Description: What lies beyond the veil at the end of life? For most this is the last mystery, never to be solved. Others, however, have had a glimpse. That knowledge changes a person, though... and those changes are not always for the better. For those individuals, there can never truly be rest; for them, some obligation will always loom large on the horizon.
The King of Fighters semifinal in Shanhai Pass was a very unusual fight.
After the Rumble in the Streets tournament, primary sponsor HitBit Inc experienced a meteoric rise in share price. The deluge of shareholders' voices drowned out those of critics concerned about the company's ties to robotics manufacturer Violet Systems, a key figure in the tournament's finale. Both companies returned to the spotlight as victims of a terrorist attack during Team Interpol's KOF match against Team Sunshine. Rumors suggest the attack may have been connected with the remains of HitBit-branded electronics strewn all throughout the fight venue: Pao Pao Cafe, a favorite of the local Chinese community.
When KOF officials announced that the Hebei Province landmark would be the site of the semifinal between Team Interpol and fan favorite Sonic Assault, Chinese criticism reached a new high. Citizens protested the fight in droves, hoping to express their dissatisfaction with the damage to the Chinese restaurant and discourage similar damage to their own. The fight began in spite of the ardent protest, however, and proceeded more-or-less on schedule until the invasion of jiangshi, led to the top of the Great Wall by Dr. Fio Tessitore. The jiangshi -- Chinese hopping vampires -- were employed as additional security forces for the heretical doctor believed to be responsible for a spate of disturbances in the past. And while they did not cause much interference with the KOF fight itself, their presence did exacerbate and inflame the KOF security forces and the PLA detachment employed to keep the peace.
The fight's finale was akin to tossing a lit match into a powderkeg; with both members of both teams eliminated, a last-moment decision by KOF judges awarded the victory to Team Interpol. The crowd went berserk, rushing past the guards in an attack on both the KOF staff and the victors. As General Zima of Russia -- a VIP and supporter of Team Interpol -- ushered the team to his helicopter, Dr. Tessitore and her army of jiangshi effectively provided a moving barricade for the fleeing victors, driving a wedge through the heart of the crowd and allowing them to reach safety.
Tessitore was able to secure escape, but not without leaving four of the hopping vampires behind. Once the dust had settled in Shanhai Pass, the protesters -- none of whom wanted to actually -look- at the accursed zombie-vampires -- called on monks from a nearby temple for assistance in returning the jiangshi to the earth.
After several days, the monks had a grave declaration: the talismans binding the jiangshis' spirits had been irrevocably corrupted. For some reason, they were not removable; they were fixed permanently in place, rigidly attached to the hat and head as if made of steel. The jiangshi themselves could not be released to their fate as others had; their pattern of qi been transformed, to become more durable, more resistant to impact, and more... alive, somehow. Despite never speaking a word, the jiangshi exhibited thought processes like those of humans. Without Tessitore's presence, they expressed fear, happiness, and panic like any other resident of the temples. These jiangshi were actually closer to the living than the dead, animated by a fel energy that defied the understanding of the temple monks alone -- even those disciples of the Third Immortal governing the flow of qi.
Fear of the unknown insisted that these creatures be put to death swiftly, but the handful of less-experienced monks needed outside help. Word went out to temples all across China, both Daoist and Buddhist. Each temple and monastery would send a representative, well-versed in purifying obstructions to the flow of qi. It was agreed that if the corruption could be cleansed, the proper methods could be used to facilitate their journey to the underworld. Their goal would be to bind the jiangshi and place them at rest near the Temple of the Five Immortals, a sprawling complex built upon the peak of White Horse Mountain in faraway Hubei Province.
Unfortunately, that meant that these "guests" needed to be secured, lying prone upon stone slabs placed in the middle of the courtyard. Chains secured the thin, bony jiangshi to the slabs, binding their arms out to either side and their heels together, with the head allowed to stare heavenward only.
The conclave of representatives was set to meet sharply at 10 am in the main courtyard. Forty representatives in all were present, in addition to the ten regular staff members of the Temple of the Five Immortals. Many of the monks have pulled down their hoods, per their own temples' traditions. Others have not, for similar reasons -- particularly one burly monk who is a good deal taller than the others.
No latecomers would be accepted, so as not to disrupt the ceremony. The imposing gates of stone and iron were already closed shut, barring entrance from all but the most creative and/or determined of individuals.
"Why," asks a voice, "am I here."
People throw around the word 'compulsion' with a breezy, nonchalant ease in modern everyday language. People just 'felt compelled' to buy this set of pillowcases instead of that one, to go to this restaurant for lunch instead of their normal haunt, to call their parents after not speaking with them for a while. But do any of these things really mean 'compelled'? If anything, it's a post-hoc explanation for merely doing something the actor views as unexpected but which is, in reality, merely uncommon. A reflective type might say that those people are deflecting, placing the 'blame' for their actions -- which sometimes run counter to morals, ethics, or good sense -- onto some outside force beyond their control. They just HAD to do it. They were compelled.
Right now, Aya Hazuki thinks that those people are fools.
When she entered the public fighting world a few years back, she didn't make many appearances before she decided it often wasn't much to her taste. The idea of performing for others wasn't in her particular nature, as she saw it; rather than feeling like she was putting on a good show, she felt silly, even as if she were betraying the seriousness and gravitas of her art, a sword style with a centuries-old history and lineage back to the Yagyu Shinkage style, one of the oldest and most respected forms in Japan. But she had done it because she felt... well, 'compelled.' Something in her head, some nameless urge, sent her out into that world.
The same with her (ongoing) creation of a safe space for Southtown's fighting teenagers. The same with meeting Alma Towazu in the streets and striking up an all-too-familiar conversation with him in the process. The same with a violet-and-black-haired girl that Aya met at a temple in her home town of Kyoto. A thousand fragmented feelings, like the pull of a rope, or the gravity of some unseen but massive star.
When news filtered back to her of goings on with -- of all things -- the *hungry dead* in China, she felt... interest, curiosity, maybe even some confusion, but not PARTICULARLY a need to intervene. Right up until the night that she had a horrible, nightmarish dream. Not one of those cinema-clarity dreams where it's like watching a movie unfold. This was, instead, abstract imagery, shapes and colors, sounds and impressions. The sense of something crawling under her skin. The dark laughter of some mad force. A thousand voices crying out for...
When she woke up, she felt... compelled.
As a martial artist, she knows the vague history of the Wudang area and the temples thereby, but has never been to China. Her flights to Beijing, and subsequent puddle jumper to Shiyan, were spent reading up on the history of the Wudangshan temples and their history of martial arts and spiritual development. There was no real new information, not that she was going to be able to find with nothing but a smartphone and a curious mind, but it gave her something to do.
It also took her mind off the growing feeling of uneasy urgency that had settled in her stomach like a boulder.
The ride down the appropriately titled Wudang Road in the back of a rented vehicle was surprisingly peaceful, the surrounding hills lush with green summer vegetation, but eventually she had to abandon it, parking it in a safe location at the foot of Bamashan and making her way up on foot.
Before she left, there was a tense moment where she considered leaving her sword in the car. Now, standing before the closed gates, Aya finds herself glad for its reassuring presence at her side.
By the time Aya arrives, the consultation is in full swing. The elder in charge of arranging the conclave stands grimly in the center of the courtyard, looking impassively outward. He is oriented to face the gate -- but it is unclear whether his eyes are focused enough to actually make out the form of Aya on the other side.
The representatives are distributed across the four jiangshi in roughly equal measure. Each qi specialist takes turns examining the jiangshi closest to them. In each case, the examination follows the exact same pattern. A furrowed brow. Hands extended outwards, making sweeping gestures to ascertain the flow of qi. Consternation. Another set of sweeping gestures. More consternation when nothing happens. And then, frustration as the specialist steps back to let the next person take their turn.
The jiangshi stare heavenward. It is all they can do.
In all this time, there are two hooded gentlemen who have continually yielded their 'turn' to the next specialist. Their expressions are kept neutral, but never really venturing so far as to appear troubled.
The jiangshi stare heavenward. It is all they can do.
Just as the two remaining monks are about to have their turn, the elder speaks.
"I want to thank you all again for coming here today. It seems you have all had a chance to examine the jiangshi, to bear witness to the interrupted flow of qi within these bodies."
The elder lowers his head, drawing in a sigh. It is a point of much shame that out of nearly four dozen individuals, not a one seems to have an idea.
One of the hooded individuals raises his hand.
It is not yet his turn to speak -- the elder looks perturbed.
He steps back -- as does his burly associate. They both pull their hoods down -- they are -not- Chinese, and their skin is a pale, ashen grey.
The shorter one, with a neatly trimmed goatee, grins broadly. "Have you considered the possibility that it's a trap?"
The monks look back and forth to one another, fear pulling their eyes and mouths open.
The jiangshi glow a bright green -- the glow emanates from within, illuminating their desiccated flesh from within, growing brightest from their eyes and open mouths. As the monks watch in stupefied terror, Gouts of emerald flame erupt from their outstretched hands, swirling outwards like the feeder bands of a summertime typhoon -- a range of influence quietly avoided by the backwards stepping of the two Romanian "monks."
The swirling motion suddenly halts, freezing in place. The feverish, panicked monks find themselves frozen in place, their bodies unable to move.
And then, cracks begin to form within the body of the elder. Long, sinuous fissures spawn across his features, rippling downward like a bolt of lightning.
Suddenly, the elder shatters, his form flattening into the existence and consistency of a sheet of glass.
A seven foot tall monstrosity steps forth in the aftermath, a long spindly scythe having done the job of the shattering. The sound of glass crunches beneath his feet as he strides forward, the only remannts of the revered elder's body. All that remains of his soul is the purple veins of life, weaved together with faint traces of red and blue -- the remnants of the elder's soul and the qi that he commanded in life. The veins pull inward as if by gravitational force.
Jedah Dohma smiles with self-congratulatory smugness as he unfastens the clasps of his noble shirt, parting the fabric wide. The collapsing mass of the elder's soul forms a nearly perfect orb, and starts to swim away from the demon lord, as the entrapped monks look on in sheer horror.
With an irresistable pull, the orb is drawn into Jedah's chest, its lifegiving force drawn into his. The light pulses as it travels across each of the cords comprising the demon's hellish muscles.
And then, in a matter of seconds, it is done.
"My children... you have learned much. But it is now time to advance to the next stage of your enlightenment..."
The jiangshi stare upwards, sorrow pulling their faces into distraught expressions.
The goateed individual speaks next, twirling his finger around. "Nice, boss. I dig the ambiance. Can we get a move on?"
Jedah Dohma casts a withering stare at the taller of the two would-be monks.
Artur slams his fist right into Valentin's face without any further ado, dropping the lanky smartass like a sack of rice.
Jedah Dohma clenches his jaw, spreading his hands wide. The galaxy-like swirls emanating from the jiangshi begin to move -- but each spiral arm twists abruptly to the right, in accordance with the twisting of Jedah's wrists.
The trapped monks suddenly seize up, their bodies twisted in similar fashion.
The bodies then fall to the ground, limply. And left behind are the diaphanous, ghostlike traces of their existence -- purple and red splotches, left hovering in the air, trapped as they await retrieval from their new Lord and Master.
Jedah Dohma's face splits in a dagger-toothed grin.
If she were a different person, Aya would make a Star Wars joke.
Considering the gate is barred, and that Wudangshan is a world heritage site that likely wants to keep out troublesome visitors (that really do put wear and tear on things), this isn't very surprising. But Aya can FEEL that something is wrong, with or without the weird feeling of compulsion that brought her here. The very AIR is wrong; whatever sixth sense was awakened in her a few years ago is screaming at her that this is bad. But what is she to do? She has no facts, no intelligence, only a vague hunch and a sword. Aya Hazuki is a logical individual; she's not used to, nor does she enjoy, acting on instinct or intuition.
This all goes to hell once there's, you know. Green fire in the air, and shouting, and loud words, all of which are basically tiny firefly lights next to the blazing lighthouse of the feeling that Something Is Very Wrong. There is a disturbance in the goddamned force.
For a moment, she looks at the gate, then down at the smooth, polished wood of her saya.
Her first step is a jump to kick off the ground; her second step is to effectively run UP the gate wall, vertically; her third takes her in a front flip over the proverbial battlements so that she lands, head down, in a crouch on the other side in a shattering *crack!* of masonry under her feet. Slowly, she rises, eyes up, and what she sees is...
What could prepare anyone for this? The torturous expressions of damned souls imprisoned in dead flesh. Some... hellbeast formed from the once-proud spirit of an ascetic who abandoned the secular and material world in the pursuit of some greater understanding. Unattenuated... SOMETHING floating in the air. And the sharp-faced, ashen-skinned man who appears to be collecting it all, ribbons of power floating through air wet with the heat of summer and the breath of the dead or dying.
She wants to leave. Everything in Aya's logical head is screaming at her: this is bad. This is a vast number of unknowns in a situation where your life is very clearly in danger. They're already dead. There's nothing you can do for them. This isn't safe. Leave. LEAVE.
And in the darkness of her thoughts, like a waxing moon emerging from behind a cloudbank, comes a thought unbidden: IS there nothing you can do for them?
By now, Jedah and his servants must have turned their eyes to the woman.
Her hand rests on the sunset orange-wrapped hilt of her ancestral blade.
"I'm going to need to ask," Aya says clearly, "what you're doing here."
Valentin rubs the swollen black mass upon his cheek as he stares back at the forty-odd ribbons of blood and chi swirling in front of his eyes. It wasn't the first time Artur has decked him, and it surely won't be the last. He... laughs, awkwardly, as he pulls himself back to his feet.
For what it's worth, he -did- dig the ambiance. But the fast-talking Romanian vampire always has other things he'd rather get to. Waiting around -- not his thing.
Artur swivels his neck from one side to the other, his neck popping audibly as he takes the few strides back to his former position. He does not seem to mind the emerald flames -- or much anything. Artur is not a thinker, after all, but a doer -- a tall mountain of a man serving double duty as Valentin's enforcer and his periodic reminder to shut the hell up.
Jedah narrows his eyes, elongated fingertips reaching once more for the clasps on his coat. Manipulating the fabric of space and time is one thing -- but manipulating the souls of some forty-odd practitioners of chi is something else entirely. And it is, in fact, the culmination of much pre-planning. Without the fortuitous timing of the King of Fighters tournament, he would not have been able to gain the attention of the world stage. Without the jiangshi, he would not have been able to capture the attention of the Chinese citizens. Without the elaborate warping of the flow of qi throughout the jiangshi he's constructed, he would not have been able to seize the attention of the devotees of the Third Immortal. And without the peculiar, many-armed traps planted within them, he would not have been able to effectively immobilize over forty people simultaneously.
And there comes one more. One person... not within the carefully laid trap.
One eye parts, as Jedah's lips begin to close.
She dares to ask him a question.
The recently-chastened Valentin spares Jedah a quick confirming look, spitting a glob of his blood onto the hallowed Daoist courtyard.
The bloodweaver inclines his head, otherwise focused intensely upon contracting the qi-entwined blood spirits into more compact spheres. It takes much longer than with the elder, after all.
Valentin and Artur turn in unison to face the upstart Aya, attempting to rain on their parade.. The smartass quips out, "Interpretive dance!" He flicks his wrists to the side, his fingernails sprouting out into blood-red talons. "You wanna join in, you gotta buy a ticket!"
Artur does not adopt a similarly offensive stance; instead, he slowly moves backward to interpose himself between Aya and the souls clustered about their terrified, entrapped jiangshi.
"C'mon, c'mon, lady! You wanna buy a ticket straight to hell, dont'cha?!"
Valentin takes three steps closer. He was bored before. Aya has his interest now.
Nausea swirls in Aya's gut; every inch of exposed skin has that unpleasant tingling that happens before an approaching thunderstorm. The sound of her blood is ridiculously loud in her ears (comparative to normal, anyway). She has never in her life felt quite as REVULSED as she does right now, for reasons that she cannot explain. Death is concerning, of course, particularly in... bulk, as it were, but she is not so delicate as all that. And while the mysterious lightshow is indeed strange, she's capable of a few of those tricks herself. She's no wide-eyed innocent.
But she really, really wants to end this. _Now_.
This is perhaps why the smart aleck-y tone and aggressive posture of the man who suddenly tries to get between her and the Goings On is sufficient for the perhaps half an excuse the Hazuki heiress needed to jolt her into action. One delicate eyebrow goes up, her face unperturbed. "There was, perhaps a point-oh-five percent chance that you would actually have a reasonable explanation for all of this," she says, the deadpan evenness of her alto voice carrying surprisingly well, given the situation. "Out of deference to that number not being 'zero', I decided to give you a chance to offer it."
When she moves, it is with a speed that a normal human would never be able to track, and one that even a trained fighter would be hard pressed to. The hand hovering over the hilt of her blade grasps it, then draws it in a single blinding flash, cutting a silver arc in front of her... an arc that shatters the air between herself and Valentin, creating greenish blades of wind that have all the cutting power of the katana in her hand, which she carefully resheathes, slinging her body low into a battou stance.
"Consider this my entry fee, then."
The trap is essential. The concentration, moreso. One by one, the blood spirits contract into spherical form, soul and qi energy dancing about each other on the insides of their glassy prisons. Jedah closes his eyes again -- and the first of the orbs hovers to him. As the globe shatters upon his divine body, the released soul energy dissolves into the corded muscle and sinew, Jedah finds himself grinning again. The vital energy of the first elder was a nice appetizer -- but this is the start of the main course. Rumbling baritone laughter begins to rumble throughout the temple complex -- it's questionable whether the unholy noble even realizes he =is= laughing.
Artur, for his part, raises his hands into a guarding stance. He does not know Aya, much less her style -- though it would not change his approach. He is to be the wall, the last line of defense against interruptions to his Lord and Master.
Valentin, on the other hand, has no such noble ambitions. "Well, you got two eyes, sweetie, it's not my fault you choose to ignore what's right in front'a ya." Like Artur before him, the shorter vampire cocks his head from one side to the next, his neck voicing a pop in complaint. "Like, hey, sky, is that RAIN you're droppin' on my head?!"
What happens next alarms the lanky vampire, for he had expected a frontal assault. The woman had a sword -- that much was plain as day, even with the misty cloud coverage casting a faint shadow over the mountaintop temple. But the iai strike is unbelievably, =impossibly= fast, even for someone as nimble as Valentin to track without warning. The emerald windblade lashes outward -- and it takes all of the vampire's supernatural ability to twist his shoulder into the blow. Monastic fabric is cleaved in several places from the wind blades, cutting straight down to the ashen skin of the vampire himself with a fine crimson mist sprayed into the air.
Valentin hisses, one hand snapping to his shoulder. He can stem the flow of blood with a thought, but old habits die hard. "Alright, sweets. Let's dance."
As Artur remains motionless, Valentin rockets forward in a burst of speed. His knee slams forward at her head in an impressive arc -- well, it would look impressive on a muay thai fighter, but the vampire has no need of things like 'worrying about internal organ arrangement.' The vampire would follow up afterward by swinging his foot overhead in a scything arc, aiming to strike the young Hazuki heiress straight in the wrist, hampering her ability to harness the blade.
The jiangshi begin to wail in agony -- beginning to drown out the laughter -- as the qi entrapment draws ever more upon their life force. Jedah continues absorbing one soul after another, enjoying the delicacy with each passing moment.
"It's interesting," Aya says carefully, watching Valentin's reaction to being hit by her sudden strike with an almost detached curiosity, "to hear you call this 'ignoring what's in front of me."
Alea iacta est; she knows that now that she's attacked him, there's no going back from any of this, and so the swordswoman prepares herself. For perhaps the first time since she arrived, to some extent the disquiet and anxiety she's been feeling DOES fade into sullen background noise at last, the familiar rhythms of one-on-one (for the moment) combat reaching into her consciousness and pulling all of her training and composure to the forefront.
Under placid waves, however, there is a maelstrom churning. Her strange feelings, the unsettling aura, her sense of WRONGNESS: they have not disappeared. They have merely taken a backseat to the more immediate problem of survival.
When her vampiric opponent lunges for her, Aya is ready; the rising knee finds itself slamming into the horizontally-held saya of her sword, the treated wood standing up surprisingly well to an attack of that strength and speed. The impact is still jarring, but better than being hit in the head... or so it would be, had that been the end of Valentin's attack. Sadly, it was not; with the scabbard otherwise engaged blocking the frontal assault, AYa is left with little defense against the scything kick, which likely works even better than Valentin had anticipated: as his foot slams into her hand, the still-sheathed katana is knocked free from her now-loosened grip, clattering to the ground a few feet away.
Unexpectedly, however, this puts Aya at a momentary advantage: forcing her into a brief crouch. Wasting no time, she rises from said crouch in a spinning kick of her own... three of them, in fact, consecutive and quite expert rising roundhouses intended to put some distance between herself and her opponent.
"Whatever, lady. If you spout stupid questions, then don't be expectin' smart answers, s'all I'm sayin'."
Wrongness is -definitely- the order of the day, and for anyone familiar enough with chi to be able to sense its ebb and tide, the disturbance is definitely present. It's one thing to be able to sense that, yes, there are almost four dozen people standing around staring at four more people. It's quite something else to feel the exact moment that the soul force ripped away, just as easily as the chi that animates the body. Both, together, unified -- and yet, torn away from the flesh as simply as peeling the shrinkwrap off a new purchase. The bodies, which had before coursed with life energies, lie completely still and dormant, their hearts not even having the will to pump the last refreshing morself of oxygen to their awaiting cells.
In minutes, these bodies will be dead, their cells deteriorating past the point of revival. Even if an attempt was made to resuscitate the monks' bodies, it would be of no use without a soul to direct the bodily processes, or the chi to drive them. They are, for the moment, as lifeless as the hunks of stone they encircle.
Artur's nostrils flare. Valentin is, as usual, getting his fill of excitement, and leaving none for the taller mountain of a man. He turns back to Jedah, away from his partner -- and kneels down. One of the bodies -- too warm to be called a 'corpse' -- is picked up gingerly and slung onto his shoulder in a fireman's carry.
And a second follows suit.
Thirty-two souls remain, until the ravenous Black Messiah's hunger is sated. Thirty-three, should Aya fail to execute her task.
Valentin bristles as his knee slams into the sword saya, sending a clatter resounding throughout the hollow construct. He continues with his follow-through all the same, his boot colliding with the saya and knocking it momentarily out of the swordswoman's reach. He grins with feral tenacity, lunging forward with the intent to capitalize on the opportunity. It's just then, though, that the expert martial artist proves that it wasn't an opportunity at all. The first kick clips the Romanian in the shoulder, sending him pivoting backwards in a direction less optimal than intended. The second catches him full in the back, knocking the fast-talking vampire backwards, his arms spinning out to the side for balance. By the time the third kick lands, he's made a complete revolution -- and the kick to his already-bruised cheek sends him in another rapid revolution in short order.
The vampire collides, yet again, with the stone floor of the courtyard, though this time he's landing on his wide-spread palms. "Okay, okay, okay!" he howls, springing back to his feet. He makes a show of dusting off his robes -- still miffed he had to leave his pinstripes at home -- and shuffle steps off to the side. "You gotta pick a style and -stick- with that! None of this switchin' styles crap!"
With only that remark as warning, he lunges forward again -- this time bringing his blood-red talons to bear for a vicious overhand slash that might prove more difficult to block without the saya or its sword.
The kick was desperate, and it shows from the heaving breaths that Aya is making as she lands in a crouch after delivering it. The whole reason she learned a variety of kicking techniques in the first place is for this very situation, if she found herself without her favored weapon. While the vampire seems to be ready to banter as soon as he lands, Aya is not. Not that she's the bantering type in the first place, but.
She doesn't let it get to immediately, however; as soon as she's clear, she all but dives to the side in a roll, snapping up her blade as she comes to a stop. Valentin throws words her way, but she is hard pressed to have any sort of snappy comeback, striving instead to be ready for whatever's about to come next. Aya does, however, have the presence of mind to state the obvious: "I don't think I could expect smart answers from you regardless of the question." He really doesn't seem to be the brightest bulb in the marquee, as it were.
What he (apparently) lacks in smarts he more than makes up for in strength and speed, however, and more to the point, Aya sacrificed anything resembling a defensive position for the purposes of getting her weapon back. The result is that the vampire's overhead claws dig into her with a vengeance, slicing bloody red lines into Aya's shoulders and upper arms, sending tattered cloth from her kimono-like open coat into the air as it falls prey to the attack as well. The result is that now it's her chance to get sent to the cold stone of the monastery ground.
As she gets back up, slowly, her breath continues to be ragged, and battousha takes a moment to consider: WHY is she feeling so tired and drained? It can't have been the brisk walk here, which was nothing to a person in good shape. Yet she feels like she weighs a thousand times more than she would, like she's standing on the surface of Jupiter. Yet there's nothing...
Her eyes drift, momentarily, to the field surrounding the monks and the jiangshi. Is that the...?
Annoyed at her own gracelessness, Aya turns to Valentin and says, in a low growl, "I don't have time to fool around with underlings. Get out of my way!" And with that she LAUNCHES herself at him, full speed, at a low run, intending to perform a drawing slash THROUGH him if need be... subconsciously calling the wind once more, whorls of green surrounding her form as she flickers forward, barely visible.
Valentin may be a scumbag, but he is not as stupid as he sounds. His mouth just moves faster than his brain sometimes. His forthright attitude can help in negotiations, applying additional pressure to his counterparts on the other side of the table. Artur helps in that capacity as well, playing the silent arbiter to keep him in check.
In combat, though, there is simply no point for Artur to even try to rein him in. The tall Romanian pulls a second body onto his shoulder, and moves to accept a third, even as Jedah continues draining more souls away from the collection amidst the cries of the tortured jiangshi souls.
Valentin appears invigorated by the rivulets carved into his opponent's shoulder and arms, that smile creeping back into his features. For a moment, he even pauses in his assault, a leering smile greeting Aya as he raises his talons to his nostrils. He takes a deep breath, feigning a small degree of the ecstatic glee enjoyed by his master just a short distance away. "Mm, maybe not. Plenty of other things you can do with your mouth though."
Yep. Definite scumbag.
He takes note of the battousha's gaze, realizing that he's not doing the -best- job of keeping his own situational awareness. With Aya's speed, and Artur's distractedness, he realizes that the swordswoman might actually have a chance of plummeting -past- him. Or, worse, -through- him. The concern becomes reality as Aya powers forward, her blade whistling towards him. The vampire could leap out of the way, but that means sacrificing ground and possibly interrupting his Lord and Master's all-you-can-eat buffet. That would be a bad move, Valentin.
The crafty vampire instead leaps -forward- at Aya, amidst a plume of dark grey smoke. It isn't just a crazy special effect, or a distraction -- the vampire has selectively turned his =center= into mist, leaving his upper torso and the lower torso intact. As the keening blade whips through what -would- have been his torso, he realizes he didn't move -enough-.
His shoulder and his thighs slam into the advancing Aya. But the swordswoman will also have the satisfaction of knowing that the blade did indeed strike the vampire -- a bloody chunk of ribcage is separated from the Romanian vampire, even as the grey mist becomes more solid and congeals back into the mass of his torso.
He staggers backwards after the collision, panting for breath as crimson fluid spatters onto the stonework below. A hand curls around the missing chunk of his middle torso, as he chuckles softly, "Sorry, darlin'... no one interrupts the boss."
Rebounding (to some extent) off Valentin's... creative... defense, Aya is forced back more than a step or two but regains her footing quickly. Part of her thinks it would be in her best interest to hide her response, but some primal part of Aya does not actually do that. Rather than continue to express cold disinterest, what she just observed -- the mist, the expression on Valentin's face, the seeming disregard for losing part of his torso -- makes Aya's face contort for a moment into a look of... not horror, but genuine disgust and confusion. "What _are_ you? What is all this? What have the monks of this monastery done to any of you?"
She knows he's not going to answer, or if he does, it's going to be some smartass sass remark. But the sad truth of the matter is, she can't make a go at the big man or the curious OTHER one without leaving her back exposed to this... whatever it is. Despite the growing feeling deep down that she's already wasted too much time, she resolves to deal w--
That's when the pain happens.
For a moment she slumps forward, eyes wide. Whatever it was he just did, perhaps she didn't register its impact on her body -- or possibly something else -- until just this second. But the cold, unclean feeling that suddenly courses through what feels like every neuron has almost more psychological impact than physical... and that's saying something, given the rest of his strike.
When her face comes up again, she looks at the vampire with something approaching real hatred.
"I've asked you once," she practically growls, before kicking off the ground to attack him in a full force dash once more, though her hands are nowhere near her sheathed blade. More kicks?
Valentin doesn't get long to wonder. As the battousha approaches, her arms low and crossed, the very air starts to crackle, before -- with a sharp thunderclap -- two blades made of pure violet lightning erupt out of her hands, as if she were holding a pair of ninjato made of pure electricity. "GET OUT OF MY WAY!"
The lightning blades make a crosswise X-cut, aiming to simply DISMEMBER this man, if she must.
Valentin hops back and forth from one foot to the other, trying to keep himself distracted from feeling the considerable pain in his torso. "There you go again, askin' stupid questions..." It's not the first time he's had a slice taken out of him, but it may very well be the first in a long time. "We, right here? Babe, we're your undying nightmares given flesh." He smirks with the confident swagger of someone who -knows- he's on the winning side.
The Black Messiah lurks in the background, his eyes only cracked open as he focuses on the thaumaturgy necessary to conduct the transition of the souls into his divine self. Just under twenty to go, at this rate; the passage of time indicated primarily from the tinkling of the soul globes across his chest.
Artur, for his part, has stacked one group of four bodies atop one another, and is moving to begin another stack. -Why- he is doing such a thing is a mystery, but it's a task that appears to consume the bulk of his attention...
Valentin raises both eyebrows at the sudden onrush of pain flitting across Aya's face. He can sense the shift of tide, and while it -does- bring a renewed smile to the vampire's face, he's kind of jealous that he doesn't appear to be directly responsible for it.
"Y-yo, yo, Artur, I th--" he starts, raising his hands up defensively as Aya seems like a different person entirely. The Romanian vampire can sense a shift. And it chills even him.
Without any further warning than Valentin's own words, Artur comes hurtling sideways like a guided missile. His shoulder slams into Valentin, spinning him sideways and blasting him to the side. He didn't wait for Aya's helpful warning to get out of her way. He acted entirely on his partners instincts.
And Aya will find that Artur is -much- harder to cut through than Valentin. It is not to say that she doesn't -- the electricity instantly atomizes an X-shaped swath through the monastic robes, leaving charred cinders in their wake. Canyons are carved into the burly Romanian's back from the intense heat brought about by -freaking lightning- searing their way into his skin. The cuts run deep, still glowing with the purple energy even moments after the Romanian bruiser is knocked backwards.
He collides with the stone floor -- for Artur, for the very first time. He had not loosed a cry of pain -- it's not his way.
But it sure takes him a moment to push back upwards, giving Valentin the opportunity to run his mouth again. "Look, lady, are these guys friends a' yours?! They ain't nothin' to us -- they're a job, right? But why the hell are -you- so pissed?"
Artur rises to his feet, raising his knuckles in a brawler's stance. His back may as well be on fire from the scars carved into it, but he will not yield.
His words are heavy and deep, but crystal clear. "No one interrupts the boss."
Jedah Dohma cracks one eye wider than the other. His baritone grunt can be heard over the wails of the jiangshi -- it's enough to send a shiver down the spine of both Artur -and- Valentin.
Vampires may be the monsters here, but there is something... not right about Aya right now, the lightning blades still crackling away in her hands like awful, unfettered Tesla coils, the violet illuminating her face with a distinctly unsettling luminescence, something straight out of a horror film. Her breath continues to be ragged. Mentally she is floating, now; suspended in some thoughtless space, only vaguely aware of what's going on. The more Jedah consumes, the more she appears to be losing touch with what's around her. The sudden intervention of Valentin's partner gave her pause, made her retreat a step or two. She seems dimly aware that they have referred to Jedah as 'boss,' that this is 'just a job'.
One of the blades comes up, as the woman looks at her two opponents with utter disdain, as if she'd seen something disgusting on the street, the coldness of her features only magnified by the crackling thunder blades.
"Underlings," she spits out, bracing herself to charge once more. "In other words... _fodder_."
She is about to kick off the ground, her entire body poised like a pouncing hunting cat, when her body suddenly slumps forward again, just as it did a moment or two ago. One of the chi-conjured blades winks out of existence with a crackling sound as she puts a hand to her stomach, eyes widening. "What... did you... what is GOING. ON...!"
There is a sound like a bell, or maybe the ringing of a tuning fork, and Aya again becomes silent. After a moment, she speaks, her voice carrying odd resonances... as if it were echoing with itself, delayed by a fraction of a second. "I didn't want to do this," says the odd double-voice, "but she's going to hurt herself if I don't."
Like a marionette having its strings pulled, the battousha who had, to this point, been crouched forward in a slump suddenly rises TOO far, head thrown back, exposing her neck, eyes -- like the jiangshi -- pointed at the sky. There is, for a moment, the START of a scream that becomes a strangled yelp, and then silence... and if Valentin and Artur look, they'll notice that her pointed toes are now no longer in contact with the ground.
She hovers in this uncertain, terrifying state for mere moments, before -- just as suddenly as it came -- she settles to the ground, the lightning blades gone, her face surprisingly placid. Curiously, starting at the tips of her bangs, it's as if a wave front sweeps over her hair, the dark chestnut brown giving way to a vibrant red shade.
She opens her eyes, and gives Valentin and Artur what seems like a genuine smile, something altogether different from the terrible huntress' grin she was wearing a bit ago.
"Hi there, boys," the woman says, her voice back to a single tone. She gives a jaunty little wave, wiggling her fingers. "I appreciate you're just, you know, doing your job? But you probably don't wanna mess with me right now."
She's not even touching the sword. She doesn't SOUND threatening at all. But there is... something in the air. A pressure of a sorts, or rather... the sudden and alarming LACK of pressure, centered on this figure.
WHAT is going on?
A veritable mountain of muscle, Artur imposes himself between the battousha and his dark lord. His tattered robes flutter about in the breeze, clinging only to one shoulder and draped about his waist, as ill-suited as if he had simply wrapped a torn blanket around himself. He stands firm, veins bulging with accursed blood, muscles rigid with anticipation for whatever form the impetuous intruder might take next.
Valentin is right at his side, vampiric adrenaline coursing through his body to deaden the sense of the missing chunk of torso. He too is defiant, but unlike his tacit companion, his eyes show an actual expression when the swordswoman starts seething back at them.
Underlings, she called them. It hits Valentin like a slap in the face; he flinches, as surely as if it -were- a slap in the face.
And then when she leaps, he flinches again, lowering his shoulders with the intent to uncoil with a rapid counterattack.
The lanky vampire finds his eyes widening at what happens next, though.
The sound of the bell is... noticeable indeed. Jedah even opens both his eyes to their full extent, pausing in his gluttonous consumption of souls. Fourteen souls remain, but rather than continue floating methodically towards the Black Messiah -- the globes remain fixed, hovering in air. The entrapped jiangshi wail louder, as another task is added to their metaphysical burden of keeping the souls intact.
Jedah raises a palm towards the figure, as her hair erupts into the colors of autumn and flame. His palm sweeps to the right -- and the fourteen globes array themselves evenly into a circular array.
Dohma's shoulders square up. He then extends his hands to either side, faint amusement creeping its way onto his face. His voice is smooth, reassuring; the dulcet tones are far from what one might expect of a dark lord of his appearance. "How fascinating," he muses, casting a glance to his two brawlers.
Valentin notices the change of aura, and the shift in atmosphere. Terrified, he turns back to Jedah, "Boss, I can exp--"
Jedah shakes his head slowly, addressing Valentin. "Shh..."
Valentin and Artur step aside. Jedah's already been interrupted -- and their job is done. They don't want to mess with the woman now, though it's more because their leader has silently requested that they avoid the confrontation.
Now, the Black Messiah's attention fixates firmly upon the red-tressed fighter, noting her bold change in appearance, stance, and attitude.
His purple coat seals itself shut; the master thaumaturge has no need to bother his slender fingers with such a task. He repeats, with a clear, patient tone: "'I didn't want to do this, but she's going to hurt herself if I don't.'" His lips press into a thin line. His arms cross over one another at the wrists, hands curling into lightly-clasped fists. Eyes narrow at the curiously calm woman standing before him.
"Child, I must ask you... why is that such a grand concern for you, all of a sudden?" A look of derision crosses his features. "You hold her back, just as she holds you back -- both of you straining to cross the threshold at the same time. And amidst this internal struggle, you dare to dispute my divine authority?"
A low, baritone chuckle rumbles throughout the temple, causing the metal chains binding the jiangshi to resonate. The jiangshi cry out in renewed agony, hollow eyes staring up at the cloud-saturated sky, as their master puts his feast on standby, awaiting for the answer of the person standing before him.
Whoever -- WHATEVER -- has taken up residence in Aya Hazuki's body does not seem particularly worried, overall with matters at hand. Curious, given how they talked just now, but as Jedah finally acknowledges things and actually directly SPEAKS for the first time, 'Aya' appears to be concerned mostly with tying 'her' blade back in place. The green eyes don't leave Jedah's surprisingly handsome and placid face, even as fingers expertly weave the sageo through belt loops and other fastenings to keep the scabbard securely in place.
It's a surprising move, since the hidden message of it all is, 'I don't plan to use this to fight anymore.'
Despite Jedah's claims to 'divine authority' and the honestly overwhelming spiritual presence the Dohma noble exerts, whoever it is that's riding in that borrowed body right now seems... relatively calm about things? Probably disrespectfully so, in the eyes of people like Valentin or Artur. "Hey, I'm a guest," she says at last, rubbing her neck with one hand and looking off to the side. "An uninvited one, too. What sort of jerk walks into someone else's home and tears up the place without a really compelling reason?" The question sounds innocent, but buried in the pleasant-enough delivery is a rather pointed question... well, not so much 'buried' as 'thinly disguised,' but it is a little roundabout.
Fingers flex, as if whoever's in control of that body hasn't been used to doing that for some time, now. Depending on their level of awareness, though, there's a whole second layer of invisible stretching going on -- 'Aya' is clearly extending her awareness to the world around her, specifically the flow of chi, with shocking ease. Jedah can most likely feel her poking at the edges of the fields and forms that his own prodigious abilities have created; Valentin and Artur, perhaps, less so, but it's not impossible. Considering the entrance, she's no need to be subtle about it."
"I'm not sure I recognize anything like 'divine authority' though, my dude," her voice continues, the *sound* the same but the cadence and vocabulary patently different. She actually gives Jedah a sheepish smile, of all things. "I mean. I made an appearance because this is technically my fault. Without me she wouldn't be sensitive to this sort of thing. She wouldn't have known to be here, you know?" There's a moment where Aya's face contorts briefly into a grimace, and her hand comes to her forehead, as if she had a sudden headache.
After a tense moment of silence, however, she seems to recover, continuing. "But she felt what you were doing. It's like... like listening to a song in a foreign language. She got the GIST just from tone and inference and reacted to it. She was ready to kill, but uh..."
Aya trails off after that, scratching the side of her head absently, looking at the sky, before settling back on Jedah himself. "I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing right now. She's going to be angry. But she doesn't have the tools to deal with you, and I do. So I made a choice."
Jedah Dohma smirks callously, raising himself to his full seven-foot height. The scythe, long forgotten and hanging at his side, melts into crimson fluid, and shapeshifts into the form of a double-edged scythe, which docks against the Majigen noble's back.
"Child, the words you choose are but a thin layer of wrapping over your actions. And while the young lady's actions are strong, forceful -- yours are passive and inert. Her intentions were clear. Yours are not." He exhales -- an affectation from his long-departed life that he can't seem to excise from his habits. "And every moment you delay, suffering is prolonged."
Near the four bound jiangshi, the emerald stasis zone fluctuates, coruscating in faint ripples of green energy as its boundaries crash against the expanding aura of 'Aya.'
Jedah extends his hand to the spheres on his right. The aura of 'Aya' is strong, but with a gentle, placid motion from his pale blue fingers, the spheres rock forward, forcing the coruscating boundary away from the jiangshi. It is a show of force -- proof that while 'Aya' claims to have the tools to deal with him, it will clearly be an uphill battle.
"Surely, you can sense that of the forty-one monks present, twenty-seven are in relative comfort, acclimating to life in their next phase of enlightenment." He taps his chest -- it may be difficult to resolve individual beings from within, but anyone who had witnessed the ritual to such a degree knows that the souls are kept securely within the prison named Jedah Dohma. "You and your unwilling host are party to suspending fourteen in a state of limbo, teetering on the precipice between life and release. Mere minutes ago, their lungs filled with air, just as yours. They no longer have need of such earthly encumbrances -- and it is imperative that I guide them firsthand."
Jedah's lips turn into a frown. "In other words, child, you are extending the suffering of over twenty souls, perhaps indefinitely, to place your own naive mind at ease."
Artur and Valentin stand down. The latter glances nervously between the shrieking jiangshi and the flame-tressed warrior.
The Blood Noble's lips flatten back to a neutral state, as he looks down with considerable arrogance at 'Aya'. "Child, as you present yourself as a person of honor, I offer you a choice."
His left hand extends to Aya in a supine position. "If you truly care for the host who brought you here, then you will leave me. In peace. And when you have come to peace with your host, and find yourselves on equal footing, then perhaps you may live to challenge my divine patience once again."
The left hand clenches shut. "If, however, you choose to endanger yourself, know that both you and your host will suffer my divine wrath. To no avail. You are outnumbered. You are, more importantly, outmatched and out of your depth."
A smile returns to Jedah's lips, as his overly long blonde eyebrows tilt in a most condescendingly smug expression. "Your deaths would be devoid of meaning, crushed under the tide of inevitability."
"You've... died before, haven't you?"
It's an innocent enough question, but it definitely comes out of left field given everything that Jedah just said. 'Aya' looks at him with a sort of detached, quizzical expression, but doesn't wait for an answer before continuing. "I can tell. It leaves a mark, you know? You can just sort of sense it."
Is she stalling for time, randomly bringing up such a thing? Keeping her eyes locked on Jedah, 'Aya' advances a step, then another. Slow, measured things. Not aggressive, but definitively secure. "I've been through that door already. I know what's on BOTH sides. As far as those 'souls' are concerned, they've got all the time in the world... right up to the point that you're doing... whatever it is you're doing with them at the end." Her gaze flickers to the 'remaining' souls, and the bodies, and then back to Jedah, as if trying to pry some sort of understanding out of his inscrutably placid face. Her breathing is regular, calm, but something intense burns under the surface... though now it's not clear WHO is meant by the phrase 'at war with herself' right now.
"It's funny. You *implied* that if I cared for Aya, then I wouldn't put her life in danger. I think you misunderstand her, though. I think she was ready to die to save these people from you." The voice is suddenly hard, confident; weirdly, a little echo of the woman's personality BEFORE this sudden shift in tone. There is nothing in her body language that suggests she is kidding... but after a moment, the muscle tension relaxes, the face softens. "But the truth is, it's not my decision to make. Or rather, I've taken the ability to make that decision away from her, and that's... you know, now I have to choose: the good of the many or the good of the one?" Green eyes rake over the screaming jiangshi before swiveling back to Jedah. "Bet you're not a Star Trek fan, are you? Spock would say the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. But coincidentally, Spock DIED right after saying that, so."
The HELL is she even talking about?
A hand that 'Aya' perhaps didn't even know she'd outstretched, palm out, swings down to her side, and she exhales a slow breath, shaking her head before locking eyes with Jedah again, unflinching. "You've got that typically selfish view of events that I've run into a lot. A LOT. I'm the one causing them to suffer? Buddy, you killed all these people. You're STEALING their souls. Anything you say after the fact is kind of beside the point. So that's on you. But taking away someone's ability to decide things for themselves is probably one of the worst things you can do to someone and frankly, murder is the ultimate form of that. And anyone who's willing to do that for ONE person is willing to do it for a hundred, a thousand. I won't. If she was going to stop you, she needs to do it on her own."
For a long moment, she just looks at Jedah, waiting for his answer. She's not DOING anything, not particularly; there's no real indicator that he can't take all the souls and leave, right now, if he wanted.
Jedah's smirk fades somewhat as 'Aya' rightly calls out that he's died before. "By my own hand, yes," is his instant response.
He studies the fleeting expressions on Aya's face -- the quizzical, the steadfast, the didactic and the confident. He studies the ebb and flow of chi as they pertain to Aya's motions -- senses the subtle interplay that shows his initial understanding of the dynamic between the two personalities to be less fixed than he had estimated. He would have claimed that the less-aggressive personality was -forcing- Aya to stand and fight, but the evidence is mounting that both are sharing in the dynamic.
What he does not get is the Star Trek reference. A blonde eyebrow arches upward. Star. Trek.
The noble does not get particularly agitated when he is called out on his selfishness. He expects such discourse from those he considers beneath him -- those who fail to grasp the greater plan that he holds for humanity. Maybe not pop culture references, but the rest, totally things he's heard before. It's so -wrong- to elevate souls to a higher purpose? Folderol! Rubbish!
Jedah stands, unblinking, for that good long moment. All of the messages (save for the one) were received with the same impassive stare. The same look of arrogant judgment.
And then, the silence is broken.
"Child, you have repeated words I have heard countless times before. You have a woefully incomplete picture of my grand scheme for this world -- but your comprehension is not a prerequisite."
A glance is spared to the wailing jiangshi, and the fourteen spheres hovering nearby. Jedah's eyes turn back towards 'Aya'. His left hand drops toward the ground, fingers extended.
"You claim you are intimately acquainted with death. This should come as no surprise to you."
The bladed disc at his back detaches, seemingly of its own volition. The dull handle finds its way into Jedah's grasp. The terrifyingly sharp blades glisten in the diffuse mid-morning light.
"I have met many souls that believe in miracles, but you? You are pursuing a victory amidst the bleakest of circumstances."
Jedah raises his left arm in a lazy swing, a look of detachment on his face. The blade is loosed at 'Aya'.
The spinning, circular blade does not reach her though -- in mid-flight, the blade explodes into a crimson shower, rivulets of the sanguinary fluid racing outward like ribbons. The bloody maelstrom aims to devour the human whole, encasing her within its suffocating, airtight confines. If left to complete its course, it will form a nearly perfect sphere, marred only by the flattened form where it meets the ground, pressured into existence by the invisible manipulations of the Black Messiah's influence.
Shaking his head in disapproval -- even as Artur and Valentin gawk away at the sight -- the Blood Weaver strides to his right, advancing upon his souls. Satisfied that his prey has been contained -- because /why wouldn't she be contained/ in light of his obviously superior strength -- he extends his palm for the nearest of the fourteen globes, and begins to draw it towards him with his fel might.
'You just don't get my goals. I've heard this a thousand times before.' Aya actually puts a hand on her hip and sighs, shaking her head and pressing her fingers into her temples. It's not likely, but it is POSSIBLE that Jedah Domah has had someone react to this with what can only be called 'exasperation' before, isn't it? "Everyone SAYS that. 'Oh here are my noble goals, oh I'm heading us in a bold new direction.' But then you're just the same as everyone else: thinking that any liberty you take is utterly justified in the process. On the other hand if 'creepy evil dude' doesn't work out you've got a bright future in corporate marketing."
She very pointedly doesn't say: if you've heard these words a thousand times before, maybe you should freakin' listen for once, Dracula.
There is a shift in her body language. Nothing overt, but it is perhaps Jedah's first real impression that she might just fight after all. A tensing of muscles, a shift in her 'sense.' Her gaze, however, is as ever, unwavering. "But for your information, I'm not 'looking for a victory'. I'm doing the right thing. They're related, but not the same."
Then the world is full of axes and scythes and... blood? It's sudden, terrifying. The woman's eyes do widen at the nature and speed of that attack, but perhaps importantly, she WAS preparing herself for it, or something like it, maybe. Breathing out slowly, she brings her hands together and presses her palms closed, touching, fingers extended. And then she... does nothing? Apparently, that's what her plan is: do nothing. Valentin and Artur might feel a slight breeze pick up and then float past, but then 'Aya' is surrounded in a bright crimson sphere of blood.
Moments pass. Jedah is free to continue unmolested. The ball... sits there.
The sphere exerts a constant, steady pressure upon the human within. Unopposed, it is strong enough contract smaller, crushing bone and internal organs alike. Against a normal person, the bleakness of the situation would surely cause hysteria within moments. Against a normal person, the air supply would be exhausted in under a minute.
Valentin just... gawks at the sphere as it forms. He's seen Jedah work before -- he's an ace with the scythe, he's really good at cutting people in half, and ramming knives into them. He's also really good at freaking people out, too. But this?
"Seriously, boss? You're just gonna suffoc-"
Artur gives Valentin a -look-.
Valentin holds up both hands in the universal sign of 'hey man it's just not worth it.' "Y---sure, wha'ever, boss."
Jedah's eyebrows drop low as he opens the clasps on his jacket once more. "Our time is too valuable to be wasted with the bleating of sheep." With an irritable sigh, he parts his jacket once more, drawing the first globe into himself.
Artur continues staring at the sphere.
Valentin, amidst a slight panic, glances back between the sphere, the bodies, the jiangshi, and Jedah. He wants to speak, but he's tired of getting silenced every time he tries.
A minute passes. With the fourteen souls absorbed within himself, Jedah allows his coat to pull shut again. He spares another glance at the sphere, jaw shifting sideways to match the lopsided cant of his eyebrows. Grimacing, he turns to Artur. "As many as you can carry, if you please." And with a clutch of his right hand, he lifts upwards.
The chains binding the jiangshi to the slabs break instantly. And while the jiangshi cease their wailing and rise to their feet, Artur wordlessly picks up his stack of five chill bodies, lugging them about on one shoulder.
Valentin, reluctantly, picks up... one, in similar fashion.
"Time marches onward. We have places to be." Jedah spares one last look to the bloody sphere, shaking his head in dismissal. He has no use for any impertinence of that order -- not even as fodder. He extends the talon from his left thumb, and slices it across his right arm, just below the elbow.
The arm falls away, the bloody appendage hitting the floor with a sickly splorch and a thud. Moment later, its distinctive shape melts away into a pool of blood, roughly three meters in diameter.
Jedah calmly steps into the pool, falling as if it were suddenly twenty feet deep.
One by one, the four jiangshi -- gratefully silenced, by this point -- hop into the yawning aperture afterwards. Artur and the bodies on his shoulder follow suit.
Valentin, though, narrows his eyes back at the sphere. Exhaling an irritable sigh, he leaps into the aperture as well, with the slick blood congealing around him.
One moment later, the blood pool seeps into the floor of the courtyard, as if pulled into a tiny hole, leaving behind only a trace amount of moisture.
The courtyard falls deathly silent, save for the light rhythmic pulsing of the bloody sphere.
Long moments pass after the vampire has gone. Certainly, too long for anyone to have held their breath AND survived against the crushing pressure of the bloody prison. Perhaps at last, Aya has met her end? Certainly, she wasn't successful in saving any of the monks, or even herself? By any accounting, this is unequivocally a disaster of epic scope with only the morbid silence of the courtyard to mark its passing.
And then, rather suddenly, the crimson orb of blood... freezes, with the crackling of forming frost. Another moment of stillness, and then the flash-frozen blood shatters, revealing Aya curled up in midair, hugging her knees, suspended in a hastily-erected cocoon of wind that swirls around her like a tiny typhoon. While Jedah remained to keep the blood prison's shape, the barrier of air was the only way to survive. Without him there to reinforce its power, the shell was broken, the rapidly-thawing blood oozing into the cobblestones as Aya drops to the ground on all fours, coughing heavily.
After a moment or two of hacking and wheezing, she wipes a hand across her mouth and mutters: "...jerk."
Collapsing to the cobbles, the woman stares blankly up at the sky, saying nothing, almost THINKING nothing. Finally, to herself, she speaks aloud: "I guess... I let this go on too long. I don't even know if you'll remember any of this. But if you do, well... I'm sorry."
With that, the woman's back arches, practically off the ground, eyes going wide. Just as swiftly as it had changed before, the crimson hue fades from her hair, her facial features taking on their original cast.
A look of horror and anger passes across Aya Hazuki's face as she drops back to the ground, but after that, there is only the darkness of unconsciousness to greet her.
Log created on 18:48:03 07/13/2016 by Aya, and last modified on 19:30:00 07/17/2016.