KOF 2017 - Act 2: Mission 18 - At the Edge of Time

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Description: Two individuals, bearing memories of the previous timeline. And one, with no memories of the last reality, still feeling inexplicably drawn to the smoking maw of the volcano. Zach, Ayame, and Ash all wander within, as the shadows pull and tug at them. The three see the heart of Mount Fuji's core: A single Time Sphere, sparking with energy. What was one before, has become now. But a single figure stands between them and the energy-engorged sphere. A figure of the past, a spectre... that would do anything to keep /him/ from remembering.

<<<Two Days Ago, Hokkaido>>>

Zach Glenn had recovered from his injuries during the King of Fighters semifinals. He had helped Honoka do so as well, after several restorative marathons. Even as things went as insane as they had, with Justice and Mt Fuji and the seeming impending World War 3? Zach had starting to feel /normal/ again. Or at least what passed for a psychic monster hunter.

He had just compiled a large plate of various foods, and was sitting down to enjoy the meal, when he heard a voice he had kind of hoped he'd never hear again.

"Zach!" Glen appeared out of seemingly nowhere, floating about a foot off of the table. "You need to go to Mt. Fuji. Like, yesterday."

Zach set his chopsticks down, and regarded the guardian spirit incredulously. There was a pause, a frown, then an answer. "Nope," Zach replied firmly. He started shovelling food down. "Last time I worked a job for you," he said between mouthfuls, "It literally killed me. I'll pass." Glen disappeared at this.

Only to reappear phased part-way through the table so that he could lock eyes with his counterpart. That had gotten Zach's attention; the shade had usually behaved when it came to ghost tricks like that in his presence.

"Zach," he said firmly. "There's a Time Sphere in Mt. Fuji, and it's charged up. You know what that could mean." The chopsticks tumbled out of Zach's limp hand at this, his face going pale. The hunter nodded shortly at this, before he started cleaning the table.

"Yeah," he croaked, as he wrapped up the plate in celophane and returned the other dishes to the sink for cleaning.

"You're going to need help," Glen supplied. "Someone who knows about the Spheres."

"You mean Ichijo," Zach answered back.

"I mean Ayame," Glen agreed.

"I'll need my gear," Zach fired back. "That's eighteen hours."

"Better get moving," Glen answered. And then he was gone.

<<Twenty Hours Later>>

Zach had returned to his home in Yokohama, grabbed what gear he could, and then made his way to the Meian Jinja. He worked his way past the greeters and helpers and people who seemed to exist solely to keep people away from the Ichijo scion. Zach was polite, but very insistent. It might have helped that the hunter made little effort to hide the knives or the wakazashi. Some might have noticed the paired Colt 1911s that he wore. They were not obvious to cursory inspection, but if one knew where to look? Well, Zach did not have time to be that shy. Neither did the world for that matter.

The Meian Jinja is quite the hive of activity at the monster hunter's arrival. While the courtyard is free of debris, the structures themselves still show signs of battle having been conducted within the ancient compound's walls. The visitor would have been greeted warily at first - the site was closed to the tourism it normally permitted, but it doesn't take more than a cursory glance to realize that the insistent man is hardly a normal visitor.

There would have been attempts to dissuade him, insistence that the young woman he was there to see was quite clear about not being disturbed, but his persistence and refusal to broker any argument ultimately win out and finally the well armed individual is escorted deeper into the compound around to a rear entrance of the main shrine building itself. The young acolyte guiding him would be talkative, making mention of a monster attack just two nights before, sharing extraneous history of the Ichijo clan legacy, and finally explaining that Ayame herself had closed herself off in the vaults below the jinja where a storehouse of ancient scrolls, historical texts, and thick tomes of forgotten knowledge were safely stored in secret.

It is there that Zach is escorted, down a short hall from the rear entrance to the massive main building. A section of wall slides aside revealing a staircase that descends into the cool earth. His guide would have left him then, hurrying off to whatever other duties that filled her time lately. The stairway is lit by dim, flickering candles placed in small shoulder height alcoves every so often and the steps seem to descend for well beyond the depth of a floor or two into the ground. While the psychic warrior's energy attunement would fail to resonate with the wards and seals guarding the portal to the underground library, he would see evidence of their presence etched into stone and wood all along the way.

The end of the stairs opens into a wide chamber, its ceiling so low as to only give Zach a bit of clearance to avoid hitting his head on the stonework supports arrayed throughout the room. Lining the walls are shelves crammed full of written texts stored in just about every way imaginable. And in the center, a low, long table, against which Ayame is slumped, leaning over an open book. Her head is propped up by her right hand pressed over her right eye, her left eye peering intently at the thick open book in front of her.

The walls are stone with small alcoves along the way with tables and additional shelves. One can imagine this being a busier place centuries ago, when the clan was larger and its necessity more fully understood by the world. Now it is one girl, a visitor, and ten thousand books that have gone mostly untouched for an age.

Ayame exhales, shoulders rising then falling, left hand reaching up from her lap to flip the book closed in front of her. Its cover is unblemished by the passage of time, looking quite modern compared to most of the reading material available.

In prior encounters, Zach would have found the girl closed off, her emotions and thoughts sealed behind barriers few had ever broken through. But in the moment he ventures into the Meian Jinja's vault of knowledge, he would feel the weary ennui radiating out from her, the sense of frustration, and the open worry. Of course, given the state of the land, can one blame the self-proclaimed steward of Japan's wellbeing?

As she leans back in her chair, the old seat protests with a creak. "What now?" she asks sullenly before opening her eyes to look toward Zach and blink with surprise.


Her hands fall to her lap as she leans back further in her chair. "If you came looking for answers, I am afraid you will find none here." she murmurs, eyes half closing as she regards him with her usual lack of friendly charm.

Zach takes a deep breath, his eyes softening as he /feels/ the weight of things as they bear down on Ayame's thin shoulders. He gives a slight bow of the head, partly to duck but partly in greeting. "I'm sure you will have one," Zach says with quiet faith as he takes a chair to sit down. He looks Ayame in the eyes, his own tired gaze unwavering.

Any other time, he'd have expected questions about the pale white hair atop his head, or some comment about his time on that island what seemed like a lifetime ago. Now, though? She probably has more on her mind, and Zach's about to add to that.

"There's a Time Sphere," he says bluntly. "In the blast crater Justice," he says the name with an almost spitting sneer, not at all believing that the name fits the purpose for the monster. "Made in Mount Fuji. Something needs to be done about it."

His reply to her preemptive dismissal seems to catch the girl off guard as rather than blurting out some quick barb, she remains completely quiet, watching the man who has seen far too much war for his age settle down in the chair across from her. The library, he will find, is free of dust. The vault is ancient but not neglected, the material housed within prized every bit as much as the renown holy places found within the shrine above ground. He might notice the book open in front of the girl is hand written in blue ink, its characters carefully penned with a patient, precise hand, but without getting closer it would be impossible to make anything out from his distance.

She is definitely studying him though and little by little, her walls reform, closing out her mind from cursory perception. She has always been guarded around those with his gift and little by little, she returns to that same state of practiced equivocation. Her hands stay in her lap as she looks across at Zach, her expression seeming to dare him to make good on his promise of sharing something interesting as if skeptical he could possibly bring anything to her attention that she was not already aware of.

But with his opening volley, he clearly manages that much. The girl visibly stiffens in front of him, eyes blinking once before her focus flicks to the side then shifts back to him as he continues, mouth pressed so tightly closed that her lips nearly disappear.


She opens her mouth a few seconds after he finishes speaking then closes it again, brown eyes searching Zach as if trying to find the slightest hint of duplicity in a man that has always been, if anything, painfully honest. Finally, she speaks, her voice slow, words coming out cautiously, "How... do you know this?"

Eyes close for a moment, another soft exhale escaping her lips. With a shake of her head, she lifts her hands from her lap to grip the edge of the wooden table. "What do you remember of Time Spheres, Zach?"

Zach takes another deep breath, noting the level of attention that this library has been paid. His eyes narrow a bit. "It's... kind of complicated," he says after a moment. "The short version is that I know there is one there because I can /feel/ the damn thing. I could feel it all the way in Hokkaido, once I knew what I was looking for." Another deep breath; the fact that this conversation is happening at all can be laid at Ayame's feet. Whatever it was she had meant to do when her world ended... only really went as planned for her, and that has caused more than a few problems for people she had no real connection to.

"Glen's memories tell me that they are objects of immense, almost absurd, levels of power. That a person could rewrite reality as they saw fit with them. That there was someone he knew as Saiki, who was capable of manipulating time itself on his own. He needed the power that the spheres contained to accomplish his goal." He takes another breath; these are... fairly potent memories that he is accessing. "Glen, Rust, and a few others stopped him, I think, but that guy was also absurdly strong." Zach considers.

"You... /do/ know that I'm not that Zach, right?" he finally asks carefully.

The Meian Jinja priestess leans forward a little as Zach gives her an answer, her expression showing clear interest but little beyond that in terms of emotion. "Oh?" is the reply he gets when he explains that he can feel the timeless artifact now that it has been exposed by the violent attack on her homeland's most renown mountain.

"Well, that must be handy." Ayame replies, left hand lifting to rest atop the open book, forefinger tapping idly, "I have read of sensitives supposedly able to feel the influence of reality shaping relics and by that pin point their location. But I have never met anyone who claimed to be able to before."

She is quiet as he speaks of memories from another time, attentive as always to the details he shares. A slight nod concerning the power of Time Spheres and the potential they convey to those who secure them, her expression falling a little. He mentions a name she had not heard uttered in this lifetime and her eyes lose their crystal clear focus for a moment, staring as if beyond Zach at something from the past.

It is his question that brings her back, eyes flicking to him to regard the monster hunter thoughtfully. A twich of a smirk tugs at the corner of her mouth after a second, "Of course."

Her tone is haughty and just a bit mischievous. "At least, I would hope so." she continues, voice becoming more somber, eyes straying down to the open book in front of her, focusing on nothing as her left hand slides back down into her lap out of sight beneath the table.

"That... was always the point."

"Well," he says carefully, "I don't know that I'd be able to find /other/ such relics. But this... It left a mark on that Zach's soul. Which I, according to him..." Zach frowns. "I... you... whatever it is you /did/ gave me a part of his soul. It's how I know the things he knew then, and lets me do some of the things he knew how to do. I apparently also inherited whatever it is that that the Time Sphere did to him."

He scowls a bit. "And if that was always the point, I think I am missing it. And I kind of feel like I, along with Frei and Aya among other people, really ought to know what you were after when this was done to us."

"I suppose it would have," Ayame replies regarding the indelible imprint the time shaping artifacts left on the soul of the one Zach refers to with words suggesting another individual all together. Her tone is matter of fact, eyes back on him as she lifts her right hand from her lap and flips the book in front of her closed with a loud thud. The tome's cover bears no markings to indicate its title or subject matter, her hand lingering on it heavily as he continues.

At Zach's scowl, Ayame grins faintly, leaning forward more, her left hand lifting to prop her cheek against its knuckles as her right hand lingers on the untitled work. "Now, now, that is no way to speak to your benevolent benefactor."

Her grin fades after a moment, the girl sitting up straighter, right hand lifting though her finger tips remain on the book, "Whatever the consequences, you chose this. You may not remember the moment of decision. But whatever memory you of have of what came before exist because you wanted it. The magnum opus performed on your behalf only provided the possibility to make such a decision."

The miko rises to her feet swiftly, slipping out from behind the table. "The choice made in the end rests not on me but you. Perhaps you should ask that other memory why you would make such a choice. Whatever my own ambitions were concerning the opportunity... they hardly matter now, do they? What is done is done."

The book is taken from the table as the girl walks over to one of the shelves, slipping it back into its place among dozens of others with a careful press of her hand before turning to face Zach directly. "We should be on our way."

Zach's frown should tell Ayame /exactly/ what he thinks of this. "I didn't ask for this," he says after a moment. "Didn't even know it was a thing, until it was, and yes, the choice to make use of it was mine. Pretty sure Glen's only conscious choice was to go with his friend." Zach pulls himself out of his chair, surprisingly mindful of the low cieling as he does so.

"I met him," he finally says quietly as he heads for the exit. "And he actually apologized to me for the mess the two of you left." He tugs on his longcoat, settling it over his gear. "But you're right. We need to get going. Just hope the ninjas let us through, as opposed to cutting us down on sight."

Ayame pauses next to the bookshelf as Zach speaks, not looking toward him at first, hand withdrawn from the returned book, her side toward him for the moment. Only when he mentions meeting the identity he refers to as Glen does the priestess turn to face him directly, one eyebrow raised just a slight inquisitive degree. But when he speaks of an apology and a mess, she shows the first strong emotion since the weariness he found when he arrived.

It comes as a scowl at first, her arms folding over her stomach. "He did, did he? Apologize? For what mess, exactly?" she snaps back, no measure taken to conceal the surge of irritation she appears to be feeling. She takes a step closer, "You were-" she cuts herself off, looking even more annoyed then, "He was always such a simpleton. I continue to desperately hope that is a character flaw you managed to dodge this time around!" Ayame snaps, a fiery temper flaring.

Arms unfolding, she points at Zach with her right hand. "Do you know what he did? The loss his caused for others? The innocent life taken, a weight he had to carry with him to the end of time? Every step of your life has been a better path than the one his took, hasn't it?!"

She shakes her head, teeth grit, arms dropping to her sides as she clenches her fists. "A mess? A MESS? You were given the chance to draw on an entire lifetime of previous knowledge and experience. Have you never once benefitted from it? Have you not had strong intuition about who to be wary of or who you can trust? Have you been given all that knowledge... all that experience... and only managed to screw things up with it?" She sounds bewildered now, recoiling a step and drawing her hand up to look at Zach with incredulity.

"If that is all you have done with it, then... then that is your own damned fault!" she stammers, arms lowering against her sides again, staring at Zach. "Just what, exactly," she growls, "Are you suggesting is MY fault?"

Zach whirls on Ayame, right index finger raised and pointed sort of at her and sort of at the ceiling, with a flash of raw anger that she would immediately recognize from before. His mouth is open to rebut, but he stops, and turns away. He /wants/ the conversation. /Needs/ it, really. But now? Not the time and he knows it.

"Your actions caused a chain of events that most likely would not have happened. It's safe to say that none of the choices that put me here would have even been options in the first place," he says, the fury banished or at least barred from his voice. The anger is there, it's in his posture, but he adamantly refuses to let it control his words or actions. He heads for the door. "For that matter, I probably would not have died."

He takes another breath, clearing his head. "We need to get moving. The sooner we get the sphere dealt with, the better. We can continue this conversation later."

"Is that so." Ayame replies darkly, folding her arms over her stomach, glowering up at Zach, "You made a series of poor decisions and that is somehow my fault." She exhales, "Well, go ahead and keep running with that excuse. But you have been given an opportunity to do so much better than nearly anyone else in the world." The young woman stares Zach, her breathing noticeable now as she seems to wrestle with the next words to come from her mouth. "You should be THANKING me."

Finally, she turns away from Zach, arms still folded over her stomach, hands clutching opposite elbows. A deep breath is taken followed by a long, clearly exaggerated sigh. When she speaks again, her tone has shifted, still dry but the ember of ire has dimmed significantly. "Maybe I had set my expectations for you too high. It is a mistake I am prone make, I suppose, being such an optimist."

With a grunt, she moves near the table to collect the lantern there and turns toward the stairs. "Yes, yes, I am so looking forward to it." she comments regarding further conversation. This certainly promises to be a pleasant trip to the site of calamity.

By some miracle, she avoids bickering with Zach on the trip to Fuji. The infamous wood paneled Ichijo family station wagon is borrowed for the trip. Like the remote jinja she calls home, the car is a relic of another time yet seems to continue functioning just fine in spite being a piece of history.

"The mountain clans will let us pass," the strawberry-blonde had stated with quiet confidence once Zach and she had stepped foot on the base of the mountain. Eyes linger on the ruin of the once proud summit, her mood withdrawn, somber. "Considering the seals that have either broken or are on the verge of breaking all along the slopes, they will hardly deny passage to a shrine priestess and her trusted monster hunter associate." A grim smile crosses her features as she references the deference that will be afforded the duo in the time of crisis.

Still, she is slow to start the climb, dressed in the uniform of her calling, pristine whites and sharp crimsons.

"I do not know how I missed seeing this coming..." she admits softly. "I had watched for the signs... the portends of the chain reaction that led to the end of all things the last time. I wanted to make sure to catch them soon enough to prevent it entirely. But..." she shakes her head, finally starting up the path, her left hand gripping her trusty six foot long rune-engraved wooden staff. "A couple years ago, everything went off course. The advantage I once had wanes with each passing week."

The woods feel alive as the two move into them, but not in a good way. Anger resides there now, the impression of being watched, and of some unseen force seething just beyond all perceptions as if waiting for the two to let their guard down in order to rush in and consume them.

"This may be the start of it all over again." the miko cautions.

"The end of the world."

Zach is silent during the ride, taking a half second to fire off a text message sending his own driver home before seeing to the pistols, then to the distinct wakazashi. He is descending into an odd calm, the same one that he always tries to reach before a mission.

The pair make their way up the paths that only the two of them can see. "To be fair," Zach says quietly, "You did not have Darkstalkers to deal with that time around. Things are... not what they were. I'm... a lot more involved with my extended family, for instance. I actually got to /meet/ my grandfather. Glen never knew his." He glances around, the whole palce setting his teeth on edge.

"So thank you, for that," he says honestly. "And a lot of other little things that he never got to know about."

The journey to Fuji's molten core should be frought with peril. Not of the ninja variety, or wards barring passage, but of another sort. Wind and the elements, rocks and crimson pools eroding their way down the monumental mountain...

But all stands clear, as if an invisible hand had swept away the past, present, and future. Barren and beautiful, the path leads to the summit and crests, sloping gently into a long descent that should take hours, if reality weren't distorting itself around them.

What was impossible no longer is, and the world seems to shimmer at the edges like an illusion. It is, because the trek along the downward spiral occurs in minutes, if not seconds. Each spluttering instance of lava cannot touch them, and when they pass beneath a wave, it crashes against a barrier that must be invisible, provided that it exists at all.

Oppressive heat and choking ash remain a constant companion throughout, perhaps the only truth to be found in a projection of lies. Where they are is real, even if how they have reached an ornate door set in stone is not.

Light fears to tread in the narrow hallway, and it is quiet. Breathing, coughing, all sound is absorbed like a sponge can take in water, without anything to echo from despite the presence of walls. Roughly hewn into the iron wrought surface of the only way forward, a strange symbol glows as bright as fire. It even... resembles... fire.

Splitting in twain, darkness beckons the pair forward, pulling unseen strings that have attached themselves. While resistance is not unheard of, for what reason would either turn away? The room is as black as night, vast, and infinity stretches on above...

And at its centre, the Time Sphere.

Set in a clawed pedestal, the undulating contents swirl about like a stirred drink. It writhes with excitement, anticipation, and a hunger that cannot be sated. The sphere is also the only source of illumination, until the obsidian curtain peels away from a third party, shining with seraphic radiance of his own.

Everything about the young man suggests purity. From the paleness of his hair to the shoes adorning his feet. Dressed in white, he is unblemished, perfect... But not his face. There's freckles, marks so unsightly that they do not befit an angel. Featherlight strands ripple with every breath, reminiscent of fresh snow.

He reaches up, and toys with a forelock. Nails of a colour unknown flash briefly as the trapping is twisted gently back and forth. Offering no change of expression in welcome or condemnation, this individual appears bored that they have even joined him. This is how the lion regards prey when it is full. Lazily, with a lackadaisical stride, he closes distance with breakneck speed.

"..." Eyes as clear as the sky gaze down the length of his nose first at Ayame, then pass over to Zach.

A whisper in the air, 'Sphere Holder... Sphere Holder!'

"Mon dieu, I thought you'd never arrive!" His face splits with a genial smile, which settles in well next to the mellifluous notes of his mischievous cadence. "Was this everything you'd hoped for? Does it exceed your expectations?" No? Whatever, it's not like the frivolous, flamboyant teen cares.

Offering his hand to Ayame, laughter rings out, his French lilt becoming apparent, "Cherie, I don't believe we've met? Je m'appelle Ash. Ash Crimson." Before exchanging any 'enchante' with the miko, both brows arch high. "Saa, if you've brought her along, perhaps she remembers the timeline we lost? The future that never was? How mysterious~"

Glib, flippant, cheery. Especially towards Zach, the flamewielder is friendly... despite his startling, unexplained appearance.

Zach strides forward the second he recognizes Ash Crimson, levelling one of those Colt 1911s in the young man's face. There is that unforgettable sound of the hammer being thumbed back and Zach has his finger inside the trigger guard, but not exactly on the trigger.

"Ash Crimson," Zach says in a level voice that has all the warmth of a crypt in it. "I am going to give you three seconds to give me a reason not to put you down and dump you in the volcano." His index finger slides over the trigger with this. "Make it a good one."

Come now, is that any way to treat the Frenchman, standing before them now, albeit younger than he was? This is just friendly conversation. It's ASH, not his predecessor. The one who stepped through the Gate with intentions so pure... His eyes cross faintly to focus on the barrel of Zach's handgun, but freckled features relax back into a saccharine sweet smile. "Non non non, can't have that."

Time... stops.

Or perhaps it is what Zach perceives, because reality no longer follows rational rules or logic. The distortion shows him a rippling image of Saiki interposed over Ash, and the weight of the Colt returns to its holster, without action from anyone present. How? "If it were possible to kill me, I would've died once already," says the flamewielder with a hint of disdain.

He taps his protruding lower lip with a manicured fingernail, either in contemplation or idleness. "Questions, I'm sure you have those, oui? The reason for me being here is already obvious..." The white material of the outfit shifts, long hair sliding over the pronounced shoulders like spun silk. Ash gestures to the Time Sphere, churning about its bloody innards quicker than before, building to something and exuding the particular emotion that affects those in closer proximity: Fear.

A soft grunt is the response to Zach's delayed expression of gratitude as Ayame shakes her head, "I did not shape this world..." Her eyes search the broken mountain. The anticipated climb does not intimidate her, long as it will be. "In knowing what-" her voice catches, the girl hesitating briefly before continuing, "What Glen missed out on, perhaps you can better appreciate what you have."

And within a number of steps far fewer than the long hike it should have been, the two are standing at the summit, the billowing smoke surging up to blot out the sun and the intense churning furnace below are hardly inviting, but the two intrepid souls know without any doubt that their path leads down into the active caldera all the same.

"The phenomenon in play here," Ayame warns, holding her right hand up over her mouth to allow her to breath air filtered through her sleeve instead. "Are similar to the instability demonstrated the last time the spheres were unsurfaced." She doesn't elaborate, but even though her nearly dispassionate delivery, Zach would feel the quiet worry that she must be trying to lock away - the thought that it could all slip away again, that there is no preventing another shuffling of the deck. Is each loop fated to be even more chaotic? If the current one is any indication... a future shot at existence might be destined for unimaginable disaster.

There is no pausing, no time for second thoughts, the spiraling trail taking the two down into the abyss. Even breathing through her sleeve, Ayame coughs as the air grows thick with sulfur and black fumes and when lava surges only to kept at bay by forces unseen, her eyes linger on the impossible sight of maneuvering beneath a tunnel of fluid rock before glancing toward Zach. The unspoken thought is clear - there is no promise that the next will be stopped similarly.

Thus it is almost a relief with which the two step into darkness, leaving the hellfire inferno behind in favor of the unknown dark. With a flick of her wrist, Ayame produces a small paper talisman, a soft, spectral blue light emanating from it though it seems to barely manage to cut out a tiny hemisphere of illumination for the duo as they move from one world into another.

The young woman's eyes come to rest on the Time Sphere.

So. There it is. No one has taken it yet. It has yet to fall into the hands of monsters or tyrants. Perhaps it's not too late. Perhaps it can be lost again, where no one will ever find it.

She opens her mouth, about to speak to the swordsman at her side, when the two are joined by an impossible third and Ayame becomes stiff, a soft breath inhaled in the pale blue shadow of her talisman. Is he one of them? One of the destroyers? She shakes her head slightly, an expression of disbelief crossing her features before fading.

A hand is offered and she answers in kind, releasing her glowing talisman to fall to the floor as she places her right within reach of his. "Ayame. Ichijo," she replies, voice distant, clearly still trying to process what she's seeing.

It is Zach's rise to action that shakes her from her reverie of thought, eyes blinking at the firearm drawn and leveled on one Ash Crimson.

Or did he ever draw it at all?

"I think, in this matter," the young miko admits toward Zach, "You know more than I do." Her eyes flick toward the object at the heart of the question, the Time Sphere, one of the set of artifacts powerful enough to shape reality itself. "So... any advice you have would be appreciated."

Eyes flick toward their greeter, her question posed a second later, left hand tightening on the staff in her hand. "Is it just by chance that this... anathema is exposed again?" she asks toward the Frenchman. "Where- when are we now?"

"He's... connected to Saiki," Zach says after a long moment. He knew he drew his gun on the man. Something... /happened/ just then. He did not like it at all. "I'm not exactly sure how, but Saiki used him as some kind of power source near the end of the fight. It took Glen, Rust, Kusanagi, and some French woman he did not really know to take him down." Zach's hand drifts back, reaching not for the gun but for the sword. "They almost /didn't/. When that was done Kusanagi, along with the woman and this guy supposedly went back to the past to stop Saiki from..." Zach trails off, trying to find the right phrasing. Fucking /time travel/. "From happening, I guess. Guess that didn't exactly take." His grip closes around the hilt, achingly familiar despite the otherness of the weapon.

"My suggestion would be to destroy Crimson, decisively, then deal with the sphere."

"Let me tell you a story," Ash says with a giggle, splaying thin fingers across his broad, grinning slash of a mouth, "but it may take longer than you're willing to wait, especially if you're going to, ah, destroy me."

"Clearly what I need is... more time."

He waves his arm, sleeve billowing, gesturing at the wall that is a lot closer than expected, or did it just materialize out of the darkness? No matter, an image is projected there, and then another, layered as each subsequent picture reveals more information than can be processed in heartbeats. "Do you know what that is? The indefinite continued progress of existence and events? Would you call it 'time'?" Ash doesn't trouble himself to keep his mirth at bay. The Frenchman's pleasant candor seems somewhat tainted by everything he knows, the weight of his experience...

"Time is a construct, created by and for humans. It has its uses, but you have been programmed to think that the construct is real, and thus plan your lives accordingly..."

'You're early...'

'You're late...'

'See you tomorrow.'

'I need to be home by ten.'

Twirling a lock of platinum blonde hair, the slender Frenchman's smile grows from ear to ear, "Isn't it strange, the term 'human being'. What exactly are you 'being'? You're only 'doing'. Slaves to 'time'." Ah, reaching for the sword is noted by shrewd blue eyes, narrowed sharply in response. Ash doesn't move to stop Zach, so if he wishes to unsheath the wakizashi, that's his call to make.

Bringing it down upon the flamboyant teen, with all his flourishes and general creepiness, however, will not end as peacefully as before.

With the snap of his fingers, the projections fade, wiped clean from the wall slate until the point where everything began and everything ended remains. Four individuals stand before a Door in a world as pristine and pure as the outfit he wears. Ash of the memory, standing apart, is offering his hand, frozen forever. "There is only the present. Now. This moment. But every choice, could have been something else. Where does the energy go? How many parallel worlds exist?"

"Saa, not just anyone can alter a construct like time, not without repercussion. Incredible awareness is required to reverse not only the lives of a few, but the collective. The whole. A mistake can wipe out a complete reality, and it's difficult to tell them apart. Who lives, who dies." Indicating Zach with enjoyment, absolute relish, Ash practically sings, "Could be that knowing your grandfather is the reason why Darkstalkers exist."

This is his fault. The flamewielder, who couldn't piece back together the timeline in order to set things right. Ash Crimson is to blame for the Gears, the Darkstalkers...


"Unfortunately, there was never any way to stop Saiki, unless I had wanted to erase myself entirely." He presses his hand to his chest, "Is that fair? Do I not have the right to be here?"

Flipping flaxen strands out of sight with a grand shake of his head, Ash's youthful face turns to Ayame. "Since when did you believe in coincidence?"

"This is now..." Upon the wall, the pale visage of his past image starts to warp. Flesh sears away from bone, peeling back from his blazing red eyes. A bloody skull's rictus smiles down at them. Ash collects his arms around his middle. "If you help me, this time, not only will I be able to return these invaders to the space in which they belong, but Seishirou Ryouhara can regain his mangled memories. The future from before is gone, but through me..."

"Anything is possible."

The memories of a life that effectively never existed supply Zach with far more insight into what the two face than Ayame came armed with and his words are acknowledged with a slight nod, eyes never leaving the impossibly white figure standing before them. "Interesting," she murmurs, gears turning in her head.

There's so much to process, so much to try and understand yet the context, the perspective doesn't exist to organize it all into something that can be broken down with logic... and what good is intuition when everything you know is based on a reality that is, at the moment, quite fluid? Zach says to destroy first without hesitation, then deal with the catalyst for this unexpected encounter, but Ayame looks less likely to make a move, staring at the chronological enigma standing before her with an expression of almost open wonder.

The Frenchman speaks of time and she nods her head slightly as if empathizing with the pressures it creates. "You can only do so much," she answers regarding man's most remarkable and abominable creation, as if the act of acknowledging its existence is also accepting its inherent limitations.

Eyes flick to the images at her side and linger there, expression becoming unreadable once more. Images come and go almost faster than the eye can focus, but she knows them all - not just the ones from her pasts, sealed away in a mind far too paranoid to ever let anything go, no detail, no matter how small. Those are easy to recognize, as picture by picture, they show a parallel yet different growth from young child to young woman with entirely different end points.

No, it's the images that have yet to come that are perhaps the greater challenge, yet she knows them as well. Not for any gift of precognition, but because she had calculated all these possible outcomes in her many, quiet, lonely hours of contemplation regarding potential futures. At her side, Ash continues to speak of the endless conundrum the passage of time inflicts on mankind, an image of the smoldering mountain within which the trio hypothetically stand flashes onto the wall, smoke rising into the atmosphere as the forests begin to crawl with unthinkable horror.

"You can only do so much," she repeats, voice sounding defeated, eyes finally lowering.

"But what does this have to do with..." the sentence never finishes, the girl focusing on the new image - figures before a Door of fate. "Reverse?" she speaks up, seizing on that word with sudden wariness, "Is that what you have in mind?"

"No..." she then answers hesitantly to the perhaps rhetorical question. He does have a right to exist. Doesn't he? If existence was fair, perhaps. "But the same could be said for the monsters that stain our world today. Just because they may have the right to exist doesn't mean... we have no choice but to endure their existence."

Her left hand tightens on her staff, but it remains at her side, an offer laid bare for her to consider. Help. Help and rid the world of the outsiders. Help, and Seishirou Ryouhara will have his mind restored. Ayame lowers her eyes, shoulders falling slightly, mind racing. Is it true? Her gaze flicks to the Timesphere itself. She wouldn't know what to do with it. Once before, she had held one in her bare hands, had felt its nearly impossible will trying to crush her to do its bidding. She would not take that chance again.

It was Ryouhara himself that knew how to coax out the power, to weave the greatest artifice of the lost time to project small traces of persistence into this one. And perhaps it was that work that shattered that brilliant mind... he was mad, she had heard, not just from Honoka herself, but from others who had encountered the unhinged shinobi. Even if she found him again, would she ever be able to save him? Is this not the chance to do so?

"Why..." the young priestess asks hesitantly, "Are you eager to bargain?"

"It'd be the reverse, if anything," Zach supplies. "My family's been loosely in the business of slaying monsters for a few centuries." There is a seriously skeptical look on his face. Time travel is a bunch of bullshit. Both Ayame and Zach know from experience that this path of time is inherently different from the one they both remember.

"So much for 'no greater love,'" he mutters when Ash mentions what removing Saiki would have cost him, personally. He gets it though; that is a really hard choice. It's entirely possible Ash is incapable of having chosen any other way. For all the differences between *then* and now, some things can and have remained the same.

Then Ash goes in for the move that could derail pretty much any and every thing: he appeals to Ayame's feelings for Seishirou Ryouhara. The move is obvious, and Zach is not at all willing to attribute it to any kind of good will at this point. In some ways, Zach is more of a cynic than his partner in this adventure. "He wants to live," Zach answers for Ash. Or at least gives the answer he /suspects/ motivates the man. There is no malice in his voice, no hatred. Maybe a trace of understanding. "Which is pretty much what landed us here, in this moment."

Of course, nothing is ever easy. Not even his silver-tongue can sway an individual so steadfast, not without effort. Ash holds himself tightly in the embrace, gleaming with unearthly light, his aura pulsing in a rhythm as steady as the heart beating in his breast. The glow is soft and threatening in equal measure, but he doesn't act upon either. Merely canting his head to the side, his long fringe spills away from attractive freckled features. Considering them, yet another thin-lipped smile appears. What a bother.

He doesn't speak until both have effectively worked their way back to silence, as inconclusive or decisive as it may be. "There is blood on my hands. Hundreds, thousands of deaths... Friends, enemies, and those who I would never come to know. It is engraved into me, and etched into their souls. Is this a bargain? Perhaps it is a plea, so I can wash away my sins... Living with such guilt is no life at all."

"I wanted to start over, and the world was in ruins. I hoped that it would be as simple as pressing a button, and in some ways, it was." Ash pauses to admire his intricately painted nails, suggesting the gesture is nervous deflection. This is all hard to admit, after all. "But I failed to untangle the crossed streams of the timeline that I wished to restore with every fibre of my being. It has remained in disarray and entire histories were rewritten." He shrugs slowly, helplessly. As if to emphasize his burden through body language, his posture is slouched. The flamewielder turns to look at the image on the wall; now at the point of advanced decay, his picture is a heap of browning bones at the foot of the Gate.

"Humanity walks the path to annihilation again, but how can their safety be assured when all power has been taken?"

"To use the construct, the future has split in three ways. Raiden, the Thunder God, will return mankind to the Dark Ages. Justice, the Command Gear of the United Nations, requires immediate apprehension of another Gear outside of Southtown, and will destroy the city if she must. Heihachi, a man who traded his humanity for youth and served Saiki, will subjugate Japan. All paths lead to war."

Blue eyes coolly flit to Zach, something in the detached gaze deeply unsettling, just lurking beneath the surface. "Was I mistaken about you?" Ash wonders aloud, "If that is the case, then no matter the similarities between you and the individual I briefly knew, you're different. You're a parallel. Someone whose existence is completely separate from ours."

Ayame receives an equally empty, almost dismissive nod, "Isn't that right?" It would seem that Ash does not respond favourably to correction. How childish.

His movements are graceful, banishing the increasingly grotesque projection and drawing invisible lines, instead. They soon start burning into existence. Greens, reds, blues... The colours remain separate from one another, rotating slowly on the axis at their base. "When realities collide, the results can be harmonious, beautiful, and entirely complimentary." At that, the red and blue are funneled into hues of purple. "Sphere Holder, you have superseded your other self, but even if you do not share the same past or soul, there is no denying that you were meant to be here." Ash allows the symbolism and the point to sink in, then guides the violet on a crash course with the still spinning green. "Add too much, and..."

With a flash, the colours make bids for dominance, and the combination is sickly, trembling and quaking violently. The smokey mass turns itself over black and the young European regards it before reaching to take the energy into hand. It embraces Ash's slender fingers like a lover, worshipping his touch.

"What landed you here could have been my will," he admits softly, laughing in that jovial manner well-known to those who frequent his company, "Maybe you're here because we share a similar purpose? Like the lady said..." Ash's features twist with an edge in the darkness of the energy that grows. Crushing it, the shadow passes. "Why do we endure these... Gears? Irate Gods who set aside their vows for lack of understanding? Why not allow them to persist where they're meant to belong? Have you never thought their presence was unnatural?"

At Zach, the flamboyant young man sneers, "Do you doubt truth?"

"And haven't you realized yet that Seishirou Ryouhara is incomplete?" Ayame was a success, but superseding the parallel did not go so well for the terrorist. His mind isn't shattered...

"All I need is assistance, for there is no doubt that the triad will try to stop me. I am capable of more than you think..." The arrogance is starting to creep through... "Both of you saw memories from worlds beyond your reach, every single possible outcome to any choice you ever had."

"A girl who shirked duty to one that approaches responsibility with religious fanaticism."

"A moment that defined Glen, as his powers went rogue and hospitalized his roommate. But what if he had left? As it turns out, he may have been a murderer."

White strands are tousled by a wind that is unseen, unfelt. Crimson passion and fury begins to overtake his irises, bleeding them red. "Believe in me..." Suddenly, the Time Sphere begins to whir loudly. The space of darkness transforms into where the two were transported, which could still be Mount Fuji. It's hard to tell. His lips move to finish the sentence, but it cannot be heard over the roar of the earth. Below, the floor thrums with energy. Ash settles, farther than he had seemed, and he turns his back to them to stare hard at the orb that is all beginnings. The start of everything anew...

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn has started a fight here.

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Zach Glenn       0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Ash has joined the fight here as a boss...?

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Zach Glenn       0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn equips a lustrous Mugentou.

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Zach Glenn [E]   0/-------/-------|

Something about this whole mess is setting of klaxons in the back of Zach's mind. Ash... if that is indeed who he is, anyway... is checking way too many Evil Overlord boxes. His rationale is fairly solid, but it's also a load of premium grade bullshit.

Power swells around the trio, and Zach's gaze is locked firmly on Ash, and so he sees what the rest of his sentence is. "/Saiki/," the psion snarls as he leans ever so slightly forward.

And disappears.

It was a trick Glen had only done once before against Saiki, one that Zach himself had done once in what might have been deadly earnest but had since practiced in more controlled circumstances. It's only fitting, then, that Zach uses it here. Before the pop of air rushing to fill a void might be heard, Zach is already directly behind Ash.

The wakazashi, a weapon Zach had dubbed the Mugentou but resembled another weapon entirely, is free of the sheath. Amber not-fire is sweeping up Zach's frame, ruffling hair even as it turns pale white locks to glinting gold. It is, perhaps, only a split second before the tip of the weapon is jammed into the small of "Ash's" back at an upward angle.

"I," Zach snarls, "Am not the man you seem to think I am."

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn channels the veins of the burning blood.

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

Playing host at the confluence of all time, he speaks of the blood staining his immaculate hands and Ayame's eyes flick to them as if half expecting to discover literal rivulets of spilt crimson. Can there be any arguing with the statements he makes? She never encountered the enigma at the heart of the world ending calamity before, all she could witness was the chain reaction he had put into motion. Would she have found him so persuasive then, with continents sinking into the ocean and the sky torn asunder? Lives beyond number snuffed out without explanation and those who survived one calamity knew without a doubt it was just a matter of time before they died to another one.

That was the world Saiki made. That was the fruit of his labor.

But here and now, Ayame hesitates, her left hand on her staff, her right arm resting against her side as she stares, mouth a thin line. She shows no sign of attacking, mind racing as she processes the case being laid out before her. 'Because he wants to live', Zach argued. That can't be all... she is hardly listening to the panicked desperation of one at the end of his proverbial rope. Her brow furrows, mouth forming a slight frown as he lists out the powers vying for ultimate victory in the world shaping campaign raging outside the mountain.

At the center of the storm is The Land of the Rising Sun, her home, with all the world seeming to rise up against it in this time of turmoil. If there is something, anything, she can do to that would save it from another desecrating blast from that armored monstrosity called 'Justice', shouldn't she do it? Eyes flick to the Timesphere itself. Therein is power incomprehensible...

The Frenchman has her attention again as he asks her if she is more like him than not. "I had to remember," she states unapologetically for her machinations in the face of world-ending disaster. She would have done anything to remember, damn the consequences.

For a moment, she closes her eyes, a daring move in the presence of one who brought a universe to its end, but she seems unafraid of being attacked, even as power builds all around them. She opens her eyes again to study the threads, infinitely complex, unfathomably beautiful. But in an instant, the illusion consumes itself with miasmic fumes before being reclaimed by its creator.

She sucks in her breath when the brilliant chi architect's name is uttered a second time. The words of the enigmatic wanderer between times drift off and Ayame speaks at last, swallowing first, "Zach... do you have an ideal stronger than anything? Is there any limit to what you would do to act upon it?"

Had she more to say it would go unheard, the chamber rumbling with power awoken.

Had she more to say, it would hardly matter.

The swordsman has already moved to act. Sword drawn, he leans, body winding up with energy burning to be put to use.
And then he vanishes to face the destroyer head on.

A sentinel in burning amber, Zach aims to strike, holding back nothing, attempting to put an end to the cycle left unfinished for time beyond measure.

If he was not about to take everything from her, perhaps even she could appreciate the beauty of the moment, the pure, undistracted purpose on display.

Eyes widen as Ayame bursts forward. There's no way she can rival the speed with which Zach engaged the unmaker. He was already stabbing out before the light reached her eyes.

But she can catch up and try to wedge her staff around Zach's sword arm from behind, pressing up against him as she tries to wrench him away hard enough to stagger.

"What are you doing?!" she raises her voice over the cacophony of power. "Can you not see? With him, we could change everything!"

Saiki. His name is Saiki. And once upon a time, he stole her world. Now, she thinks to herself, he has the power to make it right again.

COMBATSYS: Ayame has joined the fight here.

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0            Ayame

COMBATSYS: Ash(?) blocks Zach Glenn's Power Strike.

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0            Ayame

'Believe in me...'

'For I am The One who Rules Time.'

Ash was never here, from the very beginning.

The vessel of the fey Frenchman belongs entirely to Saiki, the parasitic presence having wrested control from his descendant long ago.

Now, with the sphere and through the Gate, he can banish these invaders back to their worlds of origin, so he sweetly claims. The assistance of Zach and Ayame will prove infinitely valuable. Perhaps, he will let them live...

A sudden approach is reflected by the crystal orb, and it wipes the arrogant smirk of satisfaction from his lips. Hair turning colours, aglow with amber Soul Power, Zach's determined purpose fills the destroyer with unfathomable hatred. The blade of the wakizashi is driven upwards into the soft flesh next to his spine. "Is that your answer?" Saiki drops the charade and false pretences, all the charisma he had either borrowed from his kin or imitated lazily. His quiet intonation could make blood run cold.

Steel plunges through muscle and sinew; it punctures his lung before coming to rest. Crimson blooms around the wound, and when Zach withdraws the Mugentou, Saiki coughs wetly into his fist. Flecks of red and spittle stain the knuckles of his fingers... And evaporate away, as the pale-haired man throws back his head with a bark of laughter.

In the span of a heartbeat, the precise incision knits itself together before their very eyes.

His pristine vestments, with its bloody eyesore, begin to turn as black as obsidian stone.

Saiki thrusts his arm out towards the Time Sphere, whose whine grows louder and undulating contents writhe in barely contained throes of ecstasy. Screams of conflict, of those who had unknowingly lent it their power throughout centuries of squabbling and futile attempts to annihilate one another, echo off the walls in a demented symphony. He pulls the energy directly from the orb to empower himself, all while saying, "You're no man at all. Just some wild animal. Shall I domesticate you? Clearly you're worth no greater effort."

"Only a fool would refuse an offer such as mine."

At no point does the dispassionate unmaker turn around.

Ayame may be upon the psion, restraining him. If not, then he could attempt to stab Saiki once more. Why bother to acknowledge what is clearly beneath him, the impossible being decides. They receive his silent blessing to continue without interference, if that must be the way. Humans really are vermin.

Along the sides of the dome-shaped chamber, small cracks and crevices appear. Streaking schisms in the rocks where lava bubbles forth, snaking down the gouged paths. He siphons more energy from the sphere, until a sickly dark film starts to envelope him from head to foot, moving as though it were a living thing. Saiki affects an insouciant air, with the gall to stand at ease and a hand upon the generous curve of his hip.

"Let the likes of Justice and Raiden be struck from this world, and all others with them! Back to the abyss from whence they came!" The Sphere of Sparks rallies to his call with a brilliant, blinding flare.

Everything is noise. A cacophonous rumbling that does not bode well.

Fear stretches out invisible feelers to latch onto the miko and Zach, to poison them from the inside.

Ah, Eden is so close at hand...

COMBATSYS: Ash(?!) gathers his will.

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0            Ayame

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn just-defends Ayame's Medium Throw!

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0            Ayame

Zach does not even bother with Saiki's words about him; he knows who and what he is. Saiki will learn to his sorrow. He has a far more pressing issue: ensuring that his ally does not turn against him in this most important of measures. He whirls, the motion completely killing Ayame's attempts to restrain him, grabbing the front of Ayame's blouse with his left hand to pull the smaller girl in close. She would be lifted up the ground if Zach did not bend down slightly to get in her face.

Emerald green eyes, running with flecks of gold as power runs through him, lock with brown. Their noses are only a handswidth apart, an intimate distance. Determination, will, some anger and a little more fear (Saiki is unwholesomely powerful and Zach knows it) show in the psion's eyes.

"Saiki's plan is to unmake /everything/," Zach says in a low almost-growling voice. "He may. MAY! Do everything he implies that he'll do. But noone will never know, because everything /else/ won't exist." Zach eases Ayame back a few more inches, allowing Zach to spare the godlike being as he simply erases the damage done. Or simply seem to. One may resemble the other. The same as the last time around.

He looks back to Ayame. "I think we might be able to help Ryouhara," Zach says gently. "But not if Saiki gets his way. He's playing you. Using your attachments to your memories against you." Zach gives the girl a none-too-gentle shove away, freeing up his left hand to make an almost beckoning gesture with index and middle finger. A sword appears, four feet in length with a blade two hands wide, and composed purely of psychic energy. "I already died once living out my ideal. I'm not eager to repeat the process."

Zach grabs the sword in his left hand, and /hurls/ the spectral weapon at the center of Saiki's back!

Driven, the empowered psion proves faster than the miko who seems desperate to keep him from driving his sword into the Chrono Shaper's back once more. Acting with cognizance that may transcend normal limits, he moves as if aware of her intent even with the increasingly loud roar of gathering power. The surprise he would find on her face as he turns and snaps his hand out while be more than enough to reveal that the young priestess had not expected the instinctive response, and the moment catches her completely off guard.

His fingers find purchase in the white cloth of her kimono top and his close proximity is too far inside her guard for her to be able to leverage her staff to pry him away. Staggering as she's yanked forward, face to face with the golden aura'd swordsman, he would find in her eyes a blend of surprise, fear, and tangible desperation. Her eyes are wide as she stares at him face to face, making no effort to engage him for as long as he is focusing on her. That means for the moment, he isn't plunging his blade into the back of the Dual-Souled Frenchman occupied with the Time Sphere itself.

She shakes her head quickly, eyes flicking past Zach just in time to notice the previous wound knitting itself whole once more. Rapid healing? Or simply a reversal of fortune? A rolling back of the clock to before the wound was even inflicted? She held one of the spheres in her hand once before. Though ignorant of its potential, that brief time in contact was enough to convince her of its dangerous power. Power she now seems to want to use for herself.

"No Zach," she replies, "Can you not see it? Even if we win here, we still have lost the war. What of those other threats? Can we save Southtown from being blasted like this mountain? Can we prevent the storm those infernal Ainu are talking about summing up?" Her right arm snaps past his side then, not trying to pull away as she points, "THAT is our only chance to stop /all/ of it! The only way we can save anyone!"

The smaller of the two is shoved back and she catches herself quickly, shaking her head again, "That sphere is the only thing strong enough to stop all of them! But I cannot control it, only he can!"

He turns away, hurling the massive blade into the air with the intent to plunge it into Saiki's back far too swiftly for her to intercede from her side. "If you kill him, then what?!"

The girl bows her head briefly, right hand unclenching as it slips into her left sleeve in a flash, drawing a white ofuda of off-white parchment. "I am sorry, Zach," she murmurs softly, lifting the talisman as it ignites with pale white, spectral fire, illuminating her face in its ghostly glow for several seconds as she holds it aloft.

"If you kill him, there will be no preventing the tidal wave of destruction sweeping across the land... For victory, our reward will be nothing but complete ruin. I cannot let that happen!"

He would have time to turn, no doubt, a chance to respond as the miko sweeps her right arm out backhandedly, hurling the ward from her fingers as its fire builds brighter, surging toward Zach, zeroing in on his center of mass.

Contact would release the chi stored within, an explosion of white, constricting, ethereal chains surging out into the open void as they attempt to entrap the psion and put a stop to his violence against the Time Architect.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn negates Binding of the Condemned Soul from Ayame with Quick Shot EX.

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0            Ayame

Zach leaps away from Ayame with a snarled oath as the ofuda comes flying in. Zach summons a third blade, smaller. This one has a large circular opening for a pommel, enough to get a few fingers into, with a hand-sized grip. The blade is about three inches wide and twelve long. Zach's hand snakes out, snatching the throwing weapon and flinging it in the same motion. @emit
The psychic contruct slams into the incoming ofuda before it can reach Zach, causing a brilliant but ineffective explosion of yellow and white sparks that does nothing to either party. He's looking frustrated here, and perhaps a bit scared. He's not sure he can handle Saiki /with/ Ayame at his side. He /knows/ that Saiki and Ayame will prove insurmountable for him.

"Raiden's storm will only come if the Gears are not destroyed," Zach says levelly. "I've fought them before, that is a fight we can win." His right arm moves, spinning the wakazashi around to reverse the grip and slide it back into the sheath. "If you win here, and Saiki gets his way, there won't be any destruction because there won't be anything to destroy." He glances at Saiki, then back to Ayame. He needs to wrap this up.

"The sphere is too much for any mortal. You remember what Duke did to Metro City with his. Glen had had to learn how to deal with the emotions of others affecting him, and he used that. He went into those last days forcing himself into a depression just to counter the effects the sphere was having on him. So that he would at least contain the sphere instead of allowing it to control him. Saiki just knows how to use them, and they respond to him the best," he says quickly. "In fact, you're right. They are the next best thing to impossible to control without being Saiki."

He takes a step towards the Miko, holding the now empty hand out toward her palm up and fingers open. Zach looks... weary at this point. The effort expended was not all that much, but the weight of all of this is clearly felt. "And he wants to use them to take control of the Orochi to destroy anything that is not Saiki. I cannot stop this alone, Ichijo. /Please/. Help me."

COMBATSYS: Ash(??) endures Zach Glenn's Caladbolg.

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0            Ayame

Is it possible that the slender man could care any less? The intricate tapestry he had so recently woven may be undone by the hand that persistently pulls the threads of betrayal. No...

Because it doesn't matter.

As he deigns not to acknowledge the struggle of the two and their clashing ideologies, Saiki revels in his victory. How effortless it was to plant the seed of dissent, and how it can occur again, over and over, with others. If Ayame's loyalty cannot be assured here, let her be replaced. Do it now, and BEGONE! Stop wasting 'time'. "Maggots..." he breathes, lip curling with a contemptuous sneer.

A ribbon of harsh light binds him to the sphere, drawing the impossible unmaker closer, seeking to encircle its most favoured of users. Just as his outstretched fingertips ghost over the burning surface of the glass, the black mist parts at his back. It would seem that a brief interruption shall impede great progress. Nothing can be done to repel the Soul Power sword, so notes the miko, and nor does he try. Piercing him like a javelin, the tip bursts through his chest and showers the Sphere of Sparks with gore. Saiki looks down at the protrusion, with increasing disgust. "Is that the best you have to offer me? Watch as I bend your power to /my will/!"

He grips the radiant blade, coated in his vessel's mortal essence. The blood sticks to thin digits like sap. Twisting in its dying moments, the Soul Power exhibits attempts of futile resistance, but if Saiki can devour even the Goddess Athena's divine luminescence, this will never be able to withstand his might. Finally, the sword shatters, amber particles turn to black fire, and he smooths the midnight conflagration down his front. Skin wriggles together to rebuild the hole, and all is soon as it was once before.

The One who Rules Time cannot be stopped, not yet.

But he needs more energy to sustain himself, as Ash has proven to be unsuitable to hosting a deity such as Saiki. He is unable to use his full strength!

There is only one choice, to use the Time Sphere in its entirety. From centuries of traversing through the Void, the traveller of history knows what untold potential lies untapped within. The ultimate power of beginnings is truly his when he holds it aloft. Saiki presses his palm against the white hot, scalding orb... And freezes.

In that moment, an unexpected connection is made.

His eyes glaze over. It's too late to undo such a mistake that he should've foreseen, but in haste, disregarded.

Ayame hurls her wish for the future at Zach, unleashing the ofuda meant to ward him away, but he responds with hope all his own. A plain, laid bare hope made of gold. At last, the psion presents his hand in a gesture so that their alliance may be reestablished, to overcome the seeker of dystopia... Saiki jerks unnaturally as the energy from the sphere surges through him.

Information moves faster than the speed of light, in his brain, in his blood. With a key to every lock he has used to seal away the soul of his descendant, they crumble one by one. Saiki's crimson irises flicker -- blue to red, red to blue. A sudden hush falls over the chamber, as if a blanket were thrown over them to dampen the noise. Lava ceases to flow, the thrum of the earth grows dim.

"Shut up..." His head is going to explode as the broad shoulders of the flamewielder shake in rage, "Ash Crimson, when will you learn your place?!"

"Stupid child, do you not understand?! You should feel deeply honoured, or shall I destroy you beyond thought?!"

Not again. He will force the boy back into darkness! Saiki will, demanding submission from the orb, be a plague upon the world that will wipe out all traces of every living thing! His aura expands around his thin, blackened form. It pushes against the barriers of silence, to consume and convert. This is what he wants!

Perhaps Saiki, despite all of his unaffected airs and casual disregard, has become a pawn himself, in the end.

COMBATSYS: Ash(!?) gathers his will.

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0            Ayame

Her first talisman is severed, its stored energy scattered before reaching its target by a precision throw, but Ayame is far from idle. With a blur of her hand, another paper thin chi weapon is already between her fingers, held aloft at face level, just to the right, its faint orange flames reflecting off her eyes as she stares back at Zach. Before he speaks, she starts to move her hand, ready to hurl another prepared attack rather than talk this out any further.

But his protest brings her pause, the miko freezing for a moment. He's fought the Gears before? The comment seems to at least buy him time to continue without having to ward off another, well, ward, the girl breathing in deeply then exhaling slowly.

Her eyes follow Zach's as he looks toward Saiki then back to him once his focus returns to her. If he moves to attack, she seems to imply with her silence fidget, she will attack him again.

He continues, imploring on another level, reaching out for memories. Though they may have happened in another life, here and now, in the presence of the sphere itself, they are fresh, sharp, and painful. He speaks of how just the radiating influence of one in the hands of the savage Duke was enough to twist a city and even force his previous self to wrestle with his own despair in order to fight back against overwhelming mental coercion and the corner of her mouth twitches into a slight frown.

He steps forward and she tenses, the talisman in her fingers burning brighter as if in response to an unspoken command, but though her arm twitches, she doesn't attack. Instead, her focus shifts past Zach, over the man's shoulder toward the one wrestling with unfathomable power coursing through the Time Sphere. She watches the eventual eradication of the psychic energy that pierced his torso, the seething disdain expressed as he mocks the psion fighting alone to stop the inevitable.

Her lips press together, eyes flicking back to Zach, then back to Saiki, the dual-souled pitiable mess beginning to argue, to war with itself, the host within finding some crack, some weak place, some tiny connection with the rivers of power coursing throughout the chamber to force his way through the timeless conqueror's will.

Ayame blinks once, then slowly opens her hand, the burning talisman in her fingers falling to the floor, becoming ash and loose cinders as it drifts. "You are so sure," she speaks softly toward Zach. "So sure the world outside this cavern time forgot will survive even if any rational analysis of the conflict suggests otherwise."

The girl's arm lowers to her side, small wisps of orange flame burning on the floor where her talisman had fallen. "Oh," she sighs, her tone almost wistful, "To be so naive."

Her left hand tightens its grip on her staff, twisting the weapon horizontally in front of her as she opens her eyes again, jaw set, expression resolved. "Very well." Her right hand extends, then gestures with a casual flick of her wrist, and the latent chi at her feet erupts into a swirling aura, orange giving way to crimson flames tipped with points of azure as it wreaths around the girl. "Let us gamble on your hope, Zach Glenn."

Even as the power around the sphere itself begins to show its cracks, the energy around Ayame swells. "After all, what do we have to lose but everything?" she shakes her head slowly. "But if the world ends again."

She pivots to the right, bracing as both hands grip her staff now, the runes along its surface aglow as they resonate with the building scarlet flame. "Make sure to live long enough..."Ayame Ichijo exhales softly before breathing again, a faint smirk from a bygone time returning to her lips.

"To hear me say I told you so."

COMBATSYS: Ayame gathers her will.

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[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|====---\-------\0            Ayame

"If you're around to say those words," Zach says with a faint grin, "I'll already be dead." Because anyone no matter who it is? No matter whether they are man, god, devil, or monster? They will have to get through Zach to try to end his world.

Zach charges Ash/Saiki the moment Ayame starts to marshal her resources, in the moment of distraction. He closes the gap in the space of a blink, arms raised over his head as if to bring something down on the Chronomancer's head.

A shaft of sunlight springs forth in the waiting grip of the monster hunter, resolving into his ancestral blade: a claymore, silver of blade and white of hilt and wreathed in golden soulfire. Zach brings the weapon down at Ash/Saiki's shoulder in a vertical strike. No hesitation, no holding back, no remorse.

COMBATSYS: Ash(?!?) endures Zach Glenn's Fierce Strike.

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[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|====---\-------\0            Ayame

Together, they unite. Their goals come to align, and the alignment is against him.

Against everything Saiki is able to offer.

Because there will be no one to admire Eden save for The One who Rules Time.


Ayame offers her power, lit by fire ephemeral, and Zach lunges in while Saiki wrenches back control from his descendant, waging war that consumes his mind and begins to pour out in projections from the orifices of his mouth and ears. The ghost city, Paris. Italy's eradication. The loss of the only person Ash could call a 'friend'. Even further back do the images stretch, into personal moments of the Frenchman's life, all on display as the old and present merge into a force to be reckoned with. He is 'whole'.

He is 'complete'.

But Ash is unable to do anything, forced to observe with his soul's eyes that were closed for two years... His form exudes regret.

The claymore opens the vessel wide, in a cut that should kill the freckle-faced youth, but blood does not flow. Likely to the psion's dissatisfaction, the brutal carving from shoulder across to opposite hip appears unnatural. Does it exist, or does it not? Lightweight fabric flaps against the wound, listless and lifeless. Saiki twists a forelock of his beautiful hair around his fingers.

Exposing the smooth column of his throat, he howls sadistically.

Peeling away white bone from the surface of the orb, two shakes and an inaudible crack of his knuckles, and he can gaze upon what should be his skeleton, but is a hand like any other. Saiki's horrible trilling continues until it sends the pictorial story of a lackadaisical flamewielder running. When there is no trace of its presence left, he slumps forward over the Sphere of Sparks, not quite making full contact.

His every breath heaves, shuddering his shoulders. Not only has his aura grown to eclipse the chamber, trapping them in a dome of darkness, but it crawls out of him like a summoned beast, or parasite. Black ooze churns deep inside the incision, if one were to stare into the abyss. Saiki exhales a final snort.

Turning around, staggering until he stands completely upright, the harbinger of the world's end relaxes. He is calm. Saiki is cold, composed, and weirdly detached, as if the insanity a moment ago were only a figment of imagination. "You think you can use the Time Sphere and destroy us both, useless spawn. Stop testing my /patience/!!" Is there pity to be had for a being that wishes to unmake all of reality, just because of the circumstance that led to two souls? Many would disagree. Even Zach, surely...

Speaking of him, and levelling the wielder of golden light and Soul Power swords with a look of crystal-clear clarity, Saiki's thin lips twitch away from pearly teeth. His attractive face is split in twain by a hideous grin. "Sphere Holder, tell me why a man who does not desire death pursues it so recklessly."

"Why are you even here?"

"Let /this/ be the consequences of your actions!! Once your bodies are piled at my feet, I will wipe out the very moment of conception, so that neither of you were /EVER BORN/!!"

A harsh clap like thunder, and the floodgates open wide. Saiki's stolen energy, from the sphere, from Ash, is a current that charges the dome. This Hell designed by his own divine hands.

Unfathomable darkness.


Spherical obsidian flames flit about, harmless at first. They're everywhere, constructed entirely of chi, outlines just barely visible as each glows softly. In the time it takes to count down from ten, the size increases exponentially. What they become are balloons of looming malice and malevolence, and when they are fit to burst, it takes the lazy sweep of Saiki's arm to set off the initial blast.

Explosions. With an echoing bang that transforms into one long, hollow note with each successive rupture, the killer crescendo earns a tumultuous rattle from the cavern walls. It is rocking the outside world as much as the space trapped within. More appear, more after that. One volley is replaced by another, and may continue on and on for eternity until a shining light can be seen through the dark. Shocked that the source is him, Saiki gropes at his chest, fingers passing through a disc that dislodges itself from his sternum. "The Yata-- NO!"

Twirling to taunt him, it spins away, hurled by invisible hands like a discus. The Sacred Treasure from a future that no longer exists comes to rest once it reaches Zach. Now, it is up to the hunter of monsters, with all trust, faith, and dreams laid atop his shoulders. A burden that he has already chosen to bear.

<<Use this...>>

<<It's the only way.>>

... Ash?

COMBATSYS: Ash(!!!) successfully hits Ayame with #Kasumi+#.

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Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\====---\1            Ayame

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn endures Saiki's #Kasumi+#!

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[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Zach Glenn [E]   2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\====---\1            Ayame

Zach's eyes go wide as another tidal wave of memory takes him back to a time that never was. Like Glen, there was little Zach could do except brace up and try to bear through it. The pain blocks out everything. Sound. Light. Touch. Scent. Zach can't even sense the presence of Ichijo through the hellish pain.

And then it stops. Zach still /hurts/, mind you. The pain, however, is a managable thing. Down from an eleven to a seven, perhaps. Zach's outfit is in tatters, his skin cut and abraided and burnt pretty much everywhere. There is blood running down his limbs, his face. But the psion is still standing. He blinks in confusion. That... was something of a surprise, really. The reason /why/ he is still standing, still drawing breath becomes clear as soon as his vision does.

Glen is there, down on one knee. His form is ragged, fraying at the edges. His right hand is planted on the ground to keep him somewhat upright, while... it's not his left hand. It's... some kind of golden energy construct that vaguely resembles a hand, crackling and sparking, that is extended towards Saiki in a warding gesture. He looks over his shoulder at Zach, grinning faintly.

The Yata Mirror nearly strikes Zach right between the eyes, but reflex and muscle memory come together just enough for the monster hunter to catch it. He looks at the object, a bit confused. This is, novelly enough, new territory.

"...ayame should know how to use it..." Glen supplies weakly. "...you can lock saiki down with that..." Zach looks at Glen, concern clear on his face. "...don't worry about me..." the shade says faintly. "...shoulda happened...long ago..." With that the guardian spirit, slayer of a balck beast, scatters into millions of motes of violet and gold light. The motes seem to drift for a moment before slamming into Zach from every conceivable direction. Zach feels something... /shift/ within him... like he gained something... or lost something... or...

Zach shakes his head, dispelling the thoughts. Survive now, introspect later. Zach whirls to face Ayame. "Ichijo!" he yells, instinctively channelling power through the Yata Mirror even as he /knows/ he will never be able to do something like this again.

In siding with the psion against impossible odds, the lines between optimism and foolhardiness are blurred beyond discernment. The determined swordsman has been trying to hurt the being known as Saiki with his attacks, but the infernal channeling continues unabated, and the passage of seconds seems to erase all progress.

To think, before them is but one Time Sphere, not the completed set of relics in play a memory ago. But with just one of the timeless artifacts, the dangerously brilliant terrorist, Seishirou Ryouhara, and she managed to defy the rules of time, to seize memories and pull them through the final veil. And they were by no means masters of the arcane enigmas compared to the one that mocks them now.

With the orb, he would be at once capable of unfathomable wonders and yet also incomprehensible horrors. He could turn back the tide, erase the monsters and invaders that have spilled into what used to be Earth's sacrosanct domain, and restore Japan's sacred mountain to its undamaged majesty. He could put right a mind shattered beyond recognition even by one who should know him best... After all, were these not his goals the first time around?

But for all the good he could do, she can see now the burgeoning tyrant, a monster enslaving the soul of another to cling to an existence that had already once been damned to uncreation. She would not be able to control the orb nor the one who clings to it so tightly now. Through him there would be no lasting salvation.

Zach's words do not go unheard, in spite her stubborn pride. His insistence that no matter how ridiculous the claim, the war can be fought, the abominations that defile the land struck down, and the land saved sink in. And he punctuates his claims with action, once more charging into the storm to drive home a mighty blade of churning soulfire. And as he acts, it is Saiki's own words that push away the potential ally, his war against the soul he has used, like a parasite with no hope of existing on its own.

Ayame sighs softly, bracing against the building pressure, eyes closing for a brief moment. Better the devil you know, as the saying goes. There will be no magic panacea for the disease that corrupts the land. The endless labor must continue as it has since she first grew into awareness.

But she doesn't have to wage war all alone.

"I see," she murmurs softly, her voice stolen by the thunder of greater powers in play, eyes watching Zach as he draws back from having delivered another strike that should be lethal... if it ever truly struck at all?

Instead, it seems to draw his attention at last, Saiki turning away from the object of his fascination to gaze upon the two trespassers, his horrific laugh echoing throughout the chamber that seems at once impossibly vast yet constrictingly small.

Since when did it become so hard to draw breath?

Ayame looks up at the Great Unmaker in his moment of building glory. Will she at last know a final, ultimate failure? The dereliction of duty to protect, to sacrifice, to make the difficult choices no one else would? Maybe he will kill them both, and she will finally know rest.

When had she last actually taken a breath? Seconds ago? Or was it hours?

The question is posed - why is Zach even there, and Ayame smiles faintly in spite herself. "That is just the kind of man he is." She leans forward a little more, her voice sharp against the storm, "You should know - perhaps the shell you stole belongs to one similar." Ash Crimson - that was the name Zach identified him by. A young man the world will never know, willing to die so that this hopeless timeline can go on? Or is he simply fed up with being used?

In the end, it hardly matters.

The pressure builds, ears throbbing, the end is coming on quickly. No one will know of these sacrifices made in vain. It is better that way, she is forced to conclude. The curtain of annihilation is unfurled, spheres of ruin dispersing throughout the dome.

"It was worth a shot," she remarks toward Zach, expression softened in the final moments. "No regrets." What is the point of obstinance to the bitter end? He did what he thought was right. He deserves to die acknowledged.

Shoulders square as the girl stands up straight, eyes on the blackfire orbs that will be their doom. She will not cower here, at the end of it all. Almost with lazy indifference, her right arm sweeps out, palm forward, a shimmer of rose in the dark night that consumes her, a futile defensive ward against the ebony devastation.

The world goes black.

In the pitch black, a sliver of light is blinding. All around her, the storm of energy rages, burns, shocks, and torments. Yet instead of the release of death, she sees the spark of the divine boon, a weapon into which the last shreds of hope can be poured.

The miko kneels in the storm, torn, scorched, burned, and bleeding. She looks as if she had walked through the most gruesome battlefield, one horrific step at a time, her skin covered in ashen dust or red with blistering flesh. Her sleeves torn to ribbons, her right hand is held before her face, a shimmering discus of her own light the only reason she still even has eyes to see, a spec of defense against the end of the world, perhaps, but one nonetheless.

Her eyes follow the glimmer of light as it lands near her companion but it is upon the Traveler that her focus rests and slowly she rises to her feet, a look of open surprise on her face. She knows him in an instant, how could she forget? Years of conflict and, at the end of it all, perhaps an uneasy understanding. For once, Ayame Ichijo smiles - a sincere expression, not designed to mock or deceive.

"You always were... a worthy rival."

Her right hand lowers as the storm of ruin abates but a fraction, the pain that threatened to take her will win with time, but a new chance has been hurled their way.

"I hope," she continues, "You gave him all you could. It was the only gift I had."

Glen vanishes, a million motes of life, bright against the backdrop of nihil as they course into and through the Warrior Psion at her side.

"Goodbye, Zach Glen," Ayame murmurs, her voice a wistful note amid the thunder.

Zach's call to action is headed, however, and her eyes snap to him briefly, a quick nod. She recognizes the sacred weapon for what it is. Whether it hails from this time or the time lost, she cannot fathom. Perhaps it too exists beyond such mortal concepts.

All that matters is that the boy time forgot managed to get it to them.

Zach is given a nod. "All or nothing," the priestess remarks calmly. What use is fear when death is so certain? Through her veins flows not a drop of Kagura blood. Yet still she can sense its nature, its eternal animus for moments like this - the blood of her own ancestry is enough to understand.

"No one will ever know," her left hand reaches into her right sleeve, her staff tucked under her shoulder briefly as the talisman is collected. The scorched ribbon in her hair is torn free by the turbulence that continues to rage around the defiant duo. "The price paid this day."

A dark gold talisman is drawn out, crimson ink etched into the form of hundreds of tiny symbols, their shapes combining into the image of blood red gates. Fingers smeared with her own blood trace lines over the image, each touched rune beginning to glow with a dark red, violent energy.

Her eyes meet Zach's briefly as the psion begins to draw out incredible power to feed to the timeless conduit. Small sparks of golden soulfire begin to appear as a cloud around the two, bathing them in a soft light that bolsters their waning strength, giving them the chance to stand a moment longer.

The glyphs on her talisman activated, Ayame brings it to her mouth, teeth biting down on a corner. With a twist of her wrist, a third of the ward is torn away, the paper giving away to cinders and a brilliant sphere of violent, crimson flame lingering in the girl's hand.

Yet as she brings her hand closer to the mirror, the swell of energy seems to be filtered clean, scarlet replaced with blindingly white light so bright as to almost obscure the two entirely from view. All around them, each spark of soulfire narrows into a long needle, each tip glowing with a corona of pure white.

Ayame's eyes focus on the intimidating form of Saiki before she bows her head briefly, eyes closing for an instant, "Ash Crimson, whoever you were... thank you." Eyes snap open to focus on the Time Shaper, "And Saiki... this... is for the world you stole."

A radiant palm is pressed against the mirror and one million needles of sanctified soulfire surge toward the figure of a young, enigmatic Frenchman.

"Go to hell."

And with each strike, a new star is born.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn and Ayame successfully hit Saiki with An Aeon's Last Spark.

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[                         \\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Zach Glenn [E]   0/-------/-------|>>>>---\-------\0            Ayame

It is impossible to escape. Where could they go, but to throw themselves against the convex boundary of the rotunda? And how far is the barrier, exactly? The captured space deep in Mount Fuji's volcanic core is a tenebrous night, and the distance may be measured easily by a day's walk to discern the edge just the same as mere strides. Saiki has them trapped...

But neither try to run, much to his chagrin. The great pleasures found when a predator ensnares its prey are denied to him. Finding that acknowledging it further requires effort, Saiki observes the choice to weather the harsh maelstrom of fire and upheaval with a faint frown.

If it weren't for the mirror... Or the shade... Ayame and Zach wouldn't have a single hope. They're not in any condition to oppose him. Saiki stands in a league of his own, all contemptuous and cruel dismissal.

Sadly, not for long.

Glen died along with the world of the previous timeline, and since then, the annals of history have been rewritten. To see him here, even as a memory, infuriates The One who Rules Time. Given half the chance, Saiki would eviscerate the true Sphere Holder and watch the light fade from his eyes...

Saiki will never have the opportunity. The embodiment of living dichotomy shields his eyes from the blinding flash that takes place when Glen harmonizes with Zach, thus ceasing to exist fully. Tch. He clicks his tongue, lungs expanding with hateful breath.

The Yata Mirror is claimed by the foul maggot, and his descendant's intentions dawn upon him. Clapping his hands, for all the rage of the hellish tempest, blasts rain fire that burn impotently around the pair, protected by a shimmer shield spun from gold Soul Power. Saiki refuses to let that be, his attractive face contorting, hurling every last ounce of his energy at them until nothing is left but the effervescent remains, fizzling at his fingertips.

His sneer plays against thin lips, baring teeth at them. Saiki disrespectfully rolls his shoulders. "You dare imply that impudent wretch had a shred of honour, that this wasn't all done for the sake of--"

'I like this world... It doesn't need to be destroyed.'


'You won't take her from me, not in any life, not for one moment.'

'Maybe you should disappear, burn to ashes.'

'Now I have gained a new power.'

'But, you never know. I can't predict the future.'

'We're enemies, you and I, or did you forget?'

These words and bittersweet recollections settle like a suffocating fog, enough to make Saiki's head ache as the other soul deliberately remembers his past to disable him. It will be for naught!

After talismans and glyphs, sacrifice and gratitude, a piercing needle of luminescence is backhanded with fierce renunciation. Ricocheting like a bullet, it smashes through the barrier, a gaping hole marking the exact point of departure to the outside. Growing wider as the Soul Power hangs on the precipice, the rift invites to the separate space not the falling rocks of the caving cavern, but a faint stream of sunlight. Each brilliant ray is a spectrum from yellow to red. Pulsing rapidly, the Sphere of Sparks is a dying star. The demand of energy is too much, but Saiki is preoccupied with the golden-white spread that extends over his elbow, claiming and crawling up him as a jilted love seeking retribution. "Nothing can stop me!" He yells, and his blackened aura rallies to prove him right.

Venting a wordless shriek, struggling against his captor, Saiki snarls, "Do you think you can win?! /Impossible/!" Limbs transform into ropes, pinning the unmaker in place. Then, the second spear drives through his heart.

He stills.

With each consecutive blow, thrust upon him with glowing agony, it ventilates the dark being's parasitic soul. A million resplendent staves protrude from Saiki as though he were an odd, deformed creature of golden spikes. Blood trickles from the corner of his mouth. A broken whisper, from a dry throat that scratches, "This cannot be."

Exploding with radiance, motes and particles of light stick to his skin and blackened habiliments. They simultaneously tear apart the aura, consuming and converting it to purity. The psion's amplified Soul Power wreaks havoc. Exposed to fate, Saiki levels Ayame and Zach with a crimson-eyed glare.


"Will never turn back the hands of time...!"

"May you curse your pyrrhic victory!"

Entirely eclipsed by the golden-white energy, the last thing to fade are the scarlet, staring orbs, finally rolling upwards. The ropes tighten, sinking into flesh, muscle, and bone. Ash's illusion is reunited with the breaker of time, just as the Yata Mirror shatters in the hands of the miko and the monster hunter at her side.

Twinkling shards move in a rhythmless dance, swaying and skipping through the vestiges of sunlight. They fly towards the vessel, elongating to his height and forming a jagged perimeter around him. It will be Saiki's prison. Perhaps the effect may persist only an hour, a year, or for eternity. But even a moment without the tyrant is a blessing, and so the walls around him fall in.

Overhead, a beautiful sky is revealed. The navy blue curtain of the evening has been cast, and the air is fresh and scented with autumn's sweet breath. Leaves rustle in the wind, and a full moon crests o'er a distant hill.

Fading from view, the Time Sphere has gone dim. It returns from whence it came, where they had been, as well. The cavern becomes a lake of molten rock, so perhaps the timeless artifact is lost forever...

Does it matter? The two who opposed the greatest threat to mankind, who the world will never thank for their contributions, are still alive... But so is 'Saiki'?

Just a passing breeze, mockery rife throughout. "Before, there was no heaven nor hell. No gods, no demons. This has happened too soon..."

Emerging from the translucent glass, it ripples like a trick on the senses, gone before the mind can process it more and validate its existence. The fey European, bleeding from the wounds to his back and others, likely internal, drops to his knees with a weak flutter of his long hair.

Ash Crimson has returned, and the Sacred Treasure from a time lost bonds to his soul. The light fades, but is all well? He chokes back what might've been a sob or cry of relief. There's a moment where it all nearly overwhelms him, because the flamewielder hasn't been himself for so long, he'd nearly forgotten what it was like...

COMBATSYS: Ash takes no action.

[                         \\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Zach Glenn [E]   0/-------/-------|>>>>---\-------\0            Ayame

COMBATSYS: Ash can no longer fight.

[                         \\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Zach Glenn [E]   0/-------/-------|>>>>---\-------\0            Ayame

Looking back, Zach will not be able to relate what exactly happened. There was a lot going on, and Zach was still trying to... well... not die. When the lights die down, though, and things return to something passing for normal? There's Zach, Ayame, and who appears to be Ash Crimson.

Zach's eyes narrow at this. For all of the problems Ayame has, incompetence is /not/ one of them. But Ash Crimson is still in front of them. A shakey left hand slides to the holstered 1911 at that hip, before sliding the weapon free. He thumbs back the hammer, but doesn't take aim just yet. Similarly, his index finger is still outside the trigger guard.

He waits. He observes. He's not ready to do the talking. He just lost the next best thing to an older brother, and he isn't ready for words just yet.

COMBATSYS: Zach Glenn has left the fight here.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ayame            0/-------/---<<<<|

For a moment, the two trespassers from the outside stand in unison, their wills aligned, their purpose combined. By the grace of the mirror, a relic bestowed to men by benevolent powers an age or two ago, their powers made manifest are enough to defend them from the vengeful storm the Wrecker of Worlds unleashes against them, the aura of luminescence holding out against the unfathomable wrath. Standing there, protected by efforts magnified by the sealing artifact, Ayame watches the last vestiges of a war that has transcended the end of one existence and seeped, unwelcome, into another, eyes narrowing as she watches, without blinking, the manifestation of the stolen shell himself.

The twin souls are entangled as one as sanctified bolts of soulfire pierce the breast of the demon. To this end, have the two young champions trained, fought, and sacrificed all their lives. To stand before the stormfront of destruction and, as few others alive can hope do, act as living windbreaks against the maelstrom's fury. Live or die, this is where they belong.

Ayame's hand releases, fingers splayed as the relic shatters, its component atoms called home to seal way the beast, stretching, tearing, and containing the soul of pure malice for as long as such things are destined to be kept away form the world.

And then she finds herself blinded - not by an attack, not by hellfire, not by light too pure.

But by daylight. Her eyes close, the girl dropping to one knee, her staff clattering against stone at her side as she releases a gasp of one pushed too far as a peaceful zephyr brings with it the scent of a living world spared yet another calamity. Eyes squint open as the battle worn miko looks toward the lost sphere even as the earth itself reclaims its own. A sigh as she bows her head, hands planted against the ground, shoulders heaving as she tries to find her breath. How long ago had her lungs tasted air, indeed.

They did it, what need is there to press on even further. Surely a respite was earned...

It is the voice that has her looking up, her blood speckled hair clinging to her cheeks as she eyes eyes on the visage of the one they had just defeated. At once, she know something has changed, that it isn't the monster anymore. But after what she's gone through, one can hardly blame her for being slow to accept the truth for what it is.

Zach acts first, wasting no time to draw the deadly weapon from its holster. Is this the final observance of the sacred rite? The threat sealed way... should the host himself be allowed to live? What if some kernel of the maker, some sliver, some echo still dwell within his heart?

Her left hand reaches to reclaim her staff, the priestess using it to pull herself to her feet, the weapon's sturdiness an aid she leans into willingly. Her mouth opens, but without speaking a word she closes it again.

When she tries to speak again, only two words make it to her lips at last.

"Thank you."

COMBATSYS: Ayame has ended the fight here.

The cautious judgment call of the psion is not erroneous. Should Zach permit the young Frenchman to live, what guarantee does he have that the seal won't break and Saiki reclaim his vessel once more? There is certainty in that nothing is certain. Everything works against the freckle-faced fighter. Ash has proven, too many times, to be incapable of containing his ancestor, but without his memories, he never stood a chance.

Now, they have returned. Moments both insignificant and precious.

Will it be enough?

Expending an incredible amount of energy just to lift his fair head, the dull sounds of a firearm being unholstered are abundantly clear. Eyes as blue as the sky focus more directly on his possible executioner than Ayame, comprehension dawning upon Ash as a breathless laugh escapes him. His rueful smile is turned earthbound; to his credit, he doesn't beg or plead. He acknowledges in sadness the futility of convincing either of who he is if they're unaware, and he may not have the opportunity to show them...

It's the weight of Crimson's lonely burden. A price he will be expected to pay.

His heartbeat slows, and the blood at his back begins to congeal collectively around the wound that requires medical attention. Ash's hands are splayed against the ground, with cool grass protruding between each slender finger.

Nothing happens, despite the passing of minutes. He isn't shot, nor are there a words of condemnation. It's puzzling, for certain. An enigma as to why Zach hasn't pulled the trigger and ended it. Ash dares to hope that maybe... his help proved in some ways invaluable, or they recognize him.

But he's not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. The blonde-haired youth isn't ready for death.

With the power of the Yata Mirror again at his disposal, the selfish, lackadaisical flamewielder chooses flight whilst Zach perhaps wrestles inwardly with apprehension and moral hesitation. In Ash's mind, his survival is of the utmost importance. If he were to disappear and the world falls apart, then everything he stepped through the Gate for... had no meaning. It will just happen all over again, but worse.

All Ash Crimson wants... is that life, where he lived beholden to no one, frittering away his days indulging in careless frivolities. It was fun, it was worthwhile...

Ash fades, his outline less clear, his fey frame practically transparent. Zach squanders the moment to act.

During this, Ayame expresses her gratitude for the second time.

He flinches as if struck, ghostly image rippling. Twice? Ash isn't worthy of such things. It's not like he did this for the miko or the monster hunter... Crimson serves his own purpose -- it was all for him. "Thank him," he means Zach, far too exhausted to gesture towards him, "And... Je suis desole."

Zach thumbs the hammer forward as the moment passes. He did not have enough information to justify simply shooting Ash and having done with it. The pistol slides back into its holster as Zach pivots on one foot to walk away.

"Come on," Zach says hoarsely to Ayame. "We still have work to do." He does not acknowledge any thanks. He rarely does when he is on a job. He walks away, slowly at first from the massive injuries he had taken in the exchange, but his pace picks up as his talents start putting him back together again.

Log created on 14:06:31 10/21/2017 by Ash, and last modified on 15:18:05 01/11/2018.