Ayame - Mission #13: Birth of a Devil

Description: A campfire in the forest at night requires investigation, a wounded man requires aid, and a beast requires purification. The world will not be a safer place the following day.

The Japanese culture is thick with symbolism and ritualistic behavior. To an outsider, much of what they do makes little sense. But to those in the know, the patterns of behavior create a tapestry rich with spiritual significance.

Sadly for Japan, the creature that now haunts the forest surrounding the Meian Jinja knows nothing of these customs.

A small orange fire flickers deep within the forest of tangled bamboo, many of the hearty plants having been hacked down to clear a dark 7 by 7 foot circle. The cut stalks lie off to one side in a large pile, broken into 1 foot lengths more suitable to stoke the flames.

Crouched low over the fire is a man dressed all in black. His heavy greatcoat is draped loosely around his lean form like a pair of giant wings, head tilted forward so that the broad brim of his leather hat hides his eyes. The rest of his face is swathed in a thick wool scarf, hiding everything from the nose down. His long black hair is a tangled, cobwebby mess.

The only point of color on the man is the length of bright silvery chain wrapped round and round his right forearm. it is an odd accessory to have, and when combined with the heavy crossbow resting to his left, and the wickedly curved knife heating in the fire, conjures images of long hunts of ghoulish witches through the darkest hours of the night.

Perhaps it is fitting then that the darkest hour of the night is now.

When it comes to Japanese tradition, few would be as well versed in it as the company the stranger is about to have this night. Raised in a shrine dating back to the 1200's, experiencing a life of training, study, practice, and few modern conveniences, the Ichijo scion was educated in countless myths, legends, rituals, and esoteric practices. Whether she believed the strength of these customs or merely endured them out of respect for her heritage entirely depended on what she had actually experienced in her own short life as a warrior priestess of the Ichijo clan.

While remote from Southtown, the Meian Jinja is a name known to many throughout the region - more for its robust history and legends surrounding it than its relevance in the modern world. In times past, the family was called upon by government officials, emperors, and shoguns to divine the future, exorcise wrathful spirits, or hunt down the hunters of men. In current times, the shrine is known as a tourist spot that is a bit too far out of the way to be convenient to anyone.

Unless one is an outcast, a creature of shadow, a darkstalker. Among their number, the Jinja might be more well known as a dangerous place to be caught near. While the place does not enjoy the prominence it once had, it is said to still be staffed by a number of very effective monster hunters still gifted in the old ways of exterminating threats to humanity with aggression.

One such hunter moves into the circle. She is not tall at just over five feet and her clothing identifies her trade in an instant: crimson hakama down to her ankles, white sandals over white socks on her feet, pristine white kimono-styled top with a number of crimson ribbons woven through or around the outfit as decoration. While her build is lithe, the clothing draped over her body hides her features to some degree. Long, strawberry-blonde hair hangs down her back, kept off her face by way of a wide, crimson ribbon tied into a bow behind her head.

The wooden shaft in her left hand is certainly not a walking stick, its surface carved with a number of intricate runes that do not appear to be any immediately identifiable language. She would move into the circle without attempting to sneak, standing before the man, her expression neutral.

"Good evening."

The greeting is offered with a formal tone that is neither friendly nor immediately hostile. She says nothing afterward, waiting to see how the stranger in black reacts.

Whether or not the intruder recognizes this place as the ancient home of hunters is not immediately clear. Having been raised under the brutal yet effective hands of the Brothers of the Silver Lash, he most certainly has the look of a western hunter. Lean, well armed, and containing a certain feral quality that seems to overcome such men as they gain experience. Perhaps it's a sign that they lack spiritual purity. Or,it could be simple practicality. A gradual loss of empathy that comes with every kill, armoring them emotionally against the truth of their lives.

Then again, is there really any difference?

The figure's response to his guest's arrival is slow in coming. The small red fire that burns between them hisses and pops gently, offering the otherwise silent night its quiet song.


The man's voice is soft and dry, rasping up from his throat like flint scraping over stone. The word holds no real feeling. No expression. it might be a greeting, or it might be a sudden revelation of the time.

Cloth rustles gently as the stranger reaches down into the flames with his gloved left hand, the heated steel rising from its bed of coals with a bright, cherry glow. The movement dislodges a wave of crusty flakes from the surface of his coat, revealing the presence of a thick blackish substance that has dried all along the front and back of his coat. As the crud sprinkles down about his boots, the figure moves the knife in smoothly toward his own body. It vanishes through the opening at the front of his coat, flaps closing loosely about his wrist.

Moments later the sound of sizzling is accompanied by the thick, meaty smell of roasting flesh.

The figure's hunched shoulders tense, a soft, near animal hiss escaping from beneath his facial scarf. But still the hand remains held beneath his coat to the count of 5, before slipping free with a much darker blade in hand, now crusted with sizzling fluids.

Beneath the smell of burning flesh is a much heavier, much darker smell. That of blood left out in the hot sun. A rancid stink of spoiled death.

The girl in crimson and white is patient - waiting where she stands until the response finally comes. She makes no gesture to move closer, lurking on the fringe of where the fire's illumination flickers shadows all around her.

"It is a bit late for tourists, and rare for hikers to be out this way at night..."

Eyes flick over the visible weapons, lingering on the heavy crossbow for a moment.

"But you are neither tourist nor hiker, are you..."

The shrine maiden exhales softly, shifting her staff from her side to be in front of her where the fingers of both hands wrap around it to provide her with something sturdy to lean forward against slightly. "Your fire was noticed... the shrine I work at is not far from here." She nods back over her shoulder slightly, right hand lifting from her staff to brush a length of hair back behind her right ear as she does so. "I took it upon myself to investigate."

She falls quiet as he reaches for the heated knife, head canting slightly as she observes the rather crude first-aid treatment. "You could come with me... we have medical supplies and training to use them." She doesn't sound outwardly concerned about his well-being but rather makes the offer as if it is simply the logical response to finding a wounded man in the forest.

"You seem to have come down a hard road." Slowly she lifts her right arm over her nose, covering the lower half of her face behind the lengthy sleeve. What is that smell? Is his wound grossly infected? Or is it something more? "You would be fed and housed for the night as well - if your injury was obtained in the service of these lands, it is... the least you deserve for your efforts."

There is a pause, her arm lowered as she decides she simply must endure the pungent odor of burnt flesh and rotted blood.

"Was it?"

She waits for a moment before prying further.

"In the service of these lands?"

Silence stretches once more between the two while the hunter flattens his rapidly cooling blade against one of the rocks that make up his fire circle. Drawing the blade back, the grinding scrape of metal on stone rises up through the night as spluttering gunk is scrubbed from his weapon.


"Services." Comes the near whispered response. The voice is hollow. So hollow. But there is at least one emotion detectable in the hoarse rasp. That of regret.

The knife is slowly flipped in the masked man's hand, the dirty side clinking lightly down upon the stones.


"Once. perhaps. Aid. Shared." The words are strung together in a vague sort of sentence,though it is halting and slow. It is followed by a pause as the figure searches his mind, still foggy, still blasted from the overload of sensation that he must endure each time he loses control. The scattered webs of thought, of himself, slowly come to him, forming into a web. A sense of being. Begrudgingly they weave themselves into something he can recognize.

"Once, I was a hunter." The raspy words are accompanied by a lifting of the now clean blade. The firelight glitters across the razor edge as he turns it over before him, steel rippling with reflected oranges and reds. His head remains bowed, face hidden from the gaze of the pretty huntress before him.

The gulf between the two couldn't be wider. No matter what he might have once been, it is clear that he is not that now. Barely able to speak. Wreaking of death and blood. Squatting in a forest thousands of miles from the place that was once his home.


The careful mannerisms of the girl before him draw no reaction from the man. Not the shifting of her staff, nor the shielding of her nose. His attention seems caught up in the wickedly curved blade that seems so comfortable in his bloody fingers. But slowly there is life returning to him. A loosening of posture that bespeaks attention to his surroundings.

"My name is lost. My purpose stolen. The smell of blood grows sweeter every day. I hunger for it. But I will not allow it to consume me." A little strength has returned to the man's voice. Though it remains low and grinding, there is now an edge of ferocity. A hint of what might have once been a finely honed will.

The sentinel remains stationary, still not moving closer nor shifting her posture beyond idle adjustments to her stance as she waits and watches. Her right hand has resumed gripping her staff alongside her left and as the words are produced haltingly, her fingers tighten their hold, the priestess tensing.

He speaks of being a hunter once and his lonely company frowns slightly, the expression lost in the flickering shadows on the outskirts of firelight. Countless theories rush into her mind to explain the sight before her now. She thought she had found a kindred soul but such expectations are fading fast. This man is not a hunter of the shadows - he belongs to them.

"I am afraid your career change has done you no favors..."

There it is - a hint of the sometimes understated sarcasm that seeps into her interactions so often. Perhaps it is a natural deflection tool, putting herself at ease as she begins to consider the nature of the threats in front of her.

"Blood hunger?"

She takes a single step forward then, moving out of the shadows into the firelight. "Sir... what curse do you bear? What dark burden do you carry into these lands?" She frowns slightly, "These are sacred grounds. There have not been darkstalkers strong enough to wound you in these woods for many years." The girl's tone resonates with a self-confidence, a sense of authority.

Another step, her sandal coming down against the cleared earth into a soft puff of dust. Her hold on her staff shifts, the weapon angled in front of her, placing the rune-carved bo into a better position from which to attack or defend.

"Where did you get that wound? What have you done?"

She casts her eyes to the side briefly, weighing something. Little by little, the building aggression wanes, her staff straightened out and shifted to her side, no longer between her and the shrouded man.

"What brought you here? If you are cursed, it might not be too late for you. There are ways..."

"It is not known what they have made of me." the hunter rasps, voice gaining strength and conviction. "Within me now lives a beast. A thing of hunger and pain."

The knife point slides through the air as the young priestess approaches, imposing itself smoothly between the hunter and his guest. He does not rise from his crouch, but there is a certain amount of menace in the deftness with which he handles the wicked blade.

"Blood held this curse, bestowed upon me by those I hunted. Blood will be its undoing. But time is short. My brothers will not rest. I will be purified. by blood, or by fire." His hoarse whisper of a voice drifts through the night as he slowly lifts his chin, golden eyes burning beneath the brim of his hat. There is evil in those demon's eyes. The hard, merciless evil of the unrelenting.

"I must have blood. I must rid myself of that which seeks to control me." The Hunter's words hold an awful purpose in them, knife continuing to hover between them. The intent is clear. Though he will not attack the priestess, he will not suffer her to stand in his way. And he has yet to speak of how, exactly, he was wounded.

Whatever this creature is, he is not the hunter he once was. His golden eyes do not blink, staring out through the mess of his hair to bore into the young woman's own.

Even with her staff at her side, it is obvious that she is wary. She might be taking a chance of appearing to have lowered her guard to reduce signs of aggression - perhaps she believes she can account for the speed with which he could close the distance with that blade of his. Or maybe she thinks she still has time to talk through this, if but just a little longer.

"In order to help you, I must know what the beast made you do. How did you answer that hunger? You can tell me... you need not suffer alone." Her tone is not cajoling or patronizing, maintaining an almost stern, authoritative tone. "Not every hunt need end in bloodshed..."

He lifts his face and Ayame stares back, her mouth still tight lipped neutrality, her human eyes fixed on that inhuman, golden gaze. Slowly, however, she moves her staff back in front of her, both hands gripping the weapon as she tips it forward a bit, creating a zone between them that could be hard to traverse.

"Did you hurt someone to sate your thirst? Were you rewarded with that wound in turn?" The girl inhales, shoulders rising, then falling as she exhales, likely undergoing some subtle centering ritual in preparation for a struggle.

"I am Ayame Ichijo. This forest falls under my protection. Now that I see you for what you are, I cannot allow you to continue on. I am afraid you must allow me to help you... I am not offering you a choice."

Her foot slips forward slightly as she stares across the crackling fire.

"Please. Put down the blade. Come peacefully."

"It matters not what I hunt." the black-clad figure whispers hoarsely, his golden eyes staring into Ayame's with all the raging ferocity of a cornered wolf, "Always it ends in blood."

The once hunter explodes forward out of his crouch, a wave of flaky dried blood flying free from his body as his greatcoat snaps out behind him. The uncoiling of his body is fast and brutal, not unlike a crocodile hurling itself through the campfire to snatch its unsuspecting prey. It is fortunate for Ayame that she is a great deal more formidable than your average wild animal.

The long chain wrapped around his right forearm gleams red and orange as he brings the limb down in a vicious swipe, attempting to smash Ayame's staff down out of the path of his oncoming knife. The knife blade itself then sweeps up in a quick, short swipe for the young priestess's eyes. It is a devious trick, attempting to either blind her, or open up a facial cut that might distract her at a crucial moment.

The fire flares up behind the predatory man's heals, turning him into a hunched silhouette, all violent motion and intent. If the priestess wants further answers, it seems she will have to pry them from this creature's bleeding body.

COMBATSYS: The Hunter has started a fight here.

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The Hunter       0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Ayame has joined the fight here.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0       The Hunter

COMBATSYS: Ayame dodges The Hunter's Armed Combo.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0       The Hunter

Finally, her expression shifts, corner of her mouth twisting down into a frown. She knows where this is going. At first, she tried to avoid it - at first she didn't think he was so far gone. But diplomacy is not her forte and this ex-Hunter is further from the man he once was than she had realized at first. "Because that is what you are after," she answers. "That is how you came by that wound, is it not?"

The rush of adrenaline is felt, the tension of knowing she is about to face true danger. It had been a while since she had truly fought. Oh, she had participated in fighting venues as of late, testing her abilities against other fighters from all walks of life. But a battle on a stage, a battle with sponsors, referees, rules and regulations... that wasn't a real fight. To the victor goes fame and fortune, from the loser nothing is taken except perhaps pride.

But fights like this were different. Their toll is blood, their reward the chance to live one more day, and from the loser can be taken... everything. The girl is confident, she has poured her life, her everything into being capable of standing by her word as a protector, a guardian, a hunter. It was her destiny, her burden, and hell if she was going to be found lacking!!

He moves quickly - even a bit faster than she had anticipated. Perhaps she was counting on that wound to be a detriment to his mobility... it has to be agonizing. "Tch-"

Her eyes snap to the chain, reading the swing for her staff in time to relax her hold, allowing the limb to drive the end of it down into the fire without throwing off her stance. Her forward foot presses down as he lunges in closer, vaulting over the fire to assault her like a bat out of hell. It is with desperate lean back of her head that she evades the knife, its keen edge robbing from her a few strands of hair caught in its path.

This man was a hunter. He will know his weapons. He will know how to fight. He knows the stakes as well as she.

"I am sorry," she's already moving, slipping to the right, "That it had to come to this." There is no hint of remorse in her voice which makes it hard to tell if she is sincere in the sentiment she claims to express. Her staff trails behind her - it would be easy to miss the movement in the flurry of billowing cloth as the girl swiftly moves. Suddenly there is a new light, a crimson glow wreathing the rune-carved weapon, as with one hand, Ayame attempts to twist to the right and slam the rod into the stranger's side.

It is hardly a powerful blow in and of itself, swung one-handed as it is, but the speed and angle with which it comes could catch anyone off guard, and the energy coursing over its surface promises more threat than simply a mundane staff!

COMBATSYS: The Hunter blocks Ayame's Aggressive Strike.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0       The Hunter

Tournaments. Exhibitions. These are things that the beast before her has never known. Never has sportsmanship been mentioned in the teachings of the Silver Lash. Mercy is weakness, and weakness is beaten out of them. The Brothers are forged into human weapons, their existence devoted to the hunt.

it is no real surprise that one could become a monster.

As Ayame slips off to his left, the black-clad man circles with her, cloth billowing from both of their lean forms as they maneuver for position. The priestess's sudden whipping staff strike is met by another forward lunge, the silver chain wrapped around the hunter's forearm smashing aggressively into the rune-carved wood with a spray of magical sparks. Though the chain holds no magic of its own, it does seem oddly resistant to the channeling of chi.

Pressing forward arm against staff, the beast attempts to force Ayame back and around in a quick twist that puts them nearly face to face, her back edging toward the crackling fire.

"The beast," hisses the hunter, leaning forward so that his hat brim nearly brushes through her strawberry blonde hair, the smell of rank blood assaulting her nostrils as they stare eye to eye, "must be cleansed. I will not suffer its presence within me. Blood is key. it will be taken."

With a final hard shove of his armored forearm, the hunter lashes out with his right boot, attempting to hammer a thrusting kick hard into the priestess's gut and force her backward into the fire.

COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks The Hunter's Random Strike.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0       The Hunter

Her attempt to dislodge his footing was met with stronger resistance than she had hoped. In an instant, she finds herself face to face with the hunted. This close, the smell is almost overwhelming - is he even alive or is it an animated corpse with which she fights!? She is forced to shift her steps, responding to the pressure of superior force as he twists around her, moving away from the flames he vaulted an instant before to place them behind her back.

Teeth grit, it takes every effort on her part to keep from being bowled over, the sound of chain scraping against wood resonating throughout the small clearing. "Are you not," she grunts, finding herself pressured in too tightly to take advantage of the area of control her staff normally affords her. "Giving the beast-"

If not for the force he was pressing in with, she could reach for a secondary weapon with one of her hands. But if she lets go for even an instant, her own poise will be lost. With the fire rippling at her back, there is no room to retreat. "Exactly what it wants?!" The first surge of emotion since she first appeared, her voice rings out against the surrounding trees, a frustration projected - a secret rage at the thought that a hunter could become... like /this/.

Her only chance comes in the narrow window in which he presses hard with the chain-wrapped arm and Ayame uses the same instant to spring backward, vaulting the burning logs in reverse. His foot crunches against the lower half of her staff as she twists it down into the path of his boot, sending her backward trajectory a bit off-kilter, but the miko manages to recover all the same, landing in a slide through the dirt.

There is distance now, the fire once again between them as the two opposing forces face off. "Is the beast within? Or..." She sweeps her staff out as she resumes her boujutsu stance, weapon tilted in front of her to control the space at which she can be safely engaged. "Is the loathsome truth... simply that you are the beast?"

Closing her eyes for a moment, shadows flicking across her delicate face, the young warrior continues, "I am afraid that your hunt ends here." Pivoting her staff forward, she aims the end of it toward the dark figure. In one swift movement, her right hand glides along the forward half of weapon, gathering up that crimson chi in the process only to launch it toward him as a churning projectile of blood-red light.


COMBATSYS: The Hunter parries Ayame's Fall of the Mourning Star!

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0       The Hunter

The heavy 'thunk' of the hunter's boot against Ayame's staff chases her words out into the trees, he using the force to throw himself backward into what seems to be an effortless back flip. Even as he is turning through the air the knife flashes down into the opening of his flapping coat, vanishing into a sheath hidden somewhere amidst his reeking rags.

Fallen twigs crunch softly under the hunter's boots as he lands perfectly on both feet, knees bent and eyes glowing with savage intent within the shadow of his hat. Both hands have curled into fists, arms slightly spread and posture slouched at the edge of the clearing.

"It hungers, but for a reason other than my own." he rasps, once more facing off with the priestess as the fire crackles between them. "An elixir of blood created this monster within me. So it was made, so it must be unmade."

As he is speaking he watches, muscles tensed and ready to spring. His demonic yellow eyes take in the play of light across her features. The stoic self control that is so alike, yet so unlike his brothers. when Ayame's attack does come, bloody red energy erupting from the tip of her staff, he is ready.

Diving forward, the monster rolls beneath the oncoming blast, energy passing not 6 inches above his tumbling form. Then, In a casual display of bestial agility, he springs from his roll into a leap that takes him high over the fire and into a quick forward flip over the top of the priestess's head.

Touching down behind Ayame in a spray of fallen leaves, the hunter scoops up his loaded crossbow from the earth and whirls on the spot. The steel reinforced butt of the weapon cuts the air with a heavy 'woosh' as it is aimed for the back of the young girl's skull, the hunter attempting to smash her clean off of her feat. If he can ground her, he will whip the weapon around and aim it point blank at her fallen form, the mechanism releasing with a metallic 'TWHUNG' as a gleaming silver bolt is fired toward her center of mass.

"I am the monster I was Made." he snarls roughly through his face scarf, "Now bleed."

COMBATSYS: The Hunter successfully hits Ayame with Runs In The Blood EX.

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Ayame            0/-------/-----==|===----\-------\0       The Hunter

While she had seen his agility and acrobatic potential demonstrated, the warrior priestess had still underestimated the alacrity with which this hungry soul could close the distance between them. Her crimson bolt hurtles past only to fizzle out half a meter beyond its intended target. Precision seems to play a role in everything the miko does - only his speed spared him the blast.

She leans back slightly as he springs, bringing her staff up into an angled, defensive position in front of her. Clearly, a direct collision was imminent - or was it? Doe-brown eyes widen as his trajectory takes him over the top of her, getting him behind the defensive fighter, landing right in the only blind spot her staff cannot protect her from. At least, not quickly enough-

Even as he whips around, new weapon smoothly equipped, she is bringing her staff up over her head, intending to swing it behind and intercept the anticipated strike. But the once-Hunter is just as fast, if not faster in that moment and even as she tries to duck down into an instant pivot, his strike finds its mark with a painfully solid thud. Caught in the middle of trying to bring her weapon behind her, Ayame can't even catch herself with her staff as she might have otherwise and in an instant, she finds herself planted face down in the dirt, her vision a blend of dark red pressure and flashing stars.

Even reeling from the blow, however, the grounded fighter knows better than to stay put, her back exposed to an easy follow up attack. The dust had yet to clear from impact before the girl slams her hands down and rolls to the right hard. The movement is enough to spare her a bolt to the spine but definitely not fast enough to escape it all together, the shaft skewering her flank, tearing through white cloth and flesh before spearing into the dirt. The soft gasp is all she rolls onto her back, staff still held in her left hand. Blood seeps at the wound in her left side but she can't think of that right now.

"I see," she retorts, right hand slipping into her left sleeve while she bends her legs at the knees. So he has come to see blood alchemy as his savior. "There are more humane ways to collect..." Slamming her feet down, she launches into a backward tumble that would take her adjacent to the fire. By the time she ends in a kneel, her right hand has drawn out a pale off-white talisman held between her fingertips. "Are you so sure your course is true?"

Her right arm snaps out, sending the ofuda into the air, the paper igniting with a pale, ghostly blue flame sparked by the miko's chi. The true threat is if it connects with his chest as intended, however, as if it does, the paper would explode into several white, ghostly chains that seek to entangle and constrict - a capturing technique bound to slow down her target should it land.

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits The Hunter with Binding of the Condemned Soul.

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Ayame            0/-------/---====|====---\-------\0       The Hunter

Even as Ayame is tumbling backward to her feet, the hunter is slamming the butt of his crossbow down against his left knee. Where once the heavy weapon sported a crank to help winch back the thick metal arms, only a sharp splinter of jagged metal remains. And so, he instead grabs the bow's string in both gloved hands and jerks downward with all his might, body convulsing as he rams his knee upward. The arms flex, and the weapon is primed with a soft 'click'.

A sharp hiss of pain explodes from the hunter as he forces himself to straighten. If he were in better shape, such a maneuver would be nothing. But it seems the weakness the young priestess has been searching for is there. It is simply buried beneath his focus. The intensity of his purpose.

Slipping another silvered bolt from inside his coat, the hunter meets Ayame's gaze over the top of their readied weapons.

"There is no time." The words are quiet, hoarse, but hold a note of simple finality.

The bolt slides into its groove.

Ayame throws.

The black-clad monster hurls himself backward, attempting to simply out distance the range of the quick toss. However, it seems he has misjudged the strength of his young opponent's arm. For though the throw is quick, it is not weak.

The paper charm strikes the beast in the lower abdomen half way through his backward leap. Exploding outward, ghostly chains twist around his hips and thighs, one even managing to whip up and around his shoulder in an attempt to trap his weapon against his chest.

With his legs partially immobilized, the beast isn't able to stick his landing. His heels strike the earth and he falls flat on his back, shoulders crashing through the uncleared bamboo at the edge of the campsite. As he falls he tears his weapon free from the chain stretched across his chest and brings it to bare, sighting down its length even as branches knock the hat from his head and scrape through his tangled hair.


COMBATSYS: Ayame reflects Out For Blood from The Hunter with By Meridian's Vain Ambition.

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Ayame            0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0       The Hunter

Even though she has been hunting since she was a young teen, her years of experience hold nothing on the legacy of the man she finds herself facing now. Most targets would be too overwhelmed by the ghostly energy chains to fight back. Many would be panicked when struck by such a mystical technique - having one's limbs constricted is almost always a terrifying situation and one she aimed to inflict on the curse-bearer in order to subdue him before he could plunge a potentially rippling bolt into her flesh.

His trained eye would no doubt detect that - for all her skill, and it is formidable given her age, assumptions or inaccurate estimates abound in her actions. She shouldn't have been surprised he could leap over her. She should have attacked before he even got off the ground in the initial instant of this altercation of blood. Considering the injury concealed beneath his coat, she should have been able to secure control over this exchange almost immediately. No doubt, in his prime he could point out all the ways the huntress could improve her survivability odds...

The speed he manages to reload the cumbersome weapon is a testament to his physical strength and precision under pressure. He even has time to try and escape her attack after the bolt locks into its designated place. But the timing on that escape can be a tricky thing for once the paper talisman is air born, it actually speeds up from its initial launch, defying expectations to the contrary as if propelled forward by something other than the priestess's hand.

The chains erupt, constricting, restraining as is their design. This fight is over, the girl concludes, striding forward toward the crushed bamboo with confidence, trying to ignore the sharp pain in her side. When last she saw, one chain was pinning the crossbow against his chest. He could not threaten her now. "I am truly sorry that it has ended up like this, but-"

It almost makes it. It is the glint of the bolt that she sees, reflecting dim orange from the fire behind her. If not for that, it would have been impossible to realize the weapon was loose and already leveling on her. Fearing the worst, her defense is accompanied by a burst of chi, her right foot slamming forward, a plume of dust exploding around her as so much channeled potential is forced into her right arm as the limb swings forward, palm out. The impact of the bolt against the massive, rose-hued chi mirror is explosive as the girl's defense also becomes her offense.

In the instant, the bolt is last to the energy until Ayame's left hand slams into the back of the barrier, shattering it outward. At almost impossible speed, the bolt is hurtling back toward him, a small, physical core to a nuclear missile of churning rose-hued energy that has fastened itself to the projectile. All around the girl, small motes of excess chi scatter and drift to the ground, remnants of the powerful barrier.

"This is not your fault. You are just another victim," the girl states through gritted teeth as she recovers from her moment of over extending, not advancing as she catches herself. "A reminder of why the world must be purged of their kind." Her jaw is set, her lips pressed tight - her expression no longer neutral, but rather a mien of intense resolve. She must see this business through, no matter how unpleasant it is.

Another step forward is taken - she intends to finish this before he can break fully free of the energy bindings.

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits The Hunter with Reflected Out For Blood.

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

The Brotherhood of the Silver Lash have no ancient techniques. There is no legacy of greatness. No great lineage of hunters through which their blood has flowed. They are not a family. They are cast offs. The unwanted, forgotten masses, taken away from the world and turned against its monsters. They have only skill, grit, and tactics. And most importantly, they usually have each other.

Tossing his crossbow away, the hunter's mind immediately turns toward breaking his chains. The shot that he fired should gain him just enough time--

There is a blinding flash of pink light.

The cursed man's left hand snaps up, fingers flexing in preparation to grab the suddenly reversed bolt clean out of the air. it is an instinctive reaction. A thing he couldn't' have done as a man. His body moving on pure reflex, he moves faster than thought. And if he had trained in this technique, he might have managed it.

The bolt impacts his palm with a meaty 'THNK,' the head driving cleanly through and erupting from the back of his glove in a spray of blood. His fingers clench around the base of the bolt as pink energy rolls out from it, burning up his arm and searing away clothing and skin from tip to elbow.

"HHHHHHHSSSSSSSSRRRRRRRRRRRRHRHHHHGHGHGHGGHGH." The noise that escapes the man is anything but human. Starting as a hiss, it grows rougher and deeper, passing from growl into snarl before devolving into a grinding throat noise that no man should ever make. But still the golden eyes that gleam from the tangled foliage are full of intelligence. Pain, rage, and possibly even murder, but intelligence.

Several of the ghostly chains wrapped about the hunter's legs snap as he surges to his feet. The rest trail from his body like glowing white bondage, slowing him, but unable to stop the enraged monster from moving completely.

It is not away that he moves.

The chain on his right forearm clinks gently as it cascades to the ground, gloved right hand catching it part way along. As Ayame steps forward to finish him, he forces his way forward out of the brush to meet her, silver chain glowing red and orange as it is whipped up from the earth into a blurring spin before him.

Two quick steps close the distance to the priestess. AS he walks he keeps his still smoldering left hand curled into a tight fist with the bolt protruding from the back. The chain spins up and around, left and right, the pattern dizzyingly fast and ever changing.

A slight loosening of the creature's fingers causes the chain to lengthen abruptly, arcing over his head before crashing down in a whipping strike aimed toward Ayame's right shoulder. This is followed by a reversal of momentum, the weapon swinging once more over his head before descending toward the left side of her face in a quick but brutal slap. Flexible enough to buckle and slide on past the second strike, the chain sweeps in a low swing between them as it continues toward the priestess's legs, before being brought back up and around. The blows are quick and brutal, the hunter's feet planted as he dodges his own body around the weapon to change the angles of attack.

COMBATSYS: Ayame instinctively blocks The Hunter's Bad Blood.

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

The bolt sinks through his hand with a sickening thunk. The agony that must have inflicted is evident in the reaction it causes - a reaction unbefitting any who would number themselves among mankind. The miko shows know signs of remorse for the savage injury. Under the circumstances, she has no choice but to continue down the path. The events in motion cannot be stopped by words alone. She has nothing else to say - indeed, she cannot even spare the breath so suddenly she finds herself back on the defense.

She knew the ethereal chains would not hold him indefinitely but he breaks free from them even faster than she had hoped. The chain that had been used only defensively before now comes into play as the weapon it was truly made for. At once, the defensive nature of the girl's staff skills are demonstrated, the adept use of the weapon compensating for her lack of raw physical power. Metal crashes against wood as the girl twists the rune-carved shaft into the way and Ayame staggers to the side, eyes widening slightly as the magnitude of force behind the attack is understood for what it is.

With the cross pattern whips, Ayame is quick to pivot her staff into the way while also moving her body to compensate for the chain's ability to whip around the obstacle and continue to be a threat. A few times her combination of blocking and weaving isn't enough and small rips are carved into the white fabric of her sleeves. When the overhead, smashing swing comes, the miko braces beneath her staff, holding the weapon horizontally against the blow, the wood creaking as it suffers the punishment of such a relentless advance.

The cursed one shows no signs of slowing and the reach of his weapon will make it hard to simply escape the blows outright. With fatigue mounting in her arms, and the small scratches and scrapes getting through starting to take their toll, it becomes clear that the only way to survive this threat is to put a stop to the assault.

The timing has to be perfect, the priestess targeting one of the horizontal sweeps by spinning her staff upward to knock the chain askew in the process and create a narrow window for her to counterstrike. The next move is to immediately bring the staff back down, the crimson-wreathed weapon targeting the crown of black, tangled hair atop the beast's head as she tries to literally bash him into the ground! Even if she just manages to stagger, the other end of her staff would become an immediate threat as she would follow up by sweeping the lower end for his ankles in a bid to rob him of any lingering hope of balance.

COMBATSYS: The Hunter fails to counter Power Strike from Ayame with Blood Pressure.

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

The pain of the monster's injuries mounts with every passing moment. It can be seen in the eyes, which were once so sharp and fierce, but are now wild and full of fury. It can also be seen in the way his stance grows ever more hunched. Instinctively the beast curls around his horrible gut wound, mangled left fist shaking as he strives to keep control.

With the loss of focus comes a loss of skill. The planner. The tactician has left. In his place is half a man, who knows only to hit, hurt, fight. But behind that there are years of training. years of hunts.

His relentless attack continues, Ayame's little twist of the staff met with a savage jerk on his chain. The weapon reverses course and snaps out behind him like a whip, before circling back up and around. With a metallic rattle, the chain impacts the priestess's descending staff and coils tightly around it, muscles in the hunter's shoulders tensing as he gives a savage yank down and to his right. But this is not the man who perfected this maneuver. He is somewhere else right now.

Forgetting the quick sideward step that accompanies this move, the monster's vicious jerk isn't enough to pull the staff completely off course. It strikes the top of his skull with the force of both of their maneuvers, parting his matted hair and splitting his scalp to the bone.

Dazed, the beast staggers to a knee, chain going slack as it slips from the girl's staff. The silver links clatter into a neat pile at his side as he takes the second strike hard to his side, but rather than falling he uses the force of it to stumble to his feet and move a couple of steps away.

The hunter's breaths gasp in and out behind his mask. Yellow eyes wild and unseeing, he stumbles another step away from Ayame, bad fist slamming hard into the wound on his stomach.

"No." He grunts, voice low and hoarse. "No. NO. No! NO!" Pounding his mangled fist into his stomach wound again he stumbles shoulder-first into a tree, gasping for breath with his back turned to the huntress.

"You can't have me." he snarls, seeming to be speaking to something only he can see. Despite that his voice is low and threatening, full of inhuman sub vocalizations and horrible desperation.

She's seen this transition before - when precision slips, when control gives way to rage, when the crushing knowledge that loss is imminent, and that all indications are that this will be the final defeat of all. Hell, she's not just seen it before... she's lived it. More than once, when victory seemed impossible against the murderous abominations she devoted her life to finishing, adrenaline fueled panic took over completely. She wasn't proud of those failures, as glad as she was to have survived them. He has to know it now. The momentum is in her favor - given how they were matched up, that's all it will probably take.

Her crushing blow connects, its already formidable force augmented by the powerful pull of the hunter's silver chain. The transition into the second sweeping strike is instant, the girl's staffwork something of a marvel at close quarters combat, but she lacks the leverage to actually topple her target as she had hoped. He staggers into a tree, wounded, in pain, suffering injuries from more than one battle while facing off a against a skilled foe who came in to the encounter freshly rested.

Ayame watches for a moment, her staff held in front of her at an angle, both hands gripping it tightly, the crimson energy sheathing its surface flickering and dancing like a flame of illuminated blood. "You cannot fight me," the warrior maiden declares as she starts to stride toward him. "Your fight against the beast will never end, however, until the curse is broken."

Another step is taken as Ayame sweeps her staff out to the left, now held with only one hand. The crimson flames extinguished, small tendrils of lingering energy falling free of the weapon before fading away.

Her stride is one of confidence. The injury in her side is not forgotten, crimson staining her white top and dirt from the ground coats her garments, but the priestess is nothing if not prideful of her abilities.

It is from a couple meters out that she lunges for the curse-bearer's back, sweeping her staff up around, attempting to hook it in over his head and against his neck. "Rest now..." If she succeeds, she would grip the weapon on both sides, pulling from behind his back, pressing her body against his as she attempts to pry the wooden staff against his carotid artery. It is the gift of unconsciousness with which she threatens him now, using her advantaged position and unyielding staff to attempt to knock out the monster in human form.

"Rest... you need not fight it alone..."

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits The Hunter with Medium Throw.

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

The hunter's breaths rasp loudly in his throat, thick red blood dripping from the tip of the bolt protruding from his left hand. The battered figure seems barely able to stand, let alone fight. As he leans against the thin trunk of the tree, blood spreading through his hair from the split in his scalp, he trembles as if electricity were pulsing through his muscles.

The slowly approaching priestess seems not to register on the hunter's senses. His yellow eyes stare down into the dirt with a vacant glaze, attention having turned inward, mind locked with that of the beast he so refuses to let control him.

But he is losing.

Shivering, gasping breaths coming faster and faster, the hunter lurches away from the tree. He takes a single staggering step into the brush before Ayame lunges after him, her staff falling past his face and triggering some bit of muscle memory locked deep within the mans subconscious.

Sadly for the hunter, reflexes are nothing without a mind to control them. Confused and full of desperate pain, the beast dodges backward from the thing in front of his face and thumps his shoulders hard into the chest of the young huntress behind him. Staggering, he collapses to one knee, dragging the lithe huntress down with him.

With the priestess baring down on his back, and her staff digging hard into the scarf that covers his throat, he reaches shakily up with one gloved hand to grab hold of the wooden weapon. The gesture is thoughtless and simple, as if he isn't sure what exactly is happening to him or how to stop it.

The gloved fingers clench, wood groaning under the grip as he fights to remember who he is. What he is.

The blackness at the edges of his vision looms ever closer. His grip weakens. And he falls limp, chin folding lightly down over Ayame's staff.

Behind them the small red fire crackles. The hunter's hat lies tangled in the brush to one side. His crossbow and chain are scattered across the campsite .

COMBATSYS: The Hunter takes no action.

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

COMBATSYS: The Hunter can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Ayame has ended the fight here.

Hours pass.

One can only guess at the nightmares that might rage in the unconscious mind of a man imprisoned with the beast.

At the first hints of awareness, the curious echo of sound around him or the rush of continuously falling water might be disorienting. Opening his eyes would reveal the truth of how drastically his circumstances have changed.

During the dark of night, The Hunter became the prey. The soft glow of daylight that peeks into the cave he now occupies indicates that the night in question has come to an end. The hunted would be on his back, arms out to his sides, steel braces bolted into the stone keeping them from moving freely. His legs would be spread apart slightly, ankles also bolted with similar steel braces that defy any initial attempts to twist free from.

At a glance, there would be no question that he has awoken in the middle of a ritual in which he is the central figure. The steel that holds his arms and legs fast keeps his hands and feet secured over four points of a pentagram of poured rock salt, his head resting on the fifth point at the top. From the stone above dangle countless wooden charms, carved with symbols, figures, glyphs, and hundreds of shapes, each suspended by cords of pristine, white yarn. The breeze that rushes through the cave sets them to dancing from time to time, jostling against each other before coming to rest once more.

The gentle zephyr that disturbs the charms also rustles the thin strips of paper dangling from the stalactites above or wrapped around the stalagmites rising up from sections of the cave's floor. A glance toward the entrance of the cave would reveal that it exists behind a waterfall, the steady roar of falling water one of the first sounds to great him upon regaining consciousness.

At each point of the star sits a small relic. Just past his right foot is a lamp of burning oil, its surface covered with intricate etchings. A small, multi-colored pinwheel fan stands upright just past his right hand, the passing breeze causing it to spin up on occasion. Beyond his left foot is a small pot with a tiny bonsai tree housed in it and just out of reach of his left hand is a small golden basin of water. Situated on the floor above his head is a small doll of a man carved from wood. It is seated as to face the hunter with its expressionless, smooth round face.

It would be hard for him to inspect himself given his restraints, but he is probably the cleanest he has been since his descent into hell began. His black, tangled mess of hair has been washed and combed. The cauterized wound in his torso has been cleansed and bandaged over. His mangled hand is wrapped up in bandages as well, the bolt no longer protruding from it. His weapons are resting against the side of the cave.

And he isn't alone. Five individuals are seated in meditation around him, each situated between the five points. Above his right hand is a bald monk in orange robes, his hands pressed together, his head bowed in prayer. He bears the trappings of a Buddhist mahathera - a monk with 20 or more years in his Order. Over The Hunter's left arm is seated a man in white robes with a tall, narrow black hat. The Shinto Priest's hands are clasped with his pointing finger and middle fingers upright, the other fingers interlocked together. To the left of the captured man's left leg is an old woman with grey hair done up in a tight bun. Her hands rest on her knees as she also sits, praying silently with her head bowed. And to the right of the hunter's right leg is an old man with a long, white beard. He is dressed in a loose fitting black hakama and dark grey haori coat, the crown of his head concealed by a black, hat with pointed corners that identify him as being a venerable Taoist priest. His hands are clasped together, his head bowed, his lips moving though if he is saying anything, it can't be heard over the roar of the waterfall.

Finally, at the base of the pattern, just past both of his restrained feet, kneels Ayame herself. The attire she wore into battle has been replaced with full ceremonial garb, white and crimson as before, with a beautiful flower pattern covering her lengthy sleeves. In her hands is the short shaft of a gohei, its narrow, folded paper streamers whisking back and forth as the girl leans it from left to right, lips also moving in silent prayer.

It is clear that this is not the first exorcism to take place in this cave - some of the charms are old, and the steel braces that keep him in place are definitely not new additions. But while he was out, he has been transported here, cleansed, bandaged up, and now being prayed over by five religious representatives, possibly all hunters themselves, who have answered the miko's call to aid in purifying this man of The Beast that lives within.

Hours have passed.

Hours spent trapped in his own mind. Locked in constant conflict with a beast of blood. A being that should not exist, spawned from the ambition of those he used to hunt. A beast that has slowly forced this once hard but quiet man into a creature that stalks the night. Fearing to sleep. Fearing to close his eyes. Knowing that every stab of pain or weakness threatens to let it out. To let it free.

That he hasn't already lost complete control is a testament to the depth of his will. For beneath his filthy clothes. Beneath layers of fear sweat and caked on blood. the wound that they bandaged should have been more pain than any man could concentrate through.

Whatever inflicted the wound was broad and very sharp, entering just below his left ribs and ploughing neatly through organs and bone before erupting from his back. A dark web of odd burns radiates out from the wound and spreads across his scarred skin, showing up strange and unnatural against the signs of self cauterization.

The man that now lies spread across the pentagram is likely stirring from the longest hours of continual rest he's had in a very long time. But even this rest was not a pleasant one. Residual twitches and half snarls escape him as he slowly becomes aware, yellow eyes drifting open to stare unfocussed toward the ceiling. The various dangling trinkets swim begrudgingly into focus, the fog of unconsciousness retreating by degrees.

His wounds throb. His head throbs. Blood trickles down his cheek as he parts his lips, revealing a double row of jagged fangs.

But it was not this pain that woke him. Nor was it the rumbling roar of water cascading past the entrance to the chamber. it was not the droning chant of prayer.

It was the fire that blazes in his veins.

"Hhhhhhghk." The Hunter chokes, muscles going suddenly taught beneath the simple grey robe they have dressed him in. His yellow eyes widen, head slamming backward against the stone floor as he gasps and strains, body convulsing against the pull of his bindings.

"Cease!" he roars, the sound of his voice raw and harsh as it echoes through the chamber. "Cease, you fools!" There is raw panic in those words. True desperation. As he speaks he heaves hard on his steel bindings, pulling with such sudden strength that they dig deep into his wrists and ankles. Blood wells up around the manacles, dripping to the ground.

"HHRRRRRUUUUUUUH!" The bellow rises up from deep within his stomach, sweat pressing up from his brow as he fights harder than he ever has in his life. But what is he fighting? Why? Doesn't he want to be free?

Lifting his head, combed hair falling forward to stick to his now sweaty face, he peers down his straining body toward where Ayame kneels. The look he gives her is wild, but not angry.

The look the priestess receives is scared. Terrified. In the last moments remaining to this man as a free soul, he knows only fear, followed by a defeated flash of pity. In his golden eyes are all the words he does not have time to say.

'You have done this. You poor, poor girl. You have done this to us both.'

And then he screams. Slamming his head back with a solid 'THNK', he fills his lungs until his chest is expanded up, full to bursting, and wails.

No human throat could make the sound that he makes. Raw, primal, and full of hunger and rage, the sound scrapes across the ears like steel on slate. Starting deep it rises higher and higher, reaching a pitch and force to shatter glass.

Never has their been a more fitting sound for the howl of the damned.

When he shows signs of consciousness, Ayame opens her eyes to glance up toward the 'benefactor' of this involved process. It would be impossible to know how long the five gathered have been at the ritual, but they appear to be quite settled in their positions. Other glances are cast toward the face of the once-hunter before eyes close and mantras continue to be murmured beneath soft breaths.

He cries out for them to stop but the five show no signs of doing so. Ayame looks toward the Shinto Priest across the way, meeting his gaze, seeking confirmation from the more experienced man that they are indeed doing the right thing. The answer comes with a slight nod before he bows his head and resumes his own focus. The affirmation is enough to sustain her own confidence, the strawberry-blonde bowing her head once more. Of course the creature within would protest, would try to convince them that they are doing the wrong thing. They must stick to the process. Once it is done, when the once-hunter is freed, he will thank them.

But minutes pass and the writhing only grows in intensity and the shrine maiden begins to question once more. A glance to her left at the old woman is followed by a whisper, "Sayuri-obaasma..." only to be answered with a soft 'Hush, child.' The wooden charms overhead brush against each other with increasing intensity even though the air flowing through the cave does not seem to have shifted noticeably.

Gripping her gohei tighter, Ayame pushes herself to standing now. She is the focal point of the auras of those gathered, their efforts are channeled to and through her, and the other four adults continue in their prayers, whispered sacred words, and holy mantras without wavering. Whipping the gohei through the air, she paints an invisible glyph - something to anchor the powers at play here. Hopefully it won't be long...

She hesitates again when finally making eye contact with the restrained man, brown eyes locking on his face, mouth pressed into a thin line of conflicted resolution. Just a little longer, she thinks - the beast must be close to banished by now. But that look he gave her... is that the fleeting resolve of the beast about to be exorcised? Then why, in that brief moment, did the man seem more... human than she had seen him act since discovering his camp fire?

The Buddhist monk doesn't waver but the Taoist priest bats open his eyes and begins stroking his beard as he studies the manacled man more carefully. "Perhaps we should-" Whatever he was about to say is drown out by the soul chilling scream that echoes against the walls of the stone chamber - a cave found in the sacred mountain, behind a waterfall of pure, spring water... more holy ground than this would be hard to find in the entire region.

The youngest of those gathered freezes, looking to the faces of the veterans once more for assurance only to find their confidence lacking. Is this not how it is supposed to go then?

The black-hatted Shinto Priest reaches into his robes and produces a thin, long dagger - the time has come, there is no saving this man. The beast within him is too much, too strong, and must be slain even if it means killing the poor soul harboring it against his will.

Lifting the sharp knife high in one hand, preparing to plunge it, he only stops when his wrist is tapped with the end of Ayame's gohei. 'Wait', she mouths to him. She isn't willing to give up on the ritual just yet. They have to be close to beating it. How strong could the beast possibly be?!

Humanity. it is a frail thing. A fragile balance of empathy and compassion. It takes almost nothing to destroy it. A bad childhood. One traumatic event. How The Hunter managed to keep the shreds of his together as a barrier to his demon is a mystery. But due to the well-meaning rituals these priests have conducted, that barrier has shattered.

Perhaps it has shattered for good.

"HRRRRRAAAAAAAAGHR!" The noise that escapes the man is half howl, half roar of insane triumph. It tears itself from his chest as he continues to strain against his bonds, muscles standing out like knots of hyper-taut ropes stretched beneath his robe.

"YEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!" The voice howls, breath hissing through its teeth as it pants franticly for breath. Chest rising and falling with increasing speed, it bares its jagged fangs, scars pulled taught in an expression of savage exultation. Blood runs freely from its wrists and ankles, forming small puddles on the holy ground.

The first bond snaps.

The beast's left hand, which had been pinned so firmly before the Shinto Priest, jerks free from its chain with a screech of tearing metal. The manacle still gleaming around its bloody wrist dangles a short length of chain as it smashes its fist hard into the earth. left shoulder lifting, the beast stares forward, glowing golden eyes staring through its fallen hair, locking on Ayame as it gives another mighty jerk.

The chain holding its right manacle shatters.

In the eyes that now glare at the priestess there is a new intelligence. Where once there existed ferocity and pride, pain and at least some iota of humanity; there is now a malevolent cunning. Behind its eyes is the ghoulish savagery of the worst of spirits. The true hate of a being that cares nothing for others, and wants only to feed. To hurt for the pleasure of it. To take out its pain and rage on the meat that surrounds it.

The escalation of intensity is unlike anything those gathered appear to have expected. The prayers have stopped as one by one the veteran hunters open their eyes and stare first at the target of their efforts then glance at each other with growing uncertainty. The Taoist priest begins to get up, no longer interested in kneeling near the creature's feet, "I do believe... we have given it our best." There is a finality in his tone, an acceptance that when all else fails, the monster within must be destroyed. His hand slips into his haori to retrieve an ornate, sacrificial dagger.

The old woman tsks softly then shakes her head, "Ayame, child, we tried..." The priest near his left hand bolts to his feet as the shackle breaks, his knife still in his hand from a moment prior. But now that the arm is free he no longer looks so eager to be the one to plunge the silvered weapon into the heart of the furious being.

The monk remains seated in a meditating posture, still trying against all hope to find any resolution that does not require slaying the man host to such a beast. But when the right chain shatters, sending steel shrapnel flying, he finally accepts defeat, springing to his feet to land near the wall.

Ayame lowers the gohei she had been using, her expression one of focused intensity. Without realizing it, she lets it slip from her fingers to clatter against the floor as she takes another step back, sweeping her arms up, her ceremonial garb trailing behind her movements. The Taoist priest holds his ground near the monster's right leg. "We know what we must do. There exists no other recourse."

The Taoist priest circles around until he is standing between the beast and the waterfall flowing over the entrance to the cave. The others begin to take up positions around the room. Ayame, herself, takes another step back, deeper into the cave, until she comes next to where her own rune-carved staff is leaning so that she can take hold of it. She had beaten the man in the forest, but what is surfacing now is absolutely nothing like that.

She had tried. A hunter didn't deserve to die like this. A hunter who gave his life to fighting the most important battle the world will never know... and here and now, he has to be slain like the creatures he hunted. Curiously, she has no bladed weapon for the purpose of shedding blood - her staff is the tool of the trade her father taught her... why he never trained her in how to use something more decisively lethal continues to be a question she ponders to this day.

The old woman draws out two short sticks to use as weapons as well. All five nod at each other. They have to kill it now!

The stench of human emotion lies thick in the air. Confusion. Surprise. Resolve. All combining into a miasma of mortal impermanence.

Pausing in its panting, the beast's chest swells with a deep breath drawn in through its nose. Golden eyes alight with hunger, it draws itself slowly to its feet, ankles remaining shackled to the stony earth. Its mouth lulls open, tongue sliding out scraped and bloody past its teeth to wet its lips with crimson.

"So much fear. So much confusion." The beast's voice is a whisper, grating dryly up through its raw throat. "For what?" Its arms lift, blood dripping from its manacles in a gentle patter as it spreads them wide to either side.

"You've cured me." The beast whispers. Its lips draw back from its jagged fangs, eyes alight with malice. "You've broken him. I tried. I tried to break him for months. And then you," Its demonic gaze fixes on Ayame, watching as she backs slowly away toward her rune-carved staff. A certain amount of brutal satisfaction glows in that gaze as it attempts to meet the young priestess's eye.

"A huntress he admired. A sack of meat he was glad to die to. You are the one who broke him."

A satisfied breath is drawn in, as if tasting the horrible fact.


The rest of the hunters scattered about the room are given no mind. Though they draw daggers and sticks, preparing to employ their long years of hunting knowledge, the sadistic monster seems unafraid. Perhaps such a thing can not know fear.

its long black hair blows softly in the mysterious wind as it curls both spread hands into fists. A crimson stain begins to darken the white fabric wrapped around his left, fueling the expression of savage pain on the scarred figure's hungry features.

Facing it now, with her staff in hand, held tightly in front of her, Ayame stares back at the now standing figure. The salt-shaped glyphs on the floor are scattered and bloodstained, the ritual completely dispelled, hours of effort completely destroyed. All of this energy and... as he ruthlessly asks, for what? He can see it in the priestess's eyes. The realization of what has happened. Their expertise given form did not cure the man, they've made it worse - they drew /it/ to the surface but in the end, did not dispel it.

This is no ordinary curse, she realizes. A curse could have been cleansed. No... when the man in black spoke of a beast within, that was not a figurative concept. Something unholy, something profane is using his flesh as host. Just what form of nightmarish torture has he been living all this time?

"No..." the shrine maiden murmurs. "This was not supposed to... how did it fail?" The silence from the elders suggests they have no better idea of where they went wrong than she did. One thing is for sure, they were attempting to meddle in powers greater than they anticipated.

"Where did you come from?! Why did you destroy this man?!" Ayame shouts back, stomping her right foot forward as she takes a ready stance with her staff. This creature, this entity... that the man in black had held it back all this time is testament to his formidable will more so than anything else Ayame had observed. But this thing... this thing is not of this world.

The Shinto Priest and Taoist Priest ready their blades, the old woman her sticks, and the monk raises his hands, sacred prayer beads wrapped around his fists as he slips into a ready stance as well.

"Whatever your intent, your manifestation ends here." Ayame growls back. How did it come to this. She was just trying to help, going out of her way out of respect for the cursed hunter... and this is what happened? "I will not let you harm anyone else!"

A spark of concentration and her staff flares to life with that signature crimson energy.

An instant later, and all five leap to take down The Beast.

"I," The beast snarls, lips pulled back and eyes alight with malicious pleasure, "Am Benedict Scorpium. Brother of the Silver Lash. And I am finally, FREE!" The final word rises into a harsh gargling growl, its mouth hanging open and fists spread wide.

The five hunters lunge toward it, but the monster hurls itself straight back and twists, right foot tearing free from its prison as it descends upon the Shinto priest. The man who was once so willing to end its life must face the monster's full ferocity as it throws itself atop him, ignoring the dagger that tears a quick slash across its chest. Powerful hands close around the man's upper arms, squeezing viciously as jagged teeth descend to sink deep into his right shoulder. As a dog might, the beast whips its head back and forth, shredding flesh and ceremonial garb to blood-soaked ribbons.

"YESSSS!" The monster roars, tearing its mouth free of the man and ignoring a second stab of the dagger into its mostly unprotected chest. As if the priest weighed nothing, it hurls him backward over its shoulder toward the oncoming monk in orange.

"You Are All Prey To Me!" It growls.

Twisting on the spot, the beast's right fist carves a violent path through the air, forcing the Taoist and old woman to dodge aside or else be hammered across the chamber by the brutal blow. That leaves only Ayame, the shrine maiden approaching with her energy infused staff.

"He forgives you." The monster hisses, momentarily meeting the oncoming girl's eyes. The words are low and harsh, delivered with biting sarcasm as the monstrosity bends its knees, then launches itself straight up.

The final chain parts with a metallic 'PING!', sound echoing throughout the chamber as the beast crashes through the hanging charms and rebounds across the ceiling. Bits of wood scatter in all directions as it tumbles through the air, bounces off of the far wall, and lands in a crouch atop its pile of discarded gear.

For a fraction of a second, perhaps only half a moment, the figure stares down at the items between its bare feet with mild confusion. However, the expression blinks away and it stoops to grab the gear. Bundling it in both arms, the creature bounds forward and flips, avoiding a brutal punch from the oncoming monk. Responding with a swift lash of its bare foot, it rebounds off of the side of the monk's bald head and propels itself out into the waterfall, which closes around its form and washes it away out of sight.

All that remains of the monster are wounds are wreckage. Blood stains smeared across the pentagram of salt. Bite marks. Bruises. Smashed charms.

It could have been worse.

But for a group that thought they were saving a man from his own personal demons, failure may be difficult to swallow. Still, perhaps there is hope. perhaps there is still something of The Hunter within.

The interior of the cave is a cacophony of shouts, cries, growls, howls, yells. Blades slash, teeth gnash, and the five hunters find themselves being scattered by the vicious attacks beset upon them. The ferocity with which their combined assault is slashed, bitten, and bashed apart catches them all by surprise. The Shinto High Priest fights with the desperation of a man who is staring death in the face but his slashes do nothing and seconds later, he crumples to an unconscious form where he was hurled against the stone wall.

The Taoist and old shaman woman try to pen him in, but are forced to retreat or be stricken down by the power behind the beast's limbs. The miko of the Meian Jinja is one step behind, intending to leap in and strike before he can recover from his powerful swing with his right. Her staff comes crashing down with a skull-smashing overhead smash only to crack hard against the stone floor right where he had been an instant before.

Staggering backward a step as the sound of her wooden staff banging against the cave echoes throughout the chamber, she looks up, preparing to bring her weapon to bear over her head, braced with both hands, anticipating an imminent dive from directly above.

"Don't let it escape!" the monk shouts, the first sign of concern in his impassive face this entire event only to find himself stomped to the ground as he is used as a launch-off point.

Ayame surges forward, but even as she charges toward the water-curtain at the entrance, she knows it's too late. Outside of the cave is a sheer cliff with the trail back to more level ground nothing more than a set of stairs carved into its surface. The beast will be able to descend far faster than fragile humans could hope to compete with.

She slides to a stop before continuing into the waterfall to whirl around and face the others. The high priest is making no sound, the most wounded of them, but the others are already moving over to tend to him. Left to her own for the moment, the priestess grits her teeth, her hands clenched white-knuckle tight around her staff. Anger, humiliation, and fear all blend into a cocktail of frustration. She had him, if mercy had not stayed her hand, he would not be loose now. Why did she do it, then? Why take the chance?

Sucking in her breath, she closes her eyes. Strict control over her emotions is part of her training. She must calm herself, must think about everything that happened, however humbling it might be. It's only then that she realizes what she heard before the storm of violence erupted.

A name. No. Two names - one of an individual, the other of an order. Benedict Scorpium of The Silver Lash.

Frowning, she turns to face the waterfall, her staff held off to her left now.

Her hunt has only just begun.

Log created on 00:15:04 06/01/2016 by Ayame, and last modified on 03:31:00 06/05/2016.