World Warrior 2023 - R3: Song of Rising Moon

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Description: In this battle, a thrilling marathon chessmatch between two geniuses ensues, as all-out war breaks loose along the mountainside, with little held back. In this epic battle, will steel or soul win dominance over the night itself?

Many years ago, a fledgling crime boss had begun claiming one territory after another. Never making a bold strike at the larger cities -- always nibbling away at the lesser-known transportation hubs. Quiet places -- where business could be handled discreetly.

A ryokan in the port city of Niigata City was one such place. Though, the crime boss's operations were disrupted with reports that the inn was... haunted.

Up until the self-styled 'Empress' had set foot in that building, she had seen technology as nothing more than a tool -- a means to an end. After witnessing the works of the wraithlike ninkougakusha first-hand, though, she began to see just how terrifying a purely mechanical infestation could become. At the time, the will of the Empress had been to turn the weapon that was used against her against the neck of a far more sinister viper.

Plans change. And the world moves along its own course.

- - -

An old cabin rises on the hill, blotting out a vermilion sky with its dearth of welcoming features. Weathered wood creaks with every change in the wind, or the slightest twitch amongst the murder of crows that has taken up residence within its eaves. Halloween is a highly commercialized thing in Japan -- but commerce has no business coming to this isolated home. One would be wise to avoid traveling here alone.

And, even on a good day, to a well-lit location, Honoka Kawamoto prefers the company of a troupe of attendants. Six is a nice even number, enough to discourage all but the more dedicated troublemakers. And to such a potentialy cursed place, she saw fit to bring a six Shinto shrine maidens along with her. A white kimono, exemplifying the purity of the individuals. Red hakama trousers, symbolizing the solemn nature of their task. Each shrine maiden carries a long, old-fashioned broom -- most obviously, for cleaning, but also serving defensive needs in a pinch. Each maiden is also carrying a small arsenal of seals and totems -- should their services be required.

Miss Kawamoto, herself, is an an Ainu, and not one of the Shinto faith. As it would likely be seen as sacreligious to even pretend to dress in such a fashion, she's ... sticking with her recognizable outfit: a scoop-necked black t-shirt, charcoal grey shorts, and a paper-thin windbreaker that hangs loosely across her shoulders, zipped up around her waist. Four diabolos are clipped to her belt loop as she approaches.

It's just a World Warrior fight. It's not supposed to be a scarefest, or a murder scene. And yet, as the two wands she carries in her hands drum along, the thick string spanning the expanse between them makes one thing very clear, despite the professional juggler's confident-seeming smile...

Honoka Kawamoto is a bit on edge.

The gears tick within endless flames.

The lonely cabin on the hill is but a footnote in the grand scheme, the sound of old wood struggling in the wind, of crows cackling in the cool evening air. It's still a little early for the tournament match, and those select few crew set to gather on the mountainside are currently milling about, seting up equipment and the like. This is usually well before fighters ever arrive, and the punctuality of the Ainu performer and her retinue has by now become an interesting bit of tournament lore to which the crew has become accustomed. Not like her opponent, who seems to show up whenever he pleases, and has been giving the tech department fits because his preparations keep overheating the camera equipment and causing differential stress in the lenses.

Even now, the taste of raw heat is in the air, the intense sensation of something complicated and mechanical buzzing at the back of the mind.
It's worth noting he arrives alone, from inside the small cabin.

Tabi walk across the floorboards, transferring weight from one sole to the other. Wood that for a moment simply wouldn't stop creaking in the wind emits nary a sound with the boy's featherlight stride, as his chakra pulls the wood tight and fast, pulling the floorboards snug against the joists, as snug as if they'd been screwed down and had their mortise and pinon joints resawn and fixed. The sound of the creaking wood chills in his presence, fixed absently with engineering ninjutsu. It renders his movements nigh silent, even as he strides down the apparently rickety steps to the courtyard and former garden in front of the cabin.

He bears a haori that for all the world does bear a cursory resemblance to the shrine maiden's jackets, adorned with paper magatama and sode kukuri, a stately jacket marked with no other print other than the symbol at his back -- the three leaves of Ryouhara. His stride is slow, contemplative -- only the soft rustle whisper of fabric on the wind announcing his presence -- a peculiarity, given the boy is laden with more bits of metal and brass than an antique shop. A flash of a bracelet, a glint of a bangle. A sheathed tsurugi at his back. An even longer katana tucked into the crook of his arm. Even the boy's face cannot be seen, eclipsed entirely by a steel helm, with the mask of an oni's gaping, vicious expression secured where the visor would be. Steam--or smoke? Incense?--curls from the oni's maw at irregular intervals, and small cylindrical charms dangle from the mask's short horns.

The blade he carries with him is only charitably called a katana, for its sheathe is almost as long as he is tall, the sage-o wrapping dangling in low curves along two points on the sword's sheathe, with wrapping at the far end. Written in ancient scrawl, paper charms haphazardly riddle the sheath of the weapon, varying spells almost covering the entirety of the sheath's length. With the collection and draping rope from the length of the sheathed weapon, it's easy to imagine the boy following Shinto.

But the oni stare he gives the retinue, and the one at its center, is hardly consecrate.

He doesn't move for a time, his hands not visible beneath the drape of his voluminous sleeves at his sides. If there is even a scintilla of recognition in the boy, some inkling of knowledge as to the shadow leader whom successfully stayed his blades, there is not a sign of it on the outside. There is only heat, and the infernal gearwork that can't be seen, only felt. The blade is lifted by the hilt, a hint of his fingertips seen. Set with the butt of the saya to the ground, the fittings rattle ominously against the wood. With the motion, there is an idle hissing sound, the sound of a riled snake. As the shinobi's hand drifts away from the weapon's sheath, it remains suspended in the air, shock-still like a signpost. The seals unlink, and begin sliding over the o-dachi sheath's surface, like puzzle tiles.

"A lot of spies have been defeated on the road to 'now'," the boy points out, the artificial hollow to his voice seething. "Traitors. Malcontents."
"And yet, the tide of history rushes onward. The site of battle will be here, and the time will be now. Prepare yourself."

No doubt someone on crew is currently cursing.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou has started a fight here.

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Seishirou        0/-------/-======|

Honoka Kawamoto bites on her lower lip as the young man with the white haori steps into view. The cord dances lightly between her diabolo wands, eager for a performance. Her attention seems to be wholly focused upon the young man -- but it is difficult to ignore the effects of his passing upon the wood.

At her right, a shrine maiden gasps in alarm. Her strawberry-blonde hair, tied back with a red ribbon, singles her out from her peers. And yet, as Honoka makes a half-turn to address her, the miko pinches her lips into a line, shaking her head to dismiss her concern.

The half-Ainu turns back to the shinobi. And she nods quietly.

A signal.

The six shrine maidens begin to encircle the battleground -- three on Honoka's left, three on her right. They adopt positions roughly equidistant from the center, providing the maximum amount of room for the two combatants without disturbing their motions. As their motions draw to a halt, the shrine maidens begin to sweep around themselves, establishing a sanctified perimeter within which they can anchor themselves for the coming battle.

It is only once the maidens have reached their positions, and clasp their left hands around their respective brooms, that Honoka's anxiety appears to disperse. She draws in her breath, nodding with affirmation, as she reaches to the diabolos secured to her belt.

The shinobi speaks of preparations from behind his steel mask. Honoka slips two diabolos onto the cord, beginning their hypnotic, rhythmic ballet. Each diabolo falls, accelerates, rises -- and then vaults into the air, flung by a brief impulse from Kawamoto's wrist. A steady metronome, for tracking the rhythm of battle.

Six pairs of eyes look to the juggler.
Honoka nods back with a detached half-smile.
They turn their attention to the ninkougakusha.
And the curious aura that surrounds him.

Honoka bristles -- it's difficult for her to ignore the rasping venom in his tone. She makes sure to keep hr own response as neutral and cloying as possible.

"Spies? ... I don't know anything about 'spies.'"

She smiles broadly, popping one diabolo high into a flashy arc. The spectacle seems to draw some approval from the fight crew.

"But... I am ready for the role I'm about to play."

With one last glance at each of the six shrine maidens, she gives an affirming nod.

"We got us a show to do. Let's begin, hmm?"

COMBATSYS: Honoka has joined the fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0        Seishirou

Dark eyes track the whirl of the spinning top, an act barely perceptible behind layers of steel, of glass, of that arresting visage latched to his helm. It is only detectible in the slight incline of his helmet as the rhythm slowly imposes itself, a thrilling tempo slowly building for the onlookers, commanding their attention. The shinobi's mood smooths over, settling on each of the maidens, and the wordless answer given to a question similarly left unspoken. Hmm.

And though that force has waned from it, the boy's tone never actually deviates from that mechanically-imposed seethe, as if his blood naturally boiled. "Whether we try to run from it, fight against it, or deny its existence entirely," the boy breathes, rills of energy shifting thru his armor, behind him, in front of him, "one cannot escape the tide of history, a 'flow' to which we are all in service.."

A hand reaches into his haori, his sash shifting as he draws a small throwing knife, straight-bladed with a hoop on the end, the kunai's edge gleaming even in the shadow cast by his haori, even as his hand lowers to his hip, as the silk drapes over the hilt of the weapon, leaving only the blade exposed. The weapon at his back, that greatsword, still shifts, the seals on its surface ambiently reconfiguring. She says she is ready.

"Then we'll begin."

The shinobi already in motion, a flutter of white silk as he moves in towards her in a visible dash, his steps slightly off beat to the whip of those weights off the end of her line, off from being exactly half the measure by perhaps a sixteenth, a tiny beat out of time. It's easy to miss when he's thrown his blade, as his hands are empty on his approach to her, a series of kiri sutra flown through the gestures in his hands, in two separate flickers of motion -- one longer string of six seals rattled off in a second, and a second, single seal. On that second, the gleaming dart of metal in the air threatens her space, a spark crawling along the steel just briefly before it detonates.

His aim -- right down her centerline -- is very good. But with the knife exploding into a fireball, he doesn't need particularly good aim.
He just needs to be close.

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Seishirou's Ninkou Reformer.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|=======\-------\0        Seishirou

"It's funny you say that," notes the half-Ainu fighter, in between pendular swings of her juggling props. "I've always been fond of the tides. The constant, unyielding ebb and flow..."

Honoka's eyes half-lid. She can read the motions beneath the folds of his haori. But beyond that, the juggler can feel the passions of the flame he holds within. Indeed, she remembers his prior confidences with her alter-ego, appreciating the new chapter to the autobiography of the common man's champion, waging war against the unjust authorities who would seek to limit their reach.

A war she personally identifies with.

This fight, however, is not about loyalties, but worth -- proving oneself. And the young man's desperation to succeed is etched upon his blade. The fires are more than mere analogies -- and while she might normally be mute to the roaring tide, the sound is plain to hear through the ears of six gifted listeners.

Honoka draws in her breath. Her timing is a deliberate calculation -- for even chaos works best on the off-beat, the deepest trenches between swells of order.

Her left hand rises. The wand pivots in her lithe grasp, inverting so as to double against her forearm. A sturdy guard for when the kunai thunders in; its point penetrates the hickory grain.

Honoka closes her left eye. An instant later, the diabolo that had been suspended upon the string flies upwards, pulling the string taut -- and jerks the wand clear of the juggler's hand. And with it, the detonating kunai -- carrying the explosion higher from its intended mark, as Honoka angles her forearm into the blast. The heat sears her arm -- the thin fabric of her windbreaker doing little to mitigate the heat. And yet, she pivots forward, tugging outward with her right wand.

"... but you team one up with a -typhoon-, and you might just get washed right out to sea..."

In the next moment, three things happen. The first -- is that she gives the airborne diabolo a good solid rap with her knuckles.

The second -- is that she snaps forward with her right hand, cracking the diabolo cord outward like a whip, with an intent to coil the cord around the shinobi's wrist.

The third: The diabolo which -had- been entangled in the string is hurled into a high arc -- taking full advantage of what she perceives to be the helmet's impairment to his vision. If he's not careful about how he chooses to address Honoka's lashed baton, he might find his indiscretion punished by a second strike.

Should she manage to ensnare the shinobi, she'd seek to pull him closer for a more decisive strike. And in that case -- the first diabolo would be falling into her hand within another half-second.

"Are you ready for the storm?"

COMBATSYS: Seishirou dodges Honoka's Kohumumatki.

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

An admirable multi-level technique, moving at conflicting angles. The expectation is that he will recognize the attack for what it is, a multi-pronged technique meant to capture him and limit his movements early for a decisive blow, taking advantage of Banten Yoroi's visual field limitations and the smoke from the bakuretsu kunai to take his eyes off of the comparably invisible diabolo cord, to evade one strike and fall into a second. There is only a split second between beats, the tempo set by the graceful storm, for Ryouhara to comprehend it.

He storms straight into the coils of that line, binding an arm inextricably with the cord, almost -- almost allowing it to cinch tight. A snap allowed as a white line of light bursts from his sleeve, and a full length throwing javelin unfurls from his haori, five feet of steel segmented and snapped into place in an eyeblink, a razor-sharp point darting past her arm and over his shoulder, for the boy to grip, to catch the line of the diabolo on before it can snatch his wrist away. This is a fast movement using the deploying spear ninkou Bankoushou, for his grip to lever, for the shinobi to whirl into the motion and try and drive the point of the spear somewhere into the dirt behind her. This will give him a lever, to limit her motions, to control her actions, while energy blooms in the maw of that oni mask. He is intensely close, his defensive options limited.

If one of her maidens has a sensory nature sufficient to read his chakra, she may be able to notice in time. He's already gone.

The sailing crack of the skyborne diabolo is subject to a second -- the crack of silk on the wind, as the shinobi separates from the high arc of the weapon as its trajectory changes from his, dropping onto his chakra clone. Whirling, the boy draws the tsurugi at his back, falling upon his assailant just as it attacks her, a blast of heat-like force emanating from the ninkou at the heart of the projection, a raw blast of superheated air that strikes like a hammer, enough to send the diabolo that cleaves his projection in twain wobbling offcourse, an attempt to break all of the tines of her offense underfoot and send the performer twirling away. Just in time for his landing, as he orients the viper strike of his blade to coincide with her defense, one, two, three lancing stabs with alternating hands and angles, aimed center of mass while she is attempting to break his assault.

The projection does not survive the blast, as the diabolo drum finds its way through its helmet an instant before. The fluttering bit of silk at its heart will dart away in the directional blast's wake, but the spear -- curiously -- will remain stuck right in the ground where planted. It's a subtle hint to the shinobi's movement, a relentless speed faster than anything has a right to be, where even an eyeblink feels like an eternity.

COMBATSYS: Honoka reflects Shunshin Mirage from Seishirou with Tokap Chup Kamui.

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Honoka           1/--=====/=======|=======\===----\1        Seishirou

The first time she'd met the ninkougakusha, the tusukur was unprepared. She had marched blindly into his territory with the confidence that she would persevere where her subordinates had failed. The horror of a ryokan full of nightmarish constructs did much to shake that confidence -- and to shape the path of their inevitable reunion.

The engineer is every bit as terrifying now as he was then. That he could unfurl such a spear in less than the blink of an eye is a testament to his wiles and his craftsmanship. She may not have expected -that- particular response; indeed, the look of surprise on her face as she leans away from that spear as it whistles past her shoulder is an honest one. But she did expect -some- response, and her first order of business is to reclaim her overextended baton -- a motion she intends to sweep beneath the spear even as she takes a couple steps backwards to withdraw from the obvious attack.

Seishirou's deception is revealed at the speed of thought; while six pairs of eyes remain fixated on the projection, one pair of lensed eyes tracks the absconding shinobi's flight upwards. And it's her insight that embeds like a splinter in Honoka's mind as she draws in her breath.

The blistering speed of the shinobi's counterattack demands an immediate response, giving her insufficient time to employ the loose end of her diabolo cord. She changes tack, inverting her grip on the baton nearest her, and swinging it in a rapid circle. When the superheated burst is unleashed towards her, its heatwave will crash against a circular wavefront of chilled air, laced with veins of violet influence, mere centimeters from the juggler's determined countenance. The tusukur's psychic will shapes the air into a torus, whirling and condensing the conflagration into a tighter fireball. A stinging cold wind blasts outward from the spinning construct, buffeting the performer's hair about, as the loose baton, tethered but unheeded, clacks distractingly against the ground.

Concurrently, her diabolo pierces the helmet of what's left of the projection, shearing into silk, as the lobbed spear embeds into the ground. But the -threat- hangs above her, seemingly forgotten -- until Honoka wraps her left hand around the baton. She centers it neatly against her side of the torus, and drops to one knee. As such, she she uses the baton like a 'handle' to twist the torus upwards, imposing it between herself and the falling tsurugi.

Psychic pressure slows the sword point to a halt, a scant millimeter away from the hickory core of her baton. Veins of purple etch into the air, threatening to burst.

And then, they do -- as Honoka releases the containment in a violent explosion. Cold air rushes back against her, plastering her forelocks against her face. Superheated air ripples upwards, the captured fireball unleashed against its maker, threatening to swallow him whole on its journey backwards.

A singed scrap of silk flutters past -- a reminder of the projection's passing. And only then, a moment later, will two sounds be heard -- the clacking of forgotten diabolos hitting the ground.

The heavensent killer screams down from the sky, blade at the ready. But on the inside of Banten Yoroi, seals flash warning red on the periphery of his vision, as the blast from his ninkou bunshin is captured in a whirling torus of violet-veined power. Inside of it, invisible heat is churned from its refined and surgical nature, back into raw elemental force, threads of chakra unravelling until primal flame is all that's left, the cold blast of counterbalancing force causing a ripple along the projection's silk haori, just before being defeated, felled in the reoriented blast and a hammerblow of a spinning top.

For his end, Ryouhara's lightning stroke can barely be canceled, his momentum arrested in mid-air with an end-over-end tumble, air-braking with spread limbs as his vision crazes over the battlefield in the tumble, managing a second, an instant of standstill in mid-air. Details flood past, almost too fast for him to respond. His movements, his aborted drop, are not enough to dodge the released fireblast, forcing the shinobi to press his hands together to put some sort of leash on his own redirected chakra. Irrespective of this, the firewall swiftly eclipses his figure, his draping silks blown back as his frame is eaten whole by the wave, disappearing briefly in emberlight. "Ugh--!"

It takes much to reorient in the blast of flame, to reorient. A circus of light rains down from the firewave in arcing, glittering lines, slamming and sticking into the earth, a collection of seven shuriken and knives sticking with a series of sizzling cracks in an arcing pattern further out from Honoka, followed by his tsurugi, a blade sunk into the ground with no more sound than a whisper. They're attached to the ground by a series of lines, yanked tight between his fingers. The hooking allows him to normalize his momentum from the blast, leaving the shinobi trailing like a flaming meteor straight down, coming just shy of absolutely crash-landing into the earth, crumpling, soaking the harder impact through his knees and legs.

An admirable reversal.

The shinobi's legs flex, a tiny web of near invisible line tugged to tension beneath a hand pressed against the ground. Trying to figure out exactly the relevance of the circus star's preparations -- he is almost sure there is something he's missing -- is going to take a moment, but currently, the shinobi is caught on the back foot, on the ground, with his back facing the performer. Having to use his 360 degree defenses -- Joushintai or Shikoushu -- is not entirely an optimal solution for the situation, being too broad range or not keeping tempo, respectively. That forces him to use one of his simplest techniques, Meikyoumon.

What happens next transpires in a heartbeat. Ryouhara releases the ninkou almost immediately upon his landing, the symbol at his back flaring red for a split second. Based off of the clan's assassination seal perfected prior to the Ryouhara tensai Ikou and the Shinano incident, ninkou specialists replaced many of the clan kamon with complex fuuinjutsu imbuements, turning the seal of clan 'Ryouhara' into a powerful and varied killing technique. In most cases, it was a simple detonating seal, but in Ryouhara's case, there is a 140 degree arc behind him that is bathed in a shock of red chakra, flooding the area in his immediate vicinity with a symphony of small red marks. It takes only an eyeblink to be painted.

But 'that' alone.. won't stop it.

An instant later, superheated blades fill that space, the force of the unsealed chakra causing his haori to bloom, as his ninkoujutsu tries to dice the performer to shreds.

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Seishirou's Shuuten Locus.

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Honoka           1/--=====/=======|=======\====---\1        Seishirou

In a normal fight, there are generally very few sounds to keep track of. The sound of fists hitting a defender's guard, the sound of feet hitting the bricks, the sound of crowds cheering. But in the moments following the rebuff of Ryouhara's attacks, there were a number of distinct, yet barely-perceptible sounds fanning out along a radius at roughly the same time. It's a lot for one person's senses to register. Even with the load distributed among six helpers, it will take time to analyze the pattern.

Honoka does not wait for the analysis. A clack sounds as she reunites the two diabolo wands within her right hand. A quieter click sounds as she unclips the third of four diabolos from her belt, bringing it forward with her fingertips. As the flaming meteor touches down, she takes a moment to step away from the spear planted earlier, taking stock of the positions of the other hazards upon the battlefield. A flick of her wrist sends her diabolo into a mild spin, as the compulsive schemer insists on having -some- sort of rhythm.

It's that last-minute nod to rhythm that saves her in the moments that follow, as the battlefield ignites in a fury of incendiary lethality. The red light provides the warning her shrine maidens could not; sweat beads upon the back of her neck as she starts spinning the diabolo more quickly through its paces. Soon, the diabolo's spin blurs into a semi-opaque disc, the wind it kicks up sending her pink-highlighted hair aflutter.

Not a moment too soon. Her maneuver is able to deflect the worst of the attacks from her core, but pained grunts reveal that defense is far from absolute. Her windbreaker sags from new rents; tiny crimson streamers ripple outward from the multitude of wounds carved into her upper arms and legs.

This time, the shrine maidens are not immune from attack: the two that are in the firing arc raise their brooms before them as shields. Here too, their defenses are just barely adequate, showcasing their individual talents at staying alive.

"Nnrgh..." grunts Honoka, staggering backwards slightly. The mikos recover, after a moment, with sighs of relief. The backlash of her psychic connection to the maidens is regrettable, but not unmanageable. it won't end the combat, at any rate -- for Honoka takes the few steps to place herself equidistant from the nearest two mikos.

The diabolo starts to glow, casting a pink-purple circle in front of her. Breathing out, she then turns her head sharply to the left -- and a bright orb of that same coloration is hurled outward, racing like a comet from one miko to the next. In the blink of an eye, the starry comet makes a complete circuit to visit the space before all six mikos -- and it continues to spin, faster and faster, as she redirects her gaze to the shinobi. The diabolo acts as a cog in this new system, the drive gear to a horizontal ring of energy, imparting an ever-faster spin to the comet as it circles around Seishirou. A storm of vibrant light, with him in the eye.

Kawamoto smiles as she draws in her breath, the light spinning ever faster, burning hazy afterimages into the darkened sky. But then she spreads her hands --- and the multiple afterimages condense into one bright locus, with the diabolo at the center core.

A star expands outward, as if traced by that same light.
And then a column of violet energy erupts outward, threatening to slam into Ryouhara at hellacious speed. The psychic impact would hit with the force of a speeding car. And the diabolos and other battlefield hazards, should he fail to account for them, would only magnify that impact.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou blocks Honoka's Nochiu-o Kando.

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

Eyes narrow behind a fearsome mask, as the protective sealing glass tints with the outwelling of lavender light.

It doesn't take Seishirou long to recover, for the reformer to rise, to turn on the group assembled before him, his haori drifting. The symbol at his back is still glowing at the edges, the formerly emerald green leaves now glowing ember red, as if still ablaze in that cross wind. A critical eye settles on one of the mikos, reacting curiously to the circus star's recovery. Is she concerned for her safety? He doubts it.

A step is taken forward, the lines of energy already beginning to unspool. If he had to guess, the hyperbola arc of the lemniscate envelope is projecting chakra into the space around him, attuning to his movement and sealing it off. If there was any doubt that the shrine maidens were relevant to her strategy, the upper arc of the comet visiting each one seals it. They must be empowering her techniques somehow, speeding up the comet. Based on the rotational arc of the diabolo acting as a drive for the circular comet to increase its acceleration, it's meant to .. "I see."

Ryouhara drops to the balls of his feet, his hands clasping together with four fingers up, the rest interlocked together, pulling the slack on his anchorlines taut. At the same time, the paper jewels at either side of his haori unseal, dropping to the ground and popping open explosively. Unfurled around the young man is a pair of sealing paper shields, each ninety-two centimeters square. The glint of line is tight around him to either side, the whirl of steel. And then the blast of light hits him, bleaching everything violet and white, boiling everything into parched, cracked earth and silence.

"An attack originating from the center of an inverted chakra field...most shinobi would have attempted to escape the circular prison space. Only to find out it was not a circle, but a dome."

The smouldering blast shields form an anchored, armored triangle around him, paper scrawled with sealing formulas still holding strong against the blast. They still crawl with violet energy as Ryouhara rises, energy branching off of his haori, creeping along his helmet, which is now -visibly- cracked along the right temple. The plates are aligned strangely, positioned on a diagonal axis to the linear alignment between her and him, forming a prism that channeled the blast to either side of him, rather than his absorbing the full brunt.

The well-armored shinobi reaches up to the steel mantleplate draping over his shoulders, a large sphere clicking loose between his fingers. "It's unfortunate, to make me use my defenses so soon. But there was no avoiding it. Had I attempted to evade, it would have only fed into your trap. A strategy that relies on a comprehensive understanding of my movements to control space and tempo. Except that my movements are too fast to read without a three hundred and sixty degree 'awareness.' A formidable perceptive ability."

A set of silk cloths is produced from his sash.
"But you underestimate the supreme, imperceptible science of 'ninkougakujutsu,' and the blood of Ryouhara."
He points. "I will capture you in my preparations now."

The sphere is dropped to the ground, and his haori blows back in the resulting explosion of black, a curtain of dark shadow engulfing his side of the battlefield. The black twists, churning and convulsing hard before bursting, fire spreading out in a wave in front of him. That flame partitions, breaking up into multiple matrices. Birds made of black fire flutter ahead of him. Unlike the precise geometric movements of the diabolo, there is no rhythm to the craze of blackbirds, the crackle of flame churning and howling as if cackling as they flood past. Except there is no -heat- from these flames, and the chakra used to render them seems to pose no more threat than a light buffeting of wings on the face, in the ears. The performer -- and her retinue -- will realize that the attack is not an attack at all, but an attempt to break up their collusion, sealing 'sight' from one another with the concealing ninkou Kagensankyuu. It makes Ryouhara's approach hard to -see- at all, even with his white silks standing out -very- stark amidst the flock -- silks, as in multiple.

Ryouhara has flooded the area through the group with not just blackbirds, but projections as well, shinobi visions beginning to burst into view, leaping fully-formed from crows fluttering past the moment the shinobi enters that cloud with her. He closes on the performer at -all- angles, pulling the tsurugi from the ground as he goes. It's a little bit like being in a kaleidoscope.
A kaleidoscope that aims to isolate, and pierce through the performer with tsurugis made of pure chakra, to pin her in place beneath at least three points of the compass.

COMBATSYS: Honoka dodges Seishirou's Unseal all Rebel Katana.

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

As a result of her alter-ego's efforts as Champion of Earthrealm, it's become imperative to keep track of persons of interest throughout the isles of Japan: persons to watch and foster growth within. Some provide more immediate utility. Some... are employed under certain circumstances such as this, to give them an opportunity to learn under duress. Each of the shrine maidens was selected due to a number of factors -- responsiveness, innate ability, resilience under pressure. Appearance was also a factor, for one of the six. Ostensibly, their presence is required only to give them experience in observing two top-class fighters battling at speeds which would, to most, appear to defy reality itself. She would expect a report on what they've learned after the fight.

The truth of the matter is: they're already providing the psychic the information she needs in the timescale in which it is relevant. The best form of communication is one that requires no conscious effort.

Honoka smiles at the impressive defense. "Shields made of origami..." While most of her tactics have been deployed ad-hoc, she's impressed at how much of the shinobi's techniques seem to have been prepared beforehand. His adaptability to her pressure has been admirable, to say the least.

Which means she'd be wise to continue moving, in whatever capacity she can. In this case, she sends her diabolo into a quick, lively orbit before her, keeping the prop bound to the string in case she needs it for a quick defense.

And then, Seishirou makes a bold claim.

He will -capture- her?
The Ainu grins, shaking her head.

It isn't long before he shows exactly -how- he'd do so. Flames twist into a massive stormcloud of birds, blotting out the faces and bodies of her doting shrine maidens. Panic starts to break out amongst the six -- they may not -cause- danger, but it's hard to quell the primal urge to flee.

"I can see," Honoka calls out, over the chorus of whispering wings, "that I'm not the only one putting on a show!"

That seems to settle the six down -- as they, too, realize their predicament may not be so dire. Brooms are clutched -- and prayers are spoken in hushed murmurs.

But then, three waves of black turn into white, as Go stones in the culmination of a master play. The diabolo snaps upwards -- then yokes sharply downward. Three apparitions of ghostly silk make their respective strikes, as the diabolo falls.

And then, briskly, Honoka lifts her knee to step on the falling diabolo: it appears to explode in a shower of violet radiance. Her feet are brought away from the kaleidoscopic frenzy mere moments before their blades bite down upon the scattered stones in a cascade of sparks. A moment later, the diabolo hits the ground -- falling into multiple pieces from the razor-edged attack. Honoka is able to watch the whole occurrence, as she pitches forward into a somersault, her form awash in a glitter of pink and purple stars as she sails upwards, some four meters from the ground.

What goes up must come down. And it's here that she descends like a scythe. Of the shades, she takes an educated guess in ruling out the ghosts -- swinging her heel at what she determines to be the 'helmet' of one of the remaining shades. No glitz, no glamor, save for the remnants of glittery stars clinging to her form -- just the precision of a master martial artist as she seeks to spin a kick right into the base of the cracked helmet. The mikos may have helped her. But Kawamoto is far more talented than the mere sum of her audience.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou dodges Honoka's Random Strike.

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

For a moment, discord floods the battlefield, a rush of heat and black fire, of white silk and grey steel. It clashes garishly with the red, with the pinks and purples of the haunting diabolo attacks. The firebird field does what it is intended to do -- seal the observation of the crowd, of the mikos and even the recording drones. In the confusion, his bunshin take point, chasing after the performer doggedly, their steel only finding the whirling top, a succession of swordstrokes cutting the top -- one of many -- to pieces, white flashes and lines intersecting the curving, fluttering, cackling black.

The basis for a bunshin or kawarimi technique is casting chakra over an intermediary. For most, this was some sort of element, wood -- like a log -- or water, or an animal, to resemble the shinobi for a split second, perhaps two. The Ryouhara ghost's command over his bunshin is remarkably more comprehensive, using complex ninkoujutsu as the basis for the projections, until there is almost no difference between silk, steel, flesh and fire.

Slowly, the boy approaches, his haori drifting behind him as he sheathes his tsurugi at his back, following the flow of the battle in the tempo of his stride. He is in no hurry at all as he disappears into the crowd, into the chattering morass.

"There is no need for a performance."
The shinobi's voice resonates across all of his projections. The flow of crows and clash of blades does not make much of a difference to him, as he approaches. IT would have truly been the story of him this match, not noticing her counterattack until an instant before it comes, the whirlwind axe strike of the performer smashing him in the head and knocking him into the middle of the air. But as the shinobi goes down, his body sits in the air for a moment. And then dematerializes in a pop and a whirling spin of white silk, the control ninkou for the projection she just destroyed. The whirling circle is different from the others, and in an eyeblink, it darts for the woman.

The following moments transpire in seconds. The Kinjaku Kishinki ninkou is one that activates after its bunshin is destroyed. A short range ninkou keyed to the throat chakra, it homes in swiftly on the circus star. Once latched on, it will snatch her around the neck, and seal her speech and movement. But that itself is a diversion, for the shinobi to approach, sending several kicks of his own out at her, leaping in a short hop of his own. A rolling attack, flipping over into an axe kick, a whip kick, then a dagger kick, floating on a surge of silk just long enough to whip around, with open palm strikes.

In reality, no strike on its own is really threatening at all, easily disregard as a feint, or a diversion from some other ninkou. However, even a glancing strike from Ryouhra is enough. Even a single brush is enough to place a seal -- the Ryouhara kamon. Once the seal is placed -- on a leg, on an arm, anything -- there won't be any escape. An attack that doesn't require ninkou, that attracts the power cast into the air from previous ninkou use...and detonates.

COMBATSYS: Honoka fails to interrupt Ryuuouin from Seishirou with Niwen Horobi.

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

Her guess was wrong. She lands in a three-point crouch, both diabolo wands braced against her left forearm, the cord hanging loose behind her. Raven-black locks, laced with pink highlights, cascade like a curtain around her face as she turns away from the disabled control ninkou.

Her skin grows pale. The crows' dispersion blots out the red sky, their chattering overwhelming sense of orientation with stochastic noise. Desperately, she reaches out telepathically to her shrine maidens -- only to find that they, too, are struggling to make sense of it all.

One hand reaches to the remaining diabolo clipped to her belt. She shuts her eyes, focusing on the ground beneath her. Fingertips splay across the surface of the diabolo, as she searches the world beyond vision. The faint whispers of his -soul- treading towards her.

And then, in the next moment, she tosses the diabolo upwards. To remain still is to invite reproach. She uses her sixth sense to locate him, to surge forward, to lash out with her right hand, to grab hold of Ryouhara's haori.

Her hand stops just short of reaching him.

She finds herself yanked back by the throat; now, a victim of that ninkou. Eyes snap open in a mix of defiance and rage as she recoils backwards, her diabolo continuing on its journey -- ultimately whizzing right past Ryouhara's shoulder.

Bereft of momentum's advantage, the acrobat is just as thin as she seems -- her frame buckling with each successive strike. She's battered backwards, sneakers squealing against the rocks, driving dirt and sand into the ground in a valiant attempt to remain standing. Though, even that proves to be futile in the moments afterward, as she looks down to find herself laden with a multitude of Ryouhara crests.

A chain reaction of detonations ensues, knocking her down to one knee.

She looks up, her burned windbreaker revealing charred arms, threadbare tights baring ashen skin. One hand pries at the Kinjaku Kishinki, seeking to work it loose.

And somehow, her voice is heard all the same, whispered for the benefit of Seishirou alone, amidst the chattering of crows.

"That's where you're wrong. When you play to a crowd of one, of two... you're limited in scope. Performing to a stage of millions, billions -- that's where the real change happens."

Honoka coughs out again, gasping for breath -- wondering if the ravens will keep the cameras from witnessing the master strokes of Ryouhara. If they cannot... both the wild-eyed performer who struggles to stand and the Champion who seeks to inspire the Realm would consider that to be the most tragic loss of all.

The crack of a near-lethal diabolo strike is loud and fast by his ear, muffled only by the fact he is wearing a helmet.

The chattering, fluttering gouts of black fire that all too resemble the crows which they emulate brace, flickering, broken and scattered in tongues of black as the shockwaves from the Ryuuouin explosions cut through the air. The flame curtain separating tusukur from her troupe is not permanent; giving her retinue once again his silhouette, white and ghostly and warped by the haze of heat that he stalks through. The endless tick and twitch of complex chakra around him, he is once again visible, for the price she's paid for it.

She may realize, when comparing her studies to reality, that there is a reason Ryouhara is notoriously difficult to capture clearly on camera. Most of the sport gut-checks and articles surrounding him wrote him off as a gimmick, a 'technical archetype' who appears often under random names, a showman using deploying sticks and exploding knives with no actual talent. This is because there is a large tract of completely unusable footage, the shinobi's more complex preparations and speed coming at cost, almost specifically and maliciously, to conventional recording equipment.

Even now, there is nothing particularly 'entertaining' about the bolt of silk wrapping around that girl's throat, pried loose easily enough once the chakra has left it, clearly disposable, temporary. The nuance is deliberately erased in that confusing space, the scale of that technique making it unclear as to what exactly happened the moment the two disappeared into that fire field.

A mask with empty eyes tilts low, the oni carved into it wearing a bestial grin as the shinobi's hands lower to his sides, disappearing into the drape of his sleeves. Though his expression is hidden behind layers of wood and steel, his soul is quiet, heated and obsessive, with the silvery taste of intense 'awareness' stained throughout. His attention is sharp, no matter how idle he may appear. And that idly tilted mien takes stock to the scattered weaponry across the battlefield.

She only produced four visible spinning tops. Some were used as shields. Others as focal points for her own channeling. One is destroyed, cut into pieces by projections. However, the unifying factor -- even up to the one that whizzed past his head a moment ago -- is that all of the diabolos seem to have been discarded in the zone between the mikos, three to one side and three to the other. Two are not far from his feet now, as his field dissipates with him not far from the gathered observers. No matter how high and far they go, that they may return to roughly the same location is suspect. With the length of her wire and wands, retrieving or invoking the tops for further use is not entirely out of the question, making them still a threat. The mikos are at his back now, which is similarly a problem, based on the information he's attained.

In comparison, Ryouhara's preparations litter the battlefield between them. As she gets closer, she can feel the tick and trail of those shifting seals over the massive sword planted between the mikos and the shack in the distance, that heavy weapon still sitting in its sheath far away from the boy and where he stands. Later examination may reveal that the arcane movements of those seals seem to be attuned to the movement of chakra throughout the battlefield, and some of the paper seals actually now seem to be floating -around- the weapon, rather than being stuck specifically to it. The silk of the Kishinki seems pointless, but there is still a measurable amount of steel between her and him, arcs of shuriken and kunai laying around the origami shields, four to either side surrounding. The wires securing them seem suspiciously intact, despite the heavier spear ninkou Bankoushou having been all but annihilated into component pieces by the blast originating from the diabolo lemniscate earlier.

The shinobi's hands lift into view again, grasping one set of fingers with the other, curling his fingers into a somatic gesture.
"Iya," he disagrees.
"Two people and a sword alone have changed the entire course of history."

From amidst the banks of anchoring knives, there is an audible blast, one of them exploding in a floor-rocking detonation. Some of it dislodges the weapons from the dirt, but one kunai remains spinning in the open air, launched in a low arc by the blast. And from that explosion emerges the boy, his haori catching wind as he cuts -through- the fireblast helm-first, another explosion mounting, this time from the bank on the opposite side of the earlier defense. It is now clear that Ryouhara actually uses -bombs- instead of simple throwing knives and shuriken, and the shockwave from the close-proximity blast pulls him sharply to one side. It lets him catch the knife in mid-air, flipping and whirling end-over-end to arrest and redirect his momentum, at the very last second looking to plant the blade down the tusukur's centerline, to surmount the advantage swidtly, without delay.

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Seishirou's Crushing Strike.

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

The shrine maidens breathe sighs of relief as the flock of sootflame birds disperses into the wind. The cessation of the noise allows them to think more clearly, and focus more intently upon the unfolding battle.

Silk is unwound in due time; the Ainu woman peels the cloth away and sloughs it to the side as the Ryouhara boy disagrees with the point she raises. The performer's brow creases; her lips quirk in judgment.

"You're... not *wrong.* But what is 'history'..."

That's all she can say, before the battlefield is rocked by one explosion after another. The scent of charred flesh is still strong in the air as she draws backward, doubling her wands against her forearms once again in anticipation of the coming attack. Having received a first-hand demonstration of the detonation ninkous, she's in no hurry for a repeat performance. Her keen mind is put to the task of tracking the white-garbed shinobi -- and her diligence is rewarded, as the knife finds its way to a raised left forearm, prevented from biting further than 5 millimeters into her flesh by the imposition of her simple hickory baton.

The mikos watch the fight with growing alarm, as blood begins to dribble from the wound.

Honoka falls backwards onto her heel; a hard stomp is delivered to the ground below. It wouldn't seem like much. But the shock that ripples outward appears to be enough to jar her diabolos into righting themselves, curved edges downward. And as the miniature shockwave subsides, two of the diabolos begin to roll towards Ryouhara's feet.

"What is -history-," she reiterates, picking up her earlier statement. "... without the *drama* to convey its consequences?"

Honoka shoves back against the blade in her arm, against the taller shinobi. She spins the baton around in her right hand, aiming to drum it against his helmet in a disorienting clamor. She'd follow that up with a quick snap kick to his torso, to clear space by pushing him further back.

Neither strike would hurt much, by itself. But combined with the two diabolos rolling now towards his feet, it's a toss-up as to whether his defense might become critically unspooled in the process.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou dodges Honoka's Quick Strike.

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

The next few moments pass in eyeblinks, instants.

Explosions rock the battlefield as the shinobi approaches. The intention is to cover the exact nature of his approach, to discombobulate the senses right before his attack -- the advantage of Banten Yoroi is that the sense-rocking blast of chakra detonations are well filtered by the protective ninkou's shell around his head, and he takes fullest advantage of it. The silks of Byakuren Hagoromo paradoxically protect him from the flame, with very little of the boy's body actually exposed to the fire he darts through. A lightning fast snatch of the blade, the dart and slash of the knife in his hands racking hard against the baton, steel deflected by the hardwood.

An arc of light flicks through the air on the tip of the knife, seamlessly shifting from attack to defense. Between the performer and the shinobi, strikes flash like lightning in the night sky, little more than the cracking sound of fabric and air parting between them. The stomp sends the diabolos rolling towards his back feet, the fact only noticed at all because Ryouhara is specifically keeping track of them, but short of eyes in the back of his head, he is unable to do much specifically about them. The blade flicks in a hand, darting down, trying to find its way past her defenses, a complex knot of action culminating in the strike right to his skull.

The problem with striking a helmet, somewhat plainly, is that you're attacking armor. The powerful strike, absent any of that powerful pink energy, is subject entirely to the shinobi's reaction, his head tilting, shifting to deflect the blow off of the helmet's smooth dome, letting it shift past the short horns of the oni mask attached to it. An instant, a moment, and the shinobi's grip pulls fast as he launches into a low hop, legs carrying him no further into the air than the curl of his hips, his overall height rising only an inch or two in comparison to the smaller performer. But then, the invisble line attached to the kunai -- still! -- makes itself known.

The fast flick of that shinobi's blade is almost too fast to track. What seems to be an almost indestructible line -- first used to anchor the Shikoushu to the ground for her skyborne blast -- is a sharp, almost undetectible line of chakra in the air under the surge of Ryouhara's intent, a short loop of line formed between them. He's tracking the line of the diabolo wand as it comes close to the wand's end, and his target is to throw his arms wide, the interchange of his knife letting him pull the cord through, along the blade, catching the opposite end of his wire with one hand. For a single, dense instant, Ryouhara's loops will bind, snapping shut, tight. She has only an instant to realize his target is her weapons, that he forms a cat's cradle between the two of them with quarreling line. The weapon is already abandoned. The position is already abandoned, the shinobi's force emanating a blast of heat from him.

The heat blast between them is otherwise harmless. But it awakens the seals of the sheathed blade on the battlefield, filling Ryouhara's haori with heat and thermal power. A vaulting motion carrying him into the air on a second (!) jump. She will be able to see it now -- the truth of the matter.

The release jutsu lets him activate the attuned seals of his ninkou, the sheathed greatblade's saya rippling with power as seals surge towards him. No -- her. The markings of Ryuuouin, and his heat suffusing her has given her enough of his residual chakra that the seals, now free-floating projectiles, surge past the shinobi's leap, curving like a rain of blades as they swirl towards her. The intent is to hold her in place, to completely seal her motion between the wire ninkou Banchuusen and the surge of fuda whirling around the hilt of the destruction ninkou, Goumonsaijin. The process is deceptively simple, and the mikos will recognize the seals that orbit the blade, once released, as chakra similar to their own sealing techniques, the ability to completely interrupt the flow of energy in an enemy's body.

Once she is threatened, within the capture field of Goumonsaijin, the shinobi can land on the hilt of the blade, perching on the tsuka, balancing on it with the drape of sleeves about his hips. His target is clear, to spin and -draw- the massive katana loose of its saya with his feet, flipping end over end to take the sword in a hand. From the moment that the shinobi lands upon the massive ninkou, she only has a heartbeat left, to evade his wire and to dodge the surge of his seals, before the shinobi rolls in the air, unleashing a grand cutting wave of chakra from the no-dachi's edge, shearing the earth all the way through the battlefield, and sending a wall of sundered ground to the heavens.

COMBATSYS: Honoka instinctively dodges Seishirou's Atari.

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

Honoka frowns as her helmet strike fails to disorient the shinobi -- and even moreso as her kick fails to make its mark, The source of the invisible lines is a problem, of course -- lines she can't detect until she finds them blocking her path, lines that serve to prohibit the most direct approach vectors. But what she -can- deal with is the tension placed upon her diabolo cord -- for when the tension gets to be too much, she simply releases one end, tugging sharply on the other, and letting the slick, waxed string wind and weave its way through the complexity, the free baton seeming to swim through the labyrinthine complications like a maze. But before the shinobi can be impressed with her solution, he abandons the weapon in favor of a successful exfiltration -- punctuated with a bothersome blast of heat.

Wrinkling her nose in distaste, Honoka steps backwards, winding her weapon back to herself. Heat is, of course, the big 'trick' he's using: it's a stratagem silently conveyed to her mind via the miko with glasses, who nods knowingly without realizing the communication even took place. But while the miko may know the explosive mechanism employed, it takes a greater mind to unfurl the pattern. Honoka herself... happens to be something of a prodigy in that regard, able to innately seek out the solution without rhyme or reason. She doesn't know -why- she feels the urge to lean back, falling into a reverse swan dive. But it's clear that as she does so, and knives whistle past her both over -and- under her falling body, that it was the correct course of action.

A moment later, her fingertips touch down upon barren stone. A moment after that, as more blades whistle out to entrap and/or impale her, she's once again -barely- out of reach, backflipping to her feet.

And when she lands, she finds herself shoulder-to-shoulder with the shrine maiden with strawberry blonde hair -- who gasps in surprise.

Honoka, ever confident, yields only a half smile, extending her hand outwards as the blade drops down, slicing through the old weathered ground as easily as it were a pizza fresh from the oven -- and unleashing bursts of steam in much the same manner.

By this point, Honoka has pivoted behind the miko. Placing one hand on the young woman's hips, and pressing their shoulderblades close, she speaks two syllables.


And all six shrine maidens move in perfect unison, each grasping her broom and turning a complete 360 in place. On completion, the mikos each raise their broom upwards as if it were a military rifle, taking aim at the airborne shinobi -- and firing. Six perfectly spherical cannonballs fire outwards, roiling with condensed psychic energy -- six perfect shots, locked onto the shinobi's distinctive heat signature. Or, perhaps more accurately -- his very soul.

But when the strawberry blonde completes her maneuver -- Honoka is not with her. Just -where- she managed to go would be a mystery -- unless the shinobi would be lucky enough to find out exactly -which- of the mikos' sides the performer had managed to migrate to in the wake of the earth-sundering cataclysm. Though, the more pressing issue is ascertaining which of the six deadly-seeming fireballs is real, first.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou interrupts Ishirishina from Honoka with Tsurugi Festival.

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


Behind an anonymizing visor, the shinobi's brow arches, the dust-cleaving blade of that massive no-dachi cutting nothing but, the huge rent trail it opens in the earth finding nothing but. In his estimation, he is less than surprised -- the opponent was extremely mobile, and keeping her slender, agile figure in his sights is a test for even his disciplined perceptive capacity. Still, the evasion of his technique is nothing short of exemplary, waves of paper charms surging past the tusukur as she twists in the air nimbly, both above and below her. The surge of seals chases a short arc, curving up and away from them once having reached their full range, seals that drift in mad orbit around the suspended saya, at something describing a maximum range, seals slowly drifting closer to the saya with each round of the orbit.

"It should be next to impossible to escape my preparations..."

The still-airborne shinobi twists in the air, bleeding off the momentum from the huge sword stroke, the curved blade that is half again his arm length gripped tersely beneath him in a hand. Shoulders roll in the air, and the shinobi starts at the fey disappearance of that tusukur, replaced by six levelled brooms, blasting with an ironically militant discipline. Cannonfire trails at him in crackling, powerful arcs, giving him only instants to make a decision. With the whirl of the haori flowing around him like a white flower, his hand reaches to the carrier at his neck, the iron holder releasing another ninkou with a *click*.

The powder that is released by the unsealing of ninkou Nengishikyuu is a salt-and-pepper greyish dust that blasts the shinobi further into the air, spreading a plume of dust ahead of him, and filling the air with the taste of heady, energized chakra. It takes only a second, only a moment for the shinobi to catch the wind on his haori, and -streak- downwards, towards the cannonballs, dragging the plume with him.

"To think that I would have to use so many of my tools against one target..."

The boy doesn't -attempt- to evade or defend against the battery of blasts, sailing straight down on a heavensent arrow into the illusive storm. However, the plume he trails and shapes with his haori has an effect stirred around him. Once the boy flies into the cannonshot, a rippling series of explosions ring out. The interesting part of it is that it's not merely the 'real' fireballs that churn the air into boiling, energized blasts, but -everything.- The powder Ryouhara is using is an accelerant for his own techniques, a mixture of crushed flammable moth wings and energized iron, but the reactive is quite happy to detonate when any such technique enters its field. The final result is blasts that buffet Ryouhara's considerable armor, haori silk and helm battered with shockwaves, cracking bones the boy didn't know he had, sending spiderline cracks through his visor. But each blast is so much chaff, hiding the exact angle of the Ryouhara's descent. Each blast interrupts the sure aim of the tusukur's own syncronized offensive, dissipating or deflecting the very raising hailfire that triggers them. He can shape it, use the momentum --

Until the shinobi is in their midst, surrounded by the mikos that have just offended him.
".... but any creature that raises a hand to me is forfeit."

Up until this point, the shinobi was happy to ignore and disrupt the priestesses observing him. To respect the consecrated ground they held. But in a single word, she made them of use in their battle, hiding amongst them and using them as focuses for her own attack. The boy stands straight up, a flag of crimson arcing over his haori from an unknown injury somewhere to his body. Silently, the spine of that great blade rests over a shoulder, edge gleaming in the light, one arm laying straight at his side, his other elbow raised above his waistline. The oni mask seems all the more cruel in that moment, as Ryouhara's soul can be read plainly, in that close proximity. The image of that strawberry blonde hair sticks in his mind, for sharp, unknown reasons, giving the shinobi a brief, cold moment of distraction. It takes a blink before his thought smooths along his resolve, bitter, ice determination replacing the single doubt in his mind with one thought.

Don't throw your lives away meaninglessly.

The next attack comes without any warning at all, lines of silver light bursting from the shinobi's sash. The force of the shot is a floodfill, the air filled with glittering steel in the space of a single heartbeat, sending the boy's silks crazing about him in the whisper whistle of assault. The presumption is that he needs to -guess- where his target is, amidst her retinue. Not so.

Over a hundred senbon charged with movement-sealing chakra flood-fill the space around Ryouhara in an eyeblink, targetting every single one of the tusukur's assistants. Joushintai, the fortress ninkou, a preparation seldom needing to be used. His goal is to hit -everyone- around him. Then a second hand rests on the length of his sword's hilt. He means to hit everyone around him, and then fully commit, to use the cutting wave chakra force of the no-dachi at his shoulder to sunder and rout the entire group unceremoniously, in one gate-felling stroke.

The best place to hide is behind something that's already being observed.

Height-wise, Honoka Kawamoto is depressingly mundane: not too tall, not too short, just the statistical mean height. So it's actually fairly easy for the lean acrobat to hide behind someone with more voluminous clothing without being seen -- for her aura to be masked by someone presenting a bit more of a threat.

Unfortunately, presenting a -threat- to Ryouhara seems to be the entire problem, here. Kawamoto had banked on him counting the shrine maidens as sacrosanct -- as passive observers, nothing more. And perhaps he would have continued to do so, had he not conflated brooms with high-caliber rifles. It's a simple mistake -- especially as Honoka is doing her best to blur the lines between what they -are- and -are not- doing. To her, it was one-hundred-percent crystal clear; they're not attacking him in any way, shape, or form. They're not: their souls are used as anchors for the trickster's own illusions. Of the six shots headed Seishirou's way, only one had any real "punch" to it -- the one originating from the girl with the glasses.

But Honoka is not even attempting to argue semantics. The judgment has been cast -- and the 'brooms' implied an intent to fire, regardless of the capacity of a broom to fire a psychic projectile or the subsequent lack thereof. They raised a hand, as he said. And all six are punished for the transgression of a pantomimed performance.

One, both less and moreso. For as the jutsu envelops the shrine maidens in explosive fury, a faint yellow bubble surrounds the strawberry-blonde, her expression frozen in a rictus frown of shock and awe. From behind her, a figure grasps onto the back of her kimono, pulling its loose fabric taut. The communication is clear -- do not run. One hand, fingers outstretched, stretches past her; its owner's forehead, creased in dire concentration.

Flames ripple past the bubble, whipping around it entirely. The one shrine maiden is safe -- albeit, a frothing mass of uncertain anxiety -- but the person holding her fast takes the brunt of the cutting wave chakra.

Her feet buckle.
The kimono pulls even tighter.
The strawberry-blonde squirms.
Blood spills from Honoka's lip.

A moment later, she pulls herself up. The bubble pops -- but Honoka keeps the shrine maiden standing, swapping duties with the helpful miko to keep -her- standing. But she still won't let go -- presenting the shrine maiden to him as a demonstration of her very point.

Strawberry-blonde locks shudder, as the miko is forced to take a shaky step forward. Her teary eyes look downcast, her lips parting as if to say a word, but her lungs having no part of it.

"You're a monster, Ryouhara Seishirou."
The one to speak is Honoka.
"The only one raising a hand against you... is *me*."

Elsewhere around the devastated landscape, on both halves of the craggy divide cast by his tsurugi, five shrine maidens lie collapsed. They didn't plan on taking heat for this acrobat. They didn't sign any agreement with this Miss Calendar person. They didn't plan for their pretty white kimonos and their pretty red hakama to be soiled with soot and cinders. And they sure as hell didn't plan to fall victim to a cutting wave that left them bruised and battered on the ground.

They do make remarkably good foci for Honoka's next trick, though. As, from each of the fallen mikos, a faint, wispy image of Honoka Kawamoto begins to stand. The translucent images are not Honoka as she looks now, with half-destroyed windbreaker, mussed hair, and tights blasted to hell and back, but instead a recreation of the pristine fashions she entered the fight with.

Each Honoka stands. Each raises their hand out to the shinobi, imperiously accusing him.

"And me," states the one behind him.
"And me," adds the one rising from the miko with glasses."
"And me," echo the third, fourth, and fifth doppleganger.

That is all the warning the shinobi will get. Perhaps the Joushintai has been exhausted -- perhaps not. But the shinobi will see just how complex it can get, as -every one- of the Honokas begins to rush him down simultaneously. Each of them is armed with two batons. And each of them will be swinging them with an aim to batter a path through his innumerable ninkou with the singular goal of taking him down. Many of the images will phase through him, no more tangible than a breath of air -- but at any given time, -one- of the images will have the proverbial stick, in addition to the true article herself who joins the fray.

If her combined assault manages to hedge him in -- she would finish off the successful striking symphony by placing one delicate hand upon his hip, another on his shoulder -- and then leveraging him into the ground with an o-goshi hip toss.

COMBATSYS: Honoka issues a challenge!!

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

COMBATSYS: Seishirou blocks Honoka's Urara Kando.

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

"A 'fire' is a thing that does not discriminate."

The blade of Goumonsaijin lowers, the fittings making a soft sound as the weapon's weight shifts, the spine of the blade drawn slowly through the thumb and forefinger of his opposite hand, both hands used to support the weight of the steel. The boy in the oni mask and the damaged helm is slow, sharp, exact in every movement. It's hard to say whether he is 'remorseful' or he is 'satisfied' with the outcome, with the maidens laid out in his wake, as his face is not at all visible behind that inhuman mask. His voice carries that weight; the seething dark from behind mechanical faceplate an open hostility.

"Fire does not have a mother. It does not have a father. It does not have a sister, a brother. It does not have friends or allies, lovers or trusted confidantes. Once ignited, it conforms to one rule, and one rule alone. 'If you fall within its path, you are destroyed.'"

The shinobi's glance inclines from one side to the other. The slightest movement towards the felled miko, as each produces a wispy, but fashion-perfect projection of the performer, his opponent. Joushintai is a one use only ninkou, and so the miko that have been felled by paralytic ninkou senbon are comparably safe from further assault, and so is Honoka. However, the cutting wave of chakra is decisive, and the rigors of battle, of the exhaustion of their comparable defensive techniques are made clear on her, the same as he. He kicks the blade up, to rest the heavy weight on his shoulder, to free one hand when it becomes clear the next attack will be multiplex. Whatever happens next will decide the battle.

"You've done well, to escape being caught by my preparations thus far."

There isn't much time to defend. Ryouhara kicks off of his centerline quickly, skidding back on one tabi at an angle as five separate projections attack. Pressed to the limit of ninkou appropriate for the assault, and possessing only one remaining Kishinki, the shinobi falls back on more rudimentary defense. Eyes flick quickly, from one projection to the next, judgment calls swiftly made, which to prioritize and which to discount. The interesting fact of the matter is that Ryouhara does not attempt to break away from the pursuing projections, absorbing more blows than should be reasonable. The whirling fortress that is Goumonsaijin is employed, flicking through projections with force -- forcing and funnelling attacks away from him, as even one blow from that sword's obscene chakra could be enough to end even a projection. His haori, his sword, his helmet, even his sheathed blade -- batons clang off of his myriad hidden weapons, armor, or clothing with alarming frequency. But the shinobi is flagging, fatigue slowly setting in, each evasion coming at slightly harder timing, each blow coming much closer to breaking a bone rather than being directed to a stronger area. The Goumonsaijin is -considerable- weight to move around, and it shows in the pace of Ryouhara, using his full body to counterweight and sling the blade quickly. It shows in his movements, smashed on the back of the neck with a baton, another rammed point-first into his back, setting his stance harder, forcing him to raise a hand. Eluding the projections tires him. It shows in his movements, seized roughly by the haori by the tusukur--

He rolls over her, just as she planned.
One leg flicks out.

The shinobi's haori is very loose, making holding him the very equivalent of handling an angry cat. In this case, a blade flicks out of his sash, -huge- in comparison to the relatively slender throwing knives that she's been dealing with, a wickedly curved head-taking knife, arcing in a muted black flash. This close, the cameras won't even -see- it, the penalty for getting this close to Ryouhara. A knife, slammed right into the side, with more than enough cutting chakra to -melt- through steel. But this is not the heat chakra she would be used to, the steel blades and cutting waves that he's been using thus far. This is something entirely different.

A violent, powerful chakra, drawing a lurid red field around his hand. She will break the throw, or find herself victimized by the tyranny of sharpest, wildest steel.

Blood trails down his fingertips, emanating from that red field. The oni grins, as it always has.
"...If you're not strong enough to defend your idealism, you're just going to be tinder against the flame."

COMBATSYS: Honoka interrupts Karasu Stalking from Seishirou with Sarak Kamui.

[                           \\\  < >  /                             ]
Honoka           1/------=/=======|=======\==-----\1        Seishirou

The choreography is dense, nuanced, and complex. Each projection moves with the grace and agility of the acrobat herself -- a product of the projector's will infused with the unique character of each of the mikos present, empowered with a shocking disregard for the law of gravity. One is slower than the others, more deliberate in her motions. Another is more nimble, flitting over the Goumonsaijin as if it were a track-and-field hurdle. A third focuses on deliberate pressure point strikes -- it's clear that each miko is well-versed in some school of martial arts to be able to pull off each motion.

To five of them, the cutting chakra was a smash cut to the most vivid wish-fulfillment dream possible. The ability to move as Honoka does -- without feeling the pain of contact. Their fleeting reward for standing in observation.

The sixth watches -- immobilized with panic, gripping tightly onto the broom before her. Strawberry-blonde locks tremble with each move the puppetmaster makes -- for her consciousness is still, in some measure, -tethered-. Concern is writ large upon her face -- though, it's not till that subtle motion that the link is true: she gasps through grit teeth.

The point of the knife finds Honoka's side.
The blade bites in.
The cutting chakra devours the flesh of the outer dermal layers.
But its hunger will not be sated.

For the juggler's palm impacts his arm at roughly the same time.
Fingers clamp tightly around his arm.
The blade hungers for more.
But, halted in its progress, it can feast no more.

Irises the color of oolong tea turn towards Seishirou in that instant. Veins of golden radiance flare up within them, as she stares deep through that oni's sneering grin. And in the very next instant, ribbons of bright purple energy spool out from Honoka's forearm, winding themselves around Seishirou's arm.

"I know all about fire."

Her face -- one now twisted in agony from the blade dug into her side -- was ravaged by flame many years ago -- the result of a long rivalry with Duke Burkoff, and the impetus for a protracted turf war that left much of Southtown, similarly, in flames. As she pulls close, the slight aberrancies of the Golden Angel derivative might be apparent -- irregular, non-circular pores, slight discolorations, the odd striations cells along her jawline. Nothing that would stand out at greater than a meter's distance. But now, as her ribbons twine around Ryouhara's arm -- as she shoves outward, pulling the blade out with a bloody spurt -- perhaps he would be able to notice.

"This tournament is a kiln for the fiercest fighters in our realm."

Her face is bathed in light from another source. For another two strands of ribbon have erupted from her other forearm. The projections backflip away, flickering away into obsolescence -- but the spectral ribbons remain, hazy and diaphanous, coiling around their respective spools. In the case of her right hand -- the ribbons take on the form of a cone. A spiritual auger that begins to spin, burning bright.

"The flames of one cannot stand to match the inferno of an army!"

And in the very next moment, Honoka suddenly plunges that spinning auger into Ryouhara's chest. The engineer is well-versed in the understandings of chakra, of science, of steel. But at such a close range, with such -ferocity-, he will come to know that Honoka does not wield chakras, or science, or steel.

Honoka is a dynamo seething with a force even more arcane and unknowable.
The pure, raw power of human will.
And the willforged auger may feel different.
As if it is shredding him apart from the inside.

Once her auger bites down -- he may feel the pressure subside on his arm. The attack is not meant to maim or murder -- just enough to utterly -exhaust- the energy reserves of the fighter. Enough to prove her point.

Blood spatters across his haori, his pants. But it is not hers.
The blade of Kinha is different from any other knife.

Slick lines of crimson trail down his arm, welling on the tips of his lowest knuckles, buffetted and broken apart by lurid waves of red chakra, muted and subtle around the hilt of the knife, as the broad flat sinks into her side. The sensation is rare; the pain unlike any steel ever bitten into her flesh before. Were the sensation of being cut not so silk smooth, it would feel like a chainsaw biting into flesh, a stream of cutting chakra welling even into the comparably shallow cut, gyring deep and describing a curved steel that seems to want to cut through its target irrespective of the user's will, as if he were doing more to keep it -out- of his opponent than plunge it in. All of the dark force of a guillotine, held in a hand.

Ryouhara looks up, locked in a fierce binding with her, that terrible knife in his off hand, the blade of a massive no-dachi slung over his shoulder with his main hand, threating the projections around him. This close, the power of heat and gears weaves him, a complex matrix of energy that flickers noticeably with the ribbons crawling over his arm. This close, Ryouhara isn't evading. But then -- would he, with the blade of Kinha so confirmed in her side?

"I have no interest in what happens in the light of the tournament," Ryouhara's mechanical voice resounds, as if openly dripping from that oni mask's gaping, toothsome grin. "Only in what skulks in its shadow."

His eyes tilt, flicking along that tusukur's barely-perceptible scarring, the telltale misshape of pores. A moment in consideration of the details. Of the grimace of that -- miko, from the plunge of his blade. Possibilities considered in a moment, an instant. There is an incongruity, he realizes. The story, a page or two deeper. The possibilities swarm his mind, before each are replaced with an overriding directive, curiosity and living, sharp perception dulled by cold facts and will. An idea, replaced with fact. Of the fact that he is tied in place, other ideas, statements, quelling inspiration for favor of pure, unrelenting, brutal knowledge.
Yes. Were she just a moment or two longer in the fire, she would be unable to sweat at all.

The shinobi is hit full-on by the twisting augur, intense, brutal, hundreds of strikes in an instant drilling into and beyond his frame. From a distance, everything is 'chakra,' chi, the unseen flow of the world, shaped in human hands. And what can be shaped by human hands can be dissipated by his ninkou trivially, even at this distance. But the aggregate of force and will that hits him has no defense, his mind flooding with static, scattering his senses to the four winds. "Ugh---!"

The blade of Kinha freed a moment ago, the boy's limbs alternately cinch tight against the ribbon and ragdoll freely against the blow, knocked off of his feet. A second, maybe two, pass while he is in the air, drifting on the edge of consciousness on the end of her augur, and his energy nigh plundered to next to nothing. It is almost crippling, the scattering of each of his memories, his wants, his pains across the world. But 'Ryouhara' is more than just a scattering of broken memories. And he is more than just the energy in his body.

A dark line loops in the air, whipping tight as he's released.

The sode-kukuri in his off-hand sleeve is a whirling capture ninkou, the crack of silk in lightning-fast restriction looking to replace, re-confirm the grip that ribbon held, connecting them together. Banshuusaku tightens as fast as a viper can snatch -- though Ryouhara may be very low on defensive counter ninkou, the boy still has more than enough destructive preparations to put a decisive end to the story. The snapping motion reverses his momentum, forcing him to land quickly, an arm's length away from her, and if that ninkou lands, it will cuff the two of them together, wrist-to-wrist. "Don't misunderstand the situation," the boy labors slowly, calmly, evenly.

Even as it is apparent he is no longer the creature holding onto her.
"An army's glory only comes with history's consent."

The next attack comes dead down the centerline. The thrust of Goumonsaijin, that intensely long blade, is a spear of light rocketing through the interstitial space, the massive blade measured out exactly in the length of Banshuusaku's capture range. Ryouhara does not have the same 'limits' as she, the same will to only make his point. The boy does not have that sort of will. His ideals are forged in infinitely hotter heat, and the swordblow that will lance through her shoulder is directed away from vital areas only at the barest concession -- the barest awareness -- of morality.

The moment Banshuusaku snugs tight around her, the preparation is complete.
The ninkou bunshin projection over the explosive Kishinki destabilizes rapidly in the instant Ryouhara vacates his own silhouette, replacing himself with a decisive blow. A ground-rocking detonation, rippling all the way through his ninkou, flash-incinerating silk and shattering steel in a point-blank hunting blast that ripples all the way through the short space, a shockwave powerful enough to all but destroy both ninkou, and lay low anything that still stands ahead of them.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou can no longer fight.

[                           \\\  <
Honoka           1/------=/=======|

COMBATSYS: Honoka fails to reflect Principles of "Ninkougakujutsu" from Seishirou with Kamui Atemka.

COMBATSYS: Honoka can no longer fight.

Ryouhara says he was only interested in what skulks in the shadow of the tournament. A skeptical smirk is offered in reply. The strawberry-blonde miko grimaces on from a distance.

"And you think you can defeat the darkness... alone?"

The auger hits its mark a moment later. Her ribbon loosens -- a mercy -- as the shinobi is battered backwards by her assault. In that moment, she can tell that her willforged assault has brought him to within a heartbeat of defeat. That any extended discourse will soon be much, -much- more difficult to voice. It's with confidence that she steps back, withdrawing the batons once again from her right sleeve, bringing them to bear as a final caution against sustaining the fight.

Six mikos there were at the beginning of the fight. And six mikos there are afterward -- as the dreamers are released from their respective trances. The strawberry blonde sighs with relief as her spiritual sisters wake from their slumbers, rising first to their knees.

It's only -after- doing so that she finds the Banshuusaku snaking out. To find that the shinobi -rejects- her merciful release -- that he seeks to -continue- tethering his fate to her own. Smirking as she finds her wrist bound, she starts to drop her hips, to tilt her shoulders back, bracing for a backwards somersault to put his grip to the ultimate test.

In doing so, though, she only further seals her fate.

The shrine maidens can tell what's coming. Panic flickers through their minds -- wards are hastily deployed.

A piercing light impales the acrobat's shoulder, drawing an outcry of pain from the acrobat. A similar cry echoes outward from the miko so many meters away.

And in the next moment, the acrobat finds herself at ground zero within a sea of detonations, and then fully concealed from view by the dense, acrid smoke that results.

There is a *whump* as her body hits the ground. And a *clunk* as her head hits, an instant afterwards. As the smoke begins to clear... it becomes patently obvious that there will be no further trickery forthcoming from the manipulative performer -- no diabolo tricks to amuse the audience, no pithy rejoinders to the shinobi's talk of many things.

Just one... thoroughly fried acrobat, tiny glimmers of golden radiance clinging to her battered form. Scraps of polyester, lycra and denim litter the battlefield, shorn away from shockwaves shearing against one another in that all-too-brief conflict. Her skin -- for much of it is now visible -- is worn red and raw from the numerous assaults. Wounds that might be fatal to another, less hardy individual.

But, somehow, Honoka still remains conscious. Awake enough to cast a smoldering gaze at the shinobi.

"I'll... agree with that," she affirms.

Six mikos there were -- and six there are now. Cowering behind their brooms, as exhausted wards flutter to the ground beside them.

Honoka grimaces. And curses her luck. The conversation is one she'd -love- to continue on less... explosive terms. On more -certain- terms.

"The world needs more people like you, Ryouhara."
A thought whispered onto the wind.
Perhaps it may reach his ears.
Perhaps not.
But it's one she couldn't bear to let go unsaid.

Words, peerlessly spoken.

The fires of the ninkou bunshin's detonation smoulders across the battlefield, leaving a distinctive heat haze curling in the wind. In truth, much of the battlefield was that way, lines of rippling blasts scarring and slicing across the region, long curving gouts from torrential cutting chakra splitting stars of soot and cracked earth.

A massive blade blown to pieces, the Goumonsaijin was shattered by the blast, surrounding the still-standing tusukur in little bits and shards of wood and metal that glint when the light hits them just right, raw snapped edges still glowing red from the heat.

By the time the acrobat recovers, a slender vision of perseverance, her words are spoken only to the fires, the crackle of distant flame being his only remains. The sensation of a grand machine has passed, the everpresent winding note of gears that suffuses the shinobi's aura gone, gone and replaced only with smouldering fire in his wake. His projection is gone, bound to a bolt of silk and sent on to destroy her. Only the vague silhouette of a ghost, perched on the roof of a nearby cabin, small and indistinct at the distance. That silhouette watches for a long while.

Then he turns, and is gone.

A single curved shard of metal spins slowly across the ground, the shard of a helmet twirling in the distance.

Log created on 06:42:21 10/28/2023 by Seishirou, and last modified on 06:18:28 11/11/2023.