The Black Dragon - Black Dragon TDH - Control the Narrative

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Description: Word has reached the NOL. The Southtown Syndicate is mired amongst the Darkstalker trade, and Duke is behind it all! Armed with this knowledge, Lieutenant Shimotsuki and Corporal Kaneko descend upon Geese Tower to seize any Duke-controled assets. However, the line where Duke assets begin, and Syndicate assets end can sometimes be foggy. When the forces of the NOL arrive to secure the Tower, they are greeted by a masked guardian dedicated to setting the NOL straight.

Over the passed few days, the embattled streets of South Town have slowly cycled through the many faces of destruction. Buildings have burned while monsters roved in packs. Gunfire has rattled through the night, mapping the progress of Japan's desperate fight to reclaim the peace and order that sustains those of its population too weak or cowardly to fight for themselves. But these struggles are, in truth, only the surface layer of a deeper game. Grains of loose sand that shake and shiver while the true architects of change slither and sting far below.
Pale shafts of sunlight slant through the eastern windows of Geese Tower's elegantly appointed lobby, painting thin lines of illumination across the deep green marble floor. Scattered in loose clusters throughout the expansive space, the squat bulk of leather chairs and sofas huddle together like packs of wary animals, unwilling to face the dim expanse alone. No electric lights burn within the ground floor of the tower save for the buttons above and beside the bank of elevators, leaving much of the space feeling gloomy and abandoned. No crowds of business men bustle in and out through the double set of glass doors. There is no pack of uniformed security guards setup behind the heavy wooden desks along the walls. The place is empty, save for a lone figure standing quietly before the elevators.
Though his surroundings are dim, there is more than enough illumination in the room to bring features to the tall silhouette that guards this building alone. His shock of long white hair is swept back in a wild mane, fully exposing the four-horned visage of a crimson oni mask with eyes that smolder like embers. Braced with his feet at shoulder width and his thick arms folded across his chest, he stares with grim implacability toward the glass doors at the front of the building, long black cloak draped like a shroud over his right shoulder and hiding half of his body from sight as it cascades to the floor.

"Hmph. Another temple of villainy brazenly sitting in the open."

Katarina pauses as she emerges from a small unmarked black car, casting her gaze up at the enormous structure that looms before her. Easily the tallest building in all of Southtown, except for perhaps the vile construct crafted by Jedah's foul powers, Geese Tower was designed to be impressive. For an engineer such as herself, the young mage can't help but feel a faint hint of admiration for the architect behind such a colossal edifice of glass and steel. The subtle asymetry as its walls rise up towards the heavens gives the building an artistic flare that she finds especially pleasing - or would, if it were not in the possession of someone who stands opposed to the Imperator.

Still in a foul mood thanks to the idiocy of the man she'd just finished dealing with, the young lieutenant closes the door behind her with more force than necessary as she steps away from the car. She has no intention of being subtle about their purpose here. Criminals should be the ones scurrying about in the darkness not prestigious members of the Duodecim nobility. Normally, she would be capable of swallowing her pride in order to facilitate an easier infiltration but the steady primal thrum of the World-Song still clings to her mind with tenacious voracity. She had only barely managed to regain her wits in time to keep from launching herself alongside the soldiers in their furious charge for retribution after the Dragon unveiled her twisted surprise.

Her head throbs with a fresh pang of agony as she attempts to tune out the maddening music. She staggers to one side for a moment, a mailed hand lifting to clutch at the side of her face as her vision swims. Gritting her teeth, she focuses intently, digging up every scrap of control she can muster to push the calamitous noise away from her conscious mind. It's like peeling away rabid cat that's dug its claws into her skin but inch by inch she slowly forces it down.

'Soon', she whispers in her mind, hoping that the corrupted power of the Music Box can understand her placating words. 'Soon enough, you'll have your violence.'

Whether her pleas for succor are successful or her sheer willpower finally wins out, the pounding headache begins to recede. Katarina sucks in a sharp breath, only just now realizing she had stopped breathing completely during those agonizing few seconds. Curse that dirty mongrel! If he hadn't already upset her with his stupidity she would have been better prepared to deal with the Dragon's antics.

Reasserting control over her mind, the young mage whips her head around to glare at the other figure accompanying her. Her crimson eyes narrow as she glowers at her subordinate in an all too familiar manner, hissing a sharp reprimand at the stupid creature.

"Well?! Are you just going to stand there all day?! Secure the area!"

Some of her assignments require Corporal Kaneko to be looped in on many of the intricate details surrounding them. Context, risks, background, anticipated points of potential failure, and perhaps an established definition of what victory constitutes. Sometimes she is tapped for solo operations where her supernatural senses might be of particular benefit to tracking someone or something down. Other times, she's rather sure she's being thrown at a high risk 'problem' because she has proven to have remarkable tenacity when it comes to survival.

Then there are the times when she needs to know very little so she is told very little. No one felt it necessary for the fox eared soldier to understand, exactly, the criminal politics of the Southtown Syndicate and how they pertain to the greater crisis at large. Nor was it deemed it important for her to comprehend the delineation between one Syndicate boss's asset holdings compared to another's and why that might have an impact on what resistance she can expect to encounter at this particular building.

And so she was given only the slimmest of briefings - she knew the Southtown Syndicate, an organization that had normally been beneath the Librarium's notice, was accused of being involved with the Darkstalker threat flowing through the city. And she knew that she and the always delightful Lieutenant Shimotsuki were being dispatched to take one of the Syndicate buildings. That a Duodecim family member was in charge of the operation suggested that there was some prestige to the task - rarely did the young woman take to the field for anything mundane...

Slipping from the car a few seconds after the young noble, Renka comes to a stop a few feet behind Katarina, hands clasped in front of her, neck craning to take in as much of the imposingly tall tower as possible from the street. Eyes blink as the twin fox-tailed darkstalker sweeps her eyes over the structure for a few seconds, taking it in before the inevitable orders to act get barked her way.

Sharply dressed as ever, with a knee length dark blue skirt, a long sleeved matching dark blue jacket with golden trim worn over a pristine white shirt and crimson tie, the Corporal only lacks for the cap normally worn by NOL soldiers - likely due to how poorly they tend to work with the two vulpine ears sticking up out of her head. The sword sheathed at her side is certainly not simply decorative, though for now, her white gloved hands remain clasped, fingers interlinked.

It takes a moment for her to realize several seconds have passed /without/ the Lieutenant telling her what to do and slowly Renka lowers her focus from the building to the woman in front of her. An eyebrow lifts slightly, head craning a bit to the side along with the lean of her right ear as she studies the young woman just in time to see Katarina move her armored hand to her face. Renka's lips draw tight - this isn't the first time she's seen her commanding officer wrestle with some internal, unspoken pain, but to have it happen right before they're about to brazenly breech the doors of Geese Tower is concerning.

Sensing that the pale-haired young woman is not even breathing now, Renka unclasps her hands, opening her mouth, about to speak as a flicker of concern crosses her features.

But before she makes a sound, her orders come, her leader's attention regrettably focused once more on herself, and she bites her tongue.

At the order, Renka glances left along the empty street, then right down the equally desolate sidewalk, then at the unoccupied entrance of the edific.

"Area looks pretty secured to me!" she chirps, tone infused with faux cheer.

Before she is forced to endure too much verbal abuse for stalling, however, Renka strides forward toward the doors. "Okay, okay, I think we've given building security enough time to reconsider their degree of commitment. Time to say hello."

Deciding to opt for a dramatic entrance, Renka lifts her right leg, knee bent, before slamming the sole of her ankle high leather boot at one of the several doors lining the lavish patio entrance. The metal framing glass buckles slightly under the blow but the door holds as Renka staggers back a step, only then noticing the polished brass handled door is designed for opening outward rather than being pushed.

"I have confirmed the doors are not electrified!" she calls over her shoulder before reaching out with her left hand, grabbing the door handle, and pulling it open like a civilized person.

"I wonder if anyone is even home." she states as soon as she sees the unlit lobby before her. Breathing in, ears forward, finally paying more careful attention to her surroundings, she steps inside.

If one were to ask the lone figure standing in the darkness what he knew of the Syndicate's varied and sundry atrocities, there is a good chance he wouldn't be able to name even a sixth of them were he inclined to answer. In many ways, the stoic guardian's position within the Syndicate is not unlike the fox-tailed soldier's within the NOL, a single component of a much larger whole. On the macro level, the plans he executes are very rarely his own. There is a dream, a shared vision for how the world should be, but he is comfortable leaving the path to that reality in the capable hands of his friend. And in return, he is trusted with overseeing the smaller details. Interactions of a much more personal nature.
Poised within the lobby of the syndicate tower, body still but for the slow rise and fall of his chest, Grant allows the echoing clatter of the kicked door to fade away into the open space around him. It is not until the Corporal's lithe shape fills the frame that he danes to take proper notice of her, the twin flames of his eyes dropping to lock with her own across 50 feet of open space.
He is no demon. That much is immediately obvious. The slow, steady thud of his heart, the whisper of his breath, and the spiritual essence that runs through his veins mark him clearly as nothing more than a man. Nothing more, and nothing less. And yet, even at this distance the resolute strength of his aura is impossible to ignore, a steady pressure that pushes out in all directions, filling the room with the clear intent for violence.
"your intrusion is not welcome." he informs the foxy fighter in English, voice lashing out across the distance as hard and blunt as a sledgehammer. "Whatever your reason for coming, that uniform will not protect you. Leave now, or stand by your own strength."
The threat is left to hang between them, the guardian's posture remaining set and immovable before the long line of elevators. Demon or not, the appearance of the NOL's pet monster doesn't seem to have disturbed him. Whether or not that will change once her backup arrives remains to be scene.

The darkstalker's cheek goes largely unappreciated. Katarina's teeth grind together as her aide responds with her typical brand of cheerful disrespect. Were they not about to delve into the bowels of an enemy stronghold she might very well have choked that jovial irreverence out of the damn fox until her face was as blue as her uniform. Sadly, she is not in much condition to tackle this task alone. Punishment will have to wait until later.

Taking a long deep breath to try and recenter her mind, the mage allows her subordinate to take the lead. Foolish as she is, Renka's assessment of the local area is not incorrect. With the majority of the population still cloistered up in the safety of the green zones there should be little to stand in their way other than goons in the service of the Syndicate. That at least frees her from the responsibility of checking her targets or holding back. Nothing to harm or destroy here that doesn't deserve it.

Katarina closes her eyes as the fox kicks the door, a vein throbbing in her temple as the headache threatens to surge forth again. Why must she be plagued by idiots? In Renka's case, she's almost certain the little bitch is doing it on purpose, a bit of controlled incompetence to make herself look as useless as possible in an act of rebellion at being recruited to her current position. Ungrateful whelp. At best she'd be some nameless face among a sea of cannon fodder if Katarina hadn't granted her the honor of serving her.

It's almost a shame that the door actually wasn't trapped, watching the little beast writhe around in pain might have brightened her mood.

Exhaling her breath in a long suffering sigh, the scion strides forward to follow her aide into the building. The lack of illumination gives the foyer of Geese Tower a somewhat eerie appearance, possessing the same unsettling quality that all abandoned dark spaces seem to create in the abscence of constant activity. The air inside seems fresher at least, only mildly reeking of the death that permeates the streets. A quick glance around reveals the faint shimmer of the softly glowing buttons alongside the commercial elevators as well as the burning eyes of the guardian standing in their way.

Katarina's response to the terse warning is to make a gesture with one hand. Arcane power floods into her palm as a small ball of brilliant white light winks into existence banishing the darkness with pale illumination. The glowing mote floats up into the air and hovers high above serving as a replacement for the disabled ceiling lights. While her inhuman companion may not struggle with darkness the mage's eyes are all too mundane.


Katarina strides forward a few steps ahead of her companion showing no sign of fear in the face of the 'demon'. A flick of her wrist creates a second burst of light within her hand but this time the energy stretches out and solidifies into the shape of an elegant silver saber. The blade of the sword hums softly in the enchantress's grip, filling the air with a gentle melodic tone like a tuning fork that has been lightly struck.

"Did you think that donning a silly mask would make your threats more credible?"

Despite her arrogant tone, Katarina's voice is every bit as pretty and gentle as the blade in her hand. The aura of awe that she cloaks herself in goes to work on everyone in the room, subtly tugging at the corners of their mind with suggestions that the albino sorceress is a being worthy of respect and reverence. She knows better than to expect it to affect the stubborn fox in any real way - perhaps her mystical heritage keeps her shielded from such things - but the guard standing in her way seems to be entirely human. Even powerful warriors such as Heihachi Mishima and her own Commander Kagura have been influenced by her magics. If she can simply cow this junkyard dog into submission then they might save themselves the trouble of a fight.

"Stand aside, fool, and I promise to spare you the sting of my blade."

There was some small hope that the building would truly be unoccupied as it looked at first glance. The long-lived darkstalker had rarely exhibited a zeal for combat for combat's sake, usually truly only throwing herself fully into a fight if necessary to protect others or to represent herself well in a competitive event. Leaning on violence to compel others into an outcome favorable to her or her cause was all often a necessary if somewhat distasteful recourse to her.

But she knows in an instant that isn't to be the case. As her superior officer well suspected, the encompassing shadows would prove to be no issue for her. Sight, sound, and sense of smell were all immediately committed to the individual standing guard at the portals granting access further up the structure. A few steps in, Renka comes to a stop, standing up straight.

Alert but looking about to lunge into combat just yet, she takes in the sight of the man in cloak and shadow. She was not so well-versed in Syndicate rumor to know of the Martyr of Might, but were one to mention the moniker to her, she would know full well in an instant that it be appropriate enough to apply to this specimen of man.

This was an obstacle that would need to be dealt with... but one that could not be underestimated.

"Aaah... Lieutenant, sir, I think the welcoming party would like to have a-"

Katarina walks right past Renka without seemingly the slightest hint of concern and the fox's words fall from her lips with a delivery far less enthusiastic than she had started with.

"...word with you..."

The Corporal's hand reaches for her sheathed sword, fingers closing over the weapon's grip as she watches the noble-born young woman provide a demonstration of some of her magical gift without reservation rather than leaning on deceit or guile to keep the masked figure guessing as to the abilities of the NOL duo. The glimmering sphere of light is distracting enough, the fox-eared soldier's eyes following its ascent into high ceilinged lobby for a brief moment. But when Katarina manifests her silver saber with a second show of her power, Renka can't help but look a touch awe struck. Not that she hadn't seen the young woman's power before, but the pure elegance of her gift is still something the darkstalker can't help but appreciate seeing in action.

She sucks in a breath, blinking her eyes, shaking her head, focus locked back on the muscled gate keeper ahead. While she had proven resilient if not outright immune to the subtle suggestions crafted by the officer's aura, she still found the talents of her superior impressive.

It's clear that like herself, Katarina isn't interested in leaping into a fight if it isn't necessary, but just like the fox, she will not hold back in the slightest the moment it becomes clear that the only way forward is by the blade.

"We have been sanctioned to secure this premises," Renka calls as she strides forward to move closer to Katarina. "There is no point in resisting."

The twin points of fire that mark Grant's gaze slide away from Renka and on to her superior as the albino steps passed her into the room, those few extra steps leaving less than 40 feet between them. Little attention is given to the first orb the Scion left behind, its pale light washing over the room and banishing the air of gloomy mystery. However, as the second surge of energy begins to shape itself into the shimmering form of a sword, Katarina's unique senses do register a slight change in the implacable resolve of the guardian demon. The feeling that emanates from him is not awe, or fear. The gentle nudges of her aura have no place in a mind as dedicated as the one before her. When one lives every day as if it were there last, the trivialities of human frailty begin to sluff away, leaving no room for fear or doubt.
What Katarina does detect is a low and abiding sense of respect.
"You face death with admirable poise." Grant praises, burning eyes shifting back toward the fox as she moves forward to join her commander. "But you will need more than spirit if you wish to stand before me."
In a single, violent motion, the Martyr of Might unfolds his right arm from his chest and snaps it straight out to his side, sweeping his long cloak back behind his shoulder in a ripple of heavy black cloth. Even at their relatively safe distance both women can feel the wind of the gesture plucking at their hair. It might have been an attempt at intimidation by a lesser man, but each in their own way can sense the lack of malice behind his shift in posture. Within the slowly increasing thud of his heart can be felt only respectful acceptance of the choice they have made. An understanding of the rightness of their actions.
"What you have been sanctioned to do doesn't matter here. I don't care what false authority you feel the NOL has given you. The only power you hold is that which you can force upon those too weak to stop you. This is how the world is meant to be. There is no use pretending otherwise."
Sliding his left foot forward, Grant twists his body side on to the girls and re-folds his arms across his chest, though everything about the once relaxed posture has now changed. Arms not quite touching, he points his right palm toward the pair over the bend of his left elbow, while his left crosses back over his body with the hand flattened into a knife of hardened flesh. Feet planted, masked face turned toward them, he focuses the weight of his killing tent upon the two NOL operatives with the inexorable resolve of the changing seasons.
"You think there is no point to resisting , but that too is false. To strive against the power of others is the only true reason to live. Enjoy these moments of freedom, as they may be your last."
With a sense of violent resolve pulsing around him like a second cloak, the Martyr of Might brings his left hand sweeping down and forward, knife hand parting the air with a roar of displaced wind. As his fingers pass the vertical point a roiling violet aura begins to gather around them, growing larger and larger as his hand cuts up away from the floor and sweeps toward the sky. At the apex of the gesture the gathered energy tears away from his body, a roiling wave of violet that rockets across the marble floor, sending chips of pulverized stone zipping out in all directions. Taller even than the towering man who spawned it, the wave of energy rolls forward toward Corporal Renka, gathering yet more speed and ferocity as it nears the target of his violence.

COMBATSYS: Grant has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Grant            0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Grant has joined the fight here on the top side.

                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Renka has joined the fight here.

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                 Grant            0|-------|-------
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Renka            0/-------/------=|

Wonderful. A zealot.

There are few people able to resist the subtle touch of her enchantments. Usually they possess some sort of magical power of their own, either inherent to their nature such as with the kitsune at her side or through possession of an ars or grimoire. True magic is rarer still, an art only a handful are capable of. She has never had the chance to try her influence on someone of that calibre but there's little doubt in her mind that they would join the list.

Of those lacking such supernatural abilities, only the most disciplined and stubborn sorts can shake off the touch of her charms. Not because her own magic is particularly potent, rather the nature of the manipulation is such that anyone without complete control over their mind would ever even notice that it is happening. Even incredibly skilled martials artists and wise sages have fallen prey to her subtle tinkering. That this man would shake off her power outright proves he is a rare breed.

Katarina lets out a soft sigh of annoyance. While the World-Song practically screams into her mind a demand to indulge in the wild primal ecstasy of bloodshed, the young mage was hoping that she might settle this matter through intimidation. Her need to sacrifice someone on the altar of the Music Box could be dealt with in a far more quiet fashion, after all. A foolish notion, of course. Since when did criminal masterminds and their cronies ever listen to reason?

No, instead they would be forced to deal with another 'might makes right' lunatic like the Dragon. There is, of course, a measure of truth in the man's words. It is through the power to enforce one's will over others that authority derives its worth. However, what deranged fools like this masked warrior fail to remember is that power is only just when given freely by those over which that authority rules. The Librarium had not swept into Japan as barbaric conquerors to lord over the helpless masses as tyrannical sovreigns. They had earned their place as the defenders of humanity, standing up against the trespasses of evil men who sought to abuse a power they did not understand. Power through strength is but one piece of the puzzle. Yet there is a far more important aspect of rightful authority one which no mere man, however strong or ruthless, could ever hold claim to - the divine right granted to all servants of the Imperator by her holy decree.

"Resist all you like," the young mage says, her soft voice amplified by the aura of enchantment.
%tThe billowing gust of wind caused by Grant's martial flex washes over her without effect save to stir up her hair and set the tail of her greatcoat aflutter for a few moments. Her gaze remains unwaveringly focused on the muscle-bound thug as she alters her own posture, blade extended before her in a fencer's stance. A gentle wind starts to tug at her hair and clothes again though there is no obvious source this time as the mundane fighter before her will be blind to the currents of power beginning to gather around the young sorceress.

"You'll just die tired."

The first attack comes not at Katarina but her companion, either an attempt to relieve her of her support or an insult to indicate she is the lesser threat. Whatever his reasons, the lieutenant cares little; his choice to ignore her leaves the young woman free to act.

The mage appears to leap to one side as the rolling wave of violet energy rips across the floor towards the entrance but rather than obey the laws of physics and come back down Katarina floats sideways in a graceful piroutte that carries her clear of the destruction with ease. Holding her empty hand up in the air, Katarina makes a swift series of arcane gestures as she calls forth more power. Half a dozen motes of light drift up from her outstretched palm to hover in the air around her, shimmering like fireflies as they quickly manifest into several more of the singing sabers. She points at Grant and one by one the humming blades turn towards the masked guardian, warbling a shrill melody as they streak towards him like angry bees. Upon impact with either flesh or wall the swords explode in an equally melodic detonation of noise and raw force.

COMBATSYS: Katarina has joined the fight here on the right meter side.

                 [ ||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|-------
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Renka            0/-------/------=|======-\-------\0         Katarina

COMBATSYS: Grant knocks away Renka with Kokuenryuu.
- Power hit! -

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                 Grant            0|-------|-----==
[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Renka            1/------=/=======|======-\-------\0         Katarina

Cororal Kaneko could feel her heart beginning to beat quickly. The whip crack of his cloak, the shift in posture, the strength seething along powerful limbs are only a few of the signals that this Tower Guardian intends to fight them both, that the threat of authority or the backing of a powerful institution aren't going to register as reasons to reconsider.

The golem of muscle is no mute construct of mindless strength, however. The deep voice from behind the mask issues observations heavy with conviction not couched in fancy eloquence but spoken pure, direct. The philosophy is not foreign to the centuries old fox. It sparks memories of a time when survival required understanding very well the pecking order of power within the forests of Japan - every interaction came down to who you could hunt, and who hunted you. Compared to the world of modern politics and socioeconomic classifications of power, it was a simpler time.

It also wasn't a time remembered fondly.

The lone opposition to their entry further into the tower takes a combative stance. Though the specifics of the style are unfamiliar to the kitsune, it isn't too hard to imagine an impending doom of powerful blows driven by brute strength combined with martial skill and reinforced by that invisible, unseen ingredient of power common to the world's best - iron hardened will.

She answers, shifting slightly, turning her right shoulder forward, right hand closing on the grip of her sheathed sword, eyes fixated on the burning embers seen behind the dark eyes of the mask.

There is no outward gesticulation on her part, not even so much as a flinch or twitch of her fingers as nine spheres of rich azure foxfire swirl up behind Renka in a seemingly patternless array of dancing lights. Eight of the orbs compare to the size of a softball, while the larger, soccer ball sized sphere seems to drift lower than the rest. Their movements cast a dark blue glow that blends with the silvery light of Katarina, creating swimming shadows of blue throughout the lobby.

Instincts would have had her back down from facing the guardian if she were alone. While she would pursue her assignments at great risk to herself, she was no mindless suicide drone either. No - that degree of self-sacrifice would only surface when it came to protecting others, not projecting the NOL's authority into unclaimed spaces.

But here and now, she had her superior officer at her side. Not just an elite Lieutenant of the Nobus Orbis Librarium, but a living representative of one of the mysterious Duodecim behind the Librarium's power. While she had never directly witnessed the young woman's combat talents in action, she had every faith that the magic she weaved alongside her swordsmanship would be up to the task at hand... All she needed to do was avoid getting in the officer's way and provide support where it made sense!

With Katarina speaking to the gate keeper, the Corporal stayed quiet, her twin fox tails swishing behind her skirt covered legs, their movements slow as she waited with anticipation for the moment to act.

The onslaught comes, a tidal wave of projected force, of energy representing a fraction of the furnace of strength burning in the warrior's chest. Caught in the path of violence unleashed, Renka knows full well her blade will be unable to part the tide to offer any protection from the storm.

In the split second before impact, she can be seen slamming her left hand forward, planting her feet, turning her face to the side and closing her eyes. One of the nine foxfire spheres surges down into the space right before her hand, flashing into an expanding barrier of translucent blue, a flickering candle before the hurricane, before all view of the fox is blasted away by the attack.

A column meters behind where Renka had been standing cracks as the kitsune's body is smashed against its unyielding stone, dust and rubble driving on past the obstruction. It takes a second for her to slide down to the floor, slumping forward as her left hand slaps against the floor with a sickly wet sound of blood.

Arm trembling, she keeps herself propped up by the wounded limb, the damage inflicted by the Martyr of Might's attack plain to see. The sleeve and shoulder of the bold blue jacket and the white shirt worn beneath have been shredded away by the force of the attack, leaving only a thin black strap looped up over her bared skin. The skin of her arm is torn with several long lacerations from her hand all the way up to her shoulder from which blood seeps down around her hand to pool on the damaged marble floor.

More concealed were the hidden bruises, the internal bleeding inflicted by the blast and the sudden stop against the column. Were she a normal soldier of the NOL, Katarina might be left to deal with Grant on her own from this point forward, and have to include an explanation for the loss of life in her after action report.

But Renka shakes her head, blinking her eyes as she tries to clear her mind. The pain would have to be suppressed. Her lungs weren't working yet, but there wasn't time to wait for that - she could last for a good while without them as long as she had plenty of soul energy to burn. Her ears were ringing and her vision was full of flashes of light against the darkened lobby that left her not entirely sure of where to even strike.

In the end, it's Katarina's own attack that guides the kitsune's path as Renka pushes up into an uncompromising dash for the monster in her path, the ear-piercing melody of the young woman's flying blades distinct enough for Renka to hear them over the near-deafening ringing.

Tracking toward their foe by following Katarina's attack, Renka would lunge into an attack when near, slashing out with her right hand first, a blaze of azure foxfire left in the wake of her strike. A second swing would come from her left an instant later, the air laced with burning soul energy and droplets of blood. Finally, a third strike, Renka slashing both arms through the air, leaving an X of flame in her path as she attempts to slide to a stop.

One touch of the flame would communicate plenty - it didn't burn like fire, not even similar to the flames of other martial artists would feel quite like this. The energy the fox-tailed combatant wielded burned deeper, threatening to scorch her enemy's soul.

COMBATSYS: Grant blocks Katarina's Da Capo.

                 [   ||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|----===
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Renka            1/------=/=======|=======\-------\0         Katarina

COMBATSYS: Renka successfully hits Grant with Ashen Hearth ES.

                 [       ||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|--=====
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Renka            1/-----==/=======|=======\-------\0         Katarina

As Grant's opening blow roars its way across the lobby, the masked man turns his demonic attention away from the target of the blast, crimson gaze fixing itself upon the Lieutenant and her fantastically gleaming sword. The silver light throws his cloaked shadow out behind him in a towering mass, a hulking horned monstrosity with its speared hand upthrust in triumph, leathery wings tucked in close along its back. It is in this moment, this fraction of lingering piece before the full chaos of battle bursts around him, that the demon draws in a breath.
Thunder booms within the echoing confines of the lobby, violet energy exploding like a grenade upon contact with Renka's shield. However, the Martyr of Might has eyes only for Katarina, shifting to follow her trajectory as she twirls clear of the blast. Her hand comes up, and the monolith of muscle surges forward, twisting out of his stance and dipping low into a ground-devouring dash directly toward her. 40 feet of distance flashes away to thirty before the first energy projection has fully formed, then 20 as it is fired. At 15 feet he meets it, left arm slicing through the air to hammer the construct apart in a blast of discordant sound. Two, three, then four of the energy blades meet similar fates as he alternates arms, blasting them apart in detonations of power that wash around him, tugging at his flowing cloak and sizzling across his skin. The onslaught comes fast and hard enough to slow his rush, but not to stop it.
There are merely 10 feet between them when the Lieutenant's bloody guardian comes lunging in from the side, the first swipe of her power blazing a burning line across his right side as he attempts to dodge. Planting his foot, he twists away from the Corporal, batting another energy sword out of the air as he swings to face her. That twist turns into a swift backward step that is still too slow to escape the second charging strike, the fox-eared soldier remaining relentlessly close. And so, with his rear foot braced, he hurls himself up and over her, the dual strike cleaving diagonal cuts across either shin as he arcs over her head only to impact the floor behind her with a vibrating smash, marble shattering into a webwork of cracks upon contact with his pounding heels. So close is the landing that the heavy weight of his cloak drags across her wounded shoulder as he dashes away, carrying on toward Katarina with demonic focus.
A low, vibrating grunt cuts its way from the large man's throat as the last 10 feet between himself and his target vanish. Backed by the persistent throb of violence in his aura, Grant brings both fists up, looming tall over the comparatively small woman, and releases the last of his breath in a snarling "HRAAH!" of effort. Then, with all of his dashing momentum aiding his already legendary strength, he brings both fists whistling down toward the NOL Lieutenant's upper back in a vicious overhead smash.
Only if that opening hit lands will the monster's speed increase, body flowing down so that his right knee nearly brushes the ground as he races beneath her, only to surge vertical once more, right fist exploding upward in a standing uppercut to her jaw that could easily tear the head from an unprotected fighter's shoulders.

COMBATSYS: Katarina blocks Grant's Gou Retsushou EX.

                 [        |||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|-======
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Renka            1/-----==/=======|=======\-------\0         Katarina

Katarina senses the moment when the rush of energy collides with her subordinate, their foe's incredible power overwhelming her desperate attempt at defense. The roaring explosion of the shockwave detonating against shimmering foxfire washes over the mage from behind as she flits nimbly through the air to put distance between herself and the impact point. The sharp crack of the fox's body slamming into hardened stone does not escape her notice. But it is the sweet harp-like melody of the suffering inflicted upon the darkstalker that manages to draw her attention.

A soft gasp of pleasure escapes the young woman's mouth as the tainted music dances through her. A shiver works its way down her back as if a droplet of ice water has been dribbled onto her spine. For a moment, the exquisite sensation threatens to overpower her discipline, drowning her consciousness in a warm blanket of hazy rapture that she would be happy to wrap herself up in and suffocate on.

Normally, such temptations would be easy to ward off. Not a day since she took possession of the cursed artifact has passed without the music attempting to bury its claws into her soul and peel open the gates. Strict discipline and sheer willpower have been her only reliable defenses against the predations of the tainted World-Song but even someone as stubborn as Katarina has her limits. There has always been the need for sacrifices to sate the Music Box's desire for suffering, an inescapable demand that she dirty her own hands with blood from time to time. With the events of the past weeks keeping her busy practically every moment of the day, it has been ironically difficult to slip out without notice to take advantage of what is arguably the most suitable environment for her to indulge in such grim necessity. And, just when it seems as if she might be able to use the excuse of a full-scale assault upon an enemy stronghold as a valve to release that building pressure, that damned fool has to come along and drop this bullshit in her lap.

Needless to say, the lieutenant is a bit off her game today. Pulling back from the brink she was precariously teetering on, Katarina's eyes regain a bit of focus as her magical bombardment is sent screaming down at the onrushing warrior barreling across the room. Annoyingly, her onslaught of spell power proves far less effective than she'd hoped. Most people tended to try and avoid being impaled by sharp objects flying in their direction but the masked figure simply barrels through the barrage as casually as if she's throwing snowballs at him. The prospect of engaging in melee with this guard dog is suddenly much less appealing.

To her surprise, and apparently his as well, the little fox makes a timely reappearance. While Renka's disoriented assault fails to completely discourage the man from unleashing his might at her commander, she slows him enough to give the noble a moment to regain her wits and react.

That brief delay proves invaluable. Wrenching control of her mind away from the siren song, Katarina snaps her empty hand up as Grant bears down upon her. Though the giant of a man easily dwarfs the young mage in size, her magics hold her body aloft nearly a foot off the ground putting them on roughly even height. In a flash of light a barrier of ghostly azure energy winks to life in front of the mage, dozens of arcane symbols arranged into concentric circular patterns creating a solid dome that completely encapsulates the scion.

Grant's mighty smiting blow crashes down upon the arcane ward like a sledgehammer. The barrier flickers with strained protest as it attempts to divert the terrible force behind the strike but instead only manages to delay it for a few instants. But that is all the time that she needs to escape being crushed like an insect. Leaning backwards, Katarina hurls herself through the air with complete disregard for the laws of physics, darting out from beneath the crushing anvil of the guardian's fists just in time. The last-second defense earns her a solid clout on the shoulder as she twists to avoid the full blow sending a wave of dull pain shooting down one arm that almost makes her black out.

A sharp gasp of pain explodes from the lieutenant as she staggers away, flitting about erratically through the air for a few moments like a drunken fairy. As with the touch of Renka's suffering brushing across her mind, the sensation of her own agony sends a fresh wave of near orgasmic bliss flooding into her. The phenomenon is hardly unusual though it has never been this intense before. Perhaps an unforeseen side-effect of going this long while surrounded by constant death without indulging her dark needs. Much like a starving lion caged in the middle of a butcher's shop, the Music Box seems to be going mad with the promise of sweet succor being dangled just beyond its reach, raking with wild abandon at the bars of the mental prison she has built to keep it contained.

"That was almost a passable excuse for an attack," she says, directing her melodic barbs at Renka rather than their foe.

She frowns at the fox, scowling down at her in a familiar condescending way. Hovering several feet in the air makes it easier to nail the imperious glower she reserves for particularly useless grunts, she finds. Focusing her mind on her disdain for the inhuman beast offers the mage a distraction, a handhold onto which to cling in order to drag herself out of the quicksand attempting to ensnare her soul.

"Now stop embarrassing that uniform and keep him busy for a few moments!"

Having given her order, which her loyal and faithful subordinate will no doubt trip over herself to see carried out, Katarina shifts her focus towards gathering the power necessary to tap into her own true potential. The technique, known as Soul Burn, is one of the few examples of True Magic possessed by Librarium. Most of its soldiers were merely those who had the aptitude to wield magical artifacts. The era of the Mage's Guild's halcyon days have long since passed and it has been countless decades since a true wielder of sorcery the likes of the Ten Sages have emerged. Only a scant few of those who possess a pure enough bloodline to trace their ancestry back to the wizards of old have even the slightest chance of being able to tap into the raw powers of creation.

While her own potential is no where near on the same scale as a Sage, the power of magic has always run strong in the Shimotsuki bloodline. It is a rare scenario that requires that she wield this ancient enchantment but considering that their foe just casually slapped aside one of her hardest hitting spells and punched through a barrier like it was made of paper mache, she's willing to consider smashing the glass over the emergency button for this one.

A faint haze of azure energy begins to flare outwards around the sorceress as she begins to focus her energies, dozens of misty tendrils of power radiating from her body like the corona of a new-born star.

COMBATSYS: Katarina gathers her will.

                 [        |||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|-======
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Renka            1/-----==/=======|=======\===----\1         Katarina

Renka's attack is fearless, hands clawing through the air, fingers curled as if vestigial echoes of the real claws her kind once had. But the swipes would be nothing if not augmented by the swaths of foxfire that follow them.

The instant her first strike connects, one of her azure spheres plunges down, reaching the position in time to join the crossed blue flame that briefly grazes the titan's legs.

She had intended to take him head on, as insane as that might seem. While she believed without any doubt that the Lieutenant was skilled as a combatant, she didn't believe she could possibly be her match in durability... If there was one thing the darkstalker had proven time and time again, it took a hell of a lot to put her down.

But while the Corporal managed to get in close enough to surprise her target with a blind-side attack, she had not anticipated the speed with which he could move himself. Arms still crossed from her third strike, it's all she can do to whip around as a heavy presence surges over her with unexpected speed, the fabric of his cloak dragged over her shoulder and then gone before she can even manage to turn around.

Though the kitsune whirls quickly to follow the Syndicate weapon's movement, she doesn't immediately give chance. She can't be there in time to spare Katarina the power of his strike... all she can hope is that the noble if exasperating girl manages to protect herself

From behind her, ethereal, barely visible tendrils of energy reach from the largest of the spheres into her left arm and shoulder, slowly ebbing restorative energy into the decidedly inhuman physiology that hides beneath the creature's skin.

There is a flicker of a grin as the spellweaver manages to barely get away with a combination of speed, magical defenses, and a careening flight away from the Tower Guardian. Oblivious to the wrestle her superior officer has against the World Song's pull or the intoxicating presence of pain and its effect on her, all she knows is that she has to do everything she can to keep the Lieutenant from being pursued again.

Her right hand snaps to her left hip, fingers closing over the grip of her katana-length blade, drawing it out in an instant. Immediately, the same foxfire that illuminates her from the drifting orbs bursts into brilliant, rich sapphire flame coursing along the blade.

The comment about her attack is heard but doesn't phase her. The mage can be far more cruel than that when she wants to be, and that almost sounded begrudgingly complimenting compared to what the darkstalker is used to. But it's the second statement that guarantees her next course of action - an imperative statement, a direct order, a command that drills down to the loyal creature's soul.

Renka's body tenses as she winds up, ears leaning forward, tails twitching behind her back. Softly, she intakes a single breath of air as her lungs resume their responsibilities once more and the pain throbbing in her shoulder and torso are suppressed for a moment as she focuses on the form of her foe.

She transitions from her ready stance to attacking in an instant, bursting forward, legs pumping in swift, controlled steps, body twisting, turning to bring her bladed weapon to her side and back.

There is a cry from Renka, a feral sound, part howl, part growl, part battle shout as she attempts to deliver the dashing, deep carving slash into the Martyr's powerful torso. Her blade flares to greater brilliance and another foxfire sphere joins its lost brethren as it dives down into the fox's sword, infusing the blue flames to burn even more brilliantly than before one instant before she delivers the lightning fast swing.

Unless prevented, she'd slide meters past the guardian before her feet would find enough grip on the floor to bring her to a stop, leaning forward, both hands on her sword's grip as the weapon ends up at the side of her left leg from the follow through of the swing.

If she can buy the Lieutenant the moment she demanded, she's confident it will make all the difference.

COMBATSYS: Renka successfully hits Grant with The Lonesome Road EX.

                 [             ||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            1|------=|=======
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Renka            1/-----==/=======|=======\===----\1         Katarina

It is no surprise to Grant when his smashing blow is able to force its way through Katarina's emergency barrier, the flighty mage catching only a glancing blow as she darts out from under his descending fist. This is not the first time the veteran has come across a magic user, nor the first time he has nearly caught one unawares.
Ending the strike in a forward hunch, he draws in a second deep breath, muscular chest expanding, and coils his weight onto his lead foot, ready to spring after the retreating Lieutenant. Though he may not be a demon in truth, there is something horribly hellish in the intensity of his pursuit, a violent intent that follows the floating woman with wrathful implacability.
An intent, that stutters.
Not 10 feet behind him, the fox-eared Corporal can hear every rasp of the mighty guardian's clothing scraping across skin. Smell the scent of his humanity. Hear his heart. Strong and quick, the powerful organ drums out a song of war, a steady 'thu-thmp, thu-thmp' that speaks of strength and vitality.
Until it stammers.
Nearly drowned out beneath the ferocious battle cry of the oncoming soldier, the regular rhythm of his heart hitches, skips, and stutters like the wings of a startled bird. The aura of violence that radiates from his imposing bulk wavers, the entirety of his weight swaying out of sink as he misses his leap and stumbles, body wincing with internal strain.
In the midst of the episode the Martyr manages to swing his left arm up, attempting to bring it between himself and the blazing blade of Renka's sword as she lunges passed. There is a loud ring of steel on steel as sword meets bracer, a flare of blue sparks, and the Corporal continues her forward skid away from him, passing out of reach.
A beat passes, Grant's chest laboring for breath while he stands with his left arm up and forward out of position, blue soul flames flickering away from a rent in his wrist guard.
Blood fountains out of a widening gash that yawns open above the demon's left hip, pouring down his leg and spreading across the marble in a rich red pool. The aura of threat around him begins to dim, breath gasping out heavily from behind his crimson mask.
And then he is back.
All at once the wavering beat of the monster's heart spikes, thudding into rapid, even relief. At the same moment, muscles all along the brutal man's side visibly clench beneath the skin, causing the flow of blood to slow to little more than a trickle. The fading threat of his warrior's aura slams out, doubles, and redoubles as he seems to will his body back into the fight, forcing his heart to beat. His chest to expand.
"It seems that one of you possesses a fighter's spirit." he rumbles through his mask as the whole of his burning attention falls upon Renka. "Let us test it."
With that, both the fox and her commander can sense a darkening of the guardian's spirit. A shift in his resolve as he reaches deeper within himself. Passed the thrill of combat, beyond the simple displays of force, to the furthest depths of intent that drive those who would call themselves demons. Power swells within him, building over the course of two heartbeats as he releases the hold on his killing intent, allowing the basest of evil emotions to flood his soul.
A flash of blazing golden energy sparks across his body as the monstrous man's will begins to visibly manifest, the rest of his features seeming to sink into inexplicable shadow. Cloak rustling and red eyes alight with malice, the ominous figure steps slowly forward, muscles flexing as he slinks into a low, predatory crouch.
Uncoiling with savage ferocity, he hurls himself toward the fox-eared corporal in a single, arcing lunge. As he flies through the air, a spark of burning gold dances to life across the back of his left heel. That spark grows as he dips his right shoulder forward, raging up his left calf and consuming his foot as he begins the rotation that will bring the kick around. Beating back against the blues and silvers of the NOL's power, the golden inferno expands outward, tearing at the air as he sweeps his leg out, foot scything through the air in a single, whirling kick aimed to plant the point of his blazing heel squarely into the center mass of the fox's slender body. It is a titanic kick, but beyond that it is a strike filled with all the killing intent the brutal warrior can muster, a rushing blaze of towering golden energy that pours forth from the point of impact to blast across the lobby, sending scraps of disintegrating furniture gusting around the empty space like an ash tornado.
Beyond that roiling blaze of murder made physical, the shadowy form of the demon can just be made out, horned shape landing crouched and murderous behind the flames of his unleashed spirit.

COMBATSYS: Grant knocks away Renka with Ankoku Hatendan.

                 [             ||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|-------
[                         \\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Renka            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\===----\1         Katarina

If she were less focused on drawing upon the power beyond the veil of the Boundary, Katarina might have expressed surprise at the eagerness with which her orders are obeyed. Such commands are usually met with begrudging acceptance and accompanied by plentiful amounts of barely concealed insolence. Perhaps the fact that her own fuzzy butt is on the line is helping the little beast maintain perspective.

Regardless of her motivations, Renka proves herself more than capable of following through on the orders given to her. Sadly, her commander is too distracted to notice the expert skill and courage that her aide displays in order to buy the lieutenant time leaving their foe to acknowledge the accomplishment instead. It seems even demons can muster up a modicum of respect when it is earned. Of course, now that she has his attention, she has to survive it.

Meanwhile, Katarina is using the time granted to her by the corporal's bravery as best she can. The corona of shimmering azure flame about her becomes more coherent as she concentrates, shifting from a flickering blue haze into crackling spiderwebs of raw power. Ghostly sigils of arcane text appear in the air around the mage, runes and markings that would be completely alien to anyone not versed in the intricate arts of sorcery. A swirling breeze of power begins to build within the shell of magical light as she chants a spell of ancient power, stirring the folds of her greatcoat and fluttering her snowy hair on invisible currents.

"In the name of Katarina, I command thee.
Unseal the first gate.
Open the way to the Boundary.
Darkness beyond the twilight buried in the flows of time.
I grant thee my pledge - all who stand before us will fall! In the pursuit of destruction, merge thy power and mine!
Soul Burn!"

At utterance of those final words which give name to the power she calls forth, a wave of palpable energy washes over the room like a tidal wave of icy needles. The azure flames flare outwards in miniature nova for a brief instant before imploding violently upon themselves. Katarina's eyes go wide as the raw arcane power floods into her body filling her veins with ice-cold sensation. Her body goes numb for several seconds as her very life force is bled away to fuel the furnace of the mystical empowerment.

Like Grant, Katarina's aura has changed in a way that everyone can sense though perhaps not nearly as drastically as his own. While the masked warrior may simply have dug down into his reserves to unleash a hint of his true power, she's used a bit of magical trickery to borrow power that she may one day actually have through the Boundary's strange connections with what is and what may be. Potent but dangerous, which is why she's only tapped into a tiny fraction of that potential. Hopefully it will be enough to get the job done.

The transition takes only a few seconds. This is not the first time that Katarina has been forced to call upon this power and she has grown quite used to the side-effects. Pushing the uncomfortable tingling that runs rampant throughout her body to the back of her mind, the officer turns her attention back to the fight. Eyes that were once crimson now burn with an inner azure light as she extends her empty hand, conjuring forth a second singing saber in a flash of golden power.

Wielding one of the deadly blades in each hand, the mage explodes forward in a surge of motion that sends her floating form hurtling directly at Grant like a blue meteor. A dozen more motes of humming energy detach themselves from her shimmering aura becoming yet more blades as she closes the gap. The musical swords let loose jubilant cries of excitement as Katarina lays into the hulking guardian with a flurry of graceful strikes, flowing from one cut to the next like a dancer floating about on the breeze while the chorus of back-up blades whirl in a deadly frenzy about her waist like a whistling buzzsaw.

Power sliding to a stop, Renka comes to rest, her hair falling against her shoulders, her eyes closed as, for a moment, she witnesses an echo of the successful strike in her mind's eye. It seemed simple enough - a classic dash in slashing strike in passing of an opponent. But in execution, it was an exchange that could end fights in a single blow, designed to play out in the blink of an eye, and it was one she had practiced thousands of times. Combining her supernatural speed, strength, reflexes, and potent foxfire all to deliver the kind of attack samurai masters of old would be proud of.

But as she reflected, she also knew there was more at play than her own skill with the blade. She had heard it - the murmur for an instant, a stutter amid the steady thrumming ever audible to her sensitive ears. Disease? Injury? It didn't matter. It was something she knew now.

Standing, Renka turns to face the Martyr of Might, shoulders rising and falling from quick breaths as she resumes her fighting stance, eyes focused sharply on the masked terror. Both times she managed to catch him, their enemy's focus seemed to be more on the Spell Weaver. This time, however, she has his full attention.

The voice behind the mask speaks. A fighter's spirit... Renka had never thought of herself like that. Fighter's Spirit... wasn't that what got martial artists fired up about competitions? About going around showing off their strength with great gusto? No... that is not what this one is referring to, she realizes.

She speaks, the first word coming haltingly, as if she's not entirely sure she can. It wouldn't be the first time she tried to utter something only to discover that her trachea was more damaged than realized, or that her tongue was cut or swollen, teeth missing, or that her lips were bruised and numb. All painful experiences anyone would normally be agonizingly aware of, typically, but the creature had a way of pushing that pain away until it could be dealt with.

"A- a soldier's pride," Renka answers back. "And honor." She adjusts the hold her hands have on her sword, readying herself. She has not been called off, not been told to fall back. And like a blindly faithful dog, it seems she'll keep attacking until told otherwise or ultimately stopped. "Demand nothing less."

She detected no trace of demon blood in this one. But that's not what her senses insist must be the case as the warrior. She knew killing intent well enough, had been bathed in it before, had gasped for breath under the suffocating presence of hunters that would devour her if they caught her. But knowing it doesn't compare to the moment the shock wave of threat crashes into her. Heart beating hundreds of times a minute, she fights back against her instinctual drive to escape, to survive, to flee as she always had long ago.

For the fox-tailed darkstalker, bravery wasn't the absence of fear, but mastery of it. She would decide her course. She would continue to fight.

The Martyr of Might surges into action, closing the distance between them in an instant. She already tasted enough of his strength to know that she couldn't remotely hope to withstand a direct blow. From forty feet away, he had blasted her away... it's not going to be any better when he's in her face, applying his monstrous strength as well.

he kick comes. Already, a foxfire sphere surges into an intercepting course. But this time, she isn't depending on the ephemeral barrier it creates, bringing her arms to protect her head and face, leaping to the side in a last second desperate attempt to avoid the doom hammering leg of the unknown warrior.

As before, the explosion of energy blots out all sight of the kitsune as an entire quarter of the lobby is filled with powderized marble, shattered wood, and twisted metal.

There is no trace of the fox-tailed creature as the Duodecim scion unleashes one of her devestating spells. Nor would one expect there to be. With a clean hit, she could have been kicked to death by a single blow. The physical power behind it would nearly have been enough alone, but the megaton nuclear explosion of chi that accompanied it was exactly the kind of weaponized energy the fox spirit couldn't handle.

Which is why, perhaps, the Gatekeeper could be forgiven should he be caught off guard again by a figure leaping out of the smoke toward him, blazing blue sword raised over her head, her body leaving a long trail of and a long trail of finely powdered stonework stretching out behind her like the world's tiniest comet. Covered in thick, white dust, her uniform jacket and shirt missing most of the material over her lower torso and her skirt missing the greater part of half its right side, Renka Kaneko looks more like a specter back from the dead to attack him than a creature of flesh and bone.

But the blotches of crimson soaking through the obscuring dust, the fierce growl of determination, and the all too solid incoming overhead spinning slash of her blazing sword indicate that she is, somehow, very much still alive.

COMBATSYS: Grant just-defends Katarina's Eternal Waltz!

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|-------
[                         \\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Renka            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>>>>>\>------\1         Katarina

COMBATSYS: Grant dodges Renka's This Matter of Honor ES.

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|-------
[                         \\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Renka            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>>>>>\>------\1         Katarina

A thick cloud of choking stone dust rages out from the point where Grant's foot struck the unfortunate fox spirit, the whipping wind carrying within it splinters of shattered furniture as well as tiny flecks of flickering orange cinders. It is into the heart of this Maelstrom that Katarina must dive, the force of her own power pushing back the howling element, her radiant presence casting ghostly Azure and silver ghosts through the choking dust.
At the heart of the chaos, crouched low like a gargoyle with his long cloak rippling out across the floor behind him, waits the shadowed presence of the Demon Martyr of Might. Flickers of flame-like golden chi still burn within the crater his impact made, but the murderous purity of its light does not touch the monster that waits at its center.
From above the white-haired Lieutenant streaks toward him, power burning in her eyes and sabers singing around her to the beat of a deadly song only she can hear. Lifting his horned head to regard her, the demon unfolds from the earth to meet her charge, the last of the golden chi surging up around him as he swings his left arm up into a violent knife-hand block.
The impact of hardened flesh against Katarina's right wrist is enough to knock her opening lunge off course, the silver saber stabbing wide of his muscular bulk while a sheet of raging energy trails behind his arm, rising up to smash against the whirling saw of her halo of swords in a riot of flashing lights and clamorous sound. At the same moment, the hellish gatekeeper's right hand snaps out through the conflagration to clamp around the slender woman's right wrist, guiding her follow up slash up over his head. From there, a step in close beneath her floating feet gives him leverage to twist in a tight half circle and sweep the lightweight woman around his body, sending her humming up and away through the air in a throw that is unfortunately useless for doing much more than disrupting her rhythm.
With instincts honed from decades of combat, the guardian throws himself hard to his right a bare heartbeat before Corporal Renka's foxfire-infused blade cleaves a blurring path through the arc of bloody droplets that still hang suspended in the wake of his preternatural dodge. Having narrowly avoided being bisected from forehead to naval, the wounded guardian leaves the snarling soldier to continue passed and vanish once more into the dust.
A quiet grunt escapes the monolith of muscle as he plants his right foot and re-directs the course of his evasion, transitioning into a dashing sprint of bare feet over shattered ground. White hair whipping out behind his head, black cloak a fluttering banner that proclaims his passage, he chases along Katarina's diverted path in an attempt to overtake her before she can fully recover her equilibrium. The speed of his passage leaves a tunnel of dust behind that swirls and roils, marking his progress even as the oddly shadowed nature of his power bleeds away, revealing the man beneath. A man who is yet still wounded, left side gaping open from a strike that should have been fatal, though the blood that drips from it does so only in a slow, steady trickle gummed with grime.
The noise that emanates from beneath his mask begins as a growl and ends in a rising roar, the muscle-bound Martyr launching himself through the dusty air in a dashing tackle meant to hammer his masked forehead squarely into Katarina's own much lovelier face, the weight of his bulk powering on to drive through her with sheer muscular power, as if to overrun her and trample her beneath him despite the pesky fact she happens to be flying.

COMBATSYS: Grant knocks away Katarina with Gou Dangai.

                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|-----==
[                         \\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Renka            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>>>>>\>------\1         Katarina

Surprise is the first reaction that overtakes Katarina as the giant's hands close down around her wrist mid-swing. Her azure eyes open wide in alarm at the golden demonic face that turns to glower its disdain at her as the warrior behind it seems to casually thread the needle between her sweeping blades with his muscular arms. The shimmering wave of power collides with her wall of singing swords in a cacophanous blast that sends both scattering throughout the room in motes of colorful light. With her two-pronged attack foiled in one elegant manuever the mage attempts to strike down with her other blade even as Grant seeks to fling her away but masked warrior seems to be one step ahead of her again.

The powerful toss sends Katarina whirling sideways through the air for a few moments but she regains control before plowing into one of the many pillars decorating the foyer. Now her surprise turns to outrage and indignation, the wide-eyed look of shock replaced with a tight-lipped snarl. She turns to glower down at her foe, already conjuring fresh blades of light to her side, just in time to see the wounded form of her subordinate launch her desperate strike at man's exposed flank.

There is a brief moment where she almost feels a touch of pride at the little beast's tenacity. Even clearly wounded as she is, Renka's dedication to engaging the foes of the Imperator or simply following orders is commendable. For all the grief that Katarina gives the darkstalker, she has to admit, she's never given the fox a chance to prove herself. Perhaps she might be of use afterall.

That thought is rapidly discarded as the useless furball's strike hits nothing but empty air. By all that is sacred, can she do /anything/ right?! This failed sneak attack further complicates matters by leaving the guardian in a position to immediately counter-attack. Knowing that he is in no danger from immediate reprisal by Renka while she regains her balance after such a commited strike, Grant is free to hurl himself bodily at the hovering scion.

Hissing in frustration, Katarina flicks one of her blades out in a rapid series of motions, carving an arcane barrier into the air in front of her. Just in time the shimmering dome of light starts to coalesce into a glowing ward as the flying headbutt slams into its eldritch surface. But, as before, it proves inadequate to completely stop the impending strike. With only a few heartbeats to react, the mage manages to curl up into a defensive position, her arms and legs rising up to create a hardened surface for the tackle to impact upon rather than her delicate face or fragile ribcage.

The impact is no less unpleasant for her efforts though arguably less debilitating. Grant's furious tackle slams into Katarina's forearms and shins like a hammer and the young mage once more goes flying backwards as if fired out of a cannon. This time she fails to regain control over her flight in time to avoid slamming into the far wall. The second bone-rattling collision nearly knocks her out completely but sheer stubborness keeps the woman clinging furiously to conscious even as she struggles to regain her breath in a fit of ragged coughs and wheezes.

After only a few seconds Katarina turns her head up to glare at their foe, her face still contorted in pain as she sucks in deep lungfuls of air. Fresh azure power flickers behind her eyes as she forces herself to raise one of the silvery song blades high into the air. The attempt is too soon to be properly controlled, her vision still blurry and her limbs struggling to respond, but her pride will not allow the scion to display weakness.

With a melodic hum the sword slices downwards in a sharp vertical cut. A flash of silvery light explodes from the curved edge as it carves into the air sending a crescent wave of warbling noise ripping across the room. It builds in size and sound as it travels, a discordant chord that crescendos into a thunderous crash of harmonic power.

As her blade whooshes through the air, leaving a crescent shaped wake of fiercely burning foxfire, Renka descends back into the cataclysm of smoke and dust filling the lobby from the hellborn Gatekeeper's latest attack, landing hard as her feet impact the rubble-strewn marble floor. Her body was a thing of sheer agony, overwhelming even her supernatural capacity for numbing pain. It was nearly debilitating as her mind fought against the maelstrom of panic threatening fear and crippling pain from several internal injuries all registering as alerts to just how dire her condition was.

She staggers in the blinding cloud, shoulders falling as she stumbles to a knee, eyes closing, head bowed. Her sword planted against the floor, she looks on the verge of complete collapse. Only two prevailing thoughts manged to break through the fog of pain - dislodging this Syndicate enigma was her job and, for all the antipathy she always sensed from the young woman, and for all the distaste she held for the egotistical monster in return, the Lieutenant was her superior office.

Ingrained in the darkstalker soldier was a loyalty born of origins far deeper than simply Librarium boot camp training, and a compulsion to protect her own stronger than the chains of despair that would otherwise pull her inexorably to collapse. By human reckoning, she had lifetimes worth of chances to observe what it meant to fight for, and die for an ideal and she had internalized those lessons, those examples, at such a level that they defined her character every bit as much as her darkstalker blood.

If she fell, Katarina would stand alone. Maybe she could face this titanic power on her own - the noble's potential was unknown to her - but nothing about the fox-eared creature's soul would allow finding out by chance as long as an iota of consciousness remained in her wounded form. She didn't have long, she knew. She wanted to tell Katarina about his heart, about the flicker she had heard in its powerful beat, but she could barely form the words in her head let alone give them utterance through the salty blood pooling in her mouth.

Gritting teeth as blood seeps from the corner of her mouth, Renka stands, whirling around with a wide, sweeping slash of her sword, dispelling the obscuring cloud from around her with the sudden movement. Her eyes fixated on the wounded defender as she resolved to leave nothing on the table - everything would be given to her attempt to either bring him down, or leave him vulnerable to the Librarium mage's assaults.

Dropping to one knee, her left hand plants against the floor, leaving a bloody print as the dozens of lacerations in her skin continue to leak crimson vigor. Her right hand slides her sword back into its sheath on her left hip. Covered in white with splashes of sanguine stains, Corporal Kaneko draws back her lips, teeth bared. A soft growl in her throat accompanies the sudden division of the remaining foxfire spheres hovering around her. The two smaller remaining foxfire spheres split into two motes of light, while the larger one that had been tending to her injuries splits into four. Each mote arcs down around the crouched kitsune, each becoming a seemingly perfect mirror image of the creature, complete with the same visible wounds, damage, and battle-inflicted grime and dust.

Where there was one now nine appeared, nine pairs of eyes focused on Grant, nine bestial growls echoing in unison.

Sentient thought gives way to instinctual need as she surrenders herself to the side of herself she always fights to keep repressed - the part that hearkened back to her older, wilder days. And as one, the perfectly coordinated pack of vulpine predators surges into action toward the Martyr of Might, nine streaks of foxfire azure closing in on him - some straight, others arcing in from his sides, all of them lunging the last two meters in a single bound, their right hands extended, fingers splayed and curled forward slightly like claws.

Each seeking that briefest of undefended touches it would take to let her ravenous hunger feed, to consume the Hell Knight's remaining years in a singularly violent feast.

COMBATSYS: Grant Toughs Out Katarina's Vibrato Crescendo!

                 [            |||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|---====
[                         \\\\\  < >  ///////////////               ]
Renka            0/-------/-------|=======\==-----\1         Katarina

COMBATSYS: Grant interrupts #This Animus of Mine EX# from Renka with Maheki EX.

                 [               ||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|=======
[                                < >  ///////////////               ]
Renka            0/-------/--<<<<<|=======\==-----\1         Katarina

The impact of the demon's masked face against Katarina's braced limbs is still vibrating through his body when the hulking man drops out of the air, bare feet impacting the shattered marble with a heavy crunch. The last of his echoing roar fading into the swirling dust, breaths coming slow and heavy, he turns his back on the mage who is still gathering her wits some distance away, red eyes ablaze as they stare through the flickering gloom toward the dancing light of Renka's foxfire orbs. Whatever weakness the Corporal had sensed in him is nowhere in evidence as he slides his left foot forward, knees bending and arms sweeping into place across his chest in that odd crossed stance he started the fight with.
"Duty and honor are excuses. Lies that you tell yourself to justify your place in a world full of cowards. It is your choice to shackle yourself to those too weak to defend themselves, but do not mistake the facts. There are kind hearted sheep."
That is all that the wounded guardian has time to say before the fierce growl of the fox is multiplied beyond the partial obscurement of the smoke, the kneeling soldier's silhouette duplicating itself in a pulse of bluish lights. At the same moment, the mage abandoned against a pillar some distance behind him must have finished shaking off her impact, as he can both hear and feel the ever-growing wave of discordant energy that now screams toward his back.
Throwing himself forward into a dashing slide, the Martyr Of Might helps the charging pack of battered foxes to close the distance, the wave of energy swelling larger and larger as it follows him in. Paying it no mind, he dives headlong into the midst of the reaching spirits, allowing the chasing wave to tear a path up his cloak, black cloth shredding in all directions, and strike his back in a blast of clashing sounds and a burst of raw chi.
Riding the wave forward, Grant plants his left foot solidly in the center of the reaching foxes, energy expanding out around him, and allows that last, infinite moment to stretch as he waits for the contact of flesh on flesh.
Fifteen claws of raw, painful need spike into various points along his body, spiritual fingers seeking to dig in and yank the life from his mortal coil. However, before he can, he feels the press of small, living fingers to a spot along his left flank, and time snaps forward at what must be twice normal speed.
With the last of the force of Katarina's energy wave driving him forward and down into the ground, he shoves off of his planted foot and rebounds from the shattered marble, throwing himself back and to his left even as his entire body begins to spin. The abrupt change in direction sends flames of pain tearing across his soul as the claws of hungry fox clones are torn free of his self, a low grunt of effort rumbling through Renka's palm as the hulking man spins toward her.
Arms swinging open with a blast of wind that clears the dust for 50 feet in all directions, Grant completes his spin and ploughs through the fox-tailed Corporal's hand, his stony bulk slamming into her full on. Chest to chest, stomach to stomach, he hammers into, then through her, his greater mass driving her away as he escapes the net of closing foxes through the gap she had once filled, arms flung wide and every muscle throughout his heavy form flexed into a wall of living iron.
Bare feet skidding across the stony ground and long white hair coming to settle against his now bare back, he glances down toward the battered fox spirit and lowers his arms.
"I do not believe your lies. The reason you fight is simple. Combat is the only time this world will ever allow you to be what you truly are."

With their opponent forced to dedicate him attentions to the impressive display of spiritual power unleashed by her subordinate, Katarina is given the time she needs to recover. Her ragged coughs steady to measured breathing once more as the faint haze of disorientation fades from her vision allowing her to see clearly the masterful way in which the guardian escapes almost certain doom yet again. Almost as if he had practiced it a thousand times, the masked warrior finds but a single opening in the net rapidly closing in around him and exploits it with pinpoint precision. Even more grating is the manner in which he uses her own strike to facilitate this maneuver, as if the destructive power unleashed by her magic is little more than a rough shove.

"Damn that man," the mage hisses under her breath, struggling to contain a fresh surge of hatred for the Ravenguard commander.

Not only had he disgraced her by making a personal request, as if she would be more amenable to that filthy mongrel's pitiful whining, but he had backed her into a corner that all but required she comply. Even worse, she'd be forced to rush head-first into an unknown situation without intel, reconnaissance, or even a chance to brush up on what sort of resistance might be waiting for her. The criminal underworld of Southtown rarely made itself of concern during her normal duties. Even when she was called upon by the Intelligence division they tended to direct her efforts at threats of a more mystical nature.

The presence of someone like Grant was far beyond what she had expected to encounter. How the hell did some filthy crime boss come to employ a warrior as skilled as this? The answer is obvious even as the question flits across her mind - money, of course. Mercenaries are hardly anything new in the seedy underworld but to find someone as dangerous as this man working for the Syndicate puts a new perspective on the threat they possess. As much as she is loathe to admit it, there may be a need for a tactical withdrawal in this scenario.


Katarina's eyes widen as a soft voice slithers across the edge of her perception. Wheeling around, she casts her gaze about in search of the source. Thick shadows congeal in dark pools around the wide room offering plenty of places for a lurking threat to hide yet as she casts a quick burst of magical power out to scan for signs of life she already knows that there is nothing there to find.


Again the voice rakes at her consciousness seeming to slide across the surface of her mind like the slimy touch of a writhing tentacle. Katarina whirls around again, once more trying to locate the origins of this cretinous voyeur that would hurl insults at her from hiding and again she finds nothing.


The voice chortles at her efforts in mocking derision while simultaneously casting yet another backhand against her pride. For reasons that she cannot understand each of the words spoken have a far greater weight than they should. Why would she care what some random person thinks about her? She is above the petty masses and their opinions. To base ones perceptions of their own worth on the judgement of others is to shackle yourself to their will. Such behavior is reserved for the lowborn, not a noble of the Duodecim.


The voice seems to take particular delight as it drives that barb into her skull. The mage recoils involuntarily, her teeth grinding together as she snarls at the darkness with steadily growing rage. It is right, of course, which only makes her reaction all the more furious. There are people whose opinions she holds in great regard, perhaps even enough to have based her actions on how they might react to them. But surely this is different! To hold respect or reverence for those who have deserved it is a far cry from capitulating to the ignorant beliefs of the common folk. Would it not be more uncouth to refuse to afford those who have earned her admiration their due?

*Sweet lies...*

"Shut up, shut up, shut up!"

Katarina hisses a dismissal at the shapeless void, her voice low and dangerous. The carefully maintained control on her emotions begins to waver and with it her ability to maintain the powerful sorcery currently fueling her abilities. Not that it seems to have done her much good against the masked guardian. With reaction times such as his, the only thing that seems to be even partially effective is massive blasts which are too large for the man to easily escape and such things will drain her quickly if she relies on them heavily.

As the taunting voice continues to rasp its poisonous words into her mind a wave of sudden exhaustion slams into her like a brick wall. Katarina staggers and nearly falls to one knee, managing to rescue herself from the humiliation only by planting one of her blades into the floor and leaning on it heavily. She doesn't have time for this! Her focus needs to be on the present danger. She can deal with whatever this voice is later.

Closing her eyes and taking a long calming breath, the mage pushes the maddening whispers to the back of her mind and recenters. The entity continues to scratch and mewl at her incessantly but for the moment she can ignore it and focus on the task at hand. The faint aura of azure power, all but guttered out in her moment of distraction, flares back to life as she gathers fresh energies to herself from the Boundary. The Music Box warbles with corrupted glee as she forges a more solid connection with the grimoire and the discordant music of the World-Song rises in jubilant crescendo to offer its tainted power unto her once more.

The fate of her companion seems all but sealed. Such devastating strikes would lay low even the most hardy of warriors. Though she is not entirely certain of the limits that her mystical soldier possesses the damage inflicted upon her by the previous assaults seems to indicate that she is just as susceptible to being punched as everyone else. Barring a miracle, she's alone now.

COMBATSYS: Katarina gathers her will.

                 [               ||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|=======
[                                < >  ////////////////              ]
Renka            0/-------/--<<<<<|=======\======-\1         Katarina

The collision is akin to hurling one's self into an unyielding, armored wall. Except the wall surges out to meet her. Running more on instinct than conscious drive, Renka's only thought is about how badly she wanted an excuse to sate her hunger without reservation or caution for her source. Everyday, she would take traces from those around her, pull a little strength from a soldier working alongside her, samples taken from people she passes by, always careful not to hurt them. At worst, they might require rest sooner than they might expect... but she was putting that energy taken to good use, right?

The instant her hand slams out, reaching for the steel flesh of the Tower Guardian, all she wants to do is gorge on the power sensed within. With it, she could mend her wounds, replenish her strength, and be just as strong and healthy as before the encounter began - if not even healthier.

The masked demon meets her, pivoting toward her siphoning touch, and slamming himself into her space as if she was no more solid than her eight foxfire companions. In that instant of contact, energy is wrested and claimed, a morsel of what she had been about to take. But no more than that before his chest smashes against her arm, bone buckling then breaking instantly, her arm crushed against her chest as the muscular titan crushes against the much smaller target.

Renka is sent flying back as each of her foxfire clones scatters into swirling motes of flame then wink from existence, draining the azure luminescence that had colored the room along with them.

The kitsune's spine smacks against a column of stone, more pulverized powder erupting into the area around her as she starts to sink down to the floor, eyes wide open and staring, yet focused on nothing at all.

She catches herself before she lands in a seated position, leg tensing, causing her to drop forward to her bloody left hand. Her right arm dangles from her shoulder, a boneless thing that serves only to flood every synapse of pain tolerance the supernatural creature has. She isn't breathing. The damage within may very well be making it impossible.

Fatal damage for humans, perhaps, but left alone, she would slowly mend. Even the small portion of stolen vitality from the Hell Knight would be able to do that, given enough time. But none of that registers either. Every trace thought left to the creature compels her to keep fighting, oblivious to just how impossible that is.

Words echo in her ears - lies, fight, combat... truly are. When she lunges next, left arm snapping up to slash out at the Martyr of Might, it is every bit as much to refute his message as it is to keep fighting for survival.

The lunge is violent as it is inelegant - a full bodied pounce, left arm sweeping, fingers splayed, as one last swath of azure foxfire burns in the wake of her limb. With everything committed to the attack, there is no thought, not even on the subconscious level, given to weathering the landing. The only small mercy is that she won't be conscious to feel how unkind the ruined marble floor can be.

COMBATSYS: Renka can no longer fight.

                 [               ||||||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|=======
                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                  |=======\======-\1         Katarina

COMBATSYS: Renka successfully hits Grant with Mistaken Mercies.
- Power hit! -

                 [                  |||||||||||| ]
                 Grant            1|-------|=======
                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                  |=======\======-\1         Katarina

With the air around him clear of dust and Katarina's distant silver glow illuminating him from the side, Grant paces toward the Kitsune who slumps before him. Badly wounded, bowed yet unbroken. If she were in a clearer state of mind she might sense the grim respect that emanates from the guardian. The bloody appreciation for a warrior willing to give everything they are to achieve victory.
He is not surprised when she comes for him, lunging up from the busted floor with the ferocious savagery of a cornered animal. To do anything less at this point would go against everything she has proven herself to be.
Right arm lifting to intercept the blow, he catches the swipe with a solid impact of forearm to wrist. However, the sweep of energy trailing behind the blow carries on, gouging a shallow furrow across the back of his arm and continuing forward to carve into the right side of his face and chest. Instinctively the big man lashes out, catching the Corporal by the throat and dangling her booted feet off of the ground while a thin trickle of blood blossoms from the line across his pectoral, undamaged mask tilting to regard her. Crimson eyes gazing into green, he watches her consciousness fade, staring her into blackness.
"Until the next time you are free."
The words hold a low note of finality. A last goodbye to a friend that, perhaps, he might see again some time down the road. But if that is how he feels, he does not show it in the way he opens his thick fingers, allowing the fox-tailed girl to drop to the floor in a crumpled heap. Treating her unconscious body with no more regard than a discarded cloak, he turns away from her, beginning his measured approach toward the recovered mage.
Though he was otherwise occupied with the first half of her gesticulations, the Martyr of Might watches as the silver-haired woman turns in all directions, looking wildly around for likely escape. The repeated murmur of 'Shut Up' reaches him, but he seems to take no offence, as grimly focused and intent upon her as he has ever been.
"I have no respect for one who depends upon others to fight their battles. Were your partner not here, I would have long since torn you apart."
Feet crunching across shattered marble, the floor a broken landscape that radiates out in all directions, the wounded demon approaches across the last 30 feet. His left side still yawns open, a wide smile above the hipbone that exposes glistening bone and red meat beneath. Bloody saliva drools from the slack lips, even as red tears weep from the gashes along arm and chest. But still he stands, wounded, slowed, yet still very very dangerous.
Angling his masked head down to fixed burning eyes upon the kneeling woman, he grunts.
"It is time for us to see what your word is worth. Come. Help me to die tired."
The gatekeeper's next step impacts the ground with a shuddering THUD that can be felt throughout the building, his aura darkening with raw, killing intent as he uses the stomp to anchor himself for a sudden, blisteringly fast charge. Closing the last 15 feet with 3 blurring steps he brings his right hand arcing up from below, attempting to smash through the kneeling woman's saber and drive his open palm into the muscle beneath her breastbone. To launch both of them up and back into the air with the force of the rising uppercut, up and up toward the ceiling, his bulk drifting lightly above her, before his left fist falls like the hammer of god to send her spiking back toward earth.

COMBATSYS: Katarina blocks Grant's Kyouchoujin.

                 [                    |||||||||| ]
                 Grant            1|-------|=======
                                  >  ///////////                   ]
                                  |>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2         Katarina

Katarina ignores the biting remark leveled at her by the bloody giant as he slowly plods towards her with a menacing finality. While she is quite confident in her own martial prowess on the battlefield there is no dishonor in a commander directing the soldiers underneath their command into the fight.

The idea that a single unmatched warrior is the dominant force in warfare had died an ignoble death with the advent of firearms. When all one had to contend with was swords and spears there was a finite number of threats which could harry a singular fighter at once. Bullets, on the other hand, are quite small and the weapons which hurl them competently wieldable by anyone with a functional hand. The knights and samurai of old, myths of mighty heroes forged from birth in the fires of war and capable of standing strong against entire armies, are long since faded into the annals of history.

The mocking voice in her head attempts to latch onto this fresh sting at her pride but she roughly shoves it back into the dark corners of her mind before it can hiss out more than a couple of syllables. There is no time for doubts any more if she wishes to survive this confrontation.

The smart choice would still be to fall back and seek out reinforcements. As quick as this masked warrior is, he remains bound by the ground by the laws of reality. She could simply fly away, dart up towards the towering ceiling and out one of the building's exterior windows. Few would fault her for such an action. After all, it is the duty of a commanding officer to survive in order to preserve the Librarium's chain-of-command. What purpose have the footsoldiers other than to sacrifice themselves on behalf of their betters while in pursuit of a greater good?

Yet, where such logic would have easy swayed her into a hasty retreat before, something about the prospect of leaving her petulent aide behind in this situation leaves a sour taste in her mouth. Perhaps it is the imagery of the wounded fox so dutifully hurling herself into harm's way despite her own greivous injuries that keeps her rooted in place. The knowledge that some filthy beast possesses more courage than her own is certainly troubling. On the other hand, a faithful hound is equally willing to sacrifice itself for its master by virtue of being trained to do so. An apt comparison, no doubt, yet are there not many who would be equally zealous in defending such a loyal companion?

Grinding her teeth in frustration, Katarina finds herself unable to justify the prudent course of action. Honor and pride overwhelm good sense and, though she cannot sense it in the moment, the dark tendrils of murderous lust from the corruption in her soul worm their way into her reasoning. She will stand and fight and show this arrogant fool what it means to cross a loyal servant of the Imperator!

Grant's thunderous upwards sweep slams into the mage's chest with enough force to shatter stone. The impact sweeps the slender young woman into the air with ease, hurling her skywards even as the masked guardian launches himself up alongside her for a devastating follow-up. However, rather than driving the scion into the hard stone of the floor, his second swing finds no purchase, leaving him to tumble alone back to the ground as his quarry darts out of reach in a sudden burst of backwards momentum.

Katarina sneers at her foe from on high, looking down on him as a noble might a filthy peasant groveling in the dirt at her feet. A shimmering circle of azure power slowly fades away from her chest, interlocked weaves of arcane symbols unraveling as their protective energies dissipate from the strain of stopping the hammerblow that likely would have snapped her in half. Blazing blue light glimmers like cerulean fire behind her eyes as the Boundary channels its boundless energies to her from a possible future. With such potential flooding through her body she doesn't even feel the bruises of the fight, her pain and anxiety replaced with raw primal vigor.

"I have no need to prove myself to you, worm!"

The singing saber lets out a melodic chirp as she lifts it into the air over her head with a swift and precise motion. As she has done so before, the mage conjures forth small motes of light which detach themselves from the seething corona of azure power surrounding her, only this time they manifest by the dozens. Like deadly kernels of popcorn, each of the tiny seeds blossoms into a silverly humming blade in rapid succession. As each new weapon manifests it unleashes a burst of harmonic sound creating a pleasant melody that lingers in the air.

"But if death is what you seek then allow me to play a dirge for the end of your miserable life!"

Katarina's eyes widen with a flash of manic glee as the World-Song rises in jubilant anticipation of the violence about to be unleashed. The mage lowers her saber towards Grant and with a little flick of her wrist sets the first notes of her destructive symphony into motion. Seemingly at random, the swords dart forward like magical missiles on a collision course with the masked fiend. As before, each blade detonates in a blast of force and sound upon impact, removing the need for pin-point accuracy in favor of raw destructive potential.

Like a conductor directing an orchestra, Katarina continues to bounce her saber in a rythmic motion as wave after wave of enchanted blades rains down upon the room below. She doesn't bother trying to avoid hitting her fallen subordinate. Even if she cared, the creature is most likely already dead, but there is little room for such concerns in the scion's focus. All she needs right now is to hurt the man in front of her and in so doing lure forth the sweet embrace of the World-Song.

COMBATSYS: Grant blocks Katarina's Symphony of Destruction.

                 [                      |||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|---====
                                  >  ////////////                  ]
                                  |>>>>>>>\-------\1         Katarina

With the descending sweep of his fist striking nothing but air, Grant is forced to follow the blow back down to earth even as the slippery mage escapes to the sky. He does not fall without grace, however, the muscular man thudding to earth in a low, predatory crouch that speaks of a large jungle cat pouncing upon prey. Bloody droplets pattering to the ground around his bare feet, he tilts his masked face up toward the sneering woman far above him, rising to his full height even as a constellation of blades begins to form around her. And though his face is hidden, the ferocious visage of the oni that has replaced it does not look impressed.
Even still, the threat of so many blades can not be taken lightly. One after another, the humming silver sabers blossom into life above him, granting the interior of the lobby an illusion of silvery noon.
The big man grunts once, rough and distinct.
The blades fall.
Snapping his left arm out in a vicious backhanded chop, he cleaves the first projectile in half with a thunderous BANG, residual buffeting against his planted bulk with little effect. The second is rent asunder by a lunging elbow, third punched from the air with such force that the breeze tosses the big man's long white hair straight out behind him. Blade after blade is met with relentless violence, and yet there is an effect. Bruises begin appearing along his muscular arms. A small cut is torn into the back of his left fist. Gradually, the blades begin to ware down his defenses, until, abruptly, he shifts tactics.
Springing forward, the huge man swings his right leg straight up, thigh pressing along the length of his abdomen, and brings his heel crashing down upon an incoming blade with apocalyptic force. Riding the concussion, he skips up higher into the air, rebounds off of another blade, and stomps down on a third, launching himself through the storm of projectiles and straight up toward where the lunatic Lieutenant still hovers.
Soaring up through a swirl of blade-filled air, the hulking man twists his torso to the side, left leg scything up and around in an ascending kick that aims to bring the iron-hard bone of his shin crashing into her right upper arm and ribs with enough force to shatter bone, or at the very least send her flipping end over end through the air in a bid to break her concentration and destroy what remains of the blade storm still filling the lobby.

COMBATSYS: Grant knocks away Katarina with Medium Kick.

                 [                     ||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|=======
                                  >  ///                           ]
                                  |>>>>>>>\-------\1         Katarina

The cacophonous roar of the musical bombardment drowns out all other sound. Within the confines of the cavernous foyer the noise is made even more oppressive, rebounding and echoing from the walls and floors in a solid deluge of whimsical chimes, lilting strumming, and bombastic trumpeting. Even as they shatter themselves upon the iron-clad defense of the masked Syndicate devil the swords die as part of a joyous and grand orchestral symphony of raw destruction.

While he may have been able to shield himself against the worst of the barrage, Geese Tower weathers the storm in a less impressive fashion. For every projectile that Grant smashes aside two more rain down around him on wild corkscrewing paths. Thunderous detonations of raw sound send plumes of shattered stone and fancy carpeting spraying out in all directions showering the room with shards of fuzzy detritus. The pillars of exquisite marble in the vincinty of the mage's target are pummeled into little more than green powder while the plush leather furniture all but ceases to exist as anything more than bits of expensive confetti.

Yet for all of the demolition that she brings to bear upon the building, stone cannot feel pain nor wood cry out in anguish. The need, the overwhelming desire pulsating within her soul, to inflict pain upon the warrior before her continues to go unfulfilled as he displays once more the skill which earned him the trust of his criminal employer. Blade after blade is smashed aside with viscious focus, his deadly fists smashing aside magical strikes that would have blasted a lesser man apart.

While the effort of this aggressive defense is clearly wearing her foe down, Grant seems to realize this as well. No sooner than it seems him might finally falter in his monstrous rampage the guardian hurls himself into an utterly insane display of acrobatic maneuvers that would have been suicide for anyone less sturdy. Riding the explosions of her own attack like shockwaves, he ascends the stairway created by her blades with the very obvious intent to shut down the source the magical storm before it can overwhelm him.

Katarina's smirk, filled with haughty confidence at first, slowly shifts throughout the course of the events that unfold. Watching her unrelenting barrage get torn apart by nothing more than a criminal goon's bare hands very nearly sends her into a rage. But as time and time again Grant manages to ward off the onslaught her fury quickly begins to turn into fear. A mere human should not possess such power! Magic is the ultimate form of destructive potential literally harnessing the very fabric of the universe to create impossible phenomenon.


Katarina's terrified question is cut short as the bone-crushing attack slams into her from the side. The mage attempts to intercept the strike as she has done several times already, her fingers flicking to the side in an arcane gesture meant to conjure up a barrier of defense but this time she isn't quick enough. Her motions are unsure and frantic, her hands shaking as the giant hurls himself up at her like a red-eyed demon.

The kick slams into her arm with a resounding crunch that seems to bring an end to the baleful melody in one swift motion. The remaining swords falter and then explode into tiny motes of light, showering the room with azure fireflies. Katarina's eyes go wide in shock and pain as she flies backwards, a shrill girlish shriek filling the void left by her deadly music. Whatever magic kept her aloft before fails to prove her any protection against the fall this time. The small woman hits the ground with the grace of a sack of potatoes, bouncing bonelessly across the ruined marble floor until she comes to rest in one of the many craters created by her magical attack.

All goes silent for several long moments. With both commander and subordinate now laid low, it would seem that Grant has succeeded at his mission to defend the tower. At the very least these two won't be offering any aid to others who might have chosen a more subtle method of ingress. A hard fought battle but once again he has proven himself the mightier.

Before the masked warrior can go through the effort of taking out the trash from his master's demense, however, a soft sound of shifting stone can be heard from the fallen mage's direction. Impossibly, the wisp of a woman slowly rises to her feet with her back turned towards him. Though her right arm hangs useless and limp at her side, the other moves with an easy grace that seems almost contemputously carefree as it flicks the tall hat from the top of her head. The metal-encrusted headgear clatters noisily as it skips sideways across the ruined floor, bouncing several times before coming to rest. Another quick motion sees the mage's hand dance down the front of her heavy greatcoat as she unfastens each button with a dismissive flick of her fingers, eventually shrugging the entire thing off once free of its fastenings.

Underneath the thick military shroud, Katarina's attire is of a far less formal nature. A black nylon bodysuit clings to her shapely form with a snugness that leaves little to the imagination. With her back turned towards Grant, he is given a clear view of the fact that the majority of the back half of the outfit is simply not there, going so far as to dip so low that he is given a rather suggestive view of her pale cheeks. Rather than seem embarassed by this, Katarina casually uses her good hand to flick her long snowy white hair out in a dismissive fashion as she shakes her head as if only just freshly stepping out of the shower.

"Fall to your knees and they'll overlook you...
Play along, they'll move onto somebody new..."

The girl's voice rises in a soft musical cant as she starts to sing. Her tone is almost mischievious and playful but there's something decidedly eerie about her mannerisms. The way she moves looks unnatural, too fluid and controlled to belong to the same woman who was crippled with panic and pain only but a few moments ago.

"Save your complaints...
Til they're gone and won't hear..."

Slowly, with an almost deliberate dramatic flare to her timing, Katarina finally turns to regard the deadly threat still looming only a short distance away. The transformation between the haughty noble scion and what he sees now is quite extreme. While the thick greatcoat possessed a tall collar that often made it difficult to see the young woman's full features, her pale face is now encased in a thick black mask.

Much like the obscuring face-coverings often attributed to ninja in pop-culture, the mask covers the entirity of the girl's features from the bridge of her nose down to the base of her neck with a form-fitted shell of what appears to be hardened plastic or leather. Yet as her coy glance slowly reveals more and more of the girl's face it becomes apparent that this mask is something entirely unnatural. A long horizontal zipper splits the center of the mask open where her mouth would normally be. Rather than reveal what lies below, the mouth inside of the zipper seems to be fused into the mask itself, offering a macabre view of a bright red gums filled with a neat row of pristine white teeth.

The surface of the mask twists like living tissue as Katarina flashes the warrior a toothy rictus grin. The one eye that he can see from her sideways stance glows with ominous power, though unlike the azure energy of Boundary that she channeled before her pupil is now ablaze with a seething mass of crimson red light across which bits of dark black matter float like molten rock across the surface of a pool of red-hot lava.

"They'll turn out the lights..."

As she whispers the next line of the creepy lyrics the entire building suddenly becomes bathed in an all-consuming darkness. Even in the brief moment that he is plunged into this unnatural void, Grant would be able to tell that this is far beyond any mere lack of darkness. The very air around him seems to grow cold and hostile as if the very presence of his blazing spirit is offensive to inky darkness.

"But you won't disappear..."

An almost child-like giggle whispers into his ear from only inches away as something brushes past him in the darkness. It takes only a moment to realize what it is - the soft touch of someone's long hair dragging across his bicep. He is given the distinct impression of a slender female figure outlined in stark white like chalk upon a blackboard as it darts past him with impish brazenness. Yet, should he react to attempt to seize or strike at the presence he would find that there is naught to be found save the emptiness of the strange void.

Moments later the blackness peels itself away from his senses like the covers being drawn away from a sleeping child's head. He is once more plunged back into the familiar firmness of reality amidst the destruction wrought by the battle. Of the bizzare mage and her furry subordinate there are no signs, save the odd splash of blood left behind by the wounds inflicted upon them and the fading whispers of eerie laughter.

COMBATSYS: Katarina takes no action.

                 [                     ||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|=======

COMBATSYS: Katarina can no longer fight.

                 [                     ||||||||| ]
                 Grant            0|-------|=======

Though three times before they have clashed in this fight, muscle against magic, might against magery, it is only at the end, with all other pretences stripped away and the potential for a true death staring her in the face, that the young noble truly seems to understand what Grant is. Though demons have walked the land since fear first manifested within the collective consciousness, so many overlook why the vast majority of those monsters share the shape of man.
Completing the spin that caries him through the wake of his kick, Grant crashes to earth amidst the last twinkling of fading light. Slowly his horned head turns, scanning the lobby as if to insure his work here is truly done. Both challengers have been defeated. His post is secure...
The grinding scrape of stone draws the big man's attention back to the mage as she regains her feet, burning eyes weighing the situation while he listens and observes. Disassociation from the realities of her body. Eyes that nearly match his own. A sudden lack of snarling or posturing. Though Grant's outlook on life is simple, he is by no means a fool.
The grunt that bludgeons its way through Katarina's teasing song is rough and nearly scornful.
"You don't strike with your hands. You don't block with your body. You cringe behind barriers of force and flesh all designed to protect your own from the hard truths of this world."
The lights go out, Katarina's song still tittering through the cold darkness, and Grant continues, words coming deep and uncaring.
"Even your lust for battle is borrowed from another. What is left is hollow and easily broken."
The brush of hair against the muscular man's arm provokes an automatic response from the limb, a blurringly fast snatch of fingers like a mongoose attempting to catch a snake. But despite his speed his crushing grip squeezes closed on only air, compressing it out between his rough fingers with an audible hiss. Sight blind but alert, he sweeps his crimson gaze back across the lobby, standing firm as light bleeds back into his surroundings and he finds himself alone amidst the destruction, both soldiers having gone from his presence.
A second grunt gusts out through his invisible nose as he considers the implications of this, then steps away across the shattered stone to find a working phone. The lobby is secure for now.

COMBATSYS: Grant has ended the fight here.

Log created on 12:27:37 07/26/2020 by Grant, and last modified on 14:58:15 08/27/2020.