LLK Act IV.Fin - Fin : Alekhine's Gun

Description: Sacrifice. What does it mean? To give up something for the greater good? The measure of many individuals is taken by how much they're willing to give up, how far they're willing to go, for their ideals. Kula, Jiro, Alma, Frei... four individuals with their own ideals and their own willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. What results from their meeting is a clash of powers, of beliefs, and ultimately what it means to be human... where the only constant is that nobody leaves the same individual they were at the start.

While Gedo High provided a tight, compact, easily fortified foothold in the besiezed city, another location was needed to stage equipment less suited to the tighter confines offered by the campus. Within a week of the occupation of Southtown, a massive workforce descended upon Southtown park and began erecting a second facility - a base of operations with enough room to house tanks as well as create large enough buildings to manufacture other cutting each technology to be put to use in the war.

Thus the present condition of what was once a peaceful park: The environment is a disaster. Trees, bushes, and other park facilities have been bulldozed, chopped down, and burned away to make room for the sprawling base. A dismal view of smoldering debris, scorched earth, and an everpresent blanket of smoke that would burn the eyes were it any thicker is what would greet the eyes of anyone venturing into the hostile territory.

Replacing the cry of birds and the sound of rushing wind through the trees is a repeating claxon alerting the base to attacks taking place around it. The response is swift, troop movement seeming to veer off to the Eastern side of the structure in response to the coordinated distraction established by Hotaru and Kentou. 'They're attacking the depot. Secure the lot before any more-' A fireball rises into the horizon as an explosion rocks the ground once again. 'Go, go, go!' The thunder of footsteps and the sounds of guns being ready are barely audible above the sirens and explosions to the eastern side of the base.

The main building bears a certain resemblence to a flattened, six-legged spider - a centeral, dome-like hub surrounded by six long, narrow 'legs'. One of the legs leads directly into a large, square building that looks vaguely like a warehouse on the outside, with its lack of windows and only one large bay door on the western side. The trio would know that to be their target. It's all part of the plan drafted by one Elle Belmounte, reviewed dozens of times by Hotaru and passed on to the rest sometime after daybreak. Identified as a structure of some importance, the square building was to be the target of Jiro, Alma, and Frei, to further divide up the defenses of the base and leave it vulnerable to the third party gunning for the center of it.

With the distraction on the Eastern side of the base, troop defenses around the outside of the warehouse are light, numbering only around eight armed soldiers situated near the only visible exterior door. Low ranking footsoldiers, each one is equipped with a rifle and a radio and each one likely hopes that they will be left alone since the likelyhood of reinforcements making it their way quickly is low. Getting through the eight of them would be the first step to gaining entrance to whatever lies behind the door.

Now is the time.

Much of the time spent crossing Southtown from Hotaru's estate to the facility erected by the invaders of Southtown in the park is spent, in Frei's case, thinking about his conversations of late: with Hotaru herself, Kentou, Mizuki, Shurui. About the events of the past few months and the disruption of *everyone's* lives. Thinking about himself is only natural; kidnapped, drugged, made to fight his own friends, and now mostly bereft of the power to strike back against those who wronged him. But staying and working at the refugee camp has broadened that perspective and, in a strange way, kept Frei from falling too far into a depression that seems to loom around every dark corner and every sad turn of events. It's not just him; *everyone* is suffering.

But unlike 'everyone,' only a few can actually do something about it.

He had to watch the other teams go; there wasn't much time for things like conversation, after all, but seeing Kentou go made Frei wince. Not that he feels the student he shares with Hotaru can't defend himself, but... in a way, this entire affair has dealt a deathblow to a childhood Kentou was too young to appreciate in the first place. The others involved... despite their young age (at least, compared to some), have seen plenty of things through the eyes of a mature adult. As he, Jiro, and Alma depart for their part of the affair, that thought weighs on his mind, less than the 'righteousness' of their task. What kind of future are these people making, with this plan, this resistance? 'Tomorrow' is not something Frei typically concerns himself with, preferring to take things as they happen... but a part of him is more worried about what comes next than the battle in the here and now.

It's precisely because he might be expected to stay at the back and take things easy, however, that Frei decides to be right up front in this scenario, stepping toward the warehouse with the external appearance of confidence that, inside, he's not sure he really feels. But something about this all being 'in progress'... the fact that rather than being a potential event it is merely something happening here, *now*... has engaged Frei's inner reserves of calm. He's going to focus on the task at hand and do his best. Little else can be done than that.

"...I'm ready when you are," he says to the others, looking at the 8 guards carefully from a vantage point of relative security.

The time to move is near.
If they are to succeed, the group will have to work together to break through NESTS's fortified fortress. Seeing the sight of the once respected park has grown disgusting. Everything is so disarrayed and so awkward, it left for the freedom fighters to do one thing: Destroy the base. That required the planning of the group combined.
Jiro had got a chance to see what the war has done to others. He has seen what the focus was. He knows where his ties lie. He knows where he belongs. He knows what he must do. Part of that involves getting through the blockade of the soldiers. There is not much that has to be worried about now. It is just accomplishing the mission for the people.
The young man's appearance has changed, for the most part. Instead of the usual street attire, Jiro had adopted a uniform that was presented by Adelheid. It is actually a black uniform with silver lining on it. He had joined up with Adelheid long since he broke away from R'. After contacting Adelheid the information, Jiro moved onward to look towards the eight soldiers that are visible near the visible exterior door. He actually reaches into his pouch to pull out a pair of spheres.
"...Alright. Time to make use of this." Retracting a pin, he discreetly pops out of the hiding place to toss two orbs towards the group of men. As the two balls roll along towards the foot soldiers, it immediately disperses a powerful knock-out gas to knock the men unconscious.

The choice had not been easy.
Alma Towazu stands in silence beside his two close friends, his own tailored white and royal-blue garb contrasting with Jiro's black uniform, sculpted face mild and hazel eyes gently narrowed in thought. Despite his position as nominal head of the temporarily defunct YFCC, Alma has not been party to many of the deep strategic decisions made here, having focused on leading numerous small missions; he has not yet dealt with the likes of Elle Belmounte, entrusting many of these responsibility to Hotaru, whose estate became their new home base. Partly this is because hierarchy means little to any of them, youths united by love and fate, an administrative tool with which they may guide the less experienced but insignificant between them. But it largely has to do with Alma's growing awareness that his own strategies have been guided more by the demands of his integrity and less by an urgent need for victory-- which is not to say that he would dispense with the latter, but simply that his mind has not been on it, rendering he himself less useful in that regard. After all, for Alma, victory is rarely what it seems. And as much as his heart yearns for peace to be brought to this city and for those many innocents who have been made homeless to find home again, there will be no success if Southtown, after this war ends, only returns to the way it was.
Yet in many respects, Alma has already succeeded in solving the problem that plagued him even before that dark miasma plunged Southtown into misery and the forces of evil assaulted his fair city. Due in some small part to his efforts, it is now public knowledge that Geese Howard is the head of the Southtown Syndicate. The YFCC will no longer be beholden to Howard Enterprises; Geese's efforts to nullify the charity organization as a force to be reckoned with have failed. When the dust clears, the YFCC will be stronger than ever before, taking a strong hand in the rebuilding and feeling the void of power that will exist; of this Alma is certain. The truth has cut those lingering ties of injustice; his friends will be safe from Howard's machinations.
Yes... K' will be safe.
He wanted to be with K', wanted to see him again one last time before he left-- but in his heart of hearts he knew that would accomplish nothing. What would he make him do, promise to be safe? It is enough that they are closer now, that the truth has set them free. No, let K' and his allies strike at the heart of Geese's enterprise. Alma belongs here, with those yet dearer to his heart, fighting alongside them in this decisive and coordinated battle. And thus, perhaps surprising, Alma, like Frei, is not concerned with the righteousness of this battle. Certainly were the battle not righteous he would not be here; the goodness of the act is implicit in it being so heartfelt in the first place. No, in this moment, he need only glory silently in the presence of his loved ones, for his personal quest has been accomplished. He has finished what he began alone.
Now is the time to finish what they began together.
The choice had not been easy, but--
"Frei... Jiro..."
It had been obvious.
The angelic young man smiles at them both, aglow with the warmth of one who is already as fulfilled as he can be-- and without another word dashes forward, following as a blur the grenades that Jiro has lobbed. Those guards that are stumbling from the blast Alma will leap towards, twisting sinuously into aggressive and acrobatic spinning kicks, seeking to leave a swath of incapacitated adversaries in his wake along his beeline to the entrance.
He can't even imagine being afraid.
How could he, when there is nowhere else he could possibly be?

The base is a chaotic antithesis to the calm trio gathered to infiltrate the large building. Troop movement continues to veer toward the East depot lot, leaving the three gathered a moment of being left alone before /it/ begins. But once it starts, there will be no going back to the way things were before. The action they opt to take here is the type on which lives change, for better or for worse.

Case in point, the eight soldiers - token guards positioned in a hurry to try and stave off any lone interlopers from discovering the contents of the building behind them. The base defenses as a whole were not as tight as one might expect of the war machine that rolled into Southtown. No fences, no walls, no barricades, no external gun turrets to speak of. It is, perhaps, a sign of the hubris that dwelt in the souls, if they even have souls, of those leading the invasion forces that they never anticipated a counter offensive. Expecting, perhaps, the citizens of Southtown to be too cowed, too disorganized to amount to any kind of threat, the three young men have but eight hapless soldiers to disable to break into one of the most important buildings at the base.

The rolling grenades catch them off guard, leaving four to leap to the side, two collapsing on the spot, and another two slumping back against the wall. The combination of swift kicks leave the last four standing unconcious against the ground, the mediocre threat they represented neutralized in an instant. The ambush was quick enough to keep them from radioing for help. It seems the three will not have to deal with any further troop interference as they head inside.

The door is nothing special and holds no barrier to entrance for fighters of their caliber, yielding easily to any show of force. They would notice it before even stepping inside - the cool rush of air against their faces smelling of something clinical and sanitized and preserved by frigid temperatures. Stepping into the structure would be like stepping into an artic cave, so severe is the drop in temperature.

It's only once inside that the nature of the building would become more apparent. It's a labratory. Pipes over four feet in diameter run the lengths of the walls, rising up into the ceiling, and descending into giant vats and sealed off tanks of liquid. Control stations line the base of the walls and are located on various walkways that overlook the main floor, each one covered with digital displays of whatever research it is that is conducted here. The sound of electronics echo throughout the three story tall chamber, with all the small beeps and blips of a hospital's intensive care ward. Some of the walkways are glazed over with patches of ice, with frozen stalactites dangling down over the edges in places.

But all of the technology built into the large, cavernous building isn't what's likely to catch the eye. It's what occupies easily two-thirds of the main floor that is probably of the most interest. Glass tubes. Rows and rows of them, numbering into the dozens. Each one filled with a mostly opaque, green fluid that seems to glow with its own, unnatural luminescence; the color of deathly radition or the most horrid of poisons. The fluid they contain is thick with particulates, making it difficult to see the contents behind the pale green glow. But here and there, an image might be seen through the green, foggy liquid - the vague shape of something natural and familiar: human bodies.

It's a cloning lab. One of the vile abominations of an amoral science driven by a pursuit for mad power. Undoubtedly the product of NESTS engineering, each tube represents a stolen, replicated life in incubation. Affixed to each tube are a number of devices for sustaining the life and accelerating the growth of each of the clones. From the top of each cloning tube extends thick piping and a vast array of wires and glass, spiraling tubes, all of which would appear to lead to a location central to the building.

Massive and round, the machine situated in the center of the room is connected to each and every vat. It looks something like a large turbine that one might expect to see at a power plant. It hums with a consistant, deep thrum that adds a subtle vibration to everything in within the lab.

Seated on one of the metal walkways situatuated just above the turning engine is Kula Diamond herself. Clad in black protective leather, she sits with one leg drawn up so that her hands can wrap around her knee, her back resting against the railing. Her hair a frosty blue mane of long hair, her crimson eyes settled on the trio, Kula moves slowly and patiently, pushing herself up to standing.

"If you three don't leave, I will have to respond with lethal force." Her eyes stray across Jiro briefly, familiar with the young man and not particularly surprised to see him somewhere where his life is likely to be in danger. It seems about par for course for him. Alma is eyed warily, the girl remembers him well. She would never forget the look in his eyes when they parted paths last time. Finally she studies Frei, eyes narrowing for a brief moment as if recognizing him from somewhere. Somehow she suspects they're not going to be disuaded by words alone.

One gloved hand rests over the railing she was leaning against previously and a glistening coating of ice shimmers into existance along its surface. "If you chose to stay, I can say for certain that you will regret it. And for that," she exhales softly, her breath a visible vapor that lingers for a few seconds before fading, "I am truly sorry."

Grenades... high kicks. Explosions and punches. It's all very violent, very brief, and sadly necessary. Eight individuals rendered no longer a threat in so short a time, and as Frei walks carefully toward the building in question, his eyes stray to Jiro and Alma, and just a little, his heart sinks. They didn't hesitate; they moved in and did what needed to be done. Frei himself would have, perhaps, but he doesn't. He tries not to give in to doubt, but he's not stupid enough to think it can be totally excised either. It is a moment of hesitation that many of the people participating in this particular operation would chide him for, and much within their rights if they did. Can he still do this?

Walking forward, however, he steels his resolve. Whether he can or can't is irrelevant; words he once spoke to Seishirou Ryouhara, the one time they met. He'll do what he must, until his body gives out. Until the end. Can or can't is irrelevant.

He's the last to move; he's the first to enter the building. He actively steps by Alma and Jiro, turning back to them with an even expression as he does so, marking his *intent* to be the first body in the room. Reading his body langauge, the expression on his face... the importance of that gesture should be apparent, to two individuals who know him so well. "Listen..." he starts, almost too quietly, before shaking his head. "I chose to be here. Whatever happens, whatever becomes... obvious..." he says, finally, not knowing if either of these men had heard about his condition, "...just remember that."

The chill assaults him like a living thing; so much so that he actually crosses his arms in front of him as if warding off a heavy wind. Looking around, however, Frei is assaulted with memories that, before, were blurs. Labs... men in coats. Tanks and dim lighting, and the green glow of... 'things'. Not the NESTS technology set up here, but close enough. The halls of S.I.N., both metaphoric and literal. The feeling of unquenchable fire all through his body. A need, coded into his blood, to destroy anyone who got in his way. Purple soulflame. Green light.

It all comes back to him at once, and as Kula speaks he turns to her on reflex, but the pupils of his bright green eyes are almost pinpricks, trapped as he is between listening to her words and the not-quite fugue state he just entered.

When the mental dust settles, his body slumps a bit, as if it were being suspended on light strings that are suddenly cut. His head comes up, white bangs hanging over his eyes, as he looks at Kula and tries, very hard, to keep as calm as he knows he has the potential to be. He knows her... that power, that voice. He knows her well, though they've met only once.

"Do what you must," he says, voice cracking with the tide of conflicting emotions coursing through him. "But I have no regrets!"

It is funny. The Stray Dog would soon disappear from being such to that of Adelheid's organization. But, it is a step up. Vigilante work on his own terms, but at the same time, an order to answer to. This is something that he will have to get used to. But now is time of his own terms. To do things without hesitation, that is the experience that Jiro had to live with. Whatever he lives with, he knows he'll have to face the consequences.
As for the door, Jiro merely walks over towards the door, glancing over towards Frei when he actually moves to step in front. When he looks at both him and Alma, Jiro looks back at Frei with an even expression. His eyes narrow. "Right. Let's take care of this." On to the point, as always. Jiro knows what has to be accomplished. Conflicting emotions is understandable, but Jiro does not want another second to lose.
Jiro is the second to move after Frei as they enter the building. The frost seeping into him, he cannot help but hiss. He already knows that he does not like where this is going. His eyes shift over towards the atmosphere of the laboratory. The vats and control sections. However, the strangely cold temperature and the walkways with patches of ice already give him the indication of Kula being present.
Tightening the straps of his gauntlets, Jiro grunts and he moves onward. His eyes shift over towards the tubes and what are inside of it. ...Human bodies. ..."Shit." Jiro shakes his head, then he narrows his eyes while observing the surroundings. He looks over towards Alma and Frei, "How to handle this...?" This is a moral standpoint. Shut down the replicated life or what? Jiro isn't sure what the hell to do about this. "...I'll leave that judgment call to Alma." He walks towards the center, then he looks up towards Kula. Narrowing his eyes once, then he slams his right hand to the left palm.
"Not going to let you stop us. So you know where this is going to go...." Then, the scarlet blaze manifests in his hand before he launches his right and upward, "Let me just start it up now!" Jiro launches that scarlet blaze to cut through the air, aiming to hack towards Kula.

COMBATSYS: Jiro has started a fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Jiro             0/-------/-------|

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

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Kula             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Jiro

COMBATSYS: Artemis_Engine has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Jiro
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Kula             0/-------/-------|

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

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Jiro
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Kula             0/-------/-------|

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

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Jiro
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Kula             0/-------/-------|

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

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Jiro
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Kula             0/-------/-------|

"You're sorry?"
Strained and cracking, Alma Towazu's next words are worlds apart from what he shared with his friends only moments ago.
Their beleagured enemies having only put up a token resistance, the beautiful youth steps inside the frigid cave, silently allowing his friends to pass in front as the hapless soldiers' bodies slump around him. And perhaps it is for the best that he did so; perhaps it was more that coincidence that he instinctively fell behind. For the sensation that passes through him then twists and clenches his very viscera, his insides grinting into a hot leaden paste that seems to rise as bile within his throat, bringing him to physical choking. Quietly he struggles with the foreign abomination he perceives; bravely he forges on uncomplainingly, unable to even begin to steel himself for what is to come.
"You're /SORRY/?"
There are worse fates than death. To have lived a meaningful life, to have been at home in an unforgiving world-- men being what they are, so far as Alma is concerned, suffering and death are fair trades for such things. So while to bring suffering and death upon another can never be commendable, still they can be forgiven if they are in pursuit of this greater battle, against nihilism and despair. Too many -- Jiro, K', Alma himself, and so many more -- find themselves as strays, without place or purpose, forced to scramble urgently toward what is all the more elusive for being obvious to others. In joining to create the YFCC and enter the political realm, like a monk leaving the monastery Alma knew he would not have the luxury of an unambiguous moral life, that for all his preaching of the importance of embracing the world around oneself he would be faced with profane choices. He has brought suffering upon innocents even in his most just battles; at any point his noble but naive volunteers might have died in defense of the city and their ideals. He takes responsibility for these crimes in the sincere belief that he has brought meaning -- and even salvation -- to his and others' lives.
But to dispense suffering and deal death, only to /deprive/ others of their homes, to create those who are /doomed/ to have no history, to live alienated lives that will make them pawns of others-- to make /more/ of his hollow brethren--
"You-- /still/ you-- after all this--"
Alma, trembling violently, swells with fury, his eyes blazing with the same righteousness he took for granted only moments before.
"/Still/ you are such a coward!?"

Perhaps Kula was right all along. Perhaps she is different from K', from Jiro, from Alma; perhaps some of them can simply never become human. She may very well be a scorpion, an insect, programmed so thoroughly that even the metaphorical equivalent of stinging herself would not be enough to empower her over the circumstances of her identity.
Alma can hardly accept this; yet the evidence around him evinces nothing else. "If indeed you are just the monster you said you were," he continues, tone low and quivering, straining against this painful conclusion but driven to it by the gut-wrenching heinous sight surrounding him, "then I no longer have any choice."
Alma has never chosen between mercy and justice. To him, they have always had the same end, rooted in the effort to recognize the dignity and integrity of his fellow human beings. But some monsters are real--
And sometimes angels fall to earth.
Consumed by his indignation, Alma lunges past Jiro and up towards where Kula stands, moral decision made, and brings to bear a mighty lance of his passion made manifest, a blaze of soulfire intending to shear through whatever defenses she can muster-- and force her to feel his pain.

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

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Alma
[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Kula             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Jiro

COMBATSYS: Jiro successfully hits Kula with Balefire.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0             Alma
[  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Kula             0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0             Jiro

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Kula with Self Expression.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0             Alma
[    \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Kula             0/-------/------=|=------\-------\0             Jiro

Kula holds her ground on the walkway - a bridge among many that span the interior like a spider's web, providing access to all of the various panels, pipes, ducts, and other contrivances of science gone mad. Frei speaks and the teenaged looking girl shakes her head, eyes closing for a fleeting moment. "If you have no regrets," her eyes open, taking in Frei for a moment longer, "Then you just don't know what I know." A brief pause, her eyes shifting to Jiro, his uniform drawing curiosity. "Yet."

Jiro will attack. Her combat algorithms still have a thorough understanding of his expected behaviors from their last encounters - the most recent of which culiminated in the death of one and almost the death of two more but for Alma's intervention. She keeps her position on the partially frozen walkway, her focus cast down on Jiro, her mouth a tight lipped, neutral expression. "It was always yours to start." Kula replies calmly, knowing quite well where this is going, moreso than anyone else present.

It happens the instant that energy crackles into the young man's hands - the engine at the center of the room spins up, the whir of its momentum skipping up an octive as Kula glances back toward it, eyes closing briefly. Everyone would feel its horrific effect to varying degrees as the engine's tempo increases. It would feel like a vacuum, like a rend in life itself, pulling, gnawing, tugging at the very breath of life itself found in every living being. It sucks with unquenchable thirst on the essence that is living energy like a gargantuan lamprey that will never be sated.

Thus is the Artemis Engine. Its effects are only partially felt by the trio. But they don't seem to be the primary target of its purpose. It's the dozens of conduits from the cloning vats piping into it that seem to be its true source. A narrow gap in the middle provides a glimpse into the turbine-like monstrosity where it begins to glow a bright blue, casting the azure light over the entirety of the room. From each of the forty or more vats it draws chi, weaving it into a localized event centered within the turbine.

The purpose becomes more clear in an instant as a blue wave of shimmering energy emanates out from the turbine directly into Kula herself, drawn by a framework of resonating diodes hidden beneath the girl's jacket. The impact is immediate and obvious as a crystaline shell of ice manifests around her, absorbing the worst of Jiro's attack and leaving her without hardly the need to even move. A slight wince reflects the impact of what little gets through.

It's Alma that has her attention the most all of the sudden, however, as the malevolent, life-stealing engine continues to churn behind her, sending her another wave of that abundant, ambient chi to put to use however she sees fit. Gloved hands tighten, the temperature around her continug to plummet as her own aura continues to be amplified by the soulless machine. "Yes," she answers him back, her tone level even though her jaw is tensed. "I'm sorry."

A breath is taken in, the girl raising her hands, preparing for him to attack. She's reminded of the time she saw him on the second floor of the home of a stranger. A stranger she had killed without any remorse. A shake of her head is the rest of her response. She's never been scared of death, placing so little value on life itself that she dispenses its counterpart without reservation. Perhaps it's part of her coding, her upbringing, the way she was engineered - paper thin morals that struggle to stand the test of the real world with all of its real world complexities.

He roars and charges and Kula closes her eyes. "Regret. As I warned." The lance of his energy blasts toward the girl as a second shell of pristine, multifaceted ice shimmers into being around her, reflecting the color of Alma's energy and the blue glow of the turbine beneath her like a prism. The shell shatters and a fragment of his power strikes the girl, but Kula merely slides back a half step as a result, eyes leveled on the young man. "Does it?" young Diamond asks back regarding the possible termination of her life.

She glances over the array of cloning tubes, each of them a living battery for the abominable machine at the heart of the room. The Artemis Engine - the culmination of NESTS and SIN technology combined - the power to rob the life from others to make an individual practically invincible. "If that is to be the way of it... it is no different than any of the others that will die today. So be it."

Her right hand draws back as her legs bend, the girl crouching just slightly. Frozen vapors pour down over her body, draping over her shoulders like a cloak of fog, icy shards clinging to her vestments as her core temperature drops to levels that would be immediately fatal to most. Her right fist clenches as another wave of chi launches from the turbine and connects with her hand, imbuing it with a distressing mass of brilliant white chi with blue highlights, the gathered energy swirling as if shaped into a drill of chi at the end of her arm.

It is that monsterous attack Kula retaliates with, aiming to drive it home straight through Alma's torso, her neutral expression never shaking but for the small diamond-like glisten of a frozen tear in her right eye. A sparkle easily missed in the torrent of frozen chi threatening to skewer Alma where he stands.

Inside everyone is chi. This is an unassailable fact of existence. To live, to really be alive, one must have chi. Even people like Alma, gifted with some 'other' power, have enough of it to simply be. Even Frei, bereft of his ability to interact with that energy, has some within that keeps him alive. And so even in the state he's in, he can feel it... the flow of energy moving from one place to another. In fact, the fact that he *can* feel it worries Frei all the more, for the spiritual blindness and deafness with which he is afflicted are all too obvious to him. Some terrible purpose for that machine, and his face turns toward it in alarm.

Then Alma speaks, and the sense of alarm intensifies.

For a second, Frei's eyes close. He's been in this position before, but never... never with Jiro or Alma. Of defending the indefensible; of arguing for temperance where none should ever be delivered. The law of karma -- the inescapable tide of cause and effect, motivated either by (as Kentou claimed) the universe, or as Frei might argue, the simple nature of linear time -- says that Kula Diamond, who has dealt so much death and anguish, should die. That she has bought her life and her success with the corroded coin of Styx's boatman, and now it is time to collect. But try as he might, willing as he is to accept all viewpoints to find some way to live together, he can't accept it. To hear the words escape *Alma*, of all people, has disrupted Frei's equilibrium to a point of terrible power; to hear the individual who made it possible for Frei, controlled by BLECE, to be saved... demanding the death of another. No matter how much the avenging angel he styles himself, to Frei the words resound with the raspy, Stygian hiss of a demon.


The roar of the Artemis Engine, the terrible sounds of combat between his friends and Kula. Somehow, Frei makes his voice heard above all of that. Not by shouting, but by pouring intensity into the words... sufficient intensify to briefly defy the physics of sound itself. His head comes up, and he encompasses Kula and Alma both in his glance. "No! Nobody will die. Not us, not her. No. I won't allow it!" His hands come up; his fingers flex. He has to fight, this much is certain. He has to make a stand. And now he has to make it against an ally as well as a friend.

"I'll fight you if I have to," he says to Kula, and then turns to Alma and Jiro. "I'll stop you if I must! Death shouldn't be considered callously, nor invoked recklessly. It's the final curtain! There is no coming back. And no amount of evil, no amount of terror, ever demands it!" His chest is heaving, half with the effort of being heard, half with emotional intensity. Even the steady drain of the Engine takes its toll on him, physically. "I won't allow it. I WON'T ALLOW IT!"

He runs at Kula. And is powerless. No chi? Frei's body is resilient but his muscles are weak; his punches land with the force of someone significantly less experienced and powerful than would be expected of him. But they are the only way he has now, and he will employ them without hesitation. "Stop this thing. Fight us. Hurt us if you have to! But I won't let you kill, and I won't let them kill you. Tell me your reasons. Tell me your NAME!" He lashes out, once he gets close; a turn, a straight-armed, open-palmed punch to her stomach. For her, protected as she is? It will barely register. But it is Frei's sacrifice to this ritual of combat.

COMBATSYS: Frei has joined the fight here in the center.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0             Alma
[    \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////////////// ]
Kula             0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

You know, the words of killing from Alma is a bit unnerving. Zen Buddhist Happy Go Lucky Must Bring All Love And Gay Sex To All Alma screaming to kill the demon. The young man grunts, "Well, wouldn't go that far. More like... ah, fuck it." He is about to press on.
For the moment, Jiro can hear the sound of something. "....What the hell?!" His eyes shift over towards the Aertemis Engine. His eyes is actually removed from Kula from his next attack to actually stare at the machine.
...And then? Frei's defiance.
Jiro stares at Frei for one moment. Then, he grunts over towards his direction, "...Che..." His eyes shift over towards the two, "Screw it, you guys deal with Kula... I will deal with this damn thing!" And what does Jiro do? Well, his goal is to -destroy- the monstrocity. So, Jiro is moving his way towards the very machine, running towards its path.
Running straight to the machine, Jiro is actually reminded of something.
...Nah. Couldn't be.
Nevertheless, Jiro starts off with bringing both hands into the air, then he slams it down towards the machine's turbine.

COMBATSYS: Alma interrupts Critical Ice from Kula with Divine Intervention EX.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|=====--\-------\0             Alma
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Kula             0/-------/---====|=------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

Her hopelessness only infuriates him.
If Alma's words gave his friends pause, the cry his strike elicits may do so all the more-- for it is not enraged but agonized, twisted and tremulous. If Frei defies Alma's apparent choice, so too does Alma's own spirit seem to. There is no satisfaction as his lance of energy drives home, piercing momentarily that bolstered shield of ice; there is no reflection as the power of this unnatural machine is revealed. Even the overwhelming, indescribable pain of the helpless forms being harnessed around him, surging into the empath in a way that quite possibly the others could not even comprehend, is not what brings about that scream. No, what reinforces his unrelenting /need/ to destroy the girl before him, to erase her from existence--
"That's /it/!?"
--is that frozen tear.
"That's /ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY/!?"
Normally gentle eyes bright with fury, normally mild expression tensed with killing intent, Alma exudes a terrible presence, one that battles with the machine itself for oppressiveness.
Kula's monstrous strike would be reason enough to focus entirely on her; but even if he were not being targeted, Alma would ignore Frei's pleas. He has chosen. They might not agree; they might not understand. This choice, too, was not easy-- but so too was it obvious to him, so much so that for Alma it might not have been a choice.
"If that's enough for you--"
Things just can't go on like this.
"You're better /off/ ending this here!"
They just can't.
/Whatever/ it takes.
Thus does he move, fueled on a primal level that only the truest of passions can reach, faster than is physically possible for even him; he flickers, shockingly, super-charged with psychic energy, skipping through space to plunge fearlessly toward Kula's destructively enhanced assault. Snarling, beautiful features contorted with revulsion, Alma seems possessed of a suicidal urge--
But suicide is not what he has in mind.
His palm slams directly into the tip of that icy drill, lashing out with preternatural speed to catch it, impossibly, before it skewers him-- and with that defiant shout, not mocking but almost /scolding/, a beam of purest light pierces through the drill itself, outrageously exploding the attack from within as the pre-emptive psychic assault cuts directly through Kula's defenses.
His pain -- /their/ pain -- will be felt.
Even if it will never mean anything to her.

COMBATSYS: Kula dodges Frei's Fierce Punch.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/-------|=====--\-------\0             Alma
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Kula             0/-------/---====|=------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Jiro successfully hits Artemis_Engine with Strong Punch.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0             Alma
[          \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Kula             0/-------/---====|==-----\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

Protected from the fel invention's effects by the array of receptors worn beneath her jacket, Kula feels none of the low level, consistant drain that the others would. But she can imagine, on some level what it must be like. To be used to feed the metallic behemoth with one's very essence. That the realization of what it was doing wasn't enough to drive the trio into retreat immediately speaks highly of their determination here - their resolve to stop it all and bring this depraved experiment to an end. Though it seems that in Alma there is further passion beyond even that. She does not doubt for a moment in his state of mind that he will see through what his words imply. Given a chance, he would end her.

Everything happens in an eyeblink. Her arm, charged with several lives worth of chi slams forward. Alma responds in kind, with words and deed. He moves, into what is a straight line of fire - or more accurately, certain death. She wouldn't even have to aim, so large is the conic shaped, swirling chi. Just slam it forward and anyone on the walkway in front of her would meet their end.

They would, except for the way his palm stops the entirety of it, causing the churning energy to collapse against his palm. There is no shell this time; no barrier to deflect the strength of his words or power, and its impact is apparent in the way she reels, sliding back at first before regaining control and taking another step back of her own volition. Pain wracks through her, harming a fragile psyche not used to the rigors of such an expression of power.

Another wave of chi from the turbine connects with her back and the girl takes in a breath, her right arm trembling at the power racing through it. The vapor surrounding her form, scattered by the magnitude of Alma's attack, quickly regathers. "What do you want from me?!" she exclaims back, her voice raised for the first time. "Don't you understand what it is you are threatening to become?! What you see in me? What do you think will be left of you when you take my life? You think you will be any different?! Everything you see in me you will find in the mirror!"

The turbine rattles, Jiro's fist striking the casing solidly and sending a loud reverberation echoing throughout the chamber, the metal shell keeping the engine safe cracking a little under the young man's force. Kula gasps, glancing toward Jiro, almost not noticing Frei charging into the midst of things at last. Crimson eyes fix on the chi-less monk quickly, Kula taking another step backward, the metal walkway beneath her feet slicking over with more ice. "It's a curtain I have seen beyond far too many times to care now," she hisses, reaching her hand forward, a solid barrier of ice finding its way behind her and Frei's open-palmed strike, leaving him to punch into the frozen surface rather than the NESTS killer's stomach.

The ice cracks and falls to the ground but Kula has already moved again, her hand resting lightly against the railing as she glances down toward Jiro. "My reasons? You would never understand. My name is Kula Diamond. And you, of all people, have no power to stop the loss of life here today," her tone icy, fixing Frei briefly with her eyes before she moves again. The girl crouches then springs, taking to the air, using the railing as a vault. The metal rod of the railing, turned brittle by her touch, shatters into frozen shards and rains down along with the descending girl.

"Stop it!" she exclaims at Jiro, her right hand lifted to her mouth as another wave of chi washes over the girl in time with her next attack. A gale force breath is exhaled, sending a veritable blizzard of razor sharp ice shards, bladed disks of frozen matter, and a torrent of chi colder than liquid nitrogen hurtling toward the uniformed young man.


How did things get so bad? How did they all reach this point? He's not surprised that Kula has evaded his attack, wincing a bit at the burning cold of her icy deflection as he quite literally punches straight through the ice, glittering blue-crystal shards of it slicing negligble but stinging lines across his forearm. But in reality, Frei is barely paying attention to the physical plane right now. The fury he feels in Alma, the desperate resignation he can hear in Kula's voice... they resonate in his heart, screaming a warning. If he doesn't stop it, someone's going to die. Someone IS going to leave here a corpse. His eyes widen as Alma's blast shears by him by mere feet as it slams into Kula, hearing the pain and fury in his friend's tone. Only Jiro, it seems, has the good sense to actually do something halfway practical, and it is his yell of assault that gets Frei to turn around and actually follow events, briefly frozen as he was.

Many people who know Frei think of him as slightly amoral, and in truth he is... to the extent that he has a gift for seeing multiple sides of any story, of the humility required to assume there is no one true way, that the various trajectories life takes people all have merit, all have something worth fighting for. But he does believe in a sin, and that sin is the needless killing of people. The snuffing out of life. Kula herself has admitted it on more than one occasion, meeting him; in fact she came perilously close to killing Frei himself at the YFCC. Life, ALL life, is sacred to him... and to Frei, there is only one point from which there is no return, no salvation: death.

For the first time ever, Frei -- neutral, compassionate Frei -- is faced with the true terror of blasphemy.

"It's not about power," he says sadly, turning toward Kula, advancing toward her AND the Artemis Engine. That, he can direct some fury at. That... it might get her to focus on him, and not on Alma. That might buy him the time he needs to make something good come of this. He advances slowly, keeping his eyes on Kula. "Nor is it about righteousness. It's about belief. Faith. I don't believe you, EITHER of you," he suddenly snaps, turning to Alma a moment before continuing his walk. "You've already decided you've killed too much to turn back. He's already decided you've walked beyond redemption. You're wrong. You're both wrong. Death is the only point from which there's no turning back. And I may not... have the strength I once did," he bites out, lips pursed. "But I have enough to keep you from killing each other. True power comes from faith. Believing in people, no matter how terrible or how fantastic they are. Trusting in them. Opening yourself up to them."

He's reached the engine, by this point, and his eyes snap wide open now, his chest expanding with a deep breath. "And if I have to break this thing into a thousand pieces to get your attention, then that's what I'll do." He lunges, looking for anything to grip; a pipe, a lever, a piece of plating. With all his strength he latches on and simply turns the other way, looking to quite literally rip the Engine apart with his bare hands if necessary.

COMBATSYS: Jiro endures Kula's Diamond Breath.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Artemis_Engine   0/-------/----===|=====--\-------\0             Alma
[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////          ]
Kula             0/-------/-======|=======\-------\1             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

Score: 1045981

So. Jiro is working on pounding the hell out of the machine. The deal is simple.

Jiro = Godzilla
Artemis Engine = Tokyo.

Jiro is raiding on the machine like an Alliance on a Horde hideout for that sweet loot. The Stray Dog is rampaging on the machine harder than a bull who got kicked in the balls by a matador. With all of the bad analogies aside, Jiro is smashing into the machine. His eyes shift towards Frei and Alma. He puts a pointed glare right at both of them from his Tokyo re-enactment.
And then, Frei is lunging to rip into the machine as well.
Frei's Score: 1204059.
As Jiro is about to continue at the machine, he is caught right in the back by the wave of chi blasting his way. The bladed disks of ice matter tear into his skin, causing him to scream in pain. "ARRRRGGGHHHH!!!" However, Jiro is transforming that painful scream into rage.
In fact, his body is erupting in scarlet flames as he starts slamming his fist against the machine. Bit, by bit, he is slamming his fists towards the machine's turbine engines.
Fuck your couch, Kula!
The young man brings both hands into the air. The fire flies flutter around him as he hisses forth. A circle spirals into existance around him as he shouts with a feral roar.
He slams both hands towards the machine, then the aura bursts around him, spreading across like a mine-field. It is spreading around in a large radius, the scarlet chi of fury tearing towards the machine.

"That assumes you're human."
Alma fiery gaze remains unflinching.
"Isn't it you who have forsaken that possibility?"
The avenging angel regards the abruptly shaken girl implacably. What motivates her words? A fear for a life she had only seemed to disregard? A sincere concern for his own soul? Alma's thoughts are invisible, his expression steeled with deadly intensity, his expressive eyes expressing nothing but the righteous light of the endless sea of fire within him.
"You're wrong," he continues, advancing slowly, fearless, toward his artificially empowered but momentarily unsettled enemy, "because you are a murderer who has cut down men-- whereas when I look in the mirror--"
His clothes ripple about him, body swelling again with that palpable presence, his words echoing with a heat to pierce the frigid air.
"--I will see an exterminator, who crushes insects!"
All things being equal, all life is equally precious. Alma would accept that; Frei, with his sagacious perspective, likely would espouse it. But Alma, fixated on the world of meaning as he is -- the /human/ world -- does not believe that he can afford to take the objective perspective of the universe itself. Sometimes the battle against despair demands suffering; sometimes the human condition demands the trampling of what might otherwise be sacred, if there could be such a thing as sanctity without men.
Thus just as human dignity demands he respect humanity--
"What do I want!?"
So too does it demand he slay monsters.
"Your so-called life!"
Yet just as he is about to lunge toward his foe, he turns with her to see Jiro strike at the machine, the core of what strengthens her. Distracted momentarily, he spares a moment to gaze upon Frei, and in that brief instant his eyes soften slightly-- until Kula unleashes a potent attack on Jiro, who, being Jiro, is far too consumed by his current activity to pay much attention. Alma lets out a brief cry of dismay at being lax enough to let this happen, having intended to preoccupy Kula for as long as possible-- yet as much as his heart yearns to strike her while she is busy, he realizes too that this situation, with her between melee combat and actively protecting the machine, is too valuable to cast aside. And so, surging with that primordial power, Alma's body ignites with wreathes of soulfire as he leaps atop a railing and thrusts his fist toward that formidable turbine.
Focusing every iota of his vibrant fury upon that which is causing such untold suffering to the forms within their viscous tubes -- suffering that still carves agonizing paths through his subconscious awareness -- Alma unleashes a sworling geyser of raw Soul Power, a scintillating stream of multi-hued light to join with Jiro's own indignant display in assaulting the turbine's casing.

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Artemis_Engine with Brutal Throw Chain.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Artemis_Engine   1/------=/=======|=------\-------\0             Alma
[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Kula             0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Jiro successfully hits Artemis_Engine with Indignation.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Artemis_Engine   1/------=/=======|=------\-------\0             Alma
[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Kula             0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Artemis_Engine with Full Confession.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Artemis_Engine   1/------=/=======|=------\-------\0             Alma
[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Kula             0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

Jiro's Score: 2314194

Frei's Score: 2491498
Alma's Score: 914140

Frei isn't the only one wondering how things have slipped so far out of control. Events spiraling rapidly into a whirlwind of commotion, threats, violence, and a room full of deathly cold energy in such abundant quantities that many of the surfaces are beginning to freeze over even without Kula's twisted take on the 'Midas' Touch'. This wasn't supposed to happen. 'Defend the lab.' It had been the extent of her final mission in this terrible war. She hadn't anticipated that it might be her final mission in life.

The Artemis Engine: the next step in Igniz's pursuit of divinity. A machine to turn a man into a god. The price? Human life. Many... human lives. And it seems the crimson eyed ice wielder was to be its first demonstration. 'Protect the Artemis. Kill anyone who gets inside.' It should have been simple. There is nothing new about death for the engineered assassin. Why then is she so rattled? Why are Alma's words - no, more than his words, everything about him - distressing her so? Others had sought her life in the past but never with such passion, never viewing her as something unwholely deserving of existence like he pursues her now.

And what the hell is that Jiro guy doing to the machine anyway? She needs to put a stop to that. Keeping Igniz's greatest achievement functional is one of her tasks here after all! Her feet touch the ground at about the same time the maelstrom of twisting ice, frigid chi, and frozen shrapnel blasts into Jiro. Contrary to her intentions, it doesn't seem to slow the kid down at all. When he gets an idea in his head to break something, it doesn't seem anything is going to stop him. He has a score to beat and there's nothing she can do to disuade him quite yet.

Standing up straight, she whirls on Frei as he speaks, "Faith?" she spits the word as if it has an unpleasant taste. "What room is there for faith in this place?" She sweeps her hand to the side, ice particles flung to the air in the process as she gestures toward the rows of green-liquid filled tubes. "What is faith to them? Are they even alive? Would you trust the weapons being created here just because they look like people? Does that make you trust me? Are you a fool?!" Her hand clenches as Frei bolts for the machine, seizing hold of a pipe to tear it free and tear into the massive turbine's casing alongside Jiro.

Kula shakes her head. She's going to need to stop him too. But there's Alma. Alma, who's focus hasn't been shaken, who's determination seems absolute. She flinches as he calls her humanity into question. That flag of 'I'm a person too' she had waved at times in the past seems so distant now. His words sear, carving their mark into her mind with each syllable. The girl's right hand comes up, resting against her face over her right eye as if to asuage a headache deeper than any migraine, small traces of perma-frost appearing where her fingertips touch her skin.

"I am not an insect," she growls. A murderer, a monster, a heartless killer, but not a-

'I am a scorpion.'

Her own words rise to the front of her thoughts. It's her voice. Her words. Spoken to Alma as she explained her fallen, hopeless nature to him. Convicted and guilty, her hand slips away from her face, leaving glistening crystals on her cheek and forehead. "You want my life?" she hisses, tensing up, hands clenched, knees bent as she braces. The turbine continues to emit those vibrant, blue waves, each of them twisting through the air like ethereal serpents until absorbed into the living experiment and present test subject herself.

"You haven't the power..." Her whole body is covered in white energy for a moment, rippling around her limbs, pouring from off her shoulders. "To take it!" She lunges for Alma.

The Engine, named after one of countless Greek deities known for the way they toyed with the lives of mortals like insignificant play things. Petty, small minded gods and goddesses, mankind was their toys, the Earth their playground. It's hardly any wonder the horrific machine of war was named after one of them. And right now it's under fire. Frei's bashing begins to dent and bend the hull casing, leaving it all the more susceptible to further punishment.

"No!" Kula extends her hand, unleashing a burst of her own power, a typhon of chi launched forward, forming a thick wall of ice in the path of Jiro and Alma's attacks. It barely makes any difference at all, shattered and melted upon impact, leaving the engine of technology and reckless science victim to one punishing impact followed by a second just as violently powerful. Sparks fly, metal sharpnel ejected from the spinning turbine now dangerously exposed to the room at large. It's visible now, the coils of chi being wound up tightly into the core at the enter - all of that energy robbed from the tubes and the world at large by cold, unfeeling technology.

Kula stumbles as the machine is rapidly being wrecked before her eyes. Her focus shifts back to Alma. He's the one she needs to stop - no - destroy. He's the one she has to tear away from his goal. Energy churns around her like white flame devoid of any heat as Kula grits her teeth. "The hell with you," she sputters her first ever frustrated epithet uttered after an entire year of being exposed to the world beyond NESTS.

With the pronouncement is a charge, the girl barreling for Alma. Her right hand a fist encased by long, stalagmite-like icy protrusions slams forward first, aiming to ruthlessly tear into Alma long enough to hook him in place as her left hand slams forward secondly, seeking purchase on his face with a frozen, vise-like grip. That brutal contact would be all she would need before the girl would unleash all of her stored up energy into Alma.

Her touch would attempt to freeze the very blood in his veins as more energy coursed from her contact with him. Given enough time, she would encase the young man into a block of ice three feet thick in every direction, forming a glistening tomb intended to be his final frozen resting place. If successful, she'll hurl the icy coffin to the side, discarding the encased man to the other end of the room in order to turn her attention to his two friends, perhaps leaving him frozen, helpless to do anything but watch from within the air-tight, airless container intended to be his grave.

Through all of that, finally, Frei gets a response from Kula. Where is there room for faith? Would he trust the... whatevers... in the vats behind her, simply because they have a human face? Practically anyone in the world would look at her real question -- are you some sort of idiot? -- and nod in agreement. Just because it has a human face and a human smile, doesn't mean you should trust it. Actual human beings themselves disprove that on a daily basis! They are cruel and petty, deceitful and selfish. You can't trust a human being because they're human, let alone something that only LOOKS human.

He must be an idiot.

His answer, is an unabashed: "Yes."

He turns to look at her, his improvised weapon dangling in one hand as his grip slackens with lack of concentration. Jiro and Alma are pouring everything they have into the destruction of the Artemis Engine, and the ghastly light of stolen life energy, swirling in a helix inside the machine's battered frame, illuminates Frei's body and now ghost-white hair with an eerie light. But somehow he has it in him to smile. Maybe because he is beginning to understand things a little more. Kula... she hates whatever is in those tubes, whatever's being born or built or... something'ed here. And she hates herself. That much is clear. He recognizes it in her... the urge to die. The belief that your life is so without meaning, so without purpose, that the only good thing you can finally bring into this life is to leave it. It isn't a martyr's urge, though the martyr's decision to leave this life to help others is *similar*. But it's not the same. The need to die to perform a good act is inherently selfish. The martyr does not ponder the implications of his act to benefit himself; he merely acts. He is confident. Kula is not; the seeds of doubt are sprouting into terrible, dark flowers of shattered resolve in front of Frei's very eyes.

In his eyes, that is enough to prove her humanity.

Clang! goes the metal, falling to the floor. The engine... it's Jiro's problem now, and perhaps Alma's. He has to convince them. He has to convince them BOTH. Kula alone is not enough. Alma... something's wrong. Something deep and terrible is erupting from his spirit. Why is that? What is it about Kula that engendered this? It's not that she has killed so many. Alma fought alongside Igniz *against Frei* without batting an eye. He made it work, as if it were a test. Frei was THERE. He saw it happen. Why then, is this self-loathing woman so--

He stops, mouth opening, eyes wide. There's the answer. Someone else with that same power. He's only felt it three times, twice with the fiery heat of destruction and one with the terrible chill of death. Few people would notice it; Frei did. Kyo Kusanagi. Kula. K'. He's met all three, and it cannot be coincidence. They must be linked. There MUST be a connection.

"Yes," the white-haired fighter repeats, turning to Kula. "I will have faith in them. I choose to believe. Because... if they're what I think they are, they're made from something human. Even if it's only DNA, or the energy of our bodies, or... something. I don't know what. Something human went into creating them and thus they are human. If nobody believes in them NOW, if nobody believes in YOU now, when they have this chance to step into the world and redeem themselves, then they will drift farther and farther from that humanity. But they can NEVER leave it behind."

And here, he whirls on Alma, eyes blazing. Something about the model's righteous indignation is screaming at him, clawing at his senses. He has to make this right. He HAS to. "Who are you to take that away from her? Can she only stay human if she meets your expectations?! That must be a nice place to be!" He advances a step or two, oblivious to Kula's preparation to attack Alma going on behind him, the senses that would have made it clear to him silent from his experience with BLECE. "How can you, who I KNOW has experienced such loss, become executioner? Will destroying her change anything that's been done? Will it bring ANYTHING good into the world? Death will continue! Forever! A lot of it will be WRONG, and people will suffer! But if you stop believing in the power of people to change now, then--"

He doesn't have time to finish the statement. Kula blows past him, her icy powers in full rage, looking to merely destroy Alma outright. And Frei is powerless. He knows it. Kula's SAID it. The Engine, blazing along near him, is proof. It has taken from him even that little that remains, so that his body aches with the loss of it. His voice, his heart, is all he has left.

He is going to believe. All great endeavors are built on faith.

Frei is going to produce a miracle if it KILLS him.

"ALMA!" he shouts, half warning, half encouragement. The name is enough. The name is enough.

COMBATSYS: Frei assists Alma.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////      ]
Artemis_Engine   1/------=/=======|=------\-------\0             Alma
[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Kula             0/-------/-======|-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

What was Jiro doing while Alma was dealing with the young woman? What was Jiro doing while the philosophical debate going on?
Bashing things. It's what he does. As of now, Frei has the highest points. That's probably because he's using the Turbo Button, that lousy ass cheater. Nevertheless, Jiro is staring down the monstrosity and he gives off a feral roar. As if taking out all of his anger out on the machine, Jiro is thrusting his fist against the engines. It is funny how single-minded that Jiro can be sometimes.
In another world...
.... Jiro, Alma, and Frei are bashing at the machine with Kula standing above it. Except, Jiro is a giant lizard called Gojiro, Alma is a giant moth Almathra, and Frei is a giant monkey, Frei Kong. The three are bashing at the machine relentlessly, trying to cause the most damage until Gojiro sees an unsuspecting man walking in the middle of the field. Jiro idly eats him with no hesitation, causing Almathra, Mecha Kula, and Frei Kong to go: D:
Back in this reality...
Jiro gazes at the large beast, gritting his teeth as he looks at the tubes filled with clones. He pants. He pauses for that very moment. A question of ethics is actually bothering him. The fact that Kula is a clone, it doesn't mean anything. She is still a person. However, this is not the time or place.
In fact, Jiro promptly reminds them of the mission.
After aptly reminding them of the mission in Jiro-ese, the young man returns to the machine. This base needs to be brought down NOW! That is why he launches forth, slamming both hands against the large monolithic machine. Then, he steps towards it and starts slamming his foot against the engine over and over. Then, Jiro is rushing into the very machine, seeking to rip and tear through everything like a rampaging beast.

COMBATSYS: Alma interrupts Freeze Compression from Kula with Blaze of Glory.

[                  \\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Artemis_Engine   1/------=/=======|=======\=====--\1             Alma
[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Kula             1/----===/=======|-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

Alma does not need to go to hell.
For Kula has frozen it over--
And hell has come to him.
A frigid maelstrom approaches, the power gathered at its epicenter several times more powerful than what he has previously faced and, indeed, more potent than anything he imagined the girl assassin capable of. Even with his preternatural awareness of the energy being funneled into her from that diabolical machine -- even with how viscerally apparent that process is, as the pain of those tortured pseudo-souls jabs like wicked needles into his brain -- her sheer capacity for this overwhelming chi staggers him with awe. And for the first time, the zealous young man hesitates in his unrelenting effort, a bead of hot sweat steaming as it trickles past his fine cheekbone, not out of fear or because he has been shaken from his purpose but simply out of tactical uncertainty as to how to proceed before this white dragon's roar.
He speaks her name for the first time. Recognition-- but of what nature? Is he recognizing her as a human, as Frei would have him? Or as an inhuman threat, as a force of nature or disease, to be repressed or cured? His features remain inscrutible, his gaze steady but unreadable as this mortal attack drives at break-neck speed toward his exposed torso.
With a psychic's clarity he can see, /feel/, the ice beginning to encompass and enclose him, freezing him solid into an unbreakable prison, ending this fight-- even ending his life. In a second this strike will land, with unprecedented force. He has stirred this desperation. It is his responsibility to face it. And how does one face what cannot be resisted?
Does one simply die?
Perhaps not.
It's strange.
They are at cross purposes here, and it is not the first time. That so-called amorality of Frei's, the perspective of the universe itself to which mankind might be so many specks, must necessarily clash in moments like these with Alma's unabashed anthrocentrism; for while Frei will never be an angel, neither will he ever be a demon, and the avenging angel that judges those unworthy might as well be a demon to those so judged.
Yet to Alma's heart, he and his true friend do not need to agree to be /together/. Indeed, far from it. For while Frei's presence has been significantly lessened to his mind's eye with the loss of his chi -- albeit become no less intimately familiar -- it shines in this moment with a vibrancy rarely attended even before that loss, as Frei stands not only for what he thinks is right but for what, to Alma, embodies as ideal Frei's very identity. The intensity of his assertions is the proof of Frei's presence here, even as Jiro's frustrated screams are proof of his. Thus even as the radiant savior acknowledges the meaning of what Frei says, what matters to him in this moment, what sends light and fire surging through his veins, is simply that they are said.
Alma cannot die here.
For he is three men.
He plunges toward his fate, eyes blazing, neck straining, with perfect grace.
His breath fogs in those few meters between them; he stumbles as ice begins to form around his legs, his mere proximity to her gathering energies weighing him down. Yet his own aura pushes back forcefully as a blade of incandescent soulfire explodes into fruition about his right fist, howling with the wild defiance of the human spirit. He extends that arm, only to have the limb begin to freeze over already; for a moment it seems obvious that he will simply not be able to raise it in time, not before Kula spears him through. And then his arm /flickers/, sheer passion again imbuing his movements with that spectacular technique of the psychic, the ice being shaken off in a split-second as he phases out of it-- just once.
And once is enough.

Slash, through the ice and the pain; slash, through the energy that dares to attempt to constrain his righteous fury; slash, through the belly of the dragon, the body of the cruel mimicry of a girl before him; slash, through darkness and injustice.
And silence, as Alma stands with head bowed, the sword still glowing about his right hand, sustained not by intent but by the thrill surging through his entire body at the sensation of his judgment sundering her will once more, a visible line of hot white-pink energy traced through her body soon to erupt in a staggering flash of Soul Power.

COMBATSYS: Jiro successfully hits Artemis_Engine with Fierce Combo.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Artemis_Engine   1/---====/=======|=======\=====--\1             Alma
[            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////////////           ]
Kula             1/----===/=======|=------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

One man has dedicated himself to the destruction of that mechanical vampire occupying the center of the large lab. His hands slam into it, followed by kicks, and blows determined to shatter what little remains of the casing. Alarms go off on the side of it, display panels, cracked and steaming as coolant systems and flow-regulatory systems begin to overload and fizzle out, warning of encroaching destruction if the system is not shut down properly. No one is likely listening at this point.

The energy coiling around the turbine within begins to flicker, losing its shape, the fine rivers of collected power buckling, forking, crackling within like lightning caught for a brief moment in a bottle. A piller down the center of it seems to be the focus around which all the energy courses, that vibrant blue drawn in through electronic funneling panels covering its surface, only to be emitted from an array of beacons afixe dto the top of it in order to provide wave after wave of energy to NESTS young Diamond, Kula.

She'll kill him - lash out with an unprecidented amount of that power she weilds; power augmented by the chi stolen from all those lives in incubation. She'll take from Alma that which is most precious - his very life - before the eyes of his friends. She'll leave him in a frozen tomb, helpless to move, to act, to speak. She'll silence his voice and freeze those words of his within his throat as his very blood thickens and eventually solidifies. So thorough will be the intent of her attack.

In an instant, his form shimmers, leaving behind an outline of the very ice that sought to encase him. The young man passes by, a flash of blindingly bright energy marking his brief, decisive contact. 'I have faith in them. I choose to believe.' Frei's words from before she made her move only barely begin to register in her mind. It feels like an eternity that she stands there, her hands outstretched, one leg forward, knee bent in the opening of what was to be a savage combination. A razor thin line of searingly bright, pink light exists along her torso in an angle from shoulder to hip. '...made from something human.'

Kula staggers a step forward, her mouth agape, her arms falling to her sides. '...this chance to step into the world and redeem themselves...' The girl's right arm twitches as she lifts her hand slowly toward the searing slash through her chest, a vacant, lost look in her eyes as her mind is overcome with the incomprehensible burst of psychic power delivered by that single swing of Alma's right arm.

It flares, engulfing her in entirety for a fleeting moment, forcing her into a stumble to one knee, her left hand resting at her face, over her left eye, her right hand at her chest, her mouth open, the girl not breathing. '...never leave it behind.' Sparks fly from the machine Jiro continues to rampage against with relentless determination. 'Kula!!'

The echo of Alma's shout snaps her out of it, Kula shaking her head and pushing herself back to her feet, whirling around, glaring back at the hazel eyed Alma. That's her name - a moniker that she has always been proud of. That she was even given a complete name unlike countless other living experiments was proof of her success, her perfection, her pride. The anger is still there, the urge to lash out at him even still. But she isn't lost to it. She still has her faculties about her. And she knows that she's said too much already, provoked to verbal response when she should have simply stuck to taking action. It is with a silent, tight-lipped glance that she observes Frei. He knows too much now. She wasn't careful as she normally would be.

She wants to attack him; to force him to choke back all those words about hope and trust. It must be harder to sound optimistic about the human condition, faith in born killers and those half-lives created by men interested only in the pursuit of power when one's own saliva has frozen in their throat. But The sound of steel being pounded, broken, and crushed by Jiro's unending assault forces her hand. It is toward him that Kula turns, silent as death as she lunges for him, interested in putting a stop to his endeavor to bring down the Artemis Engine.

Without warning she would strike - a knuckled punch aimed to be delivered right into his kidney with her right hand. Her left hand would sweep through the air between the two of them, should she get close enough, painting a slash of blood across the young man's back with a disembodied blade of vorpal edged ice moving in time with the sweep of her arm. If Jiro wants there to be less talk and more violence, Kula seems inclined to deliver!

For the briefest of moments, Frei lives a Robert Frost poem.

'Some say the world will end in fire; some, in ice...'

In front of him, Alma charges to deliver a strike with all the passion and power his body can produce. Behind him, Kula strikes out with a suffocating, entombing frost strike. The elemental fury of both attacks is a testament to their intentions, as well. Psychic flame that will purify, cleanse, consume... to burn away all that is impure and, like a forge, leave only the finest steel. Kula's frost looks to do quite the opposite: to bury, to smother, to leave no trace. To eradicate, much as glaciers and frost tore the world into the shape we know it today. To silence forever that which should never be said, never be thought. But in both cases they are fighting for an ideal. To make something ideological a reality. In that, they are not so different after all.

Frei's now-white locks flutter wildly as Alma quite literally blows past him, too fast to be seen, and by the time he turns it's all over in an instant. The man is painfully reminded, somehow, of battoujutsu... and of his own family. The style, 'Musou Tenkei', whose name means 'Divine Judgment Without Peer'. Briefly, he wonders if Alma has ever considered taking up the sword for real.

Jiro's shout, however, seems to snap Frei back to reality. The machine is still running, still feeding power to Kula... and it's obvious that not only is she defending it, but that there is SOMETHING there. Why is she here but to protect it? But cold logic says that even empowered as she is, she's outnumbered. Jiro alone has almost trashed the thing by himself, preferring to unleash his fury in a more practical fashion than Alma or Frei has, putting it to useful ends. Right. They came here for a reason. But somehow, Kula's uneasiness, Alma's fury, even Jiro's raging need to destroy, are tugging at something in his head. For a second, green eyes flicker up to the figures in the tubes. What is the machine going to do to them? If he helps destroy it, is that murder of a kind which he's fought so fervently for Alma not to committ? Would he be just as guilty?

The light of the energy in the Engine reflects in that jade gaze as he turns back to it. No.

"Hold out a little longer..." he says to Alma and Jiro, before turning back to the engine and taking a deep breath. "You too, Kula. This thing is a shackle. And maybe we can all move forward a little bit with it... gone!" Rearing back, he spins and thrusts out at the thing with all the power he can muster. Not much, even by fighter standards... but when it's all you have, then that's all you can do.

COMBATSYS: Kula successfully hits Jiro with Behind Slash.
- Power hit! -

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////                 ]
Artemis_Engine   1/---====/=======|=======\=====--\1             Alma
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Kula             1/---====/=======|======-\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

Metal, sharp points, blunt parts. All of them have been along Jiro's hands as he had been dealing with the machine. The feeling of metal against the bare hands is something of punching through a wall. Jiro is reflecting back upon his training for this. This is something that Kain put him through, except that it was in a heated room. Those scarlet flames erupt in a roar.
Rip. Tear. Rip. Tear.
The fists tighten and Jiro continues to rip through the machine. His eyes are focused on the mission.
Take out the base.
This machine is responsible for everything in the base. The mission is to destroy the base. Everything else is secondary. Even the deal with Kula is secondary, all considering what is at stake. That is why Jiro continues his assault ont he machine.
There is something lingering to the back of his head... Which he transmits to Adelheid.
What about the people in the chamber? Leave them? Well. It is likely impactical to get them all out of this place blows up. Which is that Jiro has every intentions of doing. While doing so, Jiro slams his fist towards the machine until....
A giant slash rakes across the back, the ice tearing against the skin and letting blood splatter all over the place. The eyes widen as the big gash of blood splatters everywhere. He can feel the life drain from him as the cool air becomes starking cold, casting forth a chill on his spine. His eyes widen, bit it dulls due to the adrenaline.
The furnace of the body begins to erupt in flames as Jiro feels the wrath swell up. As the power of the Ankoku flames engulf him, Jiro finally snaps out with his head staring at the sky.
What does Jiro do?
Drop the F-Bomb on Kula.
The flames erupt against from his body, scorching outward to not only lash against her but towards the machine. The blazing flames ignite and tear within the machine that he's tearing against and the defender trying to kill him.
What better way to defy the person than to keep going?
Jiro is on a mission. Nothing will deter him from it.

Slash through.
Alma Towazu, radiant angel, collapses to his knees, the flaming sword with which he has dispensed judgment flickering and fading about his hand, his ragged breaths emerging as puffs of steam. The screams of the sundered machine fall upon ears already ringing with the rush of blood and adrenaline that brought him to the heights of passion. Blinking dazedly, the intense young beauty can only turn his gaze to watch as his oath-brother is cut viciously across the back by the girl he himself had cut with soulfire only moments ago. Moments that feel like ages, in a labratory that seems now more a shuddering tomb, a repository of evil for a history that they will consign to darkness.
His body trembles. He can barely move. It is moments before, breathing deeply of the frosty air, inuring himself once more to the psychic pangs of the tormented clones about them, he is able to rise to his feet, clutching one of the railings as he gets his bearings once again. Even Alma, for all his courage, can only brush with death so many times a minute. And that last bout was more than a brush.
But even if his flesh fails him--
His resolve remains unbending.
Straightening finally, Alma steps forward again, approaching the melee about the abominable artifact, gazing brightly and clear-eyed as he paces slowly toward a machine now threatening to collapse around them.
This must finish here. These souls must be avenged.
Responsibility must be taken.
Kula Diamond's life ends here.

COMBATSYS: Alma gains composure.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Artemis_Engine   1/---====/=======|=======\====---\1             Alma
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Kula             1/---====/=======|======-\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Frei successfully hits Artemis_Engine with Fierce Punch.

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Artemis_Engine   1/---====/=======|=======\====---\1             Alma
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Kula             1/---====/=======|======-\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Jiro successfully hits Artemis_Engine with Defiance.

[                           \\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Artemis_Engine   1/=======/=======|=======\====---\1             Alma
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Kula             1/---====/=======|=======\-------\0             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Kula dodges Jiro's Defiance.

[                           \\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Artemis_Engine   1/=======/=======|=======\====---\1             Alma
[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////                    ]
Kula             1/---====/=======|=======\-------\1             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

Her two step attack connects, driving a crushing punch and a now bloody spike of ice into Jiro's back. Her combat algorithms continue to demand that she stop him - stop them all - from destroying the machine situated at the heart of so much atrocity. At last she has his attention as demonstrated by the once Stray Dog turning upon her at last. She meets his eyes with cool indifference, and the flames coursing over his body are met with equally determined and unrelenting chill as they crash against an invisible 'wall' of frozen energy endlessly rippling the air about Kula. His yell provokes only a slight widening of her eyes as well as caution her that he's finally going to attack her after working on the machine for so long.

A bend of her knees and a quick leap backward take her safely out of harm's way before the burst of flames becomes truly threatening, sliding to a stop some meters away in a three-point crouch as she quickly takes stock in the situation surrounding her, her fingers leaving a frozen trail on the concrete. Jiro's energy flares around him and the completely exposed turbine seems eager to drink heavily from it, bluring the edges of his flames as it sucks them toward the spiraling network of interlaced chi streams growing in magnitude by the second. A chain reaction begins to errupt within as the Artemis Engine reaches critical mass.

It's Frei's swing that seems to be the final nail, his palm slamming into a panel of electronics responsible for regulating temperature and maintaining the chi into a controlled field. Silicon, plastic, glass, and metal explode out before being drawn into the whirlwind turbine as the draw toward it begins to take on a physical nature above and beyond its powerful vacuum of chi itself. A loud, reveberating shudder rattles the entire chamber as the turbine begins to spin off balance, sending energy and metallic shrapnel spiking out in every direction. The very ground itself shakes, concrete cracking and some of the metallic walkways starting to come down around everyone.

Silently, Kula watches the Artemis Engine undergo its death throes. At the center of the chi gathered exists a void - a rent in life itself - as if someone had opened a blackhole before their very eyes. Stray bits of energy throughout the room begin to be drawn into it, vanishing as they reach the event horizon of the disasterous phenomenon. Wind whips sky blue hair about the girl's shoulders as she watches it all come undone. In a short bit, it is likely to become very lethal to be in the area as the maelstrom of gathered energy continues to spiral out of control.

A quick glance is cast over the trio gathered. Jiro is badly injured, his muscles chilled by repeated exposure to her brutal ice. Alma also hurt but to a lessor degree, the girl fixing him with a dark look for a fleeting moment. Then there's Frei. The one who expressed that he had the power to trust the inhuman, engineered monsters the labratory was full of. That he could extend trust in even her of all people. Like a petulant child out to prove a vindictive point, it is Frei she attacks.

It comes without the slightest effort. The entire environment is rife with nigh limitless chi for her to channel through her. The build up, rather than long and involved, is instantaneously as she stands up straight, brings her hands up over her head, and conjures a literal piller of brillantly bright ice about her figure. A point blank blizzard; a tornado of icy shrapnel, liquid-like, freezing chi, and sleet is whipped up in the blink of an eye. Much of it is pulled violently toward the collapsing chi engine. But she has enough control to retain a large enough percentage of her energy to be dangerous.

The girl's hands swing down and forward, palms out, and the entirety of that frozen spectacle explodes out toward Frei. It would like being caught in a blizzard of daggers, a storm with a mind of its own; a mind that seeks to entrap, coat, crush, and suffocate. All that ice comes bearing down on Frei, and should it capture him, it would pile on so thickly as to make a literal mountain of frozen matter to encase him in.

All of the labratory is a field of white, with ice and snow coating the surfaces that were not already frozen over the course of the battle, but out of those present, it is Frei that might suffer the brunt of it...

COMBATSYS: Artemis_Engine takes no action.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Kula             0/-------/------=|=======\====---\1             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |=======\-------\1             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Artemis_Engine has suffered catastrophic damage and fallen offline.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Kula             0/-------/------=|=======\====---\1             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |=======\-------\1             Jiro
                 [ |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|-------

COMBATSYS: Kula successfully hits Frei with Freeze Execution.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Kula             0/-------/------=|=======\====---\1             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |=======\-------\1             Jiro
                 [           ||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             1|------=|=======

Her arms extended, hands forward, Kula directs the tidal wave of frozen wrath into a lethal carpet of deadly cold toward Frei with the ease of a thought. It all transpires in seconds, with nothing but brilliant white visible anywhere within the warehouse. There, Kula decides. Injured, he'll be among the casualties when the engine detonates as it seems frightfully inclined to do. It's time for her to make her own escape. And thus she turns, crouching, preparing to spring toward the exit...

The Artemis device reacts to the outpouring of chi, the blue luminescence growing in intensity so bright as to almost be perceived as white regardless of color. The phenomenon located within the wrecked shell of the turbine drinks heavily from the ambient chi but ultimately, Kula is singled out as the single highest concentration of the stuff to be found and it is she that pays the price.

As if collecting on a perceived debt for the loaned energy throughout the altercation, a sapphire blue bolt of lightning explodes out from the black swirling vortex to strike her squarely in the back as she turns. Only, rather than granting limitless power as it hand previously, it is quite clearly reclaiming it relentlessly. The change is immediately obvious, the temperature in the room beginning to rise in spite the sheer wind howling throughout it. The ice, snow, and lingering energy of Kula's attacks melt, vaporize, and fade.

The girl is stopped, frozen as if struck by one of her own techniques in place, unable to flee, unable to move as that borrowed power is reclaimed in full. The frosty blue melts from her hair until it becomes damp strawberry-blond before even that color too is sucked loose, leaving her hair a quite familiar pure white not unlike the man she just targetted for death.

Gasping, she drops to one knee briefly, hands planted against the floor as the building rumbles, threatening to explode, the ebony vortex expanding in power by the second, threatening to absorb all of them into one collective mass grave.

And then it ends, seemingly without explanation. The bolt connecting Kula to the cosmic event vanishes, the vortex collapses in on itself, folding back into the metallic core of the chi engine, the vacuum of life being pulled toward the center of the room diminishing and then ceasing all together. Within seconds, the only sounds to be heard are those of the cloning tanks lining the sides, their life-sustaining devices chirping softly, and the creak of strained metal walkways threatening to collapse but hanging in there for a while longer.

Gritting her teeth, Kula stands up straight again. The energy that had perpetually coated her, lingering in the form of drifting ice crystals or whisps of blue chi waiting to be put to use, is completely gone. Violet eyes narrow as she takes in her breath, hands tightening with the creak of her leather gloves. A glance is cast over her shoulder toward Frei, then Jiro, before her eyes finally settle back on Alma. Raising her hands up in front of her, palms loosely facing each other, the girl assumes a combat ready stance, the look in her eyes making it clear that she still has it in for Alma. It seems her attempt to finish this with the aid of the collapsing technology has failed, but that doesn't mean the battle has ended...

"Stop calling my name."

He's seen the world ending in fire. Looks like it's ice's turn.

He doesn't need chi senses to know what's coming; she's vented her wrath on Alma, and on Jiro. Frei's a natural next target, and in fact his two assaults on the Artemis Engine were more about attracting Kula's attention than about doing any damage. Weakened as he is, the young sage doesn't have much chance of a serious impact on the machine. Seeing it go down, however, cheers him slightly. Maybe things will be a little better, now. Maybe there can be progress. Maybe we can move forward. But there's just one stumbling block first... more of a stumbling boulder, really. Kula's angry. Angry, and empowered, and unleashing the fullness of her power at him.

How to defend against it? Even with his powers intact, staving off a blizzard of such intensity would be difficult at best, nearly impossible at worst. But Frei is nothing if not resilient; he decides, unafraid, to weather the storm. It's been his watchword since this fight started: faith. He has to believe. Because in truth, that's his only real strength. Compared to other fighters he's slower, weaker than average; he can take more punishment than most, perhaps, but his real redeeming feature is that he has an open mind and empathy. It's what makes the chi in the air, the energy around him, dance to his tune. And even if that connection is severed right now, the source of it remains, waiting.

Defense is pointless; Frei's energy goes into staying on his feet. The wall of icicles and blizzard-intensity frost slams into him like a charging bull, literally dragging him across the floor so hard his feet make grooves in it. But arms crossed in front of his face, he refuses to fall. Which doesn't make the experience any less painful, or less pleasant; in fact, it might even make it *worse*. Falling down might save him some pain. Instead knives of ice lash across his body, shredding wu shu jacket and grey undershirt alike. Lines of red appear as cloth is torn away; one shard strikes the side of his head, and the coppery tang of blood assaults him, lines of dark crimson being much easier to see under the white of his hair. Every part of him aches, bleeds; when the assault finally abates, he misses much of the Engine's collapse, as he does much the same. His knees hit the ground first, then his hands, palm down, as Frei takes great gasps of air, chest heaving, blood dripping onto the floor even as Kula herself suffers an agony he catches only the merest glimpse of, forcing himself to stand, one hand gripping the opposite elbow.

For a moment, he takes it in: her defiant stance, the hair, the sudden closing of the Engine's field. Her request. And despite himself, he knows in his heart of hearts: this is progress. His voice is, at first, raspy, tongue thick with pain and injury. But Frei's going to be heard, even if it kills him. "Why?" he asks. "Frei. *My* name is Frei. That's... twice now, you've nearly killed me, Kula," Frei continues, quietly. He advances a step toward her, making sure to keep himself between Kula and Alma. "So that's my name, and I think you should remember it, just as I'm... going to remember yours." Another pause, a deep breath, before he continues. "It's broken, alright? This thing you're here to protect. It's over. And... and I can understand wanting to do your duty. But if you stay you're going to get hurt, and so are we. Nobody NEEDS to get hurt any more."

In spite of everything, he finds it in himself to smile.

"I know that somewhere inside you see the point of it... not hurting, I mean. Not killing. That deciding NOT to satisfies something in your heart. I have to believe in that, because I have faith in you."

COMBATSYS: Frei gains composure.

[             \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Kula             0/-------/------=|=======\====---\1             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |=======\-------\1             Jiro
                 [         ||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

Silent, Alma Towazu breathes deeply of justice.
He is so used to the pain of the clones harnessed about him hammering into his psyche that the gentle ebbing of that empathic torment is strangely foreign, the absence of agony itself a dangerous contortion, like that of a starving man's stomach rebelling against sustenance. Yet after a few subtle twitches to his now composed features, Alma's calm seems restored, a vaguely serene expression gracing his beautiful features as the vortex of chi that he fearlessly approached sworls threateningly about him-- and eventually fades, though not before briefly striking Kula down.
"You don't appreciate it?"
Yet whatever hope his apparent composure might have stirred in the hearts of those who would see him less implacable, when Alma turns his gaze to the girl assassin it blazes all the brighter, his conviction to see her destroyed now laid utterly bare, his fury honed to a deadly point that glints in the depths of his shining eyes.
"Soon this name... will be lost to you forever."
Upward tilts his chin, with the poise of the entirely certain.
"No great loss," he murmurs softly, his gaze, partly shrouded by red-tinged bangs, never leaving hers as the despicable remains of NESTS's efforts finish collapsing about them, the railings of the walkways about them creaking a hair-raising warning, "it appears."
Why did he call out her name? She did not ask, and he makes no effort to explain him. Could it have been an appeal? Could he still have hope for her soul, after all this? Can Alma Towazu really exclude her from his world, turn ideals that would be a beacon welcoming her home instead into a weapon cutting her down to make way for the worthy? It would be easy to doubt him-- if it were not for the oppressive presence he continues to project, all the more palpable now that the machine about them has collapsed. Demon or angel, heavenly or hellish, there is something supernatural about the aura he radiates, something that touches on that elusive awe-inspiring quality that could be either glory or terror, that which makes men imagine the sacred.
Alma can be very subtle, but-- never insincere.
If he says her life ends here, then one of theirs will.

Until a presence steps between them, abating the force of his own. Alma watches in silence as Frei speaks, attempts to compel Kula to stop. His features reveal nothing, once again demonstrating the extent of his emotional control when he so chooses to wield it. He thoughts are opaque to anyone observing. But, even if, as before, he will never begrudge Frei being himself however it may obstruct Alma's own goals, the radiant angel has no faith in Frei's ability to sway the girl, not because Frei's words lack any truth or persuasiveness but because he is convinced the girl's will simply has not yet been sufficiently broken, because the obvious and familiar remain to her obvious and familiar. Her duty is too well ingrained. That, at least, is a phenomenon Alma can recognize, and one he would respect--
--if he thought she were human.
"Lend me your strength!"
Turning to look over his shoulder, emiting an intensity rare even for him, Alma fixes his powerful gaze on his oath-brother, normally mild eyes widened with the passion rushing through his body.
"Two hearts as one!"
He is, by all appearances, utterly ignoring Frei. Presented before Jiro are two entirely different paths, each friend implicitly asking him to choose only one. But Alma's /need/ for Jiro's power-- it weights every word, every glimmer of light in his gaze.

Well, this is just what Jiro wanted. Despite of the fact that he is bleeding profusely, he sought to have that machine destroyed. And when it starts to go into the overload, Frei's final strike causes the machine to explode. The eyes widen when he finds himself blown back by the impact of the machine. He merely launches his back upward and he plants both feet towards the ground. Narrowing his eyes when he looks over towards the tanks. He finally gets a response back from Adelheid.
Mandate: Save all innocent lives possible. The clones count.
The eyes are actually focused towards the clones that are in the vat. His eyes narrow, "We gotta get them out of the----..." Then, his eyes widen when he watches Kula get strucked by the vortex of energy, depleting part of her strength. There is a brief flash of memories digging into the well of his past.
....Back when they met in the arcade. It was three years ago, wasn't it?
~ "I've...never played a racing game. Are they hard?" Pause. "Oh, I'm Kula." ~
~ "Kasagi Jiro." Pause. "Eh... Let's go for F-Zero, it looks more exciting." ~
~ ...Why is nostalgia catching up with me?! Why now? ~
The young man looks over at her with worry. Then, his eyes shift towards Frei, who is dealing with Kula. There is part of Jiro that wants to think that she can still go the other side. There is still hope. But... times have changed for the worse.
'Jiro! Lend me your strength!'
His eyes snap awake when he looks at Alma. Both eyes widen. This is an odd position, especially when Alma has that powerful gaze at the younger one. How... Alma... are you serious? This leaves Jiro puzzled. It's over, the mission is accomplished. It is the matter of trying to get the clones out. As many as they can. However... when has Alma steered him wrong?
"...Alright..." The right hand launches into the air, then he feels the power of the wrath consuming him. Roaring in power, Jiro allows the well of scarlet flames scorch along his body. With the funneling blaze expanding upward, Jiro drops to one knee and places his hand towards the ground. It is soon that the energy becomes a dome that slowly expands forth...

When, indeed, has Alma steered Jiro wrong?
There's a first time for everything.
Combination attacks, for example.
Alma Towazu shudders as glorious soulful flames erupt around him, glimmering and swirling with an ethereal light, hinting at another plane of existence. They rise up, looming behind Frei in Kula's vision, the monk the only obstruction between them. And then he flickers out of visibility, that rising passionate fury culminating in another psychic ascendance-- only to phase /backward/, into the very dome of power that is slowly expanding. Slamming his palms to the sides, Alma /grasps/ this wall of energy, unharmed by a chi with which his spirit is so closely accustomed. It is only because of that intimate bond between himself and Jiro that he is able to so effortlessly meld his own energies with that of his friend's-- to make their strengths so completely one that he might be able to take this power in his own hands. Body trembling with the strain of this incredible technique, requiring heights of intuitive spiritual finesse, Alma takes ahold of Jiro's power without dominating it, utilizing it without making it entirely his own-- and flickers again.
Phasing forward--
Taking that dome, now a sphere of scarlet fire, with him.
That shield begins to bend into a lance as he surges forward, his own white soulfire, laced brightly with cherry-blossom pink and royal indigo, merging with the scarlet until Alma himself seems to either be wielding or have /become/ a grand javelin, a resplendant weapon of final judgment. He flies past at breakneck speed, his energies overflowing so profoundly that he flickers unpredictably, brief and possibly unconscious teleports that both enhance his advance and make his moment of arrival all the more difficult to predict. For the most part they are, of course, only slight skips forward. The longest phase he performs comes halfway to his goal, as that lance of flame plunges directly toward Frei's back--
--and reappears, with Alma, hairsbreadths in front, leaving only words behind.
"Trust me."
That is all. There is no apology, no explanation for why Alma's beliefs should be trusted above Frei's own. Certainly, merely that is not enough to demand Frei sacrifice his own integrity, even when their certainties about what is right clash so utterly. But then, nothing is enough for that-- and perhaps Alma recognizes this.
Perhaps that is why he says so little.
Forward he plunges, seemingly unstoppable, wielding the fire of the gods.
To strike down the winter scorpion.

Jiro is putting his trust in Alma. He really is. As hesitant as Jiro was, he is putting his trust in the man. Because Alma has never steered him wrong.
Casting foth his strength once more, Jiro's hands press to the ground. More of his strength comes forth as the powerful chi suddenly erupts into a more deadlier inferno. Scorching the ground before him, the dome keeps growing, even as Alma enters it.
....And Jiro digs into the final part of his reserve to put more of his power into the dome of energy.... As he hears Alma's call, Jiro erupts forth a voice of resonation of his end...
And the flames explode, keeping the engulfed Alma within as the force is unleashed.

COMBATSYS: Kula fails to interrupt Absolution from Alma with One Inch and is struck by Righteous Ravager from Alma and Jiro.

[                          \\\\  < >  ////////////////              ]
Kula             0/-------/--=====|=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [         ||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Kula can no longer fight.

                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                 |=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [         ||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

Jiro Kasagi wants to RAVAGE YOU, "But only if you are four years old." and :(

She stands facing Alma, arms raised, mind a fog as she tries to process what just happened - tries to understand how she can't draw upon the endless breath of life and weave it into ice to do her bidding. Her one constant companion, her defense, her weapon, her power, and her play thing - ice had always been available at her finger tips with the slightest thought. But not now. The machine bolstering her strength is ruined, that central piller in the center all that rises up out of the pile of twisted rubble and it seems that with its demise it took from the girl her power.

But she doesn't flinch as she stares back at Alma. She's a killer even without ice; trained in hand to hand combat plenty capable of ending a life. The odds are not good, but she'll make due. This business between them ends now. Frei moves into her field of view, positioning himself between her and Alma. She isn't surprised. Even in her slightly muddled state of mind she understands that he so desperately wants to put a stop to this. People like him - they don't understand. Some things /can't/ be settled without violence and bloodshed. He speaks but though her eyes focus on his briefly, she says nothing, her jaw clenched, mouth pressed tightly closed, hands still raised, feet slipped partially apart. It isn't about duty anymore. It's beyond that now. He expresses his faith in once more, but Kula keeps her silence. There's no way to explain this - whatever this is.

Behind Frei, Alma speaks, and Kula's attention shifts to him. He responds to her demand and Kula's hands tighten, leather creaking as her grip closes over her palms. She tenses, reading to strike, the proverbial scorpion capable of no other recourse than to sting. If she needs to vault over Frei as a stepping stone to do so, then she shall. But Alma shouts, calling Jiro's attention to him, and the young assassin pauses, uncertain as to what she'll be springing into should she make her move now.

Hesitation buys her the chance to watch the two coordinate as one. Their two unique powers mixed into a single conflagration before her every eyes. To speak of two hearts as one - the very concept of being that close to someone a foreign idea to the girl; something she had never so much as experienced. Jiro answers his call and violet eyes shift to watch him prepare, a dome of increasing power gathering at his feet. Flames - the antithesis to her now missing ice - and with the engine destroyed at last, he need not fear that they'll be stolen from him prematurely.

She wavers as Alma joins Jiro in a sanctifying combination of immense power and unbriddled resolution. And then Alma moves - a blur before her eyes, passing through Frei. Fast, inhumanly so. But not so fast that she can't perceive him. Her combat algorithms reel with input, trying to solve the unsolvable, trying to calculate a defense without the help of her barriers, her ice, her misty mirrors to reflect back the intense flame. There is no thought to run, only to strike back, her left shoulder turning forward, left foot slipping along the floor, her right foot back, knee bent slightly.

When Alma plunges into the inevitable collision, Kula moves likewise, springing into it fearlessly, right hand clenched, driving her fist forward as the first contact with the combined power sears her mind, penetrating easily through the leather sleeve over her arm. Engineered body armor has no power here, no ability to diminish the magnitude of that combined onslaught, but still she strikes, her right hand slamming forward with piston-like speed and strength.

She never touches the avenging angel. The impact of so impressive an attack proves in an instant that it isn't all for show, as if the heavens carried him forward to cleanse a malignance from the world. Pain wracks her nerves as flame consume her alive. A silent scream escapes her lips and for a moment, she is lost to sight within the inferno of chi and Soul Power. She's seen a second later, a flying figure covered in flame that refuses to be quelched. She doesn't stop until her back hits a section of the betraying Artemis Engine, leaving a dent in the already crumpled surface before slipping forward herself, hands pressed to the floor to keep herself upright.

The flames flicker and die eventually. Her right sleeve, the one she brazenly extended into the attack head on, is destroyed, leaving her scorched arm bare. The rest of her black armor is smoking and the ends of her hair singed. On her knees, her hands keep her from collapsing all together and while the fire burning her body may have vanished, the flame searing her mind has not. Debilitating pain blinds her as she stays put, her head leaning forward, her white hair draped over her shoulders.

Silent but for the hissing breaths she takes or the sound of still smoldering leather covering her body, Kula diamond doesn't make a move. She just needs a moment to get back up again, she tells herself. A moment she knows she doesn't have. She's lost everything. Tears well in eyes only just starting to regain sight, just barely able to distinguish light and shadow and little else.


To Frei everything happens in slow motion. The display in front of him... there's no way to NOT know where it's going. You'd have to be an idiot, and even a perfect stranger would figure it out. For Frei, who knows these two better than most, it takes even less than a second. Yet for some reason his bones are like lead, muscles weighed down as if he were in ten times the Earth's gravity. It may simply be pure, stupid shock. He didn't want to believe Alma or Jiro would go this far, even knowing as he does that Jiro has come far to overcome a darkness in his own past. But there is the proof! The damned empirical proof, sitting right in front of him. A blazing inferno too powerful to be ignored. How could he deny it?

Time starts for him, again, when he hears Alma's voice say: 'Trust me'.

He's slow. Even normally, he's not the speediest fighter in the world. Weighed down as he is with terror and apprehension and guilt and anger, he doesn't even have a chance. Time stays slow; sounds become dull whispers. He hears the "NO!" escape his lips but it's as if the sound is coming from the inside of a seashell, an echo of some ancient statement resounding back now, eons later, as a whisper. He feels his body turn, he feels his foot leave the ground. All that consumes Frei is a need to intercede, to keep this from going to a place from which there is no turning back. But he is no avenging angel, nor ravaging demon... he is only human, trapped between good and evil, light and dark, justice and retribution.

He's barely taken a step when the combined might of Jiro and Alma literally blasts Kula across the room.

The result is that the white-haired fighter freezes in place, eyes widening, the dark pupils of his eyes shrinking to mere pinpoints against suddenly dull emerald green irises. Kula's words... ended up being true. He didn't have the power to stop anyone; not her, not Alma, not even those who came before. Doubts and fears assault him so heavily he is physically affected, taking a step back, face unchanging, a hand coming up to clutch at his own chest, breathing erratic. Where is Ichiro right now? Shurui promised to find him, but can she do it? He couldn't protect Ichiro. He couldn't stop himself from hurting his friends. Over and over the words slam at the inside of his head until, eventually, he grips both sides of his skull with both hands and, eyes squinted tight, screams.

When he opens those eyes again, they are trained on Alma in a combination of fury and disbelief. "Trust you? You... you want to talk to me about TRUST?!" Part of him wants to surge forward, grip Alma by the shirt. Hurl him at the remains of the machine until there's nothing left. It's a nameless rage, the same one that made him attack Hotaru on SNF so long ago, one that could only really have been awakened by someone he DID trust violating so sacrosanct a belief.

"I... did you think I thought she was going to turn, right now?" he demands, voice cracking. "All sunflowers and smiles? That's not how it works! Trust comes from *faith*, Alma. Believing in people. Believing in the choices they'd make. I trusted you, right up until now. Because she..." Frei shouts, whipping an arm to point at Kula's body, "...needed someone to believe in her. But you didn't. You HAVE people who believe in you. And you THREW IT AWAY for something so petty as vengeance?!"

For a moment, it's all he can say, chest heaving as he takes deep breaths. He turns to look at Jiro, hoping for someone to back him up. Jiro... isn't like these two idealists. He believes in a practical truth, refreshingly so. That, more than anything else, is what attracted Frei to Jiro in the first place... the purity with which he accepted his own emotions and acted according to his own ethic. Alma too, for that matter. For the first time, the young sage wonders if that bond only lasted so long as their pure ethic and his own beliefs never came into such powerful conflict.

"You have a chance to keep my trust, Alma. But if you betray it you'd better be prepared to do the same to me as you did to her."

After the wake of destruction....
...Everything passes.
Jiro calmly stands back up and then he looks over to see Kula on the ground. Part of him wants to approach her and comfort her. However, there isn't much that he can do. His eyes harden and he shakes his head.

When he looks at Alma and Frei, however, Jiro grits his teeth. This again. This argument. This situation. Admittedly, Jiro wants to know -why- Alma decided to do this. However? That doesn't matter right now. So, what does Jiro do?
"Enough! Both of you!" Jiro never thought that he'd have to be the voice of things. However, there is a reason that they came here. "Have you both forgotten why we came here?!" His eyes focus at Kula once more, walking over past her.

~ "I didn't know you played the harmonica." ~
~ "...I'll do all I can to help, Jiro." ~

...Those words.. the day that Gedo was in big trouble. Jiro's head lowers. "...Kula. Did the past mean anything to you? ...You joining Taiyo? ...Living a regular life?" shakes his head.

"Alma. Frei. The fight's done. We will all talk about this /later/. Now isn't the time. We came here to destroy the base, remember? We destroyed the machine. The priority is to evacuate the innocent." A hand gestures towards the vats with the clones inside "That includes the clones in here. I'll let Adelheid know that we have the clones and will be ready for pick up." His eyes narrow towards the two. Leveledly. For the love of god, he doesn't want any philosophical debate here. "I won't say that again." He dusts his uniform, approaching the path towards the vat. He looks at the computer, typing in a few keys, mostly to try to get some of the tubes open.
...As if putting a lead on their asses, Jiro shouts. "/NOW/!"

Alma Towazu, silhouette wreathed in vestigal flames, is stone silent.
He is mere meters from where Kula has collapsed, drained and defeated, the blazing lance of his power intertwined with Jiro's bringing him closer than his allies to where she now lays. Hunched after having slid to a stop, reflexively recovering the raw force of his collision, he straightens slowly but smoothly, his elegant poise unmitigated. Yet there is a different quality to that turned back now; for all the fluidity remaining to his movements, his stance lacks a certain effervescent dynamism, something inherent to his presence yet complex enough to be easily unnoticed until it is missed. He is monolithic now, a statue of a forgotten god, having at last awakened that divine forbidden fire.
Words rain down about his unbending form, entreaties and demands. Frei, desperate to the verge of choking, appeals to Alma's own beliefs; Jiro, man of action, begins to go about what should be their business. But the Stray Dog will not have to worry about debate here.
For Alma cannot hear them.
~ Where... am I? ~
Fog. Fog and haze. About his vision is a blinding light, a halo that surrounds his very gaze. Not only deaf is he, but blind, for the overwhelming power that surged through him, that supreme culmination of all his power and fighting philosophy -- the achieving of the perfect unison of two souls -- has swept everything from his psyche. Only this way could he have created such synergy with the power of another; only this way could he have gathered the force to shatter Kula's mental defenses once and for all. In moments, as always, he will likely recover. But for now Alma Towazu lives entirely in the moment, memories vanished, sense of place annihilated, operating purely on sub-conscious impulse.
Before him, a shadow gathers.
~ You... ~
He steps forward, inaudibly, into the light.
"Kula Diamond."
A voice speaks, the only sound he can perceive; a hand raises before him, still wreathed in quietly churning flames, pooling over like steam from some sinister vial. The light of this preternatural luminesence clarifies the image before him; a girl, white-haired, slumped, tears in her eyes. Perhaps anyone who lived a different life than Alma's would balk at this, confused, wonder at what has transpired-- take a step back and recover lost wits. But Alma experiences no confusion or hesitation. His conscious mind is not required. There is no uncertainty.
"It's over."
That low murmur, echoing through a shattered room in which even the railings have momentarily ceased to creak, is not one he recognizes as his own. Yet this will be apparent to no one, for Alma speaks with all the subdued confidence that he is known for, and his gaze does not appear to have strayed from his target even once. His words are not triumphant, not threatening or righteous. A statement of fact, one that even approaches the mildness with which this angelic youth conventionally operates. But it is a mildness that seems only vaguely eerie when contrasted with his mysteriously off-putting -- even hair-raisingly so -- stance.
"Your life..."
He steps forward, again in perfect silence.
A fighter need not be a psychic to develop a sixth sense. Even chi, at least not as it is normally understood, may necessarily be required. Whatever realm the so-called killing intent exists on, it is one that any trained warrior instinctively learns to detect, if only through constant exposure. And if either Frei or Jiro have any grasp of that now, they will sense it, with heinously undisguised force. Alma's presence, always there, sometimes overwhelming, emits it now with gale force. This is the spirit of a man who has every intent of ending a life. One that seems, now, to be powerless to stop him. One that seems, now, to have lost almost everything.

He looms in her fading vision, a terrible beauty, magnificent to behold as undying flames blaze in perfect vacuum-silence about his hands and forearms, seeming to form a glorious regalia of rose and gold, of whites and pinks and purples, vibrant and sovereign hues. One last step, and those flames seem to cloak all the world.
"...ends here."
All save his glinting, golden eyes.
It's too late. It's too much.
It's over.
Alma strikes.
And as though his silence had indeed been the silence of space, like a pierce through the hull of reality Alma's fist breaks the incredible tension, those perpetually gathering soul flames abruptly sucking inward only to erupt outward, bursting with scintillating light about them both, consuming both of their figures in twisting, ravenous, dead-silent fire. Devouring everything about them-- ending the world that they have created. Purifying it-- cleansing a misbegotten soul.
Is it regrettable? Is it to be condemned?
Later, perhaps, once the ashes settle.
Now is the time for absolution.
Finally, the flames settle; finally, the light fades. Once more appear those tortured and abused test subjects, once more the sundered surroundings of this forsaken bastion. And-- nothing appears to have changed. What appeared to be at first an explosion seems to have disturbed nothing. But sparks fly through air, shifting the ambiance of this place. Just for a brief moment -- just for a brief, sweet moment -- there is neither the terrible stench of crime nor the overwhelming pressure of a martyr's zeal. In that single instance, to those who are sensitive to it, there might be, on this ravaged battlefield, tranquility.
"Take my hand."
And that pale, glittering flame, still pooling from Alma's extended grasp, has simply spread harmlessly about the two of them, in that moment of heart-aching serenity a frame for that shining, perfect image: the righteous youth bent low in supplication before his defeated foe.
"You're dead, Kula Diamond."
Alma Towazu, murderer, gazes with still-shining eyes.
"Live anew."

COMBATSYS: Alma drops his guard to recover.

                                  >  //////////////////////        ]
                                 |=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [         ||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Alma takes no action.

                                  >  //////////////////////        ]
                                 |=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [         ||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Frei drops his guard to recover.

                                  >  //////////////////////        ]
                                 |=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  //////////                    ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [     ||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Jiro drops his guard to recover.

                                  >  //////////////////////        ]
                                 |=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [     ||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Frei takes no action.

                                  >  //////////////////////        ]
                                 |=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [     ||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Jiro takes no action.

                                  >  //////////////////////        ]
                                 |=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [     ||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

She can't get up fast enough. When she first encountered Alma, she had tried so hard to shut him out, repelling his psychic assault with a mind defended by a steel-like mirror of defiance and stubborn indoctrination. A mirror he only just managed to crack before she fled from his sight, retreating from the young adult before he could get any closer, probe any deeper, and see what hide behind the shell.

This time there is no retreat, no escape. Injured, arms trembling from sheer effort of keeping her upright, the girl can't even stand let alone put distance between her and her killer. Tears well, unbidden, frustratingly determined. She shouldn't feel this way, her thoughts echo. She had been inured against the thought of death by the way she was raised. A killer that wouldn't flinch at blood or the expiration of a life, an assassin to be wielded and put to use by vain and wicked men, Kula Diamond was never supposed to be afraid to die. After all, with her secluded, lonely life, she had nothing to lose; nothing on the line to make her regret the passing of her existence in the service of the Cartel. Or so was the thought.

Alma stands over the kneeling girl as her vision slowly clears. She sees shapes and shadows, motion, her ears ringing but able to discern the sound of Frei's voice trying to argue reason to the unreasonable. He calls out Jiro, citing his past, even as the young man speaks of what was to Kula ancient history in a life span measured in single digit years in spite her teenaged appearance. She sucks in her breath, her mind discerning Frei's words but struggling to understand. Is he still arguing on her behalf? After what she tried to do him? She was ready to kill him along with the other two and leave the two lost to a killing field, burried beneath the building with the rows of incubating clones!

But her confused mind shifts focus. Another is next to her. Alma Towazu. He earned this moment; a conqueror. The strong have the power to crush the weak beneath their heel. It is the philosophy of NESTS, it is the religion of the zealots that sent her into the world time and time again to kill and menace. He proclaims it to be over, passing judgement and issuing the sentence in one breath.

There is no doubt. So why should she be so horrified? Her complexion pales further by the second, the tremble overtaking her limbs not one of pain but of dread terror. She lifts her face heavenward and sets eyes on the flame wreathed champion. Tears roll freely down her cheeks rather than freezing in place as they had when exposed to her bitter cold power. Her jaw remains clenched, teeth gritted. Why does she feel this way? she wonders a second time. What does it matter if she dies now? Will the Cartel that gave her life bat an eye? Or is there already, in some dark cage, a replacement being engineered in secret? A new Kula? Faster, stronger, improved over the old model. One that would not have lost to these three, no matter how determined, resolved, and skilled they might be?

What of others? Who is there in all the world to miss the life of a girl created to kill? Will K' offer a quiet sigh of relief that his antithesis is dead? Will those countless many she had attacked at NESTS' bidding feel safe to smile just a little bit more, as if the world had become a slightly better place? Violet eyes squint as Alma readies to strike, the sheer magnitude of the light surrounding him almost a searing reminder of the pain he inflicted with his combination with Jiro Kasagi.

"N-no..." the soft stammer escapes her lips. "No, please," she begs, fingers curling, pressing against the unforgiving concrete floor. But there is no stay of execution for this life, no eleventh hour exonerating case to be made on her behalf.

She flinches, fearing the final blow.

He moves, his hand falling like an executioner's ax, descending through that final, fatal arc.

Surrounded by fire, it is not as she would have thought it to be. Thoughts of a life after had never crossed her mind. Is heaven wreathed with flames the color of Alma's Soul Power? Would Hell or Oblivion feel so purifying? She hears his voice through the flames, eyes barely able to make out his figure. Who calls to her from beyond the veil?

The flames settle, a small swirl of sparks lingering, like a bee's hive of fireflies had been disturbed a moment prior. Kula gasps, eyes widening slightly, the tremble gone from her body. He bids her to take his hand and she stares, disbelieving. "B-but..." the girl murmurs. There can be no explanation. The fear and dread is gone, the realization that she has yet the opportunity to discover what she is living for overwhelming every thought, every corner, every dark recess of her mind. Within the silent chambers of her soul a battle attempts to rage only to subside. There can be no other choice before her.

Slowly she lifts her right hand, the glove that had protected it in a state of ruin. She slides her fingers into his, taking that offered hold. Her hand is warm to the touch. He was going to kill her. He /did/ kill her. That life is over and she can never go back. Her hand closes tightly, in need of that support, her lips closing, eyes shimmering, her left hand lifting to rest over her mouth as she tries to find the wherewithall to be able to speak again. Trying to find the words to be said.

A rumble shudders through the entire facility, centalized on the cratered Artemis Engine itself. It had been inert following the sudden, unexplained collapse of the chi-syphoning vortex. But now something stirs, a crackle of blue energy forking over the central piller of the unholy apparatus.

Jiro will find the interface of the tubes not too confusing and with enough effort he may just get his wish of getting one of the green-liquid-filled tubes open to free the living contents within. A number of red LEDs light up on the panel he works at, until one by one they turn green, indicating that the opening sequence has been initiated on the vat in front of him.

No sooner that the opening sequence initiates than another tremble reverberates, causing some of the already precariously balanced walkways to sheer free, crashing down around portions of the room. The blue energy at the heart of the machine builds in intensity, rippling over the piller.

Kula looks over her shoulder, eyes widening, "Leave," she whispers, "You shouldn't..." They shouldn't see this. A large panel on the front of the piller explodes out with a plume of smoke, metal shrapnel, and electronics debris. The NESTS experiment... the living girl closes her eyes, knowing what awakes. It's too late.

"She's right, you know." comes the voice from the cloud of obscurring vapor. It should sound familiar. It is the voice of Frei Tsukitomi-Renard. Every inflection, every nuance, every word very much Frei's voice. A figure steps through the dispersing smoke. His face is that of Frei's. His hair, that dark-red that it always was before. His eyes that intense green anyone would recognize in the man. "You need to leave." His tone has a sorrowful edge to it, his mouth hinting at the slightest tug of an unseen smile weighed down by a world of sorrow. The very veins and arteries of his neck glow that throbbing blue color of the chi that had been gathered all along, as if it had been absorbed into him.

He is clothed in a simple jumpsuit as if a prisoner, a number emblazoned across his shirt to identify him as number twenty-seven. And thus the dark secret of the Artemis device; the creation NESTS had sought for all these years. They could not, for all their genious, engineer something to control the ebb and flow with the capacity needed for what the trio witnessed in the dark hour of its activation. No... it didn't simply need to feed on the vats to generate that maelstrom of chi. The core of the Artemis Engine was a man especially well attuned to the world of chi and all of its deep intricacies. It was as, the scientists found, he could speak to the world, and the world would respond. And it was he that was put to use as the central core of the engine once the original had escaped back to the protection of his friends.

"I know you would try to save them. But I cannot allow that." he notes, eyes glancing toward Jiro as the sounds of that viscious fluid draining from the tube in front of him are suddenly heard. The level of the liquid drops slowly, revealing first the scalp and then face of the clone in the tank. A mirror image of the one that stepped out of the central core of the dooms-day device. "They're all me, you know." he notes, eyes shifting back to stare directly at Frei. "We're all you."

His hand lifts encaused in a sheath of golden light. "And as long as we exist, this..." he lowers his eyes to the wreckage at his feet, "This machine could be made again. That is why I cannot let you save us." The power around his hand explodes brilliantly before he extends his arm, palm forward, and unleashes a storm of orange, gold, and red hued spheres of tremendous energy out toward the trio. "That is why you must /leave/."

The energy curls off his hands with the greatest of ease. "I must clean this all up. You... cannot." his eyes fall back on Frei, that hint of a smile returning in spite the grave nature of his words. "I would know..."

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

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Frei'            0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [     ||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Frei just-defends Frei''s Hizashi Ronde!

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Frei'            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [    |||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

Shouldn't he be happy? Oh yes, Alma Towazu, savior and saint... what's the ancient adage? If you want to deceive your enemies, learn first to deceive your friends. And it all turns out that he was just kidding, though perhaps that's an overly flippant way of phrasing it. I actually just meant her spirit, see? Body's perfectly intact. And now we can all link arms and singsong our way home. It is the picture-perfect ending. It should make him happy. What Frei *wanted* has in its own way been achieved.

And if Alma and Kula were the only people in the universe he would be perfectly content.

Instead, and to his mounting combination of fury, disgust, and betrayal, Frei is angry. Not at the result. He can't argue with the result... but Frei is not a Machiavellian. He knows, perhaps better than most, that the journey is occasionally more important than the destination. And what he sees in front of him is a man who, despite having many fine virtues... decided to sit in judgment of another. To 'fix' her problem, without her consent, for her own good. He took her power of choice away from her and somehow, to Frei, that leaves this entire thing feeling hollow and strange.

It's an unpleasant dichotomy. As it is now, how many are spared Kula's NESTS-ordained wrath? How many lives saved, made longer, made better, by this action? The results... it all comes back to the results. They're results Frei can't argue with. But the methods leave him with a poisonous, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Because he'll always know that Kula didn't choose this path. And Frei has experienced his own death and rebirth. His ultimate technique he named 'Samsara' in recognition of that. But in his eyes, it was a death of his own choosing. He went to his mother, he confronted Kataki, he made *choices*. And not all the consequences were good, and people suffered -- TRULY suffered -- at Kataki's hands in the interim. Could it have all gone better had he asked Alma to step in? Wave a hand, glittery special effects, and there you have it?

Completely without appropriateness, he hears the voice of Richter Belmont in his head. 'Mankind ill needs a savior such as you'. But that's how he feels, right now. If people can't save themselves, then what is the world good for? What is the *point*?

He's about to open his mouth to find a way to phrase all that... when he hears his own damn voice saying something considerably different.

How many people, in their lifetimes, are really and truly given an opportunity to see *themselves*? Not figuratively as in a mirror, but *literally*? Standing right before them? Fewer than a handful. The mind has no way of coping; indeed, injured and weary, his hair bleached white by the overload induced by BLECE, the 'real' Frei looks like the pale imitation; the clone, standing atop the ruins of the Artemis Engine, is more 'real' than the genuine article.

Frei has time to form the word "How..." before he is quite literally assaulted by *himself*, with an attack of his own devising. An attack he shouldn't have any way to defend against, which should literally pound him right out of the fight instantly. But some reflex kicks in, somewhere in his mind, that reminds him of one thing: the thing that makes you 'Frei' and makes him something else, is experience. What brought you up to now. What makes you who you ARE.

What Alma, in his own well-intentioned way, stripped -- in however small a fashion -- from Kula.

He designed that attack. Literally, from the ground up. For Frei to weave inside the myriad exploding spheres of chi, once he realizes this fact, is child's play; he knows it better than anyone. The white-haired fighter moves as if half-asleep, in a dream, letting memory and intuition carry him. And against all logic, it *works*. Not a single hair is singed, the energy passing by him as if he were a ghost.

The shots are impacting on the wall behind him as Frei's half-lidded eyes open, fixing on his clone. "Nobody is beyond saving. If there's anything of me in you -- anything at all -- you know that, too."

COMBATSYS: Frei focuses on his next action.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Frei'            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////////////////              ]
                                 |-------\-------\0             Jiro
                 [    |||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Frei' successfully hits Jiro with Hizashi Ronde.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////        ]
Frei'            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=------\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  //////                        ]
                                 |=======\-------\1             Jiro
                 [    |||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

Okay, this is the situation. Jiro is looking over towards Frei and Alma. "I will stomp your heads in if you two slacknuts don't...---" Then, he watches Alma stalk towards the young girl. His eyes quickly narrow when he watches Alma move in. "...What the hell are you doing.. ALMA!" He calls out. And it is then, that the young man watches the events, unable to stop things too much until...
...Alma performs his 'miracle'.
It is the very moment that Jiro lowers his head, rubbing his forehead. "Alright, Alma Christ. If you get crucified, I'm throwing my sins at your god damn face." The young man grunts. Lord knows he has many sins. The Agent shakes his head once more, his fingers pressing onto the terminal.
...Along the way, he hears Frei's voice.
First, Jiro looks over at the real Frei with a glare, "What the hell did you just---..." Then, the white light glimmers as the fog is out. His eyes focus towards the presence within the fog. Wait. It's Frei! ...Or something like that.
Jiro grits his teeth. He looks over towards the face of the tanks. They're all Freis. Dear God. All of them are Frei. Jiro blinks in shock and he twitches. This is quite the situation. On the other hand, it is just the clones of Frei and not Alma. The clones of Alma would be trying to molest him and all of that odd stuff. And likely flirt with him and any other girl around.
God... Clones of Alma... Everywhere. That'd be a nightmare. They'd want to bake cookies, massage him in oil, and other uncomfortable things!
...So, a clone of Frei can't be all bad. Right?
The storm of orange, gold, and red hued spheres strike the two, and Jiro belted by the force of energy. Nailing him at the center, his eyes widen as the impact has him sailing across the computer terminals and he lands hard onto the ground.
"'....Hey Adelheid... I don't think saving them will be possible." He grimaces, then he leans forward. Clutching to his chest, Jiro gasps out a deep breath. Blood escapes his lips and his uniform is torn and worn. Blood drips along the arms and the scarlet blaze roars to life as his eyes narrow towards Frei'.
"...Perhaps we'll leave then..."
Of course, Jiro's temper gets the better of him.
He sprints towards Frei's direction, his body leaning forward to /bowl/ through the computer terminals. Almost like the Hulk, in a way. For the last one, Jiro springs off of the ground and then he soars down towards the clone. His fist drives towards the ground and he erupts forth.
The flames ignite and he swings his fist outward to hook across Frei's face.

COMBATSYS: Frei' successfully hits Alma with Hizashi Ronde.
- Power hit! -

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Frei'            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|=======\=------\1             Alma
                                  >  ////                          ]
                                 |=======\==-----\1             Jiro
                 [    |||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

They don't need to understand.
Alma, eyes moistening, begins to smile.
He performed no miracle here.
Humanity relegates unto itself the power to choose, and Alma elevates humanity, idolizes it-- because he believes that no person may even begin to be happy unless they can take responsibility for themselves, which demands the notion of choice. And for most, who deal with trauma from without, choice may be a simple thing. But for those who assailed from /within/, who are sabotaged by their very essences--
Tightly, warmly, heart aching, he grips Kula's extended hand.
Some things can't be chosen.
Alma Towazu understands this because he cannot take credit for the awakening that sundered what bound him to a tragic past. In the midst of an infinite void, his sudden surge of what would become Soul Power-- who can explain that, what natural consistency is there to such a phenomenon? His powers are neither earned nor deserved. But it was only when they came upon him, when they blasted his narrow perspective completely open and turned him from an empty, forsaken life -- when they were /thrust/ upon him, outside the purview of his will -- that he even had the beginnings of a chance to make his own decision.
So maybe it's not obvious, in the swell of his chest and the tension in his body. Perhaps what he seems to have done is simply too offensive, on surface level, to the sensibilities of his friends. But Alma feels nothing but humility now, tears beginning to quietly stream down his face in rapturous serenity, at having had the opportunity to reenact what once gave him the ability to live his own life anew: a purging flame that, if there are heavens, surely must have arisen there.
There are many questions, to be sure: Was she always a 'scorpion', a monster, and only now acquired human characteristics? Or are there human beings so enmeshed in their isolated worlds -- having crossed some intangible line -- they may no later be intelligibly called human, with which cloning itself has little necessarily to do, and drastic action must be taken to change them? Questions that may be saved for another time. But a worthy question in this moment, for those who would condemn Alma for this seeming miracle, would be: What would he have done if she had refused?
Let us not forget--
"Together... we'll make sure..."
She did not have to take his hand.
"...your death won't be in vain."
The miracle is hers.
Yet science itself has its own brand of miracle, and when Alma finally turns from the white-haired girl, still gripping at her hand, his expression freezes in place, eyes widening. His silence is stunned, not contemplative; indeed, he would be ashamed to confess it, but Frei's comment about the clone looking more real than himself is apt from a psychic perspective as well-- at least initially. But while the clone's chi is overwhelmingly Frei, it is true that his aura lacks the crucial nuances of a being that has undergone direct experiences. Nevertheless, /this/ is /not/ something Alma understands. In a rare moment, Alma's moral compass spins wildly, and he blinks with bafflement at how to proceed. Another Frei in this world? /More/ than just another? His heart rebels against it, his skin crawls with the wrongness. Yet Frei speaks of mercy.
Swallowing, Alma nods silently to himself. Yes, they may be modeled exactly on Frei, but they are not Frei; they cannot be, not with that very experience that the continuous Frei has come to possess. They are distinct entities-- and they deserve their own chance. The notion of personal identity is too crucial to him to trade with flippantly; he felt attuned to Kula's own case for a variety of intense reasons, but something like this-- he does not feel equipped to lay down any final judgment. In this case--
"Frei, watch out!"
He will trust in Frei.

But Frei does not need any assistance with his own techniques, and Alma may only watch in respect and awe as, though devoid of chi access, the monk nevertheless retains a basic intuitive understanding of the nature of the technique. Alma should be looking to himself, as that wave of energy cascades toward all of them.
He is not.
"Shield yourself!"
He looks toward Kula.
Perhaps he could have adequately defended himself from this overwhelming force with both hands-- but one is still tightly clenched with the weakened girl's, as his palm thrusts out to summon an auric defense to deflect the majority of the blast. At first it seems as though he may succeed-- until the churning energies twist and snake through his hastily assembled and only half-supported block, slamming into his body briefly and then all at once as, torn from Kula's grasp, Alma is sent hurtling back into dented metal.
Groaning quietly, Alma Towazu rouses himself, slowly returning to a standing position, but this is a marathon if there ever was once; his strength seems to have leaked from his frame. Nevertheless, seeing Jiro lunge to the attack, he cannot but do the same, and with fearless resolve he plunges forth, certain once again of his task. "Release them!" he demands of the false Frei, a lance of soulfire flickering into being once more about his fist. "The responsibility is ours now-- not yours alone! If they may live, then--"
He strikes, a flare of white and purple and gold.
"Let them live!"

COMBATSYS: Jiro successfully hits Frei' with Burning Hell.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Frei'            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|======-\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////                          ]
                                 |=======\====---\1             Jiro
                 [    |||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

COMBATSYS: Frei' blocks Alma's Self Expression.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Frei'            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|======-\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////                          ]
                                 |=======\====---\1             Jiro
                 [    |||||||||||||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|------=

The right to live; the right to chose. At times such profound, unaliable rights of each sentient being can be so violently, diametrically opposed. Pushed to the brink of despair, one young engineered weapon chose to live. Imbued with unfathomable power, having seen beyond the abyss that seperates life and death itself, a second biological power plant has chosen genocide. Calmly the Frei clone so uncerimoniously designated number twenty-seven lowers his hand to his side, chi of every color crackling over his fingers and along his arms, his blood vessels glowing all shades of blue beneath his skin. "I knew you would fight." Of course he would.

The technique unleashed in mass against the fighters is devastating to all but one - the one who perfected it years ago. Kula's hand tightens in Alma's for a moment, the white-haired girl watching the exchange play out over her shoulder, lacking the strength to pull herself to a place less central to the altercation to come. Violet eyes widen as Jiro suffers a direct hit and is blown through several machines before coming to a crash landing. A soft gasp escapes her lips, the girl bringing up her free hand to rest against the back of her neck, turning her back to the attack and curling down slightly.

Alma extends his defense to cover her as well and in spreading himself so thin, suffers for it. His hand ripped from her hold, Kula looks up to watch him collide with the metal barrier behind him. Forcing herself to her feet, the exhausted, drained fighter staggers toward the taller young man, right hand extended, thinking, perhaps, to find all his injuries had at last caught up with him. But the angelic youth moves, forcing himself forward in the face of so much danger once again, and Kula can only turn to watch him go before ducking behind a crumpled hunk of metal fallen from one of the machines overhead, daring only to peek over its surface to watch the exchange transpire.

"Perhaps we could be saved." Wind swirls around him, the elements answering his beck and call, ruffling the ordinary grey jumpsuit as he takes a step toward his origin. His expression a quiet frown, he turns his left shoulder toward Frei, his right hand clenched in front of his chest. "But how many would pay the price? How many more of these machines would be built? How many more self-proclaimed gods, how many more weapons?" He shakes his head, right hand clenched. "The wars that would be powered, the lives..."

He closes his eyes, "No. We do not chose that." When he opens eyes again, they glow, a golden hue contrasting against the blue coursing beneath his skin. Jiro's destructive rampage through the machines went unnoticed, the cacophony lost in the sound of lightning, thunder, and the rumble of a disturbed earth as the entire building shakes. The blow catches the clone completely off guard, his chi infused fist smashing into a cheek and sending him reeling hard to the side, drawing blood from his mouth.

Alma's attack comes in like clockwork immediately after and under different circumstances may have well connected cleanly. A left hand extends, palm up, fingers curled before the arm is raised in a lifting motion... The very concrete at his feet explodes upward into the path of Alma's multi-hued lance of soulfire, a literal block of stone hefted with a gesture to absorb the worst of it. But Alma's power will not be so easily stopped, blasting through the concrete and reducing it to a cloud of grey powder before what energy that lingers manages to shove the false Frei back several steps.

"Tell me," F27 leaps into the space over Alma, taking flight as if the air itself were his podium, "Would you not lay down your life to save a generation?" He descends out of the arc toward Frei, his right hand drawn back, encased in a blindingly bright prismatic light shimmering with every imagineable hue. "Your friends?" He twists as he falls, slamming his right hand forward before he even lands. The shockwave unleashed distorts the air between the two, invisible but for the way everything viewed through it is changed; becoming a bit more ethereal, a bit more distant. But the effects of it are far less subtle.

Wrecking levels of power aim to crash into Frei, the sound rivaling that of the loudest thunder, the shockwave the calibur of strength that rattles tectonic plates and shatters the very concrete Frei stands upon. "Would you not die if, for once, you could make a difference?!"

COMBATSYS: Frei' successfully hits Frei with Fukami Reikai.

[         \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////////                   ]
Frei'            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|======-\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////                          ]
                                 |=======\====---\1             Jiro
                 [               ||||||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             1|-------|=======

Would he? It's a good question. Frei isn't afraid to die, or at least, he's not afraid to put himself in that scenario. But it's not because one life judged against many always favors the many. In the end, the many is a series of individuals. To devalue the individual is to take the many and say that *individually* they aren't worth as much. He would never do such a thing. If he really were to become a martyr, really were to end his own life, it would have to be because what he could accomplish by dying would outweigh what he could accomplish by living. Could that ever happen?

Never. Never in a million years.

Knowledge saved him once; it's not going to be enough a second time, not when F27 is really serious about making his point known. If the situation were different, Frei might actually be taking a keen, academic interest in seeing his own techniques played out before him in such a way... it's actually quite interesting. And extremely painful. All his faculties seem sharper now, heightened by danger and focus, but Frei's attempt to backstep out of the way of his mirror image's attack is considerably too slow, and there's no keeping on his feet this time. The shockwave blasts Frei clear across the room, slamming into the opposite wall in an ungainly sprawl, cracks in the shape of his body appearing around the point of impact. The white-haired fighter slides down the wall, a trail of red blood behind him marking his passage. He sits, slumped, on the floor for a moment before he achingly drags himself up, gritting his teeth.

"If... I needed to, I would die," he chokes out at his clone, walking closer. "But... it's never a *necessity*. There are always choices to be... made. To say otherwise is... to put the blame... on fate. Or God. Or Karma." Another step forward. "I won't... do that!" It's just as his conversation with Kentou had borne out. Karma is consequences. Human actions leading to human consequences. Cause and effect. And in his clone Frei recognizes the agonizing need to give up everything in order to bring about something good. But he has to believe there's a choice that doesn't involve someone dying. Sometimes you have to lose something to gain something, that's true. "But..." he says aloud, as if finishing his own thought. "I will protect life as I am able, always. Destroying yourself to stop one bad thing doesn't stop bad things from happening. But as long as you live, you can make choices. You can redeem your mistakes and build something better!"

And then he hears it.

It's faint, but thinking of Kentou finally reminds him of it. That there's two types of chi: the type in the air around us, and the type INSIDE us that keeps us alive. The first is what people use, imposing their will upon it. Fighters call it 'their' chi and that isn't necessarily false, but to use up the OTHER kind would be to chip away at their very life force. It's dangerous and risky. But there's a way to do it.

Would he be willing to die? To do this, here, and now? Suddenly the question takes on so much more meaning.

Frei brings up his hand, stares at his open palm. Can he do this now, as he is? Might this even be the *answer*? Could it be that taking this risk will open back up his awareness, give him the power to make it all right, or at the very least, contribute to it being *less wrong*? Nothing is certain. He has everything to lose, up to and including his own life.

He will never know unless he does it.

Physically, it doesn't even seem like he does anything but put his hand to his chest, palm down. But what he is really doing, as he did with Kentou, is cracking his own aura. Shoving through to those inner reserves of chi that should never be touched. You don't even need to control chi to do it... it's all about emotions, and feelings. Willpower. Faith. And at first, there is nothing... absolutely nothing.

Then the screaming starts.

Light spills out from behind Frei's clasped hand, his mouth open and his voice shouting a ragged scream of absolute pain, which goes on for a quite short time that somehow feels considerably longer than it actually is. But at last it abates, and he brings his hand away, opening it. Sitting in his palm is a small sphere, glowing with the same prism of colors as the attack that was just leveled against him.

It reflects on Frei's face as he looks up at his clone, and the white-haired fighter seems oblivious to the trickle of blood running from his nose and even from the corner of one eye, now. Apparently, that had a price. "Promise me this," he says to F27, solemnly. "Promise me that you are entering into what you want because you feel it's right. Not out of duty, not out of obligation, but because you have faith in your choice. If you say you are, then I'll believe you. I... can't help it, after all," he says, trying to crack a smile. "But you CAN live. You can choose to do it. It's up to you."

The ball of color flickers matte black, then purest white. White and black, good and evil... they are all colors. They are everything, reflections of each other. In the end what matters is the choices that are made. Frei's green eyes train themselves on Alma and Jiro. "Be ready!"

With a complicated gesture, Frei extends his hand in front of him, and the white sphere becomes an aura of shining white flame, surrounding not only his own body, but Jiro's. "Guiding star! Show us the true way! Give us the strength to perservere!"

Body arcing sinuously, hair fluttering, Alma's eyes widen.
That incredible shockwave, the raw force of nature turned against them, sends the drained monk hurtling across the room as Alma, his psychic assault unable to faze their adversary, can only turn and watch. Kula is safe, at least-- but it will be a heavy price to pay if they must fail here. This is the true battle.
And something great may yet be lost.
Alma knows this deeply, as a tremor runs up his spine.
"Fr... Frei... no..."
For he, more than anyone, begins to feel what Frei is doing.
He certainly never assumed that such a thing was theoretically impossible-- but he never thought it /possible/. The monk, numbed of his ability to harness the energies about him, uses his advanced technique to instead steal away his own life force and make of it a weapon. Despite its internal elements, this is not Soul Power. Were it, Alma would feel a kinship. But instead, his instinctive reaction is one of horror, even of revulsion-- not that felt in the face of evil but what is experienced when one, say, faces a decaying human corpse for the first time. This is humanity, noble humanity, necessarily reduced to what it is to the eyes of the universe. Even though Frei acts from the highest of ideals, from the purest of faiths, even though Alma surely may sense this too--
To Alma's perception, in this moment, man is reduced to energy.
And perhaps, after his peak of glory, Alma succumbs to cowardice, not because he flinches in the face of this incredible and terrifying phenomenon but because, his own plea tearing from his lips, he does not want Frei to destroy himself. Or at least perhaps he is simply being a hypocrite, his role and Frei's now abruptly averse as, fearing the monk is about to utterly destroy himself, Alma cannot help but seek to intervene. But there is a gentler judgment to make upon this beautiful, trembling youth-- for he celebrated Frei's disagreement, he /needed/ it to succeed, needed the opposing presence of his friend behaving with integrity. And Alma's own integrity, entirely beyond whatever philosophical differences they have, demands his heart cry out in agony when a friend verges on death.
Thus he reaches out a shaking hand, voice choked--
But does not move to interfere.
Frei can make his own decisions.

And Alma Towazu nearly spasms with a wave of relief as the monk, though bloodied and half-broken, continues to stand-- and when Frei calls for assistance, he is already there, already gathering his energies which themselves seem to have spontaneously renewed. He too, though it is less obvious, must carve away at his own vitality to summon up such power so quickly, those undying flames blazing about his fingertips once more. But he does not give it a second thought, barely even feels it, so subconscious is his /need/ to support Frei in this effort. Frei needed to be the one to begin this-- but he cannot be allowed to draw upon any more of that strength.
For this, he will lean on them.
Thrusting his hands down toward the earth with a savage, primal passion, Alma sends those flames erupting down into the ground-- whereupon they briefly fade for a silent, inexplicable moment-- only to erupt underneath that white sphere, a geyser of scintillating Soul Power that rises up aggressively yet, where there should be impact, instead pools harmlessly into the aura of fire, filling it, pooling about the bodies of his two friends, giving that pillar substance-- the substance of the human spirit.
"Guiding star! Deliver us from falsehood! Unite our hearts in love!"

There is that feeling. Hulk Smash. That right hook sent the Frei clone flying. Normally, this would be something that Jiro would enjoy. However, it isn't this time. There is something sad about having to fight off this Frei, who seeks not to be used anymore. The young man lowers his head a bit, narrowing is eyes, "...Perhaps someone will make use of you, however, there are those who will seek to free you." His eyes soon fall towards Kula, who is behind Alma. "...Those who should have their own life." He looks towards F27, "I think you should be those as well... But since you wish to continue, well..."
The young man feels the chi erupting within him. That is kind of funny. The type of chi that surrounds them and the one that is inside of them, keeping them alive. Dangerous. Sure. Perhaps Jiro's chi will be the one that will kill him one day. The chi fueled by fury, formerly through hatred. Those scarlet flames spark with life before they fully ignite. Narrowing his eyes towards Frei, the young man watches the monk interact with his clone.
As Frei turns to face Alma and Jiro, the young man responds with the right arm shooting towards the sky. His right palm opens out, the fingers splayed out as they grip to the air in general. "I was -born- ready!" In that same frequence, like a burst from a geyser, the scarlet blaze rise up into an inferno, scorching the air as they spiral around him.
For a brief moment.... it looks like a band shackles are covering along his hand. They are transluscent and red. As the flames spiral along his hands. It has been a long time. For some reason, Jiro felt that there has been some restriction on him. ....And lo, the restriction is there.
~ Heh.... shit. I can barely manage with this.... ~
Then, the black and white aura is slowly manifesting along his form, blending with the spiraling red flames. As the tri-colored aura blend together, the giant shackles along his hands slowly crack. And then, the soul fire erupts from underneath, filling him. It is then that there is an 'explosion' as the 'shackles' of energy shatter.
~ ...Must.. not.. throw.. up... on Alma... ~
Setting the overly flaming comments of Alma aside, Jiro steps forward, feeling the energy loosened. It is what kept him from going further... "Only through the guidance of the star can we release our true potential." Jiro's aura.... changes.
It is no longer red. The fury have no longer taken over him. There is great benevolence in him. Serenity. This is able to fuel him for this single strike. The well of the light makes Jiro shine as bright as the star. His fist winds back as the fangs of the light manifest forth. ...Shining Fang.
No. It soon explodes into an inferno of white blaze as he dashes straight towards F27. "...MAY THE LIGHT GUIDE THROUGH THE DARKNESS!" The young man soon spirals along towards the clone Frei's direction like a torpedo. The screeching burst of the white flames giving him a faster push as he brings his right arm back.

That wave of light, guiding the fist, is soon brought forth in the fist. It shines out in the darkness, illuminating the whole laboratory. Almost sucking out the entire light from the place, the light flashes forth. As Jiro is closing in, he lunges forth with the right fist.
The One True Strike.
That True Strike is aimed towards the solar plex of Frei'.

COMBATSYS: Frei, Alma and Jiro successfully hit Frei' with Kibou no Sankou.

[                            \\  < >  ////////                      ]
Frei'            2/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|======-\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////                          ]
                                 |======-\-------\0             Jiro
                 [                  |||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|---====

The clone lands with the grace of a god, arms sweeping, energy trailing behind each finger like the tails of tiny comets as he stands up straight and brings his arms to a ready position. Where Frei stood before seconds prior, he has since been blasted clear across the room by the force of the shockwave; the power of gravity and earth unleashed without restraint. "Leave." he declares even before the plume of powdered concrete has settled in the wake of so devastating an attack.

Frei falls but for a moment before he claws his way back to standing, refusing to stay down. His golden-eyed clone stares back at him, calm, empowered, not a trace of anger or hostility to be found in spite the magnitude of each attack lobbied at the trio. Frei speaks and F27 nods slowly, "We know... We know you will." he answers softly, his voice carrying to every corner in the room without sounding like more than a murmur. "It... both gladens us to know of what stock we were created and saddens us to know the pain we must cause you." Golden lightning arcs around his form, the young clone gathering immeasurable power as if all the world were ready to answer his call. "All of you." His eyes sweep over Jiro and then Alma in turn. "So much regret, so much sorrow."

Frei rests his hand against his chest and reaches within himself and his clone's attention snaps back to him. "No. Not for our sake. Not for us!!" His right hand extends but no attack is launched, no attempt made to harm Frei further. The scream draws forth a similar reaction from the engineered life as F27 rests his hands against the sides of his head. Throughout the room, the glass panes of several of the vats crack in turn, beginning to spill their viscious green fluid onto the floor.

It passes, the one echoing scream and the dozens of silent cries fading as Frei pulls that prismatic light from his chest. He stumbles, hands falling from his head before he rights himself and stands up straight again. Frei speaks, asking for a promise, but he is met merely with silence.

To the monk's side his friends step, moving to aid him, to augment his power with their own, to keep his sacrifice from being in vain. The clone lowers his hands to his sides, his palms ablaze with golden infernos; his mouth, curled into a faint smile. Jiro joins Frei's side, adding with Alma more than one man can hope to accomplish on his own, and the clone lifts his right hand, palm up, fingers curled twice in a gentle beckoning. "Come. Do not hold back or I will destroy you and this building will be the grave of all your hopes, all your memories, and of your friendship eternal."

They attack in a brilliant display of power. Soulpower, chi, and physical might combine with spirit, determination, and the aura of friendship that exists between them. The clone shifts his left shoulder forward, left arm raised, palm forward, a glimmering vortex of ebony black bursting into the space between him and the incoming onslaught. It is the same vacuum that recalled Kula's power before. It is void, without ending, without depth, without limit. And into it, their collective power spills, lost as if to the far reaches of space itself, leaving the clone unscathed.

It is toward that vortex of oblivion that Jiro so boldly rushes forward. A suicide run, perhaps - an attempt to break through the unbreakable and see their combination come to fruition. F27 watches the young man span the distance between them, brazenly charging the event horizon of death and annihilation. The young clone closes his eyes, as if bracing for the inevitable loss of life this conflict was rushing recklessly toward.

It is just before Jiro reaches that point, his arm drawn back, his fist imbued with those bright flames that F27 closes his left hand and the vortex is snuffed out. Jiro passes through that space, his fist colliding with the clone's chest, and all of that power the Kasagi boy brought with him collides into the clone at once. There is no contest of force, no attempt to defend himself, as if in that final moment he willed this outcome above all others.

The clone goes flying, his back impacting the wall of the warehouse before he stumbles forward off of it. The blue energy in his blood brightens even as that life-bearing fluid gathers at the corner of his mouth. The golden power at his fingers crackles as he catches himself from falling forward entirely. When he lifts his face it is to stare across the distance at Frei, then Alma, then Jiro in turn. "Thank you..."

He coughs, his right arm igniting on fire unrestrained. "Trust me." Glimmering eyes settle back on his white-haired copy. "I promise." His left arm ignites next in a pyre of blue. "This is what we want. This is what we chose."

His hair bursts into a blaze of sunflower orange and the building begins to tremble, the last of the walkways collapsing down against the floor. "Now go. Live for all of us." His voice permeates every last corner of the room, easily heard even over the cacophony of devastation raining down around them. "...Forgive me..." He falls forward to hands and knees. "GO!!"

From his back burst seraphic wings of the most brilliantly white chi, expanding rapidly as if to encompass all of the vats under their wingspan. "...mother, I-!"

In seconds, it will come to an end. The warehouse will cease to exist, reduced to debris by a catastrophic cascade of chi unleashed from the heavens, the ground, the air, from the very soul itself; its elements reclaimed by the earth, as if all the world were eager to erase this atrocity from existence. The rows of clones to be taken with it as their chosen voice had communicated their will was to be.

The only question remains - what of the four commanded to live?

COMBATSYS: Frei' can no longer fight.

                                  >  ////////                      ]
                                 |======-\-------\0             Alma
                                  >  ////                          ]
                                 |======-\-------\0             Jiro
                 [                  |||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|---====

COMBATSYS: Frei' successfully hits Jiro with Tomb Of The Forsaken Dream.

                                  >  ////////                      ]
                                 |======-\-------\0             Alma
                                  >                                ]
                                 |>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Jiro
                 [                  |||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|---====

When the fist strikes true towards the clone of Frei, Jiro's fist ignites within the glow. "Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!" He shouts as he aims to drive himself forward. Both eyes widen with determined intentions. And it aims true. The clone falls back and he lands backwards.
After the gratitude, Jiro lowers his head, then he looks over towards the others. So, this whole base is going to collapse. The young man shifts his head over towards the group. "Okay everyone. Job well done." He can feel the vibration of the ground. "Pool's closed! Get the fuck out now!" He snaps, then he looks over to see the wrath of chi crumbling down upon everything. The entire structure collapsing towards the clones' vats and the likes. ".... Perhaps it was better this way..."
But then, his eyes shift over towards Kula, who had been in hiding. However, Jiro is able to see part of the structure about to collapse on her.
'Live anew...'
Those words that Alma said. If those fall on her, she won't even get that chance! The former Stray immediately sprints towards Kula, gritting his teeth.
~ "...I'll do all I can to help, Jiro." ~
~ "Jiro, are you all right?" ~
...Kula's words... The past. She was given a chance to redemption, to live her own life now. Alma did his part. Jiro is going to do his.

As he gets close, Jiro immediately presses his palm towards Kula, aiming to push her out of the way. He skids across the ground at the process, preparing to move out himself. Unfortunately, it is too late. That time he used pushing Kula out was the last second that he had. The flow of power ebbs in him, and the structure collapses on him.
There is no scream. Jiro is too stubborn for that.
Jiro can take this tome to reflect on his life... From a simple boy in the streets who was too afraid to fight for himself. Then came Southtown, where he had to prove himself. Then Kain, who gave him a bit of power. His journey with his friends turned for the worse...
But then...
A laugh is given lowly, drowned by the crumbling earth. "...Hotaru..." He lowers his head, "...I guess this is where you can move on and find a better boyfriend."
~ ...Perhaps I'll die here. Finally. ~
Mimiru, Mizuki. Daigo. His time in Gedo, his time with many of the people that shaped him where he is at.
"...Kula..." He calls out to her, as the place crumbles. "...Try to live a normal life as you did. ...With Taiyo... Make your own friends... Be Kula Diamond, a girl who can have her own life." He shuts his eyes, the wound on his head busted open. Blood pours along from over the eyes. His eyes shift towards the others.
"...Get her out of here..."
. "..../Now/."
But then, in an instant. Jiro's presence is gone.
More of the earth crumbles before Jiro, burying him in the mixture of chi and the debris.
Meanwhile, a reflection... Mimiru.
~ "Anyway... Whatever you decide, I'll always be there for you. I can't help those who have given up and don't want any help though, but I thought the Kasagis weren't quitters and would fight until the very end for everything. Well, life's just like that, a fight, and if you don't do everything that's possible to beat up Dante, it'll be just like giving up on the most important game you'll ever play: life." ~
He laughs weakly.... as he continues to get buried. As if the life in his eyes slowly fade, Jiro utters, "...Don't worry... I never gave up... just... gave someone else a chance."
And the tomb is made... here marks Jiro Kasagi: Stray Dog, Cerberus, The Redeemed.

COMBATSYS: Frei dodges Frei''s Tomb Of The Forsaken Dream.

                                  >  ////////                      ]
                                 |======-\-------\0             Alma
                                  >                                ]
                                 |>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Jiro
                 [                  |||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|---====

At the bottom of Pandora's Box was hope. Something that man had, in his infinite foolishness, need, and curiosity, opened... that should never have been opened. And into the world were released all the horrible things that plague us. Fear and sadness, death, sickness, despair. But the last thing to emerge was Hope. And all hope is, all it REALLY is, is faith that things will get better. A belief that suffering has a purpose. It can sustain anyone. For now, it sustains Jiro, Alma, and Frei... and the light of it, born from their disparite strengths, is enough to overcome any obstacle.

But not all hope is rewarded. Alma, at least, has a moment of sublime communion with Jiro as the three combine their power for one final strike. For Frei, though, the roaring rush of the sacrifice he had made is, once the moment is gone, replaced with again the crushing silence that had enveloped him before. In the end, what he remembers as Jiro and F27 stand in tableau in the middle of the room is their panicked demand that they aren't worth it. Don't do it. Not for our sake.

Part of him knows, though, that the same thing that makes them beg him not to, is the same thing that makes him defy that.

The shaking of the room makes it clear even to those without supernatural senses that something bad is about to happen. The problem, for Frei at least, is that he feels... empty. As if there's nothing left in him to move muscles, barely even enough to *breathe*, let alone charge to the rescue, to demand things of anyone. Instead he focuses on his clone, face red with dried blood and wet with tears. "I..." he starts, then falters. How can he say everything he wants to say? What words would ever be enough? Why do these people -- and to Frei they are unreservedly, unqualified people -- have to die? Why were they ever created, or for that matter why is ANYONE ever created? What did they have the potential to be that is now cut short forever? A fate Frei helped bring about... a fate that is in its own way a consequence merely of Frei's *existence*. How could he not cry? How could his breath not stop in his lungs, his throat become raw with choking.

But it's reality, and denying that is foolish.

"It wasn't for nothing," is all he can finally say. For a second his gaze shifts to Alma, then back to the clone before he finishes. "But nothing will ever repay the decision you made here. Understand that! No good that comes of this will ever be enough to justify it."

For now, that will have to do.

Frei knows what's coming; what he has to do now is find the energy to escape, because letting himself die compounds rather than enhances the great sacrifice being made here. The problem is that when he finally finds it in himself to impose some sort of order on his unruly person, to get it to move, he sees the ceiling start to come down on Jiro. For the second time, his mouth opens, he tries to force himself to move, but Frei is too beaten and too slow to save Jiro. "No... NO!" Driving forward as if swimming through molasses, the white-haired fighter dodges falling debris, praying that he can somehow make it there, keep this from becoming even more tragic than it already is. But Jiro is so far away, and Frei is hampered, and the building itself seems to want to get in his way. A steel girder crashes down in front of Frei, blocking his path; by the time he's made it even a little bit around it there's even more of them, and the floor cracking besides.

Jiro's words cut through the air and into Frei's awareness with impressive sharpness given the din, and reluctant though he is, the white-haired fighter turns and runs as best he can for the outdoors. Said 'run' is more like a combination of a lope and a limp; fast, but chaotic and scrambling. Enough to get him outside, but... without Jiro. Without Kula and Alma. Without the clones. Just himself, in the end, faced with the enormity of the sacrifices made here today.

Redemption... no. No redemption would EVER be enough.

COMBATSYS: Alma dodges Frei''s Tomb Of The Forsaken Dream.

                                  >  ////////                      ]
                                 |======-\-------\0             Alma
                                  >                                ]
                                 |>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2             Jiro
                 [                  |||||||||||| ]
                 Frei             0|-------|---====

Alma Towazu, at the end of the world, stands alone.
Though not compelled to sacrifice his very life-force in the way that the monk had to, nevertheless the psychic offered up the heights of what his abilities may achieve: not merely flame or even teleportation, not spiritual communion, but absolution. And so he stands exhausted amidst a chain reaction of that purification, brought about by all of their powers intertwined. They will all be made right here. Even if it is painful, even if it is agonizing, as he stands there with sweat and tears streaking his brow and cheeks, the angelic youth is certain once more: everything will be made right by this.
And it is thus that he watches as the clone, that clone who might have had a life of his own, and all of his brethren are consumed in the growing conflagration, the structural integrity of this place now irrevocably compromised. It is thus that he is transfixed, overwhelmed by what they have done here. Everything is falling into place. Lips parted, eyes soft, Alma remains in reverent silence, even as a girder lands thunderously mere feet away from his still form, unfazed by the growing destruction-- not as though he does not see it, but as though he is certain it cannot touch him. Now the darkness will be purged at last, through all of their sacrifice-- thruogh /all/ of their sacrifice, Kula's and Frei27's as well. Everything is falling--
He turns, slowly, to see:
~ Why don't I rush? ~
Kula, shoved aside, rescued in her weakened state.
~ Why is it I can still hear him? ~
A tomb of fallen dust and debris.
~ And why... ~
Himself, reflected in the steel, approaching slowly.
~ Why doesn't this feel wrong? ~
For a moment he stands in silence at the base of the heavy mound under which Jiro has been crushed and buried, the presence of his dear friend smothered, his expression unchanged from the gentle serenity with which he gazed upon the clone's destruction. With a strange tranquility, he slowly lowers himself to his knees, placing a palm upon what has become the Stray Dog's unmarked grave. There is none of the desperation with which he reacted to Frei's possible self-sacrifice; none of the fury that marked his efforts to annihilate Kula as she once was, to sever her ties to her past until she is prepared to grasp them on her own renewed terms. Peace-- the peace of a saint or a prophet, able to see meaning in the unfathomable, to see human purpose in the most arbitrary of travesties.
"Understood," he murmurs, a mere breath.
And he rises, the ceiling falling about him, to take Kula's hand.
Wordlessly he pulls her, dodging and weaving with the last of his preternatural grace, guiding a girl who were she not so utterly depleted would likely be far more competent than he -- but in this instance being the last one she might rely on. Frei has managed to reach the entrance-- the wave of power released by this devastating final reaction rises behind them, threatening to consume, as around them girders collapse and walls crumble. The light from outside flickers as rubble piles up, threatening to choke off their escape once and for all.
Alma Towazu neither speaks nor shows fear. His grip, for all the desperation of this moment, is gentle upon Kula's hand, guiding her with the same gentle sureness that he uses with the young students at the YFCC. Through the perilous darkness he plunges, at times methodically punching with fist and flames at debris that dares to obstruct them. Yet even as his knuckles bleed and bones crack, he shows no pain or terror, graceful, fleet and sure of foot, a leaping gazelle.
For all that, he is not fast enough.
The white-haired chi master will no doubt only be able to watch as, with the fulminating crash of final judgment, a heap of rubble finally blocks the exit altogether-- muting the last of the destruction, receding it into the distance, as though his friends were miles away and not mere meters-- leaving him alone with his sacrifices.
And that is that--

Until a howl pierces the veil, tears through the stones that blunt its force, and a light begins to gleam through the cracks of the stone, a light that becomes a pooling flame as a final geyser of Soul Power tears through the debris, exploding it out and aside. Immediately, the rubble that the debris was supporting begins to fall again, and for a moment it seems that this last crazed effort itself is doomed to be smothered-- until Alma, Kula in tow, plunges through the smallest of gaps, screaming in agonized defiance.
Literally tumbling to a stop, finally releasing the girl as he plows into the dirt, Alma does not even attempt to recover himself as the last of the stone falls behind him, blocking that path off forever; he writhes like a newborn, clawing piteously at the ground, and weeps.
"Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!"
His sobs rise unabashed to the sky, soul-crushing grief thrust in the face of the gods.
The dust will settle, but Alma Towazu will cry on.

From behind the mound of crumpled metal, Kula Diamond watches everything come to pieces. The building, ravaged by the detonations of chi beyond fathoming, the cloning takes rupturing in kind with the outpouring of sympathized pain as Frei wrests a part of his soul to power his attack, and the vocal clone, fullfilling the wishes of them all in ending their lives before they could be used to harm any others. Her right hand, bereft of her signiture yellow glove, goes to cover her mouth as she gasps at the sight of the world ending.

Violet eyes shift to Frei as he speaks, the girl incapable of imaginging what it must be like for him. He speaks of repaying decisions, as if there was a debt in the universe that had to be repaid in full for atrocities committed. Hearing that, she looks away, sinking down, her back resting against the bulwark that had been her hiding place, eyes closed. How much good, she wonders, would it take to ever atone for her own actions?

She's still there when the roof begins to fall, eyes closed, lost in her own thoughts admist the tragedy in motion. Still there when Jiro rushes to find her, pulling the white-haired girl from her alcove back into the open just before an avalanche of falling girders, pipes, and machinery bury the location entirely. Stumbling from where Jiro is caught, she whirls around, hand extended, only to stare at the sight of yet another grave to be marked within the collapsing facility, her hands over her mouth. He encourages her to make a life of her own before calling for another to get her out of the building.

Alma is at her side in an instant, crouching next to the mound. There's nothing to be done for it. Not in their condition. Not in the time that remains. Alma realizes this too, determined not to make Jiro's sacrifice for her sake a waste by taking the lost girl's hand and leading her swiftly, carefully through the steel rain.

The exit is right in front of them. The kicked in doors that the trio had entered together in what seems a lifetime ago. So close. The scorched earth of the desolate park is visible just beyond. She is there at his side, her hand in his, when the route of escape is sealed off.

And she is there at his side, her hand in his, when Alma sees them through, drawing on the last ounce of his Soul Power to rend the stone and metal and create the door for them to escape. She remains standing as he falls, her left hand reaching over to clasp at her right elbow, mute and lost in thought, unable to share the anguish the others felt, unable to understand loss of that magnitude.

Turning to face the structure as the last of its walls come crashing down, she closes her eyes as a shockwave of dust ripples out along the ground - one final groan before a reign of silence punctuated only by the sounds of Alma. She turns around to face him, moving a step to his side, mouth opening as if to find something to say, only to close again. Crouching, her right hand rests against the angelic young man's back, her own eyes closed, offering a silent vigil for the fallen and trying, in her own way, to share in that pain. If this is what life is all about; if this is what everyone is always fighting so hard for, then she had better start trying to understand it.

~ "And if you're after power, you just see how much more powerful you become when you're fighting for friends, somethin' that =matters=. Metro City, that's where it was at, Jiro. We did something there." ~
Sakura's voice...
Vision is a blur, but he is still conscious. For the short time. As if the life flashing before his eyes, Jiro allows his mind to undergo memories. Kurow, Mimiru, Daigo, Crimson Shadow. So many people that affected his life....
~ "Goodbye, Jiro." ~
The young man thinks to himself as the waves of life remain with him for one last time.
~ ...You'll get a better boyfriend now. .. Haman, if you are listening... Watch over Kula. She needs people to help her adjust to a normal life. And friends... Alma... I know you can hear me. Just... be well. I... I suppose I am free in a sense. ~
His vision darkens more.
~ ...All of the time that I managed to avoid death. ...Perhaps this is how I fall, huh? ...How funny. ~
'Kasagi Respond.' It's Adelheid's voice on the com link. The transmission is staticy, however. Jiro lies motionless, vision already filled with darkness.
'Kasagi. Respond.'...
...One body, buried with several others in this tomb.

Log created on 18:39:44 05/30/2009 by Frei, and last modified on 22:13:19 06/06/2009.