Kagero - 4P: East Point - The Neverending Cut

Description: Working in concert with his friend and ally, Alma Towazu rushes directly to the scene of the attack upon Kagura Enterprises, cutting through alley and leaping over cul-de-sac to reach his objective. But conviction can make a man predictable. Ambushed with a strange technique that cuts off the flow of energy that sustains both soulfire and second sight, the phoenix's wings are abruptly clipped; he has little time to marvel before an unknown Kagero agent attempts to slash him to ribbons while remaining as uninterested in the project as possible. In fending her off, the true treasure he acquires is not the tool she is forced to abandon -- but rather the knowledge that his nemesis, like his scar, remains. Wounds may heal, but a knife, until broken, will continue to cut.

----------------------------<Paste from Shioe>-----------------------------

ALMA vs. SHIOE in "East Point: The Neverending Cut"

LOCATION: Alleyway near Kagura Enterprises

But that's not all that's happening at Kagura Enterprises. Outside the complex, the YFCC has mobilized to give the security forces a hand in protecting it against the massive machine currently running amok. While Frei manages to move on, Alma is in a different situation entirely. Trapped in the center of an energy absorption trap set up by Kagero for just such an occaision, he'll find himself pretty much unable to move from beyond the confines of the sealing circle drawn on the ground. As he struggles with the deadly trap.. a knife clicks open in the background.

She seems too young to look at Alma with such haunting eyes.

"Shioe." A 17 year old hunter-killer. They say she's a prodigy with the knife.

And she's got you right where she wants you.

NOTES: For this match, Alma will be operating under a debuff while a Kagero agent tries to cut the idea of him into slices for tomorrow's sandwiches. What a predicament!! Your contact for this match is KOS-MOS.

----------------------------<Paste to Downtown>----------------------------

It can't be.
Alma Towazu, Risen Phoenix and Scarred Beauty of Southtown, dashes through the streets of his favored city and does not linger. Cutting through alleys, vaulting crates, at one point leaping straight up past a fence to a low rooftop, he does not pause for a moment, his long-legged body tight and gaze intense. The tranquility and satisfaction of his recent intimate conversation with his close friend notwithstanding, the news that reached them at the Center has cut him to the core. A recently arrived volunteer urged them to turn on the television, to see the live report of what appeared to be an assault of some kind upon Kagura Enterprises; such encounters inevitably stir Southtown even now, the scars of the invasion remaining if not the wounds themselves.
The assault itself could be anything. But--
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw it. A mark that remained burnt upon a shattered wall, a strange and unidentifiable explosive that had halted the progress of the authorities.
A mark that--
Gritting his teeth, despite himself, Alma reaches up to touch his chest.
He will bear forever.
~ So the Ryouhara clan remains active. ~
Or whomever Seishirou had associated himself with. That man-- Alma no longer truly cares whether he is alive or dead. But whatever Alma may have said to Frei of letting go of destiny, he cannot release his own convictions; even if he will not compete with Seishirou for dominance over the will of history, his ideals are utterly incompatible with that man's. Of this he is certain. Even if it is only a matter of their different circumstances, of the way they were shaped, it is necessary that, should they meet again, they must seek to destroy one another. It will always be this way.
Alma, even as he dashes, blinks in mild surprise, realizes perhaps for the first time that he takes a certain satisfaction in this thought. To oppose Ryouhara's order always, his vision of heroism, of a revolution of humanity-- it is a reminder of the most fundamental worldly incarnation of Alma's own self. He could not live in Seishirou's world. That is to say, nothing he found meaningful would endure.
Ryouhara's agents-- he'll stop them, and bring an end to their injustice.
Wherever they arise.
The tall psychic leaps from the last roof, sinking to a crouch as he lands safely twenty feet below; his head snaps up, red-tinged blond locks swirling about him, his tailored jacket rippling as he rises. In the distance, he can see the Kagura Enterprises building, hear no longer distant sirens. The glass of the modern edifice cuts the sunlight into shards that scatter through the darkness of the alley in which he's landed. Reaching up to shield his eyes, he steps forward, walking toward the exit, preparing himself for whatever will lie beyond this cul-de-sac.
His shoe brushes a small bottle; it clatters noisily over the cobbles.

It all starts with the snap of a finger.

Who would use back alleys to go in such a situation? People in a hurry. And people in a hurry just... you know. Fail to notice things. Little things like seals carved into brick walls that look like crack patterns, carefully concealed. Little kanji seals cleverly hidden among graffiti, making them look like just another part of a ganger's tag. It's painstaking work but for the people who deployed it, it's also worth it. Seen from above, it's actually a beautiful work of art, if you know where to look. A stylized turtle with a serpent sinuously twined around it. To contain the phoenix, one must invoke the sprits of water, after all.

The fingersnap that sets this all into motion would normally be drowned out by the noisy tumble of a glass bottle over the uneven ground, yet it rings out with a terrible sound, like the lid of a coffin slamming shut... made all the worse for its originator not being anywhere in sight.

When the sound finishes echoing away, the trap is sprung. Lines of power burst to life all around poor Alma, the hero rushing off to save the day. They are an earthly power, a containing power; their force closes over the alley like a stifling dome. At the edges, the circle of the field the seals -- now visible from the pale blue glow they give off, standing out from the background like the answer to some terrible puzzle -- crunch into the ground, splintering cobble and brick. The sound, the effect, it says one thing: you're stuck here, like it or not.

That the air suddenly feels heavier, like one is swimming in the air as if it were deep, muddy water, doesn't help things either.

It's only when the trap is fully deployed that the person who snapped her fingers appears, stepping out onto a fire escape one floor up. Black hair, no longer than chin length, curls around her face, a prominent scarlet shock running through it. The face framed by the surprisingly austere haircut is young, bored-looking, even distracted... the fact that she holds a flip phone of a seashell pink to her face, tapping away idly at the keypad, reinforces that. A black skirt, pleated; black combat boots, unlaced and untidy. Although she wears a zipped-up navy blue hoodie, the hint of black poking from underneath it suggests a black shirt, too. She breathes out a sound of intense annoyance, something clearly bothering her. Probably Alma.

She half turns to see the Soul Phoenix stuck in her trap, and says, with a note of intense boredom, rather than the predatory glee of a hunter: "Gotcha."

So much for intuition.
As Alma Towazu has learned the hard way, the same techniques that conceal a ninja to the outside world can also, when trained to perfection, obscure the aura as well. He has never been able to detect Seishirou's presence, nor that of his minions, all of whom tend toward being intensely skilled. And the very nature of a dormant trap works against him; perhaps if he were practiced at the more technical aspects of chi, he might identify a jutsu when he saw one. Alas, that is hardly the Scarred Angel's area of expertise.
He grunts, eyes flashing with surprise and an instinctive surge of defensive energy, when the ambush flares to life about his feet; at once, he attempts to leap to the side. Yet as the light is sucked from his eyes, so too does he stumble, his feet refusing to leave the ground. His eyes widen in uncharacteristic confusion, and the ex-model staggers, approaching the edge of the field -- whereupon the pounding in his head becomes so intense that he cries out in agony, covering his eyes, as though that will protect the entirely other form of perception that is being assault. Shuddering, he steps back, removing his hand from his face as his knees sag. The sense of hollowness is intolerable.
He feels cut off, somehow. Something is not merely sapping his strength in some bizarre fashion, the likes of which he's never encountered; his second sight is blurred, a putrid morass of unidentifiable color. The girl who steps into visibility, he can barely make out. The constant cycle of consumption that is Alma's process of transforming the world's natural chi into his own unique brand of energy, the fuel for the furnace that is his soul, has been cut off. Perhaps no jutsu can strike directly at a psychic's process of energy creation. But to drive a stake into that process, to cut off the flow--
"This is..."
--before the chi becomes his own--
"You're... Kagero..."
It's theoretically possible.
One eye squinted shut, the once beautiful man trembles, a hand upon his hand. The Seal seared there; it burns, hotter even than the pounding within his skull.
"I... won't allow you... to stop me."
After he catches his breath, anyway.

"News flash," the disinterested-sounding girl says, not bothering to turn away from her cell phone to speak. Or, say, jump over the side of the fire escape and land deftly, with a cat's grace, on the alley ground. Or to walk toward him. Whatever power this encircling trap commands, it clearly has no effect on her; her steps are as sprightly as they are disinterested, her movements as sinuous as they appear to be effort she's annoyed at having to spend. Tap tappity tap. At close range, the phone has a little colored strap, an alternating eggshell white pattern of hearts, skulls, and the words 'DAMN NINJA' across it. It's cute. And even with his powers suppressed in part, Alma can feel that this woman is anything but harmless and fluffy. Her disinterest appears to extend not just to Alma's predicament but to his very *existence*, as if it would bother nor even faze her at all were he to wink out of this universe in the space between her long-lashed eyeblinks.

Finally, she shuts the phone and can be bothered to turn toward Alma, tilting her head tiredly as she finishes her thought from before: "you're already stopped."

A hand comes up, raps knuckles against the air near the border of the trap; the sound, interestingly, is a resonant hum, like the vaguely carrying echo-y noise of something being struck underwater. "S'got some fancy name that means 'Pretty Boy Beartrap' or whatever, I don't keep track of the damn things." A shrug, and she stretches... again, with the sort of motion that makes her seem catlike, as if the stretch is not her muscles pushing outward to briefly strain and 'wake up', but rather as if her entire body is prepared for action at all times, a fiery speed contained only by the confines of her form, and rather than push her muscles she simply... unfolds them, briefly untensing before coiling again into a hunter's pounce.

A heavy moment passes, in silence, before she sighs. "Yeah, so. I suppose I'm here to make sure you don't leave? Don't do anything stupid, I guess? Or try, I don't really give a damn one way or the other."

The hand that had been holding the cell phone? Fingers drum on her hip for a moment, restless. They even curl in a bit. She's USED to holding something in that hand.

He doesn't have time for this.
Perhaps, if he survives this, Alma will reflect back on this encounter and feel mildly flattered that he was anticipated in this respect, for his opposition clearly realized that he would intervene. If he were a little more cynical, perhaps instead he'd reflect on how this just reveals, frankly, that he's predictable.
Well, those with true conviction have to be somewhat predictable.
"Sounds like... a boring job."
He tells himself this, anyway.
"I... sympathize with you."
The restrained YFCC director's tone is mild to the point of deadpan, surely deliberately ambiguous. Straining against the force that oppresses him, he rises to his full height; though seemingly able only to keep one eye open, he meets the girl's own with it. "However," he manages, already sounding somewhat fatigued, "if you are an agent of Kagero, I cannot simply accede to your demands." At least he can speak straight now. "I have a mission to complete."
He raises his right hand, though his fingers tremble.
"I have promises to keep."
He swallows, and his eyes flash, if dimly.
"Allow me... to brighten up your dull day."
And, though they waver, indistinct, the soulful flame comes.
With obvious effort, Alma hurls a small dart of flame out of the field that contains him, firing it close to his mysterious adversary -- but edging it slightly to her left and high, seeking to lure her to make the obvious dodge to the right rather than jump. In a moment he sweeps his hand back, and relentlessly fires off a second on the backswing, slightly to the right and low. It may be that both will strike her, coming at her so swiftly. Maybe one.
Maybe neither.

COMBATSYS: Alma has started a fight here.

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

COMBATSYS: Alma equips Hou'ou-tai Fuuin.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  <
Alma [E]         0/-------/-------|

COMBATSYS: Shioe has joined the fight here.

[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Alma [E]         0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0            Shioe

COMBATSYS: Shioe equips Polarity Chain.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Alma [E]         0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0        [E] Shioe

COMBATSYS: Shioe dodges Alma's Sacred Wave.

[ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  //////////////////////////////]
Alma [E]         0/-------/-------|-------\-------\0        [E] Shioe


Her motions indicate that this woman has it all worked out, and given the results she... probably has. The first dart of flame does nothing but singe the hair around her ears, the black haired Kagero operative simply tilting her head to the side to let it move past her, smiling with disdainful sangfroid. There's the other dart, however, and it appears that Alma might just have her... until the black-clad assassin is suddenly a blur of motion, so fast it's impossible to follow, and in a sudden flash of silver Alma's 'dart' is gone. It's not as if psychic powers have a true, tangile physical presence, so how she accomplished it is anyone's guess...

...but with the flick of a knife catch and a sweep of her combat blade, the girl cleaved the blow in two.

When she straightens after the terrible swift movement, the young woman brushes off her skirt and rolls her eyes at her opponent. "Oh, please. You, entertain me? Tell you what. Try to do something outside your spec sheet, even a LITTLE bit, for once..."

And then she's in his grill, charging Alma, one hand coming up low in a claw-hand punch to the stomach, long enough to disorient the YFCC fighter if it connects, before her other hand hooks up and over like a cat's pawn, intending to direct all of Alma's weight into the ground, hard. "...if you can accomplish that, I MIGHT be entertained."

COMBATSYS: Shioe successfully hits Alma with Black Cat Style.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ////////////////////////////  ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/-----==|=------\-------\0        [E] Shioe

Alma's eyebrow twitches.
The weary psychic mumbles inaudibly to himself, still struggling to keep his eyes open. As if one technique would be enough for one of Seishirou's minions. Two is the minimum number of Alma-killing devices at her disposal.
"Spec... sheet?"
This actually looks kind of bad.
The Soul Phoenix does his utmost to weave out of the way of her oncoming strike, still poised after the wielding of his oft-practiced attack, yet his feet feel like lead, as though he must drag himself out of the way. He twists, at least, but the initial strike impacts against his side, and he cannot avoid the follow-up grapple. He grunts as he is hurled to the ground, but with a burst of speed his legs blur out, spiralling upward with a series of swift scything kicks as he rises, pushing off the ground with his hands to afterward lunge to his feet. He's moving faster now, as he adjusts to his oppressive field. If he paces himself, and disposes of this girl, eventually he'll be able to pull himself through, agonizing though it will be.
But until then, his movement will be severely limited...
"You'll never have had," Alma murmurs, "this much fun."
An interesting situation, to be sure.

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Shioe with Light Kick.

[     \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////////     ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/----===|===----\-------\0        [E] Shioe

Hm. Perhaps the strength of the jutsu field needs adjusting. Somewhere there's someone collecting this battle data, to be sure; refining the ninkou technology for future use... and there's certain to be need of this sort of affair for 'future use' where Alma 'Nemesis' Towazu is concerned. Either way, Shioe appears to give the jutsu too much credit, expecting its gravity to be enough to contain Alma and thus not wasting any energy jumping back farther than the regulation amount. Unfortunately, this isn't enough, as Alma's determination pushes him farther than estimates; a kick slams into Shioe's jaw, sending her spiralling a few steps away.

When she turns around, though, her expression is just as bland as before. "Hm. Interesting. Not 'fun' interesting, unfortunately." That knife blurs back into her hand, the blade flicking in and out of the spring-loaded catch like a silver clock pendulum, marking the milliseconds. One doesn't need a psych degree to see a displacement activity when it's that damned obvious. Yet Shioe decides to keep conversing, in that same dull tone. "You haven't deviated from it so far. You charged in heedless -- a shame about your ginger friend, by the way, who's just as predictable as you -- and got caught. Now you're quipping to keep your anxiety level down. I suppose I could tell you the rest, but..."

Then she's a black blur, before an arm whips around toward Alma's head, something in the hand. Certainly, it's fast and strong enough to make the Soul Phoenix wince, but if he bothers to look rather than try to evade, he'll notice it's an unfinished text message reading: 'TOO BAD'

She really hopes he reads it, especially since she then stabs the other hand forward, knife APPEARING there like she summoned it through sheer will alone, the ever-so-sharp tip looking to jab right in between Alma's ribs.

COMBATSYS: Alma interrupts Random Strike from Shioe with Divine Intervention EX.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/--=====|======-\-------\0        [E] Shioe

Alma's gaze doesn't flicker.
His opponent's slight-of-hand skill is considerable, and his vision is blurred; he also cannot read even the faintest glimpse of her attitude or intent. At any moment she might move; she might have any number of traps in store. But Alma has faced more dire situations than these; he has endured the sapping energies of other Ryouhara techniques, if not this one in particular. He has fought without use of his power at all; he has fought within dreams, and had it erupt from his very mortal body. His timing is excellent, psychic power or now. And though he overflows with passion, and tends to depend heavily on his own rhythm, which is repressed here, when he has to be--
"You think so?"
He is patient.
"I don't /feel/ anxious."
What happens next is-- mostly on purpose.
The real luck is in Shioe's switch, which could potentially have overcome him other different circumstances. But Alma does not defend, merely brace himself; he is poised, waiting for the very moment at which she moves. And even without the benefit of his psychic awareness, he is able to move simultaneously, thrusting out all at once with a palm blazing with light. He only sees Shioe's text for the briefest of moments.
Before his palm smashes her phone and crushes the screen, firing a beam of piercing, concentrated Soul Power through it, her hand, and her body, cutting through her will -- if not as sharply as he might have. It's enough force, at least, to drive her back, such that the knife only grazes him. He does not flinch, though does appear to be bleeding slightly.
"Hm," he murmurs to himself, relaxing from the tight stance of that practiced counter-blow. "I'll bet /that/ technique is on my spec sheet."

Well, that's troublesome.

"Oh, yes," Shioe says disdainfully, brushing herself off. Alma knows what he's capable of, knows what that attack in particular is capable of. Even if it doesn't rattle her, it should at least send her flying back a few feet to give him some breathing space. Instead there's the burst of light, the brief moment of pain... and then nothing. She throws the now-broken phone over her shoulder.

She really liked that one.

"Even if you did feel anxious," the girl says, slipping a free hand into a pocket and producing another phone, this one being... well, nicer, and a pleasant contrasting lilac purple with matching glowing buttons. The girl actually turns away from Alma to type into it with her thumb, her right hand still bringing that knife into and out of the fight compulsively. And she talks through it, too. "you wouldn't tell me. Standard operating procedure is to induce doubt in others. And you know," she finishes, slipping her phone away, having made sure her various content subscriptions are up to date, "I'm just a big fluffy kitten so it just might work."

The bored monotone with which she delivers such lines is just *dreadful* to listen to.

COMBATSYS: Shioe focuses on her next action.

[      \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////////         ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/--=====|======-\-------\0        [E] Shioe

COMBATSYS: Shioe has left the fight here.

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

Yes, he can be patient.
"Induce doubt?"
And she knows how to try one's patience.
"But I'm so sincere."
If he's irritated, though, Alma doesn't show it. In fact, despite his mild forays in the general direction of wit, the Scarred Angel's mind is solely on his ultimate objective, as is so often the case; his soul sheds her comments like water. This is for the best, as what he is enduring is already so tiring that taking her words seriously would likely cause him to snap. Perhaps her personality is its own layer of assault.
But that might be reading too much into it.
"Out of curiosity..."
She's a teenager, after all.
"...how many phones..."
He can't jump, exactly. He can exert that much psychic force, really. But the reach of his legs is long, and the combination of physical and psychic force is enough to drive him almost -- at least for very brief periods -- to his usual heights. With gritted teeth, Alma abruptly lashes out at a range that might surprised, lifted up dangerously close to the painful edge of the field that traps him as a series of three somewhat-flaming rising kicks sweep out, aiming at her midsection, her upper torso, and her head, respectively.
5t"...do you have?"
He'd ask why, but--
He kind of already found out.

[Two rounds were lost here and partially retrieved:]

* Shioe interrupts Rising Fury from Alma with Bankozan.

How many cell phones does she have? That is one of the secret mysteries of Kagero, never to be known by mortals. If she were the type to give an actual answer, Shioe might simply have said: 'Enough.'

The first kick slams painfully into Shioe's midsection, causing her to exhale sharply, but not stagger her. If anything, she keeps calmly tabbing through screens on Phone #2 with her thumb, not even really turning to look at Alma. This does not seem tactically sound... until the second kick is pushed away by her free hand, then the third, and then the knife is suddenly *in her hand* when it could not have been there before, and it is driven into a point between two of Alma's ribs, then just as quickly removed. It happens so fast, you could almost believe it never happened at all...

Until the pain starts.

Her fighting style is swift, direct, and merciless; Shioe is a killer, and the only reason she doesn't kill *now* is because they asked her not to, and she acquiesced. But she's very, very good at making sharp, deep wounds that bleed -- internally or externally -- in a very... enthusiastic sort of way.

She calls it 'Bankozan' because the pain seems to feel like it will go on basically forever.

Just as suddenly, the knife is gone, and she's skimming her phone's contents, looking relaxed, as if none of that had happened.

* Alma attacks with Autumn Rain (pose lost); Shioe parries.

At first, you wouldn't believe that Shioe spent time studying this individual's fighting techniques. Literally, to the point of sitting there with a DVD player, a box of pocky, and a notepad. Recording it down. *Learning* it. So that when she came to fight him as she had been assigned, she would be well informed. She seems like a lazy slacker, after all; it's doubtful she's reading NPR stories or solving Sudoku on that damn phone. Worst case scenario she's maybe buying concert tickets or something? Because she's still tapping away...

After Alma attacks her again, you could believe it.

Again, she doesn't turn toward him. Perhaps because he is unable to sheathe these strikes in that soulfire -- weakened but still potenent -- these are easier for her to read. Perhaps she's just lucky. Either way, the knife-holding hands comes up and turns each kick aside in turn, the 'grab-move-push' deflections having echoes of Wing Chun in them as each strike is turned harmlessly aside.

Except the last.

THEN she catches her foot in her hand, and the other slips into her jacket with snakebite speed, the girl suddenly ramming something onto Alma's foot, something inexplicably sticky. Specifically, it's a black cell phone attached with kleen-tac tape. To his foot. Running from the black phone up and away is a length of weapons-grade chain, like that used in kusarigamas and the like. It moves up and about... to connect to a totally white cell phone.

Shioe then chucks the white phone into the air. What happens then is.. bizarre. Alma feels an intense force dragging him AFTER the now-flying white phone. Why? Because the two cell phones are polarized via chi to act like magnets, attracting each other. If Alma doesn't get his grounding soon, the chain lifts him off the ground as it heads into the air, then slams him back down again as it clatters to earth.

[Log resumes here.]

COMBATSYS: Alma endures Shioe's Polarity Shift EX.

[              \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  /////////////////             ]
Alma [E]         1/-----==/=======|=======\==-----\1        [E] Shioe

Shioe interrupts Alma's Rising Fury with her deadly knife, slashing at his ribs with a technique she has dubbed 'Bankozan' for the deep and abiding agony it causes. Seeking to overcome both this debilitating pain and the steady sapping of his energy from the strange field in which he is entrapped, Alma lashes out with a series of rythymic kicks. But Shioe confidently and nonchalantly evades his attacks and, of course, refuses to reveal how many cell phones she in fact carries in her possession. (A woman's secret?) In the midst of his scything kicks, as Alma pushes the boundaries of the jutsu that drains and contains him, Shioe utilizes a new and strange art: affixing a white cell phone to his shoe in the midst of the heat of battle, she releases a second black phone to which the white is chained. The chain itself is the key. At once the black phone lunges for the sky, seeking to reverse Alma's polarity abruptly.
Alma is so startled he apparently forgets to log that round, and two of Shioe's fabulous poses are tragically lost, fallen into the dark abyss of the vast Internet.
And so--

Alma's world is turned upside-down.
His second sight, blinded. His reflexes, dulled. His power, ebbing. The jutsu in which he is entrapped is as an endless maze in which his soul wanders, exhausting itself, achieving nothing. As a man trapped by a cave-in desperately brings his lips to the one crack through which air still enters, so does Alma strain for access to what little energy may filter through Kagero's strange technology, to continue to fuel the flickering flame that dwells within him. Sweat beads about his brow as, even so, he must resist the constant gnawing pain in his side, the consequence of the listless Shioe's savage cut. As though he were drugged or drunk, it is all the scarred beauty can do to remember his purpose, his mission, his direction.
A direction abruptly reversed.
He can only grunt in surprise as the mysterious chain whips him into the air, Shioe's improvisation taking swift effect due to her skilled evasion and initiative, her strange use of her endless supply of phones continually able to take Alma by surprise. She has the advantage of constant study of his style; he hardly knows when her tricks will run out, and almost yearns to see the same one twice. Yet through all this, cutting through the fog and the darkness--
Alma's will is steel.
The flow, the rhythm-- it's still there. Even when he cannot perceive it--
That light is shining. He knows it.
Reaching for what he can no longer touch, Alma, even as he flips wildly in midair, seemingly doomed to plunge headfirst toward the ground, lashes out abruptly in the midst of his total confusion. He shouldn't even know where she is. But somehow, as he gives himself over utterly to a flow he can no longer sense, his leg arcs out as though of its own accord, extending to whip into the side of Shioe's head -- and, if it connects, even as Alma falls, it will give rise to a constant stream of blows, an incredible rapidfire windmill of punches and kicks that seem to emerge spontaneously from the falling phoenix's body. It will last only a few seconds.
He will then hit the ground, with a sickening crunch.
But the passion within him is fighting to be freed.

COMBATSYS: Shioe blocks Alma's Stream of Consciousness.

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

Perhaps Alma found it... the glimmer of light at the water's surface from deep below, the tiny breath of fresh air from the wall of rubble between one and freedom. Within it he finds the strength to unleash his fury, a pure flowing physical representation of his need to escape the trap he is in, to break free and soar on the wings of the phoenix.

It is as if Shioe has a duty to crush such hopes. But at least he gets her to close that damn phone.

The assassin is forced to abandon whatever text she was reading, closing the phone and giving Alma her full attention for what must seem like any observer to be the first time in the entire fight. "Hmph," is all she says. Alma's flurry of attacks is delivered with nearly supernatural speed despite the trap, but Shioe apparently is up to the challenge of defending herself against it. Forced onto the defensive, she does lose ground, forced back a step or two with each blow pushed off to the side by an interposed forearm or palm. And then... well. Then Alma's attack is spent, and Shioe is still standing, looking bored as ever.

"Well," she says, glancing at Alma with distracted confusion, like someone trying to figure out if they've heard their name across a crowded room. "Feel better now? I hope so." Her tone implies 1.) he probably doesn't and 2.) there's zero sincerity in either statement.

This is reinforced by the fact that she attempts to grab his arm and yank him toward her, attempting to slam Alma into the impermeable barrier of the jutsu before twirling and slashing Alma across the back as well.

COMBATSYS: Alma blocks Shioe's Armed Combo.

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

Alma's eyes glow dully.
Even as he half-staggers to his feet, straining against the weight of the world crushing upon his shoulders, Shioe is dragging him back up, slamming him against the barrier which itself causes him so much pain. A strangled grunt emerges from the tall young man, more of a croak than a cry, and his feet slip out from under him, greased lead upon the alley's cobbles. She spins, and he must needs spin with her. And yet--
His voice is hoarse. Trembling--
"...not... finished."
--like his grip upon her wrist.
Her knife is pressed against his skin, having not yet cut. His body is shuddering, as though it might collapse at any moment. Yet that gleam in the scarred beauty's gaze, filtered though it is by the jutsu's funeral shroud, will not abate. No, it grows, beginning to shine...
The hand which holds her wrist ignites.
And if she cannot tear herself away, once more Alma's body will seem to act of its own volition, this time the spirit of fire within him at last bursting forth completely, an unrelenting rain of blows only mere moments after the last. If he can, Alma will gladly hold her in place with his off-hand, keeping her current knife hand trapped, while hammering home with blurring blow after blow, scorching soulfire tearing away at this nonchalant girl's own will, hidden though it is beneath a surface of apathy.
Like sunlight through the clouds, Alma's eyes behind the jutsu's veil.

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Shioe with Trial by Fire.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/-------|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2        [E] Shioe

It just goes to show that even perfect math can sometimes be wrong.

She'd added up the chances. Assessed her own level of fatigue and injury against Alma's own. Considered the angles. It all added up. It was a safe enough risk. And so Shioe doesn't even bother to move; she's going to let Alma wear out his hopes on her and strike decisively to end the fight as soon as possible.

But the human spirit consistently proves to be an element beyond quantification, beyond the vagaries of statistical analysis. Pushed to the brink, it can produce power that the greatest scientists couldn't predict. And so it is with Alma's fiery strikes with Shioe; they possess a ferocity, a fierceness, that wasn't part of her plans. Rather than safely enduring the attack, positioning herself, she takes the full brunt of it right on the face, sent sprawling backwards into a three-point crouch across the alley, fingertips splayed and pressed into the ground. Her expression doesn't crack -- she's too good for that -- but inside she's recalculating variables, reconfiguring and updating variables. "You were finished before we even started." Now her stance changes; rather than distinterest, it betrays nothing more than a tight focus, her body as cold a blade as the knife that slips into her hand, held down and at her side backhand.

And then she's there, inside Alma's guard, having barely appeared to move at all. "Good night," the girl says, still in a dispassionate monotone, before sweeping her arm out. The knife slices through the air, just barely inches from her intended target.

And if he doesn't move, it cuts ANYWAY.

And now it's Shioe's turn to deliver a flurry of blows, an endless-seeming stream of slashes flowing from one to the next. And avoiding the knife itself isn't enough; the girl is slicing the air with such fury, such speed and precision, that the air itself becomes a blade. This is no chi trick; this is someone who has, in her own way, mastered a technique that bends the laws of plausible physics to the near breaking point in execution.

COMBATSYS: Alma dodges Shioe's Forty-Four Saya.

[                 \\\\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/-------|===----\-------\0        [E] Shioe

That shining in his eyes, it has not dimmed. The steel of his will, it cuts through the chains that bind him. The flames that spur her away, that fling her aside--
You can see it, if you look.
Alma's cry is not one of release, or of fury. The shout that emerges from him unelicited seems to take he himself by surprise, his eyes widening in a mixture of shock and ecstasy. And only then is it obvious, only once Shioe has committed herself to her assault, and made her dire pronouncement; only the very split-second before she reaches out to him can it be seen. Alma's still-burning fist is extended out through the boundary.
Where it extends, the field about it is burning away.
It is only a hole, only a small rent in the veil. Yet like a wanderer in a desert who has at last quenched his thirst from an oasis, power, sweet and forgotten power, floods Alma's veins. It lasts only a moment. As he retracts his hand, weaving away from Shioe with sudden and renewed vigor, the boundary already begins to repair itself; only a sustained attack of his could break through, and that is still not something he can manage with her presence. But the energy that has flooded through that gap restores him, visibly powers him. Though he yet bleeds, though the field yet presses in on him, he moves with an unprecedented swiftness. He reveals his full potential.
He weaves around each blow. Avoids each cut, even as it extends beyond the knife.
He knows, he knows, he knows where she will strike.
"Can't... you see?"
His words are hoarse, whispered; his eyes, flooded with light, are almost wild.
And his own fists arc around the last of her strikes, a fluid and magnificent counter-stroke, their deadly dance beautiful and terrible to behold, their lithe forms contorting around one another to make contact, to strike, to at last break this spell.
"The sun... is rising."
This night that has fallen... Alma feels it, he feels it again, at last.
He will light the sky.

COMBATSYS: Shioe dodges Alma's Spring Shower.

[                   \\\\\\\\\\\  < >  ///////                       ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/------=|===----\-------\0        [E] Shioe

"Poetic," says Shioe's voice.

Behind him.

It really is as if his fist went to cut through the air where the girl was and then she just wasn't even there to begin with, anymore, like a phantom. She's not within striking distance; her sudden evasion provides no tactical advantage beyond preventing her from taking vigorous blows to the face. And in fact, the voice is behind him but Shioe's back to checking her phone, thumbing through what are dimly recognizable as pictures as she speaks to the Phoenix.

"Stupid but poetic. If the 'sun' were really 'rising'," and the fingerquotes are thickly audible despite the relatively toneless sound of her voice, "you'd notice that I've mostly been entertaining myself at your expense. Once you stepped into the trap, the rest was... 'gravy'."

She turns to look at him with the dull expression she's worn all this time. "I really am having a most wonderful time. Thank you for the fun." Perhaps she a vampire.

Her knife hand draws back, apparently hovering over empty air, until Shioe says in a voice so low as to be almost a mutter, "Shishi Ryoutou blade art... Shidan Enshiki."

Then the knife is instantly in her hand, a wide, arcing draw slash cleaving a silver path across Alma's torso if he doesn't move. Then a stepping kick to gain purchase on his body, and a third kick to send the girl flipping over her opponent before she rams the knife backward -- hard -- into the small of Alma's back, standing back to back with him. Only when the knife has been in a good long while does she yank it free, twirling to face him in the process.

COMBATSYS: Alma endures Shioe's Shidan Enshiki.

[                     \\\\\\\\\  < >  //////                        ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/----===|====---\-------\0        [E] Shioe

If the sun were really rising--
The light in Alma's eyes would not be fading.
The boundary has sealed itself once again. The Risen Phoenix is left with what energy, like air, drifted through the gap while it remained. It was enough to lash out at her once again; it was not enough to catch her as she moved. Though she is behind him, and perhaps cannot know, the fire that awakened once more within him is dimming in his gaze, that glow dulling once more. He swallows, his insides clenching as he feels that weight crushing down on him once again, heavier than ever. The unbearable torment mingles with the continued ache in his side. He twitches, hearing her voice.
He must, he must, he must--
The blade cuts a line across his torso as he turns, bright blood spraying across the knife, their bodies, the ground; her foot plants in his chest as he half-crouches, bracing himself against the ground, the pain.
He must end this now.
"The fun--"
His voice, once rich, rasps now such that it is almost inaudible.
"--is over."
And he turns, as she flips over him.
There is no desperation in his eyes. There is no fear, not even suffering. As his ravaged yet ever-chiseled profile turns to regard her sidelong, he seems almost to match her coolness, though there is no hint of distaste, and his composure resembles more spiritual detachment than superior disinterest. There is no hate, not even fury. He has a mission, and she has hers. He is prepared to die here, upon his own scattered blood.
But he does not intend to.
Emerging from his fingertips, even as his hand slips past her own extending to slash at his back, a single burst of ethereal flame emerges to cut through her defenses and impact against her, mid-air, to take her breath away.

COMBATSYS: Alma successfully hits Shioe with Sacred Wave.
~~ Alluring Hit! ~~

[                       \\\\\\\  < >  //                            ]
Alma [E]         0/-------/-======|=======\-------\0        [E] Shioe

Two things happen, as Shioe spins away from her opponent:

1.) Alma rallies, hurling psychic flame her way.
2.) From the direction of the Kagura building, there's an immense explosion in the distance.

Alma can likely see it in Shioe's eyes, even if her expression is just as inscrutable as it ever was. To her, this is over. Her eyes lock on his for a moment, and then back to her cellphone. It's video, with tinny, distant audio, but there's shouting, and a voice Alma might even recognize as a friend's. Then silence... and then the start of an explosion before static cuts in. By the time Shioe looks back toward Alma, he's already attacking her, and that burst of energy is travelling faster than she anticipated, and faster than she can handle. It splashes against her chest, sending her stumbling backwards.

When she fully stands, it's to snap her cell phone shut. She glances over to her right, seeing the ninko weapon she'd used before lying on the ground. Ideally she'd retrieve it, but Shioe thinks of herself as more important than some replicable toy. Her eyes turn to Alma, and she shrugs. "Looks that way. Try not to bleed out. Between you and me?"

In a blur of black, she's suddenly up on a nearby rooftop, and looking down at her opponent as, around him, the chi matrix of the Hou'ou-tai Fuuin starts to melt away. "Between you and me, I think he'd be terribly bored without you to obsess over."

Then she's gone.

COMBATSYS: Shioe takes no action.

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

COMBATSYS: Shioe can no longer fight.

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

For long moments after she is gone, Alma is settled upon his knees.
Though he continues to bleed, he knows he will survive. He can feel the energies at work within him, now that he is open to the fresh flow of power about him, restoring his wounds with preternatural tenacity. But he is in no state even to revel in the glory of this feeling once again, let alone to continue to pursue his objective. He recognized that voice. He fears his friend is in danger. And he will pursue, in a moment. In a moment. When he can stand, again.
But in that long second--
Alma swallows once, though his gaze does not flicker.
"...would be bored."
Slowly, silently, the Thrice-Born Hero takes a deep breath.
"...I see."
Reaching out as the jutsu at last evaporates completely around him, he takes hold of that fallen chain in trembling fingers, his body shivering with the exertion he's undergone. Alone amidst the alley's shadows, Alma evinces no horror or consternation, no frustration or fear. It is true he did not know. It is true he was not sure. But he had reconciled himself completely to that uncertainty, despite his assumptions. On the one hand, he does not care either way; on the one hand, he is the same man either way.
"Seishirou Ryouhara..."
On the other hand--
--on the other hand--
"...yet live."
A great evil still stalks the earth.
The pillars of their ideals-- neither have tumbled.
~ Wanderer... ~
Alma is not aware that his lips have quirked into a slight smile.
~ ...you will not be permitted to wander forever. ~
This battle will be fought.
And fought again.

COMBATSYS: Alma has ended the fight here.

Log created on 22:47:21 12/16/2010 by Alma, and last modified on 16:22:35 01/01/2011.