Description: Earthrealm may have won the tournament, but their heroes are besieged from all sides. On one front: Shang Tsung's armies preventing escape at every turn. On another front: Quan Chi's faithful revenants. Every fighter who falls in battle is bolsters the might of one army or the other -- willing or otherwise. One such soldier is BAIKEN. Quan Chi had high hopes that the ronin would cut through her enemies and amplify the chaos across the island. Three dozen zombie revenants sweep forward with her across the island, cutting down Shang Tsung's armies and Earthrealm's forces alike. Death and dismemberment await anyone in her path. Even if they happen to be trying to restrain the killing impulses. Revenants have no choice but to obey their dark compulsions -- and the SATSUI NO HADOU may be Ryu's only chance of survival against the incoming zombie horde. Success may mean a newfound sense of control over the foul urges -- failure may result in the corruption of yet another hero to Quan Chi's army.
Another body hits the rising water with an inhuman hiss of discontent that fills the air far louder than the eruption of water the impact brings.
A lone figure's well-worn white martial arts gi, in many ways, seems as unnatural a sight as the red-eyed, gray-skinned warriors standing both beyond the brink of death and not. It casts a bright spot of color, as though some sort of shining beacon, that violates the aesthetics of the fast-sinking graveyard. The water has come up to around ten centimeters on average, and is set to continue rising as the surrounding island looks to sink into the ocean.
It would seem that at least one force - no, at least two forces - are dead set on ensuring those still present on the island do not leave alive.
"Toryah!!" Calls the voice of the wandering martial artist, Ryu, whom has thrown another such unnatural body over his shoulder as one had attempted to gut him with a knife from behind. The dim, almost unnoticeable glow of the red shard embedded within his fist occasionally flickers, as though clinging to life, to some purpose or desire not yet fulfilled.
He advances through the corpse-strewn memorial grounds with urgency. Both Ken Masters and himself split ways when the earth cracked underfoot, but both have full utmost confidence in one another. (They might even be in a boyish challenge to race to the other half of the island, past the Palace, with the promise that the loser buys their celebratory meal when they return.)
Ryu's might being what it is, the hordes are relentless. Attrition seems, for the time, the sole tactic they have...
But he knows better than to let his guard down as he swings his left fist up into an uppercutting motion to give himself more space, more breathing room. How much longer could he last against these armies...?
Ryu could probably hold out for quite a while against the revenants he's been encountering so far. The older dead are numerous, but a body that's been in the ground for years doesn't hold together very well - not that that stops them, granted, at least for a while. They're hard to put down all the way, but he's doing an admirable job of slowing them enough to keep moving, refusing to be penned in by the relentless horde and surviving.
Well. He could survive out long enough to become exhausted and drown when the water gets deeper, anyway, if he can't find a way off by then. Some people might think that's a plus.
But the slow-moving zombie of the older dead are not all he has to deal with. His first warning that something is different is when a much fresher revenant appears before him - one that looks almost alive, moving faster and more smoothly than the older zombies. The uppercut smashes him out of the way, and Ryu can advance further before he sees the new threat.
It's a squad of revenants - and they all look fresh. Some of them look so fresh they could have died minutes ago, though with clear sword wounds in a couple cases... especially one at the front, who doesn't look dead or even particularly injured at all.
The woman there looks like a madwoman. Her pink hair is shaggy and long, pulled back out of annoyance more than any particular desire to tame it. Her face is marked with red, only some of which is blood; she has some facial tattoo, an arced line and a dot. Her robe is tattered, especially on the long trailing right sleeve - lower right sleeve? It seems to have two, and the outer layer is adorned with skull imagery.
Also, she's holding a katana in her left hand - she only seems to have one. It's bloody.
It might taken Ryu a few moments to recognize just who she is. The last time anyone saw Baiken, she didn't look quite like this. Nor this mad. Her single eye scans around for someone living, the empty socket half-hidden behind a glass-fronted patch with a pattern etched in it. And, after a few moments, she focuses on Ryu.
Baiken growls. She isn't even really aware she's done it.
COMBATSYS: Baiken has started a fight here on the right meter side.
COMBATSYS: Baiken equips a gleaming Garnet Soul Shard.
|=------\-------\0 [E] Baiken
There is something about the growling. Distant, and if measured simply by raw volume, it should be muted by the shuffling, the creaking, the groaning, the splashing... the environment is rife with discordant instruments of destruction and misery.
Yet, the growl of the one-armed warrior manages to carry above all of it, and the Ansatsuken student turns about-face, fists no less clenched for it. Now is not the time for one's guard to be lowered.
The words are stated not with animosity, nor warmth, but a simple acknowledgement.
One of the fiercest warriors he'd haver crossed fists with. In any other circumstance, to cross paths with one like her again to see how both have grown would be an exciting prospect. He still has much yet to learn on his path down the champion's road...
...But this is no time for nostalgic reminiscing. More than ever, Ryu still walks among the living through the sacrifices, tears, and sweat of good friends he worried for his weakness. He still had much to learn, in his search for self-mastery.
She is not alone. In the company of freshly dead, of which wounds continue to spill what blood remains within their bodies, staining the rising tides a deeper crimson with every drop that passes. Though she appears reasonably intact, the fact that they have not converged upon her like they have him...
A frown grows, his eyes narrowing.
"You're..." He doesn't finish the thought. He can see it in her eyes, as if the bloodied sword itself were not a deafening, blinding klaxon. Her intensity overwhelms the senses, whether her will is her own or not. There are almost none fiercer than she.
Now is not the time for weakness, fists raised anew as his feet bob about the rising water. He can make due with the footing.
He inwardly shuts out all distractions anew, listening and acknowledging only the space between himself, Baiken, and the hordes that yet may search for an opening to strike him again. A world without color or sound...
Only the fight itself, as the next battle begins.
He will see to it that it not be his last.
COMBATSYS: Ryu has wandered into the fight here on the left meter side.
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Ryu 0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0 [E] Baiken
COMBATSYS: Ryu focuses on his next action.
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Ryu 0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0 [E] Baiken
COMBATSYS: Ryu equips a dim Magenta Soul Shard.
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Ryu [E] 0/-------/-------|=------\-------\0 [E] Baiken
It is Baiken. Ryu can be fairly sure of that; it's not a doppleganger nor a twin. The essence - the /feel/ - of Baiken is the same.
And one of those traits that can't be denied is her sheer force of will. Her intensity, her sheer presence, is undeniable. If it wasn't something that part of her wanted to do anyway, it would have been much harder for Quan Chi to direct her in the way that he did.
But it is. Baiken has lived all those long years with a burning need for revenge. She dedicated her life to fighting so she could take it out on those who harmed her and the people like them. It's a short jump at best to the way she is right now - to live for combat and nothing else, to fight and fight until she finally fell, and to hell with anybody else.
Her aura is intense as she meets Ryu's gaze. There's a challenge there; she remembers Ryu. And she still considers him a challenge, one worthy of her time and personal attention. She /wants/ to fight him, not someone who can't or won't fight back. Baiken makes it absolutely clear a moment later: "Mine," she growls at the revenants. Swallowing, she says, in a more human tone, "He's mine."
And, somehow, the revenants seem to understand. They don't disperse, precisely - there are no other living targets for them to focus on here - but they do move away, spreading out in a disorganized manner. Perhaps they realize that, compared to Baiken, none of them come close to her skill, and thus wouldn't be able to take on Ryu, either. Or maybe they just follow orders. It's really quite hard to tell. They do watch, though. It's quite possibly the most eerie audience Ryu has ever had for a battle.
Or perhaps not. He has, after all, survived this tournament.
Baiken raises her already bloodied blade. One might expect her to be uncontrolled, open when she fights - and the forward rush, feet splashing through the water, seems to signify that. But on closer examination, the kind of fighter's eye that only someone like Ryu could manage, she's not. She's aggressive, certainly, but she has all the skill she's been known for; her charge is less reckless than it looks, and her opening stroke is powerful but not to the point of swinging wild - merely a decisive blow accompanied by a powerful wordless kiai, as if she wanted to end the battle quickly and was intending to force an opening to do it.
COMBATSYS: Baiken successfully hits Ryu with Suzuran.
-* CRITICAL HIT! *-
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Ryu [E] 0/-------/---====|==-----\-------\0 [E] Baiken
The politics among walking corpses fails to register. For the moment, all of import is the fight between himself, Baiken, and whatever others may yet stumble. That there will be less 'noise' of interference so that the mightiest among them can bring Ryu low to be assimilated is a grace that he would not allow to go to waste.
For all the preparation and readiness in the world, Baiken's skill with the blade is undeniable. It slips just underneath his elbows, the martial artist misreading the angle of her blow based on the positioning of her wrist relative to grip.
The rising, cold water is met with a splash of red warmth.
It's grievous. Deep enough to give even the hardiest warriors - such as himself - pause.
The yelp of pain is suppressed. The sensations of the worrisome laceration are dulled to the eyes of his mind, of which this proves no small feat. One of his legs stand to betray this, shuddering and shaking as it seems intent to try and force him to a kneel to catch his breath, to soak this wound.
He does no such thing, for what concession in blood he pays for doing so. A fraction of a second passes between them. He would do a disservice to Ken Masters to panic and give in to weakness...
Even his old master instilled, with equal measures kindness and force, the importance of maintaining calm and focus.
In this, he attempts to challenge Baiken's anticipations by moving in with a straight jab from his right - no, two of them, going high around face-level. Both punches are identical in form and movement, with no deviation. A simplistic routine set of strikes he has long since mastered...
...but this is a precursor to him moving inward, trying to grab her about the shoulders in both hands in an attempt to close off this combination by lifting her up and throw them over his shoulder with a kiai.
COMBATSYS: Baiken blocks Ryu's Combo Grapple.
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Ryu [E] 0/-------/---====|===----\-------\0 [E] Baiken
Baiken is one of the greatest living swordswomen.
That's not a boast. It's just fact. There are other female fighters, some of whom are better than her, but most of them do not use a sword; there are other swordswomen, but Baiken is more experienced and more talented than the vast majority of them. In this narrow field, she stands as one of the greats.
She flicks Ryu's blood off the blade with a smooth gesture, shifting her feet in the water and much to try to find a stable platform in the rising sea. The ground is unstable here - well, obviously, given the whole island is sinking, but beyond that there's mud and muck everywhere in the graveyard, old pits and new hollows from the shifting water. It's harder than you'd think to find a place.
But she finds one, and she's actually braced when Ryu delivers his series of punches. The first one she simply absorbs with her lower arm, but the second she ducks, breaking the pattern.
She pushes forward. Not a lot, but enough to push her shoulder into Ryu's chest, nudging him just a little off balance and ruining his attempt to grab her. His hands slip past her as she turns her body into the blows rather than away. At the range this close, she can't even use her sword.
"Come on," she growls. "Come /on/! Fight me at your full potential!" Baiken raises her knee, trying to drive it into Ryu's midsection - it's a bit of a lift for her, she's surprisingly short - before stomping down on his feet, bringing her fist up to drive the hilt and pommel of her sword directly into Ryu's face. She's relentless.
COMBATSYS: Baiken successfully hits Ryu with Fierce Strike.
-* CRITICAL HIT! *-
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Ryu [E] 1/-------/=======|====---\-------\0 [E] Baiken
Working with a blow already inflicted, the knee to Ryu's abdomen is equal parts cruel and effective. Doubling down where damaged, a surge of pain anew flashes as he finds himself crumpled over where her blow connects.
There is, then, a flash of colors when Baiken connects with Ryu's chin moments after. Eyes go wide as they are violated with the rest of reality surrounding him.
The rotten air, with smoky clouds of unnatural hues. The choking dust, rife with death and decay that would pollute the lungs. The freezing cold at his feet, which... is a circumstance that does not, inherently, bother him in any other context.
That he acknowledges the last point at all in a focus shattered is, in itself, a dire sign.
Interia follows suit with gravity, and Ryu's balance is lost as he is sent hurtling across the air to a sobering roll across the disgusting water. Sputtering and coughing, he comes up to a kneel as the blood seeps from the opening blow. Even through the debilitating combination, the words still came through clear.
'Come /on/! Fight me at your full potential!' Such was the demand of a woman whom, herself, lives only for battle.
Staggering back up to a stand, his head swims to a concussed haze. Three strikes in, and even Ryu - whom humbly considers himself a student, rather than being among the masterful martial artists whose number he could proudly walk alongside - might have been felled by even just /one/ of them from the legendary swordswoman that stands before him.
He is not one to vocally plead, nor to beg. She wants his best... he has no choice to give anything but his best as he returns to blessed ignorance of just how cold the water he stands in actually is.
He phases out the extraneous details anew as he brings his hands back, clasped around nothing, cupping the void.
It is what Ryu considers his best... but deep within, the gnawing sensation at his mind would be quick to try and remind him... no, there is more.
Energy pulls into the vacuum he creates in the space between his hands, a whitish-blue energy gathering together that turns a more orange, fiery hue. The time-honored, famous technique of his mastery.
Yet, Baiken can see the dim glow of the magenta shard embedded within his fist has not changed in its intensity, nor its light. That answer may yet come up a negative...
Flecks of red gather in the space around Ryu, boiling off of him. The worrisome air that occasionally casts his shadow as sinister, though all else paints him as an earnest and dedicated young man to his craft - he draws upon the power from his focus, to shut out all else.
"SHAKUNETSU!" He calls, thrusting the hands forward to release the globe of fiery energy that cuts through the miasma of death, leaving clear air in its wake until it the dust dances anew in the vacuum created.
Baiken is faced with a powerful construct of chi manifestation. Strong, even, one of the strongest he may yet muster.
But he can go further.
COMBATSYS: Ryu successfully hits Baiken with Shakunetsu Hadouken EX.
- Power hit! -
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Ryu [E] 1/-----==/=======|=======\=------\1 [E] Baiken
Legendary? Maybe. Baiken only considers her skill in how it relates to the object of her obsession; everyone else is merely a challenge, or not, and she doesn't worry about them as much. Compared to That Man, she needs more. And she knows it.
But she demands the best. Not just from herself, but from her opponents. How will she learn if she doesn't experience it? How will she /feel/, if only for a moment, without the thrill of true battle?
Baiken's response to the sudden blast of chi is immediate. She brings her sword up, attempting to parry it - and for an instant it looks like she might manage it. She stands, arm straining, pink-hued chi shrouding the blade and little drifting motes dancing off it. The blast impacts, repels, is /held/ -
And then bursts against Baiken like a cannonball. She could not hold it back any more than she could hold back the water, or the sun; the blast is sufficient to throw her back, arm windmilling until she lands, somehow upright. But steaming where the dampness on her was vapourized, and with a burn she can feel, hot and bright. Her sword isn't steaming but smoking, wisps of pink and blue chi mingled rising from it. And she's grinning, almost feral. "If you don't give me more," she says, "if you can't kill me - I'll kill you."
Is that what she wants?
Baiken can't hold it back for more than an instant, the impulse from Quan Chi she can't stop. She roars again, wordless, somewhere between pain and power before she lashes out. She leaps, clearing the distance between herself and Ryu in two bounds; on the second she's somersaulting forward as she actually jumps over his head, striking with an improbable upward slash from behind him. Her landing is going to be awkward at best, painful and jarring at worst, but it's still worth it for the impact.
"I'll kill everyone on this godforsaken island until I get what I want!"
COMBATSYS: Ryu blocks Baiken's Ouren.
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Ryu [E] 1/----<<</<<<<<<<|=======\==-----\1 [E] Baiken
Ryu returns to a ready stance upon launching the fireball, anticipating Baiken's next movements. He rests on no laurels. He does not stand hesitant, nor afraid. Taking in breath anew as he fights through the searing pain in abdomen and head alike, he chooses to allow Baiken her next maneuver, to work with what opening comes next.
Her words are, unto themselves, a jab punch of a reminder of the differences between them.
Ryu seeks the best, both so that he and his opponent can attain ever greater heights through their craft. It so happens that Ryu is already far beyond the vast majority of the fighting populace... and yet, his humility prevents him from letting it get to his ego. He finds worth in every battle. Never once, has he struggled to find some virtue, some detail about his opponent to acknowledge... if not always be pleased by such thoughts of what they may encompass.
In their previous bout, he recognized her ferocity. He found that hers far exceeded his - he pulled himself back from fully releasing what lay within. This allowed her that edge against him then, and now--
No. It will not. Not in this form.
Baiken leaps up and over the Ansatsuken student. Most would think that her attack would come later than it does, believing it simply a positioning leap to go for one's back. Ryu, however, proves as keen as his reputation may suggest as the blade rises behind his upper back.
It is deflected by a jab of an elbow, if not cleanly glancing off the edge like Ryu might intend. The scrape is shallower in comparison to what he suffered at Baiken's first advance, but it remains no wound to consider trivial when coupled with what he already contends.
The red flecks of energy continue to escape his being. Without fully turning around to face Baiken behind him, Ryu flexes a leg up and inward. This asks much of an already abused abdomen, that he pushes through with grit and determination.
With another shout, he extends the leg behind him in a kick that compresses the very air around his heel as he seeks to strike Baiken upside her head with this backwards thrusting kick. As a blow, it rivals the ferocity of the Shakunetsu Hadouken.
And yet, he can achieve more...
This goes beyond mere life and death. So fixated upon the fight itself, that this battle has yet greater ramifications has yet to fully permeate this man's psyche. It goes beyond the will to fight, the understanding of a battle of differing ideals and motives.
Will he dare grasp it, as the gnawing grows greater...?
COMBATSYS: Ryu successfully hits Baiken with Joudan Sokutou Geri.
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Ryu [E] 1/---====/=======|=======\=====--\1 [E] Baiken
Something is off about Baiken.
It was a little obvious before, but it's increasingly so the more Ryu interacts with her. What she wants - she really does want it. She wants the challenge; she expects to be at risk, and she has very little care for her own life except for the fact that if she dies, she can't take revenge on That Man.
But she doesn't act like this. Not normally. While she's never shied away from violence, even hurting people badly when they cross her path and try to stop her, she doesn't seek it like this; in other, more pleasant tournaments, she's restrained herself from killing blows. And she stood for Earthrealm, going so far as to take a second lease on life from Kenshi when he saved her to try to become their champion, only to be killed by Erron. And yet here she is now.
Baiken prefers to hunt monsters. Ryu isn't a monster. Not yet. But she's trying to kill him, with no good reason to. The island is sinking. If anything, this should be when she's killing the undead by the swarm - and yet she isn't. They're still milling about, aimless without guidance or a target they're allowed to hunt.
Having landed and beginning to turn, Baiken is about to attack again when the foot comes for her. She doesn't dodge it - it's not clear she's trying very hard, honestly. It hits her hard enough that she sees nothing but stars; she doesn't just stumble but actually falls, rolling through the mud and water and coming up filthy. As if she wasn't dirty enough already before being covered in sunken cemetary dirt.
Baiken pushes herself up with her hand, pushing herself up to one knee. She's still dazed enough that she's doing that completely on reflex, something that must be nearly impossible; she can get up without thinking about it, driven to keep fighting no matter what. She snarls, spitting out muck from her face-first landing, shaking her head in an attempt to get the sparks and dizziness out of it.
"Hnnn..." She almost grunts it as she pushes herself the rest of the way to her feet. They're at some distance, now, so Baiken tries to narrow it; she lashes out with her empty sleeve, and a chained weapon flies out with a clinking of metal. A box, with several rough, blunt-tipped hooks attached in rough mimicry of claws; she tosses it past Ryu's shoulder, then yanks on the chain with her hand, pulling it back towards her.
And possibly catching him in the shoulder, dragging him along with it.
COMBATSYS: Ryu parries Baiken's Kabari!
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Ryu [E] 1/--=====/=======|=======\======-\1 [E] Baiken
All these details, only a number of them evade Ryu on account of not having been personal witness to some of the events that transpired. For the most part, he had been allowed to mull upon what weaknesses allowed him to be overtaken, and what he'd consider strengths prove to be a demerit upon these cursed islands. He would keep fighting against every urge to go all out, from the howling souls that took residence in his shard to the greater darkness yet that dwells upon his very being.
Does he still yet cling to these foolish - no, even childish - hopes of sticking strictly to the beliefs so deeply ingrained by his master? Knowing that Baiken is in the company of bloodthirsty cadavers that obey her word, and how deep that first cut went... there will be no miracle, today, if he falls. No mercy, no reprieve. The warrior woman's ferocity in battle is terrifying to be subject to.
Drawing back his kicking leg, even the heel that strikes Baiken does not feel the same. His mouth parts open slightly, as though struggling to think of the possibility that any words could come from his mouth that could sway her.
He knows better. She is beyond them.
In the span of time where he dares to contemplate, she retaliates. The hook-filled box flies past his shoulde--
"Hn!" Stance lowering as he widens the distance of his feet between one another, he turns and strikes the box with an open palm, popping it up back over his shoulder anew, with his back turned to Baiken. The claw-like box still yet has a chance to grip into him with their reach as it starts being dragged back--
"Hn!" Turning around a full 180 degrees, he does it again, but with extra force to pop it further into the air - an attempt to destabilize her balance by proxy as he turns this into his own forward momentum. The rising water makes sudden movements of lower hops and two-step sprints difficult, but this is a man whom has almost never allowed the elements their way. He would walk the Earth (and beyond) with his bare feet underneath. The water will not be an encumbrance to him now.
Moving in striking distance, he swings in his left fist in a forward lunging punch that gets a second push of momentum as he swings his body into it. The punch that appears to be but a single body blow, on an impact, will be found to instead be two strikes masquerading as one.
The other fist remains balled up. A light glints off the magenta shard, as though... an omen? A message? To be face to face with Baiken again, the two accelerate towards a conclusion that could yet spell the end for either of them.
COMBATSYS: Baiken blocks Ryu's Kyuubi Kudaki EX.
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Ryu [E] 1/-======/=======|=======\======-\1 [E] Baiken
Ryu is absolutely right about one thing. Whether because of Baiken herself, or Quan Chi, or somewhere between the two:
This has gone too far for words to stop her.
Baiken's lips curl up further as the box flies past Ryu, exactly as she wanted it to - perhaps not quite exactly, though the initial deflection doesn't worry her very much. It's when she pulls it inward that his strategy is revealed, popping the box higher into the air. This doesn't pull her off her feet because the box is a lot lighter than she is and therefore has a lot less force behind it, but it does force her to reel it in a second time, as it's lost all its momentum on the return.
As a result, Baiken isn't off balance, precisely, when Ryu reaches her. She's pretty stable, in fact. But she's out of position, taking longer to recover her chained claw than she'd been hoping. She twists her body, and looks like she's going to evade the blow, but the motion she has to make with her right side clanks the chain, and she looks down to realize - it's snagged on a headstone. She snaps her sword back into its scabbard so she can keep manipulating the chain.
Baiken pulls herself to the claw instead of the claw to her. Ryu's impact clips her but does not hit solidly; her sandals hydroplane off the muck and she kicks up a spray as she is knocked out of position. Fortunately, the jarring impact freed her claw from the headstone, and so when she whirls, it does too, retracting to her body.
Baiken's spin conceals her hand moving to her sword. And there Ryu finally gets to see a glimmer he might have been expecting; the dull redness, almost black, of the crystal shard. It's set into the hilt, where her hand usually obscures it, but as she draws it it glimmers with the deep redness of old blood. Of course, he doesn't get to look at it for very long, because in the same motion that she draws it Baiken slashes, a diagonal-upward blow with her full strength behind it. Even now she doesn't check or restrain her blow.
This is violence in its purest form; simple, direct, used to kill. The same essence of violence that ended with the death of Akuma, if only Ryu knew it.
To succeed, he may indeed have to push himself... but how he chooses to do that is up to him.
COMBATSYS: Ryu blocks Baiken's Tetsuzansen.
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Ryu [E] 1/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\1 [E] Baiken
Baiken's recovery from the setback is masterful to watch, choosing to move with where her claw goes, the way she leads into that upward slash... it would seem as though Ryu himself were the one who was thrown off by the deflection of the claw as he draws back his attacking hand in favor of the opposide. He jerks it sharply back when he catches the flash of blood-soaked steel, which grazes against the length of his forearm for a new line of crimson to spill forth.
That is violence in its purest form - simple, direct, used to kill.
Memories flood back to what was a simple battle against a promising young man who had so much to teach - one Keith Walker, whose technique and strength felt one step ahead of himself. And yet, when Keith professed a desire to all but kill himself for sake of fighting at his best... Ryu remembers the panic, the slip of stoicism that saw him channel something darker he only barely kept back to prevent Keith from detonating himself.
Even now, as his strength starts to numb from blood loss, the wicked smile of a terrible entity flashes at the back of his head. He does not know of them, but they seem to treat what is about to occur as a done deal. This man who could have stood as a viable champion for Earthrealm - regardless of its eventual unlikely victory - has proven as anything but. He would make for a wonderful pawn anew. He would be put to far greater use than that short-sighted tyrant who held him as a puppet.
Standing this close between the two now, Ryu's comprehension centers on the reality, to look the fierce warrior with scant more to lose. From his eyes to her singular one, just to look upon her face-to-face brings forth an ever sombering truth when surrounded by the eager (yet patient) dead all around them.
To fall here no longer endangers just his life.
To allow Baiken to continue like this, in itself, prolongs her own suffering.
Memories come back again to how he had moved to save one who fell from the ravages of kombat. The shard embedded within his fist is dimmed in light - itself, too weak, for one so strong like Baiken herself. In order to give back now...
He has to take.
The first thing he takes is a breath. Am I to surrender to weakness? Will this overtake me, and throw out everything that I am? The point of combat... a test of two warriors and their skills, aiming to climb to ever greater heights between what they learn about one another between blows...
...His right hand balls up tight, fingers threatening to stab into his very palms as he wobbles to a kneel.
No, he wills to a kneel, teeth clenching. His eyes, often unwavering in focus, are drenched in the humanity of tears, the exertion of a body pushed to the limit between itself, the mind, and the soul.
The sole soul remaining within his shard whispers its harsh, blood-thirsty suggestions, unaware that they go unheard to a far deeper, more powerful voice.
The flecks of red eminating from his aura grow more intense as he hurls his right fist into Baiken's midsection with such force that the very air is vacated from the path it travels...
COMBATSYS: Ryu channels the strength of the killing fist.
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Ryu [E] 1/<<<<<<</<<<<<<<|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\1 [E] Baiken
COMBATSYS: Baiken endures Ryu's Shin Shoryuken+.
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Ryu [E] 0/-------/-<<<<<<|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2 [E] Baiken
It feels as though time comes to a standstill when that fist hits square in Baiken's abdomen, as though suspending her in place.
His other fist comes swinging into that same space, free of hesitation, of the weakness that comes with fading strength and consciousness. Every muscle in his body moves acts the optimal way one exerts power over movement, with no waste.
"Shin," he utters out, moving that same fist up higher towards Baiken's chin, to keep her upright and straight. He does not dare look away from what he's doing, as eyes that were cloudy with uncertainty for either of their well-being give away to a narrowed focus.
In the shade, the average person would consider such a glare to be monstrous, of ill intent. (This is not entirely wrong.)
The momentary pauses between these two initial parts would give the uninitiated the wrong idea - he is not fighting against himself in going through the whole process. Each strike, momentary wait and all, is done best to align not only with his own movement, but the enemy's - the way a brain tends to register pain and shock, to allow Earth's gravity to attempt to take what it will of one taken off their feet.
Not a single nanosecond of time is wasted as it transitions to that final, tremendous blow that launches the both of them clean off their very feet, sending Ryu soaring skywards under the very power of his fist.
"SHOOOOORYUKEEEN!!!" The words ring throughout the island, each blow a veritable shockwave that sees the water rush away from underneath them, splashing into the ravenous dead all around. Just that very act might wash a number of them away.
Freed of restraints, in any other circumstance, this would be a violation of everything that Gouken has taught him - to give into what should be seen as weakness. The willingness to take one's life in battle is one to be avoided at all costs.
tHe is not using his fist to kill - Baiken is, in a sense, already dead.
This is to remove the hold of whatever power pulls her strings. It would be cowardly for him to not do what he could to save her from a fate similar to one he had already suffered under the master of evil psychic power, Vega.
Talk is cheap.
His fist is his only hope of telling Baiken, here and now, that he will help her - if she still has it in her to comprehend this will, if it is something indeed able to be communicated in both their states.
Baiken follows through her single slash by returning the blade to its scabbard with a soft click.
She's breathing hard, as if she'd run a marathon, even though she's fought for longer than this in the past. It's the thrill of the battle, of course -
Or is it? She isn't sure anymore. Something about this doesn't seem quite right. Baiken can't figure out what it is, but as tuned into the essence of battle as she is, she can't pick up nothing from Ryu. She'd have to be dead before she was that oblivious. Which is its own warning sign.
She died. She remembers that. Erron pointed a gun at her head and fired it, more than once. It was brutal, nasty, unceremonious - not a noble death. She didn't go out fighting for Earthrealm like she'd hoped. She'd just... died, in the throne room. But she's not dead now. Which means someone changed things. She hadn't thought about it before. Quan Chi hadn't let her. Which means Baiken does something completely unexpected in the face of Ryu's assault, something out of character from the way she always fights:
It's only for a heartbeat, but a heartbeat in a battle this pitched is an eternity. Ryu capitalizes. The first blow hits Baiken perfectly - /perfectly/. It is an impact worthy of stories, if anyone alive was around to see it; the revenants don't seem like the storytelling type, though.
The follow-up launches Baiken into the air. It is also perfect; she goes up and up, the impact echoing through the graveyard - through her body too. Baiken ascends, and she looks for a moment like a broken thing; one-armed, twisted around the impact, trying to right herself. She felt it.
She /felt/ it, and in more than her body. She understands what Ryu is doing.
Baiken reaches the apex of her arc, and somehow manages to flip. She draws her sword in that same motion, holding it point-down as she begins to descend, putting all the force of the descent behind the blade. She can't stop herself, even if she wants to hold back - but she can accept the consequences of her blow.
COMBATSYS: Ryu interrupts Fierce Strike from Baiken with Shoryuken.
[ \\\\\\\\ < > /// ]
Ryu [E] 1/-------/<<<<<<<|>>>>>>>\>>>>>>>\2 [E] Baiken
As Ryu is the first to touch down on the ground in a crouch, a fist punches into the water that has started to return to the void the Shin Shoryuken created as he lies in a crouch.
The flecks of red that rise from Ryu's body increases ever further in intensity and frequency. The effect, otherworldly. Under the fell light of this reddening aura, an outfit that seemed to maintain its trademark white color against all the impurities of the world surrounding him seems to, instead, excaberate the wear.
To look down upon this young man from above, there would remain discomforting similarities between himself and the devil that Baiken slew. Even the hue of his skin seems to take a similar tan, under this light. Teeth clenched, he faces upwards to the descending swordswoman. There is no surprise in the glint of blood-soaked steel that catches eyes that have taken a darker form.
Towards the ground, the two meet anew once more.
A sword descends.
A fist rises.
"SHORYUUUKEN!" The word is growled, guttural and almost incomprehensible. Ryu leads with the hand that matches the same direction Baiken's blade comes down, and the result is nothing short of utterly gruesome.
For Ryu's part, the blade impales the attacking arm's shoulder and comes out the other end in a fresh spray of blood.
It does nothing to dull the striking force of his rising fist, seeking to not only land against Baiken's abdomen - but with such strength as though threatening to try and bore all the way through.
Both give their utmost all as their flesh stands to sacrifice their last pulse to an end that benefits one of the two tyrants that are eager to expand the ranks of their armies. What would it matter that Earthrealm won the tenth Mortal Kombat, if all of them would yet remain in their thrall?
Even salvation for the both of them, is a path painted in blood - blood that may never leave the palms of their hands, or the bottoms of their feet.
A sword descends.
A fist rises.
Baiken drives her sword into Ryu's shoulder. She feels it; she drives it through, drawing blood painfully as it penetrates, the short blade pulsing momentarily with pinkish chi. But with every reckless blow, there is a consequence, and one she accepted gratefully.
Ryu's fist drives into Baiken's stomach. It does not penetrate, but it doesn't have to; there is a wet popping sound as Baiken's body, already battered and weak from her fight where she overextended herself, already nearly destroyed by the greater attempt at a very similar maneuver, simply gives out.
Baiken does not launch this time. She practically folds around the blow instead, the impact of Ryu's fist carrying her up with him. She does not fall until he lands, but he feels the change immediately, and there's one other sign: she let go of her sword (though it's still in Ryu's shoulder).
When Ryu touches down, Baiken falls off his fist. She ends up landing on her back, half-buried in the mud and water, and she can feel something broken within her; her breath is a ragged sound from broken ribs and whatever else is in there. She cannot rise, and doesn't even try.
But she does look. She turns her head to regard Ryu for several long seconds with her single eye, her glass eyepatch covered in mud and concealing whatever is inside. That's all; she doesn't even try to speak, struggling even to breathe, but she tries to meet his gaze one last time. Her hand opens, closes as if trying to hold the blade that she no longer has in her hand. There is a moment - one single moment - where the two can connect, united by battle.
And then, after a long rattling exhalation, she goes silent. Her single eye remains open, staring sightlessly upward.
As Ryu touches down with his back turned, the fist of the impaled shoulder remains clenched. The fury, the lust for a battle to the very end - the sort that relishes the reckless brush of mortality - refuses to acknowledge the grievous wound. The will of a demon.
The heart of the warrior speaks otherwise, as the fingers spasm, contort, and otherwise /move/ with the sharp, stiff pain not at all softened by the warmth of blood.
Baiken can't look into Ryu's face - the bared teeth, the uneven, raspy breath as the opposite hand finds itself at the hilt of Baiken's weapon. Were she still in control of her blade, it would be trivial for her to lop off the arm at once.
It is nothing short of a miracle that Ryu, a man who has no skill with the blade, is able to pull it back out of himself without aggravating the wound that much further than it already has been, beyond a howl of pain that might be something of an exorcism into itself.
He staggers, slumped over... but he does not fall.
His eyes shut tight for a mom-- no. Open then. You must see for yourself. You must remember, the consequences of what you've done. Something about him knows, deep within, that what has happened is... it.
His fist has drawn blood. It is his responsibility to look her in the eye, before the water could swallow up her corpse.
Finding yet more courage in a man already spent, he wills it so - facing the dying Baiken, whom looks to meet his gaze. This is a victim, the result of what could happen if he ever lets go--
No, if he lets go /again/.
Wordlessly, he approaches her, lowering the hilt into her outstretched hand. He does not blink. He will not turn away from what he did. The two warriors will, in her final moments, see eye to eye as he delivers what in any other situation would be the final respect of her life.
She will die with her blade in hand. The light contained within the hilt touches with the magenta shard located within his fist, as though a soul were to shake hands with another within that moment. Heedless of the hordes that will be slow to understand what just happened, his own serious wounds disregarded, he keeps his gaze upon Baiken as she takes her very final gasps...
There is no cry of 'FATALITY' which would celebrate the occasion. The one who would already has their hands full with their current schemes.
Ryu looks up to the revenants whom Baiken previously held sway over. They will not allow neither him nor her a moment of rest, or time to recover their strength. The magenta shard in his fist begins to pulsate.
A wind carries through, the red strip of cloth tied around his head beginning to flutter anew. He eyes this newfound strength he's collected, and then...
"Our journeys... it will not end here."
He does not need to shout it, or even say it in any higher than the whisper he manages to turn words to resolve. Ensuring her sword will be safely secured, Ryu reaches down to lift up Baiken.
The water, cold and clammy, continues to rise.
Off to the wastes, the purple air starts to give way to a purer, though lifeless, brown.
The revenants begin to advance anew.
Their journeys will not end here. Once he can bring the two of them to safety, he knows he can save her life.
There will never be a take back on how he took it, but this will only temper him further to understand what is at stake for himself, on his own path forward.
To die with her sword in hand is more than Baiken expected.
If she's being honest with herself, it's more than she deserves.
She grips it tightly, as if it was a lifeline - which of course it is not, but she does it anyway. It's enough. To die for a second time on this godforsaken island is horrible in many ways - at least this time she died to a warrior she respects. And she does respect Ryu; she respects him more after what he did for her, which may be counterintuitive. But not in Baiken's head.
And from Baiken, that is all. She doesn't release her sword, even in death.
Log created on 18:19:14 03/22/2017 by Baiken, and last modified on 09:36:01 04/01/2017.