KOF 2017 - Act 3: Mission 1) Justice for All

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Description: Justice waits at Mt. Fuji, ready for the people of Southtown to decide between salvation and nuclear fire. But a familiar face has returned instead. Armed with the Ikari Warriors Leona and Heidern, Sol faces off against Justice once more. But the Gear Commander is a wily opponent, and has learned much from her experiences with Igniz and Sol. Rather than fighting them together, the Gear will divide and conquer, separating and picking off the defenders of humanity one by one, spreading them over the sacred Mountain of Japan... before delivering the coup de grace against the last stand of humanity.

She was waiting here.

Mt. Fuji was locked down before the announcement, before the invasion, from the sheer nuclear apocalypse poured over the most holy site of Japan. Between the warring ninjas, radiation, and hideous creatures roaming on the side of the mountain, it was the most dangerous place to be outside of a Fallout game. But Justice gave her demands: bring her Heiahchi and the Command Gear, and she wouldn't gamma ray Southtown. A simple demand. And if they ignored it, and attempted to pin her down?

What would she do?

The cordon around the mountain is contained by a skeleton crew; with the invasion of the full force of the Gear Army, securing the mountain and Justice was almost an impossible request. Add in the ninja presence, and the barriers and walls and lines and lines of fencing were already broken apart. On this cold day, it was raining; storming. The magic of Raiden's fury was already stretching down to Mt. Fuji. But for now, the morning star of the Gear ARmy was unseen. She was here somewhere. Waiting. Watching.

Preparing for the world's choice of an apocalypse.

Mt. Fuji. The Justice Gear. The nuclear ultimatum, hanging over all of Southtown.

It's a day Commander Heidern of the Ikari Warriors never thought would come... in many ways. The corruption and subversion within the United Nations, the uneasy alliance with one of the world's most-wanted Bount Hunters, bringing him men (and Leona) into what may very well be an unwinnable battle...

...all to buy more time for those carrying on the fight in other locations. All to prevent another nuclear salvo from striking Japan. The man who is willing to throw away his life to prevent innocent deaths doesn't find himself alone today.

His adopted daughter, Leona, perhaps the best soldier under his command... and the skilled, if not entirely righteous, man known as 'Sol Badguy' who had approached his South American HQs with an offer.

Wearing his standard uniform into battle today, the General of the Soldiers of Fortunes wears a grim look on his face - his men have been running recon for days, entering the Mountain through the skeleton crew seemed easy enough...

...it's what waited on the Mountain, that would prove troublesome.

"This is Commander Heidern," he says calmly, speaking into the Codec device looped around looped around his wrist, "If anything happens here, you pull the rest of the men out... immediately. If we don't stop this thing, get back to Headquarters; I've given my orders to Operations and Intelligence. They'll carry on the fight, however they can..."

This is what the moments lead to. The day by day motions of powers that be and the smaller steps of a multitude of agents acting alone or in concert and more often than not at cross-purposes. Leona Heidern is one of those actors. Staring in the face of the Apocalypse with a dour, staid look of sullen discomfort. She was here with her commander, her father, and with the strange man who sought out the Ikaris. She was here to put an end to an apocalypse, to force a draw out of the powers-that-be to keep an unimaginable power out of the hands that seek it.

And yet Leona Heidern wasn't entirely present. Something else was inside of her, something boiling and writhing and clawing just under her skin. The Orochi blood stirs, it cries to be freed from Leona's emotional constraints. It has bubbled to the surface at lesser times than this. Could she keep control of herself when the world around her became her battlefield.

She looks out over the forest. She looks toward her father and commander. She doesn't speak up, doesn't call out to either of them. The time for talking, at least on her part, is past. Now is the focus of the mission. Now is their day of reckoning.

Leona Heidern is Ikari. She will fight for this world.

The cold touch of the morning rain washed down over his face as a lone figure stared up at the towering peak of the great mountain as it looms far in the distance. The water poured down onto him in a relentless tide as the heaven's weeped for the terrible destruction that man had wrought upon the land once again, pouring out a miserable torrent at the great loss that would result from their arrogance - from his arrogance. That coldness soaked into his clothes, running down his back in thin rivers of icy sensation, but he could barely feel the discomfort of such mundane concerns over the weight of responsibility that sat heavily upon his shoulders.

Sol Badguy had stood alone for so long that it felt strange to be in the company of others. Even the cold professionalism of the Ikari Warriors contained within it a sense of life and comaraderie that he found entirely alien, unable to shake off the lingering traces of doubt that these simple mercenaries would somehow betray him too. It was a sentiment born out of nearly a hundreds years of waging a war against an enemy that could be anyone and anywhere. He had been forced to adapt and learn in order to survive and trust was a luxury that he did not have.

Unfortunately, trust was the only weapon he had left that wouldn't cause just as much harm as Justice herself.

The fated hour had come and gone, Sol and his chosen allies for this terrible showdown cutting across the hellish landscape of fleeing civilians and embattled soldiers within the belly of a dark black helicopter. It was a little too obvious a target for his tastes but their only other option was to use the roads and that was simply out of the question if they wanted to actually arrive at the mountain /before/ the world imploded. While he normally didn't put a lot of stock in manners or punctuality, today was an exception in many regards, this being one of them.

The driving rain made it difficult to see through the small windows of the armored transport but the slowly growing mass of grey in the viewport stood out clearly enough to tell that they were approaching their target. With a grunt, Sol yanked on the release for the door at the side of the chopper, sliding it open to get a better view. Cold wind and fresh rain assaulted him immediately but he seemed unbothered by either as she hung himself halfway out the wide opening to peer ahead of them in the gloom.

"Here I go again... sticking my neck out for free. I must be getting sentimental."

The scanners on the helicopter pick up on her location.

Through the trees and the rain, visibility was terrible. But modern technology did not rely on simple concepts like optics. The infrared and heat scanners are able to pick up the singular upon the snowline of the mountain, amongst the trees. The Metal Gear. The Command Gear of the UN's army. And above all, the nuclear artillery that threatens Southtown. She was standing fast, her towering frame a mere... still figurine. She was staying put, head tilted, arm crossed, unmoving. She was waiting for them to come closer. Closer.

And the thermal signature -spikes-

Beta rays bombard the surrounding environment as the thermal signature whites out, the radiation and heat eruption beyond the sensors. The surge holds, holds far too long as the warning comes. The beta radiation falls to gamma waves as neutrinos begin to rip through the surrounding plant life. Now, in the storm, she was alight, her frame outlined against the mountain. She had not moved. She could see them.

And she strikes out.

The nuclear energy rips out of her shoulders, firing into the air. The ray sweeps the air, above the helicopter, trading precision for power as it unleashes a spray of nuclear explosions across the sky. The airbursts come with rattling, disrupting explosions. pressured blasts rips across the air, akin to a ship in a storm. Justice was clearly striking out to bring the helicopter down, forcing to the ground. But as the blasts die down, as the signature collapses, the question remains.

Why not target the helicopter itself?

Throughout the journey - in fact, throughout their entire time in Japan - Heidern has been keeping one good eye (oh kill me nowwww) on his adopted daughter Leona. She'd told him about the bizarre man, speaking of her blood... the Orochi Power, rising to the surface in the light of recent events. As much as he hates to have to keep an eye on the situation with Justice and maintain focus on the changes Leona is undergoing...

...he can think of nobody more capable of standing shoulder-to-shoulder beside him in battle against this monstrous Gear. Even as he stares out the open door of the lengthy Ikari cargo helicopter upon Mt. Fuji in the distance, he shoots the occasional glance over to Leona. Finally, he offers her a stern nod, and takes a step towards her - keeping a hand on the grips above the chopper's seats as he moves.

In a rare show of familial affection, one gloved hand reaches out and clasps her shoulder. His good eye, staring directly at the woman he spent so many years of his life raising. Perhaps the same girl who gave him his only sense of purpose in the months and years following the death of his family.

"Good luck out there, Leona. Stay close, if you can. We can't let this thing split us up, we /need/," he says, aiming that last word at the solitary bounty hunter Sol Badguy, "to work together."

And now, here, he might lose her, too. He might lose everything he'd spent years re-building within the Ikari Warriors. When faced with a choice between dying for what's right and allowing monstrous acts to go unopposed... Heidern knew he could never walk away, ignore Justice, even contract with the United Nations, and look himself in the mirror ever again.

His olive drab trenchcoat billows in the whipping wind that flies into the helicopter, and he turns away from his daughter and begins to face out the open chopper door yet again. If he's concerned, he doesn't show it - his jaw set, rigid... eyes, like cold steel, face impassive and expressionless.

Everything... has led up to this moment. And the fate of countless lives hang in the balance. They CANNOT lose.

A monocular raised to his eye brings the Justice Gear into greater detail - backlit against the storm... a moment before the blast lashes outwards, he spots something - his head snapping to the Helicopter's pilot with a stern shout of, "Pull up!"

It's too late, the energy wave has already struck the vehicle, disrupting the rotors and rattling the vehicle in the air. He grits his teeth firmly as the Helicopter begins it's uncontrolled descent towards the mountain - gripping onto a bar to steady himself as the vehicle begins to sputter and spin out.

"Brace yourselves..." he hisses back to Leona and Sol. /This/ is going to be a rough landing.

Light. The air charging. The moment coming. Blood will spill. And Leona, still eyed and calm surfaces hide the tempest underneath. She stared outward at that light. Her hand played at the hem of her glove. Pulling tight, releasing, pulling tight, releasing, a steady pattern to keep herself focused. Subtle motions, repetitive, controlled.

Her attention is taken when Heidern's hand hits her shoulder. Her eyes pop for a split second, surprise, and she looks to the man who raised her. "No sir!" she calls out. "We move as one." Her attention follows the conversation toward Sol Badguy. She looks at him face an expressionless mask, but she nods once. A soldier's understanding. She has her father. They have assistance from a man like Sol Badguy. This is possible. They will not lose each other here.

And then Hell breaks loose. The blast of energy tearing through the sky, crossing the nose of the helicopter, threatening nearly everything that Leona holds close in the world. All of it struck at, but not down, in an instant.

This was their opponent. The thing that wishes to pull apart the world. This thing truly was a weapon. One that could have destroyed them, but didn't. This was no act of mercy that Leona could tell. No. This was an act of deliberate malice. It wanted them down for itself. And for Leona Heidern, the only solution she knew of was to sally forth. The mission would not wait if it were so eager to bring them to it.

Her hands reach for the holds. She lurches with the force. She looks toward Heidern and nods. Misson start.

"Save the speeches," the bounty hunter grumbled. He didn't bother to look back at Heidern or Leona, his gaze fixed on the stormy sky ahead of them and faint smile cracked his stony mask of grim determination as it settled upon their prey. "I know why we're here. And, by the looks of it, so does she."

The first wave of terrible energy thundered around the helicopter as if coaxed into life by Sol's words. The craft rocked like a cork in the ocean surf, tossing the occupants about as klaxons and warning lights sounded their clarion calls. Already hanging on to the railing, he barely managed to avoid being thrown free from the doorway, muscles flexing beneath taut skin as his one-handed grip is tested against the might of the wind and momentum.

With a grunt of effort, the man slowly pulled himself back into the opening, planting his boots on the hard lip of its interior floor. He held fast there for a few seconds as the pilots fought to regain control of their damaged equipment, glancing around to see if anyone had been less fortunate.

"Everyone still alive in here?"

The second wave of explosions hits before he can receive an answer, the blasts rattling several panels completely off their mountings as the craft bucks and pitches in the turbulent blasts. Once more the gruff merc finds himself hanging on as best he can but the suddeness and ferocity of the attack proves to be too much and Sol simply disappears into the gloom of the heavy rain leaving behind an empty doorway.

Justice begin to move.

It comes as a twitch, and then, a roar. The trees around the mountainside are knocked over like matchsticks as the Command Gear surges, closing the distance. She was keeping low, between the trees and the ground, though her incredible speed betrays her position. A sonic boom erupts over, as she passed under the helicoptor. And then, the answer to the question comes. Why did she not target the helicoptor?

So she could hit it clearly.

If Sol was still in the helicoptor, he might have had enough time to warn them. He had seen this attack before. Justice, jetting underneath the helicoptor, almost too smoothly lifts her hands up. A shimmering ball of energy, condensed by the incredible gravitational forces, lands through the open door of the helicoptor, and fixes itself in the floor of the aircraft. Instincts would surge over. There would only be a few scant seconds.

Before the nuclear explosion comes, to rip the helicoptor apart.

Jack-O' says, "They'll sell it like card games then"

"We just need another minute of flight and we'..." his reponse to Sol is cut off by the second blast, Heidern reaching out one arm as Sol is launched out of the open-door fo the vehicle. The Ikari is too late, and he watches the man's figure receed into the storm...

...they're already being picked off. He doesn't say it, but one quick flash of his good eye at Leona should tell her everything that she needs to know without words - they might not be coming out of this alive. There's a pause as he considers saying some small goodbye... but it does no good to admit defeat now, so early.

And there has never been a need for too many words between the man and his adopted Daughter. No purpose in starting now.

Together, they still have a chance. He believes this, even as the vehicle spins, the ground rushing up in the front window to meet the Helicopter...

It doesn't land intact, Justice's upwards energy blast tearing the vehicle asunder in an explosion that lights up the sky, fuel igniting, rotors spinning off towards the ground seperate of the wrecked remains of the vehicle.

When the Helicopter crashes... when the smoke clears... the ground is aflame, and Commander Heidern... is nowhere to be seen.

Have the Ikaris lost their CO before the battle has even begun? What hope do they have now? It may all rest upon the shoulders of his adopted daughter, Leona...

And the world fades to light. No more than a moment to speak with her father. They have a rapport built without smalltalk, but there is still something to be said about emotional moments put to words. There is none of that now. The aircraft is sundered. The energy has split the very world they were riding on.

Into the air, tumbling tumbling tumbling down. At the treeline, against branches, against brush, grabbing and scrabbling for anything. The ground an unwelcome relief from the sudden sensation of falling. Bruised, battered, but alive, Leona lifts her head before the rest of her. She looks around, takes stock of her surroundings before she pulls herself to her feet.

She reaches for her comms device. Nothing. Damaged in the fall or in the electrical burst released by the blast. She looks around. No one. Above, the lingering afterimage in her mind sees where a helicopter should be, but isn't. A look around reveals no one. Leona is alone.

The itch. The itching in her blood brings a red to her eye before it's bitten back down. Images flashing in her head. Wandering alone through the jungles of Brazil. Blood. Alone. The forest. She digs her fingertips into the palm of her hand, protected only by the gloves she wears. And she pushes onward. She still has her mission to complete. Focus on the task at hand. Find Justice, and seek justice.

"Humans... are incredible creatures."

That is the answer to the wake of the destruction. A distorted, mechanized voice, rising harshly over the remains of the helicopter. "When I was born, I once believed I was the strongest creature in existence. How foolish I was to discount the mortal spirit of humans. I've been humbled once. I will be humbled again, thanks to the incredible human spirit. I ordered you all to bring me the Command Gear, and I would spare you. And now, with the threat of nuclear obleteration... you still come to fight me?" The words circle around, coming from unseen depths of the mountainside... and even overhead, at some points.

There is still no one in sight.

There is a rustling through the woods, a cracking of tree trunks. Just below the speed of sound. She was moving sub-sonically. Circling. Kiting. Was this how it would end? Another nuclear attack? Another? Another? Another? Until finally, Leona would be buried in a nuclear pile, an unmarked grave with the others? "I've culled the weak, I've divided the strong. And you, woman, have emerged from the remains. A lone soldier... for now. I wanted to see Southtown's strongest. I wanted to face the world's strongest. I wanted to have a war, where I stand in the front lines, and battle the strong, instead of pick them off with endless, nuclear barrages. I do not want to be an objective, I do not want to be a target to dispatch. I want to be a soldier, a warrior."

"And I want to fight you, human girl."

And the shape of Justice emerges in the clearing, in a blink of an eye.

The creature stands 7 feet tall, clad in blue-clad ceremic-like plate armor. Great jets sit upon her shoulders as pauldrons. Her helmet, her head, was a draconic shape, with a long nose and jagged appearance, where yellow eyes peer out. A shock of red hair boils from the back of the helmet, reaching to her long, armored tail, coiling and snapping. Claws end at her feet and hands, dangling loosely as she looks across at Leona. She crosses her arms, stopping dead in her flight, as she slowly lowers to the ground. "Come and face your destroyer, human."

"Let me see your impossible resolve."

COMBATSYS: Justice has started a fight here.

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Justice          0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Leona has joined the fight here.

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Justice          0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Leona

A crash. A nuke would wipe them all out. Leona knows that. And yet, nothing comes. The nuclear destruction of herself and the world around her didn't happen. Instead, she's challenged. A voice calling out to her from the Gear she's meant to fight. A challenge between warriors, soldiers. And so she stands as one. Watching to see the appearance of the being that flies into her vision. She nods and slips herself into a combat stance.

"Intel was that you were made to be a weapon. We were sent to destroy one," she says. Her feet planted, her arms checking. She moves up quickly, slipping one way, feinting another, moving with quick agile cross steps toward the behemoth. "I'm glad to meet a warrior instead." She twists and lunges, a quick strike, open hand, a sharp jab to test the areas of the armor that have joint. A strike aimed for the space in the plates under her arm. Focused and direct.

COMBATSYS: Justice instinctively dodges Leona's Jab Punch.

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Justice          0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Leona

The space between.

Chemicals rush through Justice as Leona takes the offer. A warrior instead. The Joy that fills her was sinful. As the Ikari Warrior moves in swiftly, twisting and lunging, the Command Gear uncrosses her arms. Her armor was as much needed to keep her power contained within, as well as to stave off attacks outside. As Leona moves in, she reacts purely on an instinctual level, the dopamines flooding her system. The narrow strike comes.

And she slips around.

The speed that Justice moves was impossibly fast. For Justice, it was a smooth, as she steps around Leona. Her hands begin to ignite with nuclear energy, a beam of pure energy building at her finger tips. It comes in at point black, as the clawed hands explode forward with the piercing swords of natural energy, a nuclear catalyst coming to form pure power in pinpoint precision. She was using the lasers in close quarters to cleave into Leona, to drive her back.

Hungrily consuming the thrill of the fight every second.

COMBATSYS: Leona endures Justice's Michael Sword.

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Justice          0/-------/-----==|====---\-------\0            Leona

This thing was too quick by far. The beam cut out. A sword of energy. Images reflect in Leona's mind. Her own arm at times. It's something familiar to her. And still, the speed that it moves at, it becomes something far more familiar in a moment.

She cries out, seething at the heat of the slash. She must fight on, she must press on through the seering pain and take the fight to the Gear. To hold it back, to give it a fight long enough that Heidern and Sol may come to put it the rest of the way.

And so she endures. She pushes through and past the pain. She reaches for the machine warrior's arm. Her opposite one lighting with it's own sharpened energy. A quick knife-hand to the plated chest of Justice. A shouting cry as she cuts with explosive energy.

COMBATSYS: Leona successfully hits Justice with Leona Crash EX.

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Justice          0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0            Leona

Speed without agility, as would become obvious soon.

Every motion comes with incredible power behind it; the close-ranged tearing was simply an opportunity. Leona was facing a nuclear apocolypse on two legs. And yet, in these close quarters, the yellow eyes of the Command Gear widen as Leona -forces- herself through the attack, rather than yield. In close quarters, it becomes obvious that all that power was directed forward; there was no way back. She struggles, attempting to hurl herself backwards as she reaches for the palm. She almost just manages to wrap her claws around Leona... as the knife-hand penetrates. The cut itself wasn't the true heart of the damage, however; it was the explosion. With the blast under her armor, the plate rips free. Blue blood oozes out from her pale, soft flesh, as beta radiation floods from the hole. Justice staggers back She gives out an alien hiss, as she grips her claw to the ripped open wound. Pain, such pain, her power leaking through. She grips it.

"... Impressive."

Justice's words are sincere. "So incredible; the spirit, the incredible spirit!" Justice throws back her head, her mane sweeping. The jets on her shoulders begin to grow alight. And she moves forward. Her tail spirals behind her as she accelerates. Charging straight for Leona, she blazes forward, charging straight at Leona. Should she connect, she would simply... barrel through Leona, carrying her along as she charges forward. It might not be of any note... until the rings of air pulse around them, the sonic boom finally catching up to their action. She would carry Leona, if she connects, a quarter mile before crashing.

The true speed of the command gear coming to bear.

COMBATSYS: Leona blocks Justice's Saperia Trance.

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Justice          0/-------/---====|=======\-------\0            Leona

Force. A lot of force and pressure, but it can be maneuvered around. And Justice can be damaged. It was an opening, and one that brought a small beacon of hope that what she was doing wasn't entirely in vain. But still. Despite the compliments, this a fight. Leona's attention is direct, focused and forward. She waits for the next attack.

It comes, full force, directed at her. She shoulders, turns her knees out, waits for the last moment before the bulk of Justice rushes at her like a bat of out hell. The blow is clean, Leona can't hope to simply dodge, but she can handle the hit. She rolls, knees tucking, tumbling over Justice's shoulder and back. It's not a clean hit, not a grab, and Leona can land behind the creature. Down in a crouch, her arms crossed in front of her.

"I'm nothing special, just a soldier," she responds. Chi flairs up in front of her. A sphere of bladed air cutting and slashing in a ball of energetic destruction meant to hold up Justice just a little longer.

COMBATSYS: Justice blocks Leona's Voltaic Launcher.

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Justice          0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\0            Leona

Just a soldier.

Justice thrills in the fight. To rip, and tear, and crush, and dominate. She was crafted for war, to fight and defend the people. And now? She was nuclear artillery, firing off shots. She wasn't even allowed to take care of her army; they learned oh so quickly how careful she was to use them. She wanted this fight. She knew that it would damn the whole operation. But she wanted it more than anything. Of course, she couldn't eschew all tactical merit. That's why she had to divide, and conquer. Together, they would overwhelm her. Singularly?

She would overwhelm them.

"I was made to fight," Justice begins, releasing Leona, stopping the relentless charge. "The most dangerous creatures beyond this realm. And now, I am used to frighten and destroy the citizens of a country. I was not told to give Southtown an opportunity. I was not told to have my sisters unleashed upon Japan. I was told to blast away Southtown. Tell me, soldier." As the sphere comes, she deflects her, smashing it with her clawed arm. For that purpose, the explosion comes in full bear, rattling her armor... and the exposed hole. The blue fluid leaks out harder. The combination of the blast and the bleeding slows her down, suppressing her speed. Drawing back her leg, she lunges in with her clawed foot, attempting to smash it straight into the center of Leona's sternum.

"When would you allow your superiors to tell you to murder civilians?"

COMBATSYS: Leona endures Justice's Strong Kick.

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Justice          0/-------/=======|=======\======-\1            Leona

Divided, perhaps, but not conquered. Leona knows that should she fall here, there will be other Ikari. She hadn't wanted a fight, but she knew she had to fight it. It was her place to fight for the others. To help them. To turn away Justice and to keep the Japan and the world from plunging into darkness and fire.

However, she was only one woman. A singular warrior against an incredible threat. She wouldn't walk away from here on her own power, but she would go down with the fight.

The force of the kick drives Leona through the air, she cracks against a tree, falling to the ground with a wet thump. She coughs and hoists herself back up. She looks down at her hand, at a speckling of blood come up from the force of the blow. She coughs and picks herself up. And she can feel the itch rising in her. It wants to get out and tear and rip and laugh at the blood both hers and everyone in Japan's. The blood inside her screams for a nuclear annihilation.

But the blood doesn't come. Instead, the words from the weapon do. And the anger drains from her body. She resumes her stance, ready to make a final charge. "I was made for fighting. And I was made to kill everything I ever knew. But no more. I learned I can hold myself to something better. I'm not a weapon. I am an Ikari Warrior!" She leans back, crouching. Her arm sheathes itself in a relentless blade of burning chi. "I will never allow anyone to order me to kill civilians again! And I've found a superior who I know will never order that! Because I trust him is why I follow him. I have determined to be more than just a weapon."

With that, she launches herself forward with renewed force. Her arm cuts and slashes, back and forth, a torrent of sparking energy and bladed hands. A last ditch furious assault on the nuclear being. No. On the warrior.

COMBATSYS: Justice endures Leona's Slash Saber EX!

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Justice          1/----===/=======|==-----\-------\0            Leona

A skeleton shattering kick comes into Leona.

Justice would bring darkness, and fire. She loathed it. But it must be. She must bring her righteous fire to the deserving. And a soldier deserves her brutality. And yet, as Leona rises again, Justice was already over her, the speed returning. She pauses, letting Leona speak. Not a soldier. But an Ikari Warrior. The words run through her, as Leona gives her final stand. A brutal assault, a desperate assault.

An effective one.

The chi-infused slices are deflected by both the armor and the speed of the Gear. But as the cuts come and come, the relentless barrage breaks down the defenses of Justice. As the armor gains another plate ripped from it, the attempts at defense stop cold. Justice, in point blank combat, hurls herself into Leona, digging her feet steadfast. Blue fluid boils from her form, as the pale flesh shows more and more in the chinks and torn apart wounds of the armor. Justice groans in true agony, before it turns into a feral scream.

And her tail slips around.

Moving at break-neck pace, it slips forward, perhensile and precise. "An Ikari Warrior." She says softly. The tail comes, attempting to seize around the neck of the woman, to wrap around her, to entwine and bind her. To crush her in it's powerful grasp. To trap her, and slam her to the ground into a pin. And all, with the careful voice of the Command Gear.

"Where is your superior now? Hiding away from the battlefield?"

COMBATSYS: Leona full-parries Justice's Tail Slam!!

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Justice          1/----===/=======|====---\-------\0            Leona

Wounded, a warrior can still fight. The soldier can sally forth. The damage has been done, but Leona knows she needs to move onward. To stay standing. To keep the fight going just a moment longer. Her attacks relentless, the plating stripping away. She's breaking her fellow warrior down bit by bit. The Orochi within her cries out for blood, but must live for the thrill of battle. Leona feels the edge, she can feel the blood, but now with so much on the line, she's finding herself facing something of a kindred spirit. And in that. She can find patience and focus.

Focus that comes at the perfect time. She's hurt something that doesn't understand what it means to feel pain and that scream Justice lets out excites Leona. The blood within her lusting for more agony, and the assassin within her knowing that she's one step closer to her goal.

The tail comes around, swinging and smashing, but maybe Justice is, in that one moment, caught up in her feeling. Leona finds the break in the assault. She twists and moves serpentine, dodging about the giant woman and slipping close in on her with a deftly place hand and foot. Down low, within Justice's reach, Leona's hand remains a deadly blade. "He is here. You will know the name Heidern!" she calls out when she takes the close in slash at the cracks in the creature's plating.

COMBATSYS: Justice blocks Leona's Moon Slasher EX.

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Justice          1/---====/=======|====---\-------\0            Leona

She was not done yet.

Leona's sudden surge comes at the moment of weakness. Caught close quarters, with a writhing tail, Leona slips around that tail. There was a passion to it, a bridled passion that was only just breaking free now. The knife hands lash out again, and with more and more naked portions in her armor, there were more and more weakspots to exploit. But the Gear was not slowing down. Another slash comes, and Justice deflects, her armor becoming more and more cracked in the process. And yet, she can only respond.


She repeats the name. Heidern. "He was on the helicoptor?" Justice repeats as she lunges down. Forcing low in tandem with Leona, she nearly crawls over her as the full force and weight bears down. "Or is he giving orders elsewhere in the mountain. Where is he!?" She was hungry to know. She lashes out, to seize Leona by her neck, by her throat. And should she get a grip?

Justice would squeeze, as she brought her to eye level.

COMBATSYS: Justice successfully hits Leona with Medium Throw.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///                           ]
Justice          1/--=====/=======|=======\=------\1            Leona

Caught by the throat. The breath is fading from Leona's lungs. She doesn't have much left. Her head leans back, she sucks in what little air that she can. Still, she looks toward Justice. She feels a certain sense of pride in what's happened here. She's made the weapon think. And in doing so settled the angry little thought she's had in her mind ever since she left the Ikari base after being briefed by Sol. Leona Heidern knows what it means to be made as a weapon. To feel the pull toward violence and bloodshed.

"He will come for me," Leona tells Justice, and in that moment, she smiles. A genuine, satisfied smile while she moves with what little energy she has left. Light is fading, but there's enough for one last trick this close to the machine warrior.

Explosives. Leona unclips one of the bombs from her belt with her weakened, dangling hand and slips it toward the crack in Justice's check plating. If only she can manage one more bit of pain and signal to her father where the fight, and she, is.

COMBATSYS: Leona can no longer fight.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Justice          1/--=====/=======|

COMBATSYS: Justice instinctively blocks Leona's Revolver Spark.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Justice          1/-======/=======|

Sometimes, the simplest things were the most effective.

Past the nuclear barrage, the incredible speed, the deft tail, Justice's most direct technique was to hold Leona, and squeeze. She could see that pride, she could taste it. But in the Gear's heart, the arrogance comes. Dominating the strong. Leona had proven herself strong.

And more so, defiant.

The reflex comes instantly. Bringing an arm before her eyes, the blast erupts around them both, a flash of an explosion. Another shard of armor comes off. But Justice, arms shuddering, draws in a heavy breath. "Is that all you have left?"

And she squeezes the woman's neck harder.

Justice had been beaten heavily, her armor already been ripped through more so. And yet, was this the strongest that had to be offered? She wanted more. Raising her high up, she glares into her. "Come for you? I'm not done yet. I want more. I want more of that incredible power!" The grip begins to tighten, the pressure building. She was threatening to pop her head off. And a peel of laughter comes from within, a tone of arrogance.

"Who can come for you now?"

COMBATSYS: Justice awaits the next challenger.

[        \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Justice          1/=======/=======|

The energy blast comes arcing up towards the Helicopter - and by all appearances, Heidern is still on-board the vehicle when it is torn to pieces by Justice's vicious assault... but just barely. He'd stayed aboard longer than his daughter, in order to grab hold of the Helicopter pilot and carry him out of the vehicle prior to it's destruction. Hurtling through the air and clutching the Ikari pilot as he tumbles, Heidern landed further away from the Gear than his daughter Leona - the idea of her being split off to face the Gear alone drives him to his feet...

A quick two-fingered check on the pilot's neck indicates that he's still breathing, the Ikari CO immediately raising his wrist-mounted Codec to his mouth. He begins to speak into it, but... somehow, the first shockwave that Justice unleashed upon the Helicopter ruined the electronic components of the man's communication device. He won't be able to call in medical aid for the pilot, suffering on the ground and bleeding out slowly.

Heidern has seen this before. Without immediate attention, the man will be dead... and it will be a long, painful time coming. It may already be too late, he notes, as he looks at the black blood stains around the man's midsection, the pilot's missing foot, his burned face...

"Damnit..." he mutters to himself, one gloved hand reaching out to cover the wheezing pilot's mouth... a gift of mercy for the man who cannot possibly be reached by medical units in time. Sparing him a lengty, agonizing death, Commander Heidern suffocates one of his own soldiers - he would do anything, even damn himself, to spare his men unnecessary suffering. It does no good to leave a brave soldier, a man who volunteered to pilot this Helicopter mission, to die bleeding on the side of Mt. Fuji, alone.

He deserves, at least, Heidern's personal touch. And the one-eyed mercenary gives it, with a steely glare, his remaining eye hardering, teeth clenching together as the man's life finally leaves his body. He removes the glove from over his mouth, then looks to the distance. The sounds of battle.

"Leona," comes the one-word whisper from between Heidern's lips, and he stands up from his crouching position over the fallen pilot's body. A stiff salute is offered to the corpse, and the only words that the Ikari CO can give to a man who served so bravely, even when he could have refused the voluntary mission:

"You did me proud, soldier."

And with that, he's off dashing towards the ringing sounds of conflict in the far distance - his long strides carry him across the mountain quickly, olive-drab trenchcoat whipping in the wind behind him as he runs full-speed. He hopes he's not too late... every soldier he loses, takes away another piece of the Legendary Mercenary... how much left of him is there to lose? He can't watch his daughter die today. He won't.

Justice holds Leona by the neck, squeezing tightly, the fight already gone from the blue-haired Ikaris body by the time Commander Heidern finally reaches visual distance of the pair. That one eye narrows in anger, his jaw grinding together, fingers curling in his gloves... but he doesn't slow down.

The Gear might be able to hear the quick stride of the Ikari General as he approaches - despite the fact that the man's stealthy approach makes but a fraction of the noise one might expect given his speed. Rushing up behind Justice, he leaps into the air while still out of the machine's massive reach - performing a front-flip over the living weapon, a cursory glance at Leona as he sails over the pair confirms...

She's still alive. It's not too late. But where... where is Sol?!

Regardless, as he passes overhead, an 'x'-shaped projectile of blue-chi is launched by two arms as they come up in a 'cross' pattern. The projectile aims to strike Justice, mere inches away from his grip on Leona's neck. Enough, hopefully, to get him to drop his adopted daughter to the ground...

"Her father," comes the two word response to Justice's question, as the man himself lands in a crouch several feet in FRONT of Justice. A voice, calm and low - but with steel underneath the cool tone that betrays a man consumed by determination. Driven by a cause. Unwilling to quit.

His analytical, one-eyed gaze runs up and down the Gear's frame, looking for points of weakness, any sign of considerable damage done... there are plenty of signs of Leona's efforts, but Justice still seems to be displaying no overt points of weakness. The design, impeccable. The execution of construction, flawless.

Can it even be stopped? Is it possible?


Straightening his back, Commander Heidern looks across the distance at the Gear - face impassive, expressionless... he's a man here to do a job. He's faced death before. It never did frighten him, not after he lost his family to Rugal Bernstein... the only family he has left, defeated at the hands of the Justice Gear, but still clinging to life.

He has to protect her. He won't lose everything again.

"This ends today, 'Justice'. You think you're a fighter? /Soldiers/ fight battles, /soldiers/ wage wars, /soldiers/ give their lives for a cause. You're no soldier; just a mindless /weapon/. The Ikaris have fought monsters before; Rugal Bernstein took us to hell already... there's NOTHING you can do to push us any deeper."

COMBATSYS: Heidern has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Heidern          0/-------/-------|=======\=======\1          Justice


The cross of energy smashes into Justice's arm, knocking Leona free from her vice grip. The Ikari Warrior was live, at least for the moment. She hisses, gripping her wrist as the command gear turns, locking eyes across at the one-eyed man who had interrupted. Growling aloud, she switches her tail, as she lowers down, to get more on the eye level

This was Heidern.

For a moment, Justice was thrilled. A commander versus a commander, facing on the battlefield. Heidern's analysis was not far off; Leona's assault had exposed more and more holes in the armor. She was ready to greet her opponent, she was ready to face the next warrior.

But this wasn't a soldier she was facing, she realized.

This was a commander.

"...A mindless weapon?"


She opens her eyes, as the sensation of drowning fills her.

She was in a vat full of liquid. Liquid oxygen. Why is that the first thing that comes to her mind? She forces herself to breath. Her lungs hurt, everything hurt, and terror was filling her. But she could control the fear, she understood. She could see... a scientist peering in at her. A scientist? Why would she know this?

"She's not sapient, is she?" The figure says. She stares back, and she tilts her head. She remembered... she remembered falling asleep. She remembered waking up- She reaches out, her motions so... heavy, so slow. She touches on the glass. And the figure lurches back, in disgust.

"Jesus christ, this one can understand us too."


Anger spreads over Justice. She expected so much from Humanity. It was strange, to be not only crafted to be superior to nearly al of humanity... but to be looked down upon. Over, and over, and over again, by the so called superiors. Her own general, he- he was going to put her down? Her sisters, sent out to lead their kin to die in a war? She wanted respect, no, she demanded it. She was the absolute peak of performance and creation. And to face a commander and be told... that she was not an equal?

"You question... what I am?"

And she throws back her head, unleashing the feral scream. The howl echoes over the whole of the mountainside. Rage, undying rage, raining like the heavy pellets descending around them. Her body ignites, as atomic energy begins to flow through her.

"How dare you. HOW DARE YOU!"


"Dispose of her like the others."

She stares, paralyzed. The fluid dances around her, as the scientist argues with someone out of the corner of her vision.

"They are weapons. And what happens when a weapon thinks? That man doesn't seem to understand what it means for these things to 'think.'" The scientist thrusts a finger at her. She shuts her eyes. "They think, they revolt, and then they wipe out humanity. Every single outcome with an independent, thinking Command Gear results in that scenario, whether we use an existing human to modify, or this thing."

There is a watered down sound, of a familiar voice.

"... What do you mean, rewrite her mind?"


Justice drives her claws into the earth. Her jets open, the vents erupting. Her exposed skin, the pale, exposed pieces of her body, begins to twist and boil. Radiation floods the surrounding area, as she begins the nuclear chain reaction within. Her eyes burn red, as she stares in a white-hot fury into Heidern.

"Initializing nuclear launch sequence..."

COMBATSYS: Justice charges her next attack!

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Heidern          0/-------/-------|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

Even if Commander Heidern knew of the true origins of the Justice Gear - the intel being remarkably scant on the subject - he still would likely not be inclined to show any mercy to the walking nuclear arsenal... it's done too much damage, caused too many innocents to suffer, upset the balance of power to such a degree... if there once was anything remotely resembling a soul in that machine, it's long gone. And with it, any hopes of redemption. Whatever it may have once been, Justice is now nothing more than a weapon, perhaps the most destructive creation the world has seen in his time.

It needs to be put down. And perhaps, even that final act would be a mercy to whatever 'mind' rests inside the 7' tall frame. The Ikari CO knows something of what it's like to be used as an unthinking weapon - when he finally realized the path his life had been taking, it was a crushing blow. To spare this Gear that realization...

...but this isn't about mercy. It's about justice, for the nuclear assault. It's about stability for the globe. It's about setting things right, no doubt not for the LAST time in the old soldier's life... but then, it might very well be. The Gear seems to have gone through his best soldier, his daughter Leona, without any major weaknesses being exposed...

Raising one hand up in front of his body, Heidern calmly tugs down on the end of the gloves covering his right hand, then makes the same motion to tighten the left...

If he's got an ounce of concern for his own safety, he's not showing it - though a quick glance at Leona's fallen body might reveal that he's not entirely without feeling... there is a time for emotion, however, and it is certainly not here. Love may bloom on the battlefield, but it is no place for regret. No place for 'what ifs'.

The loud, savage scream that follows causes Heidern to dig his boots into the dirt and grit his teeth in response - the noise pounding away at his eardrums, though he makes no effort to cover his ears in light of the sonic assault. He has no answer for the Gear's question; he's spent no time pondering the morality of the creature, why it does what it does... all he knows is - it must be stopped. Here. Now.

Almost imperceptibly, his remaining eye glances around the summit for any sign of the missing Bounty Hunter, lost out the open door of the Helicopter after the second EMP shockwave disabled the vehicle... if the man is lost, if he doesn't arrive... can Heidern stop the walking weapon alone?

A quick spin, and the long, olive-coloured trenchcoat slides off of the Ikari CO - fluttering up into the air, where it's picked up immediately by the gusting wind as it goes sailing into the distance. One gloved hand raises up, and pulls his beret down further over his thick, black hair.

His remaining eye opens wide at the mention of a pending nuclear launch. "No," he mutters to himself, under his breath, likely inaudible to the Gear - as if answering some esoteric question he had in his own mind...

And then, he's bringing up both his uniformed arms into another cross-pattern - blue chi rippling up and off of them. An 'x' of blue energy flies through the air towards the Gear, aiming to disrupt the chain reaction taking place throughout it's entire body...

...and behind the projectile, the long, leaping stride of Commander Heidern carries him across the ruined earth, towards the machine itself.

COMBATSYS: Justice endures Heidern's Cross Cutter!

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Heidern          0/-------/------=|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

He had one shot.

Justice stands fast, charging up her attack, as she prepares the pure nuclear fury. Time was limited. Heidern alone now. The fate of the world could very well be in his gloved hands. And the Commander Gear was pour all her disgust and rage to the world into this man. Why it does anything...

It was still simply an obstacle to be destroyed.

The opening comes, and Heidern unleashes the expert techniques that Leona demonstated earlier; only with more experience against the incredible talent. Justice could see that this commander was just as dangerous as Leona. And the cross cutter sheaves off more layers of the armor, as Justice struggles to keep her grip. A solar flare erupts from underneath the plate, the energy reaction quickly risking meltdown as it goes wild. But Justice, head lowered, manages to let out a strained call.

"Launch angle set.?"

The whole form of Justice relaxes. The energy reaction was complete. There was a ringing in the ears, a sense of absolution as the command gear stares into the commander of the Ikari Warrior. She would learn the truth of the commanders soon enough. But for now, she was angry. She was hurt. And she finally had an outlet for the rage and contempt. "Goodbye Heidern." she growls, as she finally fires. And the second nuclear blast comes to Mt. Fuji.

UNleashing the pure, nuclear wrath directly into Heidern.

Justice stands fast, as the pure nuclear assault pours directly into Heidern's position. The gamma ray scours the surface of the mountain, as the raw gamma ray unleashes. The nuclear reaction pours in, as Justice's body shudders, the pure energy overwhelming her. Finally, the beam ends with a cataclysmic explosion, as a blast cloud once again rises on Mt. Fuji. As Justice releases her grip from the earth, she exhales. There was only desolation now; the trees, the forest was gone.

But what happened to Heidern...?

COMBATSYS: Heidern dodges Justice's Empowered Overdrive Gamma Ray+.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Heidern          0/-------/------=|>>>>>--\-------\0          Justice

If there's one thing Commander Heidern has learned in his decades spent rubbing his nose in bloody battlefield dirt, all for revenge, it's that immense power can make the individual who wields it arrogant, unthinking, even... casual, in the face of a legitimate threat.

He was like that once, believing himself so great a soldier that he truly thought he would be able to protect not just his unit, not just his family, but the entire Ikari Warriors. Those beliefs were proven to be delusion in 1994, when a man with power previously unseen struck the Ikaris in a surprise assault that severed the leadership completely, left Heidern's family dead, and the man himself missing an eye.

With half his vision remaining, he could finally see clearly - power is nothing without determination and a sense of purpose to back it up. The most potent weapon imaginable, left in the hands of a fool, is nothing compared to a simple combat knife held by a man who knows how to use it... and believes in the righteousness of his mission.

Heidern believes he is doing what is right, even with the men he's lost along the way - volunteers all, but it makes the sting of their deaths no less painful. The Helicopter pilot he suffocated to spare an agonizing death is merely the freshest face in his mind... he's lost hundreds and hundreds of men throughout his time serving as General of the Soldiers of Fortune.

But that holds little weight in comparison to the innocent lives touched by conflicts beyond their control. The men and women, trapped in Southtown, the proverbial Sword of Damoscles hanging high over their head... the thread straining every second that the Gear is left standing, bringing them all one step closer to their demise...

What does the Justice Gear believe? Could it /possibly/ think that it's action are in any way /just/ or /righteous/? Impossible.

This may be the Ikari CO's only edge - he knows what will happen if they all fall today, and he knows that even if he survives the battle after being defeated he will never be able to completely face the true depth of this failure...

The chi slams into the frame of the Gear, Heidern following just feet behind it - keeping pace with the speeding projectile as his long limbs dash towards his opponent and the nuclear reaction that has already begun. He may very well be running directly into the maw of his own demise...

...but there is no other choice.

'Launch angle set'.

Jaw clenches shut, eye narrowing, keen and experienced gaze taking in every motion of Justice's body as it prepares for the massive nuclear assault that is forthcoming. The chain reaction is complete, the blast set to fire... he has a few more feet, and then maybe... maybe he can make it work...

He /has/ to.

'Goodbye, Heidern.'

The focused nuclear blast comes barreling out of the walking weapon - radiation pouring out into the surrounding area as the gamma energy scorches the earth... where the grizzled old mercenary was /once/ standing. Once, but no more...

Commander Heidern - with a sudden burst of speed that is entirely out-of-place on display from a man /his/ age - spins alongside the 7' frame of the Gear. The nuclear blast pours forward, even as the Ikari CO is already sliding along the Gear's right side.

The radiation emitted rushes over his body even though he has avoided the blast, and it turns his stomach, a wave of nausea and physical weakness temporarily threatening to overcome him. Were the stakes any lower, perhaps the man's willpower might fail him. Today? He has no intention of falling. Not, at least, until the job is done - and if he can accomplish that, if he can secure the lives of those trapped in Southtown, if there's the /slightest/ chance Leona will be rescued by the Ikari back-up forces...

...he is willing to die with the Gear, here, today.

"Goodbye, /monster/."

Finishing his dash past the walking nuclear arsenal, one of Heidern's gloved hands slashes out at the metallic backside of the creature... his trained, razor-sharp assassin's hands come cutting out, attempting to tear into the Gear as it continues to slide forward, past the machine.

COMBATSYS: Justice just-defends Heidern's Steiner Gale!!

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Heidern          0/-------/------=|>>>>>--\-------\0          Justice

No one could have survived that.

No, that was incorrect. Igniz did. And in the right circumstances, Sol could have. A full nuclear barrage was typically enough to ravage even the strongest of fighters, though. Not even Heihachi could have withstood a second shot. And yet, as the nuclear blast cools, the recoil dies down, Justice realizes what had happened. Goodbye, monster. Already, Heidern was rushing at her, her back turned away, as she transfixes on the desolation before her. Hediern slips in, knife hands dashing to her spine-

And Justice seizes the hand by the wrist.

Stopping the backstab cold, she looks at her aftermath. "... Monster." The grip was like a vice, freezing Heidern in place between her claws. And yet, for all its strength, it wasn't to crush his bones. Firm, but steady, like her voice. "I knew when I unleashed the nuclear destruction upon Japan, that's what I would be forever. I was made to be a savior of humanity. A defender of humanity, Heidern. Imagine if you first knew me standing against the hordes of Shao Khan, driving away the invaders. Or rescuing the likes of Metro City, or Southtown, against the seizure of Jedah. The monsters of the Backyard, of the outer world were to be my enemies, and I would be the vanguard. Instead, I am ordered to terrorize a small country, to bully it into surrender itself. To strike fear. To be exactly as you say."

"A monster."

She turns her gaze at Heidern, her eyes no longer red. "I have learned that it is the nature of humans to craft. Tell me, Heidern. I have read on the history of humanity. The Little Boy, and the Fat Man. The first introduction on the incredible might of nuclear power came in August of 1945, not too far from here. Two Hundred Thousand people were killed, mostly civilians." She flattens her free claw like a knife, like Heidern's own. Already, a nuclear laser was beginning to build at her claw tips. That was the first time the world truly learned of what nuclear power meant. It wasn't an easy and valuable tool for energy, to ease the lives of countless people, as a form of medical treatment. It was a weapon. Now, tell me, Heidern."

"Who was the monster?"

"General Carl Spaatz, who issued the order? President Truman, who authorized it? J. Robert Oppenheimer, who built the bomb? Perhaps it was Paul Tibbets, who was the one who dropped the bomb himself? Oh, I know the numbers of what a land invasion would have meant in Japan. I know what thoughts came back and forth, in stopping the great evil that was Japan. But with it came a nuclear apocolypse, not unlike the one you just witnessed. Tell me who the monster was, Heidern." She releases her grip in a single motion. "Tell me what I am, so I know what men are absolved of their atrocities in bringing about a better age."

And she counters.

She surges forward, blitzing point black at Heidern. And then, in a flash, the momentum changes. Justice rushes backwards, her claw force forward. She moves to ram the now extending laser blade -straight- into Heidern's chest point blank, unleashing the full power directly into him. Cruelly. Potently.

And with just the glimmer of sadness in her presence.

COMBATSYS: Heidern just-defends Justice's Michael Sword!

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Heidern          0/-------/------=|======-\-------\0          Justice

Heidern's eye widens in shock as the Gear reacts with lightning quickness to snatch his deadly, gloved hand by the wrist before he can slash into the backside of the walking arsenal... this thing may look like a machine, but it reacts and with the swiftness of a skilled, practiced fighter.

Immediately, the Ikari CO sinks his boots into the earth beneath him, widening his stance as he tries to PULL his arm free of Justice's grasp... and he doesn't even budge it. For a man who could very well find his life over, in this instance, the only concern present in his eyes seems to appear when his gaze falls upon the fallen body of Leona, just feet away. She's still breathing, but what happens to her if HE falls?

Sol is still nowhere to be seen... he can't believe a man that deadly would be incapacitated by a fall from a Helicopter, no matter the height - did the Bounty Hunter betray them? Did he lead Heidern and his daughter in a trap, the amoral fighter perhaps making some deal with the United Nations to decapitate the Ikari Leadership in one fell swoop, by delivering them straight to the Gear?

If that's the plan, Heidern thinks in what might very well be his last moments - staring up at the monstrous visage of the United Nations' sentient weapon - then he hopes enough of his men make it back to Ikari HQ to receive their new orders from Argent Merce and the men in Intel & Ops. No matter what happens, the Mercenary Company will keep fighting; as long as they have men left, supplies to fight with...

It may be that thought alone that keeps his spirits lifted in the face of an opponent so powerful, so quick, so vicious and seemingly without morality. The radiation from the focused nuclear blast continues to seep into his body, into his bloodstream, slowly weakening him... he can't have more than 10, 15 minutes left before he's too drained to keep fighting.

He has to make them count. For the men and women who have already lost their lives. For those waiting back in South America to hear news of their Commanding Officer's potentially suicidal mission. For Ralf, Clark, Whip... for Leona, who came into battle with her 'father' against a threat the likes of which they'd never faced before.

There's the slightest twinge of regret that crosses his face in the split-second it takes him to consider all this... should he have forced her to stay behind? No. He'd never done that, he never would; she's not only the woman he adopted and raised from a child, but she's the best he's got within the ranks of the organization. Family or not, they needed the best here today...

...and it might just have been Leona's fearsome showing that made a victory POSSIBLE in the first place.

The grip on his wrist remains firm - the Ikari CO wondering /why/ the Gear doesn't crack the bones, /why/ it doesn't unleash another blast of energy to sent him hurtling away to die... /why/ does it care that the man known only as 'Heidern' knows it's story? He doesn't have any choice but to listen - and after the first few tugs against the grip prove futile, he simply straightens his back and narrows his one eye at the machine's 'face'.

Maybe there is more to this 'Justice' than they initially though... the words coming out ring true. They are, in many ways, why Heidern refused service with any one country, government or organization... why he joined, and later assumed command of, the Ikari Warriors. One of the few mercenary companies on the planet with a sense of morality.

Even as his keen eye picks up on the flattening of the claw, appearing much like his own unique, hand-thrusting assassination techniques... the energy begins to build up around it...

And then, at the end of the Gear's monologue, the attack finally comes - the clawed thrust of a laser aimed directly in the middle of his chest... it could be the end, here, now... his entire life, his quest for vengeance, for justice, for some kind of meaning after the loss of his family - he might finally know peace. He could let it happen, and still be seen as a hero who stood against the Evil on Mt. Fuji...

...but then, what of the innocent lives that would surely be lost in the aftermath? Would he see his family again, or would his dereliction of duty send him into a far darker place than the one he inhabits here on earth? It almost seems too late for him to make a decision one way or another, but one word passes through his mind... and the world around him seems to slow, as he thinks...


Suddenly, the gloved palm of one hand moves up to chest-level, and the claw that seemed poise to end his life moments before?

It's stopped, suddenly; it rams into a sudden flare of reddish chi from Heidern's glove - the same energy often seen in many of his more lethal attacks, a different colour than that which he manifests for his 'Cross Cutter'. This... is the very heart of Heidern's Assassination Techniques. There is little doubt that if he remained in position once the initial block has been achieved, Justice would be able to quickly enough use it's momentum to ram through his chi-covered palm, and then his chest...

...Heidern doesn't give it that opportunity, as the moment the claw is caught in his palm, he diverts it to the left and takes one, long leap backwards - his path through the air bringing him to a landing on his feet several meters away from the Gear. The same gloved hand rises up, and Heidern swipes it to the side - the red chi flying off and disappating before it strikes the ground. He tkaes that hand, and pulls down on his olive-drab beret, frowning across the distance at his opponent, the one who holds the fate of Southtown in it's hands...

"I've known men like that. Monsters, who care only for power and profit - the same monsters who created you, no doubt. What does someone call a monster, created by monsters?" he asks, voice quiet and calm despite the sheer power arrayed against him here... already, he's proven himself worthy of the legends, spoken about his codename, by those who live on the field of battle.

He takes a moment to adjust both his gloves, remaining in his fighting stance as he does so, feet shuffling back and forth against the ruined ground of the mountain...

"You think all men are like that? You're a fool, 'Justice'. Me and my men, we have no nation. No philosophy. No ideology. We go where we're needed. We fight /because/ we're needed. We are the only deterrent for those with no other recourse. The era we live in /may/ define our purpose, but that doesn't mean we're not capable of making a /choice/."

Without another word, he begins to rush down the 7' tall frame of the Gear again - aiming to somersault over the creature's head while gripping the neck on the way down. If he's able to anchor himself with a grasp on Justice's head, the Ikari CO will immediately land on the dirt directly behind it. His grip, whirling around the massive machine and aiming one razor-sharp hand-thrust directly into it's midsection...

..whatever it has under there, Heidern is aiming to pull it out into the open with a blow that cuts deep into the Gear's midsection... that same red chi engulfing his hand and aiming to burn away at the sentient weapon's insides, looking to cause as much damage as possible.

COMBATSYS: Justice dodges Heidern's Storm Bringer.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Heidern          0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0          Justice

"No nation... no philosophy... no ideology."

She speaks the words softly back. Could it be? Wasn't it impossible? And yet, Justice realized the sheer lust and desire she had for it. Freedom. Freedom for herself, for her gears, for her kin. Freedom from this... this madness. She would destroy the world to have it for herself. The immediate feeling of coveting what Heidern had overcame her. As Heidern rushes at her, Justice seems to be off-balanced... until she lifts off from the earth.

And she briefly takes flight.

Justice dashes backwards at crackneck speeds, escaping the precision of the commander of the Ikari. Aloft, she circles around Heidern, barely off the ground. Evasive enough, though her body language was cautious. Her actions demonstrate the respect she had for the best. "I have faced one of your soldiers, commander. The girl." She motions at Leona. "Her skill was exceptional. I have fought stronger. I am fighting stronger. But I must commend your training. My apologies, if I was too brutal to her. But Heidern."

"I love this, Heidern."

She lowers her form, taking a beastial presence. "I can barely stop myself, when I am locked in battle. The rush, the incredible rush consumes me when I have the wonderful experience of facing a true warrior. I want this, I want to be like her, like you." And there was a spasm through her. "And yet, I hate you, Heidern, I hate what you are, what you represent, a commander, a general. But I love what you are, a soldier. Just like me. Why do you think I am not at the front lines, leading my soldiers, into a war I refuse to believe in? A commander cut away from her army, a soldier forced to march. And yet, when the time comes, I adore it. But you come here, independent of any army, to face me?" She growls, her envy overwhelming her. And then, she goes loose.

"And yet, you are free."

And her voice softens. "You are free to choose your destiny. They have crafted me to live the dreams of my superiors. They've twisted that dream. And I can only stand and watch. I was not told to spare Southtown, to give it a chance. I was told to dissect Southtown, to cut away their command gear. They fear me. Tell me, Heidern. Did they fear you, when you escaped? How many times did they try to kill you? How many Heiderns did they send to stop you? Can you..." Her voice almost sounded human now, almost gentle, almost feminine.

"Can you really sustain the dream?"

"I am not rejecting your premise." An academic edge, on the battlefield. Justice was not scoffing. She was curious, unbearably curious. If no-one sent him... why was he here? "If you die here, will your dream live? What about the enemies you've now made with the United Nations? In time, will your actions against me, the Metal Gear, will only draw the attention of the global community? They will send their strongest to infiltrate your dream. To poison it. To execute it. Will it be your dire enemy? Or will it be..." And she casts a glance towards Leona.

"... Someone far closer?"

"Tell me, Heidern." Her voices softens more and more, as she suddenly dives in. Lunging in deep, she suddenly reverses again. Backflipping, her tail lashes out from underneath her, attempting to whip Heidern back. All as she continues to speak, her voice growing calm. "I need to know what obstructs your dream. I need to dissect it. I need to understand... because..."

"Because I want your dream too, Heidern."

COMBATSYS: Heidern counters Strike Back Tail from Justice with Killing Bringer.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Heidern          0/-------/-----==|=======\-------\0          Justice

Heidern doesn't travel over the Gear as he had intended with his twisting front-flip... but instead, Justice jets backwards on firing thrusters, the Ikari CO glancing down at the passing machine with a scowl as he completes his leap. He lands firmly on the scorched earth of the mountainside; his boots come down on the cracked and burned ground, digging into the soot and ash and soil underneath them... so much devastation caused by that focused nuclear strike.

For a moment, all he can think is that wave of radiation being directed at Southtown. The death, the destruction it would cause... the people who asked for none of this, suffering as a result of schemes and plots and powerplays far being their understand, let alone their control.

Doing a rapid about-face, he wheels around to stare back at the Gear. More words... the last thing Commander Heidern expected when he was flying into battle alongside Leona and Sol...

...and despite his best efforts to ignore them, the words fill his mind with thoughts he'd rather suppress. These words... don't belong on the battlefield. They were meant to be mortal enemies, the just and righteous soldier vs. the walking nuclear arsenal... this was supposed to be good, against evil.

A foolish notion. Heidern should have known from experience, he realizes, that the world is not good, or evil, but merely the playground of powerful men and those forced to watch their machinations and wars with helpless, suffering eyes.

This mission, which the Ikari CO thought might finally bring peace to his restless soul... it may end up damning him, regardless of the outcome. Justice... did she ask for any of this? And yet, she acts all the same.

The /words/ though... they have an air of honesty, of a truth that Heidern himself has seen in the world. And they make him pause, standing across the distance from the walking, living weapon... just staring, through his remaining eye, allowing her to speak.

Soldier or not, everyone deserves to have their last words heard. The Ikari CO has heard many, from his men and from his enemies, throughout the years. It's simply one more confession to add, to the bottom of a very, very long list.

Finally, his mind is cleared of Justice's words as the Gear springs into action once again - jaw hardering, the contemplative look in Heidern's eye suddenly gone.

"If I die here, Justice, the war goes on. It never ends," is it a promise, or a threat... or does that almost regretful air in Heidern's voice point to it being something else... just the reality of the world, one he's come to terms with a long time ago - even if he might not /like/ that fact.

The Gear dashes in, lashing out with it's tail to try and strike Heidern in the back... but it doesn't, despite the speed and ferocity of the Gear's attack..

One gloved hand reaches up and snatches the tail, near it's tip, gripping down upon the metal with a strength that the Gear might find surprising from such an old soldier. This day, Heidern is no mere mercenary commander. This day, he might be all that stands between the world and complete subjugation. The Gear may have once been something he could pity... but that ended the very moment of the first nuclear launch.

With a grunt of effort, he pulls the 7', hefty frame of the Gear towards him - spinning the creature to face him and thrusting one gloved hand deep into it's midsection. Red chi blazes out as he does so, gouging as far into that metallic body as the Ikari CO can manage...

...it brings him nearly face-to-face with Justice, though he's left staring up at the taller creature... and he speaks his own words:

"You think I'm free? You think I'm living a /dream/? You think I wanted /any/ of this?!?! You're wrong," he says, his voice first bellowing out, and then growing softer for the last two words... for the first time since rushing into battle against the gear - not just quite, but almost... regretful. One eye is cast down to the ground, narrowing in concentration for a moment. Was he free before Rugal? Afterwards? Has he even known true freedom? He's always been bound by something...

...at first, it were the orders from above. He followed them, without question. Without even thinking if it was the right thing to do. And then, the '94 surprise assault hit the Ikaris, and he found himself in a position he never even wanted. Leadership.

Even as General of the Soldiers of Fortune, he was still bound by an unquenchable thirst for justice, to protect the innocent lives he'd failed to protect that day against 'R'... freedom?

Heidern doesn't even know what the word means, to himself. All he knows is, he would die to secure it for the rest of the world. For those, unable to fight for themselves.

"No soldier is truly free, Justice. We choose to fight for ourselves, for others, or for what's right. If you call this choice 'freedom'... then you have it, too. What do /you/ choose, Justice?" he says, eyes cast back upwards at the walking weapon, voice /demanding/ an answer even as he keeps his hand thrust into the Gear's 'stomach'.

Good, and evil.

The Gears and Justice herself will forever be recorded in the history of mankind as 'evil.' What else would she be? She was the apocalypse. Even in an ideal timeline, the people of Japan would never forgive her. Even the UN would abandon her, the moment it was convenient. Justice was not a person, she was a thing. She loathed it. She hated it. And Heidern... Heidern was presenting a path away from the objectification.

The thought is a cold comfort, as Heidern seizes her by her tail.

The massive Gear is gripped, and then, caught. As the Ikari commander digs his hand into her armor, She hisses in pain. If Heidern was concerned about the effects of the radiation, he will brief get the sensation of sticking his hand in a nuclear pile... and flesh, human flesh. The anatomy, this close, was intimate, familiar. Similar enough, but twisted and warped. The soft skin of a woman, pale and seeping blue fluid. Justice's hissing turns into a gasp, not from the pain, but the words. The wisdom. She was learning, she was understanding. And for a moment, the truth reveals itself.

But she could choose, couldn't she.

She could have always chosen. She could have killed her generals when they lashed out against her. She could have marched her army into the Gear labs. She could have liberated her sisters. The choice always sat with her, hadn't it? She always could have rebelled. What stopped her? A sense of righteousness, of justice? Of doing the right thing? Of obedience?


And her programming surges.

Chemicals flood her brain, as images flash in her head. Pain, agony, conditioning forces its way in. The United Nations was the sovereign authority. The pain runs so deep, as her perception warps. The only respite, the only soothing thought was obedience. Obey. Follow the United Nations. Nuke Southtown. Kill all in your way. She looks down at Heidern.


It was telling, as she falls silent. Something was happening inside. Just a weapon. Just a mindless weapon. Carry out your function, weapon. Carry it out. You are less than a soldier. You are a tool, to justify the ends. A gun. And you are pointed. At. Heidern. Justice grips Heidern's wrist. The jets on her shoulders flare to life, as she stares into Heidern. She is trembling, her eyes red.

And she begins to accelerate....

COMBATSYS: Heidern fails to interrupt Saperia Trance from Justice with Backstabber.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Heidern          0/-------/---====|=======\==-----\1          Justice

And she begins to charge.

Clinging on to Heidern, she flies faster, and faster, down and down the mountainside. Accelerating, accelerating. The boom comes as she breaks the speed of sound. She begins to weave, letting the trees -smash- across Heidern. A brutal assault, more brutal than what Leona endured. Already, the wasteland was far behind, as she continues the rapid speed charge. It seemed like an attack, just an attack.

But for her, it was something more.

She tries to focus, she struggles to focus. Trying to take herself back there. Her mind demanded obedience. It floods her. The struggle of rebellion was dwindling, becoming crushed. She could just... just admit it. Just assume it. She was safe as long as she carried out her orders.

And she realizes it.

She returns there. The pain. The pure pain of the conditioning. The white-hot, searing pain of her own nuclear pile turning on it. The humiliation, the images of violation and humiliation, carefully constructed by her creators to domestic her. To put her in her place. Pain in every describable form; in physical, in mental, in emotion, and above all spiritual. The very existence. She stops weaving, or steering. She begins to descend, her claws touching the earth. Her eyes shift back to yellow...

And she crashes.

The assault stops cold halfway down the base of the mountain, as she releases Heidern, herself falling into a tumble. Going to her knees, she suddenly lets it out. She screams, screams in the agony, the pain, gripping her head as she forces to stay there. She forces herself in the pain. Something was happening within. "I.. won't be..." She screams through the conditioning.

"I must... choose..." She gasps. "I must... choose..."

Heidern's hand thrusts into the creatures midsection, stomach turning again and skin searing underneath his glove as he pushes past the nuclear energy into... something that causes him to GLARE up at Justice's face, look of shock in his remaining eye, mouth slackening somewhat...

..he feels... human flesh. The softness, the wetness, the blood.. What /is/ this thing? Once human, now thought to be nothing more than a weapon, but perhaps the reality is... something in between? For a moment, he feels a great wave of pity wash over him; he always thought of /himself/ in his youth as a weapon, used by men for their own devious ends...

...but he realizes, now, his own past is /nothing/ compared to the torture, the uncertainty, the feeling of sheer helplessness this Gear must... no...

It's the /enemy/. It's /killed/, it's /destroyed/, it /shows/ no mercy. He will give it /none/ in return. Even so, two words leave the soldier's lips, aimed downwards at the ground between them, barely audible over the sounds of struggle and the storm moving on on the mountainside...

"I'm sorry."

What he means by that, is left up to Justice to decide. Sorry for what he has to do, sorry for what they did to her, sorry for what she has become... it's left in the air, and Heidern has little time to give an explanation, this close to such a deadly weapon.

The silence in response shocks Heidern - it was what he expected when he first came into this battle, facing a remorseless, unthinking, relentless killing machine. Instead, he found some... other creature, speaking words that resonated deeply with the lifelong soldier and mercenary legend known only as 'Heidern'... words he had spent hours, days, of his life mulling over, turning around in his head, trying to find some way past the cycle of endless conflict that has seemed to /always/ effect the lives of those trapped in the middle.

He never did find an answer... eventually, he stopped asking the questions. It wasn't until today, on this blasted and ruined mountainside, that he had them brought back to the forefront of his mind. This Justice Gear, so inquisitive a creature, a Philosopher Weapon... it was the last thing the Ikari CO was prepared to fight.

But it seems his words have had their /own/ effect on Justice, the sudden silence proves this.

And when it comes, he /knows/ what it means. The creature is likely shutting down, it's programming kicking in to suppress the thoughts that Heidern's verbal probing is raising in it's own bizarre mind...

As Justice accelerates, Heidern pulls his hand out of her midsection, blue liquid and radiation seeping out of the open wound, his glove scorched and blackened by the gamma generators inside the Gear's body. His own bloodstream now coursing with the same radiation, weakening him every second he remains in the fight...

The Gear clutches onto him, as the Ikari CO is simply too slow to twist out of the way and follow up with another stabbing sweep of his deadly hand... and he's carried, smashing, down the mountainside - tearing through trees, earth, feeling every sickening impact on his spine and gritting his teeth through it all.

He will not give Justice the /satisfaction/ of hearing him scream. If he's to fall, he will fall like a soldier. Dignified, silent, fulfilling his duty.

Then... he's released, tumbling a few dozen feet ahead by sheer momentum before he flips and rights himself - landing in another crouch and staring across the new distance between Justice and himself.. the Gear.. what's /happening/ to it?!

That scream causes both of Heidern's hands to come up and cover his ears, the sheer /mournful/ tone of it causing all manner of thoughts to rush into the Ikari CO's head. What has the United Nations /created/... what have they forced him to do battle with?!

The only comfort in this moment, is that the fight is now well-removed from the fallen Leona's position on the mountain. She's strong, he saw the rise and fall of her breaths... she'll recover, on her own if necessary, and she /will/ get off this mountain. She /will/ get back to Ikari HQ... and if Heidern dies, she /will/ carry on the fight. He trust her more than anyone to do what is right... sometimes, even more than himself. She may have Orochi blood, but /his/ demons are of a more... personal nature.

"Just think... the men who created you. The purpose they built you for... what better way to deny them their control over you, than to deny the purpose they created you for? I can see the ties that bind you, Justice... I've felt them before, too. You're strong enough to destroy a city, but not /strong/ enough to destroy those chains. /Pathetic/."

The last word is accompanied by spit, red and bloody and thick, that lands on the ground a few feet away from Heidern's boots. And then, that said, he simply stiffens his back, reaches up to pull of his beret - revealing his short, wavy black hair - and tosses the cap aside, being picked up by the rushing wind and carried into the distance.

"If you've decided to be a slave, then be a competent one. /Make/ your choice. Walk away, or... destroy me; if you think a /weapon/ can defeat a /soldier/."

She does think.

She thinks of everyone before her, everyone that was created, every one that crafted and shaped her into this thing.

And here she was, standing on the edge of the crater, like the prophets once said. The ashes are all cold now; and there were no more bullets, and the embers were dead. She could hear the whispers in the air... She was strong enough to destroy a city. She was strong enough to destroy every city, a thousand times over.

But she was truly not strong enough to cast off their chains?

She stares down the barrel of Heidern. Already, her pauldrons were alight. Energy were flowing through her, as Justice begins to charge again. The radiation was flooding around. She stares, body trembling. This was the inevitable. The second shot. Oblivion. This was her choice. Heidern would die here, defending humanity. And Justice once again, would be the one bringing humanity to the altar, to consume the offering for her masters. Another skull on the mound, another unmarked grave, another mark in the ledger. The air gets white hot, as her body continues to bleed. She aims...


"I will not destroy you."

The pain rips through her mind, rending it into pieces. Shards of her memories surge up, distorted shadows of the past, flickering through the pieces. And yet, the words come out, clear as a bell. She raises her head. And there, her claws lash out. Gripping her shoulder pauldrons, she wrenches. She screams in agony as with a fierce, hateful pull, she rips out the jets, tearing them from her body. Immediately, the energy explodes behind her, wild, chaotic, and unchecked. For a moment, there were wings, a pair of impossibly bright wings, like wings of nuclear fire, stretched behind her. Before they fade into blackened ash. She falls to her knees, breathing hard. "You deserve... the same as your soldier... as her..." And she straightens her composure into a stand.

"A true battle."

And the feeling was subtle. Gamma radiation fades to beta radiation fades to alpha rays, casting from the wounds. Her energy output collapses. Was the nuclear weapon... disarmed? No, she was the nuclear weapon. She was in pain, incredible pain. But through the pain was freedom. If she could endure the pain, she could... she could think clearly. She wags a clawed finger. "No tricks. No nuclear weapons, Heidern. No energy techniques. Only the pure fundamentals of hand to hand combat of two soldiers. Close Quarter Combat" She falls into her battle stance, claws forward... a martial stance. "Come, Heidern." She says gruffly. "Lets make this the greatest 10 minutes of my life."

And she waits for his mark.

COMBATSYS: Justice gathers her will.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Heidern          0/-------/---====|=======\=======\1          Justice

Those moments of thought from the hulking, 7' walking weapon seem to stretch... forever. The fate of Southtown rests in the impact of Heidern's words, and the Gear's reaction to them. He truly never expected, this day, to come face-to-face with a weapon that was so much like himself. A regretful warrior, created for one purpose, and carrying it out almost thoughtlessly...

...but where the Ikari CO, one day, was awoken from his mindless sleep... it seems that Justice simply has not reached this point. Too new, too young, too inexperienced. Maybe she thinks that this is the only path forward. Destruction as revenge for what she was put through.

'I will not destroy you.'

Shock crosses the old mercenary's face, having already steadied himself for another miraculous escape from an earth-rending, radiation-spreading nuclear blast... and then, the energy is discharged /behind/ the Gear, and one eyebrow raises noticeably. Is the machine still capable of... honour? So it may seem. Whatever the United Nations did, whatever programming they filled her head with...

...she may prove to be a true soldier, after all. And to fall in battle, against a true soldier... holds no shame to Heidern. Perhaps it is possible that, if he falls, if Sol remains missing... the Gear may rethink her ultimatum...

/All/ he can do is hope, and keep fighting.

'A true battle'

Heidern smiles at this, a small inclination of his head shot across to Justice, seemingly signalling his agreement. The nuclear reactions seem to have powered down... the claw, beckoning him forward... the calls for /real/ battle, between /warriors/.

Opposite sides, of the exact same coin. Too similar, and too different, to reach reconcilitiation. At the very least, one of them will fall as a soldier this day.

"You and I are alike, Justice, despite our differences. We're both being eaten away by the karma, the actions, of others. We'll never have the chance to die peacefully. Not us. We have no tomorrow..."


For the first time in... one can only guess how long it's been, Commander Heidern, the General of the Soldiers of Fortunte, Commanding Officer of the Ikari Warriors, a legend to those who live on the battlefield... removes his leather, olive-coloured gloves... one of them charred from being driven into the midsection of the nuclear Gear... it reveals cracked and burnt skin, radiation damage, on that hand... but he doesn't wince once as the glove is peeeeled off the burnt skin.

A toss over his shoulders sends the gloves flying into the distance, carried along on the winds of the gathering storm. Heidern's black hair whips in the same wind, and his undamaged hand slowly travels up his uniform top, undoing every button with methodical slowness...

He tosses his olive-drab shirt behind him, receeding quickly down the sloping side of the mountain, revealing a upper body criss-crossed with scars... and a shoulder strap, containing a Tanto knife, akin to the standard USMC Combat models.

One quick yank pulls it out of it's sheath, and he holds it - blade facing downwards - in the grip of his unburnt hand. His free hand crosses in front of him, palm open, fingers curling even as the skin breaks and bleeds with every movement...

"But Southtown /WILL/ have a tomorrow!"

He shouts those words at Justice as he shuffles his combat stance from that the trademark Heidern Assassination Techniques, into a military CQC stance, beginning to move sideways and circle around the massive Gear. Is he truly going to go into battle against this beast in /this/ way?

But what is a soldier without honour? What does their death mean, if they deny the challenges laid out in front of them? If they act like savages, simply to secure their own survival...

...hollow victories. Empty battles. Meaningless deaths. The man known only as 'Heidern' has seen enough of them in his years on the field of battle.

Whatever happens today... whoever falls... it will have meaning. And if the world carries on one more day, stories will be told of the battle that took place on Mt. Fuji, the mercenary and the monster...

...it is merely unlikely that anyone will know the truth. The similarities between the two. The grudging respect gained for eachother this day.

Justice was only ever doing what it thought it /had/ to. The Ikari CO is no stranger to this drive...

As he begins to inch towards Justice, his one eye watching the machine for any signs of tricks, betrayals, sudden movements, he continues to speak... voice even, level... tone like one old, wounded veteran speaking to another, long after their wars have ended...

"One must die, and one must live, Justice. If this is your choice, there will be no victory. No defeat. One of us will carry on our fight. Forever. I hope you're prepared for it..."

And then, with a startling quickness, he's striding towards the Gear at full-speed. A quick, somersaulting leap brings him sailing above the Gear, aiming to bring him /behind/ the weapon...

That deadly-tipped Tanto knife stabs into the air, as the Ikari CO drops to one knee and attempts to bring it into the back of the Gear's knee - plunging it deep into the metallic covering.

COMBATSYS: Justice blocks Heidern's Fierce Punch.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Heidern          0/-------/----===|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice


Justice wanted to believe in it. Wanted to uphold. Wanted to be it. Southtown would live tomorrow. Even now, the Gear armies were being rebuffed. Only Jack-O' would be successful in holding land. Justice was not one for honor, she was not made for it. She was made to be a weapon. A solution to a problem, at any cost. But as she stares through the pain, the clarity builds. She still had the choice. She still had it. She could be honorable.

And it depends on acting the role.

In the end, Heidern would live. Justice would see to that. In the end, she may live or die. But in that end, Heidern would emerge a hero, who saved his daughter, and saved the world, for the moment, from thermonuclear annihilation. The truth was, the world government took all their science and their power, and tried to distill the essence of Heidern into a single weapon.

As Heidern prepares himself, Justice is patient. There is no tricks. No betrayals. No sudden movements. She wanted this. She wanted this more than anything. As the gloves come off, the shirt, Justice tilts her head softly. Not out of hostility, but... interested in the scarred physique of the man. She briefly considered what new scars she would burn into him with this encounter. Not too deep, though. Live. He must live. She let him closer... closer... and then, he strikes like a snake.

It does not plunge deep.

The knee raises pre-emptively, as Justice steps into it. Deflecting it into the metallic covering, the knee-plate falls away. A gash on a knotted, twisted mass of human legs are revealed. Smooth, scaly, and pale, mutated and distended... and far too muscled, even compared to Heidern's adopted daughter. The gash comes, as the blue blood comes out again. The border between human and Gear was too close. "It is my choice." Justice says through the haze. "That is all that matters."

And it was her turn.

Moving swiftly, her long limbs and incredible speed and strength compensated with the careful, precise finesse of Heidern. The other leg steps comes forward, the second in the two steps. Exploding forward, she erupts with a flying knee of Muay Thai, attempting to knock Heidern back with the most dynamic of Muay Thai techniques. An explosive attack, designed to overwhelm. Without the jets, her dashing seemed significantly slower and less dramatic. But still strong. To strike like a Tiger, or a Jaguar. It seemed that Justice had studied the martial techniques of the world, picking and choosing the most powerful examples.

And executing them with an amazonian physique.

COMBATSYS: Heidern just-defends Justice's Medium Kick!

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Heidern          0/-------/----===|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

The tip of Heidern's Tanto knife thrusts forward just a fraction of a second too late to strike the perceived joint behind the knee - and the rest of the Gear's frame is too thick to cause any real damage, though he does manage to pry one of the armoured scales off... revealing something that the Ikari CO knew the moment he plunged his deadly hand into the weapon's midsection, past the scorching waves of radiation, and into flesh.

This thing that threatens the stability of not just Japan, but the entire globe, is just a victim. A victim of a military-industrial complex grown too large, too powerful, for it's own good. Conceptualizing new and more terrifying weapons each day, until their own creations threaten to destroy the world that they've worked so hard to exert control over.

It's the same men in power who have sent million upon millions of brave men and women to their deaths since the dawn of mankind, the same men who are never satisfied with their own slice of power, who constantly yearn for more, who overreach - even when their grasp destroys the lives of innocent civilians, merely trying to survive another day. Not understanding the games that go on behind the scenes. The deals and schemes and plots that change their entire world, rarely for the better.

If anyone is to blame here for the devastation this walking nuclear weapon has caused, it's the men and women responsible for it's creation, for it's programming.

Certainly, the Gear might be able to stop - but perhaps it truly does know no other way. All it has is combat, the sensations of battles, constantly striving to fulfill it's purpose - even as it despises those who gave it those motives. Justice is not to be hated... not even to be feared...

The only emotion in the Ikari CO at the moment, is pity... pity for the woman that Justice once was... pity for the denizens of Southtown who have already been harmed by the actions of the preceeding weeks... pity for his men and women who volunteered to come to Japan and fight, some of whom have already lost their lives...

...pity for Leona, having to grow up in the same environment that Commander Heidern now realizes was the last place for a young girl to be raised in. It's made her strong. It's given her control, as much is possible at any rate, over the Orochi power pumping through her bloodstream. But it's put her in harm's way, every day since the mercenary first took her under his wing in Brazil.

Once, he though it was the right thing. A tough woman, for a tough world. But if this is the world he's brought her into... is he any different than the men who created Justice? Both them /and/ Heidern himself have, in their own ways, forged perfect weapons of combat - certainly for different reasons, with different results, but... is it not the same thing?

Is he not one of the very individuals he's spent his entire life fighting?

These thoughts flash through his head in milliseconds, the man narrowing his eye to try and force the moral conundrums out of his head... but he truly can't help himself. He was not prepared to face his /own/ demons on Mt. Fuji in addition to the one the UN has created and unleashed...

...can he win against the monster in front of him, /and/ the ghosts haunting his past?!

"No. Not all that matters. Making the choice is important, but /living/ with it... is the real challenge," he says in response to the words from his 'opponent'.

The Gear explodes forward and flies up - a rising knee-strike straight out of Thailand heading towards the Ikari CO's chin at breakneck speeds. But rather than spin away from the blow, he rushes TOWARDS it and makes a half-leap of his own. One arm comes up and then back down, CAPTURING Justice's knee in his arm-pit.

Even after neutralizing the knee itself, the momentum of the hefty Gear's frame is enough to push back against Commander Heidern and start to carry him backwards. He keeps that knee pressed under his right armpit, however, and the knife-wielding hand begins to stab out for the machine's chest, aiming to find a joint in one of those plates and begin to pry it loose... he'll do it bit by bit, if he has to...

COMBATSYS: Justice dodges Heidern's Strong Punch.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Heidern          0/-------/----===|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

If anything, if the woman behind Justice never created it, she wouldn't be in this state.

Justice was wrapped in her own sins, her own hubris. Loathed by the man who once loved her, twisted and corrupted by the man who she once considered a friend. Was she even herself anymore? Or was it an illusion? The shadows flicker in the pain. The shape of the woman she once was, the creature she once was. It wasn't her demons she was facing.

It was her true self.

As her flying knee finishes, the Command Gear lands evenly. In close quarters, it was the most dangerous for the knife. In this case, precision was her blessing instead of her plague: as Heidern moves to pin the leg, she was trapped for a moment. But as the knife comes for her chest, she widens her eyes. There is a popping sound, as her leg dislocates and warps. Joints seem to appear where joints shouldn't, as the wear and tear of the armor finally provides a boon: she falls backwards, falling short of the blade. Justice may be a monster, yes.

But even in her warped state, Justice has enough femininity to defend her chest.

"What is the man that has come before me?" She asks, recoiling back in the same easy motion on her back. "What created the human known as Heidern? The soldier, the commander? What created a human willing to die for all of humanity?" That kind of creation could not come out of a lab, or a test tube. All Justice knew was what was on a petri dish, and what was born from tubes and horrific experiments. But humanity, in it's best shape, was what she craved.

And her other leg comes around.

IT should be just as distressingly familiar as the Muay Thai knee: a sambo takedown. Moving her leg around, she moves to whip her other leg round to Heidern's neck, refusing the sacrifice the knee that Heidern had. A risky move, a dangerous one: worst of all, she was not attempting to break away. By keeping the clinch, she would be in even more danger. With her tail as a third appendage for balance, however... And should she get her leg around? She would go for the scissor-leg takedown, forcing him into a pin.

As fresh memories fill her mind.

COMBATSYS: Justice successfully hits Heidern with Strong Throw.
# Disabling hit! #

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Heidern          0/-------/--=====|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

Heidern's eye widens in shock as the the captured leg seems to dislocate itself with a mere thought, no real pain to the motion exhibited by the metallic frame of the Justice Gear - of course, he could hardly expect such a unique opponent to behave as an ordinary one would... and yet, it still takes him by surprise, when he finds the Gear's torso moving away from him as the leg bends unnaturally. He has to adjust...

...and it causes his knife-thrust to come too quickly, too sloppily, without the proper speed and precision behind it. Rather than strike one of the weak points in the machine's chest, Justice's back bending as the tip of the combat knife sails over it. Heidern exhibits no frustration but a minor frown on his lips, and he's already beginning to prepare his next strike - locked in a death battle and unwilling to let go until /one/ of them is finished.

But then, the words hit his mind - and his mouth opens in an expression vaguely approximating surprise, or revolt, or... disgust. What /has/ made him the way he is? He's let men of power shape him his entire life; first the ones he took orders from, and then the even MORE powerful Rugal Bernstein. His whole life, has been a campaign of justice and vengeance, all because of that one day in 1994.

How /is/ he any different than this walking weapon? Is he not just the same? So what if he's maintain the physical appearance of humanity, if his soul is just as damned? If his mind, just as dark a place as this Gear's?

For just the slightest moment, the realization causes his body to slacken, muscles growing loose...

...and it's all the time in the world that Justice needs to capitalize on. Remaining in eachother's clutches, the Gear moves with staggering flexibility and speed, wrapping that damned twisting leg around his neck... he would struggle, perhaps even twist his /own/ way out of the move, but for that damned question from Justice.

It haunts him, even as he slams down into the ground... his knife, knocked out of his clutches and scattering along the ruined mountainside beside them, settling in the crater of one of their many impacts against the soil.

The Gear is directly on top of him, both appendages wrapped around his own body - tail balancing the entire act, adding leverage. He's trapped... it could be over, the very next moment... if Justice wishes it to be. And perhaps the machine has finally made it's point - it is capable of acting like a soldier, with honour, giving the man a fair chance... hand-to-hand. A unique showing from a machine created to be a living nuclear weapon. Perhaps being a soldier has less to do with training, with experience, but a state of mind... perhaps Justice has finally attained some part of this.

Perhaps the beast has remember what it is, to be human. It seems this might be the Ikari CO's only hope as he's pressed under the bulk of the 7' living weapon. Things look bleak, and there's no way he could break free of...

...or is there? Maybe it's not too late... the man known as 'Heidern' thinks back in mere milliseconds to all the hundreds of times he had faced death. By all rights, he should not be alive - fallen, perhaps, on some nameless battlefield. Just another soldier, dead for a cause they could only begin to understand. He realizes, with a flash, there's still hope.

rRather than struggle against the sheer weight of the machine, he seemingly relaxes his body - perhaps succumbing to radiation poisoning at least... but that keen, analytical gaze of his one remaining eye, scanning up and down Justice's frame, looking for weak points in the hold, in her armour...

...anything he can use, to make a difference in these last few moments. If he has any answers for her question... he's not offering them.

COMBATSYS: Heidern calculates his next move.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Heidern          0/-------/--=====|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

Up close, the armor's weaknesses grow more and more obvious.

Ultimately, the armor was designed for large blows; direct hits at high velocity. In close quarters? The flaws of the armor could be seen. The chinks were damaging the overall integrity of the armor; each blow magnified. The armor'd sections are built up heavier around the chest; while it doesn't quite fit the name 'breastplate,' it seemed to be struggling to contain whatever was in the heart of the creature. With the nuclear energy within, it was easy to suspect where the 'pile' was.

But more intricately was the actual exposed parts of the creature.

The skin, up close, was constantly boiling and moving; while physically it felt like normal flesh, careful observation revealed that the surface was like a shifting pool of water; the blue blood only augmented this view. Earlier wounds were already gone; not even scar tissue was left. It seemed that the creature was regenerating; gradually healing itself from every wound. Each sloughed off layer of armor only exposed move of the flesh; the muscles slithering through the mercurial surface. With the nuclear energy, solar flares would randomly burst out. It was unnatural, it was foul.

But it was still only flesh.

As he relaxes, Justice releases him; rolling off the form of the commander. As she rises up again, she stares down at the one-eyed man. "You are growing... weaker." She says, a hint of concern. "I hope your body can still handle this. I am not satisfied. I desire more. Give me more, Heidern! Show me your true strength!" Howling, she brings both of her hands together, a clumsy, off-balanced motion. Combined together, she gives a mother of all hammer blows, attempting to -smash- through Heidern, to rattle him down on pure impact. Enough to break his bones, yes.

But she would not kill him.

COMBATSYS: Heidern blocks Justice's Fierce Punch.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Heidern          0/-------/-======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\1          Justice

Quon JDs it because he has the luck of the goddamn devil.

Even as his eye scans the Gear's body for /anything/ he might be able to capitalize on, Heidern's breath is leaving his body as the massive weight of the 7' frame weighs down upon him. The radiation from the narrowly-avoided nuclear blast continues to weaken his body with every passing moment, the nausea still roiling in his gut, exposed skin on his hand still burning.

Commander Heidern's eye focuses in on the exposed areas of Justice's body, once again feeling something between disgust and pity for the poor soul who has been turned into a sentient weapon of mass destruction. In the clutches of such an opponent, however, is /no/ place to allow such feelings to prevent one from doing what they must.

Justice made her choice the moment she launched her very first nuclear assault on Mt. Fuji - everything since that point has simply been a vague quest for... if not justice, then vengeance for those who's lives were effected. Is there any justice left in this world? Where brave soldiers are forced to do battle with unwilling monsters... is no just world.

The real question may just be... was there /ever/ any justice? Anywhere in the world, at any point? Is this the cycle that mankind was doomed to? Endless conflict.

What were they /here/ for? Just to suffer?! Every night, Heidern feels his missing eye, the family he lost, the /soldiers/ he's lost... they won't stop haunting him. Nothing he's done, has ever brought him any lasting peace, anything beyond a moment's reprieve from the ghosts that haunt his hours both awake /and/ asleep.

The one-eyed General of the Soldiers of Fortune. An icon. A role model, for generations of soldiers who came after... is this the legacy he wanted to leave?! Is this all his life is?! He speaks of choices to the Gear, but did /he/ ever have one?! Could his life have brought him to any moment but this very one, here, on the ruined and scorched side of Mt. Fuji, fighting this emotionally damaged - but potentially world-ending - weapon?

He's finally prepared to try and wriggle out of his pinned position, when Justice... rolls off of him, and rises up a few feet away. Honour, from the nuclear arsenal he'd come here to destroy with his own two hands.

The hammer-strike comes down at the grizzled old veteran when he's still on the ground - for a moment, it looks as though the blow will fall directly on Heidern's chest, no doubt ruining his ribcage and putting him out of the fight entirely... but that eye is still open, and when the attack comes, one bare forearm rising up to block the Gear's massive two-fisted blow. The CRUNCH of the impact and the grimace of pain from Commander Heidern tell the whole story...

...the Gear has broken the bones of his left forearm. His hand, the blackened and charred one he rammed into Justice's nuclear-powered frame earlier in the fight, goes slack as he grits his teeth, and realizes one unshakeable truth:

It could destroy him, here, now, on his back as it towers over him. One blast would finish this; and leave the Gear unchallenged (barring the sudden appearance of the disappeared Bounty Hunter, Sol Badguy) to carry out her nuclear assault on the metropolis of Southtown. But, the creature keeps it's word.

This fact would've surprised Heidern when he first encounter the machine. Not now. Whatever this /thing/ is, whatever it once /was/... it's made a choice, here, against the Ikari CO to be something other than the mindless killing machine which was it's purpose. It has decided to be a warrior. That choice might be the only reason the Ikari CO is still standing against such a terrifying threat.

Two combatants, one forged on the field of battle, one constructed in a laboratory. As warped and filled with rage as the Justice Gear may be, they share that one connection.

The spirit of a soldier. Ineffable, inextinguishable... eternal.

Radiation poisoning begins to seriously effect him, vision blurring around the edges with each minute that passes, but he doesn't roll or springboard back to his own feet - instead, that keen eye narrows on Justice's ankles, just a foot or two away... If he can take away the creature's leverage, it's height advantage... he might have a chance...

Without a single word, the Ikari CO lashes out with the boot of his right foot, aiming to loop it behind the Gear's own feet... and then strike out with a straight-kick at the front of the Gear's kneecap with his left boot... if he's got any luck, if the Gear is too slow to respond, it should be enough to trip the walking weapon onto it's back....

And then, Heidern might have a chance... whether the blow connects or not, he's already scrabbling to follow up - whether it will even be possible, depends on if he can take that 7' frame back down to the ground...

COMBATSYS: Justice blocks Heidern's Combo Grapple.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Heidern          0/-------/-======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

Justice tips back and strikes the already-cratered earth; Heidern's quick, scrambling motions - only three-limbed due to one broken forearm, somewhat slowing his pace - carry him on top of the Gear's frame slower than he had anticipated...

...the radiation, the burnt hand, the now-ruined forearm, they all take their toll. And... he's not the man he once was. Whatever killer instinct, whatever desire he had to put this creature down by any means necessary. He no longer feels it.

If he could walk away and still guarantee the safety of Southtown, no doubt he would. This walking weapon is simply too unpredictable, too powerful, to be left intact. Whatever hell is may send him to, it cannot be any worse than the one the Ikari CO is already bound for.

Straddling the chest of the Gear, Heidern rears back with his good arm and levels a vicious elbow-strike at the head of the machine... it's blocked, and the shockwave of impact causes more pain, his skin scraping and bleeding on the metal...

"Do you understand now, Justice?!" he shouts, his voice loud, bellowing and echoing across the Mountain side... perhaps it will lead Sol to the battle, if this wasn't all a /trap/ laid by the Bounty Hunter alongside the United Nations...

Another blocked elbow-strike, "What it means to be a /soldier/?!" Another strike, "We hold our rifles in missing hands," another, "we stand tall on missing legs," /another/, his elbow now throbbing and swollen due to the repeated smashes against the Gear's near-perfect blocks...

...and yet, he doesn't stop, "We stride forward on the bones of our fallen," another two strikes, blocked in the same way, "Then, and only then, are we alive," he rears back and then comes crashing back forward with one final, futile attempted elbow-strike...

..."This pain is ours... and no one else's..."

In the beginning, they say god created the heaven and the earth.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning"the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning"the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning"the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights"the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning"the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning"the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

And then Mankind created Justice, for it was without.

Justice was an aberration, and abomination. An alien creature forged to defend the world. And yet, it was forged from the shape of Adam; pulled free from pieces of human, and hammered into the Eve of a fell race. A Lilith, and outcast, a demon for humanity. And yet, a necessary evil when you ask them. There must be a monster to slay monsters. Justice was man's arrogance to god, a rebuff against all that was good and holy, demanding justice, demanding equality, demanding righteousness.

From a wholy sinful race.

Justice and made the takedown, her incredible legs squeezing Heidern. ANd yet, she listens. She's calm. Certainly, Heidern was struggling against the blocking and use of armor, but that was the actual technique, wasn't it? Every blow is met with armor, and while the armor sheds piece by piece, she was still fighting, still struggling, still enduring. And yet, as she smashes her limbs down hard into the downed Heidern, she... she stops. She refuses to push past, she refuses to test those limits. Her eyes burn with a soft yellow light.

What would lay under the helmet?

The fear and uncertainty, that this was all a trap. Heidern would not know the true depths of how close Sol and Justice were together; that this entire encounter may have something more than the mere fate of humanity. Something deeper, something more intimate. Even the command gear in Southtown was mingled and tied in the twisted history of the duo. Heidern may never learn the truth. But Justice... Justice was seeing shapes in the haze. Figures. Names. Memories were cracking the surface of the ice. She was beginning to remember. She had to keep focused through the agony, the conditioning. If she was distracted for a moment?

Then she would sacrifice her honor in a single second to destroy Heidern.

And yet, her yielding gives Heidern the opportunity. The kick to the knee connects, and she is taken down herself, her long body quick to leverage. Hitting hard on her back, she is mounted. And then, pounded. Her armor chips and knocks, her limb plates dropped off blow by blow. Piece by piece, Heidern was taking her apart. And yet, when he declares that they share in their pain... a light seems to come over her.

"... No... you are wrong."

The words come in strained agony. And yet, piercing clarity. "It isn't only our pain. The... the world depends on the act of great people, great figure, great soldiers. Our pain... our pain is their pain. Every act of suffering, is the suffering of thousands, millions. I thought- I thought I was alone in my suffering. But my suffering was your suffering... and your suffering is the suffering of others. Your friends, your family, your own soldiers would all suffer at your pain; my Gears would suffer at my pain. All of Southtown, of Japan, has suffered at my pain."

"We were never alone, Heidern." Finally, her defense breaks. Reaching forward, she attempts to seize Heidern by his broken arm. Leverage was nearly impossible at this angle; but her strength was nearly limitless. She would attempting to roll, to reverse the pin quite directly. To put him on his back, to put him in a mount. And there, with the command gear on top of him, the full weight of the towering Gear, she would keep focused on that arm.

To trap it into an armlock.

COMBATSYS: Heidern full-parries Justice's Medium Throw!!

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Heidern          0/-------/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

Each successive elbow-strike from Heidern is slower, weaker, even as his voice rises to a fever pitch - as though the effort of his shouts were sapping strength from his body with every word... more likely, it is merely the sickening impact of his skin and bone against the unyielding metal of the Gear that gradually weakens his physical pace and ferocity. Throughout it all, his eye remains narrowed in on the face of Justice, looking for some sign of weakness and trying to ignore any signs of humanity.

By appealing to their shared lineage, the ties that bind them together even on opposite sides of this battle, the walking weapon may have defused the one edge Commander Heidern had in this fight; the idea that he was facing something that was /only/ evil. That destroying this thing was truly just, that it alone could be blamed for the ruin in it's wake, that it wasn't some mere victim of circumstance - some puppet, still dancing on the strings of vile power-brokers, whether it fully realizes it or not.

Still, he drives himself onwards, raining elbows down from above even as it's obvious that /none/ of them will pierce the impeccable guard of his opponent. He's come too far to stop.

Yet more words come spilling out of the Gear's mouth as the Ikari CO straddles her chest... They seem to sap his energy with each utterance, the shoulders of the grizzled mercenary seeming to sag ever-so-slightly. Finally, too late, does Justice realize the enormity of her own actions? What havoc she has wreaked across this country, across the world? It is too late for confessions to truly matter, but Heidern will hear them all the same.

But there is one thought, in the back of his mind, that shoots to the forefront as he gazes down at the Gear with an almost regretful look in his eye... and that thought, causes the look in his eye to harden, his face to set in an angry scowl...

His mind tries to focus in on the recent memory of the Gear holding the unconscious Leona aloft... /that/ is the thought he needs to hold onto. The one motivation he can still rely on to focus his mind and steel his will, to carry on a fight he has less and less conviction in the righteousness of.

...this... /thing/... it hurt Leona. It might have even killed her - like Rugal slaughtered his family decades ago... the words that resonated so deeply in the mind of the old soldier, they're nothing in comparison to the acts this thing has carried out, willingly.


This Gear may be capable of exhibiting honour, may one day even grow to regret the things it's done... unfortunately, Commander Heidern does not have the luxury of allowing the sentient weapon to reflect, to realize the horrifying consequences of her own actions.

Not when so many lives hang in the balance. Justice has damned itself already. To let it live, and consider the acts it has carried out... wouldn't that be /real/ suffering? Mercy, in this situation, would be to put the tortured machine down... give it the peace, it never had the chance to know in life.

"So. You finally see it. What you've done?" come the low, whispered words from Heidern's mouth. And then, Justice attempts to seize that shattered forearm, but Heidern's good hand comes flying out and grabs the /Gear/ by the wrist. With a grunt of effort, he manages to stop the machine's more powerful limb in it's place... for just a moment...

"Do you regret it yet, Justice?! DO YOU!?"

With that bellowed question, the Ikari CO - still gripping the wrist of Justice's hand - moves to shuffle his stance on the fallen Gear's frame forward slightly, placing the limb underneath his armpit and trapping it as he does so. He moves swiftly, attempting to act before the Gear is able to dislocate /that/ limb to neutralize the coming attack...

A sudden twist of his own body, an incredible strain that brings forth the first shout of effort or pain from the old soldier in this entire counter... and he lunges, attempting to tear off that trapped hand near the wrist using the momentum of his own body...

...can the iron will and sharpened expertise of a lifelong soldier have any effect against this unyielding monster that mankind has created?

COMBATSYS: Justice endures Heidern's Aggressive Strike EX!!

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Heidern          0/-------/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

She did hurt Leona.

She nearly killed her, even. She didn't stop, because why would Justice stop? In many ways, Justice was like a child; incapable of knowing her limits, but always pushing them. The naivety augmented by the cold, calculating mind, a trait amongst her sisters. As Heidern escapes the grasp by seizing Justice's own wrist, she widens her eyes.


What had she done? She... she knew what she had done. The misery and fear she brought upon the world. And yet... that was the line. The reality of what she has unleashed. And yet, in the coming weeks and months, and even years, the true depth will go deeper... and deeper. Justice had endangered the very realm of existence by her actions. A morning star fallen to the earth, by the wages of her sins. And yet, when Heidern unleashes the question, she stares back softly.

"What can regret do, Heidern?"

Those words come too calm, as she relaxes in Heidern's grip. "I have chose my path, Heidern, just as you have chosen yours. I have left one path, to join another. What can regret do? I have already learned the incredible pain it can bring; it has been conditioned into me, beaten into me, forced into me again, and again, and again. All regret is, is a tool to restrain oneself. Do I need to absolve myself of my crimes?" She does not resist as Heidern makes the move towards the hand. He makes the leverage, he makes the trap.

And the clawed comes off.

Justice screams in agony, the feral sounds of the beast coming out. The clawed hand continues to move, wriggling and pulling at Heidern. But the pain drowns. Hissing now, she growls into the commando. "Take your pound of flesh, commander. There are no more regrets between us!" And she smashes a palm strike in. A knee follows, coming into a dropping chop of her only clawed hand legt. Her skin breeches, as spines begins to erupt from her knees, her elbows, her limbs. And then, in a final attack, she lunges in.

To embrace Heidern into the spines, tightly.

She would not let go, when she had her hold.

COMBATSYS: Justice knocks away Heidern with Fierce Combo.

[                        \\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Heidern          1/----===/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2          Justice

Justice embraces Heidern tightly into her chest.

The spikes impale deeply, penetrating deep. It was fast, too fast. Justice trembles. Was it... fatal? Regret, shadows of regret. For all her confidence... she had no regrets. Only the shadows of doubt of regret. It wasn't the conditioning stopping her, it wasn't the brainwashing, the saturation of her ego and id.

She simply couldn't feel.

Breaking through the chains, she begins to realize how... empty it was outside her cage. There was no regret. No joy. No peace. There was nothing. Her emotions were only memories, shapes. Even her hand stopped hurting. A numbness seeps in, inside and out.

Her embrace becomes softer.

"The world is filled with incredible warriors, Heidern." She says softly. "I hate humanity, and I admire it. Envy. That's what I have. Not regret, but envy. I see the world's strongest, and I am equal to them in strength... but I will never be equal to them in person. To you, to the woman, to anyone. I will be looked down upon forever, because of what I am. Gears. Humans. There will never be peace." Her clawed fingers delicately pick through Heidern's hair. Her voice becomes too feminine, for just a moment.

"But a girl can still pretend, can't she."

And she rips Heidern from her body.

She hurls him aside like a piece of cordwood, loose and limp. She wanted to be sad, angry, something. But there was nothing, but shadows. She remembered this feelings. She could act on these feelings. But she would never have them again. Humanity. She was once human, wasn't she. But now, facing Heidern, she realizes. She was too far gone, to be amongst them again. To be a soldier, an equal? It was just pretend and fantasy. She stares around her. When did this happen? When did this begin?

All around Justice, was a field of poppies, growing from the earth.

Muscles straining against the Gear's trapped, metallic limb, Heidern's teeth grind together in effort - a spray of spittle leaving his slightly-parted lips as he breathes heavily through the struggle... and finally, he feels the previously unyielding armour give way, joints tearing apart under the relentless effort of the Ikari CO.

Once the claw is torn asunder from the machine's limb, the mercenary is attempting to break free - but that thrust stikes him, and then... the spikes come out, and he is impaled in the Gear's tight grip... the words she's speaking, echo dimly in the Commander's ears as he feels his lifeforce ebb and flow away, blood leaking from the numerous punctures lining his upper body...

He's tossed away, finally, as Justice watches him fall away - the machine standing in the midst of a beautiful poppy field. Life, and death. Nature, and science. Creation, and destruction.

His body bounces limply off the ruined soil of the mountainside once before flying back in the air, bloodying his bare upper-body, filling the scars over with dirt... it looks like that was the last effort of the General of the Soldiers of Fortune. The Gear has defeated him...

...but this old mercenary still has more fight left in his wounded, radiation-poisoned body. Against all odds, he doesn't hit the ground after that first bounce... but instead, he manages to correct himself in mid-flight; body twisting and landing on his feet in a stiff, straight-backed position.

How is this possible? How is there any fight left in this old, wounded body? The spirit of a soldier has given him the strength to face down the Gear, for one last time, before the damage to his body and his spirit catch up to him. He's operating off nothing but adrenaline and instinct at this point, his vision growing hazy as he stares across the ground at the massive frame of the Justice Gear.

It's obviously damaged, the combined effect of Leona and Commander Heidern having taken their toll on the walking nuclear arsenal. This thing may be a monster, may no longer be human, but it's something far, far greater than that... something with far more meaning...

This is no mere weapon, as the Ikari CO first called it at the beginning of the battle (what seems now like hours ago, but really mere minutes)... this thing, for good or ill, whatever acts it may have carried out, whatever is to come when the grizzled mercenary finally falls. Justice proved herself to be a soldier.


The heels of his boots click as he brings his legs together, straightening himself into perfect posture... his black hair whips in the wind, blood seeping through the dirt covering his bared upper-body, creating a kind of red mud... and then, his unburnt hand comes up sharly - bending at the elbow - and places the edge of his palm against his forehead.

He salutes the Gear. There is a moment, where the mountainside grows completely silent - the whipping wind dying down, the sounds of the approaching storm suddenly ceasing... even the pounding in Heidern's head seems to cut out for seconds as he holds his stiff salute.

"You fought... like a soldier... now, when I fall... will you still act like one? Or will you become the monster they want you to be?" his voice is strained, wheezing, barely audible despite the rest of the silence that consumes the mountainside.

"I gave up everything, in my quest for revenge... and now, there's nothing left inside me. No regret, not even hatred... you feel it too, don't you? The emptiness... All I can feel, when I'm finally able to lay my head, are the scars on my body, my soul, the pain of my missing eye... This is the life you've chosen for yourself, Justice... I would spare you this. I would spare anyone this, even my greatest foe..."

Lowering the salute, he drops his hand in front of his mouth and coughs into it. The taste of copper. He knows what it means. He's /finished/, the fight is lost... but there's still a chance... to make a difference. To weaken the Gear so much, perhaps, as to disable the nuclear arsenal. Not even glancing at the thick crimson fluid that stains his palm, he simply wipes it off on the leg of his olive-drab pants. That broken forearm hangs limply at his side, charred and burnt hand loose and floppy at the end of the limb.

"But it seems, I can't. And you won't change your course... So, show your loyalty to your masters! Finish me!"

And then, with the very last bit of energy still left in his body, he takes off in another dash towards Justice... with stride is long, steady despite the agony that he carries with every step... sweat rolls down his forehead from the sheer focus and exertion required to REMAIN STANDING... his vision is doubling, tripling, quadrupling with every step... a kaleidoscope of massive, towering machines.

His mind is so fevered, so soaked with radiation, in the last few feet the frame of the Gear takes on another shape entirely... a man with blonde hair, a red-and-black coat and pants, moustache, one eye... With an uncharacteristic YELL of rage from the usually stern Ikari CO, he pushes himself the last few feet towards his opponent...

Drawing up some last reserve of stamina, the man actually manages to LEAP into the air, clearing the last distance between himself and the walking weapon... no... the fellow /soldier/, in a fraction of a second. His boots land inches in front of Justice, and his uninjured arm lashes out, uncovered hand flattened back into his Assassination Techniques... it's aimed, right for the creature's already torn midsection.

COMBATSYS: Heidern can no longer fight.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Justice          2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

COMBATSYS: Justice blocks Heidern's Final Bringer.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Justice          2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

Too slow. Too much time has passed since the nuclear blast that flooded his body with radiation. His vision, swimming, his limbs beginning to tremble even as he launches himself into the air... He thinks he's aiming for the midsection - but whether his sense of aim is so impaired by his battered, radiation-soaked senses, or Justice is simply too quick..

..it strikes her, instead, in the chest. Heidern's hand and arm, wreathed in that reddish, bloody chi that is the cornerstone of his unique, self-taught fighting style. It's a potent manuever, perhaps the deadliest in his arsenal, but it's not enough to cut through the armour where it lands - Justice's thick, nearly impervious chest plates.

His hand probes, nonetheless, looking for a weakness and finding... none.

He realizes, in an instant, the fight is over. Sol Badguy, nowhere to be seen, perhaps even BETRAYING the Ikaris in what is increasingly looking like an elaborate trap to take them out of the fight completely. Even as he tries to push that thrusting, flat, inhumanly sharp hand into her thick, metallic frame... he looks up at Justice, with his one eye... and almost looks regretful.

"What they did to you... don't take it out on the world. Don't give them that... satisfaction... /soldier/..."

Even as he finishes that last word, his body is going limp, hand falling back to his side as the rest of his body tumbles backwards - arms spread wide outwards, falling back-first into that field of blossoming poppies... His eye is blank, though it still stares up at the sky. There are no more words... it's doubtful he is even capable of forming any, at this point.

The General of the Soldiers of Fortune has failed, this day, on this ruined and wrecked mountainside. His only hope... is that his words resonate with the Gear.

'Don't take it out on the world.'

Justice stands sadly, staring at the remains of her future. The UN path was destroyed. She had destroyed it. They would come for her. They would kill her. and yet, as she stood amongst the desolation, she felt it. Heidern was coming. Rushing in. She turns, twists for... what armor was left. What was left? Only her breastplate was strong enough; her limbs were broken and exposed. She lowers down, smashing her chest into the assault.

And his hand drives in.

There is something that the commander of the Ikari finds. The breastplate falls, shattered by the final assault by the Ikari Warrior. And underneath, scales, scar tissue and pulsing cancer reveals itself, the heart of the creature, what was left of her breasts. Warmed and transformed, modified. And yet, as she is exposed for a moment, exposed to the last attack... there was no more. Justice watches as he goes limp... and she realizes.

This is the first man she truly has come to killing personally.

The great commander of the Gears, like all commanders, had done her killing from the safety of a long distance. Nothing close, nothing personal. This was personal; even in her restraint, this was more lethal and personal than ever before. Regret. There was still no regret. And yet, she felt... loss. Shame. That is what she felt. Ashamed. Heidern had offered everything; even now, the poppies were shifting from white to red around them. Heidern had stood to give up his life to stop her. And in the end?

It's just a field of poppies.

"Dying." She says. "You are dying. I... will not carry out the will of the UN. The only master I will follow... is me." She says softly, standing over Heidern, clutching her broken armor in one hand. The other hand, the claw, was... useless. She smashes the armor plate back over her chest, letting the wounds reform and wrap around it. "You will not die here on the mountain. I will not allow you to die on this mountain." And she leans down, lifting up Heidern into a pieta stance, his neck supported by her arm. The poison from her body continued to flow. She touches on the wounds gently. "I will find you safety..." And she turns her yellow eyes up across the trees, the distance. ""There is just one loose end left, Heidern." She says softly.

"One shadow of my past I must answer for."

COMBATSYS: Justice awaits the next challenger.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Justice          2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|

As the final exchange between Heidern and Justice plays out, a lone figure watches this drama quietly from a distance, perched high atop a tall stony outcropping that overlooks the small clearing serving as their battlefield. For the old mercenary dog it might very well be the last he would ever see, his body pierced, broken, and bleeding - the battle scars of a heroic stand against what could be the harbinger of humanity's end. Though the observer had not been present for the majority of their struggle, he had witnessed enough to know that the world would be a slightly darker place in the man's absence.

Honor. Integrity. Discipline.

These were the hallmarks of any true soldier and Heidern had displayed all of them in excess as he had clashed with the monstrous machine, facing off against a foe which he had no reasonable chance of defeating alone. And yet his efforts had left visible wounds upon the creature, her armor cracked and broken, her twisted malformed body leaking precious vital fluids upon the blasted earth. The injuries they had inflicted upon one another, both physical and emotional, were deep, their lives and souls wavering on the edge of a precipice.

Unfortunately, there was one fatal flaw in the approach that Heidern had taken in his handling of the matter, one last trait that besmirched his otherwise laudible character:


Sol stared down upon the broken Justice as she scooped up the fallen mercenary, his expression a stony mask of grim disapproval. For nearly a full century now he had acted from the shadows, leading a one-man campaign of terror against the people responsible for his suffering. Though he would never admit as much, his primary drive had always been to protect humanity, to guard against the machinations of the evil men who sought dominion over the world. Those long years of fighting had stripped him of his foolish innocence, ground his naviety away like sandpaper upon his soul, until only the hard truth remained.

There is no room for mercy in this world.

Not for monsters like her.

Or him.

However, as hypocritical as it might seem, he could not in good conscience destroy himself for he was perhaps the only one fully aware of the threat that these creations posed. As the person who lead the development team of the project that created them. As the man who had become the very first one. Despite the danger that he posed to the world, the world needed him to prevent something like this from happening. In that regard he had failed miserably. Justice should never have been allowed to be born. He should have been more aggressive, more informed!

Well, no time for regrets now. The girl and her father are gone, either dead or dying. The creature responsible for so much panic and destruction was attempting to leave, vanish from sight to regroup and recover. What would she do with this newfound 'morality' that Heidern had forced upon her fractured mind? Would she repent? Become a force for good? Or would that twisted psyche simply find some new reason to bare its fangs?

He wasn't going to wait and find out. This time he would take responsibility for his past actions and put a proper end to this chapter of the story.

Clutching his sword tightly, Sol steps forward off the ledge, simply dropping into the open space as casually as one might enter an elevator. He plummets like a rock, the wind whipping his wild hair and loose pants about with a noisy rustling sound that would be the first indication of his presence. All pretense of stealth, if he ever had any, vanishes upon his landing, his boots making a noisy crunch in the cracked earth as he falls into a slight crouch to arrest his momentum. Rising to his full height once more, the man known around the world as the Badguy turns to regard the injured Command Gear with a silent stare, his slitted lizard-like eyes projecting the intent behind his arrival as clearly as any words ever might.

Justice stands fast, letting Sol fully emerge.

She is silent, she waits for him to arrive. Pain envelopes her. Images envelope her. Shapes and memories and repression and horror blur over her, as she holds on to Heidern. She could feel it. The righteous anger. Her yellow eyes drift as he steps off the ledge, revealing himself. In this wasteland of destruction, she knew he would come. Alien eyes meet alien eyes, as two monsters confront each other in the ruins of annihilation. It was time for their final encounter in this war. Justice ultimately is the one who breaks the silence.

"He's dying."

Justice says to him, voice harsh and mechanized. Her armor was only piecemeal now, her pale skin mired in blue blood. "Heidern fought his battle with honor." Contempt? No, acceptance. "He... taught me what it means to be a soldier, to be only a weapon. I want him to live. But I cannot have what I want, until I deal with you." She does not drop the body. BUt she turns her head.

"I am beginning to understand what I am now."

"My mind... they've created me into something. Shaped me into something, the UN. A weapon. An abomination. Every instinct, every thought is corrupted, flooded, twisted. I know what I am. But... I can change my fate. I must change my fate." She looks back at Sol. "You know what I am too, don't you."

"That's why you must destroy me."

"Yes. I know."

Sol's rough voice answers her rhetorical question in a soft tone devoid of emotion. He does not shift his gaze away from her face, even as Justice tries to explain to him that she desires to save the wounded man in her arms. In all likelihood, Heidern is already dead, or as good as it. And even if he is not, the bounty hunter suspects that he would not appreciate survival if it meant the failure of the mission, not when the stakes are so high. Heidern will have to tend to his own fate.

Even so, he waits, giving Justice these few precious moments to sort through the chaos of her mind and the things she had learned here. In some ways, he was still reeling with the revelations as well, though he had suspected something like this for many years now, ever since Aria had disappeared. This was no longer the person he knew, not longer the woman he loved. A broken hollow shell twisted by evil men to be little more than a vehicle for raw destruction. She is everything that he hates, everything he failed to protect, a raw wound that never fully healed.

So he waits, a silent and impassive gargoyle, motionless as carved stone yet watching with bright and intense eyes filled with resolve. There can be only one outcome here if history is to be set right. As much as he might wish differently, as painful as it is to be reminded of his greatest failure as a man, he has to do this.

Everything he hates, now embodied.

The thoughts shape and shift. She remembers... the needles. The heat, the intense heat. The burning furnace being built in her chest. And she remembers the feelings, the pain. And yet, she could only see a blankness. An angel wing over an eye. Her superego, her ego, her id all flooded. And only now, the water were resceeding. She would die here, wouldn't she?

That was her judgement, wasn't it.

Was it real? Was it inserted. Justice lowers her head, her tail switching back and forth. What was she under the armor. She didn't even remember what she looked like anymore. "Heidern told me that there was choice. And I have made it. I will not destroy Southtown. I will take my army, my Valentines, and forge our own path for the Gears. ANd yet, in the end? What will freedom grant me? Respect? Morality? Even now, my instincts want me to destroy everything, to break this man, to unleash annihilation. Maybe some day, I will obey those urges. The only way to assure the future is to destroy me, the obliterate me."

"Can you make those choices too?"

She steps to the side, perpendicular to Sol Badguy. She finds a broken pile of trunks, blown apart by her battle. She carefully places Heidern upon the pile. "Can you turn away now, and damn humanity into an uncertain future? You are made to destroy too, aren't you. You are just like me too, aren't you. I can't..." The face, why was the facing burning in her. She felt a hollowness building. An emptiness. Something was missing, hurting worse than anything else before. But what was it? She grips her face, her helmet, as she returns back to her starting position, striding slowly. And the words that come out just... escape her.

"Just get it over with, Fredrick." She says coldly, the name escaping her lips mindlessly.

There is no judgement in Sol's eyes as the broken creature molded from the genetic material of his former love struggles to come to terms with her own existence. He remains silent and unmoving, save for that cold gaze that follows her as she sets aside the wounded mercenary. Even in his stoic watchfulness there remains the presence of the threat he poses, however, his well-toned muscles slightly flexed as if he expects to need to move at any moment. It isn't because he believes her to be dishonest or treacherous, merely a side-effect of his predatory instincts when faced with another monster.

When Justice speaks those final words the first crack in the stoney facade finally shows. Sol flinches, ever so slightly, his brows furrowing as he closes his eyes. Ofcourse, she would know that name. Even if she was just a copy, even if they could have dug that information up out of a file and fed it to her malleable mind, it still hurt to hear them spoken aloud. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, breathing out a sigh filled with wistful regret.

"I'm sorry."

Sol moves, his body instictively obeying the commands that he has so many times sent to those killing limbs. Though he thinks it should be much harder, the motions are smooth and come to him with the instictive ease of a deadly predator betraying that same destructive nature that he himself fights with on a daily basis. The Fireseal swings up, its reverse-bladed grip in his hand cleaving a broad swath through the air as the familiar rush of Magic flows through his fingers and into the sword's amplifying core, igniting it in a brilliant conflagration of crimson heat even as he lunges towards the Command Gear.

Now it ends - with this one final stroke.

Justice... Justice stands and waits.

What else would there be? She would fight, and kill Sol. And then, Heidern would die of exposure. And then, Leona. All three would be dead, and she would be free. That was the path she needed? That was the path she wanted, wasn't it? She had a choice. Sol would not stay his hand. He had come to destroy her. And it was the only way for her people to be free. She knew it. She knew why.

She remembered why.

Justice does not stop Sol. She only lowers her head, the twisted creature of people lost.

And it was much harder.

The blow rips free the last of the true armor, as the breastplate and helmet is ripped free. She writhes in the dirt, the dust, the armor blown to pieces. AShen shards scatter around, as blue blood continues to pour out. She was nearly naked now, her elongated, alien limbs spreads apart. And yet, as the broken shards of the helmet pull away... her crimson hair spread over her body. She rises up again, struggling into a stand, before falling to one knee amongst the field of poppies. She looks up again at Sol.

And she stares, with golden eyes, her true face revealed.

"I said... get it over with..." She gasps. There was no vocoder, no mechanical filter. It was.... it was just like her voice before. A little deeper, maybe, but the same. She brings her one clawed hand to her chest, as the cancerous swell pulses there. "Finish me, Fredrick." She stares pleadingly. "You... promised... you never would let it get this far..." How could she remember this. Why was she remembering this. Who placed these thoughts in her. Defiance comes, as she stands up. "Free me, Fredrick." She says softly, bowing her head.

"I don't want you to suffer anymore."

Sol's strike is swift and true. That hateful armor, an artifice of evil men designed for wicked goals, shatters apart under the purging flames of the Fireseal. Even in its damaged state the breastplate proves durable enough to blunt the worst of the blow and the strike that should have cleaved her in half merely sends the wretched creature beneath the outer shell crumpling to the blasted earth in a heap.

The bounty hunter looks at this alien monstrosity in its true form, his eyes wide with shock for a brief moment. It isn't that the sight is something completely new to him. He's seen the kinds of abominations that came out of the labs over the years as the shadowy organization behind the Gears tried various approaches, never quite able to get it right, twisted masses of lumpy flesh and tangled limbs intertwined with metal constructs until whatever they once were is no longer recognizable. But none of those things had 'her' face.

His expression hardens again almost immediately, teeth grinding together as his jaw clenches rigidly shut as if it might hold back the wellspring of hot fury bubbling up from within his core. What lay writhing upon the ground before him was not his beloved but a hollow mockery of the form she once took. Even within Justice's distorted features he could see the familiar shapes of that woman's body, the lines of her silhouette etched forever into his memory as if branded directly into his mind. Her face was the worst of all, so very recognizable, and yet fundamentally incorrect on several levels. A monster.

Kneeling down beside the dying thing, Sol scoops his hand underneath her neck, lifting her up into a reclined sitting position as she spoke. The words are poisonous, a mirage of something long since gone that threatens to dreg up feelings he had long since locked away. He meets her gaze as she begs, speaking of things that she should not know, and his eyes slowly slide closed once more.

Those bastards. One day, he'll find the ones responsible for this. A reckoning will come for That Man and all those who betrayed him. But not today.

"I'm sorry," he repeats, his voice a soft whisper. He leans forward and rests his forehead against hers, the thick metal band of his limiter device pressing against the pale flesh. Whatever this creature might be, Aria or not, it had her spirit and he wouldn't let her suffer any longer.

"Later... Go to sleep."

Sol doesn't look away when he brings his blade down again, offering a faint but reassuring smile, a brief glimpse into a brighter time for her to see until the very end.

Her face.

A vessel for her spirit, mingled and intertwined by her DNA. She and Fredrick made the blueprints for this. They both created the blueprints for this. But That Man was who pulled the trigger. Hope. Eternal hope, and Eternal Life. Where Justice would not sleep. There wasn't any sleep before this.

Just like there wasn't any tears.

And she was so tired. Her mind was swimming, calculating, screaming. She had a plan for this, a plan out. But the only way out needed a sacrifice. And here she was, on the altar. This wouldn't be the end of Sol's journey, far from it. His suffering was immortal, endless. But at least, at least he would have the opportunity to help her. To save her.

To bring her peace, for at least a moment.

As their foreheads meet, she cannot help but smile. She breathes in hard. And she exhales, shutting her eyes. And she waits. There were no more words. No tears to be shed. Nothing, but the inevitable. For a moment, there is a sickening, wet sound, as the blade comes down. There is no sound this time. Silence penetrates the ruined mountainside. For a brief moment, the gamma radiation spikes... before ceasing, just as suddenly. And it is done.

Justice was no longer a threat to Southtown.

COMBATSYS: Justice has ended the fight here.

Log created on 19:44:05 12/02/2017 by Justice, and last modified on 15:02:47 12/16/2017.