The Black Dragon - Black Dragon R1 - Snakes and Ladders

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Description: The life of a monster hunter has its ups and downs. Most days are rather peaceful and quiet, filled with training and introspection. Occassionally, the odd demon comes around to cause trouble, offering a brief respite from the day to day boredom. Then there are days like this one - days where the universe seems to have realized that it misplaced a decimal on the last few trouble deliveries and decided to play catch-up all at once. Fortunately for Southtown, the young miko and her large, if somewhat lazy, companion, live for such challenges! Taking to the field together, the slayers respond to the crisis only to quickly find themselves hip deep in a literal nest of vipers!

It would be impossible for Ayame Ichijo to not respond to the sudden flood of darkstalkers pouring over Southtown. For centuries, the Ichijo family had stood as a vanguard against such things, answering the call of Shoguns and Emperors alike to root out the supernatural and to contain the threats that were always lurking just out of sight in the shadows. It was a legacy that none took more seriously than the ascetic youngest member of the Ichijo clan.

As of recent changes in the land, there was rarely any need for Ayame to try and respond to things that made it to broadcast television or social media posts. Without fail, by the time supernatural threats made it to the news, the Novus Orbis Librarium would have already deployed and contained the situation and the best she could hope for would be to show up at the scene in the aftermath and watch the cleanup efforts.

While it might have grated on the miko to have her life's work almost entirely absorbed by the suspicious yet publicly well-received paramilitary organization, she never seemed to vocalize any complaints about it. Instead, she had shifted her focus to cases that required more investigation, attempting to discover and suppress threats before they reached the point of meriting news coverage or NOL troop deployment. She would answer the calls of individuals whose cases had been dismissed as not worth the Librarium's time, or use her resources to research and anticipate reoccurring threats or hauntings before they became large scale problems.

And at her side for many of such outings, usually once all the boring leg work was done and it was time for battle, was the entirely conspicuous oni, Riki.

Today was different though. Reports were flooding the news and saturating the social media surrounding Southtown. News anchors hastened to describe what was happening as anything less than a full scale invasion, a war of darkstalkers against humanity, an uprising the likes of which had never been seen in the modern era. What was their purpose other than to wreck havoc? What violent, blood thirsty motive fueled these attacker's ambition? Where did they come from and who was at the head of whatever organization they clearly must serve?

Speculation and rumor ran rampant, but one fact was indisputable - Southtown was under attack. Gathering her supplies, her trusty staff, and finding Riki to annoy her huge partner into consciousness, Ayame was anxious to get to the city proper.

In the past, such a journey might have been conducted via an expensive horse-drawn cart. Today, however, as the red sun sets slowly beneath the ocean horizon, the duo's chariot is almost as antiquated yet somehow even humbler. The rumble of a small block V8 diesel engine rumbles beneath the hood of the 1987 dull tan El Camino. Its square headlights dimly illuminate the streets of Southtown as the three thousand pounds of American Steel navigates the city under attack.

Seated on the large, plush bench seat that filled the cabin, Ayame's hands tightly gripped the wheel, the girl leaning forward, peering at the road ahead. Resting on the passenger side was her trusty, rune-covered wooden staff and a backpack full of medical supplies, a stockpile of talismans, wards, and other tools of the trade, food, and water. Of course, the pick-up truck-like back of the very old fashioned looking car/truck hybrid belonged to Riki. An open sunroof over Ayame's head left it easy for the two to talk, either via shouts at high speed, or more conversationally when moving slowly through the streets as they are now.

The miko never could be made to explain her penchant for decades old cars, but what the El Camino lacked in prestige or modern conveniences, it made up for in being heavy. Effortlessly, the six inch steel bumper smacks aside a lone werewolf that had thought to block the car by standing in the road and growling menacingly.

"Tch," grunted the girl, glancing in her driver side mirror (her rearview mirror was never much use when Riki rode in the back!) to see the creature limp off. A single werewolf wasn't worth stopping to chase down. If the reports were to be believed, there were much larger packs of creatures on the move.

Cautiously turning onto a residential street, Ayame continues to look from side to side. Now and then, NOL deployments were noticeable, sometimes surrounding a house, other times running along the side of the road in pursuit of retreating creatures. Those situations also didn't merit stopping for.

What's the point of tagging along with soldiers who were already handling things? No, the duo needed to find people who weren't already being helped!

Now and then, the heavily weighed down old car/truck garnered stares and probably not because it was a thirty year old relic. But no one seemed to watch the steel chariot for too long, rushing on to either flee or help others depending.

"You know it must be a bad day when your face isn't the most alarming thing people have seen today." Ayame remarks, tone dour as she slows the vehicle to a crawl.

They hadn't seen any NOL units for a few blocks now. Were they not in this area because they had already secured it? Or... were they still trying to fight their way this far into the population-dense section of the city?

"Hmph, cowards."


Riki let out a bark of amusement in response to the not-so-subtle insult woven into the driver's casual observation. With an almost negilgent gesture, one of her massive hands lifted from the edge of the sunroof where it had been resting, hurling a basketball-sized globe of neon red flame in the general direction of some cat-like creature as the heavy car sped down the street with an almost suicidal disregard for anything that might get in the way. The shot was poorly aimed, careening past the creature's flank by a good two or three feet. It impacted with the sidewalk with a dull 'whump' of explosive force that rattled the windows in the old automobile for a moment or two. Though unharmed, the feline beast leaped a good ten feet sideways in shock, hissing wildly as its fur fluffed up in alarm.

"Thou art uninformed, my lady! Tis not alarm that mine countenance typically creates. I hath become something of a person of interest of late. Tis rare that I can wander the streets without being swarmed by gawkers wishing to capture mine image alongside their own with their tiny devices. What is the term... a..." She looks thoughtful for a moment, tapping her chin. "Ah, yes, a 'selfie'."

The oni's lips peel back in a wide grin as she turns to peer over the hood, gazing further down the road. Behind them the long mane of her golden hair flutters out in the wind, a faint glimmer of shimmering power radiating outwards from it giving her wild locks the appearance of a stubborn torch's flame whipping defiantly in a headwind. A faint tint of red still colors her cheeks, evidence of the giant's persistent love for alcohol and as well as her recent indulgence. Attempting to rouse the ancient guardian from her stupor would have been nigh impossible normally but the prospect of a good fight seemed to sober her up more quickly than anything.

Well, mostly, anyways.

With far too much enthusiasm and disregard for property damage, the demon prepares another blast of fire, bouncing the etheral flames in her palm with obvious anticipation of a fresh target. Fortunately, (for the locals), the worst of the attacks seem to have been focused elsewhere and nothing immediately presents itself as a victim for the inebriated ogre's questionable aim, much to her chagrin. After a few seconds she frowns, growing bored, and lets the flames gutter out.

"Aye, well, more fun for us, yes? Tis passing strange, though," she says, turning completely to face the front of the vehicle and leaning her arms on the edge of the open sunroof. "We scant have need to leave the shrine at all most days and yet..."

She closes her eyes and sniffs deeply at the air, her large nose wrinkling in disgust a moment later.

"Tis almost as if every foul creature on the entire bloody island hath decided to sally forth and do mischief all at once. I hardly know where to start."

Riki's retort is answered with a grunt loud enough to be heard over the deep rumble of the old car's engine. The miko had glanced in her passenger side mirror to follow the arcing shot of brilliant red fire toward the lurking creature but as with the werewolf, she didn't bother to slow the vehicle down. Any one of the darkstalkers on the loose could be a threat to any average person they encountered and it wasn't as if the miko was inconsiderate of that fact. But she also knew that for every veteran monster hunter in the city there were hundreds of promising martial artists of varying caliber that could probably hold their own against a single, weak monster.

Let the amateurs clean up the trash. The oni and she would be better deployed against larger threats - the kinds that high schoolers who took karate for gym class would be woefully unprepared to face.

Ayame rolls her eyes before focusing back on the road ahead, "I know what a selfie is." Just because her manner of dress would have been at home in the 1800's and the car they were using was from the cold war era didn't mean she wasn't adept with modern technology too! She shakes her head looking a touch rueful. Not because she thought Riki was wrong, but because she knew she was /right/.

Humanity may have reacted with collective horror as the truth of darkstalkers became known across the globe, but it didn't take too long before many began to disregard the danger they represented. Some began to fetishize the creatures, particularly those with more animalistic traits that were easy to pretty up to seem docile and harmless. Others became objects of fascination or wonder. It was no surprise Riki could walk around freely these days, drawing interest rather than generating dread terror.

"After tonight," Ayame considers, "I would not be so confident in such a positive reaction..." Her voice dies out as she slows the vehicle down. In the road ahead, the mangled remains of a civilian are briefly illuminated in the car's headlights, too disfigured to be recognizable or identifiable. Ayame steers around the corpse and moves on. There is no point in tending to the dead while the living remain under siege.

Eyes continue to scan the road and houses alongside the vehicle. In some places, wrecked, abandoned cars obstruct some of the road, but Ayame continues to work around them, nudging one aside with the front bumper to make room.

"We will know when we see it," the miko replies on the question of where to start. She wasn't entirely sure herself. The streets were too quiet, evidence here and there of the horrors taking place, yet nothing actively happening around them now. The village felt more like an area already conquered than a place under siege.

The car slows to a stop, breaks squeaking in protest, old shocks creaking as the heavy vehicle settles. In front of it, caught in the headlights, dead bodies arrayed across the street entrance to a parking lot. It would be hard to number them at first glance, dismembered as they were, blood soaking the concrete ramp into the paved apartment complex parking lot, but it seemed to be between four or five.

Frowning, Ayame shifts the vehicle into park in the road and shuts off the headlights. "NOL." she states, recognizing enough of the torn uniforms to realize what they had not seen other Librarium units moving in this area for the last few blocks. This was likely the detachment assigned.

Turning the old car off, she reaches for her staff with one hand, opening the heavy car door with her other. Slipping out to her feet, she stands behind the open door looking toward the apartment building ahead, mouth set in a resolved expression. Staff in hand, she looked every bit the part she had committed her life to playing - the white, billowing sleeved top, adorned with crimson ribbons on the ends of her sleeves, the crimson pleated long skirt swaying down to her ankles, her stocking covered, sandal-clad feet all fitting the image of a dedicated Shinto priestess.

Inhaling then releasing a slow exhale, she nods toward the towering structure. "There is something here," she waves with her free hand toward the bodies.

"Fresh blood."

The sight of the mangled corpse puts a harsh dampener on the oni's jovial demeanor, her expression twisting into a grimace. She could hardly be called squeamish ; only a few hundred years ago she would have left trails of corpses just as gory in her wake on a regular basis. Perhaps it was that very knowledge that made the sticky mess difficult to stomach. She looked away, staring down at the road for several seconds until the scent of blood no longer filled the air, and when her gaze lifted once more the familiar glint of steely resolve glittered in her faintly glowing eyes.


The pair of them rode in relative silence for a time after that, the ogre taken by one of her rare contemplative moods. That or she nodded off. It's hard to tell sometimes. Regardless, the miko is left to her own thoughts for a time, the only sounds to keep her company those created by the old automobile as it squeaked and grumbled its way deeper into the outskirts of town.

When the vehicle came to an abrupt stop some time later, Riki's eyes were already open, her gaze hard and dour, as if she already knew what to expect when the headlights panned over the ruins remains of the former magic soldiers. Her nostrils flared with a snort of acknowledgement at the idenification of the bodies. She too was well familiar with the Librarium. It would have been all but impossible for someone of her particular nature to go unnoticed on their very doorstep. There was no love lost between the ogre and the soldiers, despite her typically sunny disposition, so seeing a bunch of them dead didn't bother her quite as much.

As the engine dies out, Riki heaves herself over the edge of the truck bed. The car groans in resentful protest as it lists heavily to one side, the metal creaking ominously, only to bounce wobbily upright once she has her feet on the ground. Like her master, the ogre is dressed for business. The more modern clothing that she tended to wear on daily basis had been left behind, replaced with the old-fashioned dark grey Japanese garb that was halfway between kimono and elaborate loin cloth. The outfit is extremely revealing but by proxy does little to inhibit her movement in the same way the long skirt might and shyness has never been one of the amazonian warrior's flaws.

"Aye," she says, nodding her agreement. It doesn't take supernatural senses to tell that these warriors had died only recently. Riki stomps over to stand next to the bodies, her heavy footfalls muffled only slightly by a pair of bright red geta. Kneeling down, she touches a pair of fingers to the blood and brings them to her mouth, tasting the crimson fluid with a toughtful expression. After a moment, she frowns, turning to spit on the pavement in disgust. The wet spatter sizzles noisily on the concrete, crackling like hot oil over a heated pan.

"Venom. Knew I smelled something foul. Be on thy guard, my lady. Such poisons can lay low even the most stalwart warrior." She turned her head to peer back over her shoulder, smirking widely at the slender waif of a girl. "And thou art not blessed with an abundance of constitution."

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm has started a fight here.

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Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha has joined the fight here.

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Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0       Naga Alpha

Looming silently above the newly arrived monster hunters, the sprawling bulk of Gokokuji Heights has the distinction of being one of the tallest buildings in this area of The Village, its 4th floor and roof standing head and shoulders above the next tallest structure. Even still it is much wider than it is tall, built with a broad, sturdy profile accented here and there with little touches like a broad balcony or a wide picture window. This, when combined with the utter lack of light shining from within those windows, gives the place a rather despondent appearance. One that is shifted toward ghoulish by the wet mess of blood and bodies that drip down the entrance ramp like so much stinking gory vomit from an old man's bib.
The bodies themselves have been mangled far beyond recognition on an individual level. Throat and faces shredded into meaty strips, extremities black and swollen, skin already beginning to purify despite the slick crimson of the blood that surrounds them. If not for the color of their uniforms and the scattered bits of gear soaking in the gore, they would be completely unidentifiable as NOL operatives. But, between the stained blue of their coats and the heavy canvas bags lying abandoned between them, their identity, if not their mission, is clear enough.
A quick glance around would reveal no further bodies, but plenty of sweeping trails of blood splashed and smeared across the sparsely populated parking lot in odd looping patterns. The only entrance into the building on this side is the yawning mouth of the smashed glass double doors, where broad streaks of blood twinkle with bits of ground glass as they vanish into the darkness at the top of a short flight of steps. Though it would be difficult to smell anything over the rancid stench of decaying flesh and opened bellies, there is a distinctly musty taint that wafts from within the open maw of the complex; The heavy reek of a super sized terrarium.
A warm, sticky breeze wafts along the street, briefly pushing the scent of rot away and bringing instead the distant smell of smoke and the far off crackle of gunfire. Gently it tugs at loose clothes and hair, fluttering ribbons across cloth with a soft, burbling hiss...
The subtle sound of releasing gas is the only warning the pair gets as a spray of narrow darts rain down from above, descending on them from angles all along the front of the apartment. Rather than being solid projectiles, however, the pressurized darts splash apart into sizzling, scorching puddles wherever they land. Against pavement the toxins smoke and sizzle with little effect, but where venom touches cloth it works to dissolve the protective layer away, and several splatters that impact the vehicle behind Ayame cause its tanned paint to bubble away, dripping away in speckled patches to reveal the silver metal beneath.
Even as the deadly rain trickles away to nothing, shadows can be seen shifting through the darkness behind the windows. The slithering sway of serpentine shapes retreat back into the deeper dark of the interior, urged on by a sharp series of hisses and rattles that echo down from high up atop the roof. At the same moment, loose grit scrapes and grinds beneath the sliding mass of heavy bodies as 2 long, dark figures come lunging out from beneath a jeep and a sedan parked in the office spaces nearest to the door, blitzing across the distance toward the pair with powerful undulations of their scaly lower bodies. Their upper bodies, however, are disturbingly human. A pair of bare-chested women in their middle twenties, hair long and ragged, so caked with filth that it is impossible to tell what the original color might have been. Skin pallid, ribs poking out against the sunken flesh of their torsos. The only points of vitality about them are their eyes, bright yellow and slit pupiled, glaring toward the two monster hunters with a manic sort of hunger.

COMBATSYS: Riki has joined the fight here.

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Naga Alpha       0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0       Naga Swarm
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Riki             0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Ayame has joined the fight here on the left meter side.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|======-\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha gathers his will.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/--=====|-------\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm successfully hits Ayame with Poison Bolt.

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Ayame            0/-------/----===|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Naga Swarm       1/------=/=======|-------\-------\0             Riki

The Ichijo scion followed Riki over to the bodies, not getting nearly as close and certainly not making any movements to touch the damp blood. Instead, her eyes watch the oni, trusting the creature to be able to discern whether there was any information to be gleaned from it. What she didn't expect was the sound of sizzling against the concrete, her head snapping to the side to look at where the spittle fell then back to her partner with eyebrows raised somewhere between alarmed and questioning.

Poison is it. Ayame's mind races, trying to catalog the possibilities. Snakes then? Spiders? Some youkai running around with kodoku? When Riki looks back to her, the miko stares at her in return, mouth curled into the faint, persistent frown that seems too natural on her. "Tch." She steps forward, sweeping her right arm forward in an 'After you' flourish, her left hand gripping her staff tightly.

Now that they're on foot, it's easier to see the blood bath that the parking lot was bathed in. Bloody trails every which way painted a gruesome picture. Thoughts of keeping civilian casualties to a precious few this night were no longer viable. When the breeze turns, Ayame pauses, lifting her right arm over her face, eyes squinting nearly shut against the vile odors assaulting her senses.

Something had taken out those NOL soldiers. It had to be dangerous to pull that off. If Riki and she could contain it to this location and deal with it, then that would be all the fewer people that would die this night. Wary of the advantage of height provided by the apartment structure itself, she looks up, eyes scanning along the windows and balconies, but seeing nothing. It looks like they will need to press on inside-

When she first hears the sound from above, there is a moment of disbelief on Ayame's part. Hadn't she just looked up that way? It leads to her looking up a second time rather than moving immediately. At the first splashes around her, she finally moves, raising her right arm, sleeve over her face, leaning forward to dash out of the way. "Above us!" Instincts screamed to run for cover from the aerial attack and the only option for that seemed to be the apartment building itself.

A cry of mixed pain and alarm announces the successful strikes against the miko before she bites back the sound, not wanting to give away anything she doesn't need to. But the stagger forward, falling to catch herself with her left hand, her staff clacking against the pavement makes it obvious enough that at least some of the acrid bolts had found their mark.

Forcing herself up, she is about to lunge toward the entrance when movement adjacent to it forces her to stop short. Coming to rest, gripping her staff in front of her defensively, the damage inflicted by the bolts becomes apparent. The cloth of her miko attire didn't fair any better than the melted paint of her car, small holes burned into the length of her right sleeve down to her arm in places. Her right shoulder and back suffered the worst of it, however, a larger hole burned away from the girl's shoulder, red, painful looking, sore flesh visible beneath it with blackened strands of hair sticking to the injury. Even her crimson hair ribbon's bow is missing pieces where the bolts had passed through in near misses.

"We can't stay out here!"

Being in an open lot beneath poison using archers is not a recipe for success. Which means they need to get through the two creatures blocking the way in. Ignoring the burning pain in her shoulder for the moment, Ayame studies the creatures illuminated by moonlight.

Not something she had ever confronted directly. But she had heard tales from others, had read of accounts in the jinja's library. But these ones seemed... emaciated? What were they even doing inland? Southtown bordered the sea, but The Village was on the opposite side of the metropolis, about as far as one could get from the ports and still technically be in the city.

But the mystery behind what was happening was far less a concern right now than dealing with it. Feeling a bit of stiffness in her right arm, she quickly moves it anyway, fingers darting into her left sleeve to pull out a small talisman made with faint blue paper and inscribed with deep blue ink. Whipping her right hand across the front of her, Ayame flicks her arm into a backhanded fling of the seal, hurling it into the air between her and the two naga women.

Only once it has taken flight does the paper burst into vibrant, ghostly blue fire, surging toward the torso of one of the two doorkeepers with furious speed. It would explode on impact, a small violent plume of light blue fire before fading quickly.

COMBATSYS: Riki barely endures Naga Swarm's Poison Bolt.

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Ayame            0/-------/-----==|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Naga Swarm       1/---====/=======|==-----\-------\0             Riki

Claiming silent victory in this exchange, Riki rises to her feet with a smug grin on her face and moves to take point as the extent of the carnage becomes apparent. Already the signs of her sluggish drunkeness have started to wear off, her alcohol high replaced by the anticipation of a good fight. Anything capable of wiping out such a sizable squad of mages would make for an excellent challenge and it has been months since she was able to cut loose against a worthy foe.

Unlike her more wary companion, Riki's mind doesn't bother pouring over the possible identities of their mysterious quarry. It's not like knowing what they're going to go up against is going to change her game plan. She leaves complicated tactics and stratagems to the girl. If there is something important she needs to know, it will be yelled at her sooner or later. Until then, she simply plans to smash whatever gets in her way into a monster-shaped pancake. Simple but effective, much like herself.

The sudden soft hissing sound fails to draw the ogre's attention until a second after the first couple of poison bolts splatter noisly at her feet, sizzling like bacon grease. Her head swings ponderously upwards, tracing the trajectory of the shots with almost comical ponderousness, eyes narrowing slightly as she catches the hints of movement in the darkened windows of the towering apartment building. Several of the poison bolts land home against her bare skin, hissing as noisily as the snakes that hurled them as they attempt to burn away at her skin. Riki frowns, wiping a bit of poisonous spit off one cheek with a faint wince but doesn't bother taking evasive action. She's far too big of a target and far too slow to avoid that many shots.

The cry of pain from Ayame garners a much more immediate and concerned reaction. She whips her head sideways, lips peeling back into a feral snarl as she spots the freshly smouldering holes burned into the girl's wardrobe. Power radiates outwards from the giant in a visible nimbus of red light, crackling hellfire pushing back the shadows of the evening gloom. Before she can turn to face their attackers, the two massive snake creatures emerge from their hiding place, launching an almost perfect ambush.

Riki hesistates for a moment, unsure which threat to tackle first. The miko's call for shelter against the storm of projectiles makes her course of action clear. Letting out a rumbling bellow of challenge, the Amazonian spirit hurls herself forward to intercept the two filthy vermin. She sweeps her arms out to her sides, the heavily muscled limbs held low and wide, turning her into a living bulldozer. Several more of the poisonous missiles detonate across her body, one of them burning away the fabric of her garment across one shoulder. The top of the outfit sags dangerously downwards, becoming more like a toga than a kimono and exposing yet more of her pale skin.

The ogress plows directly into the pair of skinny snake bitches, attempting to wrap up each one of them in one of her outstretched arms, hugging them to her sides like a football linebacker scooping up the ball and going for a wild dash towards the endzone. Hit or miss, her momentum refuses to allow her to slow down. She hits the front of the apartment building like a runaway locomotive, taking the door doors right off their hinges and blasting into the foyer beyond with a thunderous crash.

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Naga Swarm with Reliquary of Lost Time.

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Ayame            0/-------/----===|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Naga Swarm       1/---====/=======|=------\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm dodges Riki's Charging Ox.

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Ayame            0/-------/----===|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Naga Swarm       1/---====/=======|=------\-------\0             Riki

As with most fights outside of a regimented tournament space, things devolve into messy chaos almost immediately. Acrid fumes rise in a thick haze from the pools of poison sputtering against the ground, tinted an ominous red by the crackling aura of the giant Oni charging through it. The wind of her passage swirls the haze into a choking mist that stings eyes and throat, transitioning from red to purple as Ayame's talisman zips through. And throughout all of this, drowning out Riki's bellowing war cry and smothering any attempts at conversation, comes the rattling, scraping clatter of the world's largest maraca, the ear-rending sound reverberating through the entirety of the complex.
As one, the twin snakes abandon the impending clash with their fellow monster to cower down low to the ground, yellow eyes flitting around in a near panic. As if by instinct they lunge in opposite directions, both cutting low beneath Riki's spread arms so that she blunders forward alone to smash through what remains of the doors, her great bulk tearing the metal frames free of the walls to smash heavily to the ground amidst their glass innards. Unfortunately for the one on the right, as she weaves clear of the charging bulk of the Oni, Ayame's thrown Talisman curves slightly through the air, sweeping down to smack solidly into her ribs. The resulting explosion flings the emaciated Naga torso over tail in a blast of dispersed fumes, long body trailing her as she tumbles limply across the pavement to slam heavily into a concrete planter beside the front steps.
Having avoided the fate of its sister, the one on the left suddenly loops back on itself, powerful coils flexing to propel it into a leaping lunge toward Riki's exposed back. Mouth falling open to expose finger-long fangs dripping with venom, thin arms spread wide, it attempts to drive its scrawny human half into her upper shoulders and latch on, hawk-like talons scything in to hook into her upper arms. Gathering its tail beneath it, it shoves with all its might, driving forward to try and propel her deeper into the darkness while her long fangs descend in a hungry chomp toward the side of her neck.
The inside of the lobby is a dim cavern of smashed furniture and bloody smears. Long, thick lines of it trace serpentine patterns up the walls and across the ceilings, while the ground is a mess of sodden papers and busted glass, the deadly remnants of windows and light fixtures. The only illumination comes from the Oni herself, the dimly glowing buttons beside the open elevator doors, and the twin pools of hypnotic yellow rising up from the floor of said elevator, staring fixedly into the demon's face.
Curled within the spacious confines of the movable room is the thick, scaly body of a Naga, its lower half much longer and heavier than the two seen thus far. Its upper body is that of a human man, muscular and well fed, with long black hair cascading in waves over broad shoulders and eyes that flicker with hypnotic allure. His face is strong and masculine, lips full and inviting. Rising up behind his head, its plates just now coming to a clattering halt, is the largest rattle to ever grace the tail of a serpent.
Opening his arms to Riki, the Naga Alpha invites her forward with his gaze, tempting her to join him in an embrace. Wouldn't it be great? Wouldn't she love to be all warm and safe, tucked away with him inside his mobile nest?
If the answer is yes, she will find herself being encircled first by his arms, then by his tail, coil upon coil looping around her stocky frame as his lips press softly to her throat, then pull back to allow the driving bite of the fangs hidden behind. But most nefariously of all, a subtle flick of one hand will see the elevator doors sliding shut as the entire thing grinds and groans its way up the floors, leaving Ayame alone and partnerless with the raggedy Naga that first attacked them.

Stopping to fire her talisman at the naga blocking the way, Ayame is passed by easily by the rampaging oni that is her partner and ally in monster hunting. A faint grin of satisfaction crosses her lips as Riki creates an opening into the apartment building in more ways than one. "That will work." With the 'Welcoming Committee' out of the way and the entryway smashed to pieces, Ayame rushes forward in a rapid sprint.

She isn't excited about bolting into the building without more reconnaissance as to what they're rushing into... but she also knows they can't just stay out in the open either. The cars left in the parking lot could provide some cover, but not enough to be effective against ongoing acidic suppressive fire from a high angle.

Besides, with Riki smashing her way in, whatever other surprise that was waiting for them will likely have been stampeded over by the run away train. Except, perhaps, whatever was responsible for the bone rattling noise, the sound triggering the instinctual caution common to all humans raised with a healthy wariness of snakes.

The naga sent flying by her burst of concentrated spirit energy is ignored for now, too out of the way and looking too injured to be an immediate threat. Better to focus on the ones that are. Like the one leaping for Riki's shoulder, trying not just to secure a perch from which to bite the ogress, but also clearly intentionally attempting to propel her further inside the very building they're already rushing to get into.

That doesn't bode well.

Her right hand joins her left in gripping her staff.

"Look out!"

From two meters out, Ayame leaps, hauling her staff up over her head. Without having to spare a conscious thought, she funnels energy into the rune-carved weapon, crimson flames rippling along its surface, easily visible in the dimming light yet producing no actual heat to be felt.

Her leap her will take her into the building, the end of her staff smashing downward, targeting the door guard going for Riki. Whether the overhead smash connects or not, Ayame would aim to land on her feet, already converting her forward momentum into a violent spin to the left, whipping herself all the way around in a complete circle as she attempts a two handed crushing slam of of her weapon into the side of the serpentine assailant.

The crimson fire adding to the interior's illumination threatens to spread against the supernatural creatures, capable of burning them while leaving the inorganic structure and debris around them unaffected.

She only notices the elevator-lurking brute at the last second, far too late to respond to it before she can recover from her entry attack. But that doesn't prevent a good shouted challenge-

"Surrender! Or I cannot be responsible for what she is about to do to you!"

COMBATSYS: Riki blocks Naga Alpha's Hypnotic Lure.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Ayame            0/-------/----===|=======\=------\1       Naga Alpha
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Naga Swarm       1/-----==/=======|==-----\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Riki endures Naga Swarm's Combo Mauling.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Ayame            0/-------/----===|=======\=------\1       Naga Alpha
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Naga Swarm       1/----===/=======|=====--\-------\0             Riki

The lack of impact with either of the nagas brings an annoyed snarl to the ogre's lips even as she tears into the apartments. Damn slippery snakes. At least she managed to create an opening for Ayame to take shelter from the poisonous barrage and, knowing the skilled young miko, she'll be hot on her heels to take advantage of the tactical shift in terrain. Assuming those two nagas don't get in her way, that is.

Riki slides to a grinding halt, her wooden sandals digging grooves into the cheap linoleum. She takes a moment to glance around at the interior of the building's foyer, searching for fresh threats. It wouldn't make much of a shelter if she allowed the girl to run blindly into another ambush; fangs and claws aren't much more pleasant than poison.

It doesn't take much effort to locate one. The massive body of another coiled up naga is crammed into an elevator, taking up most of the space all on his own. The difference between this snake and the ones outside is stark and not just because of their gender. While those that had jumped them at the entrance appeared to be starving, their skin practically hanging off their bones, this one looks fat and happy. An alpha creature, then. Well that makes things simple, all she has to do is take this prick out and...


Turning her body towards the man-snake, Riki's eyes immediately seek out those of her quarry, locking gazes with the foul creature as a smirk starts to play across her features. Her mouth opens and she sucks in air but whatever caustic remark she had been about to make dies in her throat as those shimmering golden orbs come into center view. She blinks, suddenly confused. Her arms lower from their defensive posture, fists unclenching as she takes an involuntary step forward, seemingly having forgotten where she is and what she was doing.

Her massive strides carry her across the room in only a few moments and into the waiting embrace of the alpha. She shivers slightly as his big strong arms reach out to embrace her finding the touch unnaturally pleasurable. Even when his constricting coils begin to loop around her lower body she offers no resistance, her head tilting to the side as she sighs in blissful contentment.

The illusion is ruined by the warning shout of her companion. Riki blinks again, clarity returning quickly to her eyes. She looks down to find herself quickly being entangled by the slimy naga and recoils instinctively, a massive palm snapping up to slam the filthy creature's torso away from her even as he reveals his fangs and starts to bite down. Two faint lines of red trace their way across her muscled neck but the dark stalker's jaw snaps down on empty air, his ruse foiled.

The errant naga that Ayame is in the process of swatting aside manages to beat the miko to the punch by a few moments, hurling herself onto the broad back of the oni and sinking her fangs into the thick juicy meat there. Riki lets out a yelp that is mostly surprise but partly of pain as the hot venom courses into her mortal flesh turning the skin beneath the bite into an ugly patch of dark purple bruising. With a snarl, she leans backwards, thrusting the damned creature out beyond the opening of the slowly closing elevator doors. She has no idea how modern technology works so the fact that this might jam the sliding barrier and thus prevent it from operating thanks to the safety protocols is entirely coincidental; her primary goal is to make the thing that's leeched onto her back an easy target for the crushing swing of her partner.

Trusting in Ayame to assist her as best she can, the giantess turns her attention to the alpha. Her grimace turns into a wide grin as she holds him at bay, looking into his hypnotic eyes without fear now that she knows what to expect.

"Thou wish the pleasure of my company, dost thou? Very well! Then let us, as the young of this century hath put it so aptly, get this party started."

Extending her empty hand out to one side, Riki traces quick circle in the air with the tip of one of her bright red fingernails. The air above her hang shimmers for a moment then makes a soft popping noise as a large slightly concave bowl made of laquered red wood simply appears. The ogre spreads her fingers wide, deftly catching the dish as it plops into her palm, preventing the clear liquid that fills its surface from sloshing over the sides. Widening her grin into a full toothy smile, she lifts the bowl to her mouth and noisily slurps the contents down, swallowing several mouthfuls of liquor so divine that it literally burns on the way down.

Impossibly, despite the dicey situation and her own lack of anything resembling graceful manners, the ogre fails to spill even a single drop of the booze as she empties out her bowl. Every single bit of it goes down her gullet with big gulps - except for the last little mouthful. Baring her teeth again, Riki tosses the now empty bowl aside and it vanishes with another pop before it even hits the ground. Tilting her head back, she opens her mouth, revealing a small pool of the sacred wine still visible on her tongue. Then, with a sharp snap, she clamps her fangs down hard and several sparks spray outwards into the gloom.

A heartbeat later the tiny golden fireflies blossom into a full blown inferno as Riki spits the liquor into the air with a sharp exhale. Her booze-lade breath becomes the pilot light for a divine flamethrower and the entire elevator fills with a raging cloud of soul-searing red flame. The tiny enclosed space leaves nowhere for the magical flames to spread other than out the door and a plume of red hellfire washes around and over Riki's back before exploding outwards like a sun flare just as the doors either close behind the two entwined creatures or bounce open once again on the obstructing naga's snakey tail.

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha blocks Riki's Breath of Heaven.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Ayame            0/-------/----===|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Naga Swarm       1/----===/=======|=====--\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm blocks Ayame's Power Strike.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Ayame            0/-------/----===|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Naga Swarm       1/----===/=======|=====--\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Riki successfully hits Naga Swarm with Breath of Heaven.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////    ]
Ayame            0/-------/----===|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Naga Swarm       1/----===/=======|======-\-------\0             Riki

The guardian Naga's bony shoulder digs hard into Riki's back, talons scratching across her shoulders as she strains to steer her stumbling toward the elevator and the waiting gaze of her alpha. Behind her can be heard the light clack of sandaled feet charging up the steps, glass grinding beneath the slender weight of the second hunter. The Oni's burning red aura makes it hard to tell whether or not any additional light has entered the lobby, but the tingling shiver that runs up the Naga's spine, when combined with the sudden absence of approaching footsteps, gives her a clue as to what is coming. Giving one last heave against the big girl's back, the guardian drops off of the stomping monster and rolls wildly to one side, body spiraling behind her as Ayame's staff comes crashing down to impact the blood-smeared floor beneath. Sandaled feet strike the filthy tile a moment later, and the huntress comes face to face with the recovering Naga, scrawny body twisting toward her as it rises from the floor upon the coiled length of its trunk. But before the serpentine guardian can do more than glare poisonously down at the human, the second staff strike is sweeping around toward her, forcing her to bring her tail whipping up between them in a desperate defense.
Chi-infused wood meets scales with a bright flare of crimson, spiritual energy sizzling across their dark green surface and forcing a pained hiss from the emaciated creature. However, rather than retreating, the snake darts quickly forward, weaving her body between the strawberry-blonde human and the broad back of her companion who is just now stepping calmly into the open embrace of her leader.
The air within the elevator's boxy confines is hot and dry, the heavy scent of reptile mixing with the cloying stench of death and decay. But none of that matters. The sticky pull of the blood-soaked carpet clinging to the bottom of her sandals. The rough scrape of armored scales across skin. None of these things concern the big Oni now that she is in the loving embrace of her alpha.
That is, right until they do.
Yellow eyes blink once in surprise as the ogress pulls back, fangs scraping across her skin but failing to penetrate. And then, worry of all worries, she is pulling away from him, broad back moving toward the elevator exit even as one hand is magically filled by an eye-wateringly strong bowl of alcohol. A soft hiss of displeasure whistles through his fangs as he draws himself up, muscular torso looming over the towering Oni on the thick stalk of his body, tail still coiled around her thighs.
Responding to the angry hiss behind her, the lobby guard suddenly pulls back from Ayame, whipping about to throw herself at the Oni's broad back for a second time. Snake meets demon with a meaty FWAP of skin on skin, the smaller snake sinking her teeth viciously into the big woman's neck as she fights to keep her from leaving the oppressive confines of her alpha's nest. Unfortunately, she is still there, shoving and clawing, when a raging blast of flames fills the elevator interior, washing over her in a roiling mass of light and heat.
A high, squealing whale rings throughout the lobby as the scrawny Naga comes tumbling backward through the elevator doors, body awash in radiant flames. As the divine fire eats away at flesh and scales alike, she flops and flails her way across the floor, setting bits of paper and smashed furniture alight. It is by pure chance that her agonized death throws brings her tail whipping around toward Ayame like a scaly wrecking ball, the dying creature far beyond caring about continuing the fight.
Meanwhile, the elevator doors have closed with both Riki and the alpha inside. Slowly the boxy nest begins to grind its way up the floors, the cramped car now full of a light smoky haze that bounces back the last flicker of flames that still burn in the corners. It is by this dancing firelight that Riki can see coils upon coils of the alpha snake lowering from the ceiling, a light charring visible across their armored scales but no real damage seeming to have been done. The big snake fills the space around her, human torso descending unharmed from behind the hastily built wall of coils to level a wounded stare at her, full lips turned down in the faintest of frowns.
"It would have been so much easier had you only submitted." he informs her, deep voice full of hurt and disappointment.
As he speaks, the coils looped so invitingly around her thighs begin to cinch shut, great muscles constricting as he does his utmost to grind her legs together and scoop her off of her feet, swinging her around to smash heavily into the elevator wall with such force the whole construction sways giddily, grinding against the shaft outside. This is followed by a loud clatter as the end of his tail sweeps in after her, the heavy rattle at its tip descending for a crushing blow to the side of her head.
The bangs and booms of their conflict echo back down the shaft, audible through the closed doors of the lobby as the last few gasps of the dying Naga peter off to nothing. This leaves Ayame temporarily alone in the cavernous room, the dual illumination provided from her staff and the still smoldering corpse giving her plenty of light to see by. A second look around the space reveals it to be much the same as the first time she saw it. Piles of smashed furniture gathered in heaps, bloody trash smeared across the floor twinkling with bits of broken glass, and long swirls of gore tracing up the walls and across the ceilings, vanishing through open ports into the building's ventilation system. There are two such vents set high up along the walls of the room, with a third near the center of the ceiling. Within two of these can be seen the burning yellow gleam of hate-filled eyes, staring down at her with vicious intent. Already said eyes are beginning to move, accompanied by the echoing rasp of scaly bodies sliding through steel tunnels.
Other than the empty hole that Ayame entered through, there are three other paths the young miko could take. To one side of the elevator is a heavy metal door marked 'stairs', while a second door along the back wall has a placard stating 'office'. Other than that, there is a narrow hallway just to the right of the entrance that leads off into darkness.
Above her, filthy human torsos slither free of the vents, descending rapidly toward the ground upon long tails of dull green scales.

COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks Naga Swarm's Tail Whip.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/---====|=======\=------\1       Naga Alpha
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Naga Swarm       1/--=====/=======|======-\-------\0             Riki

From the moment the poison bolts rained down from above, the two monster hunters found themselves in a frantic, intense battle with no moment to catch their breath. As the fight moved into the lobby, things certainly didn't settle down any. Ayame was focused on smashing one of the scaled killers with her staff, trying to batter it away from Riki, with only limited success. And the oni herself ended up in /very/ close quarters combat with the largest of the creatures trying to make the apartment building their nest.

The sounds of wood against bone, of loud hisses, of fangs piercing flesh, of the rattle echoing from the elevator itself would be enough to leave anyone shellshocked if they hadn't trained to fight like this on a constant, unrelenting basis. As it stands, Ayame and Riki manage to keep their cool in spite the pain they're feeling, in spite the memories fresh in their minds of what these serpentine creatures will gladly do to them if they get the upper hand.

A twist of her staff slams it into the path of an incoming, mostly unconscious tail smack, the wooden weapon vibrating in her grip but holding fast against the impact as her feet slip over the wet blood coating the floor.

But when the elevator doors seal and the sounds of violent combat within the tight confines thunder down the shaft, the injured miko's eyes widen slightly. The moment passes quickly, expression turning dour.

"He is going to regret that."

But the quiet falls in the lobby, but for the dripping of mixed ichor and blood from the vents above, of the bending and flexing of metal as supernatural threats slither about out of sight. Gripping her staff at a ready angle in front of her in her left hand, her right hand slips into her left sleeve, fingers sliding back out with another paper talisman pinched between middle finger and forefinger. Off-white parchment with light blue ink traced into glyphs and symbols, it emits a very faint, white glow, its light blending with the darker crimson hue of her glimmering staff.

Alone now, with the sounds of struggle in the elevator moving steadily away as the metal box rises higher up into the apartment building, the combat priestess shifts her focus to the routes available to her and the threats visible to her. Breathing, she consciously cordons off the burning pain in her shoulder, filing it away elsewhere in her mind where it can't distract her for now. She knows she can move her arm with only slightly less mobility and that's good enough for now.

Her eyes meet the supernatural glare of the naga within the vents as she studies the openings, clearly warily looking for angles that she might be attacked from and where she might go next. Her choice is made immediately. She needs to get upstairs. The idea that there are still people alive in this building is feeling more ephemeral by the moment, but she can't rule out the possibility. And Riki is on her way up to the upper floors with an unplanned tour. She might need help too...

The stairs it is. But one of the vents is directly over the doorway identifying the stairwell. And she can't really anticipate what it looks like on the other side, for that matter. Leaning forward into a sprint for the stair door, the miko ducks out of the way of the nearest naga descending into the lobby, bolting straight for the door. Rather than trying to open it fast enough to avoid getting caught at all, she whirls around at the door, looking up at the vent above just in time to see the malevolent yellow glow of another attacker. Her right hand flicks at the wrist, sending the glowing white talisman up into the vent.

The paper seal seems innocuous compared to the burning blue fireball she hurled before, but once it gets close to her would be attacker, it explodes into a net of ghostly white, spectral chains that attempt to wrap around the torso of the diving naga before it can get to her.

Hope that will delay the second naga long enough for her to get through the door, she takes a chance on ignoring the other one that had entered the lobby first. The instant the talisman left her fingers, Ayame is already turning back to the door, attempting to wrest it open quickly with her right hand, left hand keeping her staff out at her side in case she needs to go back on the defense in an instant!

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha successfully hits Riki with Coiled Strike.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/---====|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////            ]
Naga Swarm       1/--=====/=======|=======\-------\1             Riki

"Hmph. Such fantasies thou doth entertain!"

Riki smirks at the handsome dark stalker as the holy alcohol-fueled flames die away, her face only a couple short feet away from his in the confined space. Her massive hand remains firmly pressed against the naga's chest, keeping him and those wicked fangs of his at bay while she uses the other to idly wipe the spattered remnants of the booze from her mouth and chin. As is often the case when locked in battle and there is no time afforded to minding her speech and the lessons imparted upon her by the modern age, the ancient ogre's speech reverts to a far more archaic tongue as she sasses the alpha; the comtemptuous tone in her voice is quite timeless, however.

"Thou shalt find me a far more onerous spirit to break than the groveling worms thou hast surrounded thyself with, viper."

In retort, the naga's powerful coils begin to constrict around her lower half, attempting to lift the oni bodily from the elevator's floor. Unfortunately, with two such excessively large individuals crammed into its narrow interior, there isn't a whole lot of room for such fancy maneuvers to have much effect. Add on top of this the incredible weight of the half-breed spirit and the fact that she isn't going to simply stand around and let him have his way and things don't go quite as well as he might have hoped.

After a few moments of wrestling back and forth for control, Riki finds herself unable to maintain her footing. She lets out a frustrated grunt as the snake-man swings her back and forth, battering her against the sides of the elevator, but with so little space to build up a proper swing the impacts do little more than rattle her teeth a bit. The sudden chattering rattle of the creature's tail alerts her to the danger well before the heavy segemented club of bone comes crashing down on her skull. She sweeps an arm out to try and intercept the blow but a quick shift from the naga at the last moment throws her arm wide and she only manages to deflect some of the strike, sending the rattle bouncing off her temple instead of clouting her squarely on the crown.

Were she a mere mortal, such a blow would likely have been enough to knock her senseless or at least stun her for a few moments. The oni, however, merely gets annoyed, her expression turning into a fierce glower which she levels at the slimey beast as if her own gaze might be just as dangerous as his; it isn't, but the faint flare of red light behind her shimmering pupils signals the onset of a fresh bout of mayhem, nonetheless.

Lifting her now unoccupied arm up to join the other, Riki attempts to grapple her way free of the alpha's clutches. She kicks her legs as she leans forward, shifting her grip up towards his neck while making a grab for the chattering tail. If she can manage to nab it, she does what any good oni would do and wields the damn snake's own ass like a club, smashing it about the head as it had done to her, only with a great deal more vehemence and power. She throws in a few slams against the elevator's sides as well, which will prove remarkably more effective with her muscle and weight behind them; you know, just to be petty.

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha dodges Riki's Ogre Smash.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/---====|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       1/--=====/=======|=======\-------\1             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm blocks Ayame's Binding of the Condemned Soul.

[       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/---====|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       1/--=====/=======|=======\-------\1             Riki

With two more nagas closing in from the vents above, and an unknown number of monsters likely swarming her way at this very moment, the young miko none-the-less chooses to push deeper into the facility in pursuit of her stolen partner. With every passing moment the rattling, scraping cacophony of scaly bodies grinding their way through the ventilation grows louder, threatening to overwhelm the distant bangs and booms of her oni's battle with the alpha beast. And beneath it all is the near constant hissing, a pressurized cascade of sound that speaks to the primal part of the brain, warning DANGER DANGER DANGER.
By the mingled light of burning naga corpse and her own readied talisman, Ayame can see as the first enemy dives toward her with eyes ablaze, only to take note of the glowing paper between her fingers and abruptly change course, human torso pulled up and away in a mutual dance of avoidance. The second, however, is a bit slower to emerge. While its quicker partner is dropping to the floor behind the priestess with a dry thud, it is just sliding its head and upper shoulders free of the vent when she sends her binding spell flying up at it. And though it is not a particularly smart creature, a life of pain and misery at the whims of others have taught it a certain amount of instinctual caution.
Thin, pale arms lift to shield its face as the emaciated body retreats back into the darkness, head ducking against the sudden blaze of spectral chains. Its quick thinking spares the monster a face full of binding magic, but a few of the outermost chains manage to brush up against its hasty guard, snapping forward to try and constrict around hands and forearms. Its hissing fury redoubled, the naga retreats further into the vent, dragging the nest of glowing chains away with it into the bowels of the complex.
Meanwhile, the rasping crunch of scales over garbage approaches rapidly as the metal fire safety door swings easily open at Ayame's urging, the pale glow of halogen lights spilling over her and washing out to illuminate the trashed lobby. Ahead lies 12 perfectly normal steps with rubbery pads across the edges for public safety, a dark metal handrail, and that little smattering of grime that speaks of a lazy janitor un enthused about sweeping them. At there top is a perfectly normal landing that, presumably, holds another set of steps just like these switching back in her direction. There isn't even a hint of blood.
Before she has time to pass through into this much more sane world, the first naga's pale body comes lunging into the light with a wide, flailing sweep of its taloned hand. The opening of the door having caught it mid charge, it is still in the process of twisting its face away from the unexpected brightness. Though its eyes have flinched shut, the sharp tips of its talons still threaten to rake bloody gashes down her back from left shoulder to right hip.
Up above, the epic monster mash continues as the Alpha lifts his tail clear of Riki's grasping hands with a contemptuous flick, muscular body swaying away until his shoulders press against the far wall, yellow eyes narrowed. He looks more put out than anything, face showing an odd mix of utter bafflement and wounded ego. Still, he has enough presence of mind to pull his coils back as Riki comes stomping forward, body swaying to one side to avoid her first smashing blow, then sliding up the wall and across the ceiling as his entire body shifts into a swirling mass of scales. No matter how Riki flails or throws her weight around, she hits only air and metal, the great scaly bulk of the serpent winding over and around her, passing between her legs and around her ribs, constantly one step ahead. The loud clatter of his rattle sounds as it is forced again and again to swing out of her reach, accompanied by a long, disappointed sigh.
"It would have been beautiful. You would have been happy."
The Alpha's voice is smoothly regretful, words sounding down from where he rests against the ceiling. The thick coils of his body have spread out to the far walls, pressing against the steel as their slow upward journey continues. Handsome features seeming almost apologetic, he turns his hands over, showing his palms down to the Oni, shoulders lifting slightly in a little 'What can be done?' gesture. Forked tongue licking slowly across his teeth, he closes his eyes, shakes his head, and lowers his hands to his side. Then, all at once, he purses his lips and blows, expelling the venom gathered along his tongue in a mist-like cloud. The poisonous vapors billow toward Riki in an ever-spreading wave, threatening to fill the entire car with a fog of paralytic fumes.

COMBATSYS: Ayame fails to counter Medium Claw from Naga Swarm with The Sunrise of Broken Dreams.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/-======|=======\==-----\1       Naga Alpha
[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       1/-======/=======|=======\-------\1             Riki

Flinging open the door to the stairs with her right hand, Ayame feels a flow of cooler air wash over her from within. Well lit and cut off from the building's ventilation systems, it seems the stairwell has been of no interest to the infesting naga. Compared to the stiflingly hot air flowing through the lobby behind her, the stale but cooler air from the stairwell is a welcome change.

There's no opportunity for the miko to appreciate it, however. She knew that her rush across the lobby was a risky move and while she managed to scare one of the naga into backing off briefly, the other in the ruined entryway was given no such reason to withdraw but for its likely hatred for the light shining behind the girl.

Ayame rushes in through the door, at first looking as if she was going to try a foolhardy attempt at simply outrunning her scaly assailant. But with a rustle of cloth and a sweep of her staff, she whirls at the base of the stairs, planting her right sandal-clad foot on the first step, her left foot remaining on the ground level. Both hands on her staff now, she draws back, slamming the weapon upward into the incoming talon strike, trying to fend off the attack and create an opening to attack back in a continuous fluid motion.

Her timing is the slightest bit off, the creature's inhuman anatomy causing its angle of attack to be slightly different than the opponents the dedicated priestess has trained against all her life. Instead of smacking aside the raking claw, the talons scrape against the wood of her staff before plunging down, carving their mark into her left leg. The thick crimson cloth of her long dress robs the attack of some of its potential damage, but the nails are sharp enough to cut through, leaving a shallow, painful gash in her leg all the same.

The strike, combined with her hurried attempt to brace for it, leave Ayame's balance thrown off enough to send her falling back against the stairs on her back, frantically pulling her staff up into the path of the looming threat, eyes briefly widened with a show of alarm.

At least she can still hear the thundering of the oni's battle against the lord-apparent of the naga infestation, the sounds of slamming around inside the elevator coupled with the metal box's own swaying into the walls of the elevator shaft providing the oddly comforting knowledge that Riki is still putting up a good fight upstairs. She just needs to get to her!

The color of her hakama dress conceals the extent of her injury in the way that it blends with the blood seeping into it, but the scent of the wound would be easy enough for the serpentine predator to pick up on.

"Where the hell did you all come from?!" Ayame snaps, bracing herself. If she can 'dissuade' this one from following her, she might be free to rush up the stairs at least. It won't be hard to zero in on which floor the elevator has arrived at given the thundering noise echoing from above...

COMBATSYS: Riki barely endures Naga Alpha's Paralyzing Mist.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Ayame            0/-------/-======|=======\===----\1       Naga Alpha
[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Naga Swarm       1/-======/=======|=======\=------\1             Riki

Despite the extremely close confines of the small elevator, the oni's target manages to slither away every time she makes a grab for him. The slimey scales of the creature's foul body make it particularly difficult to get a solid grip and make the experience of being constantly pressed up against them as the naga twists and writhes to avoid her powerful grip all the more unpleasant. Frustrated at every turn as the two monsters grapple, Riki's temper begins to flare as the disgusting beast continues to hiss out his vile taunts.

"The only thing that shall bring me happiness at this moment..." the giantess grunts, teeth grinding together audibly, "Shall be ripping that slimey tongue from thy head!"

The response to her retort is a face full of poisonous spit. This does very little to improve the ogre's mood. Rather than be lulled into a compliant stupor by the paralytic mist, it only drives her deeper into a rage. Snarling in disgust, she ignores the faint numbing sensation that begins to spread across her body as the venom soaks into her skin, swinging a meaty hand up to fetch the arrogant snake a blow across the cheek with the back of her fist.

With the other hand, she starts wildly jamming her finger at the control panel, attempting to stop the infernal contraption long enough to take the fight out into the open. It's not that she's worried about needing assistance herself; on the contrary, the girl might need /her/ help! Certainly, the young miko has proven herself remarkably capable of taking care of herself and, yes, she tended to practically dance circles around the oni during their sparring sessions. But it's best not to take the chance. Besides, the stench of the creature's musk in such a confined space is starting to wear on even her enhanced fortitude.

COMBATSYS: Riki successfully hits Naga Alpha with Swift Backhand.
Glancing Blow

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////       ]
Ayame            0/-------/-======|=======\===----\1       Naga Alpha
[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Naga Swarm       1/-======/=======|=======\==-----\1             Riki

Since the moment the Oni first set foot in the gore-slick confines of the ravaged apartment complex, she has been dancing to the Alpha snake's tune. With every glancing blow or partial shrug he has chipped away at her, wearing her down bit by bit. This has not been without effort, but it has been entirely by design. And now, with her glaring up at him through a cloud of poison gas, face a mask of impotent rage, his lips twitch in the slightest of smirks. It is a cold expression, as cool and reptilian as his eyes, and it doesn't slip for even a moment as her oversized hand comes whipping in toward the side of his face.
Knuckles impact cheek with a soft slap, the Alpha's entire body swaying with the blow to bleed off what little force it has. Face turned slightly away, the faintest of red marks already fading from his olive skin, he lifts one dark brow and flicks a look down at Riki from the corner of his eye. Behind her, there is a brief but deafening cascade of clattering bone plates, his rattle shaking violently with barely contained temper.
Her thick sausage finger begins to stab at the blood-coated control panel, hunting for the proper button, and he makes no move to stop her. Slumping backward against the wall, he folds his thick arms across his chest and half lids his eyes, their yellow glare the only other source of light in the dark box aside from the crimson light of her aura, and the dim illumination of the buttons. The air is hot and heavy with the stink of spilled guts and snake, heavy coils stretched along the walls, circling all about her.
"You must be worried about that priestess," he muses, velvety voice taking on a smooth, conversational tone. "I wouldn't be. She's surely dead or dying by now. If she's lucky, it will be the former. My dear girls, they do enjoy playing with their food. But you? Perhaps I'll attach a leash to that collar. I think you'd like that."
Beneath the tacky layer of congealed gore, the floor light shifts from 2, to 3, and the elevator begins to grind to a halt. A fact that seems to concern the Alpha not at all.
Three floors below, both the naga and the Miko can hear the roaring clatter of the Alpha's rattle, followed by a sharp decrease in the sound of struggles. Eyes still squinted against the glare, the emaciated snake bares her dripping fangs in a thoroughly unpleasant smile, teeth yellow and pitted where they haven't already been knocked out of her skull. One flex of her sinuous body sends her sliding forward, torso rising up and up to loom over the fallen girl, bony body eclipsing the light. Seen from below, with her face cast into shadow and her stringy hair hanging down like a mass of matted cobwebs, she seems more a dead thing than alive. Something dredged up from the grave to plague the young fighter while vulnerable and alone.
"We were taken from our Homess," the naga hisses, voice low, soft, and full of a resentful fury that burns even hotter than the yellow fire of her eyes. "And sso now, we will take, YOURSSS."
The venom contained in those simple sentences is translated suddenly and violently into action, the enraged snake descending upon Ayame in a single, blurring dive, mouth yawning wide. Clawed hands reaches out, swipe at the staff as her head darts in toward the base of Ayame's throat, fangs poised to tear through soft skin and into the flesh beneath, injecting a double dose of poison into the tender meat found there.

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha gathers his will.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Ayame            0/-------/-======|=======\=======\1       Naga Alpha
[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Naga Swarm       1/-======/=======|=======\==-----\1             Riki

COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks Naga Swarm's Snakebite.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|=======\=======\1       Naga Alpha
[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Naga Swarm       2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Riki

It would be reasonable for any person caught in Ayame's circumstances to be paralyzed with fear. Loomed over by a serpentine creature of nightmare, her quasi-human face stretched to the bone, her large, scale-covered body threatening to press heavily down against her victim before wrapping her in its coils... But Ayame had faced enough hellish terrors in her lifetime to stay calm, focused, eyes glaring up at her attacker with defiance rather than crippling terror.

That isn't to suggest that the miko was blase about her circumstances. Her heart was pounding and to the sensitive sense of the naga, she would give off the scent of someone clearly aware that she was fighting for her life. She would live or die based on her abilities, her skills, and right now she certainly didn't appear to have the upper hand.

The words hissed by her attacker were few but on their own, told a story. In an instant, the priestess of the Meian Jinja began putting together the picture. The wasted look, the broken teeth, the talk of being taken from wherever dark, deep place they called home... they weren't surging into the city because of they possessed their own motives, their own plans. They were storming the city because they had been unleashed by their captors!

The attack follows instantly, Ayame wasting no time with speaking as she once more is forced to defend herself. The clawed strike for her staff, idle as it might have been, may have had enough force behind it to disrupt the girl's defenses if that's what she was leaning on.

But rather than brace for the strike and be left vulnerable to the savage bite, she lets her staff be knocked aside, her right hand releasing its grip from her weapon to quickly but tightly snap out and grab hold of the naga's striking forearm. Using the heavier, more rooted weight of the darkstalker as a fulcrum, Ayame levers herself up off her back into a hop to the side and then behind the naga. "Sorry." Landing behind the lengthy, scaled body, no longer trapped against the stairs, she snaps her right hand out, attempting to plant a yellow paper talisman with green inked glyphs on its surface right between the naga's shoulder blades.

If successful, a concussive shock of spiritual energy would blast into the creature from behind. "This city is already occupied..."

The strike to the creature's face hadn't meant to be devastating, merely to turn its poisonous breath aside and distract it for a moment, but the casual way in which the alpha shrugs off her strength is annoying. Slippery bastard. She'll see how arrogant he manages to remain once she gets her hands on him properly.

But, for the moment, she's more concerned with getting out of the damned elevator and doesn't really care if the snake knows it. Technology isn't really her forte; she understands how the thing works but there isn't any instinctual familiarity with the way in which her hands seek out the buttons that a modern woman who grew up with such gadgets at her disposal would possess. For whatever reason, the naga seems content to let her fumble with the controls. Fine with her, but she doesn't make the mistake of taking the moment or two it would require to turn and eyeball the panel in order to find the right button. Not giving this punk any free shots.

Instead, Riki merely sweeps her fingertips from the top of the row of buttons to the bottom, pressing each row on the way down. Which floor they get off on is irrelevant, only that she escapes the confines of this metal box and returns to her ward's side. Her worry for the girl must have been apparent because it doesn't take the arrogant snake long to figure it out. Maybe he just assumes that she would be worried about her companion; a reasonable conclusion to make given the way she'd sacrificed her own safety to clear a path into the building for Ayame.

Whatever inspired him to comment upon the possibility of the miko's possible demise, it was a mistake. The oni's expression shifts from annoyance to outrage, blazing hellfire flaring into baleful red light behind her eyes.

"If thou were aware of the nature of the being which hath shackled me, then thou would not be so quick to provoke his wrath by making such claims. He is not one to forgive the wicked their crimes and I am his emissary given flesh."

Outside the small apartment complex, the sky rumbles with a drawn out roll of thunder at the ogre's words, as if the heavens themselves were growling their approval despite the utter lack of storm clouds. Riki's lip peels back from her teeth, revealing a flash of sharpened canines which reflect the dim red emergency lighting and her own simmering energy in a grin that is both prideful and enraged.

"But if thou hast brought any harm to the girl, then there will be nothing left for thee for my master to even bother with!"

A sharp ding fills the air as the elevator crawls to a halt. With only a handful of floors to traverse, it didn't take long for them to reach one of the levels indicated as a stop by her wanton button mashing. Snarling like a caged animal seeing it opportunity to escape, the demon hurls herself forward in a full-body tackle, her powerful arms thrusting out in front of her like a sumo wrestler attempting to drive her opponent to the edge of the ring. Without a solid wall to stop her sudden momentum, it's unlikely that the snake will be able to keep her from plowing right through him - whether or not he wants to be in the way when that happens is his choice to make.

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha blocks Riki's Palm Smash.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Ayame            0/-------/--=====|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2       Naga Alpha
[           \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Naga Swarm       2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm blocks Ayame's A Long Road to Harmony.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Ayame            0/-------/-======|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2       Naga Alpha
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Naga Swarm       2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Riki

With yet another of the Oni's furious glares leveled at him, and the sky outside rumbling with open displeasure, any sane creature might have the decency to show a little fear. However, the lounging naga trapped in the elevator with her is far passed caring. Reptilian mind warped by torture both physical and psychological, all he does is smile, full lips curving up just slightly at the corners while his cold cold eyes glow ominously in the dank darkness.
The elevator doors open onto a fairly average hallway. Dark beige carpet, brown walls, and closed doors spaced at even intervals along either side of the long, open expanse. Here too it is dark, shattered glass scattered across the carpet from where the lights were violently smashed. However, there is much less blood spread about on this level. Only the odd smear here and there, a couple of the nearer doorways yawning open to show trashed furniture within.
No sooner have the doors opened than Riki makes her move, launching herself forward toward the exit even while the snake shrugs himself off of the wall, drifting lazily into her path. Ducking his shoulder into the path of her oncoming palm, he shrugs the blow up and away, his own hands coming up to catch against her shoulders, muscular body flexing in a raw display of strength vs strength. One that, given the difference in the sizes of their upper halves, should be no contest.
Bone plates rattle and clatter as the Alpha's long tail twists out behind him, hundreds of pounds of torso thick, armor-plated serpent stretching down the length of the hall. Clearly the heavier of the two beasts by raw mass alone, and with a body much better engineered for traction and friction, the naga halts the Oni's forward charge, bringing her to a sliding halt with their faces mere inches apart.
"If you forward the address of your great godly master," the Alpha purrs softly against her cheek, breath hot and intimate, "I'll be sure to send him what's left of the body."
Taloned fingers digging painfully into the meat of Riki's shoulders, the muscular snake drags his hands down in a double claw swipe, attempting to open her sides up from shoulders to hips. Then, with a hard twist of his body he brings the bony end of his tail whipping around to try and bash her hard in the face and upper chest, to send her staggering back into the elevator only for the tail to whip up, then down, striking the floor of the badly abused contraption with enough force that the cables snap with a loud series of twangs, quite possibly sending the demon plummeting over 40 feet in her cozy metal home down and down, passed the lobby and into the filthy basement level below.
At the same moment, the downstairs naga whirls her upper body around, forearm striking forearm as she twists away from the nimble Miko's attempt to plant a spiritual grenade on her back. Diverted off course, the talisman is jolted from Ayame's fingers, bouncing off of the scaly side of the Naga's snake half even as she attempts to whip it up and away. The concussive force of the weaponized chi lends its strength to the snake's, and her tail end is flung violently up the stairs, human torso spun fully around to bring her eye-to eye with the resolved glare of the strawberry-haired girl.
A hiss of rancid air blasts passed the naga's broken teeth and gusts the Miko's hair back. Incensed far beyond the point of reason, the hissing snake brings both Taloned hands swiping down one after the other, attempting to carve out a bloody X across the young woman's chest. Crazed and half blind by the light, eyes glaring through their squinted slits, she then ducks her body to one side, heavy tail swinging up and over to crash heavily into the Miko's slight frame and send her flying back through the open door, tumbling and bouncing across the lobby in a chaotic mess of hair and skirts.
Having been waiting for just such an opportunity, a pair of small, claw-tipped hands descend from above to try and hook greedy talons into the flesh of the girl. Hands attached to skinny, magically scarred arms, stretched out to frame an emaciated face with baleful yellow eyes. Only if the second naga can get this grip will she flex her snaky body and jerk the Miko up off of the ground, whipping them both up and away into the cramped, gore-drenched confines of the vents, where the fortunately slim girl will be scraped and smashed against the cramped confines of the walls as they retreat into the bowels of the complex.

COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks Naga Swarm's Snake Eyes.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|>>-----\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Riki

Forearm meets forearm and the miko's talisman is knocked astray, the concussive spirit bomb detonating far less effectively adjacent to the thicker scales of the creature's serpentine body. Ayame's eyes go wide at the speed at which her target reacted. Being trapped in the confines of the stairwell with a figment of nightmare is even more troubling when faced with the sheer speed its inhuman physique was capable of. The only relief is the way the naga is having to squint against the steady LED light. It wasn't particularly bright by normal standards, but compared to the unlit lobby, it was enough to threaten the naga's vision.

As the large foe whirls on her, Ayame whips her staff back into a defensive position. As her right hand closes over it, it bears a talisman in its palm - earthy brown parchment with blank inked glyphs. A strengthening charm for her staff, a temporary boost in its durability right before it is put to a demanding test.

Claw meets wood as the rune-carved surface is gored by the first talon strike, Ayame twisting the crimson glowing weapon into position to deal with the follow up immediately after. The impacts are staggering and the pain in her arms from trying to absorb the shock of the hits dangerously numbing. But none of it compares to the threat represented by the further movements of the distressingly nimble serpent.

Getting more used to how the naga moves now, she's able to read the creature's movements as positioning for a much stronger attack and braces her arms and legs for the impending blow just in time. The miko's split second, sturdy defense keeps the tail slam from striking cleanly but isn't enough to keep her from being sent flying backward toward the door into the lobby.

Only the length of the priestess's weapon of choice spares her from being flung right out into the waiting grasp of unseen lurkers, each end of the staff wedging in the door's frame. The staff creaks at the strain put on it, but it holds true without crack or splinter and Ayame's tight grip on it prevents the girl from tumbling into the dark lobby.

Getting steady on her feet, she grits her teeth. "Who took you from your home!?" Behind all of this was an agitator, a catalyst for untold violence throughout the city. Someone who would need to be dealt with if order or peace had any hope of being restored.

Blissfully unaware of the naga waiting in the vents not far behind her, she rushes forward to clash with the one blocking the stairs. She needs to get up to where Riki is. That goal, above all others, drove her actions now.

Feeling the drain of her injuries and aggressive fighting, the girl lets the fire of her staff die out right before she leaps, no longer paying the price to keep her chi from circulating along its engravings.

Deftly shifting her grip toward one end of her staff, she flips forward at her opponent. The aim is is as clear as it is bold - to slam the far end of her weapon against the naga's skull and use the force behind the blow to launch herself up over the creature onto the rising staircase behind it.

A daring plan but also dangerous. Thus far, this naga had proven the priestess's better in combat, forcing the girl to use every trick in her arsenal just to stay alive!

COMBATSYS: Riki blocks Naga Alpha's Snake Eyes.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|>>>>---\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---<<<<|=======\====---\1             Riki

It isn't often that the ogress finds herself outmatched, either in strength or mass. While the naga may not be able to win an arm wrestling contest with her, it's clear that the sheer bulk of his snakey backside is something that he's skilled at using to make up the difference against opponent's such as herself. Her wild charge out of the elevator only manages to push the struggling titans a handful of steps before she's ground to a halt, her tall wooden sandals digging furrows into the plush carpet as she tries to press further in.

Riki's face twists into a grimace at the proximity with the creature's own, his breath as cloying and foul as his words. She bares her teeth at the creature in a wild grin as he tries to match her smack talk with bravado. As filthy as this beast is, she can't deny that she's starting to enjoy the fight. It's rare that anything can match her in a straight contest of brawn and endurance.

Her own muscles ripple beneath her pale flesh as she shifts her grip down to rest on the snake's broad shoulders, mistaking his posture to be a challenge of sorts, a struggle of might and will to see who will flinch first. Instead, he digs his claws into her flesh, fingers flexing as he prepares to rip and tear. Reacting instinctively, the oni lets out a roar of anger, sweeping her arms sideways to push the deadly nails out and away from her body as they start to rake downwards. A handful of shallow cuts score the surface of her skin, drawing thin red lines of blood to the surface, but she denies the creature the chance to inflict a substantial wound on her mortal vessel.

The tail has slightly more success as it whips a moment later, crashing down on the demon's upper body with a clattering rattle. Riki twists to the side at the last moment, catching the blow on the meat of her shoulder instead of her collar bone, taking a step backwards to rob the strike of some momentum. The impact drives her backwards onto her heels and right back into the elevator.

She staggers momentarily, reaching out to steady herself on the walls of the metal box, but the true nature of naga's attack reveals itself in that instant as the tail delivers a finishing blow to the battered car with a thunderous rattle. An ear-splitting squeal of wrenching metal fills the air as the cables suspending the box fray apart. Finally, with an ominous snap, their strength gives way and both oni and elevator go plunging into the depths of the building.

The noise of the fall is just as defeaning, emergency brakes screeching in terror as they attempt to arrest the freefall into something less horrifically fatal. The entire building shudders when the car hits the bottom, windows rattling as clouds of dust and debris rain from the cheap tile ceilings.

A dozen seconds or so pass before any signs of movement come from the ruined contraption. One of the elevator doors slides begrudgingly open, the other bent into uselessness at an odd angle. The sliding sheet of metal catches several times as it attempts to slide back into its housing, which it eventually manages with a begrudging grinding noise. The giantess sits slumped against the back of the elevator car in an undignified heap, arms and legs splayed out in various directions around her. She stares up at the flickering lights in the ceiling with an expression that could best be described as vexed, her lips pursed up and eyes narrowed.


Gritting her teeth around a sigh, Riki pushes herself to her feet and clambers out of the mangled device, smashing the crumpled door aside with an irritated kick that sends it clattering out into the basement. Sparks spray out of the elevator's panel in response to her man-handling. A high-pitched ding rings out, accompanied by a distorted female electronic voice.

"Now arriving at... Basement."

Riki eyes the machine warily for a moment then steps out onto the floor. Unlike the upper stories the floor here is made of bare concrete, a layer of dust and filthy stains of unknown origins coating the gray stone. Rows of washing machines and snack vendors fill most of the space, at least half of them clearly non-functional and missing components. A couple of doors lead off to smaller subrooms but she doesn't bother investigating to see what they might contain, instead gazing around until she spys a set of stairs leading back towards the upper levels.

"Finally," she growls, stomping off towards the stairwell. Now she can get back to Ayame and they can put an end to this foolish game together.

As she starts to climb towards the ground floor the faint signs of damage inflicted by the alpha's claws start to visibly fade away, her flesh still infused with the renewing power of the divine draught she consumed earlier. She gets a little pep back into her step, taking the stairs half a dozen at a time with long bounding leaps, eager to get back into the fight.

COMBATSYS: Riki stops to have a drink in the middle of the fight. Priorities.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|>>>>---\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm dodges Ayame's Quick Strike.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|>>>>---\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---<<<<|=======\==-----\1             Riki

Human torso looping lithely under the forward arc of its tail, the guardian naga rises up before Ayame, glaring down at the obstinate girl as she stands fast in the metal doorframe. Behind her, the second naga finishes its upside down descent, sliding onto the lobby floor with the whisper of scales over debris. The bold question provokes another horrible, spasmodic snarl of near apoplectic fury to contort the first creature's face, unwanted memories flooding its brain as the painful subject is broached.
"Filthy, wretched Creature! The DRAGON did thisss to usss, and we WILL NOT BE TAKEN BACK!"
Words devolving into a snarling shriek, the snake rears back to lunge, but is interrupted by the sudden squealing descent of the elevator. Cringing in upon itself, it misses the beginning of Ayame's charge and leap, too caught up in the instinctive desire to hunch down and avert its eyes. It is the faint flutter of red seen out of the corner of one eye that alerts it to the Miko's intent, the snake twisting violently away so that the end of her staff sweeps through empty air, its tip coming to a thudding halt against the floor where the naga's body once sat. With the apocalyptic crash of the elevator shaking the building around them, the snake swirls itself around behind the airborne girl, the talons of its right hand scything in toward her back in an attempt to cleave a bloody path across her flesh from hip to hip. There is no finesse, no skill. Only the crazed mauling of a panicked animal going for an exposed flank.
Meanwhile, 3 floors above, the last of the crashing impact is echoing through the hall. Swaying his body to one side, the alpha observes his work, eyeing the empty doors of the elevator leading into the darkness of the shaft with reptilian satisfaction. A smug little smirk plays across his lips, lingering there as he turns to slither his way heavily over toward the door marked stairs, clawed hand twisting the handle and hauling it open with a wincing aversion of his eyes from the blazing light. Echoing up from below can be heard the distinct sounds of an ongoing fight, his girls no doubt struggling to stall the progress of the Miko. Still, they've done a better job than he expected. He had thought she might be here by now, arriving just in time to see the Oni sent all the way back down to the basement, once more out of reach.
Ducking his head, the Alpha slides forward into the light and slithers down the first set of stairs, looping around and powering down the next with ever-increasing speed. Human torso rising higher into the air, he hurls his body up and over the railing of the second set, muscular form swooping down from above to descend upon the battling duo of priestess and naga.
Reaching out with large, claw-tipped hands, he attempts to latch on to the slight girl and snatch her effortlessly away from the ground, swinging his dangling body like a pendulum to bash her violently against the cinder block wall.

COMBATSYS: Ayame dodges Naga Swarm's Strong Claw.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|====---\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---====|=======\==-----\1             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha successfully hits Ayame with Medium Hurl.
Grazing Hit

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Ayame            1/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---====|=======\==-----\1             Riki

Committed to her course of action, the Ichijo scion is already rushing back at the naga obstructing the stairs when the banshee-shriek of the falling elevator saturates the building with its deafening cacophony. Too late to reconsider, the girl leaps, flipping into her attempted staff smack, aiming to vault herself up and over her foe with an athlete's grace.

Instead, the end of her weapon swishes through empty air, slamming a split second later against a step instead. Nimble and quick enough to adjust, the evasion of her target does little to disrupt Ayame's intention, the girl pressing down hard with her arms while snapping her legs up, feet leading the way into a perfect pole-vault any Olympic athelete would be proud of.

The extra height carries her out of the path of the swiping claw, leaving her free to land on the first landing of the stairs, where they turn back on themselves to complete the ascent up to the second floor. Whirling on her feet, staff raised, the miko checks on the position of her assailant.

The shaking of the apartment structure as something heavy crashes down below is cause to reconsider her course. Should she try rushing up the stairs, attempting to leave the creature behind? Or does she need to try and break her way past and go back down? Without knowing the fate of Riki's violent battle above, it was difficult to say in which direction she would find her trusted demon ally.

The opportunity and burden of choice is taken from her the moment the leader of the Naga clutch descends from above. His approach is hardly stealth, by virtue of size and weight slamming down against the steps. Glancing up to identify the source of the noise, Ayame grits her teeth. If he's coming from up there, then... had Riki fallen below? What happened to the ogress? But the idea that the naga could have overpowered her was unfathomable. Maybe the elevator itself simply wasn't up to the task of playing venue to the battle that transpired above.

Either way, she would need to figure out Riki's whereabouts in a moment. There was a slightly more pressing matter of the largest of the naga dropping in from above, hellbent on getting a hold of her! Quickly, her right hand slips beneath the fold of her kimono-top near her neck coming back out with something flat, small, and red between her fingers.

Then, rather than try and fend off his strong arms with her own hands or staff, the girl lifts her right arm up to the level of her shoulder, making it trivially easy for him to grip her and pin her staff wielding arm against her side. But it also allows her to wrap her right arm over his forearm, securing her place more tightly and keeping herself from being slammed smashed against the wall as freely as he had hoped.

The mid-air grappling struggle serves two purposes, however. Not only is Ayame able to hold herself in tighter against him by wrapping her arm around his, dulling the impact against the wall, it keeps her close to him afterward as well - long enough for her to move her right arm up off his arm and slam her right hand toward his chest.

"Date night not go so well?" she states between grit teeth as she tries to plant a crimson-hued talisman against the Alpha's muscular chest.

Contact would be enough to ignite the white ink on the seal's surface with pearly white fire, sapping a not insignificant amount of his demonic strength in the process.

Though her movements are far less graceful and fluid, Riki ascends the stairwell at almost the same speed as her scaley foe, her heavily muscled legs propelling her bulk with monsterous power. The brilliant glow of hellfire dyes the walls a strange scarlet hue from below, as if the thundering sounds of her heavy footsteps rattling the walls aren't enough of a warning that her arrival is imminent, otherworldly power churning around the giant's incandescent fists.

She emerges into view a few moments after the Alpha strikes, pausing only for a brief moment to turn her gaze upwards in search of her ward. The sight of the filthy creature manhandling the girl is enough to fill the ancient ogre with a surge of rage. Fire leaps to life in her eyes, setting her irises ablaze like glowing coals, and her lips peel back as she lets out a snarl of fury.


The oni doesn't bother climbing the rest of the stairs. Instead, she lifts a foot to the railing and simply leaps upwards, clearing the entire gap between her own landing and the next. She comes down on the naga like a comet, her wild golden hair trailing behind her in a fluttering mass that billows in the wake of her unleashed power as if it were made of living fire. Her flaming fists start swinging even before her feet touch the ground, hammerblows from solid masses of flesh and bone the size of catelopes raining down on the damned creature with righteous rage.

She had warned him, told him precisely what would happen should he dare to lay a finger on the miko. Some people just learn the hard way.

The ogress lets out a bellow of rage as she swings away, the gutteral wordless battlecry seeming to add fervor to her strikes. Her strikes come fast and wild, the guardian's arms moving so rapidly that each individual punch becomes a hard to discern, her arms becoming an indistinct blur of muscle and divine fire. She pays no attention to the lesser creatures, her fury directed entirely at their arrogant leader. Even if she can't land a telling blow on the monster, she's going to make it impossible for him to retain his grip on Ayame, positioning herself in front of the girl like a giant wall so that she has time to recover.

COMBATSYS: Riki successfully hits Naga Alpha with Raging Demon.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Ayame            0/-------/------=|=====--\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---====|==-----\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Naga Alpha with Regret's Crucible.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Ayame            0/-------/------=|=====--\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---====|==-----\-------\0             Riki

Ayame's final glance toward the naga she had been fighting shows the creature's attention shifting away, head turning to glance off down the basement stares with a hateful twist of her lips. But then the Miko is on the move, plucked free of the ground by the Alpha's muscular arms.
Trapping her staff arm against her side, he crosses his forearms beneath her chest and locks in his grip. Upside down as he is, this puts his head just beneath her right armpit, cheek tucked against his bicep to shelter from any wayward elbows. Elbows that, in fact, never come. The priestess' well-timed arm lock gives her just enough leverage to wiggle back from the oncoming wall, pulling her head and shoulder away so that the pair of them strike side-on.
"I felt it went Very well."
The Naga's hot breath washes over the back of her right arm, chest vibrating against her shoulders. There is a low intimacy in his velvety voice, a purring invitation. Already his grip has begun to loosen, hands sliding from her sides, across her upper abdomen, further...
Ayame's talisman slaps home on his chest with a satisfying thwap, paper adhering to sweat-slick skin. The effect on the monster is immediate, his entire body contorting with such force that his lower half slips over the edge of the upper floor and he flops gracelessly to earth, pawing hands coming free of Ayame's dangling body. Hundreds of pounds of tail pile down around him as he jerks and twitches half way down the steps, spiritual energy pouring out of his chest and gathering into the charm in ever growing amounts, yellow eyes wide and staring. Brighter and brighter the talisman glows, gorging itself on the misty green chi that powers the monster's unnatural vigor.
It is about that time that Riki comes piling down from below, her thunderous leap having carried her well passed the empty ground floor landing. One flaming punch after another smashes down upon the Alpha's helpless form, body jerking and spasming from a mixture of heavy impacts and the residual effect of the Miko's hungry magic. There is nothing he can do to defend himself, ribs cracking, one arm breaking, and a perfect cheekbone crumbling beneath the relentless onslaught.
And then the charm falls away, still glowing with the stolen bounty of his power.
A hateful light comes into the broken snake's eye as he glares up at Riki passed her glowing fists, chest laboring to draw in air. Lifting his chin in a deliberate act of defiance, back of his head thumping against the steps, he meets her eye. Then he spits, sending a stream of sizzling venom winging up toward her face with all the hateful malice he can pack into the simple gesture.
As if that were their sign to act, the two remaining nagas from the lobby come piling through the door, whipping up the steps in a hissing, shrieking wave. Lunging the last few feet, they have eyes only for the massive creature beating their Alpha, attempting to hook a double set of claws into her hulking form and whip their tails around her, working together to try and cinch her thighs together and her arms to her sides, straining to contain her towering bulk and crush the bones within.

Her brief wrestle with the stronger foe puts her in a perfect position to apply the seal, her efforts nigh impossible to guard against. No sooner than it comes in contact with his slick skin than the small paper scrap adheres with what seems to be incredibly adhesive strength. Removing it before the spell within runs its course would require ripping away the flesh beneath it as well.

It has the desired affect, letting her land lightly on her feet a moment later only slightly worse for wear.

"Oh?" The miko stands up, only then able to respond to the Alpha's whispered words. Hearing Riki's roar from below, a faint smirk crosses her lips. "I did not realize it was still ongoing. Pardon me." With a light sweep of her right arm, she slips back a step as if to excuse herself from the carnage about to take place, turning her attention instead to the.

With a moment's reprieve, the priestess's right hand slips beneath the folds of her clothing a second time, producing a second small red square of parchment similar to the one she had just applied. Bowing her head slightly in a moment of quiet concentration in the middle of so much turmoil, she presses the paper against her acid burned shoulder.

The talisman on the naga male slips away, falling to the floor and buring to ash, releasing its stolen power into a stream of flowing, purified white light inexorably drawn into the talisman Ayame holds against her shoulder. The effect of the connection is immediate and noticeable, the ugly red swelling and blistering of her skin visible through her melted clothing smoothing over quickly.

The miko watches the effect, her expression suggesting that she's impressed that it actually worked. This was the first combat field test for the innovative spell, after all. And not everything that works in her study turns out to be compatible with the variables involved with a fight.

Lowering her hand, she looks at the crimson paper in her palm, the once white ink now burned to ashen black, the power stored within it having been spent. Turning her palm to the side, the girl lets the used talisman fall to the floor, it too crumbling to ash before it hits the floor.

In the next moment, Riki is going to become the center of attention for the swarming naga. Ayame hated hanging back and leaving the fight to the ogre, but she also knew even with full mobility restored to her wounded shoulder, she was on fumes from the fight thus far. Resigning herself to holding back for another moment longer, she reaches into her left sleeve, producing an off-white talisman with crimson glyphs. Bringing it to her mouth, she bites the corner, tearing it slightly, her left hand still occupied with keeping her staff tightly gripped.

Dropping the torn talisman to the ground at her feet, it ignites into swirling crimson, translucent flame reaching up to the level of the miko's knees. Taking her staff with both hands, she plants one end of it on the burning talisman and the fire seems to climb hungrily up the rune-carved weapon, empowering it brightly once more as it had been at the start of the violence.

The entire process of drawing on energy that had been stored in more peaceful times takes only a few seconds, but for those few seconds, it is up to the powerful oni to hold the line!

COMBATSYS: Ayame gathers her will.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Ayame            0/-------/--=====|====---\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/----===|==-----\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Riki barely endures Naga Alpha's Poison Bolt.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Ayame            0/-------/--=====|=====--\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm successfully hits Riki with Hypnotic Lure.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Ayame            0/-------/--=====|=====--\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|=====--\-------\0             Riki

After several seconds of tenderizing the alpha like a piece of meat being prepared for the grill, Riki's wild onslaught crawls to a slow stop as her fury abates. What remains of the slimy cretin isn't pretty to look at any more, his flesh covered in dark bruises and painful burns. The latter aren't her doing - hellfire, while painful, isn't a corporeal force and thus doesn't actually use heat to cause its damage. It would be more appropriate to say that it is the spiritual concept of atonement and judgement, suffering inflicted in recompense for the wrongs committed by those that feel its touch, which takes on the appearance of flames to mortal minds. Her fists, however, are very much a thing of the material world, as the naga's broken bones will attest.

"Hath thou any last words before thou art sent to face thy judgement, vermin?"

The oni speaks with a voice both confident and full of authority, her countenance that of a some barbarian shaman from a time long ago preparing to pass sentence upon an accused criminal. Again, the empty night sky rumbles outside the flimsy walls, the heavens seemingly eager to accept the offering of this lowly creature's soul. Though little more than a pawn being moved by some unknown force, it's been made quite clear through the alpha's words and deeds that he is no innocent. That and he blasphemed, which is usually a pretty bad way to get into the good graces of ancient gods.

But, it would seem that there is some fight yet left in the slippery eel. The ogre's eyes widen as she notices what the creature intends. Her face whips to the side, turning away from the caustic spittle, and instead of getting a blast full in the eyes it spatters across her cheeks with a sharp hissing sound. Clenching her teeth in outrage, Riki lifts her fists overhead, preparing to crush the dirty fiend's head into pulp with one final monsterous blow.

The swift action of the two subordinates saves his life. Hurling themselves onto the ogre, they quickly encircle her with their powerful lower bodies, crushing her limbs together with rapid coiling motions. A dull rubbing sound fills the air as they squeeze down, like old leather creaking as it's stretched. The oni lets out a harsh grunt as the gaunt snakes attempt to crush her, driving the air from her lungs before she can properly defend herself, but despite this her expression is one of annoyance rather than panic or pain.

For several seconds the titan struggles against their grip, squirming and twisting to try and shake them loose with only light success. Her jaw clenches, her face starting to turn a little red as the blood is forced to her extremities by the intense pressure and lack of oxygen. The giantess staggers sideways and for a moment it seems as if the nagas might actually be wearing her down. Right up until the moment that it becomes clear that she isn't actually swaying wildly due to dizziness brought on by fatigue but rather preparing to drive herself, and by proxy the heavily entwined snake women, against the wall like a runaway train jumping its tracks.

COMBATSYS: Riki successfully hits Naga Swarm with Reckless Assault.
- Power hit! -

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Ayame            0/-------/--=====|=====--\-------\0       Naga Alpha
[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0             Riki

Lying in a crumpled heap beneath the swaying, stomping form of the oni, the Alpha can only watch as his two remaining guardians do their utmost to contain her. Brave, loyal creatures, as mentally damaged as he. Scarred both inside and out by their time in this hellish land. He watches, and he hates, mind a roiling pit of poisonous thoughts. If only he could rise one last time. Lash his coils around her throat and throttle the life from her. Gouge her eyes from her skull. He is healing, but it is far too slow, his wounds too complete.
Yellow eyes near incandescent with fury, the mangled snake catches sight of Ayame out of the corner of his eye. The priestess that stole his vitality, using it to heal her own hurts. Turning his head, he stares up at her as crimson flames lick up the length of her staff, the fullness of his hatred finally boiling over. Unwounded arm flexing, he brings his curved talons up to his mouth and wheezes out another painful breath, coating their razor edges in a sticky mixture of sizzling poison and blood.
With one, mighty heave, the Alpha flops his human body up the stairs, bruised torso coming down upon his broken arm. Heedless of the crimson flames, his good arm lashes out, reaching arm passing right through them as he aims a quick, savage swipe toward the outside of her right leg, attempting to rake his poisonous claws down her calf on his questing way for her Achilles heel.
At the same moment, the lumbering mass of oni and snakes staggers its way across the cramped stairwell, narrowly missing treading upon the Alpha. Gathering steam, the mass hurtles toward the cinder block wall, the full weight of the oni and one sister piling down upon the other with bone-crushing force. A loud series of wet pops sound as her emaciated body is crunched out of shape, the back of her head striking the wall with a gut-twisting crunch.
Burn scarred arms going slack, the crushed naga's human torso slides down the wall, a thick crimson smear following the path of her head.
Letting out a soul-rending shriek of fear and hatred, the last remaining naga winds herself around the limp coils of her sister's body, wrapping herself yet tighter around Riki's hulking form. Her sisters are dead. Her Alpha is dying, and a mad light has entered her panicked yellow eyes.
Winding her lower body tighter and tighter around the ogre, she rises up behind her broad back, mouth yawning wide as she prepares to strike. Lunging down, she attempts to sink her fangs into the base of Riki's thick neck and pump in all the toxins she possibly can, hooked talons reaching around to claw wildly at face and throat, mouth, eyes, ears, whatever she can get their tips into.

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha successfully hits Ayame with Infectious Swipe.

[                \\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|=======\-------\1       Naga Alpha
[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////                  ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0             Riki

Waiting on the stair landing, Ayame completes the quick process of augmenting the available chi she has on hand to work with. Though each talisman contains its own intricate design, without the miko's touch to spark them to life, each is as harmless as any other slip of paper. There were only so many she could empower before she was at her limit.

Now? Now her stuff burned lightly with renewed vigor. Beneath the steady LED illumination, the crimson hued flicker of flame was visible but not enough to cast its glow any further than the girl's hands or faintly illuminate her once pristine-white top in a faint red. With the return of the oni, the battle had taken a rather severe turn against the naga trio that remained out of the original nest. And as the warrior priestess watches on the mid-level landing, one of the two emaciated female serpents meets her demise beneath the crushing punishment of the divinely shackled ogress.

That left only two- the one currently entangled with Riki in a desperate struggle, and the Alpha who's life energy she had just stolen to bolster up her own in a decidedly non-consensual transferal of life. With the male down below looking beaten to a broken heap, for a moment, the girl underestimates the threat he still poses, underestimating just how far his hate would carry him past the point of collapse.

Starting to move to help Riki with the remaining one, she becomes aware of his intent only when he lunges against them. Knowing something of the damage inflicted by Riki, she is unable to anticipate the desperate lashing of the poisoned claw. Once more challenged by the unorthodox angle of attack, she stabs her staff down into the path of his side-long lunge too late to bolster it properly, the weapon knocked askew by the momentum of his swing.

His poison glazed talons claw into her bracing right leg, carving clean through the crimson of her pleated dress and digging deep into the muscle of her leg. Staggering back from the strike, her shoulders hitting the cinder block wall at the rear of the landing, the girl hisses in pain as she tries to put weight on her right leg.

A sharp sting pulses along the limb as she glances down at the parted cloth to observe the newly carved line of crimson. "Tch." the girl grunts, grimacing as she keeps the center of her weight on her left leg instead. If this is the kind of threat just one of the swarms out on the loose was causing, then what other carnage must be going on throughout the city? Defense forces, the NOL, mundane officers just trying their best against impossible odds...

"You should have just gone for the sea," she states somberly.

Shaking her head, she forces herself to focus on the present. The state of Southtown as a whole would have to be considered later. The miko grips her staff tightly, bending her left leg as she shifts her hold on her weapon toward one of the ends. Propping her right foot on the wall behind her, balancing on her left leg, she launches herself into a forward leap toward the prone Alpha naga. Hefting her staff up overhead, she brings it swinging down in a crushing two handed strike, the promise of a crimson explosive impact at the far end of the weapon targeting the back of the powerful creature!

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm successfully hits Riki with Fierce Mauling.
- Power hit! -

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|=======\-------\1       Naga Alpha
[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|=======\===----\1             Riki

The horrendous bone-snapping crunch of impact brings a surge of fierce satisfaction to the oni. She had not been present when the pitiful creatures had laid the blame for their actions at the feet of some mysterious master, stolen away from their homes and forced to fight for their very survival. Such knowledge might have lessened the thrill of victory she feels as the body of the filthy creature attempting to choke the life out of her goes limp - then again, it might not. Whatever their reasons, they have chosen the path of villains, and in the heat of battle carefully weighing the morality of every strike is rarely the priority at the top of the savage ogre's mind.

The intense pressure on her body lessens for a couple of moments allowing Riki suck fresh air into her lungs and she inhales deeply. Her arms flex as she attempts to unwind the loose coils of the dead snake from around her body but before she can get more than a single arm free from their confines the surviving naga goes completely berserk. Using it's own body to hold the dead corpse in place, it's grip tightens once again and the giant lets out a surprised grunt as her body is constricted once more.

With no real way to defend herself against the crazed frenzy, the creature latches on and tears into her vulnerable back with complete abandon. Flesh and cloth shred apart beneath the wicked talons leaving the demon's upper back a mess of raw bleeding lacerations. She manages to hunker down enough to protect her face from the raking claws, her massive mane of hair working to foul the creature's slashes by tangling up its fingers. Putrid supernatural poison flows into her neck from the creature's wicked fangs and the pain is indescribable. Searing molten lava replaces the blood in her veins, spreading out from the injection site in a spiderweb of liquid fire.

Riki lets out a thunderous bellow of unrestrained agony the likes of which have never been displayed by the stalwart brute of a woman before. She bites down hard on the pitiful cry of weakness after a couple of seconds, jaw clenching down so hard that a trickle of blood runs from the corner of her mouth. The flush of red color returns to her face as the pain and poison flood her with a surge of hatred and adrenaline. Her eyes grow wide and wild as primal instincts rise up to take over and shatter the mask of careful control that she learned to wear since taming her more brutal nature.

The ogre's entire body seems to bulge outwards with a sudden surge of raw strength. Her arms and legs flex, muscles straining against the surface of her skin like freezing water trying to expand beyond the size of its container. By inches she slowly forces the coils away from her body, overwhelming the naga's crushing grip through raw furious strength. Once enough space has been created to free her trapped arm, she reaches up and grips the snake by the back of it's neck, peeling it away from her flesh like a filthy leech. Fresh poison squirts from the creature's fangs, searing the surface of her already ravaged back as it comes free, hissing and spitting in mad defiance. Its struggles are meanless, however, and with a mighty roar the oni hurls the snake and its dead sister to the bottom of the stairwell.

Riki hunches ominously over the creatures, her eyes bulging and muscles taut, lips peeled back into a snarl of killling fury. In that moment it is hard to remember that she is meant to be an instrument of divine justice, all traces of the humanity bestowed upon her subsumed beneath the visage of a furious wild beast who wants nothing more than to tear its foe apart and cast it into Hell.

Her hand trembling with hate, the ogre reaches up to grip the long horn on her forehead. Its bright red surface begins to shimmer with incandescent light and with a sharp tug, she rips it from her brow like a samurai unsheathing his blade. A burst of searing Hellfire erupts from the point where the horn was connected, coalescing into a massive club of dark iron. The weapon is even larger than the giantess herself and even in her fugue of empowered rage she has to grip it with both hands.

Issuing another wordless bellow of wrath, the demon leaps into the air, hurling herself down at the naga. The club is swept high over her head, its surface studded with dozens of metal protrusions meant to turn an already deadly lump of metal into an instrument of suffering, meant to break bones and tenderize flesh; in the hands of the enraged oni, however, it is a tool of raw destruction.

There is no mercy in the savagery that she unleashes upon the pitiful creature. Blow after blow crashes down into the writhing mass of slime and scales, each impact rattling the building like the tremors of an earthquake. She swings and swings and just keeps on swinging, her fury rising with every wild hammering strike until the rage and pain overwhelms her, forcing her to let loose another barbaric incoherent shout. Only when the creature is reduced to a messy smear on the ground or the poison coursing through her veins finally saps her of this unnatural strength does she allow her weapon to fall still, dropping to one knee with a heavy thud.

COMBATSYS: Naga Swarm dodges Riki's Oni ni Kanabo.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////                         ]
Ayame            0/-------/=======|=======\-------\1       Naga Alpha
[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0             Riki

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Naga Alpha with Fall of the Mourning Star.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >                                ]
Ayame            1/-------/=======|=======\-------\1       Naga Alpha
[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|======-\-------\0             Riki

A flare of savage satisfaction flickers within the mangled Alpha's heart as the young miko staggers back against the wall, blood coating the sizzling tips of his talons. One final act of defiance. A last blast of venom into the eyes of fate to spite it for bringing them here. Perhaps the wound will scar and her leg will stiffen, then years from now, in a battle far beyond his sight, her speed will betray her.
It is that thought that comforts the Alpha as the glowing end of Ayame's staff crashes down upon him, an eruption of purifying chi raging across his broken body. His tail writhes weakly, muscles seizing with one last, desperate attempt at violence. But when the flames clear, they reveal him lying still, left cheek caught on the edge of a step. His once radiant yellow eyes are closed, a steaming mixture of blood and poison drooling from his mouth to puddle on the step beneath.
Long, ragged talons tear bloody chunks of flesh free as the Oni struggles to pull the enraged guardian off. Slowly, painstakingly, the serpent is leveraged away, held high in the air just long enough for her to witness the incapacitation of her leader. And with that, the fight drains out of her. Both she and her dead sister are flung down the steps, the latter tumbling into an ungraceful heap against the open door to the lobby. The silent survivor, however, lands coiled, back turned to the pair of hunters and one yellow eye glaring over her bony shoulder. Battered and scratched from her fights with both slayers, she knows this is a fight she can not win. Her Alpha is down. Her sisters are dead. But their memories can live on.
Riki's rampaging charge shakes the building, huge club descending in a leaping smash that would pulp both her and the nearby corpse if it were to land. However, at the last moment the still living snake darts to one side, slipping silently into the basement stairwell while the world behind her erupts into explosions of shattered masonry and blood. Perhaps she will slip back into the ventilation for a time, or maybe she can find an exit into the slimy underside of this awful city. But one fact remains, she must live to carry the memories of the fallen.
By the time Riki's tantrum has wound itself out, it is difficult to tell where one snake might have began and the other ended. There may very well be two snakes worth of gore in the crushed, mangled splatters of naga that coat the ground floor landing.

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha takes no action.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Ayame            1/-------/=======|======-\-------\0             Riki
[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  <
Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|

COMBATSYS: Naga Alpha can no longer fight.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Ayame            1/-------/=======|======-\-------\0             Riki
[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  <
Naga Swarm       0/-------/-======|

Landing out of her leaping strike, an echoing crack of energy blasting out from where her staff impacts the undefended back of her attacker, Ayame swiftly skips backward, landing once more on the stair landing. From her elevated perch, she has the perfect vantage point from which to witness the final moments of the bloody conflict. The leader of the clutch is no longer moving, the last of his spite-fueled defiance robbed by her mashing staff strike, but she keeps a wary distance from him all the same, the pain in her leg a fresh reminder to not let down her guard for even an instant in this hellhole.

But it isn't the large, stair-blocking body of the mangled male that occupies her attention beyond initial inspection. For a fleeting moment, she starts to consider how best to navigate her way to the bottom of the stairwell. Riki was down there, keeping the last of the naga sisters engaged in a fierce, close quarters contest of strength and bloody will. It was the miko's turn to move to her aid now, her turn to return the favors paid several times over throughout the night for blows and attacks weathered by the powerful shoulders of the oni on her behalf.

But before her mind can even gauge the distance she needs to leap to make it over the fallen naga, the surviving creature fighting with Riki goes completely ballistic. Driven by rage, grief, and desperation, it lashes out in a storm of claw, teeth, and crushing constriction with the ogress at the very center of the blurringly fast maelstrom of unmitigated violence.

Eyes widening, the girl takes a step forward, her right arm lifting in futile concern, her left hand gripping her staff at her side.


She had seen the huge, horned woman barrel through plenty of violent conflicts before. But never had she seen the stalwart demon subjected to such mutilating carnage as the naga unleashes in that instant. Taking a step forward in preparation to leap down to the first floor, caution be damned, a pained gasp escapes her lips as pressure comes down on her wounded leg. Staggering forward, she catches herself with her staff against the ground, using it as a improvised crutch to keep weight off her clawed leg, cheeks going a bit red from the pain coursing through her body from the poisoned strike.

Sucking in her breath, resolved to make it down to break Riki free no matter the pain, the priestess freezes as Riki rips herself free, blood splattering against the wall from fresh new tears in her ravaged flesh. But it isn't the gore of Riki's wounds that give the girl pause. The aura of pure hate radiating out from the wounded demon washes over the blood-soaked square, brick stairwell hits the miko with such force that she staggers back, spine hitting the wall behind her for support.

As the oni draws her dark iron sledgehammer and leaps forward to attack, the building shuddering with her enraged roar, Ayame finds it impossible to imagine the normally laid back, lazy, relaxed guardian of the Meian Jinja she had come to know all this time. The huge woman often found enjoying a nap in the shade or a drink at sunset, sitting on the cliffs behind the shrine complex, had nothing in common with the beast of vengeance hammering her colossal weapon with palpable desire to render torment and death without compassion or reservation.

The thundering blows send powderized concrete and pulverized, bloody flesh flying, the entire apartment building vibrating with each impact. Rather than being eager to leap down to Riki's aid, Ayame finds herself recoiling, survival instincts desperately urging her to take shelter from the hell-beast unleashed below. But she stays put, riveted to the pageant of violence playing out below her.

The storm of hammer blows comes to an end far past the point of there being anything recognizable in the target of Riki's rage. Ears ringing, the miko is almost deaf to the sound of fragmented bricks settling into place in the aftermath. Shadows sway eerily across the stairs as the only light fixture still barely working sways from dangling wires.

The miko of the Meian Jinja remains rooted in place for a long moment, the silence punctuated by Riki's breaths, the occasional spark from the lights that didn't survive the violence, and bricks still settling. Finally, she moves, left hand gripping her staff tightly as she leans on it for support, right hand slipping into her left sleeve, drawing a soft green talisman into her fingers. Bringing it to her lips, she bites the right corner, tearing it off and dropping the talisman. Before it ever reaches the floor, it breaks apart into soft motes of gentle green light swirling around the miko's form before fading away.

With the touch of mending energy to give her leg the strength to support her, the Ichijo girl steps forward to the top of the steps. Her right hand slips into her left sleeve again, pulling out a pale white talisman. This one she tosses with a lazy backhanded drop toward the prone, still naga leader. The moment it lands on him, spectral chains of white energy burst up around the large creature's form, securely binding it in place with a long lasting sealing ward.

All the while, Ayame's eyes are on the ogress down below, her body and crumbling stonework all around her covered in blood. The oppressive aura was gone now, but still the miko wasn't sure... what manner of creature would be waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs? A demon lost to its basest, most feral desires for blood and sin? Or the huge woman she had reluctantly come to acknowledge as friend and ally?

Sucking in her breath as she resolves to trust her friend, Ayame steps forward, letting the crimson fire fade from her staff, her steps steady now that the pain in her leg is reduced. Striding on or around the large naga prone on the stairs, she approaches the wounded ogress from behind.


For several seconds it seems as if the ogress might not have heard her call out. Ayame's approach receives no sign of recognition, no acknowledging reply or shift in body language that might indicate a response to her presence. The creature at the bottom of the stairs simply kneels where she fell, silent save for the ragged sounds of her labored breathing.

In the sporadic illumination provided by the broken lights the oni looks like something dragged straight out of a Japanese horror movie. Her body is covered from head to toe in splashes of dark blood, the foul black of the snake's vital fluids intermixing with her own crimson red like some kind of macabre impressionist painter used her skin for the canvas of his latest grusome work. The long wild mane of golden hair is almost completely soaked through. Plastered against her back in tangled clumps, it looks more like the mangey fur of some wild animal freshly dyed with the evidence of a successful hunt. Even her breathing is somehow different, deep and gutteral, as if every heave of her mangled shoulders is a struggle.

Something finally seems to snap Riki out of her distracted fugue. Her head lifts slightly, as if only now realizing that she isn't alone. The giant's hands tighten on her weapon, knuckles squeezing with such force that the bone off her magical horn-slash-handle audibly creaks under the pressure. With an obvious effort of will, the ogre pushes to her feet, hefting her bulk up with the same urgency of a glacier sliding across the arctic. Then, with equally ponderous movements, she turns to face the miko.

Perhaps it is a trick of the poor lighting or a psychological distortion of the mind created by the mask of blood that covers the massive woman's face, but for a handful of moments the creature whose face turns to regard Ayame looks nothing like the oaf of a woman that she has come to know. Twisted into a snarl of perpetual rage, the mein of the red-skinned monster that gazes down upon her is nothing short of demonic. Smoldering hellfire burns in the sockets of her wide eyes with such intensity that it seems to have consumed them entirely. Her bared fangs protrude from beneath the peeled back lips, longer and more wicked than she remembers them being before, jutting upwards from her lower jaw like the tusks of a boar.

Veins bulge in the creature's heavily muscled neck, straining to contain the wild heartbeat that thunders out through the room like the frantic beating of a primal wardrum. The monster regards the tiny girl with a look that seems as if she can't decide to be overwhelmed with fresh fury or giddy delight at having something new to grind into a bloody pulp. The oni's lips twist in what might supposed to have been a smile, but in the dim glow of her hellish aura there is nothing but menace to be found in that expression. Slowly, as if her body is buried in sand, the creature takes a deliberate step forward.

A crash of thunder explodes overhead with such ferocity that it blows out the windows of the entire building with a cacophonous maelstrom of sound. The ogre is lifted straight off her feet, sailing backwards into the wall of the stairwell as if backhanded by the fist of an angry god - which, considering the circumstances, might not be too far off the mark. The monster's impact with the wall is not gentle. She hits it with the force a cannonball, embedding into the cheap plaster like a scene out of an old cartoon.

For a few seconds, the beast goes still, the fire in her eyes dwindling as she slumps down to the floor on her face. She twitches a little, the fingers of one hand still clasped tightly around her monsterous weapon, the long nails of the other biting into the concrete with soft cracking sounds. But soon enough a deep groan of pain fills the air, this time coming from a very familiar source.


As the berserker oni turns toward her, Ayame begins second guessing her decision to descend the stairs. At least before, there was the still form of the large naga between her and the bestial ogress, and a whole flight of steps - AKA, a head start.

Gripping her staff tightly with her left hand, her right hand starts to shift toward her left sleeve, reaching for one of her weaponized parchments. Muscles tense as she looks up into the unfamiliar but entirely alien visage of Riki. Her mind races, insisting on solving this combat problem just like it was any other. The club is considered - too heavy to block outright with her staff, she'll need to be evasive. She considers the layout of the room, the shifting, unreliable lighting, the floor of the stair well marked by small craters amid crumbling bricks, many pooling with blood.

Tactics race through her mind, options, fallbacks, last resorts. Her expression is torn - concern visible in the girl's features, but blended with something else... resignation? Did she always think it might come to this someday? Was this fulfillment of her most cynical, doubting feelings about their unlikely partnership?

The raging demon takes a single step forward before being sent slamming into the wall behind her with a thunderous dismissal, the sound of which sends Ayame recoiling back into a clumsy stagger, left hand releasing her staff to fall against her shoulder while both of her hands snap up to cover her ears.

Seconds pass before she lowers her hands, left hand's fingers curling around her weapon again, eyes coming to rest on the prone ogress. She waits for a long moment before exhaling softly, the sudden onset of adrenaline passing as the justifiable groan of complaint is heard. The pensive look in her features melts away as Ayame stands up straight, moving forward, a brief flicker of a smile at the corner of her mouth.

One blunt end of her staff pokes at Riki's side lightly, "This is no time for napping. There is still much work for us to do." She walks past Riki toward the lobby door. The was still a naga in the lobby to seal until the NOL could regroup well enough to clean up this mess, and one out in the courtyard as well. But undoubtedly, there were more people in need of help as well.

The miko stops in the doorway, glancing over her shoulder toward the ogress, "Thank you. Back there..." She glances up to the landing at the top of the first flight of ruined stairs. "I could not do this task without you."

Riki groans again at the prodding, making a noise like a teenager being shaken awake by an overbearing mother to get ready for school. Just as petulantly, she refuses to rise immediately, insteading lifting a hand to push away the curtain of blood-stained hair draped over her equally dirty face. The oni eyes Ayame as the girl wanders off with a casual gait, as if they were going to tidy up the lawn. Eventually, she sighs, huffing a breath up towards her wild bangs to push them out of her eyes.

Moving hurts - a lot. The damned snake practically flayed her upper back in its crazed frenzy. That one is going to sting for a while, to say nothing of the corrosive poison still coursing through her body. While this level of injury isn't going to kill her, even supernaturally augmented vigor has its limits, and the giant's pain tolerance is close to hitting them. But, whining would only give the girl even more of an excuse than usual to berate her.

Riki lurches to her feet, puffing out a sharp grunt of pain but otherwise doing it without complaint. Her vision swims wobbily as she does so, forcing the ogre to lean heavily on the wall to avoid the embarassment of falling right back down onto her ass. Wincing, she turns her gaze towards the giant club in her hand, focusing her will on it. The massive weapon melts into a pillar of scintillating scarlet energy, glittering with raw power for a seconds, then shoots up to strike her in the forehead like a lance. The beam of energy quickly fades away, solidifying once more into the familiar red horn.

She seems to get a bit of pep back after that, managing to make her way down the stairs after Ayame with only minor assistance from the hand rail. Soft grumbles of abuse drift their way down to the girl as the ogre follows in her wake, but when she turns to deliver the sudden heart-felt expression of appreciation Riki stops in her tracks.

She blinks down at the girl with a faint look of surprise but it quickly melts into an almost motherly smile, offering a brief glimpse of the age and wisdom hiding behind the brute's almost religious devotion to irresponsible indolence. Limping forward, she places a broad hand on top of the girl's head and pats it a couple times.

"Happy to serve, my lady."

Log created on 10:45:34 03/21/2020 by Ayame, and last modified on 22:20:13 04/11/2020.