Mortal Kombat - MK: Daniel Jack and the Purifying Flame

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Description: The so-called "Dragon Lady" avoided Daniel Jack. The performer Honoka Kawamoto avoided Daniel Jack. The Scarlet Dahlia of the Akatsuki avoided Daniel Jack. But with the fate of Earthrealm hanging in the balance, the time for avoiding consequences has passed. On the bridge suspended over the spiked Pit, the two meet at last. "No more run arounds, no more snarking, no more cute sneers and wry evasions. No more!"

The Scarlet Dahlia had a tail.
That is to say, someone has been following her, creeping up on the edges of her periphery. And she knows exactly who this man is -- an Interpol agent with an infuriatingly roundabout way of interrogation. There has not been a single meeting with the man that did not result in frustration. Indeed -- it took almost all of her mental fortitude to keep from choking the life out of him with her own two hands.
Now, returning to the palace, she comes to realize that she has no longer any reason to delay the encounter.

An expansive bed of spikes serves as a moat, separating the mountainous foundation of Shang Tsung's palace from the rest of the accursed island. There is but one stone bridge spanning the gap commonly referred to as "The Pit." A bridge of stone, flecked with chips of crimson and black, remnants of blood left behind from hundreds of years of exposure to the harsh elements. It has seen its fair share of kombat: gashes of various depths criss-cross its surface, a roadmap serving to connect the pock-marked craters left behind by the victors and the vanquished.

The Scarlet Dahlia takes long, deliberate strides across the stone bridge, taking care to place each soft-soled step in front of the other. Each step resounds with the whispers of nine echoes, as the Dahlia is accompanied by soldiers from a bygone era. The soldiers are barely visible -- indeed, one might be forgiven for not seeing their wispy forms next to the brilliant scarlet of her cheongsam. The soldiers barely make a sound at all -- the silken cloth of their general makes more of a sound than their lacquered armor. But anyone who can sense the existence of souls would know that the souls are bound to her, faint golden threads leading back to the round soul shard suspended by the Akatsuki Advisor's right hip.

Ainu words are passed to the soldiers as the formation crosses the center of the bridge. While the soldiers stop, the Dahlia continues striding onward, unperturbed.

And then, as the Dahlia raises her hands to either side, the soldiers leap to either side of the bridge.
Gravity would request that the warriors impale themselves on the deadly spikes below.
The request is denied, nine times, as the soldiers hover at a safe distance.

The Dahlia continues striding onward, a low warbling emanating from her throat.
A battle-hymn, in anticipation.
The opportunity to fight not one, but =two= of her nemeses, is nigh.

There has been a long shadow cast over the Scarlet Dahlia.

Lingering in the distance corners, watching from the darkness. Listening, smelling, tasting her trail. She was marked the moment Zach Glenn had fallen. But there were spiritual forces in the path. The maiden, the avatar, the blind man, and Zach himself. Figures that formed a bulwark against any chance to lash out. He had been far enough to be subtle, close enough to be sensed.

And around just long enough to remember the scent.

The tendrils were the first warning. A black mist crawls along the bridge, snaking and writhing over the pathway over the pit. The crawling smoke yields before the ainu warrior, pooling in the craters, building and ebbing only a few meters from her. Several lines of smoke lash out towards the guards, grazing them. A crimson light builds before her, at the far end of the bridge.

And then the murmur comes.

Now is the time. Now is the moment. If you wait any longer, she will be too strong. She is like a child, like a mere little girl. Teach her and guide her and command her and Rip. Rend her SOULS from her, RIP THEM AWAY AND LET HER BURN INTO ASH AND BILE and make her yours. Leave her broken at your feet, and command her. Love her like I loved her, remember her as I remembered her. Do the right thing, find justice, find justice, and ROCK and BRING HONOR

The tendrils tighten on the bridge, as a figure emerges on the other side.

The frame was the size of a man. The presence was something more. It was too large. A writhing storm of spiritual energy towers over the dark shadow of a man, with some of the souls reaching nearly thirty feet in height. The bonfire of souls blazes over him, as he walks along the stone bridge, approaching the woman at the center. The black mist shudders. And like a gust of wind, the figure bleeds away, the frame collapsing into mist. The murmur becomes a roar as the voices surge across the bridge.

And he reappears before Scarlet Dahlia, from the depths of the pool of mists.

Daniel Jack wasn't. At least, he wasn't what he was. He was wearing the orange and purple silks, he was still bearing that burning crimson gem in his palm. But the transformation was far deeper than any simple imagination of The Butcher. His face was nothing more than a black abyss, the darkest depths of which the only lights was the burning yellow eyes, and stark white teeth, bared and in rows within the depths. The man, if you could call him a man, grips one of the spires on the bridge with clawed hands. He wiggles his fingers. Those eyes transfix on the woman, as he begins take in a deep draw of scent from her, letting her being flood his senses. The black mist snakes from the bridge, lashing towards her. Only to recoil, as a psychic shriek erupts around the detective. Daniel's expression doesn't change. Unaware, or unaffected. It speaks, he speaks, and the voice begins in a low, hungry growl.

"The Scarlet Dahlia."

"No-" The voice suddenly blurts out, the growl softening as Daniel's voice returns. The yellow eyes blink. She's protected, she's not weak. You need to ambush her, you need to strike out, you need to attack now, you need to kill her, kill her-

"You're Honoka, right?"

Gusts of wind are strongest in the center of the bridge, with no tall structures to impede their travel. The Scarlet Dahlia lifts her head up, the ancient chants still tumbling forth from her throat. Her ravenblack tresses are unsettled, disturbed from the tumultuous airflow; she had not restyled her hair since departing the palace several hours ago. Her right hand lifts up, gently brushing the straight tendrils of hair away from her eyes, casting her cerulean blue eyes onto the figure before her.

She recognizes the obvious presence -- the Interpol Agent with the garish fashion sense. She recognizes the more malevolent presence as its tendrils snake outward, brushing past her honor guard -- the spectral warriors remaining steadfast even in the face of terror given form.

The chanting continues, unperturbed.

Eyes widen, as she takes a wider look upon the faces of death. The dark skin of the agent -- and the even darker mass of pure evil.
And then, riding the gusts of wind, he is suddenly closer than before, enveloped within a surge of psychic energy.

Her steps and the chanting falter for a quarter-second.
And then they resume, her eyes locking onto the newly amber irises of Daniel Jack.

The Scarlet Dahlia -- she is identified. A smile tugs her lips upwards at that notion. Yes -- he recognized her most recent incarnation, despite the obvious change in coiffure.

But then that momentary look, that chastened growl, that marked shift in emotional state.

There will be no barking of orders this time, no de-escalation ... no.

Daniel may not hear the spirits blurting out the kill orders. But the Dahlia hears them as clearly as if they were spoken. The chanting falls off, the syllables torn away by the howling gusts of wind.

She then hears him speak another identity.
The first new identity she had given herself, many long years ago.
The smile twists into a broad smirk.
"Never heard of her."

And yet, she does not stop her pace. In fact, she hastens it, the quickening tempo of her steps matching the chaotic beat of her heart. Daniel Jack will not yield to her advance -- and she has heard the cry of the demons.

Her lips part in a feral grin. Her pace quickens with each step. The soul well on her right hip smolders with a brilliant amber glow. One hand reaches back to the sanjiegun at her side. She extends the first two fingers of the other -- then stabs them sharply towards Daniel.

"Your =hunger= is gaining the better of you, Agent Little!"
Her voice is low, rumbling like an approaching stormcloud.
"=They= challenge me to Kombat..."

She leaps forward, the three sections of the sanjiegun uncoiling with a crackle of thunder towards his abdomen. She is brutally direct in her strike -- but on top of that, a cerulean warrior on either side of Daniel suddenly rushes forward, each warrior moving to strike in the respective shoulder.

"And =this= is how I answer!"

COMBATSYS: Honoka has started a fight here.

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Honoka           0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Honoka equips a vibrant Honey Yellow Soul Shard.

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Honoka [E]       0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Daniel has joined the fight here.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

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

COMBATSYS: Daniel equips a effulgent Rose Soul Shard.

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

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the spread of the lightning nerves.

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

COMBATSYS: Daniel dodges Honoka's Thrown Weapon.

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

There was that spark of humanity.

The shape of human emotion, ready to be molded. Every expression, every reaction from Honoka could be seen on the visage of Daniel Jack. If anything, it was more reactive than before. Even the spiritual presence, overwhelming as it was, was just as easy to mold as anything. Daniel Jack was taking in everything that Honoka was revealing, was showing, was giving to him. A weakness.

But Daniel had new senses.

New sensation, new rushes of being. He could smell Honoka, sense her, feel her breath and even the faintest sweat of her body. It was impossible to see in the abyss, but he was drool. But the sound of the souls, the sound he was deaf to, was giving a different song now. Instead of pain, yearning. A kind of primal lust found in only the lowest of starving beasts, but with the emotional tenor of a man. The creature's soul was a quagmire, a corruption. And whether it was with the parasite, or with Daniel, or with the soul gem, or a combination of all three, it wasn't clear. But what was clear was the suddenly psionic -flinch- at only a few of her words.

Never heard of her.

"That's why I'm here." He mutters to himself, as he feels that sudden rush of full-bodied rage, hot-blooded anger. The expression showed it, the flare of chi around him showed it. Honoka had lashed out, and wounded him deeper than ever before, as the alpha strike comes. The surge doesn't come up like the Ainu does, however. As the rage boils out, so does the effigy of souls. The weapon flies out.

And Daniel was already reacting.

"Scarlet Dahlia, or Matsubara, or Dragon Lady, or whatever." Whatever. That's all that comes as a singular soul bursts from his body, the detective lurching hard into black mist. The man's form fades into pseudo-shapes; half real and half mist. A familiar shape. The weapon shoots past him, and the detective comes to form, slipping around the girl in the confines of the bridge to her opposite side. All with that growl boiling out. "I didn't get it. I still don't get it. I've been thinking a lot, it's easy when... well, when you feed."

When you consume their souls, Daniel.

"It's... damn boring trailing people now." Daniel flickers in and out of material, his form unstable, the souls unstable." It didn't use to be so bad, before the change, but now I can't stop losing my focus. Thinking helps, analyzing, especially going after you. I'm trying to piece together everything about you. It's an obsession, it's better than hurting people. And there's one question that's burning in me."

"What are you, Honoka?"

The detective misty form surges into shape, as he flings in with the full power of the detective. Daniel leads hard at Honoka, hammering in with a palm strike with the left, before slashing in with a hand chop with the right. "I know why I hate you, I know why I need to brought to heel, I know what I -want- from you, more than anything else." Those urges flood from the detective in raw emotional force, as crimson, orange, and black mist swirls around him. The detective can't stop himself. He forces in after a second palm strike, attempting to seize Honoka by her shoulder. "I know why... any of us would die here. But I haven't figured out what you are." If he gets a grip, he would pivot, whipping her around and slamming her into the stone bridge ground, finishing with a wrench on the shoulder. Not very effective to an acrobat. But Daniel just wanted to feel it, trapping her in place. All while speaking with a building rumble.

"What are you?"

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the veins of the burning blood.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka just-defends Daniel's Skiffle Drop!

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

Memories from her fight with the Butcher so many months ago come flooding back to her. The Butcher's excitement, his hunger, his passion for the performer's vivacious heart. A creature of sheer malice, unable to generate his own positive emotions, seeks to gain strength by robbing them from others. To culling the young in their prime.

The Butcher seeks to feed on her enthusiasm.
The Butcher seeks to drink in her passion.
She will drown him in it.

When talking with Daniel, the Dahlia was always impressed at how he managed to steer his interrogations with indirect, elusive questioning. To control the scope of the conversation, and thus, conceal his true motivations.
She was impressed, really. But it led to her becoming guarded -- defensive.
And while she appreciates being left to defend -- it is not where she is strongest. She may talk like a midlife yakuza boss at times, but the fact remains that she is a twenty-year-old woman prone to violent reassertions of her will. Forced into a corner, it is only a matter of time before that ferocity can come lashing out...

Which would be bad in an interrogation.
It is less of a damning statement, combatting the Butcher and her former confidante/interrogator on the bridge outside Shang Tsung's palace.

As her sanjiegun whistles through the empty space left behind by her challenger, he hurls out names like loose pages from a worn notebook. Scarlet Dahlia. Matsubara. Was that even an identity of hers? And Dragon Lady -- that one's of Daniel's making.
"You're grasping at straws, Agent! Next you'll be telling me I'm Vega, Ken Masters, and the fucking Tooth Fairy!"

The sanjiegun is retracted as she slams her heel into the stone, her sole squeaking against the battle-worn surface. She whirls about -- his supernatural evasion not going unnoticed beneath the psychic's keen senses. A scowl lights across her face as her hair whips about from the sudden 180.
"Tragic! Earthrealm's best fall dead at his feet, but oh no -- Daniel is BORED!"

The souls are overwhelming -- chaotic, swirling all over the place. The psion is in the eye of a whirling hurricane, but her warrior ancestors have taken point outside the winds, anchored to her by thin golden threads.

"What =am= I?" she snaps, the sanjiegun disturbing the mist as it whistles past. The weapon would do well against Daniel's chops were he not assisted by the fel presence -- but with it, the simple weapon of metal and lacquered wood is not in the right place. It cannot move as the quickly as spirits themselves...

The Dahlia's right hand flicks the sanjiegun into the air -- itself a hurricane whirling perpendicular to the force of gravity.
Her right hand smears into a wide arc of pink as it streaks forward -- meeting the palm strike head-on.
Her voice seethes with barely-mitigated rage.
The psychic force surrounding her open palm deadens the momentum from Daniel's strike.

Daniel -hates- her, now? Her face cracks into a broad smile. So he -knows- why he needs to be brought to heel?

Her left hand is surrounded by a ribbon of pink energy as well, elbow turning as she wards off the Interpol Agent's followup strike. It will feel like a backhanded strike to his palm. It will -sting- like a baseball pitched by a major leaguer.

She's grinning -- in full control of the situation, in the midst of the maelstrom. Casually, she reaches her still-glowing hand into the midst of the perpendicular typhoon at her right. With a jangle of chains, the cyclone resolves into the form of her sanjiegun, her hand clutched about its center.

"=I'm= the Scarlet Dahlia of Earthrealm."

She steps forward once more, deliberately and with full confidence. Still surrounded by that ribbon of pink energy, her left hand slams forward into the Interpol Agent's sternum. If that alone were the attack, it might not hurt so much -- but the avalanche of psychic energy powering her blow ought to be more than enough to overwhelm the connection between Daniel and his shadowy manipulator.
The =shade= would feel like it's getting deluged with twenty gallons of water.
=He= would feel like he's getting hit with a sledgehammer.

"And =you're= in my way!"

COMBATSYS: Daniel endures Honoka's Sarak Kamui.

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

That rich, luscious heart.

The hunger within intensifies. Daniel could feel himself being driven back, being driven deeper. Imagine that energy running through you. Imagine her vigor running inside you. As the first palm strike is caught, he could feel himself being buried. Let me handle this Daniel. Let me take her. I'll make her yours, and she'll be kissing the bottom of your feet.

It takes Honoka's mockery to bring Daniel back to control.

The Lady Killer wanted to kill to consume. The gem wanted to kill for company, for power. But Daniel felt the urge out of the simple fact he needed her to suffer. Someone like her didn't deserve to live. It was an abomination of justice. The hand chop is deflected, and he feels the sting. No, No I wouldn't kill.

You would kill.

We will DEVOUR.

As the assault is steadily reversed, the next attack was beginning to build. The black mist rushes underfoot, spreading out across the bridge as a thin undertow, in a... hemisphere around Daniel. Behind the detective, the bonfire of souls and chi builds, drawing long shadows in the illumination. The detective should be predictable. Steady defense. The problem was as she moves in with the counter attack, the detective... drops his guard. Sweeping his arms aside, he is open, exposed. The palm strike is unobstructed as it roars in.

And the blow connects.

The psionic surges through Daniel. But not too quickly. As Honoka connects, she might get the sensation of forcing through a vine-filled jungle. The souls, the shards within, -hoard- back at her, becoming a psychic film. How many souls did Daniel devour? How many did he fight? It wasn't power at this point, but raw numbers, a mire of souls swirling around. The point. And Honoka can feel it, she can feel the recoil, the severing, the withdrawal.

Something was wrong.

What was that?

Psionic attacks. Welcome to Zach and Friends, population your nervous system. They tend to cut right to the the soul, fry nervous systems, all that stuff. You must be feeling it more directly. Jesus, that felt like a sledgehammer.

Yeah, it definately felt like a sledgehammer.

Honoka could feel the animalistic shriek from within, the writhing of the parasite within. For a brief moment, the black abyss disappeared, revealing the face of a man in a flicker. The link was severed. But the voices.... that shriek was another voice, another seperate presence. A new sound, a new feel. But two voices roar out from the detective, as his features return to the abyss.


The rumbling that runs through the bridge is deep and primal, crossing layers of material and immaterial. "No more run arounds, no more snarking, no more cute sneers and wry evasions. No more!" Honoka was in control; she could twist and manipulate the detective, even more easily than before. But there was a difference now. A difference from every other encounter.

The difference was magnitude.

The arms slam down. The shockwave rushes around him, exploding outward like a tsunami. The surge of crimson and orange energy boils with black mist, tearing along the full width of the bridge. The souls mingle with the own inner energy, attempting to tear Honoka across the bridge, to wash her away. Magnitude. Magnitude of power, of hunger, of vengeance. From 3 sources.

Or was it just one?

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Daniel successfully hits Honoka with Chou Kasane Ate.

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

Daniel's earlier evasion carried with it two additional side effects -- he did not need to deal with the two spectral warriors which had been closing upon his shoulders. The cerulean-tinged spirits had continued onward in their respective paths, their ephemeral forms seemingly unaffected by the passage of coal-black mist. They had continued sailing forward another three meters or so before allowing the friction of air itself to slow themselves to a halt. Wheeling about, the soldiers adjusted their grips on the spears and glared back intensely at the Agent and the Soul Epicure empowering him. They hover at a safe distance, awaiting the next command of their General.

For the moment, they will have to wait on the psychic dynamo's attack to conclude. As waves of energy ripple down her arm, boring into Daniel's chest like a psionic auger, the Dahlia's face is contorted into a mask of defiant, overwhelming authority. How -dare- Daniel impede her travel -- how -dare- he threaten the Kamui's chosen warrior!

And yet, she is not ignorant of the lessening of his guard. She is not blind to the conflict of wills taking place before her, above and beyond her own weaponized presence. She can see that, for a moment, there may in fact be a separation between Daniel and the dark force animating his attacks, as the abyssal darkness draws back in that one moment.

She pushed too hard -- overcommitted herself. An eyebrow twitches as the Ainu general draws her hand back, curling it into a fist. The sanjiegun whistles...

And then the surge of energy rushes outward. She's too close -- the sanjiegun is, at times, a liability.
She hisses out a single word in that native tongue...
One moment, the two soldiers are behind her.
The next, they are slamming forward, impaling the tide of energy with the points of their spears. The mix of crimson, orange, and black -- a sherbert swirl of sheer terror -- is sheared into three separate wavefronts at the points of impact. The bodies of the spectral soldiers further serve to blunt the oncoming wavefront of energy: soundless screams erupt as the armor of the soldiers disintegrates into motes of golden and blue energy.

The Dahlia, for her part, had only been able to tilt her face away from the blast in that instant. Her shoulder and elbow are leveraged into the blast, but while the effort may be noble, her attempt to stand defiant against the blast proves unsuccessful. Assaulted by boiling mist and the raw chi of her aggressors, she is blasted backwards a good five meters, letting forth an agonized howl likely to attract attention from the nearby forest.

When the blast clears, she has been forced to take a knee. The shoulder of her long-sleeved jacket has been incinerated, the rest of the frayed sleeve falling to the bridge in tatters. Golden threads and the red silk are seared into the bare flesh of her arm; a scattering of blisters just beginning to bubble up along the acrobat's slender arm. Her face is ashen white -- her teeth grit as she attempts to block the burning sensations out of her mind.

In the wake of her shattered soldiers, the Dahlia pushes back to her feet. Her knuckles glow white as she tenses her arm and hand, shooing away the burning as she stabs her palm with her own fingernails.

The Ainu woman's response to the blistering assault is another 'cute sneer;' despite ragged breathing, the strong-willed Dahlia insists on sass-talking.
"Easy, Agent Little -- someone might think you've lost your temper..."

She spins sharply to her right, the sanjiegun letting out a howling dirge.
But then her knees tense -- her soft-soled shoes hissing against the heat of the battle-hardened bridge. She reverses her spin --
And launches forward rapidly! Her shoulders flare with the blue and gold -- it may be hard for Daniel to see her spiritual assistants carrying her forward with additional momentum. Her right hand is empty -- having relinquished the weapon to the hold of her left hand in the nimble reversal. Her hand glows with brilliant pink and purple energy as she rushes out to Daniel, hoping to wrap her slender fingers around his neck -- and if she gains purchase, she would most decidedly tighten her grip and wrench him violently to his right, with an aim of slamming his skull and shoulders into the bridge.

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the fortress of the steel will.

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

COMBATSYS: Daniel blocks Honoka's Niwen Horobi.

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

The howl telegraphs too much.

The rage, the bitter, the fury suddenly fades into pure esctastic delight at the sound of her agony. There is even a brief moment of peace in that moment of suffering, the maelstrom of energy growing gentle. It's the purest emotions, and would be very familiar to Honoka: The sensation of a satistified audience, watching and taking in the full performance of the actress, of the acrobat. The feeling fades as quickly as it comes as that sneer returns.

And the sputtering rage returns.

"You haven't seen me at my worst, Honoka." The detective responds as he sweeps his arms, letting the energy around him draw inward. At his best, this wouldn't have even happened. He knew this. He knew that this was nothing but scratching an itch, satisfying an urge he couldn't control. But it was the right thing to do. Now here he was, staring down the strong will.

Bringing the titanic resolve of Daniel Jack against her.

The detective was a bonfire of energy. The spectres, the weapon, everything had to be tracked. But he wasn't alone on this attention. Others were paying more attention. But Daniel's focus was the raw offense, the relentless assault. He wasn't catching his breath, he wasn't being steady with his approach. As she comes in, he doesn't fade away this time. He holds his footing, falling back into the defensive stance of Todoh, the core martial art he was built on. She gets her catch, partially. He catches the hand by the wrist as he comes to his throat, matching in tandem. He plays into her hands as he is wrenched to the right. But his arm was already there, the spiritual forces already buffering. He brings his arms to guard against it, smashing hard into the stone into the roll for the disengagement. Rolling across the bridge, he perks back up into a SURGE straight towards Honoka, rumbling a growl.

"I'm gonna break you down."

Surging with another palm strike, the black mist, the orange chi, and the crimson souls whirl around him, building into another wave. "Piece by piece by piece." He continues, as a hand chop comes, as the combination begins again. "I'm gonna... tear you to pieces, Honoka" Unlike before, the burning aura was pouring in now. The follow up elbow jab comes. And then comes the slicing. The rending swipes of chi at point blank, three of them, with overwhelming force. He was living up to his warning; he was going to rip her apart. He wanted the show.

He wanted her to perform.

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the strength of the killing fist.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka dodges Daniel's Ragtime Riot EX.

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

When she was blasted back by the blend of exotic energies, the Dahlia had plenty of other things on her mind. The searing pain shooting through her arm, for one -- the pounding of blood in her head, for another. But the curious response from Daniel was something that the juggling master was able to file away for later processing.

She makes her conclusion as soon as Daniel's sputtering rage returns.

His emotional state -- or is it =its= emotional state -- is inversely proportional to her own. When she is hurt, he is sated -- when she expresses smug confidence, he is innervated by a fresh wave of revulsion.

She lays it on more thickly, amusement lighting her eyes.
"Oh, does the well get -deeper?- This, I gotta see!"

Her fingers are stopped just centimeters short of coiling around the abyss-stained Agent, a burning hand wrapped tightly around her own.
The smug confidence on her lips turns to panic, her eyes widening in alarm as the fiery intensity of his grasp sears into her skin.
The actress-acrobat screams. "AAAAIEHAAA?!"
Is he even -attacking- her? Is this frail woman so allergic to his touch that even being close to him can wound her so? Even while following through with her move, she draws back in hesitation...

Blood continues to thunder inside her brain. The Agent releases her, as he rolls back and away. And the Ainu pulls her jaw shut, face returning to an iron mask of control as she leaps backwards, keeping her shoulders equidistant from the ground. The palm strike falls short -- and a fraction of a second later, her shoes hit the bridge again.
The followup elbow jab falls one moment short -- but by this point, the acrobat has leaned her upper torso backwards, the elbow whizzing harmlessly past her chin.
The heat is so close -- she hisses in pain as if she was -struck-.
Waves of chi slam downwards, sending spiderwebs of cracks through the sturdy stone. The Dahlia, though, has leveraged her momentum into a sideways cartwheel, her hands falling just astride the burst of flames.
Again, a scream -- the proximity of the heat such that the woman can even feel the pain through the roots of her ravenblack hair.

The sanjiegun's chain jangles, as the acrobat's inverted torso twists about, legs arcing narrowly out of the path of the riotous succession of attacks.

She is performing.
But he will have to settle for the satisfaction that if the attack =would= have hit, her screams would have been even more delicious, as the woman completes a second revolution amidst a shower of pulverized stone. A third would send her flying off the bridge -- and she shows no sign of stopping. ... Suicide, rather than allow herself to be devoured?

Far from it. The master manipulator has already summoned one of her spectral warriors to act as her aide. Two palms are imposed in the path of her cartwheeling feet -- one for each foot. The Ainu warriors each curl up sharply -- and in an instant, unleash their stored potential.

With the aid of her long-dead companion, the Dahlia's body straightens into an arrow, flying headlong towards Daniel. Her left hand, now infused with a massive outpouring of psychic energy, reaches outward for the join of his collarbones.

A hiss of air escapes her, expelled between clenched teeth.

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the fortress of the steel will.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Daniel with Iomante.

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

The Dahlia slams into Daniel with her blistered left hand, clenching tightly about his collar -- or what suffices for such. An asymmetric scowl tugs at her features as she jerks the sanjiegun forward, pulling all three sections into her right hand. The three-sectioned staff slams repeatedly into his face, his neck, his shoulder. One might think lacquered wood wouldn't hurt all that much, but the metal caps on the end and the chain threaded through each of them certainly reveal the strength of such a setup. Each strike hammers Daniel backwards, but her left hand pulls him right back for a followup. With each strike, the woman's loathing grows more intense, her spittle hissing as the moisture lands upon Daniel's garish orange lapels.

She says nothing -- her actions doing well more than words ever could.
After all, when Honoka performs on the stage of the Twilight Star Circus, she has nothing at all to say.

All throughout the attack, the dark souls empowering Daniel would be able to sense a tremendous buildup of energy, fostered by each ferocious strike. And just when it seems that the Dahlia has had enough, the macabre soul energy takes shape -- a blossom of red-violet energy, laced with veins of black. It begins as a small orb, but as the Dahlia shoves him away with utter disdain, it blooms into a flower of raw, whirling chaos. Powerful enough to levitate Daniel into the air, mighty enough for the winds surrounding it to begin to push upon the foul black mists themselves.

"You're wrong..." she rasps under her breath, flexing her fingers as she tilts backwards into a backflip.

When her foot cracks into Daniel's jaw, it will be accompanied by a tremendous explosion of psychic energy, the light harsh enough to imprint shadows of the two fighters onto the bridge itself.

The Dahlia lands on her palm, hunched over into nearly feral readiness for the followup. "Dead wrong."

She was entertaining.

As she overreacts, as she plays into his hunger, the primal rage fades into feral delights. Every scream was a round of applause, every whimper was pulling at his heartstring and loins. It was pure delight; and it was an obvious play. But how could Daniel turn down the show, even in this state, even as she deftly toys and plays out of the way of his every blow. As she finally goes over the edge, Daniel is almost drunk from the ecstastic pleasure of seeing her hurt and moan and pain and-

And she was coming back.

The spiritual essence around him suddenly surges around him. It was a shield, a shelter. As she rips through the mists, the detective struggles to stand fast. Struggles to stand against the incredible build up. Struggles against EVERYTHING. Daniel felt himself torn from his feet, and sinking deeper and deeper inside. The walls around him, heavy walls of pure energy. The mists recoil under the bridge. As Daniel flings across the bridge ground, rolling, it was almost an explicit crush. Smashed.

And he was broken.

The cacophony wasn't over. But the screaming, the suffering, the agony, the rage, the pain was pure gem. The body of Daniel Jack laid uselessly, limp. His neck was... his head was... his body was in the wrong shapes, the wrong angles. Broken. Explicitly broken, and shattered. And in the depths, there was a sound, a presence, a feel. Deep inside, was Daniel Jack. Buried. Buried away, and blind.

"... Heh heh heh..."

The presence changes. The limbs, the neck, the head slips back into shape silently. No pops. No cracks. Just... smooth shifting. The figure is standing. Not rising, not moving. Standing. Actions weren't initiated, only in aftermaths. A pink tongue dances along the teeth as the creature suddenly boils out with a familiar presence, and familiar confidence. "I remember when you were stuttering in fear and weakness, when you were weak as a child. And look how you have grown! Forget your pain, forget your suffering." The energy explodes out, ripping against the oppression of souls with the incredible strength.

"Just let me feast upon your soul, Honoka!"

There is a flicker. A flash. The creature is on Honoka, as the cacophony of souls becomes muted. The control was there, but something else was behind it. The second figure. The second force. Up close, it was slower, more stilted. A puppet pulling strings. It was hurling down a limb, as crimson and orange force comes out. A slash of pure chi, boiling out with raw primal force. And even up close, that draw comes. That hunger. That force that was pulling at her.

To set up what was to come next.

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Daniel's Mikansei Kasane Ate.

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

The consummate performer was making sure to put on a good show for her audience. In her last encounter with the parasitic creature, she had shown nothing but fear -- a -lack- of confidence in her abilities. But... even an insincere expression of her weakness seemed to have been enough to lower his guard, to pry her way into the soul of the Devourer.

The psychic dynamo was able to channel her act into an enormous wellspring of psychic energy. Her own energy compounded with his. And that wellspring was expended in the effort of shattering what was left of the guard, seemingly annihilating the malevolent presence.

She pants, emotion drained from her face as she cants forward, hands suspended from flagging shoulders. She stares upon the broken body.
She expresses disbelief that the fight has ended. There's no way it -can- have ended so quickly.
And just as quickly as she comes to that conclusion, the fel-animated man is standing again, clearly whole.

Forget her pain, it says.
Forget her suffering.
Let him feast upon her.

"Katunashka." Help me.
The syllables seem incoherent, but the motions that accompany it may be a bit more clear. Her hands stretch out to either side: an empty left hand, and a right hand bearing the tripled-up sanjiegun. Two cerulean spirits, one on each side, smear into streaks of light as they rush into her awaiting grip. Blue and gold streaks innervate the acrobat's body. The exhausted Dahlia's eyes alight with honey-yellow brilliance.
Invigorated, she shakes her head back to the ravenous presence uplifting Daniel's fractured frame.
As if to say: No, I am not a buffet.

The Scarlet Dahlia's body, empowered by the Ainu spirits, brings up the tripled sanjiegun to intercept the incoming. Lacquered wood shudders from the attack, while the wavefront of red-orange energy explodes into a shower of sparks as it collides with the spectral energy, dispelling a good deal of the kinetic force.

She's barely able to suppress the hitch in her breath -- whether she's acting or not is an exercise for the crimson menace to determine.

"Agent... did you ever stop to think... why I didn't run away again?"
She withdraws, her arms shaky from the defense. The energy ebbs into her arms, the visual effect subsiding as a cocky smirk flickers across her face.
"Did you ever consider... defending your Spider Queen?"

The Scarlet Dahlia gives herself just enough time to say the words before resuming her assault, in the full gaze of her spectral guard. She swings the tripled staves in a fierce uppercut to crack the Daniel-amalgam in the chin -- and should she succeed in that, she'd quickly reverse her swing and slam the weapon in a scything strike against the side of his head to knock him back down again!

COMBATSYS: Honoka issues a challenge!!

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Daniel with Random Weapon.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Honoka [E]       0/-------/------=|=======\==-----\1       [E] Daniel


The desire to consume was overwhelming. The effect was only strengthening her in the face of oblivion and despair. The assault is carefully caught, as the spirits keep in position, keep stronger. As the assault is intercepted, the detective seems ready to dodge. Already, his form was fading into mist. HOlding himself together was... becoming a struggle. The final blow comes, and Daniel Jack has, for a moment, an opening.

And she was countering.

The detective slips to evade, merging into black mist as he forces through one of the spectres... and he incorporates suddenly, as the spirit forces him into form. The blow comes hard into the chin, sending him up. The follow through, however, sends him down, discorporating into vile mist on impact. The figure slithers away in creeping cloud, before swirling about, Daniel steadily rising again as his form shudders, the body of the detective flickering in and out of shape in flashes. There was a gutteral growl bursting out from him, as the challenge comes.

"Why you didn't run away?"

And it is almost a whimper, as the abyss of his face returns to normal for a glimmer.

"What else is there at this point?"

Daniel wiggles his fingers, as he fixes his yellow eyes across. "What is there anymore. Before, we could have pretended. We did last time. And now there is just... standing against a monster. Standing againts me. Spider Queen, you mean Fio. I want to hurt her, torment her, because that's all I want now. I've lost something. Myself. My team. Interpol. What else is there, other than facing you at this bridge? If not here, it would be somewhere. Everything has transformed. And you, Honoka? You're just an itch I need scratched. It's pathetic, but there is nothing else. There is no grins, no glory, only smug satisfactions and sadism." Daniel lets out a sigh. It cuts itself off into a growl, as the darkness consumes the face again. Because if that's all there is, Daniel?

Let us have it.


Daniel Jack explodes straight for Honoka, lifting off the ground. It was a rocket, a jet, a barreling charge that was all too familiar to Daniel's opponents. The flaming fist comes around, aiming to catch her in the gut. And if he manages to hook Honoka in? He would carry her, ripping her along the bridge, both burning bright with the storm of energy. Souls and fire, shockwaving in the aftermath of the charge. It would stop; it had to stop. And Daniel would bring the charge to a halt on the bridge, sending her down into the ground of the bridge into a cataclysmic tsumani over the pair of them.

ANd if he doesn't catch her?

It's gonna be a walk back.

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the strength of the killing fist.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Honoka [E]       0/-------/------=|=======\==-----\1       [E] Daniel

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the glare of the vicious eye.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Honoka [E]       0/-------/------=|=======\==-----\1       [E] Daniel

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the fortress of the steel will.

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

COMBATSYS: Daniel successfully hits Honoka with Fantastic Todoh Punch.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Honoka [E]       1/-------/=======|=------\-------\0       [E] Daniel

What else is there?
He understands that -he- is the monster. -He- is the scourge that must be stopped. -He- has no grand aspirations, no delusions of grandeur. -He- has devolved to a state of simply reacting to primal urges -- more of an animal than a human.
Her response is quick -- a knowing incline of the head, coupled with a smirk. Smug satisfaction, and sadism.
"I'm glad we finally agree on something."

The darkness consumes Daniel once more, and the Dahlia makes an abbreviated hand gesture towards the soldiers hovering around the kombatants. A hop backwards is all the acrobat has time for -- and even then, it is not enough for her to avoid Daniel's attack, though it -is- enough for her to throw her arms and her sanjiegun in front of her for defense.

Her spectral army, though, is faster than the eye itself. The gap opened up between herself suddenly becomes as solid as leather and bone -- and instead of simply the face of the Dahlia, the soul-parched warrior will also find his fist ploughing through one of the soldiers, his arms and armaments raised in a manner similar to their general.
The soldier doubles over from the kidney punch, practically folding around the blow. The Ainu warrior slams backwards, his translucent form colliding into the spirit general and rocking her backwards. The soldier remains sandwiched between the two, his material existence burning away at the behest of the overwhelming conflagration.

The Ainu woman is not unaffected -- for she can feel every bit of her sacrificial soldier's agony, multiplied by the riotous flames pounding into her torso. She makes another hasty call, her empty left hand snapping into a pointing gesture...

Almost instantaneously, the form of Daniel is shoved backwards, as if slamming into a cresting wave. It does little more than slow the kinetic impact of the strike, but the flames buffet backwards with commensurate strength as the spirit form of another soldier is seen emerging from Daniel's back. Spent -- the soldier collapses to one knee, his translucent form becoming moreso.

Again, the process repeats, as the speed with which the Dahlia is flying backwards is slowed once again -- another soldier sacrificing his ability to put a stop to the trainwreck of energy. This time, it would be enough to separate Daniel's fist from the Dahlia's abdomen. It would be enough to leave behind a hole, punched through the midst of the tsunami of crashing flames.
The Dahlia's mouth hangs open, voicelessly at first -- then erupting into a gurgling torrent of blood. She remains standing, doubled over -- not wanting to give into her urge to shout lest she choke on her own fluids.

And then the wave comes crashing down onto her -- searing hot flames, slamming her backwards and knocking her legs out from under her. She collapses to her hands and knees, still clutching the sanjiegun with all her might....
As a fourth soldier stands steadfast above her, throwing his shoulder into the oncoming wavefront. His armor burns away at the contact surface -- and then his flesh, his bone -- a fourth sacrifice to prevent the Dahlia from facing this challenge alone.

Tears well up in her eyes, as the Dahlia spits out the taste of rusty saliva onto the ground.
Even with the world around her engulfed in soulflame, the Dahlia rises like a phoenix.

The Shadow Puppetmaster cracks a smirk, as her challenge was met -- his determination feeding into her own hunger, her inborn desire to manipulate the souls of others.
"There is more to life than surrendering to one's urges."
As she rises, the decimated tatters of her long-sleeved coat flutter away. The charred cheongsam was spared some of the brunt of the damage, but four finger-width scorch marks in the abdominal region show just how much power was brought to bear. As the Dahlia leans backwards, her sanjiegun erupts into pink and purple flames as a ribbon crawls out along its length. Her foot snaps out, aimed to catch Daniel in the stomach as she twists into a sideways revolution, using her momentum to twist herself into a side-axial flip.

The so-called dragon cannon would then be brought to bear, as soulflames erupt outward, their brilliant light smearing into a furious translucent arc of energy as the sanjiegun's leverage is directed towards knocking the last bit of resistance out of her opponent, as she kicks out of her multi-axis flip into a low crouch.

Should she connect with those strikes, she would lash out with one more -- a concussion wave of soulforce erupting from her open left hand, aimed at pressing Daniel backwards into the waiting sword of the soldier standing directly aft of him.

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the fortress of the steel will.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Daniel with Kamui Atemka.
* Attack Of Opportunity! *

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

COMBATSYS: Daniel channels the veins of the burning blood.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Honoka [E]       0/-------/------=|=======\-------\1       [E] Daniel


Every soul and every barrier before the Fantastic Todoh Punch was consumed. The assault doesn't even come with the name. Every soldier was destroyed, every blast back was consumed. It slowed him down, yes. But it did not stop him. The viscious assault roars in, attempting to devour and consume and collapse and crush. One soldier is sacrificed. Then two. Then three. Then four. The unstoppable wave was slowed down, and Honoka was giving up inch by inch, not yard by yard. Ultimately, she breaks away as Daniel crashes down, sending her hurling. She was hurt. He could feel it.

He could taste that same taste.

As she recoils across the stones, Daniel stops his charge, landing deftly on his feet. The momentum halts. There was no off-balance. And there, the detective responds to her directly, bluntly. "You don't have to die today." He sighs. Of course she does. Of course she has to die. You have to torture her, torment her, rip her to pieces. Utterly defile her, until there is nothing but scraps of shame and longing. No. "No." Daniel says aloud, suppressing the voices. "There is no need for death. I'm not here to kill you." You are. "I am... here... to humble you. You can just... yield and submit, and liv-"

There was to be no submission yet.

The explosion of power. It was purifying, raking across the whole of Daniel, within and without. The lash comes out, and the detective erupts into a pyre of energy in the face of the dragon cannon. Crimson souls lash out, though far fewer in scope and power than before. The voice inside cackles hungerly, as Daniel Jack sweeps his arm into the arc.

She's on the edge. She's so close. We're so close. Finish her. Finish her, and let us begin the humbling! Begin the humiliation. Begin th-

And then there is a howl.

Pain. Pain from behind. As the first lash is deflected, he is driven back into the sword behind him. Impaled in his very soul, in his very creature, the souls around him shudder. The follow up lash comes, as the wave of force is opened. Panick overtakes from within, as the pyre is consumed by the blast. And then, the body is. The voices within are silenced all at once, as the agony forces them to draw within. Daniel is torn through the soldier, torn through the guard as he is sent ripping across the surface of the bridge. The detective's body, the remains, are stretched across the stones, as dislocated limbs and ruptured flesh and clinging black mists. He was a corpse. An incident. An aftermath.

And Daniel.

And Daniel rises.

The endurance of Daniel Jack in the face of combat was approaching legendary. It is what drove him into this state. The parasite was broken, the souls around him were exhausted. All that was left was Daniel Jack. And he clings on, with the same unbreakable will. There was nothing to fight for. Nothing to stand for. Nothing to live for. Daniel could see with piercing clarity the absolute oblivion of his path. He was damned as a monster. He was cursed into its form. If he had traded places with Honoka... if he had... if Honoka was the monster, then... then he wouldn't put her down like a dog. That's the fact of the matter. Because she could be fixed. She could be helped. She could be good. And if she could be good...

Daniel could.

And that is something Daniel does not fail on. In the face of oblivion and nothing, there is only Daniel. And that's what he will fight for. The iron will of the detective endures to destroy, to savage, to fight. The form of Daniel forced into a corporeal state, pulling itself together through the resolve of the detective. It was regenerating oh so slowly, oh so subtly. The cacophony was quiet. The malovence was suppressed, only a whimper. Two of the opponents were crushed. There was only one left, with yellow eyes and dark skin and bared fangs. But the voice, the tone, was human. It was Daniel.

"What are urges, anyways?"

The crimson spark fades. The last soul. Energy writhes throughout the bridge, as the stone structure begins to.. crumple. The chi energy was causing the stone structure to shuder, to shake, to rumble. "Instincts. Intuitions. My entire life, I've run on intuitions and instincts." The detective becomes a font of orange energy, as the black mist spreads away from him. There was no crimson this time. But the power was papable, overwhelming. Devouring, just as devouring as it was before. The very stones were groaning as the power flows within. "That's all I am."

"And now I've been damned by them."

"Restraint. I wish I had that now. But you wouldn't understand. You never would understand how a single thought, a single spark inside becomes action, and then someone dies. The power, the trigger, the raw emotion, exploding out. Psionics wouldn't. You don't have emotions, you just control them. Dominate them. And then use them. I've lost control of myself. I'm clawing back that control. But breaking you, Honoka, leaving you in pieces, smothering that smug contempt, and dragging out that shred of decency and respect? That'll only help me get more control. I'll bring Team Interpol back to life, and everything will get back to normal. I'm fighting my demons Honoka."

"And you're one of them."

There is a shudder, and a crack, as the bridge warps. The bridge remains intact as a whole, and only. The stones burst from the surface of the bridge, aflame with the energy drawn into it. Daniel walks past the rising stones, as he sweeps his arms around him. The chi energy builds into a precipitation, running thick in the air. And Daniel slams his arms forward. And another tsunami comes, of stone and fire, boiling across the bridge straight back into Honoka. He was not dead. He was not dead.

He was not dead.

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Daniel's Mean Business.

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

He says she doesn't have to die. And yet, the tumult within and without his mind is chaotic, irrational -- unfettered. Murderous, but in a different fashion from Sergei Dragunov -- rather than clinical, focused, and unwavering, Daniel is unreadable, unpredictable.
And that makes him dangerous.

The Scarlet Dahlia's impressed, of course, by the manner in which Daniel rights himself. Incredulous, too -- her widened eyes stare back at the man who more closely resembles a broken marionette than anything human.
"There is no way you can..."
The words are spoken out in a hoarse, unbelieving whisper.

She can tell that the voices are gone. The stammering, the confusing cacophony: silenced.
It could be a trick. That's exactly the sort of thing she would -expect- from the Butcher, after her one and only fight with the creature prior to this. But she steps backwards, urging the sanjiegun into its whirling orbit as she keeps her distance from the approaching Daniel.

What are urges, he asks? What are intuitions, instincts? Stupid questions, to the Dahlia -- of =course= she knows what intuitions and instincts are, she is driven by them, reliant upon them. It is a curse -- just as he says.

The Scarlet Dahlia shudders at the rising tremors around her as she steps backward, feeling comfort only in the satisfying feel of angular momentum acting upon her wrist, keeping the sanjiegun in motion.

You wouldn't know, he says -- how it feels to act without restraint. To have a wicked thought -- and to have someone die as a result of it.
As soon as the thought registers, she interrupts his monologue.
"Y-you fuck right the hell off, Daniel..."

But she does not stop him. Sweat beads on her forehead -- the realization that he isn't saying this to make -her- feel bad, but to keep himself from visiting more pain upon her.

The Butcher may be dormant, for now. But his effect is still notable.
The hungering souls may have banished. But their effect on his mindset remains.

She tenses up. She can feel the intent a split-second before it manifests onto the bridge. Thought taking form in reality -- violently, and with no restraint, as spoken.

"You're fucking =wrong!=" she shouts back, snapping her sanjiegun back into her hand, and then slamming one palm into the stone bridge -- her only anchor against the rising torrent of rock and orange flame. Another two words are spared, and the blue spirits flicker out of view from behind Daniel -- only to reappear directly in front of the Dahlia.

In previous manifestations, they stood passive, acting only as barricades to the rushing force of Daniel.
This time, the soldiers are actively swinging their swords, coordinated like the tumbling tines of an eggbeater. Their swords glisten like gold, deflecting stone and flame alike away from their determined general -- and holding themselves in cerulean defiance.

The Dahlia's form erupts into pink soulflame, rushing outward from her palms and swirling around her in a tornado of energy.
It isn't just that Daniel's words have angered her -- but rather, that they have =empowered= her.
She flinches as a few rocks make it through her soldiers' guard, and through the halo of pale crimson flames. Her shoulders jerk, and pieces of her threadbare cheongsam are dimpled with each blow. But her rage -- her determination -- see her through the storm. Her face contorts with rage as she senses an ebb in the onslaught...

"The only time you've been right today..."
With her two spectral soldiers warding off the sides, she starts to rise to her feet, hand curled around the sanjiegun...

But while her intention appears to be the sanjiegun, in all actuality, she unleashes the same attack that Daniel may remember from the first time he met the Dragon Lady.

A solid concussive assault of psychic power, devoid of the markers of 'power' normally associated with chi users. There is no flame -- no sign of anything except the rocks violently vacating its path, exploding into an array of pebbles.

The attack is powerful enough to dent metal. It would be forceful enough to break bone -- and that's if it weren't also powerfully intertwined with the emotional triggers of nausea and gastrointestinal discomfort.

"... was when you kept your idiot mouth =shut!="

COMBATSYS: Daniel blocks Honoka's Ishirishina.

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

That's the saddest part.

Daniel Jack was possessed by a familiar force. Everyone, from Tess to Zach to Honoka, everyone who had seen the butcher, could see the corrupting influence on Daniel. Or maybe it was the souls. There was such much heavy on Daniel. He was a monster. It was as clear as the lack of nose on his face that he was. But as the barrage dies down, as the frontal assault fades, the counter attack builds. For all this power, one thing was becoming clear.

That he wasn't the Butcher.

Just another lost, confused Darkstalker, with the misfortune of not only being a murdering sadist , but also Daniel Jack. He might have been forgiven for the first, but there was nothing to defend for the second. Shadows of malice dominate him as the two soldiers stand fast. The blast comes, and Daniel brings his arms to bear, crossing them before him as he stands fast against the assault.

It's a fatal defense.

Daniel tears apart, only a little bit. The man's form collapses at the impact point, doubling over as he is blown backwards across the stone. A second kill. In his old form, Daniel would have been dead twice over now. The detective is so stretched out like before, isn't so dragged out. But just as broken. There is silence again, that fell silence. Longer this time, too long. But the truth was obvious before it happens. The presence, the aura, the light of orange chi. The shifting of body and bone into black mist.

And Daniel rises again.

"I'm not wrong." Daniel groans, as pieces drag themselves together. The tenacious endurance of the detective was there, no matter his form.If Honoka is going to bury Daniel, she'd need a coup de grace. This time, however, it was even slower. Every effort to bring himself back up was more and more of a struggle. If there was an opening, it was grower wider each time he was going down. It wasn't a second wind. It wasn't even sheer toughness. It was simply the resolve to keep going, and a body that wouldn't quit. Not anymore. He was up again, speaking, fighting.

"I'm just... trying."

Orange energy floods around him, as the features of his body blur in black mists over his injuries. He was held together by prayers and resolve, that same unstoppable will that killed him the first time. Death and death and death and death. He was slow now, every effort was a struggle. In the end, there was just Daniel. He draws his right hand back, as his yellow eyes look almost sad as he forces forward. "Trying and failing, Honoka. There's nothing left but me. And the things I want to do to you are damning." He approaches, as the chi floods over him. Do me a favor. Next time you knock me down? Don't give me a chance to get up again. I'm not gonna stop otherwise. seal me, stop me, maybe even kill me. I don't know if I can die anymore. I don't even know where I'll go. But I only know one thing."

"That you'll scream if I make you."

Daniel bursts forward, bursts with sudden lurch between the guards. It was fast. It wasn't too fast. Chi energy flares around him as he flattens his drawn back hand. ANd then he unleashes the attack, unleashing the singular, flawless hand chop. Perfect. Precision. Aimed squarely for her collarbone, down to crumple it throughout the whole of her body. For all the flash and power of all the previous attacks, this was deceptively simple. But Daniel's eyes were like daggers, transfixed, focused dead upon her. Locked on with righteous precision. It was an overextension. It was a gambit. It was a gamble, it was a dare. It was a coup de grace, one that he demanded from Honoka, the one he suggested from Honoka, the one he might even have wanted from Honoka. It was the moment of truth. Honoka could either stand in the face of the monster she wanted Daniel to be.

Or she couldn't.

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka reflects World's Greatest Hand Chop EX from Daniel with Tokap Chup Kamui.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /                             ]
Honoka [E]       1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0       [E] Daniel

Daniel had told the Ainu woman that she had no emotions. The very possibility of such an idea enraged her -- how can someone who uses her feelings to attack people be devoid of emotion?! But there was truth in that statement. Her capricious -- some might say, immature -- attitudes seem to change at the drop of a hat, making moot the very point of expressing any sort of emotional responses. For when the highs and lows are so varied, the net effect is stochastic noise...

Indeed -- as angered and outraged as she was at being told she was without emotion, without soul -- the outrage had bled off quickly with that outpouring of psychic energy, returning her to a state of equilibrium. Her face has turned blank, as the master manipulator dons the mask that hides her intentions.

Daniel may take that as proof that he was right -- that anger and hatred had fueled her strikes, but that she was a blank slate -- only using emotion as a weapon.

Perhaps he is right.

And yet -- here he is. Rising yet again before her, his body ravaged and distended into a wraithlike mimicry of human form, calmly and rationally explaining his predicament to her. He should be dead three times over, and yet, he remains, staring back at the Ainu tempest's remorseless eyes.

Ravenblack hair flutters about in the gale as the black mist crawls, as the orange flames rise again. The crimson of her tattered garment stains with the Dahlia's own blood. It will be of little use to mend the garment, at this point -- the rips and tears in its surface number are almost as numerous as the stitches holding it together. And yet -- like the Ainu woman herself, it continues to hold together as a whole.

When he tells her this time that he wants to do terrible things -- that, she believes.
She can feel it to be true.
Moments ago, he had that hurting her would help him regain control. Selfish biases aside, she still believes that it won't.

He asks for her to seal him.
Her lips turn to a frown.
She is no Ichijo. No seal she puts forth would suffice.

He asks for her to stop him.
Her frown fades, lips fusing together into a thin line.
She sees the hurt in his eyes.
She sees -past- the konflict itself, peering straight into the tormented soul.
She sees the black mists of the Devourer flickering.
She can feel the presences of the hate-whisperers fading away.
She knows that they will return -- if only he is able to fuel their energies.

He asks for her to kill him.
She knows that there is no one left to pull his soul from the abyss.
She knows that destroying the body provides the best chance of eliminating the Butcher that haunted their shared past.
She knows that without a vessel, the malevolent souls will find a new vessel -- and unlike Daniel, she -can- control them.

Her eyes soften.
For she also knows -- that some point in the faraway past, this very same man looked after her like an uncle -- perhaps even moreso than anyone in her own bloodline.
She knows she has said horrible things to him, across all her manifold identities.
She knows that he is aware of said identities.
And she knows --
-- No, she does not -know-. She -believes- he is forgiving her.

His flames rise.
She stares back, her palm rising to present a blossom of pure soulflame.

His hand draws back.
Her mouth whispers the words of a dying language.
Her knuckles glisten white around the triple staves of the sanjiegun.

He declares his intent.
Though her heart beats with the rapidity of a drum in the midst of a yukar's climax, her response is patient and measured.
"Try me."

His hand rises.
Her hand falls, leaving the burst of soulflame hovering in the air.

He charges forward in the purest exhibition of the hard style of Todoh-ryuu kobojutsu. Powerful. Direct. Unstoppable.
She takes a half-step back, carving a pirouette in the expressive style of a circus performer, her left hand leading the turn while her sanjiegun trails behind.
The pink soulflame smears into purple arcs, trailing behind in the wake of its master's movements.
Orange flames well up in advance of the Mightiest Hand Chop, splaying out to either side from the sheer intensity of the strike. The streaked tendrils of purple flame intermix with the orange wavefront of the chop, weaving together into a striped melange of brilliant colors.

One more centimeter, and it would have rocketed past her open guard in the midst of the pirouette -- slammed into her hip, even if it had failed to connect with her sternum.
But there was someone beating the handchop to the punch -- a spectre of blue trimmed in golden thread, practically invisible at such speeds. Urging the Dahlia's hand further and faster.
The fluid flow of the intermingled flames is disrupted by a shockwave of gale-force wind, as the tripled-up sanjiegun smacks into his hand from the side with bone-shattering force.
The unstoppable hand is not immune to an irresistable force in a contrary vector. The zephyr-like spirit and the rotational momentum of the Dahlia tear the downward guillotine of the Todoh-ryuu master away from its mark. His task completed, the spectral soldier continues thundering on, ushering his general into a rapid spin.

But why? Why could this happen at all? How could the fluid motions of the Dahlia oppose such force?
The answer lies in the flames, blasted away at the instant of impact -- and conjugating with the soulfired energies of the Dahlia as she spins.
It was a risky maneuver -- but one which ultimately defines her role in this martial kombat.

"You had your chance to redeem yourself to me, Daniel."
Her words echo out as she spins -- a rare gift from the normally-mute circus performer.

The revolution occurs in but an instant. The orange Todoh-ryuu flames have not been dispelled or scattered -- just redirected into orbit around the Dancing Flame of Twilight Star Circus.
And just as quickly as they had come, so quickly does the orange-purple swirl of energy come rocketing back at Daniel. But it is not alone -- indeed, the rotational momentum is ushered into Daniel by a thick line of gold -- the spear of the last of the Ainu defenders.

It could have been a fatal blow -- and indeed, the tremendous outpouring of energy to the stomach might -yet- be fatal.

But the Ainu woman chooses that time to dig her heel in, aboring her follow-through and allowing one end of the sanjiegun to rocket outward, describing a straight line perpendicular to him, parallel to the shuddering bridge. It hovers there for a moment, the chain pulled taut, before falling with a jangle.

"... Trying is better than nothing at all."

Adrenaline pumps throughout her veins.
Time slows down, snaps everything into equally sharp focus.
The human brain is not meant to handle this state for more than a few seconds at a time.
It will not need to.

It was the last attempt.

The hand chop drives hard down. It would have shattered her hip, if it connected. Not enough to kill, but... to be left crippled in the path of Daniel would have been fatal. That's what the whole technique was about. Disable. The addition of the feral hunger only created a second variable: And Destroy. And yet, as the full force comes crashing in, the power is reversed. The flames well up around him. The remaining soldiers make their move. And Daniel's expression is... unchanged. This was no longer about him. This was about Honoka. She would yield now. Or she wouldn't.

She wouldn't.

The flames could be endured. He could force through the flames, with his diminishing presence. But the chop is caught. The ghosts, the spectres, the shadows, were taking the blow. The flames were building, as the weapon strikes his hand driving it back. His body language was recoiling. He was forcing it back, forcing the hand chop to continue. The only thing that stops it is the explosion of the soul flame, the blast that breaks the world's greatest hand chop. It was a deathblow, another fatal blow to the mix of fatal blows. Daniel's abdomen is torn clean through, as he is sent hurtling back, blasted across the stones again. Daniel lands on his back, face up, as black mist boils from the gaping wound in his abdomen.

He doesn't move.

The voices were building again. They should be silent. But there was that sensation. That -yearning.- The sense of a vessel, of being wanted. The murmur begins around Daniel. Honoka was the subject again, but not to consume, but to serve. The inevitable was coming around the broken body of Daniel, as the gem continues to glow crimson, building bright and brighter, yearning for the mistress to claim her prize. But the mists draw in- But the mists draw in.

And Daniel rise-

And Daniel rises-

And Daniel-

Daniel rolls over, his body only half-formed. Black mist oozes across the stones, sucking in with every breath, only to ooze back out again. He was coming back again. The unstoppable will was being just that. Blow after blow after blow after blow, he was coming back, slow and meandering. He comes to his knees, his face down, bleeding streams of dark mist. "You'll... You'll have to..." Daniel Jack hisses. "You'll have to... do... better than that, Honoka." The misty form was basically all that was left, the shape dragging itself together with the full force of will. He was scrapped off just as bad as before. But he wasn't forming himself perfectly. He wasn't shaping himself. The gem begins to burn bright. "F.... f...." He sputters, as the mist and flame builds around him.

"... Finish me, Honoka." Daniel growls, as he begins to raise his head up. And he locks those yellow eyes up into hers. The chi energy begins to build again into his limbs. "

"... Or I will finish you."

The loose sections of sanjiegun hang from the one clutched tightly within Honoka's right hand.
It shudders. A metallic hum sounds -- that of the resonating chain.
The Scarlet Dahlia is quaking, no longer able to contain her anxiety.

There is, undoubtedly, an audience. The bridge spanning the pit is one of the most visible, most obvious landmarks on the island, itself a waypoint between two diametrically opposed realms. Assuredly, the clash of wills -- of orange flames, crimson heat, and black ichor against the empassioned soulflames -- would have drawn attention from the palace. It would have raised the hackles of the beasts residing within the Living Forest. It would have captivated the souls of the Graveyard, of the Wastes. And it may have even stirred the primal forces within the Tyrant Sorceror's watchtower of destruction.
This is a learned response to anxiety, the demands of a twice-nightly performance schedule.
The spotlights are lit. The audience holds their applause, awaiting the finale.
All eyes are on the Scarlet Dahlia.
Or maybe none are. Adrenaline narrows the field of vision to sixty degrees from its usual one-twenty. The blood pounds in her ears, drowning out sound. The audience's presence is reduced to a logical surrogate -- a presence that the brain will not allow to be a distraction from the task at hand.

It starts as one voice, bubbling and gurgling forth from Daniel's fallen body.

THUD. The Scarlet Dahlia's worn sole lands upon the stone bridge -- a faint whisper compared to the shudders that rushed through it mere moments ago at the behest of the Todoh-ryuu practitioner. But to the Dahlia's amplified senses, it feels like a boot made of solid concrete slamming into the ground -- her feet moving of their own accord, independent of the thought.
Driven by /necessity/, no longer by her own free will.

Another voice is added, as breath hitches in her opponent -- her friend's? -- chest.
THUD. Another step.

More voices. The Butcher is waking -- no longer incapacitated by the rush of psychic energies from the Ainu dynamo.
THUD THUD. Her pace quickens.

More bleeding. More decay. Daniel's voice rises above the cacophonous babbling of voices surfacing back into awareness.
THU-THU-THU-THUD.... Before she knows it, she is off and running, clearing the distance. Her face is contorted into a rictus mask of determination -- no judgment, no anger.
Driven by /necessity/.

Better than that, he says. She can barely hear him over the sound of her own feet as she races over to him.
The last gasp of a warrior who can see the writing on the wall.
The fevered words of a friend whose senses are similarly honed by adrenaline, sobered by the onset of...

/ Finish me, Honoka. /
That name -- the way he says it -- it no longer sounds right. Perhaps it no longer suits her.
Flames erupt before her eyes -- unhailed, unbidden. A beautiful, scarlet, dahlia of flames, keeping pace with the charging tusukur.
Her eyes water. Perhaps it is from the heat. Perhaps it is from memories.
She does not know -- she is executing on instinct, on auto-pilot.
Driven by necessity.
And before she knows it, she has taken flight.

She killed the Spetsnaz Agent.
Another flower, the Lotus, killed the Delta Red agent.
And she gave her blessing to the traceur who would surely have killed the Spider Queen by now.
None of Team Interpol will raise Agent Daniel "Jack" Little from the dead.
None are left.

The sanjiegun flies out of her hands. But it does not fall -- it spins in place, obeying her will as it has millions of times before.
The central staff whips around the scarlet dahlia of flames in the center. It orbits around -- just like the wands around a prepared diabolo -- the Excalibur Genocide.
At what point did the sanjiegun work up to speed -- at what point did the dahlia come into existence? Was it just... willed into being?

The remnants of the Butcher are awakening.
The negative influence of the soul is awakening.
And Daniel is spending the last of his energy not to attack Dahlia.
But to warn her.

She needs to exterminate the Butcher.
She needs to collect the souls.
He begs for a mercy killing.
It -must- be done.

The Scarlet Dahlia -- the woman, and the flower -- hover in mid-air, held aloft by the improbable razor's edge of clarity brought about by adrenaline.
Her fingers splay out, quietly tweaking the momentum of the spinning sanjiegun as if by invisible strings.
Driven by necessity.
The flames explode outwards -- the two loose ends of the sanjiegun pull inwards, directing the energies like a nozzle towards their target.

The Avatar of the Kamui may not be able to wield the flames, but she gave the Dahlia her approval -- and by proxy, the approval of the Kamui themselves.
There is the glimmering doubt, the cry of a twelve-year-old girl in an abandoned home.
This feels wrong.
And yet, it must be done, if the Ainu way of life is to be preserved.
It must be done, if Earthrealm is to survive.

Purifying flames of soul energy, refined by the Dahlia's unyielding sense of purpose.
Left to their own devices, the soul energies comport themselves as flames, each cinder and mote bursting free from one another at the earliest opportunity, floating freely into the air.
But the Scarlet Dahlia -- or Honoka of the Dancing Flames -- will not be leaving anything to chance.

The Butcher must be incinerated clean from the vessel known as Daniel Little must be burned clean.
The souls' connection to Daniel must be severed, if their power is to be claimed.
For his salvation to be complete, Daniel must become a martyr for his cause.
Half-measures will not free his soul from his eternal torment.

The energies will not roam freely. They, like the spectral soldiers whose forms will be recovered shortly, march in lockstep to the commands of the spirit general. They will organize themselves in one direction, for one ultimate goal.

The petals of the dahlia twist and tear away, the tiny fragments ordering themselves into a solid stream of soulforce. Crimson at the core, purples and pinks shimmering at the extremities, the power organizes into a coherent column of raw, undifferentiated psychic power -- the essence of purpose, given tangible form. The column roars downward at a diagonal from the sanjiegun's spinning locus towards Daniel Little, seeking to purify him utterly.

Given such divine purpose, each mote will slam into his broken body like a grain of sand. Alone, each impact would feel like a pinprick, needling a hole into his essence. But the accumulation of millions, billions of particles all acting in sequence will act just like the flow from a sandblasting gun. Each layer will be peeled away with the cleansing force. Fabric will be ripped free, tearing away the outer layers of fused skin, ravaging the bones and sinew closest to the surface.

The fel mist will not escape the wrath of the psychic onslaught, as its true horrir is directed not to the physical realm, but to the psychic. By comparison, the body of the Interpol Agent gets off easy. For each organ that is torn apart, the vestiges of the Butcher will be torn in opposite directions by the undifferentiated energy -- unable to glean benefit from the pain, unable to embolden himself from the pleasure. For each fragment of flesh torn from bone, so a dozen invisible tethers have been ripped away, casting the crimson souls loose from their moorings. The parasitic presences will be swept away with the overwhelming tsunami of purifying force. Unlike the tattered bits of flesh, bone, and gristle that are ripped away, the intruding souls may not be drawn downward to the haunting crimson-tipped spiries of steel below, but they will be nonetheless cast adrift into the vastness of air and space -- far from the twisted, distended remains of Daniel Little as they are eroded away, bit by bit.

As the purifying flames rush outward, threatening to swallow Daniel's body whole, to burn away the last vestiges of the bubbling ichor, to sever the threads binding the captured spirits to him -- only the Ainu leader's ominous, solemn words rise above the tremendous roar of psychic power.

"May Irura-Kamui lead you to a favorable home in the afterlife."

What are you.

Excuse me, scuzzy?

Don't pretend you don't want to explain yourself. I know you do. We know you do. You want to justify everything. You want a reason for everything. And you just admitted there is no reason. You wanted to kill her because it felt good. You wanted to hurt her because it felt good. Or because she deserved it. Or because of revenge. Because its all that, or nothing. And you got there. You reached nothing, you reached oblivion, you reached the true self. And now you're all but giving her everything to kill you.

Well it sounds like you don't know me.

Daniel Jack rises up into a stand as the motes of soulflame begin to pierce him. The orange energy swirls around him, as each piece cuts through him. Daniel Jack draws back his arm, as his gaze remains transfixed. "Kasane.... Kasane..." He rumbles. There was no time to waste. He had to keep going. He had to keep fighting. Even as the coup de grace begins, Daniel makes no effort to defend himself. He would interrupt her. And then he would win. Or die trying, maybe.


You are so full of bullshit, Daniel. I know your deepest, darkest desires. You want to do more than just humilate her. The depths of your depravities and humilations are endless. You are black, Daniel, your soul is black. You are every vile and disgust she wills in you. You are the monster she wants to rend and kill. And you have it. You have it, and you can fight for that. You can fight for every bleak and bitter and filthy thing that you boil out of you. And yet you still want to stand for nothing. NOTHING. You feel NOTHING against this. You can't even taste her sweet agony and pain anymore. You are numb. Why? Why? Why do you numb yourself?

What are you?

The flesh peels away around Daniel, as the purification begins. He resists, as he should. He struggles against it, with the faintest wisps of his strength. Already, the souls begin to drift away from him. Already, his own orange flame began to wane against the force of the soulflame. Each piece of him is broken into grains of sand, as the Butcher's corrupt influence is torn away. Daniel still stands, but the power wasn't there. The dark skin is gone, leaving only black shapes of muscle and bone. The yellow eyes become yellow lights, before winking out. It was consumption.

I still don't understand.

You don't want to die, Daniel. You do not. You are making her think this is some kind of mercy killing. But you still think you can be fixed, you think you can be rid of me, you think all these things, all these fantasies, and you still fight. You have nothing, and you still fight, and you have accepted that you will be seared. You failed to revive your friends, and now, no one is left to bring you back. You can't have it both ways. You can't be honorable and a sadist. You can't both. So tell me, Daniel.

What are you?

I'm at peace, scuzzy.

Soon there are only bones, blackened and misty. But even those are eaten through by the soul flame, piercing through it like swiss cheese. There was no essence left of flesh, there could be none. It was complete and utter oblivion, it could only be that. But there was that conversation, those thoughts. Soon the bones melt away, as the last of Daniel's physical bearing finally falls upon the stone. A single hand of white bones, with the red gem embedded in them. Something that would not be purified, would not be destroyed. Instinctively, as it lands, the fingers wiggle. The gem's light goes dim, but does not fade completely. Only the faintest shadow of light remains, as the souls murmur. The last remains of Daniel Jack.

Besides. Fio will bring us back. She'll always be there for us. She'll always be there. This is never the end. I don't believe in ends anymore. There is always more. Always something. Always the future. Always something worth living for. You'll understand that soon. I'm not dead yet.

I'm not dead.

COMBATSYS: Daniel can no longer fight.

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

Honoka of the Dancing Flame is well-versed in the mechanisms of channeling her psychic powers in such a climactic fashion. Flames want to be free -- harnessing the intensity of the flickering tongues and bending that energy into a cohesive column takes an immense amount of focus and concentration -- and no small amount of practice.

The technique is familiar -- rote.
The -extent- is not.
The power granted her by the Ainu forces was overwhelming. Even... intoxicating.
As she surveys the scene before her, the corners of her lips tug upwards -- the very slight suggestion of a smile.

The Scarlet Dahlia's energy output falls off dramatically, the trailing end of the column fading away to a faint shade of fuschia. As the sanjiegun's spin begins to falter, the Dahlia reaches forward to snatch it out of the air.
She descends back to the earth lazily, not deigning to bother with the pomp and circumstance of a flip to slow her fall. The exhilaration in her heart and the faint smile upon her face both fade away as the fatigue of the ultimate test of her powers catches up to her.
One foot taps down, and almost instantly, her knee bends. Lowering herself down gracefully, she finally allows the jangling chain of the sanjiegun to lie flat against the stone of the concrete bridge. How many centuries has the span remained here, resolute and steadfast against battles of similar grandiosity?

But even as she lowers herself, loose ravenblack hair fluttering about in the harsh gale, her blue-tinted gaze remains locked upon the last remnant of Daniel.
The skeletal fingers. And the crimson stone.
She pants, drawing in her breath. The flow of adrenaline ebbs, with the danger fading away. And even as her spirit continues to soar with the heady rush of excitement, her body is screaming its demand for rest.
Not... not yet.

She stares, fixated, upon the crimson gem. She sees her eyes, her face, reflected within the facets, framed by the bleached white phalanges of a man who, depending on the day and the location, could have been her greatest ally or her most deadly enemy.

She stares further into the gem.
She sees twisted, macabre reflections of herself staring back.
She sees twisted, macabre caricatures of haunting, unfamiliar features staring back at her.

The Scarlet Dahlia flicks a smirk with the realization that her mind is simply playing tricks on her.

Or is it? Because at that very moment, the reflections break into riotous, jeering laughter. They, too -- doubt her.

With one single motion, the Scarlet Dahlia vaults forward, her ravenblack hair trailing behind her. One, two, three long strides to close the gap. The skeletal hand is swept off the ground, the crimson gem flashes with light as it is held aloft, blotting out the distant clouded sun from her vision. The honeyed yellow gem fastened to the Dahlia's hip resonates with the same frequency as the gem in her hand, only brighter and more intensely.

The skeletal phalanges are squeezed together into a rough cylinder -- and even then, they cannot help but wiggle in the process. The Dahlia stares at the hand clasped within her own hand, the heat of the crimson soul gem pressed firmly against her palm.
It's nothing, she reassures herself, her face contorting with pain. Anger. Rage. Her palm responds -- a pink blossom of soulflame erupting forward. Not enough to destroy -- just enough to shunt the emotional fury into a more manageable form. To allow it to boil off into the air arround her.

She does not hear the words from the souls within -- but she can tell there is a conversation taking place. Are they talking -to- her? -About- her?

She squeezes harder, the pink soulfire burning brightly.
"It is finished, Agent Little."
The words come easily, borne of confidence.

Her hand still engulfed in flame, she turns away from ground zero, the memory of the site already baked into her memory.
There is no need to look over the edge, into the abyss of blood-caked spikes. There is nothing she needs... there.
There is no need to look for the silent audience watching from afar. If anyone has business with the Dahlia, they will have the opportunity to challenge her as well.

Her demons have been fought to a standstill. Incinerated in the flames of her ancestors' might. And with each step, her resolve grows.

The Kamui have granted her this power.
And woe be anyone who stands in her path from this step forward.

COMBATSYS: Honoka has ended the fight here.

Log created on 15:16:21 11/28/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 11:17:58 12/07/2016.