Crock - Raeneck Rampage Part 2

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Description: Having savaged the remains of the Podiebrad plunder convoy, Rae is confronted by the High Commander of the Raven Guard, Szabolc von Podiebrad. A brief melee ensues, and in his darkest hour, Szabolc finds a mysterious savior coming to his rescue...

The night is dark and deep along the majority of the Southtown river, chilly wind blowing gently in from the ocean to play amidst the recovering city's streets. Though cloudy and nearly starless, it is almost an idyllic night.
Fires rage along the bank of the sludgy river, transforming a stretch of shore that had once been a small loading area with a dock into a smoldering hellscape. Said dock is now little more than a long line of flames that thrusts accusingly out into the river, its single row boat having come detached and floated off into the current like a Viking's funeral pyre. Further ashore, the broad stretch of cement meant to host metal storage containers is pocked and blackened in several areas, each of the 6 containers ablaze with half of them having already collapsed from the blistering heat. A short ways beyond that lies a semi-truck and its trailer, both tipped onto their sides and both thoroughly ablaze, fuel having spilled out of the ruptured tanks and set the pavement around it on fire as well.
In short, it is a disaster area, and emergency responders should be on their way as soon as the location is reported. A thing that should have been done long ago, as the loading dock is not abandoned. Here and there are dark mounds of cloth and armor that might be bodies, most of them still moving, if weakly. But there is one person standing upright.
Boots crunching over the gritty cement of the access road, a man of average height but hulking physique wanders his way slowly up the track, flames throwing his dancing shadow out large before him. Shirtless, wearing only a worn belt and biker boots with a tattered pair of bloodstained jeans, the lone man lights a cigarette off of a small flame that appears at the end of his thumb and brings the smoldering cigarette to his lips. The cherry glow of it reveals a scruffy old face covered in scars, hair matted to his forehead with blood. But above the hovering cherry of the smoke are the man's eyes, flickering pools of hateful orange that burn even brighter than the smoke. Between that, and the reddish tinge to his tattooed skin, it's pretty clear he isn't human.
Letting out a long sigh of smoke to join the already toxin-laiden air, Rae Briggs continues his sauntering way up the road toward the city proper, fully intending to leave the wreckage behind him burning away as someone else's problem. He's had his fun tonight, and sports the marks to prove it. A ruined vest, a lost bottle of booze, and a thick patch of blood red scales across his chest and back where his demonic heeling had to manifest the strongest. Still, a couple days of scratching and shedding should get rid of the scales, and booze comes as easily as water to a man willing to rob the right store.

There is no response team coming now.

Just the low drone of a motorcycle engine, M-72 variant. The sounds of a soviet military cycle would be catching the ears of the motorheads for miles. The man is dressed similar to the uniform of Rae's latest victims; trading the bodysuits for something more formal. It is a teal-blue armored coat. covering all the way to his heeled boots of gold and steel straps. His arms are peppered in scaled plate, the feathered motif typical of Raven Guardsmen. His legs are similarly armored, though only the faintest hints of this can been seen with the longcoat in place. A singular black tie hangs from his neck, with the white collared shirt giving a formal air to his armor. A massive cloak flies behind him, studded with gold buttons, carries around him, the exterior silver white, while the interior is rich crimson. Upon his head is a black motorcycle helmet; more modern than the relic underneath him. He is looking at the lone figure, cast in the hellish light of the Podiebrad's plunder.

He comes to a harsh brake, turning clumsily as the figure comes to a halt.

The man wanted to leap out and start his righteous retribution. He could feel the despair, the destruction. The wounds, physical and spiritual. His could feel once again, his men torn apart. The violations, what was left of poor Zoe. They were alive, or close enough. The suffering is a rich wine to the depraved. Once again, a victim of the Patriarch's ambitions. But he dared not look at it. The only focus now was the hellish figure. The normal protocol would be to take down the attacker with a Squard plus himself. He had done this before. Last time earned him his scars. But no, he is the last bastion of order now in the House of Podiebrad. If the Patriarch wanted to humilate him before the men again?

Then let the Patriarch teach him that lesson again, then.

The man removes his helmet, letting the grey hair fall to his shoulders. His face is lean and narrow, with a long chin, high cheekbones, and cold blue-steel eyes. A silver mustache garbs over his red lips, this is an older man. On his neck, even in the dim firelight, is the unmistakable scarring of an envenomed bite. His expression is iron, it is cold steel that betrays the wrath sitting behind him. "I am Szabloc von Podiebrad." The man states, as he dismounts curtly. His tone is deep, with a gravelly air of command that rumbles deep in his lungs, almost an order more than a statement of his name. There is restraint, but it is impossible to hide the wrathful contempt as he finishes his curt introductions.

"And I have come to kill you."

The commander continues, his left eye twitching once, as he stares across at the darkness wrapped in mortal flesh. An invisible link builds, and the commander brings a hand to his belt. There, he shows his weapon openly to the thing. He is armed with a plain broadsword. A clear cast work, it seems forged in a single piece of steel. The pommel, the handle, the blade, and the hilt all are part the same piece of metal. Bandages are wrapped around the handle, giving a grip for the man's gloved hands. Despite it's simple appearance, it seems to boil with an inner life; blue-purple energy run through it, and even the blade itself seems to struggle to keep its shape, twisting as it rests in the comparatively simple strap of a scabbard. Szabolc stands fast, as he steps aside further, giving what he feels is an appropriate amount of space between the pair. "Your actions are unforgivable, and it is my duty to deliver justice. Step forward, and prepare to defend yourself." He stops, alert at the slightest tell from the creature. There is no reason to allow this monster a fair fight, not after what he did to his men, those- no, he would focus on Rae. There is no reason to allow this, and there is no reason for Rae to follow any rules or orders. Duty demands it.

He would allow this mistake for the sake of honor.

The far off growl of an old bike does not initially tug at Rae's attention. Could be one of his own boys out on the town, could be some other hell raiser cruising the streets. Either way, his meandering pace carries him a short ways further along the track before he realizes the bike is rapidly closing on his location.
Well, who is he to say no to more company?
Tromping to a lazy halt in the center of the road, he takes some time to enjoy his cigarette while the rumbling engine closes on him, eventually resolving into the flapping figure of the commander, his many layers billowing out behind him as he power slides to a stop. In fact, the demon continues to smoke casually while the younger man tugs off his helmet and makes his decree, burning orange eyes tracking him without concern as he steps back and reveals the twisting length of his weapon.
"Huh." grunts the old biker, his smoke and whiskey drawl accented by the faint crackle of flames burning within him. Flicking the still smoldering butt of his cigarette off into the ditch, he puffs out a last breath of smoke and sizes the leader of the birdmen up from golden boots to stony expression.
"Nice to meet ya, Scabulg," he begins, lips pulling back from his jagged yellow fangs in a leering grin that is anything but friendly. As he speaks he takes his first step forward, tattooed fists curling into hairy-knuckled hammers in preparation for violence.
"I'm Rae MOTHER FUCKING Briggs, and Zoe thinks my sword is bigger than yers."

COMBATSYS: Rae has started a fight here.

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

For Szabolc, Rae met the requirements for accepting honorable single combat.

With the opening shot of Zoe right on his lips, Szabolc releases his blade in a smooth, sweeping motion. The iron morphs, twisting as an inner indigo light flows through it. His face is iron, as his cape billows, the commander striding in a quarter-circular approach upon the figure. He couldn't hide the fountain of rage at the mention of Zoe. He came here for a vengeance, he came here for a retribution. But deep within, he knew he came for something else.

He came for penance.

The sword continues to stretch and narrow, folding in itself as the Raven Commander leaps in. Stiffening, Szabolc brings his other hand around to grip the now-polelike weapon, the end of the weapon stretching out to a sickle edge. Hurling in, Szabolc swings the iron sycthe furiously at the demon's collar, attempting to drive the deadly edge deep into his upper torso, with a singular opening blow. Against a lesser monster, it would be close to entirely lethal. Rae Briggs was not a lesser monster.

He deserved nothing less than every execution worthy of a Commander to unleash.

COMBATSYS: Szabolc has joined the fight here.

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Rae              0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0          Szabolc

COMBATSYS: Rae interrupts Fierce Strike from Szabolc with Harmageddon.

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Rae              0/-------/-----==|===----\-------\0          Szabolc

Transitioning from a walk, to a trot, to a run, Rae rampages forward to meet the Commander's advance, adjusting his angle to keep the billowy bastard dead in his sights. There wasn't a ton of space between them to start with, and with both men coming in hot it's gone in a couple of thundering heartbeats. If he were a lesser monster, charging bare-handed into a fight against an armored foe wielding some sort of magical transforming weapon might give him pause. But as he said, he is Rae MOTHER FUCKING Briggs, and the prospect just excites him.
Breaths huffing faster and faster, boots thudding heavily against the pavement, Rae waits until the Raven is air born, scythe fully committed to the vicious downward swing, before he hunches his shoulders, lowers his shaggy head, and pours every ounce of his depthless hatred into upping his speed. Bulky form going low to the ground, he passes under the descending blade, its razor tip slamming squarely into the layered scales on his back. However, rather than punching straight through and into the organs beneath, the indigo-infused blade is turned aside, a line of hellish orange flaring beneath the tip as it scrapes a crescent path across the broad, scaled surface.
Fanged maw falling open in a rasping, full-chested roar, the shirtless biker hits Szabolc with a full body tackle, head and shoulders ploughing into him center mass and carrying the pair of them soaring through the air a good 3 meters. The raw force of the blow would likely have carried the Commander further, but strong arms wrap around his back and anchor him into place, keeping him locked beneath the fever-hot demon as they crash back down to the gritty rode, bits of gravel clattering away from them as they grind to a halt.
"Kill ME, ya dumb fuck?"
Half shouting, half growling this into their tangled limbs, the hulking brute shoulders his way up to a sloppy mount atop the grey-haired commander, kneeling upon him with one knee braced in the center of his chest. Careless of any weapons or tricks the honor-bound man might have, he reaches down to grip a fist full of hair in his left hand, pinning his head against the ground while his right is drawn back.
With that, Rae's fist drops, flames raging to life around the knuckles, and impacts the unfortunate Raven's face with all the force of a sledge hammer. Hellfire exploding outward on contact, he pulls back and hits him again, and again, and again, attempting to pound the man's head through the pavement like a railroad spike.


As Szabolc swings his weapon, the monster charges him on a hair trigger. Instictively, the commander draws his arm into his cloak as he is caught up. His weapon retracts, coiling back around to try and defend. A futile effort, as the beast seizes him by his hair, and he takes a furious assault upon his face. It was savage. It wasn't new for Szabolc. Rather than becoming stunned by the assault, the iron coils around, the commander refusing to relent. And yet, an indigo light flares over his body, as a voice stabs into his head.

<"You defiant buffoon">

Szabolc growls into the next fist as it drives into his face, as he ultimately spiked. He doesn't land on his head; he breaks away to a tumble, wrenching just away at the last second to mitigate the sort of execution that would, and had, fell a standing Raven Guardsman. Rolling hard, he sweeps his arm quickly out from behind his cape, a thick blade hurled out from within at a high arc. From there, the commander perks up, chest puffed out as the morphic iron uncoils around his arm. His mustache was soaked in blood, his face was bruised. And within again, the mewling voice mocks.

<"Weed-hearted moron, my dear wrathful brother, did you really have to make this theater?>"

Szabolc narrows his eyes, responding to the psychic dialogue as he straightens his blade back out, letting it take the shape of a saber.

<"I cannot initiate the connection. Only you can, sir. Ejnar did not-">

<"Oh, really, so it's not your fault but mine. Pathetic. Simply pathetic. I hope that monster murders you, for the time I'm through with you, you'll wish the same">

As Szabolc approaches, he growls at the creature. "You will die, monster!" Was the resolution from Szabolc. But that was not the attack from the swordsman. A heavy axe blade comes spinning down, aiming to cleave viciously into Rae's shoulder.

All as the indigo light builds from across his blade.

COMBATSYS: Rae blocks Szabolc's Calling From Heaven.

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Rae              0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0          Szabolc

The enraged demon is only able to get in a couple of good blows before his slippery victim tears free, flaming fist coming down where the commander's head had been and blasting little flakes of chipped blacktop skipping off in all directions. Fangs bared and every muscle flexed beneath his tattooed hide, the bulky biker lurches back to his feet with none of the limber grace of the Raven, staggering upright just in time to see the glowing weapon slither back into the shape of a saber.
"Listen, you flappy little cunt," Rae begins, blazing eyes lifting just a fraction as some brutal instinct alerts him to the oncoming projectile. Left hand swinging up in a casually brutal backhand, he smashes the weapon aside with a dull THONK of knuckles on metal, sending it clanging and clattering off into the darkness. It is enough of a distraction to slow him, delaying his own advance a couple of heartbeats. But his hellish gaze does soon drop, taking in the energy building along Szabolc's sword with a fang-toothed leer.
"You best hope that fuckin' thing has a vibrate function, 'cause it's goin' straight up yer ass."
Promise made, the hulking biker lumbers forward to meet the swordsman, taking two quick steps before lashing out in an attempt to grab the blade of the sword. While not a maneuver most sane people would try, the demon isn't exactly sane, and the toughness of his skin, along with his outrageous healing factor, might just let him get away with tugging hard on the transformative blade to try and drag the Commander in for a stepping head butt, the brutal old fucker's hair flying back from his forehead as he accelerates it toward the younger man's nose.

COMBATSYS: Rae successfully hits Szabolc with Aggressive Strike.
- Power hit! -

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Rae              0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0          Szabolc

The hidden conversation continues, as the commander accelerates.

<"We will not come for you, Szabolc. I am continuing this party. Rot and die, you treachorous old man.">

<"He has violated our sister, Bela. He has violated Zoe.">

<"And you violated my orders! Don't kid yourself on your justice; this is all because you failed your chance at being Patriarch!">

Those are the words that ultimately stun Szabolc more than anything else. Except maybe the headbutt. Rae might even be able to see that thousand yard look, that break in the steel facade before he seizes Szabolc by his blade. The weapon goes limp in Rae's hand, and the commander takes a full skull bash into his own brainpan. The skin breaks, as the bloodied commander collapses backwards, sword slithering free into a useless heap. For a moment, he is gone.

WIth only the words in his soul speaking to him.

<"It is wrong that you treat your men and family as pawns.">

<"I am the Patriarch, and I decide what is best for this family.>"

<"There is no greater mistake that our father made in choosing you to be our Patriarch. Even he wouldn't let this monster live. You have chosen failure. And I seek to correct it.">

The second wind surges through the older man's heart. It's a tepid rage, a cold serenity as he moves with a smooth grace befetting a soldier of the Raven Guard. He grips his tattered cloak, and flings it aside to the ground. Clasping the base of his sword in both hands, he draws in a heavy breath as he picks up speed. The indigo light now flares furiously within the heart of the weapon, as it spreads out, longer, thinner. Shifting into the full shape of a zweihander, Szabolc sweeps it downward, leaping up into the air in tandem. Letting the momentum carry it around in a counter-clockwise fashion, indigo contrails following as he brings the weapon up and over. He would land with a full-forced horse-killing blow, attempting to bring the cold fury to outright bisect the demon. Past the pain. Past the anger.

All for the self-righteous stand he believed in.

COMBATSYS: Rae barely endures Szabolc's Vampire Killer.

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Rae              0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0          Szabolc

Close as he is, Rae can see the moment in which Szabolc's mind leaves the fight, that instant of weakness as too much of his attention turns inward. And as any good demon wood, he makes the Commander pay for that lack of attention, throwing every bit of his weight behind the reckless clash of heads.
The dizzying force of the collision sends both men staggering away from one another, the limp end of the smaller man's sword slipping free of the biker's careless fingers. However, after only a couple of stumbling steps Rae regains his balance, shaggy head shaking off the impact like an irritable bull.
"Fancy-ass Goat Fuckin' DONKEY CUNT!"
Words spat out with ever-increasing rage, the berserker is roaring them at the top of his lungs by the time he is done, a bit of frothy drool dripping heavily from the corner of his mouth. Chest working like a bellows to pull in all the oxygen he possibly can, he rounds upon his birdy opponent just in time to catch the start of his charge, lumbering forward to meet the smaller man with murderous intent.
"C'meer chicken head," he grunts, arms coming up as the quicker man leaps in toward him, sword sweeping around to strike. "I'm gonna wring yer fuckin' neck."
The demon makes no move to defend himself as Szabolc's blazing indigo blade cleaves through the meat of his right shoulder, parting muscle as thick and tough as wood and hacking through the bones beneath. The sheer density of the monster's body would easily have stopped most blades, but with the weight of the falling man's body behind it, and the odd energy pulsing throughout, it powers slowly forward until the edge of the sword fetches up against the patches of scales that spread across his back and chest. With a flare of hellish light both front and back, the unnatural armor begins to burn with a steady, ominous orange flame where the Commander's own energy touches it, pushing back in a sizzling clash of wills.
Right arm dropping limp to his side, Rae powers forward into the strike, teeth bared around a rasping snarl of raw hatred. Dark red blood boils up around the weapon, steaming with heat as it cascades down the right side of his body, but the old demon doesn't seem to care. He has eyes only for Szabolc, their blazing depths locked on his victim's face as he reaches up with his left hand, flames gathering around his fingers and licking hungrily back along his arm.
"Yer gonna fry, bird man."
Words delivered with low, rasping excitement, Rae finishes the grab for the Raven Commander's neck, attempting to close thick, blazing fingers around the lighter man's throat and heave him free of the ground, to jerk and throttle him with a mad man's one-armed abandon before eventually hurling him hatefully away to one side. He doesn't seem to mind the sword lodged in his body, there being far too much hate in him to have any room left for fear or concern.

COMBATSYS: Rae successfully hits Szabolc with Hell To Pay.

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Rae              0/-------/=======|=======\=------\1          Szabolc

A deathblow, but not quite.

As Szabolc unleashes the full force of the horse-killing strike, he rises up in time to stare into the blazing eyes of Rae. He does not flinch. Not even when the hand comes to his defenseless throat.

<"Do you realize how much was sacrificed to save this family?">

<"Sacrifice? You have no idea the meaning of sacrifice. You never had the idea of sacrifice.">

The commander struggles, the sword recoiling itself as he fights. He refuses to drop it, even as his hand releases the blade. The iron coils around his wrist, as blood comes from his eyes. He couldn't breath. The only respite is when he is hurled away. The sword is wrenched free finally, collapsing as he falls to the ground, besides the body of... the body of....

Besides her body.

<"You dare tell me I don't understand sacrifice? You know what I have given up to be your Patriarch!">

<"You have given up nothing but what you were willing to lose, all for the sake of your privilege and power. You want to know sacrifice? Feel what Zoe has sacrificed for your sword shards!">

Szabolc looks over, as he gazes upon Zoe. Her pain is so real. He shuts his eyes. Her pain. The Patriarch would know it. He would never let him leave it. And with it, the indigo light blazes within. The light flows into the abyss of lights, as Szabolc shares it. Shares it to the Patriarch, to his soldiers. The agony screams across the thousand lights, a single flash amongst the catacombs of the souls. And with it, Szabolc gives his words, his spirit devouring amongst the hollows.

<"I remember you, Bela, what you were, and what you still are. Everyone of us does. I wash my hands of you, and I will choose to leave this world fighting for a righteous cause. I've made my choice. Live with yours.">

Szabolc staggers back up.

Lurching lower, he pulls up his sword, leveling it out defiantly to the demon. His neck was crooked. Rae may have very well broken his spine, and certainly his trachea. And yet, his face showed no hint of fear, no hint of pain. He would try to say 'Let justice be done!' The commander cannot speak, and his lips move silently. His throat crushed, every breath ragged and struggling. He does not care. Even as his body betrays the slow death his mangled neck is bringing him, he will not allow his stern facade show it. Arm tensing, he charges, and snaps the tendril of iron towards Rae's throat. Should it hit, Szabloc would wrench the demon down, jerking the creature to his feet head first. And there, he would draw the blade back, and thrust the coiling iron straight into the chest of Rae. Steel eyes remorseless.

Accepting the fate he had brought.

COMBATSYS: Rae barely endures Szabolc's Wicked Child.

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Rae              1/-------/=======|=======\==-----\1          Szabolc

Less than a dozen feet away from where the wounded demon stands, heart breaking tragedy plays out in real time. All of the pain he has caused over the passed hour, the pointless suffering inflicted upon those unlucky enough to be doing their jobs, it bares down on a relationship already stressed to the breaking point. With a single act of mindless violence, he has managed to do more damage than he could ever have imagined.
And yet he is completely unaware.
Noting the glance that Szabolc turns on his sister, the bleeding brute leers down at the man, breaths rasping through his bared teeth as his mind pulses with pain and power. His heat is rising, that much can be felt even at a distance, and his scarred face has begun to twitch as muscles spasm throughout his body.
"Not much of a looker under the mask." Rae taunts wetly between heavy pants for breath, the drool that foams from between his lips now laced with drops of liquid fire. Yet more of the lava-like substance mingles with the blood pulsing from the gaping wound bisecting the right side of his body, a 7 inch hack through the shoulder and into the chest that causes his right arm to sag away from the rest of his body, held on by its connection to his ribs. "It was better with the mask on."
Brain sparking with manic energy, the savage brute begins to chuckle at his own joke, chest shaking as the hacking sound coughs its way free of his throat. And though the motion causes his useless right arm to sway and bump against his side, with each jutter of his shoulder the gaping wound seems smaller , flesh knitting itself together from the bottom up. Muscle, bone, and organs sizzle and smoke beneath the raging heat of his power, a patch of scales beginning to grow over the lowest corner of the gash as the dripping lava binds it.
Somehow, when faced with this monster and the destruction he has caused, after being abandoned by the one he serves, Szabolc has the grit to stand and continue fighting. If Rae were a less evil man, he might respect that. Instead, he simply continues to chuckle as he plods drunkenly forward, helping the gasping Commander close the distance toward their coming clash.
As before there is no attempt to defend himself, only a wide-eyed focus set upon the Raven's face with a berserker's mindless intent. That a beast such as him has survived as long as he has with such a willingness to take damage only reinforces the evidence of the Raven's eyes. The punishment he can regenerate from is truly monstrous. But he does bleed, and he does feel pain. That means he should be able to die.
The iron lash coils around Rae's throat and locks tight, Szabolc's tug joining with his own eager step forward to send him tripping off of his feet. Both knees slamming to the ground, he skids a bit, still mostly upright, leaning back against the tug of the noose to peer up into the armored man's stony face. This, unfortunately for him, puts him in the perfect position when the weapon slithers back into the form of a blade, the tattooed expanse of his partially scaled chest undefended.
He is still chuckling softly to himself when the magical blade punches through the inked depiction of a corrupted black heart that rests over his left pectoral, marking the spot Szabolc knows to aim for like a gruesome bulls eye. Face contorting with pain, he arches forward around the weapon, the faintest trickle of flame-laced blood bubbling out around the tip that protrudes from his back. Muscles clamp around the weapon, breath bubbling wetly up from his punctured lung as his heart struggles to pump while cloven in twain. He coughs once, hard, and sprays a mouth full of blazing blood over the Commander's boots, the substance now more flame than not.
But he doesn't stop laughing.
Shoulders continuing to shake, liquid hellfire boiling up out of the gash in his right as it works itself closed, the creature continues to live on. Unkillable.
Rearing back from his forward hunch, the monster opens its fanged maw wide, chest expanding against the pressure of the blade as he fills his lungs with bloody magma and air. Within the depths of his throat can be seen an ominous orange glow, a flickering tunnel straight to hell that he releases in a roaring torrent, flames exploding up out of his mouth and directly toward the man impaling him. Rushing forth like a river, the hellfire coils and spreads across the road, the ditch, the surrounding weeds and grass. A jerk of his shaggy head spreads it even further, all of his hate and malice projected out into the world as raw, flaming destruction.

COMBATSYS: Szabolc blocks Rae's Hellraiser.

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Rae              0/-------/-------|=======\====---\1          Szabolc

He had to try harder.

As the muscles clamp against the blade, there is a moment of understanding. The torment, the misery, the hatred. Rae had broken the thin structure holding the army together. And with his own sister there; the sheer barbaric misery was too much for the old soldier. The blade shifts, limber and nimble in the flesh grips of the horrible creature. As the chest begins to shift color, understand flashes across the mangled face of the commander. He makes a choice. He twists, ripping free the portion of the blade that was not trapped within. The severed iron becomes still within Rae, frozen for only a moment. With the separated portion, Szabolc raises it over his upper torso; it flattens into a shield shape as the blast explodes point blank. His boot dig into the grass, as the hellfire eruption unloads upon him. The magic of the blade is now the magic of a shield; too small to cover him entirely, but enough to protect the vitals of the center. A bulwark against it, his limbs are seared savagely; his armor cooking his flesh within.

<"Fine. You win. I am coming.">

<"There is no game to win brother. Bury me with honors in the catacombs. And make sure Matthias understand what your sacrifices have cost">

He shoves against the blast, pulling away the shield as he rushes under the surge. He was burning; the flames were clinging to his limbs. Everything was pain; but he would not allow his composure to break. His feet pump across the earth, as the shield swirls into silver and indigo shape. Straightening it out into a singular stiletto blade, he surges back right under the neck. Right at the heart again. Again, at the heart. To allow his broken blade to meet with its severed sister again. Switch the grip, he drives the knife at the chest-

COMBATSYS: Szabolc successfully hits Rae with Invitation From A Crazed Moon.

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Rae              0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0          Szabolc

And the two segments meet.

The trapped section flares with an indigo light, as Szabolc keeps the blade in. It was shifting, spiderwebbing. Thousands of threadlike tendrils were worming inside Rae, needling through every point of weakness, burrowing into the flesh, the organs, the lungs. Szabolc tightens his whole body, the wrath of the Podiebrad pouring in. "Though the world PERISH!" He growls coldly, as he pulls. The blade rips free from within Rae, uprooting the tendrils as he completes the eviserseration, the roots only releasing the monster upon the murderous execution. Magma and blood surge over Szabolc, as he coldly pulls away, leveling the blade. He had already done three killing blows on this creature.

He was ready to deliver thre emore.

All around them, the world burns.
Brain whiting out from the surging pressure of the pain, the power, the sheer raw-edged destructive need that blasts through his mind like the bullet from a sniper, Rae is barely aware of what is happening when Szabolc comes leaping through the flames toward him. It is an instinct to hurt more than defend that sees his left hand blurring up toward the shape, striking out at the first thing to catch his eye. Unfortunately for his smoldering brain, that happens to be the gleaming silver and blue stiletto streaking toward his chest.
With a meaty crunch, the knife impacts his palm and punches right through, tip connecting with its sister still thrust through his chest. There is a brilliant blue flash, and then...
Throwing his shaggy head back, he releases the last of his flaming breath toward the sky in a roar of pain that gurgles away to choking wetness as bloody magma boils up from within. Scorching gore pours forth from his mouth to splash down his cheeks and chin, the only external sign of the stabbing, crawling, blending havoc that the tendrils of metal are wreaking on his insides. Hand spasming closed around the sword imbedded in his palm, he shivers and heaves, already damage mind going briefly super nova.
And then the weapon is pulled free.
There is no blood remaining in the blazing magma that fountains forth from the exit wound in his chest. A stream of pure liquid hellfire sprays forth to splatter the Raven Commander's scorched and battered body, impacting the already burning earth with a hissing sizzle. Yet more of the stuff pours from the hole in his back, the nearly closed gash in his right shoulder. A Steady drizzle of it drips from between his bloody fangs to splat against his gore-covered chest. And still he does not die.
Fist tightening around the writhing weapon, he keeps hold of it as it attempts to slither through the hole in his hand. Mind sparking, thoughts struggling to connect through the flares of pain and rage, body alive with sensation, so, much... Too...
A gurgling rasp choking its way free of the monster's throat, he jerks down on the weapon and surges to his feet, scarred face twisted into an expression of manic fury. Right fist coming up, he hammers a wild haymaker toward the Raven's grim face, fist swinging in like a sledge hammer. That punch is followed by another, the brute shoving forward, forcing his injured hand deeper along the blade to try and curl hellishly strong fingers about the man's own. If he can get that grip he will sling Szabolc around into a stumbling kneel and brace his right boot against the man's ribs, free hand grabbing him just below the shoulder as he begins to tug.
Mindless, crazed with an overload of sensations no mortal mind was ever meant to experience, he surges with nightmarish strength, tugging and tugging as he attempts to not just dislocate the Raven's arm, but to tear the damn thing right the hell off.

COMBATSYS: Szabolc fails to counter Fierce Combo from Rae with Moonlight Nocturne.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Rae              0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0          Szabolc

It was the magma that lead to the ultimate mistake.

The splash of incredible heat, the burning essence was blinding, was disruption. The fountain of agony was blinding, and Szabolc tries to bring the sword around. But the monster was focused too. The haymaker doesn't stun Szabolc fully; but as the clinch is broken, the boot to the ribs finally does the intended effect. Dazed for a moment, Rae grabs his arms, and there is a horrible clinch. Szabolc tries to bring his other arm around to break it, but the strength this close was too much. There is a popping sound as his shoulder is dislocated, and then, a worse noise.

And there for a brief moment, there is the most incredible pain experienced by the old man.

Dimly, he recognizes the damage done. He was disarmed. He was flat on his back, and there was blood, so much blood. Shock. He was getting shock. There was a howling in his mind; The Patriarch was howling, was forcing his way into his mind. All the weight and power. But he was blind to the visions, deaf to the song. The dismembered limb, the shock. Turning, he rolls back up into a weak-kneed stand. He wouldn't even allow himself to kneel. All were distractions from the absolution of self-righteous causes. He goes to his waist, and draw out a single yew stake. This was no vampire. But he would push forward left handed. Raising the stake up with a backhanded grip, chest struggling to rise with every breath, he tilts his head slightly.

Silently escalating the challenge.

Pain. Choking, drowning, burning bloody pain rages through Rae's short circuiting mind, consciousness flickering in and out like a badly wired bulb. There is no room for understanding in him. No space left for reason or higher thought amidst the exultant agony. There is only Rage, and that instinctive desire to hurt, to maim and kill and burn.
Chest Szabolc's arm tears loose in his grip with a disgustingly wet RIP. The muscle goes first, followed quickly by the cloth of his shirt, and finally the stretchy skin. Blood fountains across Rae's face and chest as he staggers backward with his prize, barely able to stand upright. There is no comprehension of what he has just done visible in his enraged features. No gloating triumph at the pain he has caused.
Head thrown back and blazing eyes staring wildly up into the sky, he struggles to get words out past the lava boiling up through his throat. But instead of language, he vomits forth another lung full of hissing hellfire that splatters down his chest as he stumbles to an upright sway. Chest spasming, mouth raging, he adjusts his grip on the armored thing in his hands, broad right hand dropping to wrap around the wrist while his left remains impaled on the blade, fingers gripping the hand.
Raging wildly toward the sky , the demon reverses course and staggers back toward the Raven Commander, barely seeming to notice that the man has miraculously managed to pick himself back up. Lurching like a zombie, liquid flames bubbling forth between his gnashing fangs, the flaming brute stumbles forward a step, plants his left boot on the flaming cement, and swings the stolen arm like a baseball bat for the side of Szabolc's head. And if that first hit lands a second will follow, Rae staggering forward to swing the arm again, and again, and again, attempting to hammer the Raven down to the still burning ground and beat him with huge overhead swings of his own arm, pounding him like a man chopping wood. All the while his gargling roars grow clearer, lungs repairing themselves enough that he can be heard.

COMBATSYS: Szabolc blocks Rae's Random Weapon.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Rae              0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0          Szabolc

%Szabolc stands fast against the assault from his own hand.

Hollow words piercing his mind and soul, and monstrous roads piercing his ears, he brings his own good arm up to defend. There is no shield, no shelter. Only one full forced slap comes through, still gripping the blade as it slams across his head. Szabolc keeps his stoic endurance.

But he begins to stumble.

Blood loss. Burns. Crushed throat. The bruises and bludgeons had built up their toll. It was only a matter of time before the reaper would come to collect. And the Raver Commander felt the heavy weight upon him now. Everything seemed sluggish, everything felt so stiff and slow. But even at the edge of everything, the decades of training take effect. Szabolc dips under a swing from Rae, and lunges in at the beasts knees. Should he succeed in slipping under the guard, he would hook his one arm up with his elbow under the knee. Should he scoop him up? The steel eyed commander would unhook him before Rae would hit the ground, raking the stake across him once before ultimately driving it straight through the howling sea of magma into it's black heart once more. He hoped it would finally finish him.

He had nothing more to fight with.

COMBATSYS: Szabolc can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Rae blocks Szabolc's Iron-Blue Intentions.

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

"FUCK YOU!" roars the madman, the first swing of the arm clubbing Szabolc's guard with the ragged end of the shoulder, blood spraying out from the disembodied limb to slap across the Commander's battered body.
"FUCK YOU!" comes the second howl as the rampaging demon reverses the swing, aiming for the other side of the Commander's head, the unprotected side. But even now the Raven is a wily bird and the wild strike hits nothing but air, Szabolc slipping beneath the swing and diving low for the slavering monster's leg.
"FUCK YOU!" Rae bellows toward the sky as the Commander's arm hooks behind his knee, failing body mustering one last burst of strength to try and take the beast down, to drive that stake through his heart.
"FUCK YOU!" rages the demon, shattering Szabolc's plans by the simple expedient of planting his grabbed leg and pivoting, free boot swinging around in a violent kick that catches the warrior in his already battered ribs and sends him tumbling ass over kettle, bits of flaming debris scattering away as he bounces across the pavement.
Hurling himself after the dying man, Rae swings his stolen arm up, then brings the bony chunk of shoulder crashing down squarely in his face. Then again to the side of his head, and again. Only after four or five swings does he stagger back, muscles spasming in his rage-contorted face as a bit of true consciousness begins to spark within his crazed brain pan. Chest heaving, flaming slobber foaming from the corners of his mouth, he tears the gripping hand away from the hilt of the blade and tosses it carelessly aside into the burning hellscape that surrounds them.
"Shit Ass Little Fucker." he snarls down at the mostly unconscious Raven, thick fingers closing around the grip of the blade still spiked through his left palm. "I'm 'bout to turn yer busted ass into a Modern Art MASTERPIECE!"
The last bit is bellowed toward the sky in agonized fury as the demon of hate tears the sword free of his hand, splattering the area beneath him with yet more hellfire. He has no more blood to give. There is nothing human running through his veins. There is only rage, liquid and alive as it pulses through him, sustaining him where physical essence could not.

It's too far now.

As Szabolc comes in with the stake, the bloodied spray of his own arm is clubbed upon him. Battering and battering, beating after beating. The only respite is the limitations of his own mortal flesh upon him. By the time he attempts to go for the knees, he is greeted with a final stomp to the chest, knocking the wind clean from his body as he is sent hurtling to the earth, tumbling hard. Through the pain, he feels the shattered ribs. Before he can even rise, he takes blow after blow into his head and face, the battery mangling his own limb as much as Szabolc's skull, the cleaving assault coming to an end after the fifth blow. Dazed and defeated, he is at the edge of his life one half of his blade is thrown away, the other half torn free from Rae's palm. Szabolc shuts the eyes on his gore and fire soaked face once.

He refuses to fall to the darkness.

Szabolc refuses to face his end kneeling. The commander stands on his feet. Unarmed. Bloodied. His eyes were wide open, bloodshot as an indigo light pulses in his heart. With nothing left, he curls his only good hand up, palm open, fingers rolling as he steadies himself. There was no possible way he could fight, or defend, or deflect anything. Even now, with a sudden surge of pain, he brings his only blocking hand around to grip his bloodied stump at his shoulder. Drawing in a stifled, staggered breath through a crushed throat, he stares coldly across at the predator. A face of courage against contempt, against hatred. But it was impossible to deny the truth.

He was dying.

He was well aware he was dying now, and everyone in the whole of the Raven Guard knew as well. The psionic screams were no less silent than before. But he would die at his choosing. Defiantly, the aged commander stands fast, head held high, looking straight back at the rage elemental, looking upon the font of fiery destruction and hatred. There are no words. Just the cool facade of acceptance.

And he waits for his ultimate fate.

COMBATSYS: Rae has ended the fight here.

The bitch of the truth is, the universe doesn't give a damn what most people 'refuse'.
Szabolc's show of brave defiance earns him a moment's consideration from the panting monster. Blazing eyes stare past the gripping hand, lock onto the bloodshot gaze of the Raven Commander. Lift slightly as he tilts his head back, as if considering.
A short snort is the unfortunate man's only warning before the demon snaps his head forward and spits a mess of boiling blood and sputum directly into his face.
"FUCK You Lookin' At me!"
Brain throbbing with barely contained pressure, the rabid old fucker lurches across the short distance, freed hand curled into a mangled knot of dripping flames and scales while the other clutches the blade that has soaked itself in gallons of his blood.
"FUCK yer Hero shit!"
Right foot rocketing up, he drives the rusty iron spikes viciously into the commander's groin guard, punting him backward only to chase after and bash him hard across the left cheekbone with the pommel of his sword, driving him back down to the ground.
"Shoot me?"
A kick is hammered into already broken ribs.
"STAB Me?"
A flaming stomp crashes down on the defenseless man's stomach, pinning him there as the demon leans down over his broken body, the squat horror of his transformed figure a crimson nightmare that fills the sky.
"They ain't even gonna recognize you once I'm done."
A long line of foaming fire stretches, then drips down to splatter across Szabolc's mangled torso as the monster's damaged hand uncurls, fingers reaching down to grip a hand full of his grey hair. Stepping off of his chest, the slavering biker drags the Commander up from the smoldering pavement, back up to his knees with head wrenched back, hateful embers blazing down into his face.
"Open wide you inbred lookin' prick. 'Cause I'm gonna feed you your last dick."
Continuing to hold the battered man, Rae lifts the dripping sword high, face a mask of vengeful exultation, and brings the tip plunging down toward Szabolc's bloody lips. Unless the universe plans on sticking its dumb fucking nose into his business, the Raven Commander's life will end at the point of his own sword, blade impaled through his mouth and out the back of his neck with enough force to lodge the last couple inches deep into the smoking pavement.

The sound that echoes out over the scene of carnage is not that of metal plunging through flesh, bone, and pavement. Instead, a meaty thump and sharp clack of hardened wood smashing against steel. The sturdy staff that has intercepted The Hellhound's fatal stab is covered with dimly glowing red runes along its surface beneath a flickering sheath of crimson flame. Held at an upward angle, it was wedged in beneath the thick mitt, pressed against the edge of the blood soaked sword.

The burning touch of the staff alone was enough to harm lesser darkstalkers but would prove no more than a mild irritant to the thick hided brute. And of course, the shimmering sanguine flame that covers the long shaft bears no threat to the one brandishing the weapon against the blow. Teeth grit, hands gripping the staff tightly, Ayame Ichijo glares up at Rae with nothing less than seething hatred in her eyes.

She knew nothing about the dying man she just spared a grisly execution, but she didn't need to to. All she knew was it was something Rae Briggs wanted, and that was cause enough to interfere.

Five minutes before...

For Ayame Ichijo line of work, there was no such thing as 'core hours' or 'fixed shifts'. No time she could consider safe to relax or 'disconnect' from the pressures of her calling. Of course she couldn't keep at it around the clock - she was subject to the same human limitations with regards to sleep as any other. But she couldn't let the darkstalkers think the night was their hour either, a time where they could act. And this meant that sometimes, one of Southtown's protecting duos had to be out well.

"I will check it out."

Ayame's parting words to Riki were uttered some minutes ago, leaving the towering oni to keep watch over an unconscious naga until a NOL dispatch could come collect it. Not every creature the two hunted down in Southtown would be turned over to the the Librarium to face whatever fate may await them there, but manslayers received no clemency from the miko and her oni and this naga was one such killer.

It was the huge ogress who pointed out the scent of blood carried on the night's breeze - human blood. All Ayame noticed was the much stronger smell of smoke drifting through the harbor streets.

At least, until she got closer. Close enough to smell the destruction. Close enough to see the burning ruin, flames casting a haunting glow throughout the area. And close enough to hear the profane vituperation of an enraged beast out of the ninth level of hell.

The miko pauses, fingers adjusting their grip on the rune-carved wooden staff she carries at her side. In the shadows of a rooftop corner, she closes her eyes, releasing a slow breath, before opening them again. A rare example of hesitation from one always so unrelentingly sure of her duty.

But she will take a look. Riki had said it was the scent of human blood in the air. If there was anyone that could be saved, she had to act, no matter the personal risk. She will know with one look whether to make her move...

Now she stands, in the hellstorm of fire and death, at the side of a killer who got away from her once before, a dying man in his grip, the ground beneath her already crimson stained sandals slick with the wounded's blood.

The thud of the staff against arm and blade barely seems to register in the enraged brute's mind, his hellish gaze locked on the face of his dying victim with unrelenting fury. Fangs bared, he presses down upon the intervening object with ever increasing force, thick muscles knotting beneath his hide as he doubles, then re-doubles the pressure, either too focused or too stupid to realize what is happening.
Grunt of effort growing into an open-mouthed bellow of raw fury, the monster releases his captive and reverses the direction of the blade, tearing it away from the staff with a grinding hiss and staggering back a couple of unsteady steps. Shoulders heaving with the force of his breaths, the scaly old biker finally seems to register Szabolc's glaring savior.
"Bitch!" he roars toward her, releasing a slow river of hellish flame to cascade wetly down his chest. Though mostly aware, the trauma of his power still burns within him, fuzzing his wits and shattering his focus. It is another second before the identity of the angry girl registers, and his breathless glare morphs into a panting leer, lips pulled back from jagged yellow fangs.
"Little red-headed bitch." he continues much more quietly, rasping the words with a bloodthirsty sort of relish. "I been waitin' for your sweet ass to come 'round again."
The Raven Commander's blade slips free of gore-slick fingers and clatters to the ground, prey carelessly abandoned in favor of this new victim who has presented herself.
"Ya lookin' for a good time, Red?" the demon asks in a tone that is almost casual, or would be if he weren't an actual fucking demon standing in a battlefield soaked in blood and fire. As he speaks he slides his right hand into his pocket, bloody fingers coming free with a tattered scrap of stained white silk. Uncaring of the bloodstains his fingers leave on the material, he flings them callously toward the face of the young guardian, "Wantin' to be made a woman?"
The leer that follows those last words is ferociously pleased, the hulking demon's breath seeming to come even faster, tongues of hellfire flickering dangerously across his bulky body. It is clear this is just another form of attack, a bit of cruel foreplay before yet more violence.

Even reinforced as it is with rune-channeled chi, the hardened wooden staff creaks as the enraged killer tries to brute force past the interference in his killing blow. Gripping it tightly, hands far enough apart to maximize her leverage, Ayame doesn't budge as the demon she last saw in Chinatown unleashes a guttural roar of frustrated fury and flecks of visible flame.

Only when he disengages does the miko move one step to place herself between the bloodied, likely dying victim of Rae's rampage and the hell brute himself, jaw set, gritting teeth visible behind slightly parted lips.

She hesitates for a moment, clearly expecting - maybe even hoping for - a more immediate, violent response of the physical kind. There could be no doubt of the antipathy in her eyes for the infernal biker, and the chance to indulge in that anger by striking him is beyond tempting.

But the thoughts are shoved aside, emotion suppressed, mind calculating the variables of her situation. The enmity doesn't leave Ayame Ichijo's expression, but she holds her ground for now.

Her right hand slips free of her crimson flaming staff, ducking under the upper fold of her white hakui overcoat near the base of her neck, coming back out with a soft green paper rectangle with black inked glyphs on its surface held between forefinger and middle finger. Rae mentions waiting for her come around again. After their last encounter, such a reunion was inevitable.

"Tch." she replies, focused more on bringing the talisman to her mouth and biting down on a corner of it, tearing it with her teeth. A gentle, sea green glow emanates from around the ward in her hand as she swings her arm down and backward then, dropping the torn paper onto the fallen Raven.

She doesn't know his cause, whether under different circumstances, they might be enemies. All she knows is that Rae Briggs wanted him dead and that's good enough for her to intervene for now. The ward falls, breaking apart into a mist of fine motes of restorative energy that seek the wounded. It won't be enough to restore him to strength by any means - it may not even be enough to keep him from dying here and now, given the bleeding, but it will at least reinforce his body's own desperate struggle to survive a little longer.

Rae hurls his sullied trophy back at the girl in one more reminder of the ill-fated battle she had against him and Ayame's left hand snaps out to grab it from the air, her expression cooling but no less shaped by enmity for the demon as she tucks the bloodied cloth away in her right sleeve without even pausing to look at it. "You will regret that." A sample of his blood is exactly what she needed all along. Last time the fire did away with all traces...

Rather than respond to the provocation by attacking, she snaps her right hand into her left sleeve, coming back with a pale square of parchment covered in light blue patterns of runes already glowing at her touch between forefinger and thumb. This, Ayame flicks with a backhanded swing of her arm and wrist against the ground to her side, causing an eruption of wind to surge up and out from where it lands. Expanding outward in all directions like a dome, it reaches roughly twelve feet in diameter before reaching its limit, blowing back all the smoke, ash, and smell of burning death away from the girl and the broken Raven.

"You do not have the slightest idea," she replies, staff shifted to her right hand, her left hand reaching into right sleeve, coming out with a fiery orange talisman. "What a real woman is like." She swings her left arm up and back, almost looking as if to fling the talisman toward Rae himself, breaking the verbal exchange with an actual attack.

But instead the talisman is flung in a steep, upward arc for the night sky above. After the first few meters, rather than slowing and falling back to the ground like any normal paper would, it accelerates in its ascent, rocking upward, leaving a trail of fire in its journey toward the smokey clouds above.

The only warning of what exactly that talisman is the way Ayame moves her left hand closer to her forehead next, providing some cover for her eyes.

When the fiery orange talisman explodes above, it puts any standard emergency flare to shame with the brilliance of the expanding blossom of sparkling, slow burning embers that light up the docks brighter than any firework could ever hope to manage.

"You have a choice, Rae Briggs." She certainly did remember that name, as if there could be any doubt. "Try me - maybe he will die," her left hand gestures slightly behind her, "Maybe you will hurt me." She glances up slightly at the still bright, only slightly dimming flare above, hand still over her eyes. "But," she shakes her head slightly, focus returning to him, "I have more than enough help coming to take you down here and now." Through it all her voice remains calm, diction clear, in stark contrast to what she feels inside.

Her hands close over her staff then, fingers tightening against its sturdy surface. "Or leave." She turns her left shoulder forward slightly, planting her feet. "Knowing I will hunt you down, knowing you can never hide from me again."

The blast of unnatural wind pelts the hellish brute with ash and grit, tattered jeans and blood-thick hair flapping around as much as they are able. Surely some of it must wind up in his eyes, but if so it is scorched away by the fire that rages within them, his blazing orange gaze remaining locked on her through the press of filth and smoke.
"Heh, heh, heh."
Grinding its way slowly up from the raw depths of his throat, the low hacking sound begins to resolve itself into laughter. Hoarse, corrupt, brutal laughter that fills the air as the last of her summoned gale fades away.
"Heeh, Heeh, Heeh. HAAH HAAH HAAAGH!"
Continuing to chortle all throughout her determined rebuttal, the demon eventually loses all ability to contain himself and throws his head back, arms spread wide in challenge as he sends his hateful belly laugh roaring up toward the crimson sky.
"Run? HAAGH HAAAGH...Hide?"
Dropping his chin, he glares toward the girl with raw menace, stepping toward her until he is just within range of her staff, leaving her just without the reach of his hands. Thickly muscled arms fall to his sides as he lolls his head first one way, then the other, yellow fangs bared.
"Does it look like I'm fuckin' hidin'? You stupid bitches never learn. It ain't that I'll die, it ain't even that I'll fuck up. It's that if you cain't stop me, I get to light yer ass up from the inside like the holiday lanterns you Japs love so much. I get to take all that shit you love, all them feelin's inside, and fuck em out of you. Tear yer soul out piece by fuckin' piece."
Flaming drool continues to drip from his savagely snarling lips as he pulls himself up, glaring down at Ayame with undiluted hatred. Hating her for what she is, and for what she isn't. Hating her for merely being alive. Hating her simply because he can.
"You wanna see what I do to Real women? Go drag Zoe out the ditch. Then, when yer good and ready, bring them friends. Bring all the fuckers you wanna lose, and walk that tight ass over. I'll squeeze sounds out of ya that ya didn't know ya could make."
With nothing approaching lust visible on the brutalized remains of his scarred face, the demon takes a slow step back, eyes on her all the time, and begins to turn away. Putting his back to her with careless indifference, he makes to step his way through the relatively clear zone she has created. Unless he is stopped, he will trundle his way out into the fire, partially scaled form becoming a squat outline, then a shadow, before finally vanishing completely into the hellish flames that rage throughout the area.

The Meian Jinja Miko glares back at the walking knot of hatred and muscle as his rumbling, choking laughter fills the air around them, drowning out the sound of flickering flame for a moment. Her words provoked just the response she anticipated they would - causing him to waste time with his raucous sounds at the very idea he'd be the one hiding from her and any allies she may or may not have. But even provoking the response she anticipated does nothing to assuage the intense emotions vying for control over her.

She realizes it in a cold instant, a startling realization that shocks her as the felfire brute stomps in her direction. Her face pales slightly - not from his threatening encroachment, but because of that sharp, painful awareness piercing the haze of anger in her mind.

She hopes he attacks. She hopes he stays. If he attacks, she need only hold him off long enough for Riki to arrive, NOL troops likely in pursuit. But that would probably mean the fatally wounded man behind her would die...

And that's the only reason she doesn't attack first when the flame-seasoned demon hunkers to a stop just out of the reach of her weapon. If she attacked first, if she forced him into a fight, then she would be deliberately choosing a scenario where the man died. But if Rae were to attack her, then all culpability would be absolved, right?

No. That's the weakness of emotion, the priestess reminds herself. That's the reason she always locked them up, caged away, she wouldn't be controlled by anything but reasoned thought and calculated decisions. And so, just as she has done so many times before, she imagines boxing up the rage she feels, filing it away in a dark corner of her mind while mentally reaching for another emotion somewhere else. She would be their master, not the other way around.

It happens in a moment, the miko's expression shifting, the seething, reckless rage giving way to focused concentration, lips pressed tight as the demon looms.

She meets his hateful glare, right corner of her mouth ticking up ever so slightly in a smirk as his tirade comes to an end.

"And they say romance is dead." she declares as he turns his battle-ruined mug away. She doesn't otherwise move, fingers still clamped tightly on her staff, weapon poised to intercept or strike, feet planted the perfect distance to retreat or advance. But it's all for nothing as the tank-like figure of the devil moves back out into the flaming ruin and eventually out of sight.

Ayame exhales, closing her eyes briefly, bowing her head as she continues to feel the effects of adrenaline coursing through her system, of an emotion-fueled cocktail she only just barely managed to suppress and lock away. When she opens her eyes a moment later, she turns immediately to business.

Whipping around in the small clearing amid the smoke, she drops to one knee at Szabloc's side, left hand holding her staff as she rests it on the ground, right hand fishing out a second of her sustaining sea green talismans to apply to the stranger, to buy more time. She can't expect much from him. If his mind had not already embraced the release of unconsciousness by now, she'd be quite surprised. And even if it hadn't, how cognizant could he possibly be?

"Help is coming." she states, tone calm as if nothing out of the ordinary were going on around her. She was in control again now.

"I hope..." she adds as an absent thought, though there is little to be done about it considering the lack of alternative options, "You are not on any NOL bounty boards..."

Szabolc does not stay awake very long, mercifully.

The surge of molten flame rushes over him, boiling off his flesh. It is agony, but in his righteous, defiant stand, he does not scream. As he is knocked up in the air, he is silent, the world around him hot and pained. He is blinded by the fires, he feels his body broken more and more. By the time his hair is jerked back, his eyes jolt wide open by instinct. Face a singular brunt and branded wound, red and blackened. The blade tip is lined up to his mouth. It does not come. Dimly, he is sent hurtling through the air, the wind rushing past his ears. There is a singular pulse, of everything -stopping-. Everything tying together. He relaxes. The defiant spirit ending, with the arrival of... of someone.

And then, everything is swimming in darkness.


In the endless crypts of the spiritual vaults of the House of Podiebrad yearned for him. The soul lights illuminating the vast abyss was gone. Archs stretch across the inverted stone ziggurat the descended into the depths of the vaults. Szabolc is no longer the weakened, disguised old man here. No, in his illuminated form, he is smoothed faced, with long pale hair, with his features untouched by age. The young Szabolc was passing from the line of the living, his soul returning to the spiritual vaults long set up by the House of Podiebrad's ancestors.

And before him, stands the throne of judgement.

If the power of the living rests with the Patriarch, it was the Warden of the House of Podiebrad that would oversee the rites of the dead. The Warden is dressed in the noble garments of the Patriarch. Upon the throne of ossuary bone, he is slouching with gnarled limbs bound in indigo light, the spirit smoldering without it's armor, only cape and cowl. Upon its neck, there was only with a skull staring back, surrounded in the indigo flames. It's eyes were burning lazily as it looks down upon the soldier. Szabolc kneels before the Warden, head lowered. He waited for his judgement. He waited to pass. ANd yet, after what feels like an eternity, he lifts his head up.

The warden looks almost bored.

"Why have I not passed on to the hall of the heroes? Has my sacrifice been rejected by you as well?" The burning sockets of the warden lean forward, glowering over the pale-skinned officer before him. His voice is raspy, almost lisping as it hisses at Szabolc. "You will address me by my title here." Szabolc halts a moment, before continuing. "My apologies, Warden. But have I not proved my loyalty and worth to join my ancestors? I am ready to move on." The Warden waves a hand carelessly. "You have been rejected. Go and wander with the lost souls. Your judgement is done." Szabolc freezes for what feels like another eternity. He stares at the figure, utterly stunned. When he speaks, it comes with a conviction he forces himself to have. "How? How is this possible? I've died in battle! This is wrong!" He states swiftly. And the warden hisses

"You -woman!-"

The acrid contempt hisses across the thresholds of the spiritual tomb. The spectre continues. "You are nothing more than a hysterical woman. Mewling and weeping because some man raped your sister, and squealing dramatically on how your PATRIARCH has failed you!" A long, withered finger extends out at Szabolc, it's disgust palatable. "Don't deny me the state of your heart. You want everyone to weep and cry about how you were right, and how -bad- and wrong everyone should feel about your pointless and heroic sacrifice. You wretched, teenage girl! We have no need for trecherous, self-serving 'heroes' like yourself in our vaults!" Szabolc raises a gauntleted hand up at the Warden, his defiance now in full display. "This is not right, I gave my life to protect my soldiers, to bring justice against them when they were abanoned."

You have no ground to deny me my righteousness!"

The warden shakes his head, the skull shuddering as geysers of indigo flame burst out. "How pathetic. And now you come before me, to sob your little sob story about how NOBLE and HONEST you are, disobeying your Patriarch because really, he betrayed all of you. How DESEPERATE you must be, you catty little diva, to sacrifice your values as easily as your poor sister under duress." White hot rage surges through Szabolc's veins, as he reaches for his soulbound blade at his waist.

"How DARE you!"

The Warden clutches his throne's armrests with his gnarled fingers, rubbing them with a rich sadistic hunger. "I dare, and will dare. And why not? She's failed in her duty by no account of her mistakes. She failed in duty because of YOUR mistakes. You miserable old maid. Bela is more of a man than you'll ever be, you hormonal, miserable brat. What a pathetic excuse of a man, blaming your Patriarch for -your- mistakes. If I wanted a moaning spinster for a commander, I would have promoted Nadia over you." The hideous spirit leans forward from his throne. "Now I can see I'd prefer the little strumpet Zsa Zsa as my commander."

Szabolc approaches the Warden at his throne, sword extended in his right hand.

There are no words from the dead commander, just a fa├žade of cold fury. The Warden chortles at the display. "Oh, the little girl approaches me? You never satisfied me before, you've never had what it took. Because you don't want to be a loyal little soldier. You want to be adored for your loyalty. Loved for it! So here is your love!" The applause rattles though the cryptic halls. None come from the spirit. "There you are. You are now loved for your self-righteous, self-absorbed justice. You are now as adored as you wished to be, as you desired. Like everyone of those needy, clingy women! That is your treat, your trinkets. Roll it in. Squeal and writhe in it, as you endure the rest of eternity branded as the traitor and coward you are! This is your judgement for abandoning your Patriarch in your last hours. You shrill, pathetic little bitch!" The challenge is made, and Szabolc could bear it no more. The wrath tears through his heart as he throws himself at the the warden, howling aloud his demands of the foul spirit.



The spark of life jolts through the pale man. He has lost too much blood. It smells of brimstone, as he lashes out an arm weakly towards Ayame. The effortless strength of death was gone. Only enduring pain, agony. He paws around, jaw slack. Pain. Everywhere pain, and shock. But the healing energies flowed in. Kept the lights alive. He stares up with blank eyes. He couldn't see still, everything still gone. But he could feel... sense the aura, the spirit. His mouth moves, blood and words and accent mangling his words.

"I am Szabolc von Podiebrad... Commander of..."

"Commander of the Raven Guard."

He continues, almost automatic in his rites and rituals, his mores. "My life... your... debt..." He fumbles for nothing, fumbles for a slicing gesture. "My sister. My -soldiers-!" He paws around blindly. The fallen remains. Wounded as him, hurt like he was. No. Worse. "Please! Help them! We are- NOL- the twelve families. The Patriarch..." He was dying again. He would die again. It was a struggle faster and faster, a race to the death. But he would be eager to fall into death again. To face that monster. To strike him down. To make him PAY for his insults. There were sirens in the air. He stares into the shape of Ayame blindly. And his words force with conviction. "Please help my soldiers."

"Please help my family."

Log created on 20:00:03 12/13/2020 by Crock, and last modified on 01:06:25 04/22/2021.