Mortal Kombat - "Living" Forest

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Description: Two of the early visitors to the island on the edge of reality find themselves braving the horrors of an old forest. There, questions are answered with riddles. But some horrors are best left untested, some histories left undiscovered.

As far as the Dahlia is concerned, she never lies so much as stretches the truth to her own liking. She did have a meeting to get to: somewhere lacking the incessant prattle of a brat who humbly claims to be the Eternal Goddess of Sunlight or some such. It was more or less confirmed that the unassuming stranger she was speaking with was, in fact, a spy as she suspected. Knowing so, though... just turned her stomach.

The Shadow Advisor of the Akatsuki could have taken any number of routes to build a power base prior to the actual commencement of Kombat. She chose -- as she has in the past -- to start with the crowd and work her way up, focusing on her strengths of playing to a crowd. And yet... it frustrates the hell to be so far out of the loop with regards to this entire island. To be brought here by Shang Tsung and to know nothing about the grand Tournament itself... it bothers the hell out of the woman who makes deals based on information brokerage.

It's time to unlock more of the island's mysteries.
It's time to step outside the castle.

The long bridge over a terrifying bed of spikes was no technical feat for the acrobat who walked along a simple rope for several nights a week. But to say that the psion was unaffected by the bloody residue left on the bridge, alluding to the former usage of the location as a venue for kombat ... no. That wouldn't be correct.
The backlash shook her to the core.
She would remedy the situation, however, by putting her mind at ease.

She had turned back. It did not take long to find ten people with nothing better to do on the island. It did not take long to coerce them into coming along with her.

Eleven make the trip across the bridge.
Ten stayed at the boundary to the Living Forest, unwilling to proceed further.

To be fair, it's pretty intimidating. The forest is alive -- a living, breathing amalgam of horror. It looks harmless enough, but it's impossible to ignore the telltale signs of danger -- the rotting corpses strewn along the path, the bloody handprints smeared across the trees, the clean-picked skeletons dangling from vines.
Not the best summer vacation spot.

The Dahlia entered the Living Forest alone, her hired help keeping back at a far distance. She does not intend to delve far into the accursed glade -- just far enough to find out what the hell the deal is with all the negative energy she finds here.

It is bad enough to simply -look- at the forest, but for someone sensitive to the souls, it is truly horrifying. The Dahlia has never encountered a location where the barrier between life and death has been so permeable -- spirits float past her, staying just out of the effective reach of the Ainu tusukur, never so close that she could grab hold of one and demand answers.

Warily, the Ainu woman drops to the forest floor. She retrieves a tree branch, long-dead and desiccated, likely to crumble to dust. She snaps off the smaller forks, crafting it into a straight stick.
And then she sticks it into the ground, pointed at a slight angle away from her.

The process is repeated several times, as the shaman creates a wide circle, with the points of the sticks angled outward. Once the circle is formed, the Dahlia seats herself, cross-legged, ,in the center of the circle.

And she begins to hum, a song that haunted her in the past.

She will have her answers.

Few are even bold enough to cross the stone bridge that spans the grand chasm dividing the gothic castle from the felwood across the way. The fierce winds howling up from the abyss are enough to chill the blood of all but the bold or the insane. That the Charismatic Puppeteer managed to bring even ten so far as the forest wall is testament to her powers of persuasion.

It is no surprise that her entourage halts at the edge of the forest, however, feet still on the extensive stonework decorating the end of the precariously high bridge. Most of them have not yet fully accepted their fate, fully contemplated that by being on this island, their lives may already be forfeit. They still cling to the vain hope that if they play their cards right, they might actually survive. They will wait for the young woman there for a time, and return across the bridge with her in haste to be far from the haunting moans of the darkwood.

As the lone woman kneels and begins to add her own voice to the countless others that haunt this forest, a thick, sickly green haze rolls in from the trees, stopping short at the circle of sticks and swirling about the circumference. As the mist builds, sounds can be heard - distant, muted, as if heard through a thick wall or unseen membrane. Sounds of swords clashing, men crying out in agony, and the unmistakable gurgles of death throes echo.

The miasma thickens, building up in height, yet unable to penetrate past the barrier prepared by the shamaness. She would see shapes in the fog - mostly obscured - yet even the glimpses would be enough to shatter the resolve of most, and send screaming in horror weaker minds. A bulking mass, the size of a bear, thunders past some meters away, its growls giving way to almost human-like whimpers and pleas as it crashes through the underbrush and moves on. Tall spindly spider-like legs are seen in the distance approaching slowly yet inevitably from another direction only to vanish in the curtain of fog before ever quite arriving.

War cries, more sounds of battle, death, and petitions for mercy that go unhonored resound in the dark of the forest. Something moves just outside the circle, unseen, but sensed, felt, even nudging the twigs that seem to keep the fog at bay just a little, as if testing them. It radiates hunger, malice, and lust for the lone occupant. One of the sticks suddenly snaps, a sharp sound in the brief window of silence from the previous noises. But the invisible stalker's psyche eventually fades, as if sucked away by the passage of time.

Another sound - the sound of one running, drawing nearer by the moment, until finally staggering out of the deathly mist and into the circle laid out by the kneeling postulant. Her breathes are coming rapidly as she stumbles forward, dropping to her knees within this last sanctuary. Her right hand is pressed her left upper arm where blood seeps between already stained fingers, the left sleeve and some of the shoulder of the long robe she is covered in torn away.

The Ainu interloper from the banquet looks up from where she kneels to set eyes on the Dahlia. Her face is smudged with traces of blood and dirt, her once pristine attire bearing similar scuff marks from whatever it is she endured. "<< What- >>" she stammers, too starved for air to continue as she looks over her shoulder at the fog that has become so thick as to become an opaque wall outside of the stick circle. There are no sounds of pursuit, no indicators that anything else will be paying the two a visit - if anything, compared to the cacophony a moments prior, it has grown unsettlingly still.

Looking forward again, the girl focuses on the creator of this refuge in the dark. "<< Why are you here? >>" Her breaths are coming easier now as she looks to her arm and the bleeding gash that her right hand presses over tightly. "<< This cursed ground... no mortal should be here! >>"

Around the two, the oppressive fog completely encompasses the circle, forming a hemisphere through which no light can enter but for a faint dim ambience of unnatural green.

The sanctuary may have just become their cage.

The tusukur has much to learn. Her skills are raw, unrefined -- her memories of the ancient arts degraded by a decade of rock and synthetic pop music, the cultural infiltration of the Japanese and the West. Without her reference materials, all she has to go on is her memories of the process and her inherent, innate skill at manipulating the ebbs and tides of the immaterial world.

Her familial practice of the tusukur is not like those in the rest of the Ainu Moshir -- indeed, her family was on the verge of becoming outcasts from the society for their inherited focus upon the spirits of the living, rather than the intangible energies of the earth. Their method of ue-inkar -- clairvoyance -- is based on intuition rather than on sensation. It is less accurate, less scientific than the methods passed down among the tusukur of Kussharo or Nibutani. Against maladies of the body, they are less effective.

Against the wailing of the damned, the means of the Dahlia's lineage are substantially more potent.

The Ainu way of life stresses respect and honor, politeness to the ancestors and the kamuy. The spirits swirling around the circle are borderline rude, to the point of disturbing the sanctum of peace, the eye in the midst of a burgeoning storm. And the Ainu way of life could, understandably, be at a loss for dealing with them in much the same way that they had allowed the Japanese to subjugate them in the past.
Politeness is not the way of this island.

When the stick is snapped, the response from the Dahlia is immediate. Eyes flash open, not out of fear, but out of rage. With her teeth gritted, a flash of amethyst energy snaps out, lashing back at the spirit as if it were a small beast. But that is the extent of her ability -- the concentration necessary to maintain the barrier is of paramount importance.

For a moment, fear wracks at her consciousness. The opaque fog looms, the scent of death and decay growing in intensity. The air grows humid -- nostrils flare with increased urgency.
The panic stills, as the tusukur focuses more intently upon the barrier, forcing out the foul air.

She remains in a calmed state for some time, hoping to gain some insight as to the -reason- for these souls to be trapped here. Or, if not trapped, why they willingly choose to remain here. Even with her skills, the inexact science will require another leap of intuition to bridge the gap of knowledge...

Thoughts are interrupted, and yet, the scarlet-clad Dahlia is rooted to her position even as the interloper once again bursts in. As before, though -- the arrival of the time-displaced Ainu is not unwelcome.

Why is she here?

The Dahlia mildly shrugs her shoulders -- so focused is she on her task that the proper social graces are simply deferred to another time. Calm is her method of control -- her burst of rage was a threat to the denizens of the forest around her, proof that she is not as frail as she may appear. And it is with calm that she answers.

"<< This entire place is a riddle. I need more information in order to solve it. Maybe... you can help. >>"
The Dahlia can not afford to show fear, with the spirits of the forest urgently whirling around her in such a fashion.

Her mastery of the Ainu language is clear, but the diction, the words are different. Both Japanese and Ainu have undergone a century and a half of evolution since the Bakumatsu -- but the core identity of the language should remain intact.

"<< I see. >>"

There is a flicker of understanding in the wounded Ainu's eyes. She shifts back to a seated position, one leg on the ground, the other upright, bent at the knee. Her left hand releases the gash on her upper arm as her right hand reaches behind her to draw her kodachi, holding the weapon briefly before leaning forward and gripping the bottom hem of her long robe.

"<< Your mind aches for answers. >>"

Quietly, she slices off a long strip of cloth before sliding the blade back into its sheath behind her. Using her mouth to hold one end of it taut, she begins to wrap the cloth around her upper arm. Only when she finishes, removing the end of the makeshift bandage from her mouth to tie it into a knot does she speak again. There is a faint smile as she looks on the Fearless Dahlia.

"<< Enough that you would come here... >>"

A glance is cast at the obscuring wall of fog encasing the dome like a shell. What light that manages to get through is dim rotten green, lacking the verdant spark normally associated with that shade of color. She seems to have no problem with the modern Ainu's accent even though her own tone, emphasis, and diction may come across antiquated to the dwindling few would even know the language in the first place.

"<< I am not blessed with all of the answers. But what I know I will freely share. >>"

She touches her wounded arm tenderly, satisfied with the bandage will hold well enough to stem the flow of blood.

"<< It is the least I can do... out of thanks for your shelter, such as it is, and out of respect for what heritage we may yet share. >>"

The mist has grown so thick that even the wretched trees of the forest can no longer be seen. A thunderously loud footfall ls heard outside followed by the splintering of wood and thrashing of leaves. But like all the other essences bound to this desecrated forest, it too eventually seems to move on in search of easier prey.

"<< Speak your questions, sister, and I will offer what I can to sate your desire for knowledge. >>"

The Dahlia has been decieved -- quite recently at that -- by two people appearing to be someone else. (It could be argued that the Dahlia herself is putting on airs, but the fact remains that the criminal mastermind is more representative of herself in this guise than in any other.) One adopted the guise of a simple Hispanic man; the other, a schoolgirl. Through their simple, affirming questions, they were mocking her, deriding her choice to enlist an army of simpletons to her side. They knew the truth, and asked the questions anyway, as if getting the Ainu woman to admit her deeds might dissuade her somehow.

But the legendary Warrior-Maiden of Kamui Kotan is not like any. In fact, the Avatar of the Kamui is unlike anyone else on the island -- unflinching and unyielding in the face of adverse tragedy, she was the only one to stand up in defiance of the scene that was about to unfold.

The Akatsuki advisor draws in her breath as the heroine of a time long past sits down, fashioning a makeshift bandage from her clothes. In all truth, the psion would love to let her guard down and let her emotions run unchecked at this moment -- that someone has stepped right out of the words of a Yukar and into her protective bubble.
But she has been tricked before, and recently.

"<<... Forgive my impertinence. >>"
She relies on the deference provided by the Ainu manner of speaking. And indeed -- the very meter and cadence of the yukar she had heard in her youth.

"<< You are stronger than me, and yet -- with wounds seeping blood from your own challenges, you seek my circle for shelter. >>"
She wears a faint smile, though it flickers with hesitation as another monstrosity happens upon the anomaly, its calamitous gait forcing the trees to shudder. But, as with the others, the beast alters course, diverging to another part of the accursed glade.

"<< Do you think my skills will be sufficient to keep the both of us safe? >>"
The Dahlia bows her head in an expression of apology, her jaw set as she continues maintaining spiritual equilibrium. She listens, quietly.

And then she asks a second question, when the time is right.
"<< I wish to know why mortals are imperilled while the gods watch onward from their dais. >>"

The curiosity is killing her. The questions she wants to ask the legendary Ainu champion are innumerable. But in the off chance that she only gets to ask two questions, these are the ones most pertinent to her mortality, and thus, the most crucial to receive answers.

The girl seated before her seems to offer no pretense, seems uninterested in playing coy or beating around the bush. As were her words in the great banquet hall, her answers here seem meant to inform or clarify, not misdirect or mislead. Though in spite the calm tone her voice conveys, there is no denying the sense of urgency to their present circumstances. Yet for now, the Spiritualist's wall holds, affording the two a chance to speak. Quietly, the Kamui Sent wipes her bloodstained hand off on her sliced pant leg as best she can before shuffling back to a kneeling position, hands resting in her lap, attention on the contemporary Ainu.

At the request for forgiveness, the raven-haired young woman bows her head forward, hands still in her lap, the gesture easily interpreted to mean that there is no need to worry. Sitting up straight again, she breaths in deep then exhales, her healthy body finally caught up on its apparent need for oxygen - or is it merely a habit?

"<< Strength is a fleeting concept. >>" Comes her initial reply. "<< When awake, the sacred bear is the king of the forest. Yet when asleep, he is as vulnerable as a fawn. I would not presume to be stronger or weaker than you - that is for the kamui to judge in the moment of trial. >>"

She pauses only briefly as the Dahlia might find herself studied by the other's steel-blue eyes, perhaps weighing her actual question further before answering. "<< The truth is, I do not know if your petition is drawing the spirits and creatures to you every bit as much as it is keeping them away. This forest is forsaken ground, but I believe it is possible to navigate it... most of the time. I had gone deeper in in search of its heart. >>" She glances toward her wounded arm and exposed shoulder, left handing lifting to rub over her skin as if to sooth an inner ache.

"<< What I found there... I guess I'm not as ready as I had hoped. >>" A close of her eyes and soft shake of her head. "<< Like strength, safety is fleeting. To the field mouse, an empty glade is a haven. But when the shadow of the hawk passes over, it knows to run for its hole or join the cycle of life. >>" She leans to the side slightly, her right hand drawing near to one of the placed sticks, palm held over it for a long moment. "<< When the shadow comes... we both should know to run. I believe we can make it. >>"

She's quiet then, hands returning to her lap, looking back at the young woman, listening to her second question. She answers with a soft nod of acknowledgement but remains quiet for a moment longer as if considering the question further, a tense look on her face as the seconds tick by. Finally, she speaks, her voice more cautious before, less certain. "<< I cannot speak for the kamui... or explain their ways. But I do know the chick helped from its shell becomes too weak to live. >>" The smile she offers the Councilor of the Akatsuki seems a gesture of hope. "<< Maybe... the challenges you find on this island are to be your shell. You must break that which seems unbreakable to grow stronger. >>"

Shaking her head slowly, she asks a question of her own, "<< The crimson finery at the banquet... you wore it with ease. >>" The Time Lost Warrior cants her head slightly. "<< Are you accustomed to such comforts? >>"

Outside, the swirling sickly green mist begins to be interspersed with tendrils of dark violet energy. A new sound is heard - steady, repeating at a predictable rate. A deep rumble followed by silence for several seconds, then another, akin to the steady heartbeat of a mountain. The pressure on the Shadow Advisor may intensify slightly with each passing thrum.

With an opportunity for further study, the champion of Kamui Kotan may notice that the Dahlia is, despite sitting still, moving quite a bit. Her blue-tinted eyes -- colored by artificial lenses, of course -- flit here and there to study the surface of the barrier. She avoids the warrior maiden's glare not out of rudeness, but necessity; that can be understood clearly by the minute adjustments she makes with slight, subtle gestures of her fingertips. She is sitting still, but juggling a number of tasks at once.

Accordingly, it may take longer for her to reply in some circumstances than others.
"<< ... I see. >>"

In this case, the Dahlia is unpacking a number of concepts at once. In many yukar, the heroes' deeds impress the gods so mightily that they are invited to join the upper kando and become kamui themselves. As a youth, she had asked to hear the yukar of Nakoruru so often she could recite each story beat from memory. But the ending... The ending was never entirely clear, as the details changed slightly from one speaker to the next. Interpreting the oral legends of a people with no written history is fairly difficult.
Especially when you flee from home before even becoming a teenager.

She is confronted with the reality that the heroine of Kamui Kotan may not, in fact, be the invincible warrior that she was led to believe. She may have the intense gaze of the hawk and the tenacity of the wolf at her beck and call, but the sight of blood shows that not even the wild beasts are beyond reproach.

The tusukur shudders. The dome shudders with her, the white fog growing more white as the bubble of neutrality flexes, bows under pressure. The Dahlia's fingertips splay out, her knuckles turning white as intense focus dominates her expression.

The moment passes -- the challenge is once again withdrawn. And the Dahlia slowly turns her head to the raven-haired Ainu beside her.

She cannot speak for the kamui, she says.
A look of sadness crosses the face of the Dahlia, as she nods her head in quiet acknowledgement.

Still, while the shield shudders again, the reassuring words of the visitor give her hope. That the powers she is using are foreign, and out of place -- and that while they have stood the test thus far, there is no guarantee that they will survive under tighter scrutiny.
With a smile, she acknowledges. "<< I understand. >>"

As the mist thickens, the Dahlia thinks long on the answer. Is this a test, another one like the innocuous questions asked before? Could this visitor simply be another trick of the Sorcerer after all?

After some delay, the Shadow Advisor answers, with another faint, detached smile.

"<< Occasionally. I would say that I've chosen it for memorable effect on the others here; it is not the most comfortable. >>"

With her show of quiet confidence, her brow creases. It is not meant to puncutate the thought she just shared.

"<< The folks back in Akan Kotan would frown on it, to be sure. >>"

The Dahlia's smile slips off her face entirely, as she rises to her feet. On a slight delay, the sphere rises to follow her.

"<< The shadow... >>" She strains, as her fingertips begin to shudder. The air in the bubble begins to increase in toxicity; either the oxygen is fading away, or the barrier is becoming more permeable. "<< ... aproaches. We should speak elsewhere, hm? >>"

"<< Good. >>" That she understands. She was given a lot to consider, answers expressed as parables, referencing concepts prevalent two hundred years in the past. The smile Nakoruru flashes the Dahlia almost seems relieved, as if she was troubled at the thought that her references may no longer make sense in this world she is still struggling to understand herself.

Another slight nod is offered regarding the fine clothing she seems so at home in, an expression of faint curiosity sated in the eyes of the Shadow Advisor's company, only to be joined by a more visible smile at the mention of Akan Kotan, a distant look manifesting briefly in the displaced guardian's eyes.

An expression that fades, mirth fading from her eyes as the threat she warned of draws nearer by the moment. Looking up and then side to side, she finally glances over her shoulder and freezes, eyes narrowed as she peers through the mist. Tensing, she nods her head twice, looking back toward the stressed shamaness keeping countless essences at bay. Leaning forward, she shifts off her knees, hands planted against the ground, taking on a posture more of one preparing to sprint the instant the judge's shot is fired.

"<< It is true. >>"

The affirmation is whispered, her voice pensive, the first sign that even the Kamui's Own can be frightened. She glances over her shoulder again, the next thrum louder, closer than the last. "<< When you are ready, run like the wind. But guide your steps with care. The trees.. are not our allies here. >>"

The next heartbeat is as if directly on top of them, a mighty shudder that causes the ground to rumble beneath the two. The air around them becomes heavy, pressing in against the two young women with crushing magnitude. The pebbles around them begin to twitch, some lifting off the ground as the rules of nature begin to bend. Several of the sticks burn to ash in an instant of hot violet flame. Yet Nakoruru makes no move to leave until the Scarlet Dahlia leads the way.

The Dahlia would be delighted to continue the conversation, but with the increasing pressure being placed upon her protective sphere... that's just not possible.
She drops to one knee, her arms and fingers straining as if pressed downward by a much larger weight. Shadowy digits reveal themselves through the enveloping white mist and strain the diaphanous membrane of the spirit shell to near its breaking point. The urge to scream is rising, but with the air growing foul, the high pitch stays lodged in her throat, the Dahlia unwilling to let any of it escape.
That would, after all, fuel the powerful presence she can feel pressing down on them from above.

The tusukur's limbs shake, and the sticks on the ground begin to shake with her.
She gives a quiet nod, desperation painted across her face. "<< Three. >>"

Once again, she forces herself to rise, this time under a much more powerful force. Something shifts though -- purple lightning begins to crackle around the tusukur's hands, reflecting in the thin lenses of her eyeglasses.
"<< Two. >>"

Her silken dress begins to flutter into motion, though the wind is moving in a concerted effort, like the tight vortex of an oceanic whirlpool in reverse, rigidly defined and resistant to change. The tall presence and its bark-clad digits are forced upwards, shaking but pressing back with renewed determination. It made the effort to strike -- it will not shy away or retreat under such circumstances.
"<< One. >>"

The whirling winds intensify, and the Dahlia rises to just shy of her full height, knees bent in anticipation. As the creature continues its downward pressure, the Dahlia's eyes begin to shimmer with light. Her face is tense -- but the signs of outright rage begin to leach outward...

And then with a sudden rise of her hands, the cyclonic force erupts outwards, shearing the membrane in multiple places and forcing the creature backward. One can mostly -sense- the malevolent presence, so clouded by the mists, but at the very least, the semblance of knees and elbows can be seen -- as well as the points of a sinister, craggy beard made of rotten bark and infested with worms.

But this is not the time to study. The count expired, the Shadow Advisor turns and runs as she never has before. The route is well-remembered -- the acrobat made a careful note of each footfall on her path in, for just such a retreat. The Dahlia shuts her eyes as she runs through the searing white mist, like the scalding heat of a steamer opened before allowed to cool. Run, run, run... or you'll be well done, as the saying goes. The pain on her skin, though, is a paltry price to pay compared to the tortured psyche of the creature bearing down upon the two women from behind -- the sound of the footfalls could easily tower over ten feet, judging from its stride length.

Conversation... is quite impossible at this hastened pace.

"<< The heart of the forest. >>" murmurs Nakoruru as the Dahlia begins her countdown in that unique, familiar tongue they share. Then this is what she went looking for, perhaps thinking it within her power to cleanse this wretched felwood and undo potentially millennia of corruption. She has clearly learned otherwise today.

She braces as the final count draws near, hands in the dirt, both feet braced, bent at the toes, legs tense and ready to break into a sprint that could decide everything. "<< I'm sorry there wasn't more time. >>" she states softly after 'two' is pronounced and only one tick remains before they must run with a Hellshadow at their heels, as if all of the forest had combined to take out generations of suffering on the two that thought to defy it.

And then they're off. The barrier's eruption serves to slow it, a blast backward sending it reeling, one heavy step smashing to the ground behind it. The mist swirls even thicker, taking on a tenacity that both burns and slows, forcing the two to fight through it in their bid to survive.

And here, the Kamui's Chosen displays her true speed, leaning low to the ground, feet pumping, her body a blur as she navigates the twisted wood without having to slow in the slightest. A bolt of white lightning yet moving with almost complete silence, she quickly leads the way, dashing over roots that seem to bend just a little as if to try and trip, and ducking under branches that weren't blocking the way only an instant before.

The entire forest seems to come alive around them. Rotted bodies lurching to life, and unseen things crashing through the underbrush on both sides, fetid ferns and rotted logs exploding with motion. In the distance, howls unlike any earthly wolf begin to echo through the copse, only to be joined by more cries of the unholy damned.

Only, the Dahlia would notice something strange - once her steps upon entering are retraced, they still aren't out of the woods and the mists show no sign of relenting. If running alone were enough to escape this cursed ground, maybe there would be fewer tormented souls collected here over the years.

It seems Nakoruru realizes the same thing as she adjusts her pace to align with the modern Ainu. "<< Keep running! >>" she exclaims, her right hand reaching behind her back and pulling her sheath free of her belt. The black scabbard that houses the kodachi she has been seen using is of simple yet fine craftsmanship, solid black but for a band of sapphire dyed leather near the handle.

The trees begin to groan, gaping maws opening, glimmering eyes burning with hellfire, branches extending for the young women like clawed arms eager to seize them. "<< Rimururu...>>" Nakoruru slides to a stop in a cloud of dust as her moccasins skid over the forest floor. "<< Forgive me. >>" she declares, hugging the sheath against her chest as she whirls on her left heel, her right foot slamming down to reverse her momentum in almost an instant. Her right hand draws the short blade, a flash of icy vapor escaping the end of the sheath in her left hand before fading.

And then the Avatar of Kamui Mosir is bolting in the opposite direction, directly toward the shadow stalker. Overhead, the cry of a hawk is heard, a rush of wings displacing the air above the Dahlia as something else bolts in after Nakoruru. From meters out from the figure hidden in the mists, Nakoruru leaps, kodachi held high, ready to strike.

There is a crash of thunder, a flash of lightning splitting the sky, and abruptly the searing mists around the Dahlia part, leaving her on the forest path much the way it was when she first trespassed its borders what might feel like hours ago.

It is quiet but for the creak of wood and the drops of water from branches laden with moisture... and the sound of howling winds not too much further along that must be from the chasm beneath the bridge.

Whether her entourage waited remains to be seen, but as of now, there is no sign of pursuit, nor any trace of Nature's Warrior-Maiden from the the Yukar's of her youth.

The mention of 'Sorry there wasn't enough time' lingers on the edge of comprehension as the instinct of flight takes over. Fallen tree branches are surmounted, the vines which spring to life are dodged. And as the former threshold of the forest approaches, the difficulty of traversal increases. The forest itself is trying to swallow the women wholly within its bark-laden grasp.

The Dahlia's right hand curls around her hip, withdrawing the three-sectioned staff hanging there. Holding her breath as best she can, she charges onward.
Branches close in.
And as quickly as they came, branches shatter in the wake of the three-sectioned staff. The weapon may be a bludgeon, but wielded by the Akatsuki advisor against the brittle bark of the ancient trees, the break in the branches is as clean as that left by a scythe or axe. The Dahlia offers no words of forgiveness -- no apology to the spirits for barring her progress. Just a defiant howl of rage as the brittle branches yield to her strength.

There are more sets branches imposed in her path. Each is dealt with in similar fashion -- a lateral swing here, a diagonal swing there, a vacuum carved through the searing mists in the wake of each strike. The rage-fueled Shadow Advisor is as efficient with the weapon as she is with her formidable psychic talents, snapping away only as much as necessary to admit herself through the gaping ruins.

She continues running, as bidden -- passing only a nod to Nakoruru. They will escape this terror together -- and they can continue the conversation, of that the Advisor is sure...

Right until the point in which Nakoruru reverses direction.
"<< What are you-- >>"

The Dahlia's head turns to follow the time-lost Ainu, and only then does the import of the earlier statement set in. This was the plan -- for better or worse -- that was communicated to the Dahlia. Her lips curl into a frown as she realizes the young woman had likely intended all along to sacrifice herself. To face the creature alone -- even when it was apparent that she was unable to before.

The Dahlia casts her eyes forward again, gritting her teeth. Perhaps the warrior maiden knows a trick. Perhaps...

The screech of a hawk. The crash of thunder. The searing mists glowing white.

And just as suddenly, it is all gone. The Dahlia continues to run, though her pace slackens at the realization that the worst is gone. Dropping to a light jog, she turns back to the Living Forest to see it much as it was when she entered -- the only variable being her, soaked with perspiration, the silken garment adhering to every curve as surely as if she'd taken an ill-advised dip in a pond.

Once she makes it to the ridge overlooking the forest, she finally stops -- ten of her hired mercenaries drawing firearms to cover her escape... as if the low-caliber slugs will actually make a difference against the mist.

"What the hell was that...?" asks one of the hired crew, while the fatigued Dahlia leans upon a second for support. It's clear they hadn't run as hard, or as far -- having already fled at the first sign of danger.
Perhaps they don't need a pay bonus.

With a sour expression on her face, she lets loose a snort of discontent. Filled with doubt over the meaning to the exchange, the woman wonders if it wasn't just another test from another omnipotent God -- or whether the Warrior-Maiden of legend was actually present here today.

"Water," she says, holding out an empty hand to the next of the hired help. At least do -something-, you layabouts!

It's clear the mercenary is not going to get an answer from the crime lord, as she stares back at the mysteries held within the Living Forest. Some questions were answered -- but, as fate would show -- many more questions were revealed as well.

Log created on 16:39:04 09/04/2016 by Nakoruru, and last modified on 01:53:30 09/05/2016.