Description: Haunted by images and emotions from dreams he cannot explain, a gifted artist finds his way to a forested shrine toward the first step of his destiny. Waiting for the man who many never come, a talented priestess gazes into the woods, wondering when her own destiny will start. Perhaps their encounter is just the catalyst they need.
He awakens gasping.
It is still dark, his bedroom illuminated through the window's drawn curtains only by the faint glow of the streetlamps below and the bright moon above. He does not hesitate. He lurches from his bed, casting sheets aside, and staggers toward the door like a man who has spotted an oasis over the crest of a dune.
Bursting into the unlit living room without catching his breath, he descends upon the easel set up in the corner of the room, its canvas invisible in the shadows. Seizing his brush and palette, he whirls into action. It is a strange and compelling dance, the fierce slashing motions of his arms coupled with delicate flourishes of his fingers. He does not know how long it lasts, but he knows when he is finished. Unable to see what he has painted, he stops and stares regardless.
Alma takes a deep breath, then, and sets his brush and palette down. He walks calmly to the wall and flips the light switch. As the modern penthouse springs into vision, he catches a glimpse of himself in a full-sized mirror mounted on the wall, and pauses at the sight of the violent marks emblazoned upon his face and bare chest.
Dipping his hand into the water with which he rinses his brush, he rubs those paint splashes away, revealing pristine bronze skin and unmarred beauty beneath.
Just as it has always been.
He turns then toward what he has created and examines it calmly. Once again, he has struggled to capture the exact moment that he emerges from these strange dreams, to latch onto the images and emotions that elude him upon waking yet plague him in the shadowed hours of the day. Critics say that his greatest works fuse impressionistic visuals with raw emotion in all its complexity, whispering of the heart of secret matters. If this is true, by doing this the psychic may know his own heart, and make sense of what he sees: memories of a life he does not remember yet has not forgotten.
At last, Alma turns away from his art with only a quiet shake of his head.
Something is missing.
The familiar call echoed through the large open gates forming an opening in the outer wall of the large family compound. Just outside the entrance stood the youngest of this generation of Ichijos. Long, strawberry blonde hair rests against the pristine white kimono worn beneath the crimson hakama at her waist.
Her hands are gripped around the wooden handle of a broom she has ceased putting to use for anything beyond being something to hold onto. Until the woman's shout a moment ago, she seemed lost in thought, gazing along the tree-lined path into the forest beyond.
The call comes from directly behind her this time. A soft exhale escapes the girl's lips as she turns on sandal-clad feet to face the woman who draws near.
"My name is Ayame. You know how I prefer that over your abbreviated moniker."
The woman is older, dressed in brown, humble attire, her face worn from worry and a lifetime of tested patience. Over her arms is folded a thick, white cloak.
"Of course I know... I'm the one that named you after all."
The daughter stands quietly, hands still gripping the broom she has pressed against the ground. She either has no response to give or chooses not to offer one. The mother shakes her head, the concern in her eyes about her gifted child's severe nature visible as always. Her arms shift, elevating the cloak.
"Father said he saw you out here staring off into the forest again. It is getting cold. You shouldn't just stand out here like this."
The miko shakes her head, half closing her eyes. Not this again.
"Really, mother... if a slight chill is enough to stop me, what hope is there for future?"
She turns her back to the woman who has raised and trained her in the mystical arts for all her life with no further word. Rather than looking distraught, the woman seems relieved - this is about as accepting as Ayame gets to permitting being taken care of. Quietly, she steps forward and drapes the cloak over her daughter's shoulders. It will have to do.
"You don't have to fight alone, you know. There are others that can lighten your burden, fight alongside you. You would be stronger for it."
The mother councils the stubborn girl for not the first nor last time.
"Yes... and a fine work they have wrought so far."
Ayame falls quiet a moment. Sarcasm comes too easily to her. She continues, her mouth bearing a faint frown -
"'Darkstalkers' they call them... Tch. Soon, even the night will afford them no refuge."
Her hands tighten on the broom handle. She had hardly ever left the family's compound except as her education required it. Yet now leaving is all she can think of. Her mother could sense her longing.
"What keeps you here? Why haven't you left yet?"
Ayame seemed to ponder the question. It was hard to put to words the thought foremost in her mind.
"There... is someone I must speak to first. Until then, I will wait."
Vague as ever.
"Dinner will be soon."
The mother turns and treads quietly back through the gates, leaving the girl alone with her thoughts.
Slowly, she lifts her face to the forested canopy above. A blanket of leaves hides the sky except where it is pierced by occasional shafts of sunlight.
That's right, she thinks to herself. There was a time she had been Aya.
When was that?
It doesn't matter now.
Nestled in the heart of the Akatsuki Valley some kilometers from Southtown is the Ichijo family compound. Until nightfall, the large shrine at the center of its enclosed yard is open to visitors. Though being situated this far from the clamor and fuss of the ever busy Southtown makes guests few and far between. Long gone are the days when emperors and shoguns alike would make the trek to pray within the sanctified walls of the shrine of this legendary family line.
Throughout the nation's violent history, when demons ran roughshod over the villages in this region, it was heroes of all kinds that were dispatched from the Ichijo family to bring them to heel. But when The War came decades ago, and with it, a painful lurch into modernity seemed to quell the tide of spirits of ill intent and the need for regular purgings and consecrations waned. But still the family has carried on their traditions, preparing without hesitation for the day when their gifts are needed once again.
The civilized roads will bring one to within a half kilometer away from the Ichijo shrine. From there, it is a long walk through a thick forest along a path of set cobblestones. It is a peaceful journey that involves crossing over wooden bridges that span small rivers and creeks, several meters through a cave that had been cut through a hill in times past, and even a trek through an open field, the grass turned burn due to Autumn in its continuous cycle of life through the seasons. There is a sense of serenity throughout the valley, an impression that Shadow finds little respite beneath the tall mountains to either side.
The girl standing outside of the walls that cordon off the living spaces for the family is easily identified as belonging there, garbbed in the traditional attire of a Shinto Priestess - the color white represented by the clean kimono top with lengthy sleeves draped over her arms; the color red clear in the precisely pleated hakama at her waist, the obi tied into the large bow at her back around her waist, and the lengthy ribbon drawing back the lengths of her strawberry-blonde hair tied into a sizeable bow at the crown of her head.
A white cloak is draped over her shoulders, left to sit where it had been tenderly placed by loving hands only a short while before. The girl grips a broom, the head of it pressed against the stone path. She has been there a while. A few stay leaves, golden brown in color, have come to rest against her shoulders and the back of the cloak, yet still she has not budged.
Dinner will be soon. There is no sense in missing it. This evening must not be the day she was waiting for. She bows her head slightly, hands tightening on the wooden shaft, before at last moving to turn away. Perhaps tomorrow will be that day.
This inspiration, he decides, is not like the others.
Alma is a man used to revelation. As an artist, he opens himself to external influence and allow it to pass through him, to become meaning on the canvas without conscious exertion on his part. As a psychic, the category of such influences greatly expands, including the insistent presence of other selves. His second sight perceives a web of meaning, and while that interconnectedness reinforces his worldview, he knows how to relent in his convictions, to not simply and superficially reproduce his own thoughts in paint. Because his self is strong, he can release it, and allow as yet unintelligible instincts to carry him away.
Thus has he been carried here.
Bundled in a snug jacket and expensive scarf, the beautiful man approaches the shrine, cradled by the faint wind and dancing leaves. He has been walking long now, his consciousness subdued, attaining to a serenity equal to his surroundings, awaiting the moment when this impulse begins to make sense.
But this will that makes him walk -- that has occasionally gotten him up in the middle of the night, in recent weeks, to pace the city pointlessly -- has begun to trouble him, even as he concedes to it. The urge toward self-expression fills him as light: when he is inspired to paint or to fight, he experiences his desire as productive. What he feels now is a kind of void, its difference all the more striking for otherwise being so similar. Rather than having something to offer the world, it is as though the world instead owes him something, and he has come to collect without knowing what he seeks.
It's not like him ... he thinks.
As Alma advances, his polished shoes crunching the fallen leaves, he catches a glimpse of strawberry blonde hair and his gaze turns to the girl in the vivid garb. The presence of another human being reassures him of the sense of the world, and the pressing urge fades somewhat, causes him to smile unbidden with a faint hint of relief. She is turning, now, and he does not properly see her face, but he raises a hand in greeting regardless.
"Pardon me, miss," he says softly, his words borne on the wind. "What shrine is this?"
His smile broadens, his eyes gentle, hardly aware himself that simply hearing his own words has for the moment soothed his unsettled heart.
That his soft call is heard is evident in the pause it evokes in the wouldbe host of this remote but sizeable structure. Beyond the walls just ahead, it is easy to view its steeped roof rising up several stories above the courtyard housng it. But it seems she will not going back inside just yet, the girl, only a few years younger than him, stopping to stand straight, her back still toward him, as if there were an inner debate about whether to humor the honest inquiry.
She glances to the side, not far enough to turn and see him directly, but enough to acknowledge notice. "I find it strange that you would end up here..." She exhales softly, stepping into a turn accompanied by a rustle of cloth, brown eyes coming to rest on the gifted artist, "Without knowing where it was you were going." There's a hint of question in her tone though she doesn't state it outright.
Eyes widen slightly as they come to rest on Alma. Perhaps he is used to such reactions - his appearance is regarded as being easy on the eyes, as it were. But there is a tinge of another emotion - one quite different from attraction or even curiosity as the shrine maiden's expression returns to the same stoic mien she had worn for many years before now.
He will find himself being assessed.
If he was expecting a warm welcome, he might find the miko at the gate to be anything but accommodating. No friendly greeting, no bow or answer to his question are offered. A foot, clad in white stocking and simple sandal, is pressed against the head of the broom, bracing it against the ground. Her two hands twist the wooden shaft, loosening a little.
"Alma Towazu. Fighter. Artist. That's what they call you."
Is she a fan of his work?
The long broom handle comes loose and the girl shifts to brace the grooved end of it against the ground.
"Do you even know who you are?"
The makeshift staff is deftly twirled in her left hand with incredible speed, creating a sound of air being forced aside before she whips it smartly beneath her left arm, standing up straight and proud but for the slight cant of her head, a glimmer of curiosity to be found there.
Were her family to see this exchange, they would certainly be surprised. She hasn't taken interest in anyone that's come to the shrine in years. She hasn't even said more than a /few words/ to anyone beyond her immediate family for just as long.
Alma's smile does not falter at the priestess's cool reception. "It is strange," he agrees, as she turns to face him, his eyes shifting to observe the exterior of the shrine and the nature about them. He has a patient, inscrutable gaze. "I do not know why I began walking this path," he continues quietly, watching a leaf float by. "But it seemed to me that I would never learn unless I reached the end."
He looks back to her, still smiling.
"And so here I am."
The young woman's features appear carved of ice. He admires them, all the more so when they crack slightly, her eyes widening for reasons he cannot discern. Her aura is as difficult to read as her face, but he basks in it nevertheless, a sophisticated if shrouded weave. Yet as he does so, he begins to feel an odd weight in his chest, as though spiritual tendrils entangle him. His smile wavers at last, his own eyes widening ever so slightly as she begins to speak.
It's not unnatural for her to recognize him, though the two of them have never met. He knows no miko with strawberry blonde hair, nor hands which grip a broom thus, nor such implacable eyes, he knows no woman like this, he k n o w s n o o n e a t
'I'm, ah-- sorry.'
Alma gasps for breath, shuddering violently.
And he sees her, holding what has become a staff, her final question hanging in the air. It does not even occur to him to answer her straightforwardly. The pressure had faded for a moment only as a ploy; it crushes him now, strangling him, squeezing him. But in doing so, it forces something from him, and so he parts his lips, not knowing what he will say--
"Where is he?"
Not knowing what he means.
"What are you planning?"
Alma's expression is poleaxed, confused and tense with effort, betraying bewilderment and frustration that approaches agony, yet his words somehow ring even clearer than before.
It was early on, encountering so many gifted with that additional sight, that she discovered how to conceal what she would have unseen. Even aura readers struggled to comprehend the girl when she applied her skill - that same one she puts to use even now. As they face each other, aside from the initial spark of surprise, there exists no aid to help his understanding as she continues to regard him with that implacable coolness.
The broom handle turned staff remains tucked under her left arm for the moment. But to perceive a warning of pending conflict in the posture of the shrine's apparant gatekeeper would not be in error.
Eyes narrow for a fleeting moment, but even that observation passes as the question is uttered forth, confused even in its clarity. At last, a shimmer of something human in the girl's eyes at the first question - a question she has been asking herself for as long as she can remember. The long years of her short life have been agonizing as that very debate was carried out in the silent chambers of her soul season after season.
'/Where is he?/'
He promised. He promised he would find her. And she has done nothing but prepare to be strong enough to be worthy of such effort ever since.
So where is he?
"The world has changed. Then plan... never will."
She twists the staff out from under her arm into a two handed grip. In the slowly approaching dim light of dusk, the crimson energy that trails behind the movements of the simple enough looking weapon.
"What is it fighters are always saying... finding themselves in the heart of battle?"
A soft exhale. A flicker of a frown.
At her feet an aura swells, surging into being in response to the young woman's call.
"It seems to me..."
The energy burns bright red at the base, casting away nearby shadows caused by the canopy above. At the tips, azure dances, illuminating her white kimono top in the color of sapphire.
"You have not yet had the right battle."
The intent is clear. That is all the warning he is going to get. Why he deserves to be the focus of her attack must lie within the secrets that have plagued his sleep so.
COMBATSYS: Ayame has started a fight here.
COMBATSYS: Ayame gathers her will.
He does not even know her name. But he knows he has spoken rightly. He knows as soon as he sees that glimmer in her eye. Through her practiced obscurity, a single thread is tied between them, invisible, gleaming.
And the darkness inverts into light.
Alma's paralysis melts away, familiar energy streaming through his veins, his spirit summoned in response to her gathering will even before its effects can color the air. He has not understood anything. Perhaps he cannot even allow himself to think, knowing that to do so would be to obey reason and face the reality that, without a doubt, he has never met this person, knows of no 'he,' has heard of no 'plan.' He must let momentum carry him, as the brush dances. This light he feels will lead the way to meaning and to justice.
His faith in it has never faltered.
"So be it."
With that, spirit becomes reality. A pearlescent aura ripples from Alma's limbs, motes of pink and indigo among the pale light, reflected in his eyes. His features have relaxed, his posture straight, his eyes intent. Stepping forward, scarf rippling in the breeze, he raises his hand, energy growing there like a living thing.
It is narrow, this opening; it is frail, this thread. But it exists, and his heart sings at it, compelling him onward toward an uncertain future with an unshakable resolve.
"Do your best."
He thrusts out his arm with a kind of desperate ferocity that belies his calm expression, and emerging is a dart of flame that curves with a subtle grace, rippling past curled leaves and reaching out to her to make first impact.
COMBATSYS: Alma has joined the fight here.
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > //////////////////////////////]
Alma 0/-------/-------|====---\-------\0 Ayame
COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks Alma's Sacred Wave.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > //////////////////////////// ]
Alma 0/-------/------=|=====--\-------\0 Ayame
At last the vagaries between them have crumbled away into a single, undenial truth - there will be conflict. Not simply now but possibly forever. Why such sentiments exist may continue to be a mystery, but the reality of such strife is now crystal clear.
Her hands grip her staff near the center point, the broomhandle held out in front of her at a defensive angle. The stance is practiced and calming to the girl. She has done this more times than she can readily count - especially when such figures are clouded by the shroud of a past future. His words elicit a reaction from the girl bathed in red and blue, a faint smirk, a permitted allowance of visible amusement. Do her best?
"You might regret requesting that."
As if she had any other intent in the first place.
With her hands close together, her next gesture requires only a slight twist of the wrist and pressing of fingures, her right hand slipping from off her weapon to slip within the folds of her lengthy left sleeve. Drawn forth is a small paper card of pristine white parchment, its surface engraved with characters rendered in ebony.
"Except I have been doing my best."
With an upward gesture of her right hand, the aura at her feet answers, wisps of energy surging upward to imbue the drawn paper talisman with a portion of its essence.
"Every day of my life."
Her left hand slams out, still holding her staff at an angle, into the swath of psychic flame hurled with such honed practice. The crimson flames over the staff's surface flare to life as she braces for the sanctified attack, teeth gritting as she counters the magnitude of the attack with a manifestation of her aura augmented by sheer willpower to resist the pain.
The cloak over her shoulders is blown back, billowing outward as her sandaled feet slip one inch against the stone laden path. But her stance holds sure, the shrine priestess's confidence secure.
"If you are to survive the coming conflicts,"
She draws her right hand back, the card between her fingers flaring to life with pale, spectral energy even as the preparatory aura at her feet fades away at last.
"The time is already past with which to prepare yourself!"
A flick of her hand sends the ofuda airborn, flying like a flung card for the first meter before the aura it contains detonates, causing it to surge toward the gifted artist with incredible speed. Even as it bears down on the young man, the energy takes form - a spectral visage of a horned demon with a maw full of razor sharp teeth. It veers toward Alma, hungering for any sign of doubt, any gap in his surety, where it an strike and burn with its unearthly flame!
COMBATSYS: Alma dodges Ayame's Reliquary of Lost Time.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > /////////////////////////// ]
Alma 0/-------/------=|=====--\-------\0 Ayame
Alma's doubts have cleared, his sundered self united. The rhythm of battle has begun to take hold, and everything -- the falling leaves, the young woman's dancing lights, his own mysterious impulses -- is swept up in the flow, carried in a single direction, passing through him. The fey beauty breathes deep of the crisp air, and as he feels the chill swirl in his lungs so too does he feel his own resolve, a light shining beneath his diaphragm. Thus is he, in response to her smirk, able to smile completely.
He has no more time for words. The psychic's spirit thrills in response to the shrine maiden's gathering strength, alerting him to the oncoming attack and encouraging him onward. Obeying that intuition, letting it guide his will, Alma lunges forward the moment that Ayame's talisman is released. His eyes glow with readied power, unflinching even in the face of that denotation, closing in as the demon emerges, as though to dive into its slavering fangs.
At that precise moment, the painter's form warps and blurs, vanishing completely before reappearing a hairsbreadth behind the shrine maiden's attack.
He too has been training, for a long time now.
The short-range teleport creates an opening which Alma is quick to capitalize on, his mind not stopping to reflect. Still borne by the momentum of his original lunge, he seems to glide forward before whipping into a series of four spinning kicks, his legs artfully dipping and arcing as he attempts to hem his adversary in with his long limbs.
Only then, success or failure, will he pause for the barest moment, his bright eyes taking on an enigmatic cast. "This time that is past," he murmurs, images flashing of long months with his wise if wandering teacher before fading away, not what he seeks. "Is there to it ... no return?"
COMBATSYS: Ayame parries Alma's Autumn Rain!
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > /////////////////////////// ]
Alma 0/-------/------=|=====--\-------\0 Ayame
Somewhere above the forest canopy there is, no doubt, still plenty of light cast by the setting sun. But down here, where two fighters face off, each representatives of an unending conflict that clashed a lifetime ago, the shadows have grown dark, leaving their attacks levied against each other responsible for much of the illumination. Shades of red, pink, and pale ghostly blue glimmer for fleeting moments each fighter makes their move, then just as suddenly are lost.
The pale blue manifestation avoided by Alma splashes against a distant tree, its foxfire spreading over the old bark and exposed wood for several seconds before fading, leaving no mark of its passing but the now innert slip of paper that had carried the girl's attack his way.
Before that has even happened, however, Alma is already there, his movement forward reflecting untold years of training she was so ready to discount. Not anymore. Already he has proven himself a worthy adversary.
The crimson hued glimmer of her staff serves to accent her own motions as she finds herself set upon in an instant - the crack of wood being struck echoes throughout the forest as, through a complex weaving of her staff and her own body around the aggressive sequence of precision kicks.
It is as he performs the last one that she makes her move, ducking low, slipping under and behind his leg, her own body moving with calculated precision, the long shaft of red energy lighting the way. Her right hand is at her sleeve even as she moves; another weapon is drawn from her prepared reservoir of tools and options - some habits never die.
This one too appears to be made of paper, its surface coated in dusted ash, its runes inscribed in earthen tones. "We kept our promise," the girl murmurs, the proximity of her voice making it clear just how close behind him she is. "He did the best that could be done."
Her left hand extends, attempting to hook the crimson staff around the front of Alma to hold him for only an instant, to make turning around to face her more than an idle pursuit.
Her right hand slams out in the same motion as she attempts to draw up rightly against his back and press the palmed ofuda there.
"The ties that bind our pasts and our fates-"
Should the ward make contact it would immediately begin to surge, energy coursing in and through Alma's body, black tendrils twisting downward even as they pierce his aura, to spear into the earth at his feet.
Given room to do so, she would slip backward then, releasing him from her close hold in order to regain her own positioning, staff once again returned to its position of defiance, a makeshift wall between her and her foe.
"But there is no going back."
COMBATSYS: Alma blocks Ayame's Anchor through the Long Dark EX.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > /////////////////////////// ]
Alma 0/-------/----===|======-\-------\0 Ayame
Rippling cloth sets the shadows to dancing. The sporadic flares of light that mark Alma and Ayame's attack and defense illuminate the shrine maiden as she sweeps low and the psychic as he twists his body, his scarf whipping half-seen as her pleated hakama rustle. His eyes widen faintly as he senses she has outmaneuvered him, and he plants his leg down to regain his footing, quick enough to stabilize himself but too slow to turn.
Alma repeats her words through gritted teeth, braced against her staff as it traps him from the front, attempting to take stock of what her next move will be. Even with his perception heightened and focus on the battle, her words strike a chord, affirming that these strange whispers have at last set him on the proper path, if only its first step. It is impossible to say now how far he will make it, how much the mystery will unravel. But if these ties remain, then--
As soon as the talisman impacts against his back, Alma knows that trouble brews, that this power will pass through him and explode outward. There should be no defense against an attack which strikes from within. But as Ayame slips back, Alma, rather than push through and pursue her, adjusts his grounded stance and inhales deeply, eyes snapping wide. The dark energy, its umbral glow pulsing out from beneath his skin, surges within his veins-- until, suddenly and all at once, the black tendrils are pierced through with white threads, the psychic grunting with effort as his mastery over his own aura allows him to undermine the invasion, mitigating its effects and dispersing it before it can spear the earth.
Ties grant Alma strength.
"If these fates of ours endure in the present--"
For unity is his nature.
"Then this past is not yet fully lost to me!?"
The words are half-question, half-exultation as Alma pivots abruptly, body shaken and numbed by what he has just experienced but giving form to his passion nonetheless, lashing out with a final kick, this a low sweep that aims to scythe the priestess's legs from under her.
COMBATSYS: Ayame instinctively blocks Alma's Light Kick.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ///////////////////////// ]
Alma 0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0 Ayame
Alma's method of defense against the inner assault is remarkable though Ayame would be loathe to ever admit it. To realize the nature of the insidious attack in time to fight it with his very soul is no small feat. Was he always this way? He too has had a second life to prepare for moments like this, she realizes. She isn't the only one that has walked that long path for so many years, even if he didn't even know what it was he was he was racing toward.
The change that comes over him is spurred by more than mere triumph against her prepared technique, an attempt to anchor him to the ground by his very aura. No - the inspiration is every bit plain to see as the shimmering white cords summoned to dispel her technique.
In the ambient glow, her own expression is visible - a look of intense evaluation. Such joy, such happiness as she fills in a single piece of the puzzle haunting his life. So many years he must have wondered, so many aches of the heart at the loss of bonds he could not even recall to mind. A twitch at the corner of her mouth has her lips curling into a slight frown. Where does his strength come from? Her own preparation has been deliberate, controlled, not a minute wasted, not a day neglected. But she knew what she was preparing for... didn't she?
"Why does it matter so-"
She's already moving her staff, its deep red surface slamming down against the dirt in the path of Alma's foot an instant before his sweep even begins. The broomstike creaks from the impact, threatening to splinter even as Alma's kick is rebuffed. This weapon is weak, she thinks to herself. She had something more sturdy at one time... what was it?
Her weapon against the ground, Ayame leans forward against it, gripping it tightly with hands as she holds it upright. "You don't even remember who they are!"
Crimson chi surges along her arms into the makeshift weapon, the staff burning brightly, casting its bloodred glow across the forest floor, lighting up the wooden sentinels watching over the battle.
"I bet they won't even remember you!!"
She challenges Alma's joy, seeming to take offense in his great happiness.
And with that challenge, a thousand fireflies of crimson chi burst out from her staff, the swiftly flying swath sweeping quickly toward the young psychic, each one hellbent on connecting with his flesh and burrowing in. With his aura already targeted once, will he be able to escape the swarm?
COMBATSYS: Alma fails to interrupt By Meridian's Vain Ambition from Ayame with Divine Intervention EX.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ///////////////////////// ]
Alma 0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\0 Ayame
Alma had not always felt this way.
When his psychic powers first awakened, he had no means by which to distinguish a simple lack of training from a profound underlying absence. Encountering Rose, whether fortuitous or destined, set him on the path to self-cultivation, devotedly pursued as a means to understand others better, to embrace their presences more fully and better reach out. Under her kind tutelage he progressed in leaps and bounds, even as he focused on his art, transcending self-expression and attaining to masterly production. Since that day, all the threads of his life have intertwined. Body, mind, art, all developed as one, all contributing to the strength of the other.
But perhaps the stronger this unity grew, and the deeper he explored--
The more apparent, as if by contrast, these absences became.
"I don't remember."
Alma murmurs this quietly, his foot drawing back from his opponent's splintering staff. Her agitated shout meets a now placid acknowledgment as her spirit dyes his contemplative features a rusty hue. She is right. There is far to go after this single step. That he has taken it does not mean that he can even take the second, let alone the third. Summoning the power he retains, Alma attempts to focus his psychic energies to a point upon his fingertips, electing to pierce through the swarm rather than risk shielding himself again.
But his spirit does not flow as it should, body and mind out of tune from his earlier efforts, and when the first sparks land Alma's strike is stifled. He grunts as the false flies sting, grimacing before his legs give out and he sinks to his knees like a cut marionette, momentarily losing control of his limbs. He is still for a second.
"But even the slightest push ..."
Slowly, he rises to his feet, chin lifting.
"... is a reason to begin again."
Gently, he is smiling.
"It need not be the same path ... to be a continuation."
For several seconds, the swarm of chi fireflies dart at and around Alma, building into a frenzy as they seek audience with his aura, seemingly hungry to feast on any sign of weakness, any gap in defense. As he drops to his knees, the aggressive priestess stands up straight, no longer leaning forward against her improvised weapon. Even with its faulty construct - having not been born to this end - it has served as a sufficiant conduit for her complex techniques.
As he becomes still, the unwelcome infestation drilling in to do him harm, Ayame looks somewhat satisfied. An optimist like him needed to realize the harsh realities of his situation if only that she wouldn't have to suffer standing in the presence of so much unguarded joy. That will show him. "Hmph." She seems a little appeased, even calming down slightly.
Until she allows herself to realize that she's wrong. Even in the dimming glow of the last fading blood red fireflies, she can see the expression on Alma's upraised face as he pushes back to his face. So very wrong.
The priestess whirls her staff back up into her hands looking at Alma narrowly. For a moment she allows herself to close her eyes as the last mote fades, leaving only her glimmering staff to dimly light the features of the two.
There is no arguing with such sublime faith, is there?
"Yes," she muses,
"I suppose that is true."
Her eyes snap forward, her staff glowing brighter. She's already helped him too much, she chides herself. Why did she even care? Is it some semblence of empathy for a soul suffering in a way not that different from her own?
"You'll have to figure out the rest yourself." she states, her tone firm now. Alma had a moment's respite, but she isn't finished with him - her push comes at a price. It is possible she does't remember who Alma would want to find. His cherished friends, those dear to him. Or if she does have even the slightest idea, she seems inclined not to tell. She hasn't found anyone yet. Why should he get to taste such happiness?
Already she's moving forward, closing that distance. For the time she eschews the talismans and feats of elaborate chi manipulation, opting instead to swing her staff fiercely and true, a solid blow aimed to knock Alma back to his knees or off his feet all together as she swings from left to right, pouring all her body's strength, the crimson hued staff cutting a fierce path through the air.
She'd whip it around a second time, using her body as the fulcrum of a second strike surprisingly even stronger than the first. She seems to expect him to pay the price in bruises!
COMBATSYS: Alma blocks Ayame's Fierce Strike.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ///////////////////////// ]
Alma 0/-------/=======|=======\-------\1 Ayame
It is as though a door, opened a crack, shuts firmly closed.
Alma senses the faint thread tying him to the shrine maiden, representing the glimpse he has gotten of her spirit through her sophisticated spiritual defenses, slip from his grasp. She declares that she will be of no further help to him, and even as he struggles inwardly with the energies invading his body, the psychic nods. She will not tell him of whom he has spoken or what plans he and she have made. But the step he has taken is firmly planted, and cannot be revoked.
This is real. It has all been real, all along.
Alma's heart swells with gladness, spurring on his will. He fights off the latent effects of her insidious fireflies, raising his arms in time to deflect her heavy blow, swaying with the impact but holding his ground. As she pivots into a second strike he steps in, sensing then that the follow-up will be even mightier but nevertheless committing to the move. Artfully shifting his arm, he slips his hand to the inside of her sweep, absorbing more of the blow in order to position himself to attack.
"Favor me with but one word more--"
Without hesitation, he seizes what opening he can, ethereal flame igniting about his hand in the form of a small spearhead, thrusting out as though to pierce her center, little hope though it has of breaking through to a truer self. The scent of the forest, the dance of the leaves, the glow of these lights in the evening darkness, all intertwine within the unifying pull of Alma's singular will.
COMBATSYS: Ayame fails to reflect Self Expression from Alma with Midsummer Fantasy.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > //////////////////// ]
Alma 1/----===/=======|=======\==-----\1 Ayame
His defense is just the right blend of fluid and solid - soft enough to not be too brittle, hard enough to avoid being crushed. As her wooden stick rebounds off the psychic's hand following her second strike, the gifted staff wielder is already back to a defensive position, wielding the weapon at an angle that makes it difficult to get in with traditional kicks and punches.
But Alma's technique is far from simple. The judgemental girl's eyes narrow as he requests a favor - one last gift, a token of what has transpired between them between two existences. A flicker of a frown at her lips makes clear how disinterested she is in extending any further consideration for the young man's wants.
But he is insistent, reinforcing his incoming request with swift movement, the dim of the forest cast away by the bright flame that surges along his hand, directed straight for her. It wasn't what she expected, forced to adjust her preparation on the spot.
Her left hand releases the broomstick before slamming outward, palm forward, fingers splayed. Unlike the bloodred energy flickering along her staff, the perfect discus of chi that she slams into being between her and Alma is the color of a rose. It is against that his spearhead strikes first, the girl stepping forward into it, her growing frown illuminated by the bright clash of power between them.
But her arm trembles, her ability to contest the unique blend of soul and psyche being levied against her not as practiced as she would have expected it. Hadn't she fought countless psychics and nullified their power with this technique? She was a master of-
In another lifetime, perhaps. Here she has had no such practice, she realizes, no such violent encounters on the streets of Southtown. It is a grim flaw in her training, focused as it has been, to not face more like this man. The chi shield shatters, fragments of energy scattering as if fine crystaline powder before vanishing into the dark.
"Ngh!" she gasps, the energy piercing through the white kimono, blasting out from her upper back as the girl staggers back a couple of steps, a shocked expression having overtaken her features a - display of raw emotion, of surprise, of realization that her technique is not yet perfected. Her left hand goes to her chest as she stills the adrenaline coursing through her. She has more control than that, she reminds herself.
But then his request is heard as she finds her knees buckling, her stance maintained only by force of will. It infuriates her to give him this chance, to strike a bargain with /him/. But what choice does she have if she is to improve in this area? That fiery temperment is visible in her face even as she struggles against it. "Nn," she grunts, standing up straight again, returning to her readied stance. The flash of vigor fades, suppressed beneath the same cool demeanor with which Alma was greeted in the first place.
"Is that all you have? If you cannot do better than that, you have no business inquiring after my name."
What Alma senses he cannot fathom.
The hints of emotions that course from his fingertips up his arm to his cerebellum are tangled and obscure, as though she has experienced a self-betrayal subtly unlike that of an overconfident novice. What small suggestions the empath finds of his enigmatic opponent's experiences match no common type. This is perhaps predictable, but it cannot but confound him, if at a certain remove given that he can spare little time for reflection now.
The spiritual poison flows within him still, but he has suppressed it almost entirely with his will, his body and mind recovering as quickly as they are eroded. This has given him the power to push through and this time overcome the shrine maiden's technique, driving her back and nearly felling her, the woman appearing to maintain her stance through sheer grit. Soon, too, whatever hints her aura might have given are suppressed.
Until an opening of a different sort is offered.
Alma smiles faintly at Ayame's challenging, its warmth still reaching his eyes. In defense it can be best to leave one gate open. She would not provoke him out of pride. She wants something, and knows that he will offer it, that he cannot refuse.
"So be it."
She is, of course, right.
He does not simply hammer away at her again, however. He steps in carefully, attempting to capitalize on his artful, rhythmic movements, seeking an opportunity to slip past her expertly wielded weapon. When instinct says he has found one, he obeys it without question, trying to slip in from the side with a gentle brush of his hand upon her staff to guide it away. If she is caught unawares, he will already be there, hands entangled in her robe almost unnoticably until the twist of his hips that aims to hurl her to the ground.
COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Ayame with Light Touch.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > //////////////// ]
Alma 1/-======/=======|=======\===----\1 Ayame
That he agrees to her demand leaves the girl feeling conflicted - on one hand, she wants him to be angry not cooperative. On the other hand, his consent means she's getting what she wants out of this ongoing contest in the Valley of the Dawn. She should feel satisfied at that, at least. "Hmph," is all he gets in response. She'll wipe that smile off his face.
As part of his agreement, of course, he's moving at her. Once again her staff shifts, its crimson glow illuminating her movements in the dark. He'll have to get through that to get to her. She's watching for energy as well. Already, he has proven his arsenal to be varied. Strikes, psychic waves, that direct burst of Soul Power she was unable to stop short herself only moments before - a reminder that not every skill she once possessed is within her grasp right now.
But his plan isn't to strike, isn't to challenge her psyche with his painful expression of emotion. In fact, it seems she might have been overthinking his approach all together. Her staff pivots, the girl shifting on her foot to keep facing the martial artist as he moves. She pushes her staff out, intending to decisively sweep aside the expected strike. But it was for her very weapon he was already reaching, leaving it susceptible to his unwelcome, guiding touch that leaves the stubborn priestess without recourse.
Of course she tries, never one to wallow in self-pity over a mistake made in a microinstant, relaxing her arm so that her staff can be brushed more fully aside; no point in fighting the inevitable. Her feet move in time as well, Ayame twisting, her white cloak trailing.
His hand moves with impossible speed, not as a strike, but as a firm grip, the white cloth of her kimono clutched tightly enough that she can't pull away. Eyes widen a little as she finds herself whirled to the ground with the smooth, expect motion, landing with a soft grunt.
The broomstick lands at her side, only loosely held in her left hand as Ayame blinks in surprise. How long has it been since someone has truly challenged her? She caught up with her father's teachings so quickly it was perceived a miracle to her parents. Little did they realize she already knew the lessons, the techniques, and skills... only the matter of her young body needing to grow into the necessary strength to perform them was holding her back even from the beginning.
Downed, she takes a split second to consider the famous artist's skill as a fighter. It's true, she thinks to herself, even as she slams the heel of her foot out, aiming for his shin in the process -
- in that time, this man was a legitimate rival to Seishirou Ryouhara.
Anything less than her best will not suffice. Regarding him as weak is devaluing the opposition he represented for the Master Engineer. The strike is simple and direct compared to the rest of her techniques, clearly intended to simply buy time to slip back up to her feet and back away if given even a moment's chance to do so, already mentally recalculating everything she had estimated about this man.
COMBATSYS: Alma interrupts Medium Kick from Ayame with Leap of Faith EX.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ < > ///////// ]
Alma 0/-------/-======|=======\=======\1 Ayame
All must be precisely timed.
Every fiber of Alma's being is taut and ready, conscious thought receding to be supplanted by primal instinct honed by constant training. With his embrace of her challenge, no further words are necessary. The conclusion of this battle will determine what knowledge he earns, and whether he will be able to take another step down this road of lost memories tonight. Until that moment, all Alma will do, all he must do, is give himself over entirely to the flow of the fight.
That, he can do.
Though his movements appear simple and grateful, he is straining at the limits of his awareness for vulnerabilities in Ayame's stance as he approaches, his poised stance as he throws her evincing little of this supreme effort. He has battled no tyrants and fought no wars, but he has studied for years now under Rose, one of the greatest psychics of this world, and learned more than he thought possible. She, who has encouraged both his fighting and his artistic talents, is to credit for these moments of perfect synchronicity of body, mind, and spirit.
That unity endures. Alma is silent as Ayame pauses ever so briefly, her thoughts a mystery, before lashing out with her leg. It is this he has been awaiting, which he must execute precisely if he is to maintain this rhythm, if he is to continue to flow. And continue he must.
He could not stop if he tried.
Her foot impacts against his shin, Alma's upper body jerking forward with the impact, gritting his teeth against the pain. Contact ensures that she is committed to the strike, commitment which he requires. For even as he appears to topple, his form is flickering -- to reappear behind her, flipped about to face her at the same position. Trailing motes of light, Alma is thus positioned directly in the path of her retreat, his toppling forward motion now fueling the impact of the sphere of energy suffusing his fist, which he brings down upon the back of the shrine maiden's head like a hammer of judgment.
He catches himself with his hand in a three-point crouch as he lands, eyes still gleaming with the residual light of his soul, a light which a whole new world could not change.
Her sandal-clad foot impacts his shin as intended but already her instincts are screaming that something is not right. He stepped into that- he has a plan and for an instant, she doesn't know what it is. That gap in her knowledge fills her with a spark of fear. Fear that has to immediately be dismissed, the girl drawing on her training quickly.
He's there as her left foot presses down so that she can kick up to her feet, dust from the forest floor trailing from her hakama as she rises. And then he isn't there. In the confussion of her urgent need to be on her feet again, she's completely lost track of him, and the sense of uncertainty is debilitating. Her mouth opens though no sound escapes her lips, the girl caught flat footed and surprised beyond any prior moment in the exchange between them. As if planning for a failsafe option, her right hand slips to her left sleeve, fingers claiming a card tucked away there - one painstakingly prepared in advance for the most necessary of circumstances.
She shouldn't even draw it here; it isn't for something like this. It's for when she really needs-
No, against Alma, there can be no reservation, no hesitation.
The glow of his power casts its light against the ground, Ayame noticing her shadow in that narrow space of time - a shadow that couldn't exist if there were not so bright a light behind her. In that instant as Alma's hand comes rushing down, bearing the might of his spirit for the back of her head, Ayame's right hand snaps back - a desperate defense?
The miko's world is lost to blinding white heat. Her mouth, already open, releases a cry of surprise. She falls forward, pushing off with her feet in a vain attempt to regain control of the situation, but it's for nought as a second later she is crashing into the dirt, her crumpled form landing without attempt to catch herself, a cloud of dust kicked up by the impact, her cloak coming to a rest over her head.
For several long seconds, she is oblivious to anything but the searing pain coursing through her mind. Fingers dig into the earth, conscious thoughts painfully disrupted one after another, each iota of a sentiment cut off by a new appreciation for what it means to hurt.
Gritting her teeth, Ayame presses her hands down, fighting muscle spasms as best she can. She can't stop now. She already set the trap but it will do nothing if not activated!
She's pushing up. How much time has passed she can't even say. She hopes very little, but it's all relative right now. The world is black and something is smothering her. It would only be later on that she realized how ridiculous she must have looked crawling around with a cloak over her head, trying to figure out why she can't see a damnable thing.
But that isn't what's on her mind right now. Instead her fingers reach out, recalling where her staff fell, accounting for the direction and angle of its roll, factoring in the friction of the dirt itself...
Fingers wrap around the wooden weapon on first attempt, so accurate is her prediction. From there she can extrapolate where it fell... hopefully before Alma notices it.
The object of her interest is a talisman at Alma's feet. Its parchment is jet black, the glyphs on its surface drawn in crimson.
But without a touch of her chi to trigger the prepared attack it will do nothing.
Ayame sucks in her breath, rolling over onto her back, damaged broomstick in her hands. Alma would only have a moment before she would stab her makeshift staff out, targeting the card on the ground at his feet - a talisam flung there in the instant before his attack connected.
A surge of chi ignites along her staff. He might think she's swinging for him but the miko's singular goal is to connect her weapon with the ofuda itself - it would only take a touch to spark off the power stored therein...
COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Alma with Pilgrimage to Golgotha.
[ \\\\\\\\ < > //////// ]
Alma 2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|====---\-------\0 Ayame
Night must have fallen somewhere above the canopy of trees. But down here beneath the trees, the light of Alma's brilliant display of energy has yet to even fade.
Even still, with the dark color of the talisman at his feet, it would be easy to miss it being there - afterall, Ayame flung it the instant before his attack sent the girl tumbling and crawling along the ground in pain. He wouldn't know of the incredible effort it took to prepare the card
But all it takes is a single spark of her chi, the broomstick serving as the necessary conduit to extend her reach, to set off the cataclysm of power stored in that single inscribed parchment. A single spark to ignite the firestorm.
Out of the card ebony tendrils surge upward, seeking to entangle the psychic within their grasp and secure him from escaping the penance such a spell is designed to enforce. But that is only the beginning of the ritual unleashed, a sickly green aura bursting forth, extending meters in either direction; Ayame scrambles backward just fast enough to outpace it before she too would be caught up within its judgement, eyes widening slightly.
In truth, Alma is the first person to experience the dark arts trapped within the card. She had an idea of what it was capable of when she made it. But to know and see are worlds apart. What if it tears the man apart? That was not her intent-
The miasmic green energy detonates with Alma at its center, becoming a fount of green flame that surges up around him, hiding him from the miko's eyes.
The tendrils holding him fast are aflame now as well even as they attempt to pull their prey down into the nadir of the attack. He has only so long to break free, to escape the burning hell that awaits any trapped within the technique for too long.
Ayame is already on her feet, her toe used to kick her staff up into her left hand, the entire grove illuminated by the unearthly pyre with Alma at it's center, unnatural green scorching the earth at his feet.
Alma slowly exhales.
His intricate combination is complete. The advanced psychic techniques he has perfected under the fortune-teller's tutelage have allowed him to stay one step ahead of the skillful priestess thus far. With such a powerful expression of his spirit, the rhythm of battle momentarily stills. He remains attuned to his adversary as best he can, unable to break her will with his strike but attentive to its fracturing, seeking invisible clues as to her state and intentions. Whatever their greater goals, for him this remains first and foremost a clash of two strong souls, with all attendant significance.
That, it turns out, is where he is wrong.
Only when, recovered from his intense efforts, his gaze follows Ayame reaching for her staff and, strangely, thrust it toward his feet, does Alma begin to understand what, in another time, it took him so many bloody and senseless conflicts to acknowledge--
This is a battlefield.
With no capacity to predict the sudden surge of power emerging elsewhere than his oppponent herself, Alma's intuitions are of no avail when, with the barest spark from Ayame, his world is blotted out by agony and darkness. Ensnared in horrific black bonds, the vile power engulfs him utterly, only his scream of pain and his silhouette detectable from the conflagration. The energy assails him from without, but the torment gnaws at him from within, a hungry beast against which there is no defense. Bereft of the capacity to reflect, he endeavors to endure, but finds that the sorcery is drawing him down, down into the earth, as though he is sinking into some abyssal maw. The emotion that swells within him then is unfamiliar, and it takes him a moment to place it.
Once he realizes that, something clicks. His body is paralyzed from the pain; his mind is reeling, unable to form a cohesive thought. Neither are required. Here, on the brink of total desolation, Alma, abruptly, experiences complete clarity. For the question is simple.
Will you leave this world behind?
The scream that emerges then is different, somehow. Then too do the flames seem different. Amidst the green, there is purple; amidst the black, there is white. The haze begins to clear, Alma's form becoming visible. His feet stand still upon this earth. His hands lift to the heavens in supplication. His eyes are fields of light.
Maou Satsujinken rages and burns, howls and protests, eating at his ravaged body with every passing moment, but Alma's spirit continues to build beyond mortal limits, emitting the absolute oppression of unconditional conviction. And then, finally, it is enough. As though a sudden gust of wind passes through, the effects of the sorcery blast away, leaving him standing there.
Standing, unyielding, looking at her.
COMBATSYS: Alma gathers his will.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\ < > //////// ]
Alma 2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|====---\-------\0 Ayame
She can't help but stare at the detonation of energy that has surged up around her unexpected visitor with an open mixture of fear and fascination. She can't help but wonder if she had gone too far. If she hadn't have panicked, she wouldn't have used it at all. But in the heat of the moment, she had reached for the dark ash parchment, tucked away in a fold within her sleeve, intended only for use against the creatures of the night she was hellbent on sealing away for good... It was not meant for him.
At the same time, she can't help but to marvel at its potential. Her right hand lifts, shielding her eyes a little, mouth frozen in a neutral, tight-lipped expression as the angry green light plays across her features. The results are better and more horrific than she had hoped for, but she can do nothing to stop it now. She will have to make a decision - the only way to extract him would be to dive through the hellforge itself and try to wrest the man from the midst of it at great risk to herself. Time for choosing is runing out!
She forces herself to take the first step when the sound of anguish changes all together and the girl stops short, gazing into the technique over which she has lost all semblence of control, only to realize that she can see him now. The tone of his cry changes and Ayame recoils a step, lowering her hand as to see more clearly now, into the heart of the storm. There is another force there now, a new color, a new power. At first she isn't sure - that is not how it is supposed to work. Why then the purple, the growing glow of white brighter than the hellfire by far?
It's then that she realizes the energy is not from her technique but from his soul. The energy is fought back, the burning bonds begin to crumble away, becoming ash, then nothing at all. Even the fire kneels to his will, bending and twisting and withdrawing from the psychic's body before at last, the infernal phenomenon is cast away, scattered as if from an unseen current, losing form and color, leaving only a scorched circle on the ground - at its center, a man defiant in his survival standing admist the lingering sulphurous smoke.
In seconds, even the smoke has faded, driven away by the forces at play around Alma Towazu. He won't need eyes to sense the open admiration for his power in the previously tightly closed book of his opponent's thoughts. What spirit, what force of will was able to cast off the shackles of such hazardous conjuration?
The moment passes, however, appreciation for his will replaced quickly with determination that she will hear him submit before this confict is settled. Her eyes meet his and narrow. "You... fought well." That is his only warning. Holding her staff out at her left side, Ayame sucks in her breath. And then she bolts forward. "You have my gratitude!"
One foot touches down in the blackened circle before she lunges through the remaining distance, her dirtied white cloak falling from her shoulders at the motion, drifting to the ground behind her. He might be expecting a strike with that battleworn broomstick at her side. He would be wrong.
Her staff would be jammed into the ground to serve as a lever to vault herself into him and then released, left to fall inert against the ground. If Alma is caught off guard, he will find himself bodily tackled as she attempts to take him down to the charred earth on his back. If she succeeds, in one smooth motion, her left hand slips an azure talisman from her right sleeve, her right hand drawing a small, three inch dagger from her left sleeve.
He would have only an instant to save himself before the determined girl slaps the talisman down against his torso and attempts to stab it through with the glinting dagger in her right hand.
COMBATSYS: Alma blocks Ayame's Specter's Lament; Eternal Repose.
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\ < > //////// ]
Alma 2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|====---\-------\0 Ayame
If only he knew her heart.
Alma's world remains pale and distant. Even as his surging power regenerates the internal damage inflicted by the demonic flame, his senses are overpowered by the aftereffects of the hellstorm and his own unbridled spirit. Time is liquid and his soul is aflame. He stands straight with hands aloft in the wake of his triumph, but his eyes see past his surroundings, not yet fully conscious. In this state of trance, the shrine maiden's words manifest from nowhere, filtering into a soft cocoon of light.
'You... fought well.'
Slowly, Alma smiles, almost childlike, gazing at nothing.
'You have my gratitude!'
He inhales sharply.
Ayame lunges at him then, abruptly accelerating with the leverage provided by her staff, a burst of speed that would throw off anyone attempting to calculate her movements. She plows bodily into him, sending the tall psychic skidding back, slapping a talisman onto his chest and thrusting out her dagger--
--where it stops a hairsbreadth away, Alma's hand gripping her wrist.
His eyes have cleared, and he is looking at her.
tA gleam of light, the brushing aside of her arm, a slight dip of his shoulders. These are the warnings she will have before Alma erupts at close-range into a flurry of palm strikes blazing with Soul Power, targeting her abdomen first to stun her and drive her back before hammering about her head, intending to end with a final impact with the heel of his hand under her chin, a knockout blow on a lesser fighter.
As he moves, the talisman plastered upon him flutters off, joining the leaves in their late evening dance.
COMBATSYS: Ayame fails to counter Trial by Fire from Alma with The Sunrise of Broken Dreams.
-* CRITICAL FAIL! *-
COMBATSYS: Ayame can no longer fight.
Her hand reaches out to press the talisman against his chest. This technique is no where near as severe as her last. But with what he just went through, it will assuredly demand his admission of defeat. Teeth grit, her right hand lifting. A stab through the rune-laden paper will unlock the piercing power within. Did he say something?
Her hand slams forward only to be caught by the wrist. Without the help of a close inspection, it would appear as if the execruciatingly sharp point had punctured the paper. But if it had, this discourse would be at an end.
Her arm trembles as his words reach her ears, brown eyes snapping up from her captured limb to see the change in his eyes. Her mouth opens in surprise but she makes not a sound. The power of his defiance, the magnitude of his will, the purpose made manifest by his newfound knowledge and purpose unleashed by their exchange is overwhelming. It's a wonder to behold, her mind marvels, only to realize she hasn't a second to spare. The thoughts are shoved into the corner of her mind - now isn't the time.
Visibly, she doesn't seem to stop for even a second. Her hands release the dagger and paper, the heavier weapon falling to the ground with a thunk even as she is already reaching backward with her left foot as her arm is brushed aside lightly. She doesn't fight it. It's exactly where she wanted it to go, her body turning in time with the gesture with the start of a graceful pirouette, her right foot serving as anchor point.
The toe of her left foot stabs out, hooking the end of the broomstick that has served as her staff just enough to kick it into the air in a lazy spin. Right as Alma's first empowered palm swings forward, Ayame knocks it aside with her right hand. Her left hand snaps out into the air, fingers clasping hold of the spinning airborn staff to yank it out of the air in an instant.
As his second palm strike comes in, it will intersect the now glimmering broomstick Ayame has intersected into his path. Her eyes meet his, twisting the weapon into position to defend her stomach from a third strike. With each impact against the staff, her arm trembles, the chi flares and is weakened, and the weapon shudders, but her mouth curls into the faintest of smiles. She's got him now. She remembers now, the precision attunement necessary to deal with that powerful psychic energy wielded by Alma. She's got him now.
Her tone is confident, satisfied. She needed to learn something here as well, and now she has. A fourth strike is intercepted just like the one before.
The fifth palm strike changes everything. Confidence melts to shock as splinters fly, the broomstick, even reinforced by her skill and aura, is not up to the task it was called upon to endure this night. Her eyes widen, not even sure what is wrong beyond the give in her hands, the lack of something reliable to grip-
His palm strikes her kimono-clad torso with thundering force, staggering her with its power as Soul Power errupts through her chest. The girl gasps, lifting her hands, gripping only weak, useless fragments of wood between her fingers - they have not the power to stop him now!
The strike to her head sends her stumbling, vulnerable to the ones that follow, her hands raising, trying to intersect the blows with the already fragmented wood, but it is predictably a futile effort. She slams her right foot back, bracing, dropping the broken sticks and reaching forward with her hands, intent on pushing him away - even a second's reprieve could make the difference. Suffering such direct, unmitigated hits is more than she can handle, unable to even compartmentalize the sheer amount of pain bursting through her body in that instant. She has to get him away!
It's the blow to her chin that settles it though, Ayame knocked up on her toes as her whole body responds to the impact, eyes closing. She lands on her feet and, for a moment, seems as if she will end up staying in spite her closed eyes and serene expression.
But then she begins to fall, a limp puppet bereft of strings.
The only sound is the sighing of the trees.
Alma stands with his palm still thrust aloft, scarf rippling, wreathed in silent falling leaves. Around him are scattered fragments of wood, the remnants of the broom which shattered under his blows. Before him stands his adversary, defiant to the last, her eyes shut closed. It seems to him then, in his first reflective thought as the flow of battle ends, that in the shift between consciousness and unconsciousness there is the appearance of a great burden being lifted from her, as though this waking world is ever saddled with some tremendous task.
He would want to paint her just like that.
With the last of his gathered spirit he flickers, and when she falls he is there, catching the young woman in his arms. He gazes down at her slight frame, cognizant that this triumph only occurred because his opponent was not properly armed. No doubt she possesses a superior weapon than a broom to suit her skill. No doubt if he nears the truth and the two of them meet again, he will see it.
"I'll remember," he murmurs, "that name."
Something stirs. There was something else. Something he was supposed to remember. A promise to remember. Someone. Somewhere. Somehow.
It is gone.
Alma lifts Ayame up in his arms, cradling her like a bride, his features calm and weary, and begins to trudge up through the shrine gates and onward. It does not occur to him to simply leave her here, or that the encounter to come is like to be strange. It's Alma. If anyone can beat up someone's daughter and still leave having made a good impression, it's him.
Next time, on Revolutionary Miko Ayame: Mom Won't Shut Up! He's Rich, Famous, /and/ Handsome!?
COMBATSYS: Alma has ended the fight here.
Log created on 01:55:03 11/02/2014 by Ayame, and last modified on 02:44:51 11/12/2014.