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Land of Lightning Near Target Outpost
After Midnight

"Our success remains guaranteed."

A flippant reply came through the mental network, snarky to the point that a brief mental image of the speaker's face would form in Yurai's mind though it remained physically as stoic and unamused as it had been prior. Kyoko stretched her arms out, brought her hands together, and cracked them in front of her as she surveyed her opponent, standing across a woman clad in bandages so tightly knit that Kyoko could only really observe her general silhouette rather than any defining features. Of course, beneath her veil, there were few of her own features that could be observed--it seemed to be a mirror match of sorts, or perhaps a chessboard. Her opponent clad in white, Kyoko clad in black. Queen versus Pawn.

The match was, of course, going to be much like a chess battle. Kyoko knew that certain steps were required to assure victory, and that following them correctly would lead to a certain victory. A wise man had once written a work that contained many quotes pertinent to warfare and its nuances, and these quotes were not dissimilar to Kyoko's general strategies and style of combat.

"All warfare is based on deception."

A lesson her opponent seemed to have taken to heart as well. The wrappings were an unknown variable--a barrier preventing her from applying her genjutsu in the way that came most naturally to her. Perhaps they were ordinary, but that was an unwise thing to assume. It was unwise to assume anything about an opponent without proper logical cause, and at this point in the conflict it was too early to tell what that would be. Kyoko acted as if she were preparing for a physical conflict--allowing her body to move, to warm up, to get used to the rhythm and flow of combat. Of course, unless the opponents had intel that Kyoko was not aware of, she would not be aware that the true battleground of this skirmish was in the mind.

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

Of course, Kyoko was prepared for practically any eventuality. A prodigious intellect and aptitude for tactics enabled Kyoko to win before she ever stepped foot on a battlefield, but this time she had been caught somewhat unawares. She had not noted the presence of foreign agents in this mission, and this had been a shock to her--but, realistically, it was to be expected. Whenever Yurai was involved, an omen of ill luck was not far behind.

Still, as her opponent suddenly lunged forward, Kyoko's time to think was cut short. At least, it was for the first step.

Suddenly, everything around Kyoko froze. The world was completely still, down to every atom, and Kyoko walked forward as if striding down a red carpet. She walked directly up to the woman and observed her features carefully: examining her body shape, her musculature, the nature of her bandages. There was only so much that sight alone could tell her, and the illusion that she had crafted within her mind could only allow her to iterate upon the information that she had observed before she had begun--and she had had limited information. Still, this was valuable time to consider an approach, and Kyoko spent a solid minute thinking to herself within the confines of her illusory reality. No time had yet passed outside of her mind, but that would change after another moment or so of thought--so Kyoko decided to first observe her opponent's abilities before re-examining the situation. This was not ideal, by any means, but in the absence of advance information she would have to do some battlefield reconnaissance.

Then, suddenly, reality resumed almost exactly where it had left off, and Kyoko allowed her newfound opponent to rush her. She would react in kind if and when the opportunity presented itself.


@Eklispe @The 42nd Gecko @Raijinslayer @Innue @Payldue

Kiyo, like the others, had been drawn towards the square by the strange pall of magic that had weaved itself over Toran. Though less outwardly aggressive than the other trainers, Kiyo had channeled the strange energy that she felt into the pursuit of knowledge. She had used her family's name in a manner akin to--but not quite--a battering ram to get into the Library in the dead of night when sleep would not come, and had spent the past six or so hours comparing the information within those tomes to the portable records of her family's library on her PDA. When she arrived in the square she looked positively haggard and thoroughly frazzled, but the main look on her face was still overwhelming dispassion rather than outright frustration or frenetic energy.

She stood by Selim, acknowledging his presence with a bow, as she continued to delve into a tome held open with her left hand. Mythrael lounged near her, seemingly unaffected by the various goings-on, though her and Kiyo were mentally dissecting much of their findings over the night. Her own natural telepathy, inquisitive magical nature, and mastery over a strange and esoteric magic had enabled her to bond very closely with her Mythrael even in the short period of time they'd known one another. They still had a way to go, but the species were generally of human or above level intelligence, and it was more like Kiyo had made a friend than captured a magical creature to serve her--the level of autonomy she offered the Mythrael even after a few days was considerably more than most were willing to.

Kiyo found herself remarkably curious as to precisely what the Old Man was offering. Magic had existed before the Four--anyone with access to the Archmages' library could tell you that--but anything beyond that was fuzzy. Many of the ancient accounts were... apocryphal at best, and Kiyo had never known which bits of it to take as gossip and exagguration and which bits of it were deeply rooted in truth. For that reason alone, she stepped forward past the swarm of Yata-Garasu and waited for more exposition.

The Strange Old Man seemed not to actually respond to any of the inquiries levied at him by the assorted crowd of trainers, instead repeating his spiel about being able to teach the trainers ancient magic. Once a sizeable enough crowd had gathered, however, the Yata-Garasu seemed to flock in a circle around the old man. The birds were clearly preventing anybody from leaving, offering hisses and squawks at anyone who attempted--such as Süne. If he did not get the picture and stay comfortably within the circle, they would very clearly not hesitate to attack him and it seemed unlikely that he would survive the barrage that the incredibly powerful creatures could bombard him with.

"The Four have lied to you! The Magic of eld still exists, unaffected by the imposition of the Void, and I can teach you... I will teach you, Akasha be damned! If you wish to learn... you need only stay close to me. If you do not desire the power to unlock your magical potential, then I will not force you to stay... but an ill omen will fall upon you! Those who refuse true power shall be consumed by those brave enough to take it!"

The Old Man seemed to have hit a patch of lucidity, contrasting his earlier babbling and madness, and was drawing a small symbol onto the ground with his staff, and those learned in the finer points of the magical arts would be able to tell that he was drawing upon a kind of magic they had never experienced. It was wild and chaotic, rushing through them and into the ground below them. After only a second or so, a streak of crimson and violent energy leaped up from the ground with a blinding flash, and suddenly the entire square seemed to have been engulfed by a dome of earth. The Old Man continued to mutter and perform odd movements with his staff, and the Yata-Garasu began to caw out a cacophonous shriek in unison with the Old Man's actions. Very soon the vibration within the dome was a tangible, physical thing that was gripping their skulls with a rising pressure until there was a 'pop' and all of a sudden it was all gone, as were all except three of the Yata-Garasu, who remained perched on the Old Man's staff.

The earthen dome crumbled away, and each of the trainers found themselves in a clearing in a forest. It still seemed to be Toran, from the ambient temperature and weather conditions, but the lot of them had just been transported in a way that seemed to not be possible by any known metric of magic. This would, at least, confirm that the Old Man's claims of knowing ancient and powerful magic were certainly not false.

"Those who wish to learn, follow me into the cave." The Old Man stated, gesturing with his staff towards a yawning portal of stone on the northern edge of the clearing.

"The others... You may wait here until the choice has been made. Then you will be allowed to leave."

And with that, he began to walk into the cave, waiting for the other trainers to make their choices.
The Word

"JUSTICE! But not, like, G̀r̸̵̕̕͡é̛͢͜͞g҉̶'s justice. More... JUSTICE!"

The Potion

"Drink me. Nothing bad will happen. At least, not to you."

As the trainers all made their respective ways in Toran after Yugaku's gathering, and a thick blanket of inky blackness covered the sky, the stirrings of some ancient and inscrutable force progressed in frequency and intensity. The most magically apt in the city might notice a strange influx of magical energy that seemed to not fit in any of the categories of study formally recognised by the Mages' Guild, the spiritually aware might notice some ordinarily unseen tension straining against the fabric of the world, and the plain lucky might catch a deeper scent of rich, metallic blood in their noses that would give them pause for thought. Whatever people might notice, or not notice at all, something had people in Toran on edge--many of the new trainers would likely seek solace and refuge in the idea that it was just jitters from taking their first step outside of comfort and into adventure and seek to rationalise away what they felt or observed, just as they would be sure that their parents had done so before them, and theirs before them.

Night would not pass uneventfully. Those trainers who engaged in nocturnal activities beyond the purview of normal folk (perhaps foraging for herbs, or looking for nocturnal Natrelmon, or studying deeply tomes of powerful and forbidden magic) would feel the static of apprehension dancing upon the nape of their neck, and the cries of a wolf punctuated the otherwise eerie silence with bursts of frenetic energy. Something about the howling stirred the blood, and when Indolu gave way to Ielle come morn there would be reports of many more fights than usual breaking out in the streets and none of the trainers would have slept well at all. Even today that strange howling would vibrate in their skulls, exciting their blood with a restlessness that just wouldn't quite go away--at some point during the day each of them would be compelled to leave their hotels or inns and do something to burn off some excess energy. Toran was a big city, there was no doubt of that, and some strange auspice would have them all meander their way towards a small square hidden away from the more open areas of the city by edifices of blackened stone.

The Trainers beginning their Rites were likely not familiar with all of Atren's various legends and myths and folklore regarding specific Natrelmon, but there were a couple of tales that practically everyone had heard: The Four and their lieutenants; Lancelot and Medraut and their search for the spectral dragon Albion; Yata-Garasu and their calamitous predilections towards ill-omen. It was the latter story that each of the trainers walking into the square would recall as more of the aforementioned creatures than they had ever seen before flocked together in a single place. Every arch, every corner, every lamppost had one of the fabled Yata-Garasu perched upon it, its three legs clamped tightly in place while its head twisted and turned curiously.

Many of the trainers would never have gotten the chance to see a Yata-Garasu up close and personal, so this would be a good opportunity for them to study: they were notably at least three times the size of a normal crow (and crows were already fairly large), and laced within their ebon plumage were crackles of rusty red sparks of dull energy that seemed to flare up at the most random intervals with equally queer spikes of intensity. The beaks of the birds were much unlike ordinary beaks, curved in a shape that could only be described as a tomoe found in the heraldry of Sakura, but tapering not to a smooth and rounded edge but a wicked, gleaming point. Two beady black eyes peered out from the head, with a third directly above it, occluded by what appeared to be white mist, frantically darting back and forth in every which direction one could think of. It was the third eye that had truly given them their reputations as harbingers of ill-omen, said to be seeking calamitous paths that the future could take and directing events towards them wherever possible. Indeed, none had ever spoken of a Yata-Garasu and anything remotely approaching words of joy and happiness in the same sentence except perhaps ironically.

It was exceedingly odd, then, that maybe thirty of these extremely rare and ominous creatures had congregated at dawn in the city of Toran. Amidst them all, stood by a gently bubbling fountain, was an elderly man grasping an enormously oversized staff and teetering precariously to keep his grip upon it. The Yata-Garasu seemed especially drawn to it, and him, and they clambered across its many branches and a cacophonous clamour of squawks filled the air. The trainers who made their way there would find that he had already amassed quite a following--and seemed to explicitly be gathering them away from the hustle and bustle of the city in order to speak to them.

"Yes, yes... I can teach you the ways of the old magic, before the times of the Four! A strange and powerful magic, afeared by all, yes yes... Has anyone seen my staff? I normally keep it right here..." the Old Man voiced loudly, in a somehow simultaneously sonorous and senile manner, as his free right hand patted over his belly. He seemed to be indicating that he normally kept his staff in his pants, but given that he was already holding it and that it was absolutely prodigious in size, that seemed to be quite the impossibility.

As the trainers settled into the square, he would be broken from his musings. The Old Man shouted and gesticulated wildly, beckoning them over to him, as he continued to go on about being able to teach them strange and potent magic. His claims would be easy to dismiss entirely if not for the veritable army of extremely rare Yata-Garasu that seemed to be at his beck and call.
Kiyo nodded as Selim explained his problem, reaching into her robe as she did so. She took out around 5,000N and handed it to him rather casually as she begun to speak.

"Very well. Consider this a retainer fee to buy your services throughout the journey of our Rites--if anything more than light duty is required at any given point we can discuss a further payment at such a junction. It's a pleasure to be working with you." Kiyo said as the money was taken. She felt oddly invigorated after the battle, and thanks to her intensive usage of Windspeaking she could feel the knowledge within her mind blossoming. As it did so, she felt a similar surge of energy from Mythari, opalescent energy emanating from its form and swirling around it as it underwent some mystical physiological change. Kiyo had seen Natrelmon ascend to higher forms, of course, but rarely so quickly after having captured one--and she could count the number of Mythrael she'd seen on two hands. They were notoriously reclusive, though the Reijin had more experience with Dragon-types than most thanks to their extensive collection of esoteric knowledge and high status. She had conversed with a few of them in her time thanks to her natural gift of telepathy, and had been happy to impart what she learned from the tomes in her family's library to the creatures. Kiyo had always felt like explaining something that she had just read, especially something magical, was the best way to actually internalise the knowledge; that was, she thought, the purpose of knowing so much. What use was her family's collection if they simply hoarded it away and never shared their secrets with the world?

"I also noticed that you seem to be a telepath. It is rare for a trainer to be able to give commands to their Natrelmon without verbage, especially ones as tactical as yours. Though Mythari are naturally telepathic with magically gifted individuals, I too possess the gift of telepathy. It has made for some very interesting situations when meeting with the Song family. Song Lin Tiao is... well, I'm not sure there is a word for how inspiring she is." Kiyo added as an aside. She figured that if they were going to travel together, allowing themselves a strong telepathic link was for the best. In the event of danger, a seamless mental connection allowed for responses that those without the gift simply could not anticipate or keep up with. Having such an advantage would be impressive, and being able to speak to Selim without allowing passersby to understand appealed to Kiyo in an enormous way. There were things she wanted to say that she would prefer her parents did not get wind of, and that secrecy was hard to come by in Lifan.

As Selim forfeited, Kiyo released an enormous breath that she had been keeping in after her last round of spellcasting, and shortly thereafter started panting with the exertion. Casting so many spells, even with Mythari's aid, was challenging in the extreme--and as it had been so long since she had gotten the chance to use her Windspeaking at all, never mind in combat, and getting used to those movements and invocations of magic again had taxed her far more than she had expected. It was only after a solid minute of panting breaths that she regained the composure to actually speak with Selim about the battle that had just occurred. She gave him a traditional bow, with an additional respectful nod, to signify that they had concluded their battle and that her evaluation of him was over.

"You fought very admirably, Selim--your mind for tactics is excellent, as are your movements. If you had had use of your spear I dare say that you would have won quite soundly, though. If you are still interested, I would be happy to keep you on retainer as a bodyguard--though I imagine that it must not appear necessary that I need one. Truthfully, it would just be to keep my parents happy, but I would be delighted to travel with you as we go about our Rites if you decide not to accept the offer of employment?" Kiyo asked, straightening herself up and readjusting her robes so that they were presentable. It had been a very long time since she had actually fought, and she was impressed that she had managed to keep up so well. She was certainly cognizant of the fact that she had perhaps only won like she did thanks to the advantages she had gained from disarming Selim, but made a note to congratulate what she had done well and improve on what she felt was lacking about her style rather than pressing too far into either option. Balance, and objectivity, were very important when considering one's combat--especially when Kiyo had firsthand experience of how dangerous combat could be on the front lines when the rules of etiquette and decorum were discarded.

Most accepted. You know what to do.
Most accepted, @Eklispe. Post them in Characters and make your intro at your leisure. Preferably before rolls reset tomorrow (^:

A few minutes after Ielle's rays were beginning to move towards the deep vermillion and orange that Toran was known for, Yugaku of the Elite Triumvirate simply reappeared in the central square of Toran in a blinding flash of light, a stark white burst against the smoky hues of the sunset backdrop currently framing the city. She took a few moments to gather herself, sending a few messages from her PDA, before pressing two fingers to her throat and calling out across the city in a magically projected voice:

"May all trainers beginning their Rites please gather outside of Toran Arena for their initiation."

A few moments later, Yugaku could be seen with a number of government officials stood outside of the Arena. Several cardboard boxes, stacked four or five units high, punctuated the stairs leading up to the entrance of the Arena, people flitting between them and taking what looked to be small electronic devices with a clear logo on the back saying "Pinehearst"--some trainers who were more tech savvy would know these as Pinehearst PDAs, but they were mostly out of the price range of most individuals thanks to their bevy of sophisticated features and inflated cost (mostly because of the success of Pinehearst as a brand). As the new trainers beginning their rites begun to make their way to the plaza, it was increasingly clear that the PDAs were going to be distributed among them, along with a number of other interesting little tidbits to make their journeys easier.

As the trainers waited expectantly, Yugaku finished making her preparations and turned towards them, a bright smile illuminating her face as she did so. Some of the trainers, if they cared about such things, may have known Yugaku by her reputation as an extremely powerful trainer or as a member of the House of Tradition, one of the four pillars of the central government over in Lifan. If they did not know Yugaku, the first thing they would notice was the thick, black blindfold tied over her eyes. It would be an easy assumption to make that she was blind, but in truth she bore an unnaturally powerful variant of the True Sight gift and the blindfold was mostly something she wore as a matter of ceremony rather than actual function. Once she had seen everyone that she had expected, silently counting them to make sure, she stepped to the edge of the top step and opened her arms wide as if to greet them all.

"Welcome, Trainers, to the beginning of your Rites! I am Yugaku of the Elite Triumvirate, and I am here to give you the information that you'll need to begin and to answer any questions that you might have about the minutiae of the journey that you're about to take. First and foremost, as most of you should know, the Rites are a ceremonial pilgrimage offering respect to the heroes of yore who saved Atren from the precipice of destruction. We ask that you undertake these Rites not only to honour our rich history, but also to allow yourselves to grow and understand your place in the world that blossomed around you.

As most of you will know, the East-West war that took place ten years ago was born of the frustrations that the West had with the East. Though those wounds have since been healed, the central government came out of the war with control over each of the Arenas that make up the path you will travel on your Rites. As a result, we can now offer you all assistance in completing the Rites:

You will each be given a weekly stipend of 500N to spend as you see fit, as well as one of the new PDAs from Pinehearst in order to effectively communicate with one another and keep track of your progress on your journey."

As Yugaku mentioned the PDAs, she waved her hands to the assistants mulling about behind her who begun distributing them, as well as a small plastic bank card emblazoned with the Pinehearst logo, to the trainers.

"This stipend will be deposited into the accounts tied to these cards each week, and will you will find that many local hotels or inns will offer you free meals and lodging. You can check precisely which establishments are offering these benefits with your PDA, which also has several other functions such as internet access, a log of the Natrelmon that you've seen, your current magical talents, and a convenient app that will allow you to access one of the many libraries in each city!

Your goal is, of course, to challenge each of the Arenas in the major cities and then report to the Triumvirate Tower in Lifan to report your findings to myself or my two companions. Beating each of the Arenas is not necessary, only visiting the cities and challenging them in some capacity. You could theoretically be done quite quickly if you like, but this is a journey first and foremost about your personal growth. It is not uncommon for the Rites to take years, and you will be well-provided for, so please take this time to explore everything the world has to offer!

I would encourage you to make friends with one another, so I am going to assign you all into groups to get to know one another before you leave Toran.

Firstly, could Mezhas Nox'vaos, Reijin, Kiyo, and Süne step over here...

Secondly, could Shea Byrne, Axel Wulf, and Cori Turner step over here...

and finally, could Selim Raess Dar, Lillian Bell, Xander of Xuan, and Oz Morioka step over here!"
Yugaku shouted, nodding towards each individual and pointing towards the location that they were supposed to stand in. The list of names continued for a good while longer, until around fourteen groups were formed, and Yugaku began speaking again.

"I would like your groups to get to know one another before you leave Toran. You will find that your details are already in each others' PDAs so you can easily contact one another wherever you may be. Additionally, try to meet other groups before you leave! Nothing is binding you together, but it is good to have people that you know before you set off on your journey proper. I shall remain right here for another hour or so in case you have any questions, and in Toran until tomorrow evening at the Ielle's Blessing Hotel. Best of luck, trainers!"

With the speech concluded, the items handed out, and the trainers set into groups they would be free to continue their journey. They could get to know one another in their groups as Yugaku had recommended, or they could choose to simply make their own way. As Ielle's rays disappeared and Indolu gazed down upon the trainers, they would likely want to head to one of the famous establishments in Toran for a bite to eat and a drink, courtesy of the government, or perhaps just find a room in an inn or a hotel to rest in for the night. As the crowd dispersed away from Yugaku's speech, however, there was a distinct feeling of malaise in the air and every so often a faint, vaguely metallic smell that nobody would quite be able to place would grace their senses before disappearing just as soon as it was noticed.

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