KOF 2017 - Act 3: Mission 8) Fear The Reaper

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Description: The dogs of war are nearly upon Southtown. And leading the vanguard between the city and the monsters is Ayame Ichijo, shrine maiden and monster hunter. Without hesitation, she leads a one-woman army against the stragglers and skirmishers, ready to confront the darkness. But the Reaper finds a familiar and wholly unwelcome face in her first skirmish. Daniel Little, the former Interpol agent. The man, having been twisted by his encounters with the underworld, has only quelled his madness long enough to attempt to return to the United Nations_ and join the ranks of the Darkstalker army. With Ayame standing between him and his fate, the Darkstalker has to face the Reaper.





[AYAME]
The home of the Ichijo clan is built quite differently from most shrines that dot the island nation of Japan. Smaller shrines tend to be stand alone buildings, surrounded by trees, holy rocks, hallowed lakes, or other natural formations of interest. Others are large, sprawling complexes, a series of buildings rather than a single structure, their security little more than symbolic fences, wards to keep out the ethereal but offering little to keep more mundane trespassers at bay.

But the Meian Jinja is built more like a fortress. Built as if to withstand a siege, the compound is surrounded by a thick, tall, stone wall, the courtyard compact, with most of the buildings within short walking distance from each other. The complex itself is situated such that two of the four wall sides are adjacent to a sheer cliff drop down into a valley far below, invoking the image of castles built in locations that limit possible vectors of access. A food producing garden exists within the wall, food storage laid away in storage sheds, and hand cranked pumps that pull water from underground aquifers. Whoever designed the shrine over a millennia ago built it more like a military foothold than a site that welcomes holy worship.

And tonight, its defenses are being put to the test.

They came with the dry storm that still lingers overhead. While clouds swirled overhead, the air was dry, crisp but not freezing, full of energy yet lacking in life. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled, but not a single drop of rain fell to dampen the ground.

Tonight, it is blood that moistens the earth in and around the Meian Jinja. The centuries-old wards engraved around the shrine make the grounds all but impossible to enter by dark tainted spirits, but the monstrosities that surged through the forest to break upon its walls are a living concept that didn't exist in the era of its construction. The gates had already been sealed - mighty, thick wooden doors that had almost never been closed in the shrine's history - when the swarm arrived, bursting through the woods, a flurry of shadow, claws, horns, and teeth, falling upon the ancient structure without any sense of self-preservation, fear, or remorse.

The clan had been bracing for it. Premonitions, a sense of encroaching dread, and increased alertness since the fall of the great wards that dotted the scared Mount Fuji were cause enough to be prepared for the worst. Split into three squads, two lead by each of Ayame Ichijo's parents, and the third led by Ayame herself, they moved to respond to the assault as best they could, their numbers augmented by other sacred warriors gathered from around the region.

The first of the invaders were smaller things, capable of slithering over the wall entirely, but each one that did so would find itself assaulted by one or more of the squads of five. Koumyou fought in the midst of her squad of mikos, supporting their staff work with her own incredible power of sacred chi projection. Genbou moved with his band of warrior priests, pinning the invaders with swift staff strikes while the spears of the priests would put a quick end to the squealing horrors.

Ayame moved with her mixed band of acolytes, serving as the vanguard against every unwelcome fiend to breech the grounds. Two archers help strike the winged creatures, while the others move to support the miko in her sweeping executions of the artificially constructed monsters. It was her group that hovered near the closed gate - a gate that had stood untested for centuries, yet managed to be keep a large portion of the swarm at bay for a protracted length of time.

That was earlier.
Now, after dozens of broken, bleeding Gears lay scattered throughout the courtyard, all hell has broken loose.

Two loud, earth shaking slams against the wooden gates prefaced a third, obliterating smash, the ancient, seal-reinforced wood splintering, as a massive horned quadrupedal beast smashed its way into the courtyard. Larger than a locomotive, the ebony behemoth had moved with physical force far beyond anything the structure was built to withstand. Only the remaining stone sections of the wall prevented it from surging fully into the courtyard and wrecking immediate havoc on the desperate fighters within. Pulling itself free, bits of stone and wood spilling down along its heaving sides, the monster backed off, leaving the entrance completely open. The Meian Jinja fortress was breached at last.

What had been an orderly, organized migration of squads responding to the entering dangers has become chaos. There are far too many threats to respond to only three at once. Already, the Gears roar in triumph as several people cry out in alarm. Injuries begin to mount, the defenders forced into one on one battles many are ill-prepared to handle.

Yet when Ayame glances toward her parents, she finds certainty in their eyes, a confidence that all is not yet lost even as the Gate Breaker backs off to prepare another crushing charge toward the entrance. This time, it will smash through, and lay waste to all within.

A thrum reverberates throughout the grounds as if a drum, massive and deep, were struck by a mighty hand.

The disruption is significant enough that even over the bedlam, all present can feel it. As the Meian Jinja begins to become overwhelmed, some unseen ancient presence stirs. Again, Ayame's eyes flick to her parents, only this time she notices her father's focus fixed on the massive torii that has stood outside the gateway. Her attention shifts that way too, only to notice that instead of wood, the surface of the crimson divine gate is coated with thousands of shimmering, shifting scales.

"Scatter!" she exclaims as she notices the Gate Breaker charging toward the entrance again, sending her group off in separate directions as best they can. But it never makes it. The moment its blasphemous form passes through the massive torri, the divine gate collapses downward, revealing itself to be a gargantuant youkai with the form of a centipede.

The wide-eyed stare Ayame gives the ancient protector as it wraps around the charging Gear with a deathly crushing grip is enough to reveal that she had no understanding that such a defense existed. A youkai? Standing guard over the Meian Jinja? As if letting the drunkard oni in hadn't been offensive enough. But her father seemed to know?

The giant serpentine ally of the human defenders is enough to change the flow of the battle, battle weary holy warriors rallying even as the swarm becomes more desperate to succeed in their mission to leave no stone or board standing in the entire complex...

[DANIEL]
***************************************

"Ez rossz... informaciobol szarmazik! Nem az en hibam!"

The words from the dusted, cobwebbed clad revenant comes. The skeletal frame only held the vaguest scraps of ceremonial armor and cloth. The withered excavated general pulled from the depths of a tumuli outside of Transylvania was supposed to be the ace in the hole. The coup de grace. Right now, the general's tent was a makeshift mess of faded fabrics of grey, yellow and red, sitting at the far edge of the battlefield. Here, the revenant was picking through his tactics, looking over a map spread on a portable table, with figurines on it. It was a campaign, a siege. Everything was moving forward according to the plan.

And right now, Valentin was pissed.

"Listen here you Carpathian asshole." Valentin chides, the wiry thin vampire clinging to a single cigarette, stroking his goatee as he stares out at the shrine fortress, as the next wave of Gears and Darkstalkers roll forward. Despite what the dead general implied, Valentin was not happy with the shifting of blame. "The information you had was as good as it got. We had good intel that the defenses were compromised; just as compromised as every other shrine. We even had good intel that it was attacked recently, that they were on a back foot from another raid. It's so easy. So simple. We drag you out of your barrow, the conquering hero, the guardian of the dead, and you get right back to what you're good at."

"The conqueror of Ontario!"

"Otranto." The grim Artur corrects, the burly counterpart to Valentin only now raising his voice. Valentin gestures at his partner. "Whatever. The point is, we needed a commander who could handle a siege, you're a commander who can siege, and when the time came for you to siege, what do we get? This!" He gestures at the battlefield, as the second wave already falls before the guardians. "If you can't adjust to a changing battlefield, what good are you? If anything, it's my fault for trusting a Hungarian!"

"I don't think you quite comprehend what's going on here. Lord Dohma, -our- boss, has made things very clear." The vampire leans over the map, and plucks a single crude doll, marked with a star. He wraps his fingers around it. "Find Ayame Ichijo. Capture her. And lay waste to her family, her clan, and her shrine, absolutely desecrate it. And if we can't do all that? Stall her, so she doesn't go and attack the damn army. So when you find her holed up in the Meian Jinja, you're supposed to keep her holed up if you can't take the fortress. And what are you doing now?"

"NOT TAKING THE SHRINE!"

Valentin looks over to Artur, who nods. "So what's the plan, general? How are we going to salvage this as you are clinging to your last reserves. We need to be out of here before daybreak, and if we don't have anything to show for it? That's my head. And you? You get a fate worse than death, you understand me? Am I getting this through your skull?" And the general looks at Valentin, his sunken eyes nothing more but the faintest wisps of red light. His ancient bones crack as he rises into a stand, the mummified skeleton resting his hands. And he looks at Valentin, and lets out a hoarse rasp, pounding his fist on the makeshift table.

"On egy roman kutya, a torokok szerettek anyadat!"

And Valentin boils over with rage. Throwing himself at the Carpathian, only now does Artur intervenes. Gripping his partner, he holds him back, as Valentin lashes out with fists. "Listen here old man! If you think I'm going to let some Hungarian crypt keeper tell me-"

"Am I interrupting something, scuzzies?"

Daniel's words rise up, amongst the darkness of the tent. Coiling mist rises from the shadows, as the form takes an... orange appearance. Emerging in an orange zoot suit, the grinning fan of Daniel Jack manifests, arms crossed. The entire squabble freezes. Valentin is speechless, trying to focus on the arrival of... this? The general, looks blankly at Daniel, very slowly reaching for his ceremonial sword. Artur looks between the three, considering silently. "Remember me?" Daniel says, looking at the two. "Daniel Jack? Remember last year, at the King of Fighters? You were in the tower; I caught up with you guys. You're with Je- Lord Dohma, right?" Daniel looks at the general, and back and forth. "Is this the Gear Army? I'm looking to get back in with Interpol, uh, and I felt his presence?" Daniel Jack looks back and forth with yellow eyes, and then to the battle behind them. "Uh, looks like an army out there." Daniel Jack flashes a toothy grin, his yellow eyes burning with a shadow of naivety on what he just wandered upon. "What can I do to help?"

Valentin and Artur look to each other. Artur nods. And Valentin starts to give the biggest grin, revealing his fangs.

****************************************

The banners stick high up, bearing the symbols of Majigen as the last of the reserves surge at the hole ripped open. This was the moment to strike, the mass of teeth and fangs stirring. once they overran the shrine, they could make their defiant last stand there, to bleed out the clan. It was a pyrrhic victory in the best of outcomes, as was by design. The army would be an exit wound, Maygar brutality to leave its enemies crippled and bleeding out. Despite the pleadings of the two vampires, the general had only one goal: annihilation. The moment had come to pour the soldiers into the breach at the gate.

But the guardian of the Meian Jinja stalls the assault.

As the centipede wraps itself around the black beast, the reserve pour upon their kind. Partisan spears and claw and fang pour on the behemoth, the wild attempts bringing equal harm to the creature as well as the centipede. A turning point, even as the acolytes surge against the tide. This was the chokepoint, this was the point of truth. In the turning point of the battle, where the existence holds between the two fronts, it was almost too easy to miss the crawling mist.

The shape of shadows slipping through the breach.

The black mist coils and creep through the shadows, slipping and shifting, clinging to the sights between the darkness. For his nature, he had just assumed that's how he could avoid confrontation. It would be his mistake to assume that such entrances would not be noticed in the field of battle, however. The presence of the previous invader begins to build over the battlefield, a familiar presence. A consuming, devouring shadow, crawling and pull, weighing heavily as the shadows slip deeper into the Shrine.

The Butcher...?



[AYAME]
The two fronts in the battle could not be any more different. The defending humans have the home advantage. The walls funnel the invasion largely along a predictable route and even the old shrine itself bears defenses most present were unaware existed. They fight for their lives, digging in with that kind of desperation only the truly living can appreciate, inured by a lifetime of discipline to prevent it from spiraling into panicked flailing.

The attackers move with a certain inevitability, beastlike instincts shaped to make them ideal for war, each of the magical constructs attacking with a selfless frenzy, willing to endure pain and even death in the pursuit of whatever commands must be echoing within their psyche. It gives them dangerous strength and a recklessness that is difficult for anyone sane to remotely comprehend. Each gear must be stopped by force. Threatening gestures, conservative zoning, or loud shouts will do nothing to curtail their advance.

The entangling of the Gate Breaker is a double edged sword - its assault was stopped before it was able to charge the rest of the way into the courtyard, where it would have rampaged unchecked... but keeping it secured demands much of the giant creature's strength.

What follows is a classic response to a castle wall breech, the defenders surging to concentrate their attacks at the choke point, the attackers pressing against it, with a writhing centipede and colossal behemoth occupying the center of the more concentrated battlefield.

It is Ayame that hangs back for a moment, panting for breath, her wooden staff damp with the blood of the artificially living weapons, one end of it pinned against the back of one small wing-born wasp-like nightmare as she leans hard until there is a ghastly crunch and the flailing thing stops wiggling so much. Standing up straight, still leaning against her weapon for support, the Ichijo scion surveys the battlefield. Of the eighteen defenders that first met the assault, she notices three down on the ground. At a glance, she can't discern whether they are even alive. Three more are still alive, but clearly crippled, no longer able to fight back. Normally the wounded would be attended to immediately by her mother, but Koumyou is continue to bolster those fighting at the gate with what strength she has left. A third of their fighting force no longer standing, she muses. How much longer can they hold out?

Lanterns atop poles provide the light necessary for the humans to fight by. Well, that, and the chromatic hue of energy produced by those capable of wielding chi, occasional splashes of blues, reds, and violets, augmented by flashes of crimson lightning in the sky above that periodically illuminate the entire fight as bright as day.

Pandemonium reigns supreme and it's rare for anyone to find the opportunity to collect their bearings. Pausing near the front line will surely be death, and falling back means leaving one's allies without support. No, those at the gate are stuck at the gate, until they fall or the siege comes to an end.

Gritting her teeth, Ayame hefts her staff in her left hand, pushing back to standing, then begins to stride toward the gate to join the others. Emotions war within her - anger at the affront this garbage has to attack her home, frustration that the UN's living weapons have come to her doorstep, when they should not have even found a foothold on Japan's sovereign land, and worry that for all their efforts, training, and strength, it might not be enough. What if they finally break in through the gate, spilling over the compound, tearing, biting, gnashing, and clawing...

It will be a massacre. There will be no prisoners taken.

Her pace quickens, the need to join the others the foremost thought in her mind. Until she stops suddenly. Here, on sacred ground, even among the stench of blood and death, the seething darkness of an invader is felt. It stands out from the Gears - they move and act like beasts, but there is no soul to their violence, no dark intent that can be felt.

Not like the new presence she feels. Ayame whirls around, drawing crimson energy into the length of her staff in order to cast a faint glow around her, eyes peering into the flickering shadows created by the pole mounted lamps. It would make sense for him to come back... his business was not finished during his last invasion, and what better time to seep in than through the confusion of war?

Her right hand draws a card from her left sleeve, a flick of her wrist igniting the chi stored within, a bright, spectral blue flame casting an even brighter glow than her staff - a glow that pushes back at the shadows, a talisman designed to reveal what lurks beyond.

[DANIEL]
****************************************

"Daniel, can I call you Danny? Danny Boy, wow, what a great surprise it is to see you?"

Valentin slips up besides Daniel, hand on his shoulder as he guides him right into the tent. For the moment, the general pulls his hand away from his sword, and the skinny vampire continues to talk fast. "See, Danny Boy, the knowledge we had was that you were a mindless beast preying on the innocent teenage girls around the countryside; while that almost would work for our line of work, we prefer to deal with more macro-minor work, if you understand. We didn't need someone we couldn't control, no offense, right?" Valentin nods his head.

Daniel nods his head with Valentin.

"I, uh, want to get back with Interpol, " Daniel looks over the interior of the tent, as the battle rages outside. He... he just answered a call. What was this? The Gear Army? A scouting party? The war? He just felt the presence of Jedah, and he knew the Gear army was around. He didn't actually have a -plan-, other than he would find help. Anything to get his life back on track. Thus, in the face of the fast talking vampire, he can only muster:

"What am I supposed to do?"

"Well, Danny Boy;" Valentin motions towards the walls of the shrine out the opening of the tent. "Welcome to Meian Jinja! We're attacking it, as you can see, with Gears. It's part of a contract deal we have with Lord Dohma and the United Nations and the Elder Gods. No boots on the ground, you see, and we're only providing an advisory role to the rank and file Gears." Valentin gives a wink to Artur, who sighs. Valentin gestures at the general. "This here is General Balazs Magyar, leading the tactical command here!" The reverent stares coolly, before croaking at the detective.

"Ez egy afrikai? Mit csinalsz a bolondok?"

"What did he say?" Daniel asks, looking at the skeleton warily with yellow eyes. Valentin pats Daniel on the shoulder. "General stuff, don't worry about it. Look, we need help breaching this shrine now! And I know that Lord Dohma would be absolutely -delighted- if you could help us right now in getting past the wall, and doing a little dirty work." Daniel pulls the hand off his shoulder. Dirty work. He knew what that meant. The detective growls, but responds slowly. "What am I... supposed to do?" He asks again, more precisely. Valentin looks towards his partner. Artur gives a nod.

"You just have to kill Ayame."

****************************************

The light pins down the mists, and the wraith-like form seizes up. Gradually, the coiling tendrils wind back inwards as the true shape manifests. Spiritual essence pulls, almost in agony as the spectre resists, fighting the mystic power.

And then Ayame might see the bright orange of the Zoot Suit.

The outlandish outfit, a three piece suit of orange begins to come together, a black-skinned man filling it under the power of the talisman. A garish hat, bearing a long feather, bursts from the shadowy mists, a form that might quickly become too familiar in the distant canyons of timelines lost. The form finally solidifies; for a brief moment the face is nothing but a dark, black abyss; with glowing yellow eyes. But after only a flicker, an all too familiar face looks out, with a thin mustache, and a nervous grin. The only hint of the monster left, now, was those yellow eyes.

Daniel Jack was silent.

As the battle waged on between Gear and Centipede, it was nearly impossible to imagine the weight of silence that Daniel was putting off now. Those wide eyes, that frozen grin; Daniel was clearly in the act of being caught at -something-, in a place where he clearly did not know he should be, by a girl he definitely, absolutely definitely did not want to be caught by. Daniel swallow hard, his grin not breaking. And finally, he breaks the ice.

"Hi. Ayame."

The words don't necessarily come out, but rather stumble out, drunken and terrified, knocking over the furniture along the way. "How. are. You. So. This... battle is going good! For you! This place looks nice!" Daniel nervously looks at the writhing mass of at the gates. "And A centipede! I did not know you had those! What a surprise! I-" Daniel blinks twice, his body relaxing a bit. "I need to cut the pleasantries for a moment. Ayame, I have to tell you something." He points out to the walls, past the battlefield, out towards the far side of the fight.

"You're in danger."



[AYAME]
Sharp eyes are on the coalescing form in an instant. She knew what she was looking for - at least, she thought she did. The splash of orange - the golden hue of a rising sun - is out of place here. Fingers tense as the shadows solidify, piece by piece, into the image of a man known to her. Almost. All the pieces are there, mirroring her memory of one Daniel Little. But those eyes looking back to her are a vandal's work, altering the picture just enough to turn the familiar alien.

Fingers clench tighter over the staff in her grip, Ayame's mouth pressed to a thin line, eyes burning with quiet intensity. The presence seething out from around him is painfully fresh to her senses. After all, he was just here, not so long ago, tearing through the shrine, contaminating its grounds with his vile spawn. He had tried to kill her then. Now here he stands once more, returned to finish claiming his revenge?

The halting words issuing forth from the face belonging to another man do little to assuage her conviction - her mind is already made up. The crimson fire coursing over her staff burns brighter, the girl's body tensing. On her right side, the pale blue talisman continues to illuminate, gently but inexorably pushing back at the shadows to keep the trespasser in plain view.

In the pursuit of small talk, he compliments the shrine. It is nice, when not coated in the blood of magical bio-weapons, when the cries of pain or shouts of desperation aren't echoing off of its walls. He mentions the centipede - a surprise to the very one he addresses, truth be told, but not remotely where her mind is focused at the moment. He warns of danger with a gesture and word, and were she more composed, she undoubtedly would have barked a sarcastic answer simply out of reflex.

Instead she speaks. "I struggle," Ayame Ichijo's reply comes through grit teeth, her expression having shifted through the range of suspicion, to surprise, to rage, "To comprehend how unfathomably stupid you must be." Her right hand flicks at the wrist, the burning blue talisman cast to the ground between them, where it continues to glow in the dark, a hemisphere of soft cerulean. "To think that I would not see through you in an instant. Is it desperation that compels you to maintain this pathetic ruse?"

She sweeps her staff from her side into an angle before her, both hands gripping it tightly now, her own body illuminated only by its flickering crimson glow. "Daniel Little was a good man. Once again, you profane another's memory, wearing the skin of better men to disguise the putrid stain that you are."

Last time he had gotten away from her - pulled through a portal of shadow by horrific, giant youkai. The bastard has come back too soon. She didn't have time to prepare a way to prevent his escape.

"Why, you do not even have a name, do you." she continues, leaning forward a little. "The only moniker you have is the one others gave you - an utterly unimaginative epithet, is that not right? And that is how you will always be known. Nothing more than..."

She pushes off with her back foot, charging the intruder then. She's already wasted too much time. The others might- no- will need her, assuredly. But there is a snake in the grass that must be dealt with first.

"The Butcher."

She leaps from three meters out, staff swishing through the air as she brings it overhead. She would land over a meter away, but with the reach her weapon affords her, that is still plenty close as she brings it smashing down, promising a painful impact of wood and that silent burning, red flaming chi. A second, horizontal sweeping strike would follow the instant her feet touched the ground, creating a zone of threat around the staff wielder.

A dangerous case of mistaken identity, perhaps. But is it really?

COMBATSYS: Ayame has started a fight here.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|


COMBATSYS: Daniel has joined the fight here.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Daniel


COMBATSYS: Daniel blocks Ayame's Power Strike.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0           Daniel


[DANIEL]
Daniel actually was optimistic for a moment.

Yes, he was nervous as hell. Yes, he was not certain what would happen. Worst of all, rather than -find- an opportunity to present himself, he ended up being caught in the worst way with the worst. Still, Daniel had, for the briefest of moments, confidence that he could smooth things out. That he could ease them out, resolve the slightly awkward encounter.

And that snuffs out the moment Ayame gives him that look.

"Oh god." Was his response, as his yellow eyes widen at Ayame's growing contempt. The smile fades. There were many logical conclusions she could have taken. And of them, this was one of the worst ones. "Oh god!" He exclaims again, bringing his hands up. He -knew- that she saw the Butcher, and it didn't take an ace detective(?) like Daniel (???) to understand why. Daniel -looked- the part, he felt like the part, he was even acting like the part. And desperately, Daniel tried to stop the inevitable. "It's me Ayame! Daniel Jack! Daniel! Danny Boy! Agent Little! Not the Butcher! I mean-"

"OH GOD!"

Daniel Jack cries out as Ayame descends upon him. As the staff sweeps in overhead, Daniel instinctively falls into his defensive stance. Catching the rattling staff with his palms, it smashes hard, the impact being absorbed in his knees and elbows more than the hands. With the impact, he redirects it in tandem with Ayame's efforts, working with the momentum of her control, letting the burning chi get absorbed by the palms. A division of labor, so to speak. "There's a very good reason why you would think that actually, but-" As the second sweep comes in, Daniel is cut off. With a horizontal swipe, Daniel relied on his footwork. Working with the attack in this case meant letting it rattle -hard- into his forearms, him rolling outward with the hit. It was zoning him bad, the close-quarters style of Daniel held off once again by the long reach of Ayame.

It was like Rumble all over again.

"Listen, you crazy broad!" Daniel shouts out exasperation, side stepping as he lifts his battered arms up. "God dammit, I got a way of showing you the real deal, Reaper-" Daniel growls as energy builds around his own arms, building up the orange chi mingled with the black mist of the shadow essence. ANd there, with a slicing motion from his hands, he unleashes the iconic move of Todoh-Ryuu Kobojutsu. Hurling out the wave of energy, the familiar chi was mingled with a strange new essence, designed to drive her back, to build more space... which was in Ayame's favor really, when you thought of it. Bah, the energy wave comes, as the martial artist bellows out.

"Kasane Ate!"

COMBATSYS: Ayame parries Daniel's Kasane Ate!

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Ayame            0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0           Daniel




[AYAME]
As ever, Ayame's staff dance is a steady flow of momentum, from overhead strike, to horizontal sweep, to back step, to guard. Each step executed in perfect time with the momentum of her sweeping weapon, even accounting instantly for the interference brought on by her target's defenses. They have done this dance before - though back then, he was a man, and she was a girl competing in a tournament just to test her own capabilities. The steps may be the same now, but the heart of it is nothing like that bout a lifetime ago.

Jaw clenched, brown eyes fixed on the man she believes to be a walking corpse, the dangerous monster hunter swipes her right hand past her left sleeve again, the motion swift, her fingers as dexterous as any master of slight of hand, coming away with another talisman. At her touch, it has already begun to glow pale white, spectral flames flickering over its paper surface.

"Listen? To you?" She sounds incredulous at the thought. Offended even. Because she needed to be made even more angry. "You invade like an assassin in the night, come to finish the job with all your freakshow allies, and I am the one that is supposed to be listening?!"

The signature swath of chi rushes across the short distance between them, but it is answered with a violent one-handed, horizontal sweep of the girl's staff, crimson flame meeting the shadow-tainted orange energy, splashing it to the right just before it would have crashed into her.

In the same motion, her right arm whips out, hand flicked at the wrist, hurling the talisman through the collision of conflicting powers. His warning would be the flash of white right before the card bursts in close proximity to its intended target, unleashing a swarm of flailing, ethereal white chains attempting to entangle the intruding darkstalker. A sealer's technique, capable of restraining and crushing the physical as well as the spiritual. And as always, the girl's execution is so dangerously fast.

"You want the real deal?" Ayame snaps back, sweeping her staff back toward her left side, still gripping it with one hand for now. "How about the deal where I finish the job I started last year." Her voice cracks a little, fingers white-knuckle tight on her weapon, "Seeing you in that man's skin," she shakes her head, stomping her foot as she leans forward into a more defensive stance once again, both hands gripping her staff now. "Only reminds me of the cost of my failure to end you before."

She shakes her head, long strawberry-blonde hair spilling down along the front of her shoulder as she maintains her stance. "You picked a bad time to visit, Butcher. But if this is the night you want to die, who am I to argue?"

COMBATSYS: Daniel just-defends Ayame's Binding of the Condemned Soul EX!

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Ayame            0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0           Daniel


[DANIEL]
****************************************

"There is... okay, everything stops."

Daniel flattens his hands to the side. He blinks hard. This was- what? There was a shortlist of things he expected. Hell, he expected to fight Ryu Hayabusa again before.... before this. This all. All this. Ayame? 'Strapless Red Dress' Ayame? The Reaper? "First of all, -why- is Ayame even on the table at all?" Valentin, furrowing his brow impatiently, sighs.

"Well, this is her shrine."

Daniel looks outside at the battle waging. He looks back and Valentin. He looks back at the fortress. He looks back. "WHAT?!" valentin looks at Artur. Daniel looks at Artur. Artur shrugs. "Yes, okay, so your girl Ayame has made herself a big deal. This is her shrine, it's basically a fortress designed to endure sieges from monsters like us, and we're laying siege to get at her. Like I said, thanks to our general here." The general was mostly ignoring this conversation now, focusing on his tabletop battlefield. "Hamarosan eskuszom a fenevadon." He croaks softly, as he moves a large shapeless lump towards the boundary. "Hamarosan megtorom a falat." Daniel, for his part, also ignores the general, but is still digesting the incredible transformation before him.

"BUT WHY."

"Well, she made herself a big deal."

"HOW."

valentin looks at Artur, and Artur nods. He turns back to Daniel, palms up submissively. "OKay, so the big man, you know who, was going about his business. And his business was interrupted by our friend Ayame here. -Badly- interrupted, you get me? And did so successfully. So while the big man is leading an expedition to help our brothers in the Gears Army, we're out to collect that debt she built on her ass. We cruise in, we take her out, and we burn down her shrine. That's your kind of work, right Lady Killer?"

Daniel grips an invisible neck.

"And he wants her dead? No! Ayame is a friend! She saved me from the afterlife; I mean yes, she's kind of a troubled teenager... and weird... and... has a FUCKING BATTLE SHRINE FORT!" Daniel gestures at said fucking battle shrine fort. "WHAT IS THIS. WHY IS IT LORD OF THE RINGS OUTSIDE. WHY. I can't just- look guys, if I show up there, she would trust me instantly, she might even be thankful, and hug me or something, a-and- I couldn't stab her in the back!" Valentin rubs a single temple, forcing a grin. He looks at his partner for a third time. And Artur pipes up.

"She doesn't have to be dead."

****************************************

"WHY?" Daniel exclaims as Ayame continues to reject his premise. "HOW?" Was the further question as she slips around the Kasane Ate. Exposed, he was feeling the senses around him flooding. Ayame was sticking to the idea that he was The Butcher, like, wearing him like a suit. Could he do that? Did she think he possessed him or something? He didn't even know he could do that. Maybe she was more in tune with the whole 'gardening' thing. Along with having a DAMN SHRINE and A FANTASY WAR going on. Daniel just wished that Ayame could have a normal teenage life that -DIDN'T INVOLVE GETTING TARGETED BY SUPERNATURAL DEMI-GODS-. She could have boyfriends. Or maybe one boyfriend. As Ayame prepares the talisman, the detective gets the thought in his head.

Has she even been kissed?

"AYAME." Daniel bellows incrediously, turning in the split-seconds as she unleashes the sealing card. Normally, it would have bursted; normally it would have entangled him. But in his daze, in his frenzy of personal fear, outrage, and own incredulous shock, he suddenly -charges- that card. Glaring at her in pure insult, he instinctively snatches the talisamen. Barely thinking, he suddenly shifts, his face transforming into that black abyss of white fangs and yellow eyes. And there, as the burst comes into his palm, he draws away the energy, sucking it away, draining it, absorbing it within. Sapping away the magical energies, he leeches away the last of it's power. Letting the remains of the card fall from his hand, he stares at Ayame, his face returning. "I... oh... jesus...."

Daniel wipes the drool from the corner of his mouth.

"... Wow...." Daniel blinks, stunned moment by the sudden rush of euphoria. When was the last time he ate? What did he ate? How could Ayame taste so -incredible?- The scent of the battlefield surges over him. And through it? Ayame's scent, the sweat, the skin. He never realized how -strong- she smelled. How strong that aura felt. Daniel feels the hunger running through him. He looks at his hands, the remains of the talisman still seared in it. He brings it to his face, and Daniel takes in a long sniff. His yellow eyes transfix upon Ayame, as he probes that aura hungrily. "Erm, haha, oh jesus." He says, blinking his eyes. "I've never... I've never really had a chance to really taste that power of yours."

"Oh no..."

Daniel accepts this. Daniel allows this. He could resist, he might resist. He knew why he should resist. "I guess I got some time to explain..." Daniel surges forward, trying to adjust for the distance. His form immaterializes on the rush, collapsing partially into heaving black mist, shifting irregulary as he lunges. "You see, Ayame, The Butcher left a parasite in me a long time ago." Attempting to bound on Ayame, he doesn't do much once he's on her. He would lunge low, going for her one knee. And there, lift up, to flip her backwards on her back. To build momentum. And maybe, get a deeper sensation of that aura. "It was still there when we last met, you dig?" He growls, drool spilling from his mouth.

He was getting real peckish.

COMBATSYS: Ayame counters Quick Throw from Daniel with The Sunrise of Broken Dreams.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0           Daniel


[AYAME]
For some, it might be difficult to imagine the distant girl letting her guard down long enough for anyone to draw close to her. Withdrawn, proud, driven, all attributes that have done a perfectly fine job of segregating her from the normal life someone her age should be entitled to enjoy. Her style of fighting mirrors the mentality entirely. With her staff, she maintains a zone of control, a barrier through which approach is decidedly dangerous, and with her talismans, she attacks from within that imaginary shell of wood and crimson fire.

The accrued experience and guilt of two lives lived, of causes found, devoted to, and lost, and the crushing sense of destiny-bound obligation have rendered her one people only approach when they need something. Help with a ghost problem, answers to questions concerning the esoteric, or a sturdy fighter to have at their side. These are reasons individuals seek out the Ichijo scion.

Love. Affection. Even friendship. /He/ had never set aside time in his life for such frivolous distractions, had he? The ghost of Ryouhara, more ideal than man, never deviated from his great work, his purpose. And either would Ayame Ichijo.

The Uninvited's dash forward into her attack is at first interpreted as a reckless disregard for self-preservation. It makes sense for the murdering Skin Thief... after all, it's not his body he would be endangering, his flesh burned or torn. The Butcher can fight like a beast without repercussion. Does he even feel pain, one has to wonder.

The truth of his charge registers as something else entirely when his hand snaps out, ripping the talisman from the air, driven by something other than conscious thought. And then she sees it - the mask slips and there is an audible gasp of breath heard from Ayame's direction, the sacred warrior recoiling a step. It should be just confirming what she already suspected with enough confidence to attack him. But now? Now there can't possibly be any doubt, and the sureness of the knowledge seems to startle the stoic priestess.

Daniel Little was dead. And The Butcher killed him.

It had to be recent. Only weeks had gone by since he was last here, in the flesh of another. If only she had managed to seal him then, then this man would still be alive. Instead, for her failure, this abomination looks back at her, having consumed the intricate energies of her prepared talisman as if it was a tasty meal. No, not meal. An appetizer.

The girl grips her staff tightly with both hands equal distance from the center, feeding more of that energy of hers into it. Flickering crimson flame that generates no heat yet burns others on contact all the same. The intensity is only matched by the indignation in her eyes, glaring back at that hungry look. Daniel Little had to know, by now, what it looked like when someone intended to kill him. And he would be reminded of that grim conviction, that decision to do the unthinkable, by the fierce stare he gets back.

So furious is she that she misses something - the girl that watches for every detail, every clue, isn't listening right now, about how he had never savored her unique signature of power before.

He makes his move, trying to get past that dangerous defense of hers, his shadow becoming faint as his body loses part of its form to unholy miasma. Many of the times, her staff techniques can seem overly fancy. But when she slams it out horizontally into Daniel's chest, denying him that last few inches necessary to actually get a hold of him, her movement is minimalist. The explosive bash is combined with a step to the side - she's turned his momentum into a weapon of her own, repositioning on his flank. And then she swings the weapon out with a right backhand, appearing to force him away from her again, kicking up dust about her feet as she fights to maintain control over positioning.

Maybe it's that drool that's encouraged her to keep her distance so stalwartly.

"Is that how you found Daniel again, Butcher? Left your mark back then? Tracked him back down by the filthy stain you left on his soul?"

She shakes her head, her voice shifting as she backs up another step, keeping roughly six feet between them, her staff swept back into a defensive angle. "So what is this?" She waves her left hand back toward the gate. "Last time, you unleashed youkai, this time you conspire with manmade abominations?" Her hand returns to her staff, left foot slipping forward, the crimson of her pleated dress already stained with blood of Gears and courtyard dust. "But you are right to be afraid to face me alone."

The young warrior turns her left shoulder forward, her staff gripped at her side in both hands, angled like one might a spear. "You would be even more right to simply run."

[DANIEL]
Closing in.

Daniel could almost taste it. Pinning down Ayame, drawing out the essence from her. Her resistance, her struggles, her fighting. The tightening of Daniel's hands, as he wrenches, twists her in place. The fear, the delicious fear and desperation. He felt it run through him like a shot of adrenaline in his heart. He never imagined, well, that was a lie, his imagination had taken darker paths than this. BUt as he closes in, his tongue almost falls out of his mouth as Ayame turns-

And in what would not be the last time, desire is struck out of him by the would be victim.

Ayame. A familiar technique, one that Daniel had experienced before. The difference, of course, is that when Daniel lands, he turns into a shadowy splatter, his form spreading out broadly upon the dusty ground. In a moment, it reforms, bringing Daniel back up into a stand. He shakes his head, shaking out the senses, the sensations. He was stunned, a moment, but it seemed that whatever lusts that were overtaking him were in check. All with a damning demand from Ayame herself.

To simply run.

****************************************

valentin actually turns his head in tandem with Daniel, looking at the stoic figure. Artur doesn't add anything, just looking ahead, away from the duo. Daniel looks at Valentin. "What does he mean, I don't have to kill her?" Valentin mouths wordlessly, and then looks at his partner. He waits... and waits.... and finally, exasperated, he asks the question.

"Well?"

Artur remains silent; he does, however, give valentin a nod. The vampire tugs his goatee, looking back over to Daniel. "Well, erm, technically there is a... composite goal." Artur nods. "So it's like this, you don't actually 'have' to 'kill' Ayame." valentin explains in a strained manner, twisting in the wind. "It goes something like this. You delay Ayame, trap her and stop her from intervening with our Dark Lord. If you got that going, and you do well, then you can kill her. If things are going really well? Well, uh, you can capture her? But I mean..." He gestures outside the tent.

"I think we're really looking at 'stall' or 'kill' here, lets be honest."

The skeletal general can barely show his contempt at the implied insult, but somehow musters it across his horrible visage. And yet, he looks down at his tactical map. He positions a small figure at the corner, a kind of stick on a stick. "Csak idore van szuksegem az agyu pozicionalasahoz." He murmurs cooly, tracing a bony finger from it, to the makeshift wall on the map. He rubs his hands together eagerly, ignored for the moment by the trio.

"Well wait a minute."

Daniel is now the one stroking his facial hair. "Hang on, so if I stall, or capture Ayame, she's basically safe, right? I don't want to get Ayame killed, but if she's all tied up and not a threat, she's fine, right? Hell, I can just fight her for an hour or so. No need to kill everyone inside, you can just retreat. That's all I need to do, right?" valentin blinks. He turns towards Artur. The faintest of a smirk is on his lips, as he nods to his partner.

"Of course, Danny Boy!" valentin lies.

****************************************

"I can't do that, Ayame." Daniel says with deliberation, confidence filling him in the face of the cacophonic madness. "I will not run, for your sake. They... they want to kill you, all those creatures, all those monsters. But they won't touch you as long as you're fighting me. Look, I... I...?"

And Daniel sighs, relaxing a bit.

Clarity. He needed clarity. He needed to focus. All while talking, he keeps his distance, keeps his spacing. "If I'm gone? They will go for the kill. Once that line breaks? They want you dead. Do you understand this? You. Dead. End goal. They want to reap the reaper, you dig? THis isn't some petty Butcher shit, this is a war, you are the target, and they will kill you dead. This is Lord Dohma, not The Butcher, Ayame! And if you think I am the Butcher, I mean..."

"You're wrong, Ayame."

Daniel takes another step back, now circling around Ayame. Fast talking, all while gauging her essence, her being. Sensing and probing that strength, sipping the aura to find the weakness. "I don't know how to tell you you're wrong. Whatever you think you are seeing, you aren't seeing it. And if you think there is deception going on..." Daniel looks aside, and nods his head side to side. "well, you're right. I'm here to capture you first, and delay you second. Those boys outside want to capture you, and right now, they don't think they can. They think they can just kill you, and your... followers? And there is some skeleton general, I don't even know, he speaks Russian or something. Look, your life is in danger, capturing you saves your life, and that's why I am here. Makes sense? And as for the whole 'why does Daniel Little, the ace detective, look and act like The Butcher' question?"

"Well, I've been transformed."

Daniel's words were getting faster and faster; even valentin might be in awe. All the while, Daniel was now moving in closer, instead of backwards this time, circling ever slower inward. Subtle. Careful. Watchful. "It happened during that Mortal Kombat tournament; Dr. Fio Tessitore did it to save my life. I'm not the Butcher, though I think the Butcher was surprised, I'm just the same kind of species? Is it species? I mean, we both eat souls and stuff. I'm trying to get it under control, and trust me, around you it's been pretty damn hard. You know what happens when you become a monster? It changes your psychology, hell, your entire perception changes. Your sight, your hearing, y-your smell, I mean, jesus, I didn't know you sweat so much!" Daniel coughs. "It's freaky, and... and it's hard to accept. The sensations can be overwhelming; I've never felt so incredible when I feed, when I hunt, when I smell, and taste... it's frightening. God, it's like a beautiful woman and a double-decked cheeseburger rolled all in one, if that makes sense."

"It happened just now, you know?"

Daniel shuts his eyes, and shakes his head. "Believe me, it's been hard to accept this." Daniel gestures over his form. "It's... it's so much easier to accept that this isn't me. That this is just a monster, you dig? That's it's not my desires to dominate, to devour. That's it's all The Butcher, the Ladykiller. And just believe that I can stop it anytime. Ryu Hayabusa... he tried to tell me, he tried to help me. He tried to save me from me. And... and it took The Butcher to tell me, can you believe it? Because, well. Underneath the teeth, the glowing eyes, the insatiable hunger?"

"We're people, still."

"Can you imagine how profoundly lonely it it to be evil? To be a monster? To be something- someone like the Butcher? To be a parasite, to have no friends, no family, just prey and competing predators? But it's me. It's my desires, my hungers. And that means I'm responsible to control this. All of this. And that's why I'm here! Now please, please promise me that you won't get melodramatic? I'm showing my cards! This isn't the whole, imagined ukulele invasion from the Butcher or whatever you call it. It's a different monster lord you've angered... though uh, how did you piss off the Butcher, Aya-"

And there is a boom.

****************************************

Far on the other side of the battlefield, the skeletal general stands fast, as the rusted mortar fires a single, pig-iron cannonball up and over. The cannon ball smashes at a high angle at the top of the wall, colliding down with glancing, if destructive force. Already, his skeleton crew rote through the drill instilled with them 600 years ago, as the general points his ceremonial sword at the wall, giving a raspy cry.

"Toltsd ujra az agyut. Bal√°zs elott semmilyen fal sem lehet!"

****************************************

Daniel provides his own translation, as he stares at the pieces of the ramparts collapsing down.

"Is that a fucking cannon?"

COMBATSYS: Daniel Jacks it up a notch!

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0           Daniel


[AYAME]
Blood red lightning illuminates the sky overhead, casting a grim glow over the besieged shrine followed immediately by a sharp crank then ongoing drumming of violent thunder. The bright light of the lightning fades, leaving the mundane orange lanterns atop poles positioned throughout the courtyard and Ayame's staff wreathed in crimson fire. Nearby, the azure talisman she had thrown to scout out the intruder her hear sensed continues to burn, casting violet hued shadows where the glow of her staff merges with the blue flame.

Near the gate, the battle of gargantuan beasts, smaller defenders, and swarming attackers rages on. Bolstered by the empowering aura of her mother, and directed by the commanding voice of her father, the shrine's sentinels battle under the combined direction of Ayame Ichijo's parents. It seems it is not to be their fate to endure a peaceful retirement like their parents before them. This age of violence is unlike anything the previous generation had to face.

Forcing her way past Daniel's lunge with a swift slam and twist of her staff, Ayame has reclaimed distance she prefers to fight at. And for the moment, she shows no sign of surrendering it to engage in closer ranged combat. Wind rushes over the old jinja fortress, putting her long hair to swaying behind her back, her loose, dangling sleeves and plated hakama dress rustling as Daniel takes the brief reprieve to speak, expressing as much as he can in as little time as possible.

He circles her as he speaks, starting far off but closing in, tightening the noose carefully, looking for that range that he can reach before she'll attempt to punish him for his audacity to draw near to her again. And Ayame responds, shifting, turning to face him, her eyes on him most of the time, though occasionally she hazards a glance toward the battle at the gate or toward her left or right, clearly wary of being flanked if she devotes the entirety of her awareness on the skin-stealer she believes profanes the ground before her.

A name of interest is dropped in his wild if targeted rambling.

Lord Dohma.

Again, Ayame chances a glance toward the gate. As long as Daniel keeps talking, she knows precisely where he is, affording her the brief windows to break eye contact. Then she's the target? Simple retribution, or something else? Daniel speaks of capture being the avenue by which her own life is saved and the priestess visibly balks, recoiling at the realization that everything going this night may in fact be her fault. She's made herself a target through her work and now everyone within the walls is in for a fight for their lives.

The hesitation lasts only a moment, replaced with a neutral expression. Her theories about what was happening are being challenged, little by little, as Daniel continues to explore an abbreviated history of how he came to be, well, how he is. She glowers a little as he talks about how she smells, about the scent of sweat hangs over her. Everyone knows, girls don't sweat, they /perspire/! It's entirely different!

The fast talking invader appeals to whatever sense of empathy he might find in the renown monster killer. About how he fights it, about how hard it is, about the sense of loneliness and an understanding that whatever he claims happened to makes him an outsider, a pariah, but in the face of his young target, he will find less in the way of sympathy and more in the way of flickering confusion.

The loud explosion draws her attention. She shifts, turning and stepping back quickly, allowing herself to look toward it while also keeping Daniel within her forward arc, never letting down her guard around him. Ancient stone shatters beneath the iron projectile as the old wall crumbles from the top down at the point of impact.

"Tch," Ayame scowls. So there's a command tent out there... what if she bolted straight for it - no, that's insane. The spectre that claims to be Daniel Little would easily feel her heart begin to race faster, the anxiety of indecision beginning to take its toll as adrenaline courses through her bloodstream. A few defenders break off from the gate, turning toward the broken section of wall, while the gigantic centipede continues to writhe in endless combat with the hordes crawling over its shimmering black scales.

Ayame shifts her glare toward Daniel - she has to focus. MUST focus. Solve one thing at a time, not fail to resolve everything at once. "What do you expect to happen? Do you think I am going to throw down my weapon and surrender because you weaved a tragic story?" She can't refute the details... nothing he uttered necessarily contradicts what she knows. But that doesn't make it /true/. But what if it is? He had called her reaper - she has never forgotten their exchange during the Rumble tournament where he had declared herself a reaper for the people's sake, when she had boasted of losing count of how many Darkstalkers she had felled. Would The Butcher know of that moniker? He had never said it just weeks ago when he attacked her family and her...

"E-even if it is true," her unyielding stance that he is the Butcher come to destroy her at last seems to be cracking. "Why would it ever occur to you... out of all the places in the world you could go..." Her teeth are grit then. Anger. Yes, anger will help find her focus, she just needs to give it a target.

"To come to my home? How could you have possibly forgotten? I warned you back then, of the bodies of Darkstalkers left in my wake, too many for me to count. Why, knowing that, if there is any semblance of Daniel Little in that shadowy miasma you call a body, would you come /here/?"

As long as she fits him, she's safe, he said. But what of her family? Her allies? Why is she even entertaining that any words coming from his mouth remotely ring with truth?

'I've never really had a chance to really taste that power of yours.'

But he had... on more than one occasion? Why would he say that?

Ayame leans forward, as if bracing to finally launch into an attack, the willingness to stall finally coming to an end. "If you are deceiving me, your words are wasted. If what you say is true..." Her brow furrows, "Then your motives confound me. Do you want to join the others too numerous to recall?"

The miko shakes her head. "Perhaps I just need to see for myself."

Instead of lunging for Daniel, she suddenly bursts in the opposite direction, leaning hard into a sprint, forcing her way past whatever exhaustion she must be starting to feel after the prolonged siege. Her vector takes her toward a long, single story building situated against the Eastern wall - the only other wall besides the besieged Southern wall that is not flush with a sheer cliff.

From a few meters out, her staff slams into the dirt of the courtyard, as the girl uses the long weapon to vault herself up onto the wooden roof of the living quarters. The wall behind the building rises another eight feet higher into the air. Is she trying to run away? Has she had enough?

Turning to face back the way she came, her right hand slips from her staff to dart into her left sleeve, withdrawing another azure hued talisman that bursts into flames at her touch. A circular sweep of her right arm over her head paints a blue halo in the air that falls slowly down around her, the paper itself reduced to ash in a moment.

Landing at her feet atop the roof, the aura burns a rich blue, blending once more with the crimson flame of her staff.

"What are you doing here, monster?!"

COMBATSYS: Ayame gathers her will.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/-======|====---\-------\0           Daniel


[DANIEL]
Daniel needed a moment for his composure again.

Cannons. He just didn't know now. And in that moment, Ayame tears into him. Not with her staff, thank god, but with something sharper. For a moment, she seems to begin to understand. For a moment, he seems to get through to her that he isn't the Butcher. And yet... and yet, what did that really change. Daniel slumps his shoulders, as he falls back into his defensive stance. Ayame's anger runs through him; it helped him focus too. Contempt, it must be contempt. And her words aren't suprising, he pretended them. Even as she turns around to maybe leave? He knew that she wouldn't. He even takes a rushing steps towards her before she vaults to the high ground. That slows Daniel down, as he looks up at her.

"Why would I come here?"

Daniel repeats back the question, almost mindlessly. His approach yields, as Ayame takes to the air. Vaulting on top of the roof, the detective... weighs his options. Daniel's vertical mobility had historically been... well. Not mobility. As the energy builds around her, Daniel paces back and force, looking not at the battle going on, but at the building attached to the wall, and of course, Ayame. "Because I was told I would get in Lord Dohma's favor if I got you out of the picture. They wanna kill you? I just want to get in his favor, because I want to get Fio back, I want to get back in Interpol, and I want... I don't want to be god damn rabid dog anymore. I mean, you said it, Ayame. You remember me as a person, you imagined me a person. And now what am I?

"Monster.

"Just another god damn monster, huh?" Daniel gives a kind of breathless laugh. "Yeah, that's what I expected. What I expected to happen... I wanted you to come along peacefully, trust me, and save this temple and the people in it. THat'd be easy for you, easy for me. But I expect you to fight back, about..." Daniel does flatten his hand, weighing the scales. "60-40 odds, in your favor, that you'd kill me. Worse odds of you feeling sorry about it. But I'm used to that now. I've lost my mind hard, and I remember what I did. I hurt my friends, and now I don't have any friends. I don't have any lovers, I don't have anybody. Everything's changed, Ayame, and now the only ones left are monsters just like me. People?" Daniel gives a snort.

"People want to purge people like me, just like before I turned."

"I just wanted help. But it'd be the same kind of help every way, anyways, you dig? Mercy killing, 'oh Daniel I'm so sorry it had to be like this' with the tears. Or, how about what the world's greatest monster hunter wanted to give me? Offering to put me in some kind of cage like an animal, a ninja forest where I would eventually learn not to kill people, or just stayed in one place long enough to put me down. Or maybe just sealing me deep under the earth, like some kind of ghost or shit, like he did. I'm pretty sure that's what death was for me. So uh, I know you'll kill me, Ayame, once you have the chance." Daniel says with a gravelly growl, not a growl of aggression, but of grim acceptance.

"You're the god damn reaper.

"You don't think I remember your warnings? They've been rotting in my brain now. I remember what you told me you were, when I was just a fool!" His tones takes a kick of half mocking, half mimicking air. "Do you not realize?! I warned you! This is what it takes!" Humanity does not have the power to fight them! I will be their reaper-! So that no one else will have to!?" His voice returns. "You saved my life Ayame, and... and now I'm this. 'If only I left you to die, Daniel.' Is what runs into my mind now. Then you wouldn't have this. I'm your mistake, Ayame, because that's what your mistakes are, right? Letting monsters spread and prolifiate. Now I'm a mistake you have to fix. Maybe that's why I'm here. I want to be your mistake, Ayame. Because I want it out of my head. I want to hear it from you, because that's what -you- are."

"You have to extinguish people like me."

Daniel gives an okay hand gesture. "The only person who... the only human who believed in me was Rose. I -was- killed so many times at this point, by Lotus, by Honoka, by Ryu Hayabusa, that I am learning to really, really fucking hate people like you. A whole world of genocidal self-righteous killers that convince themselves that they only kill the bad ones, and they only reform the good ones. You know who gave me back my mind? Who dragged me out of my hellhole of madness? Not Ryu Hayabusa, not Zach Glenn, and definatley not you, Ayame. It was that god damned Butcher. You wanna know why I'm here, Ayame?"

"I want my life back, Ayame."

"I want to dig into a nice cheeseburger, and not have it taste like ash in my mouth. I want to walk down the street, and feel good. Cut cigarettes to the kids in Gedo High for hot tips, get drunk on bad whiskey and pass out. Interpol was supposed to change things, but you know, only the details changed. I was doing good for the world, I was stopping bad people. I want Fio Tessitore back; I don't even blame Aranha for killing her, I just want her to come back the same way I did. I just want the life I had, and I am sick and tired how every fucking person with an opinion keeps telling me I won't. So damn Ryu Hayabusa, damn Zach, and Honoka, and -you- Ayame."

Chi energy swirls around him, as the miasma builds.

Another cannon report comes, as a mortor ball sails overhead, crashing into the rooftop of one of -other- interior buildings. Daniel's yellow eyes sear into Ayame, his mouth in a toothy frown. "So here's the plan. You're coming with me, whether you give yourself up, or I have to drag your unconscious body out of here. The siege will stop, and I will have every god damn monster hunting asshole on this island breathing down my neck, trying to be the one who saves Ayame. Maybe it will be Zach Glenn, stumbling into heroics at the wrong moment. Maybe someone I've never met before, and will have the first impression of getting to be an impression into the ground." Daniel actually just shrugs.

"And who cares at that point?"

Daniel's attention flickers to the layout of the wall. A pulse of hunger, of greed, of insight. "I'll save your life in the process, I'll save their lives in the process, the fighting will end, and I'll have enough credibility to be put right back into Interpol, right back with the United Nations. I'll.... I won't be a hero. I'll never be a hero, Ayame. That's something I can't be anymore. But you know what? Maybe you'll kill me too. And I know you won't fucking feel a thing, Ayame, because why should you? What's one more dead monster?" There is another report, and Daniel wags his finger. The mortar ball comes crashing down upon the open pavillion, smashing on impact upon the earth with a deep thud.

And he slips between the shadows.

A shape of mist, surging like an arrow. Piercing and forking, the creeping shadow reaches the edge of the blue aura. The roofing tears up into shards as the shape of Daniel boils up, leading with the left as he rips apart the aura with orange and black energy. Hammering with a palm strike with the left, the creature moves head first into the whirling aura and staff. From there, it would transition into the most specifical of the classic techniques. A hand chop with the right comes, driving hard in. Daniel shifts suddenly, flowing to the right hard as his left hand comes across in a sideways chop. The combination would continue to shift as the left leg would rise up, a rare kick from Daniel. The assault would end with a staggering final hand chop, this time with a little more weight and momentum from the right.

If he could make it past that damnable staff.

COMBATSYS: Daniel successfully hits Ayame with Zoot Suit Riot.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            1/------=/=======|======-\-------\0           Daniel


[AYAME]
The question is posed and Ayame falls quiet. When she had first seen him, her reaction had been to attack outright. The thought process had to be simple enough. He was the Butcher. The Butcher needed to be destroyed. It was too late to save his latest victim, Daniel Little, so aggression was the only logical choice.

Something has changed since then. Still the anger, still the hostility for the thing that insists it is the erstwhile detective. But she's stopped attacking him - waiting for him to come to her only to strike and disengage, then flat out retreating to the low roof she stands atop now, gathering her own strength, looking down on the darkstalker below. And when Daniel speaks, the miko of the besieged shrine just holds her ground.

And boy does he speak.

It is difficult to read any one reaction from her. When he speaks of getting into Lord Dohma's graces, she looks somewhere between irritated and skeptical. That isn't really making a very good case for why she should trust him with her life.

When he speaks of her seeing just a monster before her, the monster hunter's expression becomes more neutral at first, but for a brief moment, there is a look of bemusement, the slightest uptick at the right corner of her mouth. The moment he speaks of hurting his friends, however, the moment passes, replaced with a slight frown that persists for some while as Daniel continues.

A slightly raised eyebrow is her reaction to hearing that he encountered Ryu Hayabusa in this state and is still able to appear here this night. But when he calls her the reaper, her expression becomes one of self-satisfied smugness, a look that doesn't seem to go away as he mock-mimics back the words she said to him at Rumble, a declaration shared with everyone in the world tuned in to the tournament at the time.

But when he speaks of being a mistake, Ayame breathes in, smile fading slowly, as if reluctantly, before she releases a long, quiet sigh. He speaks of being killed over and over again, and Ayame finally mutters softly beneath her breath - "Not very well, apparently."

He mentions the Butcher and that earns him a scowl, her lips partially drawn back, her fingers tightening on her staff. She opens her mouth as if to retort, but any effort of being heard is drown out by the thundering sound of cannon fire and her eyes stray skyward, picking out the incoming projectile against the cloudy night, following its descent into the storage sheds on the western side of the courtyard. Forgoing an attempt at repeating whatever it was she was about to say, her eyes snap back to Daniel as he lays out the plan moving forward as he sees it.

Her attention is distracted by the sound of the third cannon fire, eyes moving toward the southern horizon, and once she spots it, she follows its smashing plunge into the courtyard dirt. When she switches back to looking at the suddenly silent Daniel, he is no longer there. The explosion of wooden shrapnel at the mist's upward surge causes her to whirl in that direction, sweeping her staff into an angled block that fails to catch Daniel's slamming palm in the process.

A blow to her chest forces a gasp, the girl folding forward slightly, left eye wincing closed. She tries to deal with his right hand next, a split second behind, the chop catching her had enough that she staggers. Moving about her, part man, part mist, it's clear that for the moment, he has the advantage on her guard, the kick striking her hard enough in the stomach that she starts to crumple, gripping her staff horizontally across in front of her in an unguided attempt to stop whatever might next come her way, only to be bowed by the final hand chop, driven to one knee.

"Yare, yare," she gasps, biting back the pain, "Just listen to yourself."

She is surging out of the kneel in an instant, leaving no room to follow up as she steps onto her right foot and spins her whole body to that side, slamming her long weapon back out for Daniel.

"I just asked what you wanted."

The momentum of her step allows her to plant her left foot, a second sweep more toward knee level, threatening to hobble him with a blow to the knee cap.

"Not to hear your whole life story!!"

She whips her crimson burning weapon up over head with both hands, the blue aura she had created before swirling up into the weapon, adding a hint of violet to the flames rippling along its surface. And then hops, folding her body forward, aiming to slam the weapon down against the top of Daniel Little's head. Another familiar combination, signature of her father's staff dance, taught to her when she was young.

"I let someone like you go once before. A mistake I cannot repeat!"

COMBATSYS: Daniel interrupts Requiem For Fallen Blossoms from Ayame with Jumping Jack Flash EX.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Ayame            1/---====/=======|=======\====---\1           Daniel


[DANIEL]
"Yare... yare?"

Daniel's presence surges back, as the wraith-formed detective staggers out with the precise, rhythmatic combination of strikes and blows. Ripping open her guard, the monster manages to lash back as well, his tone deepening into a growl. "What's your life story, huh? I come out here, and there's a god damn temple war here. Why are demon princes angry at you? Why is there a giant-ass -CENTIPEDE- there? What is -happening?!-" Daniel steadies his feet on the roof, as Ayame rises." I hoped you were some kind of average every day girl with a double life but- this -is- your life?"

"What -are- you, Ayame?"

The words come with a building spirit, as the counter attack comes. The first blow comes in hard, smashing into Daniel's flanks. Taking a step with the blow, it comes in perfect harmony with Ayame's next step, as the staff sweeps to his leg. Daniel Jack doesn't stop. The blow connects -hard- with the kneecap, digging deep with a crack and a spray of black mist. His leg becomes nearly formless and fluid, discorporating as he struggles to keep balance. as the weapon comes overhead, the momentum shifts. He hurls into Ayame, forcing a clinch as the overhead comes in. Daniel doesn't let it come. Gripping Ayame by under her armpits, he pivots, whipping her straight up. Already, the vile blend of orange and black chi flows into her point blank, as he lifts her up overhead with a small hop.

And Daniel -spikes- himself and Ayame through the roof of the building.

Smashing her straight down to the ground, an explosion of chi fills around him, as he lets her blow away. Shuffling with a limp on his back leg, the shape of it still not reformed, Daniel's yellow eyes burn. Daniel wasn't keeping back. He was keeping forward, keeping in, trying to corral and contain Ayame between him and the wall, to control the staff, and press -his- advantages of endless pressure. It was like being trapped by a monster.

But then he talks again.

"What are you -doing- with your life?" He asks, not a mocking question of a monster cornering his prey. Another cannon report comes, somehow feeling so far away. Concern, real concern comes in his face, mingled with the disbelief. "Is this what your parents wanted in you? I mean, god, I thought you were training behind them back, like what's it called, I don't know. Where you had a secret life you hide away. This... this isn't private, or secret. This is you, this is your life, this is your existence." Daniel's voice softens, the monstrous edge gone, as a pulse of sympathy rips out, sincere and mirthless.

"Did they make you into this Ayame? "

[AYAME]
"So many questions," Ayame murmurs back in the act of springing into Daniel to unleash her three strike combo that won't be allowed to run its course. "Are you always this confused, Daniel Little?"

She seems to be accepting that he is who he says he is, and is what he claims to be. Daniel 'Jack' Little, ex-Interpol, ex-human. A changed man, a darkstalker. Whether his body moves due to necromatic energies she has yet to be able to sense beneath the miasmic aura that surrounds his very essence, or he was simply brought back from the brink with an infusion of twisted power that has left an indelible mark on his very existence, she remains unsure of.

She swings. At first, the man seems subject to her combination, three swift yet strong strikes, targeting different angles and heights, designed to void the ability to guard or escape. There is that singular moment of opportunity, however, if one is quick enough, and willing to risk it all - the moment the miko lifts her staff overhead, the Unwelcomed makes his move, lunging in during the brief window.

This close up against her, she can't bring the weapon down as she would want. Inside her reach, it has no striking power, and when she lowers her arms in the follow through, she manages little more than ineffectively bumping her upper arms against Daniel's shoulders, delivering markedly less force than the skull drumming she had in mind originally.

"Tch," she grunts as he reaches beneath her arms. She sounds more irritated at his proximity than alarmed that he's breeched her normally steely guard. The grunt is replaced by a hiss a moment later, however, sucking in her breath to fight back against the energy attempting to infuse itself into her, that curious blend of old time innocence and new corruption pressing in against her own formidable aura.

Already, she's reacting, however, moving to drive her knee up between Daniel's legs to teach him a lesson for getting fresh with her. The counter attack never gets close to being a threat, however, the smaller of the two hefted clean off the ground in his grip, her thrashing suddenly becoming more frantic, "How dare you-"

The threat never gets completed, the two smashing down through the wood roof, Ayame slammed violently against the wooden floor hard enough to crack it as well before the eruption of chi knocks her away against the wall of the small room. She slides to her feet, bowed forward slightly, the once-white of her kimono top marred even further by the point blank blast of chi and the drips of blood seeping down her left cheek from above her hairline.

Pressed back against the wall, she braces behind her staff. In the close quarters, the weapon's normally advantageous reach is a challenge to be sure. The room itself is pitch dark but for the crimson glow of her staff, the illumination spilling in from the newly made hole in the ceiling, and the lingering embers of Daniel's own destructive energy. But that is enough for the two enemies to see each other by.

"Get out of my room!" she spits back, sounding vehement now rather than just annoyed. It becomes clear in an instant that that appears to be where they've landed. It is a simple arrangement. A futon in one corner, a small desk nearby it. A dresser, a wardrobe with its doors open, revealing the array of kimonos, hakamas, and an assortment of more modern albeit rather dressy ensembles. A rice paper door opens the way back out into the courtyard where war continues to transpires - currently closed, and another door opens into a hallway that runs the length of the interior of the building.

Again with the questions, the implication of disapproving her choices in life plain to read. The judging only seems to irk her further, maybe exasperate even. "What?" she stammers in reply. "Are you an idiot? Or is the blood lust clouding your brain? I told you who and what I am last time! You think anyone else could tell me what to do? I made myself who I am, every step of the way."

She exhales, bracing, lips drawn back. "You said it yourself. You are a monster. You hurt your friends... Do you think you should be absolved of whatever you did simply because you have a sad story to tell?"

She pauses, hunkered down behind her staff. "I deal with things like what you have become, Daniel. What do you think this world would be like, without watchers like me? Who else did this Fio hurt besides you? You said Aranha killed her? What did she do to him, hm? He is not a man of violence... it must have been awful."

She shakes her head, "Stop worrying about me and my life, my choices. I have no regrets. Can you say the same?"

Her eyes narrow then, her tone becoming nothing shy of venomous, nothing held back. "These things you keep saying you want. To rejoin Interpol. To go back to the way things were before...? Maybe you think you will rekindle friendships, connect with your partners from below? Hah! Listen to me, Daniel Little. Fio Tessitore. Took. Everything. From you."

She shakes her head slowly, her own expression softening by a few degrees. "Your only hope is stop fighting me, let me try to cure you." She glances toward the side briefly, toward the wall as if to glance toward the southern entrance of the courtyard, "After I deal with this assault. Now back off!"

Her right hand slips from her staff, the movement swift, subtle, and easily missed if not focusing on her arms. Another flick of her wrist an instant later, and an azure talisman bursts toward Daniel, burning with a spectral flame as Ayame tries more tha just words to force space between them.

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Daniel with Reliquary of Lost Time.

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Ayame            1/---====/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2           Daniel


[DANIEL]
'Get out of my room!'

Daniel Jack actually takes a step back, his eyes breaking, wandering. Her room? It was so... modest. Like what Kasumi Todoh would have. JUst a girl's room; a little more traditional maybe. But even amongst the kimonos and hakama, there were dresses, pants. It was a person's room.

It was the room of a proper teenage girl.

Why was there so much judgement he had at Ayame? Why would he care that she was. Because just like Honoka, he felt mislead by these women with their double lives. He just had to lash out, and fix them, put them in the place htey were meant to be in. To normalize them, to make them stop being deceptive, manipulative creatures. He was responsible for Ayame, for Honoka, for Lita, for Fio, for Sergei; he -had- to fix them, and help them.

Daniel does not have much more time to consider, as the talisman erupts into flames.

The detective turns to evade, only getting his flank roasted by the purifying flames in the process. Hissing in agony as the mist rescides, the misty form turns to half-melted flesh as he staggers across the room, smashing into the desk. "You have to have regrets!" He hisses back. "You -have- to have them. You can't be so twisted that you don't." What about his regrets?

It's the same thing he's had to face.

If Daniel treated Darkstalkers with the same xenophobic contempt that he saw Ayame carrying? If he refused to help those beetles? If he refused to seduce Fio Tessitore? If he kept bearing the hate and fear that everyone told him he should, instead of leaving the door open a crack, with peace and tolerance?

He wouldn't be a monster anymore.

An entire foundation of trust hangs over every mistake that Daniel, every mirror of regret. If only he was a less tolerant person, then he wouldn't be a monster. If he was a little more restrained, he wouldn't be a monster. If he wasn't so weak... he wouldn't be a monster. Every regret he has is heaped upon him, as he pushes off against the desk.

"You wouldn't understand, kid."

The misty, melted shape suddenly solidifies, as the layers of discorporation starts reforming hard. "On Fio, on how confused I am, on why I need to rescue some punk kid? You are too young to understand."Daniel says firmly, eyes trailing, as he twists an arm back. "You not going to deal with the assault. I'm gonna help you, I'm gonna save you, cause you -aren't- strong enough for all this. And when I do? I'm gonna make sure you stop being the girl you say you are, and start making you into the girl you're meant to be." And Daniel's face twists into a grin, before the crack comes.

"You dig?"

ANd he launches, as the full force of his punch comes roaring out. The room blows around at the recoil as the contrails of black mist and burning orange chi trail behind, the desk flipping over from the pure force. The very form of Daniel stretches and drags, flattening as it comes right as a rocket for Ayame's torso. He attempts to hook the limb -hard- into her abdomen...

COMBATSYS: Daniel successfully hits Ayame with Fantastic Todoh Punch EX.

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Ayame            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>>>>-\-------\0           Daniel


And Daniel twists with the other hand, with a straight to the jaw.

"NO MORE TRICKS!" Daniel snarls, as an explosion of chi comes, the connection coming as his hand keeps on Ayame's skull. The momentum carries, as he -smashes- Ayame's head through the door down deeper into the interior of the building. Daniel twists himself as he rips the teenager's head alongside the long hallway walls; paper or wood or a little of each, he would be doing a long scrap down the hallway, as the black and orange energy coils and burns all around. The momentum finally stops as Daniel dips -hard- down, the blast exploding around as the tendrils of black mist cling to Ayame, coiling and spiraling as he stares down at Ayame, face nothing but a blank abyss, the only shapes being the yellow eyes, and the maw of white teeth.

"How much you gonna give up, Reaper, to keep your plans?"

[AYAME]
"My regret!?" Ayame exclaims back, her voice raised as she presses back against the wall. She had hoped to force him off with the talisman she flung. She had hoped to give him the slip earlier. She doesn't have time to deal with this right now. "My regret," she repeats, her voice more subdued. Her breathes come faster now, fingers clasped on her staff.

"Was letting Benedict Scorpium slip through my fingers... only to see him nearly maul a woman to death on TV a week later." She shakes her head. "My regret... is knowing that you fell on that sorcerer's island and I was not the one to bring you back. I should have found you." She's still pinned in, thoughts of trying to shove her way past the creature of black mist already pushed back in her mind.

"My regret is knowing the day Mount Fuji was bombed, I was halfway around the world, trying to prevent another calamity when my homeland needed me most." She smirks then, the expression cold, adopted out of perfunctory habit rather than emphasizing emotions truly felt. "My only regret is that for all of my planning, I cannot do even more."

She half closes her eyes as Daniel speaks, explaining how she doesn't understand, how the limitations of youth leave her unable to comprehend how it is that he's going to help her, save her, and most importantly, fix her.

The priestess's expression darkens, fixing the thing that seems almost like Daniel Little, yet is also so far off. The mannerisms are there, but they feel like they're being performed by someone only partially familiar with their original intent and the personality that framed them with an entirely different context.

He surges in, chancing a rushed confrontation with the miko's staff. But the close quarters of her room favor him here. The weapon in her hands is at least six feet long and the modest quarters are hardly an open arena for such a lengthy weapon. Rather than sweep aside his attack, rather than angle her weapon to create an extra zone of threat he will have to trespass through to get to her, all she can do is brace it horizontally in front of her, trying to intercept a blow from a figure hardly confined to the limits of human motion.

The blow to her gut hits clean, Ayame folding forward, a pained gasp forced from her lungs. She's not able to correct for it in the slightest, she can't even read the follow up strike that smashes her in the jaw, blinding her sight with stars and flash of light in the otherwise dark room. Already on the verge of crumpling from the jawbreaker blow, she's limp in his hand when he slams her through the wooden door leading into the hallway, helpless as she's dragged down the length of it, her right hand slipping from her staff, her left barely able to cling to it as with each wooden strut, fresh new, dazing pain surges through her head.

Slammed to the floor, she arcs her back, trying to pry herself free of his hold before the tidal wave of chi backing the Darkstalker's rampage explodes around her, ripping the struggle from her in an instant as she cries out in pain. All of her composure from before is lost, all her calm confidence of in her powers crumbling as she lies at Daniel's feet, sprawled against the shattered floor, pieces of ceiling and wall starting to fall down around the two. Blood seeps from the side of her head and her mouth, and her cheeks have a certain pallor to them from the blow that folded her over a moment ago.

Panting for breath, she lies in the pool of lingering black mist, her staff rolling from her fingers at her side. At first, she glares back up at him, wordless, quiet but for the sound of her breathing, and the pounding of the blood in her veins. Then something changes, her eyes losing their focus, her jaw setting, lips, bloodied, pressed into a thin line as she seems to have come to a decision.

"Tricks?" she asks back, a short, mirthless laugh, trying to lift herself for a moment. The tone of her voice shifts. The aloofness, the dispassionate detachment melting away. "You don't even know the half of it." Her back thuds back down against the floor, both of her hands moving to dab at the sides of her head, finger tips coming away bloodied. "I'm tired." she murmurs. "Of fighting everyone's fight for them." She closes her eyes for a moment, showing no sign of putting up any further fight. "Of doing everything the hard way. I'm a fraud, Daniel. I always have been. I crafted my reputation, built it up every opportunity I got, because I had to... how could I fight them, fight things like /you/, if they didn't fear me?"

Her eyes open, her face turning to the side slightly, eyes resting on her staff. "It was my father that insisted on the staff... The blade would be so much easier. I know." She coughs, her lungs still coming around on the idea of operating properly again, attention shifting back up to Daniel. "But swords only have one purpose. To kill. And that's not the Ichijo way. That's what he taught me."

She exhales, eyes finding their focus on that pool of black that is the creature's face, her own head shaking slightly. "You should feel honored. I guess I don't really have a choice here, do I... I didn't want to end it this way. Turned humans like you, I've only ever tried to save them. It's stupid, I know. But I always had to believe there was a way back... that atonement was really a thing and not just a fanciful idea."

She makes her move, both arms coming together, hand in each sleeve then out just as quickly. "You've got me." The one in her right is a vile, green looking talisman with runes drawn in the color of dried blood. The one in her left is black, white inked glyphs covering its surface. "After all this, you're going to be my first." Both marred by her blood.

Slapped together, she's already rolling back, left hand snatching her staff from her side, kicking off the floor to slip out from beneath Daniel into a crouch a meter away. And between him and her, the dropped talismans land on the floor.

"My first Darkstalker kill."

The black talisman erupts into a flurry of spectral chains that lash out, seeing the Butcher-tainted form of Daniel. Turning to mist won't escape them, as they attempt to lash the essence that defines him. The sickly green talisman bursts into a hellfire pyre, exploding up out of a portal burned clear through the wooden floor. Sounds reminiscent of agonized shrieks of the damned swirl up around the bonfire that the chains seek to drag Daniel into. It is a living thing, seeming to possess a mind and will of its own, yet for all its fury, it seems to ignore Ayame all together.

Her blood sacrifice would see to that.

Already, Ayame falls back, scrambling on her feet and hands to try and put distance between her and the emerald inferno that begins consuming the walls of the living quarters with voracious hunger.

Her own face ashen gray but for the rivulets of blood rolling down her cheeks, her eyes watering.

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Daniel with Pilgrimage to Golgotha.

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Ayame            0/-------/---<<<<|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>-\1           Daniel


[FREI]
About two miles outside of the Meian Jinja's location, well outside this rampaging fighting, where the carnage is only a glimmering haze of red in the night sky, a badly beaten metal object lies on the side of the road, unnoticed. Even if this part of the country were well-trafficked -- and it most certainly isn't -- there is something in the air tonight that is keeping people away. Far, far away. So there's nobody to notice a cracked headlamp, a punctured tire, a now almost certainly beyond repair Vespa lying in a ditch, abandoned.

In the woods, closer to the shrine, a red-haired figure trudged through the growth. He didn't need a map, didn't need directions; he could sense his destination well in advance of coming anywhere near it. He has simply walked, without stopping, since the Vespa gave out.

"Sorry, Alma," Rei Hazuki muttered, mostly to himself. "Hope it wasn't a rental."

For the first mile or so, things were weirdly peaceful. No matter how loud the conflict may be, sound will only make it so far. The occasional dull, thrumming boom, like the roll of some distant celestial taiko drum, carries far enough to be heard, but it is intermittent, patchy; hardly worth notice. Or, maybe instead, worth notice, but so distant and abstract that it doesn't merit doing anything more than plodding on.

The walk is extremely long for someone whose body is still slowly undoing the grievous harm visited upon it by Jedah Dohma, Lord of Blood, Stealer of Souls. But physical wounds will only slow him so much, can only hinder him so much. Rei's damage, his infected and festering sores, are more emotional in nature. His eyes burn from their dryness, but he is practically forcing himself not to blink. Even a fractional closing of his eyes, a brief dip into their lack of grounding sensory data, pulls him into the sense memory of a hell of blood, an eternal crimson prison promising nothing but suffering. In the moment, he'd forced himself to most past it, to fight it down, to suppress it, and being a survivor, Rei was capable of that. But now? Now he has nothing but time... time, and anxiety about what's to come.

'Her soul trails behind a pale mirror of itself with every movement -- just like yours,' Dohma had said. 'It's only a matter of time before the allure of the Infinite claims her soul as well as it has Daniel Jack's...'

Why should he worry about her? Ayame can take care of herself. Rei had said to Jedah's face that the things she wanted most, the Blood Lord could never offer her. Never mind that no matter what world, what timeline she was encountered in, the miko's temperament is... spiky at best. She's unlikely to be grateful. Never mind that they haven't talked since Rei's rebirth in this form, and the attendant changes in his life that followed. Daniel Jack is even less a known quantity; a vague memory for a life now gone. All of this could safely be someone else's problem. He's on his feet, functional, but every part of Rei Hazuki aches. He wants rest, untroubled by unwelcome, scarlet-tinged memories.

'But maybe that's why I don't think the end is coming. No matter how bad things get, there will always be *someone* to step in. Someone riding a Vespa through the night to fly off into the dawn. Am I right?' He'd said those words to Alma Towazu -- this world's Alma Towazu -- not that long ago, and many miles from here. Even the memory of that closes a grip around Rei's heart, as if his own memories are trying to kill him on the spot.

He thought of the Vespa, back in the ditch. He heard the boom of what he didn't know is a distant cannon. He felt the miasma in the air, in the very flow of life, reading it at a distance.

His pace increased.

Now...

The battle is in full swing when he arrives, cresting a hill. The centipede is definitely the first sign that something is not right here. But weirdly, Rei can't do anything but walk toward the shrine in a daze. He seems to vaguely take in the rest -- the command tent, the hordes of monsters on the attack, the traditionally-garbed defenders on the walls -- with a sort of dazed expression. Jedah had mentioned 'the leviathans they don't see,' and now all Rei can think is: I'm too late. He already made his move. She might already be gone. Anxiety he had only barely acknowledged turns his stomach into a churning pit of acid as he walks. But walk he does.

He barely notices the rank-and-file demon that splits off from the host to investigate this curious newcomer until its fanged maw suddenly roars, its shadowy body making sinewy circles across the ground, approaching quickly. But the problem, the PROBLEM, is that 'anxiety' is physically tied to the fight-or-flight response. It means that they're a fractional second, a tiny neuron or two, away from each other.

There is a brief, sharp rumble like the sound of a heavy table being moved. Rei's arm snapped out, palm out, and with barely a fractional delay, a fist made of rock emerged from the ground and launched the offending Majigen soldier into the distance, howling and trailing spittle.

He's only the first, but once the threat becomes clear, Rei's focus develops. The air is unsettling; the flow of life is leaping fitfully, swirling like a maelstrom, difficult and unpredictable. Two powers are clashing in the shrine... formidable ones, both, and one that reeks of the dark. But in the sennin's hands the flow is calmed, directed, and the various assaulting Darkstalkers that seek to bar his way are gently but inexorably swept aside by the elements.

Is she safe? All Rei can hear in his head is Jedah's smug, confident insistence that Ayame thinks she is the master of the forces under her command, but that perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps there is something in the dark twining around her soul right now, waiting for its chance. Hungry. Observant. Trying to find an opening.

"Ayame," mutters Rei Hazuki, her friend from another lifetime. "Please be okay."

[DANIEL]
And for a brief moment, Daniel could see the real Ayame.

The regrets, the naked truths under the girl. That actually slows Daniel down, the wrath of the wraith fading. His face returns under the abyssal shadow, his lips fading into a loose frown. Benedict Scorpium. His own death. Mt. Fuji, just.... Just a fraud trying to uphold a reputation of strength and terror, in a frightening world of monsters. Daniel Jack, for all his pressure, all his pursuit for a truth that tugged and eluded him, finally had it revealed before him. And now?

Pity run through Daniel's black spectre of a heart.

When the fight leaves her, at least, it seems for a moment, Daniel doesn't pursue. "I'm... sorry." He says without even thinking why. He even reaches forward, as guilt, and shame, and... regret, comes over him once again. Why did he do this? Why did he have to do this. Because it was the right thing to do, it had to be. And such thoughts falls to the wayside, as Daniel suddenly feels like he's a dream again. Her.. first. "Now I don't know what you've heard," Daniel begins, his guard letting down for just a moment.

But it only took a moment, Daniel realizes as the talisman unfolds.

"Oh no no no-" Daniel sputters as the chains expand out, his yellow eyes going wide as the magnitude of the moment hits him. "Shit shit shit crap crap-" Daniel recoils backwards, as the wrap themselves around his arms, his legs, his body, his neck. "No, NO! Ayame, come'on, you don't under- NO!" Daniel tries to fall into mist, tries to escape, tries to slip between the shadows... as the chains only bind tighter, only wrench tighter around.

And the pyres explode around him.

"GRAAAAAGH!" Was the scream that tears over the battlefield, the grounds, piercing and tear. Daniel's silohette frames against the blazing, purifying flame. "GRAAAAAAGH! AGRAAAA-" And it cuts short. The curled up shape, held in a fetal position, stops moving as the flames steadily dies down.

Leaving only the shadow of the man burned into ash on the floor.

There is nothing but a blackened scar, as the essence begins to fade. The presence of malovence softens, the shape of a man burned into the wooden floor. The dust blows, sending some of thre remains scattered. But the scar remains, a festering grease hissing on the floor. It was done. It was finished.

"Didn't you hear me before, Reaper?"

The presence surges, a pulse of energy. A desperate pulse, the last struggles of a dying fish on a hook. But life, foul life in fact. But it's the voice that carries it, ethereal and throughout the building. The weight of the words hang heavy, crushing the air. "This might be your first time..."

"But it's not -my- first time, you dig."

The voice rings hollow in the interior of the building, as a single arm reaches out of the ash-covered scar. Digging it's grip into the floorboards, it jerks hard, pulling out from the depths. The winding mist snakes out, with a pair of burning, yellow eyes gleaming malevonently. And then, a flash of white, as two rows of shark-like teeth grin out. There is a riptide now, as the tendrils and fires draw into the scar. "You think I'd be your, ergh, first? Well me tell you something, sweetheart, if I had a dollar... Heh, well I gotta tell ya."

"You're at least the first to cry about it!"

There is a pained grunting, as the shade smashes itself into the ground. The shape that forms is of Daniel, pulling and tugging into grotesque, if barely human shape. The tendrils of shadowstuff spread on impact, coiling and winding on the floor and up the walls, as the grin dangles on a broken-neck head. The grin shifts to a death scowl, as Daniel snarls. "Hundreds, huh? Thousands? You talked big, Ayame. But I knew it, I knew the real you. I knew you weren't really a killer. Look at those tears, look at that face. And to think, if you just were a little more honest... you wouldn't have this little war. This is all because of just how real a threat they believe, that -I- believed you as. Your first." Daniel practically vomits those words out. "And you know what sickens me?"

"No one would even know."

The tendrils wrap deeper and deeper around the walls, the floor, every fixture and frame. The wood begins to buckle, as the tell-tale energy starts to saturate the hallway... the building. The miasmic energy floods with the searing orange wounds, as the spectre takes corporeal form again. One of the tendrils becomes a tight fist, as Daniel snarls. "You wouldn't even tell Ryu Hayabusa, or Honoka, or Zach about how I'm your first, even. How would the gossip have gone? 'Oh, Daniel was just another one of your countless one-offs.' 'Just a ride on the town murder-bicycle' to whet your appetite. Just another one of the hundreds, that's all you would tell them. Nothing but a friggin dame that wanted everyone knowing how she wasn't just a small, scared teenage girl that's -way- in over her head. Well, Ayame, I gotta say, I wanna do what right. And you know what that sounds like right now?" The chi suddenly surges down, the climax right before the familiar assault.

"That I gotta make an honest girl of you."

And it all comes tumbling down.

The detective -hurls- himself forward, nearly falling in the process. Piece by burning piece is unleashed into a singluar -crunch- that could be seen outside, as the very house seems to suck into itself to pour the debris of the building. Floorboards, walls, ceiling, everything he could get a grip on comes ripping apart as the chi floods down, and the pieces flood up. Each of the pieces fly from his limbs as he unleashes the fullisade of chi-infused debris in a single slingshot.

As the hallway begins to collapse around him, in turn.

COMBATSYS: Ayame reflects Mean Business from Daniel with Midsummer Fantasy.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Ayame            0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0           Daniel


[AYAME]
Having scrambled back down the hallway several feet, Ayame comes to rest seated, her palms pressed to the floor behind her back, her feet out in front of her. Her focus is transfixed on the maelstrom of annihilation she unleashed with her desperate attack. She had been evolving it for years, testing it, refining it, identifying where it was falling short of its true destructive potential. And now she was certain it would unmake the monster standing over her.

Her eyes blink as Daniel cries out from within the viridian conflagration. Successfully bound, was there any hope of escape? The only other targets ever struck by the attack had ben Lord Dohma himself, and Alma Towazu, the last human caught by an early incarnation of its design before she realized it was too risky to use that way. The pyre burns, incinerating the floor and adjacent walls, green flames licking the ceiling overhead, and it promises to continue doing so for as long as there is something to consume within its grasp, something bound and chained tight.

She remains put, staring wide eyed as the fuel is at last spent, the vortex closing, the ethereal trappings no where to be seen. The lingering flames on the wall lose their fel color, becoming natural, ordinary orange red flames. Hot, but no longer possessing the near sentient desire to consume. The home could be repaired, the damage undone.

Sucking in her breath, Ayame leans forward, shifting to hands and knees as she crawls forward to inspect the residue left behind, her staff clacking against the floor with each landing of her left hand. Sweat, tears, and blood drip from her cheeks as she slowly regains control of her breath, eyes studying the remnant of the man known as Daniel Little. She... she could justify this. Other monster hunters would have killed him without hesitation, right? Zach Glenn told her he had killed three Darkstalkers already, and that was some time ago! Maybe he's killed many more since! Her parents... they'll understand, right? She can't lie to them. She's never been able to outright answer a direct question with deception with them. Somehow they always knew. But... she had no choice here. They would have to accept that.

She blinks, wiping her torn, scorched sleeve over her eyes as she shifts to her knees. There was more to do before she could stumble back out to help with the siege outside. He said he had a fragment of the Butcher in him, that was why he seemed like that abomination when she first sensed him. Even that hellfire wouldn't destroy essence. She had to seal it, close it off before it got loose. Her fingers drop to the thick crimson rope tied around her waist as a belt. Purely ornamental in nature as far as her uniform went as the sash beneath it actually served the role of belt. But it was no ordinary rope either, imbued enough to make an impromptu sealing circle until her parents and she could deal with the last lingering vestige of the Butcher for good-

The voice causes her to freeze, the priestess sucking in her breath with a gasp of alarm. She looks around quickly - it seems to have obvious point of origin at first. Is it already loose? No, that isn't just the Butcher, that's-

Her attention snaps back to the scorched Earth, Ayame scrambling back on her hands and knees once again, still dragging her staff with her out of instinct rather than conscious thought. "H-how-" she stammers as the shadow limb begins to ear its way out of the epicenter of the faded inferno. The lingering flames on the walls and ceiling begin to be drawn into the center, joining the slowly solidifying figure, the mist easily missed as smoke rushes right on by the girl as she looks around her in confusion.

"I killed you!"

Anguish at having to kill someone she would have otherwise spared to effort to cure is quickly replaced with frantic panic as Daniel Little stands in the ruined hallway just the same as before. Teeth grit, lips drawn back as she pulls her staff into her lap, both hands clutching it white-knuckle tight.

His presence oozes out, infecting the burnt wood, the shattered and torn sliding paper doors. The look on her face easily confirms the truth. Of course she would maintained the story, the ruse bolstering her reputation as an individual to be feared by the things hiding in the dark. They needed to fear her. The threat of her coming after them had to give them pause, had to make them reconsider, make them believe it was a legend coming to hold them accountable for their sins, not a hundred pound teenage girl with a big stick.

She's surrounded by it now - by him. He's everywhere. In the walls, the ceiling, curling through the floors. Her breaths come faster. Is he in the air too? Is that why she can't seem to get enough oxygen? Is that why her heart races so? Her right hand comes to rest palm down against her chest, her head shaking.

The dark energy surges, boards, books, framed pictures along the hall, decorations on a nearby shelf, all of it comes tearing inward. Wincing as she's struck behind by one of the flying floorboards answering Daniel's call, Ayame lurches forward, rolling to one knee.

There is only one recourse left to her, her trump card mastered a lifetime ago. The only technique in her entire arsenal that requires no weapon, nothing to channel through, no prepared talismans carefully parceled out over the course of battle... Her left palm slams out, her staff falling to the floor at her knee. She doesn't even hear it land over the deafening roaf of destruction closing in on her in an instant.

A shimmering discus of rose hued pink is slammed into existence, starting out flat and circular, but rapidly curving, becoming a half dome of energy made solid, a barrier sustained by the young miko's will. She draws heavily on that fount of power she can call to her need, the infinite breath of life, still present even when surrounded by so much much death, hers to use for as long as she has the strength to do so. And now she pours all of it into a desperate defense against the devastating storm of her obliterated home.

The priestess's right hand braces at her left wrist after a moment, her left arm trembling, her teeth grit, her hair blowing back behind her... Until finally, before she faces the threat of reaching her limit, she cries out, offering one last thrust of her left arm, detonating the barrier back out and away, sending wreckage flying in every direction.

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Daniel with Reflected Mean Business.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //                            ]
Ayame            0/-------/---====|=======\==-----\1           Daniel


[DANIEL]
"Oh.

Shit."

That's what the presence mutters as the eyes focus on the seal explodes his assault straight back. The creature curls up, to no avail. The blowback -rips- Daniel apart, the essence scattered as the building blows into pieces. The house was brought down, in a whirlwind of backfire, as mist and fire coil and scatter into a thin haze. Now, the battlefield was revealed, with the wall collapsed to the outside. The coiling mist draws in and out, like a tide. It comes as no surprise at this point, as the shapes draw together.

Daniel still lives.

The boundary of life and death transcended, as the shadow refuses to die. The line between the spiritual and the physical blurred into nothingness; where it needed to be physical and mortal, it lashed out; where it needed to be spiritual, it slipped away. And yet, for every comeback, Daniel was weaker and weaker. Ayame's progress was building, as the shape of Daniel nearly collapses in itself, falling into a scar again. The shape was abstract now, stretched thin into nearly spider-thread tendrils. "Almost.... almost got it..." Daniel gasps, his shape shifted between ashen shadows against the debris, to physical presence pulling at. It struggles to draw together, and yet, it -barely- holds a indistinct human shape; the clothing was nothing but shadow, everything was shadow, pitch black in the sillohette. Daniel's essence was infecting the surrounding area, corrupting the latent spiritual essence; And yet, even as there merest shade? Daniel doesn't escape. He presses forward, because... that's what he had to do. He just keeps attacking, keeps the assault coming... as he continues to twist his words in.

"You know, if you let me live?"
%Daniel -slams- forward with a palm strike with the left. Everything was so plodding, so methodical, so... immaterial. When the hand chop comes, it is just mist and shadow, passing harmlessly through any guard that comes up. The second elbow jab would come with the same immaterial shapes, the shadows barely clinging in. And yet, Daniel's grin endures, as he continues to struggle, to -force- the offense. "Everyone will know the real you. Just like how everyone will know the real Honoka. I don't really lie that much, I mean, I want people to know the truth." A second palm strike comes with the right, as he forces the shapes in. Everything was so lucid, so limp, and yet, it wouldn't -stop-. It couldn't stop, as Daniel surges into shape with a startling uppercut. An ambigious offense; and unpredictable one. "I always wanted to know the hidden truth on you, on Honoka, on every shadow around me. I had to know, you dig?" The blows suddenly come out harder, the chops growing more solid, the blows sharply accelerating. "I wanted to know, Ayame. And soon, everyone will know... all your monster hunter friends, they'll know the real you- I mean yes they'll still adore you, but your enemies... you gotta kill me, for -your- sake, Ayame." The assualt comes in with a single, long elbow piercing in.

"So try -harder-, Reaper."

And Daniel suddenly hurls at Ayame, his full body lashing forward like a consuming pool of black. Not to Todoh-Ryuu her, no, not properly. The whole force of Daniel would -slam- itself into Ayame, to envelop her, to infest her, to -devour- her essence as he wraps and constricts like a tentacled horror. Briefly, so briefly, to slam her down... before fading into a limp, useless shape against her. Impotent. Weak. A jelly like thing, breathing and pulsing. An infinite pool of black.

With a pair of yellow eyes, and white teeth gleaming impossibly deep within the abyssal pit.

COMBATSYS: Daniel can no longer fight.

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


COMBATSYS: Ayame counters Harlem Sunset EX from Daniel with Harvest's Reaper.

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


[AYAME]
The explosive blacklash from Ayame's desperate defense was less intended to sweep up her assailant than it was simply to keep herself from getting crushed in the mist-infected debris of her own home. But if it happened to scatter the last remnants of the Darkstalker in the process, she certainly wouldn't be broken up about it at this point, would she?

Ayame lowers her arms, still kneeling on the shattered floor, gasping for breath. Her eyes are fixed on the location where he existed prior to her jettisoning a significant portion of his assault back his way before she quickly begins looking around, scanning. Amid the flame-born smoke, the plume of dust and smoke caused by the collapse of a significant portion of the structure, and her own compromised vision, it takes Ayame Ichijo a moment to notice the writhing black mist.

Mist... just like that which accompanied the Butcher's appearances. Choking, suffocating, vile, and so infuriatingly impossible to eradicate. The miko grits her teeth, blood dripping from her cheek against her torn sleeve, her expression a cocktail of fear and anger. She might not have what it takes to stop him after all. In this business, finding one's limits is far more likely to leave one dead than inspired to try harder. Sure, he keeps insisting he's here to correct her of her wayward ways, but one can hardly blame her for assuming far worse implications.

His voice is heard again, the mist struggling to coalesce into the grotesque semblance of his original form. She wouldn't have believed she had it in her to keep fighting. To engage him yet again. But when he surges forward, her body reacts, the fingers of her left hand hooking around her wooden staff, using it as a lever to push her back to her feet.

Her own defenses start feeble, trying to move the staff into the path of the misty strikes, neither colliding with the other as she starts to be forced backward. Compared to her ability earlier, the display is pathetic, the girl half hunched forward, damp, dirty hair strung over her shoulders and halfway over her face as she leans into blocks that are too slow to even matter.

He blackmails her with the knowledge he has - the secret she has kept for a lifetime. "Do you want to die?" she gasps back, lurching into another late block. "Is that what this was about to begin with?" She shakes her head, forced into another retreating step. "Why are you fighting me, Daniel? I don't need your help. I never did."

She spits, blood landing on the floor at her side. The mist jams against her shoulder, jostling her mid-step, almost causing her to stagger. He's becoming more 'real' by the moment. And what is she doing? Stalling? "Think. Jedah Dohma, an ally? Could you ever imagine yourself saying that, before Fio corrupted your mind? Do you think-" She's struck in the stomach, folding forward as she's cut off by coughing. That impact was even more real. Then he makes his ultimatum clear. No questions, no uncertainties.

She has to kill him. It's her only recourse now. That, or let her charade crumble at last. Assuming she even survives this night, how will she deal with a world full of Darkstalkers with a bone to pick that now know she's mustered a kill count all of zero her entire crusade? How many enemies has the Reaper made?

He tells her to try harder. Finish what she started.

In becoming solid enough to hurt her, he became solid enough to strike.

The piercing elbow never makes it to her. The flash of crimson of her staff coming to life once more coincides with a strong swing of her staff, both hands gripping it tightly, the priestess's body pivoting with the momentum of the perfectly intercepting blow.

She doesn't stop, completing her turn to swing her weapon in on him again the same moment Daniel rushes in on her directly. This time the force of her swing bears every bit of strength she has left, muscles moving in perfect coordination to deliver the strongest single hit she is capable of with her trusted weapon, smashing it right into the side of Daniel at an upward angle meant to dislodge him.

She swings from the opposite direction next, an even steeper angled strike just shy of a vertical smash up toward where his chin should be, her own momentum taking her feet off the ground as her staff continues up, winding up for the final blow.

A blow that doesn't quite come as planned when the length weapon gets skewered into the ceiling, jammed tightly in place with Ayame hanging from it for only a fleeting moment.

A battlecry born of desperation and frustration follows as she releases her grip on her wedged weapon, plunging back down toward the Unwelcome Stalker. Her right hand drawn back then sweeping forward pulls all the crimson flame of her staff down with it, Ayame colliding with Daniel from above with an explosive impact of swirling crimson fire, smashing him against the floor. She lands with her right hand pressed against him, knees on the ground once more, holding herself up at the same time she tries to keep the pseudo-tangible form in place.

"I'm starting- to think-" It's hard to speak, her lungs are on fire, her body swaying with each deep breath of air. "That curing you- is- the only way to kill you." It's hard to keep her head up. Every part of her is exhausted.

"So why not- let me try."

Her staff slips loose from above, falling to clatter on the floor at her side while the crackle of orange flames continue to flicker over some of the few struts still standing. Of the battle outside, she's likely forgotten it was even happening.

[FREI]
Meanwhile...

It's been an exhausting time for the Meian Jinja's defenders, most likely. The problem with Valentin and Artur's forces is that they are Gears. Possessed of unearthly stamina from their infusion of demonic blood, they do not tire, do not flag or weaken, until you more or less put it out of commission entirely. Meanwhile the priests and shrine maidens manning the proverbial battlements are humans... humans with mystical skills, and the ability to fight, but humans nonetheless. The longer this battle goes on, the worse their chances are going to be at keeping the shrine safe. Never mind that Daniel's interference took one of the shrine's greatest combat assets -- Ayame herself -- out of the fight for the time being.

That is the situation that Rei finds himself in as he works his way to the shrine, the growing clash of powers there making his sense of unease and disquiet grow with every step. It's powerful enough, and tinged with a familiar-enough sense, that it makes otherwise apocalyptic-seeming events like a giant centipede fighting a huge horned Gear fade into the background.

And then there's the Gears themselves. Their monstrous appearance had made Rei imagine they were Darkstalkers, just like the ones Jedah Domah had at his beck and call. But closer inspection of their auras, as he continues to slowly and relentlessly work his way through their lines, reveals the difference at last. For all their monstrous appearance, their demonic and sometimes animal nature, a Darkstalker is still somehow... "pure," in Rei's eyes. It is what it is, and nothing more; monstrous by nature. Gears are something else. The flow of their life energy is dissonant, clashing, mottled; the infusion of monstrous life into something... else... is not pure at all. To the sennin, it feels like it must be the most painful, excrutiating existence imaginable.

But then, neither Darkstalker nor Gear was ever given a choice in the matter. They are what they are, and always have been, "pure" or not.

It feels like a thousand years between his arrival on the shrine grounds and now, but in truth it's only been a handful of minutes between that time and now, the sennin stepping over and through the cracking, beleagured walls of the shrine.

In the shadow of the inner walls, a young priest -- likely no more than an initiate -- cowers on the ground, purification wand held in front of him like a talisman between himself and an attacking Gear, a slavering upright beast of vaguely feral canine features but distorted enough so that what KIND of Darkstalker it might once have been is anyone's guess. The beast's fangs drip practically neon green saliva that etches smoky patterns on the ground, portending a grim end indeed for the priest.

And a moment later a boulder the size of a man's torso flies through the air like a cannonball, knocking the Gear into a nearby outbuilding in the blink of an eye.

What the priest sees, when he dares open his eyes again, is a red-haired man offering him a hand up, his other glowing with a green-gold halo of summoned elemental force in the wake of his strike. "Hey there," Rei says, pleasantly enough, despite smudges of dirt and god knows what else from his trip through the battle zone. "I was going to ask if you've seen a particular shrine maiden around, but I realize that's kind of a stupid question so let's skip it."

Without warning, Rei's head whips around to the main building, as if he had a premonition of what's to come, and indeed, he did; sensing Daniel's outpouring of energy as it built up, Rei turns just in time to see a massive section of wall explode outward in colored light. "Besides," the sennin adds quietly, still extending his hand to the priest without turning to look at him, "I think I figured out where she is."

[DANIEL]
****************************************

"You missed again."

Valentin's snide comment grabs a -glare- from the skeletal general. The Hungarian rasps back at the vampire, swinging his sword in the air. "A haboru soha nem fog befejezni, seggfej!" Valentin just flicks his cigarette to the ground, as the forces begin to.... dwindle. "What are you even hitting at." The Romanian sneers. Artur remains silent, staring out through the darkness, as the masses... thin and thin. "Dammit, dammit, where the hell is Daniel. What's he doing?" An explosion bursts up as to answer, as the vampire pulls his goatee nervously. "Okay, okay, that's progress, maybe Ayame's dead. Maybe-"

"Look."

Valentin pauses, focusing on the gap in the wall. Artur was pointing at something. And there.... there he sees the gold-green halo. Or was it green-gold? His smirk fades. He watches from the distance, as the bolder just -smashes- through the air, crashing into a gear. And there, for the briefest moment, he sees the flash of red hair as... there was reinforcements to counter -their- reinforcements.

"... Oh."

Artur nods.

"... So we shouldn't-"

Artur shakes head.

"... We probably need to get out of here."

Artur nods.

"Oh man, the boss is going to be so pissed at us, I don't think I can afford another-"

"Well, it's Daniel's fault."

The words come out calmly, and directly. Valentin looks at Artur. And a devilish smile spreads over his face, a devious, fanged grin. The cannon goes off, as the cannonball flies over.... landing about 50 feet away from Rei's position. The hungarian screams a croak, as he waves his skeleton crew at the mortar to reload.

"Yes. It's -Daniel's- fault."

****************************************

Daniel, in his little supernatural pit, wasn't doing much. Despite the force of the last attack, despite the force of Ayame's own counterattack, the detective was only writhing in his pool, the tendrils drawn all the way in. The corruption was fading, but the shadow's power would not wane. Unlike some monsters, he wasn't even keeping the dignity of staying silent. Even as the walls fall around, as the Gears... were pulling away from the gate, as the cannonball comes crashing down, the momentum of the fight could be felt.

But Daniel didn't seem to put much concern in it.

"What, I wanna die?" The voice rises, sounding almost like a bad phone connection. "No, no, I want to see you try and kill me. See, Ryu Hayabusa couldn't cure me, so he tried to kill me, or seal me, or -something.- Fio Tessitore couldn't cure me. I'm hopeless, Ayame. But I gotta live. I have to live. I have to live through everything. I- I don't know my limits. I gotta find them, Ayame. I gotta know. You wanna know why I came?"

"Because they were gonna kill you."

The face turns into a grimace, scowling up. "I just wanted to join up with the army, and move around. It's my luck they would be attacking you, at your... lord of the rings fortress. If they were attacking Zach? Same deal. So it's like, win-win I thought. You know, maybe I could save you, keep you away from the front lines at least, so they wouldn't just pick you off by assassinating you. They don't want -you- to fight in this war. And if I captured you, that's great! Maybe you'd end up like me, like, maybe you could understand. And it wouldn't be a terrible change, we could all have our lives back. I just wanted to get my life back. I don't want to be a monster, Ayame, but I am. I am, and I won't stop being one. It's who I -am-. Fio never wanted to make me this, she just wanted to save my life. And she couldn't remove the parasite; curing me would kill me-"

And Daniel pauses, the scowl turning into a frown. His eyes go wide.

"... Ooooooh."

Another pause.

"Hey, Ayame, maybe you could uh, maybe you could just seal me; that almost worked for Ryu!" Daniel hastily adds.

[FREI]
Many cultures have some sort of superstition where a bodily response will tell someone if they're being talked about a distance. In Western culture, it's burning ears; in most of southeast Asia, it's sneezing. Rei doesn't sneeze and his ears feel just fine, but as he lets go of the Meian priest he rescued, there's a sudden... something. An intuition that makes him turn and look through the breach in the shrine ramparts towards the center of the Gear forces. At this distance, backlit as he is, it's difficult to see anything at this hour of the night. But he does see the red-orange flash of cannonfire in the distance, turning sanguinely as the cannonball fired sweeps right by him and sails farther into the distance to its landing spot. Figures are moving and, if their silhouettes are any indicator, loudly arguing.

"Boy," he says, offhandedly to the priest behind him, who is ducking on the ground with his arms over his head. "You guys must have REALLY upset them." But his face has no trace of humor, no blithe calm, as he says it. Rei jokes, but it's a dark humor, distracting himself. If these aren't Jedah Dohma's forces, he'll eat his changshan. Meaning that he either sees Ayame as a threat, or as no longer useful. Either of those outcomes is not exactly a great long-term situation.

He turns, then, glancing at the centipede/Gear beast battle for a moment, before crawling carefully over a chunk of outer ruined wall and stepping through what were once the highly ordered grounds of a traditional large Shinto shrine. Ayame and Daniel's running battle through the building interior has definitely taken a toll; tatami mat flooring is skewed every which way, and paper screens are torn, burned, or in some cases outright disintegrated. The throwing of lamps into far corners has made what might be an otherwise uniform glow into a hellish chiaroscuro of orange and black... appropriate enough, given the erratic burst of Daniel's energy mere moments before.

It's a pretty good size building and the trip involves climbing over, around, and sometimes through debris. The scattering of furniture and other household items tells a tale of the chaotic violence of the fight that caused them, but weirdly enough, once Ayame and Daniel are mere yards away, the destruction evens out a little.

Like the eye of a hurricane, Rei observes to himself.

And then, well. There's the bit where Daniel appears to have lost his mind, his life, or potentially both.

The red-haired sennin becomes visible over the torn lower half of a paper screen, just in time to hear Daniel say the words 'curing me would kill me', observing what appears to be Ayame suppressing (in more ways than one) a vaguely-familiar man in a pool of rich, swirling darkness. Neither of them looks like they've had a very enjoyable night.

And then, because he cannot be anyone but himself, Rei Hazuki says: "Uh... hey, y'all. Fancy meeting you here."

[AYAME]
Kneeling at his side, no longer possessing the strength to stand, Ayame leans heavily on her right hand, palm pressed against the chest of the figure mostly recognizable as Daniel Little. The gesture is partially to keep him pinned, but is also every bit as much to keep herself propped up. Where once she had thoughts of being able to rejoin the battle outside, to help decide the outcome of the siege, she now had nothing left, having been pushed past her limits by the tenacious intruder.

No. For now, she's doing all she can just to keep from collapsing.

"Oh?" He doesn't want to die, then? "You- you have a strange way of demonstrating that." She gasps for breath, left hand planting against the floor. She's vulnerable. If he had any fight left, any insidious plan utilizing reserves left untapped, she may not even be able to respond. But still she lingers, not moving away, head bowed, eyes closed, her long, matted hair framing her face.

"Of course you do." she mumbles as he insists he needs to live. For all that had happened to him, he didn't seem despondent enough to give up, to throw in the towel. In spite her earlier accusations, suicide by miko did not seem to be his intent.

He talks about wanting to help her, to save her, to do her a favor by keeping her out of an assassin's crosshair, and her expression softens slightly, eyes opening as she lifts her face to focus on him. The moment passes, the girl's expression becoming a stony mask again as he explores what could have happened had she not fended him off. "End up like you? Why would I want that? Are you living the life, huh? Are you happy? Is that what you mean to wish on me?" Her hand presses down harder then, as if to try and compress Daniel into the crater in which he lies. Or maybe she's just trying to muster the strength to get up.

"No one does," she growls at the thought of not wanting to be a monster. "Including me." But then she blinks, smudged, bloodstained brow furrowing as he speaks of Fio and how she never wanted to make him like this.

"Really, Daniel? Are you so sure? Was she... helpful to humans before you? You are just one more happy customer in a legacy of benevolence of Fio Tessitore? Is that it?"

She exhales as he starts to put two and two together, the meaning of her offer from before sinking in.

"Yes, I do believe it might."

The priestess exhales, finally shifting back, her hand sliding from his chest to rest in her lap. "I would have to do more research to know for sure. It is likely the essence that makes you what you are is also keeping you alive. If the mark of the Butcher even could be removed, the exorcism itself would be so violent that whatever little of you remained... I do not think it would be enough to survive."

She shakes her head, "No, it is likely that the only one who could remove it from you would-..." her voice cuts off, eyes blinking once, slowly.

"You leave me in a difficult predicament, Daniel Little." Ayame declares when he mentions trying to seal him instead, an approach already deemed a failure by the Dragon Ninja himself. "Since you seem to cling to your existence with a tenaciousness unlike anything I have encountered, apparently I still have yet to kill any sentient Darkstalkers. Thanks for that, I suppose." Little by little, her voice regains its strength, her words clear enough for her typical sarcasm to come through.

"However, if you leave here the way you are, the next person you so magnanimously try to help by way of dragging them to a bunch of monsters that want them dead... well, their fate is on me now."

Her right hand slips into her left sleeve, withdrawing a crimson colored talisman with black inked glyphs - tightly scripted with a precise hand. Her left hand slips into the sash at her side, withdrawing a small narrow dagger. The blade is no more than three inches long and comes to a needle point at the end.

"Which is why..."

She leans back forward, slapping the talisman against Daniel's chest with left hand, fingers splayed, then brings her right hand over, small handle pressed between her forefinger and middle finger, the tip coming down against the surface of the talisman. "If it helps, I really am sorry. Ultimately, I see no choice but to go through with-"

She stops at the sound of a voice, dagger poised against Daniel's chest, positioned to pierce through the center of the ofuda and his flesh if she simply leans against it hard enough.

Blinking, she glances up, eyes settling on the red-haired, familiar faced, acquaintance from another life.

She glances back down at Daniel, at the readied dagger, then looks back up at Rei.

"You really have the worst timing."

[DANIEL]
Daniel couldn't sweat. But if he could? He would be right now.

There was that precarious line where he was somewhere between arrogant on Ayame killing him, and uncertain of the process of if she -tries-. Daniel wanted to test the limits, test the extremes. If Ryu couldn't kill him, if he couldn't stay down after what Honoka could do... what could Ayame do? Even the Goblet of Fire attack couldn't stop him. And yet, as the pair of them were too weak to even continue the struggle... Daniel felt the pang on Fio Tessitore. That no one truly understood the woman he found.

And once again, he comes to her defense.

"Like... nobody seems to understand. Fio Tessitore was a scientist who did a deal with the devil, and she -regretted- what she did. I never heard her brag about the abominations she crafted, only that it was a necessary side effect. You didn't know the tender woman trapped in the bargains she made. She regretted it with me, and.... Fio Tessitore is -gone- now; she's refusing to come back to Lord Dohma, she's experienced the release of death, and chooses to stay dead, to let her spiritual essence gone than come back to her. And I gotta find her, and gotta get her back. If she comes back, I could save her, and she could stay with me again. It can be like before, and I can fix her!" Daniel's confidence and resolve almost makes you believe it could be.

Almost.

As Ayame revives herself, Daniel struggles. Unlike Ayame, he had pushed himself well past his physical limits. But as she mentions about how.... much of the struggle the exorcism would be, Daniel kind of starts laughing nervously. But as she mentions an alternative.... what was the alternative? "The only one who could remove it from you would...." Daniel interrupts in the pause, trying to lead Ayame back on the path of that line of thought. But instead, the talisman and the knife comes out. "Ha ha ha, uh, what's the knife. No, no, I think-" Daniel tries rocking; his body is too weak to even resist, as the talismen presses against his chest. "I- that's very cold Ayame, I think- I think maybe you should -explain- what you are doing- I mean-" And suddenly, her gaze shifts, as a voice raises up. "What, who has the worst timing?" Daniel's neck streeeeetches, extending painfully as he peers up so delicately, not letting pressure on the knife. "It's..."

Daniel pauses.

".... A ginger!" Daniel states perceptively. He looks back up at Ayame, with great big yellow eyes. "Why is a ginger the worst timing. You need someone with a soul for this? You know, maybe we should skip the whole knife part, I mean, lets be reasonable Ayame. When has a knife cured anything?" Daniel looks back over to Frei. "Come on, talk to her on this; When has -knives- cured anything; I mean, is the curing on the table still? THe non-killing kind of curing?" Daniel manages to squirm under the talisman, turning his yellow eyes back towards Rei. "Oh, by the way." He gives a wink to Rei. "Hi, I'm Daniel, I'm an old friend of Ayame... until I became a monster."

"Maybe you can ask Ayame to take a break while I explain my life story..."

[FREI]
Both Ayame and Daniel turn to the new arrival, and they both have very different sentiments to express in terms of Rei's appearance on the scene. For Ayame, the sennin likely represents an unwelcome emotional complication in an already-complex situation. For Daniel, well... maybe he just thinks Ayame's not going to disembowel him in front of another person, which just goes to show that hope springs eternal even in the darkest hearts.

For his part, Rei just shrugs. "Yeah, that's me. Rei Hazuki, Problem Ginger."

He didn't hear everything that was said, just now; a lot of the Ayame/Daniel exchange about his fate happened while Rei was still climbing through debris. But in truth, it doesn't exactly take Hercule Poirot to figure this one out; the world's surliest miko has Daniel at knife point, a potent talisman presented boldly to aid in whatever it was she was going to do. And now that he's here, and has opened his fool mouth, it falls on Rei Hazuki, Professional Meddler, to actually do something. But in truth, seeing the tableau before him, plans begin to form, facts begin to coalesce. Things start to make a little bit more sense than they did on the anxious march here.

"Yeah," Rei says, speaking to Daniel but keeping his eyes on Ayame. "I know." They were the only two people Jedah mentioned by name, and there is enough of the other world's Daniel -- something in the face, the voice, even the aura -- that gives him away. Sharp as his supernatural senses are, Rei can sense what Ayame would consider his 'corruption': a non-human energy that coils around every part of him like a dark serpent, or maybe more accurately tentacles of some being that sits at the core of him, alien and ravenous and entirely too comfortable. That's a thorny problem.

But.

"You have to let him live," he says to Ayame, voice quiet but intense. "And this isn't me being a bleeding heart, though believe me, I am still a bleeding heart. But you don't..." He pauses, frowns, and then looks away from BOTH Daniel and Ayame, running a hand through the aforementioned red hair. "Do you understand what... he..." A pause, a frown. "I don't know his name but you KNOW who I mean. Their boss. The one that--" There's a faint choking sound. Thinking back to this means thinking back to being a twice-over victim of Jedah's blood-manipulating powers, of being in small, choking spaces with no air and nowhere to go.

For Ayame, at least, it might be a little unsettling to imagine what could provoke that kind of reaction from this *specific* person.

Turning back to both, however, Rei continues after collecting himself. "I fought him, a bit ago. It wasn't..." Another pause. "He mentioned you by name. Both of you. And I don't know if you understand the extent of what he wants for you, Ayame. Or you either, really," he adds, tilting his head toward Daniel for a moment. "I just..."

What does he say, exactly? In truth, Rei has to take a second and examine his entirely paternalistic feelings toward Ayame, which perhaps he hadn't really examined until now. The weird feeling that she maybe needs someone to encourage her not to destroy herself.

A vague memory from long ago of a girl in a pleated skirt. 'I could be wrong,' she'd said, 'but you look like you belong somewhere a tad more traditional than this.'

"Just...don't do this right now. Hear me out first, at least."

[AYAME]
"Uh huh," was Ayame's laconic response to Daniel's defense of Fio Tessitore. In truth, it is something of a blind spot for her. Until tonight, she had never heard the name. Every mention on her part is just using the clues and pieces of information gleaned from Daniel's own ramblings, as unreliable as those might be. And the more he talks about this unknown scientist, the less confident she becomes about anything she might know regarding her.

Perhaps Aranha would be worth tracking down. If he truly did kill her, as Daniel indicated, he must have an interesting story to tell. But that is a problem for a later time.

The pinned stalker's reaction to Rei's arrival is a lot wordier than Ayame's, as might be expected, firing off questions and pleading for an intervention. Somehow, the miko doesn't interrupt him, but she doesn't relax that pressure on the dagger either, still positioned to lean in on it and press it through the crimson talisman and into his chest. The expression she maintains the whole time Daniel is talking is one of abject annoyance, the emotion still quite visible behind the blood on her forehead and temples, the smudges of dirt and soot around her face, and stained, matted, dirty hair clinging to her cheeks.

Annoyed at this entire situation, annoyed at the still smoldering flames in the wooden debris that was the Ichijo family living quarters - this part in particular was the dining area. Annoyed at the interruption, and annoyed that Daniel just keeps right on jabbering all the while. Her eyes meet Rei's and with a steady stare, she communicates one clear and unmistakable message. 'Go ahead. I already know what you're going to say. Let's get this over with.'

"It might be best to not speak of bleeding hearts when I am strongly inclined to make one right now." she replies to his initial declaration that she has to let the Darkstalker she so narrowly defeated live. But she stays quiet after that, a flicker of interest working its way into her expression in spite herself when he mentions 'their boss', the nature of her frown shifting from impatient endurance to a bit of concern. What did Rei have to do with Jedah Dohma?

She cants her head just a little as Rei mentions fighting the Blood Weaver and then seems to freeze when he says she was mentioned by name, eyes blinking a few times.

Finally, he asks that she don't go forward. That she hear him out. Ayame inhales deeply, eyes closing partially, then releases a soft sigh of resignation.

"I hear what you are saying. And-"

She leans forward hard, pressing all of her weight against the rounded handle of the dagger. It punctures clean through the talisman and into Daniel's chest with a sickly sound. It wasn't a long blade, but three inches is plenty of steel to pierce directly into his heart, if it even exists where it might in a normal human anatomy.

One can only imagine the pain of being stabbed directly in the heart, of the pointed tip plunging into his chest, of a burning, intense agony, like a hot poker taken straight from the forge and thrust through his torso.

Crimson flows over Daniel's chest, a thick, viscous fluid that bubbles up around the point where the dagger was forced through the thick paper.

"I am willing to hear you out."

The surly priestess pulls up on the dagger handle but now there appears to be no blade attached to the base of it, as if maybe it had broken off inside Daniel. The sanguine colored liquid itself begins to burn away, taking the talisman with it as it converts to mist that is idly brushed away by Ayame's left hand.

Eventually the pain will die down for Daniel, that sense of something having been left behind - burning, hot, piercing pain that becomes a dull ache within half a minute. It may never fully fade away though.

"I was marking him." Ayame explains matter of factly. "Just in case he should somehow slip away." She can't help but smirk faintly.

"I will always be able to hunt him down."

[DANIEL]
For a moment, Daniel had hope.

Maybe they understood the heart of humanity within Daniel. As Rei... as the wonderful red haired savior comes in, he was trying to talk Ayame down. Daniel actually smiles, those gleaming teeth, as he stretches up a bit more. He nods his head. Maybe they could all get along, maybe they could have tea, and chat, and make friends. And then he looks at Ayame.

Daniel knows what's going on.

The smiles is gone. The monster sputters quickly, the shade realizing that things were going very badly. He squirms as he looks at Rei, babbling. "You're not talking her out of it you're not talking her out of it yourenottalkingheroutofit-

"GRAAAAAAGH"

The screams from the creature bellow out at the declining war, the final song for the siege. Daniel screams and screams and screams. The screams turn to groans, and the groans into sobs, all with the insightful response from a one Daniel Jack in agony. "DYING! I AM DYING! AGH! AAAAAAGH! DICKS! BITCHES! DICKING BITCH TIT DIIIIIIICKS!" The agonized cursing finally ceases as the talisman fades. There is a heaving sob, followed by silence. And then a soft pair of words.

"Oh dicks..."

There is a sniffle. "Oh jesus christ, it's not going away." Daniel says a hiss of misery. "Why are you marking me? Are you-" He peers up at the pleated-skirted tormenter... and frowns in shock. "You're smirking! You are! This is some kind of sick thing for you, isn't it!? I swear to-" He halts a moment, looking at Rei.

"You didn't talk her out of it... !"

[FREI]
The freckled face of the sennin goes briefly white when Ayame makes her sudden and unstoppably fast move to pierce Daniel's chest with the stiletto-like dagger, but once the deed is done... well, the deed is done. Rei doesn't watch the rest, as Daniel has an extended battle with significant cardiac trauma and verbal impulse control at the same time; instead he takes a long, slow breath, eyes closed. He opens them again only when Daniel sniffles and the entire affair seems to have come to a halt.

When the demonic detective accuses him of not talking her out of it, he raises one dark red eyebrow. "Are you new here? I'm pretty sure I couldn't talk Ayame Ichijo out of doing something she wanted without a rocket launcher, and even THAT isn't a guarantee." Well, good to see at least one person's sense of humor and propriety is intact.

But having said that, he crosses his arms over his chest and tilts his head at the shrine maiden, with a soft and quizzical expression on his face. He's trying to radiate actual curiosity, but if he can accomplish it or not in such a tense situation is anyone's guess. "Out of curiosity, though... what's the point of tagging him like a shark? Are you going to devote yourself to following him around? If that's the case maybe you *should* have killed him. Not," he says at last, turning to Daniel with a curiously penetrative stare, "that I think you could actually make him stay dead anyway."

There's a pause, and then a frustrated exhalation of breath, Rei running a hand through his hair and staring off onto some distant square of the floor. "There's no way it's a mistake I ran into the two of you fighting here, though. I only really came for Ayame, because I was worried..." he says, giving a brief and unexpectedly (for Rei anyway) sardonic glance at her before looking at Daniel. "...yet here you are, the other person Sanguine von Bloodsalot mentioned."

[AYAME]
Daniel's screams of suffering unsurprisingly don't seem to bother his tormentor in the slightest. At most, she looks as if she feels mildly inconvenienced until the eruption of shouting protests fade, as if being unable to speak without being heard is the real offense here.

He asks why and she begrudgingly glances down at him, having settled back on her knees, her hands in her lap, her left hand closed over the dagger handle. "Usually I have to track down Darkstalkers the hard way. It is a rare opportunity to have them deliver themselves to my door. I could not pass up on the opportunity to make future encounters far easier to arrange."

As Rei comments on the difficulty in getting the stubborn girl to change her mind about anything, she merely huffs softly, sounding somewhere between bemused and offended and it would be difficult to narrow it down more specifically than that.

Her eyes are back on him now, listening to his pretty rational question, her expression having slipped back into its default state of 'dour' by the time the inquiry is given voice.

"You are really bad at this whole talking me out of murder thing." is her initial answer, delivered dry but for a subtle hint of teasing in her voice.

She exhales then, glancing down at the prone form of Daniel next to where she kneels. "I do not know what you are guilty of... and even if I did know beyond any doubt, I am not... an executioner." Her eyes shift away from Daniel then, glancing further down the remnants of the building's long hallway. "If I killed everyone who ever attacked me, I... well, I cannot hold people accountable for failing to appreciate my diplomatic skills."

Her expression becomes thoughtful. "Still, if Ryu Hayabusa himself failed to kill you, I do not know that I could either without research, and a gruesome trial and error process that I confess I lack the stomach for."

She closes her eyes then, sleeve-draped arms folding across her chest. "So that leaves either locking you in a cage somewhere - a difficult feat considering what I have seen you do this night, but not impossible..." She opens her eyes then, arms still folded. "Or I suppose we could try to cure you."

The battle weary priestess sucks in a deep breath before exhaling slowly again, eyes back to Daniel now. "The problem is that you somehow managed to collect the triple threat when it comes to turning into a demon. So congratulations there."

She holds up her right hand closed in a fist. "Infected by the essence of an immortal predator, subjected to what I can only imagine was some form of corrupting alchemy, and finally, prolonged behavior as a demon drawing your own psyche closer to that end." She raises one finger for each of the problems plaguing the ex-Interpol agent.

"I believe only the Butcher himself could withdraw his mark. I think I may be able to help you with the second problem. And the third... well... that is going to be up to you." She falls quiet for a moment, folding her arms again before continuing.

"Either you have the willpower to break the cycle, or you do not. Fortunately, there is finally a new solution to problems like you that cannot control themselves. With the Novus Orbis Librarium setting up shop, it almost seems like I will be able to retire. If you do not want to be cured, Daniel, I will deliver your tracker to them and let them deal with you."

She smiles, though it's hardly an expression of warmth, before the moment fades and she galnces back up at Rei. "Now, what is this about Jedah Dohma? I am glad to see you well if you actually did fight him..."

[DANIEL]
Daniel Jack was still in pain.

Frankly, when a situation looks bad, Daniel had to adapt. And how could he adapt when he had so much at stake. Of course, when Rei says that she should have killed him, Daniel flinches. "Oh jesus christ." He groans. And yet, somehow, somehow that is changing her away from murder? Maybe because Daniel didn't quite have that mortal presence at her. And when Ayame says she doesn't have a stomach to experiment on Daniel?

"Daw, I knew you weren't a sadist!"

%Daniel Jack actually stays quiet as he lets Ayame walk through the problem. There is only one correction he makes. "Darkstalker." Daniel corrects Ayame. "Like I'm not a demon, I still believe in like god, and jesus. Well I mean, I guess the devil would believe in god, and jesus. But the point is that my like metabolism or something changed; that I have to eat souls, right? It's an act of nature! And I've been trying not to be reckless on it! I mean, I got these incredible senses now, and every sensation is like the biggest high for me. Like smell, heaving breathes, the faint feel of your body heat... You smell really good, Ayame!"

There a moment to sniff.

".. No, that's you, actually, Rei Hazuki; jesus that's a pure soul."

Daniel Jack quickly tries and change the subject. "Like, I -get- people trying to cure me. Fio tried to cure me, but like, I think it's attached to my soul? Lets be reasonable here, Ayame and Rei, I really -don't- want to be a horrible killing machine, but I'm pretty limited in options if I need to eat souls to keep sane and not be a ravenous killing monster. If the whole soul eating stuff can get resolved, then I can go back to being the lovable, charming detective adored by the world over by... uh..." Daniel drifts off.

"... Well I think Hitomi might still like me?"

[FREI]
This is a lot to take in. Ayame provides a thorough and instrumentally sound version of why it is she just hit Daniel with the world's most painful, least scientific radio tracking dart. It's the fact that she transitions smoothly to discussing the powerful Darkstalker Rei met -- who she casually provides a name for, meaning she MUST know exactly who he meant -- and then Daniel interjects in the middle of that.

Rei, who'd been watching Ayame as Daniel suggests he has a 'pure soul,' turns to the darkstalker detective and just... blinks, a handful of times. "Thanks? I think." He sounds uncertain but in truth, anyone would be in this situation.

Once everyone's actually said their peace, the redhead closes his eyes again, takes a deep cleansing breath, exhales slowly, then opens them again, trying to keep both miko and absolutely-not-a-demon in his line of sight simultaneously. "Okay. There's a lot of facts I don't have, mind, though thank you for filling in some of the gaps in what I'm going to assume was an unintentional way, Daniel," he says, raising one eyebrow faintly. "Like I said, I didn't know he was here when I came here." He doesn't mention the part about Zach Glenn, or the part where he was imprisoned in a sphere of blood in some hell dimension, though there is for the second time the tiniest flash of remembered pain and anxiety on his face when the thought comes back to him. "But now that he IS here, and I can see what the... uh... situation is like, I think I have a theory."

It had been taking shape in his head during this entire conversation. He doesn't know how Daniel came to be here; perhaps it is simply the gravity of interrelated individuals, a thing Rei believes to be completely real. But one thing is very certain: if he wanted to send someone to kill Ayame, he wouldn't have sent Daniel Little. Not that he lacks the power -- he clearly has it -- but for... let's call them 'more obvious' reasons.

The allure of the 'Infinite'. The capital 'i' had been evident in Jedah's voice. But what IS it? The thing to which he wants Ayame to succumb... and into which Daniel has already fallen, to hear the tale.

"Let me ask you both a question. Why is that army here, do you think? The one outside, I mean. Does... what was the name?" Rei asks, turning to Ayame. "Jedah Dohma? Does he seem like the fire-and-forget type to you about someone he'd view as an actuall, legitimate threat?"

[AYAME]
When Daniel declares that Ayame isn't a sadist, there is a forced smile that is not remotely reflected in her eyes that suggests she's really close to reconsidering her stance on the subject. And her expression doesn't get any less ominous as Daniel continues speaking, trying to explain his reliance on souls as a matter of survival and on his heightened senses, all useful to the predator his metamorphosis has turned him into.

And the expression behind her smile definitely doesn't get any less grim as he says she smells really good, then shifts his focus to Rei to comment on the AAA grade quality soul the new arrival appears to posses. By the time Daniel is done talking about not wanting to be this way and that he needs help with the soul eating conundrum, Ayame is looking at Hazuki with a 'Are you sure you don't want me to kill him?' glare.

She's quiet to listen to Rei next, however, clearly curious about what side of the story he's harboring that brought him urgently this way, no doubt remembering the jinja's location due to having visited with an entirely different perspective a long time ago.

The girl swallows at the question posed, however, her mien becoming far less hostile as she gives it a long moment of consideration.

"No... I had the feeling it was a stalling tactic, preventing me or any of us in the region from deploying elsewhere. Though I will admit that even I was not fully aware of the defensive measures built into this place... the assault would have had a fair chance of overrunning us but for an unexpected guardian."

rShe glances at Daniel, "Then guy shows up and explains how he is going to help me survive this by dragging me off to whoever is running this show and maybe I will get turned into a Darkstalker too, and live happily ever after."

Her tone of voice easily conveys how thrilled she is with the offered help. After a moment, she glances to the side, right hand lifting, curled forefinger resting against her chin. "I may have something to help with the need for soul energy... For awhile, anyway. You would not need to hurt anyone to sustain yourself."

Her shoulders rise and fall with another sigh, "It will not fix everything, but it would be a start."

[DANIEL]
Daniel could feel the situation de-escalating.

Between Rei and Ayame, Daniel was kind of trapped. "I can tell by the tone of your voice, Ayame, at how thrilled you are by the help." Daniel says with the full heart of sincerity, well demonstrating his detective skill. "With that said, it was kind of a composite thing? As I understand, they wanted to stall you, and also kill you, and also capture you? Like a one-two-three thing. They didn't think they were going to break through, they wanted me to kill you, so I offered to capture you instead, and it kind of worked out as a stalling thing, so you wouldn't join the war effort. Which is successful I think, uh." Daniel considers.

"... Sorry?"

Daniel switches the subject again on Rei's question, happy to answer as much as he knows. "As far as I know on Lord Dohma, I mean, I'll be happy to answer any questions you have. He's kind of a big picture guy, who wants everyone kind of part of his club; I've found it very easy to find 'allies' by just name dropping him. Find a Darkstalker? Name drop. I also know leaving the club is hard; He was -very- pissed that Fio Tessitore died, and didn't come back to him. I gotta find her soul, you dig?" Daniel gives a great big smile. "That's what he has on me, I mean, if you can help me, you can help her, right? But what do you mean, something that can help with the need with soul energy?" Daniel's abyssal grin suddenly fades.

"This isn't another clever way to kill me, is it?"

[FREI]
Ayame's perception of the army is based on logic, and seems to pan out. That the shrine wasn't overrun immediately seems more like a lucky break for Team Ichijo than anything else. When Daniel speaks up with his more insider perspective of what went down this evening, it's as if he's painting in color to the line art that Ayame's supposition described. They weren't here to kill her; they were intended to keep her contained at best, distracted at the minimum. Daniel's arrival must have been fortuitous for Jedah's forces. After all, there isn't much in the world quite as distracting as Daniel Little is managing to be, tonight.

Glancing off to the side with a glum expression, Rei runs a hand through his hair again. "I think if they'd killed her, Jedah would have been upset. Of course I also don't think he sent people here who were capable of it in the first place, though maybe I'm wrong about that. And then you apparently show up and offer to take care of her for them," he adds, glancing at Daniel.

Well, time to go all the way with this one. A pause, a deep breath, and then Rei lays it all out.

"The truth is..." he says quietly, clearly bothered by the conclusions he's come to, "...I'm pretty sure they expected her to kill you, Daniel. Actually, I think that would have made Jedah very happy." He turns more toward Ayame. "He kept talking about you while I was fighting him. He said we were... similar." The hesitation at the end of the statement is obvious, and the sennin doesn't elaborate on what it might mean; the miko will have to make her own conclusions. "But a few things were very obvious. One is that I think he wants to... possess you. Not like a ghost, but as an object. The other is that... well. He implied that whatever arts you practice are bringing you closer to his kind of darkness every day, and you just don't notice."

Gesturing to Daniel with one hand, palm up, he continues, face grave. "He mentioned this one, too... he said someday you'd embrace the 'Infinite,' just like Daniel has." Certainly, given the detective's story just now, this is not an unbelievable claim.

Rei conveniently leaves out that Jedah seemed similarly interested in his own soul, especially after Daniel's remark about its purity.

"Helping him helps you, though, I think," Rei says, at the suggestion that Ayame can help Daniel control his hungers, even if only temporarily. To be honest, I think curing you might be the best way to push back against whatever he's planning."

[AYAME]
As Daniel fills in on his own side of things, Ayame remains quiet. That things have fallen quieter outside and the courtyard isn't overrun with more of the man-made biomagic weapons suggests that the siege is over. The precise casualties will be something she will still have to find out about and deal with, as well as the details concerning how it came to an end. She suspects the red-headed man's coincidental timing may have played a role in that - something she's far more grateful for than she may ever express.

But one problem at a time. Daniel apologizes after a manner and the miko offers only a soft grunt that might sound like 'Go to hell.' or 'Don't worry about it.' With her persistent scowl, suffice to say she doesn't seem terribly affected by it either way.

"I do not care about Fio Tessitore." Ayame declares with a furrowed brow on the matter of helping her. "If her soul did not require whatever twisted gift of enduring life Jedah offered, I hardly see how you will be able to play any role in affecting her future. She is dead. Daniel."

As he pointedly asks if she isn't just coming up with a clever way to kill him, Ayame actually smirks back and offers no denial or confirmation. That has to fill him with confidence.

As Rei speaks, she frowns then, eyes breaking off their focus on either of the other two. Hell knows she has interfered with the Darkstalker Lord on more than one occasion, always knowing she was taking her chances in doing so. He had the chance to kill her once, so long ago, that dark night they first met, but didn't take the opportunity... Her dark brown eyes flick back and forth as Rei continues giving voice to the details he heard, the dialog held with the nightmarish creature known as Jedah.

Did he want her to fail? He knows what she is messing with full well, she did attack him with an example of it in their last confrontation...

"I know what I am doing," she declares stubbornly as if feeling judged by any comment on the Onmyoujutsus she had been designing and experimenting with. Safe to say, there is SOMETHING off with the attack she tried to kill Daniel with in self-defense.

She releases a soft sigh, hands pressing against her thighs as she leans forward and struggles to get up to her feet. Once standing, she is a bit wobbly, reaching out to the side to brace against one few broken beams still upright. "I would never do anything like that... I am just..." She closes her eyes, shaking her head. "I will be back. Make sure HE does not go anywhere." She glances over her shoulder to glare at Daniel as if daring him to try and make a fast one while she is away.

The warning declared, Ayame works her way down the shattered hall toward her room. Situated toward the other end of the corridor she was dragged down, it was at least not utterly obliterated like a good portion of the living quarters. She is gone for a little over a minute, leaving Rei Daniel to talk amongst themselves, an experience no doubt cherished by Rei.

Finally, she returns, a small wooden box in each hand, cradled against her stomach. She returns to kneel next to Daniel, whether or not he is still lying prone.

"Okay," she remarks, placing the two boxes down on the floor in front of her. Her right hand reaches to open the box on the right, pulling out a small stick that has been carved smooth and round with a point on the end and intricate runes carved on the surface.

"Before I give you this," Ayame states, eyes focused on Daniel then. "I must know... In your time as a Darkstalker have you, Daniel Little, ever taken a life? Do not bother lying. Rei's pure soul will know beyond any doubt." Given the directness of her tone, it's difficult to tell if she's being facetious or not.

[DANIEL]
Even the cannon fire seemed to have stopped.

Daniel, in his kind of slime shadow state, still keeps his head up, wincing at the inescapable soreness of the brand. As Rei makes the argument about how -they- expected Daniel to die, well. Daniel kind of shrugs. "So far, I've been pretty good at dying, so that makes sense. I mean, I kinda had an over under on it? I was kind of curious of how Ayame would do it." He nods at Ayame, as she.... steps out. It was just him, and Rei now. The yellow eyes burn at Rei, as for the moment, it was just him and.... him.

Well, Daniel doesn't try to leave.

He does look over Rei again, inspecting up and down. "So, uh, was Lord Dohma after your soul or something?" Daniel asks softly. "Not looking to collect, mind you, but I'm fairly sure on a high level, anybody that he -talks- to is somoene who has a soul he's interested in, either as a minion, or a possession, or kinda both I think? Heck, scuzzy, he might be after you next, once he finds out about this! Or me."

"Ugh."

"Just food for thought." Daniel adds helpfully, as Ayame comes back with a.... thing. Two boxes, one with a stick. As Ayame transfixes her gaze on the shadow, the detective becomes... wary. 'Before I give you this.' Daniel instinctively clenches up, and he doesn't quite know -how- he's clenching up in this state. How many did Daniel kill? The detective gives a devilish spread, his fangs spreading across his face, cheek to cheek. There is a hiss in his voice, as he responds sinisterly.

"How could I possibly recount how many!!"

Daniel's grin fades into a sheepish one, before quickly adding more, just in case the joke didn't go over well. "No, uh, I've been... working on a balance. Like, god, the ACPSA is gonna have my nuts, but I've been getting my feeding off animals. Like, I've killed so much livestock, birds, pets, dogs- but never cats." Daniel gets very serious at that. "Cats are friends." He states firmly. "And I've sure as hell -hurt- people, but even at that island tournament, I didn't kill anybody. I mean, I almost killed Honoka there... erm, the Black Daliha, or Dragon Lady, or whatever the shit she calls herself now. But she killed me instead, so it all worked out. So uh..." He looks at Rei warily. That grin was gone now.

"... No. I haven't killed anybody as a Darkstalker."

[FREI]
Remember the part where Ayame just kinda leaves Rei in the room with a Darkstalker-possessed weirdo in a who-knows-what state to grab something from the wreckage of her bedroom? Good times, good times. "Hey, wait a s... aaaaaand she's gone." The tiny sigh of resignation suggests that Ayame is perhaps not the ONLY person here who's skilled at nonverbal methods of conveying their emotional state. Not that he's particularly worried about Daniel as an immediate physical threat; although anyone who could drive Ayame to the brink is very clearly a credible danger indeed. But right now he's barely cohering a physical form, and rather unlike either Daniel or Ayame, Rei is in -- surprisingly enough -- good condition, unharmed.

One wonders how the shrine defense may have gone if he'd arrived a little earlier.

Daniel asks what it is exactly Jedah Dohma wanted, noting the 'Lord Dohma' form of address, and with a heavy sigh all Rei can do is shrug. "That wasn't... the first time we'd met," he says slowly, choosing words with obvious care. "Though at the time I was someone else, which might be the reason why." A pause, and he gives Daniel a sardonic smile, one that looks vaguely out of place on the freckled, guileless face. "Let's just say you're not the only person here who's died before. Though you have my sympathy, since it is by and large an unpleasant experience no matter how many times it happens."

At the mention that the Blood Lord may have taken an interest in him, Rei simply sighs, looking exhausted. "He more or less told me as much, yeah," the sennin admits, looking off in the direction that Ayame left in. "I can think of some reasons why he might. But that's okay. Every resource he wastes on me, he isn't spending doing something else to someone less capable of handling themselves. So it's not ideal, but there are worse outcomes." Even as he says this, though, he can't help but replay scenes in his mind of the YFCC lobby, blown to bits or beaten to hell for reasons that sound an awful lot like 'someone powerful wants to hurt innocents to get to [x].'

Before he can go any farther down that road, however, Ayame reappears with her magical paraphernalia, or so it would seem. She asks Daniel a rather pointed question, but at the very end of her spiel, Rei pinches the bridge of his nose. "Can we stop discussing the purity of my soul, please?"

[AYAME]
At Rei's protest, Ayame blinks innocently, "What? Are you suggesting it is not?"

Given her even delivery and inscrutable expression, it's not a sure thing to decide if she's teasing the ginger sennin or being intentionally difficult just for the sake of it.

Her attention shifts to her temporary, or so it would seem, prisoner. "I doubt that," Ayame replies dead pan to Daniel's taunting reference to her own declaration when last they fought. "I would have known." Her tolerance for jokes, already never very good to begin with, appears to be at an all time low as she waits for his real answer, fingers tightening around the sharpened stick as he begins to explain how it is that he's been getting by so far.

As he explains that he's gotten by on the life energy of animals, she appears impassive. Only when he mentions almost killing Honoka on Shang Tsung's Island of Fun does she arc a narrow eyebrow slightly. She might have given him a free pass on that one. As he rattles off other aliases for the half-Ainu Lady of Crime, Ayame lifts her empty hand, waving it back and forth with a 'Yes, yes, I know who you're talking about, get on with it' gesture.

"Oh?" she asks, sounding genuinely curious at the detail that Honoka killed him. "Was that one of the matches? I was not privy to all the results... I was not exactly on the invitation list."

But once he makes the declaration that he hadn't killed anyone yet, she exhales. "I see. Very well." Her hand reaches forward, depositing the rune carved stick she was gripping back into its wooden box, then flips the box closed with a solid click. What, precisely, was her plan if she didn't like his answer will perhaps have to be left to one's imagination.

Instead, she flips up the clasp and opens the other box she had placed before herself, pulling out two ends of a thick black cord with a small metal object dangling from the middle of it. Holding it up in front of her, it becomes clear that the metal object is a small metal lantern of intricate design, especially considering the tiny scale of it.

"There other sources of soul energy," the priestess explains calmly, eyes focused on the bluish gray lantern. "This Soul Lantern can absorb latent energy in your surroundings. All you have to do is hang around places where the recently deceased are to be found." She holds up her other hand, palm up, in a dismissive half shrug, "You know, like graveyards. Or the morgue." Really, what harm could this new regimen actually do to Daniel's reputation at this point?

"It is a gradual but not entirely slow process for it to build up. You will know it is filling as it begins to glow a light shade of blue as it nears capacity... from there, the effort of drawing it in should be no different than... whatever it is you already do." She extends her arm, offering the cord to Daniel then. "There are just a few details you should be aware of."

She leans her head to the side a little, "If you are in the vicinity of one who truly despises you, it will taint the energy the Soul Lantern collects and corrupt the lantern itself. You will know because the glow it gives off will become crimson instead. Draw that energy in at your own peril. Laced with directed hatred, it will be quite toxic."

Her hands would return to close the now empty box then rest in her lap once freed of the small charm. "The second thing to know is that you will need to bring it back to me once a week for me to refresh the seals I built into it. If you do not, not only will it hold less and less energy for you to draw upon, it will also eventually explode." She leans her head to the side slightly, "As I have not actually experimented with that aspect of it, I cannot say how destructive that would be... I just know I would not want to be wearing it when that happens."

That faint smirk works its way back into her expression then, "Of course, you could take it someone else to refresh it, if you happen to know anyone else who has read and memorized the seven chapters of Mikaido Akemi's tome on the Decanting and Transference of Soul Energy." She grunts softly, "Which of course... is unlikely. I do have the only known manuscript."

The miko's brow furrows then, glancing between Rei and Daniel, "You should know, that this process may do more than simply sustain you... feeding off the purified energy gathered by the lantern might have a ameliorating effect on the corruption that runs though your body. It will never get rid of the core of the Butcher's stain, but it might..." She leans her head left and right slightly, "Undo some of the damage. With time, you may develop a taste for..."

She half shrugs once more, "Normal food."

[DANIEL]
Daniel's response to Rei?

"That's remarkably pure and honest! Kudos! And if you get turned into a horrible monster, you can still come back here. I mean, no offense Rei, but you got a soul as soft and gentle as a fair maiden. That's the kind of junk you'd sacrifice stuff over. I mean, so does Ayame, but she has my balls in a vice right now, you dig? It just means you got baptized or something. I dunno. I just eat the damn things, I don't how to make them." That part was settled as far as Daniel knew, next was what was Ayame's solution to his soul problem, which Daniel was...

Less than enthused on.

"... That's it?" Daniel says in disbelief, staring at the lantern, eyes narrowing. He digests this point, especially with his. .. situation. Finally, he spits back. "So let me get this straight. I just have to hang around people who are dying or are dead, who also don't hate me. That makes sense, if I kill people they'll hate me , or animals, yeah okay that makes sense. That also means I have to stay away from people who hate me, so like, that's gonna be an adventure. Well I mean, as long as I wanna eat. Okay, okay, this can all work."

"But the one week thing..."

Daniel was practically growling at this point. "That sounds an awful lot like it's more than just coming by on my weekly check-ups, Ayame; that sure does sound like if something bad happens to you , that means something bad happens to me. Ergo, Unless I find someone else who can reliably do the Seven Dances of the Mele Kalikimaka or whatever, I gotta be your special friend, cause shit. What if some week, just in theory, you decide that your tolerence for my bullshit no longer outpaces your need to see what just happens when that little light of mine doesn't get that sweet touch of Nurse Ayame kissing it to make it better?"

"Yeah, that's gonna be fun."

"Like, overall? Sounds like I am now insurance against whatever Lord Dohma is gonna do to you. I'll be just like that freaky deaky centipede there, just another layer of defenses. Cause one week, that's gonna mean I gotta stay close, and keep up with you. No matter where I gotta make sure I get back within one week. Flight gets cancelled on a layover in Hawaii? Get to see me in the news as a free night in the Holiday Inn gets a freaking gas leak explosion. Again, these sound like my problems."

"And boy, are they stacking up."

Daniel was now fully upright, his limbs his arms moving as he uses his fingers now to list out how bad this deal was. "I get to be just another bitch minion, this time to Little Miss Snarker instead of Talk Dark and Gruesome. I have less freedom, I have a more dangerous, and if I piss people off, I don't eat." And Daniel holds out his palms to Rei, as if he was the judge of this court. "And in exchange, I might be able to eventually eat cheeseburgers again?"

There is a pause.

Daniel shrugs. "Well, not like I'll get a better offer. I'll take it Ayame."

[FREI]
Ayame's teasing him and the more that Daniel tries to treat Rei as snack food in a proverbial suit, the more this entire situation is starting to scrape across his nerves like a file. The sennin has no poker face whatsoever, too, making this very, very obvious. As Daniel mentions the miko having his gonads in a crushing machine (metaphorically speaking... probably), the redhead just raises an eyebrow at Daniel with an expression of detached curiosity. "Doing really good on the 'avoiding people who hate me' bit so far."

Still, as Ayame laboriously explains the process of the lantern, and as Daniel looks a gift horse so far in the mouth he's practically crawling down its throat, Rei only appears to be half listening. Why? Because he IS only half-listening, though fully comprehending. Instead, he is reaching out with his senses. He lacks Ayame's thorough training and history with traditional sorcery, meaning the realm of artifacts like the lantern and other such esoterica, he isn't much help. On the other hand, when it comes to sensing and seeing the invisible flows of energy in the world, Rei is very very skilled indeed.

This is why he eventually, as Ayame winds up her explanation and Daniel winds up his conspiracy theory, the sennin suddenly gives the darkstalker-infused detective a curiously penetrating stare.

Into the silence, he drops a question. Casually, like it's nothing.

"You want to know the secret of immortality?"

[AYAME]
At Daniel's initial question of 'That's it?' Ayame blinks once before answering, hands in her lap still, "I did not stutter." He says he wants to get this situation straight, really digging into the details, prying out the parts left unsaid by the oft duplicitous miko to gnaw on them out loud. There is a lot of implication in the fine print on the Meian Jinja priestess's offer of 'help', to say the least.

"It will not hurt them any," she interjects calmly as he talks about hanging around the dying or deceased. Whatever energy the tiny pewter lantern is collecting is likely to go to waste either way, it would seem.

But then he gets to the weekly visits included as part of the arrangement and Ayame answers with a faint smile, staying quiet as the ex Interpol agent delves deep into the layers and layers of catches included by pursuing this chance at recovery. The expression does little to conceal a sense of bemusement as the growling analysis delineates line by line. Now and then she leans her head to the side, shoulder raising slightly, a subtle shrug as if to say 'I suppose that sounds about right.'

That he has a vested interest in letting her know of threats to her he's aware of... and maybe even has cause to intervene against those threats /for/ the difficult miko before they become her problem causes her to shrug again, "I suppose that would make sense." she states calmly.

When he rises, she stands as well, not to be loomed over as Daniel gets more worked up over the layers and layers of implications behind the simple conditions the girl had laid out. "Well, it is good to see you have retained your wits after all this." Ayame remarks, her right hand going to rest at her hip.

He says he'll do it, in spite everything he just recited back at her. Two simple conditions and yet with them, the miko had seemed to spin a complex web of entrapment. And she doesn't deny it for one moment.

"Yes, yes, all of the above is true. I did not design the Soul Lantern for you specifically, but I did create it with circumstances like yours in mind. You are not the first I have tried to help find a way back..." She sighs softly, arm hand slipping from her hip to rest against her side. "I said I would help with your situation, but the way back is not easy. If it were simply a matter of waving a gohei around and chanting a few words at the local Shinto clinic, well... there would be a lot fewer cursed souls running around the streets causing trouble everywhere."

She leans her head to the side slightly, "You may notice that most of the work here is on you." The miko frowns then, "The path of redemption is..." Her voice fades, eyes glancing to the side, "Well, you have your work cut out for you."

Having had her say, she falls quiet, only to blink to attention as Rei speaks up with a question, right arm raising as if recoiling from the inquiry, "W-what-" she stammers, caught off guard for once by the out of the blue question. She opens her mouth as if to give an actual answer, then closes it, brow furrowing as she wrestles with the question. Surely, she's done her reading, her research. There is a vault of texts, tomes, and scrolls beneath the main building that has been building over centuries. But reading what others theorized is nothing compared to hearing directly from someone who, for all intense and purposes, does seem to violate the laws of mortality as most understand them.

"Prudence suggests that it is a secret better off not discussed lightly, but..." Since when has burning curiosity cared about keen judgment anyway!

[DANIEL]
"Yeah, of course."

Daniel... was already trying to think of ways to settle the spirit of the law, if not the letter. And yet, his enemies, his betrayals were all stacked in front of him. At least he wasn't throwing up. God, he probably would be throwing up if Ayame was actually mean to him. Daniel's strength was flowing back into him, the infesting corruption building around him. And yet, as he pulls himself into his humanoid shape, reaching into his full shape. His power was nearly returned; and the brand could burn bright now. And yet, he goes to clutch his path to redemption. And Rei stares into him.

He gives his answer.

"Isn't it family?" Daniel says, almost half-wittedly. He was clutching the lantern now, standing up fully. Looks like he was recovered. "Like, if have a family, your lineage extends on, in interations and interations, to infinite, where your essence is immortal across humanity? I mean, I don't like the idea of being immortal. You'd have to put up with everyone crap, and it never would stop, you dig?"

Daniel's wisdom has not changed since he started on the path towards redemption.

[FREI]
For a second -- it's only a second, but it DOES happen -- Rei Hazuki appears vaguely poleaxed at what just happened. Ayame, who he expected to go 'NO SHUT UP DANIEL'S RIGHT THERE' is curious for more details, and Daniel, who he expected to be hungry for the answer, instead appears to wish for the sweet release of the grave. It really was not at all how Rei expected this exchange to go, jade-green eyes widening briefly before he looks up toward the ceiling, pockmarked as it is with battle damage, and taps a finger to his cheek. "Charm, persuasion, uncertainty, and bloody-mindedness..." he says aloud, in a quiet voice.

But hey, the miko DID ask.

"Give me some credit, Ayame," Rei says mildly, turning to the miko with a weak smile. "If it were something you could just walk out of here and do, I wouldn't have opened my mouth at all." He might have a pure soul, but offering the path to sidestepping the wheel of reincarnation to Daniel doesn't seem like the smartest plan, even to Rei. That said, the detective's answer seems to win some points with the sennin, who inclines his head in a gracious acceptance of what he considers to be the popular alternate answer. "And that's definitely true, though I'd call that immortality in a more figurative sense."

Glancing between the two people standing next to him, Rei holds out a hand, palm up; in it, a little swirl of flame begins to spin. "Think of this. This is fire, right? We know fire because it burns, is hot. But, consider:" With a gesture of the fingers on his outstretched hand, the ball twirls once and becomes a sphere of ice, trailing frost in the air which, despite the season, is hot with the result of all-night combat. "At a certain point, ice that's cold enough burns just as badly as fire does." He lets the sphere break into a thousand glittering pieces, and then takes his hand away.

"My point is that when it comes to life, the universe, and everything, there is a transitional state where one thing can become basically anything else, because inside all things -- even you, Mister Dark and Tortured -- is the same essence, which has no real shape and definition. Just by being alive and functioning, we GIVE that definition. That's the second lesson. The first one involves... you know, dying, and I don't really recommend that bit."

Looking at Daniel, his eyes resume that piercing intensity, as if Rei himself were a living x-ray machine. "Ayame gave you a temporary measure, Daniel, but in the end I think you will have to do something very difficult if you want to go back to the way things were. You're going to have to transform that thing inside you, into an actual part of you. Not some passenger that's suckling at your proverbial, and I use this word under duress, teat. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

With a tilt of the head, he gives the detective a faint smile. "Your path forward might be accepting this... darkness, this 'Butcher,' into your heart and making it a part of you."

[AYAME]
When Rei asks that Ayame give him at least some credit for caution, the girl just folds her arms over her stomach, her expression already suggesting a hint of impatience before the sennin even gets the chance to get going. But when he holds out his hand, her demeanor seems to shift, eyes snapping to the fire, a hint of legitimate interest reflected there.

He holds her attention as the fire becomes ice, and the thought exercise continues. That she hasn't cut him off or waved her hand to prompt the living enigma to cut to the chase is at least an indicator that she's intrigued enough about where this is going to hear him out.

Her eyes are back on him once the visual aid aspect of the object lesson comes to an end, then shift to focusing on Daniel when Rei addresses him directly. But when Rei declares the first lesson involves dying, the teenage priestess gives him a bit of a sidelong look completely lacking in amusement, her arms still folded over her stomach.

But as Rei continues addressing Daniel now, working his way toward a very unorthodox way of thinking about the stain on the fallen man's soul, Ayame begins to frown. Maybe even scowl a little. More than usual. He's advising him to take that dark passenger head on? Accepting it? Making it a part of him? Isn't that already a large part of the problem in the first place? A bit too MUCH accepting?

The miko opens her mouth, arms unfolding, fists concealed by the dirty sleeves draped over them. But then she seems to change her mind, closing her mouth, eyes blinking as she relaxes just a little. "No one can withdraw that mark but the Butcher himself, so... either we figure out a way to make that a reality, somehow, or..." Her right shoulder lifts into a half shrug, "Maybe do what he is saying. But... not until you are more whole."

Ayame exhales through her nose, arms folding again, "This stuff is not exactly a hard science, uncertainty resides in every direction. I can give you no more advice than what I already have. Just know that if you fail to improve, I will help the Novus Orbis Librarium hunt you down and leave your ultimate fate in their hands."

Her left arm falls against her side, her right arm shifting, hand resting against her hip, "So... see you next week?"

[DANIEL]
"Well I mean, I kind of assumed it was figurative" Daniel says softly.

His face darkens as Rei continues. Which is quite impressive, when you consider. Daniel teeth are bared into a grimace, as he rolls his head. He was... almost totally reformed. He didn't quite have his clothing back, but like, there wasn't anything to see but long shadows. Rei presents the path forward which... was the coldest comfort for him. He came in here, with that knowledge. But now.... now everything was different, even as that knowledge was the same.

"Yeah, not yet."

DAniel clears his throat, an unnecessary gesture ultimately. "So uh, I don't think either of you were around me when this was a thing, but. When I first transformed? I was convinced I was possessed. Completely lost my mind, was just preying on everything. Gosh, it was awful. I feel like this thing inside me was controlling me, like my mind? That I was just normal, and if I could just resist it, if I could just fight it, I could stop it."

"But it wasn't someone else."

Daniel growls, looking from Ayame, back to Rei. "It was me, you dig? In the nightmares, in the dreams in the depths, I was fighting; Morrigan showed me how stupid the whole duality. Oh, Morrigan's the nice demon lady who saved me." Daniel name drops helpfully. "Nice girl, complete bitch though, sorry Ayame." Daniel apologizes to Ayame, for some reason. "But that's what it is for me, I mean. When the Butcher found me, he... showed me the truth. That this was all me. And this was what it was gonna be for me. The Butcher... he's gonna see me either as a prey, or a rival predator. If I'm gonna get what I had back... well, shit. And no matter what, immortality or acceptance or peace or whatever. No matter what?"

"I gotta eat."

Daniel starts to stride, giving a shrug in his formless stand. "Why wait a week, Ayame? Not gonna... not gonna get too far away from here. I can't. Besides, I need to figure out this whole... Novis Plubnum Library shit on a full stomach. I'm hungry, you dig?" He adjusts the lantern around his neck, grimacing as he walks towards... the gate... in the temple courtyard. "I just gotta... find... a place... with... death." He pauses in midstep. With a shift of the shadow, merging into mist and reforming, he turns right around. And there, he starts walking the opposite direction. "I'm going to take the back exit if you don't mind, actually." He says hastily, as he walks towards... the temple wall. "And Rei?" He gives a single finger gun, with a yellow-eyed wink. "I hope I see you around. It's nice to meet a nice soul once in a while."

And Daniel steps straight into the wall, diffusing into shadow and smoke.

[FREI]
Silence reigns, for a moment or two, once Daniel makes his exit. The red-haired sennin just watches the shadowy detective phase right through a wall, then takes a dramatically large breath in and lets it out, closing his eyes. "Man, you people are weird," he says, at last. "You don't need an exorcist. You need a THERAPIST." Does he mean Ayame, Daniel, or both? Who can say?

Rei can feel the shift in Ayame's presence when he suggests to Daniel that accepting the situation might be the answer, but he doesn't really take the time to respond to her until after the detective has left. Tilting his head to look at the miko, Rei shrugs slightly. "You were right, by the way. He's not ready to do what I suggested yet, because he ISN'T whole. He's driven by impulses and instincts right now. If he wants to dive into the ocean of reclaiming that inner darkness he has to know where the dry land is first." A pause, and then he remembers that figurative language like this often gets him in trouble, and raises a hand. "I mean, he needs to actually feel safe before he can take such a big risk, you know? He has to have some faith that 'Daniel' still exists, can be more than what he is right now. If he never has that faith, then nothing I said to him will help him, ever." Maybe the idea Rei had is more dangerous than he let on, which might explain the fact that he didn't elaborate further.

Turning all the way to look at Ayame head-on, now, Rei regards her with a serious expression, rare indeed for the sennin. "You told Aya, back before... all this... that if it came down to it, you would do what needed to be done. You've *always* done what needed to be done, in your own way." A nod of the head, inclining toward where Daniel just left the room. "It's a very real possibility that someday you're going to have to kill him, for real. Are you going to actually be able to do that?" He leaves the question hanging in the air, but there is a pointedness to it, his tone rising at the end of the sentence. "You don't have to answer that, by the way," he adds, mildly, after a second or two.

He remembers, briefly, what he said to her about Seishirou, so long ago. Hopefully, she'll remember it too.

After that, Rei is silent, looking around the not-exactly-ruins of the Meian Jinja. This is gonna be a lot of time with a dustpan and a broom, that's for sure. At least the sounds of combat outside appear to have more or less died down, though one hopes that centipede won. "I can stay and help put things in order, if you want," Rei says, finally. Maybe some good old fashioned grunt work would be good right now. Something to take the mind off things.

Plus he REALLY wants to meet Ayame's family.

[AYAME]
"Obviously," Ayame interjects, well-mannered as ever when Daniel mentions that neither she nor the sennin had been around him early in his plunge into nightmare. Difficult to say how different his experiences would have been were that the case. But it wasn't like he hadn't encountered a gauntlet of monster hunters already...

He goes on to explain what he learned from others clearly not on Ayame Ichijo's list of top ten most approved mentors. Morrigan, then the Butcher itself?

"You sure know how to pick 'em." she mutters, loud enough to be heard, but soft enough to not interrupt Daniel's train of thought.

He mentions being back sooner than a week and Ayame smiles vaguely after him, "A week is more or less a guideline..." She sounds faintly bemused. "I do not think you will explode if you are a few days late." NOW she tells him. Maybe the threat of seeing him sooner than seven days out was enough to get her to cough up that minor detail.

She blinks as he turns to leave in the opposite direction, head turning to observe his path directly toward the thick stone wall. "Um-" she starts to protest before the figure of shadowy mist dissolves into and through the ancient stone only to release a soft exhale. Bending down, she takes hold of her fallen staff, standing up slowly and bracing the sturdy wooden weapon against the shattered floor of the living quarters before leaning against it slightly as if for support. Her focus is on Rei now, nodding slightly as he comments on the difficult path forward for the erstwhile detective.

"I do not know how much he will even retain now that he is gone. Hopefully enough that he stays close." she mutters dryly, closing her eyes. She blinks them open and glances up slightly as Rei turns to face her directly.

Quietly, he brings up her commitment to always do what she believes needs to be done, never shirking even the unpleasant aspects of the work she considers her life's obligation. "I do." she confirms without hesitation, any trace of sarcasm, dry humor, or tired exasperation gone from her voice in that moment.

It leads to him posing the question then and Ayame's eyes flick to the side, coming to rest on the stone Daniel passed through. She is quiet, breathing in then exhaling slowly through her nose, focus shifting to the ground instead after a long moment. He says she doesn't have to answer it and after a while, it may seem that she is inclined to take him up on that offer. But finally, the miko speaks, her voice somber.

"I thought I was going to kill him... if that spell still is not strong enough yet, then I do not think myself equipped with the weapon necessary to kill him as he is now."

She blinks once, then finally shift her attention back to Rei directly. "Every day forward, I will be trying to rectify that shortcoming... all the while, hoping I never need to put whatever new weapon I pen to the test."

She shakes her head, "But make no mistake, if it is necessary in order to protect another or myself from him, I will kill Daniel Little." She closes her eyes, bowing her head, her crimson hair ribbon slumped to the side and half undone by the altercation Rei stumbled upon.

After another moment, she opens them again, focus still on the floor. "I only hope I did the right thing in letting him go. He would never heal in captivity. He has to... do this himself. But I have put anyone he encounters at calculated risk. I told him I have no regrets with the choices I have made, confident I did the right thing each step of the way. Of course that was a lie. I worry he may leave me with more before long."

Breathing in again, Ayame stands up straight, no longer leaning against her staff with both hands. Rei offers to help with the monumental cleanup and repair efforts the old shrine compound will need and Ayame actually gives him a faint flicker of a smile before she begins to step out through the open space where once was a solid wood wall, "Very well... It is likely some may be in need of help you can provide even now."

Stepping down off the raised platform into the dust of the courtyard streaked with the blood of Gears and covered with shattered stone and wood, the priestess begins to lead the way toward the huddled group of defenders over by the nearly demolished entrance to the courtyard. Finding her father and mother standing amid the cluster of wounded, incapacitated, and unconscious holy warriors who lasted the night, she seems to relax just a little. There will be time to discuss all the things that happened, the implications, the damage, and the great work that will need to be done to rebuild. But at least there is a chance to rebuild.

Over the tops of the trees to the East, the first crimson traces of dawn stretch across the sky, the long night at last coming to an end.

"Thank you," Ayame Ichijo murmurs, "For coming." She adjusts her grip on her staff. "Though I fear this is only the beginning of greater trials to come."

COMBATSYS: Ayame has ended the fight here.

Log created on 11:41:43 12/13/2017 by Daniel, and last modified on 12:28:44 02/23/2018.