KOF 2017 - Act 2: Mission 7 - Paved By Good Intentions

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Description: When missiles were launched at the SCP-5002, the eldritch horror transported by Ultratech, it was not destroyed. Instead, it was woken up. Fortunately for this island we call Earth, the creature was mostly benign, interested far more in returning home to lay its eggs, than to linger in an alien world such as ours. Unfortunately, its method of returning home is to channel a portal to the nearest exit, quickly drawing the attention and presence of Lord Dohma himself, as the rest of Majigen pours into our world. Ayame is at the front lines to stop this invasion, and with some support of master monster hunter Baiken, the duo must dispatch Jedah quickly... before the Dark Lord takes his prize as he sees fit.

A forbidden back road, winding and weaving through the forests atop the Appalachian Mountains. No one has any right to be lingering here, in private territory, far from any major highways, far removed from any civilization. A crater lies a bit downhill from the roadway, the trees surrounding it blistered and stripped of their bark. In the center of the crater lies the empty shell of a metal shipping container, as well as the debris of four jet turbine engines which appear to have been attached to said container. The charred wreckage is thoroughly and wholly devastated, with slime of a blue color smeared all over the interior of the container, caked into some sort of crystalline substance.

Suddenly, a wound is carved into the very sky, fifteen feet above the roadway -- as surely as if a creature's belly had been split open by a samurai's sword. Blood gushes outward from the wound, and -- as if the very sky had given birth -- a creature spills out of it, covered from head to toe in crimson blood. It falls, hitting the ground with a repugnant and slimy thud, a shuddering groan glancing across the surrounding trees. Droplets of blood spatter all around ground zero, coating the rocky earth in crimson. The Lovecraftian horror itself, some sixty feet in length, shivers and twitches from its rude displacement. Blue slime oozes from its form, though it appears to be... absolutely terrified.

Another tear appears through the fabric of reality. Leading the cut is a bloody scythe -- and wielding the blade is the Black Messiah himself. Jedah Dohma leaps through the sky's bloody rent, an irritable glare upon his regal countenance as his scythelike wings unfurl, flapping wide to keep him aloft.

The tear begins to close behind him, as the scythe-wielding bloodweaver flaps a wide circle around the ejected creature. Anger seethes from Jedah Dohma's crimson eyes -- though with each beat of his hellish wings, that anger begins to dwindle.

Opportunity rarely knocks more than once, after all. And while he considered this creature to be an interloper at first, the occult scientist's rational mind is awakened.
Curiosity overtakes him, as he swoops low. Thrusting the blunt end of his scythe into the creature's oleaginous belly, he wonders to himself...
How can he make best use of this creature?

Baiken never joined the King of Fighters tournament, though she'd watched it with interest, both to take note of who won and because some of the rumours and details surrounding it are a little unsavoury... and in a way that might involve her taking action.

But today, she's not in Japan at all.

Today, Baiken is on the trail of a horror.

By the time Jedah uses his unnatural method of approach, Baiken has been getting closer by purely mundane methods. She knows the plane has gone down somewhere around here, and has been avoiding the major paths as she approaches, swinging through trees and darting through glades. She is alone, and when moving along she is both stealthy and surprisingly fast.

Baiken's attuned senses start tingling before the tears in reality show up; a feeling of impending pressure. She snarls, throwing her claw arm at an angle to grab a tree branch and swing her forward faster than she can run. She barrels through the forest, moving faster now that she's abandoning stealth. With that much power on hand...

She is not quite there yet. It will be just a moment. But at this point, her arrival is more a promise than a possibility.

A job well done, it was time to go home.

Not one for idle travel, Ayame Ichijo had come to the United States with one purpose in mind and she was confident that purpose had been accomplished. Travel to and from her homeland was getting more restricted by the day as tensions between the nations have escalated rapidly in recent weeks. Being a native of Japan, she was able to secure a ticket for one of the remaining flights with only a few days delay to wait. Considering the political turmoil being riled up by one Lee Chaolan, she suspected her skills might be needed for the good of Japan.

Rather than enjoy the sights and sounds surrounding the Cambria County Airport, such as they may be, she holed up in a rented room to rebuild her utterly decimated arsenal of energy-charged talismans and to restore her rune-engraved staff from fragments taken from the field of supernatural battle she survived only days before. It is tedious, exacting work, but she tackles it with an uncompromising attention to detail that can only be born of the severe ascetic lifestyle she's always lived.

But something is off. In calibrating the chi etchings painted onto her talismans spread out over the small round dining table in her rented room, time and time again she perceives some form of interference to be corrected for as she channels her own precision energy into the words and folds.

Sighing, she leans back from the table, eyes closed for a moment. The discrepancies are not unlike the ones that lead her to the convoy just a few days ago. Could they be lingering echoes? An afterimage of whatever that slumbering essence was that she tricked the Sacred Order choppers into blowing out of the sky?

Or had she missed something?

Grimacing, she pushes away from the table, collects her things, and heads out, intent on returning to the disaster site.

Though she certainly travels most of the trip by the far more conventional method of rental car, the last stretch is taken on foot. The roads leading into this area are supposed to be closed to public access anyway, and she'd rather have a chance to observe without being noticed. A long sleeved, black button up blouse conceals an array of paperweight weapons, each bearing potential chi just waiting to be given a spark to trigger their designed chain reactions and a crimson, pleated knee-length skirt is reminiscent of the longer formal attire she merrily parades about in back home. Her trusty refabricated wooden staff in her left hand, her right hand is free to brush aside foliage or nudge branches out of the way as as she draws nearer to the site she had already spent /plenty/ of time enjoying before.

The clearing is as she remembers it, minus the smoke, the lingering fires, the unconscious soldiers and blown up robots... Oh, right, and the fact that Lord Jedah and his ghastly subject of interest are here now. Caramel brown eyes widen as Ayame stops at the tree line, mouth agape for a moment before she closes it. She never got to see what lurked in the cargo container, she only knew that it was not welcome here under her watch. But now seeing it in all its massive, slimy glory, she can't help but be taken aback.

Chiding herself for not being more thorough before considering the job done, she lingers in the thick forest underbrush, brow furrowed in silent consternation. She knew better than to attack the Blood Lord on her own - she had made that mistake before. But likewise, she can't possibly abide by him benefitting from this new find either. Gritting her teeth, right hand clenched, she slips behind a thick trunk, pressing her back against it, as she racks her brain for ways to sabotage things for Jedah without being suicidal about it!

For days he has been consumed in his research, meticulously unweaving the horrors inflicted upon his realm by the creature which now stands before him -- twitching, festering, but largely unthreatening. It has a face -- though it would be almost impossible to see in the scant moonlight. His meticulous research revealed a number of weaknesses.

Destroying the monster was no particular concern of his.
But taking advantage of a creature like this -- that has been a mystery plaguing the occultist for decades, now.

If Jedah Dohma had any concern that his experimentation might be viewed by humans, he'd no doubt have found a way to conduct his experiments elsewhere. But as he doesn't -- and as the creature has shown no signs of responsiveness that would prove useful to him, he has selected this desolate roadway as his new laboratory. Fear and terror would be his scalpel and forceps, as he seeks the means of reproducing the circumstances which brought the horror to his realm in the first place.

The toes of his boots touch down upon the ground. The demon lord sets his scythe aside, allowing the weapon to hang beside him without any visible means of support as his long fingers begin to trace a pattern. As the veins running all along his impossibly slender form begin to glow with a horrific purple hue, blood weeps from his fingernails; droplets slowly compose the form of a mystic ellipsoid in the night sky -- asymmetrical, not unlike the form of the eldritch horror before him. In perfect cadence, the pools of blood below the creature begins to bubble, stretching out to adopt a form similar to the pattern etched into the sky.

One eye narrows -- the other remains spread wide.
Abruptly, he lashes out suddenly, bringing his palm to bear upon the center of the pattern. At once, the ellipsoid folds in upon itself like a taco...
In perfect harmony, the bloody mat beneath the creature clamps down upon the creature, a sixty-foot long Venus flytrap devouring its prey.

The corpusculent creature writhes about within its prison, oozing out from the spaces left intentionally between the scarlet tendrils. If the horror had bones, pulverization might be a risk -- but if the terror is an invertebrate, like the squid which might be the only Earthbound species that it bears even passing familiarity to -- the crushing pressure might not be a fatal threat to its existence.

The shrill scream it lets out, though -- that'd wake the neighbors.

"Show me your secrets, creature! Prove your worth to me!"

COMBATSYS: Jedah has started a fight here.

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Jedah            0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Jedah's veins glow with brilliant crimson light!

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Jedah            0/-------/----===|

Ayame may be worried about finding a way to sabotage Jedah's plan without being suicidal.

Baiken does not worry about such things. You can't win if you're not willing to die.

Staring directly at Jedah's back, Baiken's eye burns with hate. She does not need to know him personally to hate him and what he represents. A demon, a monster: something that does not belong in this world. She can feel his magic pressing against her, even though it's not directed in her direction; she's trained herself to hunt Darkstalkers and monsters, and you cannot hunt what you can't find.

One of those things is a beast. It needs to be removed, but it has no malice beyond that of a cornered animal. Jedah, though: Jedah is something of a different order. Her body tenses as she shifts her weight, planting her feet just so against the ground.

If Jedah has not already detected Baiken, the first warning he gets is when the monster hunter tears out from the shadows, a blade in her hand and a shout on her lips. She rushes forward at a dead run, the edge of her blade glittering with faintly pink energy as she charges Jedah, slashing at short range before breaking away, feet leaving visible marks on the bloody road. The pink dances brighter on the blade as she cuts, leaving a glittering trail in the air behind it.

She keeps her blade raised, defensively, as she remains close to Jedah, turning her body in such a way that she can see both him and the monstrosity he's trapped. Baiken's expression is a not-quite-rabid snarl as her single eye remains focused straight on Jedah.

On the plus side, this is probably clearance for Ayame to do whatever she likes. Baiken is, by intention or accident, providing one hell of a distraction.

COMBATSYS: Baiken has joined the fight here on the left meter side.

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Baiken           0/-------/------=|===----\-------\0            Jedah

Braced behind the tree, Ayame schemes. Maybe she could lure the Sacred Order back somehow? But last time they surely came because Alma radioed for them, and she has no means of replicating that accomplishment. There isn't time enough to run for other reinforcements, and who would she get anyway? The only monster hunting guild she encountered in the States was run by people even more unapproachable than SHE is.

Pensively, she peeks around the tree again, watching Jedah execute blood magic so refined, so precise, it more closely reflects the science of a controlled lab environment than an arcane ritual. Teeth grit, she is about to draw back, to consider other options, only to freeze as the cry of someone far less reluctant than she charges into the open.

Brown eyes stare from the shadows at the sight of the fearless blitz toward Jedah. No words, no monologue, no introduction. Just a single-minded offense, glimmering sword raised, a banner to follow for anyone else looking for an excuse to so boldly engage the most dangerous fiend Ayame has ever faced. She had to respect the direct approach though. Alma had tried to talk sense into the convoy and even let them attack first, but this swordswoman will have none of that kind of delay. Breathing in, then exhaling, Ayame quickly unbuttons the ends of her sleeves, right, then left, left hand tightening over her staff afterward. "Fine," she whispers, coming to a decision, right hand slipping into the end of her left sleeve to produce a ghostly white paper talisman, its glow barely perceptible even in the shadows.

She's not quite ready to commit however - Alma was something of a known quantity. But what of this fearless warrior? Will Jedah truly be distracted or is Ayame having to consider joining a lost cause or backing off in disgrace?

"Okay, Lord Dohma... looks as if we are destined to meet again." she whispers to herself. How she wished she was more prepared for something like facing the Blood Weaver once again, but for all her dedication to her art, improvement felt slow in coming.

The engravings on her staff glimmer a faint crimson as she braces herself, taking advantage of a rare opportunity to calculate her next step rather than be forced to rush in recklessly.

COMBATSYS: Ayame has joined the fight here on the left meter side.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0            Jedah
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Baiken           0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Ayame focuses on her next action.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0            Jedah
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Baiken           0/-------/------=|

COMBATSYS: Baiken successfully hits Jedah with Rokkonsogi.
Glancing Blow

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|====---\-------\0            Jedah
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Baiken           0/-------/----===|

Lord Dohma knows that conducting laboratory work out in here in the open is bound to bring about its set of interesting variables. Inside his lab he could keep the vast majority of the variables under perfect, unwavering control. But only once he has returned here, to this place, was he able to confirm the hypothesis -- that the creature was able to respond to a variable uncontrollable in his own realm -- the practically complete absence of his -own- resonant energy signature.

The creature is awake again. Shivering in terror. Screaming, in its primal voice. And responding. Any moment, now, it will repeat the Houdini act that allowed it to escape several days prior -- if only Dohma can continue applying the pressure. If only Dohma can complete his experiment to his exacting standards.

Enter Baiken and her sword sheathed in sakura-hued energy. The bloodweaver knew of the possibility of interference -- but perhaps the uncontrolled variable is another necessity for instilling the proper panic in the eldritch horror before him.

"Hm, hm, hm..." he chuckles, allowing his grip on the ritual ellipsoid to slacken as he pivots his head to the side, addressing Baiken with one baleful, crimson eye. His face splits into a smile, rows of dagger-sharp teeth reflecting the pink glow from her sword.

And then there are -three- copies of the occult sorceror, each a third as opaque as he -- and each of them is sliding to the right, threatening to escape the steel bite of the lioness' blade.

And for a moment, it looks like she'll be met with failure...

And then her blade makes satisfying contact, sinking into the ephemeral after-image of the demonic sorceror.
All three images flinch as if they were hit in the same location: a high-pitched howl of agony as the path of flight is diverted.

And yet, when the three images converge a good three meters away, the bloody tear left in the sorceror's side already seems to be sealing itself shut, the fabric weaving itself back together. "Ahh... the crippled cyclops desires a second audience with divinity..." The smile -- momentarily banished by the exclamation of pain -- returns in full force. "... And another familiar soul, lying in wait...? Is television really so boring to the youth of today...?"

There is one element that did -not- escape with Jedah: the scythe he'd left hanging there.

With his right hand still clutching the ellipsoid, he reaches out with his left. His hand detaches at the wrist, and his forearm detaches at the elbow, crimson lining each of the seams. Beneath the skin, the fabric rips apart, sinew and muscle liquefying as the bloodweaver's extended hand grabs hold of the scythe.

And with the weapon retrieved, he snaps his hand sideways, breaking the sound barrier with a sonic-boom *CRACK!*

The end of the scythe is hurled towards Baiken's thigh, a deadly sickle threatening to make Baiken into a double amputee.

COMBATSYS: Baiken dodges Jedah's Fierce Strike.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|====---\-------\0            Jedah
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Baiken           0/-------/----===|

Success, however slight, gets Baiken's expression to shift just a hair. "You remembered," she says, as she flicks blood off her blade (away from Jedah, because she's not giving him any ammunition he didn't already have). "I'm touched."

Baiken actually does not look the same as the last time Jedah encountered her. She died, out there on the Island where Mortal Kombat was held - not a near-death experience but a true death, and only returned from it by the strange rules of the region. Her clothes are different, she's affected an eyepatch, and her hair has grown out and wild - but she still feels like the same person.

Mostly. One doesn't come back from that completely untouched.

Baiken knows there is someone else here. From Jedah's own words, it seems like it's someone who isn't with him; if they were, they would be out here, helping him, and not hanging back to be found. And she can feel /Ayame's/ power, too, as her staff glitters. It's more comfortable and... familiar, in some ways, than something from Jedah's realm would be.

So she doesn't look for Ayame to not give her position away. Also, because dealing with Jedah is going to take every iota of her attention. As he strikes, Baiken sweeps her katana through an arc, deflecting the tip of the blade by mere inches and altering the angle of its swing. The blade of the scythe doesn't penetrate Baiken's leg but whistles right past it, close enough that she can feel the stir in the air it makes from its passing.

Almost without stopping the motion of the blade, Baiken strides forward, driving it point-first into the soil. Not deeply, only barely dirtying the tip, but an eruption of brighter pink chi erupts around her in all directions as she tries to keep Jedah close, but not so close as to risk getting grabbed by him. "I was hoping I'd never see you show yourself again! Didn't you learn anything from last time?"

The opening volley of attacks happen remarkably fast - strike, evasion, counterstrike, evasion, attack again - life or death weighed by mere moments. Taking in the exchange, witnessing the woman's ferocity for cutting down the demon lord, is almost enough to settle Ayame's indecision for certain. But it's the challenge, the voice of the confident manipulator, that pricks her pride too decisively to be ignored. She will not let it be said that she left the fearless swordswoman to face the monster alone. She knows full well she cannot fight him alone, but with an ally like this, how can she pass up the chance?

She breaks from the tree line, leaning forward in a sprint, wooden weapon held out at her side, glowing paper talisman pinched in her right hand. The sounds of the ancient are incomprehensible yet understood all the same on a deep, instinctual level, and the realization that it too fears the Reaper she's decided to fight head on along with Baiken is even more upsetting.

Eyes flick toward the alien life as she bolts toward Jedah at a wide angle from the swordswoman's close quarters melee. How did it survive the Sacred Order rockets? Did it awake just in time to defend itself? Was it impervious all along? If only she had more time to verify the work was done last time!

"Tch," she grunts, convinced this whole affair is certainly someone else's fault. A forward step and she sweeps her staff up and over her head, spinning her whole body with the movement of the weapon, a wreath of crimson coursing over its surface now that the battle is entered for certain. Meters away, the weapon's movements are no direct threat to the Scythe Wielder, but they may successfully conceal the flick of her right arm, the jettisoning of the now burning ofuda through the air.

He would recognize the talisman's signature immediately - it was one of the ways she had tried to contain him before - contact would cause it to immediately erupt into a number of constricting, ethereal white chains of pure energy seeing to constrain, restrict, and crush. If it slows him down just enough, perhaps the swordswoman can take his head and deprive him of that razor-toothed smile of his.

"You are not getting away this time, Jedah Dohma!" she exclaims, her voice already bearing strong emotion, as if just seeing the deadly creature stirred up memories she would much rather forget. Of course, the last time she faced him, she had the Native American shaman at her side and together they claimed some semblance of victory in chasing him off. Hopefully, the ferocity of the swordswoman proves similarly effective.

COMBATSYS: Jedah blocks Baiken's Tetsuzansen.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|=====--\-------\0            Jedah
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Baiken           0/-------/---====|

COMBATSYS: Jedah blocks Ayame's Binding of the Condemned Soul.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|=====--\-------\0            Jedah
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Baiken           0/-------/---====|

As Jedah's scythe bites down into the steel blade, some of the keen edge away into flakes of iron. Almost instantly, the loosed particles atomize back into a fine mist of blood. As the blade is drawn back by the macabre, elongated limb, the scarlet cloud is drawn back with it. With the scythe back in arm's reach (by typical 7'-tall humanoid standards), the bloodweaver's joints reattach in perfect harmony, sanguinary seams glowing a bright purple before knitting themselves fully back into place.

By this point, the Black Messiah is more than aware of the two humans glaring daggers at him -- and he even begins to chuckle. He sees Ayame, swinging her weapon -- and that only increases his mirth.

But even with the glancing blow delivered to his side -- a wound knitting closed even now -- he still only considers the two 'children' to be a minor distraction. The haft of his scythe is plowed into the ground, as his other hand squeezes the ellipsoid further, forcing the creature to bow upwards at an excruciatingly painful angle. The otherworldly scream emanating from the shadowed creature is almost deafening, but gauging from the slant of his (garishly long) blond eyebrows, it's music to Jedah's ears.

He's... not getting away? "Don't flatter yourselves, children -- you are a minor inconvenience at best," he taunts, shaking his head from side to side. The showy twirl of Ayame's staff may have distracted those with less keen senses than the bloodweaver, but his awareness of the flow of chi has been refined over centuries of study.

The -timing- of the joint attack, though, is crucial -- and forces the unholy sorceror to step backwards. Ayame's airborne talisman sprouts tendrils as it flies -- and he steps backwards, uprooting the very earth beneath his staff in a plume of dirt and rock. Twisting the staff, he willingly sacrifices the length of the scythe to the grasping tendrils, allowing him to focus the remainder of his attention -- and a raised forearm -- upon Baiken's lovely pink aura explosion. Long trails of blood fount from tears along his forearm; as the pink chi crashes upon them, the blood explodes backwards into flat, crimson splotches, dissipating a good deal of the kinetic force from the attack.

Did he remember? Did he learn nothing? "Child, failing to learn from past mistakes is not the mark of nobility, but of =humanity=. But please, feel free to cling to mediocrity, to failed notions of..." He trails off, as the tendrils continue winding their way around his staff, even managing to creep their way up along his arm. A mortal might be alarmed by this, but he seems unconcerned -- captivated by the thought which occurs to him upon seeing Baiken.

"Your soul is scarred -- you've walked on the other side." He chuckles as the tendrils begin to snare his extended arm -- and just as casually, reshapes his left wing-blade in such a fashion that the entire left arm is cut off, like a reverse guillotine. Blood founts from his both the stump of his arm, and the scythe-wielding appendage, as he steps away to the right, as casually as if he'd been planning to do that all along.

The severed arm falls to the ground, writhing about like a grounded fish. It will rapidly become a moot point, however, as the steady flow of blood from his stump has already regenerated into the form of a ghastly skeletal arm. "And yet, you remain tethered to iron and steel rather than embracing the infinite."

He raises his right hand -- clutching the ellipsoid mass and giving it another squeeze. Music.
"Willful ignorance has the most simple cure of all."

And yet, while his eyes are focused upon Baiken, his attention... never really left Ayame after all. The writhing of his severed limb accelerates into a spin. And in the blink of an eye, the whirling blade -- and the arm which has reformed into a complementary scythe on the other side -- has become a buzzsaw blade nearly six feet in diameter.
A deadly gift, for the final steward of the Meian Jinja.

If you don't fight, you can't win.

Baiken is more than willing to fight Jedah head-on. She managed it last time (with assistance; she did not fight alone, though she would have tried even if she had); she'll fight him again regardless of what Ayame chooses to do. Truthfully, though, she is glad for the help even if it doesn't show, because she's too brusque and too busy to say much to her ally.

Sealing is a good plan. Baiken tried it once. It didn't work, but that only means that he must be weakened further before they managed it. She moves to allow Ayame access without leaving her high and dry and without assistance, then moves back in. Not fast enough to stop Jedah from acting, unfortunately, but fast enough to keep his main body away from her, if not the flopping arm.

"I have," Baiken accepts. She lost. Not before cutting down some of the powerful beings in that realm - even Akuma - but she died and returned. "But what's another scar after so many?"

Baiken's eye slips, momentarily, to Jedah's great act of magic, as he tries to take the - thing. It focuses back on him after a bare instant, when she's sure it's not going anywhere yet. "And I told you then that we'd fight again, didn't I? You said you wouldn't grant so many favours."

"Well, I'm waiting. Fight me, Dohma!"

Behind Baiken, the buzzsaw arm spins into action. It's too late for Baiken to stop that, and she has to trust that Ayame can handle herself for at least a moment. Instead Baiken lunges, whipping not her sword arm up at Jedah but the empty sleeve, the billowing cloth flapping as something moves inside. It's not the unhealthy, bloody squirming of Jedah's but the slow movement of something heavy swinging and picking up momentum.

What appears to be a short spiked club on a chain flies out of Baiken's 'empty' sleeve, driven directly toward Jedah's face. He is taller than she is; Baiken has to get creative to cover the extra reach. "Iron and steel have served me fine for long enough. You can /trust/ steel!"

COMBATSYS: Jedah successfully hits Ayame with Dio - Sega ES EX.

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Ayame            0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\1            Jedah
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           0/-------/---====|

She pauses for a moment, the energy carried by her talisman beginning to entangle the long shaft of the blood sycthe - there is hope for an instant that he hasn't noticed. Hope that dies the second he lops off his own arm with a subtle sweep of razor-edged wing, the limb flopping to the ground and her sealing technique rendered harmless. Every unfortunate encounter with the Hell Lord and he's coming up with new tricks, his form defying conventional containment. Can he even be harmed? The slash Baiken landed early on isn't even visible anymore!

Eyes flick toward the swordswoman as she speaks - that's right, she was one of the faces on the island, one who fell so very late in the struggle for Earth's chance at continued sovereignty. No wonder she fits as one for him death has no bite whatsoever. A perfect ally for a situation like this.

Right hand joins her left in gripping the six foot long rune-carved staff as the miko from across the sea prepares to engage Dohma more directly. She winces as the ground vibrates, the tormented eldritch ancient creating sounds more felt than heard, and her heart skips a bit. The fiend before her now pulled a large part of the world's most populated cities into his realm... what hope is there that two alone can stop him now?

But Baiken continues to engage him - not only seeking opportunities but clearly trying to intercept his deadly attention - Ayame finds her resolve just as the spinning arm and weapon combo rips through the air toward her. The huge projectile is beyond her ability to escape, forcing her to try and deflect it. Foot sliding forward, she slams the end of her staff up, intersecting the scythe near the top of the shaft just before it would have carved clean through her.

It is hardly enough to stop it, however, its momentum merely whipping it around to clobber her in the side of the head with the other end as it careens around the uncertain priestess. And on its next spin, the deadly, curved reaping blade catches her in the upper back, slicing deep and sending several strands of severed hair into the air around her. The impact sends the girl staggering forward with a sharp cry of alarm, right hand planting in the dirt. Adrenaline keeps her from feeling the full extent of pain and does more than enough to propel her into charging Jedah directly rather than hanging back, pushing up out of her crouch into a sprint mirroring the bold charge Baiken opened the battle with.

Blood stains her lengthy hair as blood seeps from a gruesome wound, but she pays it no heed as she leaps into Jedah, spinning to bring her staff around with crushing force, the energy coursing over it illuminating everything around her in the same sanguine shade as the Blood Shaper's gift.

An airborne spinning strike would lead into a second one the instant her feet touched the ground, before momentum carries the crimson flaming weapon up over her head into a smashing blow into which she pours all her strength. Blunt force alone may provide no threat against one who's very shape is best described as fluid, but with which strike there is a channeled surge of fiery, temperamental chi to contend with as well. She fights with a certain frenzy brought on by uncertainty, worry, and a deeply rooted fear of whatever plans Lord Dohma might have for the creature from beyond. The intersection of desperation and talent offers the only chance she has now.

COMBATSYS: Jedah blocks Ayame's Requiem For Fallen Blossoms.

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Ayame            0/-------/---====|=======\-------\1            Jedah
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Baiken           0/-------/---====|

COMBATSYS: Jedah counters Crushing Strike from Baiken with Nero - Fatica.

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Ayame            0/-------/---====|=======\====---\1            Jedah
[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           0/-------/=======|

Jedah may have fallen in battle -- but that was only a strategic withdrawal he had calculated months in advance. Why make a move to correct the record? Divinity has never needed to explain itself to the common person -- that will be accomplished at his own leisure. Not here -- and not when both ladies are striving to wipe him from existence.
As if such a thing were even possible! The heathens!

The creature writhes about in its bloody prison. Were it not for the ritual Jedah had accomplished prior to Ayame's and Baiken's arrivals, even he might have had trouble keeping the creature contained -- but as it is, all he has to do is squeeze the stress ball in his right hand to send a revitalizing shriek of pain coursing through his pain-fueled veins.
So of course, he does so right after his buzzsaw scythe whips past Ayame, gouging her in the back before boomeranging around in a wide, eccentric arc. An intoxicated smile creeps its way across his noble features as he favors Ayame with a brief glance -- raising his bony skeletal hand, even as the "flesh" of his arm continues to rebuild, layer by bloody layer.

Still -- as insistent as Ayame may be for a portion of his attention, Baiken has the benefit of being much closer at the moment. While he makes a point of stepping away from her insistent advances, it also has the side effect of carrying him further from the eldritch horror -- a fact which he reminds himself of when he tosses the prepared totem into his less-substantial left hand.

His demonic red eyes narrow at Baiken with the cruelest of smirks.
"You heard what you wanted to hear, child."
Even ageless demon lords can be guilty of gaslighting, it would seem.

But as he backs away from Baiken and the entrapped horror, he is making space -- and also providing time for his blade to circle around. He waits for the precise moment in which Baiken roots herself in place -- wisely -- as she allows her spiked club to do the dirty work.

It's that moment in which he pivots backwards, talons of his right hand carving bloody faultlines into the very air between the two. The trails of Jedah's corrupted blood streak outward, splattering against the spiked weapon even as it sails towards his face -- but the pivot carries him just far enough away that the chain stops travel just before hitting the back of the turned Majigen Lord's head.

The Black Messiah turns, just slightly, as the truth of his evasion becomes clear -- the boomeranging scythe and its transformed arm have crept up on Baiken from behind. By the time she would likely realize it, the bloody spatters on her weapon begin to take on life of their own -- dividing cells and sprouting outward in perfect synch with the detached arm.

The arm detaches from the scythe. Both are liquefied, instantly, ridding the scarlet mass of its attendant tentacles and their talisman which fall to the ground soon afterwards. The red matter radiates outward, pooling in the midair -- and drawn with magnetic urgency towards the club.
In the span of an instant, a spherical shell completely encases Baiken and her weapon whole, wobbling and unsteady from the circumstances of its creation. And Jedah continues revolving around, calmly reaching up and wrapping his right hand around the nearest wingblade. With the sound of shattering metal, he rips the blade off -- and it, too, liquefies, taking the form of a brand-new scythe. For as long as the Reaper stands, he can -never- be considered defenseless.

In the very next heartbeat, he whips forward -- neatly bisecting the spherical prison with the deadly edge of his sickle. It will hurt -- though exactly -how- it hurts depends entirely on how quickly Baiken can adapt within the prison.

And yet, despite her injuries, Ayame persists in attacking him.
The winglets of his headdress twitch slightly at the Meian representative's arrival. His goading of the one-eyed swordswoman interrupted, he casts his baleful glare to Ayame once more, rapidly assessing her incoming strike. A nigh-reformed arm, still slick from its crimson coating, bows slightly the sheer strength of Ayame's committed strike -- he dares not attempt to snatch the weapon from her grasp with the venus-flytrap incantation within his hand. Instead, with a flap of his remaining wing, he hops backwards and to the side, allowing him to pivot his newly-reforged scythe to bear even as the spherical prison liquefies once again, crimson vitae splashing onto the rocky ground. Ayame's spinning strike segues into a second -- though the impact is punctuated by the sound of wood impacting iron. Jedah's scythe arm shudders slightly as the staff is deflected, but with minimal effort, he rotates the shaft to allow the sickle end to absorb the brunt of the final, flaming impact.

It would, however, seem that the persistent attacks are beginning to take their toll on the demon lord: his face, so far unmarred by a successful attack, begins to bear the same wet sheen that his regenerating body parts have. And his smirk, daresay, is showing a bare hint of desperation.

"This creature, you know, is the third I have pursued... A stupid beast, and yet, nearly impossible to kill, for the raw, unimaginable powers it wields. You would be better served to watch, and learn..."

The sheen on his skin fades, as his moment of boasting allows his powers to reassert themselves in proper fashion.

He squeezes on the prison, the creature loosing another wail of agony.
"For, at any moment, it will disappear again. That -- is the experiment."

Baiken remembers what Jedah said then, and how he acted. She's not the only one who remembers things the way she'd like to.

Baiken can tell that her ally - impromptu and unexpected as it is to have one - is moving again. She's defending herself - not perfectly, but well enough to survive, and well enough to keep fighting despite the wound. The rise in chi is inspired. Good. Baiken would rather fight with a warrior if she has to fight with anyone at all, and not someone she has to babysit.

Baiken is not much of a team player.

Still, despite her lack of real cooperation - she's fighting at the same time as Ayame, not truly with her - Baiken is still attempting to draw Jedah's attention. Whether it's Baiken's built-in rage at all things monstrous and demonic or something personal is hard for Ayame to tell, having not spoken to her before, but it does mean that she's willing to draw the bulk of his offense. Or maybe she just believes she's the bigger threat to Jedah.

Baiken's club whips past Jedah without quite touching it. She does something with her stance, the set of her body, to send the club and chain swinging sideways, but not fast enough to prevent it from being trapped in a field of sticky red. And not just her weapon, either, but Baiken herself, surrounding her in that bubble before Jedah pops it.

There's a spray of blood, and not all Jedah's. The penetrating sickle cut down Baiken's side, but she refuses to let it slow her down; she's old scar held together with fury and determination, and compared to what she's withstood before, what's one more? Baiken half-jumps, half-flops free of the pierced bubble, her club vanished back up her sleeve but her blade still in her hand.

Landing in a half-crouch, Baiken pushes herself upwards with the point of her sword against the ground, rising surprisingly smoothly for someone who has just been trapped in a bubble of hellish blood. She spares another glance for the trapped monstrosity, but only one. Defeating Jedah - urgently - is her top priority.

She comes in fast, driving her blade forward in a thrust, pink chi building up along the tip and spreading backwards with the speed of her movement along the blade. If she does manage to hit, it pulses forward, exploding off the tip with in a cloud of drifting glimmers that resembles nothing so much as cherry blossom petals, slowly floating and fluttering pink motes of light.

From her angle, Ayame is witness to the attack that overwhelms, if but for a moment, her potential partner in taking down the Dark Tyrant. The seamless, fluid manipulation of blood given form, the shell of crimson, the flawless defense, evasion, and violent attack all executed with a composure of one entirely unworried or untested by the combined strikes coming his way.

To see the confident execution of technique blended with power on display, it would be easy to lose heart. "No!" she exclaims, leaping into her fierce combination of strikes in hopes of preventing further harm to the swordswoman who's purpose aligns with her own.

The blood sphere erupts as Ayame's staff collides with Jedah's controlled defenses and, as the Ichijo scion will be relieved to realize in a moment, Baiken is still very much alive. Her own attacks are guarded against, sending the long, crimson glimmering weapon rebounding, but Ayame moves so easily with the momentum that it becomes clear such graceful recovery is built into the staff dance itself. At each of the three points of impact, motes of crimson light are scattered into the air surrounding her staff, drawn up in the swift currents created by her swift motions before eventually fading away entirely.

By the third strike, she's already slipping back, releasing a soft exhale, both hands ripping her staff in an attempt to create a zone around her that should be, in theory, more dangerous to aggress into. Of course, that would be the case against more conventional opponents - fighters of flesh, bone, and even metal. She understands how they work. But this? Every droplet of blood stands the risk of becoming weaponized. No angle is safe, no defense actually sure.

Gritting her teeth, the young woman looks ready to charge again, to venture back into that zone of sanguine horror that is Jedah's bloody reach, but she hesitates - the Black Messiah's words giving her pause as eyes flick toward the entrapped timeless lifeform about which she knows absolutely nothing.

The third of its kind known of by Jedah? Where do they come from? How DID that convoy come to be transporting it in the first place?

"I do not understand- you want it to escape?" The flicker of confusion is impossible to miss as the last embers of her previous attack finish dying out. She really would like the thing to be gone too. But not if it's just going to pop up in some other secret place on Earth. And of course, whatever it is Jedah wants must be bad, right? She must want the opposite. Which would be for it to not disappear... The very thing Jedah himself declared is almost impossible to kill...

It's Baiken's surge back into action that resolves the moment of uncertainty for Ayame, the girl at risk of overthinking the situation if left to ponder it for too long. Seeing the swordswoman launch her attack is reminder enough - deal with the Blood Weaver first. Then figure out what to do about the incomprehensible horror he's squeezing miserably.

Her right hand goes to her black left sleeve, another talisman drawn with a flick of her wrist as she surges forward, threatening to close right back into melee range once more. "Either way," she snaps, manipulating her staff with only her left hand now as she steps into another spin, the long reaching weapon whipped up over her head in order to try and draw the attention of the Elder Demon high, "I believe I'd rather have it for company than you!"

The staff sweep is designed to conceal the snap of her right hand, the attempt to place the small black-fire talisman against the elongated torso of Lord Dohma. It contact is made, it would burn to ash in an instant, and from its grey embers black piercing ethereal tendrils would try to pierce through his essence and pin it to the ground. If his physical form is, well, 'fluid', perhaps attacking him on another level all together has some slim hope of success. Of course, she risks close proximity to the most unpredictable foe she's ever faced by doing so... but constraining his mobility seems to be her primary objective.

COMBATSYS: Baiken successfully hits Jedah with Sakura.

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Ayame            0/-------/---====|>>>>>>>\>>>>>--\1            Jedah
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           1/-------/=======|

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Jedah with Anchor Through the Endless Dark.

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Ayame            0/-------/-======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\1            Jedah
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           1/-------/=======|

Lord Dohma nods in agreement. He does wish the creature to disappear, but he does not remind the miko that 'escape' was her word, not his. A patient and condescending stare further punctuates his answer. "If the results are as I expect, the hypothesis will be confirmed." It's clear that the occult scientist could clearly divulge more information to indulge Ayame's curiosity -- if he chose -- but he has more pressing matters to deal with: such as the indefatigable Baiken.

An eyebrow lifts towards Baiken as she clambers to her feet. With that same dreadful smirk, he notes calmly -- "Perhaps the taste of death was to her liking after all..."

And then, all of a sudden, he hurls his hands to either side. A powerful aura forms from the area a human's heart would be located. At first, a point of brilliant white light, then it ripples outward, expanding into a dark purple sphere with black extremities. The orb extends outward, upturning the larger rocks beneath him, violently flinging the smaller ones outward. When the sphere passes, his entire body is fringed with purple, separating his divine form from the crescent-lit Appalachians all around him.

The eldritch horror's screams become piercing loud at the light -- its very face begins to bulge, as the dark, slimy skin slowly begins to turn a milky white. The more gelatinous portions of its coating mucus begin to dry -- even starting to crystallize. The process lets off a terrible stench -- something between the decay of death and the foul odor of fish plucked from the morning tide. Clouds of the vapor begin to waft outward from the creature -- thankfully enough, Jedah had the decency to move the fight some distance apart.

With a low chuckle, the empowered bloodweaver regards the charging with a shake of his head. One beat of his mighty wings -- glistening with their newfound power -- could send him flying backwards and away from the pair, while simultaneously blasting both young women backwards.

It's pretty clear that was the goal, anyway. The world might never know -- for Jedah had vastly underestimated Baiken's speed. A wavefront of pink chi slams into his lower abdomen, tearing through the simulacra of cloth and flesh and loosing a torrent of accursed vitae, painting the blade thoroughly before the gentle breeze of sakura petals and pink motes of lights flutter out.

To say the Dark Lord's face is alarmed is something of an understatement -- eyes are wide, their irises shrunken as he staggers backwards. His scythe arm flaps wide, curling in upon itself. So distracted is he that he is barely able to notice Ayame -- and might -not- have noticed her if not for her defiant battlecry. The points of his remaining razor wing digs into the ground, allowing him to pivot as he twists his head and torso out of the way of the staff -- yet, he was only dodging the staff and not the black-fire talisman that would prove to be the true attack. In fact, as he had tried to evade, the talisman is allowed to reach its mark even more easily. Ghostly tendrils ripple outwards, spearing into the "meat" of his blood-soaked abdominal fissure, and rooting themselves there.

Another high-pitched wail pierces the sky, though this one is Jedah's, and not the creature's.

The bladed wing turns crimson and bends, resembling a tendril itself as it twists about to throw the bloodlord backwards -- uprooting the wingblade in the process. As he floats backwards, some ten feet up in the air, his scythe is reabsorbed. Two fully-formed wings sprout outwards, holding him aloft as he brings an open hand before him in a warding gesture. "This creature has not hurt you -- it may even hold the key to your salvation, were you not in such a rush to destroy it!" Despite the injury present in his faltering voice, and the twitching tentacles within his chest, he nonetheless attempts to give a grandstanding chuckle at the young women's expense: "But with time, you will all learn patience and respect!"

Suddenly, he glares at Baiken -- the more hale of the two. With a beat of his wings he surges forward. With a second wingbeat, he lashes out towards her with a vicious underhand swipe, his fingers spread wide.

He will seek to grab Baiken by the neck. And plunge his bloody talons into her flesh. If he manages to do so, he would be attempting to fill the wound with liters upon liters of his accursed blood; the pressure against her throat would be quite difficult to bear indeed.

"When you join me -- all will become clear!"

COMBATSYS: Jedah successfully hits Baiken with San - Passare.

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Ayame            0/-------/-======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>-\1            Jedah
[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           1/-======/=======|

Baiken twists the blade when she has it in Jedah, right at the instant of the energy surge, just for an instant.

She doesn't respond to the statement that the taste of death is to her liking, because it's more right than she wants to admit. Baiken has not lived - truly lived - in decades, not for anything but revenge. The only time she feels alive is on the hunt, or in a battle; today she's in both, and she feels more vital than she has any time since - well, since Mortal Kombat.

"I don't care to let you have anything you want," Baiken growls to Jedah, perhaps explaining to Ayame what /she's/ fighting for. Well, sometimes the simple plans are the best... And it does stop Jedah from piggybacking on its portals. The last thing she wants is more Majigen leaking into the middle of America. She is going to have to assume her ally agrees.

"Respect? Don't make me laugh. You don't deserve respect. You deserve to be burned, your ashes scattered, your name never spoken." Baiken brandishes her blade, holding it more defensively for a moment. She's going to try to parry Jedah's grasp, and given her sword still shimmers with chi she may be physically capable of doing it despite his fluid nature.

But if her speed catches him by surprise, it's mutual. His fingers drive just below her neck, near her collarbone, as he begins to manipulate his cursed blood. If there's one positive, it's that this immediately shuts Baiken up as her body strains to repel the blood as it flows into the wound, spreading out from the point of impact both up and down.

Baiken rips herself away with a torrent of blood - mostly Jedah's by quantity, but mostly hers by importance. She has /literally/ ripped herself away from him to prevent him from working his magic on her further, and his fingertips have left bloody furrows starting from the hollow in her throat and angled downward and to the side. She gasps, in more intense pain than she has been in ages. Even when Erron killed her it didn't feel like that. It was too fast to hurt.

Good. Pain focuses her.

Still unable to speak, still with her shoulder distorted from the injury, Baiken - despite everything - presses the attack. She lets out a bubbling snarl as she stomps downward; against most people she might be trying to pin their feet, but she knows that isn't going to work on Jedah and it's more a way to focus and center herself. The tip of her sword is now glowing brightly, her blade leaving shining lines in the air of her chi, sweeping it upward in a powerful slash before sweeping it around, readying for a second slash delivered almost horizontally, a blow suitable for bisecting the weak or staggering the strong.

Baiken moves her blade in an ritualistic arc, harmlessly, describing a circle with the tip of it before holding up her blade to the sky. The entire sword shimmers pink, leaving multiple afterimages behind it while she brings it through the circling pattern, gathering power - and then she delivers the most powerful blow yet, a huge slash that looks like it really ought to be delivered two-handed, but she seems unhampered with only one.

Baiken still can make no noise but a snarl. Fortunately, that's all she needs.

Her feint with the staff proves just enough to plant the talisman, its ebony fire bursting as chi potential becomes reality according to the pattern and designs the miko scribed in her hours of preparation. Tendrils of writhing, ethereal energy pierce the crimson contortionist in ways more physical attacks simply cannot. Gasping for breath, cheeks flushed with the pain in her aching back, Ayame staggers back a step as Jedah's shout is raised. Well, at least she knows he felt that one, the duo's attacks connecting cleanly against the one who had proven almost impossible to pin down.

But she's helpless to stop him as he flaps his weaponized wings and draws back and in the brief reprieve, she can't help stagger a step, never having had the opportunity to even evaluate the grievousness of her injury. Her staff plants against forest sod as she sucks in a second breath, both hands clasped tightly around it now as Jedah moves through the night sky with the greatest of ease. Again he speaks of the creature, its role to play in all this an enigma to the two hunters and one that is increasingly troubling the miko from afar with every passing moment.

Eyes flick back toward the unknown, unearthly being as its membranes begin to solidify and transform. Is it dying? Becoming something else? Is this the manner of its disappearance? It was easy to dismiss the supernatural concern when she never set eyes on it, never had to see it and wonder at its unknown nature. But to ignore the mystery now that it's playing out right before her is a challenge requiring far more conscious thought to break through than the pure, unerring purpose of the fierce swordswoman. 'Salvation' was the word the Black Messiah uttered - a powerful word to dangle over the violent exchange, and the strawberry blonde can't help but cogitate on its significance for a fleeting moment.

It is the charging cry the Darkstalker Lord makes as he dives for Baiken that reminds her of just how severe the stakes here are for the two mortals that would dare to meddle.

'When you join me.'

The message sickens her even before his talons pierce into the shoulder and neck of her partner. Join him? The abomination that represents everything she has trained to fight against? "Your words are laced with poison and treachery." she spits back, shaking her head as she renews her conviction and surges into motion. Her right hand slips off her staff to pull from her left sleeve another talisman. Even as she starts forward, she passes it by her mouth, biting a corner of it, tearing the top left corner of the rune-inked crimson ofuda before flicking it before her where it bursts into a vibrant cloud of stray, crimson energy in her path even as she lunges into a sprint.

With her left hand, she sweeps her staff through the swirling motes and, as if possessing some kind of energetic magnetic attraction, the swirling sparks are absorbed into the burning aura along the wooden weapon's length.

"Let her go!" Ayame exclaims as Baiken frees herself from the potentially lethal attack, slamming the length of her staff out in an attempt to bash it into Jedah's side even as Baiken attacks. Her hands would swiftly reposition along its length as she would follow up by stepping forward into a spin, scything the length of the weapon through the air into a wide arc, aiming to follow up her initial jab with difficult sweeping second strike. It's only in swinging that she sees the damage to Baiken's neck - the sight enough to give almost anyone pause - but it's her eyes she sees next and there she finds no fear, no echo of uncertainty, only unyielding, absolute driven conviction that bends not even the slightest in the face of such powerful evil.

She may not know this woman. She may not know the bloody, gruesome tale behind the scars and missing limbs she's noticed, or what life shaping events compose the story behind her unbreakable resolve.

But for now, she can lean on the fearless swordwoman's zeal. She can fight without hesitation as well. Already planning ahead, her left hand slips toward her right, her staff illuminating the blood drenched earth around her.

COMBATSYS: Jedah blocks Ayame's The Sunrise of Broken Dreams.

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Ayame            1/----===/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\1            Jedah
[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           0/-------/---====|

COMBATSYS: Baiken successfully hits Jedah with Tsurane Sanzu Watashi.
* Attack Of Opportunity! *

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Ayame            1/----===/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2            Jedah
[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           0/-------/---====|

"Poison and treachery," asks the Black Messiah with a tempered smile, "or honesty and consideration?"

Talons shatter in the exchange, liquefying soon after contact, and splashing down to the ground below. The bloody gashes in his nailbeds are already starting to dry up when Ayame's attack closes in. Instantly, one of his bladed wings respond, as if he barely needed to consider the attack at all: the sinister curve nearest the shrine maiden shimmers red as it flattens out into the blade of a shortsword. The end of Ichijo's blade slams into the blade's fuller, the edges of the groove preventing the staff from sliding any further sideways before Jedah himself can pivot out of the way.

"Bold spirits like yours are -- "

His revolution is such that his back is, for a moment, positioned towards both of the monster-slayers. Now that the secondwing is now nearest to Ayame, it too undergoes a transformation, with a cacophony of cracking and melting: stress fractures weep blood as the curvature of the blade inverts itself into concavity. Reconfigured thusly, the wing is able to retain the whirling staff and prevent it from sweeping him off his feet -- not that the demon lord really has any concern for the blood-slickened terra firma to begin with. As the staff strikes, the soft and malleable metalloprotein flexes, and bubbles form and pop at the stress; a sign of the Blood Weaver's slackening reaction times against the extended conflict.

"-- far more suited for vassals --"

Jedah's magnificent whirl concludes with spinning free of Ayame's staff, and his bloody wings convulsing and sprouting back into their earlier state.

"--than as raw material in the Furnace!" His voice rises in tremulous outrage -- the -nerve- of these mortals! -- as he clenches his fist around the ellipsoid totem.

A tortured shriek, soggy with gurgling, rings out from the creature, as its form further clouds with milky residue.

"I speak only the unvarnished gospel of reality!"

His eyes affix first onto Ayame -- a baleful, barely tolerant glare -- before turning then upon Baiken. "You think I am deaf to your feelings, child?! Deaf to your rush of adrenaline, as you fight for your dear life -- Hate me with the hatred of a thousand hells!"

It would seem that the one-armed swordswoman takes him up on that suggestion. A powerful slash comes in -- and Jedah's wings swing around as if to ward off that strike as it had Ayame's.
An instant too late -- the bubbling blades had not yet reached the point of being able to stop Baiken's committed swing, and the blade bites into his abdomen -- still infested with the translucent tendrils of Ayame's talisman.

Another tortured shriek, in an equally high pitch -- though this time it comes from the bloodlord as he staggers backwards. Even in his compromised stance, Jedah's reconfigured wings swing into position for a second round -- but it's at this point that Baiken's power exceeds his, and the blade slides across blood-slick blades to bite into his thigh, carving a deep groove therein.

Jedah buckles, dropping to one knee, a terrified expression flickering across his face as his mouth hangs open.

And then the finishing strike of the combination is delivered, a powerful strike to cleave part of the wing completely off in its goal of chopping Jedah completely in half.

She damn near does so. When the pink radiance clears, Jedah has one hand pressed against the blood-soaked earth. And one hand -- the one still clutching the ellipsoid -- has been lopped clean off -- along with the rest of his arm, and the majority of his wing, and the macabre remains of his abdomen. If he were human, he'd have an empty space where his last four ribs once were -- and he'd definitely be falling over. But instead, he pants, fury in his eyes as he takes stock of exactly what he's left with right now -- not a whole hell of a lot.

"Your efforts are futile!" says the kneeling Savior, the blood pooled beneath him beginning to bubble. One might think him to be at his end -- the very last of his lifeforce.

But then one would be reminded that the entire battleground is soaked in his foul blood.

And as =all= of Jedah's detached body parts liquefy, sinking into the ground to become one of the pool, the pool itself surges upwards. Rising rapidly from behind Baiken, what starts as a mere bubble of blood erupts into a pillar -- and from there sprouts fingers.

The crimson hand -- easily the size of Baiken herself -- will seek to grab hold of the swordswoman by the waist. And if it manages to do so, it will slam her back and forth against the ground, bashing her head and shoulders against the rocks. And if she manages to survive all that -- the Italian words for 'CONTRACT OF SERVITUDE' and a long and intricate legal form will appear on the rocks in raised blood. Baiken would be slammed into the rocks right beneath the contract, her body to be the stamp that seals the contract.

COMBATSYS: Baiken blocks Jedah's Prova - di - Servio.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Ayame            1/----===/=======|>>>>>>-\-------\0            Jedah
[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           0/-------/-======|

Baiken is still not terribly capable of conversation. Her throat is, if no longer actively blocked, very definitely not in a good way; it feels like she's bruised from the inside out (which may in fact be the case). She elects to not even try, not even letting out her usual battle cry when she completes her final slash.

At least, until Jedah speaks once more.

"I don't - serve - anybody," Baiken manages to get out, though it's accompanied by an unpleasant whistling sound and no further attempts at speech. She's made herself clear. She does what she does for herself, with no ties on her from the outside - nothing except the inexorable pull of vengeance, anyway, which is its own attraction.

Ayame is in there too, and Baiken glances aside at her before focusing on Jedah. They can beat him - she's not sure if she can do it alone (though she'd sure as hell try) but she's feeling pretty good about their chances together. It's just a question of if whether they can survive the experience... and whether it will stop Jedah from completing his plan.

Baiken feels the ground shift under her as Jedah starts doing something with it. She leaps, throwing the chain arm out... not at Jedah but at a tree, which is probably not going to dodge her. She pulls herself up by it, yanking her feet off the ground as she swings across - over! - the battlefield.

The hand almost grabs her anyway, so fast does it move. It doesn't grab Baiken by the waist, though - it grabs her by the wrist on the sword hand. It tries to pull her in, but she resists, hanging on the chain; the tree bows as she pulls against it, twisting her arm just so, and something she does manages to twist away from it at the cost of wrenching her arm painfully. But she swings away from it, another wrenching injury added to the tally.

She returns a moment later, because Baiken is suspended from a point - a tree branch - and is swaying along it like a pendulum. She detaches from the tree as she does, whirling; the chain-claw retracts, and instead a wicked curved blade pokes out of her sleeve as she spins vertically, trying one last time to bisect Jedah.

Though her own swift pair of crimson staff strikes are deflected once more, first by blade, then by bladed wing, Ayame's interference proves to be just enough to buy Baiken her chance to strike true, delivering a blow that she has no doubt would be fatal were their target cursed with the limitations of most mortal beings. His words still an echo ringing out against the mountainside, Ayame takes a step back to stare at the aftermath of the deadly swordwoman's lethal strike.

Is this it then? Is this where the legacy of Jedah Dohma, the Black Messiah, the Tyrant King of demons finally comes to an end? She allows herself a fleeting moment of confused elation at the thought that such a monster might truly be felled and sickened horror at the gruesome sight unfolding before her eyes. Far too much blood spills over the now desecrated soil as the young woman releases a held breath. The time has come to end this vile abomination's reign once and for all and given the way the bloodstained girl hangs back, she clearly seems to be leaving such honors to the deathless hunter who's lack of hesitation proved her own inspiration in the desperate battle.

But it's too early to hope for victory, to soon to write the Blood Weaver out. Hope gives way to sickening despair in an instant. That Baiken moves at all before the goliath blood limb manages to secure her is a testament to her battle instincts. There's not even any chance to warn her, so swift is the sudden attack as Ayame observes it. It happens too fast for her to intercede and she is too far out of position to try and rescue the woman - in that moment, Baiken's continued survival is left to her own, remarkably capable hands; a state of existence she is very likely quite used to.

Instead, the young priestess turns on the source of the attack himself. Her staff continues to burn brightly in her grip, empowered by the card she had torn just prior to her previous attack. Growling, she stabs the end of it into the earth, leaving it upright, a glowing beacon of rune-carved wood, as she releases her hold on the weapon. Both hands disappear into opposite sleeves, a look of grim resolve crossing the features of her face.

"This is where it ends," she states as she pulls two paper talismans free - one a ghastly, sickly hue of green etched in fine crimson ink, the other the dark red of dried blood etched in black. Illuminated by her glimmering staff, she presses her left hand over the two ofuda in her right palm, streaks of her own blood from when her back was opened by the devil's scythe smearing over the surface of the green card on top.

"I have been preparing this," she states, her voice cold, "Since the night we first met." A dark green glow radiates out from around her right hand as Ayame takes a single step forward, standing adjacent to her staff, her left hand snapping out to grip it. Her right arm is drawn up, the two prepared wards pressed together as their corners begin to burn with unearthly green fire that glows brighter as the energy in her staff begins to dim.

"To be ready."

She closes her eyes briefly, steeling her resolve. There's no going back now. Hasn't she imagined this moment time and time again?

The unholy green fire of her burning talismans now fully subsumes the barely perceptible lingering glow of her staff as it feeds hungrily on the ambient chi the girl had readied.

Finally, Ayame bursts forward, snatching her staff from the ground with her left as she leans forward into a headlong charge toward the darkstalker.

"To finish you!"

She flings the burning cards with her right hand from two meters out, trying to get close enough to make escape nearly impossible. Yet no sooner does she hurl the cursed talismans than she slides to a stop and begins to back peddle, clearly trying to put distance between her and His Unholiness.

But in that moment, it isn't the girl but the burning talismans flying for Jedah's feet that he may wish to most concern himself with. The instant they land, they erupt into a brief burst of swirling, miasmic energy no larger than a basketball. And then a second eruption, the attack becoming a bonfire of green flame surging up swiftly.

The nature of the attack may feel almost familiar to one who so easily walks between worlds - hellfire, the all consuming, destructive force some of his kin have even come to wield. Yet this funeral pyre of ruin seethes with an enhanced, voracious hunger that could never be satisfied. As the center of it surges, the air is filled with sharp, piercing sounds reminiscent of shrieks of the crying damned and the blood all around it boils or burns.

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Jedah with Pilgrimage to Golgotha.
- Power hit! -

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //                            ]
Ayame            0/-------/---<<<<|>>>>>>>\>------\1            Jedah
[                    \\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           1/-------/=======|

COMBATSYS: Jedah dodges Baiken's Youzansen.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //                            ]
Ayame            0/-------/---<<<<|>>>>>>>\>------\1            Jedah
[                    \\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           1/-------/=======|

All creatures, whether they be living or unholy animations of the occult, have a finite amount of focus to be parcelled out.
The two demonslayers, with their wildly differing tactics, appear to be stretching Lord Dohma's focus to its limit. For, throughout the battle, he had kept a tight grip upon the ovoid fetish -- the cruel creation which had been keeping the Lovecraftian horror entombed within a crimson prison. The controller responsible for the creature's pain, for its unlasting agony.

The Dark Lord's patience is eternal. Small losses do not frustrate him, for he keeps the larger picture in mind. Even the loss of the most brilliant biochemist to join his forces in aeons was but a trifle to the Black Messiah, for the products of her study were provided to him. And her legacy remains within the inner workings of the True Soul -- the Shintai.
On a long enough timescale, any loss is insignificant.

Lord Jedah's crimson eyes remain fixated on Baiken as he guides the hand close, even causing it to veer off as Baiken swings out of its way -- but in the end, the -size- of the disembodied hand is its weakness, unable to retain a fixed hold on such a relatively small limb. Once he realizes the failure of his sneak attack, he uprooots his hand from the soaked ground with sickly spatters of blood.

There is little chance of mistaking the seven-foot-tall creature as human as he rises. A razor-thin crescent of moonlight can be seen through the wedge-shaped gap in his torso as the silhouetted Dark Lord rises, his ceremonial headdress tilting to the side as glowing crimson eyes bear down upon the swinging Baiken.

She insists she will serve no one.

Lips pull back into an overconfident sneer, as his form lights with the brilliant purple of his earlier incantation, veins shining brightly. New vessels begin to form where the previous matter had been pruned away.
"So have said greater fighters than you, fighters who march in my honor."

But while Baiken is readying herself for a renewed assault, Miss Ichijo is already prepared to unleash her own.
This does little to dampen Jedah's imperious expression, as he tilts his head towards her.

"You think you can -finish- me...?!" He bursts into laughter, shaking his head, even as Baiken begins her pendular launch.

As Baiken hurls herself forward, the Black Messiah flicks his severed arm to the side. Iron-laden scabs burst open once more, metallic flakes flying into the air as his shoulder stump unleashes blood with the rate of a wide-open firehose. Blood thunders outward, blasting Jedah to the side -- and neatly out of the path of Baiken's overcommitted attack.

The heavy arterial flow will likely soak the swordswoman anew from head to toe, which is sure to do wonders for her mood.

Two taps of a foot, followed by the shifting of rocks, signal the Black Messiah landing once more. As Baiken passes, it will become all the more apparent to Ayame that the bloodlord's shattered wing has all but regenerated, and a brand new arm is already beginning to take shape, as the heavy flow begins to adhere to the bony scaffolding of a growing humerus.


But there is one thing the arterial flow did not hit, or account for -- and that was for Ayame conquering her fear , of her leaning in close to aim her shots. So even as he turns his baleful glare back to Ayame, fully intending to continue his detailing of how the little human is wrong in this instance -- he is struck by the prepared cards.

And what starts as a double explosion of green flames is enough to wrench a curious change of expression out of Jedah's face.
Akin to one being -tickled-.
Screaming. Hellfire. Agony. It's... well, -two- of those things really bring about a positive reaction from Jedah.

"The most -- heh -- the most -interesting- thing you've done this eve, Miss Ichijo..."

Amidst the emerald conflagration, the silhouette of Jedah Dohma can be seen. He buckles, dropping down to one knee, his form withering as the unholy flames tear at the excesses of his simulacra skin, burning away the fresh new tissues before they can ripen to fruition.
And amidst the shouting -- there are -peals- of laughter.
Not the cocky laughter of before, but the high-pitched shrieks of a child.

"You... you fight only... only an -avatar!-" Laughter, interspersed by gems of overconfident wailing. "A pale shadow.. of my true self!"

The fires burn away the blood -- a heat so intense the regenerating Reaper has no immediate recourse for. As the iron edges of his scythelike wings stretch out of the inferno, he cackles with delight. A single wing beat brings Jedah Dohma free of the blaze -- an emaciated, diminished shadow of himself.

"Futile, futile!" he cries, blood continuing to drip from the thin, wraithlike bloodlord. His eyes cast about.
First to Baiken, with condescending bile. "Do you think I would send --"
Next to Ayame, mirth lighting his face. "-- my -real- self to--"

Then to... the flattened, crimson mass on the ground. No longer egg-shaped. And no longer clutched in one of his hands.

"-- conduct--"

It would be easy to miss the transition. No longer deformed by the pressure of the ellipsoid totem, the creature had the luxury of wrenching the crimson jaws open. The taco shape that held it fast returns to its circular tortilla shape.

And with the sound of shattering crystal, the creature is gone. In its wake is a nexus of cerulean blue energy -- a bottomless well, lined with impossibly rotating walls, falling endlessly into eternity.

Jedah looks down into his chest. And -seethes- with anger, tracing a circle around his chest with the bloody talon of his index finger. A perfect circle is inscribed on his chest, neatly surrounding the translucent tendrils Ayame had embedded within him earlier.

And with a calm gesture, he reaches into the circle, plucks out his chest, and discards it on the ground -- where the offending biomass instantly turns into a puddle, leaving the tendrils with nothing solid to coil around.

He clears his throat -- at the moment, he still has one.
"You have only delayed the inevitable," he announces with a modicum of patience. "The experiment was a rousing success, despite your interference."

While he was glowering at both ladies, he then turns to look into the depths of the pit, his wings flapping languidly. His narrowed, calm eyes widen with alarm, as the rift between realities seals shut -- with only remnants of crystallized, translucent slime left behind.
And then those eyes shut, in bitter frustration.

"A -rousing- success," he reiterates in a barely convincing voice. "But there is one thing you've said that bears truth."

The thinned thaumaturge expels air through his nostrils. Even his blond forelocks have thinned in the wake of the crippling blows dealt to him. But nonetheless, he raises his palm to the puddles of blood upon the ground -- and a circle erupts with light.

"This is where it ends."

And the emaciated bloodlord moves to leap into his -own- constructed portal, leaving behind a blood-soaked battleground -- and little else to show for it but a blue, crystalline residue.

COMBATSYS: Jedah takes no action.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ayame            0/-------/---<<<<|
[                    \\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           1/-------/=======|

COMBATSYS: Jedah can no longer fight.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ayame            0/-------/---<<<<|
[                    \\\\\\\\\\  <
Baiken           1/-------/=======|

Log created on 17:52:00 09/17/2017 by Jedah, and last modified on 18:15:02 09/24/2017.