Kagero - Sealed Zone

Description: [Mission] Embers and ash pollute the air around this destroyed city. Can one man with love in his heart save the downtrodden? Or will the law handed down from on high prevail? Perhaps it is enough that the ideals and hearts of those strong enough to bear this burden remember everything that doesn't and cannot exist..

A column of dust merges with a plume of ash, the dusky whorl briefly blotting out the sun in a mixed mercy to those who tread wearily beneath it. The jeeps cast grit and sand into the air as they slow to weave through the thickening crowd, slowing to cast their shadows over blank and hardened faces. The refugees of Taizhou City, Zhejiang Province, walk with their belongings shouldered along the Yongtaiwen Expressway, and the vehicles bearing their aid can only drop to a crawl to avoid running them down.
~ What could possibly be worth this suffering? ~
Alma Towazu gazes out at the masses, eyes hard, and face inscrutible.
Yet the righteous youth seems alone in his indignation, even despite its subtlety and the typical mildness of its expression. Few of the people appear hopeless, even those who have lost. Perhaps they are greatful that so few have died, unlike as in the recent devastating earthquake in Szechuan. Perhaps their national pride remains stirred by the Olympics; or the continued rapid economic growth renews their latent faith in their power to rebuild anew what they have lost so long as their lives remain. Though the serious young psychic struggles to keep the sympathy surging within him from becoming patronizing, his heart cannot help but go out to them all.
He feels their pain in a way no politician can--
"You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen!"
--but their spirits cannot help but raise his own.
Alma smiles back at his translator, who grins at him with twinkling eyes. The letter he received warned him that the dialect of Wu Chinese spoken here, called Taizhou Hua, would not be mutually intelligible with Mandarin, and he found a suitable translator to guide him during the relief effort. That Huichuan would be such a good-humored fellow was an added bonus, and an unexpected delight.
"Sending me was the least we could do," Alma replies mildly, though speaking rather louder than normal to be heard over the rumbling of the jeeps, "to cheer everyone up."
Huichuan leaned back his head and laughed loudly and clearly, a trait that Alma could not help but admire. Though his own habit of being subdued and banking his own inner flame is perhaps one to be admired itself, Alma, the yin of self-expression -- though only paradoxically so in combat -- would never cease to find appealing the yang of others. "You're a decent guy," the Chinese said in more than decent Japanese, "if a guy you are." Huichuan grinned at him again, unabashed, even as the solemn refugees walked quietly by their side. "I guess not all Japanese are bastards like that Ryouhara."
The young man can only lower his head at that.
Indeed, there are multiple reasons to be here now.
A show of international support in the face of terrorism is the least that the YFCC could do, Alma figured, even though they do not represent the nation; indeed, they struggle to become international themselves. But that, of course, is in some sense the point; and though fighters are not the ones being aided here, a fighter is the one responsible. In committing himself to this act, he is expanding the role of the YFCC subtly but clearly, quietly showing off the funds the YFCC has managed to accrue -- and putting much of his own salary, which he does not need, into their portion of this aid -- and, of course, answering the call of the letter.

~ Xiangfei... ~
How long has it been since he has seen her?
How long even since she had written?
It was a pleasure to feel no pangs in his heart.
Smiling softly now, Alma gazes out at the dusty horizon.
It will be good to see his friend.
"This won't be enough, you know," says Huichuan, gesturing at the sacks of rice they themselves are seated upon in the back of their truck.
"I'm afraid not," Alma murmurs, nodding once.
"We'll all need autographs too."
This time, Alma is the one to laugh, and though he himself is not aware, it is just as clear and resounding as Huichuan's own.
Hopefully his beauty and his pen will be all he need offer of himself here.
The jeeps finally slow to a complete stop then, however, and Huichuan's smile disappears temporarily to be replaced by a frown of consternation. "What the hell?" He clambers up nimbly onto the top of the jeep, glaring down at the crossroads that have become choked with a jumbled mass of people. The column of aid workers ceases moving entirely, and all at once everyone begins shouting; Huichuan at the drivers, the drivers at the crowd, the crowd at everyone. Alma is silent for a moment, unable to understand any of it, but soon he rises himself, raising his hands in an attempt to calm the crowd.
Well, maybe a little charisma, too.

A shame.

He had hoped not to have to come so close to the city this soon.

As expected, the relief efforts had attracted a deluge of support from the Chinese government, flowing down the expressway, one of the few ways to actually enter Taizhou on ground. That much was immaterial to interests from above--interests that would inevitably dictate the fate of the downtrodden here--as necessarily as they are, downtrodden. Immaterial. That much was immaterial.

Information gained in Southtown however suggested that the YFCC might be on the move. It would be the sort thing that would not concern the likes of Shadaloo, or that damned NESTS. But in this situation, with things at this early stage, such a group would be nothing short of virulent. Idealism of a sort that runs counter to the will from above.

The downtrodden with all of their remaining earthly belongings flow out of the city along the expressway. Taizhou is literally hemohrraging refugees. A necessity, given the situation, but the industrious have will stronger than that to be defeated by fire alone.

The dust whirls before the sun, darkening the step of the expressway and touching the lips with a brief and seductive coolness from the breeze that runs down the way.

To the dismay of all, nature's cool touch is short lived.

It is tangible thing in the air, even for the most dense of travellers here today. A taste on the wind, a scent almost like a sweetened sulfur, an unsettling scent that should be repulsive, but is not. The epicenter of the fires is too far away to explain the still glowing ember that curls by on the wind.

The seizure in the artery of crossroads, loud and belligerent.. quiets.

The effect protracts. Steering wheels become too sizzling hot to hold. Filtered waters boil in their jugs. It is as if even the infinite reaches of the sky is cramped by the glare of something that cannot by definition be seen, only felt. Lungs worry themselves in vise as the air becomes overrich with body and warmth, bitter in nourishment to chests that literally cannot take it in.

Inexorably, jeeps roll to a stop.

Slowly, the people slump to the ground, baked inside their own clothes.

Fainting. One by one. It is a patient thing, heat exhaustion. But for all of the inevitability of sensory abandon, this much is unnatural. The asphalt of the expressway is cool to the touch, paradoxically, unable to even warm the cheek let alone fry eggs. In fact, the soles of only one person sizzle as he alights on the roof of a truck, the light sheen of silken sleeves drifting in the oppressive air in slow motion, settling with him. He lands without a sound. Not for need of stealth; the truck's occupants are still, long since passed out in the oven called 'Shinrou Kiritsu...'

It is a simple thing to prevent a mass panic.

That much would ruin his purpose.

It is not the stilted and unintelligible regional dialect of Chinese that sounds like a gunshot in the onset of silence, though someone of his mind could speak it fluently. No. It is the cool purposeful tongue of cold Japanese that fills the oppressive and still air, marked only by a slight Nanshin dialect that has long since been covered by layers and layers of mimickry of other regional accents.

He speaks only one name.

"Towazu-san.... meet me."

The youth is patient, standing there still and in full view, obviously the source of the oppressive heat from the sky. In this fashion, he doesn't need to check every car, every truck, every hooded person who comes here. Alma is one of the few strong enough to withstand his 'Shinrou Kiritsu' without passing out from heat exhaustion. Even for those strong enough to withstand it, it is almost like the air is being strangled from your body through pure force of will alone.

Yes.. bastards like Ryouhara.

The irony would amuse him, if his lip could be turned by that much in this situation. He can only wait patiently.

"Everyone, please, calm down!"
Alma's plea is more effective than even he could have imagined.
Eyes turn to him, but they just as soon roll heavenward as refugees and aidworkers alike slump to the ground, collapse in their seats, able to manage only a gasp as the heat intensifies. Alma blinks sweat from his eyes and sniffs once, eyes narrowing slightly at the saccharine scent that unnerves him by precisely how unnerving it is not. Like the haunting perfume of a femme fatale or the deadly lure of a carnivorous plant, it permeates the air and pervades the senses, and Alma cannot help but feel, psychic intuitions simmering, as though he himself is an insect being drawn into an inviting maw.
One more man collapses, his shadow ceasing to shade Alma's face.
Leaping with preternatural agility up to the roof of the jeep, the beautiful young man is able to catch his translator just as the man slumps to the ground. "Towazu," he rasps once, his eyes fluttering as he struggles against the heat, even this cheerful and determined man's constitution insufficient. "What's... happening... the food..."
Gritting his teeth, Alma immediately reaches to check the man's pulse, heart swelling at Huichuan's final words, directed toward his mission before his own life. But the translator lives, merely unconscious; his aura is stifled, but remains intact. The blond fighter recalls immediately the fact that only one life has been lost thus far during these mysterious and destructive bombings, and his hackles raise as one's do when confronting the otherworldly. Even to one approaching expertise in the use of Soul Power, even to one who has fought men who inscribe curses on seals and mechanical women, this is something beyond Alma's understanding.
The voice rings clear through the ember-strewn silence.
Alma rises there upon the roof of the truck, all still now as the ash settles around them, the ruckus of only moments before abruptly ceased. The world itself seems to have shrunk, containing now only these two young men. Alma is sweating heavily, and despite his irrepressible and unpretentious poise, it is possible to see his chest shiver slightly with every breath, as he unconsciously struggles to fight off Seishirou's strange and formidable technique. But his eyes are clear and his face impassive, and he sees to meet the eyes of this patient assailant.
"Seishirou Ryouhara."
Alma's voice is soft, but easily pierces the silence, projected out and fueled by the force of a confidence born only of unshakable beliefs.
"Do you take responsibility for this?"
He sweeps out his burnished-bronze hands, a wide wing-span.
"All of this destruction?"
His chin lowers slightly, but his gaze does not.
"I believe too strongly in human dignity," he continues quietly, "to accept that any cause could be worth this-- not without undermining its own premises."
His movement is as sudden as he can make it, yet fluid and graceful, it seems to emerge from utter spontaneity; he leaps from the roof of his truck to the bed of another, nigh flowing through the air before he lands -- the clang is surprisingly light and soft -- below Seishirou, to look up at the ninja in a half-crouch.
"Do you have anything you want to tell me," says Alma Towazu, with the quiet confidence and invisible passion of true idealism, "before you surrender yourself to justice?"

Ryouhara regards the entirety of this bloodless, deathless carnage with only the lean countenance of a man who has seen it too many times before, his arms limp at his sides to be sheathed by his haori and wool sleeves, making not a move or even a gesture of remorse for breaking the group here all to see his own goal fulfilled. Whereas the man made model Towazu is more than empathetic to the resolute suffering of those around him, it seems as if Seishirou is the exact opposite, an implacable wall of dispassion, feeling nothing for the mound of ruined bodies gathered around his perch.

Towazu reveals himself as Seishirou knew he would. The realization of his prediction is almost banal for him, another commonality that fails to draw any significant shift in the Ryouhara shinobi's suffering. Towazu approaches as Ryouhara asks, and this much draws only the slow hood of eyelid over eyes that are impossibly brown, impossibly dark. The raven cast of his hair is slightly dirty from the dust lingering in the air. It does not stop his bangs from shimmering in the bright light as those dark eyes follow Alma.

It is the only concession he makes.

"Yes," Ryouhara assures, a mild and droll cant to his tongue. "There is nothing left for me in this world but responsibility for its downfall. Assure yourself in that there is nothing left to impede the scorn of a dying age.."

He shifts, the sound of silk like gunshot in the intimate silences of his will.

"... As pointless as it may be ..."

The world seems to be leeched of color when Seishirou speaks, as if every word is planned, every syllable a carefully sharpened knife. His interest in Alma's grace is academic, studying him but only with part of his customary intensity. The whip-lean shinobi is at rest standing here before Alma. He seems almost a lazy cat, watching Towazu like a dragonfly on the wind. That glance. He can read it as easily as any other. But the familiarity is a taste that he absently rolls in his mind. The look of a true idealism is intriguing for him... even if it should disagree with his own.

Bitter and lost.

A tragedy.

He breathes in, sliding the lengths of dual straightblades from the cluster of sheathes hanging low at his hip. "There is nothing to be said in the face of a justice uniquely yours. There is nothing that can save it in this situation. There is only one justice I concern myself with...only one justice that concerns you."

The blades rake free of their laquered wood with a hissing duet.

"Zero Law of the Initial Heaven."

His words are read from some internal work as if in recitation. "First principle. A man's burden is his own. There can be no succor for his plight. A world lost cannot be saved..." He pauses, as if thinking, but not speaking.

He shakes his head.

"As it concerns Taizhou... there can be no interference during this period. The reason for this incursion. You are in a Sealed Zone. That is law that cannot be violated. Turn back now."

He lifts his rightmost blade. "Or I will beat you until you have no other alternative."

COMBATSYS: Seishirou has started a fight here.

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Seishirou        0/-------/-------|

It's ironic, in a way, for Alma.
The irony is undetectable within the steadfast determination inherent in his steady gaze, but it percolates within the depths of his mind even as Seishirou speaks. Xiangfei was a terrorist, once; it was Alma, initially her victim, later her equal, that helped to pull her away from that path. In doing so, he unintentionally pushed her away from him. Even more than the fading of his once-persistent stutter, the sign of his strength was to make that sacrifice, and to let her go in the name of love. Not even a romantic love-- still a phenomenon that Alma barely grasps, so immersed in his own particular passions. A love for humanity, for the human world, and thus, through his way of thinking, for himself and his path.
To sacrifice is to choose one's transgressions, and thereby to define oneself.
Perhaps Alma and Seishirou would agree on that.
~ Zero Law of...? ~
Even if nothing else.
"No man need die with his age."
Alma's gaze does not waver in the face of this possible madness.
"How many have you killed besides Li Shen?"
His body does not tense, but his eyes faintly glimmer.
"How much responsibility do you presume to shoulder?"
His fists clench slowly, motes of ethereal light beading about his fingertips.
"You're wrong, Ryouhara, whatever the laws that guide you."
Alma's head tilts slightly, and the ash-filtered sunlight gleams through the rosy tinge of his swept blond locks, hazel eyes glittering with those colors and more, the shadows accentuating his cheekbones and narrowed eyes.
"A man accepts his own burden for the sake of his own integrity," he murmurs, the words coming so much more easily than they did not so long ago, "to define himself as an individual; not because he has to; not because he is alone. Insofar as the world connects us all-- succor is always a possibility."
It is now that his shoulders ripple and his back curves in slightly, the model sinking lower into his crouch as his eyes shine brightly with the same white fire that now ignites more brightly around his hands, sparkling as the sea of flame eternally burning within his open heart emerges into common view.
"I will bring it to these people."
He leaps, a knight's lance of light exploding around his fist.
"You will not stop me, Ryouhara!"
He strikes, embracing the danger, gladly shouldering the burden that is his own.
It is a battle of men, and of ideals equally potent and opaque.

COMBATSYS: Alma has joined the fight here.

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Alma             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0        Seishirou

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Seishirou with Self Expression.
- Power hit! -

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Alma             0/-------/------=|==-----\-------\0        Seishirou

For that moment. Ryouhara seems all the more young. His eyes half-lid as he listens in ambiance to alma, the words falling either on deaf ears or striking chords that remain ever unheard. It is the sadness of a letter written to one's love, a letter that is summarily burned. He vocalizes low, bringing no word to the sound deep in his throat, a sound of wonder at something interesting, a sound of a subtle kind of derision that flicks at the senses.

"Mnnnn..." Ryouhara sounds lightly.

"Those that have passed no longer hold any relevance in this world. There is only the name. Li Shen? He is beyond the reach of your mercy now."

The blade shifts in the air as he lifts it slow and methodical. Though the sway of his limbs are still loose, confident, tension slowly wells in his body. A willpower that is cognizant of Alma's own ideal. A traveller recognizing their own kind in passing. He knows there is no faltering between those two, that Alma would not concede to him no matter what his petition. His willpower sinks low to his core, curling the shinobi tight like a wound spring, a crouched wolf in the dusky light.

Ryouhara's eyes grow sharp.

"In the end.. we are all alone."

His blades flash in the light and no mortal beauty can match it. No glint of hair, nor darkness of eye, nor sheen of lips, can draw the attention from the brutal poetry that is people bleeding for their ideals.

The heat of Ryouhara's will is stifling.

The shinobi flinches as Alma's lance slices past his guard, colliding with his body roughly and enervating him with a pure 'force of will' that esconces the shinobi in Alma's righteous fire, kicknig up huge plumes of that scattered dust sending him sailing off the jeep and leaving steam in his wake.

Sweet blood slicks the air.

But when Ryouhara lands, it's squarely on his feet, grinding asphalt as friction alone slows him, friction alone exploding the shinobi forward into motion. His blades come to bear in that instant. He will add weight to the burden that Alma bears gladly. Prices, gladly paid. The shinobi shears through steel and cloth of a jeep as he gains purchase on the space tire in but a moment, instantly cleaving through with a flick of one blade, the other seeming to glow and flash white as he seeks to draw Alma's blood at the neck--and seal the wound behind it with pure heat to taste.

COMBATSYS: Alma fails to interrupt Calculated Tactics from Seishirou with Divine Intervention EX.

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Alma             0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0        Seishirou

"You're a fool!"
He might have just defended.
Alma had steeled himself for the coming match, all his supernatural senses poised in preparation, but Seishirou's speed is totally unreal. The liquid grace of his movements significantly surpasses Alma's own rhythmic efforts, and when those deadly, beautiful blades arc in to tear forth his lifeblood, it might be best, indeed, to choose a sacrifice and accept a fierce gash along his forearm.
But his words--
"No longer hold..."
--are intolerable.
So rarely is Alma's fury truly unleashed. The lance he wielded before is insignificant compared to the explosion of flame that now wreathes both his arms, the beautiful youth gritting his teeth, eyes shining so brightly that the color of their irises is almost entirely obscured.
"The dead live within my heart!"
This heart that pumps passion as much as blood.
"They guide my fist--!"
But not well enough.
Alma is too slow, his tactical mind inadequate. His right hand plunges forth, but never reaches his elusive mark. The blade cuts in far more quickly that he anticipated even in his intuition -- and in part, he only fully realizes now, it is because he has almost no grasp on Seishirou's aura. The man is as smoke, in body and in mind. His form is not yet to be grasped by one such as Alma.
Grunting as he clasps his hand to his ruptured neck, the blood-spattered model rolls away and off the bed of the truck, quickly recovering and digging his feet into the concrete admist the figures of the fallen. He grits his teeth again and glances around, quickly surveying how he might keep the fight away from the innocents; he leaps again to another jeep not far from Seishirou, to make the ninja again come to him. It is the most he can do for now.
When he removes his hand, the bleeding has slowed to a trickle.
"You're not alone, Ryouhara."
Alma's eyes narrow, slits of light.
"I'm with you, now."
The words are not a comfort.

The flicker of the revolutionary's twin blades is as a ghost. Seishirou is known for those blades, having practiced in equal measures engineering and killing the entirety of his adolescent life. The tactical sum of these two is 'force of numbers' -- the twin blades are defensive in nature, shorter than the lance, and it is that that Ryouhara relies on, speed and two vectors of attack allowing him to find purchase on Alma's body, his blades finding a taste of the deminatural beauty's arm.

Forcing the model back through pressure of force, the heady air seems to warp and bend around his body, the soft curl of that 'corona of heat' the only thing keeping him from being nonexistent in the senses of most. That sense of Alma's is an interesting thing, and is something that Ryouhara would have loved to study, in another age, another time. A life in which someone like him could be a part of the normal world.

An amusing thought.

Amusing in that it is a fool's dream.

He shakes blood off the lengths of steel in a brisk snapping motion as the ninja alights on the jeep without even worrying the shocks of the vehicle, his body in a low crouch until his knees rise above his waist. "It is as I said," he states firmly. "The dead can only be mourned for so long before it consumes you...before it becomes your definition."

He looks far and away, standing slowly. His arms cross over eachother, resting the flat of each blade on opposite shoulders. He glances at Alma. "...Are you so consumed?"

He is being drawn away from the bodies of the unconscious here, a tactic Ryouhara can read into easily. The context of being able to kill anyone and everyone he prefers at any moment is not a context lost on him. He does not move towards Alma.

"...Consumed mourning pointlessly ... the only people who stand so close to me are obstacles."

His closes his eyes and lets a ember float from his lips, drifting in the air before him.

"Obstacles I will overcome."

Blades flashing, he hits the ember with both blades with a sniper's precision, a flash of light from the spark emitting. An instant following, an inferno of fire bursts from the air in front of Seishirou. The wave is fast and eats the intervening space between the model and the shinobi, eating space and belching the terrible stench of scorched ozone as it spreads out towards Alma, fast and deadly. It seems less a flamethrower as it has before, but an airburst of fire, blades of flame crawling over the unawares heads of the unconscious as they seek to cook Alma clear off of his perch.

"Cry, Towazu. And before anyone else..mourn yourself."

COMBATSYS: Alma dodges Seishirou's Katon - Goukakyuu.

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Alma             0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0        Seishirou

"I do not mourn."
The young man's gaze does not flinch from the flame.
His form is blurred by heat.
And then--
"I /burn/."
--by swiftness.
He leaps away, this time his timing impeccable. Soaring above the fiery blast that sears and melts the metal upon which he stood only a hairsbreadth of a moment before, Alma flips once quickly and then, beyond all reasonable expectation, thrusts out his feet behind him at an angle opposite his opponent-- and bursts forward, as though the sky behind him had become a wall of his own making.
"Don't you see, Ryouhara?"
The improbable dart through the heat-thickened air becomes a mighty dive kick, his right leg arcing out threateningly as a fire all his own accumulates around its powerful, lithe length.
"We cannot escape those that touch our lives," he speaks quietly, his words echoing as they mingle with the roar of soul-flame, "not even if we want to. We may embrace them; we may resist them. But others become our own context, and more. The ones we love and hate only die when we do."
He lashes out with every ounce of his young strength.
"Your ambition has a hidden glimmer in the mirror of your eyes."
His passion will not be denied.
"But can you see the web of life that glimmers in my own?"

COMBATSYS: Seishirou blocks Alma's Shooting Star.

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Alma             0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0        Seishirou

The fire slowly dissolves to a blast of diffuse heat and embers somewhere far behind Towazu in the dirty baleful wind, the thermal of even that much heat slowly rising and twirling the dust about it in its wake. As Alma leaves the confines of the steel, he may note that the fire does not only melt the steel, but slices it heavily, leaving long melted rents in it.

Fast! Ryouhara's eyes flick along to follow Alma.

A respectable speed, for his youth.

"I agree," comes the chill accents of Ryouhara's tone, the darting kick of the youth's body absorbed against something heavy--and steel--inside his left sleeve, Alma's weight forcing the shinobi to brace his arm by resting the hilt of his blade, nestled in his palm, against his opposite shoulder. The steel of the cannon absorbs the damage of the attack, while the shock transfers and diffuses somewhere in his ribcage, the soulfire forcing the shinobi to fall with Alma's momentum, landing on a bare patch of asphalt at the foot of a larger covered truck.

His sleeves flick wide, and that scalding idealism scatters from him in every direction. like water to one who is used to swimming. "There is no escape from fate!" he breathes, his voice low and intense.

Metal kisses polished wood as Ryouhara seals those straightblades away at his back until the fittings click into the mouth of each saya. "... No escape from yourself, or any other. It is pointless to mourn that which can no longer affect the world. But.. I think you, above any other, may understand the schism."

He has watched Alma.

"There can be no mourning that which doesn't exist any longer. But it is not something that can be forgotten."

He brings it to words, for Alma's benefit.

His eyes pierce through the model.

"That is a price that all men will pay. And all men must pay it gladly."

COMBATSYS: Seishirou focuses on his next action.

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Alma             0/-------/---====|=====--\-------\0        Seishirou

So he does understand.
The impact is obscure in its nature to Alma's tuned perceptions. His physical body connects with something altogether unlike flesh, and not precisely armor; the psychic elements of his focused flame ripple fiercely against an aura that refuses open definition. Vaulting back with an agility that belies his size even if it cannot match Seishirou's own, Alma whirls his body fluidly through the air and spirals again to a controlled crouch as the ninja retreats to the foot of a truck. His gaze is intent upon his opponent all this time; he, too, studies his adversary.
When soul meets soul, truth is revealed. Alma is a firm believer in the intimacy of combat and its potent capacity for sincere expression. The tragedy of language, that it necessarily conceals by form even as it reveals in spirit, is to some extent subverted by those who are keen to the nuances of the stand a man takes in conflict. The attraction that Alma feels toward the use of his own Soul Power is precisely in this; he can see, he can /feel/, the conviction of another in the way their wills clash and meld. Seishirou's aura is not invisible to him. The impact is there; it is formidable, even. But is it strange, in the way that the hollow and hidden cannon makes the physical strike feel strange. Seishirou's will does not fold or yield, and neither does it reveal its nuances in its strength.
It feels disturbingly like...
"I agree."
...Alma's own.
"But what exists..."
Is this a trick?
"...is not only what lives."
Or is this a fearsome truth?
"Li Shen is here with us, Ryouhara, in every move you make."
~ How similar am I to this man? ~
"My parents," he adds, quieter now, "are with us, in every step I take."
~ Were I a threat to the peace-- ~
"I am neither proud nor ashamed of that..."
~ --would I be considered just as mad as he? ~
"...except insofar as I am proud of my very self."
He brings it to words, for Seishirou's benefit.
His stance spreads, bespeaking his open eyes and open heart.
"I won't underestimate you."
Not as a fighter.
Alma's spirit swells, his flame unceasing even when invisible.
As a man.
No salvation will be brought with a heavy hand...
Not even to this man.

COMBATSYS: Alma gathers his will.

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Alma             1/-------/=======|=====--\-------\0        Seishirou

Ryouhara's eyes hood over halfly in his interpretation of Alma's words, flicking to a side as Alma speaks. There is something about the man's words that catch his attention. Something infuriating there, that Seishirou felt to be real beyond what is already known to him. The words. Those who walk with you. A family. Those words have meaning for Ryouhara. Not in the way Alma means them, but they have meaning all their own.

He stands there before the crouching Alma, his haori drifting, a jutsu within it reacting to the ambient pressure of Alma's spirit, without Seishirou's will to back it.

"Enough," Ryouhara asks simply.

"This world of yours is intriguing to me. But it is a childlike illusion."

He shuts his eyes.

"There are some.. who live, but do not exist."

And then, Seishirou is gone.

Stunningly, his 'presence' seems to linger at that one point. Alma was able to determine through that sense that Ryouhara was carrying a cannon in his sleeve. However, the force of his aura shifts quickly to one that has almost no impact at all. Shinrou Kiritsu is a ninjutsu like any other, controlled by him, and forces his chi out into the tangent world. When that is interrupted, the 'corona' of chi surrounding Seishirou ceases to exist. There is suddenly no presence surrounding the young man, and his speed is notched to several levels past the necessary range of the human eye.

Ryouhara walks past Alma's fluid crouch as if merely strolling by a traveller on a path.

"You will bleed your honor on the earth. I will savor it. Then I will bleed mine, in kind."

Seishirou has already made his attack.


The kunai falls at Alma from the sky as if shot from a divine bow. If he doesn't get it in time, it will strike like a lead hammer on his body. And then the shaped charge within will annihilate the weak point just at the separation point between his chest and his shoulder.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou successfully hits Alma with Kunai Critical.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Alma             1/-======/=======|=====--\-------\0        Seishirou

Who live, but do not exist.
For the first time, Alma truly falters.
The young man's eyes widen slightly, the curve of his lips softening as they part gently in the quietest of confusion. Who are you, Seishirou Ryouhara? What do you want out of life? The thoughts do not come fully formed to him, and neither do they come remotely close to emerging from his mouth. Yet they are revealed as obviously within his eyes as if he had knelt to scrawl them in the dust.
His spirit does not weaken, but his concentration does-- and even if it hadn't, it might not have been able to match Seishirou's perfect preparation. Though set entirely on defense, Alma cannot help but jerk in two directions at once. His mind surges toward where Ryouhara's aura remains. His gaze snaps toward where Ryouhara has appeared.
Neither are where he should be looking.
The kunai slams painfully between the chest and shoulder of his left arm, the limb spasming wildly as tendons are severed and the Hiten-Ryu student utterly loses control. Pain contorts his features for only the briefest of moments before his determined composure reasserts itself, but his left hand is limp by his side, and blood stains the subdued elegance of his choice in shirts.
There is nothing more he can say.
Alma wrenches the kunai from his body, eyes not even flickering.
They shine, as the wound ceases to bleed through sheer body control.
Slowly, he flexes the fingers on his left--
--as quickly, he brings up the hand on his right.
With a mighty shout, eyes narrowing again, the resolute leader of the YFCC unleashes a quick burst of his own, a spiralling gout of white soulfire emerging from his fingertips and aiming to slam into the engineer, trading a knife of the mind for a knife of the body.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou fails to interrupt Sacred Wave from Alma with Ryuuouin EX.
- Power fail! -

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Alma             1/=======/=======|=======\-------\1        Seishirou

The basest form of expression is a howl.

The cackling, cawing sound of the human tongue is not a thing for the deep intensities of the battle. The law--the end of reason--is as ironclad as ships, as ingrained as the urge to wander. It is a law that even Seishirou, the boy who can look upon his own family's caskets without a single tear, must at times obey. As the dove copes, the crow is still moving past him.

But that preternatural howl is no sonnet, no epic five rings 'pon his lips. It is an intriguing thing. This is something that Ryouhara understands basically, times during which in the pulse of a battle where words are pointless. The shinobi glances over a shoulder, one eye flashing in the light. A wide thing.

A thing that will not concede in any situation, a thing capable of _anything_.

His hand snaps out in vain.

He couldn't get to Alma before the gout of soulfire could reach him, could not break his assault. The fire of the deminatural's spirit rocks Seishirou off his feet and sends him falling to the asphalt hard, his haori bunching up with his impact, pristine silks soiled by grunge, blood and dust. It is all dust. Dust that once was part of the livelihood of men everywhere. The carbon taste is fine in Ryouhara's mouth as he stands, his stance wide and unnatural as he swipes his sleeves grandly, scattering all those particles around him without a second thought.


Taste this dust, Ryouhara.
Alma lunges, conscious mind utterly subsumed in inner flame.
Feel what you have wrought soil your very being.
His roar becomes a howl, too.
It is not only for these fallen people that Alma Towazu fights.
Plunging forward through the grit-ridden air, this violent zephyr takes the fight to its closest quarters yet in a blurring rain of punches and short kicks, a devil that aims to seize upon the perceived weakness of his opponent's failure and further unbalance him and his endless preparations.
Neither is it just for himself, and his vaunted 'integrity'.
The final blow, and the true one, is a sweeping kick that attempts to sweep the ninja to the ground; if lured into it by the stream of feints, the seemingly undeterable youth will, eyes blazing and features stern -- the face of one, in his way, in the manner of his own equally unshakable convictions, utterly /ruthless/ -- surge forward and pounce upon his fallen adversary and seize him by the throat.
This is for the dust, Ryouhara.
He will thrust forward, a choking blow, and seek to end this.
With this flame, this dust will be reformed.
And renewed.

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Seishirou with Light Kick.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Alma             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\=------\1        Seishirou

The frenetic dance is brief. It is meaningful.

For a moment, neither are truly in the age of modern men, where a man's strength can be determined by his financial prosperity or his skill with a blade. They fight in the dreams of every man and woman collected at their feet today. At the crossroads of history, they fight in a world where a man's strength is determined by his ideals and his honor. A fercious battle that allows no quarter, Seishirou's hands snapping forward to break each assault as it comes, only barely holding his ground.

But as all things, Alma overcomes and Ryouhara's defense breaks.

His gasping choke resounds like birdshot in the street as froth spirals in the air from the Ryouhara shinobi's lips, his eyes not surprised or troubled in the slightest. The shameful, dirty displasy is only acknowledged as truth for what it is. Just as Alma's own, there can be no failure in Ryouhara's eyes.

Gruesome is the beauty of men who do not know yielding.

Ryouhara's silk whispers as he slides out of it. The haori whispers to Alma even as Ryouhara seeks to break Alma's hold on his neck by bringing his elbow down hard on the YFCC leader's forearm. It whispers even as Seishirou tries to loop the draping sleeves about the boy's neck and hoist him to the ground, almost hellbent on strangling the life out of, if not snapping Alma's neck right there without a second thought. If he can, that silk will rein hard, singing sotto voce in Alma's ear.

What does it whisper? What does it sing?


The spirit of Seishirou is as undefinable as Alma's.

The youth stands some ways away from Towazu, the Ryouhara symbol clear as day upon the real white silk of his station. Preparations by Seishirou can be made in an instant, in any situation. His copy fights Alma now. Ryouhara's lids slide shut as he thinks the thought that will end that battle.

Gruesome is the beauty of men who are prepared to sacrifice everything.

The Ryouhara that Alma faces explodes in a matrix destabilization fault, force enough to rock the pavement for miles around. Everything about him--is an illusion.

Dust is our fare.

COMBATSYS: Alma endures Seishirou's Kawarimi Crisis.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////                ]
Alma             2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|-------\-------\0        Seishirou

The struggle swells like the waves upon the surface of the sea-- their force real, the source of their tumult obscure, the water beneath utterly peaceful. They rise, then fall. They shift, back and forth, in a cycle so seemingly ceaseless that it would threaten to entrance those who gaze upon it.
So too do the fighters, in a furious froth shared with none but each other. The strikes are as brutal as they are effervescent with technique, the momentum seeming to rapidly shift between the two. The source of their conviction is somehow as impossible to discern as it is impossibly obvious, as the reality of their existence -- or their life, at least -- is thrust undeniably upon the world, making its distinct mark even if no human eye or mind could discern its shape or nature. And yet precisely in the undeniability of those powerful beliefs, that change or crush necessarily whatever stands before them-- there is a kind of tranquility. In an uncertain world of shadows, eternally in flux, these men seem as constants, even as they tumble in their wild melee.
They pierce all boundaries of the senses, and more than the fallen, more than the pain, more than the dust that clouds every facet of this invincible moment, they themselves acquire the force of the real.
Another howl splits the heavens, as an explosion rips the earth.
The choker had become the choked. Reeling in shock from a technique unthinkable by his own standards and abilities, Alma struggled with the belligerent clothing to no avail-- at least, not in time. Yet knowing this instinctively, through a primal intuition that plunges infinitely beyond the taste and sight of vibrant auras, the beautiful warrior roared his ultimate defiance in the face of his own devastation-- making a sacrifice of what otherwise he would have no choice in, accepting his inevitable suffering to make of it an affirmation.
He emerges immediately from the eruption.
Alma cannot see, cannot hear, from the quake that has rocked him so closely; he cannot smell, cannot taste, anything but blood. Yet he plunges forth without hesitation and with seeming clear intent, and it is with an awareness beyond any of these senses that he strikes out at Ryouhara.
Now, indeed, he is consumed.
And Alma is no liar, for there is no mourning here. There is a quiet celebration, even in the inexpressive impassivity of his elegantly crafted features. There is with every trance-like stroke, every punch and kick that ripples through the dust as though engraving itself indelibly into history, an expression of the essence of his being...
...whatever it may be.
A final devastating punch thrusts forward, directly into viscera.
Here is everything.

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Seishirou with Stream of Consciousness.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Alma             0/-------/-----==|===----\-------\0        Seishirou

He recovered much more quickly than expected. Alma explodes from the tempestual release of Ryouhara's ninjutsu without a second thought. The shinobi is a fiery one, defining his ninjutsu through pure collateral damage. Intensity is something defining his every motion, every flip of silk about the ninja. He moves as if constantly on fire.

But in that cataclysmic explosion, not even so much as a fragment of asphalt lands on the stunned masses.

The Bastard of Taizhou watches Alma through a dim haze as he is beaten in celebratory mayhem, glee a thing of the wind as opposed to the real as blows explode over Ryouhara's body, breaking ribs and bruising an all too human whip-thin frame hidden somewhere in all the fabrics, all the intensity. Howl, Alma.

For a moment, he does exist.

But as for who 'he' is..

Precise geometry figured by Ryouhara santeijutsu determined the exact bursting vectors in the chi matrix from the initial Ryouhara Copy to send most of the blast skywards, which is why it was necessary to hold Alma still. Even here, in the heat of battle, Seishirou is still thinking. Still imagining the things that would shock and bewilder the sane and innocent of society. Even being pummelled underneath the strength of Alma's fist... he is thinking on how best to end him.

Seishirou takes every blow in spite, his evasion pointless. He does not give. He does not bend. He does not break, and when Alma's fist sinks into him, it seems a miracle alone that he is standing. His blood sprays over the ground, over Alma. The warmth of his body is there. To touch the inferno shinobi is heat defined.

For a moment, he exists.

The sensation is fleeting.

From a face marked with his own blood, a pale eye lifts to regard Alma blindly. It sees nothing.

That wound grows cold. "Cannon."

A click pierces the sovereign quiet behind Seishirou. A sleeve raises. Ryouhara Senteijutsu, precise geometry of aim and Ryouhara Ninkoujutsu, engineering of propellants and mechanism, powers the hidden ninkou cannon. It is not one cannon. Hardly. It is many. But it is not from Seishirou's sleeve now that it deploys. In the shadow of the first copy, in whom Alma's fist is pierced through, Seishirou has hidden. Point blank range.

The ninkou is geometric calculated devastation applied to close range conflict, spraying countless hails of slug from the armlet mounted around the boy's forearm. Oddly recoilless, each shot of dense lead is placed specifically, tearing through the image of Ryouhara before Alma as if the now-meaningless thing were just paper. Each blast of that cannon careens towards Alma at speeds and force not achievable by normal weapons of that size. Unfortunately, the details are something that are necessarily lost in the moment. There are few details that are of any importance.

His weapon barks loud and long.

His silk sleeve belches a staccato row of fire.

With ideals alone, something that cannot exist.. can yet still light up the day.

COMBATSYS: Seishirou successfully hits Alma with Kawarimi Suicide.

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Alma             0/-------/--=====|===----\-------\0        Seishirou

The sensation is unreal.
Alma, engulfed in light, consumed by a trance of overwhelming fury, thrusts forth his fist in a final blow. No more the feeling of a kick against steel; this hand meets flesh, the raw body of his opponent. There is no pleasure to be found in the inflicting of such pain. Yet there is, even so, a profound satisfaction in such an undeniable connection, in the proof of one's significance that destruction offers to the human soul.
For a moment, as Alma's fist clenched white-knuckled, it is as though he is attempting to grasp the wispy truth at the heart of his opponent's effort, clutching as tightly as he can to the threads of fate that, like spiderweb, are unbreakable yet nigh invisible.
For a moment, he thinks he has it.
An aura, distinct, blossoms briefly in his awareness.
And then it is gone, and he cannot remember what it was.
The desperate feeling of loss snaps him back to reality, the end of the combination bringing an end to his trance. But it does so only just in time, as Alma blinks and grits his teeth as a wave of frustration passes through him in the understanding that the spirit he faces struggles on, that this fight is not yet over-- for it is then that his fist plunges through the body that he has impacted again, and he is left starting in disgusted fascination at the apparent corpse he has embraced.
But even though his intuition had already alerted him to the realities of the situation, Alma Towazu can only be baffled, even now, when his opponent emerges from the shadow of what he once was to fire again. The model's instinct is to turn the kawarimi he is holding toward the cannonfire and to deflect it thereby-- and, to be fair, he is quick enough to do so. Yet the false opponent melts under the stinging steel rain and Alma cannot react quickly enough to prevent the powerful shots from tearing the breath from his lungs and scoring painful bleeding welts across his chest, if not piercing him through. He gasps then, and with the world shivering around him, feels the heat again for the first time. The breaths do not come easy. His weariness is magnified.
Shutting his eyes, Alma shakes himself wildly, the tatters of his bloodied shirt mostly falling away; tears bead at the corner of his eyes as he grits his teeth in a silent defiance. He wills his body forward. He demands that it fight. The people strewn around him; his own heart beating an urgent call; the dust that has coated the sky and blended the sunlight to a sepia tone. There is more to be done; there is more he can do.
And even as his flesh may fail him...
...his fury rises.
Blurring forward to close the distance, braving the threat of further cannon blasts, Alma leaps low and long and lashes out once more with a furious, flame-strewn roundhouse kick toward his opponent's wounded midsection.

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Seishirou with Rising Fury EX.

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  //                            ]
Alma             0/-------/-======|=====--\-------\0        Seishirou

It turns out that sometimes, losing yourself in the situation is comparible to simply being that much more calculating. As he knew it would, his ninkou tears through his copy--it was meant to, after all--and on through to beat Alma senseless with the slugs. That in itself is testament to Alma's strength. Lesser men would have been torn in half as easily as his clone is shredded into paper.

He watches on calmly.

It seems not enough to break Alma's spirit. This much was known to Ryouhara, keeping an eye on the force of every blow Alma exhibited in the length and breadth of that long chain he fed out into his body only a moment ago. Truth--though from the proud way Ryouhara stands it is difficult to tell, every blow landed. Even the gaping wound in his stomach.

He expected it to be hard.

An instant later, Alma's fury rips into him, tearing past musculature and wreaking havoc with flames that do not burn but incense. Even the will and pride of the Ryouhara clan could not stop Seishirou from falling back this time, being knocked off his feet by the furious assault, tearing into his chest and sending the shinobi flying. He hisses out in pain. Even the training of those meant to be silent in all things cannot keep him from calling out that particular pain, the one that finally breaks him. He bleeds easily. He bleeds far too easily. It is by force of will and only force of will that Seishirou hits the ground skidding instead of tumbling. Only by that boon alone does he rise, breathing faintly.

The indication of his exhaustion does not bleed through to his words.

He forces the control into his voice. Winnows away passion, forcing it back deep somewhere into his spirit, a lost place that is beyond need of his attention.

"...Your idealism almost matches my own," he manages.

Ryouhara is not like most fighters. He is not like Alma. Some have worked their entire lives to increase their physical strength, to develop leather skin and systems that move beyond all method and manner. To deflect steel with skin alone. Seishirou has not significantly gained in strength since he first entered Southtown, has not become any tougher since he was 17. He cannot flatten cars. He cannot endure gunshots. The laws of the fighting metahumanity have no place for him.

"As an opponent, you are not wanting. But the child's illusion.. ends here."

Even now, his consciousness is a dodgy thing, measured perhaps in minutes if he conserves every last. When the spray of blood from his midsection is with such pressure that he shifts away from it, it is tale to the fragility of his body. Seishirou has not gained in any physical attribute since he first tied the 'graduation' headband across his head. Not gained any since he first discarded it. But when Seishirou looks down, raising a lip in derision as if only mildly discomfited by the spray of what is his /own life/, it is clear what he has gained. Strength of will. The ability to bleed as if a faucet and yet still keep standing, if that is what his goals require. He has grown faster. He has grown smarter. More skilled.

"I will now engage you within this 'sphere' of mine."

The air shifts, and pulses. It distorts. But not from power.

From steam.

The concrete around Ryouhara cracks and buckles.

White jets from those rents shoot as high as the streetlights.

Ash ignites in the air.

Ryouhara's blood on the ground boils away.

The blood on his /body/ sizzles, curling red steam from his clothes.

"A sphere of absolute purity, in which only I can survive."

The heat as it was before seems to take on a whole new contrast. This time, it is not meant merely to discomfort Alma while boiling everyone else out. This 'Shinrou Kiritsu' is a field of chi that Seishirou controls on his own, a field of blistering heat and chi that is radiating out from him. As is expected, proximity to that source of chi strengthens the effect. Slow and step by step, Ryouhara walks now down the lonely road out of and into Taizhou towards Alma. He makes no attack--by necessity, he cannot. There is nothing of him left to do any more than this.

His will will be matched against Alma's.

Seishirou will stand before him at these crossroads as a thing that does not exist, a thing that yet still lights up the dawn. If Alma is weak for even a moment, he will boil Alma's skull and every thought, to strangle him with nothing more than his aura alone. His chi radiates out in waves, the epicentre being Seishirou's spirit, his desire. And his will be done unto the world.

By Ryouhara's temple, the air curls as if writhing from the chi irradiating the ash in it.

"If you lose yourself in every little thing...success and justice are not so simple."

COMBATSYS: Seishirou can no longer fight.

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

COMBATSYS: Alma overcomes Katon - Shinrou Kiritsu from Seishirou with Full Confession.
Glancing Hit

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

Nothing is as real as these dreams.
For what seems like so long now, this world has been their own, ash and embers obscuring the sky and light that might otherwise illuminate more clearly that hazy and ephemeral border between the concrete and the unreal. Dreams touch us all, whether or not they are based upon illusion. Dreams permeate the waking world, and every saint and every villain, behind every virtuous act and every sinister crime, are dreams soaking them through. So must it be; yet the eye may rarely gaze upon them. What dreams have been had are now as shadows in the dusk, like so much of the dust that now rises. Dreams collide every day-- yet never do they so visibly.
Alma cleaves the vitality from his opponent's weary bones. Burning on his last reserves, still the blond fighter feels confident he may resist the remaining effects of whatever technique the engineer has utilized to incapacitate his friends until the burnt remnants of their battle settles and the sun may shine again. Yet as he awaits the final assault of his crippled adversary, Alma Towazu feels, in the back of a mind already so completely overwhelmed and expended by its efforts, a deep forboding. The skies do not brighten; they darken. The dust does not disperse; it thickens. Surging, raging, rising, gnawing, the hissing grit is like the ground-up remains of some great beast's withered carapace, and the howl it makes in the air, a chilling mockery of the howls the fighters themselves were emitting, is like the echoing call of that vanished monstrosity. Alma flinches against this mighty bellows, squinting one eye closed and raising a hand to shield himself as he attempts to keep his eye upon the advancing form of his opponent.
The heat... it chokes him.
His vision swims. He cannot breathe. His senses fail him. And as the shadow marches onward, even with no strike seemingly forthcoming, Alma feels as though he is already about to fall. It is beyond him now to realize that he has already been attacked.
Until he feels it.
Seishirou's will.
It is there, in full force, thrust against him, offered up.
Alma's eyes, almost closed, widen again suddenly.
Improbably, he straightens, as though his fatigue has melted away.
What he feels now--
It is exactly what he seeks to do in every fight, every day.
This is the direct connection.
This is the clash of souls.
Is it intelligible, that his eyes brighten, that now the bloodied youth grins?
"You have--"
This 'sphere of absolute purity'-- this is the realm in which sincerity is possible, in which two voices may meet without resorting to words. This is where everything may be put forth. This is where anything is possible.

A pillar of light erupts.
It shears through the heavens, sweeping aside the dust. It casts away the embers of destruction, cleansing the fallen of the soot that has tainted them with its mighty wind, even as they slumber. And within it is Alma, glowing, shining like an angel, his very life-force now seeping out in a relentless torrent of raw energy, rippling primally, unashamed of its nakedness. He is dying, within that pillar, but no eyes would be able to tell. He looks like he is living.
His smile is benign, his eyes as steel, as their wills meet.
Has Seishirou already lost? Not in the sense that the conclusion is forgone. The sphere of heat and the pillar of light wage war against each other, just as the two men had done themselves in moments past. It is the decisive continuation of that battle; it is the climax to their conflict. Foreknowledge of who is the stronger may not only be impossible, but more importantly, it is irrelevant. In this moment, where integrities themselves are more relevant than what composes them, where the crisis is not moral but purely existential, the clash itself is the end, the purpose of all this.
And as the dust spirals into the sky, the world itself opening up to the eyes of the gods, the heat and light rising into a crackling vortex above them that must be visible for miles, a tormented display of terrifying beauty that crashes beyond all understandings of awe and glory--
Who would disagree?
The pillar becomes a frenzied geyser.
And Seishirou's spirit is crushed.
"In a sphere of absolute purity..."
Shimmering, gentle now, Soul Power washes over everything.
"...I, too, may survive."
The light shines complete, pure white, before it fades.
Alma is standing, wounded, bloodied, drained and hollow, dazed, swaying, barely on his feet, weakened, spent, and smiling. Smiling with the grace of the saved, with the benevolence of an endless sea of love.
"Maybe not simple," he murmurs, "but real."
These are men who know the meaning of success.
He blinks the remainder of the light out of his eyes, still smiling, and somehow just barely still standing-- to see if his opponent remains, if he has fled, if he has fallen.
"What I see is no illusion."
The air now is cool and refreshing.
"It's as real as any dream."
There is a breeze now, that wasn't there before.

COMBATSYS: Alma has ended the fight here.

"Almost comparible to my own."

The attack is made in but simple steps.

He approaches the YFCC leader quiet and solemn in his pilgrimage across the ways, travel marked with the sound of silk slipping through the air and the quiet sound of his plated jika-tabi picking their way across and through the chaos that he has wrought, the muted sound only barely heard over the bales of steam that cloud into the sky, cutting over and mixing with the dust, returning to the earth as it cools as a soil rain.

"The difference between us is that in this world of mine, there can be no failure. There can be no love. Nothing weak will survive here. Your ideals are strong. But inside my sphere. Against the will of the clan, you might as well have been abandoned by God."

The dirty, bloodstained haori reacts to Seishirou's chi now, pulsing and twisting in the air gently as he comes close. Suffocating Alma in his own spirit where he stands, in that time Alma with his 'sight beyond' may have the best few of Seishirou than any other. While Alma gives his all at any time, what is seen of Seishirou is someone who by nature cannot give his own. His passion is a bridled thing. He uses it even now, the source of a stunning amount of chi, coloring it, giving it that fire, that heat beyond heat. Destruction focused, sterilized, weaponized. Until all that is left is a pure essence of what is needed for the mission: pure deadliness seeping into every mote of the air around.

"By everyone and everything, you might as well had been forsaken."

He stands before Alma, arms at his side as he placidly stares down at the hobbled man who has managed to find purchase beyond all of his preparations instinctively, though pure will and the glamour of the obscene vision of entrails. Alma defeated him there, Ryouhara will admit. But there is one thing that Alma has no chance of defeating..

"We are forsaken as well. A new kind of nobility. Taste what that is like."

The idealism of the damned.

Who is the villain. And who is the saint?

A moment passes, a sick twist of vertigo reeling into the sky.


His sheathes shift.

His satchel rocks.

His sleeves bell out.

His haori blows back.

Ryouhara can only remain standing as his will is trumped by a force that rocks it to its very core, a kind of Repulsion twisting the air around Alma's body, driving away the dust and the heat until the sun can shine once again--but only for one who is in fact, loved by the gods. The embers of hell become shining motes floating past Ryouhara in a cascade of sparkles as the intense youth shouts out to the sky. The pillar dwarfs them both.

The brow of the engineer lifts only incrementally. His pupils dialate as his eyes widen only just so, the expression of his surprise muted in pure wonder as even someone like him cannot help but analyze it, to taste it. Were it any other, Ryouhara's Shinrou Kiritsu would have folded that pitiful attempt in half. There cannot be any match for his will brought to full focus. Or at least, so it was as he wrote. His writings.. are not always...

...not always...

"....How can even a reasonless dreamer like you... have this much...?"

Blood erupts from Seishirou again, and the shinobi's stance fails him. Laid low, the difference in height between the two becomes more pronounced, as the ninkou priest slackens, investing every effort of his will not to attack Alma, but to simply remain standing underneath the force of Alma's own spiritual strength. The epic tides of force wash over him, and he knows the force of that idealism... equal to his own. The ideal of honor, ability and enduring strength through the ages meets a love that is unconditional and offered to all. Like a small God in himself, holy Alma lays low the unrepentant shinobi leader. Blood crawls down the corner of Seishirou's mouth as his lips part, dark and dingy bangs veils his eyes and licks his chest as he hangs head for only that moment and that moment alone.

He forces himself standing.

Ryouhara meets Towazu's gentle smile with a tight, annoyed frown.

Shocked, he recounts. "...A dream made real, then..."

The whip thin expression becomes a smile, barely detectable and slightly enticed.

It is something he can understand.

"This mission is failed," he concludes without bitterness.

"The Zero Law has no place with one who can break my sword."

Legs bunching, he leaps past Alma. It is his last effort. What is previously only inches become hands. In an instant, those hands become feet. In a moment, they are yards. In a second, they are fathoms. Seishirou moves as if gravity simply no longer applies to his body--in truth, it rarely ever has. His explosive motion carries him high and faraway into the air. Oddly, he moves not further on into Taizhou, but away from it. Sailing the sky, Ryouhara doesn't quite vanish. Neither does the heat lingering as a foul taste on the wind.

It simply fades from view.

As if it were never there at all.

Alma reaches out.
The sunlight splits between his fingertips, crystalline shards of light newly able to pierce a sky now free of darkened dust clouds, as he stretches his hand toward the figure fading into the distance. His smile softens into faintly parted lips, his eyes gazing clear into the horizon into which the man is vanishing. His fingers close slightly, as though he might be able to grasp that man, pluck him from the sky, hold him in his palm, bring him close.
A spear explodes through his chest.
Or so it feels, as Alma cries out in sudden agony, that hand streaking back to clasp at his hammering heart, Ryouhara forgotten as blood fountains out of the quasi-divinity's lips, staining bronze skin and white teeth. Body trembling and spasming, he can no longer contain himself from falling to his knees. Truly, his resolve had reached new heights. He called upon his own vitality to respond to a crucial moment that resonated with his very being; now, his very being pays the price.
He is dying.
Coughing, sputtering, the blood does not cease, and Alma tilts his head up with the innocent bewilderment of a man dwarfed by his own pain. The wreckage that was hidden and forestalled by that pillar of light reveals itself now, psychic biofeedback rampaging through his mortal frame. Jerking, choking, the beauty peers through a dwindling light at an empty sky.
"Mother," he rasps, nigh inaudible, gaze elsewhere.
Slumping forward, his palms slap to the ground but to no avail, arms unable to support the weight of his body as he collapses.
"I'm... sorry."
Alma regards the darkness that rises with the impartial eye of an outside observer, though uncertain as to whether, this time, he will emerge. A spring shower -- an autumn rain -- a stream of memories, that he remembers all so clearly, that are weaved into his soul. Perhaps this is the last time he will look upon them; perhaps the last boundary is to be crossed, and his self be lost forever. For a man who lives as he does, whose power functions in such a way, it is difficult to be surprised by this prospect, though he is as human as any other with respect to death. And though he has no regrets, even the wish that he might have lived longer and paid further tribute to his world, and forged a greater testament of himself and that which created and caused him, not dismaying him as he faces a possible end-- though he is utterly unsure whether anyone or anything awaits him beyond this flickering light-- he cannot but regard his own final thought with a quiet, bemused inner smile, before all smiling becomes impossible-- for though he knows he does not lie, for though he speaks with all integrity, so must its own necessary paradox be revealed, for of course the truth of the matter, when all is said and done, can only be:
~ I'm not sorry. ~

He too will take responsibility, for all of it.
And so he rests.
Cracking one eye open through dried blood, Alma Towazu regards the distraught face above him with a mild curiosity. "Alma! You're alive!" the man shouts, kneeling down to grasp at his shoulders. The blond smiles, unintentionally revealing crimson-tinted teeth.
"Huichuan... you're safe."
Tilting his head weakly to the side, Alma can see that willful Huichuan is one of the first to rise again, but the others are stirring, some groaning. The dust has been blasted away, and the heat has faded, but the sun still beats down without mercy through a cloudless sky, and time is passing.
He lives.
Alma rises, wincing visibly, and approaches the jeep upon which he had been riding, as Huichuan stares up at him in flabbergasted awe and terror.
"Is it... is it over?"
When the model fighter turns back again, he is carrying one of the numerous large jugs of water contained in the vehicle; he moves to kneel by the side of one of the groaning refugees, pouring out a ladelful with which to offer. His face is calm and gentle, his eyes soft and free of pain. The protests of his body grow faint, as it does what it knows it must do, just as it does in battle.
"Nothing is over."
The water accepted, Alma takes a sip himself, and smiles.
"We're alive."

Log created on 23:37:59 08/15/2008 by Seishirou, and last modified on 18:12:19 08/17/2008.