Ayame - Mission #25: The One Ayame Entrusted

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Description: The violence at the Meian Jinja and spreading chaos throughout the land has made Ayame thoughtful of the future. Is she ready to face the threats that are coming? What of those who stand with her? She decides to see for herself.

It was over almost as quickly as it began - a raid in the night; a mysterious would-be assassin pierced the wards and seals that seemed unusually slow to respond to his hostile presence. And using a means as of yet undiscovered by the research conducted since, he unleashed a swarm of angry spirits, ancient, withered compared to their once great power, yet dangerous all the same. Those present that late hour mobilized quickly, putting down the creatures and almost capturing the man responsible before he escaped through machinations prepared in advance.

It is a new day but a different mood rests over the premises. Not in the current or previous generation of the Ichijo household had such an assault been carried out. There is a sense of focus throughout those moving about. Tourism has been closed for the day so that repairs can be conducted on the structures that saw damage in the chaos, a sign out in the distant parking lot advising them to come back another day. Everyone within the walls either calls the old compound their home or commutes in from Southtown to volunteer during the day. For now, most are engaged in cleaning up shattered wood or other debris, or, if they are at least somewhat skilled in carpentry, they are actively involved in patching holes or replacing damaged shingles and wooden slats.

Ayame Ichijo is content to leave the grueling labor to the acolytes, volunteers, and other individuals who's hard work is easily audible over the stone wall that divides the garden area from the courtyard proper. The sounds of with hammering, sweeping, sawing, and idle chatter are carried by the cool forest breeze that blows throughout the tree covered region but on this side of the wall the more immediate audio cues are the splashing of the brook that runs near one of the walls and of swaying trees as the occasional gust builds to send their autumn leaves flapping.

The corner to the far north west from the entrance from the courtyard has always stood out as being a bit out of place from the rest of the meticulously maintained garden. There are no benches there, no gazebos, no beds of colorful flowers or large canopy-bearing trees. Simply grass, kept cut short and patches of dirt where the grass has been worn through by constant wear and tear.

And there, standing out easily from the field of brown and green in her white and crimson uniform, Ayame stands. Her left hand is closed around her staff, the end of it propped against the ground at her side, while her right hand rests at her waist, her right foot tapping, an unmistakable token of impatience.

As usual, the girl is dressed from head to toe in pristine cloth, her white layered kimonos cover her top and her crimson long pleated skirt covers her legs. Her strawberry blonde hair stands out in the bright afternoon sun adorned, as always, by a ribbon tied into a large bow at the back of her head. Each foot is clad in a red sandal and covered by a white sock, and a thick corded obi belt is worn around her waist, tied into a wide looping bow just below her navel.

Slowly, she breathes in a deep breath then releases an audible sigh of building exasperation. And just what has her put out now? Now that it tends to require much to put her into a mood.

Of the few people who live full time at the Meian Jinja there is one in particular who tends to stand out even among the various priests and workers, many of whom are a few centuries out of fashion. A regular giant among humankind, the towering woman known only as Riki has become a rather commonplace sight, atleast for those who spend their days toiling away within the temple's hallowed walls. While her size can be imposing at first, her typically jovial and laid-back nature made short work of many of the reservations the locals had when she appeared those many months ago with the wounded young mistress of the Ichijo family in tow.

The oni woman stretches as she slips out of the rear door of the main temple, ducking her head underneath the low hanging frame accompanied by an audible cacophany of crackles and pops as her oversized bones realign from a long nap. The noise turns a few heads but most of the workers ignore it or make casual jokes in passing to which Riki barks a few laughs and retorts of her own, a broad toothy grin on her face that makes no effort to hide the pointed fangs contained within. She starts to make her way across the courtyard as a leisurely pace, pausing here and there to offer minor assistance to the workers - a ladder held steady here, a hammer fetched there, a heavy pile of lumber tossed onto the roof, and other such things that her sheer size and strength make trivial.

Ironically, the near thousand year old monster sports a look that is far more modern than the majority of those around her. Her wide torso is clad in a simple white t-shirt, its collar and short cuffs adorned with a thin ring of red fabric. While the garment would likely be able to serve as a small tent for any normal sized person, it clings to her body in an almost form-fitting fashion, accentuating both her world-class muscles and equally impressive curves. Her legs are concealed behind a long dress of pleated blue cotton, each fold in its wrinkled design shifting to the same bright red hue as those adorning her shirt - both of which match the large horn that juts out of her forehead. Rather than go barefoot, as usual, her feet protude from the bottom of the long skirt with a pair of old fashioned sandals strapped to them; little more than a couple bits of wood and rope to be honest but they do the job.

Riki's plodding path across the damaged yard takes her the better part of ten minutes and only once she has finished up a light-hearted conversation, which would no doubt be easily overheard by the ever-dour Ayame even without the wind to aid the oni's boisterous voice, does she pass through the gate that leads into the other half of the temple's backyard. Shouting the end of a rather lewd joke over her shoulder, Riki gives one final grin as a chorus of groans answer her and then turns to make her way over towards the young priestess. She takes her sweet time, as tends to be the case, managing to drag the affair out despite having over a five-foot stride, stretching her arms up into the sky once more and letting out a long yawn.

"Oh, hey there, princess," she offers upon drawing within speaking distance, idling scratching at the back of her head through a mane of loose honey-blonde hair. "Twas a rather noisy evening, so I am told."

Naturally, she'd been passed out drunk well before the sun had gone down. Perhaps even more infuriating to those who have suffered the terrible wrath of a hangover, she seems none the worse for it.

Time. A gift of order, measured by men, wasted by many. A river that flows ever onward. Thought by most to be endless, but it is not. All time must eventually come to an end. Would the lazy waste theirs if they knew its true value? Or is the simple enjoyment of each moment time used to its fullest extent?
Whatever the answers, time is running out.
This is one of many concerns that weigh upon Noboru's broad shoulders as he stands atop the corner wall of Ayame's garden, thoughts drifting back to the last time he entered her home. Bloody. Badly wounded. Having nearly died at the hands of a ghost she wished him to find.
Though the big man stands in the open, both his shaggy golden-brown hair and loose blue robe tossed about in the warm air, none seem to notice. If anyone were to be asked, they would not have seen him come in. No wards were tripped. No alarm raised. yet there he stands, hands at his sides and mismatched eyes focused down toward the strawberry-blonde Miko waiting impatiently below.
Surely she should feel eyes upon her? Sense the gaze of another? The instinctive connection of two auras reaching across the distance?
There is nothing. It is as if he is not there. Even more, it is as if he were always there. As if he were a part of the wall itself, built brick by brick to stand guard over his corner. One with his surroundings in a profound way.
Riki's booming laughter draws the Iron Mystic's gaze away from his study of Ayame, watching with stoic stillness as the wild-haired giantess strides slowly closer. Even to her senses he is invisible, nothing more than stones and wind. The earth itself. Unworthy of notice.
All of that ends when he allows his worries and hopes to come rushing back into his being, sliding free of his meditative state. All at once both Ayame and Riki can feel the presence of another looming above, shadow stretching dark and cool over the patchy grass.
"Time grows short." Noboru states, his voice the quiet rumble of stones falling distantly down the mountains. Like the Oni below, he is powerfully built, though smaller by several measures. Unlike her, his mannerisms are very controlled. "Our world teeters upon the edge of a great precipice. What lies at its bottom is unknown to me. And now, when I come seeking council, I find even this place to have suffered an attack. I sense not the energy of the Ghost. Have one of your ancient enemies returned?"
Stepping forward off of the wall, Noboru descends to the grass below with surprising grace, knees flexing so that his impact makes no sound at all. it is an odd thing to witness, comparable to the poise of a bear when seen swimming through deep water. Still, their is no denying that this bulky figure is, somehow, a ninja. The mask he wears across his lower face is not in jest.

The appellation of 'Princess' has always been a surefire way of elevating Ayame's irritation meter and the dour expression she gives the jovial ogress more than confirms that its track record for success will continue unbroken this day. "Indeed," she replies dryly, right hand moving from her waist as her arm folds over her stomach. She studies Riki for a long moment, expression shifting to slightly less annoyed as she looks to the side, looking a little uncomfortable at discussing the subject of last night's commotion.

She whips her staff up with her left arm, pointing it lengthwise toward the guardian creature, "As a result, we are strengthening the wards and," she wags the long weapon once, bracing the other end of it beneath her arm for support, "Requiring a more aggressive training schedule for everyone who works within these walls. That includes you. Hiroshi was supposed to tell you to be here over an hour ago. Did you forget so soon or was mid-afternoon simply too early to wake up for the day?"

Ayame lowers her staff so that the end of it rests once more against the grass. "I understand you come from an era where the concept of time had yet to be invented, but that is hardly any excuse to not be able to keep to a schedule now."

'Time grows short' interjects the Shinobi of Stone in a timely manner and Ayame leans away, turning to the side to face the new arrival with open surprise in her expression, mouth opening then closing, eyes blinking once before she quickly recovers her composure, his question worthy of an answer bearing more details than the girl offered Riki.

"His identify was a mystery every bit as unclear as the nature of his power. He was a sealer possessed, his great power bent to the will of something more dangerous." She sighs softly, shoulders falling a little, eyes closing as if reflecting on the night's battle. "That would explain the sigils and seals I observed in his abilities. But that alone would not account for his ability to call forth monsters at will. A few of them..." she shakes her head, eyes flicking open though not focusing on Noboru directly, "I looked into them afterward. Some of them have not been reported of in over a century." Another soft exhale, her right arm falling to rest at her side, fingers of her hand closed in a loose fist.

"There is much still to learn about him, but his intentions were not unclear. He came to eliminate this household and I am certain his ambition will not have slacked in defeat."

Attention shifts back to Riki, mouth curling into a smile that lacks sincerity, "Too bad you missed the party. I am sure some of your old friends were there."

Her expression sobers after the idle gibe however, glancing back toward Noboru briefly, "First step is to secure the compound. People need to be safe within these walls... or it becomes impossible to leave the jinja long enough to hunt the man down." Finally, she looks toward Riki though speaks of her as if she wasn't addressing her directly, "And I need to make sure that I can leave the well being of my family to one strong enough to be trusted with the burden." She lifts her staff with her left hand, tapping it against her right hand with a hard smack in her palm.

"Well?" she asks toward Riki, addressing her directly again before with an arced eyebrow she glances toward the Miyama representative. "You were hoping to find information here? I will tell you what I can. What is it concerning?"

As a guardian spirit, well former guardian spirit, with hundreds of years spent watching the habits of humans, Riki is most certainly aware of the sorts of things that get underneath the skin of her chosen master by this point in time. That she is willing to speak them regardless is either a testament to her devotion to the art of annoying the priestess or an utter disregard for consequences. With her, it could really go either way.

The giantess flops into a cross-legged sitting position upon reaching the clearly upset girl, keeping just enough space between the two of them that she isn't in each striking range with that stick of hers. That lesson had already been learned. Not that she doubts Ayame is willing to take the two steps she'd need to close that gap, if sufficiently provoked, but it's enough of a buffer to prevent suprise attacks without being too obvious about it.

Her estimation of distance proves to be remarkably accurate only moments later as the girl brings her staff up to jab it in Riki's direction, falling short of poking her in the chest by only a few inches, which prompts the appearance of a faintly smug smirk. The look fades upon being informed that she will have actual work to do. A hand goes to her chin, rubbing it thoughtfully. Training, huh. That could be fun. It's been a while since she's had a chance to rumble with anyone though her last throw-down was one hell of an interesting encounter. Digging her way out of the half of the mountain that fell down with her was less fun.

"Hmm. The young lad did mention something about a garden. I confess, his message fell upon mostly dead ears for I had not yet fully roused from my slumber." The ogress shrugs and smiles warmly. "But, no harm has been done, mmm? Surely you would not begrudge me an hour or two."

Her question is supplanted by one that is likely far less aggravating to the miko as the silent statue that she had somehow failed to notice makes his presence known. Riki's eyebrows quirk up at this in clear surprise. She should have detected anyone that close to them. Perhaps she should not have indulged so deeply after all if it left her so clearly hampered.

The demon lifts a hand in greeting to Noboru. Though she cannot see his face, it is hard to mistake his shape and the scent his spirit that is now plainly obvious. She has met few humans in her short time upon this world since the beginning of her punishment but only one of them is as large as the stoic ninja.

"Ah, the mysterious messenger! I see thou hath come to us in good health this day," she interjects after Ayame's initial explanation of the events of the previous night.

Riki pats the grass next to her with one hand while producing a massive gourd in the other from seemingly out of thin air. It sloshes noisly as she shakes it back and forth, as if it might serve as incentive for him to accept her offer.

"Here, come and join us! Twould seem there is villiany afoot which hath set the young mistress ill at ease. I would not protest another friend with which to share a drink."

Tossing her head back, the ogre woman dumps what must be atleast a couple gallons of sake from the container into her mouth, swallowing it with a few great gulps. She lets out a contented sigh and wipes her mouth with the back of a hand, but quickly follows it with an amused snort at the girl's attempt to poke fun at her age.

"Perhaps you may also share in my burden of shouldering her temper! Ha ha ha!"

Holding up her hands in mock surrender upon falling prey to Ayame's direct glare, the oni pushes to her feet and sends the large old-fashioned flask back into whatever dimension she keeps it in with a flick of her wrist that sets the manacles and chains rattling. She grins, this time eagerly, and punches one fist into the flat of her other palm.

"Very well! Twas by my own word I did swear unto thee my protection! Let it not be said that I lack for courage or honor! Besides, thy mother would be quite cross with me should I let any ill befall thee and that is a trial I would rather do without."

Straightening from his slight crouch, the Iron Shinobi of the Miyama clan stares down into Ayame's briefly startled face with a look that is at once intent, and unreadable. It helps that half of his face is hidden, and that one of his eyes remains permanently blank of expression. The other, however, is cool and measuring. Full of the quiet wisdom that comes from one who has earned the title of Mystic. He shows no flicker of surprise at her explanation of last night's events, golden brown brows furrowing as he takes a moment to process what he is hearing.
"As before, our goals align." Noboru murmurs, perhaps to the women, or just as likely to himself. Eye having gone briefly distant, he sweeps it up from Ayame to Riki, focusing upon the seated ogress though his words are clearly meant for her shorter companion. The offer of booze earns only a politely dismissive twist of one hand.
"Had I been there, it is likely I could have offered insight into the nature of this foe. But, you are sure this was no agent sent by another? Rumor has reached me of your recent battle with Lord Dohma. He, and others who rule the hidden worlds, could construct such a creature as you describe. A being of souls fused into a single monstrosity. But without witnessing its abilities, I can not say if this is what you have faced. If these demons it controlled are as ancient as you suspect, I do not think they would submit themselves willingly to such a binding."
Shifting his weight, the muscular shinobi settles his feet shoulder-width apart, arms folding into a pose of monk-like contemplation. With the wide, short sleeves of his loose-fitting robe blowing gently about his elbows, he tilts his chin up, thoughtful.
"I have come," he rumbles somberly, "to cross reference the Ichijo's records of ancient bound entities with those of the Miyama. Recent surges throughout the leylines have begun to weaken seals once estimated to last centuries longer. My clan is moving to check these barriers now, but to miss even one could unleash terror upon the land. We must insure that these incidents are contained. It is all we can do."
There is a note of sad finality in Noboru's quiet voice as he finishes, head dropping into a slight bow. it is clear that this situation weighs heavily upon him. God-like powers unleashed upon the world, nations locking jaws around one another's throat. Yet the Miyama serve dutifully in the background as they always have, attempting to clean up messes left by others, unable to stop the world from crumbling around them. How must it feel to know that everything his clan has worked for is beginning to unravel?

Glares at Riki long enough for the giant woman to raise her hands in mock surrender before looking back toward Noboru to listen to his thoughts about the midnight attacker. There is a slight shake of her head, "This man's murderous passion was his own, not borrowed from some master." Her eyes lose their focus for a moment as she glances to the side, "He had a vendetta against me - I should say, the one controlling the body did. I saw no indications that the mind of the possessed had any sway at all throughout the conflict." She lifts her right hand to tap her forefinger against her chin a few times. "It has to be some creature I crossed paths with before. Some spirit or monster I must have crossed paths with before. But I do not have a long track record of unfinished business, and certainly not with very many things that- powerful." It would be easy to miss where her voice hitched for an instant, a distracting thought that goes unspoken.

"How did you hear about my incident with Dohma anyway?" she asks, brow furrowed. "It is true. I fought him in the States, alongside a powerful swordswoman who also knew sealing arts."

She sighs, closing her eyes for a moment, shoulders falling slightly, "I was off over there, while matters here have been descending into turmoil. I-... I should have been here the whole time. Yet-..." Her voice trails off, "Nevermind."

She is quiet as Noboru speaks of seals, "The Jinja wards were also less effect than expected against the demonic intruders. I... had not considered it might be a global phenomenon rather than a local problem." The miko falls quiet after that, looking at Noboru thoughtfully as if weighing his request. "Of course you can have access to our archives."

He may know of the library of the Meian Jinja, an underground vault with a hidden entrance within the shrine, known to house scrolls and books from around the world, some of them carefully preserved for over a millennia. Most of them recount history, records of the rise and fall of clans, of shoguns, of empires. But many of them track information that would be considered purely fanciful fiction by most modern readers. Sealing rites, rituals of old, and the locations of sacred relics or ancient seals keeping untold nightmares at bay.

She glances toward Riki, nodding at the invitation the oni offered to join them, before glancing back to Noboru, "You are also welcome to take advantage of this opportunity to train, if your agenda can afford a brief delay." She lifts her staff to her shoulder, tapping it there a couple of times.

"I remember learning quite a bit from-" she cuts herself off, "Well, each of us brings quite a different approach to combat that can be quite educational." She glances toward the promised guardian, a half-grin at her lips, "For example, Riki is about to show us the pros and cons of moving slower than a nozuchi." A furry youkai slug. How lovely.

Riki's broad toothy grin doesn't falter under the scathing appraisal of what she brings to the table in their new efforts to improve each other's skills. She barks out short laugh and rolls her shoulders a few times, earning some fresh popping noises as the bones and tendons realign.

"Perhaps you shall wish I was merely such a lowly creature when we are finished!"

Her mind briefly turns to consider the conversation held between the stout warrior and the miko. Seals breaking all around the world, demons rising from ancient graves, unknown forces of malice seeking vengence against those who would guard these long forgotten prisons. Did her lord see this coming as well? Just how much did he see of the future?

The oni's eyes shift down to her hands for a moment, glancing at the large manacles on her wrists with a new consideration. Perhaps they are not entirely a punishment after all. Were she to manifest in this world as a true demon, it might be possible that such malevolent energies could have affected her as well. As a being of powerful emotion, to be overwhelmed by even something as innocent as outrage at an injustice could see her commit terrible destruction in a blind rage.

The massive fingers of her hands clench tightly into fists, her grin growing even more determined. If this is the trial she must suffer to be of some use again, then so be it! Not even this weak human form will stay her hand this time. She will forge this body into a weapon to rival that of her true form, starting right now!

Turning to Noboru, the ogreress looms over the bulky ninja, towering almost half again his own size now that she is on her feet. She repeats the earlier gesture of punching one fist into the palm of another, this time tightening her grip around it so that the knuckles crack and pop loudly.

"Come friend! If it access to this sacred and secret information you seek, thou must first prove thyself worthy to this guardian!"

With that sudden and brief declaration, Riki lunges forward, lifting one of her hands over her head. Her fist balls up into a mighty hammer and with a roar she brings it down on the stocky shinobi in a smiting blow! It isn't the most blindingly quick of attacks, much as Ayame promised, but that fist is probably twice the size of his head.

COMBATSYS: Riki has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Riki             0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Noboru has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Noboru           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Ayame has joined the fight here on the top side.

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                 Ayame            0|-------|-------
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Noboru           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Noboru blocks Riki's Strong Punch.

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                 Ayame            0|-------|-------
[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Noboru           0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Riki

Banishing the concerns that weigh so heavily upon his broad shoulders, the Iron Mystic lifts his head, solemn gaze returning to Ayame just in time to meet the Miko's own. it is difficult to say what flickers of expression his mismatched eyes might catch. The shadow clans do not sing his praises. There are no epics of the Iron Mystic. Yet here he stands, where none others do.
Perhaps the Ichijo will remember him.
"Two of my sisters sent word of your battle." Noboru rumbles aside to Ayame, though the sound of Riki's massive fist impacting her palm draws his attention back to the giantess that completes their triangle. "They would not have been able to defeat him. You did well. Do not regret your actions. If you had not taken them, Lord Dohma would likely have returned with an army of monsters bread from the beast he wished to claim. We must all do what we can."
Left unsaid is what Noboru has been doing. Branded a terrorist and a traitor to Japan, several deaths have been attributed to his recent actions, which include the complete destruction of no less than three buildings. How much of this is true is anyone's guess. Whatever the case may be, he has been busy.
Too busy to stop and fight?
Before Noboru can voice an objection, Riki has turned on him, her bellowing war cry powerful enough to blast his hair back from his forehead. It is an intimidating sight, over eight feet of muscle and thunder pounding toward him, fist descending like a hammer toward the top of his unprotected skull.
Riki's right wrist meets the palm of Noboru's left hand with enough force to drive the bulky shinobi half an inch into the ground, her manacle jangling with the abrupt loss of motion.
Standing there, feet braced and right arm still folded across his middle, Noboru gazes contemplatively up passed his hand toward Riki's face, good eye full of depthless calm. He, should not be strong enough to stop her like that. He isn't a monster like Akuma. There is no flare of reinforcing chi. But somehow he does.
Perhaps that is why they call him the Iron Mystic.
The ninja's responding battle cry is much shorter, a deep grunt that rolls up from his guts as he twists his torso sharply to the left, putting all of his considerable strength behind a sharp downward jerk that, unless Riki can brace herself against it, should tug the huge Oni clean off of her feet, Noboru releasing her wrist to step neatly passed her tumbling form.
Then, and only if he can bring the giantess down, will Noboru swoop into a deep crouch at her side, left hand gripping her nape, right hand closing between her legs. Then, with a complete disregard for friendly places to touch, and an explosive release of muscular power, the hulking ninja will surge to his feet, uncoiling like a tensed spring and heaving Riki clear of the ground to hurl her up and over his head to land somewhere off behind him.

Noboru's acknowledgement of the young priestess's conflicted feelings concerning where she needed to be as chaos builds throughout the world provokes a slight nod, a thoughtful look, and nothing spoken. She seems lost in that thought when Riki makes the previous invitation into a demand, rising up to her formidable height to surge forward and strike with a portion of that power that she's capable of.

The friendly aggression earns her a blink of surprise from Ayame who had perhaps expected a bit more formal a start to sparring - but then again, perhaps it's better that the first attack come with as little warning as possible. Is not that closer to the way things are on the battlefield the world is becoming?

Giving it a moment more of thought, a flicker of a smile makes its way into her expression as she watches the two collide, new divots created in the soft soil beneath Noboru's feet, the bracing stance adopted to be able to weather such a powerful strike with the extension of a single arm.

Her own hands tighten on the rune-etched six foot long shaft of wood that forms her signature weapon as she watches Noboru transition smoothly from a barrier of unyielding iron to powerful aggression. From her perspective, it is quite the surprise to realize that he is attempting to not just seize hold of the titan among the trio, but actually move with the intent of bodily hurling her nearly fifth ton of body weight with raw muscle power.

"Well, well," she appraises, sweeping her staff from off her shoulder to whip it out to her left side, holding it in one hand for a moment. Perhaps she too wants to test the strength of Iron and that is why it is toward Noboru she bolts, a swift flash of white and crimson as she closes in on his left side. "This is not normally how we welcome visitors to the jinja, but-"

She sweeps her staff in from its wide angle on the left, right hand snapping out to join it in the center. From her position, it risks catching Noboru in the back with a hearty wooden thwack while Ayame attempts to step past him in the follow through. "You are up to the task." She would finish by pushing off with her staff against his back to push herself a bit further away and possibly, albeit only possibly, disrupt his sturdy balance in the process.

Unless prevented, she will have, at the very least, placed Noboru between her and Riki. A possible attempt at coordination, but... it's more likely she'd just prefer there to be someone else in the potentially charging oni's path.

COMBATSYS: Noboru successfully hits Riki with Embrace the Sky.

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                 Ayame            0|-------|-------
[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Noboru           1/-------/=======|==-----\-------\0             Riki

Riki's strength is, perhaps quite expectedly, something not entirely human. While the blow is clumsy and without anything resembling finesse or grace, the sheer size and power behind her fist is enough to rend the very land beneath the ninja asunder as the force he throws his arm up still has to go somewhere. Neither of them give and so it is the ground beneath him that falters.

Rather than balk at the idea that someone would be able to withstand such a strike, the oni's grin widens, flashing a brief glimpse of her fangs. With visible ripple in her arm, she leans forward to apply more pressure to the contest of strength, certain that her own is the greater but it is here that the astute ninja uses his training to avoid being crushed. Her arm twists to the side just as Riki leans forward turning her own power into a weapon against her. The giantess stumbles and falls to the ground with a resounding thud, creating yet another of what is likely to be many scars upon the courtyard as her bulk smashes into the soft earth.

Grunting softly, she starts to rise, turning onto her side to clamber back to her feet, but the ninja is upon her before she can do so. His hands latch onto her with more strength than she suspected the small man capable of and to her even greater surprise she finds herself rendered airborne moments later. Needless to say, oni are not particularly skilled at flying. Jumping, sure, but landing on her feet is alot easier when she plans on it.

This has the unfortunate effect that Ayame's desire to put Noboru between her and the demon has now backfired, as his powerful throw launched Riki over his shoulders and thus behind the miko. Or rather, right on top of her. Gritting her teeth even as she prepares to hit the ground in an uncontrolled fall, she whips about at the last moment, bringing a massive flaming fist down at the small priestess followed by the rest of her bulk.

COMBATSYS: Noboru endures Ayame's Medium Strike.

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                 Ayame            0|-------|-------
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Noboru           1/-------/=======|==-----\-------\0             Riki

While Noboru lacks the size and supernatural powers of Riki's fellow Oni, strength and toughness are two traits that he has in abundance. A fact that is made quite clear when he manages not only to lift the 500 pound woman, but to hurl her a substantial distance into the air.
Unfortunately for the Iron Mystic, it seems both women are intent to test his metal. NO doubt they have sparred with each other enough to learn the other's habits. But he is an outsider to their group. An unknown variable.
Even as Ayame dashes forward, crimson skirt a flutter, she can see the gleam in the hulking shinobi's eye. It is not the focused rage of a barbarian, or the vicious cunning of a brawler. For that brief instant before she is passed, she can see him taking in his surroundings, calculating. Measuring.
And then she is on him.
As the staff whistles through the air toward his back, Noboru throws himself backward to meet it. Wood impacts tensed flesh with a satisfying thud, the impact vibrating up through the staff into Ayame's arms. It was a solid blow, but Noboru barely seems to notice, accelerating right through in an attempt to smash his broad back into Ayame like a moving wall.
What could be a simple, staggering body check gains an ominous shadow as Riki descends from above. Surely the hulking shinobi didn't plan that? He couldn't have known that Riki would gain control of her fall, or that Ayame would charge in behind him. He can not see into the future...
Can he?
Either way, Ayame will have to contend with Noboru to keep from getting knocked skidding and off balance, maneuvered bodily into the perfect spot for a good old-fashioned ogre smash.

COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks Noboru's Iron Sentinel.

                 [  |||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=
[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|==-----\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Ayame dodges Riki's Helldiver.

                 [  |||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=
[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|==-----\-------\0             Riki

Strike, turn, backstep, push, backstep. The young priestess's motions are fluid, transitioning from offense to a defensive retreat without the slightest pause or stumble, using both fancy footwork and the reach of her staff to try and control the battlefield around her. The girls expression is intense, focused on Noboru to the degree one might consider that she hasn't realized her impending plight quite yet.

Many fighters could be tripped up by the opening maneuver, vulnerable to a second strike while in close at their back, but the fact that Ayame already chose to back away rather than attempt to seize the opportunity suggests she knew full well that the Iron Mystic would not be one of those fighters. With a quick pivot of her staff, it goes from a zone-creating range extender to a barrier of solid wood as Ayame pulls it in close, bracing behind it with both hands, slamming it out with her arms to intersect the Miyama shinobi's upper back with enough force to mitigate the impending impact.

It might be instinct, or maybe she saw it coming all along when she reacts to Riki's incoming flaming fist with the only plan that makes any kind of sense - get the hell out of the way!

With her staff pressed horizontally against Noboru's back, Ayame kicks up off the ground into a forward flip over the sturdy man, using her pole as something of a fulcrum to enable her leap to safety, avoiding the falling meat and fire comet that was about to crater her.

Of course, that isn't to suggest she isn't going to leave Riki with something to remember her by. Airborne, upside down mid leap, the nimble miko's right hand is no longer gripping her staff. Instead, with a flick, she's sending something flying the titan's way. A slip of paper, light blue ink painted onto its surface into intricately drawn sigils and a pale, ghostly blue flame erupting out from around it. As it flies past Noboru he would notice it burns with no heat whatsoever, but should it strike Riki in the back as intended, the oni might beg to differ on just how hot it can burn!

Unless prevented, Ayame would be on her feet a moment later, whirling around to try and face Noboru directly again to avoid being vulnerable in the exact same way she had tried to set him up.

COMBATSYS: Riki endures Ayame's Reliquary of Lost Time.

                 [  |||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=
[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|====---\-------\0             Riki

Riki laughs at the spritely moves of her mistress as the miko deftly avoids her make-shift blow, her wild strike doing little more than to fill the air with the acrid scent of hellfire for a few instants. The sudden touch of the amulet upon her flesh moments before the giant hits the ground changes that into a growl of surprise and pain as blue-white mystical power flares up against her demonic aura.

Landing hard on her shoulder, the ogreress causes the ground to shudder at the impact as a minor localized quake radiates through the temple. In a surprise showing of agility, she rolls with the fall, flopping over into a three-point crouch like a football player squaring off with the opposing team. One of her muscular arms jerks out to the side, a long finger drawing a circle in the air. With a pop of twisting reality, a large wooden red bowl simply appears and she catches it in the flat of her hand.

The bowl is brought up to her mouth and she tilts her head back, downing the clear liquid contents in several short but powerful gulps, some of it spilling down over her cheeks in her haste. Letting out a sharp sigh of relief, Riki tilts the bowl over her shoulder and pours the remains onto her back, the divine spirits snuffing out the magical fire with a sharp hiss.

"Aaaah, I had forgotten the sting of a slayer," she says, rising to her feet and casting the bowl aside with a casual toss, only for it to vanish once more in mid-air. "Tis the first time I have felt that particular sensation in many centuries. As unpleasant as I remember it. But, I have now an answer to one such as you!"

Inhaling deeply, the oni tilts her head back slightly, creating a short but powerful vaccuum effect as she draws in a mighty lungful of air, her chest puffing up like the bellows of a forge. With equal parts hurricane and firestorm, she suddenly reverses the flow, leaning forward to expel a blazing cloud of hellish flames at both the ninja and the miko.

COMBATSYS: Riki successfully hits Noboru with Breath of Heaven.

                 [  |||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0             Riki

If either Riki or Ayame but had the capability to peer into Noboru's soul, they would feel a sense of quiet contentment as his muscular back impacts Ayame's braced staff rather than her comparatively tiny form. Wood groans under the strain of accepting his weight, but all three of the combatants know that the staff is in no danger of snapping. Such a simple strike is nowhere near powerful enough to shatter chi-infused wood.
Just as quickly as the pressure arrived, it vanishes, Ayame flipping herself nimbly up and over the shinobi's shaggy head. He could attempt to go after her, to land a blow before she touches ground. But no doubt she is prepared for such. In that brief glance she had into his soul, he was able to glimpse her own. Like him, she is a planner, perhaps even more so.
The ground quakes with Riki's landing, and Noboru turns, moving with the slow inevitability of one who knows he has time. He wisely does not complete the rotation, right shoulder to Ayame, left to Riki. Perhaps unwisely, he does not retreat from between them. Instead he remains standing where he has been, occupying the same 5 foot circle from which he started this match.
Mismatched eyes study the towering Oni as she finishes pouring alcohol over her back, rising up to her full height with an expansive inhalation that sets his robe sleeves to rustling.
Calmly the Iron Mystic lifts his left arm, shielding his face just moments before he, and the area around him, is consumed in flames. Roiling fire roars over him, briefly concealing him from sight.
And when it has cleared, he is gone.
Flames crackle and dance, what was once patchy grass and dirt now charred and smoldering. But the ninja has vanished.
Before either Riki or Ayame have time to wonder how such a thing might have happened, the hulking shinobi lunges in from Riki's left, once pristine blue robe a scorched patchwork of rags that cling precariously to his upper body. Quite a bit of fair skin and golden brown body hair is on display, muscular shoulders rippling as he uncoils from his place against the garden wall into a flying shoulder tackle, aiming to drive up into the soft spot beneath Riki's ribs and hopefully knock the fire wielding brute off balance.
Fortunately for the women, Noboru wears a pair of baggy grey pants beneath his robe, which seem to have done a much better job of weathering the firestorm.

COMBATSYS: Ayame reflects Breath of Heaven from Riki with Midsummer Fantasy.
- Power hit! -

                 [   ||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|-----==
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0             Riki

The section of grass being used for the practice session is certainly going to show signs of use once the dust settles - from grooves, gouges, scorches, and craters. But it will grow back, just as it always has, following countless sparing sessions in this corner over the years.

Landed and already facing the other two with her staff at the ready, Ayame pays the rampant damage no mind, her eyes on Riki, studying the ogress's reaction to the searing impact of highly incompatible energy. It's always hard to find satisfaction in her eyes, even when she succeeds, and now is no different as she watches dispassionately the other two skilled combatants move on to the next phase of the intricate, demanding dance playing out this cooling Autumn afternoon.

The guardian oni takes the opportunity to imbibe and squelch the fire on her back but Ayame is the furthest from her with Noboru still in the way. As the massive woman speaks of pains long forgotten, Ayame replies bluntly, her tone lacking the playful taunting of earlier.

"The one that invaded-"
She adjusts her grip on her staff, exhaling softly before continuing, "My power pales compared to the threat his seals represented." It is rare that she speaks so openly about another being stronger or more capable than she is, but she says with no hint of deception or defensiveness - if anything, there might even be a slight tinge of something vaguely resembling concern.

Having had time to watch and prepare, she is ready for the swath of hellfire unleashed her way. Her right hand moves her staff to the side while her left hand slams out, palm forward, a discus of swirling but precisely contained rose-hued energy forced into the space between her and the other two. The unleashed flames crash against it with some of it folding around and past the steadfast barrier of energy given form.

Ayame's arm remains extended as she leans just a little, applying more pressure of will against the force crashing against her perfect defense. The shield explodes outward and away from her, sending fire and a bolt of that rose hued energy hurtling toward Riki.

"He even tried to seal me." she continues, her tone soft. "I could feel it, I think, the sense of being violently pulled away, ripped painfully away from my own body."

She flips her staff back into both hands, angling it in front of her defensively once more. "Considering what he could do against a human soul, it would be foolish for you to fight him yourself."

COMBATSYS: Riki blocks Noboru's Aggressive Strike.

                 [   ||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|-----==
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Noboru           1/-------/=======|======-\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Riki barely endures Ayame's Reflected Breath of Heaven.

                 [   ||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|----===
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Noboru           1/-------/=======|=======\-------\0             Riki

The last of the hellish flames sputters out of Riki's mouth with a guttering flicker, bits of sulfur and sizzling cinder dribbling down her chin to spatter the ground. Though the debris continues to burn angrily for several seconds its supernatural touch seems to cause the land itself no harm, the grass and dirt having no souls to burn nor sins to judge. The oni takes a moment to wipe a hand across her mouth giving both of her opponents the opportunity they need to strike back at her.

Norobu's attempt at a tactical flank would have, in any other situation, likely been an excellent maneuver. However, by pitting his size and strength against the demon who is now on her feet and ready for him, he finds that she is not quite so easily moved this time. His shoulder impacts her midsection with a dull thud but the massive woman doesn't even do him the curtesy of staggering or sliding back a few inches. She simply leans down and plants her hands upon his shoulders as he crashes into her, catching the ninja fast.

His shift in position does provide enough of a distraction for Ayame's potent defense to work its own magic. The bolt of mystical power shreds through the lingering haze of hellfire and slams into the ogreress' exposed size as she grapples with Noboru. Riki winces as the blast shreds deeper into wellspring of bountiful spiritual energy but mere pain is not enough to slow her down just yet.

"A dangerous foe indeed! Your concern is touching, mistress, but fear not for I am not so easily captured! Ha ha! My lord hath seen to that."

Her gaze shifts back to her grappling partner, a fierce grin on her face. "As for thee, a bold move, my friend! But tis folly to challenge an oni in a contest of strength!"

Tightening her grip upon the stocky ninja, Riki leans back slightly, her head leaning back as if she might be preparing to smite him with the terrible horn upon her brow. Instead, she lifts one of her tree-trunk sized legs and thrusts it forward at him suddenly, driving the twin wedges of her geta sandals into his chest.

COMBATSYS: Noboru just-defends Riki's Fierce Kick!

                 [   ||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|----===
[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Noboru           1/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0             Riki

Ayame is a natural prodigy, the gem of her clan. Riki is a centuries old guardian spirit. But Noboru? He is nothing. A soldier of a mostly forgotten clan. Yet in his two decades of active duty he has seen things. Fought countless battles. worked to single-handedly overthrow billion dollar corporations. Done all of this, using only his strength, and his mind.
The impact of his shoulder against Riki's side produces a loud 'THUD', but neither body is willing to budge. Hunched low and braced as he is, it is a simple thing for the ogress to loom forward over him and drop her massive hands onto his mostly exposed shoulders, feeling the stone-like slabs of muscle beneath. yet more sealing energy illuminates the pair just moments before the huge woman leans back, body tensing for yet another strike.
Shifting his weight the smallest amount, the Iron Mystic waits until Riki's foot is half way off the ground, fully committed to her kick. Then he strikes, left hand sweeping up to grip her beneath her muscular calf., Rather than stopping the strike, he accelerates it. Using the huge woman's own bulk to anchor himself, he sways out of the path of the blow and pushes her leg up and up, thrusting it toward the sky. This has two very clear effects. The first is to unbalance the enormous woman. The second, and most likely unintentional, is to really test the strength and coverage of her tent-like skirt.
While the ogress is dealing with his left hand, Noboru swings in low, shoulders twisting beneath Riki's braced hands as he aims a single, devastating blow toward her planted leg, attempting to hammer it cleanly out from under her and send the giantess toppling to the ground as he slips out from beneath her.
Ayame is forgotten for the time being, her pet oni having made herself something of a target. Though Noboru has nothing to say, no pearls of wisdom, he can still do his best to teach humility.

Ayame slowly lowers her left arm, the air around her still thick with energy released by the violent exchange of forces. Her eyes flick between the frighteningly tall oni and the largest, most powerfully built shinobi she had ever personally encountered. By comparison, she is a diminutive presence on the stretch of grass that serves as their battlefield, but the young priestess seems untroubled maneuvering among them. With each swing of their arms, each flex of honed, time-tested muscle, she's watching, learning, and coming to understand their strength.

Of course, she doesn't look particularly pleased at Riki's response, but when does she ever? A sweep of her left hand, a flick of wrist, and gesture with her fingers, and much of the ambient chi lingering from her effective defense is drawn onto the rune-engraved surface of her wooden staff, the energy transitioning from rose-hued to a darker crimson as it begins to ripple along the weapon's length.

"Is that so." she murmurs mostly to herself. "I would hate for that confidence to be put to the test." she continues, a touch more audibly as she slips forward, returning to melee range with the other two, "But if it is, I hope that it holds true." Her tone shifts as her fingers tighten their hold on her weapon, "If you became one of his summoned thralls, I would be quite cross with you."

Noboru is between her and Riki and though already engaged in a bone shuddering exchange with the oni, his positioning seems to make him a vulnerable target - a fact that the combat priestess is unapologetic in trying to take advantage of. She doesn't get any closer than necessary, content to use the range her weapon of choice affords her. A step to the side, both arms moving to thrust the staff out toward the Iron Mystic's spine, allowing her to use much of its six foot length in order to span the distance.

A second step has her angling the weapon down into a strong, horizontal sweep at the level of his ankles before she whips the weapon back up overhead and into a defensive angle in front of her, maintaining her zone of control between herself and the other two.

COMBATSYS: Riki blocks Noboru's Fall to Eons.

                 [   ||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|----===
[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|======-\-------\0             Riki

Ah, but she's seen this trick before now. Oni may not be the sharpest lightbulbs in the drawer but never let it be said that they fail to learn from their mistakes. Having already been delivered into one rather embarassing situation by the ninja, she is prepared for his tricks when he attempts to use those fancy maneuvers of his to throw her off-balance.

As if to demonstrate the truth of her claim about contests of strength with monsters of legend, Riki narrows her eyes and simply flexes the muscles of her stout limb turning the already hefty leg into a solid mass of unyielding iron. She slows the momentum of Noboru's upwards thrust almost instantly, leaving her with one leg up in the air and another on the ground at an almost ninety-degree angle to one another, proving that she possesses a fair deal of flexibility to go along with that power.

The shinobi's second strike is a little harder to deal with but rather than take the sweeping blow flat-footed, she lets out a bellowing roar that echoes through the open courtyard and drives the seized leg down to intercept the strike on the front of her shin. It stings a bit but not nearly as much as her pride would have to let herself be tossed about twice in the same fight by this little man.

The demon's gaze slants sideways briefly as she notices the third member of their little scuffle, forgotten in the moment, but still quite present and dangerous. Riki grins at the sight of that sturdy staff being brought about to clout the ninja from behind and she does her best to keep him held steady to receive his own lesson about the dangers of engaging in close combat with an ogre.

A massive fist lashes out once more, her arm almost as thick as the man himself, sweeping in a broad and seemingly wild blow as she bellows yet again. That's right, little man, just pay attention to the big bad oni.

COMBATSYS: Noboru Toughs Out Riki's Aggressive Strike!

                 [   ||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|----===
[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|=======\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Noboru fails to interrupt Random Strike from Ayame with Calm the Storm.

                 [   ||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|---====
[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Noboru           0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\0             Riki

With the upward progress of Riki's leg halted, then reversed, a less controlled fighter might start to panic. After all, there is 500 pounds of oni looming over Noboru, sheltering him in her shadow. But, despite the tables turning, Noboru pushes doggedly on, fist slamming into her shin with stone-cracking force.
Then, he is moving.
A roll of his shoulders slips him from Riki's grasp, her bellowing roar gusting from behind as he whirls to confront the oncoming Miko. His senses are sharp,a tuned to the world around him. Even without looking back he can feel the giant fist descending toward his back, feel each light step of Ayame's feet over the grass.
The giant woman's fist hits the shinobi squarely between the shoulder blades, but his flesh remains unyielding, iron-like muscles accepting the impact. However, there is little he can do about the difference in mass. Hurled forward, he turns what could have been a tumble into a leaping strike, fist flashing up from his side as he dives toward Ayame. Twisting his body, he attempts to roll right over her extending staff to plant his stone-like fist squarely in the center of her chest. To send a ripple of distortion through the deep well of her spirit.
He doesn't quite make it.
In mid air, the tip of Ayame's staff hammers home into his hip, all of the ninja's weight driving into the weapon as he attempts to slip passed it. If it were a normal staff, perhaps he could have. In fact, he would likely have shattered it entirely, ploughing through to deliver his attack. But the flare of energy that blasts into him upon contact throws him off course, tumbling sideways to land somewhat unsteadily on one knee and hand, as if ready to surge back to his feet. The follow up sweep crashes into his braced wrist and ankle, however, yet more chi flaring as the bulky man is slammed sideways to the earth, dirt billowing up from the impact.

Even though she isn't cleanly struck, Ayame is dislodged a little by the exchange of forces. Simply bracing in place would have risked being disarmed by the momentum coming her way, but the young woman allows her feet to slip easily over the grass, stepping into a recovery every bit as fluid as her offense has been throughout the practice session.

A quick glance is cast Noboru's way, a split second assessment among countless made throughout the ebb and flow of the spar. For her, this is what combat is made of - a series of calculated decisions blended with instinct honed by years of practice. Assess, decide, act, react, over and over again, until the task is done. Failure can happen at any stage along the way, no matter the degree of preparation, practice, or natural skill. Every soul dedicated to combat arts understands the knife's edge on which success or failure often rests.

Her eyes flick from Noboru to Riki, the path to the ogress open once more. How long has she wanted to apply a staff thwacking to the ancient guardian, anyway? Sharp perception may pick up on the slight uptick at the corner of her mouth as she plants one foot behind her then launches into a remarkably fast assault, leaning low as she closes to two meters out in a flash. The transition from sprinting to leaping is executed without any loss of forward momentum, the miko twisting her body into a horizontal spin, slamming her staff out as hard as she can into Riki's side.

She would rebound even as she lands, unless prevented, whirling back around the other way to try and find an opening the other way after possibly drawing the oni's guard to the right.

Gritting her teeth, showing a rare flash of zeal, Ayame finishes by leaping up, out of necessity, attempting to finish with an overhead smash of her crimson flaming weapon against the top of Riki's head. "HAAH!" A surge of effort sends a much larger pulse of chi coursing down her weapon as she attempts to land a staggering blow. Of course, then she has to fall back down to her feet. Reaching Riki-head-hitting altitudes entails no small amount of risk.

COMBATSYS: Riki fails to interrupt Requiem For Fallen Blossoms from Ayame with Charging Ox.

                 [    |||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|---====
[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Noboru           0/-------/--=====|=======\=------\1             Riki

Riki cannot help but grin as her gambit pays off. The ninja accounted for himself well despite her efforts but in the end he was herded right into the oncoming swing of the miko's deceptively dangerous staff. She had not known precisely what sort of power the girl could command - despite her constant efforts to frustrate Ayame, this is their first time to come to blows of any sort - but having lived as the guardian spirit of a temple for many centuries, she could make some pretty good guesses.

With Noboru sent crashing into the earth, the giant woman now finds herself once more facing down the piercing gaze of her tiny mistress. She returns the priestess' minute trace of a smile with a flash of her teeth, fearless in the face of one who has spent their entire life learning the arts of fighting her kind. Even were this a true contest, a showdown with life and limb the cost of failure, she would not have backed down for no true demon could ever live with the shame of fleeing in face of danger. They would not have gained their status as legends of horror and destruction were it otherwise.

As Ayame makes her move, leaping forward in a bold whirling strike, her guardian responds in kind. Earth flies in great clumps as Riki digs her sandals into the soft earth, launching herself forward with every bit of the ferocious aggression her kind is known for. The first blow comes in low as the pair of them clash, the staff managing to sweep underneath the towering woman's arm to smite her in the side. The oni snarls and slows, her step faltering, but she immediately throws herself at the priestess once more. Her attempts to power through the assault only result in allowing the teenager to strike her again from the other side, sending her staggering sideways and throwing off the giantess' aim even as she reaches for the girl again.

Snarling as her temper flares, Riki makes one last attempt to rush her opponent, hunching over slightly so that she might simply tackle the troublesome fighter and flatten her. This proves to be just the opening Ayame needed to enact a bit of petty revenge which she has likely been dreaming of since the moment the pair crossed paths. The end of the staff clouts the oni square between the eyes and the eruption of spiritual power actually stops the charging demon square in her tracks. Letting out a cry of surprise, Riki staggers sideways and topples to her side even as her momentum sends her into a long skid halfway across the courtyard.

Dust hangs thick in the air in the wake of Noboru's fall, drifting slowly to earth in a dense haze. Ayame's glance reveals his shadow stirring within, rising to loom tall and imposing despite the solid strikes. The shadow's head tilts, light catching his eyes and causing one to shine blue, the other white.
But then Ayame is passed him, moving like a white and crimson bolt to clash with her guardian. Roars and fury come from that direction, the tiny Miko batting the ogre around with almost insulting ease, considering how much force the two larger fighters had been exerting upon one another. But then, that is the advantage gained by mastering one's spiritual energies.
Missed in the clash of wills is the quiet vanishing of Noboru's shadow, his presence slipping from the mind like a fish through water. There one moment, and gone the next, the dust settles to the ground, leaving no sign of the muscular man.
In reality, he hasn't gone far. A few smooth steps through the debris, drifting ghost-like beneath the notice of all who survey. Just far enough that as Riki is sent skidding passed, Ayame left hanging in the air, cloth billowing, he steps neatly out in front of her, left fist snapping forward in a deceptively light motion. It does not look like much. The sort of casually quick blow you might aim at a speed bag. however, aimed squarely for the slight dip where Ayame's sternum folds into her slender abdomen, unless she can avoid it she may find iron-hard knuckles buried nearly to the wrist in her gut, demonstrating the almost lazy power the older fighter can bring to bare.
And still he is silent.

COMBATSYS: Noboru successfully hits Ayame with Medium Punch.

                 [        |||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|=======
[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|=======\=------\1             Riki

Each swing of Ayame's staff is the byproduct of a young life dedicated to mastering it to the exclusion of what most would consider a far more balanced, healthy childhood. And each of the three blows proves to be absolutely necessary to keep from getting bulldozed by the rampaging oni, the third and final hit being just barely enough to derail the charge and allow her to fall back to the ground safely. It hadn't been her plan when she had made her move, not anticipating the strong momentum Riki would steer her way, but in the end, she scrapes by if just barely.

What she didn't anticipate was how swiftly Noboru recovered from her strikes against him. The shadow moves, a flicker in the corner of her eyes, and as Ayame drops, she folds herself forward, attempting to drive her staff down horizontally and slightly angled against his extending forearm in a bid to drive his blow off center.

In the end it's simply not enough, the combined falling weight of her body and swing of her imbued weapon simply ends up glancing off the cuff of Noboru's sleeve, leaving his fist free to slam into her unprotected stomach.

A pained gasp escapes the young fighter's lips as she folds over the iron fist, her feet only just then finally being allowed to hit the ground. Cheeks losing a bit of their complexion, she staggers back a step, right hand planting over her stomach while her left hand maintains a loose grip on her staff. A cough and shake of her head is her only opportunity to recover, not wanting to leave Noboru unanswered for so long that he becomes free to chose his next action freely.

Of course, he may find closing in a bit of a challenge anyway, when the miko grips her trusty staff in both hands and slams it down against the ground, creating a crimson shockwave of chi that blasts up around her and attempts to buffet the Iron Mystic back enough to give her a chance to catch her breath.

"Not bad," she murmurs softly, shaking her head again to dismiss the distracting sick feeling in her stomach.

Sliding a good twenty feet face-first across the ground, Riki finally comes to a halt, her chin and fingers digging furrows into the earth to arrest her disgraceful tumble. She lies upon the courtyard for a handful of seconds, eyes half shut against the spray of dirt and dust kicked up as she plowed a new trench, much of it now resting in tiny patches atop her mane of golden hair.

Pain lances through her side as the aftershock of the telling blows settles in as the beggining of several new bruises. Had she been in her true form, such minor injuries would hardly have been of any concern. This body of human flesh, however, offers far less in the way of passive immunity to the ills of mortality. In some ways, she finds it far more exhilarating this way. Every strike against her body leaves its mark, like the brush-strokes of an artist painting a picture of violence and battle. Though they may fade in time, for the moment they are badges of honor, war-paint slathered upon the canvas of her flesh.

Slowly, the oni rises, her clawed fingers digging into the dirt as she clenches her fists. Fresh power floods through the demon as her passion is stoked into a roaring flame, an exuberance that rises to the fore only when her blood has been called by the song of war. Allowing herself to be swept up in the heat of the moment, Riki turns once more to face her sparring partners and unleashes a deafening wordless cry of war towards the heavens as if summoning all of the spirits and gods themselves to bear witness to her battle. A right red light shimmers behind the glassy windows of her otherworldly eyes, twin coals that burn brightly even in the light of the day, while the fires of Hells themselves spark and flicker within the chasm of her gaping maw.

With her challenge bellowed, the giant lowers her head and charges. She comes at the miko and the ninja, the pair locked in yet another dance of explotation, each taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them to strike where they will do the most harm. As might be expected, Noboru has consistently used the chaos to slip in and out of danger, coming at his foes from hidden positions and unexpected angles. Ayame, though no less ruthless, had been far more direct in her approach, wielding her chosen weapons with confidence and skill. Now, however, she found herself in a situation she had tried very hard to avoid - pinchered between a rock and a really big rock that is now rolling at her like a freight-train.

Riki bears down on the small girl without any signs of slowing down or giving her a moment to recooperate after the gut-smashing strike that had been dealt to her. The flare of mystic energy that she conjurs to ward the ninja off parts like a curtain before the oni, her demonic aura smashing it apart with a vigor yet unseen by her tiny mistress. With a final roar, she lunges, fists hammering down to sunder the wards and the girl beneath them in a barrage of raw primal fury.

COMBATSYS: Noboru just-defends Ayame's Fall of the Mourning Star!

                 [         ||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|=======
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Noboru           0/-------/=======|=------\-------\0             Riki

For a fraction of a moment, shinobi and Miko are once more face to face. Left fist extended, posture relaxed, Noboru considers Ayame's expression with depthless calm, accepting her mild complement with a slight inclination of his head. In the background, Riki is just climbing to her feet. Soon there will be hell and thunder.
"Within you lies the potential to be the greatest warrior of your generation." Noboru replies, words a low rumble meant only for her. But that is all there is time to say, for suddenly a wave of energy is roaring up from the ground, poised to send the shinobi staggering back.
It is then that Noboru demonstrates just what it means for a Miyama to be a Mystic. Certainly his mastery of chi could be called into question. Neither fighter had yet to see him channel any. Nor does he infuse his body with its strength. The only trick he seems to know is his odd vanishing act.
or, perhaps not.
The wall of energy rises before him, and Noboru thrusts his right palm forward, chi surging toward flesh with what will no doubt be violent results. However, at the last moment, Noboru twists his WRIST, meeting the wave with the edge of his hand. Ayame is the only person within range to sense the tiny, wire-thin barrier of chi that is projected along the KNIFE-EDGE of his LIMB. Such a minute manifestation, almost invisible, but wielded with a master's finesse.
The great wave of energy parts around Noboru's hand, forking to either side of his body as it rolls out across the grass. This leaves the Iron Mystic untouched and poised to strike, left foot shifting forward into a single, phantom step.
With Riki thundering towards them, Noboru twists his shoulders and hips, gravity seeming to condense around his left fist as it rises up from his side. The blow is not fast, but there is something inevitable about it, wind forced from its path with a loud 'FWOOOOOF as he puts a fair amount of his considerable might behind the single, devastating punch. Unless Ayame can move, or otherwise intercept it, the blow will strike her squarely in the skull, whether that be the back, side, or between the eyes. If this were not a sparring match, there would be enough force in the single punch to shatter stone. As it is, it would likely smart quite a bit to get hit.

COMBATSYS: Ayame instinctively blocks Noboru's Crag Breaker.

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            1|-------|=======
[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Noboru           0/-------/-======|=------\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Ayame counters Raging Demon from Riki with Final Solstice.

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=
[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Noboru           0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0             Riki

She tried to force him away with a wave of every that would be difficult to avoid. Instead, she is treated to a display of chi mastery on a minute scale. He would see it in her eyes, the quiet recognition of the feat he accomplished and the consideration that there are many more mysteries to the laconic shinobi's style than she has yet to see for herself.

But the moment is over in an instant, Ayame's attention shifting toward the ground shaking roar. Even across the distance, her hair is driven back, her lengthy sleeves and hakama dress rustled. In the moment she turns into the burst of force, her expression is unreadable, her eyes focused in the oni's direction yet seeming to be scrutinizing something far beyond the walls of the jinja garden, a hint of troubled thoughts before her focus returns to the present.

She has no choice but to move. Her staff is still planted against the ground when she pulls her right hand from it and twists it into the path of the Iron Mystic's piston-like simple, but destructive punch. Using the ground as a lever, she forces the wooden shaft into his path, intersecting it early enough as to deny him his full range of motion. Even cut short, the blow sends a numbing rattle down the staff into the girl's arm, but her focus remains on the literal charging demon thundering her way.

Her right hand free to move, Ayame snaps her arm out, flicking her wrist, and gesturing as if pulling back. With gifted chi manipulation, she reclaims much of the spent wave of energy Noboru had parted, gathering it in nimble fingers and, by force of will, giving it a new form in the shape of a long staff sculpted in pure red energy.

The parallel energy staff materializes just in time as she finds herself caught in the path of devastatingly strong, incoming blows. Rather than try and accomplish the impossible by bracing for them, or the nearly equally impossible by trying to redirect those powerful fists, she uses her wooden staff as a lever against the blows, allowing Riki's tremendous force to dislodge her out to the side of what will undoubtedly be quite the crater. Any attempts to follow up with any other attacks would be answered in kind, the wooden weapon positioned for each blow such that Ayame is forced aside by the strength but never actually struck. It seems a solution perfectly fitting for fighting someone far stronger than herself and a technique she has mastered. With her wooden staff serving as her only means of defense, it is her energy staff that she attacks back with, delivering swift, rapid swings with a weapon that simply cannot be blocked by physical force but merely weathered by one's own inner aura.

Strike after strike, Ayame whipping around to the oni's flank, then stepping to her back, delivering attacks that are, individually, not particularly threatening. But the overall onslaught of rapid strikes can add up.

The miko finally retreats, her speed slacking off, her shaft of energy starting to collapse as she backsteps away before dropping to one knee briefly, catching her breath. "Riki," she states, her head shaking once, her voice lacking its normal edge, having become softened slightly. "Those tremendous displays of power, impressive as they are, are the very types of attacks that people like me specialize in defeating. The masked sealer from last night fought similarly. The larger, more direct the assault, the more ready he will be to turn it back on you."

The priestess of the Meian Jinja exhales before standing up straight, still gripping her staff in her left hand while her right hand opens, allowing the borrowed breath of life to collapse and fall to the earth as a thousand small motes of light.

She begins pacing to the left, her staff now held with both hands, the zone of control she exudes with her weapon still active as ever."You will not be able to simply power your way through should he be looking for opportunities to harm anyone associated with the Ichijo family. You will have to fight smarter and faster as well. I am sorry, but... raw strength is not enough."

Blow after blow rains down, a hailstorm of bone and muscle that falls upon the miko alone. With every swing of her fists, the oni sends ripples of heated sulfurous air wafting out like great oceanic waves. Each impact against the sorcerous weapon tears fresh craters in the ground as Ayame skillfully skirts the devastation of her mighty guardian's supernatural strength leaving the ogreress with naught for her efforts but a reprisal at every turn. The spiritual staff, a weapon of pure mystical energy, passes through the barrier of monsterous limbs and tearing claws with frightening ease, each strike sending sparks of ancient power spraying out in a shower of hellish cinders as it smites the core of the demon's power away bit by bit.

Her strength failing, Riki collapses to her knees, catching herself on her palms before she can disgrace herself by eating the dirt yet again. Her eyes glow with a red hot determination, lips peeled back in a snarl that is an expression of equal parts exhilaration and fury. The long cloak of her unkempt golden hair crackles and flutters with barely contained energy and as she lifts her face to regard the small girl its rugged dirty mane gives her the appearance of some great wild beast, its fangs bared in open thirst for blood.

Riki lets out a low snarl, her pointed nails tearing at the ground as she struggles to stand once more, digging deep for the strength that she knows lies sleeping somewhere inside of this cursed body. With effort, she manages to regain her footing, planting one foot down in preparation to rise to her full height once more and strike again, and again, and again, until she proves that there is something more she can do. Ayame's words stop her cold.

"But... without my strength... what have I left to offer?"

COMBATSYS: Riki takes no action.

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=
[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Noboru           0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Riki can no longer fight.

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=
[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Noboru           0/-------/-======|

Knuckles tough enough to batter through constructions built by gods and men alike impact Ayame's braced staff, the muscle behind them tensed to absorb the rebounding impact. Quiet as a ghost, the big man slips back from the strike, vanishing as monster and maiden clash spectacularly.
For a time there is nothing but the rage of the Oni and the flash of her priestess's retorts, filling the courtyard with the fury the Miyama predicted. But then, just as predictably, the clash comes to an end with the wild-haired ogress on her knees, attempting to call up yet more of her unnatural rage.
"You do not lack strength." Noboru rumbles, having shifted to a position some 10 feet behind the Ogress, opposite of where Ayame now stalks. He makes no move to mirror the young girl's circle, nor to attack. Robe now nothing more than a half skirt belted around his waste, the bare-chested shinobi stands with his hands gripping either forearm, pose calmly meditative. The scars of many battles mark his flesh, some grey, some pink. All are jagged and unpleasant to gaze upon. But he stands strong regardless, chest expanding with easy breaths.
"You lack focus, and discipline. Too often you have relied upon your natural gifts. If it is your intent to guard this place, you must become a warrior in Ernest. Keen of mind as well as blade. If I were to infiltrate, you would not see me, let alone defeat me, and I am no great summoner of demons."
Though the Iron Mystic's words are blunt and straight forward, they are not delivered cruelly. His tone is as deeply calm as his stance, mismatched gaze seeming to see everything that happens within their small slice of garden.
Advice offered, the shinobi focuses his attention upon the girl across from him, bowing his shaggy head to her though they remain separated by many feet of distance. The gesture is full of somber respect, one warrior to another.
"I feel it best I depart for the records." Noboru murmurs simply, straightening once more from his bow, "But I thank you both for the spar." And, unless he is stopped, the Mystic will turn his back on the women and set off through the garden at an easy pace, bare feet finding the path toward the gate rather than going over the wall the way he came in.

COMBATSYS: Noboru takes no action.

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=
[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Noboru           0/-------/-======|

It is a while before Ayame lets down her guard. After all, there is no doubt that the fallen oni can rise to strike again, to ply her incredible strength against the challenge the miko's ever shifting guard. But when the ever-honest Riki stops in her tracks and asks the burning question, the young priestess finally pauses, her left arm lowering, her staff held loosely at at her side, the aura of crimson that coursed over it collapsing as her focus wanes, seeming to fall from the weapon like thick liquid at first, drops of light slipping free by the dozens only to vanish before ever reaching the gound.

Eyes blink once, a glimmer of surprise, a rare glimpse of her being caught off guard. "W-well-" she starts uncertainly when the Miyama Mystic raises his voice to be heard from the other side.

Attention snaps to him for a moment, quiet as he shares his thoughts. Eyes shift away, mouth downturned a little as she comes to focus on the ground, staff shifting to prop against the battle worn grass, holding it more like an oversized walking stick for now, allowing her to lean against it slightly.

She leans forward to return the bow offered by Noboru before standing up straight. "Right," she replies, her voice distant, eyes back on him, perhaps committing the battle-scarred figure to memory. "Ask to be allowed into the dark lobby. They will know you spoke with me." She pauses for a moment, blinking once, "Thank you." she adds as almost an afterthought, attention back on Riki. Lifting her weapon, she strides toward Riki, neck craning to look up at the powerful guardian, her mouth pressed together into a thin line.

"You are far more than just your strength. Your courage, your heart, your..." she scowls a little, "Insistent directness. Perhaps," she exhales, glancing to the side, right arm folding over her stomach, "Were you at you full strength, that alone would be enough to survive the threats we face. But... you will need to think of ways to fight with your head too." She lifts her right hand to tap at her temple, adding dryly, "And I am not just suggesting more headbutts."

The young miko exhales softly, "You no doubt have a vast history of battles at your full strength, far more than I can ever possibly experience in my lifetime. Maybe we could talk of them some. You could tell me about your most vexing of foes in times past, ones that avoided direct contests of strength and resorted to more insidious options. Perhaps there is something we can learn from those examples, hm?"

She's nearer to Riki now, glancing around briefly before settling her attention to the side, eyes resting on the steep roof of the shrine off over the wall. "This is... unfamiliar territory for me as well. I have never had to consider facing the dangers I do... with a friend to worry about." She pauses for a beat before continuing, "But I know I cannot go at it alone either."

COMBATSYS: Noboru has left the fight here.

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Ayame            0|-------|------=

The oni leans back slowly to rest upon her haunches and then flops into a sitting position as ninja and priestess both offer their thoughts on the answer to the question. She winces at the soreness in her flesh, a transient difficulty to be sure, but one with which she has become increasingly familiar of late. Each of her attempts to do battle since being cast out to the mortal world have had similar results, her new body of flesh and bone unable to provide the same sort of raw power upon which she had relied in the past to carry her through danger. Though her strength remains formiddable, it would seem that it is no longer enough to be used as a crutch.

Riki scowls darkly at this line of thought, her over-sized features as easily readible as ever. She glances down at her hands, staring at the massive fists silently as she flexes her fingers open and closed, assaying their worth upon a new set of scales. Strength is all she has. While she might have been a little ahead of the curve when compared to others of her kind, oni are not particularly known for their tactical prowess or quick wit, and she isn't any exception. Smashing apart anything that got in her way has always been the only path to victory.

"Is this what you wanted me to experience, my lord? This... uncertainty?"

Riki glances up at the sky, waiting for an ominous rumble of thunder or a punitive bolt of lightning to smite her in response, but today the sky offers her only silence. After several seconds she shakes her head and lets out a soft chuckle, lowering her gaze back to the priestess.

"Naturally, he chooses this moment to be cryptic. I suppose I should have expected that."

The veritable deluge of compliments, or as close to such as one gets from the ever-dour miko, gives the demoness pause yet again, but she bounces back more quickly this time, offering a broad grin at the mention of her past exploits. There is indeed a rather sizable list of stories that could be shared, of deeds belonging to her and others she once knew; perhaps more than she could share in the girl's short life time.

"Well...", Riki says, holding herself tall once more, practically puffing up like a peacock as she speaks, "Tis not for me to brag overmuch but there was a time when I shared many such stories with mine kin. I dare say, I have something of a talent for the art. If thou wish to be regaled by glories of the past, to hear tales of mighty oni at the height of our splendor, I believe I can be accomodating!"

The giantess pauses for a moment and then adds, "For a friend."

Log created on 23:52:12 10/01/2017 by Ayame, and last modified on 00:43:10 10/08/2017.