NFG Season One - Lapis and Carnelian

[Toggle Names]

Description: Team Thunder is many familiar faces, and a couple new ones. One of said new faces is a sponsor, Rei Hazuki, who blanket-invites the team for... well, ice cream, going by the text he sent. Ichika and Junko are free to find out what it was he actually wanted from them; what their erstwhile mentor gets is a very distinctive look into Ichika's growth and Junko's psyche.

There could be lots of ways that Team Thunder's mentors/sponsors/whathaveyous are supposed to get in touch with their mentees, and vice versa. The shared living space idea from round 1 certainly encourages collegial intermingling in a reality TV sort of way, but some of those logistics are still being worked out. Thus right NOW, the way that the sponsors have of contacting their charges is actually quite simple: text message.

Exactly one person in all of Team Thunder (well... possibly two, but the other one's a sponsor) has Rei Hazuki's phone number in their contacts, however, meaning that 90% of Thunder's fighters got a text message this morning reading the following:

[ice cream emoji] 1pm Marble Lake

That's it. That's the whole message. Any requests for more information went totally unanswered (and, indeed, unread, if they have receipts on).

This feels like it could be ANYTHING, really: a trap or ambush, an ARG or puzzle, or it could be something as minimally sinister as an actual invitation to do... something. Only Ichika would have any clue what MIGHT be involved, but her acquaintance with this individual being relatively light so far, that doesn't seem like much of an advantage.

To anyone brave enough to venture out this fine Sunday morning in Metro City, however, and who decides to look around for anything of note, their curiosity would be rewarded with, indeed, the presence of one of Team Thunder's new sponsors, the aforementioned Rei Hazuki. He is sitting, serenely, in a half lotus on the marble walkways that surround the platform-studded 'lake' that gives this place its name. Eyes closed, face calm.

The entire effect is ruined by the fact that he is, intermittently, eating what appears to be vanilla/chocolate swirl ice cream out of a waffle cone.

Ichika had only made it to Metro City a short time ago. Things have been intense, these past few months, and she's very grateful for her friend's suggestion. And her own, that she spend at least a few days not only not fighting, but not even thinking about fighting. Just, enjoying the company of her friend and the waterpark she wanted to visit. For the first time since she picked up her sword, she had let herself put it down. Then the draft results came out...

... and she couldn't wait to pick it up again.

The girl does, of course, turn up to Marble Lake on time. In fact, the place is pretty big even for being a small part of a bigger whole. That's the main impression she's taken away from Metro City so far: bigness. Sunshine City had seemed awful and overwhelming in a number of ways, but Metro City's vastness is on a whole different scale to what she is used to. She'd arrived at Metro Park at 12:50 and as she doesn't actually find Rei until 12:58 she is pleased with her decision.

"Sensei!" She calls as she approaches, a bright smile on her features. "Ah, I hope that's okay? I know last time we spoke we went with just 'Rei' but... things have changed since then!" She pauses a respectful distance away, takes a deep breath. And stops. No rambling, even though everything in the young woman's body language speaks to an overbrimming energy.

Technology is something that most people in the modern world take for granted. Those born into the world in the past few decades are exposed to the likes of televisions, computers, and microwaves in their formative years turning such marvelously advanced luxuries into a part of daily life.

For Junko, however, even something as mundane as a personal cell phone is a source of frustrating mystery. Her uncle had been the first in decades to bring fresh technology from the outside world into her little village. Nestled away in the forgotten recesses of Mt. Fuji's vast sprawling foothills and forests, no one in the Daidoji clan had so much as even heard of half the things the average modern teenager has learned to master.

As such, when the tiny piece of plastic resting loose and mostly forgotten in her pocket sudden begins to chirp and vibrate at her like an angry hummingbird, the young woman very nearly stumbles over her own feet in a fit of panicked surprise. After several seconds of wildly pawing at her pants, the girl wrests the offending rectangle free of its clothy prison and tosses it onto the ground at her feet as if afraid it might try to bite her, taking several quick steps backwards.

Only once its insistent warbling dies down does she approach the object again, cautiously tapping it with the toe of her fancy sneakers. The cursed device promptly rewards her efforts by announcing in a loud monotone female voice:


After a few seconds of wrestling her heart back down into her chest where it belongs, Junko eyes the phone for several long seconds before scooping it back up and returning it to her pocket. Her experience with such communication tools being limited to perhaps only a couple of calls with her uncle to let him know that she had safely arrived from her flight to America, it takes the teen a fair few minutes to work out that the message was likely an invitation from someone on her new team. Who else would have the number to a new phone that's almost never been used? Letting out a long exhale, Junko sets out to locate someone who might direct her to the proper path.

Said path, as it turns out, involves several long bus rides through a vast noisy metropolis. It's a rather nerve-wracking experience for the rural miko, not only due to the unnatural size of the city and its unfamiliar sensory overload. The fact that she's alone in such a vast crowd of people leaves her feeling more than a little vulnerable and irritated.

As such, when she finally finds herself stepping down the small flight of stairs from the third bus in a row she had to hop to reach this 'Marble Court', Junko is not in the most pleasant of moods. A fresh cigarette is thrust into her pale lips the moment she hits the ground, having been informed that smoking whilst packed shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other people is rather rude. The tip flares wit a brief puff of flame the moment it touches her mouth igniting the tip into a brilliant cherry red as if by magic.

Several long moments of savoring the relative silence, no longer crushed in by the press of human bodies, helps her mood if only slightly. Her expression shifts from furrowed snarl to a merely dour scowl as she turns her gaze out towards the surroundings in the hopes of locating her supposed team mates. As it turns out, there are few enough people around that it makes the task of narrowing down her options rather simple. When an upbeat feminine voice calls out using the familiar honorifics of her homeland, it makes the job all the easier.

With a long drawn out sigh, Junko stuffs her hands into the pockets of her baggy pants and starts to slowly shuffle her way towards her would-be teammates, looking about as happy to be here as a prison inmate.

Aaaaaaaand there it is.

The smile forms on Rei's lips before he even opens his eyes and turns to see who he's looking at. It's no Jedi insight or anything; the list of people in the world who would even think of calling him 'sensei' is so small that process of elimination is all that's required. When the xian DOES actually open his eyes and tilt his head to look, he pauses, takes another bite of ice cream, and says "Well... that depends on how badly you want me to call you 'Kasumoto-kun' for the next few months," in response.

Ball's in your court now, Kasumoto, ho ho ho.

Unfolding his legs, the redhead rolls his head on his shoulders a bit before standing up, using his non-ice cream-holding hand to push off the marble surface and get to his feet. "I don't know how much has changed, really. Or... hmmm."

For a moment he's back at the Hakuryuu Shrine, discussing the 'what next' of life with a centuries-old Ainu warrior and her human intelligence-level pet hawk. Yeah, maybe 'nothing's changed' is a little cavalier.

"Alright. I will concede that the SITUATION has changed, but I don't think I have as a PERSON. You, on the other hand..." He smiles, faintly. "I admit I watched the Rumble. That looked intense, and not just in a martial arts way." A few beats pass before he adds, "WHAT is that Buford guy's DEAL, coincidentally? Don't answer that."

He takes another bite of ice cream, and seems about to say something in followup, before he stops and blinks. To what might be Junko's disconcernment, as the NFG newbie starts approaching both Rei and Ichika and WELL before he would notice her, the fledgling xian turns and looks at where she would be approaching from, tilting his head a little. "Huh. Interesting." A swivel back to Ichika. "I know the invitation was sudden, but you came alone, right?"

"... that would, actually, be wonderful." Ichika replies at the offer to use a more formal honorific. Once again, there's that entertaining disconnect; the girl looks like she's walked out of a metal album cover, but the prospect of falling back into a familiar social hierarchy is incredibly comforting. She's done her best since coming to America not to let it get to her - heck, she tried not to let it get to her when her foreign friends back home had struggled with it - but, a tiny shred of home in the midst of this strange and alien land? Yes. Please.

The comment on the Rumble brings with it a serious nod. "It was." She agrees. "I ... have my theories, but, yes, probably a conversation for a different time." Or not at all. When IS the appropriate moment to discuss the delusional manchild who sees the world in stereotypes and wants to impose his own fetishized image of yourself over you? Certainly not over icecream in a park, that much is for certain.

"Yes, it's just me I'm afraid. Chevy, couldn't be here."

That's not her story to tell, though, and whilst she's much slower on the uptake than her new teacher, the girl's bright blue eyes do flicker to the approaching Junko. Japanese. Shuffling. With a cigarette dangling from her lips? Everything about the slightly-older teen screams only one thing to her: delinquent. And that, in turn, leads to another assumption.

"... Taiyo in Sunshine City and Gedo in Metro?" She mutters under her breath, "I really thought that crossing the ocean would get me away from all of that."

For a supposed delinquent, Junko hardly looks the part, save for her unsavory choice of habits. Her clothing is all of superbly high quality, the fabric clean and neatly pressed with obvious care. However, the girl's choice of ensemble is, in a word, eclectic.

A simple white button-up long sleeved shirt clings loosely to her slender torso, the majority of its small plastic fasteners all done up neatly to her collarbone despite the unpleasant heat. The brilliant scarlet of her miko's hakama seems rather out of place in contrast, particularly for the pair of thin red suspenders fastened to their hem to keep them fixed in place in lieu of the thick sash normally paired with such attire. Throw in a pair of equally flashy shoes that look more at home in a prim upstanding boarding school and the massive cutesy bow fastened to the top of her hair and you get the visual chaos that is this young woman's fashion sense.

Not that Junko herself seems normal by any means. Long flowing hair the color of pale snow hangs freely down to almost the level of her knees, adorned with a handful of smaller ribbons in the same fashion as the one up top. Searing crimson eyes, impossibly and inhumanly red in hue, flick up briefly as she approaches the two strangers, outing her either as an albino or someone who spends an inordinate amount of time promoting the look. The observant among the two other members of Team Thunder might catch a brief glimpse of swirling motion within those blood-red gems, as if a tongue of flame were writhing about just beneath the surface.

Junko's meandering stride takes several long moments to finally bring her within speaking distance. She comes to a wary halt well outside of what might be considered polite conversation range, eyeing the two unfamiliar figures before her with a look that borders between disinterest and disdain. When she finally speaks, her voice is surprisingly soft, though there is a rough almost wispy edge to it.

"...are you the ones who summoned me here?"

He EXPECTED Ichika's relief to be in the form of 'oh, no, Ichika is fine', so when the young swordswoman's decision is that she's glad to be referred to formally, Rei has to take a second to readjust mentally, but all things considered he does so with relative grace. "Alright, then, formal it is," the redhead says with a faint grin. "Maybe I'll work my way up to 'Ichika-chan' when this is all over."

The xian does seem a little sad that Chevy couldn't make it, but shrugs that off quickly. "Would have been nice to meet her, obviously. I feel like I've got questions for her, and a LOT of questions for Mr. Animorphs, but there'll be plenty of opportunities for that in the future." The approach of Junko, however, certainly forestalls (perhaps to the benefit of all involved) any discussion of Buford or his 'deal', since by the time the conversation reaches this point, she's in eyeshot and both Rei and Ichika have turned to watch her approach. Sidelong, out of the corner of his mouth, the redhead asides to Ichika, "I don't know how many times you've been to the States, but trust me... Gedo's got nothing on Mad Gear. Some things are just constants in life no matter where you are."

Then visually-striking Junko is entering friendly airspace and she has a very... pointed question for all involved. Rei, for his part, looks pretty perplexed at that question, before slowly venturing, "If you're asking 'did you send me an ice cream emoji' this morning," and here, a gesture with the now almost entirely eaten ice cream cone, which he takes a bite of before continuing, "the answer is 'yes'. But it wasn't... hmm."

He pauses, then looks between Ichika and Junko. "I mean, I looked at it this way: I'd get to see how you react to cryptic invitations, and worst case scenario, it was an excuse for me to get some ice cream."

THIS is your supposed mentor?!

"Of course, Sensei." Ichika hesitates for a moment to consider where they are ~actually~ standing in relation to one another before she adds, in an entirely serious tone of voice. "It is a Sensei's prerogative to refer to their students as they please, just as it is a student's duty to show proper deference and respect."

A hint of a grin. She does have a sense of humour, it seems.

A closer look at Junko doesn't do much to reappraise Ichika's thinking. The students of Gedo High come in all kinds of shapes and sizes; delinquency is about a mindset more than a particular aesthetic. She knows that better than most, and underage tobacco use is worth at least a few marks in the 'delinquent' column to the girl who has, perhaps, not entirely shaken off the Justice High mindset.

The mention of Mad Gear has her hand moving towards her katana - but then Junko asks her question, and Ichika relaxes just a little bit. It doesn't take a genius to put the pieces together here; albeit, this is not exactly the image of the person she had formed in her mind from the interview. Then again, that might be for the best.

"Ah! You must be Daidoji-san." She says, before offering a bow, "I am Kasumoto Ichika. It is a pleasure to have you joining our team. I look forward to training alongside you."

The response that Junko receives to her simple question proves frustrating in unexpected ways. The girl's face screws up slightly in response to Rei's words, her nose wrinkling up in a manner that might be considered cute if she didn't look like she just shoved a handful of sour candies in her mouth. Brows furrowing, the teen stares intently at the ground between herself and the two strangers as if contemplating something deeply troubling for several long seconds. Ichiki's energetic and polite greeting seems to go completely ignored.

When she finally appears to have gathered her thoughts, the miko crosses her arms over her chest and glowers pointedly to one side, as if unwilling to meet their gazes. A faint flush of color touches her pale cheeks as she seems to be almost struggling to gather her courage before finally speaking again.

"What... what is an... e-mo-ji?"

'What is an emoji?'

Okay. Topping the list of questions that Rei did not anticipate mentorship involving answering. How do you explain Unicode to someone wearing hakama without sounding like a complete maniac?

Rei's answer: you don't.

"Well, Daidouji-kun," the xian says, clapping his hands and taking his cue entirely from Ichika's sharing of the name, "that's an advanced lesson we'll go over at some future time. RIGHT NOW, I thought: hey, I've never met most of these k--" A pause, clearing of the throat. There's no guarantee that they're kids, first of all, and second, who knows what's going to happen if he says that aloud. "I've never met most of you, and in young Kasumoto's case, here," he says, inclining his head respectfully to Ichika, "there's been... shall we say, some changes since last we encountered each other. So."

With a loud crunch, he shoves the last remaining bit of waffle cone in his mouth, wipes the back of his hand across his mouth, and takes a few steps... in the opposite direction of these two NFG participants? Before turning back, pressing a hand into the back of his neck slightly, and getting into a very loose kung fu stance.

"So, let's dive right in. Let's see what you've got. Don't hold back; I promise I can handle whatever you can dish out."

He grins a little. Historically, Rei Hazuki -- or Frei Renard, back when that's who he was -- never really enjoyed fighting itself. But now, well... he might not enjoy the FIGHTING. But there are other aspects he's looking forward to, maybe, in this bright new future.

COMBATSYS: Frei has started a fight here on the left meter side.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Frei             0/-------/-------|

"... ah, I see ..."

Ichika remains cryptic about what, precisely, it is she sees in her new teammate, but the response does speak volumes. Those brilliant blue eyes of hers focus a little more intently on Junko as she considers how to proceed.

Luckily, she doesn't need to worry about that for long, because Rei takes the decision away from her.

"I will be interested in what you think of the changes I have made to my style." She says, as she turns her attention back to her new tutor. Her thoughts, naturally, turn back to the previous 'fight' as well. As short and one-sided as it had been.

"Daidoji-san." The girl's voice has a more serious edge to it now, as her hand curls around the grip of her sword. "This opponent is a chi specialist. He can utilise all elements and shift between them effortlessly. Ordinarily, this would be where I say how I think we should approach the battle."

A beat. What genius strategy does she have in mind with her partner who she has not only never fought alongside, but never even seen fight before?

"But here. We can only trust to our instincts."

Stunning insight, Ichika!

With that note given, the girl is suddenly rushing forwards. She comes in fast, and in spite of her apparent, self-professed lack of strategy, she certainly has an approach in mind. The sword is drawn at the very last instant and thrust to the limit of its reach, aiming to score a single scratch along Frei's left flank before the girl rolls to that side.

And naturally, this being Metro City, people are already coming to watch, cheer, heckle, and record the unfolding action. It isn't every day you get to watch a genuine battle involving katana, schoolgirls and kung fu.

Or maybe it is. Metro City is a strange place.

COMBATSYS: Ichika has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Ichika

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

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Ichika

Advanced lesson?

The miko seems genuinely caught off-guard by the answer she receives, her expression one of confusion as Rei casually dodges trying to explain the unfamiliar concept. For a brief moment, she dwells on the absurdity of his answer, quickly starting to surmise that she might have just been mocked in some manner. The girl takes a suddenly aggressive step forward, one fist clenching in obvious anger.

"Are you making fun of-?!"

However, before she can fully get the accusation out, her 'mentor' rolls right along onto a new topic - one that she's far more well versed in. Junko glowers at his back for several seconds but eventually relaxes the tension in her hands.


Fine, if that's how they want this to go down. He wants to taunt her and try to get her riled up? She'll be more than happy to oblige and then some.

Junko's head tilts slightly to regard her fellow trainee as Ichika kindly offers some advice about the nature and capabilities of their opponent. This time she actually offers a response, dipping her chin in a tight nod to indicate that she understood the warning. For a moment, it seems she might actually be willing to give the girl a chance to prove herself a valuable ally, waiting silently for the sword-wielder to elaborate upon whatever cunning plan she might have to deal with Rei. After all, it seems the two of them are at least acquaintances. Perhaps she'll have some useful insight to off- and she's rushing in.

Balking at the almost insultingly basic 'advice', Junko practically snarls in frustration as the battle begins on such a foolish note. Pale fists and teeth clench tightly once more, the teen's temper starting to get the better of her.

Is she just being made fun of again?!

"You want to see what comes natural to me, do you?!"

Lifting her right fist, fingers still crushed tightly into a ball of furious tension, Junko narrows her eyes and turns to regard Ichika's backside as she plunges headlong into the melee. With a soft 'whoosh' of power, brilliant scarlet flames erupt around the upheld hand, the unnatural energies rippling with thick black veins of corruption. Heat, intense enough to distort the air around the miko's arm, flares outwards in a palpable wave that grows more intense with every passing second. The surface of the girl's pale skin starts to blacken and char, the air filling with the sickly-sweet stench of burned flesh.

With a surprisingly ferocious howl of pain and fury, Junko extends her arm outwards as if punching the air in front of her. A blast of coruscating red flame, so intense and wild that it appears more akin to a massive laser beam, erupts from the miko's outstretched fist. Almost as tall and wide as the girl herself, she unleashes a blast of ferocious hellfire in the general vicinity of both Rei and his erstwhile student, seemingly unconcerned for whatever sort of collateral damage might result from such an unrestrained attack.

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

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  //////////////////////////////]
                                  |-------\-------\0            Junko

COMBATSYS: Ichika successfully hits Frei with Evasive Strike.
- Power hit! -

[   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  ///////////////////////////   ]
                                  |-------\-------\0            Junko

COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Junko's Shakkahou.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  ///////////////////////////   ]
                                  |=------\-------\0            Junko

Between the two attacks coming his way, one might imagine that a person-high burst of flame is going to be the one that demands immediate attention, but Ichika demonstrates that this is an error indeed. The redhead's attempt to twist away from young Kasumoto's probing strike and position himself to more fully engage Junko's outburst at the same time; the results is a very 'he who chases two hares catches none' situation, where rather than evading Ichika's attack, he ends up driving her blade *father* into his side than she likely intended, which... well, that stings, for sure.

Rei winces, but doesn't have time to worry about the wound right now, as there are assuredly bigger concerns involved here. Green eyes narrowing slightly, Rei's defense against Junko's attack may look familiar to Ichika after their last meeting: a hazy aura of sky blue flickers around his hand as he effectively extends his palm, the projectile's forward momentum blunted as it slams into *something*, tendrils of dark red and liquid blue streaming off to the side from the point of contact. The xian's eyes narrow a bit with effort, and Junko -- given her mood -- might have the pleasure of seeing streaking lines of flame leave burns on Rei's outstretched palm in the process, but ultimately, the fiery burst eventually dissipates.

Arms moving smoothly as he gets back into stance, the redhead looks between the two young women before him appraisingly. "Not bad, not bad," he offers, and at least he SEEMS sincere, though who knows how that will read through the emotional states on the field at the moment. "I hope you won't feel slighted if I attend Ms. Daidouji first, Kasumoto-kun," Rei adds, in a weirdly formal tone, before turning to Junko.

"Sorry for the fortune cookie-sounding advice, young miss, but power alone gets you nowhere, and getting all angry-shouty at someone because you feel confused isn't going to win you any friends."

As he speaks, Rei continues to advance on Junko, making unexpectedly intricate looping motions with his arms to... seemingly no effect. Until he gets close, that its, and with one sharp push of his arms outward, water from the 'lake' around them rushes in toward Junko, looking to wrap around her in erratic spirals before flash-freezing into (proverbial) chains of frost to keep her in place. "Basically: chill a sec, alright?"


Ichika had already been rolling away, but the thought hits her hard an instant before the flame rips through the space where she had been. It robs her of the satisfaction she might have felt at landing such a palpable hit on someone so much more accomplished than she is herself. She had said she needed to trust to her instincts; she is pleased that she did. If she hadn't, she might have been caught in the maelstrom herself.

She instead comes to a skidding halt with her sword raised in a guard position and watches, wide-eyed, as Rei withstands the hellstorm of corrupted fire. Ichika's hair has spiked into an even more dramatic fashion than usual; splayed out in all directions as though it too were desperate to escape its tether.

She does, indeed, recognise that technique... but it's the quality of the energy that her new apparent teammate uses which has her breaking out in a sweat. The disgusting feel of it that causes revulsion to crawl across her senses.

The girl isn't even looking at Rei when he addresses her; her attention has turned completely onto Junko. She gives a stiff nod of understanding, and carefully stands up.

She'd felt power like that once before, after all.

That sick, corruptive sense of energy that stands in opposition to the world. Polluted. Dangerous. In that place, the inferno had been emerald green and intent on her death. There are differences here, certainly.

But not enough of them to make her feel better.

Usually, she tried not to think about those few moments at all. Genuine fear for her life is something that the girl is still unused to processing. It was terrifying, and it had made her seriously question the very nature of the world as she understood it.

"Yes, Sensei."

What good cheer there had been in the girl before has fled her completely. The intense, brilliant sapphire of her gaze is settled, unblinking, on Junko. Not a delinquent then, she'd been wrong about that.

In a deliberate motion she flicks the blood from her blade and then slides the weapon back into her saya.

Surely, her sponsors must have their reasons for recruiting someone whose energy felt like THAT, right? She... had to trust them, didn't she?

But there's no hiding the thought written in her eyes. She's wondering if Junko is really someone she can trust, or whether she is a threat.

COMBATSYS: Ichika takes no action.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  ///////////////////////////   ]
                                  |=------\-------\0            Junko

COMBATSYS: Junko endures Frei's Ebb and Flow.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/----===|=------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  /////////////////////         ]
                                  |=====--\-------\0            Junko

Despite what might be expected, there is no hint of satisfaction apparent on Junko's face as the hellish blast collides with its intended target's expert defense, singeing his flesh despite the apparent ease at which it is dispersed. No smug look of youthful cockiness suggests that she was fishing for a reaction to her sudden outburst, trying to catch the teacher off-guard and pay him back for the imagined slight she suffered. Such immature hubris would, in many ways, likely be preferable. No doubt Rei has dealt with arrogant upstarts before, drunk on the idea of their own power and skill while foolishly unaware of how weak they truly are compared to those who have spent a lifetime honing their craft.

However, in the young girl's eyes, now ablaze like twin circles of red-hot iron, there is naught but wild and unreasoning fury.

Junko's arm remains outstretched as the blazing red flames are snuffed out. The skin of her hand, once as pristine and pale as porcelain, is charred from fingertips to wrist, still smoking like an over-cooked hamburger left on the grill for too long. Her face contorted into a mask of pain and hate, the miko glares at Rei as he begins to approach. Or, at least, she seems to be glaring at him, though should he be paying attention to such minute details it might become noticeable that her eyes aren't focusing entirely right. She seems to be looking past him or just in his general direction, almost like her own vision is being distorted by the waves of heat still wafting off her.

However, whatever might be wrong with her eyes, her hearing is clearly still functioning perfectly well. The teenager reacts visibly to the rather generic rebuke, her eyes widening in surprise then narrowing with even greater animosity.

Power gets you nowhere? What utter foolishness. It was a lack of power that ruined her life! If she'd been stronger when it mattered then maybe...

Seemingly distracted by his words, Junko is caught completely oblivious to the threat of the technique being prepared against her. "What...?!", she cries, sudden alarm contorting her face as the waters crash down on her from all directions, flinching instinctively to try and escape the unnaturally flowing tidal wave. But, so thoroughly unprepared for such an attack, all the girl can do is grit her teeth and endure the sudden pain as water clashes with fire and then coalesces into solid icy restraints.

Howling with renewed fury as the chains lash her down, Junko's anger only seems further inflamed by the attempt to calm her. Almost immediately the frozen swirls of entrapping ice begin to sizzle and glisten as the heat around the miko suddenly ratchets up several notches in rapid succession. Her body twists and flexes, the air filling with a telltale snap-crackle-pop as the restraints grow weak.

"You think... I care?!"

With a final heave of effort, the last of the ice-chain shatter apart, evaporating into a fresh burst of unnatural heat. Junko lunges forward as she breaks free, scarlet flame wrapping her half-cooked arm once again. With a snarl, she comes at Rei, ducking low with movements that surprisingly suggest she isn't just some wild berserker. Movements that he might recognize as a form of Southern Dragon kung-fu, an apt choice for someone as aggressive as she seems to be, guide the miko into a low crouch that almost immediately sends her fist shooting upwards towards his lower jaw like a flaming comet. But it isn't the punch that proves dangerous so much as the literal pillar of blazing flame that erupts heavensward in parallel with her wild uppercut.

COMBATSYS: Frei blocks Junko's Hou-ou Shoten Ha.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Frei             0/-------/---====|=------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  ///////////////////           ]
                                  |======-\-------\0            Junko

Ichika's choice to not follow up takes him by surprise, but in truth, not completely; Rei can feel the young swordswoman's uncertainty from here. After all, this is a new round of the tournament with newly-formed teams, even if most of Ichika's Thunder compatriots are familiar to her. Junko's an unknown quantity, after all. In her place, he might do the same. But there's something... else. Hmmm.

"Yeah, 'sensei' is gonna take some getting used to," the xian mutters under his breath, even as he watches Junko's reaction to his frozen chains gambit with curiosity. There's something going on in there, that's for certain. Chi responds to emotions, after all, and of all the elemental forms chi can take, fire is one of -- if not the, singular -- forms most attuned to anger and rage. The reason why, of course, is that anger is consumptive: it burns (literally, in some cases) resources to affect change. Used constructively, anger motivates us to move against injustice, to be better people, to change our situation when we are victimized.

Without focus and purpose, however, all anger does is burn.

It's not as if the redhead can't see what's coming; Junko's melting of her bonds certainly presages the use of those flames to counterattack. But she also asked a question, rhetorical though it might be, and as Rei gets into stance to prepare for what's coming, he can't help but answer it:

"You should, yeah."

Junko rushes in, raises her fist, and the air around the two is suddenly alive with hazy flame, the convection making Rei's red hair billow upward in its wake. But if Junko is watching her opponent's movements, she will see him calmly making more hand and arm gestures. Unlike the sweeping gestures of before, however, these are sharp and focused; a kung fu practitioner herself, Junko might recognize fragments of Shaolin kung fu in them. The net result, however, is that most -- not all, and slight searing marks on the young xian's skin attest this -- of the heat and flame is pushed ever so gently away, preventing most of the harm that might have come to him.

As the wave of heat and wind passes, Rei's red hair gently settling into place, he looks at Junko with a placid expression. "I'm not afraid of you, kid," he says, deciding that the dreaded 'k' word is earned in this situation. "And if it helps, feel free to scream and rage at me all you want, though I'll warn you, that's largely a waste of your energy and time." A faint smile crosses his face as he continues speaking. "I feel like whatever's driving you right now wants me to hate you, to excuse whatever's going on in there," he adds, pointing at Junko's forehead. "But I don't. Someday you'll get tired of how screaming and wasting your energy feels. When you do, you'll know where to find me. Until then, well... I owe your teammate some attention also."

With that, he turns from Junko to Ichika, and in the context of his words, it is on some level a complete dismissal. Unexpectedly rude, for a good-natured personality like Rei's, but a clever observer might note that is is also a calculated decision, in terms of gauging Junko's reaction.

"Apologies, Ichik... Kasumoto-kun," he says, remembering himself at the last second. "I'm sure you have more to show me than your sword technique, though I saw no problems with that." He ducks forward, looking to snap a kick toward the young Kasumoto scion's midsection, his foot wreathed in a warm haze of gold-orange flame.

COMBATSYS: Ichika blocks Frei's Light Kick.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Frei             0/-------/---====|===----\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  ///////////////////           ]
                                  |======-\-------\0            Junko

The anger is... impressive, and terrifying.

Part of Ichika has to marvel at the purity of the rage, if not the energy. She has always found fighting the best way to get to see who someone is; to be exposed to their Truth, and to communicate her own. With her attention focused so intently on Junko as she rips her way through Rei's technique and then keeps going with everything she has, Ichika certainly learns a lot about her new teammate.

She also has to wonder, in the moments when she has most lost control of her anger, when she took her hurt, wounded pride and frustration and made that everyone else's problem... did she look like this? Is this what Daisuke saw when she poured so much of herself into trying to hurt him that she put herself in a critical condition?

"... the wound runs deep."

The girl's voice is a low murmur and her expression truly pained. Worse, she suspects that Junko doesn't know how technology works. The stinging rebuke from Rei is bad enough, though she thinks she understands the place from which it comes. She wouldn't want to be anywhere near Junko when the girl learns that her humiliation is likely to have been viewed tens of thousands of times courtesy of the crowd of fight-appreciators which have gathered like moths to her corrupted flame.

There's a faint shake of her head when Rei comes back to her. "Not at all." She says, "I, do have something new to show you, but I have learned that I ought to work up to such things."

She pivots smoothly to the side, her right hand wrapped tight around the hilt of her sword, her left swings around to meet the oncoming shin with her open palm as she ducks, pushing his leg up and out the way with only some mild stinging from the energy as her prize.

"And please. If it is going to be a nuisance, we can be 'Ichika' and 'Rei' again."

A small smile. So brief it might be easy to miss.

"The least I can offer, as you aren't holding back any more."

At least, if he is, she can't see it; not like their first meeting at all. And with that note made, she returns to the offense.

Her sword is drawn, and this time as it leaves the saya there is a brilliant trail of cerulean power which carves a beautiful arc in the air. Her chi could not be more different to Junko's; utterly pure, without even an elemental nature of its own, it hangs in the air for a heartbeat as she traces a series of three rapid slashes at Rei; aiming to cross his body from hip to shoulder, across the chest, and then back down just as sharply. The side effect, of course, is a lovely pattern which hangs after the sword has passed whether the blows themselves struck true or not.

The assault does leave her sword momentarily out of position, overextended on the attack, but her eyes are as bright and clear as ever; the humour might have mostly been taken out of the situation by her new teammate, but if he feels comfortable continuing the lesson, she is going to give her all - as she always does.

Without focus and purpose... all anger does is burn.

If she could see his thoughts the truth of them would be more painful than any of the words he speaks aloud. How long has it been now, since her purpose had been taken away? Though Junko is but a handful of years old, hardly more than a child really, it feels like lifetimes ago when last she had a reason to be, the day all of her pretty dreams and aspirations turned to ashes on the wind.

Perhaps it is a reflection of the listless existence she now leads that is reflected in her empty rage. Fury and sound without meaning, a raw outpouring of emotions that serves no purpose, save perhaps to provide an outlet for the pain to which she refuses to give voice. Such angry flames are dangerous and fierce - but easily brushed aside by those able to maintain their equilibrium.

'You think I care?!'

'You should, yeah.'

A simple exchange with a simple lesson - what should at best be a reminder of a basic truth that any well-adjusted human should have learned long before reaching the age of maturity. Oh, but she wishes she could heed those words. If only it were that simple.

The swirling winds settle once more, leaving Junko and the teacher at the center of a sizzling scar on the world. For a brief moment, there is a calm in the storm, a faint hint of cessation in the raging maelstrom of fury that has been whipped up by what amounts to little more than a bit of miscommunication. Perhaps his words found purchase somewhere in the mess that is the miko's emotions or maybe she'd been properly humbled by the elementalist's display of control.

And then, in the face of that calm, Rei takes a stick of dynamite and throws it into the embers.

Junko's eyes slowly widen as the older man dresses her down, her jaw going slack as she stares at him in incredulous shock. For several long seconds she just sits there, apparently dumbfound by the directness of his rebuke, unable to say anything or muster up even a proper glower of indignation at being referred to as a child.

It is only when the man finally turns his back on her that something snaps her out of the strange trance his words seemed to put her under. It might have surprised her sponsor to see, were he still able to see her face, that the first emotion which crosses the teen's pale features upon coming to her senses is not more of the blind burning aggression that she had displayed thus far - but one of abject terror.


The word escapes Junko's lips as barely more than a whisper, a soft plea to someone... or something. Her muscles go taut all at once, every fiber of her being clenching up as if trying to resist a compulsion to act.

"No, h-he didn't...!"

Whatever the girl had been planning to say is cut of by a sudden strangled gasp. Junko's jaw all but welds itself shut as a wave of pain wracks her body, her lips peeling back in an animalistic snarl. Both of the girl's hands clench in to wicked claws in front of her, scarlet flames bursting to life around them and dancing madly as if it whipped by some invisible gale. The miko's eyes, already having shown signs of hosting unnatural power before, flare to life with equally enraged fervor, burning so hot as to almost down out the whites around them with scarlet red. Most notably, however, the tips of Junko's snow white hair begin to glow red hot like pokers left sitting in an open flame.

Though it seems like an endless sea of drawn out agony to her, the transformation takes but a few scant seconds. Hardly has Rei and Ichika turned their attention to one another once more when the fiery miko is launching herself at the pair. A wordless bellow of rage precedes this attack but to compare the anger she displayed previously with what comes at them now would be like comparing a matchstick to a bonfire.

Junko's scream hits almost like a palpable force, otherworldly power amplifying her voice to something haunting in its ferocity. Twin fists ablaze with corrupted power, the young woman hurls herself into the fray heedless of which of the two combatants she assaults. Punches fly, wild and unrestrained, unleashing explosive blasts of fire that detonate like miniature bombs should either find purchase.

COMBATSYS: Ichika successfully hits Frei with Lambent Assault EX.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Frei             0/-------/=======|====---\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  /////////////////             ]
                                  |======-\-------\0            Junko

COMBATSYS: Frei interrupts Guren Bakuenjin from Junko with Elemental Mastery EX.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Frei             1/-------/=======|====---\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                  |=======\=====--\1            Junko

COMBATSYS: Ichika auto-guards Junko's Guren Bakuenjin.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Frei             1/-------/=======|====---\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                  |=======\======-\1            Junko

"I don't know about nuisance," Rei says with a smile, regaining his footing after Ichika's defense, "but formality doesn't come naturally to me, so... thanks." Shaking out his hands, he looks to the serious young woman for whatever it is that comes next from her, as she has promised, and indeed, her hand moves toward her blade's hilt. In the split second before she strikes, however, feeling the building of Ichika's energy, the xian looks at a seemingly insane place: her hair.

As the blue glow springs to life, the green eyes track down, as you might imagine... but past her midsection and right to the ground, which causes a look of startled surprise to sweep across his face. "OH," is all he says aloud.

Then the sword is drawn and Things Happen. Despite gaps in experience, every fighter is good at some things and bad at others; Rei has never been particularly good at evading rather than taking blows head on, so he is already at a disadvantage dealing with Ichika's swift swordsmanship. Beyond that, though, there's... well, other stuff going on in his mind's eye. The first is whatever surprised him, but the second?

For just a moment, overlaid on the girl in the theatre of the redhead's perception, is a dark-haired, pale Japanese woman. A cold and impassive beauty, quite unlike Ichika's pleasant and friendly demeanor. But the motions...

Either way, be it her speed, his efforts, or some combination of both, the young woman's blade tags Rei thrice, sending him stumbling back a step each time, the cerulean energy ringing in his ear like the striking of a tuning fork.

Dragon veins! Who'd have thought. If it hadn't been for his meeting with Nakoruru in Hokkaido, they wouldn't even have occurred to him, but now... well. What an interesting development.

When Rei recovers from the blows, if he is chagrined, he doesn't show it. Wiping a hand across his mouth, he grins. "Can I take this to mean you made peace with bl--"

And then Junko appears, basically out of everyone's blind spot, and strikes at Ichika.

The Kasumoto scion is well set to defend herself, and thus needs no intervention from Rei, but considering the fiery young Daidouji is attacking indiscriminately, he has his own problems to think about. Sheer surprise on his part, and fury on hers, mean a blow or two land before Rei's even able to think about responding...

The next punch that comes for him, however, he simply reaches out and catches, stopping it dead.

Rei Hazuki is a pleasant person himself, usually. He doesn't get angry all that often. He isn't angry now, either, not really... but rather than the smiles he's been wreathed in so far, the impassivity etched across the slightly freckled face is a pretty significant 180 nonetheless.

"Look," he says, voice cold. "You wanna beat me up to get it out of your system? Fine. Try and kill me if you want, it should be fun to see what happens if you succeed." What the hell does THAT mean? "But she hasn't done anything to you, so leave her out of it. Understand?"

Rei opens the palm he had been using to catch Junko's hand. As soon as he does so, a swirl of viridian wind goes off like a little bomb, looking to quite frankly knock Junko away... and, unless she does something to right herself in time, right into the water.

'We can only trust to our instincts.'

Junko had taken Ichika's guidance as vapid, senseless advice. In truth, it is one of the deepest lessons she has learned throughout her participation in the Project. Her blade and energy strike true, she is finding the rhythm of the fight, and then - there is an otherworldly shout, whilst she remains overextended.

Calm. Focus. Don't think. Simply move.

Ichika breathes in one, steadying breath. And then she is in motion. There is no sense to the erratic, violent onslaught. And yet, she carves order from the chaos. The girl's sword sweeps around, not to slice through Junko, but to bring with it her energy in a solid barrier that always manages to be precisely where it needs to be to catch the exploding fists.


Dragon Lines indeed. The burning fury in Junko's heart may be strong, but in this moment, trusting to her instinct, Ichika feels the fight. Through the fight, she feels the world. And the world is stronger than any hatred.

And breathe out.

The girl's katana slides smoothly back into place at her side as she straightens, and for a moment, her eyes meet Junko's.

Then Rei simply grabs the raging teenager's fist and, as though it were no effort at all, sends her hurtling across the park.

"With blue?" She asks Rei, a tiny smile tugging back at the corner of her lips. "Yes. I like blue. It is my colour."

She pauses, as though considering, and then, rather more cryptically, adds.

"We're not quite ready yet, though. The park, makes things difficult. A few moments more. Please, bear with me just a little longer."

And then she is attacking again; the fight isn't over after all. She still has more to show. Leaping into the air, the girl twists and - in total defiance of gravity, she comes down at a steep angle, blade drawn in a flash-

Those heavy boots of hers thud into the ground behind Rei, sword already once again returning to her saya, hopefully with a matching scratch for the first blow she struck mirrored on his other side.

The more she has fought, the more sense that seemingly-nonsensical affectation has made to her. Draw, strike, clean, sheathe. It brings a natural rhythm to things which is pleasing. Structure, to an activity that is by its nature utterly anarchic.


The girl swings her fists, using them like clumsy clubs rather than wielding them as the refined instruments of violence they were trained to be. Some of the wild blows connect, ripples of impact and pain, both the victim's and her own. The former she revels in and the latter she hardly seems to notice despite the horrid burns that have engulfed her slender hands.

The flames she wields lash out, almost appearing as eager living things hungry for destruction. With each flailing strike that connects with soft flesh or unyielding steel, the fires howl as they sear and scorch, seeming to delight in the agony they cause their wielder as much as they would any other target.


The command rings in her head like the tolling of an iron bell, reverberating through her skull and radiating outwards into the very depths of her soul. There is no reason behind it, no rationale nor purpose, no guiding precept or goal to accomplish. Just a primal blind fury washing away all thoughts and feelings to leave her burnt out and hollow inside.

Rei's patience finally reaches its limits and his hand closes firm around the crackling burnt flesh of her own tightly clenched fist. He speaks to the young girl before him, still talking to her like a person, as if she can hear his words and understand the threat behind him. Unfazed, the miko leans into her strike, trying to put all of her weight and strength behind the entrapped arm as if she might simply push through the blockade and continue her rampage. When that doesn't work, she snarls like a trapped animal, turning those bright crimson eyes aglow with supernatural fury up to glare at the elementalist as if her very stare might inflict harm upon him.

After that things sort of blur together. The explosion of wind, hitting the water, sinking below the surface. Junko's mind reels as the out of control blaze within is quenched in the most literal way possible. The source of that blazing hate keens loudly in displeasure, thrashing like a stray cat being dunked into a wash tub. The pain proves almost unbearable but for the first time in the past few minutes the miko seems to have the upper hand.

Gritting her teeth, she closes her eyes and forces herself to stay submerged. A dozen seconds tick away and then another dozen and another. The fire within surges in response to her defiance, burning at her lungs and throat, scorching away what little breath she managed to take down with her. Her mouth opens involuntarily to scream and cold water surges in, dousing the flames only to replace the pain of fire with the panic of drowning.

Frantically, Junko finally gives up the struggle, allowing her natural buoyancy to carry her up towards the surface. The teen emerges from the waters in a flailing storm of limbs, clawing her way onto the shore. For several seconds it proves all she can manage to just cough and sputter weakly as she tries to evict the unwanted liquid from her lungs. After successfully managing a few ragged, water-free breaths, the girl promptly collapses in an undignified heap, her unnatural rage apparently quelled for the moment.

COMBATSYS: Junko takes no action.

[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Frei             1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                  |=======\=====--\1            Junko

COMBATSYS: Frei just-defends Ichika's Artful Slash!

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////   ]
Frei             1/-------/=======|===----\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                  |=======\=====--\1            Junko

Ichika does not give the xian much time to reflect on the Junko situation, but that is well and good, in the end; whether the young girl with the demonic fire makes it out of her trial by water, as it were, or not needs to be on her shoulders, and no one else's.

Armchair mythological experts interested in mystical elemental systems would note that there is the Aristotelean system -- 'earth, air, fire, water' -- and the Chinese system, the wu xing. As far as Rei is concerned, the distinction is largely one of which context things are read from, but he would also say context is important. For example, in the wu xing, 'metal' is an element all its own, separate from Western systems that would group it with earth, as metal is mined from stones. The chi of metal isn't about a literal, physical force; rather, it's a conceptual energy. The IDEA of 'metal'.

Extending a hand to his side, there is a sudden flash of silvery-gold, a knife -- actually, for Ichika's likely studied eye, a tanto -- made entirely of light appearing there. The result is that as Ichika comes in from above, he suddenly swerves the 'blade' up into the path of Ichika's own, as if he were a Florentine fencer parrying. There is a second where the blades clash, and the space around both fighters suddenly hums, as if a pair of complementary pitch tuning forks had been struck; a careful observer looking at the water around them would notice a series of ripples spreading out nearby, as if pebbles had been thrown in.

Pivoting so that he's turning to face her after the strike, Rei brings the blade up near his face before it winks out of existence, having done its work; for a moment, the same metallic glow that the tanto was made out of lines his body like faerie fire, the vibrations of the deflection effectively grounded in his physical form like lightning.

"Well, good," he says, clearly pleased. "If it's yours, then accepting and even enjoying it is better than the alternative." A brief pause, and his eye tracks over toward Junko emerging from the water. He doesn't bother to hide the momentary feeling of relief at seeing that; there was no doubt he'd have stopped everything to save her, were it necessary, but seeing it not BE necessary is good for the proverbial soul. "A lesson I think we all have to learn the hard way," he adds.

Turning to Ichika, Rei gets back into stance -- the same Shaolin stance he used squaring off with Junko earlier. "A useful reminder, though: power is just a thing, neither good nor evil. A power being blessed or cursed is a label humans apply to things to make them understandable." As he says this, he lunges forward at Ichika, a single straight punch aimed directly at her solar plexus, glowing with the remnants of that metallic chi.

Is he specifically speaking in that tone of voice so that Junko might hear him? Maybe. Maybe not.

COMBATSYS: Ichika endures Frei's Fierce Punch.

[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Frei             1/------=/=======|=======\=------\1           Ichika
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                  |=======\=====--\1            Junko

Ichika's eyes widen when Rei's chi-borne blade clashes against her well-loved steel. She didn't know you could do that. Elements, yes, but... the result actually makes the schoolgirl's heart race. Junko and her horrifying flame is a mystery that worries her; but this revelation is wonderful. She lives in that moment of clash and reverb, where the whole park seems to sing for her senses. The fact that it neatly defuses her attack is hardly relevant, in that light. She's simply delighted to have seen it.

Were this a 'real' fight what she decides to do next would be a horrible tactical decision. Ayame had walked her through the fundamentals in a very simple and easy to understand way. The attack is strong. She should dodge.

But that would take her further from where she needs to be, right now, to show her teacher what she wants to show him. Fighting is all a matter of balancing three resources; one's endurance, one's fighting spirit, and one's capacity to endure pain. Ichika has more command over all three than most fighters; it is a simple calculation to trade a little pain for more fighting spirit.

Or, as it might turn out, a fairly large amount of pain.

The note about good and evil gets a faint: "Hm." Of consideration. She's not sure that she agrees; she will want to talk about that later. But in this instant, she doesn't have time to think about that. She has made a choice. Now, she must see it through.

Rather than stepping away, the girl makes the calculated decision to step into the blow and draw her blade at the same time, raising it not to defend, but up over her head, gripping the hilt with both hands. His knuckles CRACK into her solar plexus, the metal energy hammering into her, through her, but the girl roots herself to the floor. Those combat boots dig into the concrete and she gives no more than a couple of inches, skidding back.

"Hah." She lets out, a ferocious grin across her lips. "Yes. I CAN do this."

The idea had come to her at the Rumble, and then simply wouldn't let go of her through her vacation no matter how hard she tried. It stuck in the back of her mind like a splinter. When she had fought Daisuke and Buford before him, she had called out to the world in desperate anger and it had answered with unrelenting, unfocused violence. When she had fought Noboru atop the Mountain, she had called out for the Mountain to lend her its power and it had answered her instead; more focused, but still totally external to her. Brilliant blue explosions. So much power, she couldn't hold it.

The park is a strange place. Natural, yes, but within strict bonds. Humanity has caged the nature here, rendered it in some sense inert. But she can still feel it. In the excitement of the crowd, the air in her lungs, the marble sentinels bearing witness to their clash, and even the earth beneath the concrete, rooting her against Rei's punch. At last, she can sense enough of the space to attune herself to it.

She takes her gathered fighting spirit; her determination, her will to succeed, her admiration of Rei's beautiful techniques, her fear and doubt about Junko's power. All of it, she asks the world to witness. She makes an offering of it, and she is rewarded in turn. The world acknowledges her, and rather than pour all that power back out, she channels it into herself. Most of all, into her sword.

The girl ignites with that familiar brilliant blue power of hers. The energy is concentrated at her feet; a perfect circle surrounding both herself and Rei at this close proximity. The katana raised overhead is not, in this instant, the simple machine-manufactured sharpened edge of steel she had picked up from an antique shop that was barely worthy of the name.

It is shining cerulean brilliance. Not so much a katana at all as the idea of what a katana has represented to generations of her people. The perfect blade that stands between the innocent and the damned. The determination to fight itself, honed to a razor's edge. She may be thousands of miles from home, but this?

This is her soul of steel. It is what she has carried with her, brought forth into the world.

"This is ... my Truth!"

He did say he could take whatever they gave him. She has no reason to believe he can't. She gives it everything she has. Not out of a desire to maim him, as Junko had, but because she wants nothing more than to show him how far she has come from the frantic, insecure student fumbling her way through her simplest attack.


The Katana comes down, a single stroke aiming to slash straight down across Rei with a focused edge of pure energy. The girl straightens in the aftermath of it...

And she's still glowing. The unleashed power coats her from head to toe; outlining every stray lock of untidy brown hair, protecting her as that connection of hers turns the remaining energy back into fuel; renewing her, and easing the bruises she had taken to bring her to this glorious moment.

Not so much as a single spark wasted.

If the bedraggled and water-logged miko is privy to the direction the conversation betwixt her more composed new colleagues has turned, she shows no immediate reaction. Fascinating as the debate regarding the nature of, well, nature is, Junko seems far more interested in contemplating the cool soil into which her face is currently pressed. Each ragged breath takes up the entirety of her concentration, her throat slowly healing from the fiery rebuke of her wild fury, as it always does.

The process is as unpleasant as always, fire not being the first thing people think about when they consider elements associated with healing and succor - and for good reason. The girl grits her teeth firmly through the pain, too prideful to let the others hear her soft whimpers. Through fire does she suffer and through that same fire does she renew, if only so that she may suffer again in the future. It's something that she's grown quite used to and bears the agony in stoic silence.

Considering how quickly and easily being unceremoniously dunked into the nearest body of water seemed to rein in the girl's unruly temper, the question of why she hasn't discovered this particular cure and made good use of it might occur to those pondering her predicament. The answer to that query makes itself clear rather quickly, however.

Shortly after crawling her way onto the shore and flopping down in the mud, the miko's body begins to hiss and sizzle like a piece of fatty bacon tossed onto an already warmed griddle. A cloud of scalding steam begins to steadily waft up around her prone form as the girl's soaked hair and clothing disposes of the unwanted liquid. Junko's attempts to remain composed in the face of her agonizing renewal begin to falter under the added strain of this hellish sauna. The cracked and blackened tips of her burnt fingers dig into the mud, clawing deep furrows through the pliable soil. A few sharp exhalations of pained breath manage to slip through her pressed lips, defying her wishes to fully conceal the suffering she endures as a result of losing control.

It's a fitting punishment for a fool like her. She knew that traveling abroad to new and unfamiliar places would place a strain on her will. Knew that having to deal with people who are ignorant of her past and her burdens would challenge her ability to suppress the monster within. And yet, like an idiot, she allowed herself to be unbalanced over something as simple as this upon her very first encounter.

She must look like an absolute goon. It's a good thing her uncle wasn't here to see this sorry display.

COMBATSYS: Ichika successfully hits Frei with Tomorrow's World EX.

[               \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Frei             1/--=====/=======|-------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                  |=======\=====--\1            Junko

A million years ago, or at least that's how it feels to him sometimes, Rei had an honest-to-god student. It had been Hotaru Futaba that brought Kentou to him, and the extremely earnest young lad dropped into the world of fighting at a heck of a time: shortly after his tutelage began, Rei's own brother had brainwashed Hotaru into a murderous assassin and the young kid was caught in the middle. It had meant that a tutor who was SUPPOSED to be teaching him how to get in touch with chi energy was now having to teach him about complex morality. The entire thing was very messy.

Kentou's energy had been green: the green of spring fields and breezes, the emerald of a young boy full of life and embracing freedom, as if he could outrun the wind.

When they first met, Rei wasn't entirely honest with Ichika: 'just blue' DID mean something, compared to being fire or lightning. What it meant, however, was probably a thing she wasn't ready for at the time, for exactly the reason he said: she was asking the wrong questions. Staring down the build up to the attack coming his way, however, and the expression on the young woman's face, speaks to what she's endured since then. He'd joked a little bit just now about coming to peace 'with blue,' but on some level, it was true. So, what the xian is about to do, he owes to her.

Both hands come up, elbows angled out to the sides; Rei holds one palm open, the other hand balled into a fist and pressed into it in salute. Closing his eyes, he lets out a breath, centering himself, drawing on internal reserves to withstand what's about to happen, which is to say: Ichika brings her all to bear, and Rei does nothing to avoid it. He's not even looking at it, from an external point of view.

It's for the best that Rei prepared beforehand, because if he hadn't, the sweep of the cerulean blade through his body would certainly have knocked him clear off his feet; the external serenity on his face is the swan above the surface, while internally, he works to keep his footing. Not because of pride, but because he needs to be aware of the experience of Ichika's attack. It's something he needs to feel not physically, but spiritually... much as he had Junko's, though in a much less deliberate way on that front.

Eyes shut, all he can see is blue: the blue that happens at the liminal moments of the day. The rich blue that the black sky fades to at the horizon as the day ends; the blue at the horizon that appears to push that darkness back at dawn.

She'd said it was her 'Truth', the capital T being audible.

Let the hands of the young reach forever for the sapphire sky, just ever so slightly out of reach; from dreams of reaching it are heroes made.

The redhead opens his eyes, smiling, noting the mantle of energy settling gently across Ichika's proverbial shoulders. "I see," is all he says in response. It's all that's needed.

Out of the corner of his eye, now that this moment has passed, he observes Junko's ongoing recovery from her trip into the drink, and gives Ichika an apologetic little smile. "I think that's enough for today," he says, in a designed-to-be-heard-by-everyone voice that carries to the people around them watching, phone cameras and all. "I'll be looking forward to seeing how you improve from here." He sketches the young swordswoman a bow, and then... well, it looks like he's leaving? Such is the province of weird mystic mentor types, one imagines.

But his path takes him toward Junko, and when he gets close, the xian ducks down, bending his knees so that he can speak to her in a much quieter voice. "It's a mistake to think flame can only destroy," he says carefully. Is he reading her mind? "Fires burn out choking dead wood. The ash that results promotes new growth. There's a reason the legend of the phoenix has it rising out of its own pyre."

He smiles, and hopefully Junko doesn't see that, because lord knows it's probably going to be infuriating if she does. "Think about that before the next time we talk. See you later... kid."

And with that, he makes his exit.

COMBATSYS: Frei takes no action.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Frei             1/--=====/=======|-------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                  |=======\=====--\1            Junko

COMBATSYS: Frei has left the fight here.

                                  >  ////////////////////          ]
                                  |-------\-------\0           Ichika
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                  |=======\=====--\1            Junko

Ichika really does look like the very opposite of her unfortunate new teammate, in the aftermath of the attack. She continues to glow, bright as the dawn, and she beams at Rei's words. They are, indeed, all that needed to be said. She did what she set out to do: she showed him everything that she has, and he... accepted it. More literally than she had anticipated, perhaps, but she is so very proud of herself in that moment. It's a feeling that she hasn't felt often in her life, but she has felt more and more these past few precious weeks.

She sheathes her sword, now just a sword again, and bows. "Thank you... Rei." She says, mixing the formality of the bow with the informality of his preferred form of address to meet some strange place in the middle of their respective ideals. "It was wonderful to see you fight properly, in person."

He's walking away of course, and she's not just going to stand around gormlessly in the middle of a crowd as the remaining chi is slowly absorbed back into her body. Instead, she follows a respectful distance behind - and when he has addressed Junko and fully taken his leave, she hesitates.

The older girl was not at all what she expected. But. She can't just leave her here in the mud, can she? Then again. She didn't seem like the sort of person who would react well to an implication the she needed help.

Ichika knew how much wounded pride could sting.

"I'm going to get some food." She says, carefully. "I think I saw a ramen place on the way here. Would you be willing to help me find it and my way back home? My English isn't the best and this place is huge. I would feel better with company."
Junko hears the soft approach of footsteps on the grass heading her way before she can sense the energy of the elementalist. The haze of scalding steam surrounding her makes it difficult to perceive him properly which in turns makes it difficult for /that/ to notice him drawing near as well. A small blessing - or it would have been had Rei's parting words of advice not proven far more poignant than he might realize.

The miko's entire body tenses, her breath catching audibly in her throat. The air around her starts to heat up again, the temperature noticeably ratcheting up several degrees in the span of a few seconds. For a few long strained seconds it seems as if the girl might be about to repeat the past couple of minutes all over again.

Junko closes her eyes and grits her teeth, her muscles clenching so hard that her body starts to ache in entirely new ways. Every ounce of mental power she has left is directed inwards, shutting out all distractions and external influences. Her would-be mentor's final sentence is drowned out in the silent mantra she repeats in her head, desperately trying to mollify the entity who's attention was now firmly fixated on the unsuspecting man like a slumbering dragon sensing an intruder slinking towards its precious piles of treasure.

'He doesn't know, he doesn't know, he doesn't know, he doesn't know...'

While there is some concern for the well being of Rei himself, the xian has already proven that he's more than talented enough to hold his own against her typical sort of fiery outburst. But this isn't some isolated dojo in the depths of the mountains, long forgotten by all but the privileged few. This is a park, dead smack in the middle of a massive city. How many of these people standing around gawking would be caught in the blast if /it/ woke up for real now? How many more deaths would she have piled onto the lodestone of her conscience because of a few careless words?

To her great relief, Rei's parting words prove to be just that. Had he remained behind to try and impart further wisdom upon the young warrior she isn't sure she could have maintained her control. But as his presence moves further and further away, so too does the incredible pressure upon her mind begin to recede, her inner demon slowly relaxing into subdued, if not entirely peaceful, repose.

The tight knots in Junko's body release all at once and she slumps into the mud once again, exhaling in sharp relief. So consumed by the abatement of the mental struggle is she that the miko doesn't even realize that another presence has taken the elementalist's place until she pushes herself up from the ground and starts to rise. The miko freezes in place at the sound of Ichika's voice, caught completely off guard. Were she a cat, the hackles on her back would be visibly on end - she looks about a short breath away from lunging at the sword-wielder, regardless of her clearly injured state.

Only after she realizes that her fellow teammate isn't looking for a continuation of their bout or preparing to lay into her with some pointed chastisement does Junko visibly relax, though only a little. Her expression slowly melts from snarling rebuke to something a little more akin to quiet contemplation though the dour frown never leaves her face. After a few moments, she rises to her feet, keeping her glower firmly fixed on the ground without ever meeting the other girl's eyes.


Junko's voice is low and soft again, much as it was when she first spoke upon arriving. There is a little extra raspiness in her voice this time, evidence of the still healing internal wounds that neither her teacher or fellow student would be aware of.

"...don't waste your time," she clarifies after a pause. "You'll just get burned."

'Like everyone else,' she concludes, the words spoken privately in her mind.

Turning her back pointedly to Ichika, the miko slowly begins to wander away, picking her path of egress by aiming towards a gap in the onlooking crowd. One of her black and ruined hands shakily reaches for the pocket of her hakama the burned flesh clearly struggling to fumble her pack of cigarettes out.

Log created on 12:36:27 09/03/2023 by Frei, and last modified on 21:56:24 09/05/2023.