Description: Missing since the end of her World Warrior Bout, celebrity fighter, Athena Asamiya, finds herself being interrogated by the enigmatic Command Gear, Ramlethal, about her curious powers. She's given her freedom in the end, but not without some strings attached...
Time passes slowly in the wake of the dramatic battle. Though many people had raised alarms at the sudden kidnapping of the famous idol by the strange exotic girl with bizarre powers who seems to have come from nowhere, her face and name completely unknown before the beginning of Krauser's unusual tournament, there was precious little that could be done about it. The pair of them had vanished completely, leaving no trace of their passing save the fresh scars engraved upon the battlefield of Castle Strolmheim's arena.
Ramlethal watches the face of her unconscious captive with an impassive expression. Like always, she appears devoid of emotions or anxiety, a soulless chess piece taken from the board and given unnatural life. Beneath the surface of that implacable mask, however, she is anything but calm.
Despite her every effort to brush it aside, lingering memories of the contact with this human's power continue to haunt her mind. In those brief few instants she had experienced something that should be impossible. The man called Azrael had managed a similar feat, though she had attributed it to some form of magical trickery as it had only occured during his most powerful of strikes. This girl, on the other hand, dug her fingers into the Valentine's mind with every touch, leaving white hot scars that she can still feel several hours later as if they had been inflicted only moments ago.
The steady but irregular drip of water from the spikey protrusions overhead offers some measure of soothing ambience to the otherwise nondescript cave, like rain falling on a corrugated roof. She's never actually experienced that herself but the knowledge of it was hers nonetheless, a memory absorbed from the weave of information known as the Backyard. It would have been far more comfortable to immerse herself in the flows of raw magic, sinking into the substance of creation like a warm blanket until called upon again. However, the human would not have survived that place, and she has questions that must be answered.
The sound of stuttered snoring intermingles with the patter of dripping stalagmites. Nearby, Lucifero hovers in the air, his ball-like body floating aimlessly about in a lazy winding path even in slumber. His antics annoy her though she leaves him be for now. Like Ramlethal, he is a construct and has no need for something as mundane as sleep. He indulged out of pleasure rather than necessity, a most troublesome habit for the familiar of someone who abhors emotional desires.
Athena also slumbers, though her rest is one induced by the violent climax of their match. Whatever the source of the girl's powers, they seem to offer her little protection against the fraility of her flesh. Regardless, she has no intention of underestimating a human ever again. Mother had warned her against it and she had taken that advice lightly to her own detriment.
As such, the pop star is currently bound tightly by magical means. Her body hangs vertically in the air, her wrists and ankles encased in shimmering bands of verdant light. It's not a terribly comfortable position for someone who just got bludgeoned into unconsciousness but her well-being isn't particularly on the forefront of the Gear's mind. So long as she survives long enough to talk, that's all that matters.
The end of Athena's match against the mysterious tan woman with flying greatswords certainly sent shockwaves throughout the world. Athena Asamiya had already built quite the following when she had focused all of her efforts on her fighting career. When she devoted a year to pursuing her other passion, her popularity across both fanbases simply exploded. She always felt fighting was fulfilling her purpose, her destiny, but music? That was fulfilling her dreams and she was happy doing it.
But the call to World Warrior, an invitation by swordpoint from one of Wolfgang's most trusted men, was too strong to resist. Setting aside a scheduled concert tour, in spite feeling guilt for the fans that would be disappointed, she had embarked on a lonesome journey across Europe, engaging in the preliminary battles, and at last securing a spot within the top sixteen finalists for the most famous one on one fighting tournament in history.
Of course, her manager had been against the idea from the start. Watching his increasingly valuable commodity decide to go off on a combat adventure on her own was the /worst/ idea ever. Her agents were more torn, considering that playing up her fame as a fighter might only enhance her popularity as a performer even more. And as match after match proved that the idol fighter was the real deal, they had been proven right.
That didn't allay her manager's worries, however. It'd be hard to say he predicted exactly what happened when the girl crumpled at the feet of the individual known as Ramlethal... but odds are, something like this did play through his paranoid imagination at some point or another.
Athena never seemed to consider the possibility. Perhaps confident in her abilities, or just overly trusting in those she considered fellow fighters, she had devoted all her focus to her fight performances with little concern about the risks she was taking. Now, as she stirs, perhaps a crucial lesson might be taken to heart. Hopefully it isn't simply too late.
She dangles, suspended by her arms, her ankles equally secured. Her head hangs forward, long purple hair framing her face in shadow. She looks like she just got out of an unfavorable battle with a weed whacker. The traditional white and blue school uniform worn to battle is torn in many places, damage left from her narrow escape from dying by Ramlethal's whirling death blades. Her bloodstained shirt is torn open over her stomach, her dark blue pleated skirt torn over one thigh, and the worst gash stretches down toward the right from her left shoulder on her back.
All of the cuts have scabbed, the bleeding stopped though still moist in places. She has a fighter's constitution, fortunately... A normal person would have almost definitely bled to death under the Command Gear's lack of medical attention or concern.
Dark violet eyes blink open - a curiously rare trait, but not unique to this girl. It's easy to imagine the disorientation of coming to in such a situation. Normally used to coming to under the careful care of sports medics or skilled doctors, this experience is nothing of the sort.
Her eyes are unfocused at first as she wearily lifts her head, blinking eyelids shut as her arms strain for a moment, no doubt the girl's attempt to feel her surroundings. Discovering that movement is impossible, she sucks in a soft breath, eyes opening again. Her heart is already starting to race, panic setting in. She tries to move her legs then, thigh muscles flexing then relaxing at the futility of it.
Her hands clench tightly, another effort made to move them in bindings that don't quite feel right in the way they don't give way slightly like physical constraints would.
Adjusting to the dim cave, her focus solidifying little by little, the moment of recognition is clearly readable in the high school girl's shocked expression.
She closes her mouth, gritting her teeth, looking up then as she pulls again at her arms, abdominal muscles tensing in another exercise of futility only for her to stop a moment later, the pain surfacing from her injuries from such an effort a hot, burning warning that those fresh cuts will happily re-open if jostled too much.
Breathing in, she exclaims, eyes clenching shut.
"HELP! SOMEONE HELP ME!"
"No one can hear you."
Ramlethal observes the slow awakening of her captive in silence, remaining motionless until the girl screams for help. The Gear's response is quick and cold, devoid of any trace of empathy for her plight, but it is also without malice. It is simply a fact stated without bias.
"This cave is located deep within the mountain range of a small undeveloped nation and I would detect the presence of new life signs well before they came within range to hear your voice and deal with them appropriately. In other words, your pleas for aid are quite pointless."
She had anticipated a reaction similar to this one. Many humans shared the trait of attempting to struggle in hopeless situations. She'd even encountered a few who seemed to glorify that struggle as if hurling oneself into certain demise like a moth into a flame is some sort of noble aspiration. Foolishness born from irrational emotions. Hopefully, this girl would come to the same conclusion when presented with the reality of her situation. It will be quite troublesome to question her if she's going to scream the entire time.
"Eh, what?! We're under attack?!"
The rotund bat-winged form of Lucifero jolts awake at the sudden shout, his good eye snapping open wide in a panic. He spins around wildly for a few seconds, looking back and forth to find some sort of a target only to realize that the source of the disturbance is the captive and not some rampaging horde of angry humans.
"Oh, she's finally awake." He doesn't sound particularly pleased at this, the corners of his grotesque toothy maw twisting into the fascimile of a frown. "It's about damn time! We've been in this dank cave for almost a whole day now! Do you have any idea how /boring/ it is in here?! Huh?!"
The familiar flies right up to Athena and presses his giant face against hers. The surface of his exterior is slick and oily like rubber but the scent he gives off is similar to the coppery taste of ozone, almost like her olfactory senses licked a battery.
"The only person in here is that girl! She doesn't talk! She doesn't laugh! She doesn't even play cards! It's like being chained to a bloody statu-!"
His tirade is cut off suddenly by a mighty punch, his cheek deforming comically under the impact before his squishy body is sent flying into the dark recesses of the caves interior. The sound of repeated crashes and breaking rocks as Lucifero plows through stalagmites and rebounds off the walls echoes back up towards them but eventually his garbled scream of surprise fades away.
Ramlethal lowers her arm without even bothering to look in the direction that the poor creature went flying, her deadpan gaze locked onto the captive girl. She reaches out and grips Athena by the throat, her fingers as cold and hard as steel as they close tight enough around her windpipe to choke off any further protests the idol might have.
"You must be wondering why I have brought you here. The answer is quite simple. You wield a power that I have never encountered before. I wish to understand it. You will tell me everything about this ability you possess. Failure to comply will not be tolerated. Do you understand?"
Ramlethal's initial attempt to explain the futility of calling for help is completely ignored. Considering the volume of the vocalist's screaming, it's doubtful she even heard the dispassionate statement.
But when she starts explaining in greater detail just how pointless the exercise is, the panicked girl pauses, eyes blinking.
Cave. Remote. Mountains. Some nation. No life signs... She blinks again, then lowers her face, eyes staring at the cave floor for a moment as she falls quiet but for the sound of her rapid breathing, her chest rising and falling with each pant.
Of course. She should be able to tell that too. How far away CAN she sense another psyche in the vicinity? She's... never really exercised the ability. She isn't often in any place isolated enough to even tell. But she knows it's there.
Yet... she doesn't try. Something tells her that the even voiced woman is speaking the truth. Trying would only confirm the awful reality of her situation - the only two things around her are the swordswoman and... whatever /that/ is.
Lifting her face, shoulders aching with the effort, she glances toward Lucifero with a somewhat bewildered expression. It doesn't become all that clearer when the inexplicable flying, talking sphere notices her back.
"W-what are you?"
She barely gets the question out before he's pressing himself into her face. She tries to recoil, violet eyes growing wider at first, then scrunching closed once he's crossed over that invisible boundary where humans institutionally try to protect their eyes with the thin covering of their eyelids. Sucking in her breath, she grits her teeth, enduring the experience and no doubt dreading something worse must be pending.
It comes as a relief, somewhat, when the creature is sent hurtling down the cave tunnel with a single strike from her captor. It's a good reason to open her eyes again, at least, and relax her jaw. If only she could do something about the trembling in her limbs, the almost shivering sensation coursing through her veins.
Fear. She's felt it before. She's been in battles where her life was on the line. The devil at the pass on Shang Tsung Island. The defeat by that Ainu demagogue that could have slain her when she refused to hand over the power in her soul shards.
But she was fighting then, the rush of battle, the sense of power coursing through her. The sense of powerlessness she feels now is something else entirely. She can't fight. She can't put on any front of confidence. She can't even move but to wiggle pointlessly and aggravate her injuries.
All she can do is panic.
Or get angry.
She draws her lips back, teeth clenched, the look in her eyes doing nothing to belie the building anger within. As Ramlethal saw, her ability to attack involves the use of her hands, or shrouding her body in that power of hers. But what can she do with just her mind? What has she tried? And why are her eyes watering when all she wants to do is lash out? Who ever heard of crying mad?!
Whatever she's thinking gets cut off, however, as the powerful grip of that strange woman finds her exposed throat. Asamiya's mouth opens but she doesn't make a sound, eyes widening again. She closes and opens her mouth again, clearly choking in silence, her face starting to take on a reddish hue entirely different from the one associated with agony.
In that moment, Ramlethal has her absolute attention, not just from the threatening pressure on her windpipe, but on the explanation she must certainly have been both wanting and dreading to hear.
It's... perhaps quite the surprise when the demands made of her amount to simply that she talk about herself. The nod of her head starts minimal, a slight twitch of her chin up and down, but as if afraid that answer isn't clear enough, she closes her mouth and nods her head again, more emphatically, for as far as the woman's hold will allow her to do.
That seems to satisfy her captor. Ramlethal releases her grip, allowing the girl to suck in fresh lungfulls of the cold musty air. She provides a few brief moments for Athena to regain her composure and gather her thoughts, though she remains standing only a few inches away, easily in range to act should the idol manage to muster some sort of actual resistance.
The fact that her presence is intimidating has also been taken into account. Having displayed her powers, the Valentine's threat has been established. Now the human finds herself alone, bound, and lost. The ease by which she can predict the girl's reactions speaks volumes as to the inherent weakness of being controlled by emotions. Even without any empathy to use as a guide, she can read the psychic's reactions like an open book.
"Athena Asamiya. Student. Idol singer. Street fighter. I have encountered many humans who held similar roles and possess knowledge of the lives of countless others. Yet none of them have displayed the sort of power that you possess."
It would be impossible that such bizarre energies existed without the Backyard having knowledge of it. By proxy, that means that Mother knew of them also. Yet she had intentionally barred such knowledge from Ramlethal's access, leaving a gaping flaw in her understanding of the world. That ignorance had proven quite detrimental to her ability to effectively combat the cheerful teenager. Worse, she had felt the stirrings of something impossible when Athena's power had made contact with her body.
Even now the lingering traces of outrage continue to in her mind like glowing embers of coal. She can ignore them but their presence does not vanish with her dismissal. Much like pain, it is a signal that something is wrong with her, some wound inflicted on her mind that refuses to heal.
amlethal glances down at her hand, still slightly numb from where the psychic artillery shell had impacted upon her, passing through her defenses as if they were immaterial. She flexes her fingers a few times before clenching them into a fist, sending tendrils of tingling electricity throughout the limb.
"Tell me. What about you is so different that you possess these abilities? From whence does this power come? How is it that you have injured my mind in this fashion? I want to know everything."
Gasping for breath the moment the hold is released, the captive fighter closes her eyes for a moment, waiting for her head to stop spinning. They bat open a moment later, head lowered, focus on the cave floor rather than looking at Ramlethal directly.
"If you wanted to talk," she murmurs, far more subdued than she had been when she first came to, "All you had to do was ask."
Of course, if she had taken a more civil approach to trying to sate that burning need to know, she would have likely gotten more of the run around that Asamiya has been giving interviewers since going public. Even those who aren't fighters have always felt something was just a little off-kilter about her. There was an aura of unexplainable magnetism about her. Everyone that met her tended to like the girl. She couldn't be /that/ nice, right?
Fighters that had faced her either recognized the painful touch of psionic power or they were left baffled at the potency of it much like the Command Gear. When interviewed by fight event reporters, the charismatic girl had always danced around the questions about the power of her energy attacks. For the first long while, it wasn't entirely just to keep secrets... she understood very little about it herself back then.
Perhaps the forceful approach really is the only chance Ramlethal had of getting straight answers, in spite the insistence of the bound girl.
She's quiet as the mysterious woman lists of the few things she knows about the young celebrity, lifting her face so that she can look toward her. News reports must be going off the wall about one of the most brazen kidnappings of a famous individual in recent history, snatching the unconscious girl away right on the recorded stream.
She averts her eyes as the actual questions come. What's so different about her? Where does that power come from? How was she able to pierce through well engineered and skillfully mastered defenses to dull her nerves and sear her mind?
"You don't have to hold me like this," she responds after a moment, swallowing. The throbbing aches of combat injuries can be endured, but the stiffness in her shoulders from holding her dead weight like this for so long is a torture all its own. "Like you said - there's no one to run to anyway. I'll answer."
It's not an answer to the questions, for sure. Maybe an attempt at bargaining?
"Whether or not you choose to answer of your own free will is irrelevant."
Ramlethal's response is cold and mechanical, delivered swiftly to crush whatever hopes the girl might have had for leniency. She had been anticipating such requests. Humans seemed to place an absurd amount of priority on their own personal comfort even in the face of incredible danger. Their soldiers wore little to no armor when she had faced them in combat despite the fraility of their flesh, falling by the score to even the most minimalistic of attacks. She'd seen the wounded put extraordinary effort into pulling their broken bodies over to rocks or logs or the sides of vehicles in order to find more relaxing places to sit while their lifeblood seeped out.
"You wield powers that I neither understand nor know the full extent of. Powers which have proven capable of bypassing my defenses and causing my body and mind considerable harm. Do you honestly think I will allow you the freedom to move about under these circumstances? You are my prisoner, not my guest, human."
The Gear lifts a hand, her fingers glowing with vibrant neon green power. With a gesture, she calls forth another of the shimmering rings of magic which hold Athena fast, this one taking form around the teenager's waist. Ramlethal slowly closes her fingers inwards as if to make a fist and the ring constricts, squeezing with crushing force into the girl's soft body.
"Answer me or your suffering will be far worse than what you are experiencing now."
Freedom. That's what she wanted. The ache in her arms was a furious, burning thing, that only got worse the longer she dangled suspended by her secured hands. Unfortunately, she's come to realize, movies that showed the heroes hanging by chains never quite conveyed the excruciating pain such a position caused with the passage time. A reprieve from that immediate pain compels her to try and talk her way free and for that, she is introduced to a new vector of discomfort.
Ramlethal's position on the request is made abundantly clear as she reminds the captive Asamiya the bleakness of her circumstances. She would not be given any chance to move about. Maybe she wasn't plotting to flee, after all. Maybe she was hoping to attack, to unleash that curious, unusual power of hers into an assault against her captor.
The third ring appears and the violet haired girl glances down, eyes widening with renewed alarm. "No, wait, I-" The circlet of arcane energy tightens around her slender, unprotected waist, and her eyes squint closed, face twisting into a new expression of pain.
"Okay, okay!" she gasps out, her breathes coming faster, more shallow, as her diaphragm reacts to the constriction and panic floods into her veins. All thoughts of drawing out the release of what she knows are long gone from her mind now.
She lifts her head, arm muscles tightening as she tries to pull herself up a little, just to shift where the tension of her body weight is centered, moving it between her shoulder blades for a moment to give her shoulders a little break.
"As you certainly know," she closes her eyes, face still pivoted toward the ceiling, "Almost all fighters, once they reach a certain skill level, are able to channel energy through themselves. Chi or ki or... I'm sure every culture has its own word for it."
The captive starlet lowers her head, eyes blinking open then. This woman feels threatened by what she can do. This woman is extremely dangerous. How can she explain about her power without making things worse than they already are?
"But what seems to be new for you is that some people just... don't work the same. I don't know if it's how they're born. Or if something just happens in their life that starts it... but whatever it is, they can burn power differently." She tries to remember everything her wrinkled old sifu had to say about all this. The academics of her power were never really that interesting to her, all that mattered was that she had it and that she could use it, exercise it, control it!
"Instead of strength of spirit, it's about strength of mind, of emotions, of ideas. Thought powers the techniques I do." She grimaces, eyes closing as she tries to adjust herself again for as little difference as that seems to make. There is no shifting she can do to ease the strain on her arm muscles, the ache in her upper back. Sucking in a quick breath then exhaling, she continues, eyes batting open after a tired moment.
"There's words for it. Psionics... Um... Psychic energy. Psycho Power. Soul Power. I think they're all the same." She pauses for a moment, searching her thoughts, taking shallow breaths as to not press too hard against the band at her waist. Does everyone that uses power like her have that... other something within them? Master Gentsai never mentioned it. Rose never said anything about it. But dear Momoko had that persona in the tormented chambers of her mind. And Kensou... there was something off about Kensou for almost half a year prior to the King of Fighters 2016 tournament where he /seemed/ to recover... But she can't just go telling this woman about that, for sure. About the battle with Azrael where she doesn't even remember what happened after her initial collision with his formidable power. About her near death experience fighting the Master of the Murder Fist, Akuma, at the Isle of the Damned.
She can't say that she's pretty certain there is some kind of powerful monster living inside her and that it might be the source of her frightening power.
She breathes in again, coughing, then shakes her head, looking up toward the dispassionate Command Gear, "Please, there's no big secret, it's just... it's just something I and some others can do."
Ramlethal's fist relaxes somewhat as her prisoner begins to speak, allowing her enough freedom to breathe though the touch of the constricting disc remains tight enough to be uncomfortable. She stares into Athena's eyes as she struggles to explain what little she knows of her own powers, searching the human's face for any signs that she might be lying or attempting to twist the truth. Though she shows no emotion herself, the vast wealth of knowledge at her disposal through her connection to the Backyard offers her great insight on such things.
Most of what is offered to her is common knowledge. Even those unfamiliar with the nuances of martial combat understood the basic premises of energy manipulation, or atleast, that it was possible with enough talent or practice. Her own powers are quite similiar in principle, though magic seems to be an almost forgotten art amongst the humans. Instead, the majority of them tap into a sort of shamanistic aspect channeling, drawing upon the power of a single element to infuse their strikes with extra strength. An approach that is quite limited and inflexible, yet it has its own advantages as well.
That humans might be capable of another source of power had never occurred to her. She had always seen them as a collective group, a colony of ants with minor variations between individuals but overall similar in appearance and value. A handful of them managed to stand out, those who displayed the strength of 'spirit', as the girl had put it, to draw out what little latent potential they possess, but they are a miniscule factor in the overall consideration of humanity's capabilities.
What she knows of anatomy says that what the girl speaks of is impossible. Human minds simply are not advanced enough to produce the kinds of power that she experienced. Yet experience it she did. The concept of psionics is not alien to her, though it has always been the product of fiction and wishful thinking on the parts of the humans who wanted to believe that their meager existences were capable of some transcendental awakening to a higher power. Before she would have dismissed it as such, but now she cannot be so sure.
"Your explanation is plausible," she says after a few silent moments of contemplation.
The band of energy around Athena's waist vanishes giving her relief from one source of pain. The Gear turns away and stares out towards the cave's entrance, pondering quietly. Though she is a created entity, it is obvious to see that in part her form was based upon the human body. Could her mind too be the result of some blueprint created by mimicking humans? If so, it would explain much. It might offer some explanation as to why Mother had failed to tell her about it, at the least.
The touch of these intense mental energies seem to cause her a great deal of distress, drawing upon vestigial parts of her psyche that have been suppressed to make her a more efficient soldier. Could prolonged contact with such forces undo that? Could she be turned into a foolish and irrational creature making decisions based on emotion rather than simple facts and logic? The thought troubled her, which in turn was troubling all on its own. Merely considering a possibility should evoke no particular feelings. Perhaps the damage has already been done.
Ofcourse, much of fault for her weakness to this particular form of attack comes from her ignorance of its existence. If she had been warned, it is possible she might have been better prepared to deal with it. Her two brief brushes with these invocations of unwanted emotion had been nearly disastrous. Even more troubling, though the man called Azrael showed no signs of psionic powers, he too had been able to create a brief moment of fear within the Valentine. If she was so vulnerable to attack on this front then the only way for her to prepare herself properly would be to find some method of defending against it.
"How might I defend myself against these powers?"
Turning back to her captive, Ramlethal gives her a side-long look, her dispassionate expression and monotone voice making the question seem quite mundane, as if she is asking how to look up a book in the library. Her hand lifts slightly, shimmering energy forming around her fingers. Though the punishing bands of magic do not immediately reappear the threat is obvious: Speak or suffer.
Athena waits quietly as her captor contemplates the explanation she's been able to offer thus far. Will she be believed? While she has withheld certain aspects that she, herself, is not entirely confident about, she spoke with a sincerity reinforced, perhaps, by subtle, sub-conscious influences she might normally actively try to suppress.
But what if it's not the answer the dispassionate yet powerful woman was wanting to hear? Maybe she'll decide the message is wrong simply because it contradicts some preconceived notion on her part? Violet eyes blink, her breaths still coming quick and shallow. It's hard to get a lungful of air when one's diaphragm is being both stretched and constricted simultaneously.
Finally she speaks, and the relief the captive idol feels is easily read in her eyes, a soft exhale following, her eyes closing briefly as her head lowers for a moment. She hangs there in silence for several seconds, certainly glad that nothing she said incited some kernel of anger in the swordswoman. Now she had to worry about the other side of the equation - if she decided she heard all she needed, what then? Any number of possibilities come to mind, and many of them are unpleasant to contemplate.
Lifting her head, she glances toward the quiet woman who seems lost in thought for now. Dreading what she might say next, Asamiya stays quiet for now, the desire to know her future not overcoming the near-paralyzing fear she feels concerning her predicament.
The celebrity teen fighter can only wonder at what is going through her captor's mind. In spite her normally stoic... efficient personality, she has no reason not to believe the one holding her in this cave is as alive as anyone else. She's certainly encountered a diverse array of personalities in her travels and careers, crazy fans and eccentric fighters run the gamut. Of course, none of them have gone off and kidnapped her, so that is a special check box filled in for Ramlethal... But she knows the woman has emotions, however... stunted or constrained they may be. She felt those flashes, those rare moments that proved she was not a machine, even if she would be completely ignorant of the science or magic that made that a possibility.
After what feels like an eternity to her, the tan woman speaks up, turning away from the cave entrance to face her, asking the important question - what is there to do about these strange powers?
Athena is quiet, blinking for a moment. That is a really good question. Of course, Master Gentsai has taught her and her fellow Psycho Soldiers how to push back at Psycho Power, how to flex their will and exercise their psyche to better resist that energy that cuts clean through the training most martial artists undergo, but what of someone who doesn't share the same gift? How can they better defend themselves from an attack that comes in the form of ideas or emotions?
"Well..." Who have best defended themselves against it in the past? Those who relied purely on their brawn to withstand her techniques found themselves torn asunder by the violet or rose hued powers she hurls their way. In fact, most of her fighting career was littered with the defeated opponents who clearly lacked the means to withstand the idol fighter's power.
But what of the very few that had bested her? A few simply overcame the limits of her own body's ability to withstand hits - a clear weakness for the young fighter. But there was one that proved defiant, not once but twice, even though the two seemed evenly matched. The furnace that burned in his soul proved formidable indeed against her power. Daigo Kazama - a legend among the Southtown schools.
"W-well," Athena stammers, repeating herself as she seems to come to a realization of her own. "The best defense is..." Her eyes lift, meeting Ramlethal's gaze head on now, "To possess an unassailable sense of purpose. To not just know it as fact, but believe it, embrace it with absolute conviction..." What are outside emotions, ideas, or thoughts in the face such driven tenacity?
Ramlethal's expression remains unflappably neutral as the captive girl struggles to come up with an answer, the bright neon glow around her hand never wavering, ready to punish her at a moment's notice for any signs of defiance or deceit. She is surprisingly patient for an interrogator. In all of the movies, when the hero has been captured and is being questioned by the villains, there is usually a lot of shouting and aggressiveness, demanding replies mere moments after the questions have been asked. The Gear, however, has no need for such haste. There is no pressing need to have her curiosity sated in the next few minutes or even the next few hours. Days? Months? She can wait here as long as it takes to get the truth.
Naturally, the frightened pop star isn't particularly keen on having a staring contest with someone who can Darth Vader her on whim, particularly while in such a helpless state. Her strange captor holds all the cards right now. And so she answers, as best she can.
A sense of purpose? That much she can understand. There are few in this world who can claim to have a stronger understanding of what the meaning of their life is. She is a servant of the Universal Will, a pawn for Mother to move about the board as she pleases. Her life has worth only in so much as it can advance the great plans that she has set in motion. Beyond that, everything else is merely foolish wastes of time.
Conviction, now that is another matter. To have conviction one must first have beliefs and opinions, two entirely emotional states of mind. Opinions are formed without facts or knowledge in many cases, stances created by the personal biases and individual experiences of an irrational mind. Beliefs, likewise, often rely on trust more than truth. As an empty pawn, she has need of neither of these things. What she might think about something is irrelevant in the face of the truth granted to her by Mother's all-encompassing knowledge.
"So what you are saying... is that these powers of emotion can be defended against only by other powerful emotions. Is that correct?"
As ever, it is impossible to read the Valentine by her body langauge or the tone of her voice. She stares back at Athena with stoic disinterest, running this new information through her mind in an effort to determine a course of action. While it is true that she has operated thus far without the interference of emotions, it is also apparently true that she has them, buried somewhere in the back of her mind. Such a weakness makes her a liability, particularly should these 'pyschics' be able to divulge information from her consciousness in the event she is somehow defeated and captured. An unacceptable risk.
For the most part, Athena is quiet as Ramlethal digests what she has to say. In the moments that follow between when she makes and of speaking and the living weapon response, she'll shift a little, trying to adjust the tension on her muscles or pull pressure off one ache or another in her shoulders or torso, each effort in vain accompanied by a soft grunt or gasp before she inevitably gives up to simply hang and endure whatever discomfort or pain prompted the movement in the first place.
When the question comes, the request for verification comes, the girl's violet eyes blink a couple of times. She's slow to respond, merely taking in a few uncomfortable breaths. The reticence is understandable - one can only imagine the number of things going through her mind considering her circumstances. What happens when Ramlethal has sated her curiosity? Or what if she doesn't like the answers she gets? She knows better than the expect shouting or a rage-filled outburst, but that doesn't mean the dispassionate woman's emotionless control over her circumstances are any less unsettling.
Asamiya finally shakes her head just slightly, "It isn't the only way. Others with the same psychic talent can use their own gift to push back against the intrusion of thought or emotion from another... There- there might be other ways too. I just know that both times I fought against one young man of incredible conviction, he was able to push back against my power."
She is quiet for another moment, taking in a few more breaths before continuing, "When he fought, he knew he carried the hope and expectations of all the students that looked up to him. He fought as their protector and their exemplar, and the weight of such pressure made him more resistant against my attacks than any other I had faced who did not likewise possess this talent."
Her sentences come fast when she speaks, punctuated by pauses for breath as her lungs continue to struggle with the unnatural position she's secured in. Her eyes flick toward the floor as she pauses once more.
"I think it's also possible for one psychic to guard someone without that power by projecting their will. It wouldn't be as strong as learning to defend against it yourself, and- and it's something that the psychic would need to practice, but I think it could be done."
She glances up then, eyes settling back on her captor. "If there are other techniques, I am not aware of them. These things I can do... they're not even really talked about or known of regularly even among other fighters. Everything I know is from what I have personally experienced or was taught by my sifu..."
Athena's thoughts on the matter earn her several more seconds of passionless silence from the creature as she absorbs this information. Judging by the young human's tone of voice and wording, it is far from reliable data, apparently composed of little more than suppositions and theories which are, by her own admission, based on nothing but her personal experiences and second-hand stories. Hardly a treasure trove of enlightenment.
But, it is more than she knew before and anything that might lead her in the proper direction to finding a way to shield herself from future mental invasions cannot be dismissed, however unsubstantiated it may be. Ramlethal lowers her hand, allowing the ominous glow to fade away as she thinks.
Based on what she has learned thus far, her options are as follows:
One, learn to harness her own emotions as a shield. While not a particularly appealing approach by virtue of having to expose herself to further weakness in the hopes that it might protect her against a specific chink in her armor, and a rather uncommon one at that, it cannot be outright dismissed.
Two, possess psychic powers herself. As this is clearly not the case, it does her little good to even consider it. She might ask Mother to produce another body that does not suffer from this flaw but if that had been possible and it was something that she had wished to do, then it stands to reason she would have been born with those powers already.
Third, attempt to acquire this 'conviction' of which the girl speaks. As the concept described to her appears to be nebulous at best, it would be very difficult to seek out such a power. Extensive testing would be required and the data might very well be incomprehensible to someone who does not suffer from the human condition of an emotional mindset.
Lastly, acquire someone who possesses the necessary talents and drag them around with her everywhere in order to shield her mind. Not an impossible task. Infact, she already has atleast one piece of that puzzle at her disposal right now. It should be a relatively simple matter to cow the girl into obedience, however, there are several problems with outsourcing such an imporant task to another. Even if Athena was unconditionally loyal, she would simply have become the new weak link in the Gear's armor. Effort would have to be spent to protect her from harm and that would in turn errode her ability to operate efficiently. Plus, she has no delusions that this human can be trusted in the long term. She might pretend to be loyal but the moment that it appeared she might slip away or render Ramlethal open to attack by failing to do her job, she would. That much, atleast, she understands about human nature.
So where does that leave her? Without psychic powers of her own, the only viable choices seem to involve delving into the realm of emotions. Again, she finds herself upset by this thought, which in turn only proves that the control she once believed herself to possess over her mind is not as complete as she wishes to believe. Perhaps the best course of action is the obvious one, however distasteful it might be. That leaves only the method by which she might learn.
The Valentine peers at her captive for a long moment, her enhanced mind running through the framework of a plan at lightning speed. Yes, that would be the most efficient means. The girl may still be useful to her after all.
Taking a step back to give her some room, Ramlethal holds up a hand, fingers splayed apart as fresh magic surges to life about her fingers. Transparent neon green sigils form in the air for a brief moment, arcane runes and mathematical formulas with the power to manipulate the fabric of reality itself dancing in a rapid circle around the Gear's arm. As the magic reaches its peak, several thin ribbons of verdant power suddenly fan out from the tips of her fingers, stretching out as if her nails have become terrible glowing claws.
The magical spears lance out in a blink, diving into Athena's chest with no more resistance than if she were made of paper. A great heat spreads into her from the contact point, rapidly flowing in all directions as the magic expands to encompass every inch of her body in a thin neon glow. Upon her pale skin, countless runes begin to take shape as if penned by molten light, hundreds of lines of mystical text interweaving with impossible precision to create a single cohesive whole.
And then, just as suddenly, the light vanishes and the runes go dark, fading away as if never there. The glowing ribbons of power retract once more into Ramlethal's fingers, taking with them the intense heat of the magical power. In its place is left a powerful aching, as if her already sore muscles have been pushed to their limits and whatever stamina she might have had left drained away.
The Valentine makes a casual gesture in the air, a mere spark of her power flaring up as the mystical rings binding Athena are dispelled, leaving the girl to fall to the rocky ground or catch herself as best she can. She gives her prisoner only a moment or two to come to terms with what has just happened before speaking, her monotone voice devoid of empathy or concern.
"I have decided upon my course of action. Since I lack the necessary talents to defend myself and have no intention of placing my survival in the hands of a human, then by process of elimination my only option appears to be learning to harness the emotional aspect of my mind so that I might wield it as a shield when the need arises. Under these circumstancs, I find my options quite limited as I have little knowledge or experience in dealing with emotions."
The exotic girl's eyes slide closed, perhaps the very first signs of some sort of emotional reaction to the circumstances, however slight. Her chest rises as she inhales deeply, expelling the air in a soft resigned sigh.
"Therefore, you will be my instructor."
The fightened youth can't fathom the speed at which Ramlethal's mind delves into the options before her, calculating probabilities, enumerating an exhaustive list of pros and cons, and mapping out a course of action. No doubt Athena's mind is also full of thoughts racing by at unfathomable speed, but her panic-fueled thinking is far less ordered, scattered every which way as she tries to imagine what might happen next. In spite her exhaustion, it is with wide, alert eyes that she watches Ramlethal, awaiting the woman's response.
In the time it takes Ramlethal to lift her hand, she has clearly orchestrated the arcane formula necessary to enact her plan, a feat all but the most capable spellweavers on Earth could compete with. Athena's focus flicks to the sign of energy being shaped in the woman's fingers, eyes widening, mouth opening slightly. With no idea what is being done with the gathering power, all she can do is imagine the worst. This is it - the woman is done with her, and clearly has little to gain by letting her go.
The green lances that pierce clean into her, and the agonizing heat surging through her body only serves to cement the conclusion that this is the end. A pained cry escapes her lips as she lifts her head, eyes closing, every muscle tensing no matter how exhausted. Thoughts surge to the front of her mind's eye - what will the world think? Already, she's been missing for some unknown amount of time. When she never appears again, the conclusion will be obvious. What of her friends, when she fails to come home? Her makeshift family of Psycho Soldiers...
She had been faced with her story's end before, when fighting the devil at the pass on Shang Tsung's island. Only to receive a reprieve, an extension she had not expected. But now it feels like that renewed lease on life has run out and all she can think of are the countless things she failed to do. Wasn't she destined to do so much more?
Tears roll from the corners of her eyes as she lowers her head, teeth grit, lips drawn back. Squinting, she sees the runes that have manifested on the surface of her skin. Somewhere in her pain-addled mind the girl can't help but marvel at the intricate beauty of such energy and also wonder as to why such patterns would be necessary to put an end to her.
The acute pain withdraws as the spell runs its course and Ramlethal retracts the remaining energy back to her hand. Head hanging, breaths coming rapidly, perspiration rolls down the young woman's temples and cheeks. She's blind to the release of the bindings, only landing on her feet because they hit the ground first before the missing celebrity crumples onto her side, catching herself with her hands with an audible smack of flesh against the cave floor.
Breathing fast and deeply, she keeps her head bowed, still trying to process what happened to her. Is she alive? The burning ache in her body screams that she must be. Eyes bat open as she lifts her head slowly, cheeks tear-stained, eyes unfocused as she stares up at the swords woman that has proven to be so dangerously curious about the girl's unique powers.
It's unlikely that she is actively digesting everything said, but she seems to be comprehending the idea of the message all the same - perhaps more a side effect of her power working subconsciously to absorb the intent behind the mysterious woman's message.
"I-instructor?" she stammers, sounding bewildered. "What did you do to me?!" she asks, her voice shrill and alarmed.
Okay, so she's not dead, but she is not escaping this woman's attention anytime soon either, it would seem. Even as relief starts to wash over her anxiety, her arms begin to tremble. Once more, it seems she's been given an extension on life, though the fine print on this lease definitely bears scrutiny.
"The details are far beyond your ability to comprehend. Telling you would be a waste of time. Simply put, I have bound your soul to mine. You will serve me until I am satisfied."
The answer is delivered with the expected edge of rational coldness to it, stating such a thing with a matter-of-fact tone as if it were perfectly natural. Ramlethal peers down at the exhausted idol from above, her strange orange eyes curtained by the exotic white of her lashes, somehow portraying a sense of aloofness behind her narrowed lids. Though devoid of visible emotion, a feeling of disgust seems to radiate outwards towards the crumpled human at her feet, a sensation that wriggles like worms beneath the psychic's skin.
That's definately new. By now it has been firmly established that the Gear has no ability to project her thoughts or feelings or even protect herself against such things on a basic level. This sudden insight into what she might be feeling comes unbidden to the back of her mind though it is faint and unfocused. Like bits of flotsam from a ruined ship drifting onto an empty shore, it offers only tiny glimpses of the whole, suggestions of form and meaning that can't be entirely relied upon as accurate. Though, atleast in this case, the context of the look combined with the feeling is probably enough to make for an adequate guess.
"I will return you back to the life that you knew. You will act as you always have. Interact with those whom you would normally do so. Behave as if nothing is out of the ordinary. But I will be at your side or close by from now on. I will watch and I will experience and through you I will learn the means by which a human draws strength from their emotions."
The plan, while not ideal, is quite simple. If she must expose herself to the influence of emotions then it is better to have some sort of buffer in place to ensure that the experience is not overwhelming. She has witnessed humans who have allowed their emotions to run wild, adults with decades of experience in dealing with their influences. While she is confident in her ability to sublimate these feelings given the necessary time, there is always the possibility that a 'trial by fire' approach could cause irreperable damage to her mind. Merely asking or ordering Athena to use her powers to shield her from these effects would be as dangerous as relying on her to do so in battle. By tethering herself to the psychic's very soul, she has taken the option of refusal or betrayal away from her.
"Now rise. We have much work to do."
Ears ringing, mind still reeling from what she just endured, Athena's comprehension of what the white-haired woman is saying is tenuous at best, but she doesn't miss the comment about her soul being tethered in some way. And something about serving her - terms of arrangement unclear.
It's a lot to take in and were she less exhausted, she might recoil more vehemently at the very idea of it, however futile that would prove to be. But with muscles still barely working to hold her up, arms shaking as they apply the minimal strength necessary to keep her from toppling over against the ground, all she can do is look up at the swordswoman with a somewhat dazed expression.
It makes the sense of intrusion all that much greater, lacking any willpower to push back at it, that sense of derision at seeing her weakened state felt but not understood at first. The confused, unfocused look to her eyes only seems to worsen as Ramlethal resumes speaking - there is a spike of hope at the mention of being returned to her life and a queasy fretting as she tries to imagine what said life will be like with her captor always somewhere nearby.
Athena opens her mouth as if to reply then closes it without saying a word as comprehension slowly settles in. She's to be this woman's... emotional proxy? Allowing her to feel what she feels, experience her emotions vicariously? But it seems to be a two-way link as well, that sense of disgust still pricking at her mind.
Her breaths are coming slower now, the initial adrenaline-fueled response to the spellweaver's intrusion already starting to ebb in the face of almost unprecedented exhaustion for the girl that was already battle-weary before this ordeal began. After a moment, she closes her eyes, right arm lifting to rub across her face, making a little headway at smearing away some of the tears.
There is a conscious effort to reel in her own storm of emotions - hope, fear, anger, relief, anticipation, worry, anxiousness, all competing for headspace... And amid the maelstrom, something else that seems to press against the arcane binding, to feel at the intricate runes so masterfully placed by the Command Gear, not to break or or test them but seemingly just to curiously examine. The impression is gone an instant later, leaving only the tumultuous noise of Athena Asamiya's emotions.
Still, a way forward has been laid out for her - a way to survive this experience. The first step is to get to her feet. Resolve shines bright in her heart as her hands clench, arm muscles flexing with effort to right herself. Legs, stiff and sore, shift beneath her as she braces one hand against the wall for support. Then, gingerly, wincing at the aggravated wound on her thigh, the soulbound idol rises to her feet.
A new wave of nausea passes over her for a moment, one last symptom of shock as the sensation finally recedes. Standing up straight, she finally pulls her hand away from the wall, eyes closed for a moment to avoid watching the cave interior spin in ways that will definitely send her crumpling back to the ground.
But with one more deep breath and slow, controlled exhale - falling back on concentration techniques Master Gentsai had instructed her in - and she finally opens her eyes.
"I understand," she states quietly.
And with that declaration there is a calming sense of determination. She will see this through, she will survive this, she will find a way to be free once more.
Behind the inscrutable mask, Ramlethal finds herself already struggling with the backlash of her choice. The swirling hurricane of emotions churning within the girl at her feet in the wake of this unexpected turn of events crashes against the walls of her mind, eroding the magical barriers she had set in place to protect her against it at a frightening speed. Those feelings begin to bleed through, as they are meant to do, but even with the buffer of Athena's own will to dilute them the sensations are far beyond anything the Gear has allowed herself to experience before.
Though the movements are minute, Ramlethal's fingers twitch as she struggles to remain calm, her jaw clenching against the sudden desire to make weak pitiful noises not unlike those uttered in the final moments of the many humans she has struck down. The very idea of allowing herself to make such a display, even here where none but the girl would see it, is repulsive enough that she feels ill just imagining it. Or perhaps that is just another side effect of the confusion brought on by these alien feelings. It is decidedly unpleasant, whatever the cause.
Her vision growing fuzzy at the edges, the Valentine remains motionless and silent while she waits for her captive to regain control of herself, biting back an involuntary desire to sigh in relief when the girl finally struggles to her feet. The crushing pressure on her mind receeds slowly until it reaches a comfortable level. She can still sense the fear lingering close to the surface but a new emotion rises up to join it, overpowering it with a calming tingle of warmth.
Ramlethal closes her eyes again, allowing that new feeling to suffuse into her body, bit by bit. Is this what courage feels like? Or perhaps it is merely acceptance of ones fate. She begins to understand why humans might feel so driven to embrace such illogical states of mind. If all of them feel this...
She catches herself mid-thought, eyes snapping open. Dangerous. Only a few moments into this ordeal and she'd almost fallen right into the very trap that she had warned herself against. Ofcourse it felt pleasant, why else would creatures capable of rational thought so easily fall into its trap? She would have to be extra vigilant from now on, constantly analzying her own reactions to ensure nothing managed to slip through.
Reaching out her hand, the dark-skinned girl places it on Athena's shoulder. There is no familiarity in her touch, nor comfort to be found when her fingers close tightly in a steel-like grip. The air around them begins to warble and distort as reality gives way to one with mastery over its underlying structure, the surface of space and time rippling as the curtain is drawn back. The void engulfs them both, catapulting the pair into the superstructure of the universe, leaving only an empty cave behind.
"Heeeeey! You there, girl? Yooo hoooo?!"
Several mintues after their departure, the silence is broken once again by a loud and boisterous voice. Lucifero floats slowly out of the darkness, his rotund body covered in bits of dirt and debris. The creature glances back and forth, pivoting in the air as he continues to search for the spot where his mistress and the human had been. It is only when he finds himself bathed in the fading daylight that he realizes that he's already passed that point and neither of them are anywhere to be found.
"That.... that BITCH! She left me behind! Argh, just wait til I get my teeth on you, you little...!"
Descending into a loud tirade full of profanity and threats in equal measure, the bulbous monster flies off into the sky, disappearing into his own portal a few seconds later.
Log created on 21:12:30 04/28/2018 by Athena, and last modified on 23:20:21 05/20/2018.