurugi Festival.

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Kasumi           0/-------/--=====|=======\==-----\1        Seishirou

The lack of resistence is more disconcerting than one might expect. Already, the living nature of her adversary was uncertain enough as to be called into question. When he makes no effort to defend himself, the instant thought is felt - blunt trauma from powerful kicks are hardly a threat to the long dead. Is that truly what she battles? He crumples forward against her, falling the opposite way someone should collapse from the series of series of blows from the kunoichi's well-muscled leg. Normal reflexes and response to crushing pain would dictate a retreat backward, whether by unconscious desperation or active awareness of the peril of one's situations once caught in the young shinobi's hold.

The lonely Ryouhara's descent finds himself situated in the exact angle least defended against by the powder dusted Mugen Tenshin ninja in that very instant. Arms on his arm, right leg outstretched, snapping into the foot cracking against the armor about his head, she could have responded to attacks from most angles by a swing of her arm or swish of her swift leg.

Instead she finds her foot pressed with a painful crunch, a butterfly pinned, her birthright of flight suddenly stripped away. She responds as might be expected, attempting to kick off with her toes beneath the pressure on her foot while also sweeping her leg back down, aiming to hammer her right heel against his shoulder with the kind of strength that could deny him of any further action before it is too late.

Neither contributes in time to save her, however, the pale blue crescent slashing up from below. The soft cry of the living but wounded Exile is audible as she finds herself airborn, driven there by the power behind that violent slash, accompanied by a newly made plume of that fine white powder. Her back is arched, left arm outstretched as her trajectory appears to render her helpless to defend herself.

These are the moments that can turn the tide of battle - or end one actor's story prematurely. The slash alone could spell the end of many. The shell of senbon that saturate the ruin an instant later would finish most of the rest. In one precise combination, the master architect has come close to securing his intention. The second slash unleashes the steel storm.

She becomes a blur - her action evidenced more by sound than the sight of movement - a whisper of metal drawn, a sharp hiss of a blade through air, the swish of cloth yielding to impossibly fast movement, a shimmer of salmon light left in its wake.

When the young woman lands, the wakizashi glimmers in her right hand, its blade still singing, the faint traces of sakura hued energy fading from it, the crimson tassles at its grip swinging beneath her arm. The black sheath at her back is vacant now.

In her grip, Kasumi holds the Shrouded Moon, the blade of leadership. Forged over three hundred and fifty years ago, it has always been at the back of the ruling Master Shinobi of the Mugen Tenshin. It became hers only a day before she began her self-appointed mission of vengeance. If the Hajinmon ever caught up with the runaway and put an end to her defiant existence, then finally the Shrouded Moon would return home to serve the proper leader. Until then, it stayed with the kunoichi, only adding further to her unspeakable crimes.

Scattered around, the senbon have found homes in the ground, walls, concrete, and wooden beams of the shattered building. At first, it might seem that where they did not land was the intended target herself. The truth becomes more apparent to the detail oriented eyes of the isolated Ryouhara. The circular swing of her blade had deflected a large swath of the chakra infused darts. Her left hand has a number clutched between her fingers and both her wrist and shin guards have become a lot more spikey than they were when this started. Even the rich blue fabric of her uniform seems to have prevented many from securing a place in her flesh. The girl breaths in, risking inhaling some of that ambient dust, then exhales, spitting four more of the unforgiving needles to the floor. Had she been any less swift, she would already be lying paralyzed on the ground.

But for all her swift defense, the pressured kunoichi could not stop them all. Small pin pricks of blood bubble up along her legs, marring the already dirtied white stockings. Kasumi staggers, a pained gasp accompanying the exhale a brief moment ago, dropping to one knee. Narrowing one eye in a wince, she rests her sword bearing arm across her still upright knee. Her left hand rests against her side where a significant gash has been rent through her attire, blood already staining the exquisite fabric where her attacker's sword had carved its path. The royal blue shinobi uniform is another token of her life of previous privilege - only the ruling family of the Mugen Tenshin is permitted to don such a shade. Even exiled, hunted by her own, she feels no shame in draping herself in the color of authority.

She choses to hold her breath when she pulls her hand away from the wound and, in an act of excrutiating pain, brushes the imbedded senbon out of her injured legs. Better to suffer the brief flash of agony than risk further harm by leaving them in place. If they were poisoned, she will have other problems to contend with soon enough but she hasn't the time to tell.

Sucking in her breath, she pushes herself back to standing, having brushed away what senbon she could in so short a time. The Shrouded Moon is held in one hand before it is spun to a reverse grip then smoothly returned to its sheath at her back.

"I must know..." she whispers over the sound of flowing diesel fuel from the wrecked truck.

"Is this personal."

She never takes her eyes off him. She has seen what he can do, has tasted of his speed.

"Or is this the start of war against the Mugen Tenshin?"

A bold phrasing - to suggest an attack on her is to attack the clan that has utterly disowend her. But certain beliefs die hard, certain senses of belonging take more than just half a year of bitter pursuit to crush.

She tenses, leaning forward, one foot leading. Winding to the right, ignoring the protests of her painful wound on her left, she prepares herself.

"Careful," she murmurs, blood trickling down her cheek from where a needle had grazed even when deflecting.

"You are treading on alliances generations in the making."

War on the Mugen Tenshin could very well extend to the Hayabusa as well. Just how far is the rogue in the haori willing to go?

When she moves next, a blur of white, blue, and strawberry blonde, it is almost nearly with her full speed in spite her injuries. To a mundane eye, it would be as if the girl simply teleported clean through the helmeted enigma. His eyes would see the truth of it as the young woman surges past him, reaching for his sword wielding arm, twisting it out of place to expose his side - in that moment, an elbow strike of incredible speed, force, and precision would be speared against his ribcage - just below the tenth rib, where the two floating ribs in most human beings can be found, their lack of firm anchoring causing them to provide little to know protection to the delicate vital organs beneath.

Unless otherwise prevented, Kasumi would slide to a stop meters later, arms out at her sides, body in full crouch as she descends out of near-instantaneous movement, making Seishirou Ryouhara the target of a blisteringly fast attack.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi successfully hits Seishirou with Oboro Gake.

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Kasumi           0/-------/=======|=======\==-----\1        Seishirou

Dust, blood and steel fly in equal sum, until the haze in the air turns crimson.

The sword arts of the Ryouhara have always borne second rung on the ladder to their crafting arts. However, their branch of ninjutsu was always mind-bogglingly broad, with various systems and specialties claimed almost on a per-shinobi basis. For a clan that creates weapons, knowing how to use them was paramount to its survival as a standalone group after its revolution, and many of their field agents were trained exclusively as use specialists.
In this case, the ghost of the Ryouhara seemed to be at least as adept as one of those.

The charged senbon were deflected in a whirl of speed, indicative of the pure voltage of speed that the young woman was capable of, even when his blade flashed in the light. Instead of shaking it off in a single swing like most swordsmen, the ghost slides his hand along the length of the blade to deal with the blood drawn, until the fingers of his off hand run red with crimson. By the time she lands behind him, the blade is already back in its sheath, the shinobi turning to face her, a handkerchief wiping away the blood.

The steel tastes hot on your tongue and teeth.

Deflected senbon spark and crack along the ground, ambiently ejecting their heated charge. They don't seem to numb the body as one might expect, but their bite was amplified by the chi spin put on them, in a way not quite like any other--before Kaede broke them off, they seemed to have a slow acting injection effect, slowly radiating out chi from the point of impact. Not something one would want in their skin for any length of time. It is something of a tale to tell that there are maybe hundreds of these senbon at every angle, an area saturation that leaves these crackling senbon embedded in walls, floors, and every potential angle. Even the produce released by the truck hasn't escaped the bite, many heads of lettuce and rogue cucumbers being unwitting victims of the merciless spray of swordthrown senbon.

Listless, the shinobi mills forward in one single step. He lifts his chin at the kunoichi as she deigns to speak to him once more. She asks him whether it's personal or if it's war, a question he takes a witheringly bitter tone of voice to.

There is no shift of recognition from the shinobi. Though he is certainly familiar, he has no visible reaction to the first mention of the clan that falls from the young blonde's lips. "The Mugen Tenshin? Hrmph. It's as I expected... but a war that isn't personal has no point. This is justice without limitations. I will tear out the pilings from underneath the mountain until I find everyone I'm after. Then and only then will this shinobi world know peace. Only then, will the ghosts of this clan rest."

You are treading on alliances generations in the--
"--They will take generations to forgive you for not yielding and sparing them from us."

In the next instant, the kunoichi princess attacks. Outside of his combat stance, the shinobi notices the attack instantly, which is more than most can say, and his sleeve flies as he tries to cut off his attacker's sightlines, to obscure her target as one hand rushes towards the other. He moves fast--fast enough to dance in the split second that she occupies with her blitz. However, his bodily reactions are just underneath the necessary threshold to outrange her attack, his guard opened and her elbow slammed into his floating ribs, leaving the shinobi to release a brief burst of a wheezing cry as he's struck, his body folding against the split-second impact. He barely even has time to stagger as she slips through his guard, stepping back on one foot before quickly folding an arm over his midsection, and arcing his back. The muted sound of something twisted sounding echoes mechanically from his helmet. Coughing blood is interesting, and it takes am oment for him to crane his neck just so that he doesn't blind himself by spraying it across the inside of his visor, though his sensory jutsus are still disrupted by the network of blood and spittle across the inside of the helmet. The image is chaotic, as he struggles to align his doubled, bloodstained vision with what's going on in the world around him. He visibly struggles for that one split-second.

..At the same time as he drops out of the sky on top of Kasumi, blade drawn.

His response is immediate, with very little delay between being struck and the responding attack. A second ghost--with the exact appearance of the first--drops from above like a heaven-sent hawk flying for the mouse in the grass. One long thrust from above, leading with full force and authority from the hip, will shoot light right through the Mugen Tenshin kunoichi's collarbone as all of his weight and force lands on her in a brutal pouncing attack. For a spinning moment, it's unclear as to exactly what happened. Did she only hit a decoy? It turns out that the moment when and if the ghost makes contact with her, it will burst in a white flash, leaving only a glowing sword of light stuck through her--or rooted in the air helplessly, depending on how Kaede responds. The attack was real.. but Ryouhara never moved from his spot.
He must have activated the technique in response to the attack...
Not that his triggering technique was ever actually seen in the confusion?!

However, if Kaede stops to ponder on it, she will find herself on the receiving end of the next step in the technique. Arm still folded across his middle, the shinobi uses his free hand to throw a set of kunai after her. She might notice them trailing white from their handles--the same white as the handkerchief he was using only a moment ago. Another triggering seal, and the kunai he planted at either side of himself at the start of the match explodes from the street, spinning into the air. Already, several more gesturals are rattled off, painfully, between short breaths.

The spate of kunai thrown at Kaede have no actual target--they are thrown haphazardly and with great force. At least, until those seals. Two sets of four are in the air, making for four total. Kaede will know that the first two thrown from his hands were thrown with her blood on them--the same blood he drew only a moment earlier. They curve through the air at Ryouhara's ministrations, arcing around from either side at her. Using heat, the kunai are self-guiding, complex seals on their blades drawn to the exact polarity of the chi in the blood activating them. The second set were made long before the shinobi had a sample of her blood. Using the same principles as the first set, they are only different in target, being attracted to the strongest source of live chi in the vicinity, typically used to counter an aggressor in full attack.

However, on the defensive, the strongest source of live chi is currently a glowing point at the center of that etheral sword, serving as a homing beacon for the knives, diving straight down out of their arcs towards Kaede's front.

In an instant, five seperate attacks from all angles.
Ryouhara is clearly displeased with the Mugen Tenshin right now.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi full-parries Seishirou's Shunshin Mirage!!

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Kasumi           1/------=/=======|=======\====---\1        Seishirou

She knew her clan histories well. Protocols, alliances, diplomatic relations, history of wars, history of extermination orders... what they specialized in, who ruled them, and who the next in line was thought to be. These facts and more she had imersed herself in as part of her studies. Even though she was second in line to inherit the burden of absolute leadership - an honor her father, Shiden, had born for as long as she had been alive - she did not slack in her duties nor was she given any excuse not to perform as if there were no doubt she would assume rule someday.

She had been Master of the Mugen Tenshin for one and only one day before her half-sister, The Demon Child, gave her just enough information to spark the beginning of her life in death-defying exile, cursed forever to be on the run from her own family, her own colleagues who now sought her life. Of the Ryouhara's history, she could say much - at least by what the other clans knew of them; of their place as assets of another clan, of their rebellion, of their impossibly diverse array of skills and specialties. Even among those who traded in secrets, they were an enigma, and even much of the 'known' information regarding them conflicted with itself. Seperating myth from fact on matters pertaining to the Ryouhara could be a difficult thing.

The carpeting of senbon over the environment do more than just remind the young woman of the menace behind the Ghost of Ryouhara's techniques. They also render so much of the field no longer of any use to her at all. Thin soled sandals and hands protected only by a layer of cloth cannot hope to use such spikey walls, boards, and pallets in the execution of her own techniques without coming away severely harmed by the attempt. In a sense, there is a cage closing in around her - not one bars or walls, but of a thousand tiny steel darts limiting where she can even place her next step if she wishes to be avoid being reminded of their bite.

He speaks of generations and forgiveness and at those words, a quiet flicker of pain registers in her coppery brown eyes.

"Even that would not be enough," she muses softly. Some sins are not bleached by the passage of time. She would never see her home again.

Her elbow strike wa sa taste of the kind of pain her techniques were developed to inflict. Even those who knew the girl well found it easy to forget that at the core, her ninjutsu was born of a ruthless art, a technique refined by generations of assassins. She knew well the vulnerable points of the body, what angles the joints were most weak to, where the bones were most pliant to impact, and where organs, crucial to survival, were housed within the torso of her opponent.

As she slides to a stop well past him, a plume of dust rushing in behind her, she is certain she felt the give of her attacker's ribcage. She is also certain that by no means is this battle over.

In a sense, the war has only just begun. How far would his ambitions take him remains to be seen. That he speaks of violence against the Mugen Tenshin makes him an enemy faster than simply threatening her own life. Words like these have a way of creating unending repercussions.

Those consequences may be just getting started.

He attacks when she is most vulnerable. The effort required of attaining the speed she just exhibited requires a price to be paid, a debt of effort and speed. There is a window there, excruciatingly narrow, in which to catch her. The fall from above is almost fast enough even against the Blue Lightning he seeks to pierce.

Another soft cry of drawn steel as Kausmi whirls just in time, the flat of her blade brought to bear against the energy that threatened to pin her to the ground. It happens too fast for conscious thought, it is her instincts he battles now, honed to a razor's edge by her life of training. The surface of her blade shimmers with the color of fresh fallen cherry blossoms as it keeps the blade of light at bay if only just barely.

Only out of the corner of her eye does she perceive the bladed threats surging her way as she strains against the magnitude of chi hellbent on running her through. Her mind races, connecting the details with only an instant to spare - blood seals, they seek her now, that much is certain given the display of indifference in the Lone Ryouhara's toss. She saw two for certain, kiting their trails of white just bright enough to be detected even without prolong visual focus. It's the others that are troubling, their lack of visual tells leaving her uncertain as to their exact angle.

She does the only thing she can do in the face of uncertainty. She makes a gamble, her hands both occupied with the grip on the Shrouded Moon and pressing against the flat side of the blade in order to lend enough strength to keep the airborn manifestation at bay. She twists, stepping foward toward the only two kunai she can track with her tuned perception.

Such precise chi manipulation plays him among the most dangerous people she has ever encountered. This level of exactitude should not even be possible. Her village elders would not even believe the shinobi's recounting of it if she tried. At best it could be an illusion and no more.

But she knows full well the kunai are no illusion and she can only hope that by shifting her own position by even a foot, she has bought herself the miniscule opportunity she needs - it would only take a microsecond longer-

The gambit is taken, the rose hued sword swinging down into the path of the first two kunai, the metallic ring of metal on metal would not be audible until an instant later, for her response transcends the speed of sound.

There is that second set of kunai, however, and that iridescent blade that seeks her heart. They would plunge into the space occupied by the Mugen Tenshin prodigy unabated.

Only to piece the whirlwind of lingering sakura petals left as the young woman vanishes. In her previous attack she had demonstrated near instantaneous speed.

Now Seishirou Ryouhara will be a witness to Divine Speed, eclipsing what science, in all its hubris, would even deem possible.

She's behind him now, meters away from the blades that thirsted for more of her blood. Her own sword is already sheathed as she strikes out with a knife handed left, followed by a right, each targeting essential clusters of nerves in the living Shadow's spine.

With forward momentum that could only have been built by a long windup that no one could have possibly seen in that instant of time, she leaps into a spining kick, targeting the back of his helmeted head with steel crushing force.

In one smooth motion she lands on her kicking foot, already spinning into one final, potentially incapacitating blow for his lower back.

Each of the four strikes are executed in an instant, each targeting vulnerable points found in most humans, each intended to bring an end to this battle before it can possibly escalate even further.

"Surrender." she hisses. The ninja princess would already be seeking to tackle him to the ground from then, slowing down as the velocity of her technique begins to wind down. To pin the Ghost and end this war in its nascency, before any others need suffer the consequenecs.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou blocks Kasumi's Renzuki Hakuro Kyaku EX.

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Kasumi           0/-------/-------|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2        Seishirou

Ryouhara is accustomed to acting in eyeblinks.
For someone who has no recollection of 'when' and 'where,' the experience of fighting can oftentimes be dizzying. He executes techniques as if on autopilot, hands moving as if on their own, mind spinning with possibilities remembered from literally nowhere. He knows exactly where the threads of chakra lie in each of his techniques, and the techniques of those around him, and yet he has no idea how he knows. All of it, the blades that fly through the air as well as the techniques that caused them to track down Kasumi midflight, are the product of muscle memory and training long since supplanted by instinct. It is, in fact, within eyeblinks that Ryouhara reacts best--before he has the time to analyze himself, before he has the time to complicate the affair, and second-guess.

For the ghost, it was easier to take apart the enemy than examine why.

However, the Mugen Tenshin kunoichi was something altogether different. She was capable of moving much faster than anyone he had dealt with before--speed on the same scale as his own. It was for him as it was a man standing in a field of docile cattle--the rest of the world moved slowly and thought sluggishly. However, her reflexes and speed were not just on the same scale as his--she was faster. Ryouhara had no instinct or compulsion to handle such a speed. It told him that she was one of the few he's ever met that could move that quickly.

And the dull ache in his body's nervous system was a persistent reminder of the consequences of being too slow.

That celerity, parrying his blades. In truth, it wouldn't be enough--merely parrying wouldn't be sufficient to keep all five blades from finding her, the product of exacting angles keyed to prevent her response. But that speed! It's beyond even his expectations--she only needs to parry two of the quintet of attacks to clear the way. And then she is gone. Even the tracking technique in his helmet is confused, a haze appearing where she once was, with sakura petals whirling in the dust of a furious exit.

For a split second, he wonders if she simply retreats. But he is learning, observant of her reactions at every juncture. And she reacts as if her favor could bring down the full weight of an entire clan and its allies upon him, and her mood changes with the revelation of a war. She acts to eliminate him, not out of impetuousness such as the Glade kunoichi Ibuki, but out of authority. He has no time to mull over the possibilities.

She flickers into existence behind him, with the true essence of 'shinsoku.' He barely even has a chance to register her appearance, a near preternatural awareness of the battlefield around him supplanting the information his visor is supposed to provide. A true 'shinsoku' draws shock from the ninkougakusha immediately. It's so fast...! But he doesn't panic. He doesn't flinch. He'd be undone already if so. There's literally no time for it.

He opens his hand, the fastest somatic he can draw on. He slips forward, lifting off in the sickening instants where she hurtles for his spine with twin nukite bladed hands. The slight movement gives her inches more to cross in the intermediary, precious inches that extends her rushing attack for hairs of a moment each. That space is enough for him to act. His somatic gesture unsealed a paper tomoe charm hung from his haori, which remained drifting in mid-air where he stood as he moved forward. Time seems to stand still.

The ghost whirls slowly in the time dialation.. and then claps his hands together.

It's like striking a wall of iron. The sudden explosion of paper that unfolds inbetween the two might as well be a tower shield, because the unfurled three foot by three foot sculpt--now resembling a festive crow-patterned sheet of origami paper, painted over in a dense sealing array--feels as if it is hewn of stone. A sword could break against it, but when the shield slams roughly into the youth, he notices the slightest crack in the shield from her twin blows. He breaks his seal to slam a hand into the flat of the shield, reinforcing it with his own energy just before Kasumi kicks it in, the force of the final two blows of the technique enough to drive him bodily back in the air. Limbs aching with the force of exertion and shock, the attacks drive him off, forcing him to land on the ground, tabi squealing hard and loud as he lands and digs his heels in, bringing him to a short stop.

The Kamigyoku ninkou was one he reserved only for emergencies, the ability to create an iron wall on demand, which acted as a supreme defense even in situations where he is normally unable to act. Her speed forced him to use it... shinsoku was a speed beyond even his own. But even so.... he doesn't waver in his resolve. "Surrender?" he asks derisively, the click of his respirator like a knife in the silence.

"You've overextended yourself."

His observation is keen. She'll realize that it was his intention to be attacked. In the spatial exchange of the battle, she's crossed over him several times. It's tactically natural to expect someone capable of moving that quickly to move many times around a stationary target, a process called 'circling.' But he's been paying attention to where she's moving. By moving past him with a dash, she moved herself out of her original position. But he purposefully didn't move, turning and using his duplicates and kunai to attack her. By using that shinsoku to move behind him for an assassination attempt, she's placed herself back closely to her original position... as he calculated. She'll realize that had she attacked him head on, he would have allowed himself to fall back further defending it.

Because the senbon were not actually meant to limit her movement abilities.
He's already triggered the seal transcription technique.

Microscopic sealing inscriptions flash on the array of senbon surrounding Kasumi--the ones heaviest thrown in the broad arc he'd scattered in front of him. They quickly unfurl, black lines searing into wherever they've landed. Walls, pallets, even errant fruit. There was a reason why the senbon caused a heated sensation on the tongue and a tingle in the skin. Each inanimate object they pierce is transformed into a low yield chakra explosive. Each one is somewhat underwhelming on its own. But multiply that by the number of stars visible in the night sky.

And then find yourself surrounded by them.

Still behind his shield, Ryouhara's plan is now clear. Planting the elements in process by throwing senbon as part of another attack, he has set up the stage. Then, spatially manipulating the kunoichi using his own body as bait and body-seeking kunai as whip, he has placed her in the center of a very wide and active explosion array. He is protected from its rigors by his own shield, allowing himself to only be driven back enough to put the majority of the blasts on the other side of the shield. Even worse yet, he knows exactly how much energy it takes to use that divine speed. And, at the exact moment where she is weakest to react, he is going to make his own surgical attack.


The ensuring staccato blasts composing the following chain of detonation rips through the street, and tears the bound tractor trailer and everything in it in half.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou successfully hits Kasumi with Atari.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Kasumi           0/-------/---====|>>>>>>>\-------\1        Seishirou

Four strikes, executed in an instant, the final kick targeting the leaf of the Ryouhara symbol at his back. It would be impossible for a normal target to respond to such an instantaneous attack to the back - the human body is ill desiged for warding against such angles. He proves to be nothing like a normal target. Even as her fingers bend against the unyielding surface of his barrier, she moves unabated. Put stone between her and she will crush it with her foot. Hide behind iron, and she will pierce it with her sword. He has spoken of war against the Mugen Tenshin - a war she intends to end here and now, as if invested with the right to decide the fate of a clan that no longer acknowledges she exists.

Her foot is snapping back when he whirls to face her again, the cloth of her shinobi uniform and her long ponytail still trying to catch up with her quickening into Divine Speed, fabric, ribbons, and hair whipping from behind her even as she starts to correct back the other way. As her previous exchanges have demonstrated, the Shinobi in Blue can engage and disengage faster than almost anyone alive can even see.

But realization hits as a knife to the back.
The young kunoichi staggers, a moment of clarity and alarm at once.

"No-" The gasp escapes from her fair lips, chestnut brown eyes widening.
But a protest will not keep the inferno at bay.

Every attempt to strike him has had her darting into the warzone crafted by the Master Architect. This has been his battleground since the moment he arrived; launching several tons of metal, fuel, and shipped produce at her. She has merely been his unwitting guest all along. And now she is moving slower than she had since she first made her defiant charge.

The instant the lines scorch their way into the countless surfaces, she understands the threat yet the intent eludes her. Is this to be a suicide attack? Will he fall with her, this Unknown and Unmourned wraith of a dead clan? For what cause would he bring himself to ruin, to what end would this be his last stand?

From the safety of his shield he would see the look to her right, to her left - in a situation where most would yield to the paralyzing grip of panic and in doing so be eradicated, she continues to act, to fight, to never give up.
Hers is a will that does not know what it means to be broken, no matter the circumstances.

Swiftly her eyes flick to the Ghost himself, his countenance hidden by his multipurpose headgear.


And in that instant, she is consumed by fire. Or so it would seem.

The survivor lands in the one place she identified she would have any hope of seeing the light of a new dawn. In realizing that the Engineer of Destruction had no intention of forfeiting his life to defeat her Kasumi understood where she needed to be: Directly behind the young man and his brief but unyielding barrier as the hungry wings of fire flow around the both of them. Whatever his true purpose may be, it was not to die in the ruin of this building. Had she been moving her full speed, she might have escaped significant harm all together, but his timing was too flawless, his trap too thorough, and he recovery from shinsoku incomplete.

A soft cry betrays her presence as the pain catches up with her, the girl landing in a crouch behind him, one knee and hand pressed against the heated ground. For one solitary second, she had been burning alive, her defense against the chakra-infused hellfire more than defeated.

The proof of ignition can be seen all over her form. Flesh not protected by her uniform or guards near her wrists and ankles has been scorched, burned red in places, dusted black in others. Black cinders fall from the loss of her right sleeve, a vicious burn mark visible on the now bared skin. While her white stockings are presently falling away as burnt ash, the cloth does seem to have spared the majority of her legs direct damage - it may be that her legendary speed is not impinged. The rest of her uniform has also proven remarkably reslient - this is no low grade material the young kunochi wears.

The ribbon that had kept her hair in check was lost to the flames, leaving her coppery red tresses to drape along her shoulders and back as she bows her head in a moment of intense struggle against the lingering influence of the chakra-born firestorm.

It is then that he might notice that while her left hand is pressed against the ground for support, her right hand is clenched over the grip of her sheathed sword as if she was still trying to decide whether the Shrouded Moon would be drawn in offense rather than simply for protection.

"All this ruin," she murmurs. The explosions have not even ceased their endless staccato as car alarms and sirens begin to errupt throughout the region. Her hand releases the hilt of her heirloom blade as superheated air blows past the painfully seared kunoichi. The sound of the hewn trailer falling further into the obliterated structure drowns out the sound of her movement as she leaps for him.

"For what?!"

First glance would suggest a tackle of desperation but her movements have always been too graceful for such brute force tactics. Speed would need be his ally as the Mugen Tenshin prodigy seeks his shoulders with her hands, intending to use his slender body to vault herself up off the ground. Her assault would be swift and difficult to defend against, the nimble young woman tucking into a ball in order to drive the heels of her feet into the Helmeted Engima's torso, then, keeping her hands on his shoulders, flipping up and over, executing a flawless upsidedown pirouette to reverse her handstand and attempt the same strike to his other side to try and drive him to the debris covered floor with her still perched on top of him.

Understanding the danger of melee range ninjutsu against grounded opponents would likely be an instinctual awareness for the last of the Lone Ryouhara. It would seem her circling tactics are beginning to transition into take-down techniques.

Anything to hamper his ninpo, even if for a fleeting moment. In spite the harm to her body, the royal blooded ninja resolve remains unchanged. To end this war before the building collapses into smoldering wreckage.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou dodges Kasumi's Momiji Otoshi EX.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Kasumi           0/-------/----===|>>>>>>>\-------\1        Seishirou

The shield barely holds. Not just against Kasumi's attack, but against the blast of fire that shortly follows. Chaotic swirls of flame spray off of the chakra-reinforced paper, forming a violently hyperbolic arc around the shield, and heating the dead zone behidn the shield to the point where even the Ryouhara scion has to sweat. He cedes inches of ground against the force, if only because he has no place else to go. Normally, the attack would be decisive--of the sort that most simply wouldn't be able to stay standing through. But this kunoichi was different.

She walks on the sky.

His attention snaps up quickly as he notices her flying overhead, quickly dropping a free sleeve as she lands behind him, accurately identifying the safe zone with unbelievable tenacity while managing to avoid being completely immolated by his technique. Keeping one hand on the paper ninkou, he holds off the flames as they die down, remaining wary of a sudden and potential attack. But his technique has given her cause to think on what her next move should be, her leggings and gloves fraying away to ash across black skin.
Let her think.

The entire area is limned in fire by his ninkou senbon. Embers crawl in the air as if a great dragon had scoured the earth with fire. Anything that can burn, has been burned. Fire clings to the street, burning as if gasoline had been poured across it. The truck, cut down by the fire, crumples against the sagging building. If Ryouhara cuts loose too much more--if this battle carries on for much longer--it will almost certainly collapse against the bass blast of his explosions. The din of fire and car alarms distantly is faintly annoying to anyone who can hear them over the roaring crackle of flame.

Ryouhara's body is heavily ravaged by the speed, agility and sheer technique of the Mugen Tenshin princess. She will be able to faintly tell--his breath is labored through the dialated click of that respirator. Were it not for the anonymizing nature of that feature, the ragged wheeze of his voice would be clearly audible. Though it is hard to see at all, swathed in layers of cloth and armor as he is, Ryouhara is fatigued, the blows of her own taijutsu more than enough to take their toll on his body. The sustained damage will likely require at least a week to recover. He will have to make Kobayashi heal him.

Still. If one could imagine the shinobi -- the ghostlike, willowy thing standing before her now -- as a human being, someone who is not a vengeful spirit, but a young man... one might begin to paint a picture of the face that lay inside. Beyond an eyeless visor is someone who is still not afraid to look someone straight in the eyes. His helmet's field of vision centers directly on the charred and heated kunoichi, whose legendary fairness is only faintly marred by the rigors of this battle and the stone of her hardening expression. He looks at -- and through her. Beyond the blood staining the glass and the leaves tickling the edges of his vision, his eyes narrow. All this devastation, she says.

"Material things. A new world will be made."

For what, she asks.

She's already in motion, running at him, diving for him.
His response is immediate. "Don't insult me!!"

When she is in his line of sight, reading through her intentions is almost instinctive. Her speed has not been hampered in the slightest by the blasts, so he must necessarily read her. She's leapt from the ground, and his response is to tilt the shield away from them--and then root it in space for brief instants. His ninkou often have multiple uses. This particular one was a shield first, a defensive technique. But secondarily, it was a wall... a platform...
He runs right up the steep incline as if it were nothing but an anthill, his weight causing the reinforced paper to shudder, and the force with which he boosts up off the thing knocks it flat. An instant before he gets there, she dives at him, seeking his shoulders. And she makes contact, seemingly delicate hands touching seemingly delicate silk, the craftsmanship of his haori... except there is nothing else but silk.

He has to think quickly. The Ryouhara engineer slips out of his voluminous coat as if it were nothing, spinning out of it to send the whole thing, sleeves and all, whirling around the young woman's grip. He launches into a full backflip over Kasumi, spinning into a black, grey and green blur. Centripetal force carries him hard through the air. Where his haori would have made him appear as a blooming lotus in the air, his dark shozoku makes him no more than a shadow against the sky. As he passes her, fast glimpses can be seen of holsters on his shoulders, probably the spots where the kunai and senbon were secreted away before he released them. A reel is seen at his back..

"Even if the distance is only 1 centimeter--"
He speaks only in the sick, twisting instant where he is above her. He knows that she intends to close distance with him and break him. She senses his weakness, and in return, the shinboi seems all the more determined. Something about her authority seems to anger him, press him, drive him onward. The instant in which his haori is the only thing in Kasumi's hands is precisely that, an instant. The speed at which he removed it caused the sleeves and ends to go spinning along with him, momentarily wrapping around her arms to the shoulder. That instant is when his jutsu triggers.

The Byakuren Hagoromo ninkou is the ghost's haori. Typically it is a protective device, keeping Ryouhara safe from fire and concealing his preparations and attacks. However, it also hardens in an instant to catch the wind, giving him leave to manipulate the fabric until it is like an airfoil and allowing him to glide for some distances. This can be used as a defensive measure if all else fails. Or, in this case, freeze the haori into a dense pair of handcuffs, threatening to wrap her entire upper body in a coat of silk that turns into iron. But it's just a distraction, limiting her air movement ability. Limiting her ability to guard, to defend for one instant...

...The same instant the shinobi tries to slam a chakra-reinforced blade through the back of her raised hip with a hiss of the sheath and flash of steel.
"Our ninkougakujutsu is peerless!!"

COMBATSYS: Seishirou successfully hits Kasumi with Principles of "Ninkougakujutsu".
* Attack Of Opportunity! *

[                        \\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Kasumi           1/-------/=======|=------\-------\0        Seishirou

Scorched, pierced, and slashed, the Exile had not slowed down in the slightest form the moment she chose to drop down from above to engage the willowy spectre. Only after narrowly escaping the fury of his fire does she finally pause for even an instant as the toil of battle begins to wear on her. Among the Mugen Tenshin, her life may have been one of privlege due to birthright, but with such rank came even greater expectations in the trials and discipline exacted by her training. The pride of the clan had rested on her - pride trodden underfoot by her profane disregard for ways of the ninja.

Every step she takes, every stretch of her slender arms and powerful legs, every deflection with the artifact blade she bears are a reflection of the gravity she applied to her training, the gifts of her high family's blood, and an iron resolve befitting Destiny's Kunochi. But even the most exacting training cannot account for the journey to hell this clash has become. Even as she springs into the air, flipping forward, arms snapping out, her silhouette is illuminated by the scouring flames of the Prodigious Engineer.

They don't have training courses for what she is enduring now back at the village. No ancient family scrolls provide techniques for surviving a tsunami of senbon that then expode. Or blood seeking kunai, or blades of pure chi wielded by ghosts. There is no preparation for the ordeal she suffers at the Ghostly Enigma's hands. But she has her speed, her instincts, her reflexes, and her precision skill. And against this one, she uses every tool at her disposal to their absolute. If she can get close to him, if she can secure a hold, she will be able to bring him to the ground.

Dashing attacks, hitting and running - those are not her only options. Also secured in her sharp mind are a catalogue of joint twists, limb locks, and pressure holds capable of removing the capacity to fight from nearly anyone. If only she can secure her grip.

As her scorched fingers close around the soft cloth of his overcoat, she is certain she has him. But ghosts have a way of turning to mist in one's hands and this one proves to be no different. Nearly upside down at that point, she realizes she has been joined in the air by another. So then - he can move -

The wounded shinobi's problems escalate rapidly and out of her control. The haori twists through the air, its loose, overly large sleeves draping over her forearms as she continues through the arc of her flip. A troubling issue but one easily coped with. With a fraction of a second left before she will reach the ground, it is as if she has all the time in the world to correct for it and land on her feet. She will need to land in a forward sprint lest her back be exposed, then she can untangle her arms...

She hears the draw of metal and begins to twist. Even with free movement of her arms denied her, she remains swift and nimble, a threat to be reckoned with every step of the way. It is then that her blood runs cold, the haori stiffening, her body no longer yielding to her velocious mind's wishes as instantly as is necessary.

All thought of correcting for her entrapped arms is driven from her mind as the blindingly spear of pain pierces into her vulnerable flesh. A sharp cry of pain escapes her lips as, instead of a graceful pirouette the greatest ballerinas in the world would be envious of, the stabbed woman plummets from the sky to land against the smoldering concrete floor.

There is nothing elegant about the tumble that follows, the sound of metal on cement as the imbedded blade bangs off of the ground; the hiss of spilt blood splashing against the still heated surface only to be immediately burnt on contact with some of the hot spots lingering still, the soft gasps of pain with each jarring brush against the hard, unyielding surface.

She comes to rest, an undignified heap. The earlier gash in her torso has further stained her once pristine, azure hued uniform, and plunged into the wounded nukenin's flank is the chakra infused blade. Her body is covered in soot, splashes of stray blood, dust and abrasions. The agony in her hip is enough to render even seasoned fighters immobilized. It would not be unexpected to assume her finished.

But that would require forgetting what she had already endured, her path of exile, her life on the run, her unending resolution to keep going, even if it meant surviving for just one more day. Her hunted had started that way - each minute a battle, each hour an ordeal, each day a saga. But she had survived every attack, every attempt. If the most imperious thing the banished princess could do was to deny anyone the satisfaction of her demise, then she would do that.

She moves, pressing her forehead against the ground, her arms still bound uselessly against her torso. She was only still a moment, smoke drifting up off her form, lingering from his previous assault. Her legs move, knees shift into position, each adjustment of her posture sending fresh, burning pain along the left side of her body. She can't help but cry out again as she pushes herself up to her feet, his cruel blade a constant companion every inch of the way.

The kunoichi whirls back to where she last saw him, his stature a shadow in the smoke filled room. Her breaths are coming in gasps now, the girl panting as she backs up a step and tries to wrestle her arms free, twisting herself left and right with each step. Tears, uninvited, streak down her soot-stained cheeks.

"Justice, is it?"

She backs up on shaky legs, each step with her left foot a tender motion as new blood spills down her thigh.

"Or is it revenge? A raging thirst for retribution so overwhelming it has blinded you to reason?"

She backs against the side of a supporting squared piller of the partial floor that remains above. The haori securing her upper body bears the leaves of the Ryouhara - the clan that no longer exists. Is he the sole survivor? Did he persevere through whatever eradication befell the clan only be driven mad in the process? Is she even a target of planning or is this mere opportunity?

Trying to keep her mind focused on the mystery is almost impossible, trying to keep from being sick to her stomach at the pain scoring the length of her leg pushing her to her very limits... and thinking of what she has to do inspite it all nearly enough to break her completely.

Shifting her back against the support, she hooks the edge of the hilt in her hip against the corner. Sucking in her breath, gritting her teeth as she closes her eyes for only an instant, arms trembling beneath their binding, the girl forces her body to move to the side, tearing blade free of the wound, leaving the blood stained weapon to clatter against the concrete.


Kasumi staggers forward from the column. Fresh adrenaline courses through her veins as the girl twists and writhes against the haori. She can feel the chi securing its hold weakening a little, but she has no more time to wrestle with it. At most, she finally manages to pry her arms away from her chest though her wrists remain shackled together.

She is charging him now without hesitation, seeking his shadow amid the curtain of obscurity that renders vision almost obsolete.

"Your clan is no more, wandering nin, you have no aim here but undirected violence!"

Her arms restrained, her legs close to giving out, the desperate but unyielding clan princess lunges again - her vector is similiar to her previous leap for him, but at a more shallow angle. He would need to realize quickly her intent - the aim to catch his throat between her shackled arms, to flip over him in the process, pulling his slender body over her back by his neck entrapped between her arms by his own haori, to slam the back of his helmeted head and upper back against the concrete...

She would continue with the momentum, attempting to lay the Ghost of the Ryouhara out flat, face down on the ground, herself perched on his back with one knee against his spin, noting for the first time the reel secured there. Her arms around his neck, supported by the steel-silk binding between them, she would tightly. The spirit of vengeance cannot be reasoned with, only stopped.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou fails to interrupt Tenro Kyaku EX from Kasumi with Ryouhara Arts.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Kasumi           1/------=/=======|=------\-------\0        Seishirou

It's been awhile since he last felt the breeze.

The wind cuts through the Ryouhara shinobi's undershirt as he lands hard, one hand on the ground and the other at his hip. Having plucked her out of the sky, he has a moment to recover his breath and meter. Truthfully, his body is pained, aching from the exertion as acids and salts build up in the muscle. But he stands as if nothing hurt at all--a proud and faceless countenance. He meters his breathing carefully, trying not to take too much in at once.

His footwear, the jika-tabi of a typical shinobi shozoku, are actually reinforced, to handle the speeds and forces he typically deals in during the rigors of a normal battle. However, his clothing is only typical from the obi down. Above it is a more European styled shirt, with no jacketing at all, tucked into the obi with discretion. The collar is a wide steel plate, with several domed fittings at his collarbone. A study in body sciences such as a shinobi would be able to tell that the spherical component is made to direct collarbone shattering forces into the strongest points of the collar, and disseminate the shock across the entire ribcage, but surely that isn't the only reason he wears such a device. Even so--his neck is now clearly visible. Not that she has the ability to appreciate it.

His hand twitches at his side, still slick with the blood from where he punched a blade through the mugen-tennyo's thigh.
There was something he noticed before about her demeanor. It was similar to Ibuki's behavior, but different in only one shade. It was something beyond an ideal, and something beyond knowledge. "You've been exhaustively trained for superior violence, but the chaos of war unsettles you. Yet without that eye, you assume that you have the room or the authority to judge or even to stop us... It's as expected from an older clan," he seethes, in final recognition.

"... But only the ruling bloodline would make such a cloudborne presumption."

He takes a moment to release the holsters at his arms, dropping the leathers to the ground. It leaves more room for his arms to move, the close-fitting sleeves still nearly reaching midhand. He does so as she backs away from him. He has little concern for her attack at the moment, but merely watches her, faceless visor reflecting the bloodstained flower's image as she hooks the hilt of the blade behind the corner of a wall, and muffles her scream with silk as she draws the weapon away from her, to charge him.

Regardless of what he stated to be presumption, she was more mature than her age let on. Most fighters her age--and beyond--think that they can toy with weapons that aren't theirs. Had she thought to cut through the Byakuren Hagoromo with the blade he gave her, the ninkougakusha would have blown her in twain by remotely triggering the weapon's detonating hilt. No, she's coming away with something else entirely. In many ways, it was almost too troubling, the wounded kunoichi making a blind rush into him. But no matter how hard he cuts into her, she survives, pressing onward, as if being blind and shackled were no major impediment at all.

The problem is, making use of even the Byakuren Hagoromo meant he was nearing the end of his tactical repertoire. He had only four more seperate preparations left, not including one which he would be loathe to use in these circumstances, nor the exploding kodachi she wisely discarded. Only three of those preparations could even apply to Kasumi's current angle of attack, and one would be difficult to make use of even with this kind of direct rush. For someone whose jutsu preparations and attack angles commonly approach 'hundreds' in a fight, his resources and options are running low. She is not going to give him another opportunity to create more ninkou, and he doesn't have the chakra to force the affair. He scoffs, lightly, the last sound he'll be able to make.

So this is what the Mugen Tenshin do when cornered.
Everything devolves into a brutal hand-to-hand crescendo.

Unable to circumvent the bleed of speed she recklessly pours out, Ryouhara was expecting her to try and kick him, potentially with her less useful, wounded leg, but the shadow wheel she uses instead to catch his throat by the silk of his haori catches him offguard, throwing him bodily from his feet. It takes only an instant to stun the shinobi, slamming his helmet roughly into the ground as his skull sings with the attack. He almost blacks out then and there before she finally pins him, her weight holding him to the ground as she loops her arms around his neck.

He struggles, grappling against the kunoichi as she chokes off his air supply handily, the shinobi's fingertips struggling to find purchase against the heated blacktop. His chokes and gasps are haunting when filtered through the ominous respirator, clicking and making an otherwise inhuman, cicada-like buzz. Even now, his mind is alive with the details. While she's using the Byakuren Hagoromo to support her tightening grip on him, she must have realized that its hold is only temporary, because she doesn't rely on it entirely, which might have allowed him to release the grip of four hands easily.

"Gh... you..." he struggles. His other hand is locked around her forearm and lengths of that silk, in a tense grip. By moving his shoulders counter to her weight and keeping a hold on her, he's dampering her ability to distribute her weight to one way or another. While she still has control over his neck, she'll recognize that he's actually preventing her from getting up the speed necessary to snap it by pulling up or rolling to one side or the other. Now even for him, each breath is a battle. Despite the fact that he's scrabbling around nigh-helplessly, even now he knows exactly what a shinobi can do in this position, demonstrating a reasonable awareness of tactics and hand to hand fighting.

Then why hasn't he made a real attempt to break her hold yet?

"I am --agk-- Ryouhara," he chokes.

He struggles violently, bucking against Kasumi's weight. All the while, he hisses and chokes, his mechanically and now vitally distended voice choking out some meaningless "..last light of the ... clan, -UGH-the strongest.. 'ninkougakujutsu.'"

It is not the wisest thing to do when being strangled. In these kinds of close quarters, she is a superior, and he cannot afford the seemingly meaningless words he grapples with now. The engineer is grasping about blindly with his one free hand. All the while, the trauma forces the leaves that were at the edge of his vision to explode past it in full now, flooding his view with glowing green. It would be beautiful, if he weren't so close to the end. Wasting what precious air he has left, he continues to force out words. "I... represent the --ghk-- and the destitute -- known as rou--dousha..-ag-..shakai--kyuu.."

It seems to be some sort of internal mnemonic. It only actually gains any kind of meaning for Kasumi when the shinobi's tone and meter change, gasping out between every fought-for breath. Even as he struggles with both her and his own mind, he sees a glimpse of long dark hair disappear into the leaves.

"Every wall.. will... crumble ... until ... I find . . . "
He trails off, running out of air.

How long had it been since she had struggled for her next breath to the degree she does now? Over his back, locked in violent, personal combat, the Disgraced Princess's breaths come hard - it is not only exhaustion she battles, but the agony of burnt and punctured flesh as well. Blood from her wounded thigh and side stains his back as it smears along the surface of her skin. The wounds are grevious and left unattended for much longer, will exact their price with her consciousness. He may hear the soft patter of the occasional drop of sweat that rolls down her cheeks and falls from the girl's chin as she leans over him.

He would definitely feel that pull with her arm, that attempt to roll one way or the other, locking him up even further in the danger of her hold only to be prevented by the limited range of motion he affords her even in this perilous state. Her experience with such close quarters combat is beyond exceptional. The moment the Byakuren Hagoromo passes, the instant she has free use of her arms, the number of possibilities from her current mounted position are staggering to consider.

"'Us'?" she finally manages between breaths. "Are you not alone then?" It is not surprising - perhaps other Ryouharas were away when the calamity that fell upon then took place... but if there more gearing for a blood fued against the Mugen Tenshin, then matters are even more threatening than a lone crazed shinobi from a bygone clan!

He had pegged her highborn lineage accurately, however. He would have seen the flicker in her eyes as the words escaped his lips before her brazen charge. He has stumbled across one born and raised to rule. Why then... did he find her alone? Even the most gifted princesses of the shadow world were watched over by others of their number. Not that they would not undertake operations - their skills had to be as razor edged as any member of the clan they were to rule. And demonstrations of aptitude were necessary to secure confidence from their future followers. But only clan leaders most desperate with their numbers would hesitate to make sure that their priceless daughters had backup anytime they ventured away from their secret strongholds. But as he spied her from above, there was no one shadowing the Sapphire Shinobi. Even as she now battles him as if her life and clan depend on it, no assistance has manifested. Are the Mugen Tenshin so reckless as to leave their leader's daughter vulnerable to attack or capture by rival clans without so much as an observer?

It sounds as if she has little hope of gleaning answers from the enigma however. His words are something memorized, something rote enough to come easily to his mind even when pushed to the brink of collapse.

He identifies himself as belonging to the Ryouhara, information she already well know. The magnitude of his ninkougakujutsu was beyond any possible accusation of fraud. The pampered and educated Kasumi once knew of the legends of their remarkable engineering by way of stories and written reports. Now she knows them first hand.

The legends didn't do it justice.

He recites more of the mantra even though she doesn't make it easy for him. She is testing the tensile hold of his haori, flexing her arms against it while straining to maintain her dangerous hold.

She knows he is slipping toward the edge beyond which there would be no further hope of answers. She would have to make the appalling choice then - to take a life and bring an end to his chase, or to singularly responsible for whatever misfortune might befall the Mugen Tenshin for not sealing his fate when she had the chance. But how could she decide, with how little she knows?

His utterances continue and Kasumi sucks in a breath. The Byakuren Hagoromo finally gives her the slightest slack with which to escape.

She springs from him, landing two meters away with an accompanying sound of metal being drawn. The chance to breath would be his right now as well. Against the dim golden glow of flickering flames around the edges of the ruin a new light clashes - soft but persistent, a milky pink glow of the sakura tree in Spring. She stands now, leaning forward, one foot further out, other behind her, torso tense with precision readiness - he would recognize her stance were he to look; it was similiar to the posture she assumed before attacking him with her Oboro Gake.

Only this time her blade is drawn - the Shrouded Moon slipping out from the clouded black sheath to cast its glow, its long, crimson tassles swinging at her side as she grips the heirloom wakizahi with confidence in her mastery over the weapon. A meter to her left rests his haori against the ground, the symbol of his clan upright and visible.

"Scion of the Ryouhara," she murmurs.

"You are forcing my hand... Please do not mistake my aversion to the bloodshed of war as a reluctance to do what must be done to protect the Mugen Tenshin."

She had done far worse than take a single life to protect her clan - the transgression of dereliction haunts her now far more than death of her Uncle at her hands...

All around them has been burned away by his fire, remnants of which still flicker around the walls of the first floor of what used to be the unloading bay for deliveries. A layer of his attire has been removed from him, many of his accoutrements of battle scattered around, discarded or used for their purpose, but she makes no mistake in assuming that she has seen all of them. Her own clothing has suffered - the missing right sleeve, the gash against her left ribcage, the loss of leggings and one of her wrist guards to the flames... So much of their tools for battle have been laid bare in the otherwise empty room.

"Tell me what it is that you are looking for - that you would have the audacity and the... courage to attack us."

She wishes she could close her eyes, to sleep, to forget the sharp pain in her leg and throbbing ache in her side. Her arms gripping her beloved sword - the token and symbol of leadership she should not even possess - begin to tremble with fatigue and anticipation. But she cannot let down her guard for even an instant.

She has to decide.

"If it is the dream and curse of vengeance that compels you then we are not your target. There has never been hostilities between the Mugen Tenshin and the Ryouhara... Is now the time to create them?"

She doesn't budge from her stance. He would recognize, if by intuition alone, that it is one that leaves her dangerous to approach yet does not impair her ability to burst forward... should any reservoir of her gifted speed yet remain.

"Look among the clans more concerned with their image or reputation for violence for clues... the Jigumo Ichizoku remain strong and bloodthirsy, the Tengakure and Soragakure have fueded for generations with no regard for any clan that gets trapped between their war... Rumors abound that one of the Koga has resurfaced as a devil... The Geki have experienced recent civil war."

The kunoichi shakes her head slowly, her hair, now berift of its ribbon, blanketed over her shoulders and along her back, though much of it clings to her face as well, matted and filthy. Yet her regal beauty remains unsullied as she watches and waits, unafraid to do what must be done.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi draws the Shrouded Moon.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Kasumi           1/------=/=======|=------\-------\0        Seishirou

It was the reaffirming statement of who he was, the iron-clad contract that he had formed with fate itself for his strength and his life. Though there was no memory left, there was the will in those words, the will that must have kept him alive when everyone else had perished. It is that will, that directive, that keeps from fading when she strangles the life out of him. Keeps him struggling, immobilized but not unconscious. She might realize that he is not trying to break her hold... ... and even as she strangles him, he is searching for a way to gain a decisive upper hand. Even on the brink of death, that free hand is struggling not for a handhold over the ledge, but for the hilt of a sword..

But the opportunity never comes. Perhaps she senses the weakening of her position, or perhaps she looks for a chance to achieve an ideal even stronger. The haori's silk bindings weaken, and she flies away, casting the white spread in the air. Wheezing with the first cut of wind, the shinobigoes from on the ground to on his feet almost instantly, as she is still in mid-air when he pushes himself up roughly to two feet, his wide stance chaotic and unstable.

She crushed him with her incredible skill, but left before he could collect himself. Though the details of the clan are lost in the morass with everything else... such skill is to be expected of the top echelons of the Mugen Tenshin. Unbelievable talents... even if Kasumi is abandoned by her clan, any sane shinobi would be terrified to cross such ninja.

The leaves begin to fade from his view. It is an odd kind of hiss that fills the air as his chest heaves--it is not the sound of normal breath, making him seem all the more inhuman. Inside, he is choking, he is gasping. It takes a truly powerful kind of dedication for him to keep his helmet on, the clicking of his respirator chaotic with the uneven distribution of his breath. Heat curls from the helmet as it vents excess condensation, to keep his visor from fogging up and rendering him totally blind.

All the while, the last soldier of the Ryouhara clan is forced to listen, because the wind he would need to approach her and attack again at her current distance currently did not exist in his lungs. While she counts the clans more violent than her own, he is counting the seconds before he is at full ability again. His stance strengthens by the second. And truthfully, it is only one thought that keeps him from interrupting her with his sword when the space of his inability is crushed to nothing.
The idea that she broke the hold only to try and reason with him.

Ryouhara shifts, standing amongst the curtains of fire from the burning truck and building in the background, his breath returning to an even keel. As he does, rubble falls across the battlefield, the source of a distant explosion from the truck's fuel lines, scattering concrete and bits of glass behind him. He steps towards the shinobi princess slowly and singly. Even without his haori, his loose limbed movements still give him an inherent bonelessness. He recognizes her sword--now for what it might actually be, as opposed to anything else. His words are raw, distended by the synthetic nature and the trauma to his throat. Perhaps they are raw even for another reason yet.

"Ever the consummate politician. Before the Meiji, when our clan was strong, we made deals with many of your kind."

As if to match her, slowly the chokuto at his back--the black single-edged straight blade--rakes free of its scabbard, the slow hiss filling the interim space between the crackling of flame, and the lurch of twisting, wilting metal behind him. This weapon he swipes cleanly to one side, as the gleam from the fire and the latent chakra surrounding the blade travels up the razor-sharp steel.
"Supplies, for our swords. Money, for our shields. Brotherhood, for our arrows. A pauper could become a lord with our weapons and enough hands capable of using them. And we built our lives on advancing our art... trusting in our allies!!"

The accusation is clear. Back then, the Ryouhara curried a positive favor with many groups, and played its place in politics, remaining unobtrusive and noble to the end, becoming a free clan in many senses of the word. Clearly, it did not help them. He is--was--noticeably silent on the matter of whether there are other Ryouhara out there. The direction of his gaze tilts to one side by a single degree.
"A promise was broken then. What makes you think a threat is going to be of any more use?"

He takes great care to lift a hand to his collar, to that metal neckpiece. The leftmost dome--revealing itself to be a small sphere--is removed from the metal with a soft click. This small tangerine-sized item he holds up between his fingers, the kanji 'KATON' appearing in white chalky lines across the gunmetal backside as it turns slowly in his hands.

"It's beyond my interest to kill you. But I will tell you this. There is not a clan or gang that will hold power over me. There is no name you can say that will cow me. No consequence that will protect you. You will fall underneath my sway. And then you will tell me everything you know. And if a single lie crosses your tongue... I am going to cut it out, split it, flay it, and make it into bindings for the oil retention skin in my next ninkou. There is nothing left for me in this world... but the meaning handed down to me by history."

He takes a calm and quiet approach, even as barely-restrained anger at Kasumi's style and mannerisms drain into his voice, a white-hot feeling that drains into his blood. "Your skill is great," he concedes, "But tou seem to think that your victory is already assured." He takes a step to the side, flipping his blade around false-handed. He is assuming a fighting position. He can read her stance, and knows that she intends to cut right through him. "That because you were holding back before that you have the right to respond to me with a superior air. You are unaware of the cracks at the base of the shinobi's autocracy. There is only one meaning for me now: The higher you stand, the further you have to fall!!!"

He throws the metal sphere into the air between them. Time seems to dialate as the instants split and flow unimpeded for him, subject to the same 'speed of perception' that his opposite in the azure kunoichi is. Trampling the earth beneath him, Ryouhara starts to move, his shimmering blade forming a crescent in the air. He splits the device open in the midst of his cutting rush. And then everything boils into fire.

Curtains of chakra-imbued fire radiate out from the spherical ninkou, drenching the shinobi in a cloak of pure heat. He doesn't attack Kasumi--not directly, his shadow only one of many inside the firestorm. He is limiting her vision to attack him by forcing her inside of a castle of fire. The ninkou itself--that black metal sphere--was not actually the ninkou this time. Though assuredly a firebomb, the ninkou does not explode. Instead, it surrounds the area in walls of chakra-imbued fire, following the curving stroke of the shinobi's sword. The fire does not go out when blown or rained on, nor does it run wild. It is persistent, and being touched by it unawares is enough to have your aura lit aflame and burned away instantly. It is these curtains of flame that threaten to eclipse Kasumi now. He is trying to shut off her escape, and shut off her attack. Against Ryouhara, it will never be a contest of pure speed.

He is drawing her into the corona of the inferno citadel, the only safe place left for her.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi blocks Seishirou's Katon Citadel.

[                          \\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Kasumi           1/------=/=======|==-----\-------\0        Seishirou

If she had not heard his breaths, had not felt the heat of his body, the speed with which he rises to his feet would have caused her to further question whether or not this foe was even a living being. Though contending with the creatures of the night were not an especial focus of the Mugen Tenshin, the highborn young woman was familiar enough with the exploits of the Hayabusa against such fiends. The idea that she was fighting a wraith - spawned by whatever unjust calamity befell the Ryouhara was not an impossible concept.

But she was certain spectres wouldn't choke, wouldn't bleed, wouldn't struggle against their own spattered blood that threatens to render them blind within the confinment of that protective headgear.

No. This one was every bit alive.
As she lands facing him, heirloom blade already drawn, she realizes he is even moreso than when this war first began.

Something had awoken in him now. An anger palpable as the flames that had burned her skin before. Even from her distance, as she lectures him, she can feel the seething energy building. Every word invites violent response, but still she speaks, her voice clear but for the demands of oxygen from lungs pushed to their limits, her tone serene, resolved, unyielding. He would hear her out, or he would make his move, and she would cut him down - such was the finality of her decision when faced with all she had seen thus far.

But when he speaks, the vehemence she detected before pales in comparison. He utters the history of erstwhile truces - some as words on paper no stronger than a butterfly's wing. Others spoken, the strength of their obligation lasting only so long as those who remembered oblidged, either out of honor, or more likely, the fear of what would happen should they fail. "That was centuries ago," she murmurs defensively, but the sting of doubt lingers still. Had there been trade between their clans? If so, it predated her known history... but old history seems to be something painfully dear to this final Guardian of their grand legacy. He draws his sword but she doesn't move. First she needs to know where they stand, for once she moves again, she will be unable to stop until this ordeal is finally at an end. Either he will fall to her blade, or she will fall to his.

He speaks of broken promises and there she is quiet in return, her mouth a straight line, copper brown eyes peeking out from a soot-stained face staring back unapologetically. Her focus flicks to the protector of his collarbone as he withdraws the metal sphere from it.

His intent is finally laid bare - to know what she knows, to pulverize any whit of information she might have that is relevant to his solemn inquisition. The consequences of not cooperating would be lasting. "You know full well," she murmurs, focused on the sphere in his hands. Versed as she may be in many of the techniques harbored by the shadow clans, it is beyond her capacity to fathom what it is capable of doing - only that it represents a new threat, a new danger from one laden with seemingly unlimited threats. "Many secrets hold a price beyond that of a single life."

Many might speak such words out of reflex or sense of obligation, but Kasumi clearly makes no such idle claim. For him, there may be nothing to lose, but the one he faces has not reached that nadir of singular purpose where all else can be forsaken in its pursuit. She will not break easily.

He approaches, his steps too slow to respond to as an attack of aggression, though hostility accompaniese each movement. She winds up even further as he flips his sword to the ready - her entire body a wound coil ready to explode into a flurry of motion once more. As long as the agony ripping through her nerves doesn't defeather first. Burning skin still suffering exposure to the heated ruin and two bleeding wounds that sap at her strength drop by drop remind her that there is a clock hand ticking, a countdown to her downfall if this is not ended swiftly.

He remarks on her skill, and her perhaps falsely placed confidence, and as his voice escalates in volume, the young woman's head tilts just so slightly to the side - a flicker of curiosity, "Have you considered..."

His attack is almost impossible to read for what it is. The lobbing of the sphere, the swift movement, the fastest she'd seen him travel since he had appeared, a thing of nightmare and flame. That the device marked KATON holds the key is without doubt, but in this matter, she is armed with far less knowledge than he.

And then her world is on fire.

What's left of the structure becomes a cage of hellfire, unnatually controlled, but even more deadly than flames that burn naturally. All prospects of escape are denied of her now, though the thought of running had not crossed her mind since she made the fateful decision to leap down at him from her perch above.

But at the same time, he denies her any window by which to reach him herself. He would see her stance falter - all that wound up preparation meant for one purpose, and one alone - seeming to go to waste.

Her eyes come off of him out of necessity. She has other priorities now. She can feel the heat of the infused fire - it burns unlike anything she has ever felt, threatening physical harm but even one's essence is not safe from the purging inferno.

She turns, and in an instant, executes three slashes - two forming an X, the third bisecting it through the middle. The first two leave swaths of sakura hued chi. The third detonates them outward into the wall encroaching on her position - it is a test, like a caged animal probing at its confines, or a prisoner testing every stone for a glimmer of hope.

And it fails. The backlash from the two opposed energies colliding washes over the girl as she is forced backward, arms raised to ward off the lashes of fire that threaten to consume her. She staggers back another step. It's too much. The movement exacerbated her wounded leg, unleashing a burning hell of anguish. His previous attacks are all exacting their unavoidable toll. And even the touch of chakra infused flame against her aura is enough to push her over the edge.

The young shinobi collapses with a cry, dropping to one knee and one hand against the ground. But her right hand stays lifted, the blade held back along her side. She would never profane the Shrouded Moon by allowing it to fall to the ground for as long as she is conscious.

"I wonder," she forces the words out, returning to the thought interrupted by the purging flames burning all around her in this crucible of wrath. "If you have considered..."

Against all odds, she rises, pushing up to her feet. She will not fall here, she tells herself. She will not suffer the humiliation of this one's inquisition. She will keep going. Even if it is just to take one more step. And then, when that is done, she will muster every shread of resolve to take another. Then another.

"Looking for the kernel of your calamity..."

Her voice has become colder than before, a level of anger that defies passion, seizing one's heart in an icy grip of ruthless reality.


She whirls, sword readied once more, the stance restored, her entire body trembling now as perspiration rolls over her heated flesh and drips from her chin.

The accusation is made without hesitation. Given the prowess of the Ryouhara... given their resources, their gifts, and their place in this world... would it not seem likely the source of their ruin came from one of their own?

Kasumi grits her teeth, each breath coming at great effort, unapologetic in her brazen claim. She will risk his fury. Let his rage be sparked by her indictment. There never was any chance it wouldn't come to this; the two souls diametrically opposed, clashing over ideologies and histories, philosophies entirely inimical to one another.

Still the implied recrimination lingers in the air as the Fire-Tested Exile awaits an opportunity to catch him in motion:

Isn't the sole survivor the one upon whom all suspicion falls?

COMBATSYS: Kasumi focuses on her next action.

[                        \\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Kasumi           0/-------/----===|==-----\-------\0        Seishirou

COMBATSYS: Kasumi keeps on fighting!

[                        \\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Kasumi           0/-------/----===|==-----\-------\0        Seishirou

Simply by the act of living, the body employs certain measures that defeat energy attacks. This biological process can be strengthened or weakened by the subject's understanding, or lack thereof, of chi. Ryouhara's fire, conjured by shinobi intimately familiar with those biological processes, is of the sort that attacks the aura directly, oftentimes ripping through it. It is a technique well beyond a nominal fighter's caliber. This in itself makes most techniques prohibitively costly in terms of the stamina required to execute it. Then, enter ninkougakujutsu, a method of weaponizing items by imbuing them with energy techniques.

The walls of fire burn high, even in the absence of fuel burned away long ago by the prior explosions and smouldering wreckage elsewhere on the battlefield. The source of it was a technique--one of the few that consumes so much energy that it's foolhardy for even an experienced user to perform it in the battlefield. Using it with minimal preparation is the advantage of the willowy young man's martial science. For its permanence, the katon technique is itself considered the ninkou, one of Ryouhara's second most advanced tiers of technique, spawned by a containment cell at his neck. It is meant as a defensive measure, threatening an opponent and limiting their range of motion and vision with flame.

And Ryouhara's flames are so unlike normal fire techniques.

The walls of the castle loom high and impassive overhead. They would be easily vaulted by the incredible and awe-inspiring skill of his opponent, had the young Mugen Tenshin's black flower not taken everything in her to have tested their walls. Had she not been run through at the flank by his blade. She owns the sky and the earth without question or contention. But little by little, her domain was shrinking before the all encompassing wall of fire.

The fire casts a strange, chaotic light over everything, crushing out the air in the lungs and stinging the eyes with heat and smoke. His helmet protected him from such problems, leaving him expressionless. Surely, with this much flame and destruction, safety services would be on their way. This was the concern for Ryouhara, kneeling in full crouch somewhere in the midst of the fire, the fingertips of one hand touching the steaming hot street in readiness. The self-imposed time limit he set at the beginning of the battle is running to its edge. It is his weakness as a shinobi.

His jutsu at full power is too broad in scale.

Ryouhara knows that while she was weakened by his fireblast, she is not yet down--he can hear her breath, however labored, over the roar and hiss of the fire. The next few moments will be crucial, as his own reserves are beginning to flag, every part of his upper body aching from the manipulations from her techniques and the force of her blows. Caged in, she has no place to run anymore. Without fail, he will finish it here.

Her words, however, drag images forcefully from the depths of his subconscious.

At first he elects not to hear anything, slowly reaching to the knot of his obi at his side, impassively using the time she spends talking to prepare a strategy to end her. However, as she continues on, the shinobi pauses, coming to a standstill. In his wide-reaching net, the idea that he himself, or another of his blood, might be responsible for his own family's destruction never occurred to him. That she could imagine it easily is the sort of affront to him that cracked something in the very fiber of his being. In her, he recognizes an old thing, bitter and cold, that resonates with the only doctrine that he knows. He represents the cold and the destitute...

A warm light for those left in the cold.
And a scintillating firestorm to roast those who stand above it all.

Perhaps if he knew--or even intuited--that she was an Exile, he would not behave so. Her lack of guard is accepted as an absolute--a solitary person accepts another solitary person as simply a truth left to its own. As it is now, all he hears are the words of another domineering clan, threatening, accusing, and imposing. To set aside everything and accuse his own family of that terrible act... was a fit of pique that draws true white-hot enmity from the shinobi. After she speaks, there is a quiet for a time. It is as if the roar of flame didn't even exist. The world grows silent around them. His words are final.

"An expected sentiment... of asseisha."

The old term for a tyrannical rule rings the same in any language. Whatever his plan was before, it changes dramatically and on the fly. Instead of trying to put an end to her by the many swift and orderly ways he could while staying relatively safe behind walls of flame, the shinobi's next attack comes straight through the curtains of fire for Kasumi's neck, flying straight like a demon from the night for her, to snatch her clear off of her feet with the broken hilt of a bladeless sword he has not yet displayed in his battle. The move is brutal as it is fast, an all consuming dash that will fold her windpipe around the pommel of that broken weapon. Not just that, but Ryouhara moves to pick her up and carry her with him in his charge. He knows the ways around and through his flames, the space between the tongues that he may walk through to keep his body from being burned away in his own fires.

He takes none of those paths.

There is no room in him for the wellbeing of tyrants. Without delay or even really a seeming regard for consequence, the ghost bursts from the shadows and light on wings of fire, moving to spear Kasumi in the throat with the blunted fittings of that weapon in an all out thrust, and then use her body as a battering ram to knock down every fiery barrier in his ninkoujutsu, skull first.

COMBATSYS: Kasumi interrupts Shunshin Ghost from Seishirou with Lightning Drill Helix EX.

[                          \\\\  <
Seishirou        0/-------/---====|

COMBATSYS: Kasumi can no longer fight.

[                          \\\\  <
Seishirou        0/-------/---====|

She waits, her body trembling amidst the flames.

Her breaths are forcefully slow in spite the relentless exertion that has been required of her every instant in his presence. Her cells cry out for more oxygen; but what are such pleas against the screams of pain wracking her body? The larger breaths her lungs so eagerly desire might betray her with their unrepentant ill timing - there will be time for breathing later.

For now, she waits, her body wound up into a posture of tension and throbbing muscles, her blade held backward, its pristine surface shimmering with an aura of sakura pink.

The Shrouded Moon is designed to resonate with the aura and blood of the rulers of the Mugen Tenshin, its engineered surface glimmering with a hue as unique to each generation of leadership as a fingerprint. The glowing stolen heirloom, its radiance casting a rose hued light over the wounded side of the young shinobi, has never needed to be reforged in spite its centuries worth of use in battle; its instrinsic chi echoing required no adjustment or tuning passed from each parent to child, cycle after cycle. It almost begs the question of where such craftmanship could have even originated from - what insignia is hidden beneath its hilt. The Mugen Tenshin were not otherwise known for their artifacts or engineering.

Trapped as she is, Kasumi fully realizes the danger in provoking him further. Should the castle fall upon her, would there be any hope of escape? It would take everything she had left to launch herself one final, last time. It would have to be enough... there could be no alternative. But there was an even greater danger - what if he did not attack at all? Bleeding as she was, penned in by fires that would incinerate her to the core should she brave them directly, an ominous clock was ticking and should a composed mind prevail, the Lone Ryouhara could simply wait out her rapidly dwindling stamina. Already the blade feels a heavy burden in her grip, her knees eager to buckle.

Scorched and soiled tresses of chestnut hair drape alongside her neck as her forward lean becomes even moreso, every muscle in her body poised to execute one last strike, subtly trembling with fatigue and anticipation alike. There will be only one chance now. It is necessary that he come to her.

Vexing another to the point of attacking is not a tactic exercisd frequently by the Mugen Tenshin exile. But her years of education were not only in the arts of destroying the enemies of the clan by fist or blade. Oft times it is the edge of the word that carries the force necessary.

It was no accident she uttered the blashemous allegation the moment she did.

The flames provide her first answer, their heat intense beyond any flame she has ever experienced, responding in time with the will of their creator.

His voice provides the second and Kasumi closes her eyes. What needs to happen next will require senses far beyond mortal sight. Even now her vision is waning. She cannot act on faulty information.

"Asseisha... neishin..." she whispers.
"...even nukenin..."
"For the sake of my clan,"
"I will bear these aspersions and countless more."

From out of the hellstorm he surges as she looks up, eyes snaping open in response to the faint sound of cloth moving through the flame. Her throat is exposed in that moment, a target for the grip of the empty sword.

When she moves, it is with the intensity of the storm and the velocity of light itself. She had demonstrated Divine Speed with unarmed attacks before. And as he descends upon the coiled ninja, she manifests that same speed with the threat of a blade.

The untrained eye would be unable to see anything at all though ears would be assaulted by the crack of thunder, of supercharged air violently displaced. Vision honed by focus on the impossible would only get a glimpse of the blur - the twist of her arm, the pivot of her wrist, the spin of that gleaming blade. The wake of chi left behind for only an instant is a long helix of blossoming pink along the path the runaway princess traveled forward in that microsecond, visible for only the length of time it takes for lightning to flash in a storm torn sky.

She could come to a stop only a couple meters past him, her sword held in both hands, horizontally in front of her as she leans down, knee pressing against stone. Crimson drips from its previously pristine surface - in that impossibly brief window of time, his body would have been marked by three slashes across his chest - cut to the bone of his ribcage. Had her arms but more strength left to give, even bone itself might have been hewn asunder.

Flame ripples along her back - remnants of her brief brush against Hell itself when the Ghost of the Ryouhara charged into her. The once-sapphire blue fabric of her ninja dress has been burnt black as the last tongues of fire flicker and die, some of the fabric peeling away as crisp cinder.

Slowly she rises up to standing, her back toward where the fated clash took place. A step forward is taken, her movements slow and almost without purpose, like one might stride through a dream. Her right hand drops to her side, fingers loosely clenched around her sword. Her left hand lifts slowly up past her chest to rest lightly at her neck in silent, suffocating wonder.

Unconsciously, she twists the Shrouded Moon behind her waist, sliding it back into its sheath with a definitive clink, concealing its glow from sight. Seconds later, the fall to her knees is without any attempt at bracing, her body bouncing vertically with the motion, before at last the hunted kunoichi slumps sideways to the ground.

All the world is a corridor, where light lengthens and blends as it tries to catch hands in motion.

Perhaps it was a mistake to respond so. Though Ryouhara had minimal practical experience with kunoichi beyond his own prejudices, it was their quintessential trickery--twisting words until a weakness was presented. As authoritative as the young man was, and as talented as he might be, his response accounted for everything but the fact that he should have done nothing at all.

But a fire is a fire, and it will always burn until nothing is left.

And when the two clash, it is like Izanagi crossing spears with Izanami at the pillar of the world. It is an uncommon brutality, marked with the sledgehammer of a throat spear and the axeblow of a shortsword entering his middle. He never completes his technique. In that single spinning instant, blood braids with pink chi and red fire.

The castle's walls are cut down, battered apart until the fire fortress is just a hall, two walls on either side of the two fighters. Ryouhara lands hard, his stance freezing against the ground as he holds firm. The Ryouhara's ghost manages to last only a moment before staggering visibly, hunching as he grimaces hard, holding his free arm over his middle as blood begins to seep into his clothing. He grips it hard, before looking over his shoulder in disbelief.

Even through the mechanical distension caused by his respirator, his voice sounds wet and frustrated. "You--"

The world starts to slip into the black, images beginning to split into two and three as his head grows lighter by the moment. His breath hitches. He leans, struggling. His feet plant, as his weapon arm drops limp to his side, the hilt of that unnamed ninkou in his hand lowering, threatening to fall from his hand.


COMBATSYS: Seishirou takes no action.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou can no longer fight.

Suddenly, he loses control.

A spray of blood jets from between his fingers, unbidden, cooking on the still-hot asphalt. The possibilities and physical nature of the injury whirl through his mind. A litany of problems begin to mount in his mind. Three strikes crossing into his chest through to the bone. Losing too much blood. The police will be here soon. There's not enough time. Never enough time...


It takes the last of his strength to attempt to staunch the bleeding. He spreads his hand, focusing chakra to his fingertips. A heat sealing technique will make sure he doesn't bleed out. He remains calm, even to the end, calm and rational. If he can keep from dying, all he'll need to do is be the faster one to recover. She's down. He just needs to not die. He just has to seal his injury. Has to...
"....This shadow war will never end.."

The ninkou drops to the ground, clattering.
The shinobi-called-ghost follows shortly thereafter, helmet smashing into the pavement hollowly as he falls face-first to the ground with little grace and even less fanfare. The seals he was able to make hiss freshly beneath him, keeping the spread of blood around him from blooming into a full lotus. It is the only indicator that he might still actually be alive.

Otherwise, the body is still.

Log created on 22:41:12 01/01/2015 by Kasumi, and last modified on 04:13:12 02/04/2015.