4704/P:WtWM - To Face Courage

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P:WtWM - To Face Courage
Date of Scene: 21 October 2016
Location: Alberichstadt <P:WTWM>
Synopsis: The Red Woodsman proves conclusively he is not to be trifled with.
Cast of Characters: Janine Liberi, August Kohler, 1040, 513, 915, 1039, William Pauwel

Janine Liberi has posed:
    From the shack into the Forest. Tonight, Janine is even less talkative that unusual, deep in a mood that goes beyond her moody nihilism. This is deep uncertainty for what the future holds, and doubting whether she's as ready for that final equalizer as she always said.

    Not a single word is offered to the others, to the comrades who would stand with her, and possibly die with her. Just a single, shaky nod before that hand dips into the mirror to permit access to the twisted Forest beyond. The air of the place feels... heavier. Before, it always seemed cold. Like every breath would seep into your lungs, icy sharp needles piercing beyond the organs to prickle your very soul. But now, there's a pressure in the air, like heavy drums or heartbeats. Unbidden, it makes memories of times of anger, of recklessness and directness rise to the forefront of the mind.

    The Pig is here, but he is not needed. The pounding seems to beckon everyone to where they need to be. A good thing too, as the cowardly Shadow cowers in his little hollow, trembling letting out small squeals and getting scared at each one, like it would be the one that drew the source of this presence near.

    Following the ethereal beat, everyone would find their feet carrying them deeper into the Forest. Not a single Shadow challenges them in their way. Not even the Piper graces them with one of his awful tunes. Every native of this horrid nightmare of glass is giving this area a wide berth today.

    And finally, he comes into view.

    He sits beneath a tree in a small clearing, but considering his girth, saying 'beneath' seems unfitting. Aside the tree perhaps, or the tree standing beneath him. His presence strikes hard here, now that he feels no need to conceal it. That monstrous axe sits across his laps, his burning eyes regarding the party as they emerge.

    "So, you've come," he says simply. He doesn't seem surprised or disappointed, only stating a mere fact. He rises, bringing that enormous tool and weapon around in a broad sweep to rest the handle on his shoulder. "Let us begin then."

=============================INCARNATION OF CHARIOT=============================

                                THE RED WOODSMAN                                

                      GAZE FORWARD AT THE ASPECT OF YOURSELF                    


    He takes the first move, launching himself forward at speeds that immediately suggest that his frame is sufficient to warp physics, as a man his size should not be that fast. That axe comes around, swung in a way that almost seems lazy coming from him, but still sufficiently powerful that it might cleave through everyone without slowing.

August Kohler has posed:
Before they actually step foot into the Forest, though, August has something to say. He's decked out in gear, a backpack slung over a shoulder, a sledgehammer in his hands, a shard of glass at easy access on his side, next to the holstered pistol. He's dressed fairly nicely, though flexibly, and has body armor on under his clothes, courtesy of Kotone Yamakawa. He looks ready.

"Alright, guys. Tonight, we're fighting something of legends. As far as we know, this man might be Siegfried, the Man Who Knew No Fear, a dragonslayer, a demigod, one of the most terrifying fuckers who ever was imagined. By all rights, we should die. We're a bunch of teenagers and or misfits, using powers we've barely had, while he's probably been fighting for centuries. We don't have the training to fight someone like him, and numbers aren't probably our biggest asset." However, with that, August smiles. It's nervous.

"But we have something. We have the will to survive, which is always fucking important. We have a shitload of illegal weapons, thanks to all of our weird outsider friends. We have tactics. And we have big fucking testicles, because otherwise, we wouldn't fucking be here. We'd let ourselves die in our sleep. So tonight, we fight. We give him a /hell/ of a fight. Even /if/ we die, we make him regret all of this. And /when/ we win, we look him in the eyes, and tell him, 'No, you're wrong.'. Let's do this."

And with only a second to glance at the others, August enters the Forest. He's using his own speech in an attempt to quell his fears of what's going to happen tonight. This is his fault, so he's gotta take point and not be scared. Even when the entire Forest is, he can't be.

So, when they arrive, he looks up at the monster of the Woodsman, and replies. "Of course we did. It's showtime." The glass shard is drawn as the Woodsman rises, and as he prepares his axe, August shouts reflexively, staring at himself through the glass. And as that blue energy sparkles around him, she shouts, willfully. He sounds, for a moment, calm.


Surging upwards above him is that massive burned soldier, the mechanical man with a gun for a leg. As soon as he arrives, he points his gun at Ran and Hikaru, but even as the trigger pulls, nothing fires. But they'll feel different; as if their bodies are stronger, can take /far/ more damage. And when the Woodsman comes forth, August moves to slide out of the way. He's still hit, causing a large gash on the side of his arm, as he briefly curses. It's time.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    It's amazing really, how perspective changes things. Ran had been convinced the students were all likely to die, facing an enemy more powerful than they could really comprehend. She and Hikaru were probably next, as they couldn't in good conscience leave them to fight alone.

    And then August had made reference to a video game...

    Ran really, really loves games.

    With her role as 'priest' in mind, she's got her first aid kit in a messenger bag - way better than the kind sold in drug stores, it's got a truly impressive (and dubiously legal) variety of drugs along with syringes, wound dressings, and the like. If Tsuki-no-Usagi is disabled or her magic exausted, Ran can still do this much.

    She's wearing something decidedly casual - a t-shirt and jeans over sneakers, because she knows that her strengths lie in dodging rather than enduring; anything that slows her down unduly has been discarded.

    It's funny, isn't it? How light confidence can make someone feel.

    Glancing aside at Hikaru, together on the back line, she splits away from him. Not far, only twenty feet or so, because they need to be able to come back together at a moment's notice, but they also need to be too far apart for the Woodsman to easily target them both at once. Even as the Woodsman is charging, as August is bolstering her strength, Ran is calling forth her other self. "TSUKI-NO-USAGI!" The alien rabbit casts a palm out at the front-line fighters, moondust settling on their shoulders. It'll be enough to heal minor damage as it pops up. As long as they can avoid too much at once...!

Finna (513) has posed:
Dozens of terrifying, heated moments dancing around danger after danger in enemy camps, being chased by beasts bigger than her, facing storms of weapons slashing at her. Every argument with fellows over stupid things, every hunt and many other things pound in Finna's ears and spirit as she bounds through the forest.

    She was not kidding... she VERY MUCH was not kidding when she said she was going to use every bit of power Luna had granted her to help fight this monstrous man and show him what for. A white-furred, seven foot, HULKING WARFOX is here, not the tiny playful creature or Finna's flirty human self.

    A Murderbeast of the Moon is here, with strategically packed muscles and a row of sharp, glistening teeth designed solely for piercing, ripping, and tearing. NOTHING about this beast is cute, fluffy, or huggable. To gaze at the Deadly Beastman is to immediately hope that this thing NEVER turns on you, because it might not stop even if you killed it.

    Friendly though Finna's more or less proven to be, some things are buried deep in the human psyche. 'THAT THING WILL KILL YOU, RUN' is one this creature evokes with every step it takes.

    The vicious creature pauses only once in its stride. Kneeling down with a 'whuff', grasping at nothing and shoving a clawed hand in the Pig's hollow...

    ... leaving behind a lunch sandwhich, probably appropriated from the school.

    And up stands the beast, heading towards the clearing. Upon sighting the Woodsman, the beastwoman flexes her claws. They flash with silvery moonlight, leaving glowing contrails in the air. Waves of luminous silvery-blue light drift up from her fur, curling and waving in a wild but unpresent wind!

    The Woodsman's tremendous speed is clearly being accounted for. The wind howls and rages around Finna's claws as her right moves with comparable speed, drawing a vacuum in its wake and a flaring swirl of silvery light. There's a terrifying CLANG of claws on metal as she DUCKS in under the infinitesimally-slowed strike!

    Were it not slowed, axe might've taken her head off. As it is, blood still sprays from the stump of her claw, the entire hand crushed and gashed through - left in ribbons.

    But that manuever lets her press through the howling winds and imposing pressure, lashing out with a thrusting claw for the Woodsman's belly!

    "Are these kids REALLY cowards, spirit?! They're braver than some poor excuses for barbarians I know!"

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
Ira smiles thinly. August's speech...it was actually rather adorable. She's especialyl fond of the 'big fucking testicles' part. Funny, she was gradually starting to /like/ the boy. Maybe she'd keep him?

    Ira will tank. Yes. She accepts this task readily for a multitude of reasons, some of which the rest of the Travellers know well. It also looks like the red-haired teenager has come prepared, wearing what looks like kevlar armor of some kind, provided by the Murasame Zaibatsu. She's brought weapons with her-no guns, but sledgehammers. Two sledgehammers, one she wields in each hand. This seems like it would be pretty impractical in practice though and yet...well, Ira tends to make pretty impractical weapons most of the time when not swinging around her ham-sized fists.

    She's out up front, strutting and grinning, looking every bit as irreverant as she did when she shared those words on her mind in that apartment the Woodsman had taken. Facing him, she grins, and clangs the metal hammerheads in her hands together, creating a noise that rings throughout the forest of glass. She is far ahead and she doesn't have any words to share, only the bubbling excitement inside of her as she seeks to prove herself against the second-strongest foe this forest has to offer. She does take a moment to peer at her hand, looking at the shiny zippo lighter held there.

    "Persona." she rumbles.

    The Beast appears behind her in all of it's royal finery and slavering jaws. As the Woodsman sweeps in with the axe, Ira and the Beast immediately run in to meet him, Ira crossing her sledgehammers to block, the Beast reaching out with claws to do the same. She slides against the axe, dirt kicking up from her feet, blade biting into her, but she at least manages to stop it, hopefully sparing the other fighters.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    Hikaru arrives in comfortable clothes, easy to move in - his hair tied back in a ponytail, a holster holding one of the guns they stored back at the shack. For once, he doesn't have a festive tie around his neck...? Truly, these must be the end times. He leads Ran in through the mirror, and listens to August's speech with a proud smile on his face. Even if this goes horribly wrong, August is trying really hard, and Hikaru appreciates that.

    As they stride through the forest, listening to the distant thrum, Hikaru finds he can push past the fear he feels. They're going to win. They're going to survive. That's all there is to it. And when they come face-to-face with the Red Woodsman, Hikaru nods to him, strangely calm. Perhaps he's able to feel that way because he's standing back from the others.

    Then, it begins.

    In the back lines, Hikaru breaks a short way away from Ran, running from the axe before it falls down upon them. He comes to a stop about twenty feet away, lifting his wrapped bracelet to his eyes. There, in the silver reflection, he sees his eyes for a moment - and he barks out a word. "Persona!"

    Rising above him is the form of the Fox Sister, a Korean peasant girl with fox-ears and a tail beneath her dress. Gesturing to the front lines, she shapes illusions from fox-fire and smoke which become convincing facsimiles of Ira and Finna. The copies move in different ways to their namesakes, covering more ground, making it difficult to tell who are the real people he must hit.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    The battle is joined, and in that brief instant, so much happens. Ira and Finna rush forward to block the swing! Exalted, human and Persona in tandem to block that mighty swing! It shatters Finna's claw and slams into Ira and the Beast, making them slide as they dig in to the ground, bringing it to a sudden stop! But even then, the shockwave from it is immense, buffeting the area and making the glass leaves tinkle and shatter. Furthermore, that healing moondust spread by Tsuki-no-Usagi might help deal with the ache in her arms that followed that block.

    The Woodsman glares at them both as Finna follows up with a mighty slash at his midsection! His shirt is ripped open, and bloody openings are left in his chiselled form, wounds that close over almost immediately. Practically no blood was spilled. Meanwhile, Janine slips among the trees in the clearing's edge. She still doesn't get all that nerd shit, but she just has to hammer him as much as possible, right?


    Biancabella rises and begins to create turbulent blasts of wind, constantly mixing up the angles to slam into the Woodsman from every angle. He looks mildly frustrated, especially when illusions of Ira and Finna manifest. He speaks in response to the fox (the real one, not the Persona). 'Courage and cowardice are not categories. It is easy to be 'brave' when the alternative is more of the same."

    And now his cunning comes into play. For the Woodsman is no simple brute. If he is surrounded by things that obscure his attack? Then simply attack everything in the vicinity.

    His foot rises, like it did on that day in the apartment building, and comes down.

    It's like a bomb went off in the clearing. It's hard to tell what comes first, the massive concussive wave of air, or the incredible trembling in the ground underfoot. On their own, one might have been enough to send the unaware flying, but both simultaneously?

August Kohler has posed:
As the battle continues, August does the following. First, he tosses attack buffs to Finna, Ira, and Janine, as well as an evasion buff to Ran, double-buffing her. He keeps a close eye on Hikaru's situation, but then starts moving. The Tin Soldier's gun points upwards at the Woodsman...as a blast of fire sprays forward, hoping to engulf him. August isn't sure it'll work, if the Woodsman is who they think he is, but it's worth a try.

And then, the Woodsman turns out to have AoE attacks. Well, he's smarter than he looks, though that was to be expected. August rapidly tosses his backpack into the air, out of the way of the concussive wave, before stomping his feet down. He's knocked backwards, but he angles himself towards Ran's position, so he can take the blast for her. "MM!" As the backpack starts falling again, the Tin Soldier is rushing forward, grabbing it and tossing it to August. It seems he wants it kept safe...why?

And with that, August sprays more fire, and some bullets after the fire. "You're Siegfried, aren't you?!"

Finna (513) has posed:
The leg goes up... and then DOOOOOOOOOWN!

    What kind of WORLD-SHAPING STRENGTH does this monster wield!? A stomp shouldn't start a hurricane! IT JUST SHOULDN'T!

    But it does.

    Finna had been expecting the wound to regenerate, but she HAD NOT been expecting him to have some means of attack that she couldn't evade or mitigate. A WALL OF WIND is pretty hard to dodge! She's only just lucky enough to leap off the ground by a few feet instants before the earth wave hits, and is instead... picked up and hurled like a twig against a tree. CRUNCH!

    The Beastfox topples to the ground, groaning and twitching... just struggling to breathe.


    "SURPRISE!!" Finna moves like a silvery bolt from the blue, carving a path across the Woodsman's position at speeds great enough to cause small shockwaves every time she changes direction, winds howling in her wake. She springs from tree to tree on the clearing's edge, her motions a blur and seeming to get tangled up through each other.

    The quantity of Finna phantoms seems to have tripled for now through afterimages alone.

    Buffing Exalts apparently leads to EXTREMESPEED indeed.

    The only difference between THESe and the originals is the bloody mess that's flowing down Finna's side, from ribs that had pierced flesh when they shattered and began to regrow...

    Watching the Finna-that-fell-to-the-ground was a stupid thing if anyone did that. Look again, that was just a bunch of leaves and twigs. And a blood smear's left on the tree.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    Ran didn't bring a gun. In the end, she just wasn't comfortable enough with one. She's still different from Hikaru, after all... even after all these years.

    She's got Moondust up, counting down the minutess until it will fade. She'll have to reserve her mana, because she thinks she knows how hard the Woodsman can hit. Ran needs to be able to negate any wounds as fast as they happen, which means reserving her cooldowns until necessary.

    They can win this. Even if they can't kill the Woodsman - and what a thought that is - they can still come out ahead. Everything is chance and choice, everything is luck and logic. They can do this!

    She sees the stomp coming. She remembers it!! Even as August is planting his feet, getting ready to weather it, Ran's slipping backwards out of range. He'll come flying, she thinks, and has a small heal ready in case he lands badly - but he's better than that. She turns it on Finna instead, black motes of warmth and comfort seeking out the multiple copies of the Beastfox. She saw that blood!!

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    For a moment, things seem like they're going just fine. The Fox Sister's illusions feint, their presence distracting and irritating.

    Then, the Woodsman reacts.

    Hikaru goes flying as the air cracks and the ground quakes, landing heavily on a patch of glass undergrowth. The Tin Soldier's defense reinforcements shield him from the glass shards, leaving him with nasty scratches instead of deep gashes. The Fox Sister comes to his side as he pushes himself up, wiping some blood from a scratch on his cheek.

    He backs up, further, getting even more distance. Back line: not far back enough!

    With a wordless glance to his Persona, the Fox Sister reaches out to the Red Woodsman, clasping her hand into a delicate fist. Motes of fox-fire springs into existence around him again, airing maddening smoke which makes it more difficult to see - but also, more difficult to think. The motes dance around him as the Fox Sister tries to induce a state of confusion in the Woodsman, in an attempt to take away some of his capacity for detailed tactics.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    The Woodsman looks around, surveying the cracked earth, the broken trees that have expanded the clearing dramatically, and the shattered forms of his fo-no? Hmm, more resilient than expected. Hikaru's moondust spreads throughout, helped by the restabilization of the air pressure after that stomp. Hopefully it helps Finna's wounds!

    Their looks about as the fox in question dances around the trees, leaving afterimages of her afterimages. He seems irritated... but he closes his eyes for a long moment, and when they open back up? They're shining even more, and now he always looks at the original Finna no matter how fast she goes.

    August mentioned he had the power of prophecy, right? It certainly shows as he deftly moves his axe head to block those shots and swings it once to blow away the flames.

    But then the German himself drops a name, and the glowing goes away. The Forest seems as quiet as a grave suddenly, a nervous tension in the air like a particularly rancid elephant in the room was finally pointed out. All that pressure in the air throughout the Forest? All of it seems squarely placed on August's shoulders as the Woodsman glowers at him. "Names have power, boy. Be careful of invoking them."

    But with that power disabled, he fails to see the choking smoke coming! And to make matters worse, Janine (who is quick enough on her feet to avoid the worst of the quake and blocked the concussive wave with her own blast of wind) throws her own debuffs on top! It's like a lot of bad incense has been lit under the Woodsman's feet, and he seems to be slumping. Did that do it?!

    No, he's not slumping. He's squatting. In preparation for a JUMP!

    The sharp crack of the sound barrier being broken sounds out as the smoke and roses form the vapour cone that occurs when such things happen. Even though taking off with such force should mean he takes a while to come back down, he does it in record time!

    At the edge of the clearing, well outside Ira's tanking range. He digs his fingers into the cracked earth, grips at it... and performs a table flip. All that loose footing suddenly starts flipping and shaking, a far worse tremor than before! And with the rocks bouncing around, that's an extra issue to worry about!

August Kohler has posed:
Well, that isn't fucking ominous at all. August freezes as everything centers on him. "You are, aren't you? And now you're a Woodsman? Why the FUCK are you doing this? Aren't you a hero? Heroes don't kill innocent civilians!" And despite how afraid he is, he has the will to talk back. No matter what dark secrets might lie behind this, he's going to keep going.

And as the slumping happens, he takes a breath. But it's not one of victory. That's too easy. Far too easy. He doesn't expect what's going to happen next, though.

The sound barrier ruptures, and as the ground tremors, August loses his footing, putting the bag above him so it doesn't fall, as the Tin Soldier slams below him to help him up. The redhead growls as he shoots his gun in the air. "GUYS! WE CAN'T LET HIM WIN!"

And the entire party gets evasion buffs. And then strength buffs! Go wild, guys.

With that released, he takes another breath, having expended quite a bit of energy. The Tin Soldier charges forward, looking to bodycheck the Woodsman, as August attempts to dance through the rocks, getting decked left and right. He's starting to bleed pretty badly, and is covered in massive welts, but Ran's healing helps. "COME ON!"

William Pauwel has posed:

    That sure is a battlecry that can only possibly belong to ONE MAN. One man who is presently decked out in a full suit of HEAVY POWER ARMOR and riding astride a motorcycle that's somehow still larger than he is, even IN the T-45. There's a... strange assembly of cordage that looks like it's been jury-rigged into both the motorcycle AND the armor, and leads up into a familiar handcannon.

There is ALSO a rack of... three hefty, cylindrical objects bound to one of the bike's flanks.

    The land rolls underneath him, a shockwave of heavy earth blasting up from below. Fortunately, Will has a couple of particularly useful advantages here-- for one, August is using some kind of weird power to make him BETTER AT DODGING. For two, the Mistral is about as All Terrain as you could possibly ask for in a motorcycle. Heavy, steel-shod rubber wheels dig into the soil as it stirs, even as miniature vernier jets blast downwards to carry him up and over the larger shocks of trembling earth.

    Will takes aim on the zenith of his bike's jump and REVS THE MOTOR. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees his armor's fusion core drain twenty percent as the Solano's barrel turns from blue to BLINDING WHITE.

He fires. What emerges is a veritable COLUMN of sunfire, aimed for the guy at the far end of the clearing.

"Cavalry's here, y'all! I came prepared!"

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    The Woodsman leaps up, sailing upwards and then down in such a way that /surely/ defies physics -

    But luckily for Hikaru, he's already gotten a request from August over voice-chat, and he's already disappearing into woods. Perhaps he's finally ceded to cowardice, fleeing the scene?!

    ... no, not quite. He slips behind a tree, pressing his back to the glass trunk, bracing himself there as the ground shakes even from here. With a deep breath, he clasps his hands together as he closes his eyes. The Fox Sister stands in front of him, her ears flicking every which way as she picks up psychic signals and feeds them to him. The physical world disappears from his field of reference as he devotes his attention to the psychic world instead.

    He probes at the Red Woodsman, querying his edges and his limits. What is your weakness, Siegfried...?

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    So he /is/ Siegfried. Sigurd. Something like that. And apparently, he doesn't like it being said so loudly...

    Ran will remember that.

    Even her natural evasiveness and August's buffs aren't quit enough to keep her from toppling over as the ground is lifted beneath her feet, but she's fast. Faster than ever! Ran turns the fall into a spin into a tumble that ends with her feet beneath her, a three-point landing on the wrecked ground, amidst a shower of rocks and glass shards.

    She gestures and the Rabbit responds; a cloud of inky night follows August, covering his wounds in a blanket of warmth, soaking into his skin. From the corner of her eye she sees Hikaru slide behind a tree, and scrambles back to her feet. He'll have his defenses down to bring Fox Sister's scanning talent into play. They're going to have to be extra distracting--

    Yeah, like Will on his crazy mechcycle. That's perfect!

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
"Damn it-!" Ira grouses as the Woodsman leaps backwards with such speed and distance that even the rather athletic girl can't keep up. There was no way she could tank that at /this/ range, making it effectively strike anyone. Oh well, she thinks, they trained for this. They'll just have to suck it up and deal and if they can't handle /one/ hit of earthquake, well, /clearly/ they weren't strong enough.

    Though the reaction to August is /interesting/, she thinks, even as she's smashed into the ground with clods of dirt and rocks slamming into her skin, packing into the slowly-shrinking cut from the axe she took earlier. Both persona and master rise from the dirt, shaking the dust off, Ira grinning wildly as usual. "Oh really."

    Now she sweeps in, speed matched, then exceeded, by the Beast as he lopes over to the Woodsman, both arms raised high as it brings down thick claws onto the him. Ira follows up shortly after, swinging one hammer, then the other. Somehow she does this with ease, even as she holds the makeshift weapons at the very end of their handles-something that would normally prove to be very unwieldy and even impossible for those without the right amounts of upper arm strength. Yet somehow, Ira makes it work.

    Her suggestion is kept to the radio, the teenager giving no indication that she has any knowledge of the Woodsman's possible weak spot on his back. That is, the weak spot that was created by a leaf that prevented his entire body from being covered in dragon's blood.

Finna (513) has posed:
Although such tremendous speed might APPEAR easy for Finna, the truth is that she simply can't sustain it. Her muscles tear and mend over and over again with each rocketing pounce and slash. She can only ignore the pain and her protean body groaning in protest for so long!

    So when she goes zooming past him and sees the freakish new gleam of eyes tracking her perfectly... she slams into the tree and doesn't spring off again. At least... not immediately.

    The Woodsman is too strong to tackle head-on when he has a bead on her, so she's not even going to TRY.

    "Tricky guy... is there anything he can't do? Since when can a straightforward warrior keep up with me?!"

    Then... he leaps.

    ... She has a -REALLY- bad feeling about that one. So...

    Instead of waiting for him to come back down she VAULTS STRAIGHT UPWARDS as well with all her strength behind the effort. Whatever trick he uses to PLUMMET back down so fast... well, she doesn't have that, but maybe that's a good thing.

    It means that when he TEARS UP THE ENTIRE BATTLEFIELD WITH HIS BARE HANDS, the foxgirl tumbling through the air's only pelted with a storm of rocks and pebbles that were sent flying. They sting badly, a few of the sharper ones tear open nasty gashes and bloody her further... but a wave of healing energies supercharges her own regeneration. Protruding bone and sinew SCHLORP back into her body and new flesh closes over it. Missing fingers on her hand sprout anew.

    If it's one thing Lunars excel at, it's short bursts of insanely vicious combat power. On her own, she couldn't possibly sustain a fight like this. But with allies...

    With a decisive motion she seems to just KICK OFF THE AIR and alter her trajectory without even needing to grow new wings. How that works is anyone's guess, but it takes her sailing over the Woodsman's head and clinging to the trunk of the tree behind him...

    She's running out of stamina. Fighting at this level's burning up all her reserves quickly. But for now she's preparing to strike! Waves of silvery light flow through her flesh and muscle and outwards, stoking the silvery bonfire aura to ever greater intensities. In moments it engulfs her body in a thick enough blaze that she's just a large humnoid monstrous figure of swirling moonlight and night sky colors, for eyes cannot pierce the haze and shadows. But a crescent mark shines through it on her forehead...

    She draws in a massive breathe, filling her lungs and readying her muscles to enact whatever crazy plan Ira has in mind. A beastly rage stirs in her gut, the edge of her vision turning red as she cultivates the primal emotions!

    Whatever she has in mind, even the Woodsman might not find it so pleasant.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Veins seem to bulge on the Woodsman's forehead as August interrogates him. This is a battle to the death, not a tea party! "You are ignorant. A hero is not what your modern world thinks it is. A hero is one who uses their individual might to take what they want. Do not throw your anger at me for not meeting your definitions." He hefts his axe again and starts advancing on the German, likely intending on silencing him for good.

    Until Will barrels through the trees, and gives the Woodsman everything that one barrel can offer.

    In that instant before everything goes white, he actually seems surprised. The energy washes over him, and melts all the trees behind him. For the first time, someone threw out an attack on a scale about equal to his own.

    But as it turns out, he can take it as well as he can dish it out.

    He's still standing, his clothes burned and smouldering, his skin a mess of black and red, several spots starting to ooze blood as it cracks from his breathing. His luxurious hair is unaffected though.

    He staggers a bit, wincing as the Beast's claws rake down his front and Ira strikes at his knees with hammers! All his concentration seems to be on making those burns heal faster... but then something pings him on a plane above the physical, and his eyes find the tree that Hikaru hides behind. He scowls, his psychic form massive and overwhelming, same as his physical... save for a spot on the small of his back, just to his right of the spine...

    His scorched arm reaches out and takes a tree to his side, not the one Finna clings to, and he tosses it. It almost seems lazy, but the massive thing flips through the air, arcing and spiralling to crush the scanner!

    Janine meanwile, frees herself from under a pile of rocks. That attack surprised her, and she seems all kinds of bruised now, but she's still in this. "August! I don't think he's well-done yet. Let's cook him some more!" Biancabella hovers behind her, eddies of air swirling around the two...

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    The Red Woodsman is massive, imposing, a gigantic figure, larger than life. And yet, as Hikaru's psychic senses press at his edges, he finds that there's one little spot which is different...

    <His weak spot is at the small of his back,> comes a one-way psychic transmission in his ally's minds, <to the right of his spine.>

    It's almost uncanny, how calm he sounds as he relays the information.
    He doesn't realise there's a tree careening towards him at all.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    Uses their strength to take what they want...? That's right. Hadn't Sigurd tricked women into lying with him, and held down another to be raped, and, and, and...? A flush of heat blooms underneath Ran's skin. Anger. Indignation. "That's not what a hero is anymore," she tells the Woodsman, whiskey-brown eyes sharp and disapproving. She points at him, accusing. "You're just a common bully."

    Even as Siegfried's attention narrows down to Hikaru's hiding spot, Ran is using her buffed speed to call the Rabbit forth again. "USAGI-CHAN!" A blur of white and gold and blue and green rockets out of the forest, slamming its hammer into the airborn tree. The mirror tree explodes into a storm of shards, diamond dust and cruel edges whipping through the air. Most of them return straight to the one who threw the tree, bombarding the Woodsman with slicing edges.

August Kohler has posed:
"That's not a hero! That's a tyrant! Does the Wolf not do that? Is he a hero?" August fumes. Fire surges around him from the Tin Soldier, as he nods to Janine. "Let's do this. If that's what this bastard thinks a hero is...we'll show him heroism!"

And then a massive burst of fire shoots outwards, centered in front of Janine and Biancabella. It feels so natural, doing this. But he has a feeling this might be the last time, seeing that regeneration. Everyone gets endurance buffs!

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
The Woodsman is concentrating on healing fire damage. Good. If he's so focused on that, there will be less focus on worrying about who gets behind him. While the idea is put into action, Ira also helps draw that focus, remaining right up in the Woodsman's face , though she's not fast enough to prevent him from hurling a tree at their (delicate?) little spotter. (Ira's still getting used to the idea of a persona that doesn't fight).

    Fortunately, Ran's got him covered.

    "Hey how about you pick on someone that can fight back, buddy?" Ira growls in his face before swinging both hammers at the Woodsman's knees. She knows they won't do much but she just wants to illustrate some nice brutality with these strikes.

Finna (513) has posed:
"Maybe for your world." Finna mumbles under her breath at Ran. She actually agrees with the Woodsman. This idea of going out and saving people simply for the sake of it... who realistically does that? Well, plenty of people she's seen so far. But...

    But here she is out with these guys. It's laughable. The reason she's still here... "Well said, hero! Then you won't mind if I take away your remaining strength!"

    With that said, her whole body RIPPLES, all of her muscle power focusing and redoubling. The snarling beast opens its jaws and unleashes a blood-curdling roar that would stop a tiger's heart. The trunk space Finna vacated fractures and twigs are blown away. She's been given her target.

    All her senses are locked onto that single spot.

    The primal hunt thunders in her ears and soul. Finna's vision has gone red with a deep and primal rage, a bloodlust and savage instinct far more concentrated than any mortal predator can claim to possess. It is the monstrous fury and strength needed to hunt and slay monsters on their own turf, a juggernaut of relentless fury that won't stop even its heart was ripped out!

    A whirlwind of claws and fangs forged of silver-blue flame descends on the Woodsman's back like a streaking comet, transforming into a grinding and blurry snarl of slashing fangs and tearing teeth. The image of an enormous phantasmal fox forms from the flames, superimposed and engulfing the beast within but mimicking a great deal of her motions... just wrought large.

    Finna's not satisfied with just tearing into the spot with her claws and tearing flesh free. IN-between that her maw closes in and distends impossible to bite and rip and tear. She cares not if she consumes flesh and blood of this creature in the process either!

William Pauwel has posed:
    The Mistral touches down with a roiling cloud of smoke. Will's lips draw into a snarling hiss as his right hand burns. The Solano's barrel looks like it's damn near /melting./ The whole thing is glowing about as brightly as freshy forged steel. It'll be a precious few seconds before he can fire it again, but they might not HAVE that kind of time. The Woodsman is /regenerating/ through the Solano's nuclear fire.

What kind of monster IS this guy!?

Or rather... What kind of hero is he, really?

    "What, are you sayin' that the people of today don't get to choose who their heroes get to be!?" Will growls, whirling his bike in a tight semicircle around the Woodsman. He gives him a wide berth, but not /too/ wide. He has to be close enough to strike, after all.

Will whips his left arm to one side. A long, jet black wire snakes out of an assembly mounted to his wrist. At the far end is a grappling hook transformed into a... makeshift chain-blade!? No! Not just that! The thing on the end of the chain is a knife-- a knife with a blade that vibrates so rapidly that it stirs the air into a high-pitched whine! "We build upon the past to carve a path to tomorrow! We choose what lights we follow, the kind of people we call 'hero!'"

    Will whips the wire overhead, swinging the chain-mounted vibroblade in rapid, high-velocity lashes across the Woodsman's limbs. There's a plan afoot-- they just need to work out enough wiggle-room to make it happen!

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    Unseen, unacknowledged, Hikaru is protected by his allies. But he knows that this state is a weakness. So once he finds the Woodsman's weak point, he stirs back into the world of the real, leaving his psychic senses behind. The Fox Sister's ears calm down, and his Persona follows him as he returns to the clearing.

    It's strange, coming back to the fight and seeing it with his eyes. But everyone is assaulting the Woodsman, so, wordlessly, Hikaru bids the Fox Sister to assault him as well. Fox-fire springs into existence around him, and this time, it ignites just a little further - becoming real, larger and brighter, not the trick of illusion they used to be. The lights swirl around him and constrict against his skin, and they burn, red-hot!

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Everyone capitalizes on this brief opening. If the Woodsman were the praising type, he might actually admit that this is a solid effort.

    The shards from the tree, launched back at him wound his burned flesh, coupled with the frenzied flailing of Will's vibroknife. Each one only opens him up a bit, but even the ocean is made of a billion drops. If you take it all away, even one at a time, it becomes noticeable eventually.

    But the real damage is being done by Finna. The Woodsman is so intent on Ira, so capably drawing his aggro that he doens't notice the fox until she's goring that point. He cries out, a harsh grow as she rips and tears and chews into him, his flesh tasting of bravery, his blood hot and full of fury. And now, Janine steps up to the fire that August is spraying. With a gesture of her blade, winds howl, snagging up the fire as they go, corkscrewing to twist the chaotic element into orderly ropes of flame. As they fly, the girl notices the little flames that Hikaru is spreading... and with a smirk, she makes more to fan them also, getting it all burning bright as the flame ropes slam into the Woodsman's face!

============================CHARIOT/HANGED MAN/DEATH============================

----------------------------------ARCANA TRICK----------------------------------

                              THREE PERSONA TRUMP                              
                           KATON: DEATH BY CREMATION                            


    He's burnt, battered and bleeding. Is this the end of the Woodsman?!

Janine Liberi has posed:

    A massive pulse ripples from the Woodman's form. Immense, undeniable. More than enough to fill the clearing, to blow away his attackers and their blows. His whole form ripples with a red aura now. His wounds heal even faster, including those on his weak point (though it is still slower). He glowers down at the party, and speaks.

    "Is this your idea of a fight to the death? To prattle at me of things you are ignorant of? I am Courage. I am a core aspect of you all, especially the so-called 'heroes' you speak of. Loathe me all you like, I am a part of you all. And your actions here have only assured me further that my way is right. It has bred you all into what you are now, has it not?"

    Even though he's still standing, he seems to rise further, becoming greater than what he was before as he takes up his axe again. "But, is this bravado courage? Or is it merely ignorance of what you face?" Unbidden, images flash in the minds of all present. Images of young men, promised an adventure should they sign up to go to war. Only to tremble and sob in trenches as the harsh crack of gunfire and the whistling of incoming artillery becomes their entire world. Those from worlds other than Earth would find equivalent imagery burned into their inner eye.

    The Woodsman takes a stance, holding his axe with both hands. "Let us find out." He swings. And for a brief instant, he holds not an axe, but a brown sword with a dragon design upon it.

================================SEIGFRIED SKILL=================================

                                  VORPAL SLASH                                  


    For a pregnant moment, it's as if time has stopped. All the glass trees, from here to the blurry horizon start to slide from their stumps, effortlessly cleaved apart. Far into the distance, tray Shadows die instantly, slain by the Woodsman.

    And Janine arcs through the air, her enslinged arm separated from her body, cut into two pieces at the elbow.

August Kohler has posed:
At this moment, everything goes wrong. The Woodsman...no, Siegfried, shows his true, terrifying power. Images flash into August's mind. And /everything goes wrong/. As Janine's arm is split, as she goes flying, August freezes. They can't die here. They need to prove him wrong. Everybody must survive.

Everybody but him.

And he smiles. He's not needed here. Once she recovers, Janine can take over. Hoisting that backpack up, he gives himself an evasion boost. But he's not using it to escape.

Rushing forward, he opens the backpack, and pulls something inside. Over the radio, the sounds of a grenade pin being pulled are transmitted. And then, he tosses the backpack to the Tin Soldier, who is far faster than he is. The Tin Soldier charges forward, holding the backpack up, straight for Siegfried. He moves to grab the massive man. August charges forward as well, even though using the Tin Soldier for this is already suicide. And right before everything goes white, he speaks. "See you in hell, dragonslayer!"


Three dozen grenades all detonate at once, centered straight around the Tin Soldier and the Woodsman. It's going to make a cloud, that's for sure.

August Kohler has posed:
And as this all happens, the soundtrack changes, the music shifting with the mood.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    What can they do?

    What can humans do against a dragon? Against the one who slays it?

    What can they do against a legend?

    For a while, she'd thought that they might even be able to pull it off.

    And then it all goes to shit.

    Young men dying, men in planes and men in the trenches and men dying of thirst, of hunger, of disease, of sorrow. Empty promises. The lie of a better tomorrow. The false god of glory. A white flag bearing a red sun whose rays scorch everything they touch. August, who scorches everything to ash with the Tin Soldier.

    Her knees are weak, and if she thinks about it she's going to scream, she's going to cry and not stop...

    Ran lets the Rabbit fade like dreams against the morning sun and hurries to Janine's side, already pulling her bag off. She doesn't have much time. /Janine/ doesn't have much time.

    She can't-- He just-- Fire blooms behind her, the force of the explosion nearly throwing Ran down across Janine's body. "Uugh..." Hurry. Hurry. The tourniquet she'd called herself paranoid for bringing is tied on above the injured girl's left elbow. Shock's going to set in soon.

    They have no time left.

Ira MacNally (915) has posed:
"Holy shit, I am /so/ fucking sick of your lectures." Ira growls as she picks herself up off the ground following the pulse of power. Glowering, she starts to make his way back to him, her own wounds gradually regenerating but at a rate much, much slower than that of the Woodsman. "Strength has bred me into this. I am fighting you to prove that I am strong! I can't speak for the /rest/ of us though-ngh." Ira flinches, faltering as images are piped directly into her brain very unexpectedly. World War II she thinks? Or maybe that was WWI? She hadn't attended either, she wouldn't know for sure.

    Ira throws up her two hammers to block. They're cut off at the point where they meet effortlessly, the pieces falling to the ground. Then, overwhelming pain fills her as she collapses, the Beast torn in two behind her. "Augh...!" she groans, grabbing her shoulders as if she was trying to hold herself together to prevent herself from meeting the same fate. For those few moments, she's too debilitated to stop anyone from doing extremely stupid things.

    Extremely stupid things like BLOWING YOURSELF UP, /August/! "What are you doing!?" Ira howls in shock, "What kind of idiot are you-!" He disappears in a flash of fire and Ira stares on in shock.

    Not until Ran speaks over the radio does she move, hoping she'd at least see some glimpse of the Woodsman being gone after that. Leaving the pieces of her former weapon there, she scrambles across the ground, easily scooping up Janine, slipping her body over one of her shoulders in a fireman's carry. Grunting, she runs, not looking back, not wanting to see a pile of August bits.

William Pauwel has posed:
    Will isn't sure what he was expecting when he came here. He'd survived a lot of things in his day. Killer robots. A giant security mech imbued with some kind of parasitic nanomachine swarm. A mutant, parasitic coral beast that could unleash bolts of lightning wider than any natural storm. But this... This is not those things.

This is something of a higher order than /any/ of that.

    The psychic attack hits Will like a sack full of bricks. He sees... Something unfamiliar. Something disturbing. Something from a distant time. A flash of light that eclipses all the world. A tide of ravenous dark extinguished by brilliance beyond anything he could imagine. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of lives broken in a single moment. He hears the screams as a single, cacophonous roar.

And then, suddenly, he's back in... Not reality. But this place. His breath is sour with the sick that burns at the back of his throat. He gasps for air-- but then... he sees August run headfirst into the horrible creature responsible for all this. Will lurches forward, feeling a strange draft. He blinks and feels at his chest-- and finds a series of dripping gashes cleaved into the thick plates of the T-45's chassis. Dripping. Red. The ache is deep, but he's alive. Bleeding, but alive.


...Goes up in a plume of fire and a crack of manmade thunder.

    "Kohler," Will wheezes, "Shit, you damn fool." His whip snakes back into its mounting. The hand inside the gauntlet is trembling with anger, with fear, with the need to do something. ANYTHING. He has a way. He has a /way./

The Solano's barrel pulses with power. One more shot.

    "You're not part of ME, you charcoaled bastard!" Will roars, his voice hoarse with fury and wet with frothing blood. "Courage doesn't come from outside! It ain't GIVEN by some asshole hiding in a mirror!" Metal /screams/ as Will reaches down -RIPS- the rack of fusion cores off his bike. "Kohler... Kohler had more courage in his left foot than most every man I've ever met. He ain't goin' out with such a small boom."

"I've got a better send-off," Will spits, winding back his football. "They'll see this one from a world away!"

    He throws. The triple pack of fusion cores hurtle through the air at the epicenter of the tremendous explosion. Will takes aim at the tumbling fuel cells. The T-45's power drains... By fourty percent. Thirty left. Enough to get home.

If he makes it.

    The Solano's barrel seems to split, as if it were being physically forced /open/ by the cataclysm of sunlight that washes out from it. "Us Chasers, we know. We can't just get by on courage alone." The wave of plasma catches the fusion cells. Heavy metals bubble and boil and sublimate away. "We use our heads. Ingenuity! INVENTION! You know what else they didn't have back in your day!? THESE things!" Containment fails as Will turns his bike to beat his own retreat, because he /really/ doesn't want to be around when the cores finally go critical.

They do. Three explosions, each one bathing the world in the light of creation-captured-by-man.

Fortunately, fusion cores don't actually shed radiation, but... That's not really much consolation.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    For a brief, shining moment, Hikaru and August's fires are fanned up by Janine, burning, boiling at the Woodsman -

    They might almost have a chance -

    And then the Woodsman pulses. The fox-fire is blown away, and even Hikaru, as far away as he is, has to stagger back several paces, narrowly avoiding being blown off of his feet once more. He watches as the Woodsman speaks, his teeth gritting against each other. "No," he snarls. "I will not be that person, I have chosen another path!"

    And just like that, the Woodsman questions his bravado...
    ... and Hikaru is flung into images of war.

    The betrayal hurts, but the taste of blood is almost familiar. Being broken down, shattered into a million pieces and forced to survive, forced to fight, because if you don't you'll never wake up again -- yes, Hikaru can comprehend images like this. They are horrible, terrible. They make his stomach churn. But somehow, it's a nostalgic feeling.

    Time beats,

    And he realises the blood in his mouth isn't a memory.

    He hears screaming through the voice link as he comes to, on the ground, bleeding from a gash across his shoulder. The Fox Sister has disappeared. Something about Janine's arm. She's been dismembered. There's her arm, not far from him.

    And there's August, running towards the Woodsman, the sound of a pin being pulled -

    "No-!" Hikaru's protest catches in his throat, too late, reaching out from his position on the ground. Too late. He's forced to turn away by the force of the explosion, catching Janine's arm as it sails past because he said he would, and his brain is working on commands right now.

    There's more yelling.

    Get away.

    Get away, get away...

    Hikaru rises, staggering, his breathing ragged, and begins to run.

Finna (513) has posed:
Finna's rampage isn't an easy thing to stop. Not for her, and she'd hoped not for the Woodsman. Strips of flesh and a generous helping of his blood smear all along her maw... and the freakish 'meal' seems to only spur the ur-beast's rampage to ever greater heights!

    Slash slash chomp, rip and tear claw and shred! Her whole upper body's quickly covered in blood, and that just doesn't seem to bother her at all!

    But then... a wave of crushing pressure picks her up off her feet and sends her sailing back and tumbling over the ground, scrabbling for purchase. That can force her back but even IT doesn't seem enough to completely throw her balance off. Finna skids to a halt.

    It's enough to shake her straight out of the Fury...

    Her head clears just in time to hear his words. And they get her frowning. Because once again her gut instincts agree with the Woodsman's points, as they have for quite a while now.

    What she wasn't expecting is the way he'd work to crush everyone's spirits! She staggers forward, rubbing her head at a sudden PAINFUL SURGE of ancient memories buried deep within her Exaltation.

    Scenes from the time before history, armies of mortals in countless number assembled under commanders sporting five different color schemes. Formations headed by figures burning gold and silver. Locked in heated battle against a strange wirey being that dominates the skies like a freakish floating fortress. Its gossamer-thin arms snake out and rip souls from bodies by the tens of thousands at a time. It falls upon the forces and churns through them like a ghostly meat-grinder, phasing through almost everything that comes its way.

    It's followed by images from a great many other battles dominated by loss and horror. Scenes from the Usurpation, countless Dragon-Blooded slaughtered in a cataclysmic fight against their betters. Victorious, but a pyrrhic victory at best. Scenes from own nation's history, mere mortals clashing against more of the same. They win, but there's so much misery, so many starving, so much infection and disease and not enough shamans and medics to tend to them. Bodies pile up...

    So many dying in the name of glory, wealth, fame, and better lives. So few walking away.

    ... is there really any glory in combat?

    She comes to from it... just in time to see August go charging off like the wrathful gales of heaven.


    The hot blood surging through her body instantly runs cold.

    Finna's will to fight wavers and dwindles down to a candle flame. "A-august..."

    ... What... what was the POINT OF THAT?! There's no POINT engaging this spirit if any of them die. WHY WOULD THERE BE?! Dying against an unavoidable enemy is one thing, but against one you challenged, that's....

    Her gut turns sour and deep and bitter cold rage mixed with grief flashes across her face... eyes glistening with tears.

    And the foxwoman slumps down to one knee, gasping and panting. All her muscles are screaming like they're ON FIRE, refusing to answer her dwindling willpower. Her depleted spirit.

Janine Liberi has posed:
    Seigfried surveys the damage he has done, giving a slight nod. It was a sufficient display. How would they handle it? The leader rushes him with a suicide attack, the explosion making him step back... a little. His injuries close instantly as e regards the form of the boy. Not enough courage to live, but not enough to die quietly. He had to seem useful, but was unable to face the consequences for letting everyone down.

    The boy in the strange armor rants at him more, of things of little consequence. But his attack is another stange, powerful one. Immense light washes over his form, burning even more than the first, forcing him to raise his arms to shield his face. When it's clear, the ground behind him is shielded, but everything else has received a little more devastation, the ground glassed, the stumps melted. He has taken some more damage, enough that it takes time to heal again, but he's still standing as he regards the retreating forms of everyone.

    They run, yes. Their courage has reached its limit. But it's not fear that drives their heels. It's concern for the girl, and sorrow over the loss of the boy more than anything. Their courage proves meagre.

    But perhaps, with these other feelings, it will remain sufficient in the face of fear.

    He turns, and regards August. Not the bloody chunks that everyone had expected, but the burnt and crippled form of someone thrown clear from the worst of the explosion. Next is Finna, the woman who has wounded him worse than even the Wolf. He bends down, that red aura fading away as he gingerly picks both up in his giant hands before leaping once more.

    He practically flies, over the heads of the party to come crashing down in the clearing that is their exit point, thankfully untouched by his blade. The Pig squeals and flees in horror, but the Woodsman ignores him. The two who were left behind iare placed in the ground for everyone to find, before another, smaller axe is conjured, along with a note, the latter pinned to the tree with the former.


Janine Liberi has posed:
    And though most may not notice it, something has changed. Die Reisende was once just a ragtag team lead by moody teenagers. And while that is still certainly the case, like how metal must be pounded to be forged into something greater, the adversity they have faced together has caused them to grow into something more.

    In the Velvet Room, Agatha regards her grimoire, smiling slightly as blank pages blossom with ink, forming images and words. All of Die Reisende traversing the forest, a list of their names...

    And the image of the Fool in the upper left corner.

August Kohler has posed:
And when the boy's found, he's bloodied, battered, and charred. Bones broken, breathing harsh, and consciousness dim. But he's alive. And he'll stay alive.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    It should come as no surprise to anyone that Ran and Hikaru live together, in a run-of-the-mill apartment cluttered with a thousand cute little things Hikaru has brought home on impulse. A sculpted badger watches over the kitchen bench as Hikaru cuts up an onion, his eyes watering because onions are traitors.

    He hears the water boiling, and turns, stepping over to stove. It's not a long trip - the kitchen's kinda small, and probably couldn't fit more than two people comfortably. Good thing they're just two people! "Ran," he calls out as he stirs daishi powder into the water, "can you slice the carrots, thin as you can manage?" He turns down the heat, putting a lid on the saucepan.

    As he turns his attention to another pan, where he heats up some oil, he frowns to himself. "The weirdest thing happened to me today. You know that teacher, Girard? So we were talking, right, and he gets to asking me about why his puppy's tearing up the couch constantly. 'Why would I know anything about dogs?' I ask him. 'You're a psychiatrist, you studied how people work, dogs can't be that different!'" Hikaru, there, effects a surprisingly accurate rendition of Girard's voice. "And I'm just like, whoa, buddy, /first off/ that's not even what I am, and second, there are /several/ differences between people and dogs..."

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    Ran's at the little dinette table jammed into a corner of the living room, reading in a pair of pink pajamas that are painfully adorable to look at. Hikaru is, naturally, immune. "That's 'julienned', right?" she asks, putting down her magazine and washing her hands at the sink. She picks a knife from the block, a wide-bladed santoku, and finds a spot at the counter next to him. It's comfortable to work like this, even elbow-to-elbow, and Ran may not be a surgeon but she's good with a knife anyway. Shuck-shuck-shuck-shuck, go the carrots. "Girard... I think I know him," she muses, paging through her memory for which teacher it is this time.

    She makes steady work of the carrots, showing him a small pile of matchstick slivers. "Like this?" She's pretty sure you can make them thinner, but...!

    "What are you making tonight, anyway?" She'll eat it and like it, regardless, but a girl can be curious!

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    "Yup!" Hikaru chirps affirmatively, as he swirls the oil in the saucepan. As Ran muses about the teacher, he supplies, helpfully: "Kinda portly, goatee, probably somewhere in his forties, always eating cheese in the break room?" Because of course Hikaru notices the sort of snacks people eat.

    When Ran shows him the slivered carrots, Hikaru grins. "Yeah, that's great. Okay, and this is about heated, so..." He moves over to collect the carrots, alongside the onions and some potatos he'd chopped up earlier. He slips them carefully into the saucepan, and begins to stir. "/Tonight/," he declares, theatrically, though it's all in his voice because his hands are occupied right now, but surely Ran can /imagine/ the grand gestures he'd make. "Tonight, we're having curry udon!"

    He stirs the vegetables, waiting for them to soften. "Oh, by the way, I picked up a bunch of chocolate bars for the kids tomorrow night. Don't eat them all before we get to hand them out, okay?" He teases her, smiling. Obviously someone's accidentally muted the skype chat! Hikaru is not very good with computer.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    "Ohhhhh, the cheese guy!" Ran isn't known for her attention to detail, but sometimes people have weird little habits that just... stick out. Like eating cheese all the time. It's a miracle that Girard doesn't walk around in a cloud of cheddar-smell!! She moves aside, wiping the blade of her knife clean with a kitchen towel before putting it back.

    She can see your hands twitching, Hikaru! She knows you're making grand gestures in your head! /She's seen you practice them!/

    And she'll never tell anybody, because Hikaru Kurosawa is the sort of man that makes curry udon for himself and his roommate and buys chocolate for trick or treaters. "Shouldn't I be telling you that? How many have you eaten already?" she ribs him gently, smiling. The scent of cooking vegetables fills the apartment fairly quickly, and Ran makes sure that bowls and serving things are set out and ready, and that the table is cleared of reading material and paperwork. They share chores according to their strengths, which is why Ran doesn't cook and Hikaru doesn't pay bills.

    "Hey, did you hear? The doctors in Yuna-san's world were able to reattach Janine's arm, and August was discharged. Thank goodness," the blonde sighs quietly. "I'm so glad that she was able to get them moved so quickly. I just couldn't keep up with that much damage..." She'd tried. She'd summoned, and summoned, and summoned, and her hands were red and her pendant was red and her clothes were red, red, red...

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    "Only one! I'm practically guiltless!" Hikaru shoots back with an indignant huff, because he's already in theatrics mode and nothing can stop him now. He's smiling, though. Once the vegetables are properly softens, he transfers the simmering daishi stock to the other pan, pouring it over the vegetables carefully. He brings the heat down to a simmer, leaving it for a moment.

    "Thank god," Hikaru echoes Ran in agreement as he listens to her news, his voice toning down from its previous joviality now they're talking about something serious. And then he hears the subtle change in her voice, and his brow creases, and he turns to put a hand on her shoulder, rubbing at the fabric of her pyjamas with his thumb. "Ne, Ran, you were fucking stellar! Everyone came home alive, and it was because you acted to save them. You're the one always telling me the first five minutes are critical, right? Don't get lost in that head of yours." They probably both have to say that to each other, now and then. Behind them, the vegetables simmer.

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    Despite the memory, Ran's mouth quirks in a little half-smile. Hard to imagine that Hikaru Kurosawa would go from the boy she knew in school to, well... Hikaru Kurosawa, school psychologist and occasional drama llama. It's a nice change.

    "That's right," she nods instead, stifling a laugh. "Only one! Your restraint is an inspiration to us all~" It's thanks to experience and practice (and let's be real, cognitive behavioral therapy) that she can shake it off. "I know. I did everything I could, and it was enough to get them someplace safe. It's just," Ran shrugs a bit helplessly, careful not to dislodge his hand. "Even when I was doing my rounds at Sumaru General, we rarely got in anything even /close/ to that level of intensity. And these were kids I knew."

    She looks down at the clean kitchen linoleum (she'd scrubbed it after spending most of an evening lying there, bottle in hand) for a moment before looking up again, warm brown eyes clear. "I know. If it weren't for you and Fox Sister, too..." Ran tucks her lower lip between her teeth, suddenly reminded of something. "They keep asking, though. Have you decided what you're going to tell them?"

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    "It's a lot to take on," Hikaru sympathises. "It would have been traumatic even if you weren't the one who had to make sure they got to the hospital alive. You need to give yourself some time to process all this, Ran." Even though he knows it's a breach of several different ethics, he can't keep himself from therapisting at his best friend.

    But then she turns it around on him, and Hikaru frowns, patting her shoulder before he turns back to the stove /just because the cooking needs attention, and for no other reason/. He removes the saucepan from the heat and stirs in curry roux, soy sauce and sake. "... I don't know," he says, after a pause which is a little too long. "The Persona Game really cut to the heart of my shit, you know?" He puts the saucepan back on the heat, and puts it on to simmer, covering it.

    "I have no clue what to tell them," he confesses, after another pause, wherein he fills the other saucepan with water and sets it up to boil. "Hey, surprise, local quirky therapist has dark and troubled past? Actually needs therapy himself? No way. There's no way I'd be able to help anyone if they knew that. And that's even granting the Fox Sister's not just a straight-up sign I'm bad news," Hikaru's fingers twitch again, but for a much different reason this time, "and I'm not even sure I'm ready to grant that!"

Ran Itoh (1040) has posed:
    That's the problem with being such close friends with someone. They know your problems and your secrets, so they know when to deflect - and with what. But Ran really is concerned; she'd never bring /that/ up just to spare herself some uncomfortable introspection. "I have to think that Fox Sister is what she is because of how you see yourself, not because of how you really are. You know more than anybody else how malleable reality is between others. How two people can say different things but be describing the same event. Perception."

    She leans back against the fridge and watches him work. He'd actually paid attention to her father's cooking lessons, while she had predictably dozed off or gotten distracted. "Besides, think about the story. She wanted to be human. I think that's the important part, not the whole 'eating her family' thing." Because Hikaru had wanted so very badly, still does, to be a 'normal person'. "You did what you had to do to survive. You never hurt anybody more than you had to. The proof of you being good is that you wanted so badly to /be/ good. ...Does that make sense?" she sighs, shoulders slumping a bit as she gives up on trying to Use Words Good.

Hikaru Kurosawa (1039) has posed:
    Hikaru shakes his head. "Sure, you can argue that's subjective, but the Persona Game sure seemed to cut down into an objective truth. I mean - she's a kumiho. I haven't told /anyone/ I'm Korean," he insists, "except for Hiltrude, I guess, but..." But as much as his therapist masterminding all this would be a sinister twist, he sincerely doubts it.

    Hikaru listens to Ran, frowning down at the pot of water as he waits for it to boil. "A monster who wants to fit in," he remarks, quietly. "Yeah, that's me." He shakes his head as the water finally boils, and he slips in the udon noodles, stirring them gently. "... sorry, Ran. I hear what you're saying, I just... god, it's fucking frustrating. I finally get to see the reflection of my soul, and she's - that? Of all stories, she had to be /that/ one? Makes me wonder if she was right," he barks out a bitter laugh, not bothering to specify who he's talking about. Ran knows.

    The noodles set up, Hikaru grabs the wok - there was always a wok, it's a vital piece of kitchen equipment - and heads up some oil, stir-frying strips of pork. "... but I guess you're right, really. I just hope they can see that. I mean... Ainsley did, I suppose, but... shit," he shakes his head again, finishing up the pork and adding it to the the curry mix. Hikaru laughs again, but it's laced with less vitriol this time, as he reaches over to grab one of the bowls and dish the curry up. "Anyway, dinner's ready, yeah? You know the rule, no angst at the dinner table. Let's... let's talk about this later, okay?"