Mortal Kombat - MK Round 4: Athena vs Honoka -- Mongoose

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Description: After months lurking in the shadows, the Scarlet Dahlia steps into the spotlight with the violet-haired Psycho Soldier. Shang Tsung's courtyard has a way of bringing all imperfections to light...

Almost none of the champions from Earth volunteered for this soul crushing obligation. All but a few had never even been cognizant of the threat of Outworld because finding themselves on this prison isle of the damned souls the tournament is fated to play out upon. Just processing the idea that their world, their entire way of life, hangs on the balance of their performance in the deadly battles that have left splashes of blood and lifeless corpses across the island. Aside from those with insights into the threat of Khan's empire, it would have been difficult to imagine their martial arts training would have stakes on this scale...

But it has become more than simple combat prowess that rules the day as those eligible to speak for their world dwindle. Strength of conviction, of the soul's ability to weather the unrelenting storm of stresses, and of one's ability to gather allies or wrest strength by force from others all have played a part in narrowing the field to its present numbers. Forced to fight in a tournament with edicts proclaimed by the unknown, unseen powers beyond comprehension, each pawn must become a king or queen in their own right until at last only one stands to secure the victory Earth so desperately needs after a millennia of defeat. What crueler gods than these could divine that Earth's only chance to survive is for its strongest to prey upon each other all for the profane right to battle Outworld's champion?

Here and now, at the witching hour, another kontest is about to play out. The sky above is a tapestry of pitch black decorated by one million and one stars and a silver full moon. The storms of the previous days have cleared, leaving an unfamiliar celestial pattern of stars to be witness to the next violent contest of power.

Most of the island would be dark this hour, but the courtyard at the heart of the Sorcerer King's palace burns brightly in defiance to the cold night. Great torches are mounted throughout the arena, their vibrant orange flames casting shadows that move unceasingly over the hard stone that serves as the stage for this match. As with every match hosted within the Great Arena, the stands are filled with an audience of observers. It is natural to assume that most are guards and helpstaff of the palace, but sprinkled through out the crowd are no doubt others - spies from one side or the other, interlopers, and perhaps even gods who have decided to watch the final hours of Earth in the guise of a mortal.

Asamiya never asked for any of this, but when the grim truth of the threat became known to her, she had accepted it, bolting onto the bridge to face the demon at the pass, surviving but at a greater cost than she had ever imagined. That she was fighting for the world was something she understood to be true, but her heart focused on the price that would need to be paid to restore what was taken from her, that life within she always sensed yet never knew. The how's and why's and other questions that had flooded her mind could be answered in due course. For now, she needed to gather the blood price, she needed the power to restore a god, and if this next match was a step along that path, she would pursue it with all she had.

Like before, she has eschewed the finery of her Earthrealm fighting costumes - the frills, the lace, the sequins all designed to delight her fans, and has instead donned simple crimson hued Kung Fu attire, a belt of black tied about her waist, her arms concealed beneath the long sleeves, her feet clad in black slippers. A battle over the fate of the world was no time for showmanship in her mind. In the reduced light of the night, her hair appears black, the violet hues lost to the shadows flickering about her. But another source of violet is present - swirling orbs of power that orbit the girl like planets enslaved to the gravity of the sun. Around her head, three small dark spheres, black at their core, but glimmering violet on their surface, spin swiftly. Three larger spheres, matching in design, are trapped in rotation around her body, each orb casting a black light of violet illumination, small forks of purple energy crackling off their surfaces.

The girl's jaw is set, her hands clenched at her sides, dark violet, joyless eyes staring across the arena. Most of the voices were quiet now, those rebellious, cantankerous souls in her shard having been squelched by her formidable will. Only the strongest of the quorum in her head has any hope of being heard by her now. Others found ways to work with their souls, to gain their loyalty, their support, or their friendship. Faced with her own shard full of defiant recalcitrant, Asamiya determined the best option was to enslave them all.

An aura of psychic energy of dangerous intent radiates out from the young psion. This is a beacon of power unchecked, her life-long effort to restraint, to contain her potential to try and not affect others all but cast aside. Those with the gift would see and feel it easily. But it is those without it who would be most effected. Anyone within the arena is not safe from her influence now and should their will provide insufficient to reset the forceful influence of unrestrained potential, they would find themselves drawn to adore the girl, to support her, to pour their own feelings of admiration, aspiration, and high hopes into her. Even those minions loyal to Outworld would find themselves unconsciously drawn to Asamiya, every weak will broken before her presence, their emotions yanked inexorably into love, adoration, or even worship for her. Emotions that only fuel her power further.

The psychic fingerprint is the same as the girl studied in Earthly team fighting tournament, and the glare of the energy surrounding her makes it impossible to see deeper, to notice the scar within, the empty seething void where a keystone of her soul once sat.

She would have what was taken from her restored.
She would then purge Earth of this Outworld threat once and for all.
She would teach the Empire of Kahn what it means to be besieged by unstoppable power.

She remembers Athena.
Once, Miko Kobayashi surrounded herselves with her school-aged flunkies when Athena had battled Daigo Kazama on his home turf. Her restraint was evident: walled in by both Justice and Gedo students, there would have been immediate fallout if she were to have unleashed her true, awesome potential.

Once, the Dahlia watched a recording of Athena Asamiya unleashing a never-before-seen wellspring of power -- the power of a goddess -- to challenge the might of the super-ninja Ryu Hayabusa. So much power was in play -- and yet, nothing but the dizzying lightshow and a simulacrum of its sound and fury would be recorded and broadcast.

Bearing witness in person, though -- that would be a different matter entirely. Honoka Kawamoto would put on another mask -- this one a literal, physical object -- to watch the violet-haired pop idol best the Ansatsuken martial artist who had closed off the juggler's own chapter in the King of Fighters tournament. Experiencing the flows of psychic energy in person yet again, the circus performer found it difficult to control herself. Watching in rapt fascination, Honoka was taking notes all the while, committing the visceral experiences to memory.
While the display was nonetheless invigorating, the true form of the goddess would not be unveiled to the canals of Venice in the same manner she had in the falls of Mosi-oa-Tunya. Honoka's disappointment was masked well in the battle's wake of overflowing emotions.

It is then, with trepidation, that the Ainu woman rounds the corner. She wears a fourth guise today. Her slightly wavy raven-black hair descends to mid-shoulder. Her clothing is more natural, more honest than the silken finery she has worn to prior kombats: a pale-colored robe of elm bark fibers. Geometric patterns of indigo, turquoise, and crimson adorn the hems of the humble garment, clingly loosely to the Ainu's athletic form as she strides into view. The psychic teenager will likely be able to see any disguise put forth, anyway -- whether as Miko, as Honoka, or as the Scarlet Dahlia, the signature will be the same. Unmasked, unfettered by the pretense of hiding.

Her presence is announced by words as clearly as it would be to the other senses.
"It is good to finally meet you in person, Miss Asamiya."
But, while the energies of soul power surround Athena Asamiya like satellites, orchestrated by the teenager's enslaving commands, the powers of the Ainu tusukur are more elusive, distributed differently. At their core: the round, honey-hued gemstone fastened to the sash hanging snugly about the Ainu's waist. Shining brightly, the radiant gemstone's rays bend backwards as the Dahlia walks, leashing her attendants into view.

Six soldiers are brought into view. They are not whole, but mostly translucent; their highlights gleam in cyan, while their shadows are sharp and dense. The leather-armored soldiers march behind her in symmetric formation, spears held high.
A massive bear stalks into view afterwards. Like the spirit soldiers, the bear is translucent in the center, but its highlights shadows bear an aura of smoldering crimson.
The thin tethers of gold glisten in the light, bounced about with each of the Dahlia's forward strides.

"I will not waste your time greatly, Miss Asamiya, but I beseech you to consider the fate of Earthrealm. My companions have lent me their strength under two simple conditions."

The Dahlia's expression is solemn, betraying no particular emotion. Her true intentions are masked, her defenses raised to maximum. She knows damn well how powerful the violet-haired dynamo is. Her words will be the strongest indicator of her intentions at the moment, as she claps her hands together before her face, bowing humbly at the waist.

"If you win, I shall grant you all of my power and support."
Eyes with the color of tea leaves pierce outwards, seeking Athena's own.
"If I win, I insist the same of you. Earthrealm's survival and integrity is greater than either of us -- greater than -all- of us."

Once again, the Dahlia tips forward, bowing at the waist. "That is my proposal. The alternative is bloody infighting that can only serve to ensure Outworld a tenth and final victory, signing the death warrant for everyone in the Earthrealm that you and I hold dear. Surely you can appreciate the beauty of that."

The Dahlia is aware of the tenuous nature of her opponent's restraint. She has never seen the Psycho Soldier like this before. She may never see her this calm again. As the leashed bear snarls at her back, as the soldiers murmur under their breath, the Dahlia maintains a resolute silence, glaring back at Athena from across the courtyard.
She should strike now. She and her followers should end this unholy Kombat before it begins -- before the Goddess can come out to play again.

The Dahlia's aura ripples -- something that only the psions in the area are likely to sense.
She is holding back, waiting to see how the darling of Justice High answers her proposal.
And yet, as her hands fall to her side, the palm comes within inches of the sanjiegun stowed at her left hip.
At any moment, Kombat could kommence.
And at any moment, she would be ready.

"We are ordained to fight. We cannot avoid this battle. But that is not to say that we must gain nothing from it."

No glance is spared to the audience.
The Ainu psion can sense them all around her.
She can tell that the fuse is smoldering away, ready to ignite the powderkeg.
They will be her strength.

When the message of who the Dahlia would be fighting came down, there was little chance Zach would have avoided being there in person. He expressed this to her, and the concession was a brief one. Only a strongly worded request to stay out of her way. He shows up in a nice suit and a long coat. There are no weapons immediately on his person.

The psion can feel the... psychic pressure wave even before he enters the arena proper. His face goes a little pale as he realizes not only what is going on, but what he is experiencing and its actual source. He glances down at the shackle on his wrist, as if wanting to ask it something. There is a faint glimmer that comes from no visible light source, and Zach frowns at this.

"Something's not right," he whispers to the Dahlia. "I... Something's /wrong/ here. Watch yourself." That last part is worded more as a request than a demand as he steps away from the woman and heads to the stands. He braces his mind against the psychic waves coming off of Athena, and takes a place nearest the arena. He clasps his hands in front of him, fingers intertwined and tense as he waits for things to get into motion.

She would feel the focus fall upon her even before she steps into open view, an intense scrutiny, a probing pressure that could suffocate were it not for her own strength of mind augmented by the army of souls that moves with her now. Who is she? And what hope does she have of fighting here?

When she rounds the corner, she would find Asamiya's eyes on her, the Justice Student turned Champion of Earth greeting her with a steady gaze that seems curiously incongruent with the maelstrom of powerful emotions surging about her. There is a slow blink as she is addressed by name. It stands to reason - her name and image were world famous following the King of Fighters tournament. She thinks nothing of yet one more individual interested in meeting her in person. To her mind's ego, it is only natural.

She beseeches consideration for the fate of their entire world... is that not what this is all for? The greatest stakes of all are on the line here, what else could possibly matter? The remark is met with a single slow blink in an otherwise dispassionate display of passive interest in what the Ainu general has to say. There is no visible reaction to the mention of granting her all her power and support should the battle scarred Asamiya triumph in this arena, but Honoka would sense a fleck of change in the energies coursing around her, a subtle but tangible shift in increasing interest in what she has to say.

Her head tilts a little at the insistence that comes next, that the terms by which Honoka's power has been gathered be honored in turn. The proposal is offered, a reminder of the severe stakes the two face each other under now, and Asamiya's hands tighten at her sides.

"You are in no position to insist anything of me." comes her response after seconds of silence. Her tone is imperious but not caustic, a simple statement of fact that she believes herself above demand from another. Was she not a vessel of a goddess? She closes her eyes, bowing her head for a moment, a gesture of thought rather than the respectful bows offered to her by the Spirit Warden. When they open again, her violet eyes are again upon Honoka, the intensity of her own presence magnifying, the spheres orbiting her gathering greater speed.

"I see you now." She pauses, connecting ideas in her mind. "You have been there, in the sidelines, always watching." Eyes snap to Zach as he slips away from the Scarlet Dahlia to move toward the stands, her brow furrowed slightly as if trying to place together the pieces and threads connecting a dozen ideas in her head. His visit in England, their presence at Venice. His participation in King of Fighters. A quiet girl in the crowd at Gedo High.

Her right hand lifts, running fingers through her long hair. They are fighting for Earth, the woman said. An image of her younger friend enters Asamiya's mind for a moment - she had promised she would never do anything that jeopardized her safety. Making sure Earth triumphs must be her priority. For Momoko's sake. For Kensou's sake. For Haru's. For Chin's. For her classmates. For her countrymen. For the world. But what about her own need? She had told Kain she was willing to die for a cause she considered worthy... but saying that in the quiet streets of Venice is something entirely different than having to prove it in person in this bloody arena. It's not so easy to let go after all, no matter the cause.

"It is for me to do with my power as I see fit. Around you I sense immense energy, and your words a diplomat's bargain. You find yourself here, either by right of might, or the power of persuasion. But that does not earn you my trust."

She inhales deeply, releasing a slow exhale, an unseen yet undeniably felt thrum of energy pulsing out from around her. She takes a step back, not against the stonework upon which she stood, but into the air itself, violet energy coursing over her fingers as she levitates in place. "But I think we are wasting words when actions rule within these walls."

Her right hand extends, palm forward, pressing into and through the orbiting spheres as a tremendous amount of energy course over her forearm. A sudden thrust of her palm sends a bolt of violet psycho power out, a direct beam targeting the location Honoka stands amidst her attendants. The stone beneath the beam bursts upward, fragments sent flying simply by proximity to the force ripping through the air over it, and at the end of the beam, a hemisphere of psychic assault would erupt, threatening to catch the young woman up in its wake.

"Survive. Then perhaps we would talk terms, of Earth's future, and our role to play in securing it."

COMBATSYS: Athena has started a fight here.

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Athena           0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Athena equips a effulgent Golden Soul Shard.

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Athena [E]       0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Honoka has joined the fight here.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka equips a supreme Honey Yellow Soul Shard.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena channels the strength of the killing fist.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the fortress of the steel will.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka just-defends Athena's Psycho Ball!

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

In her time, the Dahlia had come to grips with the sensation of pressure. If it were a palpable, tangible substance, it would be as butter before the steadily advancing blade of the Dahlia's inborn abilities, allowing her free passage so long as she does not advance too swiftly.

The dual realms of the physical and the psychic are ones walked by both the Dahlia and her violet-haired counterpart. The Ainu tusukur even feels a measure -too- comfortable in the way in which Athena's response is so much like a mirror of her own -- such a marked change from the cheerful, ebullient pop-star she had seen in times past. The question remains, though -- has she been tempered by battle, or is she forced into a position of dominance by the spirits whose counsel she seeks?
Most likely, the answer is 'a little of both.'
It is a mystery the Dahlia will spend time unraveling later.

An imperious, but not caustic tone. She speaks with finality, assurance of purpose not expected from someone of such tender age.
But then, isn't that what people keep telling Miko, or Honoka?
Isn't that the reason she dresses like she's thirty -- to demand respect from a society unused to giving any to a mere girl?

The parallels are difficult for the Dahlia to ignore. She responds as best she can: with an understated smirk, and a nod of her head.

"My, my... -no- one seems to trust me. Earthrealm loses nine out of ten battles, and now everyone wants to pretend that conscience matters more than victory. As if it's a moral imperative to bicker with one's allies while the guillotine continues to fall..."

But that's when the psychic pressure fluctuates, in resonance with Athena's insistence. Instead of a rebuttal, an insistence that the Dahlia is 'evil' or unworthy of trust, there is action. The beam erupts forward, stones peeling away from the blistering assault as if no more hardy than a sea of thistles.

The Dahlia's eyes widen.
So do her lips.
Her left shoulder and hand turn away from the blast -- not out of fear, but out of assurance. The hemisphere continues to hurtle forward, undisturbed -- but its path alters significantly as the Dahlia pirouettes to her right, to Athena's left.
The beam bends -around- the Dahlia, its spiritual vanguard orbiting around her like the very satellites orbiting around Athena.

As the pirouette completes, and the Ainu woman's spin slows to a halt, her right hand stretches upward, fingers splayed out. For one moment, her forearm parallels the curved beam of will-given-form.
The fingers clench tightly.
And the beam behind it withers away, like a dandelion's stem wilting away in hyper-accelerated time-lapse footage.

"You drive a hard bargain," states the Dahlia, her voice remaining calm despite her racing heart, despite the withered, once-spherical husk of energy that is yoked back to her -- tossed back to the ground by its wilted stem.
Her right hand sloughs off the rest of the energy, while her left hand -- almost as casually -- reaches for the sanjiegun at her sash.
"But I accept your terms."

The sanjiegun uncoils with the explosive force of a shotgun, as the Dahlia leaps forward across the distressed stonework. Her face is pulled into a rictus of excitement as the triple-sectioned weapon rushes outwards at Athena...

But that is to say nothing of the bear, snarling and gnashing its teeth from behind the Dahlia. Even as the Dahlia maintained her composure, the bear itself had been angry and unsettled. And when the Dahlia leaps into motion, the bear rushes forward.
A shadowed mass rushes -through- the Dahlia -- or, rather, the bear disperses into five discrete elements, swirling around her like a vortex and empowering her strike.

Instead of just one end of the sanjiegun, there are now six. And =all= of them aim to snake around Athena's forward leg. Should they gain purchase, the shadowy components would instantly take on the shape of five shadow tendrils, clutching onto the Justice High schoolgirl's leg and jerking her upward, and off-balance -- ripe pickings for the dominance of the Scarlet Dahlia's empassioned will.

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the strength of the killing fist.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena blocks Honoka's Kohumumatki.

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

Hovering a foot off the ground, Asamiya draws her palm back slowly, the beam of energy having been caught, countered, and withered by the remarkable defense of her target. From the psion at the heart of her self-created, churning storm of emotional energy, no reaction can be felt at the defiance of halting her attack with such a display of timing and skill. Violet eyes, glowing subtly in the shadows cast by her orbiting sphere, stay fixed on the spirit caller even as the Ainu woman's troops martial into a coordinated sweep of the battlefield in response to her will.

"Who are you, that you should be trusted?" she answers back, her voice calm yet its projection is reinforced by powerful thoughts unleashed, unrestrained. "On this island are demons, monsters, killers, and traitors... I see you but I do not know you. I... do not think you know me either." Does she even know herself? Until the calamity at the bridge, she didn't even know what existed inside her soul... how much of what she thought about herself even remains in the aftermath?!

She pivots to the side, her movements comfortable, confident, as if moving through the air came to her as naturally as breathing. Slowly she drifts, aiming to keep herself from being flanked by the woman and her small legion. "You do well to shield yourself from my eye." The girl extends her right hand, fingers clawed, violet energy crackling over her finger tips as she tries to pry directly through the Scarlet Dahlia's defenses on an unseen, psychic level only to find her attempt at wedging through curtailed.

Gritting her teeth, a flash of frustration at being denied fades quickly as she takes on a mien of serenity a moment later. In an instant, she is forced to defend herself, drawing her arms up in preparation to weather a storm of several strikes, pulling the spheres orbiting her body inward, into a tighter loop about her waist.

Beset by several points of potential impact, she can only brace for the storm, attempting to dart back along the ground to stay out of reach. Six ends catch her leg, squeezing the crimson fabric as they secure a hold. Eyes widen briefly, before she reacts by pulling everything inward for an instant, hands clenched in front of her, eyes closed, body hunched forward.

And then she unfurls, arms out at her sides, feet apart, back arced back, face to the sky as a burst of energy shakes loose the shadowy grip that had seized her leg. In the motion, she drops to the ground in a half kneel, a soft grunt escaping her lips. She comes out of the crouch like a bullet, charging directly for Honoka then, braving her assembly of supportive souls, the spheres about her body spinning rapidly into an aura of violet and pink energy clashing against against each other, as if the girl's own energy was at war with itself.

Against Honoka, Asamiya would attempt to collide shoulder first, driving the fiercely swirling psychic aura into her target. The girl has demonstrated none of the Kung Fu she had on display at King of Fighters, or even the martial arts that saw her through her previous matches on the island. She fights like a beast unchained, raw, undisciplined, and dangerously powerful.


COMBATSYS: Athena channels the strength of the killing fist.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka blocks Athena's Phoenix Arrow.

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

The blistering assault between the two King of Fighters participants has taken place with such rapidity that the audience encircled around them are only now registering that battle had even begun. It started with no fanfare, and none of the usual trappings that demarcate the commencement of Kombat -- and both fighters are moving with such blinding alacrity that it's tough for many of the mortal audience to keep their eyes upon the action.

But while the audience's minds are captive audiences to the high-speed spectacle, their responses are nonetheless valuable to the Flame Dancer of the Twilight Star Circus. By her reckoning, Athena is relying upon the power provided by the orbs circling around her -- but the Dahlia herself relies upon -all- of the spectators, gaining power from their excitement, their enthusiasm. Raven-black hair flutters forward as the Dahlia's advance is forced to a shaky halt by Athena's avoidance of her crimson spirits' grasp.

Rebuffed, the spirits tumble backwards, momentarily adopting the shape of five distended human spirits before re-coalescing into ursine form. Snarling and hissing, the bear keeps its head and forelimbs in a low, threatening posture.

For her part, the Dahlia is already on the move again -- with a tap of her moccasin across the stonework, she is vaulting into a backflip, accompanied by the light jangling and the click-clack of the sanjiegun being drawn back into her hand. With distance once more working to her advantage, the Dahlia has the room to recover, landing in a low crouch.

With but a thought from the psychic tusukur, the six Ainu guardian spirits rush outward encircling Athena at a wary distance; their presence serves as further pressure upon the Psycho Soldier. Their wills are... somewhat distinguished from the signature of the Dahlia, though it may become clear to the Justice High student that the commands have an extra 'kick' to them that a mere general would not be able to apply.

That is to say little of the charging student herself, though. Her will is... unlike anything expected from the Dahlia, and yet, the skilled juggler is used to dealing with unanticipated challenges. Paranoia has its own benefits, after all -- which is why the Ainu carries the sanjiegun around. The chains jangle, and then let out a keening whistle as they are brought to bear, interposing themselves between the Dahlia's shoulder and Athena's.
Waves of psychic energy, colored in her pink-and-purple signature, radiate outward from the point at which the three crossed sanjiegun segments mate, a lopsided, six-pointed star held fast by her hands on either side. Even as Asamiya's physical presence is averted, the wavefront of psychic pressure proves to be overwhelming, sending ripples through the Dahlia's emanating energy, forcing her backwards. The Dahlia meets Athena's determined glare as the friction from her moccasins scraping across the stonework looses a high-pitched screech.

"Perhaps we shall have to get to know one another, then," she comments wryly, "as we have so much in common."

With another jangle of chains, the Dahlia breaks away from the push, twisting around so that she can regain a foothold.

And then -- the Ainu woman's form glows with pink and purple as she surges forward. The gap has been closed -- and the Dahlia aims to take full advantage of the overcommitted strike, unleashing an overhand strike with the sanjiegun down onto the back of Athena's neck. Regardless of outcome, the sanjiegun segments will come flying again and again -- a tympanic mix of overhand and underhand strikes as the ceaseless sanjiegun is wielded to break down Athena's defenses.

A psychic attack may have been sensed -- the pressure itself may have been the dead giveaway. But reading the mind of the Shadow Manipulator may take more out of the Psycho Soldier than mere intuition...

Should the relentless gambit of sanjiegun strikes succeed in knocking Athena's arms away from her core, the sardonic smile of the Scarlet Dahlia may be closer than comforting for Miss Asamiya -- for she will shift her grasp on the sanjiegun, allowing her a bit more freedom for a judo maneuver. She would plant one hand around Athena's hip, another upon the collar of her garment. And with contrasting tugs, she would jerk Athena out of the air and invert her rapidly, with the Dahlia's hip as the fulcrum. She would also make full use of the pivot -- slinging the Psycho Soldier bodily into one of the many torches positioned around the perimeter of the ring.

COMBATSYS: Honoka successfully hits Athena with Urara Kando.

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

Zach leans forward as the fight starts in earnest, his eyes flicking back and forth between the woman he loves and the woman he held in respect. Something is... /off/ here, and the monster hunter cannot reconcile it. On the other hand, Zach has yet to encounter someone who has not been irrevocably changed by thier time on the island.

Something had to have happened to bring about so drastic a change. Zach's eyes go wide as a memory not his own races behind them.

<<She's been here too long,>> Zach tries to tell the Dahlia, <<The negative emotions of this place have gotten to her.>>

At the point of impact, Asamiya's physical momentum is brought to a halt. Propelled forward as she might have been by her dash through the air, and as augmented as her physical strength might be by the infusion of churning souls in the glimmering golden star in her hairband, the true threat of her attack remains the tidal wave of energy surging forward past her form, crashing against the Ainu warrior's guard, a surge wave endured and deflected by a will comfortable with combating energy similar to Asamiya's.

"Is that so."

She stomps her right foot against the ground, bringing an tend to her attempt to tackle the shaman over. The smaller violet-black spheres orbiting her head draw closer, the momentum of their energy transferred to the lithe fighter as she mentally braces for a retaliatory psychic assault that never comes.

Through the barrier of mounting psionic defense, the segmented staff crashes into the back of the girl's neck unabated, unmitigated in its force. The blow is strong enough to stagger her forward, blinding her eyes to a white hot flash of bright pain, a gasp escaping her lips, leaving the young fighter defenseless against the subsequent strikes that come next, individually not as jarring as the first, but their impacts none the less a danger all of their own as she aims to bring her guard high, lowering her head so that forearms can weather the strikes.

It is with a panic that she vanishes from the path of next swing of the staff, arms raised high, looking up from behind her guard in an attempt to read the next strike as she reappears in a splash of pink and violet energy motes thirty degrees to the right from where she had disappeared. Seeing no strike coming, she attempts to retaliate herself, arms snapping out, sweeping more of that ambient energy from her spheres into her fingers, intending on a point blank assault now that the battle has moved in close.

The attempt is premature, however, leaving her defenseless against the grab that follows, eyes widening in a start as she finds herself gripped, pulled from her place in the air, and flung upside down against the torch stand, a shower of sparks raining down around her and up into the sky as the flame is disturbed by the shuddering impact.

Asamiya falls to the ground, landing on hands and knees, her orbiting spheres continuing to move in time with their master's body, maintaining a swift orbit parallel to the stone ground even as the girl collects herself. Gritting her teeth, Asamiya surges to her feet, the violet energy still coursing around her hands. Sending the falling cinders flying, she bursts back toward Honoka. The bleed at her lip is ignored, the bruising welts beneath her long sleeves nothing to pay heed to, as she sweeps her hands forward, attempting another charge - this one heralded by a massive sphere of psionic power that erupts before her, its core a vibrant, sharp pink mostly concealed by a shell of perpetually crackling violet lightning.

In the face of Honoka's grace with staff and grip, her opponent's assaults are surging, out of control, attempting to overwhelm by way of wildly directed violence - and this next attack is no different as the woman who has operated in the shadows for so long finds herself front and center to the spotlight of Asamiya's fury. The orb projected is larger than the two young women combined, and the stonework beneath it is vaporized by proximity to its violent potential.

"No one is anything like me!!" she screams before the barely constrained power explodes around them both.

COMBATSYS: Athena channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka reflects Round Psycho Reflector from Athena with Kunne Chup Kamui.

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

The orbs spinning around Athena may provide the starlet with some measure of security, but they also provide a rhythmic aid to the Dahlia. The audience is tempestuous, ephemeral -- and most of all, subjective. But the psychic elements, much like their physical counterparts, will continue to move in a given direction unless expressly acted upon. It's that kind of regularity that the juggler finds to be calming rather than threatening. For no matter what Athena is able to bring to bear, it still, intrinsically, revolves around the same tools of the trade wielded by the Hokkaido-born performer. Indeed -- if Athena had not been providing the metronome, it is almost a certainty that the Dahlia would be whipping her sanjiegun around in similar fashion.

Hence the Dahlia's smile. Athena may not herself be predictable, but she is providing tools that /are/ reliable in some capacity.

The Ainu tusukur's barrage of strikes was, by and large, delivered with a consistent measure of confidence that her strikes would land. It's only when Asamiya teleports that the Dahlia shows any sense of alarm or concern -- and even then, a wide-eyed Dahlia follows through with her grapple, leveraging the Tyrant Sorceror's accomodations to full extent.

She chooses not to answer the call -- is that so? -- for she believes the results to speak for themselves.

Her eyes settle back into narrowed focus upon Asamiya as she deals with the fiery embers from the torch stand, the tip of her tongue darting out to moisten lips parched by the dry heat of the flames. The injuries invigorate the predator further, as she slips the sanjiegun around like an oversided set of nunchaku, tucking one loose section of the weapon under her arm. The connoisseur of martial arts can appreciate the shift in technique that allows her to not only stand, but rise up and propel herself forward -- it may be powered by Psycho Power, but the ability is borne of years of rigorous physical exercise.

The Dahlia's smile wanes somewhat as the power is swept forward from both hands. In preparation, her shoulders twist to her left, the tip of the sanjiegun falling into her left palm with a flash of intense pink light. She takes a pace backward, pulling the sanjiegun's chain taut as she extends the other end of the weapon outward.

And then, right as the energy is brought to bear...
The Dahlia lashes outward, with the spirit forms of two Ainu soldiers shadowing her motion upon the left and the right.
And three precision impacts are delivered into the midst of the circling energy -- the center pierced by the tip of the sanjiegun, and the left and right struck by the spearpoints of the Ainu warriors at her call.

By themselves, none of the three strikes would have been enough to diffuse the attacks. But that is when the Dahlia's planning is brought to bear, as she jerks the tip of her sanjiegun back, and the destabilized pink core of the whirling sphere is withdrawn along with it, splashing outwards like the yolk of a ruined sunny-side-up egg..

The spinning mass of energy is ripped inside out, torn asunder by its own rotational velocities. And yet, that same rotation is what allows the Dahlia to keep the seething mass of energy reined in -- for she practically wrests the energies -away- from Athena as she pulls them towards her -- and then sweeps them around her like a circular ribbon.

"You are not wrong, Miss Asamiya..." she contests, her spin carrying her backwards and away from the student of kung-fu as she bends the psychic energies to her will. Pink energies of her own are added, interwoven along with those of Asamiya, reining the chaotic powers into a coherent mass as she pulls the energy around behind her. The net effect is one of a helpless octopus being hurled around by its own stretchy tentacles...

And in an instant, before the enraptured audience can even tell what has happened, the mass slams back into Athena from the side, with all the tumultuous nuclear fusion of a miniature sun, aided along by the chain of the sanjiegun -- the lacquered wood and the chain themselves bleached white from the sheer intensity.

"No one has captured the minds and hearts of Earth so thoroughly as you. I am... in a sense... jealous of you..."
The admission is delivered with a sly smile as the psychic energies are cut loose, freed from the guiding influence of her sanjiegun as she staggers backward, her body no longer needing to compensate for such a strong weight. Her weapon is twirled around in two quick spins, as she drops low to the ground, widening her stance and stretching her other arm out to the opposite side for balance.

"You must admit..."
As she begins, her Ainu warriors streak backwwards, returning to their earlier positions, spears pointed toward Athena.
"... there are -some- similarities. Would you not stop at anything to save your friends? I would. And have. And I am doing so now."

It is almost too easy to pull the attack apart. For as cataclysmically dangerous as it is, the energies in play are clearly violently opposed, forced into a single assault by the one driven to overwhelm by sheer willpower. With precise timing, and the right know how, dismantling the psionic bomb feels akin to piercing a balloon - it was already primed to burst, the slightest prick is enough to do just that.

Feet planted, Asamiya is already trying to draw back as she sees the energy she had built being whipped around, raising her arms in a futile effort to guard against the inevitable. The collision is overwhelming, force driving her to the side, her body flying through the air before crashing against stone and tumbling along several meters before coming to a stop. Through the debilitating pain that courses through her, only one thought manages to survive - why is her energy so foreign to her?

Hands slam against the ground as the fallen fighter stirs, breaths coming in heaves as she struggles to regain control over muscles wracked with agony. Back to her knees, she rises the rest of the way to her feet, her right bare, one of her black slippers having been lost somewhere in the collision of forces. Blood seeps from her ears, a crimson trickle invisible once it drips to her jacket, her body shaken by each deep breath taken in.

Again Honoka invokes the idea of friends, of lives on the line, of ambitions and concerns far greater than a personal existential crisis, and Asamiya glares back at her, hands tightening at her sides, her six spheres still maintaining their perfect orbits, their speed whipped up into a blinding frenzy.

What is best for them? For Momoko? For everyone back home? How did everything get so confusing here? It was never that difficult to discern right from wrong before. Why now, at the summit of decision, is the path forward utterly lost in the haze?

Should she trust the fate of the world to this powerful woman? As she feels her strength waning, she realizes she may not have so much choice in the matter. She thought herself unstoppable, with the energy gained in the defeat of the soul golem, with the risky gift from her dear young friend, how could anything stand up to one as powerful as her?

And if this woman is more powerful than she is, what then of the champions of Outworld? Could she even hope to face them?

Resolve weakens for a moment, eyes closed as she wrests back her thoughts away from the lingering pain inflicted by her own power turned against her. "I suppose," she admits, feet planted firmly on the ground, hands raised over her head, palms facing each other as she begins to pull hungrily from the gem in her hair band, from her own fount of power within, emotions raging, combining into a volatile in a mixture of frustration, fear, anguish, and uncertainty.

If the previous attack was large, this one is enormous, an immense orb of the same dual natured energy as before churning into existence over the head of the girl. The magnitude of force sends air currents rushing throughout the arena, the stone beneath the girl cracking, the flames from the torches drawn toward the maelstrom of power.

Only the spheres orbiting her seem unaffected by the attack the young psion builds. Does she hope to prove the woman with her cadre of spirit warriors wrong? Does she want to crush her to gain more power? Can she say with unwavering conviction that she is doing everything she can for others rather than herself?

"In the end, I would hope I could say the same."

Another pulse of resolve steeled encircles the girl, the area around her illuminated by the nova of psycho power she has given form over her head. For as confusing as all the branching possibilities before her may be, one direction is certain - to attack, to lash out, to... to prove something to herself.

Her whole body bends into the attack, arms swinging forward, torso bowed forward as she sends the megasphere hurtling toward Honoka from its high arc down toward the ground. At five meters wide, it leaves little space unthreatened in the stone arena but for the edge where Asamiya stands. Even the spectral forces themselves may find threat in the falling star of psionic power. The girl seems to no longer be seeking to defeat an opponent in a martial challenge, but to annihilate with power she has proven unready to wield.

COMBATSYS: Athena channels the strength of the killing fist.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the fortress of the steel will.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Honoka with Psycho Ball Revolution EX.

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

The Dahlia is effectively 'in the zone' when it comes to the kombat proceedings. The thoughts of the audience are still present, of course -- the two fighters aren't moving -beyond- the ken of mortal perception, but the contrasting voices number so greatly that they are little more than white noise to the perceptive Ainu tusukur.
Only one voice rises above the tumult of the crowd -- and the familiar tones tell her something she had already come to realize for herself.
Her expression goes tense for a moment as her eyes grow glassy for just one brief moment...
// I know. //
There is no room for sass in this battle of wills -- just a tacit observation.

Her eyes return to their prior lustre, lips lagging behind as the Dahlia rises to her full height. The sanjiegun chain falls taut for a moment, before the Dahlia whips it into circular motion again. Her mouth begins to open as she sees the flow of scarlet fluid from the young starlet's ears, as she surveys the wounds, as she notices the hitch in her ribcage as each successive breath is drawn.

The Dahlia shakes her head slowly. "If we do not fight with all our might, we will lose this konflict."
Yes, she's overemphasizing the k sound. Damn island. Her voice even raises a measure, that she might be heard among the murmured conversation and the blazing torches in the crisp silver moonlight. Her raven-black hair glistens as it is tousled into motion by the gentle whistling of the sanjiegun by her left side.
"It is for that reason that I am showing you all of my might."

And then the Dahlia's silhouette is etched into the stone behind her, as the brilliant outpouring of light erupts in the night sky, threatening to oust even the moon from its throne. The Dahlia squints, but her mouth moves into the pattern of unfamiliar words -- words that would make lipreading a farce to those unable to sense the silent psychic commands.

The crimson and black bear snarls, bucking his head to the side in defiance.
And the Dahlia's eyebrows lower, along with her chin, as she repeats the words more intently.

Tension runs a crease through her implacable psychic pressure -- the crease becomes a fissure. And the spirit bear, quietly seething in its rage for much of the fight, surges into motion.
Charging not at Athena --
But at the Dahlia.
The Dahlia raises her hand, fingertips trailing behind the motion as her expression softens. Another three words are uttered, with silky softness...

The ursine behemoth leaps into the air, turning its snarling jaws towards the Ainu general in midair, unwilling to relent in their expression of raw rage at the command given to them. The massive beast's flank is turned into the five-meter-wide nova of Psycho Power -- the purest, most unrefined expression of psionic power brought to bear yet. If allowed to connect with the Ainu in its purest form, there may be little question of whether she would be burned away to nothingness, just as Daniel Little's distressed and withered body had upon the bridge elsewhere on the island.

But, coincidentally, the spirits remaining from that fateful battle are the ones being forced to accept the burden upon their flank. The five demonic spirits curl inward at the point of impact, their convex forms being forced concave from the overwhelming nexus of energy hurtling towards the Dahlia.

The barest hint of a smile works its way onto her lips as she snaps the spinning sanjiegun to a halt. Both hands clench into tight fists as she drops into a low crouch and raising hands above her head.

Fragments of soul energy are peeled away in layers -- bits of fur, that transform in midflight into the tattered remnants of humanoid spirits, drawn out and distended.
The spectacle is a massacre -- five spirits, torn asunder within the blast radius. But each of the spectral corpses -- or, rather, bits thereof -- bears some fraction of the psionic orbs' energy, glowing with the supernatural light as it carries it out of harm's reach.

The Dahlia's form glows with pink energy as the remnant of psychic energy slams into her. Quiet resolve keeps her together, even as the whirling, crushing weight bears down upon her.

Unexpectedly, the Dahlia flies backwards at an odd angle -- churned away as an errant piece of wood caught by the edge of a belt sander. Her elmbark sleeve is ripped away in the process, a furious red welt visible on her now-bare arm as she twists about in mid-air to right herself. The pink glow itself is ripped away, like a snake shedding its skin, in the midst of the searing light.

Kicking out of her uncontrolled spin at the last instant, she lands unsteadily; even her acrobatic gracefulness cannot fully spare her from the mild embarassment at such a landing.

"This will be over soon," confides the Dahlia, just before vaulting forward into a handspring. After one full revolution, she leaps into the air for a second -- and only then does she snap forward into an aerial kick aimed at slamming squarely into the Psycho Soldier's sternum. If she manages that -- it stands likely that she could knock the Psycho Soldier out of the arena altogether.
Or might she blast the warrior maiden into the spearpoint of another of her spectral soldiers, instead...?

COMBATSYS: Athena blocks Honoka's Intercepting Strike.

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

The voice of the tusukar carries over the cacophony of swirling energy Asamiya has conjured over her head, her arms wide, palms raised, as for a moment she prepares to carry the weight of an unseen world upon her shoulders. As the moon of destruction descends toward her target, she can see from her angle the interception that spares the woman the full extent of her intended wrath. Eyes widen as a number of the souls answering the Ainu warrior's call leap into the path of utter disintegration, their soul energy scattered, the plummeting disaster almost entirely dissipated. Even the minute fraction that remains is enough to stagger, to knock the woman back, rending cloth as a tiny demonstration of what it could have been.

The violet haired fighter's hand goes to her right side, resting against her ribs. Every breath is fire, and the pain that pounds against her skull feels like it will be the undoing of her before long. The energies scattered to ward off her attack... they were sentient, like the cantankerous voices in her own star-shaped shard, voices she had squelched, extinguished, and bent to her will when merely pleading had not been enough.

Did this woman face similar resistance? The spirits seem to answer her call, even when enraged by the demand, sacrificing themselves in the path of unmaking. Her own horde of lives lost and imprisoned would do nothing of the sort for her, their loathing was felt from the beginning, and when left with no other choice, she conquered them to secure her own peace. The contrast of coordinated assault and defense she finds herself facing is staggering, the girl pausing in her battle as if trying to comprehend the difference she sees. Shaking her head, her hands lift from pressing her pained side to smashing against her temples, eyes closing as she takes a step back.

Where has all this anger come from? The demon at the pass spoke of this. Embrace the freedom of rage, find the darkness, and find him once again. Where is this liberating freedom of rage? Where is the power it promises? The devil himself has fallen in battle while she yet lives. Were his words scripture made sacred by his fall, or heresy of the corrupt, defiant to all her sensei had taught her? What would the swordsman say if he could see her now?

Troubled, she grits her teeth, looking up in time to find the woman in the air above, arms raised to brace for the plunging kick bearing incredible force behind it. This time she braces like a fighter, jaw set, arms raised, hunkering down behind her forearms to protect her chest from impact. The blow is still solid - the spirits that answer Honoka's orders are providing more than battlefield control after all.

Sliding back a meter, her bare foot scraped against the stone, Asamiya lowers her arms, shoulders slouched slightly as she fights to stay upright against fatigue and agony. She can feel the voices pressing back against her mind. As she becomes weaker, their presence is more pronounced. She fears their return every bit as much as she finds herself intimidated by her opponent's prowess. Their castigations, their insults, their unrelenting bile. No, she must snuff them out first, expend them like before, that will silence them for a while no matter what.

A tremble courses through the girl. Rage has not been power, has not yielded the indomitable force she had hoped, yet suppressing it once it has been unleashed is a trial unto itself. Like an ethereal mist, impossible to return to the bottle once it has escaped, the only way to rid herself of the fury that threatens to consume her is to burn it off.

"Every step in this kontest has been a trial," she murmurs, hugging herself tightly as she leans forward a little. "Perhaps the gods are trying to forge the perfect weapon." She swallows, her voice weak. "One that won't break beneath the strain of what is still yet to come." She takes another step back, her mind racing. All that matters is that a champion from Earth stands in the end, right? Everyone back home, Momoko here, they will be safe then? She shivers, feeling a chill of realization coursing through her. All this power... she isn't ready to wield it, casting aside her training to wreck havoc with so much energy. How long would it take to learn to master it? Months? Years?

"I am beginning to realize..." She closes her eyes, a decision made, the girl taking one more step back, arms unfolding to extend out from her sides, palms down. "That weapon might not be me."

Another swell of power builds around the girl, this one different than anything that had come before. The spheres orbiting her move with such frantic energy that their orbit begins to decay, the individual orbs becoming indistinguishable as they become a barrior of black around her.

"But if it is to be you-" A high pitched hum builds as an aura of black bursts up around the girl, Asamiya's hair and clothing rippling from currents of force. Her eyes snap open. The violet glow is gone, leaving only her natural violet irises to stare at Honoka. "Then you will have had to weather..."

Air throughout the arena begins to rush toward the girl, as if she was drawing in all creation as one collected breath. One by one, the flame from the torches is stolen, drawn into the vacuum of black that begins to collect over her head, extinguishing each of them in turn.

She begins to hover again, a foot off the ground, arms raising slowly over her head as she forces everything she has, everything she is, and every trace emotion within the crowd, within her shard, and within her soul into a pin prick of darkness directly above her raised palms. Compared to every other attack she had unleashed throughout the match, the one she builds now seems miniscule by comparison, as each in turn, the orbs that were orbiting snap up into the fist sized ball of unfathomable ruin the hyper powered fighter prepares only to be consumed as well.

"Every possible trial."

Fight with all their might. That is what she said. And she is right. Either she will survive or she too will be undone and Earth will continue to want for its champion. If she herself is not to be the one, perhaps her roll is to burn away the final dross of the one who is. If she is still standing, then who could possibly deny her destiny?

Her right hand snaps forward, an ebony orb of annihilation bolting for Honoka then, the seeking missile accompanied by a shriek of souls being sacrificed to fuel another unfathomable attack from young Asamiya. This is all her might, what remains after the sacrifice at the bridge, a test for the ages.

COMBATSYS: Athena channels the veins of the burning blood.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena channels the strength of the killing fist.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

It's all Zach can do to stay still and watch, and listen. Athena's clearly cracked a gasket during her time here, and it's leading her down a bad path. Normally, that would only be something of a minor issue; Zach's fairly certain he could contain her if it came to it. Right this moment though?

Honoka is right in the middle of that path.

He trusts Honoka, her abilities, her competence. But he is also deathly afraid for her in this moment.

The ashen haired former marine already has one foot up on the wall seperating the seats from the arena proper when Athena unleashed the all but legendary Shining Bit attack when the gem fastened to his wrist flares with golden light. Zach freezes, as if locked in place.

*Don't do this, Zach,* Glen warns. *None of us would like what follows. Save your energy to patch up both of them.*

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the fortress of the steel will.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Honoka with Shining Crystal Bit EX+.

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

The gradient of psionic energy surrounding the Psycho Soldier fluctuates as the pain begins creeping further and further into her consciousness, forcing that resolve to waver. The Dahlia can sense the fluctuation, but as she presses her empty hand to her psionically seared flesh, she exhales through clenched teeth. A tremor rushes through the hand clasping her sanjiegun shudders -- a sign that the neurons are still not -fully- recovered from the ordeal.

And yet, she cannot stand down and nurse her wounds yet. She nods back to Asamiya, forcing her face to adopt once again a mask of stoicism.

The puppetmaster stares back at the student bravely standing against her.
She sees the determination -- and the weariness beneath it.
She nods quietly in response to the assertions -- that the gods are honing weapons, that the metal must be tempered so that it will not shatter under duress.
She does not, however, nod when Athena asserts that the weapon might not be her.

That might have something to do with the energy welling up around her, and the even more urgent change of atmospheric pressure. As the Dahlia has utilized the teenaged goddess' powers against her, so too threatens the goddess to rob the very air from her lungs. As her ravenblack hair is blown upwards, drawn into the anomalous orb of concentrated void, she claps one hand over her mouth and nose, holding her breath. Her eyelids pinch tighter, as she forces herself to stare up at the ascendant Asamiya, her feet parting and struggling for purchase against the damaged stones of the courtyard arena.

And in her periphery, she feels a light erupting from a soul gem.

// You'll disqualify us both! That's the kind of bullshit he WANTS! //
Her own pressure fluctuates from the intensity of her rage, and the message delivered psionically to the ashen-haired man in the crowd.
Her fists remain clenched -- but her footing slips.
And she is drawn forward a full meter before she's able to loosen her fists, and then press both palms towards the ground. Her attush-clad body glows with pink energy as she is finally able to slam her feet back onto the ground.

And yet, this only serves as a mild interruption, as she forces herself to look upwards into the rising fury. Embers of extinguished flame intertwine with smoke from the surrounding torches as they rush upwards into the void.

The thought occurs to her -- that she could pierce the heavens themselves. One more interruption -- to send the gout of energy right back at her.
The mild shake of her head is lost in the tumbling locks of her raven-black mane.
And then the locks fall, obeying gravity's call once again, as the wailing of the damned souls streaks towards her.

A word is spoken.
One of the soldiers from the periphery streaks away from his current location.
An instant later, the spectral armor appears around the Dahlia, the soldier's face superimposed over her own. And both faces are frowning heavily, as the elbows are raised upwards, the arms brought as a shield for the upper body.

She -did- want to experience the Psycho Soldier's powers in person.
It's just not the same on video.

The Dahlia will feel the soul-wrenching horrors in full and vivid color. A burst of pthalo green erupts outward as the ebony orb intersects her wrist, splashing out like paint from a punctured tube of artist pigment. And then a burst of ochre as the orb emerges from the other side, erupting and searing a residual afterimage into the mind as it continues onward. Her left wrist falls away, only for her right forearm to meet a similar fate with bursts of intense ultramarine and venetian red.

She and her superimposed soldier stagger backward as the ebony orb hurtles onward, intersecting her mind itself. Pain etches onto her face with crystal clarity as a multitude of colors splashes outward -- the soldier himself shatters into motes of cerulean light. An inky void erupts out of her back, the last remnant of the scintillating display as she her knees give way.
She hits the ground with a thud, falling onto her side from the utter loss of balance. She curls up -- not quite into a fetal position, but one that does not exactly scream 'i'm feeling fine, thanks for asking!' She pants for breath...

And a moment later, two soldiers are kneeling by her side. Each raises an arm, draping it about their shoulder. And the Dahlia is lifted back to her feet.

// Trust me, Zach. //
The message is clearer this time -- and the outward pressure exerted upon Athena's protective field makes a slow return to stability.

The sanjiegun's chains jangle as she shakes the weapon with renewed focus -- a tremor that suffuses her entire body with pink energy. Her hair is ... a little frizzed out, but nothing a vigorous brushing couldn't straighten out.

"Whatever does not kill us, Miss Asamiya, makes us stronger."
As the air returns, the words remain shaky -- her lungs had fought valiantly against the withdrawal. But she will not bow down, or yield -- for unlike Athena, she has the utmost confidence in her own success.

She lowers herself, coiling in anticipation.
The soldiers match her effort.

And then with a mighty vault, the Dahlia sails into the air, twisting into a forward somersault. Her left hand clutches one end of the sanjiegun. And in mid-flight, the other is tossed into her right.

Moving with the alacrity of her spectral soldiers, she suddenly veers off in different direction. One sanjiegun tip is dragged diagonally down across Athena's guard, threatening to blast it aside. And then, the soldier drags her in a lateral strike across her center. A third strike streaks upwards in a diagonal line -- and a fourth drags downward, aiming to coil the length of the chained weapon across Athena's left leg, ensnaring it for a brutal takedown.
And then -- she would tug upwards, the chained weapon threatening to shear the shin bones in two...

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena dodges Honoka's Shitumbe Marapto.

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

Her arm extended, the destructive attack unleashed, Asamiya drops back to the stone from her low hovering. She staggers a step forward, right hand returning to her side where a tender bruise spreads beneath her crimson jacket. A hiss of breath whistles between her teeth as she struggles to stay upright as the formidable presence she had commanded at first begins to wane, melting away like snow in summer, no longer fueled by the soul empowered martial artist.

Her attack lands before she can draw in a second breath, her body crying out for rest from this trial by kombat. The voices, the presences that pressed against her mind, are silenced, their life's echo extinguished in the attack she just unleashed. It has always proven to be a temporary reprieve, but one she welcomes all the same, a silence in her head where before there was a mob.

Her opponent is on the ground, moving, conscious, alive. Her own thoughts an indistinct buzz as violet eyes blink slowly, every effort poured into keeping herself steady as she aims to stand up straighter now. The sacrifice of the soldier to weather the obliterating attack... unlike the bear who reacted with rage, that spirit bore his duty with... solemnity, accepting his fate with honor in the face of certain destruction, a spear of loyalty not missed by the psion's eyes, blurring vision or no.

She hasn't the speed to take advantage of Honoka while she is down before the woman's allies are at her sides, bolstering her up, ready to bring her back into the fight. And even if she could, would she? Striking out at a fallen opponent... that is something the red-haired demon would do, something the soul construct of infinite horror would do... she hasn't become like them, has she? That she has to wonder is cause for worry alone.

With passing seconds, her breathing gets under control, her vision clearing enough for her to see the important details - a weapon, a woman bearing it, and the spirits moving along with her, supporting her, driven to see her succeed while Asamiya stands alone. Her head is clearer now, her old training taking hold as Honoka coils into a ready position before taking to the air.

For as battleworn as she is, Asamiya is fast on her feet. No longer darting around like a living comet, she moves like the wind, bending around the blows targeting her rather than attempting to weather them. A lean against the first, a side step and duck below the second, and a quick pivot of her torso, invoking renewed pain in her side for the third before finally skipping back to disengage before the sanjiegun can find her leg and take her to the ground.

Feet slide on the stone a short distance, a streak of blood left by her bare foot. Wasn't this how she was trained to fight? Her psychic potential had carried her far, but it was the basics that Chin Gentsai had been forcing her to practice, hour after hour. Why had she always put so little focus on her Kung Fu... the allure of destructive Psycho Power was that great? How is that any different from the psychic monsters of the world?

Questions for another time. If she lived to see the day, she would need to redouble her training. Having had a taste of vast power beyond her own, she knows now the danger it entails, the risk she is not prepared for. Even Kensou seemed to have his Kung Fu down better than she did. She needs to catch up!

Balance and poise controlled, she snaps her right hand out to her side. "A lesson never more evident than on this island," she whispers just loud enough to be heard in return. Others HAVE died, the opportunity to get stronger denied them. But she's still here, still pursuing her need to reclaim what was lost, her promise to Momoko that she would fight to the bitter end. An end that seems to creep ever closer now. And Honoka stands, a woman of formidable power yet with that power she possesses remarkable control. How has she grown into it so well? Just who IS she?

Her extended hand has its fingers out straight like a knife as Asamiya leans forward then breaks into a sprint, her healthy legs carrying her fast though her advance is controlled rather than wild and bestial. Pure rose hued energy courses down her forearm, extending out past her fingers, shaping into a blade of thought, its infinitely sharp edge capable of slicing through any inanimate matter while doing no harm to the flesh. Defending against it would be a test few had ever succeeded.

The girl's sprint brings her in fast, the reach of her psychic blade means that she need not risk getting point blank with the woman that has handled close quarters combat more expertly than the idol fighter.

A swing of her arm, horizontal at first, then sweeping up into the sky, the momentum carrying her into an upward leap as well, a trail of shimmering rose sparkles lingering in the wake of her blade as she aims to slice through the Ainu leader's soul from hip to shoulder!

Zach's body relaxes as the yellow glow around him fades as Glen releases the hold. He grits his teeth as he retakes his place behind the wall, left fist clenched tight enough for his nails to pierce the skin of his palms.

<<Don't play around with her,>> Zach states. <<There is no telling how she'll react to much of anything right now.>>

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the spread of the lightning nerves.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka dodges Athena's Psycho Sword.

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

As the combat continues under the silver light of the moon, it will become harder to keep track of the Ainu kombatant, as the rounded soul stone on her sash has dimmed significantly: a testament to the extended duration of combat between the two psychic performers. But even with her soul stone and the radiating golden threads fading in lustre, the Dahlia licks her lips with the realization that her diminishing power is not as great as that of her opponent. Confusion, a lack of self-confidence -- a growing haze over what was before a crystal clarity of purpose.

In a way, this makes the battle harder for the master manipulator. A fighter with a clear and direct purpose will strike unerringly with that purpose in mind. A fighter without such drive may feel cornered, lashing out in any direction.

The brilliant tactician Sun Tzu had an elements of wisdom that apply in such a case -- When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

It is with that aim that the Dahlia had aimed to pressure her opponent -- to continue herding the Psycho Soldier backwards into the space controlled by her spectral army. And yet, she ensured that there would be a gap between her soldiers -- such that Athena's withdrawal places her between a pair of her cerulean enforcers, their spearpoints gleaming in the silver moonlight. Their spears thrust forward -- tacit reminders that had Athena chosen to zig rather than zag, the results may have been considerably more dire.

The Dahlia's offensive posture relents, in accordance with Sun Tzu's wisdom -- with a fearsome whistle, the sanjiegun is brought back to heel, swiveling its vicious circle behind her left flank, while her outstretched right hand makes a subtle pushing command to her subordinates.
As bidden -- the spectral soldiers withdraw and regroup, marching in an arc behind the Psycho Soldier. When a soldier's march might carry him within the violet-haired psion's peripheral vision, he instead flickers out of existence to the opposite side, continuing his march from there. Athena may have proved her ability to avoid a static formation -- but can she keep track of the three soldiers at once?

%Meanwhile, the two soldiers Athena was able to see have taken similarly threatening postures, their spears affixed in place upon their backs. Here, is it their hands and their hollow, iris-less eyes which are the threat. Their vision allows them to see the threat of the Psycho Sword for what it is -- their mouths part in a silent bark of warning to their general. And with a cerulean blur, the spirits transform into the zephyr beneath the Dahlia's feet as she leaps backwards -- but is even their providence enough to spare her from the keen edge of the will-forged blade?

It would appear, for an instant, that it is not, as a scrap of elm-bark fabric flutters noiselessly through the air in the wake of the blade.
An instant later, the Dahlia's raised hand reveals that while the horizontal slash of the blade was close, the quick thinking of her defenders proved to be enough to spare her from the wrath visited upon her now-fluttering sleeve. As she vaults free of Athena's upward stroke, she reassures herself that the fashion crimes visited unevenly upon her sleeves can be dealt with at a later time.

"Indeed," she confides upon landing, "And to some, not even death has been the end." The spirits bound away, their job done; as much as they have helped her, they cannot keep her voice from betraying the severe level of fatigue incurred by the feats undertaken throughout the combat. Her spirit defenders may act as the wind beneath her feet or the wind at her back, or as the earthen armor surrounding her joints, but they cannot provide the regenerative energies of her companion in the crowd. That, too, may have to come later.

A glance is spared towards the tendrils of sanguine shadow, the remnants of the souls from before -- immobilized for several seconds, they are beginning to stir into motion again. The Dahlia's teeth grit with the significance -- the reminder of a hard-fought battle which had been effectively annuled due to some force she's not yet been able to ascertain.

But even that furtive glance was a daring risk in front of the might of the Psycho Soldier before her. Honoka had hoped to see Athena's skill up close and in person. And now, reinforcing her presence into an arc directly in front of her, the Ainu tusukur calls upon the spirits of the starry heavens above. The sanjiegun is swiveled out in front of her, and with one grand sweep of her arm, the sanjiegun is hurled free of her hands, spinning in a rapid circle, suspended perpendicular to the ground in open defiance of gravity.

Rapidly, fingers are traced in the five points of a star. Simultaneously, bright points of light are born in the space surrounding the spinning sanjiegun, as the circle begins to glow with pink and purple energies -- the force growing in both intensity and temperature. And then she slams her open palm into the locus of the spin, shoving the accumulated energies forward into a star-shaped column of pure, refined will.

Her timing is exactingly precise: the massive outpouring of psionic power would pass directly between guards marching behind her opponent, without their even missing a step. It will seek to envelop Athena whole, the weaponized will powerful enough to be felt through any cloth or metal armor, searing straight through to the core of existence. A heat that burns to the soul itself. Perfectly gauged to knock the last bit of fight out of the Psycho Soldier -- allowing her to repeat her earlier insistence, as bidden.

COMBATSYS: Athena reflects Nochiu-o Kando from Honoka with Shield Psycho Reflector.

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

The battlefield is crowded. In facing the Ainu woman, Asamiya finds herself fighting a unit of forces acting with coordination managed with a thought or commanding word. She stands alone on the stage, the souls in her glimmering gold star would not support her, they existed only to be used, like every fight before now. All the movement taking place around her would be difficult to track, as even eyesight can be difficult to trust here.

Except as she finds herself bleeding away the distracting power that she had tried to crash into her opponent with, it is becoming easier to track them. Each soul is a presence felt in her mind, their positions easier to sense without even putting effort into it. But in becoming more aware of them, she is also able to feel more the cause for their coordination. There is unity in purpose among them - for the most part - and loyalty that has extended beyond the grave.

It is between them she had charged, her arm swinging, the extension of her will a blade that cannot be stopped. Even as the first swing fails to connect, Asamiya lunges forward, pivoting into a full bodied spin in the opposite direction, attempting a second slash that comes just shy of slicing a path through the unseen presence of her skilled opponent. She spins out of the second slash, eager to leap into a third, perhaps more reckless, over extending attempt at catching the elusive Dahlia, but the Psycho Powered edge simply cannot be maintained further, the projection collapsing into mist-like rose vapor with sparkling motes drifting through its wake as it finally vanishes, the rosey illumination afforded by the energy snuffed out allowing dark to close back into the center of the arena.

Pushed to the limits of mind and body, she is still aware enough to realize that she is no longer armed, catching herself before she commits to a futile leap into the range of the Dahlia or those spectral spears that seek to pin her movements down. Sliding to a stop, long hair rushing forward from behind her head, she leans back as she immediately transitions from an aggressive offense into a snappy defense even as the fabric sliced free from her opponent's sleeve hits the stone floor.

Cheeks red from exertion, her hairline damp with perspiration, the young fighter's focus is locked to the spinning, hovering sanjiegun, the energy given life by Honoka's gestures providing most of the light now. That she is about to be faced with an attack she cannot hope to withstand is abundantly clear, and with the stage feeling smaller by the moment, her options for mobility constrained by the presences she tracks without even a conscious thought, there is a heartbeat of despair, a moment where she can see the impending end of the bout.

In the end, there was only one option available to her, a weapon chosen out of desperation given her mounting fatigue. Since surviving the encounter at the bridge, she had been denied the flashes of foresight that sometimes saw her through the most difficult of circumstances but she knew her evasive speed would simply not be enough now.

As Honoka's hand slams forward, Asamiya aggresses as well, her arms out in front of her, left arm low, right arm high, palms facing each other. It was a technique almost never demonstrated in any of her public matches, a skill Master Gentsai had helped her hone with intense training over the years of her time with him. A concave flash of rose manifests between the palms of her hands, shimmering bright and boldly, solidifying at the speed of light right into the path of the beam.

A collision of power lights up the whole stage as the young psionic valkyrie is driven back over the ground, teeth grit, every iota of her dwindling potential poured into the flawless barrier against Honoka's projected will. With a building cry, the girl finally forces it back, advancing a step rather than being driven back. Another step, and a shove of her arms, and a rebound blast of force is sent exploding back out from around her, threatening to encompass the Ainu shamaness on its way back.

For her part, the girl staggers forward, the barrier collapsing, her mind no longer able to give it form, but eve as her bloodied foot touches down, she catches herself from falling.

"Not yet," she gasps a breath, demanding herself to continue.
"Not yet."

COMBATSYS: Athena successfully hits Honoka with Reflected Nochiu-o Kando.

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

Now that the Psycho Soldier's speed has begun to falter, the Ainu tusukur is more confident of her ability to land an avalanche of psychic force upon her capable opponent. One of her signature attacks, the "Starry Heaven" has a number of small variations, but the intense focus requires her entire body to be fixed into place. Tremendous energies are summoned into existence, and just as fast, those psionic forces are lensed through the concavity of her spinning sanjiegun into a coherent beam of energy.

In normal practice, the energy will be ushered away as quickly as it is summoned. But now, the Dahlia finds her brow furrowing with agitation as the Psycho Solder exerts resistance. The column of energy begins a feedback loop, as the core continues pushing forward while the circumference is folded in upon itself by Asamiya's concave barrier. The column begins to turn itself inside out, as the outer shell of the beam is redirected into the core, the energies clashing against each other in an intensely bright reaction. Sensing the tragedy about to befall her, the Dahlia cuts off her energy transfer just as the beam begins to shear apart, like a waterhose directed into the center of a giant mixing bowl. White-hot light ricochets off the barrier, bleaching the stones of the floor below a milky white before blasting them into a cloud of finely incinerated dust.

The spinning sanjiegun begins to flag as the Dahlia withdraws her hand. Her eyes squint from the blinding brilliance of the interaction, her jaw set into an expression of dismay. She snatches the center bar of the sanjiegun as the remainder of the energies draw back into a perfect torus, reforged to make the best of the unwelcome opportunity. If Asamiya's barrier were any less perfect, the Ainu shaman might have been able to expand that torus that into a barrier shield of her own -- but instead, the unleashed avalanche hits her from above and below at the same time -- a hollowed-out shockwave that arcs her spine backwards as it drags her extremities back at a ridiculous degree of speed.

The Dahlia is caught flat-footed -- unable to leverage her considerable agility to escape.
The entire exchange lasts but an instant.
The audience watches on in awestruck silence, unable to make sense of the acrobatic Ainu woman being swept away. Her sense of balance has been eviscerated in the attack, lost in the seemingly ceaseless tumbling as she feebly attempts to gain purchase across the stone. Cries of pain are loosed, but these are muffled by the rolling of the shaman's body across the stonework.

Finally, the small of the tumbling Honoka's back comes to rest against the firm surface of a torch holder a long ways away. Pain wracks her aching body as she lets herself fall forward onto her hands and knees -- a tremor which she aims to control with a primal roar. To succumb to the pain is tantamount to failure -- an admission that she's lost all hold of the situation. Shouting with undifferentiated rage, she pulls forth the power from the soulstone at her waist -- arteries of honey-hued energy radiating outwards in such numbers that her entire body begins to adopt a similar hue for itself. With a jangle of the sanjiegun's chains, her body elevates in defiance of gravity, feet clearing the ground -- held aloft by nothing more than undeniable will.

When she had only marshaled a small number of soul energies, it was easier for her to assign the energies to specific souls.

If she were to assign each disparate element of energy to a different soldier in this fight, the legions would be too numerous for the Ainu general to manage. A regiment that large requires entrusting lieutenant commanders to execute orders on their own. As much as she has come to trust her spectral soldiers, they do not share -all- their dreams and aspirations with the Akatsuki advisor: they have discrete personalities, individual hopes and dreams. Controlling them all simultaneously requires constant nudging and nurturing on a nearly conscious level from the Shadow Manipulator -- concessions, favors, acknowledgments, and assurances.

It was easier to entrust each soldier with multiple elements of soul power -- an acceptable compromise between numerical superiority and control. With the number of disparate elements kept at a manageable level, an occasional glance over the battlefield realigns the objective reality of the situation with her personal, subjective read of the same.

She's begun to lose control of the arena, she understands -- and yet, her quarry is surrounded. There must be escapes for the prey, lest the backlash be as severe as the last. With a silent order, four soldiers are redistributed into a less predictable pattern -- alternating between attack and withdrawal, but aiming only to apply pressure upon Athena's boundaries without actually piercing them -- to provide the illusion that she might have the opportunity to escape, if she were to brave walking through the tendrils of sanguine shadow mist...

Not yet, Athena says.
The Dahlia reasserts control over emotions, the rage subsiding as she forces her lips into a mild frown, her eyes downturning in disapproval.
"And yet, you hesitate..." she states.
The Dahlia's voice is ragged -- something clear even as the golden light glistens across her body, superimposed over the bruises which are beginning to evidence themselves across her bared wrists and elbows, across her face, across the worn-through knees and hips of her elm bark garment.

Her expression turns into a smirk, eyes lighting up with fiery intensity, as the sanjiegun is allowed to slip lower in her grasp.

"If you have any cards left to play, now is the time."

Honoka thunders forward, golden light spilling across the decimated stonework in her wake. Her raven-black hair glistens with honeyed light as she soars forward, closing the considerable gap between herself and Athena in a fraction of a second. Her army has her surrounded, but for those scant avenues of escape.

It will be difficult to use that avenue to escape the transverse arc described by the horizontal slash of the sanjiegun -- its golden hue bringing to mind the emush-ibe blade used by her Ainu sister. And should she be so unlucky as to crash into the guard, perhaps it would be even more difficult to avoid the quick reversal of direction as the Dahlia carves in a harsh followup, carving downward in the intent to deliver a crippling diagonal crack against the Psycho Soldier's shoulderblade. And only then would the Dahlia diverge from armed attack to deliver a crushing palm strike to the sternum intended to bring Athena to her knees.

COMBATSYS: Honoka issues a challenge!!

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka channels the glare of the vicious eye.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena fails to interrupt Crushing Strike from Honoka with Psychic Bit.

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

COMBATSYS: Athena can no longer fight.

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

As the redirected power fades, the arena stage is left to fade to black, illuminated only faintly by the tendrils of golden energy radiating out from Honoka herself. The side where Asamiya stands following her desperate deflection falls into shadow, obscuring the girl in the dark.

Of course, neither of these two fighters really needed the light in order to see one another.

Her arms falling to her sides, she stands up straight, forcing herself to ignore the pain in her side, the throbbing ache of her head, or the discomforting drip of blood along both sides of her neck. Her breaths are haggard as she focuses now on trying to collect herself while the sanjiegun wielder recovers as well. There are no reserves with which to charge in and attack again, she would not be at her fastest then. And this opponent required her fastest. It is in this quiet moment of brief reprieve that she is able to observe the control the Scarlet Dahlia has over the battlefield itself, eyes flicking to the side as soldiers move into position as directed, determining for her the potential routes of maneuvering.

Attention snaps back to the woman as she mentions hesitation. "I know that simply wanting is not power enough to win a war," Asamiya considers. "But it is not an easy fact to accept." She lifts her hands slowly, feeling the exhaustion in her arm and leg muscles, limbs demanding rest now that the savage power she had wrested had been spent. She had been pushed to this point before, but every time there had been something that sustained her through the impossible, helped her break through barriers of potential to discover where her limits truly were.

But this time she stands alone. The souls extinguished, her heart suffering a gaping emptiness, even adopting her ready stance does little to solidify her uncertainty. "But the heaviest burden is accepting the truth you declared - individual concerns will not save the world." Violet eyes close briefly before snapping open to stare at the golden glare that now illuminates the courtyard anew. "Easy to say..." A faint smile toys at the corners of her mouth. "But letting go is... harder than I imagined. I can't fathom what you will have to sacrifice to stand for all of us in the end."

She holds her breath then. The Ainu general is upon her in an instant. Of the avenues to escape deceivingly offered, she choses none of them. Arms pivot, attempting to swing into intercepting paths in time to deflect the sweeping strikes as the two fighters are illuminated in golden light. Her defense is not in time, the weapon smacking against her upper arm in its first pass, then driving a painful blow against her shoulder that nearly crumples her to the ground.

She releases her held breath in pain, attempting to make good on her decision to strike back directly, to eschew flight or manipulated escapes and attack directly now that her opponent has come to her.

Honoka's hand slams out and Asamiya's does likewise, almost as if the two have the exact same idea. She would sense the energy behind the girl's palm thrust, a pressure thrumming, ready to explode forcibly on contact. She isn't in time - Dahlia's own offensive momentum delivers her strike a split second later, countering Asamiya's aggressive lunge with decisive power against her sternum. What little air remained in her lungs is ejected in an instant, a silent expression of shock as the blow thunders through her chest and rattles her back, her body forced back up onto her toes on the verge of collapsing backward against the stone.

She manages to keep from falling more by going limp than actually executing a timely recovery, her knees buckling as her weight crashes back down on her feet and she continues falling, dropping to her knees with an uncontrolled thud.

Her mind races as she finds herself sitting there, a final surge of willpower compelling her to continue, to lunge up, to dig deeper, pull harder, and get back to her feet against the impossible damage she had taken. Isn't that her role? Her obligation? To stand in the end against the impossible? What could get her to that point? More anger? Greater resolve?

She breaths in, forcing her lungs to work, teeth gritting as that spark begins to build into something more, a defiance, a need to strike again. But she had already decided, hadn't she? Was the chilling realization she had moments before any less accurate now? Perhaps it is time to let go after all.

Shoulders slouch, head bowing, arms lifting to press her hands against her chest as her body heaves with the breaths she requires now. If Earth is to win this abominable tournament, the burden if victory will have to be carried by another now.

The Scarlet Dahlia moves with the celerity of lightning, barely a split-second ahead of her opponent at every turn. The searing, radiant light of her innervated soul casts her features into sharp relief as she thunders over the kneeling Asamiya. The chain of the sanjiegun jangles behind the Ainu woman, its blunt force having more than proven itself throughout the fight. Her fingers splay outwards, insinuating a threat to choke the very life out of the Justice High student's neck -- to even out the debt incurred with suggesting the malefic reaper's scythe would be at the Dahlia's neck.

Perhaps the gods are trying to forge the perfect weapon, she had said.
The words repeat in her mind, as the dull roar from the audience resounds in her ears. Soaked in adrenaline, intoxicated by bloodlust, the crisp shouts of "FINISH HER!" smear into low-pitched funeral dirges, recognizable not as language but for the raw emotions.
To let emotions rule oneself is to sacrifice that which makes one human.

Her heart pounds in her chest, forces a wracking shudder through her outstretched hand. Heated breath hisses between bared teeth, to the rhythm of the Dahlia's left hand as it continues whipping the sanjiegun around -- for concentration, and for intimidation. The space left between the golden veins of her soulstone's auric essence is so comparatively dark as to nearly melt away into the shadows -- a show of the powers still marshalled by the injured Dahlia.

The soldiers array themselves in a ring around Athena. Their steady march halts -- their spears barely visible against the radiance of the honey shard at the Dahlia's waist.
Her heart pounds again -- faster.
The voices of the audience become more crisp, more clear to her.
Kill her!
Soak the courtyard in her blood!
Winner takes all!

She moistens her lips, staring down at Athena. The soul gem at the front of her sash responds to the proximity of Athena's soul-charged headband, bathing Athena in uncomfortable warmth. Like the crowd, it hungers for more...

... Winner take all.
Honoka repeats that to herself, reaching out into the night air as one eye falls shut.
She searches past the remnants of the sanguine shadows, the tendrils still struggling to reform in the wake of the power they had absorbed earlier.
She searches past the torn remnants of plum-colored energy, the reminders of Athena's power still lingering in the air.
It takes but an instant to identify one particular presence in the midst of the crowd.
One who is waiting to see if she will hold true to her promise.

Lacquered wood clacks. The chain jangles. The sanjiegun is called back to her left hand. A moment later, the weapon is returned to its place on the Ainu woman's sash, hanging at a lower pitch due to the wear and tear of battle.

The audience's chants for murder fall silent, their echoes all that remains on the still night sky.
The soulstone ebbs, its heat scaling back a few notches on the unbearableness meter.

The eyes open. The lips curl into a closed frown, as the extended hand inverts into a supine position.
There will be no death -- only calm and rational mercy.

"You fought well, Miss Asamiya. The fight was every bit as rewarding as I had imagined it to be."
Her lips curl into a faint smile -- though not so far as to be considered prideful or arrogant.

It would be a simple matter to throw Athena's words back in her face. The cold, harsh reminder to 'survive', as if that weren't already the highest priority on the Ainu woman's list.

"I believe, though... that the kamui have already forged the weapons needed to win this battle."
The soul gem pulses, as if adding its own voice to the Ainu general's chorus.
"Their test was to see what we would do with them."

The audience begins to grow restless. Some are unsure what to think -- two vibrant women in the peak of youth their clothing in some state of disarray, smeared with blood and sweat. Many are already predisposed to violence -- and of course, no small number are devoted to the forces of Outworld. Of course they would want to see the Dahlia take another life, as had only been conveyed through rumor until this point.

As the Dahlia's hand falls upon her hip, her aura begins to subside.
The soldiers return their weapons to their rightful places, staring blankly at Asamiya from their encircling formation.

"The Earth's future, as you said, hinges upon us. And how we approach it. I can imagine that it would be difficult to let go -- to -wield- the weapon the kamui have unfairly granted to you."

The audience begins to shout. Some pump their fists -- as if threatening more harm than impotent chants from their seats against the sole light source that dares to compete with the silvered moon above.

The Dahlia raises her hand to the crowd -- a signal to stop.
They cannot hear her words -- for they are meant only for Athena.

"Perhaps, as claimed, I do not know you. Perhaps you are not the caring, selfless heroine that the world believes you are. Perhaps I, like countless others, have placed you upon a pedestal of greatness."

The cries from the audience begin to fall silent -- questioning. Is there going to be murder or not?!

"Perhaps you are the bloodthirsty, ravenous beast who sought to wring the life from me at the beginning of our battle."

The Dahlia steps back, brushing her gold-veined fingertips soothingly across the scars on her forearm. The intensity of the light begins to fade, as the fluid ambrosia smears across the wound, salving it.
She draws in her breath, eyes narrowing in acknowledgement of the considerable pain. But by the time it is done, the auric veins have been fully absorbed into her.
The soulstone ebbs.
But her skin is awash in a muted, but uniform, glow.

"Or perhaps you hadn't noticed..." she continues, a faint and knowing smile crossing her face. "... that you became the woman you always believed you were. The woman to give hope to the fallen. The woman to give faith to the lost."

The Dahlia runs fingers through her blood-matted hair, sparing a glance at the quieted crowd beyond Athena's shoulder. She sees now that they have been pacified -- no longer crying out for death, but wondering just when the shaman will get to the point.

"My point is, Miss Asamiya -- our enemies will be stronger. You have been gifted with the weapon, the power to kill -- and you have not done so yet. It is a terrible, fearsome responsibility. But I..."

She draws in her breath. The oppressive aura is gone -- when did it even disappear? -- replaced with an aura of gentle radiance. A cool, soothing violet, in marked opposition to the intense pink of her earlier onslaught.

Her hand is extended to Athena -- a show of assistance, of mercy.

"I have met your challenge. I have passed your test. And if I am to stand in defense of Earthrealm, I will need your help. I need you, Miss Asamiya."

Her smile takes on an earnestness unrevealed thus far in the fight. "For you, for Earth. For Kensou, and Haru... For Momoko, and everyone you love back home. The kamui granted you a weapon, but in wielding it, you were forced to set down the weapon you already knew how to use best."

The Dahlia pauses, her eyes trembling with the mixed demands of the fight and holding a one-to-one conversation in view of hundreds of observers.


COMBATSYS: Honoka takes no action.

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

COMBATSYS: Honoka has ended the fight here.

Now that the fight is done, things are much easier to handle. Zach hops the barricade, moving at a light jog towards the two fighters. He stops just short of the Dahlia, behind and to the left of her in a subordinate position.

He does not hear the conversation; he's not nearly in time for it. He looks back and forth between the two women, then at the crowd. They do not seem too thrilled by the outcome of the fight. They wanted blood not a moment ago, and such emotions do not go away easily.

She has not been blind to the stakes present in the matches throughout the tournament. Even her first bout seemed to be to the death, the demon having every intent of obliterating her with the might of his judging fist before he plunged into the abyss. To accept defeat while still possessing a conscious mind and the ability to draw breath, is to accept the potential for death. This moment could mark the end of her story, a tale she had hoped and fight to continue for as long as she could.

But there are greater stakes. She had to be willing to sacrifice the price she had gathered to pay the debt no matter what the outcome. If she wasn't to stand as Earth's final champion against the great enemy, then she would need to forfeit all she had. But beyond that, she had to accept that she could die here, a thought so profoundly consuming as to leave her quiet, kneeling with head bowed before her opponent, eyes closed as she watched events play out with the sensitive awareness of her fatigued mind.

She can feel the emotions at play, the conflicts weighed and carefully measured, and the tension compelling the victor to seal her triumph in blood that could never be denied. The moments seem to play out over the course of several minutes even if only seconds are passing by, the girl waiting for the next blow to come. Will it be short and decisive, or will it be prolonged and agonizing? There is a roaring in her head, a byproduct of stresses, both mental and physical. But through even its deafening thunder, the Scarlet Dahlia's voice cuts clean, audible and articulate.

Instead of a threat or herald of the fatal strike to come, she hears a compliment? The tension in the arena is still stifling, and her own strength reduced to the point where it is difficult to shove it all back, but she manages to carve out her own small space, a tiny cocoon just large enough for herself where only her own thoughts and emotions reign.

Even with her eyes closed, she is not blind to the golden light Honoka's aura bathes over the area around her, illuminating the two fighters in a pool of soft light centered in a stage of black. Off to the side, a guard wrestles with getting the torches lit once more, the first bursting into an orange glow far from the two, its crackle of flame audible once the power of the victor quiets the audience's zeal.

Her breaths coming slower now, her healthy if damaged body recovering from the vigor of kombat quickly, Asamiya chokes as Honoka speaks of knowing her for the image she had always presented to the world at large, the person she strove to be at all times no matter the pressure. Scratched and dirty hands lift to her eyes, a sob impossible to suppress shaking her shoulders.

Honoka continues, addressing the power the violet haired psychic had wielded and built up over the course of the tournament, battling monster after monster to reach this point, sustained by her younger friend and the insightful swordsman of the shattered blade. Breathing in, asserting a control over herself born of powerful resolve, she glances to the side as mention of passing the test is made.

In strength and tactics, in power and speed, there is no denying the woman that stands before her is better fit to fight for their world than she is. She has mastered the power she collected, not letting it control her but rather marshalling it to the most effective battlefield presence Asamiya has ever seen in action.

The offered hand is ignored for several seconds. Has she not noticed it, with her watering eyes, her bowed and turned head? Surely she would be aware all the same, of the intent unspoken for which there is no need to see.

Finally, she reaches, dampened hands clamping around Honoka's, a strain of exhausted muscles as she pulls herself to her feet to face the Ainu warrior directly. Violet eyes blink as she wrestles with composure even still, lifting her right arm to wipe across her eyes once, heedless of the dirty streaks left behind. There is a certain presence of support around Honoka, an aura that lifts rather than crushes, and benefitting from the subtle gift comes easily.

She has been silent all the while, her thoughts shrouded in a shell of adamantium, forged by a lifetime of hiding, repressing, and restraining the aura of unfathomable influence she could possess. But finally she speaks, her voice steady if muted by her weary, barely stable state. "You did pass any test I could possibly imagine. But you are not our grand champion yet." Her mouth is a thin pressed line of intense focus. There is nothing preventing the woman from killing her now. In defeat, she is no longer protected by any edicts that would limit what could happen to her. She is at the Shadow General's mercy. Yet still she holds back, studying Honoka intently as she speaks.

"You have my support and, should you be our champion, I will give you any help I can possibly provide at that time. But there is still at least one more battle to determine if that is the case, yes? Stand at the end of that last test and into your hands, I will place all my hope and the hope of all I hold dear."

Her terms seem clear, as dangerous as they may be. A portion of what she holds could be taken now, her life forfeit. But there is the opportunity to gain all she has if the Scarlet Dahlia will triumph one last time.

"I'm sorry it has to be this way," Asamiya states apologetically, pulling away from Honoka, releasing her hand to stand on unsteady legs that threaten to betray her should her will falter for even an instant. "But as amazing as you are, you are not my only ally in this final round." What of the swordsman, Kenshi? Of Rose, friend of the Psycho Soldiers? She cannot willingly betray their fights until the dust has settled.

The girl's face resonates with decision, violet eyes locked on Honoka's. This is not a matter she any choice concerning; the circumstances of her support predicated upon a number of other personal ties. The only one with choice here is the Ainu shaman before her.

The soldiers' spectral forms have faded to near invisibility in the wake of battle; they are no longer needed to instill fear into the opponent. Indeed, one need not be psychic to read the emotions inscribed upon the Psycho Soldier, in the light of the soft glow emanating from the Ainu shaman's soul stone. Anxiety, insecurity -- a sense of failing to meet expectations. Certainly nothing to be surprised at, after a battle rife with such charged emotions.

But the Shadow Manipulator is psychic, and sensitive to the feelings of those around her. Particularly those weakened, and those in close proximity, both conditions of which Athena easily qualifies -- if not for the impenetrable wall erected around her emotional state. But of greater concern to the Scarlet Dahlia is how easily -her- emotions can be similarly read by the Justice High student kneeling before her. How even the slightest impression of subterfuge might be interpreted. She has only had limited experience dealing with other psychics -- and no true measure of how impenetrable, or how vulnerable, her own defenses are.

Hence, the several weeks spent minding her words and how they might be construed, spent reinforcing her mental discipline to such a degree that her ministrations could withstand scrutiny.

Indeed -- while the aggression may have ended, and while she may be extending a hand to the violet-haired schoolgirl before her, the Dahlia still considers the psychic to be one of her most dangerous adversaries.
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, as the saying goes.

The Ainu graciously supports Athena in her return to her feet, holding onto her hand even while speaking with her in quiet tones. It is true that there is some measure of risk to Athena: with the forces still at the Ainu's disposal, the gestures of friendship could be reversed at any moment.
That might make the crowd happy, if not the ashen-haired man approaching her from the left.
Indeed -- for one moment, there is a notable spike in the shaman's blood pressure, a hardening of her jaw as the intended terms of the agreement are... altered. Or, rather, sidestepped.
The Akatsuki advisor misses having her legal team around more than ever.

She looks to her right, not wanting to address the Justice High schoolgirl in her moment of indecision. Standing a fair distance away is one of her spectral soldiers, wavering in and out of transparency.
She reflects upon the situation: if the positions were reversed, would she not be reluctant to part with the soul powers on the murder island? Would she not want to be sure she picked the right team?
As her soldier senses the unspoken turmoil, he gains an increased measure of opacity. He does not need to speak -- even with his limited understanding of archaic Japanese, he knows what Athena said. He gives one solemn nod of support -- consent.

As Athena steps away, the Dahlia turns back to her, an impassive look upon her face -- and a glassy, faraway look in her eyes.
Sorry it has to be this way. Is she really?
An eyebrow twitches. Nostrils flare. Breath is drawn in.

"There is..."
Her words spilled out quickly. Catching herself for a moment, she slows down just a beat before continuing.
"... nothing to apologize for."
A faint smile tugs the corners of her lips.
"You are a woman of principles who speaks the truth, and I respect that."

The Dahlia takes a step backwards, folding both arms by her side -- and bowing, as any Japanese citizen would in a show of mutual respect.
"Thank you for the wonderful test of resolve. I have no doubts that success will smile upon us with you at my side. But now..."

The Dahlia pivots to her left, turning to stare right at Zach Glenn. The faint smile from moments before has turned into a firm line. Her eyes reveal a measure of guarded concern.
Her voice, though, is just as amicable as could be.
"Mr Glenn -- would you please ensure Miss Asamiya's wounds are attended to? I will be retiring to my quarters."

With that, she breaks her gaze, taking long strides away from Athena and Zach. With a casual gesture, a measure of the honey yellow energy spills from her hands, sliding across the courtyard to sweep up the remnants of crimson shadow.
With that loose end tied up, the Dahlia moves to depart.

Zach's own mouth is a similarly firm line. He's clearly uncomfortable about something, and it likely has nothing to do with his near breach of the fight. He nods once, and walks back to the stands, pulling a bag out. He returns quickly to Athena's side, bearing what prove to be bandages, bottled water, and a couple bunches of bananas.

"If you'll allow me," he offers, "I'll do what I can. The use of our power limits what I can do. It'd be like treating a burn with more fire." He smiles slightly for Athena.

There is nothing for her to do but wait. Her heart may be locked off now, and even her expression displaying only a fatigued sobriety that lends itself to being read in many conflicting ways - defeat, resolve, exhaustion, fear, fearlessness. For this moment, her true feelings, including the validity or lack thereof of her apology, are nothing but an enigma that refuses to be read until further clues can be gathered.

When the Scarlet Dahlia declares the apology unnecessary, the highschool fighter closes her eyes, enough tension bleeding off to allow her shoulders to drop a little, a soft exhale of pensive breath breathed out slowly.

Her eyes are open a moment later as Honoka continues to speak and when the bow comes, she replies with an identical gesture, bending forward at the waist and holding the posture for a number of seconds after the Ainu woman has turned her attention toward the approaching man from the sidelines, a familiar presence from less trying times.

A slow blink has Asamiya shifting her focus to him as well though her words are still for Honoka. "Good fortune to you in the battles ahead. I look forward to knowing the outcome." Her voice is steady as she recovers her strength. The wounds, bruises, and head pain still persist, but the body crumpling exhaustion is fading, muscles burning with fatigue but otherwise gaining enough strength to keep her upright reliably.

Zach himself takes over for the mysterious woman, the one who had always been there on the sidelines, as Asamiya had realized, and her attention turns to him. A quiet exhale as she continues to work out the tension from her system, then, "Thank you for the offer." She takes a step forward as to follow him now, figuring it would be best for her to get out of sight of the arena at least. Like others who have been eliminated, she is free game for attack now, without any violation of the convoluted terms that govern this tournament.

One last glance is cast after the departing Scarlet Dahlia, a thoughtful look in her eyes, before she shakes her head to follow the man offering water and food to help with a more hasty recovery.

Log created on 01:52:46 12/24/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 20:31:16 12/31/2016.