2019-02-25 - TIMELINE 3: Transgressing Mercy! The Sinister Design of Tools

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Title: TIMELINE 3: Transgressing Mercy! The Sinister Design of Tools

Mikoto intends to survive. Kasagami intends to break her. They are both well-designed for their purpose.


Mikoto Minagi, Kasagami Araki


Ohtori Academy (Forest)

OOC - IC Date:

2019-02-25 - 2014-09-15

.******************** Yamanote High City - Ohtori Academy *********************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Garden +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 Ohtori's grounds rarely miss a chance to include flowers, particularly roses
 and poppies, whether they be in planters, decorating terraces, or engraved
 into the stone walls. Nowhere is this theme more evident than in the
 courtyard garden, an open-air enclosure surrounded by the pillars of nearby
 walkways, permitting those traversing the facility to enjoy a bit of natural
 beauty on their way to class.

 The courtyard features a French formal garden, with nature kept in strict
 manicured order, man's dominion over nature turning shrubs and blooms into
 paint for the gardener's brush. A great glass jewel of a greenhouse
 dominates the courtyard, with the same lacelike white-painted cast iron that
 decorates the walkways supporting its cloudy antique glass panels.

 In contrast to without, the garden within the greenhouse is rampant and
 lush. Order is maintained with a subtler hand, and everywhere the flowers
 and trees are permitted to spill a bit, nature's cornucopia lovely in its
 excess. Exotic, oddly-shaped blooms that would wither outside the glass cage
 flourish within the winterless warmth, and small quantities of tropical
 citrus fruits are produced, most destined to be gifts for valued visitors.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Darren Korb - Surviving Exile https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypvsPO2K9mI

Of course the magical girls have gone to ground - in Ohtori's forest. With the school and town swarming with soldiers, there's no other place to hide. But there are monsters in the woods, pale of cloak and claw, and it is not safe here either.

It is important to keep moving.

Perhaps Mikoto could rest at the tenuous base Eri has established for them; but they need to survive. The Puella Magi need Grief Seeds so they can keep fighting, of course, but there is something even more key which they all require: sustenance. Not even a Puella Magi can survive just on magic. And without food, Mikoto will have no energy for her magic at all.

Her tulle stole is torn, one side ripped away, and her bare arm reveals the pale red birthmark of the HiME. She has shed her heels, and the white socks below are stained; above, the hem of her dress is torn and jagged. What was once an elegant magenta ballgown is dirty, now, as if she has been rolling in the leaf-litter; leaves are still caught in her hair, a twig in a braid. She does not have her sword in hand.

And she has been sitting motionless by a warren-hole for ten minutes now. It is a process which has been interrupted three times already. Hunting is a patient practice, easily-interrupted by Orphan patrols.

(They are acting with intent, cleverly, and Mikoto does not like it.)

But here, now, finally a rabbit emerges, and whip-quick her hands dart out to catch it. She holds it firmly, body in one hand, head in the other, and her wrist twists in a sharp motion. Rabbits are silent things, but they scream when they die. It is right, and good, and just.

It is also loud.

Mikoto hisses a breath through grit teeth as she springs up into the branches. Perhaps they will think it was another animal. This is a forest; it is alive. It is not uncommon for something to die.

But she is not the only one hunting. It is an uncomfortable truth that, like her feline friends, Mikoto is both predator and prey. It is why she is so tense, now.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Being on the conspirator's side has quite a few advantages. One of those just happens to be things like fresh clothes, water, and no need to hunt down sustenance in a forest while still in full ballroom attire.

Which the Student Council uniform this particular golden oni-horned mask'd hunter has donned in the dark crimson she so prefers. The Crimson Rook has taken to this particular hunt with gusto. Of course, hunting in a forest is slightly outside of her wheelhouse. She comes from a samurai family, not a bunch of insane survivalists.

So instead she's using a bit of knowledge of where the Orphan patrols might go, and where one might go to avoid getting spotted. The Rook has her long blade over one shoulder as she flashes from tree to tree with intent in the shadow of a particular patrol of those horrible youma. The things make her side ache. Too bad they're useful pawns.

A rabbit dies. Kassie pauses, blinks, and slowly grins. She stops at a tree closest to the sound. And then...she waits, and listens. For noise, for confirmation.

Just long enough that someone might get a sense of relief. It's then she simply steps out into the clearing between the trees.

"Coooome out little hunter! I hear that someone's being an enterprising little rebel! Don't bother hiding, I'll find you eventually. Or the Orphans will, and you can't exactly negotiate with those bloodthirsty monsters."

Smiiiile. "I might actually listen to what you have to say."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

At first she hears the Orphans as they pass some ways away, and that is a small relief. But she can smell someone else who comes in the wake of them, filling in the gaps in their patrol, and Mikoto does not feel relief any longer, because the Crimson Rook is not moving. She does not move, either, tense and silent, grasping her rabbit by the ears. She evens her breath, slows it.

And then the Crimson Rook steps out and calls for her, and Mikoto has to come to a decision.

If she is calling for her, perhaps she has not yet seen her. It would be better if Mikoto did not have to fight; she is tired, and hungry, and stressed. But the Crimson Rook knows she is in the area, and if Mikoto leaves her in doubt, she will no doubt call in a patrol, and there will be more enemies to deal with.

She is sure her heartbeat will give her away, but perhaps it is just the blood pounding in her ears.

Yes - perhaps she'll find them, eventually.

Shouldn't Mikoto take care of it now?

Didn't she say she'd protect them?

For long moments, the only answer the Crimson Rook receives is silence. It is broken in two parts: the subtle shift of leaves as a corpse is tucked between two branches, and then with a bellowing cry from above. "MIROKU!"

From the sky a black blade swings down, to embed in the ground. A moment later a dirtied pink flash darts down from the trees, to wrap her hands around its hilt and wrest it from the earth.

The girl in a golden mask says she'll listen, but talking to them only makes things hard and complicated.

Mikoto does not negotiate, and for once she does not yell, either. She gives no warning as she launches straight from that motion to a lunging strike, charging forward and swinging her claymore up from below, as if to punish the Crimson Rook for carrying her blade on a shoulder. Just below her own is the sign of the HiME. The Crimson Rook hardly needs a photograph.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The familiar words, and the sight of that blade slamming into the ground tells the Crimson Rook all she needs to know. The small, fast blurr that is HiME Mikoto comes at her with that obsidian blade swinging with a deadly purpose.

A gasp spills from the Rook. But it's not one of terror. Rather, it's one of surprise and delight. Out of all of those known HiME? She'd taken a liking to the thought of one in particular.

Knowing she can't get her blade down in time, she kicks to the right and pulls into roll that saves her from being cut in half. A nearby tree eats it, and the Duelist is missing an arm of her longcoat. First blow to Mikoto.

A laugh is ripped from the Crimson Rook as boots land solidly. The young woman is fast as lightning. Her sword, while much lighter than Mikoto's, is still all about momentum and large, sweeping arcs. A one handed, warding striking is made before she steps. Then, she moves into an advancing series of sweeping slashes. Move, turn, spin. Then she's gone, returns, spinning into yet another powerful slash aimed at Mikoto's limbs.

She's not trying to kill the girl, just cut her and slow her down.

"How lucky can I get!? Mikoto Minagi! You had me so damn jealous, dancing with the White Queen! I'd say you should lay down your weapon...but honestly I'd be sad if you did. Because you're not like the rest of those HiME. You're a swordsman, just like me!"

She changes from those long horizontal strikes, gripping her sword with both hands.

"SO SHOW ME EVERY TECHNIQUE OF THE MINAGI FAMILY! On your honor and your pride, I challenge you!" SLASH. With a howl and a grin on her face, she doesn't hold back.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Mikoto generally tries to avoid deadly strikes. Mai would be sad. Secondarily, Madoka and Yumi would also be sad.

But Mikoto is in a desperate situation, right now. It's plainly evident, even in motion: the Crimson Rook is well-kept. Mikoto is not. She's a very country sort of girl, compared to the people of Tokyo, but even she's not used to living like this. Perhaps she's being a little less careful than she ought to be, because she knows she has to end it quickly.

There are a lot of different ways to be better.

The Crimson Rook is laughing. Mikoto is not. She's fast - too fast - and Mikoto can see the exclusion zone created by that nodachi. Hers is a claymore, but the styles of a greatsword are not so different, even between regions. They do not do things by half-measures.

Knowing this, Mikoto steps forward to meet the Crimson Rook in her efforts to build momentum. Perhaps her initiative saves her, because it means Miroku is already coming up when that nodachi comes down. It means she can lock blade with blade - instead of blade with bone. She grits her teeth as she tries to force that blade back with her own, narrows her eyes as the Crimson Rook talks.

She knows her.

They all seem to know her.

Has she not been careful enough?

"We're not," she grits out, from between clenched teeth, "dancing." No matter what certain people might say.

The nodachi forces past - catches at the remains of her tulle stole as Mikoto turns her body away to save her shoulder from being carved like a roast. It rips and tears away, the remains hanging in tatters over the sash at her waist.

And all a sudden the Crimson Rook changes tactics, and Mikoto's eyes widen as she tosses herself to the side, landing in a roll to avoid the overhead swing. She rises in a crouch, arm scratched from a fallen branch - better than being split in two. "And I'm not like you," she growls. Drawing in breath past open lips, she springs forward again, and this time it is her blade swinging horizontal - right for her centre.

"This isn't fun!" She says, the accusation sharp in the face of the Crimson Rook's laughter and her own severe expression.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Oh, I beg to differ, Mikoto-chan! What can you call conflict between two swordsmen other than a dance? One of steel, of muscle, and of sublime skill! No waltz can come even close to the excitement and intimacy of those who clash blades!" Comes Kassie, voice filled with joy and the fury of combat. The Crimson Rook truly enjoys it.

Which, when Mikoto says she doesn't, causes her gaze to soften just a touch.

"Oh, Mikoto! That's what's wrong with you! Having such talent with a sword, and not enjoying using it? Come now, my Mother always taught me to enjoy your life's work! You'd be wasting all that skill otherwise."

She squints slightly, even as that giant blade comes to split her in two. This time she doesn't dodge. Instead, her sword swings in turn. Blade hits blade, and then Kasagami presses her right hand to the spine of her blade. She's pushed back from the weight of Mikoto's swing...only to dig in with her boots.

She's much taller, and soon Kasagami is trying to use her leverage advantage to inch Mikoto's own sword right back towards her body. The Rooks arms flex under her uniform. Practically steel as she puts her back into it, she grunts as she presses.

"If you don't love the art of the blade, then why do you hold one? For a dream? Or for...family perhaps?"

Smirk. "For a certain 'Lord Brother'?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The Crimson Rook's gaze softens, but Mikoto's does not. She is a harsh, sharp thing, with no give to her expression. And if the Crimson Rook expresses concern for her outlook - Mikoto hardly seems to even acknowledge it.

A conflict between warriors is not a dance.

It is life and death.

It is not the way of greatswords to defend; it is so much easier to meet offence with offence, and to protect the body with overwhelming strength. It's not surprising to Mikoto at all, when the Crimson Rook brings her blade about to lock in with obsidian.

She snarls and presses forward, and at first her momentum is enough. But the Crimson Rook has the raw advantage of size, and soon it is Mikoto who is having to dig in her heels. She does not have the advantage of boots. It was too much trouble trying to move around in heels.

At first there is little give to her stance, either, even with the iron might her opponent brings to bear.

But a blade is not the only weapon a warrior may wield.

Her eyes narrow in suspicion as the Crimson Rook fishes for her answer. It makes it all the more obvious when she falls on that answer - and Mikoto's eyes widen - and her breath comes in sharp gasp - and for a moment there is a weakness in her struggle, and the Crimson Rook is able to push her nodachi forward, and Miroku back. Her hands grip its hilt, white-knuckled, and Miroku is close enough to her that she can see herself in its reflection.

And her face in the blade is stricken.

"Don't," she snarls warning, but it is as much desperation as it is anger, this time. It is all she can do to hold her back.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Right when that blade is so close from their struggle, when Mikoto is gasping and finally those eyes open with so much emotion?

Kasagami presses just a little harder. Not hard enough to shove blade to throat to end it, only enough to form a little red line. The threat of harm. A warning. Maybe even a promise. Then she eases off. Her smile to Mikoto is a warm thing, and her eyes filled with respect.

"...Well,whoever your brother is, he must be a good guy to make those pretty eyes of yours convulse in anger when it's your hide on the line. That anger in your face...GOOD! Anyone who threatens a family member should be cut by the family's defender! I'm going out on a limb here and saying that's you!" Griiiin! Then she rams her boot towards Mikoto's ribs with horrible amounts of force. Those things are steel toed, and those long legs of the Rook's have quite the power behind them.

"And if that's the case, I have a proposal! You surrender, I take you in, and as a reward? Well, you saw the power of my allies! And you're feeling my own strength. Hah, maybe you could even work with us! It'd be a trivial thing to help you find your Brother with allies like us...what do you have to lose?" Suggests the young woman!

And then she kicks again! "After our fight though! I've been itching to get to know you personally ever since I saw you! COME ON! HIT ME HARD!"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> t.A.T.u. - Running Blind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlvJC0FUuKU

Obsidian is sharp; it cuts. Mikoto has made promises before. Her breath shallows and she does not flinch or look away and she does - not - move.

What does she know; what does she know; what does she know. Is he in danger? And for that scarce moment she does not at all think - of whether she is in danger. Her concern is consumptive. And yes, she is angry, because the Crimson Rook is her enemy, and if she has let her enemy get near him...

Oh, certainly she still holds her arms firm, still tries to force her blade forward, away from herself.

It is entirely an automatic reaction.

The Crimson Rook relents and Mikoto breathes again, and it is not just because she is not being pressed in so severely. She does not speak as if she knows him; she has not found him; he is safe. Mikoto inclines her head in a slight nod at her guess, because she has seen the truth of it, and Mikoto is not well-equipped to lie. Men think, and women fight. It is right for her to be his blade.

She has no room to reply further, because the Crimson Rook is lashing out not with blade but with boot. Mikoto has little time to do anything but bring the flat of her blade between that steel toe and her ribs; the force behind her weight sends her staggering back.

And the Crimson Rook keeps talking.

Mikoto bristles in a snarl, and this time when her opponent kicks, she springs away before it can find purchase. "Serve two masters?" She snaps, the words acrid and more telling than she means to say. Gold conflicts with obsidian. She cannot balance them. "Already know what happens when I take favours from you!" The Woman in Black almost managed to get her to drag Mai into danger, just with her words. It is a debt which she may still need to pay. She's trying not to think about it. "It's my duty! I don't need help!"

She growls low warning, as her stance shifts. "How dare you - use my Lord Brother's name to make me obey? My Lord Brother will not be someone else's tool! I WILL NOT ALLOW IT!" Her voice builds to a roar, and no matter her flagrancy, the Crimson Rook gets precisely what she wants from invoking that name.

Oh, not in surrendering, no.

But certainly, Mikoto is going to hit her. Hard.

Because that shift in musculature was the first warning, even before her indignation. Mikoto does not charge forward but instead bends at the knees and leaps, and gravity is her ally as she swings Miroku overhead in a powerful vertical slash. It promises to split branch and stone; flesh is no object.

And she is not thinking about whether Mai would be sad.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Away flits her opponent, and the Crimson Rook sighs in disappointment. She runs a hand through her hair to put it back into place. A grin.

"That's a true shame! You're strong, cunning, and skilled! I hate to see you waste your life searching. A tool, huh? Everyone is a tool to someone else when you get right down to it. We're all just using each other to our own ends. What's wrong with it? Aren't you a tool to someone too?"

She can't taunt too much, though, as Mikoto once more shows her skill. The Rook's eyes narrow beneath her mask. The Duelist can tell just how much power is behind such a strike. Given how much heavier Miroku is, she doesn't like the odds of blocking the thing: from on high, she could get bowled over or worse, her family sword might give way.

And that is not something she can allow. Kasagami carefully steps back just enough that it won't completely bisect her. The keen edge does find purchase, lashing a thin red line across her arm through coat and uniform. The girl grunts, laughing, once more lashing out with an over-the-shoulder downwards slice upon the landing Mikoto.

"So merciless! Ahhhhhh, this is a real fight with a true warrior! I'm so lucky!"

Light seems to reflect, to bounce around the pair. Like a trio of reflections, Kasagami's blade is going for Mikoto's sides all in the same instant!

"To think that your Brother would abandon you like this! ....Do you even know if he's alive?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

'What's wrong with it? Aren't you a tool to someone too?'

Again Mikoto feels that uncomfortable familiarity, and against it her eyes narrow and her teeth grit. She does not like the way they know the measure of her. She does not like discovering it like this.

If only she were a liar.

Anger is her shield, and there is nothing defensive about it as she crashes down. Her nostrils flare at the scent of blood, and using her momentum she ducks low in the opposite direction as the nodachi comes down; it catches at the edge of her arm where she cannot quite move fast enough, and now there are two red lines. She vocalises through her teeth, a pained wordless noise.

Her movement marks the beginning of a roll, and she springs up further away from the Crimson Rook. But the nodachi's reach is long - and the Crimson Rook is larger than she is, more easily able to clear the ground between them. She thinks her eyes must be playing tricks on her, but she cannot tell in the instant where the blade will strike true. She could strike one of them, evade one of them. So many?

Instead she plants her feet and she spins in revolution, creating a zone of exclusion around herself. One sword glances off of it; two.

But there are three lights, Mikoto.

The third catches her in the back as she turns, slipping past her weighty defence to slice along the back of her exposed shoulder, as if her lopsided dress has itself betrayed her. It is not deep, and Mikoto knows the glancing nature of the blow is the reason she can still grasp her sword as the steel leaves her skin. It still hurts. She can feel it with every movement of her arm.

It's not the thing which makes her stagger back, though. Pain doesn't hurt the way words do.

If only she were a liar; but Mikoto is such an honest girl, and she has never been able to hide anything. The horror on her face is unvarnished. A shallow breath catches through lips which fall open with the widening of her eyes. He would never abandon her; he loves her. He would never, but --

-- she has been searching for a year --

-- she has not found him --

-- "no," Mikoto says, and the word is small. It is wrong, must be wrong, but even the cruel lie is ice around her heart. "No, my Lord Brother isn't..." Her lips begin to shape the mora and she cannot make herself say it. If he is dead, what is the point of her?

And she is in a defensive position, now, has drawn herself up as if she can abjure ideas just like a blade. "Stop playing with me," she says, and she meant to demand it but the words are winnowed to a plea by her fear.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

And so the Crimson Rook has found the chink in Mikoto's dreadful armor.

The frown that she gives to her opponent is sympathetic. It's even a touch real, despite how she uses Mikoto's pain shamelessly against her.

When Mikoto's on the defensive, Kasagami pounces. A strike on her blade. Hard, quick, not meant to hurt so much as further drive back the young woman towards a tree. To entanglement in brush, and where she'll have that much more trouble keeping up the defense. And so her words keep coming.

"Oh, I'm not playing. I am simply telling you that there's only two real possibilities here that make sense. If your Lord Brother loves you, values your skills, then he'd do anything in his power to make sure you're by his side. You wouldn't need to search for him! Because family protects each other."

Her eyes narrow a touch. "And you're such a good sister. I don't want to think of your Brother as a bad man. Chances are he wouldn't throw you away. He's probably dead, Mikoto. I know how easy it is to make up memories, to forget the fact your family is dead...but you can't hide from that sort of thing forever you know?"

Both hands grip her sword again, and then she's a whirlwind of spinning strikes.

"It just eats you up inside and makes everything hurt!"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Akira Yamaoka - When You're Gone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrzNABqN420

Mikoto catches the strike on her blade, reflexively, and she does not realise she is being guided. Perhaps she ought - but the Crimson Rook is still talking.

She should not listen, but a weakness in armor plating, once hit, splits and exposes flesh.

It doesn't make sense - it doesn't - and her head shakes side to side, slightly, as she denies it all wordlessly. All a sudden her throat feels very dry, and she does not realise it is because her jaw is still ajar. "No," she whispers, and the word is hoarse.

Her heel catches on a root and she moves sharply to regain her balance, and it is a moment of distraction which sees another narrow line along her leg. The hem of her dress tears, ripped effortlessly by an edge kept sharp with the love of those remaining.

And she asks, and she asks: is she all which remains?

"Stop it," Mikoto hisses, and then she can say nothing at all because she is only action and reaction. Perhaps it is admirable, the way she can move on instinct to fight even as her mind roils. Perhaps it is indicative.

Another girl might notice how the Crimson Rook reveals herself in turn, but Mikoto has never tried to reach out to the wayward. She does not turn the pain back on her, does not interrogate; she does not think that way at all.

In many ways she does not think at all.

She knows her family is not dead; they are alive; they are waiting on her success. "Liar," Mikoto accuses her, with all the hostility of a cornered beast in its fright. "You're ones who want me eaten!" The Black Bishop wants to turn the world against her; the White Queen wants her to accept blame. They fight their wars inside her head, long after they have left. And she should not listen, but they have ways of catching her ear.

Mikoto grasps her blade and forces power into her swing, to force the Crimson Rook back, to give her some breathing room. "I won't allow you to talk about my Lord Brother that way!" She insists, and here, now, finally anger overtakes the fear again, though the remainder threads through her expression and her voice like a shadow which lingers. Let's call the mixture... 'desperation.' "I'll make you regret it!"

The declaration becomes a yell as she forces her blade forward, again, again. Sharp, horizontal strikes, and somehow she hefts the weight of her claymore to meet their requirements. And yes, there is strength behind them, but they are wild things, untamed and unchecked and undirected. She has been thoroughly disrupted.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

That heavy, terrifying blade swings for her. Kasagami, for all of her physical prowess, is outmatched in pure weight. Those wild blows do indeed start to push her back from sheer strength. Yet they never quite get to her right to give anything more than a moment's breath of room.

The taller girl uses her height to maintain leverage and her lighter long-blade to meet and re-direct rather than contest at the same angles. Blades clash and sparks fly, Kassie herself gets a few scratches across limbs, but she can feel her advantage.

And so she lets out a laugh that's both triumphant and full of pity. "Oh, yes, that's right! Deny, deny, deny! Get angry! Even assuming you can make me regret what I'm doing today, even if you kill me right here...it won't change reality!"

A step back, grip, and then she ducks one of Mikoto's blows. She aims a straight stab for the shoulder as she uses her nodachi not unlike a spear when she spies the right time. Again, she's trying to disable rather than kill.

"You're scared, aren't you? Scared that I'm right. I wish I wasn't. Accept the truth, give up, join us. Maybe then you'll find some kind of peace, even if the pain won't ever really go away. I'm sorry kiddo. Dead or alive there's no logical reason that things are going to end well for you with your Brother."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

What does the Crimson Rook know of reality?

She is laughing at Mikoto, laughing at her as if her purpose, her belief, her existence is some kind of cosmic joke. She bristles and snarls, and she is cornered.

That blade comes for her, so light in comparison, and she is fast and she is skilled and she is strong. It will pierce her whole, through sinew and bone, pin her to the tree behind her like a butterfly against the board. Perhaps it will just fulfil what the Crimson Rook has already wrought.

But Mikoto is fast, too, and she is skilled, and she is strong. And she knows, in the back of her mind, that she is between a rock and a hard place; it is information she has absorbed without thought or deliberation. She sees the velocity and the power and she moves, sharply, to the side.

And the nodachi does not spear her through.

Instead, it spears the trunk she backed her up against.

She was not willing to give Mikoto more than a breath of room - and Mikoto adapts to the battle around her.

In that moment Mikoto could have struck, could have taken advantage of her opponent's need to wrest blade from bark and carved her through. But the Crimson Rook still has her words, and Mikoto jerks back as she names her fear. It is alarm which shifts back to anger as she tries, once again, to make her betray herself.

What does logic have to do with it?

She doesn't need something like that at all.

"No!" Mikoto cries, and she spurns her and denies her in the same word. "I'll never give up!" It is not easy to make her give up on her truth. It is not easy to make her give up at all. Though, she is dirtied, and bloodied, and fatigued, and perhaps the Crimson Rook does not need to convince her at all, if only she can wear her down a little longer.

But Mikoto knows it as well as her enemy might, and with a feral scream she turns - and does not arc her dark greatblade through the Crimson Rook's belly, like she has never done before.

Instead, she cleaves the trunk she backed her up against.

And in that instant she springs away - spies a flash of brown tucked away in the branches and grasps the corpse of a rabbit as the timber falls. She has made her distraction, and now she is running.

She would not admit her weakness to an enemy.

She would not admit she is running scared.