The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 2 - Real Bout High School

[Toggle Names]

Description: Several months ago, a mob of highschoolers led by "Miko Kobayashi" stormed across Southtown with the aim of disrupting the UN-led occupation. As one of the students who stood in opposition, Ryuko has been training for a rematch -- but Miko herself has been scarce as of late, leaving nothing but scattered clues in her wake. A chance meeting with Kazuhito, one of Miko's former classmates, could provide the leads she needs to track down Miko. However, Kazuhito also seems to have a history with the treacherous Akatsuki-gumi, dead set on stitching up loose ends!

A half-hour train ride from Southtown, the mountainside community of Chichibu is a breath of fresh air. Even in the city's downtown reaches, skyscrapers are an exception rather than the norm; most buildings bear three stories or fewer. And one of these buildings may just hold a number of secrets inside...

Researching the V-Gage Educator project has been an exercise in seeming futility. After the V-Gage contract was dissolved, a number of the top-ranking executives from the project were hauled into court, and many of the legal proceedings are still in process. Arrests were made. Accounts were frozen. Records were sealed. It's been tough for a private individual to follow the leads.

And yet, there are leads that weren't followed up on. A list of credits, obtained from the schools that housed the V-Gage units themselves -- details that went "missing" some time before the big investigations started. Each employee's name was something to be followed up with, each place of business another possible lead.

And thus far, every piece of information has been a dud. Many addresses weren't officially recognized by the post office. The ones that were have, so far, been closed or abandoned for years; as if someone had just picked a former address from an out-of-date phonebook, perhaps. And then there's this out-of-the-way office, a few blocks from the downtown region. The name of the contact was Shizue Murano -- listed as a historical consultant on the Shakushain's Revolt content module.

It's probably a good time to visit. It's 8:30pm -- and a faint light is on in the second-story office. The door to the office is cracked open, and there are sounds of a figure rummaging about in the back of the office, with cardboard boxes and crates spilled open for view. So far as can be seen, the occupant is just one high-school boy in an untucked, powder blue shirt, its sleeves rolled up to the elbow. He... doesn't look feminine enough to be a "Shizue."

The past few months for Ryuko have been difficult. The terrible beating she sustained in her efforts to stop what she believed to be a suicidal mission against an unbeatable foe had developed complications forcing her to be hospitalized in order to ensure that no permanent damage was done to the implants or her brain. Her parents had been both worried and furious, chastising her heavily for engaging in such a dangerous fight without even letting them know what she was up to. Through their anger, however, she could see a hint of pride in their eyes and she had latched onto that sentiment in the weeks that followed.

When she was finally released, she wasted no time with idle relaxation or recovery. There had been enough of that already. The teen threw herself into her training with a fervor she'd never possessed before, applying herself to an intense regiment of daily exercise and practice that often left little time for anything other than her schoolwork. She pushed hard and relentlessly, driven by a mixture of outrage at Miko and determination to find out just what the hell was going on that day. There was so much that didn't make sense, so much she needed to know, and she was going to find those answers.

Confident in the results of her training, Ryuko turned to a far more challenging in the last couple of weeks, that of seeking out the information she requires. As a high school student, her ability to access the sort of records she wanted was incredibly limited, at least in terms of legal methods. She didn't let that stop her though. This was too important to simply give up on. So, she turned to those at Gedo who might be able to help. A entire school full of delinquents and thugs has its uses at times and her policy of treating everyone with respect had earned her enough friends to get the aid she needed.

Fat lot of good that it's done her. Dead end after dead end has been all that she's found by following the trail left behind by the perpetrators of the V-Gage incident. Oh, sure there's a few people being charged with technical nonsense but anyone who has bothered to look at the evidence can tell that's a smoke screen. Even without any investigative training, she was able to find some overlooked files. It's just a list of names and locations. Not much to go on but it was better than nothing, or so she thought at the time. Now, she's not so sure she hasn't wasted weeks on a wild goose chase devised by her own desperation to find something of use.

"Only three more left..."

Ryuko peers down at the piece of paper in her hand, worn and folded from use, checking the address with the brightly labeled numbers on the side of the building in front of her. It checks out. She quickly stuffs it back into the pocket of her fancy blazer, withdrawing a pack of cigarettes in its place. The darkness of the street is briefly illuminated by a flicker of golden flame as she ignites the tip, inhaling the smoke with a long deep breath to calm her nerves.

This place at least looks a little more promising than the others. The faint light spilling forth from one of the second story windows means there's someone using the place, which already puts it a step above the parade of condemned warehouses and abandoned office buildings she's encountered thus far. She checks her watch, noting the time. It's already late, most people should have gone home by now. That means whoever is left inside is probably a security guard or an officer worker who stayed behind to finish up some files. She should be able to handle one person if things get dicey.

She lingers on the street for a couple of minutes to finish off the cigarette before heading inside, flicking the butt into a public waste bin on her way in. Fortunately, there proves to be no one at the entrance to spot her. It'd be kind of hard to explain what a teenager is doing in a place like this at this hour, much less the long bundle of cloth she carries on a strap from her shoulder, a thin blanket wrapped protectively around her weapon to keep it out of sight. Slinking stealthily around the edge of the foyer, she makes her way over to the stairs and quickly jogs up to the second floor, peering cautious down the halls as she proceeds towards the corner of the building where she saw the light.

It isn't hard to find the office in question. The door hangs ajar with the faint light of a desk lamp pouring out into the hall. The sound of heavy rummaging catches her attention as she approaches, indicating the presence of another person within. Slowly, Ryuko slides up to the edge of the door and tilts her head sideways, peering into office to try and get a glimpse of the person inside.

Her eyebrows rise slightly at the sight of another teenager. That certainly isn't who she expected to find at a place like this. But even more curious is the haphazard mess laid out all over the floors, boxes overturned with their contents spilling out as if there had been some sort of a struggle - or someone was frantically searching for something. A sudden sense of something amiss runs down her spine and she has to fight to keep the burst of nervous energy from making her do anything hasty. Could this be it? Could she finally have found something meaningful?

After a moment of deliberation, she carefully lowers the bundle from her shoulder and unwraps it, bringing the heavy sheath of her strange katana out into the open. She leans it against the wall just outside the door, still hidden from view but within easy reach if she needs it. Next she peels off her blazer, leaving only the well-kept dress shirt and tie. Her skirt is obviously not designed for office work but she's hoping that little detail might go overlooked. Then, she steps into the office, pushing the door open with a quick shove that sends it thumping into the stopper on the other side.

Crossing her arms over her chest, Ryuko peers at the young man, her expression one of bemusement at his presence here. Experience has told her that the eye-patch and the implants on her head do a great deal to enhance the menacing delinquent image that she tends to give off to those who don't know her. She channels this mien as best she can, furrowing her brows at the student and hoping to the gods that he doesn't actually work here.

"And what the hell do you think you're doing?"

A flashlight flares across the wall at the sound of the door flying open. The light's beam sweeps around, narrowing in onto the form of the new arrival, as the crouched-over figure rises to his feet.

He blinks backward, narrowing his eyes at Ryuko. The flashlight pans upward, glinting across the implants upon the young woman's head.

Skeptical, he arches an eyebrow. And snorts out, "Minding my own business."

And after a few moments pass, he crouches back down, the flashlight turning back to the file crate as he withdraws another folder from it. He hardly seems fazed by the show of bravado. His voice is quiet, unassuming -- and yet, brooks no room for disagreement. "You don't work here, don't even try to jerk me around. This place's been abandoned for weeks, it's a miracle they even pay to keep the lights on."

His eyes cast back to the hallway, bathed in the gentle glow from the desk lamp. "Pull the door closed, but don't shut it. We need to be able to hear the hallway."

The mock annoyance on Ryuko's face melts into a look of consternation as the mysterious invader casually brushes her question aside. Well, that's certainly not the reaction she expected. He doesn't even seem particularly concerned that she's here. What the heck is going on?

Scratching sheepishly at the back of her neck, the teen retrieves her jacket and sword from the hallway, sliding the former back on while the latter is nestled under an arm. She steps back into the room and pulls the door to, leaving a sliver of space between it and the frame to allow noise to seep in from the outside. With that done, she moves over a little closer to her fellow busy-body, kneeling down to briefly flip through some of the files spread out on the floor.

"What exactly are you looking for?", she asks, glancing up at him after a moment.

The kid looks to be about the same age as Ryuko -- and yet, the way he carries himself seems completely atypical for the mold. As if he's been put through a crucible far greater than most his age would ever need to. He just keeps sorting through the files, as if the arrival of Ryuko was simply the impetus to go back and re-pull something he'd found moments prior.

What is he looking for? The boy's finger lands on a folder, rifling through the contents without too much further concern.

"Proof. Some sort of contract, some sort of -link-." He pulls out the folder, paging through the mess in a more exhaustive fashion.

But then he looks over to Ryuko, tilting the flashlight away. He's already established that Ryuko is alone and not -exactly- the threat he was concerned about. Even if she is, well.... carrying a sword. "... I'm guessing you're digging up stuff on the V-Gage too. Murano Interactive was supposed to be a contractor to Violet Systems, yeah? But there's no paperwork... anywhere... that shows a formal relationship between the two companies. You kinda need one, if you're gonna profit, yeah?"

He gestures towards the folder -- and others like it. Plenty of payroll information, plenty of other expenses, but nothing worth mention.

Ryuko looks slightly surprised at the mention of the V-Gage. She's pretty sure she's been fairly covert in her investigations thus far, so there shouldn't be anyone alerted to the fact that people are snooping around. Maybe she should have expected other people to be interested. That sort of mind control technology would go for a lot of money in the right - or rather, wrong - hands.

After a couple of seconds of silence, she nods, turning her attention back down to the mountain of papers at her feet.

"I found a list of companies that are supposed to have been connected to the project but every single one I've visited so far has been a false-lead. Abandoned warehouses, empty office buildings, that sort of thing. Either every single company associated with the V-Gage shuttered their doors in a hurry or they never existed to begin with. And since half of those buildings have been condemned for at least ten years, I'm inclined to put my money on the latter."

She stands and moves to one of the as of yet unopened file cabinets, pulling a random manila folder from the top drawer and rifling through the contents.

"So... how come you're interested in the V-Gage?"

She poses the question casually but her eye shifts sideways to glance at the other student, watching his reaction.

It's true that Ryuko -was- covert in the matter. But her suspicions are rather close to the mark -- which is something the boy in the blue shirt addresses with brief, occasional nods as she explains.

"Par for the course, yeah. I knew you didn't work for this company because there was only one person who did, and you aren't him."

He pulls up a piece of paperwork from the folder in his hand, showing a personnel file. "This guy. But as soon as the news broke on the V-Gage, he split. And a few weeks ago, he was assigned to the same facility I was."

The boy tucks the page back into the folder, shoving it back into the file box. "Building got burned to the ground. Southtown Syndicate. He kept his secret."

He sighs, rubbing his hand through the back of his hair. "As for the V-Gage... well. It's 'cause I'm tired of hiding in the shadows. Folks want me gone. And I need proof if I wanna go public." He pats the file box.

"... Eh. Why are -you- interested in the V-Gage?"

Not long after he asks his question, the sound of car doors slamming shut can be heard below. And not long afterwards, the sound of murmuring people.

And the boy's eyes go wide. He grabs hold of the filing box with both hands. "... We have to move."

Well, that soothes her ego a little bit. Her acting job wasn't terrible she just had some bad luck in encountering someone who was familiar with the one person who actually worked here.

Ryuko peers at the piece of paper when it's offered to her, committing the face to memory on instinct. Her implants glow faintly with neon purple light as she does so, writing the information onto the hard drive attached to her brain. She doesn't recognize him but that's not terribly surprising. Until a couple weeks ago, she didn't know much about the V-Gage at all; and that hasn't really changed. Every scrap of information is something that might be important later at this stage.

Assigned to the same facility? Her brows lift at that. Does that mean this kid is somehow associated with the project? Her question gets answered almost immediately as she prods him about his interest in the device. Definitely related somehow. Maybe he even worked directly on the V-Gage itself.

Excitement wells up inside of her chest at this thought and she can't help but grin. When he turns the question back on her, her smile only gets even wider.

"I ran into someone who I think was pretending to be someone else. They tried to use the V-Gage to do something twisted. I'm going to find out the truth and then I'm going to expose them for what they really a-."

Her voice dies out mid-sentence as the unmistakable noise of fresh arrivals drifts up from the parking lot below. She mirrors the boy's look of wide-eyed surprise for a moment but quickly shifts gears into action mode, turning to dart towards the door so that she can peer out into the hallway to see if anyone is already inside the building.

"Can you fight?"

She acts the question calmly, shifting the heavy weight of the katana down into her hands. Escaping unnoticed would be the best outcome but it's smart to be prepared. If she must defend him that's going to slow them down and she needs to know ahead of time what to expect.

Someone who was pretending to be someone else. There is a smile of commisseration; he manages to interrupt with a brief, "Yeah, she does that..."

But that's when the car doors are heard. And the boy stands, carrying the box in both of his hands. He's already starting to rush for the door...

"Not that well. Never really gelled for me like it did for Saya and Touji... "

Racing out into the hall, he glances first to the left where the stairs had been, and then to the right. "Shit-- I'm sorry you got wrapped up in this...!"

The downstairs door can be heard creaking open. And almost immediately, three pairs of boots can be heard tromping up the stairs. There's no direct line-of-sight to the downstairs door, so there's at least a -few- seconds to decide what to do...

The boy has already made up his mind though. He's racing down the hall, -away- from the main stairwell. If there's a back stairway, it's a fair bet that's his destination!

COMBATSYS: Ryuko has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ryuko            0/-------/-------|

Saya and Touji? Wait, isn't that...?

Ryuko whirls around to stare at the young man, her mouth already half-open to question him further on the matter, only to be brushed aside as he rushes past her and out into the hallway.

"Hey, wait a second!", she hisses, moving to follow after him a few moments later.

The teen slips into the hall right as her new partner in crime takes off at a dash away from the stairwell. She grits her teeth, peering between him and the sound of the approaching footsteps, then turns and races after him as quietly as she can manage. She has to assume that he knows the layout of this place well enough to have an alternate way out planned, otherwise they're going to have to get creative. Being cornered isn't her idea of a great plan but they can always go out a window or maybe slip out onto the roof.

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Ryuko            0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

The young man was trying to squeeze past Ryuko as best he could, but in the heat of the moment, escape was a higher priority than proper Japanese manners. "No time! We've got to -move!-" With his crate of files still clutched in both hands, the taller of the two teens thunders down the hallway.

His footfalls aren't so loud that they can drown out those of the much larger men tromping up the front stairs. Now that they know their prey is on the run, the men accelerate their pace -- and the man in front calls out, "Give it up! The building's completely surrounded!" Though one would be forgiven for not understanding the echoing voice throughout the confusion.

Meanwhile, the boy rounds a ninety-degree corner -- and almost immediately seems to know that there's a second stairway there as well. With a series of loud clomping, he makes it about about three steps down before -another- set of voices can be heard from the stairway below! "Oh... oh shit! They're coming up here too!" The boy jams on the brakes, whirling back into the hallway and slamming the door behind him -- the older building predating building codes that would mandate doors have to swing towards the appropriate exit. He sets the crate down, driving his shoulder against the heavy door to barricade it off...

"So that's three and three -- six is -so- like her," he spits out, glancing nervously between Ryuko and the flickering fluorescent streetlamp visible just outside. Part of his mouth tugs upward in a nervous tic. "Do... do you know her better as Miko, or Dahlia?"

The door behind him groans, as a man slams his shoulder into it. The boy has the advantage of leverage -- he's already locked his knees outward, and is able to put his whole weight against the door.

But the more obvious threat is the three men who have now made it onto the second floor. Three men -- each sporting a cheesy black suit, red shirts, sunglasses, and a pair of brass knuckles.

The first speaks up, slamming his knuckles into an open palm. "Look, girl, just step aside now while you can. We're only here for -him-..."

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team takes no action.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Ryuko            0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

Once it's clear that the pretense of stealth has gone out the window, Ryuko lets out a soft curse and accelerates after the mysterious boy. The teen's athleticism allows her to catch up short order, weighed down by the files as he is, and she damn near plows into his back when he skids to a halt and reverses course at the back staircase. She manages to hurl herself to the side to avoid being run over and quickly leans on the door next to him, adding her own weight and muscle to the effort of keeping the second squad of goons at bay for a few moments.

Of course, that doesn't really get them anywhere, particularly since Goon Patrol Alpha is still bearing down on them from the rear. Ryuko narrows her eye at the trio, easily picking up on their shared fashion sense that marks them as standard issue thugs.

"Never heard of Dahlia," she says quietly, brows furrowing as she tries to think of a non-violent way out of this situation. "Miko, I am well acquainted with, however."

The handful of seconds allotted to thinking while the street muscle wander their way passes without any particularly brilliant ideas coming into her head. If she was alone, she could easily escape. Breaking past a few over-confident knuckleheads is something she's quite practiced at after nearly two years of picking fights at Gedo. That would leave her new acquaintance here in a rather bad place, and unfortunately, she's not ruthless enough to just abandon someone their fate.

"Keep this door closed, no matter what. If they surround me, we're screwed."

With that helpful bit of advice given, Ryuko pushes away from the door and steps forward to meet the yakuza. She grins at the mooks, rolling her shoulders casually, like a boxer preparing to square off in the ring. The long sheathe is held at her side and she grips the hilt to the faint creak of leather as her specialized dueling glove settles into the familiar nook. Slowly, she takes up her fighting stance, turning sideways so that her bad eye and undefended profile is presented towards the gangsters.

"Sorry, boys, but I'm feeling particularly heroic today. I'm afraid you'll have to go through me first."

COMBATSYS: Ryuko focuses on her next action.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Ryuko            0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

There's no telling what the boy would've done if he were alone. But as he looks up at Ryuko, he realizes her to be someone he can trust. Someone who won't turn him in for an easy buck. And someone with... prosthetic antennae. Usually those are earmarks of a hero, yeah?

"Okay," he agrees, squeezing himself even further down between the floor and the door. It's enough to hold still against one man, and considering the narrow landing of the stairway, it's extremely difficult for all three men to get any leverage at all unless they want to start running from the bottom floor. And at that point, gravity would be actively working against them. So it'll probably hold!

"They're Akatsuki, miss -- don't hold back!"

As the men approach, the two in back look at one another questioningly. The man in front, well... he just grinds his teeth together, for another threatening slam of knuckles into palm. "Suit yourself..." He looks ahead, and sees that Ryuko's blocking the hallway to such a degree that a circumvention just isn't going to happen. "Looks like we gotta go -through- her, boys!"

With no further delay, the gangster in front drops low, sweeping his foot towards Ryuko's knees. The Akatsuki gangster in back slams a kick into the middle gangster's rear end -- which seems like bitter infighting, until the gangster hurtles forward with a speed-assisted running clothesline strike aimed at catching Ryuko right under the chin! It... might hurt a bit! "HRAAAAA!"

COMBATSYS: Ryuko auto-guards Akatsuki Team's Power Strike.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Ryuko            0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

Those elongated prosthetics wiggle a little as Ryuko prepares to engage, almost giving off the odd appearance of animal-like ears if not for the faint mechanical whirring noises emanating from within. Her eye narrows slightly as she concentrates her attention, drawing upon the instinctive focus that has seen her through so many fights before. She feels her senses connect with that little voice in the back of her head and fresh confidence flows into her body, energizing her nerves like a shot of steroids. It's show time.

The first thug's strike is met with a simple shift in the girl's posture, twisting her leg to the side to catch his sweep against the braced edge of her shin. It smarts a little but his strike was meant to disable her, not inflict damage and it's effect is all but negated by her tactical footwork.

"You can try, asshole!"

Ryuko grins widely as she delivers her retort, quickly taking a hopping step backwards to put some distance between herself and him. Her retreat is only a momentary tactical one, however. As the second thug rushes at her with reckless abandon thanks to his boot-assisted lunge, she casually snaps the heavy sheath of her katana up to intercept the strike, allowing his extended arm to slam into the hard metal instead of her neck.


Almost before the thug has even managed to grind to a halt, Ryuko takes one step backwards and spins in place, whipping her naked katana out in a massive corkscrew through the air around her. A roaring miniature tornado erupts from the flashing blade's tip as she completes the pinwheel motion, tearing across the floor as it attempts to engulf the closest thug with its raging winds. It isn't content with just devouring one of the goons, however, and continues down the hall with a howl of violence, aiming to sweep them all the way back to the end of the hallway and buy a bit of time.

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team blocks Ryuko's Tenryuko Shippuken.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Ryuko            0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

With Ryuko dealing with the Akatsuki thugs in front, the doorframe -- and indeed, the whole hallway -- shudder from a gangster throwing the bulk of his weight against the door. For now, the young man's mechanical advantage holds out -- but even still, a groan of exertion escapes him.

Ryuko's got other things on her mind though -- such as the thugs seeking to take her down! Sure enough, the first Akatsuki foot soldier reels back from his defended strike, stepping back to allow his compatriots to sweep in. The second is surprised to find his fist deflected by the expert deployment of the blade's sheath. Irritably, he moves to follow up with a swift knee to the young woman's abdomen -- but that move is put on standby as the live steel whistles out.

Three pairs of eyes widen. And each man finds himself drawn back reflexively, in nervous anticipation. Arms are raised, brought in front of faces. It isn't just from the sword -- their reflexes are much more honed than the average gangsters. They've -seen- energy attacks of a similar sort before -- and the trepidation is real.

Powerful gusts of razor-sharp wind slam into their raised forearms, into their elbows, into their wrists. The team finds itself driven back as a single unit, the windows down the hall trembling with the increased air pressure. Teeth are grit...

And then, as the wind begins to ebb, the men charge forward. The "leader" lunges forward in an underhanded punch to the abdomen. The "second" steps onto his other foot, driving a knee up into Ryuko's ribcage. And if both of his companions follow, the guy in the rear follows up with a double-fisted axehandle from overhead, aimed at clobbering Ryuko's cranium!

COMBATSYS: Ryuko instinctively dodges Akatsuki Team's Reckless Attacks.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Ryuko            0/-------/-------|==-----\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

Her new friend's valiant struggle with the door doesn't go unnoticed but Ryuko's far too busy to put any thought into dealing with that yet. The best way she can help him out is by clearing a path for them to retreat and that means focusing on these three clowns.

The teen's brows rise a little in surprise at how well the gangsters manage to weather her sudden strike. That maneuver had managed to bowl down entire groups of uppity students at Gedo more than once. It's a good reminder that she's dealing with professionals here not misguided angsty youths.

Rather than start to worry about her chances, Ryuko's grin only widens a little at this, and she lets out a soft bark of laughter.

"Hah! And here I was worried I'd take you all out in one strike. Alright then, come and face my blade, villains! Let's see how worthy you are!"

Allowing herself to wax dramatic for a moment, the young swordswoman lifts a hand to give the universal 'come get some' motion towards the Akatsuki thugs. She needed have bothered it seems. The one that had spoken to her earlier rushes forward to strike first, driving his fist low in a bog-standard gut punch. Not a bad attempt but his opponent is miles ahead of him, almost as if she could see it coming.

Ryuko gracefully pirouettes to the side, lifting a foot as she does so to catch the rising knee of her second attacker. She steps up onto the shelf created by his muscular leg and leaps into the air, performing an acrobatic flip over the final aggressor as his balled up hammer of fists comes crashing down on the space she used to occupy, finding nothing more than a faint blur of color left in the wake of her absurdly fast movement.

The weighted tip of Ryuko's sheathe comes crashing down a moment later, braining the central thug from above as she falls towards the ground. Her body pivots at the last moment, legs splaying out as she twists like cat to land on her feet. As she does so, the razor-sharp edge of her katana lashes out in a wide cut across the back of all three thug's legs, attempting to hamstring them all in one fell swoop before they can even realize she's behind them.

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team dodges Ryuko's Tenryuko Souken.

[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Ryuko            0/-------/-------|==-----\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

No, no chance of taking the three bruisers down in one strike. It's true, they may -look- dumb, but in the previous months, nearly all of the Akatsuki grunts have been subjected to mutliple passes through the Scarlet Dahlia's grueling training. And they've got quite a bit more muscle mass than the average Gedo student.

"So you know Miko..." mumbles the boy, wincing under a followup strike from the men urgently trying to bash in the stairwell door. "Yeah... they're not as coordinated without her, but they're no pushovers..." Of course, the young man is a bit aghast as the plucky teen warrior brandishes the 'come get some!' gesture. "Ugh, now you're just getting cocky..." he mumbles. That was one thing that always bothered him about Saya and Touji...

Even though their former associate is upselling their abilities, the fact remains that Ryuko isn't just quick, she's -damn- quick. One strike is evaded. A second strike becomes a foothold for a flashy leap...

And that's pretty much all the opportunity those thugs need to realize their second wave of attacks is a bust. The third, with his overhead axehandle, adjusts by dropping to his knees. The scabbard is caught in both his hands -- a panicked reaction, to be sure, but a successful one all the same, giving Ryuko the pommel-horse she needs to vault overhead if not the satisfying crack of thug cranium. And when she swings the blade outward...? Every single thug is ready for it, lurching forward just far enough for the razor's edge to whistle by, just a bare centimeter short of clipping their hamstrings. The most surprised of all was the one who was on his knees -- for he had to flatten to the ground, twisting his feet to either side as the blade whistles by overhead, without contact.

The moment's fleeting panic does not escape them, however. Live steel has a way of multiplying the fight-or-flight instincts. "We gotta put this chick -down!-" As the collapsed warrior scrambles back to his feet, the other two spring past him, vaulting off the walls and driving arcing punches downward, aimed at using their combined weight as leverage to bring down the fearsome transfer student! And by this time, the third thug has regained his footing -- and aims to stomp kick the (hopefully?) trapped Ryuko right in her knee -- once, twice, and a third time if possible!

COMBATSYS: Ryuko instinctively blocks Akatsuki Team's Gang-Up Beating EX.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Ryuko            0/-------/----===|==-----\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

Ryuko clucks her tongue in disappointment as she misses her chance to potentially create a breakaway moment, more annoyed at her failed strike than worried about the danger that it creates. That had been an elegant riposte and looked damn cool too but it was somewhat spoiled by that one moment of delay that had allowed her targets to escape.

Time slows down for the teenager as the two gangsters on either flank pull off some trick-moves of their own, bounding off the walls to give themselves a bit of extra vertical distance with which to augment their plummeting punches. Their coordination is impressive, she'll grant them that. Fortunately, her combat senses are keyed up to the max. While that little voice that gives her advice on how to fight isn't always reliable, it seems to be just as eager as she is to put these knuckleheads down and get the hell out of here.

The sword-wielding girl's head snaps up as the punches come down on her, revealing not a look of worry but a confident smirk. The sheathe to her weapon comes up at the last second, intercepting both strikes with opposite ends of the long metal tube. The timing is precise, the block snapping into place at just the right moment to catch both fists at the same time, stopping them cold. The dual impact rattles her bones and she winces slightly, her arm sinking down a couple of inches under the blows. Being fast doesn't mean she's any better suited to weathering that sort of punishment; still, better a sore arm than a fractured head!

The final strike from the front fares no better. Ryuko brings her blade up, catching the bottom of the grunt's expensive shoe on its surface before it can smash into her leg. This leaves her in a somewhat awkward position, surrounded on all sides with very angry people wanting to do her violence and no obvious route of egress. Glancing at each of her attackers, the teen calls out to the unnamed boy holding the door.

"Cover your ears!"

Then, she sucks in a quick but deep breath, her chest expanding outwards as her lungs rapidly inflate to capacity. The warning will do no good for the ears of the three gangsters because what comes next is not merely an audial assault. A massive sphere of blue light erupts from Ryuko as she screams a wordless kiai her voice taking on unnatural properties as time is compressed around her. Like a blade being folded over and over to temper its strength, the noise is stacked upon itself as time is crushed together, amplifying the war cry like a cosmic microphone.

Every single window in the hallway explodes outwards as the pressure of the ear-shattering scream stretches out in both directions, raining down on anyone who might be lurking outside in an avalanche of glass. Needless to say, the three men caught point blank to this bizarre display of power will have to do something more drastic than cover their ears to walk away unscathed.

COMBATSYS: Ryuko successfully hits Akatsuki Team with Tenryuko no Hoko EX.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Ryuko            0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

The thugs' fists are foiled by Ryuko's superb timing. Each of the initial attackers staggers back in an attempt to shake the sudden numbness out of their knuckles. Their brother-in-arms, meanwhile, rushes in to find the sole of his wingtip shoe crushing down onto the same scabbard as well -- giving him no small amount of confusion. This is not, as the three men are beginning to realize, just 'some girl' that happened to get in the way.

The kicker starts to raise an objection -- but he's interrupted by Ryuko's outcry. Luckily for these three, her warning to the boy -- that is heeded, even as he struggles against the door -- is audible to them as well. Less luckily, well, they're still closer to the point of origin. And even -with- the warning, they're not able to cover their ears fast enough before the sphere of blue light envelops them, or the kiai screeches out to deafen them. The time-space dilation is enough to cause blood to dribble out from three pairs of ears, with the momentary loss of balance forcing the kicker to the floor, and the other two to list towards the walls.

The moment, however distorted by Ryuko's unique gifts, passes. And with a surly grunt from the "leader," the three begin to make another charge. First, the leader will fire off a haymaker at the side of Ryuko's head, intending to double her over. Second, his wall-hugging companion will charge her with a flying knee. And the third -- still clutching his ears after the ear-splitting blast -- will rise to deliver an all-out dropkick to the sternum, caring not one whit about the possibility of landing atop shards of broken glass!

COMBATSYS: Ryuko interrupts Crushing Strike from Akatsuki Team with Tenryuko Kanzan EX.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Ryuko            0/-------/--=====|=======\-------\1    Akatsuki Team

The short amount of time that she bought herself with that surprise attack doesn't go to waste. Even as the fist comes swinging towards her head, Ryuko is already moving, ducking low to avoid the powerful haymaker. The strike whistles over her head by a good few inches but the antennae mounted there swivel downwards to avoid being clipped anyways, pressing flat against her dark hair.

"Too slow, chump!"

The grinning teenager slips past the leader with ease as he whiffs the strike. His powerful punch leaves him over-extended for a few moments but that proves to be all that is needed for the absurdly speedy girl to capitalize on it. Her sword lashes out as she spins around behind, carving a deep gash from hip to shoulder through his fancy suit. She doesn't commit to the blow entirely, merely making the cut strong enough to hopefully disable the bastard without killing him. Though she might very well be fighting for her life at this moment that isn't an excuse for her to abandon morality in favor of convenience. Heroes do the right thing even when it's dangerous or hard.

Goon #2 ends up finding his path to Ryuko blocked by his own leader thanks to her fancy footwork and the flying knee strike is stymied before it can begin. The last one, however, is delayed long enough that he can react to the changing situation and alter course. The flying kick catches the student as she sheathes her blade, smashing into her shoulder instead of her chest as she turns to try and ward off the worst of it.

The impact sends her sprawling backwards onto her ass. Luckily, most of the glass was sent elsewhere in the hall so the fall isn't too bad. Ryuko rolls with the impact with practiced grace and flips back up to her feet a short distance away, a grimace on her face.

"Shit. That one actually wasn't that bad. I'm going feel that in the morning... and right now."

Sparing a moment to check up on her new friend, she glances over her shoulder at the door and offers him a confident smirk.

"You still holding up back there? Pretty sure I've got these clowns on the ropes."

The leader's punch not only misses its mark, but it leaves him wide open for a powerful rebuttal. An arc of brilliant crimson spurts out from the fresh wound, painting itself upon the floor and the wall with a sickly series of splats as the aghast gangster looks down. The severity of the blow comes as a shock to the leader, stunning him long enough for his compatriot to slam a knee broadside across him. The resultant shock sends him flying face-first into the nearest wall; when he rebounds backwards, he falls limply to the floor. Blood begins to pool around him, and for the moment at least, he shows no signs of getting up.

While the third gangster's kick lands, the second's practically in shock himself. "Boss!" he calls out, uncertainty creeping into his voice. He balls his fists, whirling around to face Ryuko. His buddy crawls back to his feet, brushing loose shards of glass out of his suit, snarling out, "Tch!"

But as the call goes out to the blue-shirted teenager, the second gangster practically spits with rage. "Like -hell- you do! Smartass -bitch!-" Erupting in rage, he charges for Ryuko, shoulder first! He aims to plow her into the far wall, pinning her there long enough that he can grab hold of her arm. If he manages that, he'd use the arm as leverage by which to whip the girl around a hundred eighty degrees, back into the wall on the other side of him! And the third grunt -- properly reading the cues from his buddy -- would be right there to meet her with a one-two punch to slam right into her abdomen!

"I'm... I'm fine!" stammers out the boy. The door behind him quakes with an even larger shudder than before -- it might seem like the other three might be able to blast the door right off its hinges before long...!

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team successfully hits Ryuko with Gangbang.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Ryuko            1/--=====/=======|-------\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

"Just one sec- oof!"

Ryuko turns to ward off the next strike but the wild charge catches her mid-step. The pair crashes into the wall hard enough that the air is momentarily knocked out of the teenager and she wheezes in annoyance and pain, attempting to lift a foot to push against the thug's chest and drive him off.

The meaty grip closes around her arm too quickly. Once again Ryuko is sent hurtling through the air, crashing into the opposite wall with and dull thud. Displaying the typical underhanded teamwork of their sort, the second goon is ready and waiting for his chance to get a little payback. His fist crashes unimpeded into the stunned student's gut, landing a pair of powerful body blows that double her over the man's thick arm. She instinctively reaches up with a free hand to steady herself, fingers digging into the yakuza's nice shirt for purchase as if he is attempting to offer her support with the arm still lodged in her stomach.

"Yep," she wheezes while forcing a grin through the pain. "Got em... right where I want em..."

The twin pair of cybernetic fins on her head suddenly emit a faint whirring noise as they shift into high gear. Bright neon purple light spills forth from the interior through the hard-plastic LED strips, bathing the area around her in faint illumination. Ryuko recovers from the savage attack almost instantly, as if she was either faking or has received some fresh burst of energy. Her elbow comes up to smash the thug who punched her in the chin and she follows it up by planting her foot in his gut, pushing him away. She pre-emptively ducks to the side to avoid a follow-up from the other remaining good, rolling rapidly back down the hall to give herself some space to work with.

Her speed, easily the most deadly of her traits thus far, kicks it up another notch throughout all of this. The girl's body seems to move in a blur, faint traces of an after-image trailing behind her as she escapes from the pin in the blink of an eye and moves to gain better ground.

COMBATSYS: Ryuko successfully hits Akatsuki Team with Random Strike.
- Power hit! -

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Ryuko            1/------=/=======|===----\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

The Akatsuki grunt can't help but smirk back at the young woman as she acknowledges their response to her earlier boast. Pride is definitely a factor here -- Scarlet Dahlia sure went to a lot of trouble to train these men better than to fall to a scrappy teenaged girl, and they deserve -something- for their efforts!

It's more likely, though, that they'll have something other than 'scrappy teenaged girl' to report; purple neon lights aren't exactly par for the course on a retrieval mission. Ryuko's fast, there's no doubt about that; if there was any doubt to that, then the grappling thug might have had some chance to get out of the way of the elbow careening into his chin -- as it is, he barely even registered the motion until the hit itself landed. At which point, of course, he reels sideways -- only to get shoved backward by a kick to the stomach! Folding like a cheap lawn chair in a galeforce breeze, the Akatsuki minion tumbles backwards, arms and legs trailing behind his derriere on a trip to the back wall. And right after hitting it -- well, that's when the wall-mounted fire extinguisher becomes an un-mounted fire extinguisher, slamming into his head from above and knocking the grunt out cold.

His companion, though, has a bit more leeway to strike. He'd let go of Ryuko's arm as soon as his friend got the second strike -- and that was probably the -only- thing giving him the leeway to get away from the hyper-accelerated teenager. Seeing that his prey has escaped, the second-in-command gangster now finds himself a master of none, trepidation creeping into his expression as he balls his fists, steadying himself. Ryuko is moving like a blur... and he's got... fists!

"So where's that, exactly?" snaps back the thug, reaching for the fire extinguisher, pulling it off his now-unconscious buddy. "Two down, maybe... but there's still more to come. You don't still think you're gettin' away, do ya?"

He twists around in a wild spin, the fire extinguisher blurring into a red torus as he whirls about. And he releases suddenly, hurling it towards her with the intent of testing the fire extinguisher's speed against Ryuko's own! "HRRRRRRR!"

COMBATSYS: Ryuko dodges Akatsuki Team's Thrown Object.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Ryuko            1/------=/=======|===----\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

Ryuko pauses for a moment upon slipping the noose that had threatened to close around her neck but even at a stand-still her body seems to be flickering and rippling with some strange energy, like old movie reel that's skipping a few frames every couple of seconds. She allows the thug to make his move, merely watching with that arrogant teenage smile on her face as he picks up the fallen extinguisher and makes the most obvious attack in the history of fighting. Even without the aid of her battle trance she'd have seen that coming a mile away.

Strangely, the girl doesn't even try to avoid the flying metal bludgeon as it sails towards her head, threatening to brain her senseless. She just stands there, smirking and motionless, until the projectile is mere centimeters from her face.

Reality distorts, doing that frame-skip thing again, and suddenly Ryuko is a couple of feet closer to the thug and the extinguisher is behind her, tumbling end over end for another few feet before it loudly clatters to the hallway floor. The girl slowly turns sideways, her sheathed sword resting against her hip as she takes up the classical samurai preparing to strike pose. Her smirk widens into a toothy grin, practically giddy at being handed such an amazing opportunity to fire off a cool one-liner like some badass action hero.

"Right. In. My. Sights."

The faint whine of the machinery in Ryuko's head hits a fever pitch as it kicks into high gear, focusing the girl's latent talent into a brief but concentrated force. She draws her sword in slow-motion, gripping the long handle with both of her hands as she lifts it dramatically up into the air over her head like some throw-back to the cartoons of twenty years ago.


A nimbus of blazing blue power erupts from the teenager's body, engulfing her like a bonfire of eldritch flame. The tip of her sword traces a wide circle of cerulean light through the air as she swings it down and then back up, going through the first motion of an elegant and precise kata.

"Ryujin no Ken!"

The sword is drawn close to her side as if she were a baseball player preparing to knock a homerun out of the park, only the ball that she has her eye on is the last remaining thug. Ryuko's grin widens just a little bit more in that pregnant pause, savoring the drama and adrenaline swirling through her body. This is it! This is what she lives for! A chance to show off exactly what she can do.


Ryuko... well, it's hard to say exactly what she does. One moment she's standing there, posing like some weirdo, then next she's directly in front of the goon, her blade already carving a shimmering blue arc into his chest.


Reality skips again and the swordsgirl is somewhere else, slashing at the man's flank in another flicker of motion, gone even before his mind has time to register her presence or the bite of her blade.


Time bends one final time to accommodate the bizarre teen's blink assault, this time depositing her near the top of the hall's low roof. She comes down behind the minion, sword and teeth flashing with deadly excitement as they unleash their final strike, a plunging vertical slash that cleaves with such power that the tip of the katana digs into the concrete several inches.

As before, her deadly strikes are delivered with incredible precision, slashing through cloth and flesh just enough to disable without killing. It's a bit of ridiculous overkill but she's not about to pass up a chance to look this cool when it comes along.

COMBATSYS: Ryuko successfully hits Akatsuki Team with Hi-Ougi - Ryujin no Ken - Metsuryuha EX.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /                             ]
Ryuko            0/-------/-----==|=====--\-------\0    Akatsuki Team

Scarlet Dahlia is fast. And her training definitely involved some tricky illusions. But even she kept her illusions within the realm of comprehendable physics -- the brain itself will begin to reject reality when it stops seeing evidence of it.

That's the situation facing the last of the first wave of minions as Ryuko begins to flicker out of sight. It's surreal -- like something more akin to a tokusatsu action flick than anything that can happen in real life. The girl he'd just punched? That was real. The fire extinguisher? That was real. And as far as his mind was able to comprehend, those two were supposed to be erupting in clouds of blood-soaked sodium-bicarbonate foam right now. The clang of metal, that was supposed to be a collision with her head, not a split-second later as it collides with the floor. And now she's... =posing?=

"The fu--?"

The next moment, his chest is on fire.
And the next after that, his flank.

His eyes roll back in his head at the sheer ridiculousness of it all -- or maybe because the shock goes right to his brain. It even takes a moment for his flesh to realize it's been cut by the sharp blade -- and once it does, the lines erupt in crimson, soaking the sliced suit, weeping out onto the floor. And a moment after that, he falls over -- felled like a giant oak tree.

The hall is still shuddering as the young man gives an impressed clap of his hands, his shoulders still pressed firmly against the door, his legs cantilevered against it. "That... that was -amazing-..."

And then the door bursts -open-, propelling the young student towards Ryuko. The three Akatsuki invaders from the back stairway took the clapping as the sign for the moment to strike. Three red faces, panting, heaving, and sweating like stuck pigs from the exertion. Three black suits -- a bit more damp than the other three on the floor, but free of the bloodstains.

The boy manages to grab hold of his file crate as he is forced forward. He comes close to losing his footing, but manages to hold it tight all the same as he charges towards Ryuko.

"Shit, shit -- we need to book! I... I can't move as fast as you, but I can help us shake 'em?!"

Three may be down -- but the other three have got their bearings now! And after the figure in front vents his rage in the form of violent spittle, the three break into a jog to catch hold of the boy and his new friend! The only two ways out: the shattered second-story windows and the main stairway, far ahead!

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team takes no action.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ryuko            0/-------/-----==|

COMBATSYS: Akatsuki Team can no longer fight.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Ryuko            0/-------/-----==|

Ryuko retains her pose for a couple of seconds as the last of the goons topples, unable to resist the opportunity to pull the ridiculous badass stunt. Once the body hits the floor, she yanks her sword free from the ground with a sharp tug, flicking it sharply to the side to splatter the blood that has accumulated on its edge onto the wall before sheathing it back at her side, all in one smooth motion.

"I know," she says, grinning at her nameless friend.

Unfortunately, there isn't much time for her to preen. The second group of knuckle-draggers bursts into the hall and the teenager lets out an exasperated whine, tilting her head back to bemoan her troubles to the heavens, not that they've ever cared before.

"Not even a few seconds to rest, come on!"

She doesn't need much encouragement to get the hell out of dodge. Dealing with one squad of yakuza has left her just about drained, though the exertion and thrill still has her high on adrenaline. Her eye darts around the hallway as everything moves in slow motion, her focus snapping back into place to give her a few moments to come up with a solution.

Fighting: not really an option. Running: potentially viable but both her and the kid are already tired so there's no guarantee the thugs being exhausted will make a difference. Distraction?

Her eye settles on the fallen extinguisher lying in the middle of the hall not far away from the door. Immediately, she snaps into action, snatching up a large piece of glass from the floor and hurling it at the small red cylinder. The dagger-like shard begins to glow as it leaves her hand and a moment later it starts to skip through time like a stone cast across the surface of a lake, each blink accelerating it towards the target. The impact tears the side of the canister open and it explodes with a violent blast that shakes the entire hall, compressed air and liquid coolant turning into a massive cloud of white mist and shrapnel.

Ryuko slides behind the boy, knocking a flying shard of metal out of the air that was about to bury itself in his backside. "Move it!", she urges, giving him a shove towards the nearest window. Even though they probably have time to make a break for the stairs, there's no way to know if there are more goons waiting in the lobby and getting caught in the middle at this point would spell doom for them. No choice but to take the plunge.

"Take a deep breath and loosen up. Tuck and roll when you hit the ground. You /probably/ won't break your legs. Or snap your spine. Or smash your head. But, uh, incase things don't work out, I'll build a little shrine for you... what was your name again?"

The boy was too busy running for his life from the exploding door to fully appreciate Ryuko's exasperation. Holding onto the crate of 'liberated' files is about all the mental bandwidth the lanky, wide-eyed kid can spare at the moment.

Luckily -- Ryuko has the situation well under control. He has a very slim grasp on his companion's time-warping capabilities, but he doesn't need to understand what's going on to appreciate the effects. With a shuddering boom, clouds of fire suppressant billow into the hallway. Coughing is more than loud enough to announce the fact that three stymied gangsters have decided to rethink this whole "pursuit" angle for a moment.

The boy, though... well, he's now caught up with Ryuko. Being by her side is a place he'd much rather be, compared to where he was. So it's a bit of a shock when the young woman decides to push him out of a window, file crate and all. "H-hey, I... I can't do any of this super anime bullshit like you can!" He starts to resist, pressing his knee and his shoulders against the window frame. But once Ryuko explains, he gives a weakened half-smile. "Th-thanks, I... I think? And it's Kazuhito Muraoka. I--"

No more time. He's being shoved out the window. His eyes widen, and just before he hits the ground he turns sideways, letting the crate fall dead on the pavement. He does just as he asked -- bending like a reed and tumbling as soon as his sneakers hit the ground. There's a wheeze of breath, and rocks cling to his shirt and hair...

But as he pats himself down, he realizes: that didn't hurt half as much as he thought it would. Relief floods his features -- as he turns back to the second-story window.

He starts to raise his voice, to give a suggestion. And then realizes that the call might be a signal to their pursuers. Instead, Kazuhito motions an open hand towards the nearest alleyway -- scooping up the box and breaking into a run.

The alleyway has a number of zigs and zags, as it darts between a labyrinthine maze of buildings. It would almost certainly continue -- but the mark of the Kanzuki Rail Company adorns one door in particular.

Kazuhito plants his sneakered foot on the arm bar -- and kicks the thing open.

"Access tunnel for the railroad. Hardly anyone knows about this place..." With the mountainous terrain of Chichibu, it's really not something that would just be -stumbled- on...

"Ryuko Tenjin," she says in response, cutting him off with a broad smile. "Nice to meet you!"

Kazuhito is given another quick shove towards the window, sending him tumbling to the street below. The cyclopean swordswoman plummets to the earth a few seconds later, managing a far more graceful landing than his own. She doesn't speak as he takes off at a run, also aware that any noise they make now might give away their escape to potential ambushers lurking nearby, merely following behind him since he seems to know where he's going.

The hum of her cybernetics starts to dim as the danger passes and the faint glow around her body slowly fades away as well. By the time they reach the door to the building that Kazuhito was aiming for, her body has gone back to normal and the inevitable downside of using her powers finally catches up to her.

Ryuko staggers suddenly, crumpling against the wall for support as all of the time she displaced snaps back into place like an overstretched rubber band into the center of her brain. A rather undignified sound explodes from her lips as her eye rolls up towards the top of her head, her limbs flopping like wet noodles as she collapses in a heap into a pile of old trash bags.


A trickle of blood runs down her lips from one nostril as she clutches her head, hissing through teeth grit tightly against the world-class migraine.

"Fuuuuuck, I hate this part!"

Kazuhito is so focused on his secret hideaway route that he's already ten steps away before he realizes that Ryuko's not right on his heels. And that becomes twelve steps away before he hears the rustle of garbage bags.

"Sh...shit... we..." Panicked, he looks down the alleyway. Though, with all things considered, there are practically no lines-of-sight to -anywhere- close to the building from which they'd just fled -- and with the narrow confines of the Chichibu streets, they'd definitely hear the approach of footfalls with enough warning to duck into the hideaway before the chumps even knew they were there.

Which means, hell yes, it's time to set that file crate down and rush to Ryuko's side. With teeth chattering together, Kazuhito reaches out uncertainly to Ryuko. "Hey, hey... it's... it'll be fine... honest...?!"

He catches sight of the blood. And despite his racing heart and adrenaline, he can start to make sense of the signals, piecing together the hum of technology with the lashback on her system.

"Tenjin-san. Th-thank you, first off. I had no idea ... it would be tied to your body like this. How... how long does that usually last...? Can we get to safety first, so I can get you something?"

It takes a few seconds before Ryuko can get out a response. She takes several deep breaths, eye still screwed shut then slowly exhales one long sigh. Her eye flutters open and she stares up at the sky then hisses and closes it halfway again.

"It's... fine. I'll be fine. I just get really bad headaches when I push it too hard, that's all."

The student rests for another half a minute before finally pushing up to her feet with a groan. Her sword is collected after brushing some bits of old trash off her expensive clothes and she wipes the blood off her face with a handkerchief. Other than the expression on her face that screams of a bad hangover, she looks well enough. Even if she isn't, she's apparently decided to power through it until they can find a safer place to rest.

"Come on, let's go," she says, trying to sound upbeat and dismissive. "I just need a few minutes to lie down."

Ryuko moves past Kazuhito into the open door and motions for him to follow, striding into the old building with a wary glance at the surroundings.

Kazuhito has been on the run for several weeks now. The alleyway may be isolated, with lines of sight to the office building blocked -- and yet, he doesn't seem to be able to shake the feeling that those six Akatsuki grunts might still be in pursuit. Certainly, the bulk of his attention is focused on the recovery of the peculiar girl collapsed in front of him. But every few seconds, he looks back to the alley from which they came. Or up, into the skies. Or ahead, to the door...

The explanation keeps him from getting -as- worried about her health, at least. He nods slowly, backing away and giving Ryuko some breathing room as she collects herself. Half a minute is a long time to wait; he bides his time by pacing back and forth, one hand reaching up to ruffle through his disheveled brown hair.

The pacing stops when she starts to move. Nodding with enthusiasm, he jogs back to the file crate, hefting it back up into his arms. "Yeah," he agrees, as the door creaks open.

The inside of the abandoned KR train terminal looks like it's played home to a criminal element of some sort. Expletive-laden graffiti litters the walls, and discarded refuse is loosely collected around the walls. The floor itself is... mostly clean, but a few cracked tiles here and there show the cumulative results of years of violence.

"This place used to be the main station for this area..." explains Kazuhito, gesturing towards the stationmaster's office, its glass window shattered long ago, and a number of battered vending machines in disrepair. "Once they rebuilt the station a few kilometers down the line, they had plans to demolish this, but squatters took over... Not long ago, one of Akatsuki's front companies snatched it up, recruited some of the gangsters, kicked out the others. If it weren't for the little spat with SouthSynd this place would be getting a refurb by now. As it is, hasn't gotten the usual sensor suite."

Kazuhito sets his crate down, retrieving an flattened cardboard box that seemed to serve as a bed at one time. It's perhaps one of the cleanest pieces in the decrepit building, really. Laying it out on the floor, he rubs the back of his head in apology. "Sorry, s'probably the best we can get for now. So... what's your story? You're Pacific? Ain't no way you'd wanna be seen with one of us Gedo dregs..."

"Gonna take a bit more than some soap and duct tape to make this place presentable again."

Ryuko's head swivels back and forth to take in the mess, stepping carefully to avoid making noise or getting something lodged in her foot that will require tetanus shots. The place looks like something out of a dystopian cyber-punk video game. The only thing missing is a bunch of homeless squatters but that appears to only be the case because they were recently driven out by gangsters which ironically fits right in with the theme.

"You sure those knuckle-draggers don't know about this? Seems like a pretty obvious place to run if you want to hide."

The girl pauses as Kazuhito drags the makeshift pallet out, eyeing it with a look of distaste. For a few moments she considers simply pushing on until they can escape and find somewhere less likely to give her some sort of exotic disease but a fresh burst of pain lances through her head and settles the matter. Letting out a sigh, she shrugs out of her blazer and folds it up to serve as a pillow before flopping slowly down onto the make-shift bed.

"I'll live," she grunts. "Probably."

The student's eye slides closed after she settles in, shutting out the world to give it one less vector to attack her disoriented senses. Her hands fold over her stomach as she sighs, already glad for her decision to no longer be vertical.

"Hmm? Nah... my parents wanted to me to go to Seijyun... but I didn't have any interest in spending my time around a bunch of stuck-up rich girls." She waves a hand idly through the air in a dismissive gesture. "Picked Gedo instead. More fun."

"They'd have to call it in to know, and that means tellin' Dahlia they lost us. So we've got some time."

Kazuhito knows this isn't really the -best- place to stay, but... as long as there's a requirement to stay lying down for a little bit, this place is quite a bit more defensible than some blind alleyway. From the way he ambles over to the stationmaster's office and retrieves a decently-sized knife from a concealed spot under the counter, it becomes a bit more obvious he's spent a night or two in the building.

"Ah. You must'a started after I got caught, then." Kazuhito idly uses the point of the blade to start picking out the dirt from under his fingernails as he speaks. "Still, it'd make sense; you're probably the one she was ranting about at Pacific High -- I just didn't have all the details."

Kazuhito leans against the office wall -- as much as Ryuko might not trust the squalor, he's just fine with it. "V-Gage is just one of the ways she tries to get other people to do her work for her. Akatsuki's another. And I'm guessing the whole Gedo High stint was a way to build rapport and connections. I'm trying to get the data to connect her stuff publicly, but it's probably all gonna be for nothin."

The knife is flipped around in his hands, idly. "She's cooking up something else now. Partnerships. And as soon as it becomes a good time for her to strike back against the Syndicate, it's gonna get messy."

Kazuhito rubs the back of his neck. "... And our odds for survival are probably better if we split up, once you're feeling up to it."

"Hurray for unreasonable bosses, I guess."

Ryuko's eye slides halfway open as the student wanders off towards the office, watching him curiously to make sure he doesn't do anything foolish. She's a pretty cool customer when it comes to dealing with people but that doesn't mean she completely trusts this random person who happened to be looting an office related to the V-Gage and who seems to have a rather intimate connection to the people behind it. Even if she buys his story, that still means he only decided to do the right thing after his own ass was on the line.

The knife causes her eyebrows to rise slightly but she quickly goes back to resting before he turns around, relying on the passive detection of her implants to keep track of his movements. It's not as good as optical observation but he won't be able to sneak off or throw that knife at her without her noticing.

Ryuko snorts at the idea of Miko going on a tirade about her interference at another school. Apparently, she gets around. Normally, she'd be slightly concerned that someone she'd tried to befriend was annoyed at her, but that ship sailed and crashed right into the side of a cliff and is still blazing away in a giant pile of flaming wreckage. Any frustration she can cause to the duplicitous infiltrator is a good thing in her book.

The rest of the information is absorbed in thoughtful silence. She'd already had suspicions that Miko wasn't what she appeared to be but 'criminal mastermind' was not on the short list she'd compiled in her head. Most of it makes sense. The V-Gage would be a powerful tool for anyone to get their hands on and having a small army of thugs to rough people up certainly has its uses.

But why Gedo? What could she possibly hope to gain from making friends there? Maybe she thought the delinquents there would be easier to recruit as minions. Or she could use them for scapegoats somehow. She certainly didn't seem to be trying that hard to be particularly friendly. Outside her two little lapdogs, everyone gave her a wide berth.

Ryuko holds up a hand when the topic of splitting up comes up, slicing it lazily through the air.

"Yeah, that not going to happen for all sorts of reasons. First of all, I'm just as interested as you are in getting a look at those files. After all the time I've spent trying to hunt down some solid evidence, I'm not letting that box go anywhere until I've done that."

The girl rummages around in the pocket of her folded up jacket, digging out a crumpled package of cigarettes and an expensive looking silver flip-top lighter. Fishing one out, she pops it into her mouth and lights it up, taking a long slow drag on the slender stick. For some reason, smoking seems to help whenever she overexerts her powers. Might be a placebo thing but she's not terribly concerned with the reason.

"Second, you said yourself you don't know how to fight. If you happen to get caught with the evidence you're screwed, and I get nothing for all my heroic effort in saving your skinny butt."

Ryuko's eye opens fully and she tilts her head to the side to stare directly at her fellow 'student', if that is truly what he is. She's quickly started to realize that someone as versed in subterfuge and misdirection as Miko could very well have anticipated that someone would come looking for evidence and sent people to find it and destroy it. For all she knows, 'Kazuhito' is just another of the woman's minions who didn't put on a uniform.

"Third," she says, her expression stern, channeling some of that delinquent intimidation power of hers as she takes another pointedly drawn out puff from her smoke. "I don't trust you."

At one point, well before Ryuko had joined Gedo, Miko's influence over the school was far more widespread. She'd jumped up through the ranks of Daigo Kazama's lieutenants. Even though the Gedo Boss himself was in denial, Miko had motivated them into pledging their loyalty to the boss -- elevating him onto a pedestal of nearly mythic proportions. Daigo reaped the benefits of the hero worship craze Miko had stirred into place. As time progressed, Miko's visits became largely unnecessary -- Daigo's control over the Gedo school had become legendary. Unsurprisingly, Miko's infrequent visits relegated her to the dustbin of obscurity, her reputation limited to association with the rough-and-tumble pair of Touji and Saya.

Kazuhito, though, doesn't feel like dredging up old history. Particularly as he's a bit more insightful than either of his two Historical Club companions were. His insightfulness and reluctance to follow the herd mentality is what landed him in his current predicament, under the heel of Miko, aka the Scarlet Dahlia. And it serves him well now; Ryuko's veto has him instantly on guard, questioning why she would want to act against his suggestion. Sure -- she may have the higher talent in martial arts, but it clearly came with a price that the teenage boy isn't so happy about. He had a first-hand introduction to intimidation at the hands of the Akatsuki yakuza; other people throwing their weight around doesn't really faze him. But it -does- concern him, in this case.

When Ryuko states her mistrust, though, he breaks into laughter -- probably -not- the result she was aiming for.
"Then this is gonna be a long, boring visit, ain't it?"

The knife is placed back into its hidey hole -- as he'd rather not run the risk of inflaming Ryuko's distrust any further.

Instead... he ambles over to the file crate, and brings it over to her.

The amusement fades from his face, as he gives an ambivalent shrug. "You wanna read them all? I don't really give a damn. But we're sharing whatever we find, yeah? Photocopies, if we gotta."

Ryuko's hard look melts into one of bemusement, her brow quirking up at the laughter. It's not the first time she's been laughed at when she tried to play hard-ball but considering that this kid's seen what she can do already, she figured it'd have at least a little more effectiveness than that. Has he been holding back this entire time, waiting for a moment to strike?

The teenager blinks in surprise at his response. She watches him put the knife away and amble over with the crate of files, pushing herself up into a cross-legged sitting position when he plops them down at her feet, eyeing him suspiciously before letting out a long puff of smoke.

"Heh. That's one way to do it."

She reaches out and grabs one of the files at random, flipping it open and glancing down at the contents of the first page. Most of it is meaningless data to her, names, numbers, datas, that sort of thing, but it's all probably useful in some way; she just doesn't know how yet.

Ryuko's eye zips back and forth rapidly, absorbing the information in a matter of seconds. The two fins on her head begin to glow faintly as she does so, a soft hum of machinery filling the otherwise silent station. She flips to the next page and starts to do the same, soaking up the contents of the page in mere moments while casually puffing away on her cigarette.

"Don't need to photocopy, I have an eidetic memory. Would be nice to have some copies though, just so I can prove I didn't make all this stuff up."

Kazuhito takes note of the bemusement, at the way his attempt at levity is received. "... Sorry. I'm not trying to be rude. Lots of people puff their chests out to try and badger me. It's... well, it's only different 'cause I don't know you." He flashes an apologetic smile. "I'm just kinda used to it, that's all."

The file in Ryuko's hands is a series of travel-related purchase orders -- as are most in the crate. It seems rote, bland -- meticulous, for some reason: each purchase order has a pair of shinkansen tickets stapled to it. Each document is registered by a guy named Michihiro Sawano.

Kazuhito nods his head towards the files as she leafs through them. "Michi was an alright guy, really. He was a stickler for keeping his receipts, mostly 'cause Oda would've kicked his ass if he didn't. So you can tell he traveled to Hokkaido a lot -- that's where Dahlia -- Miko -- did most of her business."

Oddly enough, while all of the trips stop at the same place -- Shin-Hakodate, at the southern tip of Hokkaido -- the purchase orders will spell out differing final destinations afterward.

"I know -that- Akatsuki is connected with the V-Gage programming that got sent to the school. But aside from getting Miko's help to pass the class, I never figured out -why- Akatsuki is connected with the V-Gage. Like, she's a history buff... why did she focus the study on all these little border skirmishes in Hokkaido and Aomori?"

"Heh, it's fine. I'm pretty used to people brushing me off because I'm a girl. Or just in general. That's why I wanted to go to Gedo. People underestimate me all the time and it's a fantastic place to get lots of practice in without getting sent to detention every week."

Boring as it might be, Ryuko makes sure to capture every single scrap of data on each piece of paper. She might not look like it but she's something of a nerd, always meticulous about keeping the details of things that she learns straight and organized in her head. Having a photographic memory certainly helps for that but simply knowing a thing doesn't mean you understand it. She tries to understand.

It takes about fifteen minutes for her to go through the majority of the files. Apparently, speed reading is a lot easier when you only have to glance at something for a brief moment to put that information into your head. She's mostly quiet throughout the process, focusing on the task at hand, but she offers the occasional nod or comment to Kazuhito when he speaks.

"Just a buch of purchase orders," she says, setting the current file in her hand down and leaning back against the wall. She lifts her cigarette to her lips, the third one now, and takes another long drawn out inhale as she closes her eye, thinking.

"All of these shipments are going through one place. Must be some kind of distribution center. But why Shin-Hakodate...?"

She goes quiet again for several seconds, the antennae on her head wiggling back and forth in a manner similar to an animal's ears, more out of subconscious habit than any actual mechanical benefit. Her fingers drum on the surface of her sleeves, another idle tick, as if sitting completely still for any length of time is anathema to her physiology. She ponders quietly, face scrunching up as she tries to connect the dots.

And then, it clicks.

Shin-Hakodata is in Hokkaido. Which means that the Akatsuki, Miko's gang apparently, must be based in that area. Thinking back to the V-gage programming that she'd seen being pumped into the brainwashed students, most of it had focused on the conflicts between the Ainu and the Japanese, an ancient piece of Japanese history that had long since become little more than a scholarly footnote. The Ainu had lived in Hokkaido but were forced to capitulate to the Imperial rule after several major conflicts.

Ryuko's eye snaps open and the cigarette tumbles from her mouth, jaw hanging slack at the sudden implications of this data. She stares in disbelief at the empty space in front of her for a moment before her brain reboots, giving her control over her voice and body once again which she promptly uses to belt out in a tone that's probably a little uncomfortably loud.

"No fucking way...!"

While Ryuko is perusing the files at mach speed, Kazuhito is taking his time in comparison. Each file is opened, casually leafed through, and returned to the crate in a reasonable amount of time. He is going to great pains to make sure to keep out of Ryuko's way in the process.

He's barely even done a quarter of what Ryuko has in the meantime; that fast, only because he knows precisely what he's looking for. A pattern.

His response is almost automatic. "... Well, Shin-Hakodate is as far north as the bullet train goes. You gotta get off there, and take the local trains or cars to get around... And yeah, there's a lot of shipping traffic there, so there's that..."

But then, Ryuko's sudden surprise -- and the drop of her cigarette -- stokes Kazuhito's attention. His eyes widen, as he stares back at Ryuko. "What, what, what is it?" The tall Gedo boy has his ideas, but he doesn't want to interrupt the thought process...

Ryuko blinks and turns to look at Kazuhito as if she'd forgotten he was there. Snapping out of her brain storm, she picks the fallen cigarette up and puts it back in her mouth, the tip flaring up as she excitedly takes a quick drag. Pushing back to her feet, the teenager moves out to the center of the room and starts to pace, holding a single finger as she starts to rattle off the evidence.

"So, all of these deliveries go through Shin-Hakodate, right? That's in Hokkaido. It would make sense that Miko, or Dahlia, or whatever... her gang is probably based somewhere in that area. It offers them quick access around the country and a convenient location to control local shipping."

A second finger lifts.

"The V-Gage programming that I saw at Gedo was primarily focused on the historical conflicts with the Ainu and the Imperial government. Except it had been altered, changed to make the Japanese look more aggressive while the Ainu were innocent victims being oppressed by a tyrannical regime. I never could understand what that was meant to accomplish. I always figured it was just some strange cover for a subliminal message to inspire distrust in the government, since it toyed with people's emotions, but..."

She trails off, shaking her head in disbelief before holding up a third finger.

"Not many people remember this because it's a pretty small piece of history, but some of the largest conflicts in Ainu/Japanese history... happened in Hokkaido. It was a pretty prominent center of trade and offered quick travel through the area thanks to its access to the water."

Thank you, Nobunaga's Ambition. And her parents said video games were just a silly pastime. Hah!

"So, if you put all of that together, along with some of the other things Miko has said and done, I think it leads to a pretty obvious conclusion."

Kazuhito scratches his temple as Ryuko lays out the pieces of information she's figured out. Shin-Hakodate is laid out as a point of presence -- and he nods, not wanting to derail the train of thought. So for now, he keeps his thoughts to himself...

The V-Gage programming, though... he hadn't been privy to that. He doesn't remember taking it, if at all; and he certainly wouldn't have had the historical wherewithal to make the pointed assessments Ryuko is making. But, in effect: Dahlia wants to make the Ainu look better.

"... Well... it might be obvious to you, but I'm honestly a bit lost."

He holds out his left hand, prodding it with his finger. "Akatsuki's not just a 'gang', it's a yakuza clan that even after Syndicate action, has a hand in local politics from Sendai northward. And those aren't shipping manifests, that's... this -guy-, he's -traveling- to Hakodate, and then from there to wherever Dahlia happens to be."

Both hands are held palm-up as he shrugs: "And there's tons of seaside ports controlled by the Akatsuki: Akita, Niigata, Hachinohe, Misawa, and those aren't even the ones in Hokkaido. Hakodate's just a port -- and it's not even where the Akatsuki are centralized. The Akatsuki don't -have- a central base of operations, that's part of why it's been harder to lock down than the past yakuza clans."

Kazuhito scratches his chin, having cleared the air. Sometimes it's necessary, he realizes, to just get the facts on the table before he can find the pattern. "... But yeah, I'm... following. Are you... trying to say that she's targeting historical sites, or something? Trying to make up for the losses of the past?"

Ryuko absorbs the counter points with a thoughtful look, staring off into the distance as she works these new bits of information into her theory. While it does offer some potential unknown factors into the mix none of it detracts from the initial conclusion that she'd reached and some of it only makes her more sure.

"That makes sense. Having a singular base of operations would make them easier to attack. But it also strengthens my theory that Shin-Hakodate is an important piece of territory for them, precisely because of that. Hokkaido is an easy and quick to reach mid-point which allows access to any number of locations. It's like controlling the lanes of trade."

She turns to Kazuhito and holds a hand up, trying to give him a visual, pointing at her palm and then dragging the pointer along each of her splayed out fingers as she talks.

"Ships use ports because it offers a single point where they can bring all their goods and then distribute them as needed. The same is true of trains. So having a place like that for a decentralized organization is crucial for moving things around in a timely fashion - drugs, thugs, weapons - whatever it is they might need. If they have a distribution center they can easily move things where they need to be. That's one of the major reasons why the Imperial government pressured the Ainu so hard to bend the knee."

She shrugs afterwards, going back to pacing.

"As for the other ports, it only makes sense to control as much territory as possible but since we have an entire file on Hokkaido that proves it's being heavily utilized for something I'm going to focus on that."

The final question makes her pause to gather her thoughts, popping the mostly used up cigarette back into her mouth to draw the last couple puffs of smoke from it before flicking it into a nearby wastebin.

"Let me answer your question with another question. When I last confronted Miko, she had used the V-Gage to create a mindless army of students that were raising hell about the government. She made some bullshit attempts to accuse me of hurting 'her friends' when I helped the riot police try to stop them, like any sort of friend would twist your brain so that you act like an obedient slave. Hmph."

She frowns for a moment then shakes her head and waves the thought away.

"Anyways. She showed basically no regard for the safety of these students and most, if not all of them, were Japanese. For all we know she could just be a sociopath trying to grab power and using manipulation to get it, but there isn't much reason for her to attempt to turn students against their own government to accomplish that. Times of peace is where criminals tend to thrive."

Ryuko crosses her arms and tilts her head to the side, smiling at Kazuhito as she leads him towards the truth. It's so obvious to her that he has to see it now. The only thing she could do better is to tattoo it onto her forehead.

"So, what if she had some /other/ reason to do that? Something that made her antagonistic towards the Japanese government. Something that has to do with the past. Something she tried to convince a lot of people about, even if she had to fuck with their heads to do it. And something that having a lot of political clout, as say oh, I don't know, the head of a massive Yakuza family, would further that goal greatly."

While Ryuko paces, Kazuhito allows himself to remain more-or-less rooted in place. His gaze tracks her continually, his head and shoulders only turning when it becomes necessary to keep that gaze locked on.

And really, he can't find fault with the logic -- it certainly -does- make sense that Dahlia would keep a number of facilities within easy reach of central distribution points. It's... hard to see the forest for the trees, when one had his nose as close to the numbers as he was.

"Right... but Murano Interactive only had intellectual products. Software. It's valuable in proving the company had business with Akatsuki, so it can help build a legal case, but..."

He more or less leaves the issue be as Ryuko gets to the point she was trying to make -- that Miko, Dahlia, or whatever-her-name-is has a real and legitimate -motive- to carry out all these subversive acts against the country of Japan. -Motive- that can tie together all the things that Kazuhito's research has, to this point, not.

It takes a few moments to process this. First, his eyebrows knit together. Then his mouth curls in consternation. Then, his nostrils flare as he exhales sharply -- as if the thought had honestly never occurred to him.

"That...? That, I can find no fault in."

He breaks the gaze, glancing askance. "The pieces fit together with everything I know about her, yeah..."

Ryuko nods again, grinning as the pieces start to visibly fall into place on the boy's face. It's obvious once all the evidence is laid out. The locations, the history lessons, the disdain for the Japanese government. The only real question remaining is what to do about it.

"Miko must be an Ainu, one that holds a grudge about the things that happened in the past. It's the only thing I can think of that explains why she'd be willing to go this far. She's a fanatical extremist whose trying to punish people for something that their ancestors did."

A disturbing thought floats to the fore. What if she's not working alone? Are there others like her? Terrorist agents with the goal of bringing down the government through subversion and mind-control? This is way over her head. But who would even believe such a ridiculous story? Most of the evidence to support it exists only in her memory.

Ryuko frowns, running a hand through her hair. Something has to be done. That much is plainly obvious. With not-so-secret gang war going on, now seems like an opportune time to act. Miko will be distracted, her forces scattered and occupied. But where would one even start to take apart a conspiracy like this? Miko? If she's not acting alone then taking her out would only delay things.

"I'll be honest, solving this puzzle hasn't helped out as much as I'd hoped. I don't have any evidence that anyone who wasn't there to witness the things I've seen would believe. Miko needs to be stopped, that much is obvious, but... how?"

Miko must be an Ainu? "Well, yeah, she is..." interjects Kazuhito, brow lowered in a matter-of-fact fashion. But one with a -grudge?- One eyebrow raises as he considers this new piece of information. So far, Ryuko's conjecture is at least congruent with what he knew about Miko.

But to call her a fanatical extremist? Both eyebrows lower, as his face contorts into a frown. Something sounds -wrong- about that, even to him. Even -with- Dahlia having effectively thrown him to the wolves of the Syndicate without regard for his health, or his feelings...

He chews on that for a moment.

But then, Ryuko realizes that she's in the same boat as he is. Having -knowledge- of the events, but no evidence for them.

"... Stop her? Well, we need to build a solid case based on hard evidence that she's doing something -wrong-. Right now all we have is ... you, and me, and it's our word against hers. But is she doing something wrong? -Actually- getting innocent people hurt?"

Kazuhito laces his fingers, pressing his thumbs together firmly. "Look... I'll agree that she needs to be stopped, but 'fanatical?' She's got good motivations behind her efforts, I mean, it's not a crime to be proud of your heritage, is it? My folks are from Kagoshima -- and she's helping our people, too."

He looks hopeful for a moment. "Maybe we just need to get some more people on our cause. Together we can all -talk- together. She seems reasonable, y'know, but at her heart I feel she's confused, just like we are. Right?"

The pensive teenager's pacing comes to a screeching halt, her head turning so that she can stare at Kazuhito like he just revealed that he's a three-headed bug from Mars. That wide-eyed look remains fixed in place for several seconds, disbelief playing out across her features with any attempt to hide it. Eventually, she seems to recover from her stunned silence and blinks at him in an overly drawn out manner, a gesture commonly interpreted through the lens of body language as 'Are you fucking crazy?'.

"Excuse me, I must not have heard you right. I thought you said 'She seems reasonable'."

Ryuko rotates the rest of her body to align with her head, facing her fellow student with a deliberate slowness. The beginnings of what might very well be a re-enactment of the eruption of Mt. Ontake begins to brew, a violent and sudden well-spring of seething anger bubbling in her chest like trapped lava. She does her best to contain it. He doesn't know, she tells herself. He wouldn't say something that stupid if he'd been there to witness the absolute violation of morality that occurred on the night of their last encounter.

The young woman's face becomes a blank slate of placid neutrality, the connection between emotion and facial expression severed to prevent her from snarling like a rabid dog. The dangerous glint in her eye, however, is much harder to hide, as is the aura of menace that practically wafts off her like thick perfume as she stalks slowly towards him.

"That girl used lies and deception to /mind rape/ hundreds of students so that she could twist them into puppets, obedient little dolls that would dance on her strings and blindly throw themselves into danger for her 'proud heritage'."

The first cracks start to appear in Ryuko's mask as her brows begin to furrow, the corner of her eye twitching with barely restrained outrage.

"She showed absolutely no remorse or empathy when she ordered them to march on /fully armed/ riot police with the stated intent of throwing them at a fucking /death machine/ the likes of which blew the top half of Mt. Fuji off with a single fucking strike!"

The cracks quickly become fissures as an earthquake of fury rages across Ryuko's features, the last pretenses of a calm and measured response to such an infuriating claim crumbling away into dust. Her lips peel back in a growl as she takes the final few steps between herself and Kazuhito, chasing him all the way to the far wall of the station if she has to. Her fingers dig into the front of his shirt and she bodily lifts him off the ground with disturbing ease, hoisting him up until his feet are no longer touching the dust-covered tiles. The two fins on the side of her head are on full alert now, perked up and humming with intense energy as if expecting violence to break loose at any moment.

"Hell, she sent half a dozen muscle-bound apes to bludgeon you senseless less than an hour because you /might/ have uncovered some tangentially related files that don't even really count as evidence! So, you'll excuse me if I'm missing something here, but precisely what part of that sounds fucking 'reasonable' to you?!"

Kazuhito stares back at Ryuko as she continues to speak. He can read the signs of her growing agitation as plainly as a book -- it's pretty obvious to tell that she's upset about Miko's tactics, even when he's more or less used to them. And really -- she was at the Pacific High sports field, and he wasn't, so she's got every right to a different take on the matter.

But no, he just stands there, weathering the storm. As she gets closer, he... sets his jaw, standing his ground. He's a few inches taller than Ryuko, which makes it a bit easier. Is there fear in his eyes? Trembling, trepidation? Yes, yes there is. But he stands his ground all the same, tense and apprehensive. As Ryuko raises her voice, his brows lower, lip beginning to curl as if he is about to say something.

But he does not.

She won't have to chase him -- he won't provide any resistance as she hauls him right off the ground. One thing noticeable, though, is that he has a bit more trouble breathing -- as can be expected, considering the stretched fabric bearing into his ribcage.

He draws in his breath, composing himself. And then...

"You're about to tear my shirt apart, because I had the audacity to question you. You're in no position to talk about what's reasonable."

He closes his eyes, drawing in his breath again. He knows full well that Ryuko has the capacity, and possibly the -anger-, to vent her frustrations upon him. And yet, he's got something to say when he opens his eyes again.

"You risked your life for me, and I appreciate that. But if you weren't there, they'd only have hit me if I fought back. I wouldn't have. And the soldiers in that field -- they only would have opened fire on the students if they were attacked directly. They weren't. The so-called death machine? Same deal -- no one with a conscience wants to hurt an unarmed -kid-."

His shoulders shrug stiffly, restrained by the fabric of his shirt. "I don't know whether she has a conscience. But she's clearly planning on everyone else to be."

Ryuko practically sputters at the nonsense being thrown at her. She shakes her head, laughing incredulously at the mental gymnastics being performed to try and justify what Miko has done.

"Your excuse... is that she /exploits/ the fact that people have morals? And that somehow makes her not a bad person?! What planet do you come from, kid?"

Kazuhito is lowered back to the ground but she doesn't let go of him. Ryuko stares at the floor, still trying to come to grips with the idea that someone who almost just got jumped by a bunch of thugs is trying to take the side of the person who sent them.

"Unbelievable. Is there some special rule for Miko that lets her be held to different standards? Is that it? Do you think that because something bad happened to the Ainu in the past that it justifies all the horrific shit she's doing?"

The girl looks up at him, her anger flaring up again. She gives him a firm shove, releasing his shirt while pushing him away from her, too disgusted at his behavior to want to be near him anymore. The look on her face conveys this without subtlety as she jams a finger in his direction.

"I don't care what her reasons are! She could have been planning to march every one of those students down to the nearest arcade to challenge them to the world's largest air hockey tournament. She violated their minds, Kazuhito! Bent them to her will without a second thought! That's the kind of shit ridiculously ham-fisted villains do in cartoons! It's /that/ fucking evil!"

The righteous fury boiling up inside of her is becoming harder to contain in the face of these apologetics. Its vehemence is surprising, even to Ryuko. Was she this mad about it before? Certainly, it had made her angry to see her fellow students be used in that manner and her loss against Miko had left a scar on her pride. But where did all of this venom come from and why can't she seem to contain it?

"You're making an awful lot of assumptions to try and dismiss the magnitude of the crimes that have been committed here. Those thugs could just as well have been on orders to kill you as to capture you. They certainly didn't need six of them to handle someone who can't even fight. The soldiers wouldn't have fired without being attacked? They /did/ open fire, you idiot, because they /were/ attacked! Under /her/ orders! And even if they hadn't, she wanted to throw them at a Gear - A COMMAND GEAR - because she was too much of a fucking coward to fight it herself!"

Ryuko's face is close to turning red from the effort of keeping herself restricted to words. Her fighting instincts are keyed up, that voice in the back of her head telling her that the boy in front of her is an enemy. He might not have taken a swing at her with his fists, but his words are an inexcusable offense in the face of this obvious threat to Japan's security and culture. After a few moments of intense glaring, she turns her head to the side, clucking her tongue in frustration.

"Tch. Whatever. You wanna defend a terrorist because you feel bad about something that happened before anyone alive was even born, knock yourself out. I'm going to stop that bitch from doing anything like that ever again."

She stomps past him, snatching up her sword in one hand and the box of files in the other, tucking the latter against her side. Her head swivels towards the traitor to give him another glare, daring him to protest.

"The files are coming with me. Probably useless but it's the only hard evidence of anything I've found so far and I'm not leaving them with some little shit who sympathizes with Miko."

She turns to leave, stalking towards the entrance at a rapid clip.

"You want em back, you can find me at Gedo. Come see me when you get your head on straight."

As he's released, Kazuhito shrugs his shirt back into its proper fit, straightening his collar. At least from his cursory look down, it seems like it's still somewhat presentable -- though, of course the fabric is stretched a little thin from Ryuko's death-grip.

He doesn't have anything to say. He weathers the storm about as well as a rock face, aside from the need to blink occasionally. He could say he -does- want to hold her accountable. He could say a lot of things. But the fact that he literally dragged out documents -- at the risk of his own life -- proving the link between Akatsuki and Murano Interactive ought to speak for itself.

There are lots of things he could say, certainly. But that's just not who Kazuhito is. Not in the face of righteous fury, and not in the face of blistering accusations.

He won't even turn to face her as she stalks off; instead, he'll just head for the office, where he'd left his knife. He'll just say one thing.

"If and when you decide to fight her, Tenjin-san..."

The knife is plucked away, flipped around in his hands.

"Bring friends."

Log created on 08:44:11 08/27/2018 by Honoka, and last modified on 16:36:43 09/06/2018.