Kagero - The spirit of the thing

Description: Dedicated to learning a new art or perhaps simply exploring the same art from another angle, Frei's isolated training is interrupted by an opinionated fighter with no reservations about telling him that he's doing it wrong. And by it, she means, 'everything'.

Nighttime over Southtown. The siege is both looming large in the public memory and is yet far away. Some people lost their homes in the destruction; yet surprisingly, for all the other things he's lost, Frei Renard lucked out. His apartment -- the loft atop an ice cream store in the middle of Southtown Village -- is completely intact. In his own mind, he likes to think it's because even dangerous criminals like ice cream. Probably the more likely truth is that Taiyo High is nearby and its student population had significant investment in keeping the place safe.

The moon, bright and silver in the late July days, hangs overhead. The buildings here aren't that high -- maybe only 3-5 stories at best -- but somehow this rooftop space above Frei's apartment feels like it's much higher, looking out over the city with a really excellent view. It's the main reason he took the apartment in the first place... the view is spectacular, and more than that, it presents a long, flat space away from prying eyes. Perfect for practicing, which is what he's up here to do now. Moonlight is actually surprisingly appropriate, all things considered; the moon -- though more the crescent moon than the full one up above -- has long been associated with the blade, particularly the katana. Indeed, the word for moon, 'tsuki' is even part of Frei's family name... and there's something about the sword style the Tsukitomi clan practices that has resonance with the moon itself. All things considered, that doesn't seem like an accident.

There's no real long, complicated katas in the Soukai variant of Musou Tenkei; as a battou style it focuses on dealing single swift cuts intended to settle the proverbial argument in a single shot. Thus what Frei is doing now, up on the roof, is practicing various angles of the draw. A diagonal upper cut slices a silver arc through the air, then twirls sinuously back toward the white-haired fighter as he spins it back, then re-sheathes it. A pause, closed eyes, a centering breath, and then it all repeats itself. Sharp vertical cuts. Wide horizontal cuts. A pair of diagonal attacks in a row, the 'tsubame gaeshi' technique common to battoujutsu and iaido. One after another, flurries of sudden, sharp activity punctuated by periods of long silence, with nothing but deep breathing to hear beyond the sound of a sword being drawn or sheathed.

What did he feel, back in Montana? The shock of it pulsed through his body with surprising gentleness, but it was so unlike anything he'd ever felt before. It really was if there was someone *there*, a presence all around him. Not a person, but a... something. And unlike anything he'd ever noticed before, it had... a will. That was all he could feel, seeping up through the soles of his feet into his entire body. What that will was, he couldn't say. Just the sense that beyond himself and Vyle, there was someone or something... there.

Another slash cuts the air, and beats of sweat from Frei's forehead dance as silver as the blade in the moonlight as he moves, then returns to stance and closes his eyes. Awareness. Soukai style is all about awareness... understanding your surroundings. Synthesizing and becoming one. Is *this* the result...?

Four days and a year ago, the prototype of a highly experimental weapon was stolen on the high seas in the midst of a heated battle. But the Prototype, proudly designated the Typhoon Cannon, was not whisked away before being given its first test shot. In the midst of a SNF, the cannon went off.

The entire industrial sector of a city over a hundred miles away went up in flames. The Chinese city of Taizhou was the focus of news events mid last year as relief efforts poured in to put out the inferno that raged through its factories and warehouses. Eventually the victimized city fell out of the world's eye as it seemed to stabilize other distractions were occupying prime time, such as the ultimately disasterous Strolheim tournament.

That was last year. The events of this late summer night couldn't possibly be related. Frei's practice goes uninterrupted for some time... but not unobserved. The shadow formed by a pile of left over beams dating back to a remodeling of the third floor of the building affords Frei's visitor a place from which to watch. How long she was there is unimportant.

Her presence should become obvious, however, when a soft sigh escapes her lips, her deceptively delicate looking right hand sliding down her face as if in pained resignation, and Ayame speaks. "Okay... I can't take it anymore. I have to know... what is it..." She slips into the moonlight. It had been a long while since the two had run into each other in some crazy fighting event against the World's Strongest Woman. She didn't remember him at the time. But that was then. "...that you are /doing/?"

Her right hand sweeps, waving dismissively toward him as she shakes her head. The girl doesn't seem to have changed a whole lot in the time since their last encounter. Still clad in clothes that suggest she enjoys being disregarded as a reckless teen rebel and nothing more than that. "What's going on with you? The hair, that sword you're waving around..." She folds her arms, kicking one foot over the other as her shoulder props her up against the stack of beams.

Something metallic rings as she does so which might draw attention to the level of her waist where there, affixed to the second of her three belts, is angled the sheath of a sword the appropriate length for a katana. "You going through an early mid-life crisis or what?" she asks, unfolding her arms just enough to glance down and rub her thumb over her fingernails idly as if she really doesn't care how he might reply.

A weapon user like Ayame, who is also simply a sharp-eyed and perceptive person beside, can tell up front that the weapon in Frei's hands is... well. It's not REALLY going to kill anyone unless you hit them over the head with it, hard, a lot. The edge is blunted first by design, and secondly by age; swinging it at someone would be like cracking them in the offending body part would be like connecting with an iron bar, but it wouldn't draw blood. That in and of itself has got to seem quite strange, although if Ayame is remembering what she knows about the white-haired sage, the idea of him using a 'pacified' sword probably isn't that surprising.

Not so long ago he might have been able to sense an aura as intense as Ayame's before she revealed herself; as it is now, he has to rely on his five senses. Interestingly enough, though, his whirlwind, intensive re-training has heightened those five senses to a certain degree. The voice, he recognizes... something in the somewhat mocking tone, the sense of an innocently curious question turned to pejorative ends. His eyes are shut, yet Frei can clearly visualize meeting this young woman on the steps of a church, her eyes filled with the need to destroy anything and everything to make herself feel better about a world that offers precious few opportunities for better alternatives. Someone in need of trust, in his opinion, so he decides to keep his eyes closed for a time, though he stops with the sword drawing to answer her.

"Maybe..." he agrees, holding the hilt of the blunted katana with both hands and holding it before him at waist height, the tip pointing toward the ground and away from Ayame herself. "I guess you could call it that." Now his eyes open, and while the red of his hair is missing, the bright green of his eyes is undimmed despite all he's experienced. Maybe it's the lingering effect of what he felt during his Saturday Night Fight, but he feels surprisingly at peace, or at the very least, more hopeful about the future than he once did. "It's not exactly of my own making, but actually everything about this situation kind of does scream 'midlife crisis'."

A pause, and then both arms extend, blade parallel to the ground, a samurai-looking pose if there ever was one. He holds it for a moment, then pulls back and sheathes the katana in the elaborate back-pulling gesture common to battoujutsu stances... the art of sword-drawing, one of the flashier and more dangerous ways of fighting. "I lost something important," he says quietly, "and a little self-reinvention is required. This is just part of the process."

"Heh," comes Ayame's unsympathetic acknowledgement as she pushes off from the beams, unfolding her ankles to stand upright, arms dropping to her sides. "Yeah?" The lack of a sharp edge on his sword is something she'd easily notice were she even looking at the weapon. But she doesn't need to look to know. "I saw your fight," she mentions idly, sounding on the verge of a yawn mingled with an almost palpable level of apathy. "You've really got a lot to learn if that's what you're trying to do. Really... losing to /Vyle/?" Always the confidence booster, this one. That she also faced defeat at the hands of the obnoxious luchador is a secret she'll carry to the grave... unless Roland goes blabbing about it, that is.

"But what's the point?" she asks, eyes on his as she takes a step closer, leaving a few yards between them yet. "Trying to learn how to fight all over again only to pick something like /that/," she waves her left hand toward the sheathed weapon at his side, "And then not actually even /use/ it right?"

Her hand goes to the sword at her own side, drawing the weapon smoothly. An expensive blade of exquisite design and balance, she handles it easily with one hand as she holds it aloft, forward at an angle. The moonlight glancing off the weapon is plenty to see that unlike his, this katana is quite sharp. By the time she lowers it, her other hand has met her first on the pommel as the girl holds it in front of her.

"I'm curious," she admits, though there's a cool edge to her voice. "I don't think you have the heart for it. A sword isn't a fancy beat stick," Ayame continues, bringing her own weapon back closer to an angle across her face, her right hand releasing the pommel so that she can trace a finger along the flat edge of her weapon, her eyes focused on the cold steel. "It's a weapon created with a purpose and your bastardized toy version of it is an affront to the purity of the sword."

She pushes her own sword up into a lazy flip in the air with one hand only to catch it by the pommel with her other. Her right foot slides forward, both hands meeting again at the katana's hilt, the medium length blade pointed forward at Frei from a position close to Ayame's cheek. "You're going to have to show me why it is you're going through this embarrassing charade; show me why it is you're so determined to be able to fight even after what you lost... or maybe just forgot."

A bemused smirk curls her lips as the dark eyed girl waits. "Practice time is over."

A heavy pause hangs in the air after Ayame delivers her... well, it's part threat, part warning, and part invitation, isn't it? The offer he can't refuse, since it's plainly clear that her weapon is not, as it were, 'tipped.' If she wanted to slay Frei with what she's holding then she could absolutely do so at any time. Yet when the pause is over, and time seems to unfreeze for the sword-sage, the expression Ayame might not expect to see on his face is a bittersweet smile. Losing to Vyle... well, it hurt, pretty literally in fact. But unlike with his own usual, self-created style, the loss somehow felt... like it reflected poorly on the woman who taught him what he knows. Part of him knows that's foolish; part of him, the part that is still her child, wants to please his parent. The struggle still goes on, amidst the other churning emotions and thoughts he had come up here to settle.

"A sword is a weapon," he says at last, half-drawing the blunted sword at his side out of the saya that is far too grand for it, a golden casket for a lowly servant, as it were. Other than the blunted edge, it's a sword that's obviously seen use. Frei should know; it's one he used as soon as he was strong enough to hold it. But to him they're not signs of a problem; instead they're markers of a time when holding this object in his hands was a happy thing, when learning to use it was an unbreakable bond he shared with his one remaining parent. The blade re-enters the scabbard and Frei's eyes come back to Ayame. "You're right about that. It exists to cut apart, to destroy, to rend. I don't think anyone can question that."

He's faced this young woman before, Frei has. She is, without a doubt, a prodigy; perhaps one in a million are born with such talent. He seems to recall her adapting a technique she saw Frei use once, in a really short amount of time. Even if he were at full strength, wielding a more... comfortable, customary weapon, she would still prove a very challenging foe. So why fight her now? Why take the chance of actual bodily harm when victory is not only uncertain, but unlikely? Won't he shame his family's honor even more by dirtying it with the grey shroud of defeat?

Briefly, and to his own dark amusement, Frei wishes for the powers he knows his brother Kataki possesses... to see into another's thoughts so he could know what the inscrutable Isis Tsukitomi would think. But then... that's not exactly the point of this exercise.

"I once thought exactly like that," Frei admits, bringing a hand to his midsection and pressing it against his torso, palm down, eyes directed somewhat off to the side and lidded slightly heavily. "That what I was learning had no soul. No... spirit. It was mechanical, rote exercises for killing others, for destroying things." Now, however, he looks up at Ayame and slowly his body starts to shift into battou stance. His upper carriage bends slightly forward, left leg sliding back somewhat. His left hand grips the end of the scabbard, his right hovers over the hilt of the blunted sword, making lazy, oblong circles in the air.

"What I came to understand was that there was the potential for much more than that. Something that, in my youthful need to find my own way," he says, smiling far too knowingly at that last for it not to have been on purpose, "I had neglected to consider. Swords, guns... bombs... words... ideas... in the end, they're human creations. I don't believe in their purity. They're invested with what we, as their creators, give them."

Is that presence here, in the open sky, the thrumming night heat and light of the city, the concrete under his feet? In the wind? Frei takes a breath, watching Ayame carefully, but not shifting from his stance. He knows it's out there. Perhaps it will come to him, and this will not have been for nothing.

"My name is Frei Tsukitomi-Renard," he says, the formal introduction of the duelist samurai. "My school is Musou Tenkei; my style, Soukai, the Azure Sea."

He radiates the calm of deep waters. "Come then, if you must."

"Oh," Ayame replies, her smirk melting into a grin, her eyes hinting at a certain fondness for the topic rarely revealed to others. "It most definitely does have a spirit... each weapon does; each brings with it a solemn beauty unique to its craftmanship, its maker, its intent and purpose." Breeze plays with her hair slightly as a length of it drapes over her bare shoulder. Her expression darkens with a hint of displeasure. "But that's weapons. What you're using is a mere plaything by comparison."

Her hands adjust along the pommel of her drawn sword. "Why? Why the dull edge? Do you think that Vyle is undeserving to feel the bite of a real sword? That he's above that? That anyone is? Hmph," She shakes her head slightly, "No one's that good. If you're going to fight with something like this, you have to mean for your strikes to hurt. Or else you're just playing."

A breath in is taken as Ayame closes her eyes, bowing her head for a moment of silence. "But enough. What I want to see can't be revealed with only words. Show me why you're putting yourself through this. If your old art is no longer suitable, why bother with another?" She grins then, eyes opening once more to focus on Frei, "I want to know what you're hiding... what about you is so important that I would find myself here. What it is that you want out of all this."

And then she moves. Her stance persists, her arms up at her sides, the sword pointing forward from near the level of her head as Ayame bolts forward with a sharp lean, her feet seeming to barely touch the roof in spite the heaviness of her thick soled shoes. It's an attack vector that depends on force and overwhelming speed, as if she anticipates that a bold charge will be enough to overwhelm his skill to react with where he is at in his re-discovery of the art.

Aiming to get in close, the katana stabs out swiftly, aiming to bite into Frei's shoulder before Ayame pulls it back just as suddenly... before stepping forward into a second, arcing two handed slash that she commits her whole body to as she spins with the motion. From high right to low left the bladed Japanese sword will swing, threatening a more grevious strike, its edge singing as the air is sliced clean.

COMBATSYS: Ayame has started a fight here.

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Ayame            0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Frei has joined the fight here.

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Frei             0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Ayame

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Frei with Fierce Strike.

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Frei             0/-------/---====|-------\-------\0            Ayame

Well... if Ayame wanted to make her point that sharp objects are sharp, she chose the right attack to do it with. No matter how intently he might be watching her, Ayame has a significant speed advantage over Frei to begin with, and once she actually drives in for the proverbial kill, the white-haired fighter notices she probably has a significant skill advantage too. She didn't abandon the sword for 8 years to learn something else... she kept at it, and a bunch of other weapons too. But, Frei reasons, committing so fully to a powerful attack means he might just find an opening to evade it.

Sadly, this isn't to be. He attempts to pivot so that his body is actually perpendicular to Ayame's, swinging *toward* her, so that the slash will slide harmlessly -- if perilously -- close at neck height. What Frei should have done was opted for a more total defense; what he gets in return is the bite of Ayame's own blade slicing into his right shoulder, eliciting a hiss of pain and a gritting of teeth. She's not doing what Vyle did; no series of weak attacks to wear him down. Right for the jugular straight away, which explains the considerably greater amount of pain Frei feels. Kicking off the ground, he hops off in the direction Ayame came from and turns about, resuming his stance, the two having effectively swapped sides in the process.

"I don't like to hurt people," Frei says quietly, pressing his left hand into his shoulder for a moment, feeling the tender flesh underneath the rip in his shirt. Fighters... are resilient people, and Frei is, for his 'weight class', top notch in that area. But just because he didn't lose an arm in one go doesn't mean it doesn't sting something fierce. "And before you argue... well. It's the same conversation I had with Remy," the sword-wielding sage observes. 'If you're not a fighter, then what are we doing?', he'd been asked. The answer Frei wishes he'd given, at the time, was: we're communicating.

"Fighting has always been a means to an end, for me. Always has been, always will be," Frei says, voice gaining strength as he pulls himself out of shock, lowering his arm, resuming his stance. "And there's a difference between... a match between warriors, a display of skill and art, and trying to hurt someone. I may strike you, during... all this," he adds, waving a hand in the air in circles. "But not because I want to hurt you. Because it's part of... the ceremony, the ritual. The meaning we invested into it. I mean..." And here, Frei draws the blunted sword and holds it up. In the silver light, it looks all the shabbier compared to Ayame's bright blade. "I could kill you with this. It weighs a lot. I could hit you on the head until your skull caved in and your brains washed out on the floor. A nastier death, I might add, than a single clean decaptitating strike. Isn't it?" His voice, delivering this surprisignly grim-sounding description coming from Frei, takes on a very intense tone, even... sharp. Well, sharp for him, anyway.

Back the sword goes, and back Frei's eyes go to Ayame's own. "What I want out of this is to step outside myself and understand another person's way of thinking. You *know* what I've lost," he says at last, perhaps putting to words a fact both individuals had danced around. "It may never come back. But I'm not doing this so I can be a 'fighter' again. There are... quicker, easier, dirtier ways to get 'it' back, probably. If that's what you think this is about, then perhaps it's your own understanding of the spirit of the weapon that's lacking."

With that, he strikes. A quick dash, straightforward, even telegraphed. The saya comes up, detached from his belt, trailing silver cord as he effectively swings it at Ayame... sword and all. However, this is just a feint; as the spin of his scabbard strike finishes, he grips the hilt and turns the recoil into a second, horizontal strike across her stomach. The feeling, should it hit, is a bit like being hit in the gut with a heavy iron bar... whether that's preferrable to being cut or not, is for Ayame

With that, he strikes. A quick dash, straightforward, even telegraphed. The saya comes up, detached from his belt, trailing silver cord as he effectively swings it at Ayame... sword and all. However, this is just a feint; as the spin of his scabbard strike finishes, he grips the hilt and turns the recoil into a second, horizontal strike across her stomach. The feeling, should it hit, is a bit like being hit in the gut with a heavy iron bar... whether that's preferrable to being cut or not, is for Ayame to decide.

COMBATSYS: Ayame full-parries Frei's Satsujin!

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Frei             0/-------/---====|==-----\-------\0            Ayame

Her two-step attack ends with Ayame leaning forward, the blade pointing behind her, the tip of it graced with trance amounts of the young man's blood that she drew just as she made clear she would when she began. She lingers in the pose for a long moment, head bowed, eyes closed, hair hanging down along the sides of her face. "Yeah, I know," she finally speaks up, still holding the pose for several seconds. That opening strike was a demonstration of the spirit of the sword as she saw it. Nothing held back, no shirking the harm it could cause but rather embracing it, appreciating it for the power it represented.

She knows he doesn't like to hurt people. Hence the mysterious incongruity she had come to see in erstwhile red-headed monk. Her narrow eyebrow arcs at the mention of Remy, the name not meaning anything to her, but she doesn't pursue it, dismissing it as an unimportant detail compared to the rest of what he says. She's quiet as he holds his blade aloft again before making his move. "When..." She hns slightly, finally drawing back from her ending pose and bringing her sword horizontally across in front of her face just below her eyes as she grips it with both hands to the right of her head. "Well, when all that stuff around here was going on, I heard about a lot of people using their strength to do something about it."

She takes a step back, controling the distance that Frei will have to cross when he makes his move, the girl's foot work careful, controlled as she continues to mimic different sword styles observed, studied, and practiced in her relentless examination of the world of melee combat. "Gedo High students forcing their oppressors out of Gedo. Taiyo High rebelling against the incursions against their campus... Pacific too. A whole group of mysteriously organized vigilantes going against a big base out a the park..."

She can tell he is about to attack but for a moment she doesn't seem to focus, her eyes on his as if it is there that she will find that she wants to know rather than the trajectory of his blade. "Are you so different from them? Or were they all just trying to understand their occupiers when they stepped up to defend their city?" she asks with a teasing grin. "I think there's more to why you are training than you're letting on."

He steps into his attack, swinging the saya out in an arc that leaves the eye catching cord trailing behind it. But she doesn't even seem to pay attention as, for a moment, her mind has already unraveled the true intent, the proper, most effective response, and then diverted back to thinking about the curiously pacifistic swordsman. When the real swing comes, her blade drops down from in front of her face, twisting in front of her so that the flat of it intersects the intended strike, propped by her palm pressing into the opposing flat side of the sword.

Her knee bumps up next, aiming to send his weapon up at an angle instead of the horizontal strike instended while Ayame herself is already twisting into a retaliation, moving her body under the angle of her sword as she finishes deflecting his attack to the side. Coming out of the spin has her attempting to jam the end of the pommel into Frei's chest with one hand to drive him back a step. The worst of the attack comes a split second later - a one handed, chest-level, horizontal slice through the moonlight, mimicking a quick-draw styled attack but for the way her blade did not start sheathed!

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Frei with Assault and Battery EX.

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Frei             0/-------/=======|===----\-------\0            Ayame

He's not wholly without tricks, is Frei; that scabbard may be decorative but it's also amazingly sturdy, more than enough to take on a hit from another sword without getting too damaged. Ayame may have time to reflect, during her followthrough, that this was indeed his plan all along, as Frei's left hand changes course. Rather than try to resheathe the sword he's just swung with, he instead spreads his arms farther apart, looking to slam the saya into Ayame's attack and send it off course. The problem is that he misses her in the process, which sets off a really unpleasant chain of events; the grip of her blade makes a painful impact against his sternum, and what comes next is... much nastier. The blow itself isn't much worse than the last, all told; it's quite painful, but about the same. The problem is the location. A shoulder will ache; the chest will fill with fire, dripping blood onto the roof.

It's natural for Frei's hand to come up again as he's forced back, palm down over the slashed line through his shirt, blood seeping between his fingers. But in reality, the reactions are mostly physical instinct; protect a wounded area, staunch bleeding, defend yourself. His conscious mind is elsewhere, thinking about the questions Ayame had asked, the examples she gave. People defending their homes, taking back what's theirs. Even some -- and here, the burglar-swordswoman may find a trace of ironic amusement slips into Frei's expression -- went on the offensive. Because sometimes you can't just react. Heaven helps those who help themselves.

Perhaps most upsetting, however, is that the feeling of peace he had been wrapped in, by the sense of presence, is fading in the face of... well, brutal reality. One can only be so calm in this sort of situation, so detached. For a moment Frei thinks of his mother's mode of dress... kimonos. Long-sleeved, body-covering kimonos. Do these scars exist under her ceremonial dress? Part of his problem was that Frei had always thought of his cold, distant mother as invincible... while Frei himself has always felt vulnerable. He's embraced it; his ability to empathize and open himself up has always been a strength. What scars does Isis bear?

"What answer would satisfy you?" he says at last, looking up at Ayame. His body is hunched forward, his right hand still held over his chest, the untied saya and blade still held in his left. "Strength is a neutral thing. Like the sword. It exists. It can be... possessed. But in the end, whether it is good or evil depends on the will of the wielder."

A pause settles in, and Frei's face contorts into a grimace, the white strands of his bangs fluttering in the breeze, briefly obscuring his eyes. How much to tell her? He's seen so much that he never thought possible, so much that if he could undo with a word, he might... but much as he felt with Vyle, he finds himself unable to want revenge. The past is a closed book; the future is a blank page. "Should I want to destroy them?" he says at last, raising his head and looking at Ayame. "I mean, is that your question? Do I want to hurt the people who've taken so much from me and who I care about? What purpose would it serve? No, I don't want to hurt them. Yes, I want to have the strength to protect the things that are important to me. Isn't that why you've drawn your sword?" he asks, the question come out in a pointed, abrupt tone. "Why is it that *you* fight?"

He stops; he observes, he waits. What is her answer going to be? It might be words; it might be steel. In Frei's estimation, it's best to be prepared for both. He forces his breathing to become even, forces himself to move to a realm where pain is just a memory, a distant sound echoing.

COMBATSYS: Frei focuses on his next action.

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Frei             0/-------/=======|===----\-------\0            Ayame

This time, when the girl stops moving, it's with her left arm out to her side, the sword pointing in that direction, her right arm extended in the opposite direction. Slowly she lowers the weapon and stands up straight, the katana at her side as it looks as if she's lowered her guard for a moment. If there's pleasure or sadistic satisfaction in the pain she's clearly inflicting it won't be found on her face. For as intense as her demanding words, as ruthless her strikes, her expression is calm, introspective, as if she's thinking about a thousand and one things at once but only sharing with Frei bits and pieces of her thoughts.

He asks what would satisify her and she just begins to grin ever so slightly as if to suggest he just needs to say the magic words to make the hurting stop. But he continues to speak on the nature of strength and her grin fades, replaced with that same thoughtful expression of a moment prior. "You're a strange one," she remarks idly as if only musing that but not quite committed to that being the 'explanation' for his behavior.

"Hmph." She likes to be the inquistor and not have questions shot back at her, it would seem, with the way she closes off, her expression shifting to the neutrality of a well practiced mask. "I fight to get what I want. Be it by fist, blade, or artifice well planned, I will never stop fighting to reach my ambitions. I'm good," she declares, no lack of confidence there, "But I can't stay that way without practice. But I will strike to hurt if that's what it takes to get what I want. No holding back, no reservations, no regrets. That's how I fight and how I live. But that is unimportant."

She turns her left shoulder forward, holding her sword nearer to her right, pointing somewhat upward, gripped with both hands once again as she adopts another stance. "Do you know of a man by the name of Seishirou Ryouhara?" she asks, seemingly changing topic at random if one is not privy to the trains of thought speeding through her mind.

There is time to respond, but not all night, for she'll pressure him again in short order. Boldly, Ayame bolts in, knees bending, sword swinging from high into an arc down her side as if she was trying to strike a golf ball with a 9-Iron and Frei's body happens to exist in the space that her upswing is destined to slash. From low to high she would swing for him before stepping into a second slash that brings the sword back down from high to low along the exact same vector, Ayame twisting her entire body into the potentially grevious slash!

COMBATSYS: Frei counters Medium Strike from Ayame with Shijin no Ten'i EX.

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Frei             0/-------/-------|=====--\-------\0            Ayame

She's outlined her creed, this strange but fiercely proud young woman. In a way, Frei is gratified that she answered. So few ever do, and even if Ayame's response seems guarded, even defensive, it IS a response. Intentionality is everything, in Frei's universe. Human will is the difference between a killing and an art form; human will and faith are the foundation of all great exercises. For so few fighters to examine the will behind their actions, he finds a great tragedy. And while he doesn't share Ayame's ideals, he can -- must -- accept them as they are. "I see," is his only initial response. She won't hesitate to hurt. Well... his own blood spells that out on the rooftop between them. There's no need to tell him twice. And it's the statement that's also a prophecy: this will be said in steel.

He has a moment -- a brief, fleeting moment -- to gather himself, and so he does. His stance, surprisingly, loosens rather than tightens; instead of forcing tension into his body, he forces tension out. It's a secret that Isis taught him, very recently; her body moves very little when she fights, she told her son, but that is because she becomes the still water in which all things are reflected. The principle, she noted, is a bit like trying to take the reflection of the moon from the surface of a bowl of water. You can never hold it in your hands; to try force is to experience the fleeting nature of the world. All you can do is become the water.

And he feels it a second time.

The sense of... a third being in the mix. A presence. Not Ayame, and not Frei. Perhaps not even something with a 'will' of its own, but a presence nonetheless. The fragrance of the Southtown night on the wind, the breeze that knows the passage of ayame's aggressive attack, the line and perfection of her strike. Her question about Seishirou registers in his mind but something else is in control, at the moment. When he does move, it's with an impressive fluidity made all the more notable for its suddenness; his body leans back from the upper slash and, immediately, both sword and saya come up. The pommel slams into the bottom of Ayame's wrist, striking a nerve cluster that sends a pulse of pain so debilitatingly sharp that to do anything but freeze up is impossible. It's over in the blink of an eye; perhaps shorter. But it's enough. Gently, almost casually, Frei grips her extended attacking arm with one hand and pulls, an aikido-style throw that redirects all that kinetic energy stored up right into the rooftop.

Almost in a daze, the sword-sage steps right by her, and turns.

"...we've met," he responds, out of nowhere, her question finally finding space in his consciousness after an exchange that lasts mere seconds but felt, at least to him, as if it went on for a year. "Once."

COMBATSYS: Frei has left the fight here.

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Ayame            0/-------/--=====|

Intent on keeping the pressure on the swordsman, Ayame charges, sweeping into that two stage attack with each swing given the full commitment of her body to deliver significant harm. As she steps she almost hesitates - something is agitating the ebb and flow of life around the two of them. In most fights she's used to it happens all the time. Fighters drawing something to them to turn and shape chi in some manner of attack or defense. But she isn't using it. And he...

She's committed to the attack. If he has been waiting for the right opportunity to use some wellspring of chi techniques he's been keeping hidden all this time, then she's more than happy to see him try. Her own defense against such is formidable as many have found. He sweeps out of the way of the upstroke but the downstroke promises to be as savage if not moreso than that and Ayame doesn't hesitate.

Only, just as her arms reach the high point of the swing and she aims to bring the katana slashing back down does his saya crack her left wrist, rendering the limb numb from a jolt of shocking pain. She grunts with surprise but before she can recover, it's over, and she's been flipped to her back to the surface of the roof with an uncontrolled thud. The surprise that registers isn't one might associate with pain at that point but rather almost disappointment.

That's it? Did he need chi to do that, she wonders. His timing was precise, his motions fluid and graceful, but ultimately she expected more. "Hn," she muses, tucking an idea or two aside as she brings her mind back to the present. She knows she needn't fear him trying to strike her while she's down. This isn't Roland she's fighting after all. But she doesn't waste time all the same as she rolls onto her side into a crouch and then is standing once more. For a moment she grips her sword only with her right, shaking her left hand a few times before passing the weapon over to it and holding the sharp blade out to her side.

"I did some reading. Seems you weren't a part of his last foray into madness called Jinchuu... Weren't part of his Proletariat as he called them..." She shakes her head slightly, "It's okay, I wasn't either." she notes with a partial shrug of indifference before bringing her right wrist up to her mouth, teeth biting down on a black velcro strap located at the end of a wrapping covering her right arm.

"He's doing it all over again," she continues as she suddenly whips her right arm out at her side, pointing to the western horizon. A click is heard before a second blade shoots forth from beneath the cloth wrapping over her arm. A narrow, foot long wrist-blade affixed to the girl's arm catches the moon as Ayame lowers her arm, bending it forward, such that her stance has her holding her katana across her at an angle and the smaller arm-mounted blade pointing forward.

"You should know," she continues as a small crackle of white energy courses over the shorter blade. "Seishirou Ryouhara intends to change the world. This second Jinchuu of his is intended to be the next step." She offers no other words as to the relevance of this discussion but rather pauses, seeming to give it a moment's thought before charging again, leaning hard into her next attack.

The katana, gripped in her left hand, is intended to lead the way with an opening horizontal slash from inside to out, designed to force him to deal with it somehow... Following the sweep of the katana, Ayame twists toward the left, bringing her right arm forward, slamming the arm-mounted blade out to deliver a painful, chi-infused stab should she connect cleanly!

COMBATSYS: Ayame successfully hits Frei with Criminal Negligence.
- Power hit! -

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Frei             0/-------/---====|======-\-------\0            Ayame

There's so much to pay attention to, now... in his own way, Frei is in sensory overload. Whatever fluxuation there was in the world around them, it goes unnoticed by him, at least in its conventional form. If it manifested itself just now, it wasn't by his own hand; he's as deaf and blind as he was ten minutes ago. But there's the lingering feeling of someone... watching. But it could be Ayame, couldn't it? She's been boring her gaze into him since minute one. It's a fight, after all, isn't it? And Frei is attempting to look calm, to meet her gaze, but Ayame's far too perceptive NOT to notice the... almost haunted feeling hiding behind deliberate gestures to hide it.

Is that what she feels like _all the time_, he wonders of his mother. It's a wonder she doesn't go insane.

But Ayame's question about Seishirou isn't idle curiosity, he notes, taking a few deep breaths, slowly attaching the silver cord of his scabbard back onto his belt loops. It was an introduction, a way to bring the topic up. Seishirou Ryouhara... Frei had noted the ninja for his haori, oddly enough; his entirely Caucasian appearance belies it, but Frei's ancestry is still half Japanese, and he had a thoroughly Japanese upbringing. It was archaic clothing that set him apart. Well, that and his seeming nonchalance in incapacitating a young child simply to avoid being interrupted in a conversation. It hadn't left a good impression, in the sword-sage's eyes. Once you begin treating people like objects, it's a short, sharp fall to things worse than merely inconveniencing them.

"I wasn't, no." He hadn't been invited, that he recalled, but the Suiryuu does loom large in his memory. A meeting with Aranha on the dock as the massive dragon-ship loomed in the distance. An unsettling feeling from it that had made Frei want to, in point of fact, instinctively avoid it. And, of course, its much publicized destruction. That being said... parts of the Suiryuu survive, in a vehicle Frei himself has ridden once or twice. "Maybe he didn't think I'm working class enough." What Seishirou needs is a nice firm grounding in classical Marxism.

But the thief-swordswoman has more to share, and it's news that makes Frei's green eyes blink slowly, repeatedly... first in surprise, then in a lack of comprehension. He's going to change the world? His next step is another tournament. But perhaps what rings most resonant is 'You should know'. Is she using that phrase casually? Or is it an actual statement of intent? 'You should know,' after all, translates quite easily to 'I think you have a right to know' or, more interestingly, 'I think it's in your best interest to know.'

But then she's attacking. That moment of clarity and presence on Frei's part suddenly seems far away, with Ayame's attack compressing action and reaction into a tiny little space with its speed and skill. Whatever it was that may have been guiding him before, it's gone now, and Ayame reaps the benefits; the feint does its job and as Frei draws his own blade to block it, the arm-blade does its job... does it too well, in fact, as Frei's moving to block the feint opens up his previously-cut chest for the blade to sink right into it. The shock and pain of it are visible on his face, immediate and total; his mouth opens soundlessly, and Frei is locked in place momentarily before he thinks to push away from the blade and stumble back a few steps, clutching a hand to his chest.

The blade exists to cut, to pierce. As he hunches forward, trying to force himself to breathe regularly, Frei thinks on this supposed truth. Is that all? Simple is often best. Ayame is showing the 'truth' of this axiom quite readily. But in Frei's heart he knows that even the cutting, the use of the blade, is a means to an end. It's a message, it's a language. But what is she trying to say?

"Do you plan to go?" he asks, a little raspy, as he forces himself standing and gets back into stance. "You... might be able to change the world, if you want. I think you're the type who could do it. How you choose to do

"Do you plan to go?" he asks, a little raspy, as he forces himself standing and gets back into stance. "You... might be able to change the world, if you want. I think you're the type who could do it. How you choose to do it, though..." With that, he falls silent, pausing for a moment, as if considering something. Then he shakes his head and fixes his gaze on Ayame. "Well then."

With that, he ducks forward, clearly coming in low. The resulting diagonal strike, from Ayame's lower right to her upper left. It's telegraphed, true, but it's not the entire thing; at the end of the first strike he spins and delivers a second, making a 'X' between the two of them. A classic sword drawing strike, named for the tail and flight of the swift swallow.

COMBATSYS: Ayame blocks Frei's Tsubame Gaeshi.

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Frei             0/-------/----===|=======\-------\0            Ayame

The stab is delivered and as Frei pushes back, Ayame does likewise, drawing her arm-mounted shortsword away, a lingering flicker of the white, crackling chi that had coursed over its surface visible for a brief moment before vanishing away. The girl leans down, pressing the tip of the sword against the roof, forcing it back against the springs that launched it into position, causing it to retract under her arm wrapping until an audible click indicates that it has been locked into place.

Standing up straight, Ayame answers, "I'll be there." There's no uncertainty, no hesitation in her voice. "Seishirou has promised to grant the wish of the victor using any and all resources at his disposal. I understand the prize money for the first tournament was significant, but this is something else all together and I fully intend to throw my lot in with anyone else who hopes to achieve such a boon." She's frank, open about it, but shakes her head as if trying to get things back on track. There is this ritual in play, after all - the exchange of violent attacks, a settlement of score or debt that perhaps only the aggressive girl can imagine.

Frei tests her defenses with a classic and she seems ready. Sharp, brown eyes follow the motion of the blade, engaging in a moment a pressing contest of speed and strength as she moves her own katana into the path, palm pressed against the flat to give it more stopping power. It's enough to deflect the weapon cleanly. But the speed with which he makes his determined second swing leaves her struggling to keep up as her backmost foot slips a little across the roof and while she manages to get her sword in the way, it doesn't save her from a narrow bruising on her leg where his blunted sword managed to glance her before finally being deflected by her defenses.

Ayame continues where she left off without skipping a beat. "It came to my attention that Seishirou has plans to invite you to attend this second Jinchuu of his. However," she resets her stance, her sword held horizontally in front of her as she prepares herself. "After I saw your performance on that televised fight, I was just going to tell you to not bother and save yourself the misery." Charming as ever, the statement accompanied by a visible smirk.

"But... now I think maybe you should go. I don't think you'll find Seishirou's methods to your liking. I doubt you would be the only one. It may very well be necessary to work with others that share your..." she makes a bit of a face, "Pacificst nature if you're going to make a difference. But be warned," her stance tightens, the sword twisted slightly so that its sharp edge faces forward. "No one will be able to counter the Ryouhara's plans without sacrifice. If you do go and you find yourself having to depend on this new direction of yours... you may need to be prepared to embrace that other side of swordsmanship that you presently shun. It might save your life or the life of someone that matters to you."

Slowly Ayame lowers her katana, only to slide it into the sheath at her side. Though with the intensity in her eyes, it's clear that this is not to signal the end of this exchange in her mind. A soft breath is taken and then she bolts. The attack would be made in passing - a quick draw technique made the moment her foot touches the ground at the right distance, her own momentum intended to carry her past Frei's right side where a painful slash might be left to mark her passing, before she would slide to a stop some short time later.

COMBATSYS: Frei fails to counter Power Strike from Ayame with Zanshin.

It's now or never. Success or failure, there's a certain... feeling to the air, the conversation. Ayame is barely touched; that her swordsmanship is superior really isn't in much question, though Frei finds himself less bothered by this fact than perhaps he should be. Briefly he's reminded of his first and only meeting with Shadaloo's Balrog, many many many months ago. The clawed fighter had demanded that Frei impress him... to 'show him his moves', as it were. Frei's response had been to stand still and refuse. Then, it had been the right choice. Now? Probably not. Ayame suddenly has so much to say, revealing quite a bit of herself, and of events to come. If he wants to see her really open up, he has to see this out to its natural end.

Her attack is met with Frei meeting her from the opposite side, running straight at her. It's not a very sound tactic; the movies make two samurai running at each other in the rain sound so dramatic and wonderful, but in truth it's smarter for the defender to stay his ground, unless he's absolutely confident in his ability to overpower the other fighter. But the Zanshin technique -- 'the mind that remains' -- is a staple of the Musou Tenkei school. It identifies pinpoint openings in the opponent's technique thanks to a state of total awareness, and exploits them. It's judgment made in a split second, an instant of insight that, should the body's reflexes be up to the challenge, grants victory. In this case, however, Ayame's speed is greater than Frei's ability to use that moment of insight. As the two bodies pass each other in the night, a flash of silver and crimson marks the result as again the two 'switch sides'. Ayame, unharmed. Frei...

He's not built for this, not really. Most fighting damage is blunt, on the whole, and the body's ability to bounce back from blunt trauma is considerably greater for most. When the skin is broken, sliced open, so many other factors become involved. Thus it's not really possible for him to remain standing, after that; the white-haired fighter sinks to both knees on the concrete, pressing both hands into the rooftop. Exertion is making the wound on his shoulder worse, not better; the red stain from Ayame's first wound has spread across the dark grey fabric of his shirt, and now exposed skin is visible on his side, which also bleeds profusely from the third. The line of red across his chest, Ayame's second strike, is only hidden because for now his back is turned. If Ayame wants to stab him in the back and end it all right now, she has her chance; apparently the trauma of it all being compressed into so short a time is finally delivering a toll that Frei must pay.

Should she not, though, Frei eventually rises to his feet and turns around, hunched forward. It's an attempt at his neutral stance, but his hands can't really be anywhere near his sword at this point. For now, he'll have to deal with it. When he speaks, there is a thickness to his tongue thanks to fatigue and injury, but the words are still clear enough to be understood. One eye is shut; the other is trained on Ayame with a neutral expression. "You're young yet," he says at last. "so I won't hold it against you. But I won't be lectured on sacrifice." He stops to let out one long breath, closing the other eye, before opening them both and continuing. "I've given up plenty. I've made mistakes, and I've paid the price.

"You probably think because I haven't turned my back on the world, that because I can keep my head up and have faith, that I've never suffered," he adds, smiling in a tired way, an age that is far greater than either of these comparatively young fighters. "That's okay. I'm sure you've suffered in your own way. 'How could he possibly know?! If he'd seen what I've seen, he could never smile.' But that's projecting you onto the world. I walk a different road."

Then he stands, looking at Ayame, before he finally contorts his body back into stance. His right hand lets go of his side, hovers over the hilt of his sword once again. One leg goes back; his torso

Then he stands, looking at Ayame, before he finally contorts his body back into stance. His right hand lets go of his side, hovers over the hilt of his sword once again. One leg goes back; his torso leans forward. And it's clear from the expression on his face, and the sudden deepening dark coloration on his shirt that it's not wise for him to do this at all; that the best thing to do would be to stop. The whole time, though, he keeps his gaze fixed on the young fighter before him. "I'm not sure if I would go. I'm not like Alma or Jiro... I don't have a cause. But I do have beliefs, and they are the one thing I won't sacrifice. But," he adds at last, and his smile becomes more crooked than small, more wry than sad, "thank you for the warning nonetheless."

While the teen is not above cheap shots like trying to finish someone when they're staggering under the blow of a previous attack, Ayame makes no such move to do so now. Rather she stands up straight out of the sharp lean she came to a stop in and turns to face Frei, giving him the time he needs to compose himself; to deal with the greviousness of the series of strikes she built up on his person from different angles, sides, and varying levels of punishing strength to her strikes.

"I'm not particularly concerned about how much you have or have not sacrificed." the strawberry-blonde answers indifferently. "And how naive I might think you to be - holding your head high in spite all the reasons and logic that suggest to do otherwise - isn't important either. I'm just one person and you owe me nothing." She shrugs and begins to twirl the light-weight katana around her right hand, spinning the blade into a fan of knives centered around her hand. "After all, the price of my message was already exacted in blood and a chance to test my own sword skills against another."

The twirling comes to a stop as in one smooth motion, Ayame directs the blade into its sheath gripped by her left hand at her side, the weapon sinking into place with a certain finality. "If the wellbeing of those you might list as friends isn't cause enough to take action, perhaps..." The girl's voice fades out as she glances upward to the stars above, "You're more selfish than I initially read you for. Tch. I hate being wrong."

The skirt-clad girl takes a step back from Frei then, her right hand lifting up to wave idly as she twists on her heels, "With the revolution coming, people will rise to oppose what the Ryouhara intend to inflict on the world, step up to help him see it through, or exist as the cobblestones of either side, trod upon and used. It doesn't matter to me what camp people find themselves in, either by choice or by inaction..."

She glances over her shoulder, grinning faintly, "My work here is done. Good luck, whatever you decide."

Selfish, huh... not for the first time has Frei thought about that. What he's doing now, his choices and his decisions, they're all about *him*. What will he do? What is his path going to be? Of course, can he really be blamed for that way of thinking? Trying to help others lost him everything, or at least it feels as if it did. Why not pull back and worry about yourself for a while? The lull created by Ayame's declining to attack a second time gives him a moment to think about that, particularly his discussion with Howard Rust. You're supposed to put the mask on first, then help others... that was the metaphor that got used. But is it always the best thing to do to help yourself, first? Isn't the very meaning of sacrifice that you give up your well being to protect another's?

There's no prideful maintenance of a defiant pose, once it's clear that Ayame has done what she came to do; Frei slumps to the ground, lacking for the most part the energy to stand. Like rorschach blots, the darkening red-black reminders of this one-sided battle are spread around the roof at random; circular splatters of blood from movement, from injury. 'The price of her message' indeed. Ayame's warning is dire; the tone of her statement suggests not some fighting tournament, but a conflict on the scale of a world war. Something that ends one paradigm and begins another; a 'revolution.' A voice in Frei's head says, quietly: and what do I have to do with that? I'm one individual among many, not gifted more than others, but perhaps with more advantages than some. The difference between himself and the people he knows -- idealists like Jiro, Hotaru, and Alma; vigilantes like the members of the Einherjar -- suddenly feels wider than it ever was. You take life as it comes. Why do you stand among them?

The answer he finds comes in a flash, hands pressed against the cold concrete. It's as if the wind whispers it in his ears, much as it spoke to him earlier... not real words, but the wisdom to find those words. 'Because someone has to stand between the light and the dark.'

"It's funny... you sound like you don't like what's coming," Frei says as Ayame departs, watching her walk away. "But if I didn't know better, I'd say you actually feel the opposite. Aya..." he finishes, using the name she first gave him however long ago, completely and totally heedless of its significance, "I hope that when the time comes for you to make an important choice -- and I think one will -- that you'll let the world impress itself upon you instead of the other way around. You can't walk over cobblestones without knowing it no matter how thick your soles."

Thinking of people as objects. That's where it starts. Not as individuals with their own lives, hopes, and dreams... as objects. Things to be used, discarded, removed, or manipulated. As far as Frei's concerned this is where trouble starts. It's why he still feels unsettled when he thinks of Alma's 'saving' of Kula. It's why his reaction to Seishirou's actually quite harmless incapacitating of a child was so negative, irrespective of the act. The sword-sage isn't quite clear why Ryouhara would invite him in the first place; the only reason he can think of is a power Frei no longer possesses. But no matter what happens, seeking to kill is the boundary he can never cross. He killed once... twenty-seven times to be exact... and he has no taste for it. Even the most neutral, the most permissive of moralists, has a point at which they, too, can sacrifice no more, can give no ground.

As he lays on his back on the roof, staring at the bright moon above, Ayame has given Frei much to think about indeed.

Ayame pauses as he speaks up, taking the time to stretch her arms out at her sides as she works off some of the energy built by the violent battle. She twirls on her heels, facing Frei once more, her hands suddenly clasped behind her back as she leans forward slightly, mouth curled into a very curious grin. She sounds like how she wants to sound. "Do I now..."

Her expression fades as he speaks of /her/ needing to make a choice, turning the tables of the discussion back on her for a moment; not for the first time. "We shall see." she notes, her tone neutral as her new expression. "I don't exclude myself from those who will need to fall in on one side or another, hm?" In the same smooth motion with which she had twirled to face him, she turns away again, hands still clasped behind her back.

"Keep your eyes and ears open for the things to come. I doubt you'll receive another message as clear as mine." She leaves conventionally enough by way of the stairs back into the building, her left hand caressing the handle of her katana idly.

Log created on 22:37:57 07/31/2009 by Ayame, and last modified on 23:19:01 08/06/2009.