Description: As the tournament to decide the fate of Earthrealm winds to a close, promises are kept, power is transferred, and the final champion is chosen.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
The loose end of a sanjiegun revolves in a lazy orbit with a rate steady enough to set a watch by. Every three seconds, the two-foot-long shaft reaches its highest point. Every three seconds, a measured flick of the Dahlia's wrist provides just enough momentum to send the weapon into another revolution. Every three seconds, the slight jangle of chain suggests the slack in the chain. A circle that is imperfect, and yet kept from destabilizing by the constant vigilance of the sanjiegun's wielder.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
The Dahlia is seated upon a low boundary wall. Crumbling blocks of stone demarcate the boundary between one section of graveyard and the weathered walkway leading from the Living Forest to the tower looming overhead. Her eyes are half-lidded, her gaze glassy and unfocused. The Tyrant Sorcerer has sent a clear message to the Ainu tusukur, and she has sought solace here in the graveyard -- surrounded by the spirits of the vanquished, the spirits of her ancestors. The soulstone at her hip bathes her elm-bark attire in a honeyed yellow glow, lighting her faintly as if the Scarlet Dahlia herself were a beacon.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
The spirits of six Ainu soldiers array themselves in a strict hexagonal pattern. Translucent and blue, casual observers might be forgiven for not seeing them there in light of the Dahlia's lanternlike glow. Each soldier's back faces the meditative Dahlia. Each spectral soldier's gaze faces outward, hollow eyes taking in all and silently reporting back to their general.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
It is not sleep, and neither is it wakefulness.
If the circle maintained by the sanjiegun were to break, it would likely strike the woman back awake.
But for now -- the Dahlia is content to maintain partial readiness. Half-wakefulness is better than fully vulnerable.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
She's used to going without sleep, after all.
What is three more days of concentration?
Whoosh, Whoosh, Whoosh.
The rhythmic thrum of the twirling staff provides much needed ambiance for the otherwise silent surrounds of the graveyard. it is a place of death and finality. A dry, deserted ground of crumbling remembrances. A place where she, and only she, stands out. After all, it is likely that this was the final resting place for the mortal shells of those spectral figures that guard her.
Whoosh, Whoosh, Whoosh.
Between two rotations of the staff, the criminal queen's surroundings abruptly transition from dead silence to tense expectation. The atmosphere grows heavy, tingles of power rolling out in waves from a point not 10 feet ahead of where she currently meditates. At the same moment, a violent purple flash explodes through the visible spectrum, hitting the spirits that guard her like a wall of physical force. Ever outward the violet energy expands, passing harmlessly through flesh and objects of the material world, though each is outlined as a dark shadow in the otherwise radiant field.
And then, abruptly, the graveyard is cast into comparative darkness once more. The violet light fades into sparkling dots that drift apart, leaving nothing in their wake save a man.
The figure that stands before the Scarlet Dahlia is tall, and battered. Where once he wore a long crimson coat, there is none. Where once he had a sword upon his back, there is now a katana held in his right hand, jagged blade angled up across his body. Said blade is shattered, dark shadows of metal bound unevenly by a network of crimson crystal. Where once his black and crimson armor had been worn but hole, it is now badly scorched and rent, with greyish bandages showing through the worst of the gashes. His hair is tangled and clotted with blood. His beard is unkempt.
His blindfold is gone.
Kenshi, the psychic sage, the wandering ronin, focuses his blank white eyes upon the girl before him. Then, slowly, he slides the fingers of his left hand up the spine of his sword from guard to tip, causing the weapon to gleam with harsh purple radiance. Power radiates from the sword with such force as to be tasted. Noble souls. Vengeful spirits. All bound within the weapon and struggling for dominance.
There is silence.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. The staff's revolution does not falter, its timing as regimented and precise as ever.
All the same, the abrupt shift in atmosphere did not go unnoticed. The Dahlia's eyes widen; their irises respond to the rising brightness. The soulstone grows in brightness. Heartbeat accelerates. Shoulders lift. Lungs inhale a breath of the foul air -- lack of disgust shows a complete attenuation of the Dahlia's nerve endings to the new norm.
If anything, the small irregularity in the path of the sanjiegun is eradicated with the Dahlia's renewed alertness.
It takes her but a moment to put the pieces together; the signs are noticed a moment before the fading brightness reveals the crimson-clad swordsman to view. Familiarity is triggered; Kenshi's calling card is retrieved from her mental rolodex, placed on the figurative table for perusal.
The six soldiers maintain the formation without shifting their feet. An obvious appearance, after all, is a perfect distraction. Concern is etched upon their features, but while their ready, warning stance is unchanged, the hollow eyes of those closest turn towards Kenshi.
The Dahlia's eyes glance up and down Kenshi's form. Battle has ravaged both of the combatants; as the wandering ronin's armor has been destroyed, so too has the Dahlia's tribal Ainu garb. The long, loose robe is worn about the level of the knees, flutering in the faint breeze. The once-voluminous sleeves of the robe have been ripped away, frayed fabric terminating just beyond the shoulders. Fair skin is mottled with scars, evidence of close encounters with branches, or perhaps barbs or armor. Long black hair is unbound, matted with crimson in places.
She could be a lot worse off than she is, all things considered.
Her gaze falls to the sword, even as her own weapon counts off the seconds since his arrival. Two, five, eight.
Is he going to speak... or just continue caressing his sword?
She will not falter, as she had in the prior conversation.
"You look like hell," comments the luminous Dahlia wryly, her lopsided smile demonstrating self-awareness of her own condition. Her tresses flutter lightly in the breeze, sifted absently with the fingers of her right hand.
"You've fought well, Mr. Takahashi. I commend you. The tree-witch was most... problematic, I understand."
Though both combatants so clearly wear the signs of past trials upon their bodies, when the Dahlia chooses to speak, she shows that her composure, at least, remains undamaged. Neither pain nor worry are enough to dull her wit.
Kenshi, however, shows no sign of engagement. His bearded face is set in an expression of resolve, all hard lines and stony frown. His left hand lingers at the point of his blade, fingers pressed against the deadly tip while the weapon thrums with unspent power. Phallic? Perhaps. But likely not intentionally so.
Then, without a word, the swordsman twists the blade away from his off hand so that it hangs point-down, and drives it into the paving stones beneath his boots. Without visible effort the weapon splits the solid stone, sliding a good 6 inches deep before he releases its hilt. There the blade stands, alone and radiating a nimbus of purple energy.
Then, silent as the grave, Kenshi turns and begins walking down the path, away from the graveyard. Away from the tower that looms at the Dahlia's back. His steps are slow and tired, shoulders slumped. little droplets of blood slip from beneath his armor to patter across the ground, but he pays them no mind. There is conviction in his steps. A certain firmness that projects the awareness of his path.
Behind him, abandoned, Sento's broken blade begins to throb. The purple energy surrounding it flickers, swirls, and splits into writhing patterns of red and blue. The blade shivers, vibrating the stones in which it is stuck.
Over the course of 10 seconds the blue energy swirling about the sword begins to gather at the base of the hilt. Then, with inexorable power, the blue pushes downward toward the bands of red energy that radiate from the crystal bindings which hold the shards together. A gentle crackling of breaking ice can be heard as the blue energy passes over the breaks, causing the crystal substance to crumble into dust, and the shard to click neatly back into place.
In the distance, Kenshi's steps continue, though the path he takes grows unsure. His once straight line wavers, and he drifts to the edge of the path, correcting his course only after the toe of one armored boot crosses the lip and brushes the loose dirt beyond. Still, he does not stop moving away, steps as firm as they can be while uncertain of what lies ahead.
Before the Dahlia, the last of the crimson energy is forced from the tip of Sento's blade to spread across the paving stones like a pool of glowing blood. The blade itself is now whole, dark metal throwing off brilliant blue energy, pure of intention and full of the whispers of honorable men. A sword cleansed of evil. A sword capable of transforming a rash youth into a much better man. Clean.
Out of the pool of vibrant crimson rise 6 shadowy figures. Slowly they take form, spreading out in a circle around the blade. Unlike the souls that remain within Sento, these are violent, angry beings. Creatures formed by the residual pain and hate of souls too ancient and mad to retain themselves. Their shapes are that of tall men, at least seven feet each, clad in the shadowy armor of samurai. Over their left shoulders rest the long shafts of scythes, and red embers glow where eyes should be.
Slowly, the beings turn their malicious gazes on the Dahlia. Expectant.
In the distance, Kenshi's wavering path continues to take him further away, deeper into the uncertainty of the wastes. He does not falter. he does not look back.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
The Dahlia's transition from 'partially awake' to 'damning Kenshi with faint praise' only took a few moments, but now that she's here... her entire presence is animated as well. Loose flaps of elm-bark robes flutter above well-worn moccasins. Strands of hair elevate, tousled as if by an updraft of radiant wind. Eyes alight with amusement as Kenshi declines to answer her conversational prompts with words...
The Dahlia's smirk hardens as the swordpoint impales its way into the stony path. That would tend to be a challenge of sorts -- and yet, combative intent is not something that the sage seems to be expressing.
Especially not as he turns away, as if to leave.
She wonders to herself: Does -every- conversation with this man have to be an uphill battle?
Eyes glance back and forth between Kenshi and the awesome, fearsome sword. Her left wrist continues bobbing about, allowing the whistling of the sanjiegun to continue counting off the passing seconds in perfect rhythm. A breath is exhaled from her nostrils as the import of the statement reaches her -- he's leaving her without another word. Bleeding, or otherwise.
Her mouth parts as if to ask a question, as if his intention were not patently obvious.
And then she remembers -- he's already explained his decision. And for whatever reason, he's changed his mind.
She failed -- and yet, he's giving his sword up anyway.
The sword itself, though, enters the conversation. And this means her moment of speaking with Kenshi may be passing.
No snark. No malice. Her tone is tempered by humility -- actual humility -- as she fixes her gaze on the sword itself, lowering her hand.
"Thank you, warrior. I will not disappoint you."
The pool of growing power demands her full attention. The Dahlia leaps down from her boundary wall, snapping her sanjiegun upwards sharply. Grip is widened; all three sections collapse into one. She lowers the weapon to her side, returning it to its place upon her sash as Kenshi continues to walk off, his steps taking the reins of keeping the rhythm.
Six figures arise: an interesting number, considering her own six warriors. Six, being one more than the number of fingers on a hand, is Ainu shorthand for 'a lot', but the number certainly seems to be a common theme for the tusukur's time upon the island. She stretches both hands to either side -- acceptance, not provocation.
Violence, anger -- she can deal with these. But as the six malicious figures' presences solidify into forms of their own, so does the Dahlia's own formidable aura make itself known. Should the beings move to attack, it would undoubtedly be dealt with accordingly. And yet -- her posture is not one of outright arrogance or aggressiveness, but rather, simple and pragmatic assertiveness.
"It appears you are now on loan to me. I do not like this any more than you do. In two and a half days, we will fight Goro -- champion of Outworld. Work against me, and you will only drink the blood of this simple Ainu shaman -- and the wrath of a most disappointed master. Work with me -- and you will have the honor of forcing an entire realm to bend its knee to us. And the blood of the destroyers will be the most glorious wine of all."
Six pairs of crimson eyes stare back at her, their murderous scythes reflecting the Dahlia's golden light back at her.
A head inclines to the side -- insisting upon an answer. Her moccasins shift upon the weathered stone. With Kenshi leaving this sword in her possession, she will need to uproot it from the path somehow -- and that means the five-foot-five woman standing up to sextet of seven-foot-tall warriors. Retreating from this bounteous offer is not an alternative.
The titanic warriors' collective response is simple: smoldering glares and silence.
The Scarlet Dahlia's jaw scrapes sideways, her eyes flitting from one towering warrior to the next, hoping for some glimmer of recognition. Judging from the mild frustration knotting her brow, the psychic senses no particular reaction to her words, positive or negative.
"I am pleased to have your assistance."
Interpreting their refusal to answer as agreement, she concludes with a note of finality. Fixing her gaze back upon Sento, she takes two confident strides forward, driving as a wedge between the two nearest samurai. Rather than blocking her path, the unholy manifestations of anger acknowledge her considerable psychic pressure, shuffling deferentially out of her path.
The Ainu woman pauses one more moment, acclimating herself within the eye of the raging storm. Before her, she senses the calm tranquility of the purified blade, the blue aura holding a clear, resonant note. The blue within is reflected in the solemn Ainu warriors a fair distance away, which begin to rearrange themselves; an outer ring of cerulean blue surrounding the circle of rage.
The luminant Dahlia reaches out to the blade. As her fingers splay out in close proximity, the murmuring voices within the blade become louder and clearer to her. She moistens her chapped lips, drawing in her breath. Her fingers glow a bright, honey yellow, forming clocalized eddies within the field of blue emanating from Sento.
She speaks not to the samurai, nor to Kenshi, as she reaches out for the blade.
"Together we will accomplish what we as individuals could not."
She speaks to the spirits contained within the sword. Impossibly thin strands of gold unravel outward from her soulstone, insinuating themselves throughout the air and twining themselves about the blade and hilt of Sento. The air grows disturbed and choppy; the note discordant and muddied.
"Together we stand as the vanguard of Earthrealm."
The blade shudders, as glowing fingers press against the secure wrappings of the hilt. Coruscating splashes of blue and gold dance across the solemn, battle-worn features of the Scarlet Dahlia's face, long forelocks tossed about in a mild updraft. The Dahlia closes her eyes, silently balancing the wishes of her Ainu forebears with those of the sword's ancestors.
"Together we will earn our victory against the Champions of Outworld."
The Dahlia cements her grip upon the hilt -- first with one hand, then her second.
The angered samurai shift their weight from one foot to the other; obedient, but unsettled, even bored. The cerulean Ainu, in contrast, hold their ready stances in the outside perimeter without fail.
Order begins to emerge from chaos, as the waves of energy emanating from the sword begins to take on a regular cadence. Spiralling waves of blue intersperse with bands of golden thread, as the sound adopts a regular, resonant pitch once again.
The Scarlet Dahlia opens her eyes, awaking from a deep trance. Her grip tightens. Motionless, she had held the sword no more than a minute. But now...
With a scraping of metal against stone, Sento is lifted from the stone. Bisected pebbles tumble down its length, creating tiny avalanches as the Dahlia raises the blade upward. Delicate fingers twist the blade about in a half turn, lifting the point upright.
Solemnly, she presses the flat of the blade against her forehead. She draws in a mix of blue and gold energies as she takes in a deep breath of the graveyard's air.
"The time for mercy has passed."
Log created on 14:01:24 02/12/2017 by Kenshi, and last modified on 17:06:57 02/16/2017.