The Bell Tolls - TBT Act 2 - What Would You Forge In The Flame?

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Description: Iori Yagami's band is invited to play Southtown's exclusive Highline club, then Iori himself is invited to the VIP Lounge to meet the owner, Kain Heinlein. A challenge that isn't a challenge between Kain and the cursed fighter who isn't a fighter leaves the lounge in ruins, laying the foundation for a longer relationship.

The Highline is a luxury hotel rising towards the heavens and offering a spectacular panorama of Southtown's wealth-infused business districts from nearly every angle of every floor. From a high enough vantage point, the river shines in the city lights, rolling towards the ocean-- the deadly metropolis sparkles, shimmers off its own illumination and omnipresent metal and glass.

Nearing the top of the highrise it only grows more beautiful, more peaceful, Southtown's thrum replaced by the rush of air, by the distant wail of sirens that take on an altogether different intonation and intensity at such a height. While the lower levels of the hotel also include a concourse of fine shoppes (it's posh with that spelling) and five-star restaurant, several of the upper floors have been converted into three stories worth of nightclub with a priceless view of Southtown.

A dance floor and music venue dominate the lowest level, though the sound system accompanying it is more than adequate to serve the entire space, projecting sound to the lofted space overlooking the lower level, reached via ornate spiralling staircases. Farther up is the VIP lounge, largely shadowed when looking up from below. A spacious terrace surrounds the club's exterior, for that taste of awe and breath of fresh air, and the finest smoking lounge in the city.

Everything is cast in vibrant but carefully balanced lighting and hues of purple and black, the metallic accents of the decor cast in subtly luminescent silver tones. Seductively clad servers and dancers of both genders mill about the patrons, making generous tips whilst peddling drinks and luxuries to the often wealthy clientele.

Tonight, it's been Iori's payday to entertain them, effects and advertising pushing the theme and band themselves. Many come to be here; others come to hear the formidable warrior and, well, bassist.

Iori and his bandmates are used to small clubs and local festivals. Time for starry-eyed mingling and milling were carved out of the evening's setlist, giving them an extra push of motivation beyond the check to play their hearts out; far be it for them to gawk at rich, beautiful people they just embarrassed themselves in front of.

That Iori instead plans to make a relatively early evening of things doesn't seem to have affected his playing or stage presence. Broad grins and jittery hands abound amongst his heavily made up bandmates as they fill the club with screams and distorted chords, in stark - but forgivable, approachable - contrast to the seething stares gracing the fliers that advertised the show. Iori, meanwhile, appears as remote and subdued as he ever does, with his flat, downturned face and tendency to drift from the rest of the ensemble-- especially during solos.

For a solid hour or so, there's no audience or giddy band; no appetites deliberately stoked and left to their own drunken, desperate devices; no gnawing or gnashing in the pits of his psyche.

There aren't even any questions about why - how - the band's manager was able to finagle a gig at a nightclub of this caliber.

There's music, and there are four strings giving him the terrible power to drive or provide it with a stead foundation as he wishes, a power which he wields with a finesse and responsibility that scarcely suits the viciously concise fighter who's made inconsistent professional appearances over the last few years.

The Skyrise Lounge is Iori's to mould and compel, the harmonies conjured by the band reverberating through that high-end system to impressive effect. Perhaps the band doesn't have a professional sound man and expensive mixing equipment at the moment, but it's on hand for their performance nonetheless. No doubt he impresses several of the wealthier patricians of Southtown, and perhaps offends several others who misunderstood the marketing or just don't approve of the cut of Yagami's jib.

At the end of the day, his presence more than carries it, sells the talent; the discipline that goes into this particular art form, as well. The spotlight is his, for as long as they wish to play, the inebriated partygoers lingering at the end of the evening less than eager to take their leave of this fine, fine night. Only after the band has wound down is their flow interrupted, albeit politely.

A professional and poised brunette in perhaps her late twenties extends a cordial invitation to Yagami to speak with the club's proprietor. Said fellow would be found up, up, up to the Lounge's third level, the VIP lounge fully surrounded by panoramic windows angled to look out and down over the city, and the terrace below. A central, ornately lit and railed gap allows one to look down into the club, and provides the shadowy distortion when looking up into the lights.

A statuesque, lithe blonde man stands near one bank of expansive windows, currently retracted to open a gap which admits the cool night breeze of the late Southtown summer. It glides welcome through Kain's golden mane, sets the tails of his finely tailored black-and-crimson suit all aflutter as he turns perhaps a quarter of the way to regard Iori over one shoulder, a graceful motion of one gloved hand dismissing his associate, leaving only the two of them on this level. At least, to all appearances.

"Iori Yagami, I presume." the German's voice is calm, even a level softer than might be expected from someone of his poise and position. "My name is Kain Heinlein. Would you like a drink?" There is no presumption in the name; Iori is unlikely to have heard of him, unless he follows business news fairly closely, or happens to be aware of the public fight or five where Kain has hit decidedly above his pay grade.


The one time Ms. Murano - heiress to the foundation that shares her name, waste of a front row space - looks up from chatting too loud with the group around her is the first time Iori spares more than a cursory glance for the audience. A bass drop to accentuate a quiet bridge draws her eyes to the stage, to his. An echo of the ancient, cursed flame roaring through the depths of his soul flickers in his gaze. His tongue briefly plays over black lips, which begin to twist as he leans forward. An unoccupied hand extends--

-- so that the bird the scowling man's found just for Ms. Murano is right there, mere feet from her nose and widening eyes.

It rhythmically weaves around its new home in the heiress' ecosystem until the distraction stomps away, then flies back to its perch upon the string so Iori can improvise his way through the rest of the bridge.


"You invited me," the redhead sneers after a beat spent squinting across the lounge. Boot heels snap across the ground as he makes a deliberate approach, hands jammed deep in his violet jean pockets. He's-- shirtless is technically inaccurate, but the purple mesh strands stretched across his chest and stomach barely qualify as a garment of /any/ kind at this point, much less a shirt. A red, leather jacket with a silver moon across the back gives him /some/ measure of propriety in the luxe lounge, at least. The windows draw his attention from Kain; the trappings of money bent towards comfort gradually draw it from the windows.

When he inevitably returns to Kain, his eyes trace tailored lines all the way up to red eyes, lightly frowning all the way. It's not personal; it's just what his face does when he isn't on stage. Or fighting. Even when he's been invited into the most important place in the nicest venue he's ever played, it's what his face does. /Especially/ then, especially when it's all due to a nice, calm man of poise and refinement.

Because in Iori's experience 'nice' means that either he wants something, or he's a fool.

"I'm fine," he says, brushing the offer aside. "Why am I here? The others would have enjoyed this... space." Unless Kain happened to fight Kyo during one of his rare public bouts, Iori doesn't recognize him; the man is only loosely invested in following the world of fighting for its own sake, and completely uninterested in business news. Iori's appearances are /somewhat/ more common by comparison, but he's not really a regular. His last fight - a bloody cage match with Leona Heidern - several weeks ago was his first appearance in months.

"You don't seem the type to care about what we do, anyway," he flatly observes.

Truth be told, Iori's response is more or less what Kain anticipated it would be, and rather than drawing offense, Yagami's brusqueness draws a small smile from the graceful blonde. "I did." He cordially acquiesces, pacing along the bank of windows with ponderous, relaxed strides as he takes a moment to gather his thoughts amidst the view of Southtown.

"We are a bit early in acquaintance for you to decide what I like." Kain notes non-commitally, as he turns to face Iori, drawing lithe fingertips along the armrest of a fine leather sofa as he takes several leisurely steps towards the slightly younger man. "No insult was meant to your bandmates, but I wished to speak to you privately. As far as I am aware, none of your associates are possessed of your--" Heinlein's smile grows ever so subtly, "Other talents."

Some would covet the Yagami flames, some would pity Iori for their nature. While there is a note that easily suggests to the paranoid that Kain knows more than he immediately intimates, there is none of either emotion in the words. Simple respectful acknowledgement of what /is/.

"I was hoping you would show me this strength; and converse regarding events now threatening Southtown." Perhaps he has a hidden agenda, some further 'use' for Iori, but there is clear sincerity in -this- agenda, oblique though it may be. "There is no debt to pay." The opportunity here was not any sort of gift or favor. "Only opportunity to be considered." One hand drifts to the tall man's side, a cordial invitation.

He wants something.

At least he has the dignity not to hide it.

Iori's eyes narrow as Kain's lips curve, and there's nothing subtle about it. The blonde /could/ just mean his fighting talents, but the Yagami and Kusanagi flames are a matter of mythological record; Heinlein wouldn't be the first person to take an interest in him for them. Parking once Kain moves to meet his approach, the young man casts a brisk - wary - glance around the lounge before meeting those red eyes again.

"You still have the wrong man," he curtly replies. Caution has indeed crept into his voice; good things never come of people seeking the flames. "I'm not a fighter."

To a knowing eye, the way he carries himself - slightly bent at the shoulders and knees, loose and ready for sudden movement - as he rebuffs Kain makes an immediate liar of him.

"Whatever happens to Southtown while morons make war on fools, it isn't my problem, and the others will be fine," he adds with a subtly protective edge. "If the city survives, so be it; if it doesn't, there are other cities." A soft, unamused noise is squeezed from his nostrils.

"Other places that'll inevitably burn."

Few would say dignity is a commodity Kain lacks. It's a bit of a paradox, coming up from the meanest streets in Southtown by blood and sweat-- unless one considers that paradox more deeply. "Perhaps." The statuesque German concedes the point easily, like it scarcely even matters if Iori is the 'right' man or not. A high-end smartphone is plucked smoothly from one pocket, as he makes a short show of browsing to one data point or another.

"Are you familiar with the Ikari Warriors? Perhaps we should warn 'General' Heidern that his beloved protege was bested by an amateur, not a man of true strength..." Sure, it calls Iori's bluff, and intimates part of Kain's own knowledge. It's also genuinely entertaining to the cunning crimelord. That, and perhaps surprisingly, he does not appear to disagree with any of the rest of Yagami's assessment. "Indeed." Heinlein fully agrees, turning back to view the city a moment without making any move to enact that rhetorical phonecall.

"That tale is the history of mankind, and ever will both fool and moron reach beyond themselves to escalate even such total war." He's aware of the powers in the cracks between worlds, in the void beyond this galaxy. He's aware how many men have power enough to grasp at such, but not will or foresight to be more than a mighty piece in a vast game of Chess.

"But surely Yagami Iori does not drift through that chaotic maelstrom at the whims of updraft and char." Heinlein wagers with some certitude, his crimson eyes narrowing on their counterparts as he inquires with deceptive nonchalance, "What will you lose in the fire, Yagami? What will you build from the ashes?"

A golden brow arches delicately, a quirk of a smirk on the corner of Kain's lips. "Fire is a tool of creation as much as destruction, what would you forge from your will, if not left to the squabbling of idiots?"

"... tell him whatever you want," Iori stiffly replies, instinctively bristling after that name. "Some soldier's family isn't my problem either."

The redhead has a fine poker face, unmoving and unimpressed even as hair stands on end and alarm swells. His gaze remains locked upon the criminal until said criminal returns to the city, after which he follows suit with a low, annoyed snort. The man's dignity does nothing to keep him from trying to talk his way into getting whatever it is he wants - a demonstration, then what? - out of Iori; an abrupt, impolite approach would've been much easier to deal with. To understand, if nothing else.

"No," he tentatively agrees with the German's wager, "I do what I will in spite of it. The world will wage war upon itself until it can't anymore, because it's what Man does: he burns, and burns, and burns until he's out of fuel, and then he takes what he needs from his neighbor; from his neighbor's neighbor-- and on, and on, until he's alone with his bonfire in his kingdom of ash; until there's nothing to remember him by but the last, dying embers of arrogance lighting the void."

"What will I lose...? Build? The answer's the same: Myself."

With another sharp noise through his nostrils, he approaches the windows, spares a glance towards Kain - scowls a little at even the hint of a smirk - and helps himself to a big, transparent leaning surface.

"Whatever's left behind when the flames have had their fill," he murmurs, "is stronger, purer than before... so I'll burn until I can't anymore. Until there isn't an imbecile on Earth whose fire I can't quench... or until there's nothing at all."

There are hints of passion, but it doesn't erupt in full until the end, when thoughts of a specific imbecile are conjured. It's far more than he's used to saying to strangers - especially rich strangers who openly, blatantly know more than they let on - about /anything/, much less himself... but Kain wants to know more about the Flame, and clearly isn't stupid.

Iori doesn't expect a couched warning about the inevitabile end that comes from channeling his cursed lineage to mean much to someone who knows what he wants, but at least he can tell himself he tried.

There's a bit of a chuckle at Iori's snorting dismissal of the Heiderns. If nothing else, both of them know the capacity of those fighters. It's also a deeper note, a segue into something perhaps unexpected: satisfaction.

"Manipulation and coddling are necessary to get truth or depth even from many with untold depths of will and potential." He observes what might at first seem non sequiter. "But you neither need nor appreciate such trappings, do you, Mr. Yagami?" It's clear that Kain respects that. Not only does Iori not wish to be led, he resents even the presence of that gilded delivery.

"Even the most innate talent must be forged and reforged, tempered, tested, and refined to be of any true merit." Heinlein further agrees. Perhaps they're both dissing the same person? At the least, the same idea. "Anything else squanders the finite choices before us."

Kain turns once more to face Iori sidelong, a gloved hand grasping an effortlessly conjured plume of fierce, black-cored fire; the dark ferocity of a distant, ancient, shadowed sun. "We both will reforge ourselves in trial, then. Only through such will and vision will anything different emerge from this cruel pattern. I am intrigued to see what you have already wrought."

For all the politesse and set dressing, the core of the interest is quite in-line with what Yagami might find more palatable: direct, challenging, curious or ambitious on numerous levels, none of them in line with the megalomaniacal delusions of many of Kain's peers.

"You want to fight."

Iori doesn't turn from the window, but that dark-hearted tongue is unmissable just the same. His wiry muscles tense, wary and anticipating; what's framed as a choice could easily become something else on a dime. Polite manners and lofty words only mean so much when they're backed by cosmic fury.

One of many reasons Iori doesn't bother; life's too short for futile endeavours.

"Why? Not for the sake of it. I've never /heard/ of you; a man of your abilities, so eager for a challenge, to quench his thirst for battle... he could only hide for so long. He would only /want/ to hide for so long," Iori reasons. Wagers, having seen and brushed past his share of diehard fighters through his short years. "You want to see what it is that I'm capable of. You want to test me, and yourself in the process..."

A fist slides into the narrow space between Iori and the window-bank. Veins burn and bulge with the tainted fruit born of ancient manipulations and the redhead sets his jaw. Sweat beads across his brow, his forearm trembles for a beat, two-- and then his fingers /explode/ apart so they can cradle a violet flame just a bit larger than a baseball. Sparks fall like droplets of venom as he finally casts a sidelong glance towards Kain.

"Why? Why do you want these things... and why should I give them to you?" he wonders in a low rumble.

"Who are you, Kain Heinlein?"

"I choose to fight." It's a seemingly hair-splitting correction, on the surface. At the end of the day, however-- it makes all the difference in the world. "I deem it necessary." At the end of the day, he could rant on at length along much the same lines as Yagami just has, and it's clear by the calm clarity that settles over the cunning crimelord.

Kain answers Iori's honesty with the same. "This world has lulled into corrupt and atrophic consumption, a battle for minds and the means to placate useless masses consciously dissuaded from seeking their true potential. That course is set by those consumed by the illusion it gives them of strength and accomplishment. Tell me, Yagami-- does it make a man smart, strong, or more capable to win a pull at a rigged slot machine?" No challenge. No sport. No evolution.

"I care not for glory, Iori Yagami. These trappings of wealth are means to an end, an end surprisingly in line with truths you yourself speak. I would see the edifices of our past mistakes toppled, I would learn how far humanity might rise pushed to something better in the crucibles we both know will come." The latter parts of Yagami's conclusions, though. Those draw a shake of Heinlein's head, a slight downturn of his austere features towards consternation and deeper consideration.

"I did not bring you here for a challenge, Mister Yagami. Not to test myself, and I can clearly sense your power, even now. It is impressive, but as yet insufficient." It's a well-honed aspect of his own gift, that empathy, that intuitive attunement to even that unusual flame, burning beneath a layer of pitch, tainting every hand that dares touch it.

"Of more interest to me is the nature and will of you yourself. Whether you possess true might enough the cast of the shackles of a destiny of dark servitude and become this greater weapon, this stronger version of yourself of which you speak." Kain pauses, considers. "Perhaps it is a similar curiousity that I explore as well."


The cursed flame that consumed the rest of the Yagami line and marked a trail of ruin through Iori's life is insufficient.

Everything up to that point is-- well. They seem to agree more than he would have expected; not about the value of money, clearly, but about the value of reaping unearned benefits. About false senses of satisfaction and wasted potential.

About humanity's inability to survive, much less thrive, as it currently is-- more than he would like, he agrees.

When he finally - after a couple seconds of letting the fire above his trembling forearm grow in the wake of that casual dismissal - speaks, his teeth grind over each of those four reiterated syllables, then he swallows what's left of his bile and scowls. If not for a challenge, then why? To taunt him?

"Who are /you/ to judge my worth?" he snarls as narrowed eyes twitch over the crimelord's form and his free fingers roll shut, then open. "Who are you to speculate on challenges you could never understand? You wield something old and strong--" The youth's eyes snap down to the black-cored flame, then back to Kain's as he faces the older man with a sneer.

"-- and you think you /know/ me? I am not a weapon. Not a tool, not a servant-- not a /toy/." The defiant pyro manages to find a little extra venom, there.

"I am a man," he lowly utters over the violent temptation thrumming between his ears, "who won't be bound by other men or their mistakes."

Kain is less than consternated by the offense Iori takes. Insufficient, indeed. "Precisely, you are a man. One more important than most to keep from the machinations and mistakes of.. ruinous powers. Put aside your pride and pain, and ask yourself if I'm wrong. If the fires you've mastered could stop their ancient foe tonight." There's no condescension in the calm analysis, though as Yagami has already proven several times, it's not hard to create some.

"Not to mention perhaps a dozen lesser tyrants, fools who reach beyond themselves for powers with their own agendas. Would you stand at dawn atop that heap?" Kain suspects they both know the answer. His own flame is relinquished, but far from dismissed, burning at his very core.

"I neither claim to know you nor to judge you. I offer a pragmatist's perspective on your power. If it makes you feel better, my own answer to the prior questions would be 'no'. Not without careful preparation, mastery of myself, and a touch of serendipity."

Kain's crimson eyes narrow intently. "Yet standing after all of them is exactly what I intend, Iori Yagami. And part of the necessary preparations are like-minded warriors with enough strength of will to make it so."

The two men are eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose in a heartbeat. Kain questions - /prods/ - and with mere inches between them, Iori seethes and snarls through it. Poisoned fire hovers precariously close through it all, roiling with ancient deceptions and blood-forged grudges. It would be so /easy/ to let Kain feel his mastery...

He /wants/ it. He /must/, with the way he keeps needling. All Iori has to do is let go.

Let go. Let him burn.

Let his /mockery/ turn to ashes in his mouth and /choke him/--


"I /must/ be able to," is as close as he gets to a 'no' as he snaps his hand shut to smother his flame, tight and grudging. "There's no choice: tonight or tomorrow... they'll come because they're men, too; I'll see them, and I'll survive... or be extinguished." No sorrow or fear, there-- /nothing/, really, save for grim, worn certainty. What he is is vanishingly rare, enough so to occasionally draw powerful, manipulative men and women from their lofty perches like moths; there's only so much hypothetical to Kain's question.


It doesn't-- /sound/-- like a dismissal.

And he /did/ already lay out a few basic terms.

In almost every case, confronted with a wrathful Iori, there would be a binary outcome. Either the other would fold, stand down, intimidated in the face of that intensity-- or they would escalate, answer anger with anger, insinuation with insult. Kain chooses a third option, maintaining matter-of-fact clarity without a single sign he's even worried about what Yagami might do.

It certainly lends credence to the idea that he's far more than his limited reputation lets on; that, or Heinlein is one -hell- of an actor. "Indeed." Kain agrees with Iori's estimation of necessity without any illusions as to its realism. It is an uphill battle; they both know it. Yet it is not one which can be walked away from.

At least, not without costs neither man is willing to pay. "It is a rare thing, to see the machinations behind the curtain, to understand the true stakes our existence faces. Rarer still is to have power and potential enough to /do/ anything about it. Your destiny is torn, Yagami-- bent to another's will. We cannot have that, can we?"

Heinlein's small smile is not malevolent, not even precisely arrogant. There is no lie in the rarity he finds in confronting someone like Iori, a man in control of one of the most volatile crossroads before them, to Kain's eye.

"Show me you too are master of your fate. Stronger than it is." Once more, Heinlein beckons the tainted scion forward, once more, tendrils of dark-cored flame dance across Kain's fingertips.

COMBATSYS: Kain has started a fight here on the right meter side.

                                  >  //////////////////////////////]
                                  |-------\-------\0             Kain

Iori is not a fighter. Not a word was untrue; he's a naturally gifted and intensely honed practitioner of a vanishingly rare, familial style. He 'enjoys' the benefits of marrying that style with the raw power of his tainted birthright, giving him another edge over some truly dedicated but less fortunate individuals.

But he's not a fighter. Violence is an unavoidable end; it isn't a means to anything other than desolation and ruin. Once the bloody keening in his spirit was quelled, he would have been-- content-- to leave, having found something like a common cause with a man more like himself than he'd care to admit... but Kain's beckoning and the taste of fire in the air, joined with the reminder of moments ago tell him that it isn't time just yet.

They also put the lie to Kain's insistence that their meeting isn't about extending a challenge, but lies from people with a broad awareness of what he is are background radiation at this point in his life.

"Don't condescend to me."

That flatly stated demand receives its punctuation when Iori just-- appears in front of Kain with a fist snapping towards his jaw. There was a slight shift in his stance - dropping shoulders, bending knees - prior, but it'd almost /require/ a man with Kain's hidden talents to spot those subtle signs before they explode into full-blown aggression.

He isn't a fighter, but that doesn't stop him from moving like one.

COMBATSYS: Iori has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Iori             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Kain

COMBATSYS: Kain blocks Iori's Medium Punch.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Iori             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Kain

Yagami isn't a fighter-- perhaps in ideals, but in practice? How much of the tainted firebrand's life has been dominated by conflict, defined by violence. How much of his history, and inevitable future? It is easy to see those tribulations as inherently destructive, deadly-- they certainly are, after all, those things.

Kain's position is a simple adjustment of the angle of that approach: that something new may be forged, found in that crucible. Chaos is a ladder. It's easy to assume Kain seeks this confrontation for a challenge-- it's certainly a worthy one. A subtler narrative may become apparent as Yagami crashes in, however.

Equally swift reactions brace against the attack, Heinlein's own resilient, rotating arm driving the fist wide, the flames rushing outwards as if propelled by an unseen, unfelt hurricane. Little of it burns Kain, his suit untouched, his limb quickly regaining its feeling. Through it all, intent eyes are fixed on the flame, on the form behind it; sensing something well beyond sight. It cumulates in a simple nod at the ebb of Iori's assault.

A nod of understanding, or consent. "As you wish." It's a shift from eloquence to efficiency, a statement in action rather than wordplay. The phrasing comes in a tumult of dark-cored, impossibly hot flame-- or is it so cold it burns?

It erupts at Kain's feet as he lithely kicks a practiced arc towards Iori, just as resolved to muscle memory as Iori's techniques despite the apparent canyons seperating their styles, conjuring a shoulder-high wave of ragged conflagration that threatens to bathe Yagami and blast him back the way he came.

Kain, in that simultaneous instant, lances a gloved hand skyward and grasps an unseen force in his fingertips, a flare of light erupting above as it launches plumes of meteoric blackfire from on high, angling inexorably for Iori.

COMBATSYS: Iori blocks Kain's Schwarze Lanze.

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Iori             0/-------/------=|=====--\-------\0             Kain

Tainted violet ripples along Iori's sleeve where black fire meets his briskly drawn guard. It's enough to blunt the beginnings of a conflagration until he's 'merely' suffering the searing results of ancient power penetrating leather to scourge the body beneath. The youth's arm falls, leaden, while the rest of him surges forward with an apparent lack of care for Kain's clearly vast but ultimately unknowable capabilities. His family's style reflects its lineage: fast, brutal, and only concerned for survival insofar as it means lasting long enough to strike just one more blow-- if not the last one, then one that /matters/. There's a degree of refinement in the way its techniques help a practitioner shape their innate 'gift', or shred flesh with bare fingers, but it's a means to an end.

Like blood money and pro fighting.

A multitude of clattering buckles and fluttering wisps of material accompany his right leg as it snaps up and out, then cuts a crushing arc towards Heinlein's skull.

COMBATSYS: Kain blocks Iori's Gofu In Shinigami.

[    \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Iori             0/-------/------=|======-\-------\0             Kain

Understanding that opposing ancient art, the tainted bloodline tapped by Yagami, is important to Kain on several fronts. There is the obvious, what any warrior worth the title knows: to fight such a one is to know them, or at least to learn of them. Then there's the darker omens, the things spoken of in ancient script and spoken prophecy. If he is to weather the storms of this world, the ambitions of the truly malevolent? Kain must grasp them, know them in more than aged warnings.

"Intriguing." Heinlein muses, even as he drives that axing kick groundwards beside him, rather than through him, with the opposite arm as before. Stalwart, surprising strength fills that lithe limb, absorbing still more of the far from insignificant pressure Iori brings violently to bear.

"Tell me, Iori Yagami..." the inquiry is put on pause as Heinlein wastes no moment turning the proximity of the pair against his opponent. His hands sweep the air before him, and summon a sudden tumult of rampant, stellar chi, tearing a ragged edge in abruptly erupting fashion in the space between the two flame-wielders, crimson eyes locked on their dark mirror.

The next instant would see Kain /erupt/ forward like a launched rocket, blasting into, and ideally through Iori in an elbow-led warhead of flame, an explosive remix of the classic crossing slice of a Samurai duel of yore. "What -would- you forge in the flame, were it within your means?" It's important to know why one fights, not only that one must.

COMBATSYS: Kain successfully hits Iori with Schwarze Panzer.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Iori             0/-------/--=====|=======\=------\1             Kain

Iori's shocked into upright rigidity, where he lingers for a single, agonizing second before crumpling. Slender tongues of midnight flame lick out from the blackened wound spread across his chest.

There's barely a delay between him hitting his knees and beginning to rise, but everything from there is painfully slow. One hand splays across his chest while the other claims what support it can from the floor; trembles spread through his limbs with abandon.

"A world..." he lowly forces through clenched teeth.

"... that doesn't... need me in it."

His narrowed eye finds Kain's through a mass of red tresses. Profane flames spiral through the air around his right arm and all the effort he's putting towards standing is abruptly translated into /leaping/.

"A world where the sins of dead fools no longer need to burden the living--!"

The incandescent dance flares to a crescendo as Orochi-kissed chi pools between Iori's clawed fingers. His arm extends overhead for a beat as he draws near, then he seeks to fill the next with fire and violence by slamming his burning fist into Heinlein from above. Hit or miss, the effort leaves him subtly, but not imperceptibly lesser than he was before committing to it as purple veins light his skin from underneath and leave him slightly doubled over.

COMBATSYS: Iori successfully hits Kain with Tsumagushi.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Iori             0/-------/-======|=======\====---\1             Kain

The unusual rhythm of Kain's fighting style is the elegant counterpart to the raw, primal instinct on full display in Iori's. The chi that flows through and about him answers Heinlein's call with a rare, almost impossible acumen. It draws on him as much as he draws on it, and in the next breath, it suffuses him in tenderest apology.

With each breath, each motion, Kain translocates as much as sprints, propelled on those stellar currents coursing within him. Far from the violent debt exacted by the Yagami's bloodline heritage, the uncanny forces born in the dark places of the universe are willing servant; or substantively bent to Heinlein's very will.

In the moment of passion and frenzy, Iori reaves through Kain's alarming defenses despite the German's efforts to glide smoothly clear of the angle of descent. Caught instants too early, Kain is instead sent reeling by the hammer-blow, staggering backwards with a grunted admission of pain.

"The sins of dead fools..." Kain posits as he regains his breath, darting sidelong in a graceful feint around Iori, eyes locked, no distance sought. "Will forever yield more dead fools."

Kain's side-stepping motion circles, waits.... that inexorable chi still building within him, refreshing him in the instants of paused furies. "The best we can hope for is strength of individuals. Vision enough to incinerate those threats as they arise. Strength enough to look within and cast aside the yokes and traditions that limit us."

The expected attack does not come-- not yet. There's that tangible sense of a beat of rest, the less than leisuely tingle of a gathering storm in the air. The world where such warriors are no longer needed is only a brief intermission in the saga of human nature. "A better future, a stronger world must be claimed and reclaimed from the precipice."

COMBATSYS: Kain calculates his next move.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Iori             0/-------/-======|=======\====---\1             Kain

"I'm the last fool left to die for them," Iori murmurs into the storm of motion. "Strength isn't an option; it's a necessity."

Again, they agree.

"Vision is fine. But some of us don't have the luxury of time-- of shadows." Hunched, smoking, and breathing heavily, the cursed youth's eyes remain locked on Kain up to and through their shared moment of rest. Tendrils of violet sin waft into being around his forearms while tempting susurrus swirl between his ears. "Man is Man, so the world will burn; it'll fall, some day. Sooner or later; there's nothing that I can do to stop it. And you - with your strength and your vision - have admitted that you're barely better off than I am, there. But there are things that I /can/-- hhn-- do--"

He doesn't - /can't/ - quite close his eyes, but his lids definitely fall as shudders wrack his body. A couple breaths later, the fire seeps back into its vessel.

"I can... make myself stronger than dead men and dying traditions," he whispers, "strong enough to strangle the beast that animates them both... And I can spare future generations from the curse of my blood."

"I can be the only Yagami the world will ever need-- or have, again."

His lunge across the gap lacks the explosive suddenness of his other attacks, but if he's able to seize the crimelord's arm, he'll find some of that speed as he runs the pair of them across the VIP lounge, for just a few feet.

Just far enough to reach the separation between Lounge and club by way of a three storey drop.

There, he'll slam the brakes on at the last moment, shifting explosive will from speed to sheer, driving power on a dime. He means to take a technique for forcefully repositioning a foe and push it towards its logical end-point by slinging Heinlein towards the railing with enough force to dent it.

COMBATSYS: Kain dodges Iori's Kuzukaze.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Iori             0/-------/-======|=======\====---\1             Kain

Kain's words take on a tone as yet absent from this conversation-- a grim one. "The time I have made for myself is bought at high price." He observes simply. "It is not a path of privilege and luxury that has brought me to such." Heinlein is hardly inspired to share his-- violent and difficult-- history with Yagami... but the oblique implications are likely clear enough to the tainted scion.

After-images of the well-dressed crimelord trace his path as he backsteps and slides smoothly around Yagami's grasp, voluntarily and swiftly exchanging orientation in the lounge with his also-fiery adversary. "I have already strangled demons atop my own pyre, Yagami. Triumphed despite the worst, to face its like to come."

As he speaks, one gloved hand seeks to close about Iori's throat, a flick not of the wrist, but of Kain's entire body-weight would follow, flame coursing from the void conjured in his grip to lick angrily about Iori's features, to launch him heels over head away like a cannon towards the reinforced supports framing banks of windows. It's quite a dizzying view of the city, should Yagami land at his destination, as Kain extends his moment of respite even amidst the surging flames.

It's undeniable, perhaps somewhat maddening: as Iori's strength and endurance wane, Kain simply warms up anew; it's likely the crimelord is keenly aware of this dichotomy, as well. "We are, however, in agreement. You will need to be; we will all need to be. It is not a fight you can win alone, Yagami." It will take planning. Wisdom. Coordinated firepower; so to speak.

COMBATSYS: Kain successfully hits Iori with Medium Throw.
- Power hit! -

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Iori             1/------=/=======|=======\=====--\1             Kain

There's a hand around Iori's throat before he can respond. His nails claw and dig across Kain's wrist to no avail, then flames drawn from the ancient well of power the German claims brush his flesh, forcing him to let go. To accept the burning tendrils so hungry to scrawl Kain's will across his features as the breath is squeezed from his body.

To wait-- to /survive/--

-- until the man's grip breaks and he's bouncing off of reinforced, cracked, bowing support framing. His immediate instinct is to spring to his feet and return to the fray, but his trembling arms and searing lungs betray him at the worst moment, leaving him to collapse to his face.

"... no," he softly agrees. Rolling to his back, he thumps the ground heavily and tries to steal a few more precious breaths. "But I'm the only one... who I can always trust to be ready... when there's a fight that can't be avoided--!" Grimacing, he rolls backwards, up to his feet, where he weaves for a disoriented moment.

"Even though I'm not a fighter."

Broken balance solidifies in an instant and Yagami takes a fleeting glance over his shoulder while slipping a couple steps to his right. He doubles over again as soon as his feet hit the ground, clenching his jaw as blood boils and cursed flames orbit his left hand.

Everything has a price. Time has a price. Channeling flames as old as the oldest nightmares humanity's willing to commit to record has a price.

An invitation to the nicest club a doomed youth has ever seen has a price... and as surely as Kain tries to collect his due in built bridges and intelligence, Iori seeks to extract the toll for tempting his familial flames. Advancing on Kain in brisk, zig-zagging bounds, his fourth step becomes an elbow strike meant to drive him into, but not /through/ Kain; he just wants to get close.

Close enough to seize the crimelord's collar in left hand upon pivoting, letting poisoned flames briefly singe while he heaves the other man into the air then SLAMS him to the ground, triggering an explosion beneath him as the fire briefly consumes Iori's arm.

COMBATSYS: Iori successfully hits Kain with Kototsuki In.

[                      \\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Iori             1/----===/=======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Kain

For a moment, it looks as if Yagami might be spent. Looks, however, deceive. Sensing this, expecting this, and dealing with this are very different equations, and on at least the tertiary estimation, Heinlein's instincts fail him; or perhaps Iori's simply ring that resonantly true.

In an instant, roles are reversed, and Kain is staggered, then hefted off his feet, then soundly exploded in a flourish of darkest energy. At least well and truly punished for his confidence, Iori's flames tear through the German in brutal fashion, singing cloth, burning skin, setting the ends of his luxurious mane to little more than acrid incense in the air.

Rising from the heap to whence he skidded, Kain presses to the fine flooring with one palm, pushes inexorably to his feet, much as Yagami had moments before. A hearty, pleased chuckle, of all things, sounds from the crimelord. "And you will be ready, won't you." It's not even a question.

Kain's right arm coils like an angry serpent, his fingertips cruel fangs ready to strike. In that grip, a pulse, a flash illuminates the lounge with blinding intensity-- or does it drain all other light to itself, a black hole brilliant by momentary contradiction. "Consider this trust-building, then. You are not the only one."

Iori is not an asset easily herded, and while that is bad news for Geese Howard's intentions for the man? It's perfectly alright with Kain. Yagami is already walking the path Heinlein would steer him towards.

In another instant, half the blink of an eye, Kain braces his limbs before him and from his will bursts a miniature yellow star, an orb of more massive circumference than all but the meatiest of fighters.

That miniature star-heart pulses with stellar energy, the fusion heart of the cosmos erupting perpetually with geysers of molten, golden plasma, tearing a zig-zag across the lounge in rampant, all-consuming fashion, its self-possessed gravity drawing in several lighter pieces of furniture, and utterly consuming them in its ravenous processes.

COMBATSYS: Kain successfully hits Iori with Himmlische Seele+.
+ Epic Hit! +

[                                < >  ////////////                  ]
Iori             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>>---\-------\0             Kain

There's no escaping a sun's gravity, but Iori tries. A heartbeat after he throws himself as far towards one end of the Lounge as he can manage, he's consumed when the golden catastrophe roars over him. His plum-limned silhouette writhes in agonized negative; however long it takes for the Kain's cosmic furnace to pass, it'll be an age of suffering for Iori. Buried near the heart of a star, trapped in the cruel gravity of focused totality, time collapses in on itself and loses all meaning.

Another demon claimed by the black pyre.

His smoking body lies sprawled across the cracked and cratered floor afterwards, another piece of wreckage littering the abruptly assaulted Lounge. He's breathing, but it's quick and shallow; it'll be a while before he's conscious, much less mobile. There certainly won't be any more fighting from him /tonight/.

COMBATSYS: Iori takes no action.

                                  >  ////////////                  ]
                                  |>>>>---\-------\0             Kain

COMBATSYS: Iori can no longer fight.

                                  >  ////////////                  ]
                                  |>>>>---\-------\0             Kain

/This/ time, Kain is relatively certain he can trust appearances. As the celestial avatar draws its satiation from the last vestiges of fight in the non-fighter channeling vast energies of his own, Kain observes impassively, his relaxed stance ready until the smoke clears, and the smouldering Yagami is clear. "All too eager to see it done with." Heinlein muses, his voice little more than a whisper, meant for no others.

"To wrap those talons around the throats of every deluded tyrant and servant to their ambitions, rather than their master..." Iori, or himself? Kain allows a small, dark smile. "And of all the players in this current opera, that fits the Dahlia the least, doesn't it?"

The business he was meant to see to fell by the wayside some time back, but it gives Kain a soft, self-satisfied chuckle just now. Yes, turn Yagami towards the Akatsuki-gumi and shore up the weak front Duke has exposed in the Syndicate. That was /totally/ Kain's priority, obviously.

An intercom is activated via his handset, "Ms. Kinyobi, Yagami and his friends are ready for their limousine. Make sure each has their vice of choice." This is Southtown, and his domain. It's all on the table.

As if in afterthought, Heinlein amends, "Comp a rental of a VIP night to the band, and get me a medical and clean-up crew." It's hardly an original request, with the kind of power thrown around this unlikely battleground.

Kain turns towards the city and clasps his hands at his back, drawing deep and steadying breaths, the smile lingering on his face. It wasn't the motive for the bout, but it was a pleasing bonus. Iori Yagami was indeed a challenge, after all.

COMBATSYS: Kain has ended the fight here.

Log created on 21:38:39 08/29/2018 by Iori, and last modified on 09:41:30 09/04/2018.