NFG Season One - Thunder and Flames

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Description: Following their earlier discussions, Junko has determined to redefine the relationship between herself and Ichika. First, she suckerpunches her in the face. Things get worse from there.

To say that the past few days have been stressful for Junko would be a master class in understatements.

Life has hardly been much else since the terrible mistake that had left her bound body and soul with a being of pure malice those many years ago. Every day was a constant struggle against her own personal inner demon. Its mere presence was like a cancer, steadily corrupting and polluting what was once pure and healthy into a twisted shadow of itself.

Fortunately, she could contain it, resist the malefic creature's influence and its attempts to wrest control away from her. But, as her unfortunate new acquaintances were quickly coming to find out, she did not do so without side effects.

The easiest way for her to protect people from her fiery outbursts was simply to stay away from them. Trying to keep the sheer hatred of the demon bottled up without some sort of release had proven impossible. It was like trying to keep a tea kettle sitting atop a blazing stove from ever spilling over - eventually, there was just no way to stop something from spilling out due to the overwhelming pressure. She had discovered little ways to try and curb the monster's need for destruction. Her smoking, for example, was not a foul habit taken up out peer pressure or the desire to project a specific self image. Rather, it was something small for her to set on fire without everyone nearby breaking into an immediate panic.

But those past five years had come and gone without so much as a peep from her unwanted soul mate. Barring a few nightmarish moments during the ill-fated event itself, the demon had never once spoken to her in all of that time. Now, ever since her new teammate had pulled her wild stunt and caught the miko completely off-guard, the damn thing hardly seems to shut up.

It's all because no one in this insane tournament seems to be able to take a hint! The xian, Rei, had been the first to brave her fury and shown her that there were indeed people in the world capable of standing up to the raw destructive power of her cursed flames. That, perhaps, had been the first crack to form in her mental shield against the beast. She had felt it stir with indignation at being denied so thoroughly and burned with its outrage upon being hurled into the lake.

But, it wasn't until the swordswoman had foolishly grabbed hold of the priestess and left her so utterly shaken that the ancient evil had finally roused itself enough to start conversing with her directly.

Her encounter with another of the team's appointed 'mentors' had only made things worse. The sheer refusal to accept the fact that she just wanted to be left alone had pushed Ariastra to drive the miko to the edge, forcing her to seek refuge in the demon's poisoned embrace in order to finally make her point. She had walked away from that encounter feeling sick to her stomach, struggling to come to terms with just how close she had been to letting it in.

Many hours of silent lonely contemplation have followed in the wake of that disturbing battle. Locked away in the solitude of her room, Junko hasn't emerged from the narrow confines of her personal quarters for days, locked in a secret battle with her own darker impulses. Visions haunted her every waking moment, nightmarish memories of broken and burned bodies, faces locked into agonized screams, hands outstretched in a final heroic sacrifice to save an unworthy little fool who had ruined centuries of dedication and sacrifice through a single act of youthful egotism.

And entrenched in the darkness of her tragic past, the demon has taken greater pleasure in tormenting her than ever before. Amidst the twisted daydreams of past loss it weaves visions of future sorrow. Shattered broken bodies, vague imagery of what she assumes her teammates must look like based on her imagination of them. All burned, twisted and charred beyond recognition. All glaring at her in accusation.

*You did this to us!*

*You let this happen!*


*Ungrateful beast!*


Junko emerges from her self-imposed exile in silence, stalking pointedly into the common area of Team Thunder's communal space. She isn't quite sure when she had gotten to feet and started walking, only that she feels compelled to do so. Her steps guide her seemingly of their own accord, her legs dragging her towards a confrontation that she wishes with all of her heart to avoid.

The miko's gaze sweeps around as she emerges into the open, scanning for any sign of her quarry. Her expression is unusually calm, almost devoid of the perpetual scowl she seems to sport, her lips instead pressed together tightly beneath furrowed brows.

Determination, not anger drives her this day, though she doubts Ichika will be able to tell the difference when all is said and done.

Ichika has troubles of her own of course. The fight with Iris had gone well, on the surface. She was getting better at shutting out her own spiraling thoughts and finding that state of focus and concentration which let her fight at her best. But she still wasn't sure whether she had succeeded in helping to alleviate some of Iris' own doubts.

More irritatingly, she is having trouble with her schoolwork. This is something she has literally never before in her life experienced, but the truth is that she finds it increasingly difficult to dedicate herself to the demands of Justice High. The workload is extreme, and it is all time she would rather be spending honing her fighting skills or with her friends.

She's never had friends before, really, either. It's a new experience that she finds very agreeable.

It doesn't help that the work simply isn't challenging. It is time-consuming, yes, but she isn't stretched by it. Strange to think; just a few months ago, she took such pride in her ability to effortlessly meet the expectations of her teachers. Now that she'd found something that she both cared about and which did not come naturally to her, though, it felt childish, in fact, to be proud of something that demanded nothing more from her than simple time.

Her parents have proven no more supportive, either. Their opinion remained unchanged: Ichika was causing them trouble, she was not being the dutiful daughter they expected, and she should cease pursuing this fantasy of hers. She should become something respectable. A doctor, or a surgeon maybe, if she was so fascinated with cutting people.

All of this means that Ichika is not difficult to find.

She commandeered the table in the living area as her workspace, typing away at the cheap laptop she uses to submit her work back home, with the rest of the space dominated by the small mountain of books that her teachers back home had demanded she bring with her to continue with her studies.

And if that weren't enough of a giveaway, the tinny speakers on the thing are gamely trying to blare out the latest Babymetal track. Metali! provides some comfort to her; reminding her of the good parts of home. The festivals, the dancing, and of course, the band that she loves so very much.

She looks up when Junko enters, and she doesn't really know what to make of the change in the older teenager's demeanor; the lack of anger is probably a good thing, right? And she doesn't look as though she's been crying, which had been a bit of a concern.

"Hello, Daidoji-san." She says, cheerfully, "I'm afraid I have quite a lot to get through, but you're welcome to join me if you like. Right now I'm studying the classification of celestial bodies in and outside the solar system though, it's... not, the most interesting subject honestly."

Unfortunately, Junko's introduction to modern music hadn't left much of a positive impression on her. The hyper-active plinking beats pouring out of the small speakers remind her too much of the gaudy electronica that had been chosen to be her 'theme' music for the girl's debut bout. Perhaps with more time to be eased into the idea behind electric instruments she'd be more accepting of the bizarre music. But to her ears right now, familiar only with the sounds of old-school classical Japanese instruments such as her own shakuhachi, it's just irritating chaos.

The lack of reply to her compatriot's upbeat greeting is perhaps fairly expected. Junko has made no secret about her disinterest in engaging in casual socialization. A trait that has, quite annoyingly, seemed to convince every single damn person in this team that she needs to be dragged into it.

Today, at least, it seems as if the cheerful younger girl is content to let her be, busy with her own trials and tribulations. A tiny pang of memory tugs at the back of the miko's mind at the mention of school work, a brief flash of her mother sitting across from her at a small table reading from a large old tome while Junko took studious notes with an old-fashioned brush.

Her eyes close slowly, squeezing the image of happier times out of her thoughts. There is no place for that sort of sentiment here today.

Her face a mask of something that borders on calm compared to her usual stormy expression, the miko turns and starts to approach the other girl. That alone might be enough to give her fellow pause as it would mark the second time she's ever willingly engaged with another human being, the first being the precursor to their 'training' session with Rei. That conversation had taken place solely out of necessity and quickly devolved into the first demonstration of the miko's razor-thin temper.

A second red flag hits the playing field as it becomes obvious that Junko is taking her time. Most sightings of the miko are rather short, the lone wolf seeming to storm as quickly as possible through any open space she crosses as if expecting to be accosted at any time. At the moment, however, her pace is slow and measured - a perceptive observer might even note a hint of reluctance in her step or note the way she keeps her gaze focused pointedly at the floor refusing to look at Ichika as she steadily draws near.

Ichika isn't too surprised that there's no immediate response; it's better than an angry rebuke at least, so on the scale of possible outcomes she had envisioned it is about in the middle. Nothing is on fire yet, either, and that's a definite plus.

Still. It doesn't take her long to realise that Junko is troubled by something. She doesn't know her well, not at all, but she knows her well enough to see that the slow pace is decidedly out of character. Those bright blue eyes of hers flick to the miko and she purses her lips for a moment, considering. It's difficult to know how to handle her newest teammate. The others had all been relatively enthusiastic about spending time together, but it is clearly quite an effort for Junko.

She begins to clear some space at the table for her, sliding books back into her oversized backpack. "I was just thinking of making some tea." She says, conversationally. "Would you like a cup?"

The girl's hands are still bandaged of course; the blisters aren't much more than a mild nuisance at this point, though her fight with Iris had aggravated them something fierce. But even with that mild injury to remind her, she certainly doesn't seem any more wary of Junko than she had been when forcing her company on the girl. She's quite relaxed, really; she felt that an understanding had been reached.

Junko can't see the bandages still wound around her teammate's hands, though she imagines that the injuries caused by Ichika's foolish choice must pain her still. She doubts the girl has the luxury of enjoying the sort of rapid healing offered to her by the demonic power coursing through her soul. If she thought that the lingering sting of their last encounter might be enough to dissuade the young warrior then perhaps she wouldn't have to be here today preparing to hurt her would-be comrade in ways far more cruel than the mild burns she still endured.

The miko's shoulders droop almost imperceptibly as she hears the commotion caused by her approach, identifying it as the efforts being made to clear the space for her. To Ichika's ears she might hear nothing but the shuffle of books and the rattle of loose papers but for Junko it is the sound of a knife being sharpened as it is prepared to be thrust squarely into the back of an unsuspecting ally.

Hidden behind the neat curtain of snowy bangs, Junko's eyes squeeze shut, forcibly holding back the emotion that threatens to overwhelm her. Pale slender fingers slowly clench into tight balls, her fists squeezing so hard that she can feel blood stain her palms as her nails bite into the soft flesh. She hides the signs as best she can, keeping her face lowered, tucking her hands behind her back in a gesture that looks almost sheepish.

When at last she finally stands before her target, Junko hesitates.

If she takes this measure, there is likely no coming back. For the first time in five miserable years, she has the chance to experience something other than loneliness and hate.

And that's the problem, isn't it? That temptation is far too sweet, far too alluring to be allowed to exist. It is a weakness, a crack in her armor. What is hope but a vile poison masquerading as the cure for all her ills?

The worst pain in the world goes beyond the physical, cuts deeper than any sort of emotional suffering that might be inflicted. It is the betrayal of a friend, of someone you trust, that leaves the deepest scars on the soul. Perhaps that is why she does this now, before things can go too far, before the pain she inflicts with her actions leave marks that cannot heal.

Scarlet flame bursts to life around the miko's hand, hellish red corruption that stains the world in violent crimson light. This close to the girl the sudden surge of heat that accompanies the flash of that power is almost a palpable force of its own. Without a word of explanation or a moment of warning, Junko's fist whips forward at Ichika's unprotected face, an unholy comet of brutal force that detonates in a blast of fury and sound.

She does not hold back when she strikes. She cannot afford to. Should she restrain herself even a little bit there is the possibility that Ichika will notice, will realize that this is just another wild act of desperation. If that should happen then what she does now will be for naught - just another foolish mistake to weight her down.

And so every ounce of strength and destructive power she can muster flows out from Junko in a rush, an inferno of determined rebuke condensed into one cowardly strike.

Busy as she is trying to make room for Junko where she won't risk causing any damage, Ichika is woefully out of position when she becomes aware of the fact that the miko intends to attack her. It's the power that gives her away. The corrupt feeling of it hits the gifted schoolgirl a split second before the fist is coming at her.

Brilliant blue power erupts in answer. The sapphire energy is suddenly between the pair, whilst Ichika herself looks almost comically surprised by the attack. The barrier isn't enough to stop the assault, but the miko's fist does have to punch through it - her corrupted chi meeting the energy of the world that had sprung to Ichika's defense unbidden.

The result, ironically, might be even worse for the girl than just being punched in the face.

The burst of colliding energies sends the shield shattering in a dramatic shower of sparks, and the fist still slams painfully into the side of Ichika's cheek, making pain flare as she is sent sprawling to the ground. But, that's not all. Though the physical injury is blunted, chaotic chi released from the impact washes over the table; sends it toppling to the floor. Some books, unprotected, catch on fire.


She is interrupted by the sound of her laptop hitting the ground. Hard. That sends a shock of icy fear through the girl's heart.

She doesn't have the money to replace it. She couldn't ask her parents, not with things the way they are between them. If it is broken...

The pain is one thing. Pain can be dealt with; it isn't pleasant, but it is the accepted cost of her chosen path. She is quite used to pain. But having her studies - her plans, really - interrupted in such a violent and incomprehensible way? That is intolerable.

She is on her feet and her sword is in her hand in an instant, drawn and pointed right at Junko's heart. Her head pounds. Those bright blue eyes of hers are ablaze. She wants, desperately, to check the damage to her belongings, to see what can be saved and what she will have to find some way to replace.

But she's not a fool. She's under attack, and she doesn't understand why.

"Idiot! Why would you do this?!"

Ichika's voice has none of the usual calm and control in it; she's furious, and it makes the girl's words quiver as erratically as she feels.

"Explain! Now! Answer me!"

Once again showing an unnatural amount of restraint, at least going by her previous violent outbursts, Junko does not immediately follow up her sucker punch by pressing her attack. She just stands there, ominously silent, her fist ablaze like a baleful torch as the younger girl reels.

The miko watches motionlessly as the gravity of what just happened settles in. She cannot see the expression on Ichika's face when she realizes it, nor the furious glint in her eyes, those bright blues ablaze in stark juxtaposition to her own scarlet glare. She has no idea what sort of damage her actions might have wrought upon the girl's belongings or the impact that could have upon her. Technology is mostly alien to her this is just another bit of collateral damage in the lesson she must teach.

The blade, too, is all but invisible to Junko when it is drawn forth and aimed at her chest. But she can see the hands that wield it all too clearly and hear the hurt and confusion in her teammate's voice as she tries to grasp the meaning behind this viscous and seemingly unprompted assault.

"Because you have given me no other choice."

The words are spoken softly, almost gently, as if she is explaining something that should be incredibly obvious. Her head tilts slowly, chin lifting until she is looking Ichika in her big innocent eyes. Though the priestess's irises are aglow like heated coals there is no malice behind the fires that stoke them. She looks somehow both resigned and resolved. This is not a thing that she does with any joy or enthusiasm but it is clearly something she believes must be done.

"Hate me, Kasumoto-chan. Despise me with all of your heart! It will make things easier that way."

A change overtakes the miko as she says those last words, almost akin to a transformation. Her expression twists, lips peeling back in a ferocious snarl of aggression that far more resembles the furious mask Ichika would be familiar with. Scarlet flame blazes to life once again, this time bursting forth in twin plumes of black-ribboned crimson power about both of her hands. That deep nauseating sense of unnatural rage surges to the fore, heat and fury pouring forth from her hellish power in equal measure.

In a display of what probably looks like pure insanity, Junko takes a step forward directly into the outstretched blade. Whether its wielder pulls back, unwilling to actually impale her, or holds fast against the sudden lunge, the miko thrusts her empowered hands outwards in a stiff-armed strike that sends both of her palms crashing towards the young girl's chest.

Direct contact with those palms would send the deadly fire rushing into Ichika, engulfing her in the cursed flames and setting her alight like a sacrificial effigy for several seconds. Evasion proves almost as unpleasant as the conflagration meant for her instead erupts with a wild blast in the space she previously occupied, bursting with enough force to send every nearby loose object flying dangerously.

COMBATSYS: Junko has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Junko            0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Ichika has joined the fight here.

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

COMBATSYS: Junko successfully hits Ichika with Guren Bakuenjin.

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

COMBATSYS: Ichika blocks Junko's Rengoku Sougekishou.

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

"I gave you NOTHING BUT choice!"

The girl's furious shout might seem uncharacteristic. Ichika has only shown her calm face to Junko in their previous meetings, but if Junko had asked around about her even a little she might have heard about the girl's anger. She's struggled with it a great deal over the course of the tournament to date, and she finds it bubbling up in her now. What sort of nonsense is this?

The girl's sword swings around, not because she feels inclined to spare Junko from impalement, but because she needs to bat those arms away before they can connect as firmly as the initial blow had. The strikes still send unpleasant vibrations through her injured palms and she sucks in a breath.

Corrupted fire erupts around the pair and more of her precious belongings go up in smoke. The schoolgirl's jaw sets. She fights at her best when she is calm and focused; this is a lesson that has been hammered into her more than any other.

But calm is a very long way away. Her focus is broken. Nevertheless, she cannot let this go unanswered. She just, can't.

"I am going to hurt you now." She says, her voice tight, "And I am not going to stop for some time."

When she moves it is with startling speed and little of the grace that she had previously shown. Instead, she aims to slam the butt of her katana into Junko's nose in a painful rebuke, before swinging the blade around, aiming to drive the point down into the miko's thigh.

These are not moves intended to finish the fight quickly. She knows about Junko's regenerative powers and that she is going to have a tough time winning any kind of fight from being put so firmly on the back foot.

But it isn't about that for her right now. Fighting is a language; one which speaks much more eloquently than words.

If Junko wanted to be hated, it seems that she's gotten her wish.

Now Ichika will make her regret it.

COMBATSYS: Junko endures Ichika's Innovation Drive EX.

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Ichika           0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0            Junko

The change from her previous encounters with the young sword-wielder is somewhat startling. Unsurprisingly, Junko has not spoken to anyone about much of anything since arriving here, focusing her efforts on keeping everyone at arm's length. A futile task, apparently, but one that she has done her best to pursue. Ichika's personal problems with anger are, for her, a new facet of the girl and one that she did not expect.

Junko's jaw tightens slightly at the threat issued, biting back a surge of emotion. Knowing that she is responsible for unleashing this side of the good natured girl who had been willing to accept her as a friend with almost no hesitation is nauseating. In the years since her bonding with the demon Junko's been forced to scare people away before. People she loved, people she cared about. Though she's gotten quite good at making people hate her, as evidenced by the naked steel coming her way, the necessity has never gotten any easier to accept.

This is what she wanted, she reminds herself, as Ichika comes at her full of furious vengeance. This is what she /forced/ to happen. It's too late for regrets now.

The miko tilts her head slightly to one side as the hilt strike comes hard and fast, intent on smashing her nose painfully. It catches her in the cheek instead, deflecting to one side as she rolls her face with the blow in a brief display of martial prowess that seems incongruous with her previous fighting displays.

When the sword circles around to threaten her leg, Junko makes yet another suicidally bold choice to simply ignore the weapon. Her ability to track movement in the heat of battle is painfully limited. She can see Ichika, for the most part, her body a blur of dull orange in her mind's eye. The girl's limbs blur as they move, melding to the silhouette of her body and becoming indistinct from the rest of her core.

Which leaves the blind miko with but one real option when trying to keep track of her opponent in a fight. It is a stupid option; a painful option. But thus far no one has offered her any better ideas.

The tip of the sword strikes true and dig painfully into Junko's leg, parting the poofy cloth of her hakama and the flesh beneath it with terrifying ease. But, as she has no choice but to hold onto the other end of that blade in order to wield it, by striking the miko Ichika has also forced herself into a predictable position, if only for a few painful moments.

Gritting her teeth, Junko releases a furious snarl and lunges into the strike. The blade digs deeper into her leg but with the demonic flames already surging forth to regenerate the damage it hardly seems to slow her down.

Throwing herself bodily at the swordswoman, Junko attempts to tackle her teammate roughly to the ground in a very unlady-like bit of rough housing. Should she manage to drag her to the ground, her fiery fists unleash a barrage of wild hammering strikes without focus or aim, simply seeking to bury Ichika in an avalanche of scarlet fury.

COMBATSYS: Junko successfully hits Ichika with Mugen Ranbu.

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

No inner focus to help her find the path through the attacks this time; no calm in the midst of battle to guide her. This isn't the beautiful type of battle she is used to, where each fighter shows the other what they are capable of.

This is an ugly, terrible thing. Just two girls determined to hurt each other, lashing out in pain and desperation, each for their own reasons.

The miko's assault is agony, every bit as painful as she had thought it would be to look at it. The blows strike true, and Ichika can do nothing but take them. Nor, Junko may notice, has the girl even tried to fall into the same draw-strike-clean-sheathe rhythm she had taken in their first meeting.

Ichika's lips curl back in an angry growl. None of this is how it is supposed to go. Junko was supposed to accept her place on the team, be taught how to harness her powers by the tutors, and become a valuable asset if not an actual friend. Ichika was supposed to finish her annoying schoolwork, maintain her grades, repair the relationship between herself and her parents and have every option open to her when the tournament finished and she returned to Southtown. Now this stupid woman has ruined everything. All of her hard work, thrown away and for what?!


The girl's shout is coupled with a sudden, violent motion. All at once she is exploding from the ground beneath Junko, her sword leading the way in a spiraling slash that seeks to carry the pair of them up into the air. Doing the move at all is challenging for her, but this, at least, seems to actually come easier for her in this moment.

Oh it hurts. Muscles rip as chi empowers the girl's body to defy its limitations, so that she can drive her blade into Junko's stomach and rip up towards the ceiling with a shocking amount of force.

And it doesn't end there. If the strike lands true and takes her up as she wants, Ichika will give another shout, wordless this time, as she suddenly appears to blur out of existence from beneath Junko...

... so that she can tear in from above and drive her blade down into the miko's back, slamming her to the earth in amongst all her smoldering possessions with more power than her tiny body can possibly contain.

COMBATSYS: Ichika successfully hits Junko with Price of Progress EX.
- Power hit! -

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

Despite her devil-may-care attitude, this isn't the sort of fighting that Junko is particularly good at either. She had learned proper techniques in her youth, studied under no less than half a dozen different masters of the clan's unique brand of kung fu. Everyone single one of them would hang their heads in shame to see such artless brawling - or they might if all of them weren't dead, burnt to cinders by the very girl they had trusted to lead them into the future.

Having pinned her opponent to the floor, Junko's superior position allows her to rain blow after blow down with impunity for several seconds. The scarlet flames do most of the work, her own muscles little more than ash-filled sandbags for all the power they have to give. But even a pair of worthlessly weak arms can do some harm with momentum and leverage.

Once again Ichika surprises her, however.

The scream alone is forceful enough to give Junko pause, her fist drawn back and ready to deliver the next blow. The sword tears into her unprotected side like a striking serpent, slashing effortlessly across the priestess from hip to shoulder. Cloth and flesh once more part before the blade's deadly edge and with the spiraling motion a spray of blood spatters onto the nearby wall in a fern-frond pattern of violence.

Junko's eyes go wide as she's lifted up with the unexpected attack, her arms feebly crossing in front of her body in an attempt to catch what she assumes will be a follow up strike from the front. She's right, partially, but her desperate guard offers no protection as the tip of the katana drives deep into her stomach and adds a second hauntingly beautiful spray of crimson to the decor at her expense.

Still in shock from the surprisingly savage assault, Junko can do nothing but begin the unpleasant tumble towards the ground as gravity reasserts its dominance in short order. Ichika's final strike simply punctuates its insistent pull with a sharp exclamation point, driving the older girl hard into the unyielding floor below.

A sharp cough explodes from the miko as she forcefully belly flops onto the burned table, the air momentarily driven from her lungs. A fresh spray of bright red blood spatters the ground, staining her lips and chin. Her eyes squeeze shut, fingers clenching weakly as she tries to recover from the whirlwind assault.

Once again she gets an unpleasant lesson on pain tolerance and precisely how much she wishes she had more of it. Considering how many times she's been literally burnt to a crisp, you'd think she'd be able to laugh something like this off as if it were a paper cut. But no, the damn demon intentionally made sure that her regeneration was always total, including whatever nerves were damaged by her antics at the time. The gift of immortality as experienced through malicious compliance.

*I warned you, child. That girl's offer of friendship was naught but sweet lies. See how quickly she turns on you!*

Junko's jaw tightens as the demon whispers to her silently, unable to do much but lie still as she struggles to regain her breath. She does her best to ignore it, to push the malicious influence away from her thoughts but she's too muddled to focus enough.

*I can feel her anger, girl. Can't you? Such seething hatred does not simply come from no where. It was always there, hidden beneath the surface. These are her /true/ feelings.*

Swallowing hard, she tries to deny the creature's words - but that proves hard with the coppery tang of blood on her tongue. Tears well up in her eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks as she slowly rolls onto her back to glare up at the sword-wielding young fighter. She blinks them away fiercely, refusing to acknowledge the idea that she might be more hurt by the possibility that Ichika had used her than the massive gashes in her chest.

"No..." she wheezes, a hand pressing to her bleeding shoulder. "Not yet...!"

With a sudden surge of her own, Junko kicks her legs straight up into the air, flipping herself back to her feet with a sharp kip up. Raw agony tears through her at the effort, her head swimming from blood-loss and disorientation but she fights through the nausea to unleash another hellfire infused barrage.

As before, the miko displays hitherto amounts of martial skill as she pirouettes in place to bring one of her red-clad legs up in a spinning kick at Ichika's upper half. Scarlet flames erupt from her foot as she scythes it through the air, tracing a neon red splash of color through the subway's muted grays. A second kick follows and a third after that, Junko spinning like a top to deliver a punishing barrage of fiery strikes before the effort sends her staggering to one knee, hacking up fresh blood.

COMBATSYS: Ichika instinctively blocks Junko's Gouka Senpukyaku.

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Ichika           0/-------/------=|=====--\-------\0            Junko

Ichika's expression is decidedly furious; her jaw clenched, her eyes still fiercely ablaze. She looks down on Junko as the miko stares up at her with tear-stained eyes. For a heartbeat she wonders if the white-haired girl is going to apologise or offer any actual explanation, now that she has landed such a grievous blow. But then she is on the attack again.


A second barrier springs to life, bursting into being to take the first hit for her. The girl's sword raises and she meets the second, her palm braced against one side of it as she takes it across both palms. The third, she draws her sword back, and rudely shoves the leg out of the way, burning her bandages from that hand, but ultimately coming out of the assault only a little worse for wear.

"I made NO demands of you. I asked NOTHING of you, except that you understand we need to work together to succeed. I was happy to let you decide what that would look like. But no. That is too much! I left you NO CHOICE! No choice, but to attack me and destroy what few things I own."

She flicks her sword to the side, contemptuously splattering the miko's blood across the ground, across the scattered remnants of her schoolwork. Even still, she does not sheathe her sword. The hurt and anger in her voice rings true. The telling blow she had struck felt good, but it has not finished the fight.

Under almost any other circumstances, the words would be enough to snap herself out of it. She would have it in her to walk away, discuss the situation calmly with others, take advice, find a way back to the path.

But not here. The tears in Junko's eyes have brought mirrored ones to her own. Does she even understand what she has done? The thought of it is like a knife twisting in Ichika's guts. The shame, the wasted time... time, the most valuable commodity of all, stretched so thin as she is between all the things she is trying to do, all the achievements she is striving so hard for.

Blade cleaned, she is suddenly dashing across the distance again - leaping through the air to slash deep across Junko from the other side, give her a pretty X from each shoulder to each hip. The girl's grip on her blade already reversing as she stays relentlessly close, making it very clear that she is not backing down.

COMBATSYS: Junko interrupts Genius Loci from Ichika with Hou-ou Shoten Ha.

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

If she had known about Ichika's school work, about just how much the strange gadget had meant to her, Junko might have reconsidered this approach. At the very least, she would have found another time to launch her aggressive plan to dissuade the girl from trying to befriend her. Then again, she might not. She wanted Ichika to hate her, want nothing to do with her, to completely destroy the very notion that friendship was even a possibility. By a stroke of fate she seems to have stumbled upon the most effective manner of making that happen.

Lucky her.

Were it an option, she would love to apologize to the younger girl. It would give her no greater pleasure than to have embraced her offer of friendship and those of the others. In another timeline, perhaps, one where she hadn't been such a damn fool and doomed herself to such a cursed existence, she could have been what Ichika wants her to be.

But such idle fantasies offer little reprieve from reality. She's a threat, both to Ichika and this team. The best they should hope to get out of her is a few decent sparring sessions and perhaps a few points on their collective scoreboard. That's all she's good for. As long as they understand that, she can rest easy knowing that she won't wake up one day to find another charred corpse at her feet and a demon cackling in her ear.

"That's the problem..."

Junko's lungs burn as she sucks in rapid breaths, hissing out a soft retort to the other girl's rant. Her fancy white shirt is a mess of sticky blood, the silken fabric already starting to meld to the wounds as it clots with unnatural speed. Her brows furrow as she lifts her head to glower at Ichika again, eyes swirling with unholy fire.

"You were happy!"

What she means to say is that Ichika being content to get Junko involved at all was a recipe for disaster. She wasn't afraid of the cursed miko as she should have been, wasn't willing to just keep her at arm's length. In the heat of the moment, however, the words that Junko spits out sound positively unhinged. Perhaps she did it on purpose to create yet another reason to draw scorn down upon herself. Or maybe she's just being spiteful, still wrapped up in the possibility spun by the poisonous voice in her head.

Ichika rushes in again, determined to deliver yet further righteous punishment upon the wicked miko. For a precious few seconds it seems as if she will succeed. The shining blade whips down, its wicked edge on a perfect trajectory to give its target a matching slice to pair with the first deadly cut she had inflicted.

But the sword never falls. In a burst of sudden furious motion, the miko explodes from her position on the floor revealing it to be the feint it was. Legs tensed and fist clenched, she had been ready for just such an attack. Scarlet flame erupts around her fist, swirling like a snake up her arm as she delivers a smashing vertical punch to the swords woman's jaw. Upon contact with her target the small whorl of fire suddenly blossoms into a roaring maelstrom, a searing tornado of red and black that catches Ichika in the air as she is sent flying from the initial blow and hurls her skywards with malicious glee.

The punch catches Ichika off guard; she hadn't expected that her close dash would be so easily intercepted. The impact picks her up and throws her across the room in a maelstrom of fire, the girl's words ringing in her ears.

She's not wrong. Ichika had been happy. For the first time in possibly her entire life, she had felt as though she knew what she was doing; the path was before her, she just had to walk it. She had friends. People who believed in her. She was getting better, every day. The future was looking bright.

The disruption of the new teams and the threat they posed had been a danger to that, but she had thought it was passed. She had thought wrong. The disruption was right here; not in the form of the loudmouth popstar she had, in her own quiet way, been trying to avoid... but in Daidoji Junko. The ugly burn scar across all her designs.

She hits the far wall of the central chamber hard, grunts, and slumps to her knees. If there is one curse of knowing the limits of one's own body so intimately, it is knowing when she has pushed too far. Her strength is failing. Her vision is swimming.

"You are a fool."

Ichika rarely insults people. She's done it twice now to Junko, and both times, she has chosen the words carefully. She has not called her a monster or a villain; she doesn't see that. If Junko were truly dangerous, if she were a real threat, she would attack them whilst they slept, disarm her and render her helpless.

All of her teammates have obvious weaknesses that could be learned and exploited, if she wanted to really harm them. This? This is pure idiocy. Poison to their ability to work together, apparently for no other reason than that Ichika had found some kind of contentment.

And there's no mistaking the contempt in her voice, particularly with the last four words that she speaks.

"And you are weak."

With one last swing, the girl's blade flashes out. And it isn't some immense display of power that surges from her in a final act of defiance. It isn't necessary. Instead, her blade catches the light - and a tiny spark of blue power no bigger than the tip of her finger shoots from the tip of her blade at the apex of her swing, aiming to catch Junko right between the eyes.

At which point, she lets herself collapse. Assaying the total loss and damages... will have to wait until she wakes up.

Junko had better hope that she's not there when she does.

COMBATSYS: Ichika can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Junko blocks Ichika's Brilliant Spark EX.

[                        \\\\\\  <
Junko            1/-------/=======|

Junko slowly rises from her low crouch, fist gently lowering down to her side. She glares silently at the slumped over form of her would-be friend from across the room for a long moment before her head lowers once again, eyes closing as she fights desperately to keep from allowing further tears to escape at the sight.

It's difficult, oh so difficult. Remorse courses through her like acid, raw emotion wrapped so viscously around her heart that she feels it might burst. She wishes there had been a better way. But any attempt to warn her about the true threat the miko posed would have put a target on the younger girl's head. That was the rule of the game she was forced to play.

Ichika's voice scythes across the space between them, cutting Junko more deeply than the sword at her side ever could. She can't see the other girl but she doesn't need to. The sheer venom behind those words is more than enough to convey her feelings.

The miko senses the final spiteful strike at the last moment. Almost dismissively, she lifts a burned hand up into the air, interposing it between herself and the incoming dart of light with a flick of her wrist. That the effort actually produces results is a surprise. It had mostly been a reflex gesture, a passive acknowledgement of the threat that Ichika's power posed to her.

The blue bolt strikes her square in the palm, blasting a small crater into the already cracked and ruined flesh. Junko shifts her lowered gaze to regard her mangled hand with a pensive glance. Perhaps she should have just let it strike her in the face. Falling unconscious right now seems like a convenient escape from all of this.

Turning her back on the younger girl, the miko inhales slowly as she considers Ichika's final words.

'You are a fool. And you are weak.'

"I know," she says quietly, knowing full well her words fall on deaf ears. Junko reaches into the pocket of her hakama and withdraws a small pack of cigarettes, sliding one into her mouth with a shaky hand. The tip flares bright cherry, bursting into flame upon contact, and she savors the thick taste of the smoke with a long drawn out drag.

"I'm sorry, Kasumoto-chan."

Leaden steps carry her weary body back towards the residential hall. Despite her injuries, she manages to make it all the way to archway before the blood loss starts to make her woozy. Bracing herself against the wall, Junko hesitates one last time, turning to gaze back over her shoulder before she vanishes into her room. A simple prayer dances in her thoughts as she collapses to the floor in a heap, but it's one she doubts will be answered.

'I won't ask for your forgiveness... but I hope, one day, you'll understand.'

Log created on 02:14:08 09/14/2023 by Ichika, and last modified on 18:52:44 09/14/2023.