Mortal Kombat - MK Round 3: Nakoruru vs Honoka

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Description: "I have always found the Ainu minorities a compelling people. So full of life and color. So I wonder what will happen as our DAHLIA finds herself against a curious exemplary of the indigenous peoples, NAKORURU. Avail yourselves upon the shores on the outskirts of the island. And in the ancient rite of Kombat, decide who is greater..."

Dark clouds hover in the air, casting the sandy cove into diffuse shadow. Humidity fills the air, coats the lungs, presses into the pores of the skin. For now, though, the blond sand of the sandy shore remains dry. But, at any moment, the isolate beach at the foot of the craggy mountain that hosts Shang Tsung's palatial estate will surely be drenched with the life-giving waters from the clouds above.

The Scarlet Dahlia had received the message that kombat was nigh. She had only made it down to this part of the island once before; appropriate, then, that she would have chosen to wear the same attire as she had then. With her body has healed from the vicious battle against Sergei Dragunov, the looseness of her silken cotton pants is no longer as crucial -- but given her opponent, the choice between the humble ao dai and the formal and elegant cheongsam she wore to the welcoming banquet was fairly obvious.

She didn't want to give her assigned opponent an impression of opulent wealth and regal bearing.
Quite the opposite, actually.

The Shadow Advisor is, perhaps unsurprisingly, practicing her fighting techniques. While one end of the three-sectioned sanjiegun stays firmly affixed within the palm of her hand, the loose whistles as she whips it through an intricate series of twists, spins, figure-eights. At first glance, the kata seems as if it might be something anyone with sufficient mastery of the sectional weapon could accomplish.

As one spends more time watching, though, one might notice that the loose end of the sanjiegun, halting the object -before- it reaches its full extent of motion. Indeed -- the sanjiegun is, in fact, making contact with something in each case. Sometimes, there is the sound of an impact against wood. Sometimes, live steel. But more often, the sanjiegun sounds as if it is striking flesh and bone, leaving behind a brief afterimage of a pale blue warrior in the wake of the impact.

The Dahlia is not alone.
Upon her hip, the honey-colored Soul Shard shines like a beacon.

The Dahlia speaks in a low voice, scarcely louder than a whisper, in the native tongue of the Ainu.
"You have told me much of the eighth tournament, and I thank you. But please, forgive my impertinence... what can you tell me of the ninth?"

Around the Dahlia, the forms of eight ghostly spirits shimmer, not unlike waves upon the sea's tumultuous waves. The eight speak in chorus, their distinct whispering voices blending together.
"We watched. We offered advice. But no one was able to listen."

As the clouds blanket the lost island overhead, the wind suddenly shifts from the direction it had been blowing all morning, the palm trees swaying the opposite way now, fern fronds ruffled by the occasional stronger gust. The change brings with it a chill that permeates the dampness, driving it away swiftly while the overcast sky begins to broil with violent energy. The crisp air rushing along the shore seems out of place here, smelling as if it was blowing down from the ice capped peaks of an unseen mountain, with hints of the distant evergreens of Hokkaido tracing through the currents.

A storm is coming, and the Stormbringer approaches from the direction of this new wind - a figure mostly concealed in a white hooded cloak that wraps around her body, whipping forward around her frame as the air rushes by from behind. Raven-black locks of hair spill from the sides of the hood, toyed with by the storm wind that seems to guide her steps toward the fated encounter.

She does not walk alone. A visual analysis would easily identify the form of a great Siberian wolf that strides at her side, his single vibrant eye a visible seething amber glow even from a distance with the way the clouds behind the two blacken further. But one would get the impression that the unforgiving creature at her side is only one of many that move with the hooded girl, for with her come the very spirit of the wilds, forces at play in her immediate radius that suggest savage potential in spite the calm manner of her windblown approach.

As she draws closer, it becomes clear that the wanderer's head is bowed, her face in shadow, and the fabric of her cloak is bordered with the rich, vibrant color of kings - a Royal Purple geometric pattern interwoven with shapes of earthly brown. She comes to a stop, her violet moccasin-clad feet upon the sand, meters away from the Scarlet Dahlia and her seaside court.

People have oft spoken of the unforgiving blade of Nature's Wrath - they reference the hurricanes, the volcanos, the earthquakes, the floods, the cataclysmic, sudden feats of destruction that can manifest throughout the world. The energy swirling unseen about the harbinger of storms is the embodiment of all that and more.

The Destroyer walks with her, coming to a stop when she does, his ears forward, teeth bared, a low, thundering growl in his throat as wind whips at his thick coat.

Here is power unhidden, a glimpse at the dangerous potential not felt in prior encounters.

The Yukar that share Nakoruru's saga have always been vague on the significance of the color of violet in her stories, each account conflicting with another. Some hinted that the darker shade was present only during the darkest trials of her life, others seemed to suggest it was only when the warrior maiden was on the verge of despair, of failing in her calling that purple would replace red.

Where she stops, she remains, neither making further sound nor lifting her face from the shadows that hide it. The cloak continues to flap around her frame while the beast of battle waits with a hunger for violent kombat that is palpable.

The heads of the spectral court turn towards the source of the shifting winds. The Dahlia relents as her sparring partners withdraw. In all actuality, the Akatsuki advisor's pace hadn't been all that hurried or rushed -- the pace of combat was dictated entirely by the weapon. The trained acrobat knows, after all, how to pace herself.

More words are exchanged -- voices that ought not be carried away by the rushing air particles, but are nonetheless drowned out in the roar of the wind.
It isn't terribly clear if the Dahlia hears their words.
It doesn't particularly matter, though. The child of an Ainu fisherman and heir to a shamanic legacy knows the figure standing before her. Naturally, the nature of oral legend is such that the legend itself can be permuted from one teller to the next -- but some characteristics lined up with the enshrouded figure and her companions.

Just as some altogether -different- traits lined up with the warrior seer that the Dahlia had spoken with earlier. Indeed -- the figure standing before the Dahlia would seem to be a completely different person.
Unless one was, y'know, psychic.

Her voice is projected loud enough to be heard over the roaring winds.
"I was beginning to think I was losing my mind. My aunt had told me the tale of the Stormbringer just a short time ago. She who walked Ainu Moshir, annihilating all those standing before her with her lupine companion. She who brought an end to the would-be destroyers. But her telling troubled me so much, for it differed from the one I'd heard many times in my youth."

The loose end of the sanjiegun swings, as the Dahlia's spectral companions step back, their loose circle parting to form an arc around her back, leaving no one in the path between her and the Stormbringer.

"And the one I have heard just now."

The Shadow Advisor frowns somewhat, eyes passing over those of the Destroyer. Dealing with the enshrouded figure alone would be difficult enough, but teeth and claws...

Her eyes snap back up to gaze into the shadowed eyes of the cloaked figure.

"Ainu in our part of the world tell the yukar differently. In their version, Nakoruru of the Raging Storm was... unhinged. Bloodthirsty. And in the end, her thirst for power was too great."

The Dahlia flashes a wan smile. "Can you believe that? Okikirmui steals your thunder. Not even in her own yukar does the heroine get to save the day."

The sanjiegun begins to swing in a circular arc once more, its whistle becoming louder, like its wielder's voice.

"The fallen were able to correct the story for me. One thing remains true in all tellings of the yukar -- your tenacity. I look forward to testing my skills against those of a legend."

The Dahlia's head bows gently, but her eyes remain affixed on the cloaked figure.

She understands that more may have changed than the simple coloring of her opponent's attire.

She stands quietly against the storm as she is addressed, the only sound from her direction that of the wolvenhearted creature at her side. His shadow is long against the ground, darker than it should be beneath the overcast sky, as if it were a companion wrought by his own presence alone. Slowly, she lifts her head slightly, her mouth visible while the upper half of her face remains lost beneath the hood. Her lips are pressed to a thin, straight line, the portion of her visible expression offering nothing in the way of mirth of pleasant companionship.

As the Dahlia continues, the Avenger's face lifts further, eyes shrouded, but clearly her attention has been captured, the slow pivot of her head suggesting a focus on those other presences as well. The unhappy stories from the past are touched upon and a wistful smile tugs at the corners of her mouth - a legend for some, perhaps a memory for her, and still she says nothing.

Slowly, from beneath her cloak, her right arm lifts, slipping out between the gap to clutch at the base of the hood near her throat, fingers closing over the fabric before she pauses again. "It was never for power that I found myself famished," she murmurs, her voice audible even against the wind, as if carried by it rather than being overwhelmed. "But for justice, for retribution. The Great Cycle comes for all eventually, but there were those who's course careened more directly toward their final breath. I was Nature's Blade, its wrath incarnate." Her voice is calm, strong, and resolute.

She looks the rest of the way up and fierce, brown eyes eyes look back at Honoka from beneath the hood. "Would that I could have ushered each and every defiler to their doom. The yukar never speak of Okikirmui's limits." Her wistful smile fades to a slight frown. "That does not mean they did not exist."

She takes a step forward, a violet dyed moccasin forming a depression in the sand, and the wolf at her side moves forward as well, the energy building around him increasing with each step he draws nearer to their fated opponent.

Another step forward before she pauses, eyes focused on the Shadow Advisor the entire time. Her head turns to the side where her thick coated companion glowers, "No." The declaration could have been directed to anyone, but Shikuru seems to understand the word was for him alone. "No, not this time, old friend." Another growl rumbles from his throat. "This battle is not for you." she adds, her voice not wavering in a decision that seems to have been made on the spot. "Not yet." Retreat never comes easy for one who lives to exact the retribution she spoke of before, but reluctantly, he steps back one step, then another, until he is two meters behind her.

The hand at Nakoruru's throat tightens more over the fabric of her enshrouding cloak before she pulls it away, whipping the length of cloth from off her shoulders and head with a thundering whip crack, the motion concealing her from the Scarlet Dahlia for an instant as she spins on one foot, ending up facing Honoka once more, the cloak having vanished from sight. Her pristine snow-white robe is bordered by the crimson and azure geometric pattern she had seen before, and it is with steel blue eyes she gazes at her opponent. It is crimson leather that covers her feet now and a glimmering crimson gemstone that glows from behind her back at the end of her weapon's sheath.

Her expression softens slightly, though there is a layer of sadness there. "I see the kamui have seen fit to bless you with especial company, sister." The building storm in the sky loses some of is intensity. "Not idly are such benedictions granted. I... know a sign when I see one."

She slides her left foot forward, her right hand reaching behind her back to close over the handle of the weapon sheathed there. In the sky above, a sharp cry is heard, a pinprick of sunlight breaking through the clouds, a golden shaft through which the feathered Seer dives to join Nakoruru in battle. "Be strong. Those who have languished here have no end of miserable tales to share. But in you, perhaps..." her gaze flicks past the Dahlia for a moment, "they might find hope." Her brow furrows, "Our allies here need a leader. In battle, I will know you. Come, that our introduction and complete at last."

Over her head, the great hawk hovers, powerful wings flapping, maintaining her position in the strong currents must be a feat of strength in and of itself, but the bird maintains it with the easiest of grace. Nakoruru pulls her weapon just enough to loosen it in its sheath, a half-inch of steel visible as chill vapors seem to flow forth from the scabbard's opening.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru has started a fight here.

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Nakoruru         0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru is empowered by Nature's Fury!

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Nakoruru [E]     0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru equips a lustrous Carmine Soul Shard.

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Nakoruru [E]     0/-------/------=|

Storms are interesting things. The most violent of them -- tsunami, hurricanes, tornadoes -- often feel like capricious, malevolent forces. In the age of climate change, they're cited as earthly retribution; nature, angry at man's despoiling touch, steps forward in her awful majesty to sweep away what man has built in one massive swipe of her titanic hand. And yet, without them, the entire system would crumble and fall apart. A hurricane is a destroyer, but it exists as part of a system, and somewhere deep inside that raging spiral is a *logic*. A science, a plan -- something set it off. Something made it happen, and that something is not random.

Everything happens, as they say, for a reason.

'Half the time it's angry, like it wants us all to leave. And then it'll feel like it's a lost child, that it wants someone to help it.' Aya Hazuki, with her awakened but ill-practiced awareness, had described this place thus. From the churning sky it should be obvious which state the place is right now.

Ever since his return from the shadowy demiplane of... well, whatever it was... Frei has been keeping to himself. He's not part of Mortal Kombat itself, officially, to the best of his knowledge. But here he is all the same, and when he woke from sleep on the very first day after his resurrection, he noticed something to his surprise that made him question if his place in this battle for Earthrealm's destiny was actually empty or not. Holding an object in his hand, staring at it in distracted confusion, he was forced to admit -- with a simple "...huh," -- that he didn't really know what that meant. And more to the point, that there was only one person he could think of at the moment that might have answers... answers that weren't going to wait, meaning he needed to seek her out now, regardless of the cost or difficulty. At the very least, however, she would be easy to find, especially now that Frei knew what her sacred Ainu cloth 'felt' like.

His path, at one point, took him through the outbuildings and shacks below the castle; one, in particular, burned into his memory as were Aya awoke after being summoned here. As the sky continued to darken, he stopped and stared at it, reflecting on what it meant. He was still contemplating when he felt what can only be called, for lack of a better term, a disturbance in the force. Well, in *a* force, anyway.

This is why his pace quickened, and this is also why the redhead seems out of breath as he stands at the base of a narrow path leading back up from this secluded spot, observing the two fighters facing off here.

"...welp," he whispers to himself, darkly fascinated despite the intense aura of the situation. "This is gonna be real awkward." His fingers drift to something around his neck: a comma-shaped jewel of an intense cyan blue, the color of a sunny, cloudless sky.

The Scarlet Dahlia knows the Kamui-sent warrior's reputation well. Her parents' stories resound in her mind -- strengthened by testimony from the armada of Ainu compatriots at her side. And she knows the modern retellings as well -- distorted, glossed over, and transformed by the passage of time.

Second-hand knowledge pales in comparison to the real thing. The Shadow Advisor takes in every tell that Nature's Avenger cares to display, every slight reaction. And every emotion that lies unhidden. The gravity of the situation is plain to see.
And through it all -- that wistful smile.

When last the two Ainu women had met, the spirits were indistinct and formless. But now that the tusukur has spent time getting to know them, the spirits have names. Their faces bear some distinguishing marks. The spirits at the Dahlia's back bow their heads in recognition of their former compatriot -- the one who survived, in a manner of speaking.

The withdrawal of the Destroyer gives the Dahlia a measure of hope for the outcome of the battle. She nods her head to the wolf in acceptance, flashing the beast a faint, reassuring smile out of respect for his fearsome power. But while she might, in one sense, respect the Destroyer, her feet seem to move of their own accord as the cloak whips about. It is a subtle movement -- one stride forward while concealed from Nakoruru's view -- but the nature of the Dahlia's battle style is to take advantage of every slight advantage possible. Against one who would be her opponent, every word in conversation is an opportunity to gain the upper hand, even if that opponent may be an ally, friend -- or a legendary heroine.

The spirits at her back nod their heads once again in acknowledgment. And as soon as the prelude to the fight is offered, the spirits begin to move forward, their forms growing indistinct.
The gemstone upon the Dahlia's sash grows in proportion to the spirits' proximity. And as Nakoruru entreats her to begin the battle, so shall the acrobatic Ainu leap forward to meet the call.

With a crack of thunder, the sanjiegun lashes outward, not unlike the manner in which the cloak had been discarded moments prior. The Dahlia's eyes remain affixed upon those of her opponent, but her weapon -- its chains stretched to their full extent -- is largely intended to test the resolve of her opponents. That is -- of both Nakoruru, and the bird of prey flapping its wings just overhead. She may not be keeping the hawk, or the newcomer, fully in her field of vision. But, the Akatsuki Advisor is more than capable of keeping the multiple variables straight in her head, as she aims to crack the lacquered wood of her sanjiegun across Nakoruru's knee, positioning herself to take better advantage of the sandy terrain.

COMBATSYS: Honoka has joined the fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|=------\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Honoka equips a gleaming Honey Yellow Soul Shard.

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Honoka [E]       0/-------/-======|=------\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru dodges Honoka's Large Thrown Object.

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Honoka [E]       0/-------/=======|=------\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

The wolf settles on his haunches some meters away now, a one-eyed sentinel of the match to take place, an X shaped scar occupying the space where his other eye should be. His growls have diminished, the battle hungry beast having accepted the sword maiden's request that he sit this one out. That he walked at her side at first was already a portend of the fight's gravity - his powers are not unleashed for sport.

Quietly, Nakoruru watches the ephemeral shapes communing with the Scarlet Dahlia, her eyes losing some of their sharp intensity, a tangible spike of remorse echoing from her soul at the sight of those who had, like her, fought for earth's fate and failed. If they had won two hundred years ago, then this tragic tournament of blood and death would have been finished once and for all. Yet here they stand, facing her as she stares at their vague shapes in the wind, the only of their number to survive the slaughter.

The young woman opens her mouth as if to address them then closes it, seeming to change her mind. What could she say? While she slept, the suffered two centuries of agony, their souls never finding rest, each denied the hope that they might transcend to the peaks of Kamui Mosir to dine with the heroes of the past. They are beyond words - actions matter now, and only those actions that will lead to victory for Earth and the promised release of all the souls lost in its defense.

Her focus returns to the Scarlet Dahlia - the one she was warned of by the interloper between worlds. Does she know of the warning offered? Of the evaluation due? Nakoruru closes her eyes for only an instant, an instant in which everything happens at once.

The segmented weapon affords its wielder extraordinary range, the ability to strike from afar and command the space between. Compared to the sharp kodachi the time lost fighter wields, the reach it provides is a strong advantage. But to strike at her opponent is to catch the wind off guard. The blow swings low, aiming to deliver a painful strike to her knee, perhaps slowing her for the future, but Nakoruru's leg moves out of the way as she leans forward into an instant dash, a puff of sand all that is left for the sanjiegun to swing through.

The distance between them will be closed in an instant, as the warrior in white draws her blade with a flash of multi-hued, vibrant energy. Behind a shroud of that rainbow of colors is a blade, its surface wet with condensation, the drops flying out in an arc as it is swung at the last instant. The Scarlet Dahlia would find herself pressured by a nearly point blank slash by a blade held reverse gripped. The cut would be shallow across her stomach as Kamui's Chosen would continue to dart past her, flipping forward through the air to land in a slide on her feet through the sand, her long hair and lengthy tails of her crimson hair bow trailing in her wake.

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Nakoruru's Annu Mutsube.

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Honoka [E]       0/-------/=======|=------\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

The Scarlet Dahlia is keenly aware of exactly -what- has been lost here. Indeed, her conversations with the time-lost warrior maiden have been crucial to gaining a full comprehension -- the necessary sparks that allowed her to piece together the clues to the mysteries contained on the island. Visiting the spear-marked graves of the fallen Ainu warriors -- the brightest and strongest of their respective clans -- painted a much more robust picture of the eighth battle between Earthrealm and Outworld.

Even though their forms may have vanished from sight, their presence remains all the same. Golden threads the width of a human hair accompany each of the Advisor's quick movements, empowering her with swiftness and accuracy.

The sanjiegun (or sansetsukon, depending on who you ask) is not a weapon of the Ainu any more than the diabolos wielded by the Dahlia's alternate persona. Beginners often injure themselves in training, as the weapon requires an innate sense of where each of the three sections will be at any given time, given a dizzying array of possibilities.

It would seem to be for naught, though, as the lacquered skin of the leading segment is peppered by a miniature sandstorm.

To over-extend the weapon's reach, though, is not the Dahlia's modus operandi. Balance is crucial. Without balance, she would have left herself wide open for the point blank strike. Without balance, the sand may have betrayed her. But, mindful of both her body and her environment, the Dahlia digs her heel in and pivots sharply, kicking up her own miniature cloud of sand.

A simple flick of the wrist is enough to bring the sanjiegun's trailing segment back into play. With the sound of the keen edge hitting lacquer, the seven-colored arc meets an abrupt end against the sanjiegun as its forward momentum opposes the thrusting strike. The acrobat's pivot is not quick enough against the Kamui-sent warrior's blinding speed, nor is the last-instant guard completely successful -- a small spray of blood is loosed as the deflected blade continues onward to take a nick out of the ao-dai-clad woman's side.

The Dahlia grits her teeth, but does not address the razor-thin line of crimson rivulets painted across her side. She'll deal with that, in due time. For now, though, she aims to make full use of her embedded heel -- whipping the sanjiegun back along her palm and gripping one end of the weapon in each hand.

"Thus far," begins the Dahlia, "you appear to have -served- as leader, in spirit."

The Dahlia whips around into a sagittal cartwheel, a small spray of sand accentuating her flip. She whips out of the cartwheel with a scything overhand strike with her right staff, followed with a lateral strike of the left. Should she manage to land both, she would move to withdraw, but not without scissoring both staff sections around the Kamui-sent warrior's arm in an attempt to wrench her backward.

"The only one who both knows what's going on and is willing to talk about it."

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru full-parries Honoka's Armed Combo!!

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Honoka [E]       0/-------/-======|====---\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

In warding off the worst of the strike, the enigmatic Shadow Advisor demonstrated that she could guard against the lightning itself, so fast were her reflexes. Nakoruru flies past to secure her landing, a wake of distressed wind passing by her target in the immediate aftermath, the sound of metal against wood still echoing against the tall cliff face lording over the shore.

The follow up attack is perfectly timed, the segmented staff snapped out in the brief window where her opponent isn't even facing her yet, still regaining control over her own momentum after her rather aggressive opening surge of speed, two ruts carved through the sand where her feet find their grip.

In that instant, the Scarlet Dahlia speaks the strange but undeniable truth - Nakoruru continues to push others to lead, while she herself seems qualified to serve in that exact capacity. Atop the cliffs, she urged Charlie to rally and organize his forces. And this is not the first time she spoke of the master manipulator's capacity to lead others.


Her answer is immediate and loud, her right hand sweeping up in front of her and to the right, the circular motion deflecting the segment of wood inbound from above, while her left arm snaps out to her other side, a whip-like crack of fabric as her cloak manifests in an instant - curiously bordered by crimson patterns as it had been when first seen - knocking aside the blow targeting her side and wrapping around the end of the segment tightly. A faint shadow, barely visible in what light makes it through the clouds, passes over the humbly dressed woman as Mamahaha darts through the sky to take up a new position.

"I will not walk that path again."

The tremor in her voice is the first hint of trepidation ever heard from the perpetually composed warrior. Her right hand slides behind her back in a blur, returning the drawn kodachi to its sheath with a click, before she spins to the left, stepping around the entrapped weapon, the cloth wrapped around securely around her left hand.

The stories of the eighth tournament may have touched on the way many looked to her for guidance. Already, her legend had grown, already she had walked the path of a Warrior Saint only to be called to rest by the kamui until needed. Is it guilt that scares her so?

Her right hand snaps out, sweeping up then pointing forward, a flash of that vibrant, multi-hued chi erupting around her, echoed around a point not too high in the air above. "Mamahaha!"

Wreathed in an aura mirroring the one swirling about Nakoruru's feet, the raptor dives boldly down at a sharp angle, angling to seemingly collide directly with the Dhalia's center of mass, bringing with it the promise of an explosive discharge of the burst of power it's bearing. In the same movement, the cloak that had wrapped around her weapon would vanish into a hundred sparkling pink motes of light that twinkle and fade one after another while Nakoruru springs backward across the sand to get her footing hopefully out of range of immediate counter strike.

COMBATSYS: Honoka reflects Amube Yatoro EX from Nakoruru with Kunne Chup Kamui.

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Honoka [E]       1/-----==/=======|===----\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

The Dahlia prides herself on swift reactions, so it pleases her immensely to feel the pressure of resistance upon the sanjiegun in her hand. But, a split second later, the Akatsuki Advisor realizes that it is not the satisfying crack of bone that she feels, but rather the sensation of cloth snapping the weapon end away. Undeterred, the Dahlia continues with the follow through, only to find that the cloth has similarly entwined itself around that as well.

Teeth clench together as the gears turn about in her mind at breakneck speed. With the left end of the sanjiegun ensnared, the Dahlia slackens her grip on the weapon, sliding her left hand back to take the place of her right.

Still, she stays in motion, not wanting to find herself trapped in the inevitable followup. The Dahlia steps forward, releasing some of the tension on her sanjiegun without committing to give up the tension entirely.

Her lips press together at the confession from Nakoruru -- the crack in the armor of her countenance not going unnoticed. It's true, then, what she'd heard from the other Ainu warriors -- that the young warrior maiden may have felt greatness thrust unduly upon her shoulders. To an average warrior, the shout might be intimidating -- but to the emotion-fueled psion, it only fuels her own abilities.

The Stormbringer may have dominion over the weather, but she may still be able to feel a slight change in the pressure all the same: pink flames laced with faint strands of gold dance about in the Dahlia's right hand. The manifestation is nearly concurrent with releasing the sanjiegun; she allows her left hand to continue the valiant battle to wrest the weapon free from the mystic cloth.

"Leadership is a great responsibility," is the Dahlia's noncommittal assent -- cognizance of both what was said and the import carried with it.

Just as Mamahaha is summoned from above, the Dahlia takes note of the rapidly fleeting shadows. She begins to tug backwards on her sanjiegun, demanding the maximum reach allowed by the retained weapon as she raises her soulflared hand towards the descending spirit bird. The Dahlia squints towards the beast, having much less of a connection to the familiar than towards its guide -- but the flames from her hand seem to respond in kind to the threat of an oncoming explosion. She senses the path of its flight, and begins to leap to her left in anticipation. Her hand remains high, though -- tendrils of pink flame whip outward, enveloping the hurtling Mamahaha from an angle slightly askew of its direction of travel.

That is when the Dahlia spins around in a clockwise fashion, dropping the sanjiegun entirely. Manipulating the weapon runs a distant second at this point to guiding Mamahaha around her in a circular orbit -- for even that stresses the soulflame tether into a taffy-like stretch. As the chain of the sanjiegun jangles from the sudden release of pressure, the soulflames burn into Mamahaha, containing the explosive energy of the spirit bird to prevent it from detonating. It... may also hurt the animal, but if that is a concern to Nakoruru, perhaps she shouldn't have used it as a weapon.

A whirlwind of sand kicks up around the Dahlia's feet as she continues to spin. In an instant she is able to pinpoint the direction in which Nakoruru's presence had fled -- the second instant will snap the soulflame tether, sending the gently smoldering Mamahaha hurtling towards Nakoruru.

The Dahlia's clockwise pirouette ends with her flaming right hand extended towards Nakoruru, as simply as if she had flung a frisbee. A moment later, her sanjiegun thuds lightly into the loosened sand beside her, as she exhales softly.
"Forgive me..."

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru channels the fortress of the steel will.

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Honoka [E]       1/-----==/=======|===----\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Nakoruru with Reflected Amube Yatoro EX.

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Honoka [E]       1/--=====/=======|======-\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

He should have left and he didn't.

What reason would there have been, really, for Frei to stay? The tension of the situation is palpable; yet, in a way, it's not... forbidding. On a rainy day, standing inside a building safe and dry but looking through an open door or window at rain falling just outside, the body reacts. There's a tingling on the skin, a weird sense of safety and even warmth despite chill, that comes from differentials in air pressure between where one is standing and where rain is falling. But describing it in a scientific way ruins it. It's that moment of peace and contentment, safely away from the rain, able to observe and watch. It's a bizarrely luxurious, indulgent feeling... illicit. Watching rain should get you wet.

Standing here at the edge of the beach, safely away from the fight that's going on, that's how Frei feels right now. Up to and including the weird warm-chill tingle on his skin. Transfixed, "unable" to look away... or perhaps merely unwilling to.

For a brief moment, he closes his eyes, extending his awareness, looking just beyond the veil. Nakoruru -- the figure he recognizes -- is a whirling locus of energies; appropriately for the setting, she is a hurricane of life force, her diminutive black-haired frame the becalmed eye. She swoops and flies across the battlefield, as much a raptor in flight as her animal guardian, and the arrowhead-like shape of her passing sweeps a prismatic echo across Frei's mind's eye, like a time-lapse Kirlian photo of the Ainu champion, all suggestive shapes and bright, edge-bleeding color.

The other, though...

The Dahlia. The ghost of a memory -- Aya's memory -- reveals this to him. The woman who Aya met first after arriving on the island, who seemed hauntingly familiar, but not recognizable. 'In the language of flowers, the dahlia represents an eternal bond or commitment,' Aya had said. 'Speaks well of you, I suppose.' Controlled small talk. An air of mystery. And now? Eight points of light, surrounding her like a crown of stars. In Chinese mythology and spirituality, eight is a powerful number, the bringer of good fortune. The bagua -- trigrams -- used to divine in the I-Ching are eightfold; the resulting sixty-four combinations are said to contain all that is knowable in heaven and earth.

Whatever spiritual sense is being used right now, it means more mundane things like hearing are on the back burner for Frei, but they are not gone, not entirely. When these two women begin discussing, speaking to each other -- and doing so quite passionately -- it's hard not to hear it. Understand it, however? That's a different story. The sound is basically nothing like any language Frei has ever spoken, and he remains deeply confused until he suddenly starts thinking about context cues. They're both conversing, at the speed of native speakers, comfortably... including Nakoruru.

It's an Ainu dialect.

The green eyes open, quickly, and Frei's gaze centers immediately on the Dahlia just as she redirects Nakoruru's raptor guardian back toward her with expert grace.

'The Ainu say this too, Frei. No one ever dies. We change state,' she had said.

'As long as there is life,' he had said back, 'there will be the memory of you, and of me. Somewhere.'

Somewhere is here. Some time is now.

Unable to look away, all Frei can says is: "...oh."

Her own feet have just barely touched the sand following her spring backward when she finds herself facing down the feathered missile of dual energy and flailing wings. Her own reaction is immediate, arms snapping out, fingers splayed in the path of the incoming bird bullet. No attempt is made to defend herself, to brace for impact and ward off the attack, her evasiveness coming to a stop in this moment.

A flash of crimson at her back accompanies a vortex of wind that manifests between her outstretched hands, a cushioning layer of counter force conjured in the same split second Nakoruru reacts, but whether she was consciously drawing the elemental forces out or they acted of their own accord is fuzzy given her singular focus on the hurtling hawk.

The bird crashes into the waiting grip as Nakoruru rides with the forces, pulling Mamahaha in close and spinning to the right to surrender to the kinetic exchange, arms folding over the foreign energy encircling her companion without regard for her own safety, accepting the pain inherent in her defense without hesitation.

She comes to rest a meter back, having completed a three hundred and sixty degree spin in the process, her arms wrapped around the bird, hugging it against her chest, her right hand resting at the back of Mamahaha's head, fingers providing just enough gentle support to ensure that the raptor's neck wasn't wrenched in the process of coming to such an abrupt stop. The catch is over in a second, Nakoruru lowering her head slightly, whispering words meant only for her feathered cohort, before opening her arms and leaving the predator to perch, her talons clenched into the young woman's left wrist guard.

Steel-blue eyes flick back toward her opponent. There is no hint of recrimination for the deflection, only enduring focus, her mouth a thin line of intense concentration. "Leadership," she replies as Mamahaha wobbles a little, wings flapping tentatively as if to test their condition. "Is like wielding a kodachi by the blade instead of handle. You can try to bludgeon your will into others, but in the end, the harder you try, the more you will bleed."

She hefts her left arm a little, giving the bird the encouragement to take to the air once more which she does, flapping her wings again, the downdraft sending wind currents blowing downward around Nakoruru as the great bird of prey is airborne once more. "Still," she allows, that wistful smile, a mirror into another memory flickers across her lips. "Someone has to do it."

Her statement is punctuated by a forward burst of speed, the distance closed once more. Her opponent would have had time to retrieve her weapon by now, which might be best as Nakoruru draws and swings her own kodachi in one smooth motion, leaning into a horizontal strike, the tip of her eighteen inch blade extending the reach of her arm just barely enough to within striking distance.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru successfully hits Honoka with Medium Strike.

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Honoka [E]       1/-======/=======|======-\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

In the heart of combat, the Dahlia does not have the luxury of thinking things out before executing them. The falcon struck as an extension of Nakoruru, more as a weapon than as a companion. The most obvious course of action to the lithe acrobat was to turn that weapon around into a counterattack.

It is not until the Dahlia stabs her toe into the sand, digging one of the sanjiegun staves out and flipping it into the air, that she realizes the true nature of the beast that struck her -- that it was unlike any bird she had ever encountered before. It did not, for lack of a better word, -feel- the same. And yet, as the sanjiegun is swung back into its proper combat-ready grip, she can't help but notice how much Nakoruru treasures the beast, cradling it to herself -- and comforts it.

The traces of a smile pull upwards at the Dahlia's lips -- heartfelt punctuation to her honest apology spoken mere a moment before. She -didn't- want to bring harm to the legendary beast, after all.

Nakoruru tells her about leadership, and the unnecessarily harsh toll it takes upon the leader. The point is made -- and the Dahlia considers her own role in the yakuza organization. Similar points have been made, by Zach, Elise, and others -- that forcing her will upon others is a short-term solution at best.

The Dahlia considers a response, but it becomes clear that this match is to be fought between warriors, and not sages. The Akatsuki Advisor begins to leap sideways, but the surprising speed from her opponent catches her off guard. The horizontal slash looses an arc of crimson blood into the sky, the cut so clean that the Dahlia barely even feels it until a moment afterwards when she sets her weight on her leg once more. "I'te..." A gash has torn into the front flap of the dress; the gash has a cousin upon the left leg of the white silk pants.

The Dahlia is used to choking back the pain, even as the blood begins to flow from the transverse cut upon her thigh.
"All the more reason I've switched to blunt weapons..." she notes wryly, taking stock of the surroundings.

Each point in the sandy battleground is noted with a momentary glance as she takes a moment to recover, fully cognizant of her opponent's speed. The honey-hued gemstone flashes brightly, and seven golden threads streak out like solar rays. The diaphanous forms of the seven soldiers can be seen momentarily as they rush out into their assigned locations.
Perhaps the Dahlia has more battleground experience than expected, as the spirits make themselves invisible once again -- the only signs of their passing being the imprints of sandals upon the golden grains.

Preparations made, the Dahlia pulls her sanjiegun taut between her two hands. "Those who have accumulated the most in this grand tournament have grown intoxicated from their power. I had hoped Earthrealm would fare better with such mighty champions, but alas -- the tides of war are shifting. The numbers no longer favor us."

The Dahlia sets her jaw. And with a whistle of her sanjiegun, she lashes out, beginning with a rapid and brutal diagonal strike aimed at knocking the kodachi aside of Nakoruru's grasp. The followup would be a crafty use of the flexibility of the weapon aimed at catching the speedy warrior under the chin. The third strike would come not from her weapon, though; with a brilliant honeyed flare from her soul shard, the Dahlia would surge forward suddenly, with a hope of connecting her knee into the time-lost warrior's hip. Should the Dahlia connect with those, her left hand would snake outward and collect Nakoruru by the front of her attire, and suddenly twist her about the Dahlia's hip in an 'o-goshi' toss. With any luck, towards one of her seven semi-transparent Ainu companions, who would plant their heel downward in a a stomping kick.

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

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Honoka [E]       1/-======/=======|======-\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru blocks Honoka's Urara Kando.

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Honoka [E]       1/-------/=======|=======\-------\1     [E] Nakoruru

The retreat following the dashing slash is made with effectively the same speed with which she advanced. There is something about surety of her footing on the sand that has her moving forward and backward with equal speed and poise. Her landing is controlled, one more step in an elaborate blade dance she performs. Overhead, the feathered sentinel hangs back, wings flapping as she holds her own place in the wind, wary but seemingly not suffering lasting harm from being turned right back on Nakoruru in an instant. In one sense, the two are undeniably linked, the psychic easily sensing similarities between the two, as if a part of each exists in the other. Yet at the same time, there is no denying that the airborne creature understands she is part of the battle every bit as much as the two not so blessed as to enjoy the gift of wings - risk of harm is part of the package.

The swordswoman in white watches as ephemeral figures move to answer the Dahlia's call, leaning forward, her right hand near her back, her blade already sheathed somewhere in the whirlwind of motion that came before her landing. Eyes flick to some of the destinations before darting back to the woman who commands them. She finds herself surrounded, not by physical threats, but presences all the same, and there is a flash of a smile of acknowledgement that fades in an instant. Maybe, at last, she's confronted with one who is able to expand the dance of battle beyond a simple pair.

This just got a lot more interesting.

"Yes." she answers the analysis of the sides simply. "I'm afraid... it's even worse than what I saw before." Were the shards themselves a test - a scale by which humanity could doom itself, proving the entire endeavor of keeping Earth safe from Outworld a pointless distraction? If so, mankind is not faring well on that test.

And then she finds herself in the center of a storm of attacks. The first snap of the segmented staff ends up forcing the besieged warrior to whip her right arm out of its path to avoid getting struck, leaving her kodachi sheathed for now. The blow for her chin is handled, a desperate lift of her left arm into the weapon's path, taking the impact along her forearm with a soft grunt, though the padding of her wristguard might have mitigated the blow a little.

When pressed with a knee strike, she snaps her hands down, palms pressing against the side of the Dahlia's leg as Nakoruru pushes back, robbing the final impact against her stomach some of its brute force, though there's no denying the second gasp of breath forced from her lips. Crowded in, engaged in skilled close quarters combat, she finds herself grabbed by the front of her robe and pulled across the commander's hip to be slammed against the sand. Unable to defy the physics in play, she rolls with the throw but takes the momentum of it with her, rolling narrowly out of the path of an unseen heel that almost caught her.

Rather than tumble away to reconsider her options, she's moving on the offense, attempting to match the Dahlia's in close martial arts with her own. Gloved hands would snap out for the wrists of her opponent as she rises to her feet - a risky grapple and one from which countless options to escape certainly exist - but it is the speed with which she would step into the follow through that makes it more difficult to contend with. Three swift kicks with her left, targeting shin, stomach, sternum, before the leg snaps down and she would release her hold, spinning with a final roundhouse to knock the spirit general back enough to buy herself room to maneuver.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru successfully hits Honoka with Enbu Go Kyaku.

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Honoka [E]       1/-------/=======|=======\=------\1     [E] Nakoruru

Every exchange of blows from the Dahlia is precisely calculated, engineered to provoke a specific response. The diagonal strike was telegraphed, crafted to put Nakoruru on notice that more was on the way. The followup strike to the chin, likewise, a reminder that the diverse range of possibilities opened up by the flexible weapon would require a measure of focus beyond that of a typical fighter. But while almost all strikes -- save for the miraculous redirection of the kindred companion -- had revolved around the sanjiegun, the knee strike was not.

This result, too, was calculated; in this case, Nakoruru passed the test of resolve, showing that she could anticipate more than just the flailing tips of the sanjiegun. And even beyond that, she could mitigate the hip toss by rolling across the sand. Even as the Dahlia cries out, 'Pasekur, now!' -- the name of the soldier closest to Nakoruru -- she proves her mettle in avoiding even the less predictable strikes.

The spirit general raises her sanjiegun defensively as she steps back, reconsidering her options for a moment.The bird of prey is inextricably linked with Nakoruru in much the same way as Shikuru, the Destroyer -- that much is certain. But as the Ainu tusukur reaches her psychic senses outward, she realizes that there is another observer present. The syllable that had escaped his lips earlier -- a thought set aside at the time -- is placed with the vaguely familiar presence in her periphery.

The train of thought is sidelined, with Nakoruru's pressed offensive. The icy manipulator takes a quick stock of the weapons brought to bear -- the gloves alone, not the deadly kodachi. A snap judgment call is made: the sanjiegun segments are collapsed together, gripped tightly in her right hand, making it that much more difficult to grasp.

Nakoruru had not, however, been intending to grab the weapon, and the motion had made the Dahlia's retreat less likely. Both wrists are grabbed, and in rapid succession, the Ainu acrobat looses three grunts in correlation with the kicks delivered to her shin, stomach, and sternum -- all according to the warrior's plan.

Pain knits the forehead of the Dahlia as she reels backwards, unable to progress very far until the smaller warrior maiden releases her -- just in time to send her staggering backwards with a whirlwind kick to the temple. The manipulator's white-knuckled grip on the sanjiegun would prove to have been useful, as it allowed her a focus to channel the pain away.
... Some of it, anyway. The anguished cry escaping her lips, well, that just couldn't be avoided.

Blood drips from her leg, the scarlet sinking into sand, as the Dahlia regains her sense of balance. Her empty hand reaches for her temple, brushing the mussed hair away from the bruising skin there.
"Nngh... I suppose I let myself open for that one..." She begins to circle around in a wide arc, keeping the sanjiegun coiled in her right hand. "... Have you met Daniel Little, yet? Dark skin, wearing a garish shade of orange? I am not certain if he has been eliminated yet -- but he seems to be working against us..."

Sands shift beneath her feet as the Dahlia lunges forward. Unlike before, the manipulator is not attempting to build up a combination attack on this approach. The tripled-up weapon is only two feet long now, which just means it will hit three times as hard against Nakoruru's defenses if it were to land. Moreover, while the spirit guardians may be invisible to the naked eye, the Dahlia knows exactly where they stand -- and exactly how they can be used to obstruct Nakoruru's path if it comes to that.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru interrupts Crushing Strike from Honoka with Apefuchi Kamui Rimse EX.

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Honoka [E]       1/-----==/=======|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

A raindrop falls.

"I have not."
There is a pause after the declaration, another drop of rain heralding the cloudburst the clouds have promised throughout the fight.
"But his abominations have not gone unnoticed."

Several more drops in the sand. Mamahaha cries, the echo of her screech rebounding off the cliff walls within the sheltered bay. Here, the full fury of the storm will not be felt, the natural formations providing some small mercy in that regard.

In and out, she has moved, testing the Dahlia's reflexes and challenging her ability to catch the wind off guard long enough to land a blow. But for a moment, she pauses, sand flecking off her back from where she had landed moments before, taken away by the wind that seems to build slightly in its intensity. More drops join the blood in the sand as the fall becomes more steady faster than one might expect.

The sword maiden stands up a little straighter, right hand at her back again, left hand more forward, her breaths controlled even after the vigorous stresses endured by her body. Is she even subject to mortal fatigue? Where do her limits lie? Of the storm, she pays no heed, focusing only on the young woman she has urged to lead, and her unseen companions, spirits familiar from a bygone time. How right it should be that they stand behind another Ainu now.

Into the sheets of rain, the Scarlet Dahlia moves swiftly, her staff folded into a shorter, more dense instrument of destruction. Rather than slip away, an elusive spirit that refuses to stay put, Nakoruru steps forward to meet the attack, her left shoulder forward, her left arm drawing across her torso before she whips it back out to her left, the cloth she had used as a cloak, and as a makeshift defense against the segmented staff before, snaps out, another thundering crack of sound, as this time Nakoruru demonstrates its potential as a weapon, striking it against Honoka's chest, its surface laced with motes of that same multi-hued chi she had demonstrated before.

The force is enough to mitigate the blow that smashes against her shoulder as the Time Lost Servant of the Kamui snaps her left arm back to the right, the cloth whipping in to strike Honoka's upper arm and buffet her with unexpectedly strong force, scattering rain drops to the side as the fabric billows and bends.

Another, final whip crack as Nakoruru snaps it out straight, targeting her opponent's stomach, trying to draw her attention low as she pivots her own body to the left, right hand snapping out, another loud cry of "Mamahaha!!" enough to bring the bird crashing down, a vibrant glow amid the growing dark, as it strikes with a vengeance, delivering the blow denied before, an explosive release of chi at the point of impact.

Nakoruru takes only a step back as Mamahaha's wings beat, the bird withdrawing. The cloth she used so well as a weapon is draped over her left arm now, the end of it swaying in the wind like a crimson-bordered white tabard.

"I feel you're holding back." Her tone is a statement, not accusatory. "In another place, another time, perhaps I would be grateful for that, having tasted a hint of your power when grabbing hold of Mamahaha." There is the faintest hint of a smile before her expression becomes more serious even as the rain begins to dampen her hair and roll down her cheeks. "But I know you capable of more. You, above all others, have mastered the power of the souls that accompany you. They have healed you, sustained you, and now..." She glances around, looking at the unseen host that surrounds her. "They fight alongside you."

Nakoruru reaches behind her back, her right hand hovering near the handle of her kodachi as she readies herself. "Fight your legends and attack me with everything you have." she insists. "When you face Shang Tsung..." She speaks as if it is certainty. Who else to stand, when all others from Earth begin to fall around them, either to the enemy or their own vices?

"It will not be one legend you fight..."
The rain patters against her back, another gust of wind blows at her hair. Mamahaha cries out again, while the great wolf sits silently while rain rolls off of his thick coat for now.
"But a legion."

Six heavens above for the kamui. Six hells below for the demons. And in the middle, Ainu Moshir.
The limited worldview does not allow much in the way of conceptualizing Outworld as anything but another demon hell. As a servant of the Kamui, Nakoruru is in a prime position for revealing the truth, but to the Ainu as with any other major religion, the true answers are unlikely to be so revealed so clearly.

The urara kando -- the 'foggy heavens' -- have ruptured over the course of battle, drenching the combatants with liter after liter of rain. This is a battle for mortals, not for the kamui themselves to directly intervene. A number of boons avail themselves to the competitors, if only they have the creativity to ask.

And yet, the Dahlia insists upon fighting the Kamui-sent Warrior as if she is a mortal -- as if she herself chose -not- to rely upon her powers. The tripled-up weapon is parried aside with a burst of raindrops, before the cloak itself cracks into the Dahlia's chest with the kinetic impact of a sledgehammer. Her eyes widen. Her mouth hangs open. And she flies backwards, her heels dragging twin canyons across the sand as she struggles to retain some sense of balance.

Thin golden threads flicker amidst the falling raindrops. Throughout the fight the figures have remained invisible, immune as they are to the shifting winds and rain, but whenever their general is struck, their anguished faces flicker into view with a translucent blue hue. The threads flicker in the rain, resonating with her pain. As she is injured, she lets the soldiers shoulder some of the burden, using them as an expanded buffer.

The firecrackers against her chest dissipate, leaving scorched circles upon the fine silk of the Dahlia's dress as she attempts a valiant stand. She balls her left fist, clenching the sanjiegun in her right hand with equal tenacity. Her teeth grit as she renews her jaw, beginning to take a step...
... Only to have her wings clipped as Mamahaha barrels into her full tilt. The chi-laden hawk carries out its vengeance for the earlier distraction, with interest. Talons and beak tear into the Dahlia with explosive force.

When the aftermath of the chi explosion clears, the Dahlia's left hand clutches her shoulder. Blood spatters her right cheek, paints the digits of her left hand -- and the cloth itself has been scorched and torn in a number of places. The thin garment has enough integrity to hold together for now, though in all honesty, there are more important issues to keep in mind.

For not only is her leadership capability being questioned, but so is her battle strategy.
Panting, she answers in halting tones, breath ragged as she pushes shakily to her feet. Raindrops slam down into her like miniature missiles, forcing her eyelids to flutter with each near miss. But she stares intently back at Nakoruru, meeting the challenge head-on.
"Perhaps you are right in that."

Her hand pulls away, revealing the spot where Mamahaha's beak impaled her shoulder. The pain is obvious on her face -- and those of her spectral squadmates. But her hand does not drop to her side -- indeed, her right hand simply tucks the sanjiegun into her sash for a moment.

"With the power of the kamui of the Nochiu-o Kando at my side, I =am= capable of greater."

Her servants raise their hands to the skies -- their hands, faces, and shoulders becoming visible as iridescent lights. Three of her servants streak forward, their forms becoming elongated towards the heavens...

The Dahlia's fingertips splay outward, as lightning begins to crackle between them. As if responding, the heavens above begin to part.

And it would even seem as twin beams of concentrated starlight impale the cloud cover, slamming directly into the extended palms of the Dahlia.

A gift of power from the star-bearing heavens.

The twin beams of light reflect from her palms, rocketing outward. Three thin golden threads appear next to the leading edge of the columns of energy as they fly towards Nakoruru, swirling around them in a helical pattern. The closer it gets, thet tighter the pattern formed by the golden threads, refining the two streams into one solid needle of energy -- seeking to impale Nakoruru with a torrent of refined psychic energy.

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

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Honoka [E]       1/-----==/=======|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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Honoka [E]       1/-----==/=======|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Nakoruru with Nochiu-o Kando.

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Honoka [E]       0/-------/-----==|=======\=------\1     [E] Nakoruru

Her challenge issued, the Nature Warden stares back at Honoka, blinking only occasionally as the torrent of rain requires of her. Her black hair is slick, sticking to the sides of her face and matted against her forehead as she waits patiently. She asked to see something more, a manifestation of that power the restless Ainu representative can muster, and in moments, she gets her wish.

The Dahlia moves past the pain of her injuries, Nakoruru's strikes adding up little by little, with no one single blow being particularly devastating. Their enemies will afford no quarter for the wounded. Such limitations must be ignored. A slight nod of approval seems to offer an agreement to the idea that she has yet to show her full potential in this battle. Facing a heroine of one hundred and one legends from your own childhood can hardly be considered normal combat circumstances. But here in this hellscape of Shang Tsung's Island, normal is the last thing one can hope for.

Nature herself seems to rage at the battle as rivulets of water begin to flow down into the ocean, carving small paths in the soft sand beneath their feet. And it is into that maelstrom of energy, the Scarlet Dahlia forces her power. Once more, her target eschews her elusive nature - or perhaps the option is all together denied her as the assault builds from all around, spirits directed by the tusukar devoting their strength to the attack. Calling on the host of the fallen Ainu warriors to add her, she at last matches the forces of the unseen wilds that seem to accompany the girl of legends past.

Even as she is drenched, her robe continues to gleam the color of white purity, the color of the kamui themselves. The sword maiden's hands clench at her sides as she finds herself targeted by an attack that defies conventional means of defense, turning rapidly in place to keep aware of the other presences around her. Overhead, Mamahaha screes with alarm as power falls from above to join the forked energy playing ominously over the Dahlia's fingers. Finally, realizing the vector of the attack, Nakoruru turns to face her again, leaning, hands clenched, prepared to test the strength of that curious power herself.

In the end, the precision focused psychic energy spears her through the chest, a clean hit, leaving only the Ainu warrior's will to stand as a defense against the assault. Her spine arcs back as a pained intake of breath is followed by clenched teeth silence, her arms snapping out to her sides, fists clenched tightly. She staggers back a step, then another, eyes pressed shut, unable to mount any kind of offence for several seconds of pure, agonizing pain unlike any she had felt in battles she had fought before. The contact with psionically affected Mamahaha had been a warning that something was unique about the shamaness's power. But feeling the strike directly is more than enough to remove all uncertainty.

One more step backward and she crumples to a knee in the sand, head bowed, damp hair draped against her shoulders and chest. Forcing out a breath gets her lungs working again, and sucking in another begins to help her fight through the rawest pain she had ever felt from an attack. But she forces herself to stand, rising to her feet, lifting her head, and opening her eyes to focus back on the Scarlet Dahlia, the young woman who achieved the lofty title of Empress in another lifetime.

"Almost," she whispers, forcing a step forward, control over her body returning second by second. Never had she felt so disrupted by energy. The power the bleeding young woman yields is unlike anything encountered from her own time.

But nearly is not enough here. Across the distance, Nakoruru begins to sprint forward. This fight has to be seen through, the damp sand at her feet proving harder than the soft grains present when they started. It is from two meters out that she changes direction in an instant, springing backward, her right hand snatching the kodachi from its sheath as the apex of her arc takes her into the waiting talons of Mamahaha.

The great raptor's claws grab the girl by the coat of her robe, managing to avoid piercing the flesh beneath, the hawk's large wings expanding out from behind her precious cargo, the drops of ice splashing against the side of her kodachi becoming small flecks of ice in an instant. The dive comes in an instant, as both girl and bird combine their force toward Honoka, a corona of vibrant energy against the black sky. It is the kodachi that leads the way, however, and its tip would be the danger the Dahlia must face lest she find herself pinned to the sand by the short blade!

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the fortress of the steel will.

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Honoka [E]       0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Nakoruru's Kanto Kamui Mutsube EX.

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Honoka [E]       0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

If the Dahlia had kept her thin glasses on for this fight, they would surely remain beaded with water throughout the entirety of the fight. Luckily, the modern-day Ainu has never required the aid of such devices, despite preferring them for the more mature look they convey. Her finely-coiffed hair, though, is beginning to evidence the extent of the moisture, her healthy, dampened locks beginning to pry loose of the two needle-like sticks acting as their jailers. The scarlet lines radiating from the puncture upon her shoulder and the surface cut upon her thigh are thin now from the chill raindrops; frayed silk has parted down to her right collarbone. Shunting of the pain to her spectral companions can only go so far before the tempo of battle forces her to concede...

If only she -would- concede, of course. These physical concerns are but meaningless trivialities between the two Ainu warriors, who have found their hearts in battle. The need for the Dahlia to prove herself to the legendary warrior-maiden has never been stronger.

The Akatsuki advisor's lips press together in a grim frown as her bloodline-granted power is channeled through the Kamui-sent warrior. Her left hand clenches into a light fist as she forces a measure of calm over herself -- she cannot afford to feel sympathy for the opponent who challenges her with the best intentions of honing her craft into the weapon it needs to be. Whether the source of her power truly -is- the Starry Heavens is... not really a matter she's needed to give much thought to -- the simple fact that the power was there when she'd needed it was enough.

The scree of the hawk overhead reaches her ears as she closes the gap with long strides. Her soles press into the damp sand, leaving crisp footprints in their wake that rapidly fill with rainwater. She draws in her breath, peppered with rain as it may be, and a fresh vitality sweeps over her -- the Kamui-sent warrior's pain filling her veins with an intoxicating sensation. Her eyes light up behind their synthetic lenses. And still, her expression remains grim with the knowledge that said intoxication comes at the price of her legendary heroine's vitality.

Almost, answers the warrior. Almost is more than enough: the "Empress" did not wish the white cloak to become a death shroud. She only wanted to even the score -- to show the Ainu legend just what she is capable of.

Blue lenses track the time-lost warrior as she leaps into the air, not in an attack, but in a mere prelude to such. With her sanjiegun tucked safely in her sash, the Dahlia arches an eyebrow -- hands raising out to either side. Words are barked into the rain -- syllables unrecognizable at first, these would in fact be names of the soldiers arrayed at her beck and call.

The kodachi leads the charge forward.

And from the space directly in front of Nakoruru, two hands appear. They clap down onto the blade, forcing a shudder through the kodachi as it continues hurtling forward, at a slightly slowed pace.
The kodachi travels further, and the hands press away -- leaving behind the more visible form of an Ainu warrior pierced through the heart in the service of the general.

Several meters forward of that, the process happens again, as if in instant replay.

And again -- with the Dahlia holding her hands apart in similar fashion with only a meter to spare.

The sword continues plunging further. And the Akatsuki Advisor's own hands clap down onto it from either side, sending a shudder through the blade as the pressure reasserts itself.

It is not enough to stop the charge of Nakoruru and Mamahaha. Far from it -- the footprints from earlier are displaced as if by twin meteoric impacts as the Dahlia holds her ground, two deep channels carved into the damp sand, just as quickly filled by the rainwater.

The entire process happens in but an instant -- too fast for all but the best and brightest of the island's kombatants to make any sort of sense from. But when the momentum is stopped, the Dahlia is standing a few meters back, visibly shuddering with blue light. Thin streams of scarlet run down her wrists and forearms, but her grim frown does not abate.

The canyons in the sand evidence what happened -- whenever it was safest, she leapt backwards, unwilling to risk the feat of stopping the yukar-told blade before it could pierce her heart.

Three spirits lie prone along on the path, their armored attushes flickering with blue light, and streaked with gold threads. They fade, slowly.
With smiles on their faces.

The Dahlia chooses this moment to bare her teeth in the flicker of a smile. Responding with a full sentence would be... difficult with the inebriation flowing through her right now.

She instead chooses to respond with a... shout. A proud battle shout -- as she thrusts her blood-streaked right palm forward.

A shockwave erupts outward from her extended palm, rippling the raindrops with a radiant heat. Water turns to steam in the rapid shift of pressure -- but rather than the force of psionic agony, this attack takes on the form of a concussive blast, powerful enough to knock out the target.

The target is not Nakoruru -- but Mamahaha.

Only after the first blast is fired does the Dahlia chamber a second blast with her left palm -- levelling it towards Nakoruru's center of mass. It is not as wildly telegraphed -- but considering the psychic connection between the hawk and Nakoruru, perhaps the job will have already been done by the time it hits.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru channels the beat of the tireless heart.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Honoka [E]       0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru channels the glare of the vicious eye.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////                     ]
Honoka [E]       0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru reflects Ishirishina from Honoka with Kamui Rimse.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Honoka [E]       0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

The two dive from the sky, a Celestial Spear born by the feathered Valkyrie, their path veering inexorably toward their target. There would be no escaping it, no guarding against the swath of vibrant chi leading the way or the sharp blade just behind the tip. With a battle cry, both girl and bird descend for the Scarlet Dahlia, putting her to the test once and for all.

The manner of defense would have been the absolutely last thing ever expected by either as spectral hands clasp over the ice flecked blade, pressing back against it with noticeable force, the sword maiden's arm trembling as her own momentum and the powerful winged thrusts of her battle companion break through the resistance and the weapon pierces clean through the one willing to take the fall to halt her advance. The look in her widened steel-blue eyes betrays enough the shock experienced by the Ainu priestess of bygone years.

And then another moves - anything for the Spirit Talker - taking the next spot in a line of martyrs. For a moment, the living stares eye to eye with the dead. They fought alongside each other once, the name behind those eyes is not unbeknownst to her. And yet here and now, the kamui have seen fit to place them at odds in this contest, this test.

Shaken, but resolved, she skewers the second, before a third set of hands joins the gauntlet that rises in defiance to the heaven sent spear, mitigating forces, absorbing more of the life's chi that radiates out before the attack. Again their eyes meet, an unspoken exchange, only the resolve in Nakoruru's soul serving to mask the flinch of painful, freshly resurfaced regret. Again, the finishing below is delivered, and the destined attack finally lands - only to be warded off by the Spirit General.

Nakoruru lands with a splashing roll against the sand, coming to rest in a crouch amid the fading spirit figures lying against the soaked earth. Mamahaha, having released at the last second, is just starting to work her wings, beating down a spray of rain droplets with each powerful flap as she tries to regain height.

"Perhaps in her..." the crimson beribboned young woman whispers. "You have found one to trust."

Her left palm rests against the sand, her right still gripping the kodachi in a reverse hold, water continuing to freeze along its metal surface. Breathing in, she closes her eyes for an instant, pulling up from the world around her a brief aura of gentle green light that vanishes an instant later, imbuing her weary limbs with renewed vigor.

But there there is no time to linger, the dead departed, the next attack launched with precision timing and undeniable accuracy. It's the first pulse for the ascending hawk that forces her hand, and with a crack of lightning from the storm above, Nakoruru leaps, spinning to whip her cloak out again, its surface that vibrant, light energy as she snaps it into the path of the force meant for her feathered companion, scattering it errantly into the air.

And even before her feet touch the ground, she's snapping it the other direction, this time smashing the energy back out and away from her, a shower of bright pink motes of energy exploding along with it as she attempts to return the earlier favor to Honoka. "Unyieldingly fierce." she appraises, sounding a bit surprised yet also thoughtfully impressed as her feet land hard against the sand that has lost much of its give as it becomes more saturated with water. She snaps her left hand out to her side and again the cloak vanishes from sight while standing up and returning the kodachi to the sheath behind her waist.

COMBATSYS: Honoka fails to reflect Reflected Ishirishina from Nakoruru with Tokap Chup Kamui.

[                         \\\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Honoka [E]       0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

It was a challenge, and the Scarlet Dahlia turned her hand. Her overarching strategy in this war against Outworld may be in question, but her battlefield tactics have been proven. Soldiers have placed their lives on the line for this woman, and their noble sacrifices had allowed her to withdraw to a safer distance.

The woman hisses with pain as a series of backlashes come flooding back to her. The threefold pain of her soldiers' defeat resounds in the back of her mind, while the fresh wounds on her palms bear testament to the sharpness of Nakoruru's blade. The accumulated wounds from earlier have not left her either -- but without the ability to split the burden to her other souls, the sting of the injuries washes over her anew, pulling her features into an agonized rictus mask.

Winning the war, at pyrrhic cost. To sacrifice her soldiers, to commit herself into a relentless series of attacks, to disable the opponent's ability to deal harm -- all of these choices limit her later capabilities in the battle.

These are calculated risks.

Risks that can be undone with time to heal.
Her weapons are not keen edges, but blunt cudgels.
Her psychic-powered attacks are not intended to destroy, but debilitate.
Her sacrificed warriors will walk again, with her aid.

But that hedged bet does not show in the fierce determination depicted in her cold blue gaze, easily piercing the distance to the kodachi-wielding warrior.
And, for a moment -- she falters, her gaze locked on too tightly to Nakoruru's.

The regret. Battle with a psychic can take place upon a number of avenues.

The bolt of lightning forces the Akatsuki Advisor to look up with a panic. Is it aimed for -her?- But then she remembers the Stormbringer's nature, piecing it together with her motions. Setting her jaw, one hand reaches for the sanjiegun in her sash. Rushing into the blow head-on is something she -should- have expected, even calculated for, but alas -- for that moment of indecision, she is caught unaware -- dazed by the brilliant flash of lightning.

She shifts her stance backward, the staves and chain of the sanjiegun lashing out with a keening whistle. Crystalline raindrops shatter against a small wavefront from the weapon...

It is then, though, that her own energy is wielded against her -- the concussive force crashing into her sternum with the force of a fully-committed punch. Air is forced out of her lungs as she staggers backward, her footprints carving two more gullies into the rain-drenched beach.

Her shoulders sag, as she forces her jaw shut again, pain streaking her eyes. The loose end of the sanjiegun is allowed to fall to her side, streaked with diluted blood.

She will not allow herself to fall with it. She pulls herself back up to her full height, and nods resolutely in the direction of Nakoruru and her hawk companion.

"An archer should only fall with an empty quiver."

The slightest glimmer of a smile lights her face.

In the rain, Nakoruru bows her head, eyes closed briefly in thoughtful contemplation, choosing for now to not charge in after her deflection. Her injuries are less visible, the burning ache in her nerves, the bruise on her covered shoulder. Other than being drenched, and the faster breaths that come to her mouth now, the evidence of battle is less seen but rather felt in the energy the fighting spirit that radiates from the timeless warrior. On some level, that she pauses may be interpreted as not taking her opponent seriously in the moment that she has to recover herself - but to the mundane eye, the hidden struggle within would be harder to detect.

She lifts her head, eyes opening against the storm, looking back toward the young woman who has demonstrated her evolving battle strategies, her understanding of those who were lashed to her by way of fate yet in their time with her have learned loyalty to another of their kind. A saga of emotions course through her expression - memories of the failed stand against Outworld she already endured once before, thoughts of a life cut short by a divine calling of unfathomable pressure, and knowledge of a people dwindling on extinction, a home that no longer exists.

Who's fight is this, really?

The battle worn Ainu speaks of an empty quicker and Nakoruru seems to pause at that, eyes losing their razor focus for a brief moment of silent contemplation. "Yes." she declares, as if coming to a realization, reaching a decision regarding something that had been troubling her while the Scarlet Dahlia forces herself to remain standing.

"You speak wisely."

Her weapon already sheathed, her cloak hidden from sight once more, she lifts her hands before her and presses them together in a prayer like gesture. A glowing wreath of green bubbles up out of the sand at her feat, a glimmering aura that reaches up to the level of her knees that glimmers in the stormy dark.

"Now then." Nakoruru declares, her voice carrying easily as if by the wind without having to shout.

"Show me." She smiles softly, eyes closing then.

"This will be your last shot."

Mercy was shown in the Scarlet Dahlia's battle against Aranha -- much to the dismay of the Sorceror Shang Tsung. Undoubtedly he would find disfavor with the two Ainu ladies lobbing complimentary words at one another in lieu of the mortal strikes implied by the very name of the tournmaent.

Perhaps he had been hoping that Nakoruru would have found just cause to strike her down. Or perhaps the sacrifices of the Shadow Whisperer would have driven the Eighth Mortal Kombat warrior to insanity. Either way, a death would benefit the Tyrant Sorceror alone.

Such thoughts flit through the mind of the Dahlia, drawing her lips into a more macabre smirk for a fleeting moment -- one which soon passes.

The taller woman lifts one hand in acknowledgment of the words which are passing, her eyes locking intently with Nakoruru. Her cold blue gaze seems to be completely uninterrupted -- heedless of the attempts of raindrops to intervene. No matter what -- the gaze is maintained for one, three... five seconds.
She had not loosed all of her metaphorical arrows yet -- and it remains to be seen exactly how many she -has-.

Her left hand reaches for the long sticks embedded in the tight bun of hair at her crown.
The two slender sticks are removed. A small shake of her head is offered. A deluge of raindrops slams into the curled mass of hair, breaking loose the wound spirals and sending the raven locks cascading downward.

The chill upon her back is bracing, drawing a shiver through her spine -- and renewed focus.

The loose baton of the sanjiegun begins to spin about, lashing the rain around in falling crescents.

"May the Kamui smile upon us."

The two wooden sticks fall from her hand.
A moment later, the young woman spins into a rapid pirouette. Two wooden clacks are heard a moment later -- followed by the crack of thunder.
Somehow, in the gap between the closing of an eyelid and the subsequent reopening, the Dahlia has closed the gap between herself and Nakoruru. She positively -surges- with pink and purple energies -- her dark crimson wounds showing in stark relief to skin that glows with inner light.
Her left hand stretches out for the front of the Nakoruru's robe, aiming to grab hold.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru channels the glare of the vicious eye.

[                          \\\\  < >  ////////                      ]
Honoka [E]       0/???????/???????|=====--\-------\0     [E] Nakoruru

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru interrupts Niwen Horobi from Honoka with Rerashu.

[                             \  <
Honoka [E]       0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru can no longer fight.

[                             \  <
Honoka [E]       0/-------/-======|

Where she stood an eyeblink earlier, the two sticks have embedded themselves into the sand at odd angles.

The Dahlia's hand, glowing with brilliant pink light, would grip tightly around the front of Nakoruru's robe. Her eyes alight with power -- the encouragement to proceed to show as much power as she has. Determination presses her lips together tightly as she hopes to use her rapid momentum to leverage the Ainu priestess backwards at an odd angle, aiming to fold both knees over with the sheer surprise. The wellspring of psychic power would be unloaded into the heart, manifesting as one might imagine a tremendous bolt of lightning would feel at ground zero.

It was all planned out to happen in the fraction of a second. But even the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry...

A viridian candle in the dark, Nakoruru folds her fingers together, head still bowed, eyes closed. Thunder sends a shudder through the land, trees trembling and loose rocks tumbling down the face of the cliff as the Scarlet Dahlia braves the storm itself, her violet and light hued energy joining the gentle light green surrounding Nakoruru to create a medley of colors and shadow against the shore.

"May the Kamui continue to bolster your strength."

The determined attacker's left hand extends, seeking that sure grip necessary to carry out her attack, to loose the arrow Kamui's Elect asked of her, and as her fingers close over cloth, her target's eyes snap open, meeting hers directly. In the eye of the storm, there is only peace, a calm regard as she brings her formidable power to bear, forcing the Nature Warden backward, the long haired girl's hands unclasping, whatever prayer she had whispered silently to herself seemingly cut short. The Shadow Advisor would find her opponent not resisting, her knees bending, eyes widened slightly. Overhead, Mamahaha screeches, talons extended, sharp hooked beak open as she sends a cry to the heavens.

The bolt of piercing psychic assault connects directly, severing a resistant will. In the same instant, the heavens are aglow with a violent swath of lightning unlike any that had illuminated the clouds before - a protracted, continuous forking of Nature's Fury breaking across the sky, as the ever vigilant feathered Sentinel slams her wings forward, a vortex of powerful wind chi exploding around the Scarlet Dahlia, battering her fiercely in order to blast her away from the warrior maiden she had at her mercy.

Enough is enough.

Nakoruru splashes down against the sand on her back, a choked word escaping her lips.


Around the wouldbe leader of men, the gentle caress of that light green energy Nakoruru had channeled begins to swell up from the earth, offering her battered, cut, and battle tested body blessed amelioration from the trial she had endured.

Mamahaha herself flaps down, landing in the sand next to the prone Nakoruru, a worried chirp and a rest of one wing over the chest of the young arbiter.

From the natural world all around the modern day Ainu, one of the last of a dying people, the unspoken impression would be unmistakable - chattered by the splashing rain, rumored by the swaying trees, echoed by the ancient cliffs, even emanating from the mighty wolf of uncompromising judgement who had sat vigil over the proceedings on the weather beaten shore...

She had passed.

COMBATSYS: Nakoruru successfully aids Honoka with Kamui Sentek.

[                         \\\\\  <
Honoka [E]       0/-------/-======|

In her many fights, the Scarlet Dahlia -- or one of her other personas -- has used this attack or some variation thereof. By capitalizing on moments of weakness, a committed strike to the chest and selective application of leverage would bring the opponent to the ground. And a burst of psychic energy would appear to all present as a bolt of lightning -- the riotous, chaotic transmission of energy between the ground and the sky.

The psion has never claimed dominion over the elements, or over nature. Far from it -- she is awestruck by such things.

The Twilight Star Circus has always attempted to simulate the powerful forces of nature. The verdant hues of springtime and the honeyed autumn -- these can be mimicked with light and filters. The crack of thunder, the roar of wind, the tympanic lullaby of rain -- these can be evoked via technology.

But not the powerful dynamo of lightning itself. Replicating the appearance did not come easily to the illusionist -- it came with years of practice, shaping the streams of energy until the fractal pattern could sustain itself, to be wielded as easily as the yo-yo, the diabolo. To be executed as expertly as a dance, synchronized perfectly to a song remembered eidetically.

It pales in comparison. The burst of psychic energy rushes out from her fingertips, the pattern playing out. The illusion of electricity washes across Nakoruru's face, reflects in her opened eyes. A torrent of energy surges through Nakoruru, unresisted.
But the song does not play out completely -- the transmission of energy is interrupted, before it can fully play through to completion. The song is interrupted -- the reality of lightning exposing the pale imitation.

The Dahlia's eyes, an instant earlier narrowed in determination, open wide at the realization. The challenge breaks her focus -- her practiced display cowed like a firecracker tossed, fizzing and sparking weakly, at the foot of a raging conflagration.

Wind blasts at her from the side -- far more intense than the storm raging above. Raven-black hair is tossed about in the brief instant as she turns a wide-eyed gaze towards Mamahaha.
Part of her protests -- another interruption?! -- before remembering the deep connection between woman and beast, woman and nature. These are not unrelated occurrences...

The Scarlet Dahlia is blasted back and away by the cutting blades of the wind chi, thousands of tiny red lines erupting across her bared skin. The sanjiegun whistles as it flies out of her hand, her grip no longer able to sustain it. Moment later, the Akatsuki advisor skids across the sand, her body bouncing across the shore's miniature dunes, kicking up plumes of sand in the process. Grains of sand scrape across the skin of the Akatsuki advisor, forcing a barely-restrained cry from her throat as her matted tresses come to fall over her crimson-clad shoulders.

She lifts her shoulders, eyeing the bird with a wince. She realizes that its focus has returned to the Kamui-sent warrior. She sustained injury from the blast, but the test --
The Dahlia pushes herself back to her feet, only to realize that the wind has been taken right out of her. She collapses back to one knee, panting with exertion...

And then, a word is heard.

The elderly woman had been running a brush through the fine hair of her granddaughter, before the flickering flames of the hearth. The fire reflected in the fearless eyes of the youth, not long beyond the age of two. Nothing had ever given her cause to be afraid of the fire, after all.
"I will not teach her now. I cannot."

The child's mother was huddled at the back of the room, on the verge of tears. Arms were wrapped around folded knees. There was much on her mind, but she could only voice one thought at the time.
"But you have to -- I can't, Sapo can't!"

The elderly woman sighed. Infirmity had overtaken her frail body; it would not be long before she crossed to the other side. The brush continued to weave its way through the ebony tendrils.
"The risk is too great. Our numbers are too few to support a second chance."

The child gazed back into the fire. The words were ones she knew, but she lacked the vocabulary or the knowledge to keep up, to offer comment.

The child's mother trembled, her words shaky and barely coherent.
"But I can't... isn't there =something= you can tell her, or me?"

Just then, another figure stepped into the room. The older sister -- Sapo. Her hands were wrapped around the handle of a cassette recorder.
"Perhaps there is another way, Matakihi."

The Scarlet Dahlia looks down, trapped in a long-suppressed memory as verdant energy begins to creep its way up her form. Tears drip from her eyes -- though one would be hard-pressed to separate them from the gallons of driving rain heaping down upon her. The redness upon her skin begins to ebb away -- even the puncture on her shoulder begins to knit closed.

The Scarlet Dahlia is... puzzled, staring down at her hands, watching the veridian energy weave the kodachi wounds in her palms back together.
"... Sapo."
Older sister.

She looks over to Mamahaha, a frown pulling down her face. And then to the prone form of the Kamui-sent.

She lifts back to her feet with uncertainty. Why did this -gift- get offered... to her?

Her words come out with the same hesitation echoed in her gait as she closes the gap once again -- open-handed, this time, fingers splayed out so as not to alarm the feathered Guardian.

"... Thank you. I..."

She pales, water dripping off the peak of her nose, off her fingertips, off her shoulders. And finds, as she stares back at the young Arbiter, that words are insufficient.

COMBATSYS: Honoka has ended the fight here.

Though the rain continues to fall, the wind seems to settle in the aftermath of the final contest, the drops descending straight from above now rather than being driven before the fierce gale. The clouds above, still dark as night, seem to calm, the crackling electrical wrath that had coursed through them no longer felt. Her footsteps across the sand would each be answered with a soft splash and squish of saturated shore, but it would seem for now the worst of the gathered storm had spent its fury.

The approach is marked by the protective raptor, head lifting, all seeing eyes settling on the young woman as she draws near. Mamahaha - stepmother; is there any question of the creature's fierce instincts to protect the figure stirring at her side. Large wings stretch out, making herself look larger than life, but as the Dahlia extends her open hand, the bird of prey seems appeased on some level, wings folding behind her back, water continuing to bead and spill to the sand from off her feathers.

There would be another sound from behind the surviving victor, a splash of a foot in a water filled impression in the sand as the wolf that had observed it all draws near, stopping if observed, but eventually coming to stand at the side of Nakoruru as she finally sits up, right hand against her chest, head bowed, eyes closed in a wince. Whatever boons her sanctified calling might afford her, immunity to the piercing pain inflicted by that last attack does not appear to be among them.

Folding her legs beneath her, the robed young woman stands, shaking her head and opening her eyes to look at the victor, a relieved faint smile works its way into her expression. "Oh," she observes softly. "It worked." What just happened - the intricate, unforgivably narrow timing required to focus harm and healing at once - was not exactly something one gets to practice ahead of time, after all.

Her hand lowers to rest atop Shikuru's damp head while Mamahaha hops to her left arm guard with a flap of her wings before perching there and resting a feathered limb over the Ainu warrior's back. A gentle smile is offered each of the animals in turn before settling once more on the Scarlet Dahlia.

"I have approached this war we face with all my heart, holding nothing back... But I also know that there is no one for me to fight for. Everyone I ever knew, all my family, my friends..." She shakes her head, turning to look out over the bay as the ocean water calms. "Dead for well over a century." There is a long pause, a chance to make sure her voice will not betray the maelstrom of emotions surging at the admission before she continues. "The world has raced on all this time, but much of it is a stranger to me." She looks back at the Dahlia, lifting her right hand from Shikuru's head to rest lightly at her chest, "You can fight on, not just for yourself, but for the sake of anyone you have ever cared about. If there is anyone in this world important to you, every step forward you take from here must be for them."

She takes a half step back, tentatively so, as if unsure of her own footing at first, but finding that she's stable enough after the fight that worry is not needed. "I realized there is something else I can do, something I think only I can do now. Shang Tsung's machinations run rampant without Kamui Kanna to stand for our side. The capricious Sun Goddess, if that is truly what she is, has been no where to be seen. And even the mystic from the Americas has vanished... I fear to foul play. If it is your burden to continue fighting within the tournament, to fight for everyone, everything you have ever cared for, it falls to me to represent our cause before the Elder Gods so that the sorcerer's deceptions can be challenged."

A soft exhale escapes her lips, shoulders slouching briefly before she sucks in her breath and forces her way past it. She may have to fight a miserable war of words and rules rather than bringing storm and blade against her foes, but if that is what it will take... "In your fights ahead, I will lend you my strength. Together, it might be enough to surmount the trials ahead." She swallows, blinks, then manages a faint smile, an expression of hope, "No. It will be enough. It has to be."

Nakoruru turns to the side, gazing up at the cliffs overhead, water splashing down along a hundred tiny waterfalls on its journey back to the sea, Shang Tsung's palace clinging to the tops, a warlord's fortress for the army that has won for nine hundred years unchecked. "We are on the threshold of the final hour. The longer this drags on, the more of our allies will succumb to madness or lethal assaults. We cannot afford any delay."

As long as the Ainu elders can remember, the traditions insist that the dead be buried far apart from the rest, in graves marked only so that passing hunters do not use the final resting place as a foxhole. The Ainu believe that the spirits of the departed haunt their body, driving any unfortunate passers-by into madness; keeping them away from the village was essential. And where other cultures revere their dead, the Ainu strive to forget them -- severing connections to the past that the wily and devious evil gods might seek to use against them.

The Scarlet Dahlia and her ancestors had always been... atypical for Ainu. It's true that they lived within their respective villages, speaking the same language and practicing the same rites and rituals as any other Ainu villagers. But some of the bloodline were blessed with the ability to sense the souls of the living. And in some cases -- to speak with the dead.

They would be able to tell where the traditions were incongruent with reality.
They would also question whether that, too, was a trick of the echelon of mischeivous kamui.
They would be faced with Cassandra's decision -- to either be silent, or to be ostracized for sharing the truth of the future.

As far as the Dahlia had ever known, the kamui must have been too weak to make their appearance known; it was only out of rote memorization that she had seen the need to follow through with the stalwart traditions. It was regrettably easy for those of the Dahlia's age to deny the traditions -- even easier for those of her skills. And yet -- here on the island, the incongruent truths grow in number. The Akatsuki Advisor has had the opportunity to speak with ancestors of two hundred years prior: several whom had fallen in battle and one who had transcended it. Nakoruru is proof positive that the hands of the kamui still have pull upon the real world.

She had resolved to be a silent hand of her people, working on their behalf but never truly associating with them, out of fear. A machete, carving its way through the thick foliage surrounding the tiny Ainu community, only to be sheathed and stored when not in use.
But now... a sister.
From someone else, it would be easy to dismiss the words as manipulations. But from someone who appears to walk the same path...

A shiver runs down her spine at the splash of water behind her. Her focus had been solely upon the two kombatants -- the Ainu and the hawk. But as she extends her awareness behind her, she feels the same sort of bridle as that extended to Mamahaha.

The modern-day Ainu smiles, pointedly rubbing at her tender shoulder to ward off the unease of Shikuru stepping past her.
"Yes," she agrees, "Thank you, I would surely have trouble standing without your gift."

She adds candidly, after a moment's thought, "... I was confused at first -- in the heat of battle, all bows appear nocked."

The modern-day Ainu's eyes light up for a moment as the urge to lend a sympathetic shoulder rises within her. Perhaps Nakoruru's kin and clan -are- around, she might insist. Perhaps Nakoruru has descendants to speak of. Perhaps the 'Village of the Gods' is still around, despite the Dahlia never having heard any such place outside of the legends.
But the priestess had mentioned such words with an air of finality. The nuances of the behavior are not lost upon the psychic, nor is the remorse suggested by the manner in which Nakoruru turns away, unwilling to show her face for that moment of vulnerability. No, the younger Ainu assures herself: any rainbows of hope-filled platitudes from the younger 'sister' would surely be drowned out by squalls of denial.
There are tasks that even the gods cannot accomplish.

The Dahlia is content to listen to the avatar of the Kamui -- indeed, she nods attentively with each sentence, committing each word to memory.
Nakoruru's mantra of 'each step forward must be for them' is one that has resounded in the mind of the young Advisor ever since she walked upon her path. This gets the largest nod of approval.
But to hear that the sages of life have been forced into inaction... The Dahlia's lips press together tightly in concern. Kamui Kanna -- otherwise known as Haokah, or Lord Raiden. The Sun Goddess -- the Most Wondrous Deity of Youth and Charm that the Dahlia had encountered within her first few days. She is missing as well? But to know that Nightwolf has seemingly gone missing as well.... To say nothing of the passing of the unmentioned megalomaniac who the Dahlia had been -hoping- would steer Team Earthrealm to victory.

Agitation rises within the Dahlia, as she kneels down to retrieve her fallen sanjiegun. The picture that Nakoruru paints is dire indeed. She compulsively slakes the mud off of the lacquered finish, determined to put her hands to busy themselves away now that the battle has drawn to a close. Battle is simple -- but now she is forced to accept the grim reality -- that Nakoruru, in some capacity, wanted her to advance. That Nakoruru's path may lead elsewhere -- and that any strength lent her here might be the last she receives from the Stormbringer.

The cleaned -- if not dry -- sanjiegun is stashed back upon her hip. Fingers rake the moisture out of her shoulder-length hair, as it falls back like an ungathered curtain. The agitation begins to fade as she musters a reassuring smile, in contrast to the Warrior Priestess' ill tidings.

"You said earlier that there is no one for you to fight for. And yet, your steps are imbued with more fire and tenacity than anyone I have yet faced."
The Dahlia lowers her gaze, clasping one hand in the other before her chest at the three mighty warriors before her. "It is... troubling to hear that a legendary warrior such as yourself has fears. Together, though, I have no doubt of our success. Thank you for this gracious gift of your support."

The Dahlia has had many meetings with Nakoruru in the past -- and knows full well that she must move as the wind. No attempt is made to impede the Avatar of the Kamui -- just a confident, albeit weary, smile -- offered not only to Nakoruru herself, but to the two brave guardians watching over her.
"Time is short -- I won't keep you. May your venture be successful, that we may share our tale with those of the generations of Ainu to come."

Log created on 19:41:52 11/11/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 12:00:30 11/19/2016.