2015-03-11 - Sayaka vs. Juri!

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Title: Sayaka vs. Juri!

Encouraged by Touga, Sayaka -- in the guise of Miki Kaoru -- comes to the Dueling Arena to fight Utena for the power to save Miki's hand. Juri decides not to give up her place in line.


Sayaka Miki, Juri Arisugawa


The Dueling Arena

OOC - IC Date:

03-11-2015 - 06-05-2014

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka forgot to take it off yesterday. She'd been wearing it around so much lately, because she is Miki and all, but she was always sure to change before going into the house if she knew her parents were around. Most times that wasn't an issue, what with how busy they were, but she knew darn well that they'd be in yesterday, and she just breezed in with her epaulets burnished and her sword flapping against her outer thigh. It had been awkward, confronting them at the dinner table like that, and it took a bit of stammering before the obvious 'school play' excuse came out. Sayaka only lied about one thing, but she lied about it all the time.

Strangely, she didn't feel chastened by her error, but invigorated. In her room she danced a little twirl and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror midway, sky-colored hair rippling and horizontal, the cords under her epaulets waving gently back and forth like the seeking arms of anemone. She giggled, and when she planted her pointed toe on the ground again, she ecstatically ripped a half a foot of crystal blue blade into the moonlight, her other hand grasping the scabbard. She imagines drawing it the rest of the way, slicing through Utena's corsage. A miracle of love, not some bargain, a horse trade. Maybe this is how things were meant to happen all along.

The next morning, Sayaka stood in front of the mirror again, but though her uniform was the same, her face was not. The light of the morning was not so magical. Her room was a little dirty, her uniform had smudges. She tugged it back and forth to try and make it fit the way it had last night, wet her finger to arrange her hair. People said Sayaka didn't bother much with makeup and beauty because she was a tomboy, but now that she was a regular boy, she was pretty concerned with it, wasn't she? Sayaka thought it was funny, but she didn't stop. She arranged the face and clothing in the mirror as if it were a doll.

Her parents had already gone to work, so Sayaka was free to go downstairs in her regalia. She laid a hand on the door, and within the wood under her palm she felt echos of the violence of her last duel with Utena. It hadn't been so noble as she'd imagined; both girls were frenzied and off-balance. She could feel the little swipes of their swords inside the door, snip snip, like pixies were fighting in there. She removed her hand and grasped the knob...

...and a droplet separates from the bone-white door with a crystalline hum, popping atop the signet of her ring. Sayaka looks down, not fully noticing what happened, just feeling a slight cool sensation. Then the waters sluice down to either side in great shifting sheets, and war drums ignite in Sayaka's heart. Of course this uniform fits, she tells herself as the door parts for her and her foot grasps the first step. It's hers. It's Miki Kaoru's.

The spiral staircase spins around her dizzyingly, but she is the center, and it is the world that is dizzy. Perhaps she was not meant to be here, but she is, she is so gloriously here. She imagines the fine little bones in her hand separating and disaligning, and imagines the perfect moment where they rejoin and the fingers can flex once more. And right when she imagines Miki stepping up onto the stage of a symphony hall, her own stage rises before her and the rush of her own blood applauds in her ears, a broad imperial grid of stonework surrounding her in every direction.

Her smile is sharp as she takes a lanky step. "Utena Tenjou!" she calls.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Juri has had more to brood on than usual, in the long nights alone in her room with only wineglass and dark chocolate for company. Things other than herself.

Zoisite's crime -- Miki's injury.

Miki's suffering -- Miki's resolve.

Miki's defeat -- Sayaka's crime.

Touga's speech -- the upcoming duel.

A duel that will be, as inevitably as stars fall to Earth, not between Miki and Utena, but between Miki and Miki.

It's actually good for Juri, having something to think about other than herself. She doesn't quite think like that herself, and any awareness she might have of the relative enjoyment of brooding about Touga's insufferable meddling and Sayaka's damnable innocence, compared to the black morass of her normally depressed landscape, is just another excellent reason for self-hatred.

It is easier to externalize.

The appointed day comes; the appointed time arrives; and Juri, through her own means of cleverness, finesse, and intimidation, ensures that plans change.

Somewhere, in a high tower, men are laughing.

Juri isn't.


And there she is, standing in the middle of the arena, her own sword unsheathed and gleaming. It is heavier and longer than Miki's. It is harder to wield skillfully.

It is a killing sword, though for all her tortured soul, Juri has never killed anyone.

The look in her eyes indicates that there may be a first time for everything. There is coldness, and there is absolute zero, and then there is Juri. There is rage, and there is fury, and then there is Juri.

There are swordswomen, and then there are Duelists, and then there is Juri.

"Hello, Miki."

Her magnificent coiffure of liquid gold spills down her back like a mane. It's well-suited for her leonine grace, as she stalks across the distance between them.

She's holding two flowers. Two roses. One is the orange of a setting sun -- or a rising one, though she'd never see that for herself.

The other ought to be blue, royal blue, Princely blue.

But it is white.

She does not smile, her full lips tense and set in a line far straighter than she is.

'I'm sorry to disappoint your expectations,' she might say, except that she's not sorry, and she never apologizes if she doesn't mean it. Consequently, she never apologizes.

"Tenjou couldn't make it," she says instead, coolly. "I've come to give you what you need."

Her hand moves forward with perfect confidence to pin a rose on Sayaka's breast.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka lowers her chin slightly, her mouth stiffens, her eyes glare through her lashes, but it's all so very subtle. It's a borrowed expression.

Sayaka does not understand the rules of this game very well, and to her there is no distinction between beating Utena Tenjou and having the power to revolutionize the world. She does not see a structural alteration in a shifting plan with many players, she sees a barrier standing between her and Miki's smile. Nobody's gorgeous enough to distract from that.

Juri's kinda close, though.

"You," Sayaka challenges. Her hand is shaking... just the one she'll use to fight, oddly. Juri is far more formidable than her old foe. "You have nothing to do with this. I lost to Utena Tenjou, and now I'm going to have a rematch and beat her."

The approaching pinion on the corsage is the fang of a cobra, and Sayaka freezes, unable to do more than watch Juri's deadly eyes as the needle slips through her military jacket and fastens a plume of white petals. Utena might be a far better swordsman, more popular, prettier, more athletic than Sayaka. But prepared as she was to prove her merit against Utena, Juri is a different matter, like some horrible Old Testament angel whose beauty bleeds fire. That roar in her ears that had been applause turns terrible, and as soon as Juri's hand lifts, Sayaka stumbles back violently a few paces and clasps a fist to her clavicle defensively. It's like...

"Touga," Sayaka realizes. "Touga-sama told me I could fight her this way. What sort of Student Council Treasurer are you?! He's your senpai, and..." Sayaka reaches around inside her head wildly. "I'm your kohai," she says, with odd certainty. "Why are you going against us?"

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Juri accepts Sayaka's challenging 'you' with a razor-sharp inclination of her chin. 'Me,' it agrees.

Ensuring the rose is secure with a soft, oddly maternal tap, she drifts backwards to an appropriate starting distance. She doesn't yet secure her own flower, which means the duel hasn't yet started, obvious even to those who barely understand the rules. It hangs downwards, loosely clasped in her superbly formed fingers, staring at the floor with its perfumed face.

She waits out the younger girl's stammering, then lets the silence stretch. Touga isn't the only one for whom anticipation is a weapon, though Juri wields it more instinctively than deliberately.

"This has everything to do with me," she murmurs finally, "/Because/ Miki is my kohai." There's a subtle stress on 'my' as well, a fond possessiveness that could be easily mistaken for something it isn't. Juri is not Sayaka's rival for Miki's romantic love. But then, there's a stress on 'Miki', too, an inflection that accuses.

She isn't calling Sayaka 'Miki' because she recognizes the girl's right to Miki Kaoru's regalia. She's calling Sayaka 'Miki' because it's her surname, and they aren't close, and she doesn't want to be close.

"You stole his sword, and you stole his ring, and you stole his uniform. As though enough hasn't been taken from him already."

Her laughter is harsh and unamused. There is a bubble of raw grief within it. "And you prance around thinking that in wielding those tools, you /are/ him... playing Prince."

She looks past Sayaka, past the middle distance, to the stairs.

"I suppose it would be hard to bring a piano up all those steps, but if you had, I would not doubt your convictions the way I do."

Juri took the elevator, but she'll never tell. Besides, it wouldn't do for the eighty-eight strings of Miki's piano to get all tangled up with rose vines.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka can't really imagine Juri being in love with Miki, and is easily spared that pain. The humiliation of being called an imposter stings her cheeks, but Kozue had far more authority in the matter of who was and was not Miki, and Sayaka had endured that judgment without fundamentally altering her stance on the matter. And yet.

"You might be right," Sayaka agrees. "That it was Sayaka who stole those things, and that when this is over I'll stop wearing them and it will be obvious even to me that I'm not him. Maybe I'm not even him right now. But what matters, what really really matters, is that it's going to be Miki Kaoru fighting you."

The fist on Sayaka's breast slowly opens, and her fingers alight on her breastbone. "It's here, you know," she says, with a nixie's strange mischief. "The piano you want to see. I carried it up all those steps." Her hand is dropping, and fastens to the hilt of her sword.

"I carried it from my house this morning, too. I carry it to school, I carry it on the train, and... to the hospital."

With a sharp audible grimace of metal, Sayaka bares part of the blade, and her eyes snap up to Juri, her tone no longer fey and distant. "I carried it when I fought Utena Tenjou. When I /beat/ Utena Tenjou, even though she's stronger and taller and better."

A sizzling sound accompanies the rapier's withdrawal from its scabbard, and Sayaka, too, is baring her edge. "I am carrying that piano right now," Sayaka imprints an oath into the air. "If you don't believe it..."

The tip of the blade sings in the air as Sayaka drags it down to point at her foe like a compass needle. "Wear that rose and find out!"

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Juri disagrees with Sayaka silently on the point of 'it will be Miki Kaoru fighting you.' There's no time to interject, however, before the bluenette starts getting relatively poignant about other, more significant things. Shining things. These she listens to with more respect.

Minutely more. Her narrowed eyes gleam with impatience, frustration.

Her sword is already naked and gleaming in her hand, and has been this whole time, held without so much as a quiver at her side, lifted enough to keep it from the ground. It is a simple but outstanding display of strength and discipline.

"I am here to give you what you need," she repeats, in answer to the challenge. "You, Sayaka Miki. Third-year middle schooler, softball team player, classical music fan. Friend of Hitomi Shizuki and Madoka Kaname. Would-be savior of Miki Kaoru. A thief. A liar. A prospective wielder of /miracles/." Each descriptor is cuttingly judgemental, no single one less an insult than the next. There is no part of Sayaka Miki that impresses Juri Arisugawa, it seems.

Her free hand pins her rose smoothly, and her blade is brandished in a salute.

"And what you need is a valuable life lesson!" she barks.

The duel begins. Juri allows Sayaka to move first. You can tell this is so by how the white rose -- the rose of the challenger, the rose of cruel innocence -- is still on her breast.

"Tell me again what you're fighting for, Sayaka Miki," she instructs, as though they were on the mats of the Fencing Club. "Tell me why you're here."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka was honestly feeling pretty proud that Juri Arisugawa knew her name. All this info about her personal life takes her aback, and this time it's not a particularly positive feeling. "Madoka-chan has nothing to do with this!" she cries. She might not like hearing Hitomi's name spoken in such a cruel tone, but it's obvious which one she's subconsciously worried will end up tied to one of the big marble roses up here.

And the only thing I need from you," she says, hurrying into range and taking a deep stab that rotates her torso flat and twists her impassioned eyes to keep track of Juri, "is Utena Tenjou!"

They're alone here. Sayaka knows nothing of any audience, any opera glasses. If she speaks truth, then only Juri would hear it. Why is that enough, though, when she has lied and hidden her feelings for so long? Perhaps it is because the truth is so close to the skin now. Any cut and it bleeds right from her. But the thinner truth runs first. "Why do you need to ask?" she retorts. "I didn't steal anything from Miki-kun except his dream. He's too tired and sad to go any further!" Sayaka has no swordsmanship, not really, but she has an enegetic physicality, and she moves constantly and easily, making poor attacks but dumping her endurance out to cover what should have been an opening. Not that Juri really needs one left for her like a present.

"Nobody in this school has a more beautiful dream than Miki-kun! His hands can make songs, and when you listen to them you--you find things! Things you didn't know you were looking for. It's not right that he can't do that anymore. You and Utena Tenjou have everything you could ask for! If you're too selfish to give Miki's dream back to him, then I'm going to take it!"

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Juri is like a demon pitcher, a cruel music critic, and Bowser, Ganondorf and Master Hand all rolled into one awful end-boss that would take thirty reloads and countless extra lives to defeat.

Oh, and she's a turtle, apparently. The worst kind of turtle boss who seemingly easily and casually deflects every single blow slung at her, swatting aside Sayaka's blade with palm-jarring force each time. If she were wielding a softball bat, she'd be placing that ball in exactly the right spot between center field and left where the fielders struggle to avoid tripping over each other, where they run too late and fall short. Not once does she go on the offense, but every time she turns Sayaka's strikes into something just a little bit more exhausting than might be expected. A little bit more humiliating, in the way she refuses to strike back.

She is often described by friend and foe alike as poetry in motion, and that's as true today as ever, but the poem might go something like this:

sayaka miki
thinks herself mighty and strong
and proves herself wrong

Or, perhaps:

There once was a maiden named Miki
Whose tricky young fingers were sticky
She took Miki's ring
To help his blade sing
But really just wanted his...

"Stop pretending this is about Miki-kun!" Juri snaps, as Sayaka's declaration turns to what it is she's here to take. "If you really cared about him, you wouldn't have taken the only thing he had left -- his identity. Now, at the time when he needs most to figure out who he really is!"

She parries another strike, and another, getting progressively more passionate, which is low and terrible to behold, like an earthquake with malice. Her voice drops another several degrees, which is really impressive since it was already off the scales of science.

"This isn't about his dream. This is about /your/ dream. You're fighting for /your/ miracle."

She shakes her head, fierce in her disgust.

"There's nothing for you here."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Well you know what, Juri? When Madoka starts looking weepy at the arcade, who do you think takes the joystick? True love, like Sayaka's for Miki, has infinite lives. Who wouldn't restart over and over for the one they loved?

Sayaka's blows always end up bigger than she meant, due to Juri's intervention. She stabs deeper, swings wider. Her arms keep hyperextending, and she's young enough that it doesn't matter but it begins to exhaust her. It's like chasing after the ball that fell out of your glove; tiring, awkward, humiliating, tough on the back. Sayaka, at least, has a stern endurance backed up by passionate intent, and she can stand to work ten times as hard as Juri is for a while.

"You think," she pants, "that I'll believe something like that? What identity does he have without music?" If she gives up on actually trying to hit Juri, Sayaka finds that she can retain some control, and so she does that for two angry strokes, just attacking Juri's blade. "You're the one who's pretending to care about him," she says. "I have to beat the best fencers in school to save his dream! All you needed to do was stay in bed today!"

She wheels away after another forcibly overextended strike, really gasping for air, taking a moment to wipe her eyebrow of sweat. This blade-poem of Juri's is in a language she doesn't speak, but somehow it's getting to her in a way beyond the simple frustration and fear it provokes martially.

"It's not about what I want," she says, too sharply. "If you really understood his feelings, you wouldn't want him to figure out who he is now! Every time he gets closer to understanding it he hurts more! Even Madoka-chan thinks I'm fooling myself, but I'm not! Even I don't think the doctors can help anymore." Sayaka has stopped attacking, at least with her sword. "But even if he hates me for telling him this stuff about gaijin doctors and new surgeries, maybe if I make him think just a little bit that he might..." Sayaka wipes her eye again, but this time it's lower than the eyebrow.

"HRRR!" she growls suddenly, and attacks again, the red in her eyes giving her strength, the contact of their swords louder when they shriek apart, Sayaka tossed away over and over, and a few such repetitions calmed her until she was capable of making a sad smile. "You forgot somebody, you know. Hitomi Shizuki, Madoka Kaname... and Mami Tomoe!" A quick clang. "So even if I'm not that smart, I know a lot more about miracles than you do. Mami-senpai taught me that a miracle /should/ come from me! They go bad if they're for someone else. And I went bad too."

Sayaka starts attacking quickly again, and her exhausting recoveries look cheerful despite the sweat now drenching her bangs. "But this time! I'm doing it the right way! The way Mami-senpai taught me! And even though you're right that it's my miracle, I know it's still a true miracle!" She begins to stab rapidly, much harder to dissuade suddenly, diving deeply and happily into her puncturing lunges.

"Because Miki and I!


The same!


<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Juri fends off Sayaka's strikes, allowing the beats against her blade to be drawn out into a protracted exchange, stage fencing, the kind that is dramatic and exciting but not at all anything to do with decisive victory, or crushing defeat.

At the same time, she's fending off all these attacks to her heart, which is more vulnerable. This totally blind belief in miracles is painful -- and the blatant, willful blindness infuriating. It may be innocence, but the cruelest possible kind.

She looks at Sayaka's cheer, as she fights for the one she loves, and sees herself reflected in the reds of her eyes. Herself before the one she loved threw her over for someone else.

Her own eyes close, long lashes curling over her cheekbones like curtains pulled shut before a play. Despite that, her blade continues to be drawn to the other girl's unerringly, going into a long, spark-kindling lock in order to buy herself a moment's grief.

"I'm sorry," she says for the first time in a very long time, and the words drop from her lips like guillotine blades, "But that just isn't true."

She allows the bladelock to end, and doesn't bother parrying the next few lunges, letting her footwork carry herself out of the way, and Sayaka's momentum carry her opponent past her.

Golden curls fly as she glances over her shoulder.

"Miki Kaoru doesn't dream of playing the piano. He's been fighting all along, for something he lost long before his hand."

She sounds tired. Old. In some ways, she is.

"And he thinks he's found it in Anthy Himemiya." It doesn't take a genius to understand the nature of that phrasing: Juri is not wildly impressed with this pairing. But still... "He loves her, Miki-san. And if your every plan played out the way you wished -- if you defeated me, and Tenjou, and won the power to heal his hand..."

He would turn around and play with Anthy. Worse: he would fight Sayaka to make sure that right was preserved. Juri turns to face her opponent head on, blade once again held at the guard position, sensing that the tenor of the fight is either about to change, or intensify, or both.

She smoulders, imagining herself as the Champion, the Engaged, wielding this power and left all alone. It's a nightmare she lives in, and the single most compelling reason she avoids being an active contender for the title whenever possible. She can't face it.

And Sayaka, this beautiful, vulnerable, innocent girl, is equipped even less than she is. This is a mirror that hasn't been shattered, not yet.

She hesitates, hating to be the one to crack the girld's shell. It looks like an opening. It looks like weakness. It looks like the perpetual motion murder machine that is Ohtori's finest swordswoman, turning instead into the statue that so many artists desire to preserve through photography or portrait.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Miki's sword, thinner and lighter, trembles in Sayaka's grip as she endures the bladelock with considerable more difficulty than Juri, her teeth tight with effort. She has a moment to stare into Juri's eyes, past the velvet curtain of her lashes, and see in them an unsought emotion, one that frightens her. Sincerity is more dangerous than sadism.

Sayaka's arms falter, her sword dipping back toward her shoulder. The disengage treats her poorly, but she's back on the attack in an instant, this time finding not even a blade to greet her. She feels like she's on stage, in this grand white uniform of hers, but she does not feel like the hero. She feels like the supporting character who is about to die. Focus! One swipe on that rose and it doesn't matter how good a fencer Juri is!

The mention of Anthy Himemiya, if thrown simply as a taunt, would not have cut so deep. The fact that it somehow seems to wound Juri makes it seem true in a way that it had not from Kozue. Sayaka stops attacking, holding her sword in both hands as if it had gotten very heavy. Her eyes brim with diamonds. She shakes them away fiercely.

"It doesn't matter," she says tightly. "Maybe I didn't know about Himemiya-san, but I didn't expect him to never think about girls. I don't know who he loves. But I could hear his feelings in his music. I believe I'll hear them again someday."

She sees what looks like a weakness, and she lunges, sacrificing her body's balance, her heart's, sacrificing her defenses and dignity and fear. "And I believe that he'll hear my feelings too!" she cries, her sword a beam of glinting light.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Believe in miracles... and they will know your true feelings.

Quicker than a ray of light, Juri's sword interposes with such force as to strike bones to humming, buzzing not like mighty gongs but like windchimes struck by a passing gust of summer breeze.

It is the only element of the moment that evokes peace.

As though she was possessed in the instant that her face turned away, when she turns back she is wholly transformed. Her face is skeletal white, her eyes dark and hot with fury, her expression transformed by rage into something ugly, something frightening.

This is a grief that burns with air-distorting heat, unrecognizable to someone who has not experienced it themselves. Even her shadow, stark against the white floor of the Arena, seems different, monstrous. Her curls, which flow around her face as she spins outwards, are like the heads of a hydra. At any moment she might bare fangs.

"Not -- like -- this," she hisses, suddenly going on the offense for the first time in the entire battle. It is instantly, humiliatingly obvious that Juri was simply dragging things out for some other purpose, to listen and to speak. Even now, with the rate of blows that slash out towards Sayaka, she does not cut for the rose, instead slicing other things away.

A shoulder strap strikes the ground. A button. A cord. A cuff.

It is as unstoppable as an avalanche -- and like a mountain's wrath, it can be fled, but sans help, rarely outrun.

"Leave this place!" she howls as she, with sublime control, rips a gash straight across the front of the uniform, leaving Sayaka in tatters without touching her skin at all, only her dignity, her dignity and her supposed, stolen identity. What's worse, she, too, seems blinded by tears, diamonds left behind her with every inexorable lunge and sweep forwards. "Your hands! Are not! For battle!"

Is she talking to Sayaka or Miki? How much of this grief is for herself -- and how much for his wound, and her sense of responsibility for it as his fencing teacher?

"And no amount of /dueling/ can save them!"

She packs more scorn into the word, the premise, than the eighth-grade class receives from Nanami Kiryuu in a year. It is black and dripping with toxicity.

"THERE IS NOTHING FOR YOU HERE--" The scream rings off of the sky more loudly than the tolling bells.


She gets in close, close enough to steal a kiss. She doesn't. Instead she keeps yelling. It all happens so fast; it happened a second ago.


The white rose is scattering on the wind, blowing away into the endless horizon.


Behind her, sitting on top of the archway that frames the top of the stairs, is a pink-eyed silhouette. Juri doesn't see it. She's busy breathing heavily, not due to physical exertion, but that of overwrought feelings. Now her face is hidden, invisible behind the modesty curtain of her magnificent, tumbling hair.

"Get out of here," comes a hoarse rumble from the lioness, under the peal of the bells that have rushed to fill the silence as surely as the tide washes away footprints in the sand. She's out of roar before she's out of pain to feel and pain to share. "Don't /ever/ come back. This isn't a place for a girl like you."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka's face, for all its tension, is joyful. She is on the attack, but there is no cruelty in it. It's the flower she wants. It's the /future/ she is striking out towards. What had seemed so distant for so long is mere inches away. Her rapier hovers over the orange petals like the great shiny scissors ready to cut a ribbon on the grand opening of her future happiness.

She's confused, at first. Her sword isn't moving the way it should. With the malevolent logic of nightmares it disobeys, it does what she least wishes, perhaps because she least wishes it. And then she is staring at Juri's terrifying anger and realizing, for the first time, that she was always more than a fearsome roadblock. Her fear of Juri in that moment is just the latest in a long list of weaknesses that could have lost her this battle all on their own.

Sayaka also understands the awful dilemma of the fencer, now, how tragic the task of a little line of metal in trying to cover so many angles. It doesn't matter where she puts her sword, or how quickly, or how hard she tries. She leaves open a thousandfold more openings than she closed off, and Juri takes her favorite. This precious uniform, the sign Sayaka had been given from on high, suffers with every passing moment. Had Samson been awake to watch his locks fall to the ground, one by one, he could not have been more frantic with grief. Jerked back and forth by the slashes, Sayaka soon loses what semblance of a combat stance she had and uses her free hand to leap from loss to loss, covering her bare wrist, her shoulder.

"Stop it," she breathes, frantic, and perhaps that is the moment she lost the last of her faith that she was Miki, because all she could think about was how poorly she was treating his uniform. "Don't ruin it!" she shouts desperately, and it's then that she is slashed so violently, the tearing sound and force twisting her around, that she thinks she has been slain.

Miki's sword clangs loudly to the ground as Sayaka covers the deep, long gash with her arm. But there is no blood. Her jacket is ripped wide, hanging open almost to the waist, and scissored apart on both sides of that gash, sleeves in shambles, the remnants of her epaulets slumped and threadbare. The uniform had made her torso such a smart, neat triangle of strength, but it has no shape to it now. Buttons glint here and there on the ground.

Without a sword, eyes filled with tears, Sayaka tries to stumble back. Re-arming herself is beyond her ambitions, now, she just clumsily retreats. The fact that Juri continues is the most terrifying thing she's ever seen in another human being. The uniform is ruined! Any chance of its repair is ended, and yet with vicious precision Juri keeps ripping it, every scrap that drops an offering to whatever agony possesses her.

To Sayaka it is like Juri keeps striking a broken rib. When Juri wheels into her reach, Sayaka is red-cheeked from sobbing, and Juri is robed in flame. Juri sees in Sayaka's eyes the blind, terrified hatred of an uncomprehending animal. And then the rose lifts into the air, broken beyond compare, so wounded that the wind alone can disassemble it. It snips Sayaka's threads and she falls.

Her knees take the brunt of it. It's the only physical injury she's gotten during this entire quest, and the shame of that will not escape her later when she holds ice to it. They strike solidly and the pain shoots through them and makes them useless, and her hands hit the stone as if she had slapped them down with all her strength. Kneeling there, a bristly mass of sawn threads and disorderly rags suspended over her untouched skin and undershirt, Sayaka feels nothing of the present, instead suffering the last instant of her battle pass before her blank eyes with all the sloth of inevitability.

She had had no weight, the purpose cut from her like ballast, so it did not seem as if she'd actually fall. As the rose peeled itself apart, there were red eyes behind it.

Sayaka's chest is almost too tight to weep. Her tears come out through their own pressure, and she chokes on her breath. Juri's admonition lands on her, makes her flinch. After a moment, she reaches around blindly, and starts crawling towards Miki's sword, holding her uniform together with one hand the way she might cover a wound with a palm. She doesn't rise until she has the weapon in her hand. Then, head down, she starts limping to the staircase.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Behind her, unseen by Juri, who is blinded by a fresh wave of grief at the sight of another shattered mirror, and unseen by Sayaka herself, for he stalks behind her like a hunter, not beside her like a friend...

...Kyuubey follows in her shadow's footsteps.