Ibuki - Casualty of the Shadow War

Description: A lone ninja hunts. A kunoichi gets in over her head. Ideologies clash over the concept of fate.

Saturdays could be wonderful for a variety of reasons. For starters, it was only a half day at school. As an added bonus, it was a day off from compulsory and borderline insane ninja training.

So why then, was Ibuki here?

'Here', would be on a branch of a tree on a cliff overlooking the Southtown village, as the burnt orange of sunlight faded into the violet and navy blue of twilight. In a few hours, the area below would turn into a popular makeout point for teenagers, but sadly, she wasn't here on a date.

Dressed in her tan dogi, with her half-mask hanging around her neck, she had literally no reason to be allowing 'ninja' business to get to her on a day off, but here she was. Her only companion was a Tanuki who stretched out lazily just beyond the kunoichi's foot, as she leaned back against the trunk. "I don't know Don-chan. I can't get it out of my head. The elders say I should just stay away."

Talking to someone helped, even if her Tanuki companion couldn't reply other than to give a non-comittal squeak. Sighing, she shook her head, before stretching out her hands behind her top knot, "Yeah, I knew you'd say that. Something tells me I'm going to have to outsource on this one."

This caused the Tanuki to lift his head, whiskers twitching, as the kunoichi plopped down fully to seat herself on the branch. Reaching behind her back, she pulled out a picture of a girl dressed in a jinbaori, and wielding a katana. The shot had her locked in arena combat against a ninja who almost certainly wasn't Ibuki. After all, she was wearing a /pink/ dogi, and had her hair down. Huge difference.

She stared at it for a good while, long enough that Don-chan lost interest. Eventually Ibuki put the photograph away. "Then there's that whole business with..." She stretched out her arms, allowing herself a long, exaggerated yawn, "...well Empress." Putting her hands behind her head, she leaned back against the tree trunk, unposing for a moment to flip her lengthy top knot out of the way. "Can't believe the cops think that their evidence going up in smoke was the result of some disgruntled employee."

Closing her eyes, she she allowed herself to settle down, and relax. It was necessary when she thought upon the battle. Thought upon the girl causing her thoughts to catch aflame like each individual one had been doused in gasoline. It brought a twitch underneath her eyelid.

Shifting in place, she had trouble getting comfortable, scooting back against the tree, and allowing the small of her back to scratch up against the bark. The sudden pricking sensation caused her to nearly yelp, as she sat up suddenly and a hand whips around under the dogi to try to find whatever was there. Serpent quick, it's brought in front of her face for her to observe it more closely. Other than the rising and falling of her chest, and the rustling of her hair in the wind she was completely still

One second passed. Then two. Then three.

"Oh shit." She whispers, as she drops the object. It glints in the fading rays of twilight as it falls from the tree, her other hand putting her half mask over her face. Tanuki fur bristled from the obvious implications.

He was so kind, earlier.

It would have been next to impossible to consider the boy as anything other than a particularly avid fighting fan, wearing glasses that made his brown eyes appear a few sizes too big and a rather sketchy Taiyo uniform as he asked for an autograph. Chemistry and Bio student, was how he'd described himself. He caught her just outside of her last match. He loved her style, apparently, but he came off as more than a little brainy, and probably knew just a little bit too much about the kinetics behind all of her moves, rattling off a few facts and figures about her measurements (both with and without equipment... ehh;) and abilities and some other stuff that was just--just a little too weird.

Luckily, once given an autograph and maybe (probably (definitely)) a hug selfie, he wasn't too hard to get rid of, like any well-meaning creeper.

All truth told, that was a different person than the young man who trails her today. He was told of her by the Empress, as part of his request to find all active shinobi clans in Japan. According to what his intelligence was able to gather, this particular ninja made quite the impression. When asked what he would do by a few of her attendants, whom came to him with the information at his forge, he was silent only for a moment.

"I will capture her," he says quietly.
"And then she'll tell me everything she knows."

He fit the white visored helmet over his head a moment later.

Now, alone in the forest with only her dog-like companion, she has the opportunity to examine the small, sharp item he took the moment to plant on her while disguised as the Taiyo student. It is a small water lotus, folded from a thin, stiff metal. No larger than a thumbnail, the craftsmanship is exquisite, to the point that it looks more like jewelry than a shinobi implement. Like the seeds of some plants, it is very easy to get caught in the clothing due to the petals of the lotus being more barbed than anything. At the center of the lotus is a small crystal, impossibly delicate. And most damning of all is the kanji that now glows in the center of that crystal:

- HUNT -

A shuriken lands in the tree, a few inches from Ibuki's head, sinking deep into the heartwood.
It is followed by a hundred more, knives and shuriken raining down from the dark in an area saturation that flood-fills the radius around Ibuki with all manner of swords, knives and other assorted blades and edges. It's hardly meant to kill Ibuki where she stands, as no particular blade seems to acutely have her name written on it, but it's definitely the sort of thing that would slice her to ribbons if she stood still. She might recognize the intention--an attack to wear out the body.

The hailstorm lasts for a full minute.

It's only when that last shuriken is thrown that the young man appears, striding out of the darkness above, balanced on a tree branch as if it were no different from a city street, the silks of his white haori twisting through the air with every movement, and concealing his hands. He wears blades at his back, from a suspended pack hanging from his waist, as if to leave a set of wings that don't exist clear. His face is concealed behind a visor attached to the war helmet he wears, occluding the sounds of his breath into a soft hiss. No inch of skin is shown.

Silent, he doesn't seem human.
A shinobi, through and through.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou has started a fight here.

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Seishirou        0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Ibuki has joined the fight here.

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Ibuki            0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0        Seishirou

The details of the water lotus were something she only had three seconds to consider. Fortunately she understood the implications all too quickly. She was being tracked as the prey for some predator.

After that her mind races over where the tiny water lotus she just dropped came from. Earlier? At her her League appearance at Taiyo? She wasn't even there as Ibuki, but under the false identity Akemi Hino, a fiery beauty in a pink dogi.

She supposes it might have been obvious. Details however came sluggishly, as she tries to grope around for moments where it might have come from. Certainly not from that somewhat clingy boy that she'd flashed a V for Victory at during the hug selfie.

She had no time to consider it all in depth however, as she's showered in splinters of bark as the shuriken sinks deep in the wood.

Don-chan squeals, and immediately starts running down the trunk in a position that will put it between him and the one creating this tempest of metal. Ibuki drops down from the branch, her wrapped hand reaching out to grasp the limb. She uses it to somersault upwards, a blade she couldn't even see nicking the flanks of her attire.

Landing on one foot, she makes a dance of expert footwork that takes her round and round the tree, upwards, like it were some arboreal staircase. When she ran out of space, she took the plunge downwards downwards like some diver, tucking into a ball as she did so. The various near misses told her all she needed to know. Like an animal being hunted, she was being worn down.

And she was feeling it, around the edges, as her chest heaved like stretched and overworked bellows as she lands on one of the lower branches with an audible crack, as it lowered beneath her weight. Fortunately for her, she had energy to spare. Unfortunately for her, she was fighting someone who was definitely better than the average Geki rent-a-ninja. A predator. And as she catches a glimpse of the pale haori, she wonders if it's a ghost. The wise decision would be to flee, regroup, make him fight her on her terms. "You're not Geki." She remarks, softly.

Who ever accused her of being wise?

As her feet touch down on a branch parallel to him, she presses down, using them to spring forward and take the initiative. Her legs press together, as she corkscrews at him. Her feet outstretched, she tries to make a whirling stomp upon his shoulders. "I'm not sure what sort of image you're cultivating here!" If all goes well, she'd press down and spring backwards off them towards a higher perch. "Are you supposed to be some sort of ghost?"

COMBATSYS: Seishirou blocks Ibuki's Hien.

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Ibuki            0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0        Seishirou

The haori-clad shinobi strides calmly along the branch, making no move to assume a battle posture against his target. He is eerily silent as he observes her movements. She ascends the tree with great agility, using it as if it were no more than a stairwell to come meet with him. And, 'he' is used somewhat speculatively. When swathed in layers of silk and sturdy drill, he could very well be anyone or anything underneath that helmet. At least, for the immediate moment. She moves with talent enough to be considered a ranking shinobi in any respectable clan, at least slightly above a student's level. And for the moment, he is content only to do that much--passively observe.

When she lands across from him, panting, he only takes a single step for the preservation of his even balance, inclining his head at the term 'Geki.' It would be a quizzical motion, were it not for the slow roll of his neck to the other side. Were there no barriers between them, it might be easily imagined that he was glaring at her from under the cut of his brow. As it is, the unknown ninja's helm tilts in a clear show of dismissal and, more importantly, a passionless aggression.

"I am the ghost of the Ryouhara," the ninja answers, a calm, icy voice lost to distortion, distended mechanically by the vents in the helmet he wears. "Stand, and be judged."

She leaps over him, and attacks downward, in a spiralling screw kick. Quickly, his hand moves to his back, raking free a single chokuto-style blade from its suspended scabbard. This, he flicks into the air ahead of him. His sleeves move like white blurs, crossing his arms at the wrists as he stabs both out. Ibuki will feel the cool touch of his hands as he blocks her spinning kick at her feet with the flats of his palms, transmitting the rotational force to his own feet as he steps into her blow. Normally, a spiralling kick gives better aim and precision in an attack, but he minimizes the damage by passing it through his skeleton and into the tree underneath. He's moving with the spin, uncrossing his wrists in the same clock as her spiral, and redirecting her force over his head and across him in eyeblinks, deflecting her neatly. He's trying to set her off-balance with his deflection, disrupting her intending landing spot. It will give him exactly one moment for a pursuit, leaping into the air behind her ... and snatching the sword he threw past her an eyeblink ago.

In this case, he's using the air as his third hand, channelling red friction off of his blade, causing the weapon to throw off heated sparks as it carves a wide-angled and red-lined arc through the air as he dives after Ibuki, trying to chase her down and cut through her briskly in the air, clipping her wings. The whirling sky attack of the ninja catches the excess silks of his haori, resembling a deadly white lotus blooming with silver and red inflections in the air.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou successfully hits Ibuki with Ninkoujutsu.

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

It's an interesting thing. Many opponents questioned why she wrapped her feet rather than wearing footwear. They offered little protection after all. It was moments like this when it became an advantage. The tips of her toes feel the cool touch of skin as they lance out, which move in unison with hers. She knows immediately what's happening, but she's not in any position to correct them. All she can do is marvel as he redirects the force of the blow through him, as if he were water that rippled, then was still again.

Except that's not right either.

He's not still, he's in motion, flowing like the water behind him. So quickly that she could barely track him. It's perhaps at that time she wonders if she's out of her league. She sees the movement out of the periphery of her vision, as he catches the scabbard he'd thrown moments before, and she whirls around on the tree branch, as red sparks shower her way. She dances backwards even as he descends, then allows herself to fall off her current perch in an attempt to match his momentum.

It's in vain.

Raising up a single leather armguard to try to deflect the blade channeling his ninpo, she watches as it's sheared through, a spatter of blood painting the cliffside. It's not so much the cut she receives as the shorn armguard follows the blood to the ground, but more the searing, burning pain from the sparks.

Seishirou is rewarded with a muffled shriek as the red and white lotus blooms in the air, the pain throwing off her landing, as she hits hard, and rolls along the ground, finally settling down into a heap. Now would be one of those times when she should know her limitations. When she should just give up, or try to escape. Unfortunately for her, she's too tenacious to allow that, even knowing how outmatched she is.

Her breath is pained through the clinched teeth, as she flicks a glance towards her arm, and flexes it to make certain it's fully attached. Despite the oozing scarlet, it's still functional. With her other arm, she pushes herself to her knee. "A-Alright. So you're some sort of onryo?" The thought of actually facing a ghost was frightening, shaking her inner calm somewhat.

Leaping upright in one motion, she keeps her good arm in front of her, keeping her other behind until she was fully certain of it's capabilities right now.

Dashing forward suddenly, she stops short, and skids a step backwards, trying to keep him just inside of her reach. Balancing on one leg, the other curls up against her body before lashing out in a series of whirlwind kicks. The first one which trails azure streamers is aimed at his mid-section, before her balancing leg suddenly drops low, the next two aiming to sweep his stance out from under him with chi infused power and speed. "If you're here for vengeance, then at least tell me what I'm being judged /for/!"

COMBATSYS: Seishirou fails to interrupt Tsumuji from Ibuki with Katon Citadel.

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

Clipping off her armguard in the midst of his renkaizan, the Ryouhara ghost continues through the fast whirling revolutions in the air, his blade cutting a shadow image of his trail in both chi and blood. The weapon was a simplistic device--just a blade capable of harnessing his inner chi to increase cutting force through heat and power. Some ways away, he lands nimbly, one foot ahead of the other. Unlike Ibuki, he does not bind them, instead wearing a certain kind of a reinforced and customized jika-tabi to absorb the shock of his aerial landings.

Standing straight, he senses the mild disruption in her calm, his helmet bowed in a cold regard for her. Her vulnerability can have no effect on him, neccessarily. But that shriek she let off only a moment ago still echoes in the confines of his helmet. Despite his cold countenance, it causes his visor's assumed attention to shift by unruly degrees, making it seem for all the world as if he was having trouble keeping her in focus. Ghostly targetting reticules surround her body in his view, but his head tilts, and his form shifts just so. From what she felt only a moment ago, it is definite that he is not a robot of any kind--he has the hands of a person, not a machine. But as for what he is.. he gives her no clues or hints.

He is a being that lives in both the present and the past.
He slides his blade back into its sheathe. It is a monumental task for him to push aside the rogue images appearing now as ghosts filling the grassy field between them, but he does so by pure force of will alone. The steel redoubles in his mechanically jangled voice. "The snake has no chance to ask the hawk why it dives."

There is precious little time for him to respond, for she is already in motion. Unfortunately, his own mind conspires against him--he raises a hand to respond to her charge, but she quickly skids back, plying out his response. He has no choice but to whirl away from the spinning kick string she unleashes, the attacks slamming into his shoulder roughly. He attempts to trigger a jutsu with the proximity, but her blurred attacks bite into him too quickly, disrupting his even flow, knocking him clear off of his feet, forcing him into a full on backflip that causes him a crumpling landing in a crouch some ways away. As he does so, his technique backfires(?), causing him to explode visibly into a ball of fire.

Swathed in armor and silk, it's hard to tell the exact level of damage the shinobi takes and how much is actually intended, but when he spins to a stop, he is able to control his flaming descent until he is only smouldering, his mantle a curtain of grey around that helmet of his. He manages to take a knee.

"It's a truth," he continues, "learned only on the other side."

The ghost is speaking. While the words are filed away at some part of mind that comprehends, right now all of her concentration is on her assault. To do otherwise, would be to make a fatal error. As her attacks connect, she wonders for a moment if such will even do anything.

What if she truly is battling some sort of onryo? However, she feels her feet make contact. She feels him crumple beneath it. The shockwaves of the explosion that follows cause her to reflexively lift a hand to her face to shield her eyes. Her top knot whirls in the concussive wave, while she has to skip backwards a single step to keep balance on her leg.

It's in that moment, that all the details of her observations click in her mind, and she comprehends he's not some pallid spirit, but all too mortal. Ibuki realizes that her injured arm was trembling. Her opposite arm suddenly clamps a hand down upon it to keep it still. And taking a few deep breaths, she grows more calm.

And then she speaks, her voice taking upon a hard edge, perhaps chiding herself even a touch in what follows. "How poetic. You're a man though, not a hawk. I'm a girl, unlike the hawk and the snake, we're the same species. We speak the same language." Her leg drops suddenly, scattering the gravel on the cliff side, as she shifts it backwards behind her other. "And if you don't want to talk, then we still speak the same language. As you're a ninja, and I'm a kunoichi. So I can question what you're doing through my actions." Her uninjured arm lances out, as she takes up a strong stance.

She watches him smoulder beneath the force of his ninpo, the flames reflecting in her eyes, even if the rest of her face was expressionless due to the half mask. "And I refuse to wait until I get to the other side for answers. I haven't done anything that deserves vengeance of that magnitude! I've never even..."

This was a strange admission, but perhaps a necessary one to voice aloud, as a ninja, where killing is pretty much assumed to be just a natural part of the job. "...killed anyone." She whispers, though it still carries in the wind.

Her opposite arm, her wounded one, suddenly makes a subtle motion, and before he knows it a diamond of metal is hurled at him with a sideways flick of the wrist. It's a kunai, but a more traditional one, blunted, such as the trowels farmers of the past might have improvised. And it's aimed right at him. For the hundred he threw at her to wear her out, she just throws the one to try and slow him down. "So I refuse to take the fall for someone else. I've got too much living to do!"

COMBATSYS: Seishirou dodges Ibuki's Kunai.

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

"...Hrnh. You sound sure about that."

He's not a ghost...right? The metallic voice fills the small space between trees. Slowly, everything returns to a keen focus inside his helmet, the images before his eyes slowly sharpening until they return to their customary clarity, giving him an accurate read of the battlefield before him. In a battle with shinobi, a split second can be the difference between life and death; he must make a stronger effort to control the visions he's seeing. But a split second passed, and he is not dead.

It's enough for him to make his judgment on her alone.
"We bear the weight of our family's successes, and their indiscretions," the white-clad youth points out. "Their shame becomes ours. Anything else is hiding from it. If you think you can escape the curse by taking a pretty stance, by insisting otherwise..."

"The spirit of the Ryouhara clan will cut through you and to the truth."

The shinobi suddenly explodes from his neutral stance, sleeves flying behind him as he quickly approaches Ibuki, midsentence. She flicks out her kunai, the blunted improvised classical weapon. There aren't many farmers anymore, but the weapon itself is still a sound design. A click as a blade exits its sheath. The ends of his haori spread as the so-called ghost transitions seamlessly into a martial form, whirling the blade around him in a 720 degree multi-axis rotation, flicking the end of the chokuto through a complicated pattern of waza while whirling about, building momentum as he approaches. One would expect the thrown knife to be deflected off of the blade, but it is not the aim of the technique--he instead knocks the knife off course by tilting his helmet just low enough that the thrown weapon peals off the reinforced dome of the protective armor with a flick of his chin, effectively knocking it away with his helmet. As he moves, a pair of very fast eyes will be able to tell that Ryouhara is flicking through hand-seals--somatic components of some chi technique--even as he spins his blade, building momentum. With one handseal locked in half-tiger form, he crosses his wrists, bringing his blade dead down through Ibuki's centerline, trying to cut through her guard without delay. But even if she finds the space or ability to block, her guard will be subject to his blade, which seems to have no form--he slips right through attempts to block him...

...At the same time as the real ghost, indistinguishable (?!) from the first, flies right past Ibuki's guard, in a whisper of silk that moves to flank her with a blade of his own...

...And the duplicate which attacked directly turns into a fiery wave of piercing birds made of black fire, seeking to detonate each in turn on Ibuki in the middle of her defense. Truthfully, it's hard to tell exactly when Ryouhara made the switch of himself with a chi copy, but at one point he simply -- split off into two.

His hands are fast.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou successfully hits Ibuki with Shunshin Mirage.

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Ibuki            1/----===/=======|=======\===----\1        Seishirou

"I've never even heard of the Ryouhara clan! My clan is..."

The reply is cut off, as her eyes are now on the blade. He spins once, then twice upon his axis in the midst of his iaido technique, and she takes one step backwards, then another, limbs shifting in an even rhythm. She follows his technique as best as she can with her eyes. It's a complicated pattern, but in the end it's a practical variation kata she'd seen before.

She's been getting too much experience fighting people wielding with swords lately. The thought brings a twitch to an eye, as she tries to superimpose another over him in her mind's eye. That was something of a mistake. Her other foe could invoke a form of energy that she barely comprehended another than a name with but a thought. His were invoked by...

Her eyes flick down to his hands, and inwardly she curses herself for a fool. As he advances forward with the downward thrust, she doesn't try to block however. Realizing the differences, she doesn't attempt her usual Shinken Shirahadori defense against such bladework. Instead she tries to leap backwards, outside of his reach.

That too was a mistake.

She feels something... not quite substantial pass through her, like the wind itself. It brings a shiver to her body, a moment before metal leads, and birds made of umbral fire. The first blow trims off some flesh at her flank, tearing off a good half of her dogi above the waist and spattering more blood into the hungry earth. She has no time to even make a cry of pain, as the birds detonate. The blast wave carries her up, and off the ground, spinning her around as she shrieks into the night. She hits the ground hard, scattering gravel and dust everywhere.

Fortunately for her, the blast cauterized the first, deep flesh wound at her flank. Unfortunately for her, everything hurt. Tears glimmered in her eyes as she lay there stunned. Then all of a sudden, she bites down, crunched up a fist and slammed it into the ground. As if the gesture might transmit her pain too. It doesn't, but the sudden adrenaline rush and surge of endorphins were certainly making it hurt less.

She was scared too, but fear. A healthy amount of fear could sometimes be a good thing. Once she felt like she could speak again, without screaming, her teeth unclinch. "...m-my clan..." She takes a deep breath, gulping in blessed air, "...has no name. It's new enough to have no h-history they can even tell me!"

Pressing her toes in the ground, she suddenly is off the ground, moving at him. Languorously at first, but then it speeds up in the space of half a second. Hoping that her quick recovery time will throw him off, she moves so quickly that she creates an afterimage mirage of her own, each one appearing here and there around him.

Her whole body felt numb, both giddy, and frightened, and exhausted at the same time. There's a single hitch in her step which almost does her in, but she recovers out of it by purposefully stumbling onto a single palm handstand, and feinting with a double kick that goes purposefully wide.

It's at that moment that she allows gravity to carry her downward, and hopefully into his guard, as she crouches low, one arm raised to try grasp his haori upon the sleeve and attempt to pull him forward, off balance. The other hand... it juts forward at a simple palm strike that seems to have all the force of a newborn fawn trying to walk, at first. He might feel it, before it happens, though no hand signs herald it's coming. If he's not already out of her grip, the palm clinches inside his guard, forming a fist. Cerulean energy would then surge out of her arm, forming a spherical burst of chi that would carry the force of a powerful explosion at point blank range, meant to send him flying and give her much needed space.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou dodges Ibuki's Raida.

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Ibuki            1/---====/=======|=======\===----\1        Seishirou

There is strength in theatricality.

Though the complex array of sword movements did have a functional purpose in gaining centripetal force for an overhand sword attack, the length and breadth of the attack served only a comparitively minor defensive purpose. No, it was the handseals which the spinning blade obfuscated that served as the length of the young scion's true attack, and the real reason for the elaborate stancing and approach, which would have otherwise had been inviting disaster. She was incredibly capable for a kunoichi her age, and any lesser shinobi would have been beaten out soundly by her talents.

His mind flicks through the possibilities even as she moves to retreat. Her number of options by his estimation quickly winnow down to zero at the last moment. She realizes her mistake only as the fluttering cacophony of blackbirds detonate in a cascade of coruscating blasts, sending the kunoichi sprawling to the dirt under her feet.

His blade is already tucked away into its sheath. It's noticeable that the shinobi does not have a real fighting stance, merely standing where he lands, his hands sheathed by the voluminous bolts of silk that make up his haori. As she struggles to stand, struggles to keep a tide of pain from crippling her, from being overtaken by fear, he is forced to reflect. She is still young. She doesn't know what it is like to kill. She doesn't know "an unwinnable situation" when it comes across to her. Her soul hurts, more than her body does. Behind that helmet, he frowns.

She insists that she and her clan are innocent.
He could see the fresh tears unwept in her eyes.
A nameless clan with no history.

He is forced to steel his heart, turning it hard against the cries of a world that has crossed his family immeasurably. Faceless, he continues. "... Stop. I'll have nothing else of your lies ..." the words are hard for him to say, details flooding past him. She struggles to even approach him. He must steel his resolve. She will fall under his steel, and her blood will stain the ground as the rest will. That is the truth of the matter, the truth that his blade will cut to, in any age.

Why, then, does he hesitate?

She gets close to him. Far too close. For an instant, she gets a handhold on him, grabbing a great fistful of silk at his sleeve. She pulls him, trying to knock him off-balance. Behind that helmet, he blinks calmly, stirred from his thoughts as if distracted by her aggression, looking downwards. A weak palm strike? ... No. Something more.

He doesn't have a traditional fighting stance because his hands are far, far faster than one can fathom.
One blurred motion, and he moves slightly, a slim frame shifting inside of his own haori. His weight roughly occludes hers in an instant, allowing his free hand to snatch her by the wrist just as she pulls him into the point-blank blast range of her energy attack. The blast is directed to his side. He meets her exactly the same, as opposed to trying to retreat. He tries to roughly pull her into him, the blast from her palm left to possibly carve great swaths out of the landscape, but otherwise impotent against his body.

His chin somewhere over her shoulder, she can hear the subtle hiss of his helmet's respirator.
If she is this close, she will be able to tell without a doubt that he is no ghost.

"....There is a difference between not knowing, and not telling," he mentions, coldly.

A flick of the wrist and the hip. Unopposed, that's really all it will take to twist Ibuki's wrist outside of its normal range of motion. He attempts to dislocate it and disrupt her chi rhythms with that hand, while at the same time slipping one leg behind hers, and then hitting her at her collarbone with his shoulder, to knock her roughly to the ground at his feet, trying to disrupt the hold she has on his shoulder.

COMBATSYS: Ibuki dodges Seishirou's Ryouhara Arts.

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Ibuki            1/---====/=======|=======\==-----\1        Seishirou

Given the results, the rush seemed much more like a fool's gamble with each passing second. Fortune is said to smile on fools at least. Just as her palm lances out, she feels the snatch, and she tries to muster the strength to redirect it's course. It goes wide, the misspent energy carving greatfurrows upon the landscape. She hears the hiss of the respirator, though she does not make any connection to it at first. Right now she was focusing too much on trying to stay alive. His words come, and they fall down some mental well, to be brought up later by some winch when it was more convenient...

But there is in fact a difference between not knowing and not telling. And the Master of her clan did in fact have a darker history than even his favorite pupil might suspect. Ibuki in a way, was the man's redemption for a misspent life. That is neither here nor there however, for the student knew nothing of the master.

She feels the flick of his wrist, and instead of allowing him to complete the motion, she lets go, and presses down with her feet, turning her whole body like an axle over his arm in a technique based off of aikido, meant to take away his leverage. He's still holding onto her though. She sees his foot move just as her feet are about to touch down, and seeing her... well the possibility of death coming, she just stops thinking. She allows herself to become a void of muscle memory and training that her instructors had always tried to impress upon her. With his advantange in this hold dimmed somewhat, she instinctually moves inside of his guard, turning her back to him. She feels the subtle movement of his shoulder, and mimics the movement, rolling herself in as he does.

And yet, despite all of this, he still had a grip on her wrist. She still had her back to him. It was a position of complete vulnerability, and yet, also completely necessary to prevent an even more disastrous situation. Her top knot brushes up against his mask just momentarily. It was absurdly long. For someone who proclaimed to be a completely modern girl, she still was proud of some traditions at least.

A foot rises, before she tries to stomp it inside of his instep. At the same time, her free arm moves, serpent quick to attempt and jam her elbow right into his solar plexus.

He would feel it for just a moment, before it comes. The energy rises out of her, in an attempt to envelop them both in a spherical blast of colossal size. And the only way to get away, would be to let go. She doesn't want him to let go. If he's still present, she whirls around suddenly. A hand grasping his haori.

It seemed absurd, that she would still be here, fighting him hand to hand, when he was both a superior grappler and armed to boot. Well as it turned out, she was armed too. The blast dissipates all in one moment. Her free hand moves outward, energy glimmering in-between her fingertips.

The initial intent of the blast was simply to keep him in range, and stunned. Her fingertips jam into the clinched fist of her other arm with which she'd attempted to jab her elbow into his solar plexus. It travels from those finger tips, up her wrist, causing a burning sensation on his hand, if it was still grasping hers on the way. It goes through her elbow, and travels out.

It was called Yoroitoshi, after the elaborate mail piercing tantos of old, used by Samurai to pierce through their foes defenses at close range. If it strikes him, another powerful blast wave of chi would envelop them both.

COMBATSYS: Ibuki successfully hits Seishirou with Yoroitoshi.

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

Even his hands are not that fast.

Somewhere internally, the shinobi can read the exact texture of her moves, knowing ninjutsu's body arts as much as she. She brings herself into his angle, spinning into his guard until the two are intertwined in a violent exchange of blows. Ninjutsu is an art of inches--even the smallest distance is enough to kill. As a result, the two orbit one another in a dance that does not know the meaning of the word retreat. He pulls her closer, past the point of her first attack. Then she whirls, ravelling up the rest of the distance between them and pressing herself into him, erasing any further empty space. Even someone like the ghost shinobi would have a hard time acting in this angle without dire consequences.

His escape technique was powerful in that it could be done in the space between eyeblinks, for so long as she had physical contact to him, he would have to sacrifice valuable defensive techniques to escape it. Even so, he has no alternative but to counter. And for everything that happens thereafter, the blow to his instep is critical. Seeing it, he tries to lean back, removing her agency. However, he is not fast enough, and the blow crumples his stance. That one infinitely dangerous move is enough to close the gap between them.

Unable to escape and unwilling to sacrifice his armor against her attacks, Ryouhara is sucked into the colossal blast as Ibuki unrolls herself from him to grip his haori, reducing his already weakened position to one of no escape. The blast tears into his body, eliciting a slow and primal roar from the shinobi as it tears into him, cutting into every part of his body save the gauzy silk of his haori.

It is all he can do to twist his heel in the dirt to stay standing.

He can feel the blast radiate down her line of attack. The elbow blast slams into and through his solar plexus, breaking the grip of four hands and blowing him away like a ragdoll, his limbs swaying behind him as he slams into the ground headfirst, twisting and rolling over at least three or four times before coming to a halt, leaving a trail of blood the whole way, and his body crackling with left-over force from Ibuki's series of energy blasts. Slowly, he arches his back off of the ground, every muscle in his body tensing as he suffocates for no less than six or seven hellish seconds, his body struggling to suck air in as the respirator built into his helmet struggles to supply him with the necessary oxygen. He's been hit in the solar plexus, and that much has removed his ability to breathe for that time.

The first breath is the hardest.

Suddenly, the shinobi explodes into the air, his body flipping rightwise as he slams into the earth with a ragged sweep of his sleeves, the pure whites of his haori stained now with the green of the grass and the red of his own blood. Though the energy has been leached out of the square of his shoulders, and he pants hard to regain his breath, he seems to concern himself dispassionately with the battle at hand. It is as if he lived here, on the edge of death, at all times.
It was a familiar sensation, and he did not know why.

"...che," the shinobi breathes, raising a single set of two fingers as he activates the release seal.

A few moments ago, it was all Ryouhara could do to keep standing through the force of her Yoroitoshi. That turns out to not have been accurate. During his time there, he was able to twist his heel into the ground, placing a seal. She can see it now, a light-up symbol spread over the ground before her and encircling her in black heated lines, forming the same kanji at its epicentre that was emblazoned in that tiny lotus she handled only a few minutes ago. If she remembers, the kanji reads 'HUNT.' If she is caught inside the capture field when it completes, she will find herself marked instantly. The unfolding array matches up with the motion the shinobi makes, a lower iron stance as he lifts his furthest heel, and drops it into the ground in a light stomp.

Suddenly, as if jarred loose and set free, the weapons that filled the wood of the tree explode from their points in the wood in series. They rocket through the air haphazardly in a chaotic series of curved arcs. These arcs are dynamic, expanding, compressing and even shifting as needed as they all leap for Ibuki's neck at the same time. A single blow, the result of a fast horse-killing dash past Ibuki to take advantage of the potential confusion, may be all that is needed to distract her long enough for his blades to finish the job, pinning her to one spot like a butterfly in a glass case.

He can only look over his shoulder slowly, as if hearing something...

COMBATSYS: Ibuki dodges Seishirou's Principles of "Ninkougakujutsu".

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Ibuki            0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0        Seishirou

There's no exultation in the fact that one of her ultimate techniques struck home. The primal roar of rage from her opponent indicates that while he was hurt, he was far from being down and out. Even when he's blasted backwards, even when he starts fighting for every breath he makes.

There's no doubt in her mind that he'd recover.

Free from his grip, she sways, then slumps down to her knees. Living on the edge of death, it was still a new thing for her, after so many recent close battles. And yet there's almost some unspoken connection, some empathy there joining the two. If she didn't die here tonight, then she'd likely be teetering on the edge between life and death for the rest of her life. Just one step ahead of the reaper's blade, and if she faltered?

Her gaze lifts as a sound other than ragged breathing emerges from his lips, a hand moving to her wounded side, which tender as it was, immediately causes a pained moan to be uttered. She didn't see the seal at first, with her gaze upon him. As the energy gathers into calligraphy beneath her, she only feels the briefest of sensations. And then it happens. She's marked, and even though she doesn't know the implications, she instinctually rises to one leg. And starts moving.

The newly emerged stars twinkle out of existence beneath the rain of darkness that starts to descend. At first the Kunoichi moves away, rather than at Seishirou. As he dashes towards her however, she leaps, high, pressing her hands against her chest, feeling the blade shear off the tip of her top knot, and decorate the cliff with the the dark tresses.

She lands on one hand, and cartwheels away just as the weapons start homing in. She catches a glimpse of the shower of doom, her rational mind comprehending what is happening, but she doesn't allow herself to stop to process it. She just keeps moving. Dashing away so fast that she's leaving a half-dozen after images in her wake. She heads for the tree, intending to use it as a barrier, as she moves behind it, she's listening to hear the sounds of them thunking against the wood in great numbers.

She doesn't hear it, so her movement never slows. She moves circular up the tree, one branch at a time, with absurd feats of acrobatics to attempt to stay even one hair's breadth ahead of them. She twists and turns, always listening, and hearing... nothing. Knowing that they'll keep coming, she does the only thing she can do. Within each hand a kunai appears, and she begins to weave an impromptu kata that she'd swear she'd never actually learned. It pings against one weapon, throwing it off course, as she runs backwards off towards the top of the tree almost as fast as before, the sound of metallic rings and clatters marking her presence in the darkness for the hunter below. At some point, she loses one kunai, and has to use her final armguard to bat it aside.

It's only when she reaches the top of the tree, and back flips off the tree, that her kunai makes contact with the final blade, the force of the strike sending the other kunai out of her hand careening off the cliff itself to thunk down below like it was some monument to this battle. This was no victory though. It was simply delaying the far more experienced ninja through sheer talent.

Mid-back flip, the world appears to slow down, as she marks Seishirou's position, whenever he might have moved to right now. Even a fall from this height was uncomfortable, so she hits the ground just a few yards away from him on an arm, and allows herself to shoulder roll towards him. Springing up onto one knee, she does nothing fancy, she simply drives towards his mid-section with both palms, trying to punish the same area that her Yoroitoshi hit before, if it struck true. She really wants to tear her half mask off right now, as she's panting beneath it from the supreme effort she just put forth, and it feels suffocating, but she doesn't dare. She doesn't. Dare.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou dodges Ibuki's Aggressive Strike.

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Ibuki            0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0        Seishirou

"You're out of your depth..."

He says it, in that moment where she eludes him. He can tell when someone is being exposed to a world they can't understand, a world where their life is on the line may be too much to deal with. Truthfully, for a second, Ryouhara feels as if he might have overdone it, feels as if he might have gone too far. For one chilling second, as the shinobi glances over his shoulder, he feels a strange thing deep in his chest.

It feels oddly like guilt.

But she is gone before he can decide to do anything about it, a tide of steel flying after her as she moves, deflecting each in turn all the way up a tree, each of the tiding weapons shuddering as they collide off of her knives and her armguard, each deflected until bound to a single spot. The control over the homing weapons is not precise--unlike some of the other, smaller scale preparations he can achieve, they are only capable of slow curving turns, and only for so long. Deflections lodge them into wood, where they are unlikely to dislodge themselves anytime soon. Ryouhara has very little active control over those weapons--he only tells them where they must congregate.

He never actually moves from his spot, his stained haori moving only when the faint breeze catches it. That single piece of clothing may be dirty, but the sum total of the rest of Ryouhara's body has taken a stiff toll, and in truth his haori seems to be the only unshredded piece of clothing he has right now. Still, he never moves to make repairs or gain his composure. There is no point to acting until he is sure of her next action in turn, When she lands on the ground hard, panting like a racehorse who's just run the marathon, his attention moves towards her with a slight incline of his head. He seems oddly calm for his own condition, which is arguably worse than her own for that last brutal attack. Even so, she moves quickly after him, eager to press her advantage.

He finds this curious.

"Why don't you try to run? It would be simpler for you."
She doesn't actually hit him so much as strike through him, tearing his delicate and yielding body in half as if his image were made of the same silk that his haori. She would know in an instant--her blow never landed, and the weightless feeling she feels is the same as trying to hit a reflection in the mist. Withering into nothingness, the image dissipates quickly before her, leaving the shinobi's last mechanical whisper on the wind and in her ear. It leaves her in a strange vertiginous moment where she may be off-balance, and without a single idea as to where he moved to. Was he ever actually there? His words echo strangely. It would be simpler for you.

"Wouldn't it?"

Really, all that he needs is to touch her once. Ryouhara operates in eyeblinks. The moment he does, the moment his fingertips make contact with the back of her collar, she will find her perception bent. The speed at which vagaries of perception are left--the after images that a person sees when attempting to track your fast movements--is at a certain tier. Only a step or two past that tier do you reach the sort of speed that you no longer see anything at all. It's as if the ground itself shrinks. That is exactly how fact Ryouhara moves--and when he moves, he moves to take her with him, dragging her through the space between eyeblinks and trying to throw her end-over-end by the back of the neck into the very tree she used to escape his blades. Only this time, there will be a sealing curse on her back that propagates through the tree, turning its natural energy explosive. Past a certain point, that energy will destabilize, and cut the tree in half, exploding outward from the point where the young kunoichi lands.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou successfully hits Ibuki with Shunshin Ghost.
- Power hit! -

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Ibuki            0/-------/---====|=======\-------\0        Seishirou

The blow never landed. It struck merely the after-image of an all too human ghost. Her eyes close in an instant, as she couldn't rely on them to know where the attack would come next. Not in any way that would matter. She tries to remain calm, even under seeming offer for an easier path. Ninjitsu, as she was taught, was the art of controlling one's environment. Her opponent had control, she had to take it back bit by bit. Answering his question right now would just grant him further control.

And yet, she hadn't predicted what attack would come back, simply that wherever he was, her eyes wouldn't sense him in time. The rest of her perceptions? A whole matter entirely, and she feels her equilibrium shifting. Right as she's snatched. She didn't even hear him coming. Didn't feel even the whisper of the wind, for he'd outrun it. Instead she's grasped by the collar of her dogi, shredding most of what's left of her top after the earlier sword strike. It was like being dragged by a very fast horse, and she lost track of each sensation of pain as she was dragged. It simply existed. Pain was her existence.

A hand tries to reach out to grasp the wrist taking ahold of him, but it feels like it's always just beyond her reach, as she's flung at the tree that had once been her shield, her protector. She doesn't even notice the seal upon her back, just the explosion from the tree that she strikes, sending her in an opposite direction.

Agony was her life. And yet, as she struck the ground, it was as if her body simply had just /had enough/. It tries to cut off all that pain, it tries to shut down, and as she finally lay still, she does black out for just a moment. However, despite all that suffering, she still managed to stay calm. She started to think again, upon all the things she would miss if she simply laid down and died here. And that gave her the strength to open her eyes and raise herself up to her hands and knees upon trembling limbs. They give out, and she falls, as the renewed pain impulses fire all at once, causing a silent scream that never erupts from her throat.

A second passes. Two seconds.

She's on her knees again in seiza and she has no idea how. Her mouth tries to form the words of reply, and she hacks and coughs, both of her arms cradling her abdomen to try and steady herself. Finally the answer rasps out, "B-Because I'm not just a kunoichi. I'm an o-ordinary girl."

She doubles over in a coughing fit, this time as she straightens, she wipes away her mouth. And I'll be d-d-damned if I'm going to let you i-interfere with that! I'm not going to live in f-f-fear of the day you finally h-hunt me down for the crime of living!"

Her legs don't want to move. She forces the issue, the pain causing her to scream, which turn into words that erupt from her mouth as she somersaults in the air, "NINJITSU!" Kunai flicker out, two at a time. She doesn't simply hurl them straight, each time she puts flicks her wrist, she puts spin on them as she aims the once-peasant's-improvised-weapons at him. They weave intricate patterns which are difficult to predict, which is probably why it has the name... "KASUMI SUZAKU!" She continues throwing them, a pair at a time, all throughout her descent.

COMBATSYS: Ibuki successfully hits Seishirou with Kasumi Suzaku.

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Ibuki            0/-------/-------|=======\-------\0        Seishirou

She wouldn't lay down.

The spirit of the young kunoichi was ..admirable. Like so many others, she would kneel and find herself held in his contempt for the shinobi world's failure in his eyes. No matter how much he brought her to the edge, she would always drag herself back, rather than throw herself over. Such a connection to life... it's a shame he doesn't recognize her. He doesn't know her, at least, not in the way he wished he did. There was nothing in his mind that stirred when he looked into her eyes. It was enough to decide her--decide what he had to do.

He slammed her roughly into--and eventually through--the tree. Her agility and grace were intense, of the sort that allowed kunoichi the vanity of being able to dance across the surface of water. But the gap between them still existed. She was trained. And he was made. It's the sort of difference in outlook that proves completely decisive.

"A pretty idea. Freedom is the dream of every living thing. But we can't outrun our destiny," Ryouhara comments. "Every day, we are slaves to designs that we cannot see and to which we cannot object. That is the 'will of history.' Your future has been predetermined as much as mine has. The only thing that will correct this irresistible flow is revolution. Removing the agency of the tyrants is the only thing I exist for. There can be no other meaning or purpose for those who don't exist. But until I find out who was responsible for my life as it is now...this revolution cannot begin."


Without warning, the ragged kunoichi forces herself into the air, throwing waves of daggers at him, flashing blades curtaining down in waves. He had to think quickly. His hand spread open at his hip, unsealing a small ornamental tomoe from the side of his haori, causing it to follow his hand as he interposes it in the way of the flailing storm of blades. Snapping his hand open, he quickly gestures, unsealing the tomoe. Though it appeared to be made of polished stone, it was merely an illusion. The tomoe was a large piece of elaborately patterned origami, and when unsealed, the inoncuous jewel unfurled into a huge four foot by four foot paper square. The paper shimmered briefly as it was unfurled, and then rooted in the air. Despite being made of paper, the blades slam against it and slide off, as it it were made of steel.

But it does not last forever. At most, it buys the shinobi only a handful of seconds. He quickly drops down, forming the chain for a complex ninjutsu in the seconds bought, preparing to move--!!

In the end, it proves to be only a momentary diversion. The kunai do eventually shred through his paper shield, and cut down into him, the technique riddling him with the weapons, knocking him to the ground as a few of the blunted, weighted weapons stick into him yet still, immobilized. "...." ugh.. his body seems to shut down, as he lays prone, beaten before the kunoichi. He lapses into unconsciousness hard, his mind still fighting for control of the situation.
"This.. isn't the end..."

With his middle cut open, his bare chest is left to the open air.
And then a gesture is made remotely, causing an unsealing kanji to be displayed there.

"I will never yield..." Though his body is still riddled with the kunai that the kunoichi threw, Ryouhara has relocated himself outside of the kunoichi's sight range, replacing himself with a duplicate containing some of his most advanced detonation techniques. Even this close to being defeated, he will not cede ground. He is bathed in the light of his bunshin's explosion, leaving Ibuki at ground zero of the powerful blast. He only checks the power of the technique just so. Perhaps because of the chi he used in activating that last second defense?

Or is it because he doesn't want to kill her?

COMBATSYS: Seishirou has reached second wind!

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Ibuki            0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0        Seishirou

COMBATSYS: Ibuki dodges Seishirou's Atari.

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Ibuki            0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0        Seishirou

It's a fine speech. Everything he says. The denial of free will as more than a fleeting dream. The inevitability of fate, and destiny. How one can find the contentment in acceptance and servitude of it. He declares her future to driven by the same forces as his, even if they may end up weaving in different directions, fighting on different sides of a coming revolution.

She despises that part. Loathes it even as it strikes a chord in her very core.

The rest of it, is far more personal to him. That part is filed away, under the slim chance that she survives this battle. It seemed more, and more slim with each passing moment. She has no idea how he shielded himself from her attack at first, having never seen someone turn a shield of paper into something as hard as actual steel. As he falls, for the first time, she doesn't believe it. For the same reason she wouldn't before. 'This isn't the end.' He rises, she sees the kanji on his chest. 'I will never yield.' "You can't be ser-SHIT!" As her mind jumps to the possibility of a suicide attack, despite his words which indicate otherwise.

The toes of one foot bounce down, and she ignores the searing pain in her foot, the numbing cold running up her spine, before she springs up high in the air. She almost makes it unscathed. The powerful chi blast wave strikes her on the most outer fringes of it. It carries her further than she's intended, as she's sent wide, and...

Off the cliff.

Eyes wide in fear, she falls, and it looks like this might be the end of her as she vanishes over the side. The reality: A kunai jams into the cliff side like a piton, roughly arresting her fall after it descends a few more yards. Kicking off the cliff, she swings back upright, up and over as she crests the edge. Touching down away from the edge, she takes a ragged, steadying breath as she worries about how close that might have been.

And then she speaks, soft at first, "You know, not long ago I met a girl, who sounded like she'd been convinced her destiny was simply to be a weapon wielded by a legit terrible person." Her chin juts upright, as it finds strength in it, "To live without thoughts, feelings, desires... or the you know, /burden/ of free will. And get this? I found out she may not be the only one either. Someone programmed some sort of destiny into her."

She points a single finger, sweeping the battlefield until she finds exactly where he's standing in, "FUCK YOU! And every single person who claims that we're not at the helm of our own ship. That destiny is not as ever-changing, mutable and fickle as the wind which we can steer into or against, but the chains which bind us to the deck!"

Ibuki's eyes are scared. Sad. And strong all at once. They're not mutually exclusive states of mind. And yet she doesn't want to kill him either. He claimed earlier that the snake could not question the hawk. Now the hawk was speaking of his own accord.

This life or death struggle was about this man's ideology, and she wasn't going to let this mindset slide after her experiences, fully resolved to carry this out to the conclusion. Otherwise she might live in fear of the next time a steel lotus finds it's way to her back, of her throat being slit in her sleep.

She's not moving nearly as fast as before, as she starts to run, at him. "You want to ruin the agency of tyrants!?"

At the last moment she allows her legs to give out beneath her, sliding the rest of the way, before rising in an attempt to grip whatever remains of his Haori. If successful, she makes a whirling turn with her feet to try to throw him off-balance, before leaping and trying to take him with her. "Start by destroying that shitty concept of fate!" If all goes well, she would attempt release him in mid-air in a backwards toss, her body continuing to roll, before a leg lashes out, trying to strike the back of his head as he goes.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou dodges Ibuki's Uki Yami.

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

Like a blood flower, she blooms only when placed in adversity. His detonation copy caught her in the blast range, but only just so. By updating the "heat" components of the preparation for a "force" component, he may have overadjusted on the fly, and he noticeably starts as her attempts to jump free force her over the cliff. He quickly steps after her, as if fully intending to dive off the cliff after the shinobi. This will have been pointless, he can't just---!!

Crippling pain breaks into the Ryouhara-onryou's body. It forces a gasp to rake audibly from his chest despite himself, the sound coming out as something distended and inhuman once filtered through the mechanical elements of his prototype helmet. Wrapping an arm tightly around his midsection, his other hangs free, boneless. The blades she threw were still pincushioned through his chest. Not through any particular sharpness of the improvised knives--not at all. It was through pure force that the blunted implements cut into him. Damn it... it's not enough. His body isn't as strong as it should be, not as strong as he remembers. He's almost at his limit!

"The shadow war.. will never end," he breathes forcefully, hissing it through his teeth. He forces himself to take another step to the ledge, head swimming somewhere between hallucination and pure dogged determination. Alien memories, images that insist that they are his own bolt through his vision behind every blink. He forces himself to move, forces himself to act. The blades embedded in him are torn out, one by one, thrown to the side with agonizing indiscretion. It aggravates his wounds, opens them fresh and new. But he continues moving forward.
She is not dead, as he'd feared. The kunoichi speaks for mutability, speaks for the right to choose.

The idea of a mutable fate might have appealed to him in another time.

"Right," the ghost labors, holding his own arm. "What you describe is the work of tyrants. People who, using strength, determine the fate of others solely for their own good. This is the natural order..." (torn down...) "...that must be torn down." He recites the words and though they match him well, he speaks them as if they were not his own. He only has enough time to rake his chokuto free of its scabbard, holding it in a false-handed reverse grip. "But you are still talking about an artificial fate." When Ibuki rolls into him, knocking him off balance. She drags him into the air easily, the young man's limbs trailing behind him like a rag doll. His helmet inclines slightly as he looks over his shoulder, a matter of degrees.

"...what happens when your fate is the only thing left?"

This blade must necessarily be the final one. As she moves to set him loose in the air, he waits until she gets close. Then he flips the chokuto around, maneuvering it so that the hilt is held between both hands. He braces himself..
..And then he plunges the point of the blade straight through his chest.

From Ibuki's field of vision, a white light shoots straight through the center of the clan symbol on the ghost's back--the three whirling leaves symbol of the Ryouhara clan. He comes through his own chest to strike her with that razor sharp blade, his blood bursting into the air in a huge bloom. The weapon seems longer than it should be, deadly fast. As his blood flies by... on closer inspection, they may resemble the feathers of blackbirds.

"You have already been inside my ninjutsu," Ryouhara comments calmly.

He stands some ways away from the aerial battle. Ryouhara is still vitally injured, but he was able to escape at the last moment. To impugn his speed and ability, even now at the twilight of his reserves, can only have one outcome. The suicidal copy that Ibuki fights with melts away into shadows and blackbirds, leaving only the energy blade of that sword curving out, cutting through what used to be its centerline. If that blow lands home, it will bring her crashing down to earth.
"Fate decides an idealism. And idealism decides outcomes."

COMBATSYS: Ibuki dodges Seishirou's Bunshin Suicide.

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Ibuki            0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0        Seishirou

'What happens when your fate is the only thing left?'

It's asked, right before she lifts him into the air. The question bothers her, more than she'd like to admit. She's mid-spin, when she sees the sword plunge towards his chest. "Wait-stop!" She cries out in disbelief. Even if his last technique seemed like suicide before, and she was briefly fooled, she can only believe what her eyes tell her for a moment. That this would be his doom as well.

As the sword plunges through his chest and to his back to get at her, the kick never comes.

Instead she bends over backwards to try to correct her trajectory out of desperation, white hot light and a razor hot blade coming so close to her face that she feels the searing metal. Feels like she was burned for even being in it's presence. As she descends from the leap, feathers brush over her rather than warm blood spattering onto her, and it clicks in her mind exactly what had happened again.

Her whole body flattens sideways, as she folds her arms to her chest. The energy blade then descends after the initial stab, and misses her by just a hair's breadth, feeling the burning energy this time across her bare thigh. Part of her wonders if she had been struck. It was so uncertain given how close she seemed to be to disaster at all times. Placing one hand down to catch herself, with the now uncertain state of that leg she lands by putting out a single hand, and falling forward onto the one leg whose state she's certain of. She raises the other leg to her body, watching wisps of smoke rise from it, evaluating that no, it had not just been sliced off or had the nerves burned into disuse.

"You act like my fate was..." She takes a deep breath, trying to steady and recenter herself "...sealed the moment I did." She comments, every word pained but steady, feeling the edges of fatigue through all of the incredible pain she feels. "Fate only decides the starting point. Not the end. When my fate is the only thing left..." Did she have an answer to that? She moves towards him. It may not be the wisest idea ever, but she keeps moving towards him, with dogged determination. Each step is a limping one, her arms hanging loosely in a raised guard. "...I'll..."

When she's in range feints with a palm strike that goes purposefully wide, before she whirls around, and springs just a foot or two off the ground, with so little of the energy or agility that she'd shown before. Her body unable to match her willpower. "...deny it..." One leg comes up, before descending with a heel drop aimed at his shoulder. "...unless my heart tells me otherwise! I choose my end!" Maybe that what she was even doing right now. Or was she? Did either of them really want to kill each other?

COMBATSYS: Seishirou interrupts Light Kick from Ibuki with Katon Citadel.

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

It was an impressive evasion.

Most people have trouble differentiating between the illusion and the reality. In such a situation, even one of the fastest individuals had no chance to get out of the way when being attacked from point blank range like that. That was the point of the Bunshin Jisatsu technique--the ability to capitalize on suicide techniques without actually resorting to hurting oneself. In this situation, Ryouhara drew his blade before Ibuki ever even closed with him purely to support the illusion of his replacement.

It slowly becomes clear what he's doing. He's turning his own after-image into a duplicate of himself, moving back so quickly that he is essentially able to hide in his own shadow. From that blind spot, he can relocate to any other section of the battlefield with no trouble at all by taking advantage of the opponent's direction of attention, which still lays on his copy. It's similar to the old technique, 'kawarimi.' The part where it transcends Kawarimi is in sheer range. Ryouhara seems to be able to do it much farther and much, much faster than a normal log-style move.

The fact that she is able to elude his technique is surprising, borne of only split second decision and agility far beyond the norm. Behind the visor, the shinobi breathes outward cautiously. The only betrayal of his situation is the slightest annoyed incline of his head, the visor reflecting Ibuki's body, pushed beyond its limitations. She speaks of choices, and fate being an entrance rather than an exit. To that, he cannot speak any further. Her train of thought is confusing, alien to a person who only has an ideal.

"Then maybe," Ryouhara consents solemnly, "you will live to see the day where my abilities protect you, rather than consign you."

She fights against him, railing with all of the force of a flaring candle. There is something very efficient about the way the shinobi moves and reacts, and the ghost barely shifts at all when she feints at him with a palm strike. There is the sense that his eyes still flick lightning-fast behind the visor. The young kunoichi--so called 'she,' fights him to the very end, until she has nothing left, and the liberties she takes with her own technique are glaring. If this goes on any longer...

"That will not be this day."

She slips back, leaping into the air to cut him down with an axe kick, carrying enough force behind it to be the end of him. Suddenly, the shinobi-onryou drops low to the ground, knees bending. Spreading his feet, he twists his hips, his entire body whirling into a 360-degree rotation, his tabi carving a circular furrow into the ground as he does so, with a line through it at the center. The ghost's silken lotus blooming, he slams his hands together, knitting out a series of calculative seals. He only has enough left for one more technique--this will have to decide it...!!

Hands still knitted together in calculation, he slams his elbow into the heel of the kunoichi's scything foot, clashing hard bone against hard bone and jarring him. "Enough," he finally decides. Completing the somatic component of his technique, he snaps out his closest hand, to whip past Ibuki's leading leg. Left unopposed, he'll grip the inside of her hakama just above the knee--where the fabric is still strong, and hasn't been shorn or vaporized by his attacks.

Then he pulls back, kicking out an unsealed scroll from his hip and anchoring it at the northern point of the circle, the unfurled scroll covered in ancient text and crossing the centerline of the circle at an exact right angle. He's trying to limit her air motion, dragging her down by the hip right into the epicentre of his technique--a curtain of fireblasts sealed inside a previously prepared scroll. However, it is a much more complex technique than one imagines after becoming used to seeing fighters throw fire around. This particular blast is nothing short of an actual construct. The pyre forms into a tower roughly patterned after a pagoda from the ignition point of the initial blast. Even shy of hitting Ibuki, it will continue burning for some time after it activates.

It forms an oppressive presence. The blistering heat surrounding the tower of flame sucks all moisture out of the air, and its fires remain crippling to be close to--even one breath of that heat is enough to crush all of the air from the lungs. The sound of his respirator ambiently fills the air over the crackle of intense heat.

"The family of 'Ryouhara' won't pay for the excesses of those left behind."

Ibuki's techniques barely touched upon the mysticism of ninjitsu. As a kunoichi still in training, perhaps her masters had decided she wasn't ready for such techniques. Or perhaps that she was unsuitable entirely given her mindset, for which they instead decided to spend her time and focus on other areas.

He speaks of a day when perhaps his abilities will protect her. However, he makes it clear not through his words, but through his actions that it won't be today. Something blossoms in the midst of their clash. In Hanakotoba, a lotus can mean purity, or birth. Or rebirth. Perhaps there is purity in both of them, in thought and action even if they're both so different in thought.

As her foot descends, and he catches her leg. There's no resignation there, even as her body, her speed, her strength fails to be enough, there's still fire in her eyes. It's also everywhere else, once he throws her down near the scroll of fire blasts. Even if his aim was intentionally off, her back catches the worst of it, blistered in some spots, charred in others before the heat of the pagoda. The rest of her clothing ignites.

Every breath is pained, and it is fortunate that it was her back that took the blast rather than her front. Had she caught a breath of this air directly from the source, then her airway might have been burnt and swelled. Death would have been all but certain then.

As it stands though, her half-mask is grasped, and torn away, so that she's able to breathe again while she instinctually rolls to the side to try to put out the heaviest of the flames. They still smoulder from the heat of the ninpo which ignited them, as she makes a gasping sound, gulping in air. It's hard enough to breathe, worse to talk. She can only manage a couple words at a time. "Am I..." She can feel the rush of adrenaline dying, knew that no matter how much willpower she exerted, it wouldn't be enough. Her body was completely at it's limit. And it frustrates her, because of her ignorance. "...really the one..." Because she was even suffering here. Why he was fighting her. "...you want to..." What had she done to deserve this? She didn't fight for the thrill or glory of battle. In fact she wanted to live as normal a life as possible. The only reason she fought other than when her clan, which was her adopted family asked her to, was because her heart demanded it.

Her toes dig into the ground, and like a track star she pushes off of it, moving forward. "...pay this debt!?" She doesn't even get to her feet. All she makes is one final, clumsy palm strike his way, before she collapses into a crumpled. Unconscious, and still smouldering with the ashes and cinders of his ninpo before she even hits the ground.

COMBATSYS: Ibuki can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Seishirou blocks Ibuki's Jab Punch.

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

It's been decided.

As she struggles to put out the flames, struggles to stand, struggles to speak, struggles to approach, struggles to attack, Ryouhara allows himself to breathe naturally, his respirator ambiently clicking as he meters out his remaining exertion. His arms drop to his sides, sleeves obscuring his hands once again. It would be easy to think of his clothing as being in the style of a priest, or an exorcist. His haori, the Byakuren Hagoromo, remained undamaged, no matter how sullied the pure white became. As a result, the white lotus would always be able to bloom. It was one of his few pieces of clothing that, despite how delicate it appeared, seemed to be able to withstand all of the rigors of the fight--the rest of his shozoku was ruined. That is because it was a 'ninkou.'

"Ninkougakujutsu" was the system of his techniques, prepared and improvised jutsu sealed in a material form. It was part of the reason why it took him only til now to finally run out of strength. Most of his techniques were prepared well in advance of the attack, and gave him an ability to maneuver and move that was beyond the ability of normal shinobi. As a result, however... his body suffered, and her physical ability outstripped his, culminating now in the damage even just a few of her brutal techniques wreaked on him.

Tearing off her mask, she struggles to move towards him, every breath a mile walked. He watches her quietly, intently, the storm building, helmet tilted dead forward as if ready to put her down for good. She struggles to even wring out the last words from her chest, her last real breath slipping from her. At this point, though she wrings every part of herself dry to try and take him, his hand snaps out, gripping hers like a lightning bolt by the wrist. His respirator clicks.

"I will burn down the world if I have to... there's nothing left for me but to put it all back together. 'This is my war.'"

Unconscious, she slides away boneless from him. He holds fast her wrist even after the dance is done, suspending her frame in mid-air between his hand and her ankles, which still touch the ground. She will dimly have the sensation of being unceremoniously drug out of the range of his suppression technique, beyond the range where she is at risk of an errant lungful of air being the one that suffocates her. He only lets what's left of the still-smouldering kunoichi touch the ground then, gathering her up into a heap at the foot of his tabi and gently laying her down.

She was tougher than he expected, and that required him to use more of his technique than he believed he'd have to.

Unsealing his helmet at the neck, a small pressurized hiss of gas vents as he removes his helmet. No longer seeing the need to be a ghost, the act reveals a young man shaking out his ink-dark hair, running a hand through the unruly mess. A dark-eyed glare sharper than some knives is focused with a keen intensity down on the neutralized kunoichi. Every part of him aches. "If every one of the clans ends up being as much of a pain as you, I'm going to start bringing stronger preparations."

He settles down to his knees, and though his injuries give symphonies of complaint every step of the way, he unravels a small medical kit from his pack, and gets to the process of stabilizing the kunoichi's condition. No matter how battle-worn they end up being, his hands are still an engineer's, at heart. To this, Seishirou is patient and thurough in his triage and resuscitation; she will neither wake, nor will she die if he doesn't will it.
She still has a value to him, beyond the blood.

Log created on 18:41:02 12/20/2014 by Ibuki, and last modified on 02:12:44 12/22/2014.