Nine - Act 1: Phantom Pains

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Description: The Phantom received a trial to test her loyalties. Find and prove herself against one of two still living former companions: Valkenhayn. The lycanthrope butler serving the Alucard family. He was likely keeping to a place unsafe for her to trespass let alone invade. -Or- there was the wandering and untraceable Jubei, Former lover and husband of Nine. Fortunately! A young NOL officer had recently made contact with a fugitive fitting that description.

Lightning crashes, momentarily silhouetting a wanderer's 123-cm-tall form before the darkness consumes everything once again. A wide-brimmed hat would serve to keep the intense and unabiding curtains of rain out of the wanderer's eyes. Rolled up fabric, a meter in width, is rolled in a loose bundle at his left shoulder, sagging at the top from being soaked to the core. A waterproof satchel hangs off his right shoulder, bobbing about as the wanderer walks, its pale, water-impervious canvas periodically lit by further stormclouds of light in the distance. The figure's poncho seems similarly protected against the elements, water barely having time to bead up on its surface before slipping off to obey gravity's call.

The itinerant samurai's paw reaches up, tilting the hat out of his face, so that he can look up into the rainfall. The lid over a lone crimson eye winces shut, as drops of rain slam into his snout, impressing their mighty will upon his fur. His whiskers stand a better chance, bisecting each raindrop that dares to assault him.

Jubei, the One-Eyed Twin Lotus, lowers his hat back into position, breathing a ragged sigh. His tails lash back and forth, expressing their rage against the blades of grass -- as if they too were not feeling the wrath of nature's fury.

There will be no stars visible tonight -- not in this horrific thunderstorm.
And yet, he stands here, his ears folded down beneath the wide-brimmed hat.
For he has an intuition of some kind. Possibly more of a premonition.

There was little chance the precipitation, heavy as it was could pierce the tight bonds that concealed the identity of Phantom. The Imperator's own hand stood out of direct light and let her bloodhound handle the particulars of the chase while she shadowed them, occasionally waiting for reports.

Appearing a witch hatted teru teru bozu she clings to shadows of alleyways or waits on rooftops nearby. She mostly stands quiet and slopes their head gently forward to allow the rain to slough off the wide brimmed hat. Identity completely obscured and tending to speak in only short, necessary and to the point bursts when a gesture won't quite convey what she wishes. Phantom has an unsettling habit of appearing out of nowhere and never seems to fall behind Clio, however fast the bloodhound is encouraged to move, Phantom keeps pace.

The hunt through Southtown was begun in at the last place that and informants had reported had any information on this, ...villain. Clio St. Jeanne, her guide and bristling bloodhound. The woman was exposed to a known criminal and fugitive from the NOL and there being no telling what kind of seditious or treasonous thoughts he may have planted in such a young girls head. What thoughts would grow or come of having met so dangerous a criminal.

Having the new Imperator's hand, one who wielded the terrible and monstrous authority to execute traitors on the spot. Involved and in the process of her duties with this mission there would be plenty of reasons to be nervous about job performance... Never was an inpromptu performance review more important that in these last few hours.

One more time Phantom appears ahead and encourages Clio to stop, similarly to how she indicated she would want another report only this time she bothers to speak.

"This hunt...too long...prey escape."

The cloak begins to split open and unzip itself collar to hem. The processed an inhuman voice has mostly only ever bothered with commands and directions. It expects obedience and orders a worrying.

"Close ...eyes."

A five fingered hand rising to settle a palm against Clio's brow, five taloned fingers close enough to hover close to hair and skin but merely linger without causing harm.

"Picture...encounter. ...remember."

Her voice wasn't in the slightest bit soothing, it was inhumaly processed in order to hide the identity of the wearer. If Clio reflexively looked or snuck a peek what tiny shreds of the world weren't obscured by Phantoms hand were windows into a beautiful blue sky.


Phantom relaxes and opens her hand a little, the next moment a savage and sudden deluge of cold rain. The shelters of the city buildings were gone, as were the lights. Lightning clashes ominously at Phantom and Clio's arrival, the wind setting her cloak to flapping the figure lifts her head to search. He was actually there.

Turning away from her dog in a perceivable hurry the figure of Phantom makes a beeline straight for her target, without so much as leaving Clio with time to get her bearings or be ready to defend herself.

The soft whisk of fabric as she starts into a fast forward leaning sprint, scarves trail behind her and she moves swiftly. The rain drumming against her body makes more noise than she does while speeding in to attack. Phantom left suddenly, without giving orders, no demand for further assistance. St. Jeanne is seemingly abandoned so that Phantom might fulfil her duty.

Were the concerns and considerations of the Imperator merely based on an information gathering encounter with a criminal, it would prove just how short sighted the Imperator was. Not long after meeting with Jubei, a small letter was left, dabbed with perfume and adorned with little hearts, underneath Lord Kagura Mutsuki's door. It wasn't long then, that it became time to be a bloodhound. It was certainly a job well in line for Clio's talents. Moving and dashing around the evacuated city's locales. Only, it seems to Clio St. Jeanne that ultimately her talents weren't much needed in the situation.

"Have you considered attending a poetry slam?" she asks, adjust the chains wrapped around her arm. She wears her NOL cloak in a half-way manner. It keeps much of her more or less dry, but in this configuration also allows her to keep her chain covered arm out in the open for use.

And then the Phantom was gone. "Stars dead above us," she recites, watching the Phantom disappear at a sprint. The magic that came off the Phantom, done with ease, is somewhat of a comfort to her. Wisps of dark violet flame creep along the etchings of her length of chain. Loosing the metal, she whirls it around and launches it with a crack into the canopy. And with a burst behind her, she rockets along the chain.

The chain yanks from the tree it struck, spun and tossed before Clio lands, tugging her again long the line. "But inside of all our eyes," she adds to her phrasing while ducking and swinging, perching and running along tree and ground.

"A brighter light burns," she finishes as she alights onto a tree branch. Settling into a crouch, she watches and waits in the rain. Yes, this is her spot. This is her night. And more than having her mind read for the information, that she's being used for treachery burns all the more deep inside of Lt. Clio St. Jeanne's bowls. "Malleus Maleficarum," she mutters to herself, spying and waiting.

From beneath the curiously-customized hat, two feline ears perk up. Whiskers twitch.

And an eyelid shuts the crimson-irised eye from the world.

To one unaccustomed to night vision, the dark may be terrifying.
So too, the silence of an empty field might be foreboding to someone without trained ears.
But for the samurai who has spent half his life on the run, double- and triple-checking every path and passageway for followers who might seek to claim the reward of an S-Class Bounty, his five senses have been honed to a razor-sharp edge, approximating that of the seithr-forged steel that accompanies him everywhere.

Each raindrop suicidally dashing itself onto the blades of grass makes one sound, its sacrifice muted and underappreciated in the chorus of its billions of brethren.
The sound of rain slamming into a pointed, wide-brimmed hat, though? The timbre is different -- more tympanic and clearly formed. And not only that, the rapid speed compresses the staccato rhythm into an ever-increasing pitch.

Jubei had his doubts on his newfound friend's trustworthiness. As he had wandered, he kept returning to the thought of Lieutenant Clio, sifting her memory out through the churn of countless others memories. Wondering if perhaps not -all- of the Novus Orbis Librarium was as corrupted and deluded as he'd once thought.
And yet, there is the unmistakable sound of a predator closing in for the kill.
His breath expels in one irritable huff.
The twin tails dart inside his poncho -- needed for a more noble purpose than senselessly warring with the winds and rain.

The crimson-irised eye opens.
And yet he faces the wrong way -- away from the Phantom.
His body occludes his two arms -- the Phantom might very well think the cat is redoubling his poncho, fortifying himself against the chill of tempestuous rain.

He is not.
For beneath his poncho, the swords have been drawn outward -- guided to his raised hands by his tails. The swords will cross, hidden from view.

And as soon as the predator lashes out at the seemingly defenseless feline...
The cat will leap into the air, his form masked by a discarded poncho.
The cat will pitch forward violently, kicking backwards with his powerful hind paws -- claws extended.

But the much more delibitating strike will come from the two Dream Blades as they uncross, sparks flying, sizzling into the flying raindrops as they slice back at Phantom in a cross-shaped pattern.

The cat will not be taken on this night -- not without a damn good fight.

COMBATSYS: Jubei has started a fight here.

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Jubei            0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Nine has joined the fight here.

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Nine             0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0            Jubei

COMBATSYS: Nine dodges Jubei's Form Four - Black Panther.

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Nine             0/-------/------=|-------\-------\0            Jubei

Speeding headlong toward a seemingly unawares opponents unprotected back ...there was no question she intended him harm. Unerringly travelling straight at him through the storm of raindrops she neither slows, nor hesitates when the target is within reach. Clawed fingers plunge out of the cloak, thrust out before Phantom makes contact it's sharp and direct enough a move to bite deep. A deep wound on an opponent so small.

When the tiny figure reacts with lightning speed and discards the poncho in Phantom's direction her fingers change direction, tearing the wound into the poncho -- a little wider as she tugs on the screen he was using to conceal his actions -- and she could near see what angle he was turning. and the swords were coming form those angles.

The faceless attacker and assassin in dark NOL colours and mage associated clothes; with their weapon or arm entangled and vulnerable. Truely an inhuman appearing and possibly beast-kin NOL agent. Deceptively quick on her feet for wearing floor length robes with slit skirt, from Clio's vantage point the Phantom actually vanishes in a plume of purple flame and reappears a short distance away from where she had been. Incredibly high level mage work or else the first Phantom as they appear was an illusion dispelled by coming into contact with the poncho.

The is no weight or contact to the follow-up kicks and the only target in range of the swords swing is the poncho itself. Coming at him from the side he is known to wear an eyepatch the attacker appears to have circled right and escaped the trap in order to get on his blind side.

There is a broad sweep of a strange boneless appendage and a gust of wind slaps at Jubei! The incantations were fast, or else prepared well in advance, no telling what kind of tricks existed in the costume itself. Jubei's poncho and everything heavy nearby swept up with the motion, all that discarded equipment he'd been carrying moments earlier. She was trying to propel him into the centre of a tumbling out of control katamari ball that that would fly toward and impact against the nearest tree trunk.

Phantom was also counting on Jubei being distracted or worried by the presence of another potential NOL assassin lurking in the forest. Every iota of his attention siphoned off and not focused directly upon her increased the odds in her favour.

She had left no instruction so there was no pattern to their actions, each operative moving as individuals and it would be all the harder to discern any kind of combined strategy from how they did or did not cooperate. She would do this deed alone optimally, but the presence of another was something Jubei could never afford to ignore.

A quick attack, one without provocation. Perhaps if a different set of circumstances had happened, Clio would be inclined to think Jubei a wild darkstalker. A rabid killer eager to slaughter whatever hapless individual came his way. But the questions, the conversation, situations leading up to this moment has not left Clio without her doubts to the nature of the beast she is dealing with. So she watches and rationalizes Jubei's actions into a better light.

Spike in one hand, chain wrapped around the opposite fist, Clio St. Jeanne watches the fight. The speed, the power, the immensity of illusory power on display against the nature of Jubei's beast. It's impressive, tantalizing, and it does make Clio just the little bit envious of that potential. Though the envy sours when she considers to what ends it all might be used for. Head low in the rain, she observes the fight and thinks. There is much to contemplate.

Perhaps, in some way, the American branch's tight leash was a good option. It kept Clio frustrated, but blinded by the light of the Azure Flame. Officious, but benevolent. It served to curb some of her impulse. But in Japan, she's seen suspicion, she's spoken with things in the dark. She has seen suggestions the light of the Azure Flame can cast long shadows. The rescue of Hazama that lead to a bloodied Relius Clover. The warning from one of the world's most powerful mercenaries. The man with the green hair. The man with the chains. Strange activity by the Intelligence Bureau sending multiple different information takers. Lord Kagura wanting her to keep an eye on things. And her sudden push toward being a bloodhound for someone that rips memories out of her mind. Yes, there was indeed some long, long shadows cast by her comrades. And those shadows danced in the light of the moon reflecting like starlight in the falling rain.

In the rain. In the dark. Sometimes it might be hard to see just who was hero and who was villain. But it was in those times that you needed to be most clear.

COMBATSYS: Jubei counters Wind Toss from Nine with Divine Form.
- Power hit! -

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Nine             1/-------/=======|==-----\-------\0            Jubei

The Dream Blades sink into their double-mouthed scabbard with two audible *clink*s, courtesy of Jubei's helpful twin tails. With the shed poncho flying backwards at a heading of 6 o'clock, the fabric wrapping and satchel had flown off at 9 o'clock and 4 o'clock, respectively -- and the Phantom manifests beside him in a perceptual dead zone at 3 o'clock.
This would be problematic -- if the mightiest of the Six Heroes had not already purged his mind of disruptive thoughts, entering the state of the Empty Mind. The unforgiving nature of life-or-death battles will not tolerate the existence of dissonant thoughts -- only the swift actions of battle. Every flicker of motion, every abrupt shift of the wind, is given equal weight an importance in the chorus of battle.

With the sweep of wind, so too comes the rapid exodus of raindrops slamming into the feline warrior's bicolor fur -- an early herald of the turbulent displacement.
The natural born predator reacts with speed that rivals the lightning itself. The outstretched legs and oversized orange sleeves are drawn inward. A moment prior the beastman's limbs were unfurled, but now he has curled into a tight ball, spinning about in flight.

An instant later, hind paws thrust outward at 9 o'clock from his original heading.
The pads of his paws slam into the sturdy roll of fabric, a satisfying thud resonating through the fabric and spraying accumulated water in all directions.
The cat himself is outstretched like a missile in the process. He sails upward in a high arc, allowing the focused, gale-force wind to clear a rapidly expanding elliptical void in the raindrops immediately below his position. The nimble beast spins upon his axis of travel, reorienting himself in midair so that his eye can garner its first look upon the form of his surprise assailant. Already, the body curls about, the nimble muscles firing according to a premeditated sequence. His spine will arc -- and the agile feline frame will unleash a riotously fast overhand swing of the upper Dream Blade, scything the blade down to bite into the bound shoulder of the ghostlike apparition. The goal of the strike is not to dismember, but to sever the tendon, disabling the arm.

Jubei continues to somersault about, keeping his eye focused upon the opponent as his spinning body reorients its feet towards the ground. He may have begun the conflict without sight of his opponent, but he will not willingly sacrifice that advantage again.

For the trained warrior also has his senses of hearing and touch -- an advantage provided by the turbulent rainstorm.

His satchel hits the ground with a *whump*, and he himself a moment afterward. His mouth parts in a snarl, as the Dream Blade sinks back into its scabbard again.

He sniffs the air -- sadly, this is one area hampered rather than aided by the constant rainfall. Otherwise he might be able to catch the familiar scent from the other night.

His eye flicks across the form of his assailant -- finding familiar proportions and colors but no familiar shapes in the form-obscuring fabric.
"You're out of your league, assassin. Perhaps you should quit while you are not too far behind."

How nostalgic!

She could barely recall having witnessed this form before, the movement and acrobatics as well a precise and debilitating cut; magnificently done. It was all a muted buzz that was gradually coming back to the forefront of her mind. That was right, his every limb or appendage was a potent weapon and he could counterattack from almost any angle. His strengths were beyond the legendary and close to perfect.

You had to get close to him and know him as a friend or more intimately to even begin to see flaws instead of a well-rounded and reasonable confidence in his abilites. Even now in this moment, when confronted with what could be a mortal foe he expressed generosity in speaking aloud terms that would allow them to withdraw.

A criminal.

The sharp sting of the blade that bitten into her shoulder left a wound that was cutting short the reverie. The heavily cloaked Phantom had kicked the ground in an attempt to escape so late the sword had almost caught hold already. A too late attempt to gain some distance and spacing away from those keen blades but more a result of just how quick her opponent was, the damage was already done.

Phantom moved in silence, there was no scream or cry when the construct was harmed by the blade. Clearly female by silhouette, the figure stands distant and cautious after such suffering at the display of martial skill; the scarves are gently waved to test if they were still functioning adequately. The cloak drawn closed once again and that arm hidden from view. They didn't speak or seem to appreciate the offer to be allowed to withdraw.

A gale of particles erupts with Phantom at its centre, neither affecting the rain or the grass underfoot other forces whip and spread the cloak wide and threateningly. While the scarves turn inward like an insects mandibles a bright purple sphere erupts into being and is quickly overwhelmed by shadows. Pouring so much seithr into the ball it unnatural bright colour is quickly overwhelmed and discoloured by a murky black, additionally and as the attack comes together rings are drawn across its surface like so many spreading ripples.

When Phantom projects the sphere forward it rolls and rotates, a faint twitch of the scarf later and the position of the sphere shifts to follow her direction. It was remotely controlled by her it seems.

When it invariably explodes, six long spines of torrential and destructive light burst forth from and spreading from the spheres facings. Each pillar a solid black core but surrounded by a muddied and jaggedly-wavering red beam. Where it touches or caresses, wooded branches and foliage are carved into empty spaces and gaps in the landscape. Simply blown away. A tree trunk scored by a near miss having a continuous stream of bark and wood torn away as the forceful attack streams by, for a full three seconds in duration it grinds the landscape to dust.

No goon or weakling assassin was capable of such devastation. The concealed figure was on par with a Colonel from NOL or was someone strong from one of the twelve Duodecium families at the very at least; Someone who would have good reasons to hide their face.

The skill here on display was aweing to Lieutenant Clio St. Jeanne. Her mouth took to slack as she remains perched on the bough of the rain slicked tree. The motion of Jubei, elegant and destructive. Flowing like a vengeful wind and cutting into the offense that the Phantom brought to the fore. And the pure magic might of the Phantom. The deadly light stabbing outward.

This fight was a tantalizing show and Clio was here as audience to it all. Though party separate all the same. She rolls the spike end of her chain in hand, running her thumb along the arcane etchings. She thinks about the rot that she fears at the center of the NOL, and she sees the power brought forth by this Phantom. If only that light was used to better things, and not chase down someone's whose crime was, apparently nothing more than reluctance.

She thought back to her mother, the stories of knights and heroes. Dragons and demons and all sorts of things that went bump in the night. Her mother's obsession with fighters, with heroes. Her she was, trying to live up to that obsession, and yet her she also was wondering which side she was on. After all, she watches in front of her a battle between a samurai and a witch. And even if she knows she shouldn't believe such a simplistic perspective, she knows that sometimes those perspectives can prove to ring true.

COMBATSYS: Nine successfully hits Jubei with Andradite of Accord.

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Nine             0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0            Jubei

"I take it that's gonna be a 'no,' then..."

Jubei narrows his eye at the form in front of him, angling his head downward so that the rain can drip off his furry brow rather than hitting him directly. Flashes of lightning compete for his attention as he raises his oversized paws in a warding vigil. Tiny feline feet squish into the grassy mud as he steps sideways.

He sets his jaw at the eruption of intensely bright particles swarming around a jet-black core. The long tendrils of the scarf urge the orb onward, and the cat's pace hastens. Magic wasn't ever his thing -- he prefers a more direct approach in almost every respect. He just knows that orb looks painful, and it's not moving as quickly as he expects.
Which means it's probably -more- dangerous than he expects.

Despite his suspicions, he doesn't know what form the destructive potential will take. As the lance of untempered, annihilating fury erupts outward, Jubei tries to bound over it -- vastly underestimating the speed and power it brings to the table. Searing light and devastating void take their turns blasting their way into his nearest leg, blasting the robed cat backward as surely as the wind would have mere moments prior. The cat bites back a furious snarl as he whips himself out of the direct path of the beam, but the damage has already been done: charred black fur and ruddy flesh show where the lance had dug in.

Gritting his teeth, he hits the ground hard, tumbling about for three complete revolutions before he can stabilize himself. A paw slams into the drenched earth, and the fourth revolution will be cut short as he flies back to his feet, shaking his head. It's just a flesh wound, he concludes upon pressing his other paw to the aggrieved site. He cannot afford to think otherwise, lest the mortal battle make an unkind turn for the worst.

But as he rises, reorienting himself to face the Phantom, lightning makes another insistent cry for attention.
The form of an NOL lieutenant is outlined in silhouette.
And the One-Eyed Twin Lotus draws in his breath.

Too much to think of now, though -- the secondary threat is a bit too far away to identify in the rainstorm. And as long as she remains a passive observer, he redoubles his attention on the Phantom instead.
"Not much of a talker, you," he comments, driving his hind paw into the mud. Panting from the exertion, he takes stock of his options. The cat's opponent may be capable of great feats of magic, but that is not to say that Jubei is -incapable- -- as his giant paws light with a scintillating sphere of blue, with traces of orange throughout.

With a gruff grunt, he lobs his paw forward -- and it's then that the three-foot-wide orb hurtles towards the Phantom with the speed of a softball and an arc to match. He watches with interest as he begins running after the orb, hoping to make some headway on closing the gap before his speedy opponent can create too much of an advantage against him...

COMBATSYS: Nine blocks Jubei's Rising Justice EX.

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Nine             0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0            Jubei

Unmoving and still silent Phantom hasn't shifted from the spot,surrounded by the dwindling and dying storm of seithr particles and light. If she burned up everything in the area by continuing to fight at this pace and scale of attacks she would cripple her chances of defeating him.

Even though he too was now wounded. The hat cants a miniscule amount to the side as she studies his pain and how he holds the wound, unknown thoughts going on in an alien mind with the absence of tells or body language.

The lasting effect and devastation caused by the spell had the benefit of tearing up the battlefield, moulding a forest clearing into a more open arena with rugged and deep scars torn in the ground. This suited her style, increased the difficulty in traversing it.

She was in no rush to hastily engage Jubei, stepping back into a range that was almost entirely his domain. The fact she had chosen to engage him point blank in melee was nearly acting out a death wish except for an assumed element of surprise in her assault. If she fought as he preferred then every flaw or opening she presented would end in taking another wound.

...He had aged.

The scarves both stretch out and firm up, compacting back in an rubbery manner as they attempt to ward off the ball and instead only manage a child-like two handed catch of the orb, leaving her seemingly stuck in that position and struggling.

The scarves defend but just a vague orientation and twist of her body to keep her centred on Jubei lets him know she is watching and tracking him, not fixated on escaping the ball.

The appears of a wide black headed triangle suddenly pressing through on the opposing side of the ball closest to Jubei is the first clue she wasn't attempting to slip away or escape the orb, she was boring it open and slicing it in half as he approached, a projected black three pronged trident cleaves though and then stabs forth with a gesture. Attached to the end of one of those silly scarves she has quite the reach.

COMBATSYS: Nine successfully hits Jubei with Everlasting Schorl EX.

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Nine             0/-------/---====|=======\-------\1            Jubei

Clio looks down. Caught in the flash of lightning. For a moment exposed. She looks down on the one-eyed samurai. She doesn't move when he turns and calls up the light of power in his paws. In Clio's hands, the etching on her chains flicker with a violet pyrelight. She's had her position compromised, and much of the surrounding growth has been as well. But with what limited space she has, she slinks along the branch, unfurls her chain and launches to catch on another perch. Moving and darting in the boughs above.

The power thrown around is destroying her place. She thought back to not long ago. She wonders if Kagura Mutsuki played her or not. If, in the name of loyalty to the Imperator, he expects her to sacrifice a potential lead into understanding. To learn more about something that they have limited knowledge of. And here they've crawled out of the woodwork and made demands of her. Not to find information on her own. But to simply destroy. Become a monster to eradicate presumed monsters.

The approach of the Phantom. The derailing of her plans at diplomatically dealing with a threat. Why is the few times she's not itching for a fight the fight is demanded by everyone else? In a spark of anger, her chains flare and she gouges a mark in the tree bark. The arcane flames linger a moment but fade in the gloom of the rain. Clio has the show to watch, and the show to twist her stomach.

The three pronged trident flashing outward. It makes Clio look down at the spiked end of her chain. "That's my color," she mutters to herself, a petty annoyance at best, but something she just wants to feel to cut out the gnawing guilt in her stomach. She doesn't know the past of these two. She can't. But she watches their ballet with a sullen need.

And slowly, she drops from the tree and down to the ground. She walks closer to the edge. And there she slowly unravels the chain from her arm. The arcane weapon instead slithers about her waist, spiked end hanging above her backside. She removes her hat, wringing it out and tucking it into the belt made of chain. She watches, and lets the rain plaster her hair down. Half her face marred by the water's effect on her make up.

This... Phantom is confounding the samurai cat.

Certainly, he watches his orb of concentrated chi as it bounds its way over to the construct. And certainly, he pays close attention to the way in which the scarves' fabric flaps about as waves of force are sloughed off of the spinning orb. The struggle gives him the time the aging samurai needs to close into striking range.

And yet, something is wrong -- the construct opposes the orb only because the response suits it so. A side of the feline's face curls in dismay as he realizes the gambit -- to draw him in closer was -her- goal as well.

By that point, it's too late to shy away. On solid ground, the agile cat would have fared better, but on the slippery mud, he finds stopping to be quite difficult indeed. His arms raise up, doubling to form a barrier of defense -- and yet, the shimmering blade drives right through, piercing through his sleeve to aggrieve the feline arm locked inside.

Blood spits outward from the sleeve, but the Legendary Hero's pain is expressed not only through injury, but in the panicked look on his face.

The attack's signature -- the distinctive, unique style of the phantasmic ebony blade.
He's seen it before.
But never from this angle.
" . . . "

The injured arm flails ineffectively, as the cat lands in the mud with a splash. Twin tails thrash about wildly in panic, as he scrambles backwards on his good arm, kicking at the mud with his feet.

The blade has pieced through the walls of the Empty Mind itself.

The abject panic of recognition lasts but a moment, subsided by the reality of a clear and present threat to his very life. The construct may wield a familiar tactic -- but it is still aiming to kill.

The scarlet eye opens wide, as the paws work in unison. The panic is displasced as the cat bears down onto his paws, fresh blood mixing with rainwater into a runny mess down his sleeve as he leaps back to his feet.

"You dare invoke =her= memory?!" he howls.
Pain hones the senses -- a sensation familiar to the grizzled samurai. But while he may have been determined before, he needs to learn more about his enemy. To take advantage of this close range, before the Phantom opens up another chasm between them. He swings out with a wild slash of his right claws, before whirling about into a tornado spin, hurling water droplets in all directions. Aided by his assisting tails, a Dream Blade is withdrawn from its scabbard, its curved path leaving a lightning-reflected afterimage as he carves in a raging diagonal slash from the Phantom's upper left down to lower right.

Jubei will solve this new conundrum -- what the hell has NOL wrought now?!

COMBATSYS: Jubei successfully hits Nine with Random Strike.

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Nine             0/-------/=======|=======\-------\1            Jubei

That got you...!? You're getting sloppy in your old age, handsome cat.

At this range, they were bound to trade blows even if she successfully landed her Everlasting schorl. She was not underestimating him in the slightest but the question was to who could deal the most damage and incapacitate the other first.

The cut scores across the front of phantom and parts the cloak like it was silk. A fingers breadth opening appearing in the material as they reel away and slump to hunch forward. Finally leaving an impact much like it would on a human opponent.

The entire unit beginning to vibrate on the spot as if enraged it reels the scarves in to wind completely around it's body as if stemming something form escaping. Generous amounts of white flesh squeezing out through the opening in the cloak close to Phantoms shoulder.

Phantom dared invoke 'her' memory?

"ufu.. HA!..AHA! Az-kzzrrrrt-t--AHAHA"

A gleeful and hysteria filled melodic noise badly sampled, it cuts out here and there while and static joins the white noise pattering of rain to fill the dead air where she cuts out. She was badly garbled by whatever magic's were working overtime trying to disguise that female voice. Phantom throws her head back to laugh while the scarves entwine themselves and pull taut around her, holding closed the rent in the cloak ad well as her sides.

There was no time to linger like this though, they had an audience. The child who stands there in the rain, and whose despised NOL uniform soaks through as she watches on, she was an unpleasant reminder to get back to the task of subduing the fugitive.

The figure of phantom bursting into an all-consuming orange flame wreathed version of herself, to self-destruct while suicidal hurling toward Jubei and rendering down to a compact fireball that would concussively explode in his face.

Down on the ground now. She crosses her arms. Her boots spread the mud underneath her feet and she starts to walk along the perimeter. She circles, a mixture of sorrow and rage at this turn of events. And worse, the crippling feeling of impotence that weighs on her more than the chill of the winter rain does.

She looks back on the moments before this. How things had twisted and turned and bent to be where they are now. How far the NOL has fallen in her esteem. To what lengths and betrayals would they go to ensure they did what? Attack an old cat with dangerous weapons. Yes, Kagura, thought Clio, let's be afraid of what they have while we lash out with everything we have. Fear and blind arrogant control were not the standards a night carried into battle. And here she was, leading the vanguard.

All the teaching. The drills. None of it seems to Clio to be for any purpose but to instill control. To bend and manipulate those with power while they were still learning. To form them to serve a force that didn't care for a bit of justice. Not with the ambitions and the treatment she's seen so far.

Here she stands now, watching the fight while one rages on in her. And then there's a laugh in the rain. Clio's head inclines. Her chain, wrapped around her like a tailed belt, flares to life. It burns, but doesn't burn her. Wisps of violet fire extending around her waist, down the length to the spiked end that hangs toward the ground.

Clio's fingers dug into her biceps. This thing that rooted through her memories, destroyed her spot, took her trust, was now laughing at all of this. And doing it all behind a disguise. Not even brave enough to fight with her face showing. To look at her opponent and give him the chance to see just who wants to hurt him. The NOL weren't looking like knights here. Just thugs with a better budget and a flowery promise.

COMBATSYS: Jubei guards against Nine's Crimson Raider.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Nine             1/----===/=======|>>>>>>>\-------\1            Jubei

For those whom life and death teeter on the brink of a blade, follow-through is absolutely essential. Not only must one treat their weapon as an extension of not only the body but the core -self-, one must remain mindful of how that weapon interacts with the opponent. One cannot lose awareness of the opponent, lest the most obvious of tells lead to a crippling counterattack.

The blade swings clear of the Phantom, grip transitioning seamlessly from his paws to his tails so that he can keep sight of his opponent. Maintaining calm, steady pressure is crucial to the art of the samurai -- he must prevent this construct from withdrawing.

By doing so, Jubei has ensured himself a front row view for the baring of alabaster flesh -- a peculiar affectation to grant a construct that insists on keeping itself hidden. Most of the constructs he's fought in the past have been lurid mockeries of the female form, made compatible with civilized mores only with the tinting of skin to a clearly artificial grey.

The Empty Mind had been pierced before -- and irrelevant thoughts continue to barge their way inside. The Legendary Hero's gaze lingers a second longer than necessary...

Only to be interrupted by -laughter-.

Jubei staggers backwards, paw reaching back for his lower sword as he settles into an iaijutsu draw stance. His narrowed eye snaps back to the female construct with a fleck of irritation, as he fights to quell the insurrection in his mind's dojo. As long as the attacker is attacking, he must defend -- and he cannot be compromised in that defense.
Teeth grit -- and his grip solidifies on the lower of the two Dream Blades.

Flames spiral outwards, enveloping the shrouded form of the Phantom. Raindrops hiss into steam as they sizzle upon her form -- and it begins thundering towards Jubei.

Flames make one thing even more apparent...
The creature is even the same -size- as his beloved.

The One-Eyed Twin Lotus's nose wrinkles in anger. Those -bastards-.

He -almost- falters -- his leading elbow is a fraction of a second later for the realization. But he compensates by leaping backwards, giving himself the instant he needs to raise that limb up to defend his face from the fiery onslaught. Spectral tongues of flame lick at his sleeves as the cat's hind paws dig meter-long trenches into the mud, but still the Hero of forgotten past remains resolute, pushing back with every fiber of his being.

The cat's hood blows back from the flames. A chaotic mane of half-dry, half-soaked fur bares itself to the wind and flames. And he roars back against the conflagration with leonine authority.

But his path is interrupted as his left paw drives into a rock, buried just under the surface of the muddy grass. His leg begins to buckle -- and yet, the experienced warrior knows enough to channel that inconvenience into an opportunity. Springing backwards off the unexpectedly solid surface, he leverages the backwards momentum into a counterattack, cutting a tight somersault in mid-air.

And then he notices it.
Violet flame, entwined about a sturdy chain.

Gritting his teeth, he nonetheless remains committed to purging the discordant thought before he can be compromised again.
He snarls, backflipping over the remaining flames as he sails back to his feet.
"Aren't you two supposed to be working -together- to take me in?!"

The cat's anger is expelled before his feet hit the ground in a low stance.
And then he draws his sword -- perfectly timed with a crack of distant thunder.

The momentum of his iai strike is powerful enough to hurl him forward again -- enough to propel him into a dizzyingly fast spin. His anger bled off, only raw technique is on display now -- the ravaging maelstrom of the unleashed Dream Blades, slashing in an vicious pattern as the feline samurai flies back at his opponent.
The third Form of his bespoke style -- Ranjishi, the Rebellious Lion.

COMBATSYS: Nine endures Jubei's Form Three - Ranjishi EX!!

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Nine             1/-======/=======|>>>>>>>\>>-----\1            Jubei

Reforming herself out of the flame while positioned at the epicentre of the explosion, Phantom is as a risen phoenix and growing back to her full height and mass before the flames extinguish. Doing away with the battle damage to her cloak leaves it unnaturally pristine condition and only now freckling with the driving rain.

Of course he did not see or appreciate the humour in his statement. He did not know why she laughed. She couldn't resist the urge to continue attacking, this was all so...


Jubei's retuning launch and spin is faster than her eye can follow. Vertically spinning at a speed that aids in concealing the swipes with sword or claw, she would have already had great difficulty fending off or escaping. Phantom doesn't even try to! The shredding pattern of blade slashes and tears long gashes in the newly repaired cloak, at an overwhelming pace while the still and yet flinching Phantom won't relent and back away.

This was casting under the most EXTREME duress and difficulty. Using herself as the bait when every split second amounted in three or four more wounds required all the willpower and fortitude she could bring to bear. The cape was a help, not simple cloth and resistant to damage, but no match for a legacy weapon let alone one in the hands of a master swordman.

She. Would. Endure.

As much pain as required! To ensnare her foe and complete the mission, it was demanded of her. The one reliable method to catch someone who always intended to follow through was to plan ahead and use that moment to counterattack.

Breaking her root and allowing Jubei to send her sailing back with a few last swipes and further wounds. Instead of sprawling or falling she lands while still skating backward across the landscape. A huge pentagonal crest with wings of fire either side, a brazier of flame for a crown dwarfs the construct, flashing white as it flares to life and then fades to deep crimson red.

The Silhouetted Phantom throws their arms wide and bursts free of cloak, it likewise fans either side of them like more bat-like and claw tipped wings. A steady trail of purple flame burns from one side of the face while a glowing gold pierces the gathering darkness. Such deep a pitch black as to even swallow the stars overhead and scenery around the heroes, it leaves nothing to perceive but this dragon, her prey and a hapless onlooker? The seithr she was drawing on and fuelling her counterattack with was ludicrous, unsafe and dangerous levels of it being drawn toward and into her.

The ground beneath Jubei bulges upwards, a mass of rocks melting and parting with flame and liquid magma filling the cracks... as 'something' surges up out of the ground beneath. A pounding knock against the earth's crust from an entity below, one that bursts free with jaws already gaping and aiming to swallow him whole.

That one broken horn still heated and glowing unlike it's very solid and earth like body. Hi no Kagutsuchi!! The massive fire elemental that long ago served Nine and no other. The scale of this attack Phantom was launching, did she intend to wipe out the entire clearing and spare nothing and no-one?

COMBATSYS: Nine knocks away Jubei with #Colorless Void#.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Nine             0/-------/-------|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2            Jubei

The strongest of the six heroes disappearing in a single gulp the elemental starts settling down heavily into place. The raindrops flashing into steam before they can even reach the brownish and rocky skin of the elemental. The torso of the beast only having emerged from the ground it swelters in an aura and sea of intense heat and flame before it bursts, changing from a physical form into a prison containing our hero, where overlapping and shifting pillars of flame and an uncontrollable inferno surrounds even that.

The shadowy but human sized witch raises her arms to her sides, one hanging slightly lower than the other and she surges up into the air as a beam of purple light. reappearing and hanging in the air alongside a massive pentagram circle, a hazy reddish dawn and solid black lines inking it. Spinning rote and formula dialing in range and distance as the gate begins to open. A commanding voice incants the final line alongside a growing wave foreboding and presence of light.

"Colourless Void!"

A wave of super-heated rocks streaking like meterors down upon and repeatedly beating the imprisoned hero before the final and largest rock sweeps the entire area with a shockwave as it lands and sweeps the fire to fan out across the clearing.

The magic fading the very human Phantom drifts toward the ground gently, one extended down and toe pointed to land gently as the shroud of darkness she summoned passes, the sea of flames she created comparable to an airliner crash.

Her head turning this way and that during her descent to search for survivors. Jubei! If there was no way to confirm if he was living or dead. She messed up.

Some time ago, in a moment when there was no rain, just the coming clouds. Clio St. Jeanne looks at a pocket guidebook to stars of the Eastern Hemisphere. "Clouds are crap, but I promised stars and I'm bringing stars," she mutters to herself, flipping through the book and cross referencing with her phone to determine the proper directions to look in. Despite the clouds, with the book she could at least know what was supposed to be there. She goes for her NOL coat, big enough to keep the book safe and dry should it start raining. Tonight would be the night she'd start to pick at the strange case of The One-Eyed Twin Lotus. She was hopeful then.

Clio St. Jeanne stands in the storming rain, head lowering when she hears the call of her ranking. Jubei used it when Hazama didn't. What sort of things did that all entail. What reasons could each of them have. A simple matter of formality? A difference in respect? Lack of, or total understanding? Regardless of where the words came from in the feline's heart, they twisted with a knife's edge inside of Clio's. The lightning strikes and Clio doesn't draw her own weapon, merely her words.

"She seemed fine drilling into my head for all of this on her own!" she calls out, bitter and wounded. All the honeyed words and shadowy assurances from the NOL uppers an opiate so they could consume her to their own ends. Hypocrites, thugs, and monsters. She was no better than having joined Mad Gear.

And there, in the midst of her anger, her own violet flame was dimmed and dwarfed as the clearing is broken and consumed by hellfire. The ground upwelling, knocking Clio back onto her heels. She is an acrobatic sort, twisting, rolling away and to her feet a full run. She gets a grip on her chain and with a flick, the length whips the air and wraps about her forearm. A snap, a toss and a thunk in the limited wooded distance. She pulled, and her chain reacts. She bursts from the ground with a sparking ember . The crashing meteors careening into the ground where Jubei, encased by the flaming pillars, must take them all head on.

Clio hits the ground and tumbles, rolling. Flipping up and ended among scattered leaves and fallen char from earlier attacks. She leans against the tree, she stares at the fiery wreckage. She thinks on betrayal and what causes it.

"Don't use Chinatown. That's stupid. I know he's there, but there are places that aren't where people live and work that he goes to," Words spoken in a desperate, tired tone. Quickly spoken with a bitter bile building in the speaker's chest. Clio admitting her spot. Admitting tacitly that she has means to ambush and at a safer location than causing more pain to Southtown. Selling out morality for morality. The book that was under Clio St. Jeanne's cloak felt heavier in those moments before her mind was pierced.

A book that now sits on the outskirts of the clearing, seared, pages torn and scattered. Some nothing more than ashes from the flames. Some of them just charred from the force. Clio looks down at it when she returns to the clearing to survey the situation. She looks over at the Phantom. Nothing save for hatred in her eyes.

The 'Jeanne' girl was free with her tongue. Phantom didn't much concern herself if it was serving her purposes releasing a bit of nervousness, or perhaps a little insubordination. That amused her. So long as her commanding officers handed her over without making too much undue fuss and noise and she did her job well enough; they could begin this mission.

A few hours traversing the city with no luck or timely sightings that went back to a point, a path of travel could be discerned. Much like him, careful and cagey if he had left a trail she immediately considered it a false one almost immediately. Every minute that passed now he was slipping out of her grasp, she wanted to ... she had to see him.

<Enough! this wild goose chase is taking us long. I won't let him go when he's so close.>"This hunt...too long...prey escape."

The cloak begins to split open and unzip itself, collar to hem. The tight restraint pulled across her torso finally allows her to breathe, it was far too tight. The processed an inhuman voice still replaces her own, boiling her words down to the simplest commands and directions.

"Close... eyes."

Transporting them both to the Phantom zone was child's play, she wasn't prepared for the distance separating her and Izanami to be so painful. It's true that she could feel herself starting to perish just as the Imperator had warned. A little fortitude and a strong will would carry her far enough to perhaps find what she needed. Here this place filled with a beautiful ocean blue with unending horizons every which way you looked, it appeared endlessly deep too but she had delved to the bottom just a few times. Here memories were strong, and could be shared. The girl knew all the things about that 'real' world she didn't recognize... where was the criminal headed, where was Jubei?

"Picture...encounter. ...remember."

The face of phantom, plagued by tiny motes of blue fire that were occasionally crawling across the surface of the cloak and rolling across her bared face. She couldn't keep this up indefinitely, but long enough for the girl to show her what she needed.

Insubordination is the name of the game when you're having your plans pulled out from under your feet. At the very least, malicious obedience was in order. So the ramen shop in Chinatown was the first place to go. But there are problems with that, human problems. As in, too many of them trying to rebuild and live in the wake of the threat of war and nuclear annihilation. "It wouldn't be a hunt if you just let me handle things," was her first, and for a while, only statement to the Phantom.

Holding off the truth could only last so long, however, and the reality that the Phantom intended on throwing down with Jubei was too much to deny. She couldn't put Southtown at risk again, even for her own plans and potential allies. "I know where he'll be tonight. Don't use Chinatown." Threat to the people she intended to protect was where she had to draw the line. And a quiet mental apology to Jubei was all she had to give before relinquishing the location of her star gazing spot. "He's just some darkstalker," she says, "Who has a hangup for family. He told me to eat my soup before it got cold. I never had a dad, but that's the kind of things dad's do, right? That's what we're dealing with. You should know that before you go screwing up any chance at actually gaining intelligence."

When the memories are revealed, and the moment comes that she sees that she'll be compromising her favorite private spot in Japan, and should Jubei even show up, the trust he had put in her, Clio digs her fingernails into the palms of her hand. "I know the people in Chinatown won't know, and I don't care, but I will remember what the NOL is making me do for them. I will never forget this. Or what you've done."

Interesting girl! She liked going her own way and clearly had no respect for authority merely because it was above her. In a better world the trait might be more admirable and survivable, valued for the integrity it held rather than the placement of the one who held it. Here she would likely 'disappear' or be tried for treason when she invariably crossed her superiors.

Phantom tried to drown out the complaints for a while. Aggression, reasoning, passive-aggressiveness or coercion she was impassive to it all, only interested in the facts. She was also dangling the girl out in front of her for Jubei to see if he was still in hiding nearby. A shrouded assassin following some righteous innocent trapped in this sea of corruption. If he were nearby it might just appeal to the romantic notion of justice. Shielding those deserving who were weaker than him and disliking bullying in any shape or form.

Some of it permeated her armour though, the general theme to the griping but the girl was wrong though. Enough time in Jubei's company and her life would be forever changed, not 'handled' as she was suggesting in the slightest. She wasn't ready for heady conversations about the nature of the world and the past when the speaker could show her evidence to back it all up. Fit all the pieces together and change or reshape her world.

Oh? A jarring thought slides home. W-was that the kind of things fathers were meant to do? She had no idea. The notion and words sounded much like something Jubei would have said and done, that's true. They'd had a daughter together hadn't they? That fact made him a father but it seemed an aberration, not all were even remotely like him.

An image of Jubei doing just so appears only generally bidden by her, the girl sharing it unconsciously as she recalled it. The clearing in the woods she had shown though, as long as Phantom could borrow and copy that image then they could travel there. The likelihood that he would still-

The girl continues barking at her, something to do with gathering intelligence and possibly blackmail. Phantom had interest in neither of these. The girl was a tool, expediting her pursuit of Jubei but seemed to think that her feelings were to be considered. Was this Child even trained?! Part of a militaristic organization whose depths of corruption spanned the gap between earth and heavens; from whose hands the dead were not even safe!! This was startling levels of rebelliousness, don't forgive them then! Small mercies she had never had to raise a teenag--


Don't forget what she was doing for them? Continue to talk like this? Phantom doesn't elaborate any further and the word is all but lost in the sudden lashing of the rain pelting as she deposits them both in the place from the memory.

The creeping flames extinguished in an instant and her strength beginning to replenish now the Imperator was close once again, and her soul stabilizing. Lacking for magical power right now she had to charge, the short window of time before he would notice the intruders was all the chance she had. She was unprepared for landing right on top of him.

The Legendary Hero's blistering storm of one brutal slash after another lands with no resistance. Each slashing swipe is powerful enough to fell a redwood -- and yet, the blades' true fury is kept at bay by intangible, immaterial means. Gashes mend almost as quickly as they can be carved into the female construct's defenses -- all the more reason to affirm the unleashing of his Musashi's full power.

As the Phantom is blasted back from the final series of swipes, the One-Eyed Twin Lotus finally snaps out of his lethal symphony, hind paws slamming into the damp rain with twin splashes of mud. Impossibly sharp weapons return to their scabbard, as tails flick irritably from side to side. Jubei narrows his eye at the unknown spellcaster, tacitly observing the fact that it -was- too easy for him to land his blow. His fears are confirmed as the Phantom unleashes her own chaotic might, branding a pentagonal crest into the ground.

His mouth curls into a snarl as he learns the consequence of the crest -- far from avoiding its wrath, he looks down to find himself at ground zero. Every fibre of his being screams at him to leap to safety, but with the very ground betraying him, Jubei's only tangible effort is to thrust his oversized paws forward in a vain attempt to redirect his momentum.

An instant later, it becomes clear that he did not succeed, as the accursed fire elemental -- liberally bathed with steam and churned earth -- bursts through the upheaval to swallow him whole.

The silhouetted form of Jubei swings in futility at the imprisoning bars, even as the elemental rage grows from a seething fire into an erupting conflagration. And that's -before- the mouth of Hell opens up, loosing a cosmic bombardment that slams the cat's form against the back of his prison, time and time again.

The Phantom will glean no further satisfaction than seeing the cat loll back and forth like a ragdoll though -- the Empty Mind is in full effect, his iron will refusing to yield. Mouth soaked in blood, he turns his eye to the final meteor, all but gripping the bars of his prison as he meets death head-on.

Rocks explode.
Fire seethes.

Rain pelts the blast crater, as steam clouds simmer outward.
And yet, impossibly rising from the crater, is the smoking body of Jubei.
His orange robes, where they have not been seared through with holes, are charred black. His hood remains pulled back -- his flesh seared red from where his soot-encrusted fur can no longer conceal.

- - -

Jubei stood on the edge of the Cauldron, his hood pulled back in similar fashion. His right paw was curled back, clutched firmly along the hilt of his lower Dream Blade, his left paw upraised to grasp its kin. All he needed was a signal.

He stared past the curls of his lover's hair, stared directly into her eye.
They could communicate without a word -- so intense and unbreakable was their bond.
The fiend had no way to sneak up on either one of them, in such a position.
There would be no quarter.

And then the sign presented itself -- a glimmer of green, reflected in her eye.
His grip tightened.
The Fourth Form -- The Black Panther.
It would take but an instant for him to whirl about and strike the fiend down. He did so without even thinking -- the blades carving right through the form that cast the reflection into his lover's eye.

You cannot hurt him!

It was too late.
What's done could not be undone.
A flash of green.
A blur of pink hair, muddled with monochrome, weighted down by the chains of the Ouroboros.
And the Azure flared blue, engulfing her body whole.

- - -
The terror unfolded within the blink of an eye.
Replayed in infinite nightmares.

She seemed fine drilling this out of my head for all of this all on her own!
The cat's ear quirks towards the tree.
He heard that -- but when was it?
During the fires?
Before? After?
Where is my daughter now...

The cat's eye shuts, as he claps a paw to his face.
F O C U S.

The Sanctum of the Empty Mind was defiled.
Was that not the point?
The Mind must be clear, in order for the Body to accomplish its task.

The scalded cat's twin tails toss the scabbard over his shoulder, slipping the paired Nox Nyctores into his awaiting paws. He bites down on the scabbard -- his ragged breaths misting up the fine lacquered finish. And as his paws draw the blades out of their sheath, a dense crimson aura erupts upwards from him like a furious geyser of flame.

And as he raises the swords to either side -- and then circles them ninety degrees, bringing them perpendicular to the earth...

The awesome, terrible eye opens up, a black iris inlaid with glowing orange. Radiance stretches outward, blistering the rims of his right eye socket.

Hovering in the air above the bridge of his nose, a third Eye opens up -- its iris searing the air itself, the folds of reality rippling around it.

The Sekigan can pierce through any reality. Nothing can hide from its all-seeing vision -- Let the truth be lain bare before him.

And as his body rises from the crater -- he staggers forward, any number of bruises and welts plaguing his body.

He can see the soul of his Lover once again.

And entwined around her...

Jubei draws in his breath.
The swords are brought low, as his entire body coils for the strike.

In the very next instant, he surges forward.

COMBATSYS: Jubei successfully hits Nine with #Asura - Thunderbird Rising'#.

[                                < >  //////                        ]
Nine             0/-------/------<|-------\-------\0            Jubei

For the samurai cat, time itself seems to stand still, falling raindrops frozen in place. Each of the cat's strides carries him forward five meters at a time. And each stride is punctuated by a cataclysmic sweep of his seithr-forged blade, powerful enough to pierce the heavens.

The Empty Mind is not enough to contain his rage.
But it is enough to -guide- it, unerringly, towards the Phantom. To slice the foul bonds restraining her. To free her from the prison.

The heavens themselves weep, as slash begets slash, and slash begets slash. A defenseless mortal body would have been severed clean through dozens of times over -- the blades will grant no respite. But he knows full well that the will is stronger than that.
So intense and unbreakable is their bond.

Jubei has run clear past his assailant, his hind paws driving into the mud.
The raindrops consider falling again.
But even they hesitate, as the Legendary Hero reverses directions.
Two Dream Blades return to their scabbard.

And the One-Eyed Twin Lotus returns back the opposite direction.
The Will must be suppressed. The flesh must be ravaged clean.

Jubei lunges back again, moisture welling up in his eyes.
Claws rake sideways, up and down, to and fro. Circular sweeps carve trenches through what was left unfinished by the razing diagonal slices. The raindrops hesitate, unsure when the shredding frenzy will end.

And yet -- it does, as the body of the Phantom is launched skyward by the repentant samurai's final swipe.

Fur flutters from around his watering eyes as he sails upwards.
The Sekigan blazes throughout, allowing him to see every last detail of the Phantom.

And only then does he perceive the rain to fall, once again.

Jubei's jacket charred a black like the ash or ground, she hardly noticed him struggling to stand against a background of so much ash and similar colour in the dark of night. Only a vague hint of movement from someone so small, a faint smile playing across her lips like she was at least enjoying the act of fighting him. And is was good she hadn't disintegrated him! That look quickly sours, faintly exhasperated he hadn't had enough already. When she realizes there's still some fight left in him-- That wasn't the look of a fighter standing on their last gasp. She folds her arms as though cross and concludes her gentle descent.

This was-! That crimson aura jolts her into sudden action but the movement falters and freezes under the weight of that mystic eye staring at her.


Phantoms arms moving in fitful jerks and spasms as responding to the paralytic effects of the Sekigan's gaze, unfathomably continuing the act of forcefully repositioning her arms in front of her with palm angled towards him. A magic barrier might fend off some part of what was coming. It was the best she could manage with her movement sealed like this.

The ghostly image of a woman bound and woven tightly overtop of Phantom. Her hands bound against her breast with one wrist atop the other. Fingers fanned out and obscuring the perfectly squared blade and tip of a short tie that rested atop a prominent and formidable breast. ...The impact site of a horrible wound that had caused her great pain when Terumi's chain pierced her, a mortal wound so grievous it likely ended her life before she were tossed aside and into the boundary like trash.

The arcane twisted white ribbons heavily covered in formulae and glyphs, Math and magical symbols both worked into headache inducing equations with incredible complexity, impossible to solve for since they were partially hidden from view where they wrap and conform to the curves of the woman's body. Seals and tags on metal rings hang from another layer of ribbons and knotted cords, trailing away to points where the encircle her and appear staked into the 'ground.'

Asymmetrical bangs combed away to reveal a face that by her choice she usually kept partially obscured. Her 'cursed' left eye was always tucked away and hidden away out of sight like she was self-conscious about it. It seemed profane or a violation for the entirety of her face to be visible, eyes still and closed as if she were sleeping. Left positioned so; Nine appeared as if laid out for a funeral that had never been held.

Gone missing for decades, under mysterious circumstances the world had long ago assumed she was dead. They didn't know the exact reason or circumstance; no-one remained who could have told that story.

The fragments of her magic barrier surrounding Phantom like so much shattered glass as Jubei lunges. Mouth and unnatural black and golden eye both wide with the opening sensation of pain and disbelief as she is juggled backward, volleyed between being juggled into the air and slashed back down toward the ground in a constant wave of motion. When she does finally strike the ground and begin to grate across the surface it's only to reach a spot Jubei is already waiting for her. Tossed back into the air as if with a clap of wind the unending battering and slashing of claws from every direction reduces the short cape and witches hat to rags, the woman not faring much better as she rolls back in the air and drops limply to the ground.

Landing with a fountaining splash in one of the particularly deep puddles she doesn't rise after even seconds of cautious watching. All is silent but for the crackling fires and other occupants of the clearing.

A faint gasping and rasping as she struggles to regain her breath hardly even competes with the crackle and snap of burning wood, but she wasn't dead.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort to lift her arm and reach up toward the sky. But the soft and plaintive cry for ""Where was her beloved? Was he okay?

COMBATSYS: Nine takes no action.

[                        \\\\\\  <
Jubei            0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Nine can no longer fight.

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Jubei            0/-------/-------|

Anger, rage, hatred. All of these things can burn hot. But burning hot can only be maintained for so long. So much emotion can be caught, it can spiral into a wildfire and it can consume a soul in moments. Or, it can be drained and siphoned away. Washed under in a tide of rain, cold, and the sheer amazement at watching a titan dance in the light of a storm.

Clio St. Jeanne, Lieutenant of the Novus Orbis Librarium, is a study of magic. She is schooled and practiced in the arts herself. She has studied at the Academy, she graduated with good score and reputation. She knows the power of a Nox Nyctores. She has seen the tendrils of Ouroboros in person. But this is the first time she has been so close and witnessed the power of one wielded before her eyes.

"My god. . ."

The young woman watches the dance of death and fire and rain before her with an awe and a pang of inspiring envy. The fire of her chain flares in the observing, fading back to the thin glowing etchings of arcane symbology as the cat lands and the aftermath of his onslaught allows time to flow as normal once more.

A woman in the dim light of lightning's crash. Bound and tied. Arcane symbols both spiritual and hermetic. Most beyond her talents, but not all. Clio shakes her head at the sight. Her chain rattles, not the usual patterned fidget but the tremble of someone confronting a godhead.

Clio St. Jeanne does not know who this woman is. She doesn't know the specifics of what she means to Jubei, and what Jubei means to her. But she can see one thing as the witch's hat and cape falls like damp confetti; sometimes a beast can be a victim.

Taking a spare spike from her cloak, Clio holds it in her palm. The sigils glow, burst to flame and the spike stands upright in Clio's palm. A violet lantern that can ignore the wind and rain from the storm. She is hesitant now, seeing Jubei, and the fallen woman. Yet she is pulled to a slow walk toward the soft cries coming from the heap of a body in the puddle.

The Phantom may have enjoyed the thrill of battle, but the One-Eyed Twin Lotus took no pleasure in performing the most devastating symphony of devastation in his repertoire. Numerous walks through the Boundary had not broken his will -- nor had wandering the Earth with the Nox Nyctores turned the beastman insane. This outpouring of emotion would be no different -- the tears streaming from his eyes would be mercifully conflated with the drops of driving rain.

No -- the credo of the Samurai is to live every day as if it were his last. To perfect himself more each day. It is impossible for one who has walked Jubei to live a life without regrets -- rather, the goal is to live his life -in spite- of those regrets.

The glowing rays of the Sekigan pierce through all darkness, bypass any disguise. Perhaps Clio was not meant to see the bound woman trapped within the guise of the Phantom -- but there is no way that Jubei could take another step on this Earth without seeing the truth behind the flimsy lie. Without seeing -why- this vile, hateful creature can wield the weapons of his beloved wife.

And the answer was in front of him all along, defying all reason.
Jubei watched her die.
But here she stands -- collapsing into a puddle just a few meters away from the spot in which the cat lands nimbly. Though his stance is weak, his balance is augmented by the rapid fluttering of his tails -- as well as the fact that he rushes forward with almost no delay.

The Empty Mind is a harsh, callous prison. And yet, as long as this threat to his existence is breathing -- it can betray him.

He stands over her -- and against all good sense -- he draws his sword upon his fallen opponent.

The one crying out for ... for =him=.

"... Beloved."
He says, with the tip of the Dream Blade extended just one centimeter from her throat.
He says, as the eyepatch falls back into place, as the Sekigan winks closed.
He says, as the spectral bonds tethering the Phantom in place weaken.

"... -God?-"

So he heard the young lieutenant after all.

The sword shudders at the end of an oversized paw, held at length by a battle-weary samurai.
"-God- would not have placed me in this position now."

The old warrior exhales his breath -- drawing the tip of the sword back a centimeter, lest his weary hand slip further.


The cat struggles, whiskers twitching as rain slams into his cheek. Yes... 'Rain.'
"--Konoe. What is the last thing you remember...?"

COMBATSYS: Jubei takes no action.

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Jubei            0/-------/-------|

Nine doesn't react to the proximity of the blade. Thinking she would be in mortal danger when Jubei was with her was frankly ridiculous. They were the most powerful of battle couples, few chose to oppose them though many refused to acknowledge their union. One of the Ten Sages! The greatest mages of the time, choosing. A. partner. Who. Was. Beastkin. Someone who would be recorded into the annuls of history!! ...and she didn't even have the sense to keep her perversions and half-breed spawn a dirty little secret.

Nine's mouth works soundlessly as she gathers and orders her thoughts, as properly and necessary to life as the oxygen she craved.

"I...warned y-you could-not."

she twists her wrist in the direction of his voice and faintly rolls her head around to look in that direction. Vibrant pink hair, spread and greying in the muddy water around her it floats and swims with the movement. She doesn't move much and cannot see him, is it because he's on her blind side? She lets her arm fall since it was a struggle to keep it raised.

"Could not-- Hurt him."

Terumi. When her dear husband had turned to futilely slash at the one eyed monstrosity forming behind him, he missed the shock and fury on Nines face. Idiot! Hadn't they gone over this? Magic was the only thing that could destroy an aberration that existed outside their reality or came from the boundary! Honestly, if he listened to her now and then instead of letting his trainin-- Her warning and chastising is abruptly cut off with a firm impact that drives the air from her lungs and silences her. What happened after that?

But was that the last thing? -- the last thing she remembered?

"Or was it? ... dinner?"

She was a workaholic and spent long days in the laboratory; work had a habit of following her home and crowding around so she didn't have many other hobbies. His telling her not to let the food go cold was a nightly but clear indicator she needed to get her head out of the books. His meals were always the best and deserved her full attention, as did the chef.

The rain beating down on her face she responded to by blinking it away but her vision was so blurry it was difficult to see anything but the approaching purple light. Her attention fixed on it since she couldn't identify the source or why it was present. It was a curiosity.

She didn't have much energy left, she was cold and beginning to feel alone. It felt like one of those games where he covered her eyes and asked her a question, usually a pleasant surprise or a trick to pass on pearls of wisdoms that would help 'Keep the Great Sage Nine a wise as well as modest woman.'

"Did.. you bring home another stray. As usual... you are far too kind to others."

Her harsh words always hid what she really intended to say. She didn't mind him making new friends or inviting them in but he really was soft-hearted when it came to the lost and the directionless. She would chide him for it but never really complained even when her bump began to show, or after their daughter was born.

Jubei had his hobbies; saving people was an odd one as far as they went! She had no right to complain about it and then have to consider how much a hypocrite it made her to take issue with it. A husband like this had to be shared with the world.

A violent cough grips her frame and she rolls her shoulder up and turn onto her side toward him in response to the pain. her strength was gradually returning if she could now move that much.

Clio steps are silenced by the rain and the even growing softness of the ground. She steps, stops, and steps again. Closer to the fallen Phantom. The bound and controlled woman. The one made to fight Jubei in a way that, to a much lesser degree, Clio could not help by empathize with. The spike-turned-lantern held out and over the woman, Clio looks between Jubei and her.

"You know her," she states the obvious, watching the play out between them. Watching the moment of connection. Watching the razor edged blade held so close despite the thread that ran between the witch and the cat.

"Jubei," she says. "I'm sorry." The lantern burns brighter when the Phantom makes comments in regard to her. For the whole night she has, more or less, felt an invisible presence on a story that isn't hers. An observer to a world far, far greater than herself. And now she felt the naked sensation of being scrutinized by a pair that could, with little thought, snuff her out like the light she made above her hand.

"I'm just a friend," she says, lowering herself toward the fallen Phantom. "I can't believe they've done this." She shakes her head. "These binding formulae. I," shes squeezes her free hand into a fist, her nails nearly cutting into her palm. She looks up at Jubei. "I didn't know this. That they'd do something like this. It's worse than I thought."

The samurai's sword wavers once again, leveled just centimeters from the fallen construct's throat. Each word -- each sentence -- the voice so recognizable, and yet so torn and ravaged.

There is no artifice. There is no guile that the loving husband can identify -- no deception at work.

There is only his wife's body, lying battered and bruised in front of him.
His own handiwork.

The walls of the Empty Mind collapse, paper and wood framing alike shuddering into sawdust as the warrior sheathes his sword, crouching down by the side of the construct.

The samurai must always be improving. The samurai must always work past his mistakes.

Clasps are unbuttoned. The left side of his charred robe unfurls, a furred paw reaching out of the garment. A paw strokes tenderly upon the fallen woman's cheek.
On the right side. Where she can see it.
Always the two were a mirror of each other -- his right eye the mate to her left.

Did he bring her a stray?
The cat nods his head slowly to Clio. Yes -- he knows her. And yes, he appreciates the concern.
To the Phantom: "Yes, I did. You keep getting on me about that."
Turning aside slightly, he addresses Clio: "... They've brought Konoe back to me, Clio."
His throat wet.
With rain, surely.
"... Is that... really so bad?"

His paw strokes lightly at the pink hair, tousling it gently.

"We'll visit Kokonoe, dear. She'll set this right."
And still... his trembling crimson eye harbors doubt. For years he has only seen this woman in dreams. For mere -days- has he had the memories restored to him. Is this... just another dream?

Nine appearing Confused and then bemused by the prospect they had fallen so far as to hope that Kokonoe could do anything for her parents they could not do themselves. The paw brushing her cheek stirs her into action as she props herself up on an elbow.


Her band-aid dotted hands holding and bouncing a child at arm's length. It was another small victory in changing her without being bitten (this time.) Nine would have considered mittens or something at this point if the books on raising children hadn't said that contact between mother and child was important. The trial like this alone would not defeat or dissuade her from trying to raise their daughter well.

The large headed infant with her same pink but short curly hair and those tiny twitching feline ears, Kokonoe nuzzled against and then equal parts started chewing and suckling on her shirt when laid against her shoulder.

She could vaguely recall and then pictured that moment and a child. 'Nine' was regrettably lost as a new mother under these circumstances, but they'd get through it in time. Thoughts lead one onto another and what she couldn't recall before kept coming to mind unbidden.

Their daughter... her's and Jubei's. Kokonoe Mercury.

It's a reunion, and very much a hell of one. Clio provides the light in the rain, the arcane fire not much bothered by the heavy rainfall or the wind. The connection between the two is for them, she is just lucky enough to be close at hand for it. But gnawing at her was a deep, deep uncertainty.

There was a great, great deal of spellcraft that she saw in those moments not long ago. And there could be much, much more that she hasn't seen. "It could be, Jubei. Just," she sighs and shakes her head. The Phantom speaks again.

Baby. She's talking about a baby. And Jubei. Clio looks between the two. The human woman and the darkstalker beastkin. Her brow knits and her fire flickers in a moment of thought. "You have a kid?" she asks Jubei, the curiosity a bit too much for her to keep quiet in the moment.

But the Phantom is moving and Clio skips back a few steps. Clio wipes a streak of black from her cheek, wiping the run make up off and rinsing her hand in the puddle. "Jubei, they made her fight you. I mean." she shakes her head. "What exactly are you planning on doing?"

She's rambling -- delusional.
Jubei strokes her face, shaking his head softly. "Kitten's doing just fine. Sleeping like a baby, I'm sure." As unlikely as that may actually be, the cat's not interested in being factual here -- just in treating the mental backlash that goes along with a long-dead soul being placed into the body of a construct -- that is now in seriously critical condition. And if he understands how these things work -- the construct may be well on the way to repairing itself at any moment.

He moves quickly. His robes part, allowing both of his feline paws to press against different key areas of the Phantom's body -- neck, breastbone, arms, stomach, hips. Each touch is meant as a purely chaste and clinical assessment of status -- and a few of them draw a look of consternation from the agitated samurai. ... Admittedly, it might be hard to tell from the driving rain matting down his bicolor fur.

As he works, though, he speaks clearly enough to be heard over the raindrops slamming into the earth all around him.

"Clio. I... yes. It's a long story, but we've had a child. ... I will spare you the details."
He flashes a tight smile, in between his clinical assessments.

"I've got a plan in mind. But we need to move quick. And you got a long career in front of you -- I don't wanna jeopardize it. Think about that before you decide if you want to keep helping this fugitive."

He spares a look in the direction of his satchel -- and the numerous divots and craters inflicted into the landscape by his blisteringly savage onslaught.

"I'm going to need a taxi. And my satchel way over there's got the money."
He turns a grateful smile and a weary crimson eye to the NOL lieutenant. She could easily run off with the satchel and he'd only have himself to blame for that.
"Your call, kiddo."

He does not spare another word -- simply leaning down to drive his shoulder underneath the Phantom's arm. Using his oversized sleeves as leverage, he hauls the injured woman across his weathered back and shoulders.

Before he walked over, he -already- looked like he could pass out at any moment.
And yet now, there is no doubt that the grizzled veteran will be able to carry the construct to wherever he's going. For the term Legendary Hero is earned, not granted -- and Jubei, the One-Eyed Twin Lotus walks that path every day.

He turns in the direction of the nearest highway. Gripping the Phantom securely onto his back, he takes step after plodding step through the muddy grass, secure in the knowledge that NOL rarely sees the need to send -two- assassins to take care of the same job.

COMBATSYS: Jubei has ended the fight here.

She was seemingly exhausted, placated and relieved to hear the baby was sleeping.

The vast majority of her energy was tied up and directed to the purpose of repair her most vital body functions. The worst of her wounds were still present, paining her and had not yet been mended in the slightest. She is subjected to the tenderness of Jubei's ministrations without a fuss though an occasional hiss of indrawn breath at pain that accompanies the thorough check.

Head down this whole time her mane of dirtied pink hair shifts as she raises her head in time with Jubei's question. Eye half-lidded she has her attention fixed firmly on the young NOL officer. Her calculating gaze fixed in the direction of St Jeanne, with her water run makeup and weak posture. Yes, what was she going to do? Run or perhaps even cry, follow Jubei into the life of a fugitive with no country to call her own.

One arm falling across his shoulder she lolls her head to the side to rest her chin against his left shoulder and lays her cheek flat against it as she shifts her onto his back. The feeling of a metal grate against her cheek was nearly forgotten with this sodden fur that was quickly began to warm up from their combined body heat.

When lifted onto his back she proves to be awkwardly tall, long stockinged legs that near still reach the ground and a massive buxom weight firmly pressing down into Jubei's back. A tiny miniskirt and the inside thighs of her stockings exposed bare skin, naked shoulders that extended down her side to just below her ribs.

They had a child together.

Resting against his back and with his plodding pace she gradually relaxes more and more until her breathing falls into a steady rhythm and she appears to fall asleep. She absolutely should not, but it felt warm and safe to do so. Not even the smell of burnt fur interfered with dreams of happy times.

The Wheel of Fate is always turning. Many times it repeats itself. Most of the time, the revolution of fate falls to the same sequence of events. Sometimes it branches to what could be and what might have been. Other times, the situations and stations are so vastly different as to be unrecognizable. The moment where Mitsuyoshi and The Phantom of Konoe Mercury meet is one such moment that has played out in many iterations. A moment in time that bears repeating, though each time a little more different than the last.

Sometimes The Phantom wins, leaving the Samurai wounded, or worse. Othertimes, the Samurai wins. On occasion, there is a third, or a fourth. Identities shift and change. Purpose and desire alter. In this case, Clio St. Jeanne is the third present for the conflict. And this moment too, has many iterations. In some, she is not conflicted and she enters the fray. In others, she arrives with Jubei, and enemy of the controlling Library and follower of the One-Eyed Twin Lotus. There are moments of conflict, loss, hatred and joy.

In one timeline, Clio St. Jeanne forsakes the NOL and turns to the fugitive's life. Leaving behind her beret to wash away with the char in the rain.

This is not that timeline.

"I'm sorry, Jubei," Clio's words are choking in her throat. She can't bring herself to look at the samurai and his revenant love. She instead turns her attention to the bridge, the city of Southtown, and the people that live within it.

"This isn't an indictment on you, Jubei," she says, calling over the drumming rain. "I think it's all a mistake. Your only crime is not capitulating. At least that I can see. But out there, those people, they really do need the NOL. They need that light in the darkness. What they did to her. That I can't forgive, but if I turn my back on the Library then there is nothing I can do to change it. It can be better, Jubei, I know it can. It can do it without resorting to this."

She shudders, her back still to the samurai. She doesn't know if he's there, and in some part, she doesn't care. The spike, still held above her hand, flares to a rippling brightness. The light scattering off the heavy raindrops. "Dispatched in Mankind's darkest hour, I am a knight of the blue flame," She repeats the creedo, looking down at the city. "Jubei, I will see you again. I hope to, at least. And I hope that next time I see you, I can feel proud for what I do and what I am a part of. I have friends, good ones, trusted ones. And maybe someday I can call you one of them."

Clio St. Jeanne, Lieutenant of the Novus Orbis Librarium stands resolute in the burning barrens of her stargazing clearing. She looks not to the stars in the cloud filled, weeping night sky, but to the array of lights coming from Southtown. Much closer, and in many ways they burn far more hot than the ones lightyears away. But the fire inside of Clio St. Jeanne burns hot, and her light will not be so easily put out.

Log created on 22:02:11 12/25/2017 by Nine, and last modified on 04:17:36 01/02/2018.